Sunday, February 27, 2011

See Saw Marjorie Daw

“Back in the day,” when I was a kid, we didn’t have fancy play equipment in our yards. I had one swing made from thick ropes and a rectangular slab of plywood that hung from a towering maple tree. I had a “seesaw” that consisted of a long plank of wood fastened onto a barrel, and a “sand box” which was just a pile of sand. I played in my yard for hours; after dinner in the summertime, my dad would come outside to push me in the swing or jiggle me up and down on the seesaw, usually while smoking his then politically correct cherry-tobacco-smelling pipe. I was in heaven.
            I also loved to play under the dogwood trees in a small corner of the yard. I spent many a day sweeping the dirt floors of my imaginary house under the dogwood leaves, or making “stew” out of dandelions, twigs and other “organic” ingredients. I write about this not to complain about how spoiled kids are by modern play equipment (more power to them!), nor to whine about how deprived I was as a child. Nope, I simply write because I now know how incredibly lucky I was. Playing in my yard was a great preparation for adult life.
            Curiously, though, it was not the sweeping and straightening of my dogwood digs that most prepared me for marriage, work, and motherhood  (good practice, but I never did master the art of keeping a real house spotless and organized). Rather, it was the seesaw that taught me the most about life. I distinctly remember the glorious feeling of being way up in the air, almost weightless. And then the descent, with a hovering midway in a state of perfect balance before my father slowly let me drop to the ground. And then, up again. Up and down, up and down, and then that hovering balance.
            Sort of like life. Sometimes the highs are momentary; sometimes they last for days or months—when you fall in love, for instance, or bring home a newborn baby. And then there are the lows—when you drop straight down and wonder if you’ll ever get back up again—when a parent dies, or you have to battle a health crisis. But a lot of the time you’re smack in the middle, in a luxurious state of complete equilibrium. I remember when my dad would just keep me hovering there, and it would be a surprise as to whether he’d next let me fly up or down. Because he was (quite naturally) a lot heavier than a six- or seven-year-old, he was in control of where and when I was headed. Thankfully, being the loving dad that he was, he never let me down too hard, or kept me up too long.
            Most of the time, I strive in my life to be in a place of balance, in a state of calm equilibrium, where I can feel content and safe. But I know it’s those dramatic changes—sometimes caused by highs, sometimes by lows—that challenge and teach us. And quite often, you just can’t see them coming.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yoga, Yoga Everywhere...

My first beloved yoga teacher likes to travel a lot. Over the years she has often sent me pictures of herself doing various yoga poses in various locations—like tree pose in front of the Taj Mahal in India, or against a backdrop of the Rockies. I haven’t traveled far and wide as she has, but when I do go somewhere I often have that same desire to do a yoga pose. Thus, the picture of me above, in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, en route to Asheville, North Carolina to visit family (apologies for the imperfect alignment—it was blustery cold and I didn’t want to take my socks off!)
            In fact, one of the handiest and most interesting things about yoga is it’s a very portable form of exercise (yes, you can even “do it” in the car, at your desk, in the bathtub, or on an airplane). But even more portable than the asanas or postures, is the yogic philosophy. It’s pretty much expected that if you are a true yogi or yogini, you will take your yoga with you wherever you go.
            When I began to practice yoga seven years ago there was nothing I wanted more than to do a handstand. I would watch the other more advanced students in my classes with very un-yogic envy, as they all could do handstands, headstands, and arm balances. But though I can now do a handstand wherever I am (as long as there’s a wall), it’s not the poses that challenge me so much as the yogic vow of ahimsa, or non-harming, in thought, word, and deed. And then there’s compassion, acceptance,  forgiveness, nonattachment, and learning to be in the moment. Just to name a few of yoga’s tenets.
            Using yoga in line at the grocery store or bank, when your college kid hasn’t called in a week or more, or when your computer keeps crashing—now that’s really doing yoga. Forget the handstand, the 31-minute chant without wiggling to scratch your nose, or the impossible “side crow” (not, unfortunately, a mixed drink). I guess the same could be said of any religion or philosophy—it’s easier to recite the rules than to actually follow them, and in fact, it’s the very hypocrisy, or, to use a kinder phrase, lack of commitment, that causes many people to give up all together. Though yoga isn’t a religion, you’re just not a yogi if you stand on your hands and then go home and kick your little dog.
            Anyway, I love taking yoga on the road. And hopefully when I’m far too old and wobbly to balance on a ledge in the mountains (though at 93, B.K.S. Iyengar, one of yoga’s great gurus, is still reportedly proficient at all the asanas), I’ll still have a yoga heart. After all, it’s easy enough to bring a pose along on your travels--harder is remembering to always carry compassion in your back pocket.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


