Sunday, October 21, 2012

With Practice, Will Be Lifted

My arms were shuddering like a trailer bed on a washed out road.

Chaturanga Dandasana [exhale]
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana [inhale]
Adho Mukha Shvanasana [exhale]

Sits bones pointed to the sky, backs of my legs aching, arms outstretched and pressing to the earth, I had repeated the Sun Salutation A sequence over and over, finding its well-worn rhythm deep in my muscle memory. "Do you know Surya Namaskara A?" the instructor of the Mysore room inquired. I nodded yes, knowing full well that I had just refreshed that memory from a YouTube video perched on the edge of my thin travel mat in the hotel room just days before.

It had been eight years since I had rolled out the mat in an Ashtanga class, eight years since my friend Jenny Antony and I used to work deeply and intentionally before capping our practice with a free slice of bread from the Great Harvest store upstairs. Eight years since I lay on the mat in Shavasana, my body regrouping and resetting itself, tears streaming from my eyes while Eva Cassidy's soulful voice sang Fields of Gold. Forging the road of new parenthood, married life, and deep identity confusion, yoga had been a refuge for me. It was a time to myself to try to leave things on the mat, concentrate my mind on the breath instead of the tapes in my head and bend my body in ways that would force me to realize that, like life, some days were easy, some incredibly hard.

After the work, Shavasana brought me two incredible images today. The first one was of a fish caught on a line, leaping out of the water, flipping, struggling, working against what is inevitable but fighting nonetheless, fighting the need to succumb to what will be. There are things that I have abandoned that I don't want to pick up, even though I must. There are situations that I need to let go, even though it breaks my heart to do so, even though my breath catches at the thought of it. There are days when I feel caught by realities I know I must deal with on so many levels, but that I thrash against, unwilling, unwilling, unwilling.

The second image that rested before my eyes was that of a large, grey spirit presence, somewhere between Totoro and Stillwater the Panda from Jon J. Muth's Zen Shorts. This presence sits next to me, silent, there, looming, reminding me that I have unfinished business, that that business waits for me, it will not go away no matter how far away I scoot on the park bench. It leans in, just a bit, with soft pressure that reminds me that I don't need to be scared of sorting through this unfinished business, that I will be held well by what I need to sort through it. That it may be difficult or painful but that it will be ok.

Today the sweat drenched my body, my long-lost limberness resurfacing in the heat and incense and intensity of the moves. I lay there thinking of the work I need to do to free the fish and befriend the spirit, of the people I love and lean on, of the blocked feeling I have that, with practice, will be lifted. Some easy, some incredibly hard. Om.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grief is a Sneaky Thief

Sluggish from the cold and cranky from not eating, I bolstered myself for the inevitable acres of ugly shoes I would find on the other side of the department store door. I was looking for shoes for a trip the next day, my least favorite past time when "shoes" meant boring, flat, uneven-pavement-appropriate foot coverings that also had to work with suits. Bah.

The ugliness of the shoes did not disappoint. Laps and laps around tables of tricked out clogs and pilgrim-buckle flats was proving to be fruitless and frustrating until I heard the sound of laughter coming from a section of chairs. I looked over to see a grey-haired woman in her mid-60s walking away in a pair of shoes, her daughter near me with a half-laughing, half-exasperated look on her face.

"She can be so difficult with these things," the daughter smiled. I looked up again to see this woman, so like my mom with her jeans, her silver-top short hair, her sweater and vest, sparking eyes and great smile taking another lap to test out her selection. My breath caught and a lump swelled in my throat. "Your mom reminds me of my mom, actually," I said. "My mom's been gone for two years. She was a handful too." It was all I could do not to add "Treasure these moments because you never know what is going to happen next."

The jealousy I felt for that daughter in that moment was completely overwhelming. I walked away, trying to fight back the tears and compose myself, all of the angry thoughts about my mom dying too early rushing into my mind and heart. I wanted to run out the door, leave so I could get rid of the visual as quickly as possible. Instead I circled back around and struck up a conversation.

