Monday, November 3, 2014

The Courage of Trees

Trees are resilient. People chop at them, build fences through them, and torture them in various ways; still, they drop their seeds and sprout up again. Every year, on the East Coast, I’m reminded again of how much trees give us; when the hills are shimmering with vibrant color, I’m reminded that trees offer shelter, shade, and beauty every day.
           We’re like trees, as every yogi knows. We can stand straight and tall, our roots planted deeply into the earth even when the wind blows, even when insults are hurled our way, even when we face illness, or the death of a loved one, or any number of tragedies. Like trees, we just keep coming back, asking for more. You can knock us down, but we don’t give up easily. Like the tree, we possess the will to live, the will to grow, and the will to spread our little acorns around.
          Long ago, I wrote a story about some trees that the city chopped down in front of my childhood home. My dad, who was an avid tree-lover, retaliated by planting butternut trees where the maples once had stood. Today, those butternut trees tower into the sky, and their butternuts sprinkle the street, no doubt still a headache for the man who runs the street sweeper (who probably is clueless about my deceased father’s long-ago disagreement with the local government). I’ll never forget the pride in my father’s voice when he told me about his idea; and I’ll never forget the pride I felt, knowing that my father cared enough about trees to conjure up such a scheme.
         As winter grows near and the trees shed their leaves in my neighborhood, I look forward to the still, frozen nights when I’ll gaze out my window and see their bare branches arching against the sky. There is an oak tree not far from my house that has been there for more than l00 years. My neighbor has had it lovingly trimmed and cared for over the years (ironically, her father is a tree man too—the kind who actually climbs high up in trees to clip off dead branches).
        Trees serve as excellent examples. They stand tall every day and hardly ever  say “I can’t” or “I won’t” (except perhaps in a terrible storm, when they might be toppled). They may bend and sway, but rarely do they give up of their own accord. They remind us to open our hearts and spread our arms to embrace the world. They remind us to be brave—and not to slump.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kicking Breast Cancer's Butt

It’s that month again—Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I don’t need a pink ribbon or balloon to remind me—but I suppose it’s a good idea to give everyone a heads-up now and then so that we all remember this disease is still out there, and that the battle rages on.
            My favorite passage from my recently published memoir, Yin,Yang, Yogini (about my transformation through yoga and fight against breast cancer) speaks to this subject. I write, “Before dinner, I take a walk alone…It’s cold and bright out, and as I’m striding up the avenue, I nearly turn my ankle on a couple of those sticky balls that fall from the sweet gum tree. I gaze down at those damn balls scattered all over the place. Yes, sometimes you stumble on them, and some you avoid altogether. And some you just kick the f*#k out of your way.”
            Okay, so in the book I did write out the F word, because even though I’m not an angry person, there’s something to be said for giving a disease like cancer a kick in the butt. I believe in being grateful for everything in our lives—even for the challenges—but cancer is something I don’t want to make nice-nice with. Yes, it taught me some very important lessons, and I’m thankful that it did not kill me, but I also believe that we can learn these lessons in other ways, and that the toxic world in which we live has a lot to do with why so many women are facing breast cancer, even at younger ages. Each time I learn that another woman has been diagnosed that urge to kick butt rises up again—I just wish that no mother would ever again have to explain to her kids the cruel irony that the very breasts that once nourished them are now threatening her life.
            But getting rid of breast cancer is not so easy as a swift kick, and that’s why I support breast cancer research and such organizations as Dr. Susan Love’s Army of Women, which is working to find a cause and cure. Please join me if you can (anyone can join this “army,” you need not be a breast cancer survivor). You can donate money if you wish, or simply sign up online to participate in one of their research projects.
            Yes, it’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time not only to think and wear pink but also to rise up and kick every form of cancer the f*@k off the planet! (In a yogic way, of course.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"The Decisive Moment"