photo: B Kriegler

What is prosperity? What is abundance? What is wealth? Obviously, it’s not thousands in your checkbook---I know quite a few people whose bank accounts are full and yet they experience a sense of lack every day.
            To look more deeply at the nature of prosperity (and, in truth, because as a freelance writer money has always been an issue) I recently decided to attend a Kundalini yoga workshop on the subject. For six consecutive Saturdays we met to discuss our goals, examine our understanding of prosperity, and dissect our attitudes about money. We also did a short meditation each morning at home (one could chant for three to 11 minutes—I opted for the “Full Monty” because 11 minutes was supposed to yield the greatest results).
            In case you’re unfamiliar with the practice, Kundalini is a unique style of yoga: often called “the yoga of awareness,” it is based on the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, who brought the ancient techniques here from India in the late 1960s. While it can be very vigorous and physically demanding, it’s also a great workout for your spiritual side. The classes encourage you to get in touch with your own inner wisdom. 
Working together throughout this series under the guidance of an extraordinary Kundalini yoga teacher, I could sense the shift that many of the students experienced. Some of the participants got jobs during the process—new opportunities arose that hadn’t been offered before. Others broke through some roadblocks in their own thinking about wealth and money. One woman received so much additional work that she began praying for the stamina to get it all accomplished!
            But those things didn’t happen to me. My phone didn’t begin ringing with lucrative writing assignments (I’m still wondering where my next $100 is coming from—not where my next $100,000 is coming from, which is what one “successful” Hollywood writer once told me he worries about). I didn’t snag an agent, or land a hefty book deal.
            Yet thinking and meditating on the topic of prosperity wasn’t a waste of my time. In fact, the practice caused me to realize more fully that what I really want is already here. I have more time to do what I love (read, write, and practice yoga), than anyone I know.  Financial resources may be scanty now and then, but I am rich in family, friends, and –knock on wood—good health.  Simply the fact that I’m practicing Kundalini yoga has enriched my life in ways I never before could have imagined.
            I wouldn’t even trade my “riches” for Bill Gates’ bank account: after all, there’s no amount of money that could buy my family, my friends, or my outlook on life. Prosperity isn’t so much about raking in the cash as it is about recognizing the incredible wealth that you already have. And, I have every reason to believe that I’m just going to keep on getting richer and richer, because once you are filled with and surrounded by love the “dividends” just keep on growing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Piano (Wo)Man

Next week, I’m saying good-bye to the Wurlitzer piano I’ve had for 30 years. I haven’t actually played the piano in at least a decade (except for a few stabs at Christmas carols, and occasionally to help a friend rehearse for church choir), but nevertheless, I feel sad to see it go. Why? Memories, of course.
I’m sure you recall the Billy Joel song: “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in. There’s an old man sitting next to me, makin’ love to his tonic and gin. He says, son, can you play me a memory? I’m not really sure how it goes. But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”
Well, okay, I never was much of a Billy Joel fan (my “pop” tastes range from Snatam Kaur to the Gyuto Monks of Tibet to Willie Nelson) but there’s something about that “Piano Man” song. Especially the line, “Can you play me a memory?”
            Truth is, though I insisted on buying the piano (used, of course!) when we lived in a fifth-floor walk-up in Washington Heights, New York, the instrument only had a few good years before motherhood and a full-time job distracted me. As a result the piano was rather needlessly hauled up five flights of stairs and then hauled down again and trucked out to New Jersey when we moved to the “suburbs.” The day the piano came to New Jersey in a pickup truck one of our friend/haulers jumped into the back and played a tune in front of the house. In fact, he may have been doing a Billy Joel imitation!
Once it arrived in my living room, the piano fell victim to my children’s creativity, misbehavior, and exuberance. One day, while I was chatting on the phone, my then-three year old son took a wooden spoon and whacked off the tip of every ivory key. On another occasion, my middle son—then about three as well—decided to scratch pictures in the piano’s lovely mahogany frame.  (He also pounded so passionately on the keys that he snapped several hammers.) Though all three of my kids took piano lessons for a time, the instrument gradually faded from use; now it’s employed mainly for displaying pictures and collecting dust. With its broken keys, it’s lost its raison d’etre. 
            A few weeks ago, an elderly friend prematurely lost her son, and she offered me his piano. How could I say no to such a generous gift? Not only was I touched that she thought of me, but it occurred to me that maybe this is just what I need to get me playing the piano again. I have no little kids to distract me now, and I doubt very much that anyone will take to the new piano with a large dining utensil or a scratchy pen. The beautiful new Baldwin will be an opportunity to start over. (I'll donate the Wurlitzer to some worthy cause, but mostly likely its glory days are over.)
             I'll miss my broken down Wurlitzer. But I’ll never forget the day my son happily whacked its keys, I’ll always remember the crashing notes that the three boys played on that instrument (they all moved on from piano to sax, trumpet and guitar), and I’ll never forget the sweat, tears and curses of the dear friends who hauled that creature up--and down--five flights of stairs.
            Yes, the piano will soon be gone…like the sandbox, the swing set, and the tricycles. But the memories play on.