Love & Feathers & Shells & Me

Where Does Your Mind Go to Rest?

I like to meditate in the morning. I have a specific reason for this preference.

For years I tried to do my meditations at night. Initially it sounded like such a good idea to meditate at night - to calm the mind before sleep. But with the pace of my daily life, by the time night typically arrives, my mind only wants to meditate on one thing....sleep.

This means I have gradually shifted my schedule so mornings are for meditation. This works great, save for one tiny remaining issue.

In the morning, after a whole night of relative inactivity, my mind is raring to go. It has so many things to think about! So many plans to cook up! So many worries to check in with! It has no time for meditation - there is too much thinking to do!

My mind and I usually start each morning meditation session with a combination of calming deep breathing and a rousing mental wrestling match. I say to my mind, "Okay, now breathe in deep." My body begins to breathe and my mind thinks, "Don't forget to add cilantro to your grocery list." I forget all about the breath, either cutting it short or holding it until my impatient body sends up an alarm signal.

So we try again. "Breathe in deep and then breathe out long." My body takes a full, deep breath, letting it out sharply as my mind reminds me, "You need to get up and take your thyroid pill - remember, you can't eat for an hour afterwards and you're already feeling hungry."

Sigh. And so it goes. 


Do You Ever Wonder Why There Are Humans?

Do you ever wonder why our species, "homo sapiens," exists? I do!

I have come to wonder about it more and more lately, in the wake of news that increasingly makes me question the sanity of having a prefrontal cortex.

Aristotle described our kind as "rational animals." But when I match that up with the nightly news, chock full of reports featuring what appears to be profoundly irrational human behavior, I think maybe that description is outdated.

Perhaps "sometimes rational animals" would be more accurate today.

Archeology tells a story of how our bigger brains helped us create art, write our stories down, and develop an extended suite of social skills.

To be honest, I think other animals do all these things, too. They just don't do them the way we do.

Take the pufferfish, for example. This plump and precious salt water fish spends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, creating an intricate sand sculpture to advertise to passing lady pufferfish that he is single and available.

In contrast, these days, we can barely spare the time for a Tinder swipe or two before we're on to the next to-do list item our enormous brain has conjured up for us. 

Yoga Mentoring

So How Was Goat Yoga For Me, You Ask?

Me and this year's birthday festivities tiny baby goat!

A few years back, I started a new tradition.

It suddenly occurred to me that every year like clockwork I have another birthday. It always happens in December, just a handful of days before Christmas.

On this day, other people often get me presents. But until about three years ago, I didn't get a present for me, from me.

The first year I started picking out a...

Yoga Mentoring

The Union of Yoga & Why I’m Having Trouble Finding It

According to my teacher, Adriene, the word "yoga" means "union."

So I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised today - after nearly a year studying with Adriene and many more years of interest and pursuit of yoga in its various forms - to discover that I didn't really know this!

Worse, I realized I didn't really know - don't know - what that union feels like.

Here, I am tempted to type "what that union should feel like" but adding the word should makes the whole situation feel worse, not better.

What I'm left pondering is, what does union feel like for me?

Or, as Adriene put it this morning, "what is the difference between doing and being?"

What is the difference between doing yoga and being unified from the inside out and the outside in?

I confess I am not completely sure. But I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Adriene and I practice together each day (thanks to the glories of YouTube) and she does the poses like an effortless yoga butterfly while I have had to add a second yoga mat to cushion my knees/elbows/booty from too-frequent falls.

Some of those postures are - wow. Like, who knew the human body could (in theory anyway) do THAT?!

I'm not sure how long Adriene has been practicing and teaching yoga, but I am sure it is quite a bit longer than me. So I try not to be too terribly hard on myself when she glides through yet another yoga session, finding time and breath between each impossible new pose to encourage me, issue instructions, pat her dog Benji, smile (smile!) at her camera crew and stay looking as fresh and unflustered as a spring daisy.

I suppose it is a blessing she can't hear my parrot, Pearl, screeching his way through each and every session, which I suspect he thinks is his mom's pathetic daily attempt to learn to fly.

