Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Refresh Your Resolution!

Finally, after weeks and weeks of waiting, I received my copy of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda's "Sadhana of the Heart" by yesterday's mail. This is the text, I'm told, that will strengthen my commitment to my intention this year, this is the text I need if I really want to immerse myself in the discipline of yoga.

So far, so good. In fact, I can barely put it down. Now I get why the couple of people I asked to borrow "Sadhana" from, just couldn't part with their copy. This is one to read and re-read, underline and annotate, carry around.

One quarter into 2010 now, it is such a pleasure to read Gurumayi's words, to have them draw me back to my written goals for the year, to support my own deep desire to stay on this track.
With each new beginning comes a natural desire for change. We respond by setting a new direction. And so we make a resolution, a shining promise to ourselves. However, it cannot stop there. Every resolution, large or small, requires effort. It can be realized only if this effort is sustained. It needs your attention on an ongoing basis. Every resolution has to be carried out with resolution. When this is not the case, you make resolution after resolution, resolution after resolution, resolution after resolution -- you have an ocean of resolutions crashing on the shores of daily life, littering your mind with broken promises.

You see, a shining resolution that is not honored will not disappear. It stays in your awareness. Like driftwood in the waves or a blinding flash of light on the water, it's always moving around trying to catch your attention. You know it's there. You become aware of your inability to act on it. You see your laziness, lack of strength, and negligence.
By contemplating and setting the intentions I did, I gave them life and so now it is my task to sustain the effort required to realize them. It's been easy, actually, so far to check some items on my list off, not because they were easy but because they corresponded deeply to changes I really wanted to make. Some, though, are taking a lot of concerted attention, a day-by-day commitment. But if not now, then when? That is entirely up to me, and so the work on the intentions for the year continues.

Each one of us is in the driver's seat, as much as it's easy to forget, to get caught up in the notion that we're doing what we're doing because we "have to." It's all a choice, so make it a happy, conscious one to the best of your ability all the time. Without intending it, that's where my long list of 2010 goals has brought me, to this realization that by giving myself entirely to their fulfillment, I take a comfortable seat as the driver of my own destiny. From this vantage point, my intentions are clear and I know I'll get there.

Resolution refreshed! Next stop: fulfillment!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Remedial Mauna, week 2

Last week's experiment in applying mauna, or silence, at work, was not a huge success. Part of that obviously is the fact that I'm at work where communication seems to be almost all that's happening. Also, what I realized is that it's hard to keep a commitment to silence except situationally, as in, oh, when this stressful thing starts happening, I'll be quiet then. Or I'll experiment with being quiet in this meeting (not effective in one-on-one meetings, naturally!). And I suspect that the kind of being quiet that's called for is the kind where words are not leaving my mouth because my mind is not generating them, and wow, that's a whole different kind of silence than I was able to muster last week.

So this week, I'm staying with the mauna discipline, watching to see how I can quiet my mind and watch the words, decide on them, as they form and well before they leave my mouth. The words seem like they're the end of the thought, the extremities that I need to pull in for stability. I could use more stability for sure, especially at work, where I do feel unsafe most of the time, on guard, out on a limb.

Pulling in, that's how I'm thinking about the mauna this week. Keeping my words to a minimum, using only the ones I need.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring cleaning of the heart

There's an aspect to this blog that feels a little bit like cheating, since I go to class, am totally inspired, then come home and write about what I heard. It's not like I made it up, like I'm the clever, sweet, deep creature who strung these thoughts together in the first place. Nope, that's Laura, almost always. Me, I'm just the scribe. But I get so excited about what I hear, the words take up residence, that I can't not write about it, share it out to those of you who don't have the great privilege of laying your mat down in front of my teacher. Really, I owe her a daily debt of gratitude for which there are not enough words in all the combined human and non-human languages -- but I still try, in the language I know best.

Last night's class delivered, as usual, the precise message I most needed to hear. Laura introduced the malas of which there are three. The malas provide handy names for the ways in which we become cut off from our own truth, from a sense of connection, from our own power. We talk about the malas as dust on the mirror of the heart. The point of the yoga is always to clean the mirror, to show us what is already and always there -- the heart.

