|Apparently it was English theologian Thomas Fuller who first wrote. “‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn”. No doubt this phrase has given many hope, especially during very challenging of times. Myself included.|
And while I still resonate with this idea, I also can’t help but think back on this tumultuous year and wonder if it’s perhaps a different lesson I am supposed to be learning. I notice a little twang of….something….each time I hear someone say “I can not wait for this year to be over”. I know what they mean. Like a bad relationship, it’s good when it’s over and you truly move on. But this year doesn’t feel like a bad relationship to me. It feels like it was full of things that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – some with good reason – and thinking things will be magically “better” in 2021 would be to perhaps miss out on a great opportunity.
Individual circumstance may by easier down the road, but what this year has taught me more than anything is that better doesn’t exist in things going my way. Better for me has been learning to live more honestly, more fully with my sadness. Anger. Anxiety. Fear. Hope. Better in 2020 has been breaking down my walls of separateness and working harder to understand and change things I didn’t know I didn’t know. Better has been questioning what I say I believe in and what I actually stand up for. Better has been experiencing a deeper level of gratitude through many many tears. Better has been seeing myself differently. Better has been realizing some things should be hard. And fought for.
I hope 2021 is more like sophomore year, or your second week at a new job. No longer the new kid, you know the ropes a bit and you now know that the ropes are constantly changing. We’ve all learned a lot this year, haven’t we? So what I really wonder as we step into a “new” year is, what will we do with it all?
As we step into 2021, I am wishing you continued health, patience for yourself and others, love for your self and others, and circumstance that are just hard enough that you end up with even more strength and compassion on the other side.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
At the end of almost every class I have taught for the past 17 years, I have recited the following phrase:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu : May all beings be happy and free, and may my life (thoughts, words & actions) contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom.
You probably don’t know this, but I always take a moment right before I say these words to make sure I am really ready to say them, and not “just saying” them. I make sure I’m not “just saying” them because then they become just fluffy pretty words. Devoid of meaning, they become saccharine and vapid – an artificial layer of niceness that I have no interest in participating or perpetuating.
If I don’t feel a depth of connection to the meaning of these words, I’d rather not say them at all.
I have been saying them, full heartedly, thousands of times, for years. I do mean it when I say it.
Which has made the past week a little tricky. “May all beings be happy and free. May all beings be happy and free”. Even the ones I don’t like. Even the ones I hate. Even the ones I don’t want to have the power they have anymore.
It’s easy to say you believe in something when circumstances are easy. But true belief shows itself when the circumstances are not so easy. When you feel challenged and must decide what it is you truly stand up for.
There is a story that my meditation teachers tells. It’s a story about two warriors on a battlefield. It is the dharma, or duty, of both to fight. One warrior is kind, truthful and fights for the freedom of others. The other is malicious, evil and seeks only to destroy. They come head to head on the battlefield and after a great fight, the evil warrior falls and the righteous warrior stands above him. He draws his sword to make the final blow, because he knows it is his duty. As he is about to strike, the fallen, evil soldier spits in his face. The righteous warrior pauses, and then sheaths his sword. Shocked, the evil warrior asks, “Why didn’t you kill me?” The righteous warrior answers, “As you know, it was my duty to kill you. However, when you spit in my face I was overcome with rage. I knew in that moment I would not be killing you out of a sense of duty, but out of spite. I could not do it”.
This story has helped me navigate the terrain of mixed emotions many times over the years. It doesn’t say we should be weak in our pursuit of peace and justice. On the contrary, that is for most of us (hopefully) part of our dharma. But the story also makes a distinction between duty and revengeful thinking. If we are someone who believes violence begets more violence, and hate begets more hate, we have to stand by those values even when it appears we have the upper hand. We can’t recite the words “May all beings be happy and free” and only mean it half the time, or worse, for only some people (sound familiar?).
At the very least, consider the alchemy that transpires when you practice yoga. Or meditate, Or sing, or dance, or laugh. There is a tangible change for the positive in your whole being. You can feel the change, the charge, in the atmosphere within and without you. It’s palpable. So wouldn’t it be true that a tangible charge would be created through wishing ill of others? Within and without you?
Does wishing peace and happiness for others magically travel throughout the universe and change everything for the positive? Does practicing joy, loving kindness and equanimity transform harmful people into better ones? Probably not. But lord knows the world does not need more spiteful thinking. Clear, compassionate thinking, and wise, justice seaking action? Yes. There is a difference.
I hope you are well. I hope you are happy. I hope that my life contributes to your happiness and freedom.
Hello! Before you keep reading; the following ten posts were written as a companion to the August 2020 Yoga Camp. They will collectively make more sense if you scroll down to the first entry on Ahimsa (August 17th) and then read up from there. Enjoy ❤
ISVARA PRANIDHANA : SURRENDER
The specific verse from the Yoga Sutra states “With complete surrender to God, samadhi is achieved”. Samadhi refers to a deep state of contemplation where one is so immersed, there is an experience of union, or oneness, with everything (yoga!). As part of our 8 limbed path, the practice of the yamas and niyamas helps lead us to a place where we can experience that state. Also, specifically according to this verse, through complete surrender to God.
