Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

A few weeks ago my Kundalini yoga teacher asked me to help put together a display window for his new yoga center. I teamed up with another yogini and we surveyed our homes for appropriate objects that might be yogi-esque enough for the display. She had a few beautiful vases and some large, silver candleholders. She also contributed some lovely purple fabric.
            I searched my home to find something I could bring, but the only item that called out to me was my butterfly—a large, metal butterfly that hangs from a wooden frame. The butterfly was a gift from a dear friend who ran the first yoga studio I ever practiced at; when she closed the place she handed me the butterfly and said, “This is for you."
            I actually never had a thing for butterflies, but my mother adored them. As a child I was always looking for butterfly gifts for her: candles in the shape of butterflies, notepaper, mugs, butterfly jewelry, etc. So when my mother died I kind of took over her butterfly love, and whenever I practiced yoga at Nesheemah (the name of my first yoga studio), I would look up at the metal butterfly on the studio windowsill and feel that my mother was with me (as she always is, in my heart).
            So, I realized, I’d become attached to that butterfly and I didn’t really want anyone to borrow it, even another yoga studio. Just as I was leaving to set up the display, however, the butterfly caught my attention. “Bring me along,” it seemed to be saying. “Let me do my stuff.”
            Okay, so I don’t really hear the voices of butterflies, but something prompted me to let go that day and offer the butterfly up. My display case coworker was thrilled when she saw it and so was my teacher; the butterfly took center stage in the window, and looked perfect.
            It wasn’t until a few days later, however, that I realized that the butterfly was weaving its magic, just as it had at Nesheemah. In the sunlit window, its shadow seemed to sway and flutter as if the butterfly was alive. I glanced up during my yoga practice and thought again of my mother, of how she spread her love and goodness to everyone she met, and I knew that to hold on to something like that is really not the idea.  Just as I shared my mother’s love with my siblings, cousins, friends and so many others, the butterfly’s magic was meant to travel. I wasn’t surprised that many people who came to the center during the opening weeks commented on its beauty. Perhaps it had even reminded some of a person they’d lost and loved.
            This week, the window display was changed and I brought my butterfly home to its rightful place on my piano.  It looks even more content there now that it’s had a chance to do what butterflies do best: happily flutter their wings and create love's ripple effect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Merry Turkey to You

The other day I was sitting in a popular coffee shop sipping a decaf and working on my computer, thinking about how nice it was to be out alone (with neither friends, spouse, nor offspring, for a change), enjoying my day and getting my work done, when out of the blue I realized that I was suddenly beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable and agitated. At first, I was mystified by my abrupt change in mood, so I decided to “tune in” to my surroundings and see what the problem could be.
            It didn’t take long to discover the source of my angst. Quite simply, it was the music that was being played in the shop: “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, a holly-jolly, uplifting song that is just right for a frosty December morning. (“Just hear those sleigh bells jin-gle-ing, ring-ting-tin-gle-ing, too…”)
But not for a mid November morning, in my opinion. I then glanced around and realized that all the display cases were filled with bags of “Christmas Blend” coffee, and bright red mugs sporting snowmen. “What a shame there’s no such thing as a holiday called Thanksgiving,” I heard one of the cashiers quip. Alas, the poor young man had been listening to Christmas-in-November music for hours. At least I could pack up my laptop and leave, which is exactly what I did!
            I stepped out into the warm November air (it happened to be a sunny morning in the high fifties) with a sense of relief, but I was plagued for the rest of the day by that Christmas tune in my head, and the nagging question, “What’s the rush?” Is there some pressing reason why we can’t have Thanksgiving and then Christmas? (Right-wingers are always alleging that the liberals are trying to steal Christmas, but it seems that the real holiday that’s been absconded with is the one that occurs on November 24th.) Why is it necessary to race through or completely ignore a holiday that has to do with gratitude and sharing?
            And why, I asked myself, must we rush, anyway? Life speeds by quickly enough all on its own without us giving it a push. I for one would rather savor the month of November which this year has been delightfully mild than race headlong into snow storms, ice, and holiday credit card bills.
            Don’t get me wrong—I love December and I adore the winter holiday season—in due time. In yoga we have a funny little saying: “What time is it? Now. Where are we? Here.” And as for Christmas, “We’ll get there when we get there.” Last time I checked, the date was in December: just ask my Christmas cactus, which hasn't bloomed yet!
            So enjoy your family and friends, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!
 (And an extra special Happy Anniversary to Ruthann and Thomas, my sister and brother-in-law, married on November 25 for 50 years--living proof that love and enjoying the journey are what it’s all about.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Suggested Donation: Love