We spent last night with anavamala, the veil that cloaks iccha or intention, the heart, leading to a feeling that something is missing, a feeling of lack. It is the very opposite of fullness, a diminishment. And boy, could I relate, wasn't I really feeling the effects of anavamala after the crash-and-burn Tuesday I had at work, which lingered on in a prevailing sense of sorrow. How to clear the anavamala? Lots of chest openers, shoulders up and back, inner body bright, shoulder blades lifting the heart forward. But mostly a reminder to see the shimmer, as Laura put it, within yourself and within others and everywhere around you. It's there.

It was truly a spring cleaning of the heart. I know I felt bigger,taller, fuller, connected, all the accumulated dross of the week gone, heart bright and shiny, by the end of class. Now all I have to do is stay on top of that dusting, something I know my friends and teacher will help me with, and this fresh, just-cleaned feeling will hang around a bit longer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today will be better

Yesterday was a bit of a crash-and-burn -- seriously not a good day at work, seriously not a day I could walk away from with satisfaction -- so today's bound to be an improvement. I am super-committed to still working the mauna. I probably would have benefited yesterday from not speaking, might have turned out better, but enough regrets. Time to start again.

This morning I finished reading "The Weight of Heaven" by Thrity Umrigar. I am still thinking about how I feel about this book (which says something already), but I do particularly like a quote she includes in the Acknowledgements:
Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.
-- Virginia Woolf

Me, too!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quiet, please

In a few hours, I embark on day 2 of this week's experiment in applying yogic austerities at work. To peace of mind and gentleness, I add the discipline of silence.

It's helpful for me to spend this time in the morning, before heading to the office, remembering the point of this exercise for me. The degree to which I can apply these disciplines, the seriousness and devotion of my focus, are in direct relationship to the fruit these disciplines will bear. As Laura asked (and the question still echoes for me, daily), "how bad do you want awakening?" Because however bad you want it, that's how hard you need to work it, how consistently, how everywhere.

Let's be honest: I want awakening bad. And I know it's up to me. If I want, I can keep postponing the moment, by leaving the work in the future. Or I can do what I'm doing now, making it the central focus of each day.

So here I go, taking some silence to the office with me.

Mauna, this silence, is about choosing not only my words with deliberation, but also the frequency of my speech. It's about slowing response time, not adding more noise to an already noisy-landscape, instead choosing words that build harmony. For me specifically, it's about minding my snark, my punning, my barbs. I love to play with words, so this will be an interesting experiment in quieting that impulse. And at my job, which is communicative to the point of exhaustion, it's going to be super-interesting to haul myself out of the coursing chatty whitewater, stand on the bank and watch.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Austerity #2: Saumya -- soft outside, diamond-strong inside

After four days of working Austerity #2, saumya, at work last week, I think I may have found a key, if not The Key, not only to how to get through however much longer I am going to have to stay in this job, but also to just getting along better in the world. Saumya is just another way of saying the thing I keep hearing in yoga, about being soft on the outside and diamond-strong on the inside, a big big challenge for me but clearly I need to keep hearing it and get on with doing it already.

The way that saumya manifested for me at work was that I proceeded about my tasks more slowly and I chose my words far more deliberately, going for a gentleness of expression. I took the "knowing exactly how much strength to apply in any given situation, using just as much force as necessary, nothing more" as instructions on how to communicate. Really, I feel like mostly that's all my work really is, moving information from one set of people to another. And in several difficult situations, I was glad to be able to express an idea, provide a suggestion or difference of opinion with strength but without sharpness. Now that's some saumya for sure, and oh so very much more effective. Not every situation calls for a knife.

And at work, I do believe I am known more for the knife.

The combination of the manah-prasadah and the saumya -- contentedness of mind and gentleness -- made for a much more pleasant work day, and one I could walk away from 100% when I walked out the door. I was clear and direct but without rancor. Added bonus: I don't feel like I carried home any of the usual gunk, maybe because I didn't accumulate any. Aha, very, very interesting.

Don't get me wrong: my days in this occupation are numbered because I really do need to get off my a** and do the thing I'm here for, and soon. But at least working these yogic austerities is helping me be present where I have to be right now with a whole lot more grace and joyfulness, way less bitching and moaning. How delightful that I'm about to add austerity #3 to the menu for the week: mauna, silence. Now that will be really fun.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Wow, just read the final lines of "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann, and am stunned and ready to start again from the beginning, imagining already how I'll re-savor the words, re-eat the images. A truly great read, best thing I've read in so long, definitely one of those books that I'll re-read on a schedule, much like I used to regularly read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" or "Fortress of Solitude," two other particular favorites.