Let’s take a second and talk about the G-O-D part. I’ve been teaching yoga long enough to know that this word does not resonate with everyone. Many people come to yoga specifically because it is spiritual, yet not religious. I personally believe in a force greater than myself, and the name I give it is God. If that’s not you though, don’t worry. According to the Yoga Sutras, there are plenty of other things we can contemplate instead, such as the subtle elements of nature, or the mind itself. If you read the whole book, over and over again it will suggest that contemplating on God is the most direct path to samadhi. But that doesn’t mean if you don’t believe in God, that the practice of Isvara Pranidhana is still not useful.
Which brings us to the surrender part. Regardless of what word you give it, God, nature, energy, the universe, ripe avocados 🙂 there is something powerful in feeling something bigger than your individual self. Something so vast that it may be hard to comprehend, but that you simultaneously feel a part of. I think of the feeling I have when I look up at the stars on a very clear, dark night. Here I am, so small, and yet part of something so big and awe inspiring. My mind and heart feel quite literally expansive when I immerse myself in that experience. What is perhaps most powerful though, about participating in an active relationship with something bigger than ourselves, is that at times it will require our willingness to surrender. Which does a very important thing: it gets us out of our constant need to know and control.
A fun example for me around this is riding a motorcycle. The first time I did it, I was almost consumed by the fear. Every part of my logical brain was telling me it was an unnecessary risk, especially for someone who relies on their physical body for their profession. But once we started going, I realized the fear was not allowing me to fully enjoy the experience. When I realized that, I decided to let go a bit – and it was the most amazing thing I ever felt. So much freedom, so much lightness, all from letting go of the fear and surrendering to the ride instead.
Granted, most of life does not feel like a fun motorcycle ride (especially right now). But my guess is that for most of us, there is still plenty of opportunity to feel the expansiveness that comes realizing we can’t control everything, and to try letting go a bit instead. Or at the very least, try handing ourselves over to something bigger than just ourselves.
As I mentioned before, we now have a barn behind our house with 30 chickens, 5 cats and 2 cows. This is 37 times more animals to simultaneously take care of than ever before in my life. At first, the farm chores involved fell into the category of “not my work”. Or more accurately, “ I don’t want to” (you did read the part about me living in NYC for 15 years, yes?) But the workload for Brad became so much that he asked if I could please just do a little each day. At first, it was just feeding the chickens. Then when they started laying, collecting the eggs. Then I started changing the water. And cleaning the pens. And feeding the cows. Next thing I knew I was taking stray barn cats to the vet because it seemed like they had a cold. It wasn’t too long before I was telling Brad, “maybe we should get home, the animals need us”.
It’s been the loveliest turn around. It’s still work and at times I don’t want to do it, but I have found in it a great solace, especially when I am down. When I am sad, I have a habit of burrowing in, trying to dig my way out of the tunnel by going in deeper. Sometimes, it’s useful. But other times it can leave me quite deep in a place where there is very little light. Having all these animals to care for, it’s not a choice to stay in the tunnels too long. The animals need me and apparently, I need them.
Surrender, devotion, being in relationship to something bigger than ourselves, is all part of Isvara Pranidhana. The practice starts to bring us back around to where we started, back out into the world with our practice of the yamas where we start down the path all over again. Each time we work with the yamas and niyamas, our individual selves become transformed. And then in interacting with the vast universe around us, it too becomes transformed by us.
SVADHYAYA : SELF-STUDY
Sva means self. Adhyaya means reading or lesson. Svadhyaya means the reading of one’s self, or self study. Included in this is the reading of enlightening or spiritual texts; those which bring us into further reflection and understanding of ourselves.
As I write these stories, I am aware of the world in which they are written, aside from what has been transpiring for me personally since moving to New Mexico. There is a global pandemic. There is an election. There is a rising call for social justice.
For a long time, especially when teaching yoga in Manhattan, I was cautious not to bring anything “too political” into my classes. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I wanted people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable in my classes. I shared what felt true and worthwhile to me, but was mindful to do it in a way that would hopefully not make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I still care very much about these things.
The meaning of comfortable and uncomfortable has shifted for me.
Ever since May 25th, the day that George Floyd was murdered, I have come to realize that there was a lot more self studying I needed to do.
Since that day, I have begun the often uncomfortable process of examining my assumptions around race. I, like many others, did not believe myself to be racist. In May, I began educating myself by reading books and articles I had not read before, listening to podcasts and watching movies I had not heard and seen before, having conversations with people and about topics I had not had before. Through all this, I started to see myself a bit differently. I have come to understand that it’s not enough to “not be racist”. If I was going to do my part in creating an environment where “people of all backgrounds could feel comfortable”, there was active work I needed to do. I realized it was no longer ok for me to care about social justice, but in an effort to not offend anyone, end up staying so quiet that I wasn’t promoting an environment that was actually equal for everyone. I might not have been making anything worse, but I also wasn’t using my voice to make things any better.
