Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is Paradise

I've spent the last few days on an island yoga retreat. Not the kind where you try to look crazy sexy sweating between sauna, sand, and asana, and then refreshing with a tropical drink, but the kind that reminds you what yoga is. Who you are. Who I am.

Now, to be fair, I have seen dolphins, rays, manatees, sharks, fishes, flounders, frat boys, naked babies building sandcastles, and old couples walking hand in hand on the beach. Each one a thing of beauty (except perhaps the frat boys), but none remarkable enough to write home about (except to say they're not worth writing about). The night before last, I saw the place where the land ends. The sky ends. The world ends.

I stepped out onto the beach sometime past ten o'clock and dug my toes into the white sand. The ocean was so black that it melted into the sky. I think I could have reached out and touched the blackness and it would have absorbed me like a black hole. Instead I tried to focus on where the white sand faded into the blackness of the sea, but I couldn't find the edge of the ocean. It was simply magnificent and impossible to recreate or even describe.

I traveled here on a whim, with a bunch of people I don't know very well. I had no intention of meeting or befriending them, just being polite and then skulking off on my own to write or ruminate or nap. Instead, I had some great meals and conversations. Great yoga and stargazing. And just today the group told me they thought I was funny. Talented. Unique. I know some of these things, but even now in my liberated days where I don't get too hung up on negative comments or other peoples' baggage, it was refreshing.

Any time someone says the word "retreat" I automatically think of falling away in battle, not escaping the nine to five. I imagine sinking into the blackness or hiding out until the tide returns. When I come home, I hope I will remember this lesson: paradise is more than sinking your toes into the sand. Paradise is being seen for who you are: dissolving the line between who you are and who you pretend to be.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Not a Lemon

If you know me at all in my life beyond the internet, you probably know I'm a bit of a judger. In fact, had I not been in fifth grade when Judge Judy was cast, I'm certain I would have been selected for the role of Most Critical and Outspoken Female Waif in the under 5'4" category. It isn't that I was tall at ten, it's all the legal aspects of actually being a judge. Details, details.

Instead, I've always cast a longish finger in my own direction, usually while peering into a brightly lit magnifying mirror. Case in point: every time I've ever been evaluated for work performance, I've always started by cutting of my evaluator with, "I know exactly what you're going to say..." and then listing my seventeen most prominent faults, like excessive use of toilet paper, or alphabetizing artificial sweetener packets.

Self criticism is nearly impossible to stop. If there were a secret camera into my kitchen, you would see me tell my husband, "I'm leaving these dishes for you to unload..." while I unload them from the dishwasher, dry them, put them away, and refill the dishwasher. When he returns to the kitchen five minutes later and asks me what I meant by "leaving the dishes for me" or God forbid starts unloading the dirty dishes because I just told him that I was leaving the dishes for him to unload, we end up in a cycle of blaming, finger pointing, and usually tears (and I'm just talking about me, myself, and I, because my husband will happily wander away either feeling lucky or perhaps just slightly hard of hearing).

If I had previously thought that it was impossible to amplify my critical tendencies to new heights, I learned quickly that I was wrong once I started to barely consider having a baby. All it took was the sage advice of Dr. Google, or a wonky breast exam, or an ill-timed trip to crank up the self-destruct-o-meter to new and unparalleled heights. Internet research proves that I should be avoiding salt, sugar, dairy, wheat, soy, caffeine, hormone-laden meat and eggs, alcohol, fun, and late night movie marathons to improve my chances of conception. Faithfully avoiding anything remotely close to fun and drinking my weight in kale juice and pea protein powder while getting enough exercise, sunshine, meditation has yielded me nothing but greater frustration.

But it hasn't stopped the inner critic.

Nope. One funky breast exam and I immediately turned on my body.

"It's YOU! You're SABOTAGING ME!" I exclaimed at my right breast, "You're the reason none of this is working out correctly! You're rotten and you're trying to TAKE ME DOWN WITH YOU!"

This, as you may have guessed, is not very yogic.

Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say, "Whip and beat your body into submission. Stop caring for yourself. Consult Google at every strange turn for possible solutions/diagnoses/recommendations." In the Yoga Sutras, it clearly suggests that the yogi must experience her own nature... the difference between herself and false identities.

It is easy to say you should watch for these subtle changes, but the reality is that the subtle changes aren't apparent unless we are really, totally present. This is what Patanjali said. Step one: right now, you should be breathing. Step two, did you turn off the TV? Step three, are you sitting with yourself or some false sense of who you are?

I'm paraphrasing, of course.

I've been stuck on step three for a long time now, I'm afraid. Listening to and believing a life's worth of lies about my body: wrong shape, wrong functionality, too old, too tired, etc. Those lies are not me. And I finally heard someone speak the truth. It finally chiseled through the mind trap.

"Your body is not a lemon." ~Ina May Gaskin

Oh. Right.

1.3 tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam

Monday, May 6, 2013

I Have So Much to Lose Here

You can easily determine my age by my Sarah Mclachlan reference, can't you? My earworm tonight is FEAR by Ms. M. I have to admit, I'm a little scared about tomorrow. I'm scared about the next day, and the next, and what might happen after that, too.

I remember last year, on a plane to NYC following a biopsy and ready for the s*it to hit the fan. It crossed my mind that I could legitimately get hit by a bus (and I was much more likely to be in NYC than in Colorado Springs). I was less afraid than I've ever been to get hit by a bus, because I thought that if I got hit by the bus, I'd never have to get that scary phone call.

It's stupid, I know.

I'm no stranger to fear. Anxiety is my de facto way of life. My spirit animal is an alpaca, the only animal that will up and die of a heart attack just because it saw a shadow.

These are my people.

I learned a lot last time. I wasn't afraid to cheat traffic like a local, or offend someone by taking two free samples of SO delicious ice cream bars, or say what I meant. I had confidence and gusto and wandered the streets wearing a giant derby-style sun hat with NO SHAME. I was an alpaca in wolf's clothing (or more accurately: derby gear).

Fear is thinking you have something, because once you think you have it, then you know you can lose it. The yogis remind us that we have nothing, that we're had by nothing. And therefore, we cannot be lost to others or to ourselves. We have nothing to fear, because we have nothing.

I wonder what I will learn tomorrow.