I'll return this borrowed copy to Peggy and buy another, another to crease and carry and eventually shelf on January 1, 2011, along with all of my other 2010 reads.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pranayama and Percocet

My Goal #2 for this gear is to reduce the frequency of migraines I experience. Sometime in my 30s I started with migraines, and last year they really became an utter plague. Seems every time I turned around, I had another. And it's so weird that someone, me, who does so much yoga (presumably relaxing, self-caring) still couldn't get a leg-up on this regular skull-crushing. So in December I picked up and devoured an excellent book, "The Migraine Brain" by Dr. Carolyn Bernstein. Seriously helpful. At the same time, though, I have to say that mostly I am straddling two very different worlds: the woo-woo world of yoga with all its ayurvedic, new age-y, homeopathic trappings, and the world of pharma, which seriously saves my ass over and over again, making it possible for me to get through a work-day or a weekend or whatever without losing a beat.

Because that's the thing about me: I don't want to be stopped by anything, least of all by a migraine. So even if my head is killing me, I'll swallow whatever I have to to just keep going, do what I want, not miss out. Life doesn't stop just because the walls of my cranium are pressing in hard. I refuse to sit out. I will not spend four days in bed just because my head hurts.

And that's how I found myself, last weekend, a beautiful weekend in Tahoe with my yoga buddies and 3 hours a day of practice, swallowing percocets just to be able to sit upright on my mat and not fall over in pain. Don't get me wrong: I hate taking pills, but sometimes I really feel like I have no other option if I want to live my life the way I want to. [Sorry, that's a bit of a lie: I don't really hate taking pills, I just hate taking them when I *have* to. If it were for fun, then I wouldn't mind so much. Just didn't want to lie.]

Since January, I've had two four-day migraines. And that's an improvement! The first (January) started the night before my birthday and lasted throughout the long weekend, the last woke me up last Friday, the morning we were leaving for Tahoe, and lingered through the end of Monday. I was triumphant not to have one in February, particularly because I was really paying attention and knew exactly why.

According to "The Migraine Brain," migraines are "a complex neurological disease," "a chronic neurological illness you were born with." The migraine brain is "high-maintenance, hypersensitive, demanding and overly excitable. It usually insists that everything in its environment remain stable and even-keeled. It can respond angrily to anything it isn't accustomed to or doesn't like." And clearly what my poor little migraine brain doesn't like is stress at work, hormones, sleeplessness, dehydration and excess caffeine. Throw the altitude of going to Tahoe into the mix, and last weekend's four-day migraine is inevitable! If I managed to escape a migraine in February, it's because during the precise week that I was in most danger of the killer head-pain [the book says 2 days before your period, migraine is 71% more likely to occur], I was super-hydrated, well-slept and on Cloud 9 in a 5-day yoga immersion. Yes, clearly and no-duh, my brain doesn't like my job. I don't blame it!

Now that I'm out of migraine #2 of 2010, two days free from pain and drugs, I am already planning ahead to April and watching for the warning signs that should manifest in about two weeks. I'm hoping next time I can get through it with more pranayama and less percocet, but I don't encourage betting on that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Austerities at work 2: saumya

This week I'm adding saumya (gentleness) to my work-practice. It's a four-day week for me which should make the layering-on of saumya over last week's manah-prasadah a little less daunting.

What I'm remembering from practice is that this gentleness that Krishna speaks of to Arjuna is not to be confused with weakness. Rather than an absence of strength, saumya is instead the discernment and application of exactly as much strength as is needed in any given situation, no more, no less. It's also a self-gentleness, appreciating where you are in any moment.

So far I have to say that saumya has been an extremely rewarding practice for this day. Rather than become upset that my boss has yet again taken on an area of work that I thought was mine to do, I am softly, gently, and genuinely watching that and considering. [Of course, to be honest, I should say that the exact words that ran through my mind initially were, "Ok, take that piece, too. As long as I get paid the same amount, why should I be upset?"]

