Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Times Change

Photo: Stefanie Duerr

Thirty years ago (or thereabouts) I worked at a magazine in New York City; for a time, our offices were a block or so north of Times Square, which was a pretty seedy place back in the day.  Never in a million years would I have believed it if someone had told me I'd one day be sitting in Lotus pose (well, maybe it's verging on Half Lotus) on a yoga mat smack in the middle of the place, gazing up at the skyscrapers and listenting to "Om" reverberating from the mouths of thousands of yogis.  But such was the case last week when I attended Solstice in Times Square, a celebration of the longest day of the year.  Over the course of the day some 8,000 yogis took over the center of Manhattan, spreading their mats up and down three city blocks and practicing yoga together.
           The point of this event was, in part, to prove that if one can find tranquility in the heart of New York City, one can find it anywhere. It was about finding your center, being strong and focused, with life swirling all around you. And that’s what I discussed on another blog I write if you’re interested).
           But for this blog, I’d like to focus on what this event brought home for me personally, and it wasn’t just the realization that yes, I can hold my Tree Pose while 1000s of tourists pass by in busses or stand on the sidelines taking pictures. It wasn’t just the realization that yoga helps me to find inner strength and inner peace even while sirens are wailing, horns are honking, and folks are rushing to the subway.
            For me, the event brought home the fact that there is just no predicting where the river of life will take you. Thirty years ago I didn’t know what yoga was (if anything, I imagined it had something to do with boney old guys walking on nails). I wasn’t an exercise freak back then nor was I a “spiritual” person. I pretty much believed that everything that happened in life was the result of chance and that my chances of having a whole lot of bad stuff happen was just as high as having anything good come my way. My outlook on life was actually quite negative, even though I had plenty to be happy about.           
            Today, sitting on my rear, plunk in the middle of the busiest part of New York City, I am profoundly changed. I won’t bore you by listing all the ways that is so, but let me just say that I now believe that life will deliver exactly the lessons we need to learn. One of the most important things that I personally needed to learn was to slow down, have confidence in myself, and to believe that the goodness in life would find me. For me, yoga was the route that brought me there.
            And so I found it fitting and astonishingly “right” that I was sitting in Lotus just yards from the very place where I once rushed, feared, doubted, and eagerly sought success and happiness. Back then—young, ambitious, and driven—I wanted more than anything to “succeed” in life. Today, as a yogini, I define success in very different terms, and know with all my heart  that it is mine. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Love

College graduation, way back when.

Last week at a Kundalini yoga workshop, a memory from my distant past popped into mind. We’d been asked to write about a time in our early lives when we felt that our voices had not been heard, and then to write about a time in our childhood when we felt respected.
            I immediately thought of my father, who was a conservative Republican, a Nixon man, and a supporter of the Vietnam War. During my teen years there were plenty of arguments around our dining room table; arguments about interracial dating, about war, peace protests, capitalism, and about the holes in my favorite blue jeans (which my father actually threatened to throw away, though he never managed it). Had my dad not been extremely proper, he would also have argued about my lack of a bra. But this was something we did not discuss. During those years I often felt as if my opinions were falling on deaf ears; it seemed to me that no matter what I said to my father about politics and the turbulent times in which we lived, he disagreed.
            When the Kent State shootings occurred and college students were struck down and killed by our own National Guard, I was outraged. I remember sobbing over the news, unable to pull myself away from John Filo’s unforgettable photo of a teenaged girl crouching in anguish next to the body of a felled student.
            Already a writer (I’d known this would be my profession since the age of five), my first impulse was to pen a letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper. When I announced my intention, my father sat me down at the dining room table. I was expecting a lecture. Or at least, a fight.
            Instead Dad pulled up a chair next to me and said, “Here's a pen and paper--let’s get going. I’ll help you write it.”
             The thing about my dad, you see, was that though he disagreed with my opinion, he supported my right to express myself. I was never told to be quiet, or to shut up. I was never told that my opinion didn’t matter, or that I should keep my thoughts to myself.
            In that moment at my dining room table, I realized that Dad did hear everything I’d been saying over the years, and he did respect and support my voice, even when he disagreed.
            I remember the warmth, the relief, and the honored feeling of that moment, when I knew for certain that my father would always stand by me, no matter what.
            And so he did until the day he died. My father’s love—and his support of my independent nature--was one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cluttered Nest

