Wednesday, April 1, 2015

journey of a resistant yogini {№1}

my friend and yoga teacher cyndi lee is collaborating with me on a series of posts about the ways we experience resistance to yoga and how to overcome them.  if you are human there is a good chance you know resistance pretty well. the conversations cyndi and i have about yoga and resistance and creativity have turned out to be pretty powerful.  we want to invite you along.  if you've ever felt the struggle to get to yoga class (or go for a walk, take an art workshop, sit down and write, start anything that is good for you, etc.) we hope our journey offers insight and real solutions.

first, introductions:

cyndi:  i am a yoga teacher.  for nearly four decades i have studied with great yoga teachers and buddhist masters but i often learn the most from my students.  you might think that i love to practice yoga all day long but according to my mother, i was born ornery.  this has manifested in resistance to doing pretty much anything other than lying on the couch with a good book, a cappuccino, and my poodle, leroy.  although i am familiar with the struggles of resistance, i am also bored with that old story so i want to thank lisa for inviting me to explore the what, where, when and mostly why of resistance.  resistance is fertile.

lisa:  i am a yoga student.  it's been thirty years since i took my first yoga class and i still consider myself a beginner. i turned fifty last year and spent some months leading up to that day pondering the yoga-related plans i made on my thirtieth and fortieth birthdays that have not manifested in the decades since i first dreamed them out loud.  i became fascinated with the frequency and intensity of my resistance to doing yoga.  like cyndi, i have a wee rebellious spark and find it impishly delightful when we get together and the combined power of our resistance is enough to move mountains.  except the mountains remain firmly in place, because resistance keeps anything from moving.  i am beyond grateful to have cyndi as a teacher.

lisa:  for me resistance feels like emotional interference to living.  more specifically, interference to do-ing. resistance to things like paying bills and housework makes total sense to me, but i am extra curious when i have resistance to things i love, like yoga.  and i'm gobsmacked by the ability of tricky resistance to be cunningly unconscious (resulting in saying to myself thirty years later, "hey, i totally didn't do that...hmmm.")  there is that little moment before class, that brief deflation of enthusiasm and good intention, wherein if i dare inhale, the sweet possibility of escape and postponement washes over me.

recently i started the practice of consciously noticing when i am experiencing resistance.  as an introverted-intuitive-creative human, i tend to start any venture in my head.  often that is where they set up camp and stay.  forever.  it's really really good in there.  while this new practice of noticing increases my self-awareness and understanding, it is a practice that happens in my head, not with my body.  my resistance has not dissolved.  i have not been rocketed to class with a smile on my face.  it's true, i want to be rocketed to class, propelled by the majestic force of centuries of the enlightened, with a blissful smile on my face and a head emptied of resistance.  high expectations anyone?  i know the first leg of my journey is moving out of my head and on to my mat.

cyndi:  everything is better in your head.  oh, my friend, there is so much here to talk about that we might have to sit down at cao, our favorite hang.  perhaps you will get a tiny sipping chocolate and i'll get a steeping leaf revelation green tea and my two favorite truffles, madagascar vanilla and toasted coconut.  sometimes you get tea and truffles too.  sometimes i get a cappucino...  oh, this fantasy is so good, but let's pull our minds back to the present for a moment.

you are such a profoundly creative being.  your mind and mind's eye is alive and rich with color and light and movement.  you see paintings and pretty rooms and inspiring images all the time.

in buddhism, we call this fruition.  it means having a vision of where you are headed.  this is not the same as a fixed goal, such as, "i will lose this much weight in this amount of time.  and then i will be done."

fruition is more like an aspiration or a direction.  such as:

"i will become loving and generous toward myself and others."

"i want to see everyone as a friend, including myself."

this is different from a set goal because implicit in this approach is the understanding that you will be entering an ongoing process; it is more like a sea change in how you live your life.  it is not task-oriented but more about expanding your capacity.  you might not know what that process is yet.  or you might know what it is but you have some resistance to entering that process.  because you know there will be challenges along the way, perhaps some setbacks too.

so the thing to do is rewind back to the beginning.  in buddhism, this is called three fold logic.
  1. start with your fruitional vision.
  2. take honest stock of where you are now in relationship to that fruitional vision.  if this expanded capacity feels a hundred miles away, this is actually no problem.  the only problem is if you are not honest about where you are starting.  whether you are honest or not, this is the still the place where you are starting.  current location, please.
  3. connect these two dots by figuring out the path.
let's go back to the part of you who sees light and color and beauty.  what i have learned about you is that you are almost constantly engaged in a process (a path!) of creating this in your world.

for example, you recently made beautiful easter eggs by dyeing them with natural materials.  you reported in this very blog that you had a lot of trail and error.  supposedly, vinegar holds the dye, but you aren't sure about that since your results were inconsistent.  you discovered that if you don't hold the eggs just right when removing them from the dye bath, the color will rub off.  

as far as having a picture in your head, you might have had a beautiful purple-y egg in mind when you used purple cabbage as a coloring agent, but (surprise!) the cabbage made brown eggs look green and white eggs look blue!