The other aspect of saumya that I'm experimenting with today is working more gently, i.e., slowly. I generally push very hard, work very fast, do a lot. Today I am moving more deliberately, without the rush-rush. Truly my tendency to over-work never serves me in the long run, since it establishes ever-escalating expectations. Using too much force has never done me that much good at work.

The fact that I had the best weekend in recent memory is helping me a lot here. I'm still coasting along on all of that love and good feeling, all of the harmony and delight, and guarding that little flame. Gentleness will surely keep that flame burning, not too big a gust of wind, just small quiet breaths.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Age: so weird and wonderful

This weekend I was chatting with some new friends and they reacted strongly to the fact that I have a son who's 22. "What? How does that work if you are only, like, 25 yourself," said one of them, who has my undying devotion. "You're forty seven? That's ridiculous," said the other. "I thought you were our age."

"I am," I answered. "I'm just older."

And then we laughed ourselves silly.

Which gets me thinking, again, about how weird it is to be getting to be old as dirt, especially now that I have friends of all ages with whom I hang out on a regular basis, altogether forgetting about the decades that might separate our birth dates.

As I enter the far side of my forties, it's so much fun to have such a range of people in my life, from my BFF Ruby who's 11 on up to Diana who's more than 60 (just guessing, Diana, don't know for sure since you defy categorization!). It's so weird to think about how ancient my grandmothers seemed when I was a child, and to know that my spry parents are at least 20 years older than that now and still living it up and growing and changing. Have things changed or just me? Probably a little of both.

No matter what, I'm still going to sit bolt upright in bed, out of a dead sleep, awakened by the thought, "Holy F*ck! I'm going to be 50 in three years!" The 50 makes no sense, doesn't match up at all with the idea I have had in my head for most of my life about what it represents. It's truly wonderful that it's different than my expectation and that each year continues to get better and better as the numbers go higher and higher.

What a shame it is that people have such a complex about their age, that we live in a culture that glorifies youth to such a degree that women and men will have surgeries to maintain the face, the ass, at 55 that they had at 25. How much more fun it is to see the passing years as an accumulation of wisdom and experience and capacity for sheer enjoyment of life, keeping youthful curiosity and enthusiasm alive while gaining an ever-deeper sense of how miraculous everything is.

Anyway, that's how I'm planning on rocking it from here to 95, hanging around with the youths, partying with my elders, each birthday's bigger number an opportunity to celebrate how great it is to still be on this earth, swept up in all of this wonder. And periodically, if I still get carded, that's cool, too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Soaking In It

Our merry little band of yogis is on the road this weekend, up practicing and playing in gorgeous Tahoe. Our teacher Laura is leading workshops here at the charming Tahoe Yoga and Wellness Center in Truckee. Joe and I are staying at the home of the lovely Diana and Jim, reveling in the beauty of our surroundings and soaking it all in.

The first morning we awoke here was like Christmas. As soon as we saw sun on the fresh snowy branches of the pine trees, we were out of bed in a flash, ready to run downstairs to unwrap the beauties of the morning. And it's been a constant unwrapping all weekend!

The classes are fabulous, naturally. It's been lovely to come in out of the snowy cold and practice in a beautiful space. Laura reviewed the austerities yesterday, and it was so nice to feel the way the disciplines have taken root so deep inside me already, thanks to all of the repetition in class and the concerted effort to take them off the mat.

But really what I am so struck by this weekend, again, is the many, many unexpected gifts of yoga. Because of yoga I am in Tahoe this weekend, a weekend arranged by my lovely hostess Diana. Because of yoga, I am Diana's guest this weekend, in the most gorgeous Tahoe home I've ever been in, on the lake, beautifully appointed. Because of yoga, I am sitting at a long wooden table right now as my classmates and friends mill around the kitchen getting their breakfast together, chatting and laughing. Because of yoga I am basking in the warm glow of this abundance of friendship, the ease of meeting people and loving them instantly, not knowing a single worldly fact about them, meeting the truest aspect of their self and letting the rest unfold. It's truly remarkable and I am so grateful.

This weekend I am utterly surrounded by the goodness that yoga brings, bathing in it, soaking in it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peace of Mind at work: not so much

I definitely learned some things this week in my practice of applying Austerity #1: manah-prasadah (peace of mind) at work. Overall the experience was a good one. In a short week of work, three days rather than 5, I did well 2 out of 3 days. Day 1 I managed to remain calm, not to get whipped up into strong emotions. Sounds like nothing, but in the climate I work in, strong winds blow. Day 2 I cultivated a cheerfulness which was extremely helpful. Day 3, yesterday, felt neither calm nor cheerful. At all. It was just the same as before, but perhaps that's a helpful contrast.