I still don’t wish to offend. But I also don’t wish to be silently complicit. I am aware this might have unintended consequences, in which I may alienate some in order to stand up for others. It is a risk I am ready to take. But I take it without the resignation that “agreeing” or “leaving” are the only two options we all have left.
One of the most valuable currencies we have right now is our ability to communicate. And by communication, I mean thoughtful conversation. Far more than any other tool of modern day communication, the ability to have civil conversation with someone you may not see eye to eye with is sorely needed. Otherwise we simply further recede into our own separate corners – and I’m not sure what will come of that other than further division. The more knowledge we have, the more thoughtful and in-depth these conversations can be.
Most of my life I have been a notorious evader of conflict. It’s hard, but I am having the awkward conversations if they are there to be had. And they are happening; amongst family, students and peers. I am grateful for those opportunities. I am especially thankful for the level of trust that is present, from all parties, in order to create the environment for those conversations to happen.
There are always reasons and many ways to practice svadhyaya. Self examination is placed towards the end of the yamas and niyamas because without all the previous precepts, it would be harder to do than it already is. To truly self reflect, one must be established in things like honesty, non-harming, discipline, and non-attachment. Time tested and true spiritual texts are an important part of self study. They act like a mirror, holding up a reflection to the places you are already working. And those texts need not be limited to yoga; spiritual texts from every major religion or philosophy have their own moral codes of conduct. Poetry, insightful articles and modern books can have a similar illuminating effect.
I never wish to lecture, but I do hope to encourage. If you are curious to know what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to, there is a Resources link on my website. I am still very much in the process of learning, and imagine it will be a lifelong endeavor. I’m ok with that. Through self-reflection, I have realized that it has become far better for me to be uncomfortable these days than to be “comfortable”.
TAPAS : DISCIPLINE
Tapas also means austerity, or to burn. Tapas is the work of staying with something, especially when inevitable challenges, sacrifices and difficulties arise. The practice of tapas allows us to discover our stamina and our resilience.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the French philosopher Albert Camus:
“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
Anyone who has loved, lost, and loved again, knows this well.
One of the more difficult transitions from the Northeast to New Mexico was losing my sense of self. I had said often back in Brooklyn, when I was teaching yoga full time, that I did not want to be attached to the identity of being a yoga teacher. I wanted whatever it was that I offered to be unattached to one particular vehicle. I hoped that what I had to give was so vast that it could occupy any profession, any life role, any situation that might come my way.
When we moved to New Mexico, I thought teaching yoga would be a valuable asset to the retreat center we were trying to build. I believe in the power of community and thought one of the quickest ways to build it would be to start teaching in Santa Fe. Which was an hour and a half away.
Teaching a few classes a week at a studio so far from your home, is not the same as teaching in your local neighborhood. Back in New York and New Hampshire, the same people I would see in class would be the same people I would see at the grocery store or at the coffee shop. I could linger after class, answer questions, maybe go for a walk with a student or sit in the park. I could take other teachers’ classes, sub at the last minute, participate in events happening in the evening or over the weekend. Living 90 miles away made a lot of those vital interactions next to impossible.
Also, I was needed back at my other job. Starting up a retreat center, especially one that includes renovating 88,000 square feet of buildings, is no small matter. I did not realize how much of my time and energy would be required by tasks I initially felt were “not mine”. It was mostly just my husband and I, project managing a small crew and executing a vision with many moving parts, many not in our control. Next thing I knew, I was in charge of receiving shipments for building supplies. I was doing inventory for lightbulbs, windows, flooring, nightstands, lamps, mirrors, mattresses, toilets, showerstalls, you name it. I was supervising contract workers and applying for permits. I was cleaning bathrooms, making beds, washing floors, folding 75 guests worth of linens. I was putting together furniture, testing paint colors, making runs to the hardware store, pleading with plumbers, cleaners and electricians. I was organizing donations of old equipment to local schools. I was giving prospective renters three hour tours of the property.
A lot of the time, I felt like this work was taking me away from my “real” work of teaching. But that wasn’t going so great either. Sometimes I would drive all the way to Santa Fe and just one student would show up. I honestly was quite thrilled to be teaching regardless of how many people were there, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was humbling to go from teaching packed classes with waitlists, to teaching classes where I’m pretty sure no one knew my name.
Tapas can be when you are in a challenging yoga pose, and you stay in the pose anyway because you know your breath is still steady. Tapas can be choosing to sit still in meditation just another moment longer, even though your mind is racing and your legs are numb. Tapas can be waking up at 6 am (or 4) for yoga, even though it’s hard.
Tapas can also be the burning of spending most of your adult life being pretty confident you know who you are, to one day questioning who that person really is.
What if who I thought I was was just dependent on being surrounded by a community that reflected that same sense of self back to me? What happens if my new community doesn’t see me that way? What if that person was just a phase of my life? Am I still a teacher if I had no physical students? More importantly, who and where is this me I spoke of back in Brooklyn – the one who was still giving something of value to the world, regardless if she was teaching or not?