I’ve often heard of the empty nest—in fact, I dreaded it for years. But now that it’s nearly here (I still have one offspring home from college for summer vacation) it seems that the empty nest is not nearly as empty as I expected. In fact, I have more “stuff” than ever!
            There are reasons (and excuses) for this, of course. For one thing, kids coming and going over the years have brought a lot more stuff into the house than I could have imagined. Instead of those cute little Legos and Matchbox cars, for instance, I now have closets full of mammoth architectural models (impressive, but terrible dust collectors) and an inordinate number of shoes (being a shoe-lover myself, I can’t really fault anyone on this). But with rugby, running, and other sports come cleats and other various forms of footwear. Books and papers are also a problem—and always have been. And then there are hair creams, gels, and lotions, Sonicare toothbrushes (the old kind certainly took up less space), computers, and –in spite of the fact that the US Postal Service may be going broke—tons and tons of mail.
            When my children were little I used to be able to at least see the surface of my kitchen table on occasion. But now it’s so loaded with huge tubs of protein powder and other curious substances (oh—did I forget to mention the weights in various shapes and sizes?), that it’s hard to find space to put a plate down in order to eat a meal.
            Do I sound like I’m complaining? Really, I’m not. It’s just that no one ever warned me of this when I had kids (just like they didn’t really warn me about the pain of childbirth). “Oh, you’ll be fine,” I remember my mother saying with a knowing smile.
            Yes, everyone always warned that I’d be sad when my kids left home, and they were right. But they neglected to tell me that kids would leave so much stuff in their wake. And they neglected to tell me that my own life would become so full once my kids were gone that I can hardly find spaces for everything. Because with the kids gone I have a lot more time to read hundreds of books, write hundreds of pages, and yes, drag home even more shoes.
            Empty nest? Not so much.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Woman Up, Ladies!

There’s a phrase I’ve been noticing a lot lately: “Man up.” I overheard it at a wedding recently, when the groom (a nurturing, sweet fellow) burst into tears at the sight of his bride. I heard it when a friend of mine said she’d been crying nonstop because her 21-year-old daughter was moving away. It’s a phrase I’m swiftly growing to dislike even though I also think it’s rather humorous.
            I recall, 27 years ago, when I brought my first baby to the pediatrician for a shot.           
            “He took it like a man!” I commented to the doctor, when my infant survived his first encounter with a needle.
            “No,” the physician countered. “He took it like a baby.”
             And here’s the thing: While some people are tough and strong and don’t weep at commercials, others of us are natural-born crybabies. When I hear Pomp and Circumstance—whether it’s at preschool graduation or college commencement, for instance, I automatically cry. Recently, my son sent me a close-up photo of our family, cropped from a panoramic image made during the graduation ceremony. My hand was covering my mouth and I looked like I was watching a horror flic.  But no…I was simply observing my 22-year-old stepping up to get his degree. A happy occasion, for sure. And still, it brought on the tears. At this same son’s elementary school commencement, I was losing it so badly that one of my friends refused to sit next to me. And weddings? A no brainer--just bring a Costco-sized pack of Kleenex.
But hey, whatever happened to  “It’s okay to cry”?
            Ladies, do we have to man up? When our kids leave for college, or grad school, or take a high school French club trip abroad? Do we have to bury our tears when we send a kindergartner off or drop a three year old at pre-school? Must we scurry away in shame when we burst into tears at weddings, or birthday parties, or at fifth grade awards ceremonies? Must we man up and deny our gentle, loving hearts the outlet of tears?
            I say no. How about, instead, we woman up? That means do what women do: tap into our inner strength, but do it with feeling. Cry, but carry on, without feeling ashamed of our emotions. Let's have—as one dear friend reminded me last week--self compassion.  Let’s give ourselves a pass –to feel, to mourn, to grieve, and to be sad even at a happy event like a graduation or a wedding. Let’s, as we say in yoga, “be with” our emotions: they are not our enemies.
 In fact, next time I see a guy trying to suck it up and deny his inner woman I’m going to turn the tables on him. “Woman up, man!” I’ll advise, “And see how good it feels to let the tears flow.”