One late afternoon recently I was working at my computer and happened to glance up at the window nearby. Though the shade was pulled down half way, the sun was streaming through the panes, and my stained glass butterfly was fully lit by the filtered rays. I’d never noticed this before, as usually the shade is all the way up or it’s dark and no light is coming in. The butterfly was glowing so beautifully in the gentle light that I had to stop my work and simply stare.
            After a few moments, I decided to take a picture. I felt some internal struggle about this, because I was in the middle of writing an article and it occurred to me that I should finish first and then fetch my camera. But a little voice inside seemed to call to me, “Do it now!” So I spent the next few minutes fiddling with angles and settings until I got a shot I liked. I stared at the butterfly for a short time after that and then went back to work.
            A bit later, after I’d finished writing, I glanced back up at the window and noticed that the light had passed, and the butterfly wasn’t glowing any more. In photography, they call what had just happened “the decisive moment,” the moment when you click the perfect shot, when everything in your subject’s expression and form lines up perfectly, and you are able to capture the essence of the moment on film. The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered the father of photojournalism, coined the phrase. Of course, I had more than an instant to capture the image of my butterfly above, but had I not put down my work when I did I'd have missed the opportunity entirely.
 I often think about how easy it is to miss those “decisive” moments during an average day…about how often we’re looking up when just at our feet is an extraordinary flower, or how when we’re looking down we may miss a gorgeous heron soaring through the sky. I know we can’t be looking everywhere at once, but it certainly seems that too much time is spent staring at cell phones and computer screens these days, and while we’re preoccupied with our little worlds we may be missing so many things…sunlight streaming through the wings of glass butterflies, for instance.
            I’m going to make an effort to be more aware of the beauty all around me (even as I typed this last sentence a woodpecker flew into the treetop nearby, a yellow leaf fell from my pear tree onto its pine neighbor in a most graceful manner and a bee began buzzing from flower to flower on my Rose of Sharon). Perhaps it would be more productive to move my workspace away from the windows, but I think not. There is so much to see, and we don’t need to have a camera in our hands to register those exquisite images in our hearts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Love Is A Substance"

Last week I attended a memorial service for a dear, sweet man who recently passed away, a friend of my husband’s we’ve known since our college days. During the service, the pastor--a woman of great wisdom-- repeated these words: “Love is a substance: Pour it out of your heart.” The words have stayed with me all week, and during a visit to a waterfall in North Carolina they resonated even more strongly.
            They are beautiful words and it’s a beautiful message. But what I like most about these two simple sentences is the word “pour,” which is a word of abundance and generosity. Sometimes, when my husband makes a very, very special blend of a particular coffee, I pour the liquid sparingly. I don’t want it to gush out or it might spill and a portion might be lost. But love isn’t like that—the more you pour, the greater the amount, the more energetic the flow the better. There is no reason to hold back, to pour love in measured amounts. Love can gush and flow and there will always be more. If we let it, love can be as unstoppable as a waterfall.
            Our too soon departed friend was a man who gave love in unmeasured amounts, who let his positivity, passion, and compassion flow freely. I wonder what would happen if we all opened the floodgates to love? Would we over-power the negativity and hatred on the planet, would we literally drown out the sorrow, vengeance, and fear?
            Certainly, it’s worth a try. “Love is a substance: Pour it out of your heart.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Simply Put

Roses are glorious, as are orchids. Peacocks, sunrises, exotic fish. Sometimes, however, I think the simplest things are the most beautiful of all. This flower, for instance, or the tiny pink tongue of a newborn baby.
            I wonder, therefore, why we so often try to complicate matters with high heels, various shades of eye shadow, fabrics, fashions and accessories. Is a mixed bouquet more worthy than a simple, white violet? Does a single stalk of lily of the valley count less than a field of wildflowers?
            At times, I feel as if the answer might be yes. Certainly, I’d give more merit to a book by Tolstoy than one by yours truly. But…is a quiet little poem less intriguing than an epic? Sometimes a Rumi quote holds more weight (in my heart, anyway), than lengthier, more intricate writings. Sometimes, a single sentence, uttered in just the right way by just the right person, means more than a speech given by an “expert.”
            Of course, it’s wonderful that we can choose. We can select from a menu, for instance, the complex paella, or a simple cucumber soup. We can choose to listen to a Mahler symphony or a solo Bonsai flute. We can decide whether we want to take a tour of the world, or be content with a quiet canoe ride on a familiar river. We can dress to the nines, or throw on our jeans and old T-shirt.
            I love the exciting, stimulating array of colors, scents, languages, possibilities, places, and people that make up the world. But I have to admit, when I manage to focus on only one thing—one green leaf, one tiny piece of chocolate, one child’s hand—it can lead me straight to the seed of the wonder of life, without any side trips, distractions, or confusion. There is an elegant, wordless beauty to things that don’t cry out for attention—to things that are just simply and quietly… here, now.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