It really did feel like a burning. I hadn’t just fallen into teaching accidentally. When I was in my early twenties, I had some pretty intense conversations with god about wanting to find my purpose in life, and was committed to finding a way to make any specific talents I might have useful in the world. Although I had been teaching yoga since I was 23, I did not take it seriously as that specific vehicle until I was in my mid thirties. By then I had come to realize there was some unstoppable driving force behind it, not rationally dependent on income, time, or success. I just kept wanting to teach and it seemed like it was having a positive affect (I think, I hope) on the people around me.
In the Yoga Sutras, the chapter following the one with the yamas and niyamas is called Vibhuti. The word Vinbhuti means ash, as in the ash at the end of a fire. It is referring to the accomplishments or the results of the hard work and discipline practice requires.
It took a year, but I slowly started rediscovering the parts of me that were meant to go, and the parts that were meant to endure. In the fall of last year I hosted a “Sneak Peak” retreat. 30 students from my life back east gathered together in a partially renovated retreat center in the northern New Mexican desert for a few days of yoga and togetherness. I felt the familiar glow in my heart again. I started offering yoga classes to the local community around Valmora. I felt my heart glow again. I committed to those classes down in Santa Fe, found some students who didn’t mind my dharma talks and chanting. I felt my heart glow again.
Remember when I said, after my job at the retreat center was dissolved in March, that I was feeling more free? My sense of self had started to come back prior to being let go, but now it felt like it had infinite room to expand. Through the fire, I came to understand that teaching yoga doesn’t define who I am. But it is a big part of who I am. It’s part of my ash. I came to accept that it’s ok if you find out you have a talent for something, to pursue it and make more room for it in your life. I came to appreciate that it’s quite beautiful if you love something and share it, and if other people just happen to love it too.
Along with this recognition, there has been more freedom to be other things too. I look back at the feelings I had around what was “my work” and what was not. I sense that in fiercely trying to protect something I felt slipping away, I was building up walls trying to defend it. Feeling in my body again, quite literally, I have noticed space for more things to define who I am. Wife. Step-mom. Child. Sister. Aunt. Friend. Colleague. Writer. Sometimes Bathroom Cleaner. Sometimes Family Accountant. Sometimes Retreat Center Builder. And Whatever Comes Next. And yes, still a Yoga Teacher.
SANTOSHA : CONTENTMENT
After all the stories I have shared with you so far, would you be surprised to hear that as I write, I feel rather content?
Gratitude and contentment are similar, but slightly different things. Gratitude is appreciating and being thankful for what we have. Contentment is a feeling of evenness and fullness with things exactly how they are. One of my favorite stories to illustrate this comes from a teacher of mine. She tells a story of a visit to India, where after a long exhausting day of travel she was in her hotel room resting, just wishing she could just have a cup of tea. Suddenly, out of the blue, there was a knock at the door; magically a bellhop had appeared to offer her some tea! She was so thankful. But that was not contentment, she would say. Contentment would have been being in the hotel room, feeling fully satisfied whether the tea was there or not.
Practicing gratitude can help create the environment where contentment can arise. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to feel it, and other times it just swells up from the inside like a giant wonderful love balloon. Gradually we can come to a place where taking in the good and the bad and letting them go in equal measure, is possible.
Because we live on a 46,000 acre ranch, you can drive for hours and still not drive over the same area twice. Two years ago was my first experience with what’s called “Sunday Drivin”. New friends from the neighboring ranch had invited us to ride along in their giant pick up truck to check out the new bridge they had just built. When they asked us to join, I could not think of anything more boring. When we actually got going, it was even more boring than I had imagined. Three hours at 15 miles an hour, driving by what looked like the exact same trees, cliffs, rocks, cows, horses, and sky over and over again on repeat. I kept thinking “hurry up!!!” as if I had somewhere more important to be (New Hampshire? New York? 🙂 ).
I’m not sure when it happened, but all I can tell you is I want to go on those long, slow, “boring” drives now. And I swear it’s not just because I have nothing better to do! I feel myself soaking in the slowness, the sameness, the beauty that’s easy to overlook unless you are driving 15 miles an hour. It’s like a slow measured deep breath. From our house, we can ride our bikes down a six mile road that winds along the Mora River. If you go around dusk, it’s likely that you will see at least a few of the elk from the herd of 300 that travel through our valley. I have seen antelope, bear, deer, blue heron, beavers, wild turkeys, skunks, jackrabbits, eagles, hawks – all on a bike ride just minutes from my house. When we take a drive deeper onto the mesa, it’s hard not to feel that along with the expansion of the horizon, there is an expansion in my vision, heart and mind. It’s the same trees, cliffs, rocks, cows, horses and sky as before, but none of it looks the same to me, anymore.