But what I do know is that the first step towards learning anything new is becoming aware there is a lesson. Today, after many months of sessions and many years of other yogic pursuits, I finally realize I am "doing" yoga. 


A Lovely Fresh Way to Pray

I've never been completely sure I know how to pray. Even when I say to myself, "I am going to pray" or "I need to pray" or "I am praying," I'm not ever convinced that what I'm doing is actually praying.

I've tried many different recommended techniques over the years. I went through a period where I was praying formal prayers (an example might be the Lord's Prayer). In another phase, I practiced simply opening my inner space to the silence and asking it to teach me

Rosaries (despite the fact I'm not Catholic) and rudraksha beads have also been periodic favorites, especially when I feel the need to pray while out walking, traveling or even while trapped in social situations I haven't yet figured out how to escape from.

Whether tackling the proper prayer position, the recommended length for the prayer time or even dividing up how much of the time period should be spent talking (praying) versus not talking, it is all a particularly slippery slope in my world.

For example, while my lightly Christian upbringing brought with it countless reminders that the "on your knees" prayer position is ideal, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever prayed while kneeling - and most of those were in context with publicly kneeling on something comfy and padded during some type of religious service. Otherwise, my knees simply won't stand for it and the rest of me isn't enthused either.

The line between meditation, contemplation and prayer feels particularly blurry. They sound like three separate things. So I have experienced some amount of consternation in regards to whether I have completed adequate amounts of each on a regular basis as well as which one of the three should be done first.

Mostly these days, I have found myself gravitating towards meditation and contemplation rather than prayer, because I am not so plagued with worries about being too self-centered when I am doing these practices. I figure whatever comes up - or out - that is what was needed for me to grow, grieve, evolve, whatever.

But then recently I was reading Martha Beck's memoir called "Leaving the Saints." In this memoir, she talks about her experiences with religion - and specifically Mormonism - growing up and then again in adulthood.

While I've never been especially drawn to self-identify with a particular religious path (although there are times I have absolutely done in during attempts to fit in), I have found this book especially intriguing from the perspective that one particular branch of my family is devoutly Mormon.

But that is not why I decided to read "Leaving the Saints." I decided to read it because, like Martha Beck, I experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of religious leaders and I wanted to learn more about how she healed from that in her own life.

So far, reading her book has been so helpful! And one of the most helpful parts has also been one of the least anticipated. 

Yoga Mentoring

Hope (and Trust and Faith) Is a Muscle

"Hope is a muscle."

When my yoga teacher, Adriene, first said this, I was in the midst of attempting to balance in a pose she calls "humble warrior" and I call "hanging off the edge of a cliff."

With all muscles locked and loaded - not to mention keenly interested in anything that would keep us from landing nose-first on the hardwood floor - I processed this like, "Hope. Muscle. Uh huh. Got it."

It wasn't until later that I realized there isn't a single muscle in my body named hope...or trust, or faith, for that matter. Adriene talks about this trio a lot in some of our lessons, and currently I have the words "Hope" and "Trust" along with "Reliance" (another form of faith Adriene mentioned recently) written on my dry erase boards just above my writing desk.

It is necessary, so I won't forget.

Unlike "hamstring" or "gluteus maximus," hope, faith, trust, reliance and their ilk feel strangely disembodied. 


The One Thing That Really Helps With Grief

I won't beat around the bush. It is love. Love is the one thing that really helps ease grief.

The thing is, people who are grieving don't want to wait for answers. We can't wait. We feel like if we wait for one more second - for insights, for "processing" (grrrr), for growth, for 20/20 hindsight - we will literally die....of grief.

Grief doesn't really care if the someone or something you lost is dead, dying or still alive and well and now occupying space in a place separate and apart from your space. Grief is just grief. And for some reason, it takes awhile to work its way through your system - or at least it does if your grief is anything like my grief.