His & Hers: Mud Pies

Recently, I was contemplating the state of my bedside table. Things had become a bit jumbled, rather messy, actually quite out of control. I glanced over at my husband’s side of the bed where I noticed a candle, lamp, and a clock (albeit a dusty one). “Hmm,” I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
          Honestly, I am not a slob. In the past, I’ve been known to be quite organized. Lately, however, my life has been full to bursting, and my bedside table is a reflection of that. I’m behind on deadlines, don’t have time for housework or cooking, and seem to be constantly running late (in the past, I’ve always arrived early). Some chores-- like putting away my jewelry-- just never get done any more. I planted exactly one tomato this year and have not been outside to water it (thankfully, we’ve had rain). The weeds surrounding it are growing quite well, though, thank you very much.

          My husband, on the other hand, seems to have lots of time on his hands. I hear him chuckling sometimes as he watches a comedy show on his computer. I observe him now and then reading books for pleasure. He runs and exercises every day. In the past, he was always late, always overbooked, always working. He was busy making mud pies while I handled the kids (most of the time), did the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. My mud pies were made in stolen moments after the kids were in bed, but his career sustained us financially, and he was devoted to it.
          Now, the bedside tables have turned. I’m the one racing out the door, staying up past midnight, getting up early to work. I used to marvel at how much my mate could talk about his career. Now I am the one who can’t seem to shut up.
          Relationships work like mud pies, a friend once said. We’re like kids playing in dirt and water; sometimes it’s your turn to make a mud pie, sometimes it’s mine. Where we run into trouble is when one can’t tolerate the mud pies of the other, when one partner wants to be frolicking in the mud 24/7, and the other never gets to play with her (well, sorry to be sexist but it still quite often is the female) mud pies at all.
          Yes, I should straighten up my bedside table, and maybe I will one day. But right now, I have a few more mud pies to make!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah!

Everyone needs a cheerleader. In an earlier incarnation, I actually was a cheerleader. I recall stepping out onto the gym floor in my blue and white mini skirt with my megaphone at my side. I would yell at the top of my lungs, “Yay Mike, Yay Jones, Rah Rah, Mike Jones!” (not his real name). I wonder how it felt to be Mike Jones, however (this was back in the day, before feminism hit and I burned my bras, started wearing construction boots and quit cheerleading). Mike Jones must have felt pretty good about himself, is my guess, hearing his name screamed out by a bunch of hot young cheerleaders, game after game. I’ll just bet he was glowing.
Not that I want to be a cheerleader again, but I do think that there’s something to be said for having a fan or two to cheer you on, and to trumpet your accomplishments. I have a couple of friends who are very, very good at this: they always step up to make me feel better about myself when I’m low (I also have one pal who seems to like to see me suffer, sorry to say!)
In the yoga circles I frequent I’ve been hearing a lot lately about letting go of fear and anger. But I don’t hear too much about letting go of disappointment—particularly disappointment in yourself. Disappointment can feel really bad—and it just seems to breed more disappointment (the same way gratitude tends to breed more gratitude). It’s easy to feel disappointed with a pose when you can’t quite wrap your body into it properly…or to be disappointed with the way you handled a situation, or in how your tomatoes turned out with all the rain….
Some people tend to be disappointed in their spouses or children. I would have been devastated if my parents had ever said to me, “I’m disappointed in you.” Thank God they never did say that, even when I really messed up. Disappointment is a normal, natural feeling in humans but when I hear the word it just makes me droop—like a flower deprived of water.

My wish is that we could all be cheerleaders for one another (perhaps, without the short skirts), that we could let go of our disappointment about ourselves, our family members, our friends, our vegetable gardens, our shoes, our hair cut, our bank accounts, and the countless other things that make us feel as if our life just isn’t measuring up. It would be lovely if we could all get the Mike Jones (not his real name!) cheer when we wake up in the morning…hearing someone (even ourselves) trumpeting how utterly amazing we are.