The pace of life is a lot slower out here. Sometimes that can be frustrating, like when it takes you 6 months to get your car registered (not kidding). But my capacity to take in what is unique and special about living out here has grown. I have found that I don’t mind as much that my sleeping and waking is in greater harmony with the rising and falling of the sun. Meals cooked at home instead of going out can be pretty exciting when sitting on the porch swing watching one of those dazzling sunsets. Sure I miss the vibrancy of the city and love it when I visit, but I also appreciate the quiet and the stillness much more than I ever thought possible two years ago.
Above all else, there is something, rather someone, that I appreciate more and more every day since arriving here.
In a few days it will be Brad and I’s 4th wedding anniversary. A year ago at this time, I wasn’t so sure we were going to make it. I hate to write that, but it’s part of our story. It’s a much longer story for another time, but you can imagine that the stress of the previous 3 years had built up, and no longer felt tenable to either one of us. We didn’t want to give up, but we were having trouble seeing a way forward.
There was a definitive moment, a few days before our anniversary last year, when we both realized our relationship was on the brink and we could either keep going the way we had been, straight off the cliff, or make the hairpin turn. We chose the turn, and quite miraculously, almost immediately actually, from that moment forward the most wonderful year of our entire relationship opened up before us. It feels funny to write that considering everything else happening in the world right now. But the past year has brought us into a truer relationship to ourselves and with each other. The struggles really did bring us closer together.
I’m not sure I have the words to express the gratitude I feel for this.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where I feel fully seen, loved and appreciated. I do.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where we inspire each other to be better versions of ourselves. I am.
I hoped to be in a relationship where I feel awe and deep respect for my partner. I do.
I had hoped to be in a relationship where through our struggles we would grow in our capacity to listen, understand and love. I am.
I hoped to be in a relationship where I feel excited about the future, and couldn’t imagine it with anyone else. I do.
So yes, as I write this, with everything that has happened and with everything that might happen, I feel full. Slowing down has been part of that. Like a 15 mile an hour drive, I had to learn to take things in and let things go in a way I didn’t have to when I was rushing around in the city. Practicing gratitude, which I struggled with a lot in those first two years out here, has created an environment where I catch myself feeling that elusive feeling of contentment. It’s not that I don’t think about the future, or want to make changes and do things differently. But there are moments where I can look around at all that currently is, and like a long deep breath in and out, feel content with everything just the way it is.
SOUCHA : CLEANLINESS
Here we begin exploring the niyamas, or moral observances, specifically in relationship to ourselves. Before I share with you a personal (and very literal) story related to soucha, I should mention that cleanliness here does not only refer to keeping ourselves physically clean (although that applies too – see below). A useful way to work with this principle is to be mindful of what we ingest, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is no coincidence that the niyamas begin with the practice of cleanliness. If our minds are “clean”, along with our physical and emotional bodies, it will be far easier to cultivate the environment needed for the practice of meditation. Ideally, we do our best to leave very little for the mind to worry about by the time we come to sit.
Brad and I got married in the summer of 2016. We did not live together before we got married. At the time, Brad was teaching at a boarding school in New Hampshire which provided us with on campus housing. We were offered a larger house to move into one month before our wedding. So we moved my things up from New York City amidst all the planning, and for the next year I would spend 4 days a week at the house and three days a week back in the city teaching. It wasn’t until I fully cut the NYC apron strings (so hard!), that we were living together full time. If you’ve ever moved in with a partner, I don’t need to tell you that there is a ‘getting to know you all over again’ period – which ideally ends in some compromise and a nice blending of both parties best qualities. Ideally! If you have a story about that happening, please let me know.
I brought my stuff up from NY. Of course I did! I brought my gazillion books – which I liked out where I could see them. I brought my beloved blue couch that my beloved cat had lived on for 13 years. I brought the pillow covers and delicate cut out curtains that I had brought home from India. I brought the tea cups and table coverings from Hungary. I brought the decorative plates from Jerusalem. I brought the dried flowers from all the times I was a bridesmaid, and then finally a bride. I brought my meditation rugs, dreamcatchers, conch shells (filled with other smaller special shells, obviously), wall hangings, open boxes with notes and small gifts from students from over the years. All of which I wanted out where I could see them. Because otherwise I might forget them.
If this list of things is giving you anxiety, thinking about all the dust they must collect, then you and my husband would get along really well.
If this list makes your heart feel warm, whimsical and cozy, welcome to my world.
You probably know where this is going…..
But I have a twist for you!
August 2017: I have just moved up to New Hampshire full time, and am getting used to living with other people again (Adan lived with us part time). September: Brad is having trouble breathing. October: Brad is having trouble breathing and is sleeping on his leather couch downstairs. November: Brad can barely breath and is trying to sleep on the linoleum kitchen floor. December: Brad is on lots of medications and not sleeping at all. Things are not good.
Turns out, the house we had moved into had black mold. Turns out, Brad had lymes disease when he was younger. Turns out, some people have a gene that gets turned on by lymes disease which makes you far more susceptible to black mold. Once this happens, your body becomes hyper allergic to everything.
My poor non sleeping hardly breathing husband. He was not only allergic to our house, but he was allergic to practically everything outside too, where he did most of his work.