Recently,  I had the opportunity to help run an event. I am not a person who likes to be “in charge.” Nor am I talented at “delegating.” But I learned a few lessons from the experience, the most important of which (no big surprise) is to feel and express gratitude. 
            In my former pre-yogic life I often complained about people who let me down. Folks didn’t return my phone calls, came late to meetings, or took advantage of my generosity (i.e. I’d baby-sit their kids but they wouldn’t return the favor). Everywhere I looked I saw people who were selfish, unwilling to commit, not considerate of others. I loved to moan about how unfair the universe was to put these people in my path. If I ran the world, I said to myself, things would be a helluva lot different.
            My perspective has changed in the past few years, and now, confronted with the same sorts of problems, I have an entirely different approach. Helping to run this grand event (I had several other organizers on my team, fortunately!) was interesting. I noticed that some participants did not want to be involved in helping out. Instead of being angry and resentful about that, I told myself that they had other things on their mind right now. Some people actually promised to show up and do certain things at certain times, but then didn’t make it. Instead of being disappointed with these people I told myself that they are still learning. Some committed to a few things, and did them well; but they weren’t willing to take on too much. Instead of comparing myself and my commitment to theirs, I decided to gratefully accept what they could offer.
            Then, of course, there were the people who stepped up to the plate without my asking. They carted food in, carried musical instruments, helped others who didn’t know where to put their stuff, cleaned up spilled drinks, made tea, went without lunch (and were willing to go without dinner). Instead of focusing on those who didn’t deliver or show up I decided to turn my attention to these wonderful angels who were there just when I needed them.  They didn’t expect anything in return; all I had to do was say “thank you” or “you are doing an amazing job” and they absolutely glowed with happiness. I began to think how lucky these people are, and instead of feeling annoyed with those who weren’t pitching in, I began to feel a little sad that they were missing an opportunity to give.
            I also realized that I had one day--not so very long ago--been in their shoes. There were times in my life (especially when my kids were little) when I would run the other way if I even heard the word “volunteer.” I was way too busy to make cupcakes for a school party, head up the PTO, or be a Cub Scout den mother. Many times I did just a token bit and then fled. I was overwhelmed by many responsibilities, and giving  more of myself seemed impossible. This memory of my former self gave me more compassion for those  who weren't willing to donate their time or effort. One day, I believe, things will change for them.
            Anyway, the event was a huge success, but the best part of it all for me as an “organizer” was saying thank you to the people who helped. It was also a wonderful learning experience for me—not so much about running the event—but in the important practice of focusing on the gifts that are offered, no matter how small, instead of ruminating about what is lacking. I came away wondering why we ever spend our time thinking about what isn’t when there is so much that is

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Bird, the Bassoonist, and the Baloney

Actually, there was no baloney. (Certainly not! I’m a vegetarian!) But there was a bird and a bassoonist staying at my house last week. As many of you know (and experienced) a good portion of Northern New Jersey lost power last week. So we opened up our home for four nights to a septuagenarian bassoon player and a cockatiel.
            After all, what are friends for?
            I was thinking about this question while anticipating the grand event of 11/11/11, the official start of the Aquarian Age. After researching the subject a bit I found that the age we are now entering is a time when we are really going to have to depend on one another and pull together if we expect the planet to survive. We’re already seeing the effects of globalization, and realizing how deeply we’re all inter-connected. And when something happens like a hurricane, a flood, or the simple loss of heat and power, we turn to our friends (and sometimes even to strangers) for help.
            Last night, I had a conversation with my middle son about friendship. He was home for the weekend (he now lives six hours away), and a couple of his buddies from high school wanted to get together. My son was tired from driving, and just wanted to “chill.” But then he said to me, “What are friends for?” and recounted how these two particular chums had given up New Year’s Eve last year to drive five hours up to Cape Cod so Sam could work on a senior project which involved tromping into the cold woods along a shore line at dusk and possibly risking his life (I didn’t ask for details), to make photographs for his architecture degree. His friends went along to keep him company and make sure he was safe. In return, they got to miss all the local New Year’s Eve parties and spent most of the day in the car. Well after midnight the threesome finally hit the bars on the Cape and had a fantastic time. “But we would have had fun anyway,” my son admitted, “Even if we’d just sat around doing nothing.”
            So, from bird, to bassoon, to nonexistent baloney, to Aquarian Age, to friendship, I guess this is my way of underlining the fact that now, more than ever, we depend on the kindness of others. 
            Anyway, it was cool to have a bassoon around the house. And it was also kinda nice to be whistled at in the morning (by the cockatiel, that is!).