it was clear from your blog post that you went through a period of doubt about the project, but you kept at it and ended up with lots of lovely easter eggs that filled you and your friends with delight.  and along the way you stretched yourself by expanding your capacity for creativity and commitment.

practicing yoga is really just like this.  you might have an idea of how it should feel and what the whole experience will be like.  but you really can't know.  it might be more useful for you to relax your hold on that picture.  and think about the fruitional aspect.

fruition of practicing yoga:
  • you will feel good about yourself for doing something that you know you really do want to do.
  • your parasympathetic nervous system gets stimulated, this is good for creativity and health.
  • you get better at yoga - and that is fun and feels good in a way that continues off the mat.
  • you get physically stronger and your mental strength increases as well because you are practicing discipline (you might not resonate positively with the word "discipline", but i think that is what you did by sticking with your egg dyeing project for hours).
  • you get healthier (related to strength, but also about breathing and internal organs).
  • you _____________ (your assignment is to fill in the blank, i recommend something that itself is moving, active, alive; not a fixed thing like growing compassion or curiosity).
how do you want to grow?
where are you starting?
can you find a path that can have faith in?

we can talk more about this in our next conversation.

in the meantime, i'll see you at yoga goodness studio.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

natural dye easter eggs

i am intrigued by the process of dyeing things with the colors of nature.  i've wanted to try natural dyeing of fabric for a while and thought it would be a good idea to dip my toe in by coloring a few easter eggs with food and plant material.

full disclosure:  this project was messy and time-intensive and a day later my kitchen still smells of boiled cabbage. the eggs didn't turn out exactly as i had planned but once i let go of what i thought they should look like, their quirky beauty radiated.

more disclosure:  i became so impatient with the process and the mess that i failed to properly record the recipes for each color.  i followed recipes from here and here.  my eggs looked different.  so i'm not sure that it matters if you follow the recipes.

you will need a lot of glass containers.

and a variety of foods and spices.  i began with both brown and white eggs.  for the colors, i used what i had on hand:  blueberries (frozen), turmeric, matcha green tea, hibiscus flowers, grape juice, purple cabbage and beets for the colors. sometimes i added salt; sometimes vinegar (here is where i neglected to record).

i did two methods of cooking and dyeing.  first i hard-boiled the eggs with the coloring material.  to prevent the eggs from becoming rubbery, i simmered them for only 15 minutes at the same time the color was being extracted from the plant material.  in a second batch, i hard-boiled the eggs separately in my steamer, then put them in the color. either way, you have to hard-boil the eggs and you have to cook the color.  the second method produced a more saturated dye, as i was able to cook the color longer.

for the color, put your fruit/veg/spice material in a pan with water.  bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.

for more intense colors, you must soak the eggs in the color overnight in the refrigerator.  apparently, the vinegar is what makes the color adhere (i write "apparently" because this result was not consistent in my experimentation).

when you pull your eggs from the color, be careful how you touch them.  the color rubs off pretty easily when they are wet.

the purply-black eggs are colored with hibiscus flowers.  they were my favorite until i pulled out the rose and sea green eggs.  the sea green is oddly produced with purple cabbage and salt on a brown egg.  the bright blue eggs are purple cabbage on white eggs.

a few hours into this project, i had my doubts.  but the results are quite lovely.

i am excited to try dyeing fabric though.  because i can just imagine an oversized cotton gauze scarf in this sublime color:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

around here

class cancellations due to snow left happy me with lots of time to create.  i am trying to avoid new art supply purchases until i use the things i have, like these caran d'ache colors.

something came over me and i painted with white, yellow and orange; rare choices for me.

is rumi like the sexiest 16th century man ever?

i'm optimistic about color and other things this spring.

i've wanted to cook with matcha for a long time, so i made some green tea and almond muffins.

the verdict:  they tasted yummy, but i wanted way more of that green matcha color for the (very high) price of the tea.  i'll try ice cream in a few weeks and use more than the recipe calls for to see if i can get that amazing spring green.

we started spring cleaning and organizing.  our local health food store has majorly upgraded their bulk spices, herbs and dry pantry staples.  i'm finally putting to good use all those jars i've hoarded away like a crazy grandma.  

i finished this piece last week and i am so in love with it.

i'm daydreaming of herbs and succulents on the sill and a meadow of wildflowers on that facing slope.  

another hoarding endeavor that is paying off:  mismatched carnival glass.  i'm thinking about a midsummer party...

these guys.

another thing i've wanted to cook:  lotus root.  i made this soup with lotus root, carrots, purple sweet potatoes, spring onions and asparagus.  the lotus roots are pretty and have an odd taste. the rest of the soup just tastes like spring.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

sunday grace

these last few weeks i'm feeling seriously out of my groove:  slow, annoyed, achy, reclusive, uncertain.  when i experience funks like this, i tend to (conveniently) blame karma.  i'm just paying a karmic debt and it will cycle through, back to normal, right?