All this led to us having to find, and pay for, an alternative space for him to live. We had accepted the job in New Mexico by then, so it was only another 6 months that we had to get through. Aside from trying all the eastern and western medical advice under the sun, Brad felt strongly that if we could move away from the damp northeast to the dry southwest, he would get better. We called this new space, 25 minutes from the house, the bubble. He had to live in the bubble ideally with no contaminants. This meant nothing from our other place could be in there. Clothes. Furniture. Stuff. Me basically.
I wish I could tell you (I sure do wish that a lot!) that I was so wonderful that I left everything in the old place behind and moved into solitary confinement with my husband. But I did not. I could not. I was feeling so disoriented from having just left 15 years of NYC behind. I was doing my best to adjust to the new roles of full time wife and step-mom. I was trying to wrap my head around the idea that New Hampshire was not going to be my home post NYC, but New Mexico would. The thought of having to get rid of all my physical things on top of these inner struggles – it was a bit more ego letting go than I could handle all at once.
I know I know. It’s just stuff. But I am being honest to you. I was really attached to all that stuff.
So we had conjugal visits for 6 months and then it was time to move to New Mexico. This really does deserves an entire chapter unto itself but in a nutshell: moving required either A) letting go of something completely, or B):
- Sanitize an item
- Place the item into a black garbage bag and seal it
- Place the bagged item into a box and seal it
- Place the box outside where it can sit in the sun and not be re-contaminated by the moldy house
- Repeat with every single item in the house. Everything. Single. Thing.
- Pray it does not rain while boxes are outside waiting for the moving truck
And if you are doing the math, only Adan and I (or angel friends) could be in the house to do all of this.
What’s my point?
Cleanliness has taken on a role in my life so much greater than I ever imagined.
It’s not that I wasn’t neat before. But safe to say that I did not have the same principles around cleaning as my husband, even prior to the mold. It’s still our number one source of contention. But (for the most part) I have realized that upping my standards was probably better than having his come down to mine. And with the allergy issue, there really wasn’t much of a choice.
Don’t tell Brad, but there have been some positive effects related to this deeper care and attention to all the “stuff” (beyond that in general, things are a little more neat).
I used to minimize the importance of something like a really clean house. If I had the choice, I’d much rather do the “more important” inner work of yoga and meditation than spend my time cleaning the floors (they will just get dirty again!) . But if I’m really going to walk down this path of going “in” to go back “out”, then the two things can not be separate. The same way taking care of our physical bodies can not be separate from our emotional and mental states of being.
I know that my mind is more at ease when the space around my yoga mat is clean and free of clutter (instead of using up half of my mental focus trying to ignore the clutter). I know that it’s just as important to give the same care and attention I would to a challenging yoga pose to the props I use to get there. So I fold the blanket neatly. I roll the strap up nicely. I place the blocks down gently, rather than tossing them to the side when I’m done. These might sound like small things but they are not. Taking care of the “outer” stuff is a reflection of the work we are doing on the inside. And vise versa.
The key behind soucha, and one of the reasons it is the first niyama, is that along with it comes a stage of an increasing reverence for everything; ourselves, the people, the things – everything that we interact with. After all, yoga means to yolk, or union. It’s not just our physical, mental and emotional bodies that we are yolking. It’s also our inner development in relationship to the world we live in. Eventually the practice of soucha leads to less attachment to the physical body (and all the things around it), but until then, extending our care can increases our understanding of the interdependence of all things. It might feel tedious at times, like doing the dishes for the millionth time 🙂 but like a clean sink – it’s probably worth it.
APARIGRAHA : NON GRASPING
I would like to share with you a little bit about the landscape and weather out here in Northern New Mexico.
Have you ever seen a painting of a western sky and thought to yourself, ‘That’s not real. Whomever painted that shouldn’t have exaggerated the colors so much. It looks fake’. Well, I can report that it does indeed look that surreal in real life. The sky really is that orange, really that blue, really that purple, really that pink. And at least a dozen other colors that I don’t think have names yet. It truly is indescribable (maybe that’s why there are paintings).
The sky is also really that vast. I can stand at a spot less than half a mile away from my house where in a full 360 degrees, I see nothing but sky. No buildings. No highway. Just endless horizon.
When I lived in NYC, I remember sunsets where my heart would ache for a glimpse of the whole horizon. When I lived in NYC, even New Hampshire, I could not imagine the way the stars would look in a sky completely free of light pollution. The Milky Way is so close, I swear some nights I can touch it. Nine times out of ten, if you just look up and soften your gaze, you will see a shooting star.
These are some of the things that make living out here the most magical. And surreal.
You might have heard that it’s a little dry out here. You would be right.