There's something to be said for choosing a short week to apply a new principle at work. The amount of constant self-awareness and devotion required for me to remain cheerful in every situation at work -- and there are situations I'm in which seriously push every button I've got -- is intense. Holding on to that for less than 5 days, as a starting point, was probably a good idea. The problem is that the pressure level in short weeks is actually higher than in a regular week, since the demands on me are unrelenting, relentless. No matter how present I am able to be physically or mentally, the expectations of work-delivery remain exactly the same, so that I am pushed to accomplish in 3 days what in "normal" circumstances I would have completed in 5. The stress level is ridiculous.

Also, I'm seriously a crazy lady who didn't bother to look at the calendar. This week, the second week of the month, is when I am most at risk for a migraine. It is when I need to do the best possible job I can of managing my personal physical conditions so as to escape the skull-crushing multi-day headache -- drink lots of water, chill, sleep, chill, practice, chill. But really all I can do is minimize and manage the risk factors, because what I've learned is that I can't turn off the hormonal triggers. I just need to do what I can on the other factors, to arrest the pain before it hits 10.

You could argue that this would be the perfect week to practice some Peace of Mind, but any of the three other weeks would have been slightly less of an uphill battle. All things considered, I'm not unhappy with the experiment and plan to continue next week (a 4-day week), layering on Austerity #2: saumya (gentleness). I'm stealing a little saumya for myself right now as I review the past week -- no point being critical of how it went, I'm just observing.

It occurred to me yesterday again that at its core, the work situation I'm in is unhealthy and that all of my attempts to improve my own reactions in it, while laudable of course, will not change that fundamental dysfunction. There is really only one solution which puts my own well-being first, and that's a step that I must defer. In the meantime, I will boldly continue to apply the austerities everywhere in my life, even at work, working on the project that is Me. It's more fun that way, believe me!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cancer Advisory Threat Level: Guarded

Another day, another doctor appointment: I tagged along to Joe's appointment with his oncologist today, with my list of questions. Because we're still waiting to have PET scan #3, our personal Cancer Threat Level (stealing from the Department of Homeland Security, because what could be more your homeland than your own sweet body?) is now reduced to Guarded. That's a lovely change from the Severe and High threat levels of the past 7 months. Oh hallelujah and thank you doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, lab animals, researchers, family and friends!

As Dr. Maloney put it, Joe passes. As far as Dr. Maloney is concerned, Joe is cured. Yes, there may be recurrence in future, but right now, Joe is done.

Now we heard these words and didn't quite jump out of our chair, off our exam table, because remember, there's still that tonsil business and PET scan #3 to get through. But Maloney thinks it's really unlikely that the tonsil thing is lymphoma and reminded us that not all uptake indicates cancer.

If it weren't for that tonsil, we'd be at Threat Level: Low. The PET scan is in a couple of weeks and once we have those results in, then we might really strike up the band.

Maloney is expecting we'll see nothing on that scan. That's what we all want. But at least, if that tonsil still lights up when the radioactive sugar hits Joe's bloodstream, then that tonsil and its partner will just come on out of his body altogether, scoring him a couple of weeks of recuperation, popsicles and pain-killers. They'll biopsy the thing, and we'll know once and for all.

So yes, guardedly, we are jumping around, doing a little Snoopy dance. Almost there, people. The real terrorist among us is almost eliminated, may it go away and not come back on any day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lymphoma: are we done?

We went to see Dr. Chien today (not Chin as I thought before) regarding Joe's right tonsil which was still causing some concern among the doctors. This has been worrisome, since we would really like to put the whole Cancer Incident behind us and move on. I think we heard good news.

Dr. Chien said that the MRI didn't really show much there on the right tonsil. And that the second PET scan had shown less uptake than the first (reminder that uptake is taken as an indication of hungry cancer cells). If the Something on the right tonsil was indeed involved with the lymphoma, then theoretically the chemo would handle it. The fact that the uptake value went down on PET scan #2 is a good, but not clear, sign.