I don't think I will ever understand grief with my mind. My mind says, "Hey, there's an easy way to fix this. Just fall in love with someone else. Just go volunteer to help someone less fortunate (this is a fun one - my mind can then productively occupy itself for hours trying to visualize another soul who could possibly be more clueless, hard-up, at the end of her rope, and thus less fortunate, than I am). Just live and be happy - that is what they (the dearly departed) would want you to do."

My mind is all about resolving the grief by fixing the problem (whatever is causing the grief).

My heart, meanwhile, opts for exactly the opposite approach. It wades right on in to the grief, swimming around inside, checking all those feelings out from every angle with the handy help of a snorkel mask and a pair of flippers. 


New Year’s Eve Gratefuls

Over on my parrot's blog, we regularly post a "his and hers" grateful list. Of course, this list tends to be rather brief on account of the epic battle that typically ensues for who gets to be master of the keyboard that day.

This list is a little different. If you have been following along regularly or popping in and out here over the last 12 months, you know this year has presented some special challenges for our little flock.

Hurricane Harvey flooded my folks' house and so we've spent the last year moving them here and there while trying to put their casa back in order. Around the time that process kicked off, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism - a sufficiently severe case that my thyroid had apparently taken off on sabbatical without telling any of us.

Then, not so long ago (just last month, in fact), my longtime love and I parted ways. Mornings, evenings and all other times are the hardest right now. But there is also an unmistakable underlying peace I personally only feel when I have done the hard, right, loving thing that needed to be done.

All that aside, the one practice that has consistently bailed me out, sometimes hauled me out ankles-first, throughout this last chaotic, life-upending year has been gratitude. Finding something - anything - to be grateful for reminds me we really are all in this together. If I hurt, I hurt together. If I smile, I smile together. If I wonder if any of this will ever feel okay again, I wonder this together.

Taking time to reflect over the last year probably isn't a particularly original tradition, but since my birthday and the holidays and the New Year all falls in the same month for me, and that month just happens to be the last month of every year, it has always seemed like pretty much of a no-brainer to do this life reflection now and not at some other time.

So without further ado, here is what I am most grateful for this year! 

Love & Feathers & Shells & Me

Look Inside and See Who Is There

So here we are. Here I am. Another year has raced (shuffled) by. Looking back might still feel premature....looking forward too vast, wide-open.

So we look within. I look within. I feel like we are all born with certain "presets" - personality traits or bents or preferences. Some of us are more outgoing and extroverted, while others (such as yours truly) are more introverted and solitary.

But then we also gather up the presets or preferences of others - our parents, teachers, peers, friends, frenemies - as we go through life. One person wants us to be more like this, while another person wishes we were more like that.

We probably try our best to accommodate. How hard we try depends a lot on how much we want what only seems possible by conforming, or how afraid we are of the consequences of not conforming, such as losing the company of someone we feel we love or want or need in our life.

But then there is us, ourselves, our own company. Maybe we are born loving the company we naturally keep. Maybe we start out that way (I truly believe we all do - whyever would we not?) and then gradually over time and with exposure to others we perhaps become disenchanted with ourselves. We wish we were different. We wish we looked different, acted different, spoke different, lived different.

We strive to make these changes. We think - I think - "well I'm here now, I have this one life to live, why not go for what I want in life?"

There is just one teensy, tiny issue. 


Sitting Inside the Pain: What It Is Teaching Me

This past month, after a long progression of breakups and makeups, I finally parted ways with my longtime love.

And when I say "longtime," I don't just mean a few years. I mean a good third of my life to date.

It is not like things were just rosy, rosy, rosy, then sucked. While I've never managed to climb a mountain (or even a really big hill), I have to imagine our connection has been somewhat like that process. In other words, all the planning in the world can't equip you for that one great obstacle: the daily and ever-changing unknown.

You can study the guide books, bring along all the right gear, set a lofty goal, wear the right clothing....and then get to the trailhead and discover you have a mortal fear of heights.

This actually happened to me, by the way. It was two years ago, and we were all set to hike straight up the tallest mountain in Texas. Ten minutes up the trail I was doubled over, heaving, sweating, hyperventilating. And that was that.

That was a really painful failure. But it wasn't nearly so painful as this.