I’m an avid non-water drinker. Or I was. Drinking lots of water wasn’t something that was instilled in me growing up. The humid, moisture rich Northeast provided plenty of water for my body to absorb through osmosis 🙂
I learned very quickly that my years of dehydration did not prepare me for living in the high desert. Where we live is in the mountains, 6,500 feet above sea level among the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. As you drive north from Santa Fe, the terrain for a while gets surprisingly flat. Parts of it look like you could be driving through Nebraska. When you reach Valmora, you drop down into a small canyon where rocky cliffs frame a valley on either side. If you climb up to the top of the cliffs you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the mountains and widespread mesa. Travel a little further down the canyon and you’ll come upon the Mora River. When there is rain, the trees and grass on the river’s edge feel almost like a late summer day in Vermont. Drive a little further, and you will once again open up onto the endless wide open cattle land.
It’s a lot of varied landscapes in a relatively small area. But they all have one thing in common. They are very dry. A lot of the time.
Rain and water have taken on a whole new meaning for me out here. When we first arrived and our neighbors talked about things like ‘bad years, water rights and monsoon season’, I felt like I was listening to the script from an old Western movie. Two years later, I have a better understanding about what that all means. More importantly, a much deeper appreciation.
Graha, from the word aparigraha, means to grab. Pari means everywhere. The ‘a’ negates the word. Aparigraha means “don’t grab everything”.
Another way to say it, don’t take more than you need. Don’t hoard. Make sure there is enough for everyone.
Growing up down the road from Niagara Falls, water was never a resource I worried about running out of. In New Hampshire, lakes, ponds and swimming holes are at almost every corner. I knew water was important and shouldn’t be wasted, but it was more of a concept than a reality. My life was so vibrantly green much of the time, I never gave much thought to the widespread effect of having very little water, or none at all.
Out here, the mesa is hard yellow and brown most of the time. It makes it all the more amazing when there is even just a little rain, a fraction of an inch, and you see the land that you are convinced must be dead suddenly revive and show signs of life again. Out here, the palest of greens is a breathtaking sight to behold.
I see wildlife out here everyday. I can see the difference in their stature, their behavior, when there is rain and when there is not. I’m not sure there is anything sadder than a skinny and stressed looking wild buffalo. Or elk. Or antelope. When it hasn’t rained for weeks and weeks, the animals start coming closer down to the river, where not coincidentally, there are more humans and more danger for them in general.
Speaking of humans, water rights are a serious business out here. Just up the river from us, about two miles away, is the greenest, most lush looking hay field I have ever seen. It’s a very odd sight amongst all the dryness. At first I thought they just must have more resources to water their land so much, as in, they must have more money to do so. I was right about that, but not in the order I thought. They have more money because they have more water. They are further upstream and can siphon off the water before it reaches other properties down below. The legality of this practice is under scrutiny all the time. But visually it is clear. More water, more green grass, more cows, bigger house, nicer cars etc. etc. etc.
Valmora is very unique in that the property has a natural underground spring. A spring that produces 24,000 gallons of water a day. It’s a boon certainly for the economics of the property and maintaining a self-sustaining community. But it also means the property is not placing undue stress on the land and livelihoods around it.
There is a monsoon season in New Mexico (we hope) every year towards the middle- end of summer. Besides the moderate snowfall in the winter, this rain is what most landowners depend on for their yearly water supply. There are a lot of times when the dark clouds will dance in a circle, flirt with you, but will not actually come over and play. But when the monsoons do come, it’s just what it sounds like. Torrents of rain, often hail, and more often than not a pretty rainbow at the end of the show. Now that these storms are not so scary to me anymore, they feel pretty glorious.
It’s a funny thing to wish for rain when you grow up in the northeast where it’s gray two thirds of the year. But it’s not just my partiality for the coziness of a rainy day. My physical body and soul crave the sound, the smell, the feeling in the air when it rains. With appreciation has come a reverence. I might not have control over when it rains, but I certainly have control over the amount of water I use. I am far more mindful now than I was before of my part in there being more resources available to everyone. There is always someone downstream, even (especially) if you don’t see them. The same can be said of all our natural resources. I hope though, in the future, it doesn’t take a direct experience for me to become this mindful and this respectful. Our planet doesn’t have time for that.
Aparigraha. Don’t grab everything. Don’t take more than you need. Make sure there is enough for everyone.
BRAHMACHARYA : CELIBACY
That’s what it means folks. Here is why it’s a part of the eight-fold path; energy and how to use it is of the utmost importance in yoga practice. Everything we do is to help harness and give direction to our inner energy (also known as Prana). By practicing celibacy or abstinence in an intentional manner, you are able to further harness your Prana. As the energy grows more potent, your path towards deeper states of meditation and realization becomes more direct.
There are variations on the theme that are also useful. One is translating brahmacharya to mean “right use of energy”. Bringing attention to the many ways we use or misuse our energy on a daily basis. And, taking it a step further, looking specifically at how we use or misuse our energy in relationships.
As I mentioned earlier, I did not want to come to New Mexico. My husband really really did. Let’s just say that conversations around this discord did not go well. They did not go well in New Hampshire before we signed the contracts, they did not go well over the 2,068 miles it took to drive to New Mexico, and they did not go well for the entire first year we were here.