True to my initial perception, this woman was every bit as spunky and fun as my own mom. We complained about the ugly shoes, talked about how people don't dress for work any more, giggled about how shoe shopping in such conditions nearly drove one to drink and agreed that a drink this early in the day would surely be fodder for the gossipy nature of our smallish town. And then, they picked up and walked out with gracious goodbyes, a twosome together on to their next stop.

It was, for a moment, a strange sort of contact high. In a parallel space, my brain kept saying "It's like I can be with my mom, but not really. This is like being with my mom just for a minute. Is this good, or is this bad?", both taking me out of the moment and drawing me deeper into it. I bought my ugly shoes and stumbled back out into the rain, a bit fogged as to what had just happened.

I sat with these mixed emotions all night, trying to talk myself through the roller coaster of feelings I was having. It was an unusual night, my family away and friends that I usually turn to not available. For the first time in a long time, I had to sit with it on my own and deal, just deal, with my feelings and sadness. I just had to be with it.

Grief is a tricky thing. Sometimes it's a rubber ball let off in a room, zinging and flying all around without any sense of continuum or trajectory. Sometimes it's a sneaky thief that catches you unawares and tries to take something from you. Most times, you have to fight the urge to run away from it, instead standing with pain borne of loss, but borne of good memories and deep longing. Standing with grief, leveling with it, exposing yourself to it is the journey of anyone who has suffered loss. It's the path to recovering from that suffering. It's the way to begin to heal and move forward. It's a bitch of a job.

I like to imagine that at some point in a department store in Oklahoma City many years ago, someone else had the experience I did yesterday with a woman and her three daughters and the laughter and love that showed through. I like to imagine that the woman and her daughter I met yesterday somehow knew that they made a difference in my afternoon. I like to imagine that we provide spaces for each other in this reconnecting to things we have lost along the way. I like to imagine my mom would have found a certain beauty in this story.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

So My Heart Could Be Free

I can't remember how old I was, I can only tell by the span of the small waist and length of crushed velvet to the floor that I must have been five or six. The fabric was supple and soft to the touch, a rich brown that meant cold weather and fancy occasions. I was so proud to have this dress, excited at the prospect of my Grandma making something so beautiful for me with her own hands. I remember standing stock-still in her basement while she worked at pinning me up with her gnarled hands, smoke rising from her lit cigarette that burned my eyes. I remember the turned down collar trimmed in lace, the formality of the skirt, the way I felt that I had never owned anything so lovely in my entire life.

My grandmother was an amazing woman, soft and kind, generous, always stylish, a fabulous entertainer, a woman gentle with her words and always with a glimmer in her eye. My brain still smells the rich aroma of mushrooms cooking in butter, the treat of a special goose for Christmas or the simple pleasure of her legendary dinner rolls. She was a woman that did things from scratch, who worked to create good things, who taught me about quality. She's say "hold out for the real McCoy, Frances", meaning it was better to spend money on a few high-quality things rather than waste money on things that would quickly break or ruin. I wear her beautiful gold bracelet today, the smoothness worn by her own wrist now touching mine. I can feel her in these moments, this woman who was a refuge for me in every way. Thinking of her and her absence in my life makes my heart ache.

I rode to work with a friend today, telling her of some of the sadness and loneliness I'd felt during my elementary school years, trying to explain the complexities of my life in a small town and being from a family with a certain name. The rest of my day was speckled with reflections of what brought me through that time and about what a child needs to feel loved and secure in the world. My grandmother provided a calm stability in my life. She bought me stacks of books to escape into and spirited me away to New Mexico so my heart could be free in the purple mountains and fire-orange sky. She taught me how to hold my head high when I felt defeated and to knuckle through rough times knowing that things would get better. She was optimistic and thankful for the good life she had, the family she loved and the friends that gathered around her table. She saw the best in people, would always lend a gracious hand, appreciated what she was given and was generous in return. As a child, observing her way of being in the world gave me hope that one day I would be the same kind of lady that she was, through and through.

I look at my sweet Ava, the lean and lanky size nearly a perfect fit for my faded brown dress. I think of how precious and tender the heart of a six year old can be. I think of flashing blue eyes, white hair, the color of perfectly red lipstick. I think of warm comfort. I think of love. I am thankful.

(Ava G original alongside my treasured gold bracelet from Grandma Loosen)