I then had the distinct delight of watching Dr. Chien thread a scope into Joe's right nostril after numbing it, so he could get a closer look at the tonsils. Amazing. And Joe says the scope smelled like pumpkin pie.

Dr. Chien didn't see anything weird or suspicious, but has recommended that Joe have a third PET scan to see whether there has been further change in uptake. Since the second PET scan was after Joe's fourth of 6 rounds of chemo, it's entirely possible (crossing fingers, lighting candles in my mind) that the chemo was still working on this area and that chemos #5 and #6 knocked it out completely?

So we'll see. Early in April, Joe will have PET scan #3 to see what's going on in there. If the tonsil lights up, then we're on to tonsillectomy. We could skip the PET scan and go straight to tonsillectomy, but having seen what it did to Laurent when he had one two years ago, we'd rather only do it if absolutely necessary.

I'm treating this as good news, inconclusive but good. Phew!

Adventures in Austerity

While I wait for Amazon to ship my copy of Gurumayi's "Sadhana of the Heart," which contains, I am told, everything I really need to know to ground myself deeply in the austerities of the mind, I am still researching on the interwebs and conducting my little experiment.

In an article on, Swami Jyotirmayananda writes:
Manah prasadah means to allow the mind to be joyous. People who have been accustomed to think of austerity as something crude will be surprised by this. In Yoga philosophy, austerity is not supposed to give you pain, but discipline you so that the spirit flows in a healthy, unobstructed way through your personality. Thus, the effort to maintain cheerfulness of the mind is a dynamic aspect of austerity.
My definition didn't include this joyousness of the mind, though I can see a path to it. My first day's manah-prasadah effort at work was really more about eliminating the big swings of negative emotion, the anger and irritation. I just wanted to savor a sense of inner calm. And that, surely, is the way to cultivating the cheerfulness of the quote above, but there can't be cheerfulness when there's so much annoyance.

The Day One experiment went pretty well. I decided that it might be helpful to note the triggers, to keep a running list of what specifically seems to set me off. Of course, the very idea of writing it down made me feel better, since it really did give the whole endeavor the feeling of an exercise, bought me some necessary distance.

From the very first moment when I opened my Monday morning email, I was conscious of how early and quickly I can get triggered, leading to entries #1 and #2 on my list:

- spazzy, misspelled, over-broadcast emails by [my boss].
- TMI by [employee X].

But just writing that down made me feel a lot better, took a lot of the energy out of the reaction. [And interesting how both of those have to do with communication style of two individuals with very seepy boundaries.]

Through two challenging meetings yesterday morning, back-to-back, I managed to maintain my poise, largely unruffled, very aware of my words and reactions. I did lose it a bit in the afternoon [entry #3: "[employee X's] passive aggressive disregard for direction she doesn't like."] but all in all can count the day a succcess, if only for the sustained attention to the state of my own mind.

If nothing else, I'm thinking about communication and how my own irritation is really a defense against what I feel are incursions into the quiet of my own space. The peace of mind is really just a knowing that no matter how much spazzy TMI comes my way, it really doesn't affect my internal state unless I let it.

Like Laura said in class on Saturday, "How bad do you want awakening?" I want it BAD so it's on me to stay with this practice, cultivate that cheerfulness of mind which is actually my nature but tends to desert me in the office. Pretty hard work!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Manah-prasadah at work: this is going to be interesting

I said I'd work on applying the austerities at work this week, starting with manah-prasadah, 1st of the 5. So I'm re-reading my notes and thinking and laying the groundwork to pull this off.

So, manah-prasadah -- peace of mind. Stated another couple of ways: self satisfaction and serenity free from mental imbalances; tranquility due to self satisfaction; mental purity due to the absence of lust, anger and greed. I am interpreting it to mean equanimity of mind, an absence of strong emotions that take me over, an abiding peacefulness that has its origins in an inner calm.

Yep, this is going to be interesting.

I find that at work, I am routinely reacting to the craziness of the people around me and angered by emails and demands and the people I manage. If anyone is in need of some peace of mind at work, it's me. But it's going to require that yogic discipline for sure, a lot of it, lots of repetition. On the other hand, if anything is going to teach me peace of mind, honestly it's work, since if I can pull it off there, I ought to be the equal to any challenge.