pema chödrön urges us to look at karma differently, from a less passive position, one that requires us to pay attention, listen, learn, open and grow:

"the idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings you need to open your heart.  to the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further."

that damn soft spot.  it's going to be the death life of me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

saving me right now

greenhouse ranunculus.

rose tea.

hydrangeas and poetry.

easter egg radishes.

the wintry forest.

the romping simon.

the frolicking luca.

these jasmine and their promise of spring.

using all the colours.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

it is so good in there

"yoga is ninety-nine percent practice and one percent theory."  
k. pattabhi jois

yesterday i enjoyed enlightening and inspiring conversation with cyndi lee.  our discussions often take place over cappuccinos and chocolates and integrate our experiences of yoga, spirituality, art and our west coast upbringings with our individual journeys through this lovely life.  cyndi's unique alchemy of intelligence, humor, support and tell-it-like-it-is wisdom is such a gift as i explore my weird reluctance to get my ass on my yoga mat.

i confessed that i prefer to be inside my head most of the time.  i love taking in information through observations and learning from many sources and tucking each bit away in the jewel box of my mind (which in my world is synonymous with my soul).  i spend hours in there tending to each precious piece, admiring the unique qualities of each and experimenting with them in pairs and groups.  how do they metamorphose as the light travels through the day and illuminates a different facet of each? how does each new addition change the color or value of the previous inhabitants?  as an introverted intuitive, i love it in there.  the (endless) process of contemplation and understanding is my comfort zone.  real world experiences, including yoga class, often fall short of how rich and glorious they were in my head.

driving home, i had this sudden realization that i prefer theory (the stuff that takes place in my head) over practice (the stuff that takes place on the mat).  and when i write "sudden", i mean that i intuitively knew this already and i have said the words a million times, but it finally made perfect and simple sense.  you know those experiences where you can intellectually know something for years and then one day, usually following the warm reflection and attention of another, you just get it?  yes, that.

is there a way i can make the physical practice of yoga as beautiful as the mental contemplation of yoga?

practice.  attention.  practice.  attention:  the navigation of the crowd as we organize our shoes and stuffs.  the hard give of the wood floor under my bare feet.  the snap of the mat as it unrolls. the light warm pressure of palms coming together.  the voice of my teacher.  the structure of bone. the soft pull and resistance of muscle and tendon.  that shaft of sunlight tempting my gaze from the line of my warrior's arrow.  the fear of falling.  the accomplishment of not.  these are the real experiences of my yoga. they deserve my focus and i need to honor them.  what are the unique qualities of each moment?  how does each moment work with the previous moment to become a practice? how does each new moment of courage, each tiny increment of skill, each failure alter the entirety of the experience? how does my practice metamorphose as the light of each new posture, each new class illuminates it?

i'm on my way down the hall to explore.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

the colors of winter

are the colors of writing, resting, nourishing, adventuring, reading, painting and healing.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

sunday grace

thursday evening i strolled through the mid-century collection at the virginia fine arts museum (evening art field trips are one way i stay sane while working out of town).  i happened to be behind a group of six-year-olds.  their guide/teacher/docent was attempting to educate them about abstract art between repeated and desperate pleas to the children (mostly boys) to keep their hands off the paintings and sculptures.  one little boy toward the back of the pack looked confused and whispered something to his hand-holding buddy.  his buddy looked at him and said, "it's like a real rainbow, but you have to think about what a rainbow means to you."

i am always blown away when big brilliance comes from such miniature beings.  i found myself considering the rest of the pieces i saw that night with his words in mind.  in fact, i found myself considering most everything since then with his words in mind:  it's like a real snowstorm, but you have to think about what a snowstorm means to you; it's like a real weekend, but you have to think about what a weekend means to you; it's like a real argument, but you have to think about what an argument means to you; it's like real yoga, but you have to think about what yoga means to you; it's like a real most-hideous-photo-of-you-posted-on-facebook-without-your-approval-of-either-the-taking-or-the-posting, but you have to think about what the most-hideous-photo-of-you-posted-on-facebook-without-your-approval-of-either-the-taking-or-the-posting means to you; it's like a real ____, but you have to think about what a ____ means to you.

seeing my ordinary life through this lens brought instant presence, grounding, openness, meaning and curiosity, leading me to the real story and avoiding (mostly) my programmed patterns of reactivity and conditioned inner narrative.

children are the best teachers.

little buddhas everywhere.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

tiny memoir: the littlest birds

i was a girl who believed that hundreds of little birds flocked to the mission on the same day each year.   by magic.

it was a miracle i saw with my own eyes.

the mission bells heralded their arrival with deafening discordant clangs.  i stood there holding on to my dad's belt loop with one hand, covering one ear with the other. i wished for a third to shield my eyes from the blinding white california sun as we watched the birds swarm in. one after another, they floated through the arches and settled in tiny mud nests under the eaves.  the friar said a blessing.  we bought tacos from the little mexican push-cart whose tiny brass bells were kinder with their song.