Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fear of Flying (Not)

                                          Photo: Tej Kaur

Last week I did something that some folks might consider kinda crazy. I boarded an airplane for the first time in more than 20 years, flew to New Mexico, and spent the week of Summer Solstice chanting and meditating with more than 2,000 Kundalini yogis. If, say, two years ago someone had suggested to me that I might be doing such a thing, I would have laughed in his or her face. But “thanks be to God” (as my dear mother used to say), things do change.
            I won’t go into the details of my trip (this time) but suffice it to say it was challenging on many levels. Yet, in spite of sleeping in a moldy old cub scout tent, waking up at 3 a.m. every morning for meditation, no hot water, a diet focusing on mung beans, and 96 degree heat (yes, I know, no humidity, but still freakin’ HOT in my book), I was victorious. Why?  Because I had faced a fear that’s been holding me back for many years.
            As the plane took off, I felt the old familiar panic, but this time, because of yoga--vinyasa yoga, structural yoga, Iyengar yoga, and most recently (and for me the turning point) Kundalini yoga, and a core group of amazing teachers who have supported me over the past 8 years--I had the tools to deal with the fear. I breathed. I chanted (quietly). I meditated. I trusted. I focused on gratitude, love, and all the goodness in my life. And strangely enough, as the plane soared through the clouds, my fears subsided. No drum roll. No sense of pride. Just an overwhelming amazement. A feeling of “Hey, it’s gone! Where the heck did it go?”
            That, I can’t tell you. I don’t know where feelings go when we don’t have them any more. I don’t know where the pain of childbirth goes once that miracle baby is in our arms. I don’t know where “romantic” love goes when we stop loving someone. I don’t know where sorrow goes when it lifts from our hearts.
And I don’t know where fear goes when suddenly one day it rises and floats away. Is there a land of lost feelings somewhere in space? All I know is when it comes to losing fear, there’s a feeling of freedom in its place.
            After a full week of yoga in the New Mexico mountains, my return trip to New Jersey was a breeze. I didn’t even feel a hint of fear as the plane lifted into the air. Yes, I’m sad that it has taken me so long to make this step, but what’s important is that I’ve finally made it.
            And who knows where I’ll go from here?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lessons from Mocha

A few days ago I had the privilege of baby-sitting a kitten while a friend was otherwise occupied. My friend had rescued this little creature one day on a very busy street. The cat was in the middle of the road when my pal spied it, pulled his car over, and blocking traffic, snatched the kitten up and brought it home. No one knows where it had come from, but we suspect little “Mocha” would have had a sad story to tell if she could say anything other than “Mew.”
            Now, I’m a cat lover from way back (even though my son’s allergies keep me from having one now), but it’s been a very long time since I’ve been around a kitten. Mocha was entertaining indeed-- doing all the things one might expect a kitten to do. She slept on my stomach for a good portion of the morning, ate her food, chased a string, (unfortunately) scratched at her fleas, and purred. She seemed purr-fectly (sorry!) content for the entire seven hours she was in my custody, during which time I got absolutely nothing done other than playing and napping with Mocha.
            But my day was not wasted—far from it. Because Mocha got me thinking. Knowing her tragic and possibly violent history (one ear looks a little nibbled), I wondered how she could seem so carefree. And it occurred to me that Mocha has tapped into one of the essential secrets of happiness: don’t dwell in the past. Mocha (unlike many humans I know), didn’t tell me her backstory, didn’t cry and rant over all her bad luck, didn’t blame her mother or father, or her siblings, or her former owners. She didn’t dwell in all the pain and fear and torture she had felt when she was abandoned in the middle of a busy street. She didn’t scratch and hiss and carry her anger with her.
            Nope, she was totally in the here and now. And the here and now was pretty good, so why not enjoy it? She is now fed, cared for, loved, and will have regular checkups. So why—like so many of us do—go back to the past, go back to the places of pain and anger and hurt? Why dwell in the anguish of the past?
            It’s a valuable lesson. And, to boot, she also reminded me to play, something I’ve not been doing lately. All it takes is a string and a kitten to make seven hours go by in a flash of genuine happiness! I guess that’s why people have pets.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


...And the living is easy. Or so the song goes. Yes, I know it’s not officially summer yet, but in my town summer begins on Memorial Day. That’s when the town pool opens (on the weekends, at least), and folks in New Jersey start going “down the shore,” a term I never heard until I moved to the “Garden State.”
            For a freelance writer, summer isn’t really much different than any other season. I make my own hours, write when the assignments come, and have just as many deadlines (if not more) than I have during the winter. But I love summer, nevertheless. I love the sounds of kids playing outside (my next door neighbors have three little boys, just as I once did), I love the sounds of blue jays cawing as they soar across my yard, and I love the evenings, filled with fireflies and cicadas.
            I’ve always wondered if I would be a happier, more productive person if I lived in a warmer climate year-round (some of my friends who have jumped the east coast ship could probably answer that question), but I’m not sure that it matters. And anyway, I’ve yet to hear that not a single person in California or Florida ever gets sick or depressed; virtual sunshine can work wonders, but it can’t solve every problem we have.
            The real question is how to keep that summertime going year-round inside your heart. I’ve read and heard in so many places lately that we have the power to make our days sunny and beautiful, just by filling our hearts with love and gratitude. If that’s the case, then you could be blissed out in an igloo in Alaska, just as easily as being filled with despair in Baja. It’s all a matter of your inner landscape and climate.
            I’ll have to remind myself, when winter next comes, to keep the bird songs and the scent of flowers, and the warm rays of the August sun in my heart. Summer, in my humble opinion, is an excellent reminder that it’s up to us to let the sunshine in.