And that, really, has got to be the whole point. It's not enough to have a contented mind when standing on the mat, practicing with a bunch of friends with the same outlook and same intentions. It's pretty easy to get along and feel peaceful when everybody is there for the same purpose. Work is just not like that, so that's where I'm going to roll out this manah-prasadah, see if I can hold that pose for any extended period.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I live in a temple of love

Today Joe finished the new fence around the front of our yard, the fence that he started on the sneak on Valentine's Day. I was away at yoga all day, and when I came home that night, lo and behold my sneaky spouse had begun the first panel of the long-planned fence. Every spare moment since that weekend he has been out there making that fence, delighting particularly in working on it while I'm gone or when I'm not expecting it so that he can surprise me.

The fence project has been such a glory, such a pleasure. It's beautiful, of course, and represents hours of Joe's love and creativity and attention. And I know that although he does it for us, really he's doing it for me, delighting in adding elements that he knows I'll love, every board a loving touch.

And that's really something, knowing that what he does, he does so much for me. But it gets bigger.

For us the fence celebrates Joe's triumphant return, a spring like none other, made so much brighter after the nightmare winter darkness of cancer. Just as he used to -- but we forgot he was like this, cancer erasing what "normal" feels like -- Joe is up and at it from the moment it's light enough to see to the moment it's too dark to operate tools, clearing and beautifying and making this place where we live a paradise, a temple of love. In every room and in every corner of the yard, there is something that Joe has made. We are living inside our very own Taj Mahal.

Every time I look at the fence, I remember something Laurent said to Joe, when Laurent was very young -- "Dad, you're the bestest maker." I still say it, because really, truly, he is. Yes, we may now the nicest front yard on the block, but honestly that's nothing compared to what I see when I look at it: a life and love that just keep getting bigger and stronger and better, 20 1/2 years in.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Working the Austerities

We have been WORKING it in yoga with Laura since before the end of 2009, focused on keeping the fire of our new year's intentions stoked and burning bright. In January, we started working our way through the austerities, one every week or so, each one building on the last, a tidy little structure of yogic discipline.

The timing couldn't be better, since I really want this to be The Year that I realize a major transformation. As I wrote in my pitch for a blogger contest recently, "This year, my Year of Intention, I’ll be using yoga deliberately to stay committed to my vision and to jump out in a new direction, and documenting how a devoted practice is deeply transformative, on and off the mat." The emphasis on the austerities is so helpful in this regard, keeping me on the straight-and-narrow, bringing me back when I forget.

The austerities are described in the Bhagavad-Gita, 17:16, which reads:
manah-prasadah saumyatvam
maunam atma-vinigrahah
bhava-samsuddhir ity etat
tapo manasam ucyate
which means:
Peace of mind, gentleness,
silence, self-restraint,
and purity of consciousness
are the austerities of the mind.
So January 30th, we started with manah-prasadah, peace of mind. The big lesson I took away from this was using the body to calm the mind. During saumya week, we practiced gentleness, using only as much strength as necessary, backing off, being sweet in the poses. Mauna: we practiced without talking, listening to each other. Atma-vinigraha: self-restraint translated into muscle energy, pulling in to the core, in every pose cultivating a solid center. Finally, this week -- bhava-samsuddhi -- the cleansing of consciousness, letting go of negative thinking, seeing with Shiva drishti.

Like the universal principles of alignment, the trick is to eventually incorporate all 5 of the austerities simultaneously without having to think about it, so that it's just normal behavior. It's pretty easy to stay focused, to remember, when you're just doing 1 for an hour and a half in class. So as my own personal challenge, now that we've cycled through the 5 in class, is to roll out each one in a concerted way for a whole week at work, which seriously is the biggest area of challenge in my life right now. I sometimes pause and ask myself, before I speak at work, "What if my teacher could see me now? Would she be pleased?" I could do a lot better.

This transformation I'm about this year is not just external, not just wanting to break free of the job I'm in and be more creative day-to-day. It's not just creating the small urban farm I'm dreaming about, and making space for chickens in my life. It's really about whether I can, in a disciplined manner, use the tools that yoga provides, to make a happier life right now, not just when I've accomplished those goals. Right Now, every day, every moment.

And the only way to get there is through the austerities, through a disciplined commitment to my own self, to my own desires, to the unfolding of my own vision. This year is going to be great!

Thanks for reading!