I was resentful. Maybe someday when I write a book I will share all the reasons why. But the baseline is I was resentful and not handling it well. As we made the last turn onto the long road that would take us to our new home, I started physically shaking. By the time we pulled into the driveway I was sobbing and couldn’t catch my breath. I think it’s the closest I ever came to a true nervous breakdown.
I had just gone from recently living in NYC which held 8 million people, to a slice of land equal in size but with just eight of us on it. You read that right. Eight. We had moved our life to a 46,000 acre ranch where the nearest neighbor was 4 miles away. I’m sure it was beautiful, but I couldn’t see it. The isolation was unnerving; perhaps it was just the newness of the situation but it felt terrifying to be suddenly so alone. Night was especially frightening. Every noise a threat, a possible intruder – human? Animal? (I would like you to know, and I kid you not, as I wrote that last sentence a large brown bear just strolled not 10 feet away from my window).
Apparently I had permanently traded in cute dresses and flip flops for jeans and closed toed boots (in the summer!!!) as rattlesnakes and bull snakes were a regular thing out on the front porch. Wildfires billowed smoke from just a few miles away. Storms that rolled in did not induce a sense of peaceful introspection but rather sideways rain and golf ball sized hail that left me wide eyed all night wondering, was the little piggy wrong? Was the house going to actually blow right down?
Did I mention the power kept going out?
So, you know, days without any electricity or water?
Or (worst of all!) – no internet for the first two months?!
I wish I could say I was approaching it all with a sense of adventure, but I. Was. Not. I had given up a lot to come here, and I didn’t expect we would be roughing it quite this hard. On top of everything, it had become clear on day one that there was a lot of physical work that had to be done in and around the property. Brad and Adan (who was with us for the summer before returning to New Hampshire for school) left the house as soon as the sun came up, stopped in for food midday, and often returned after it got dark. Which meant by default, I was left to do the cooking, cleaning and unpacking. Instead of seeing it as a harmless result of our particular circumstance, I was livid. I had apparently just given up my career to suddenly become an overnight housewife.
So yeah. Brad and I fought a lot. Unfortunately.
Then, 13 days after we arrived, on Friday the 13th to be exact, Brad had an accident that shattered his knee. You can read the whole story from one of my earlier posts, but essentially: there was an emergency surgery, several days in the hospital, and 3 months of him being unable to walk.
A lot changed. I can’t tell you the arguing between Brad and I stopped entirely at that point, but there was a bit of a reprieve. Looking back at it all now, I don’t blame myself for the feelings I had. But at the same time, energy is energy and it’s clear that most of mine during this period was going towards anger and resentment. Which left very little room for anything else. Because my energy was already consumed elsewhere, I had nothing left for the good. Or the beauty. Of which there was a lot. I eventually got to a place where I could see that, but at the time there was just deep withdrawing. It had an overall constricting effect, not just on me but towards the people around me as well. Like Adan. I was not showing up as the best version of a bonus mom as I had hoped. I would say it’s hard to be generous with your energy when you feel like you have none. But I didn’t have none. I had a ton. It was just being pointed in a different direction.
The moment I saw Brad’s pale pale face behind Adan on the 4-wheeler, I knew something was very wrong. I also in that moment felt an instantaneous shift in my energy. It wasn’t even a thought – I had to direct my energy into a completely different direction now. I had to step up. First crisis management, then caretaking – for all of us – because I was the only one able to do it. And I wanted to.
Yoga, as I mentioned earlier, is about learning to harness and direct our energy. We practice it through our bodies and breath on the mat. But the most important place we practice it is off the mat. Brahmacharya literally means “to behave in a way that leads to God”. Whether you believe in God or not, we can practice living with “right energy” everyday in the relationships that are closest to us. Our families. Our children. Parents. Spouses. Ourselves. It’s the hardest work! But some of the most critical. No one is saying this is easy. Far from it; it’s some of the hardest work I know. And in part, it is so hard because it’s so nuanced. Right energy doesn’t mean putting up with things you shouldn’t. And there are times when certain energies, like sadness, fear, or depression, are so overwhelming that it’s hard to do anything else at all. Our yoga practice can help us navigate that a bit – and in time, learn to hold what we are feeling in relationship to the world around us. Experiencing one thing doesn’t have to mean blocking out everything else. It requires a lot of attention and steadiness to know what is right energy in any given moment. Kind of like our yoga practice 🙂
I’ll share more later, but I am happy to report Brad and I eventually got to the other side of that rough patch. And my heart was able to soften and take in more and more of the good. It’s a reward that’s been hard won. But very worthwhile.
ASTEYA : NON STEALING
About a month after we moved, I was in the parking lot of Trader Joes in Santa Fe when I lightly side swiped a parked car. There was no one in the other car. The next full minute went like this:
Maybe no one saw me.
It’s not that bad, maybe they won’t notice.
I don’t have time to deal with this.
These parking spots are so damn small! It’s not my fault.
I’ve never hit anyone before. Surely this does not count.
It’s the freakin wind!! It has me feeling so ungrounded!!
If I leave, I’m sure their insurance will cover it and my insurance won’t have to go up.
I’m so tired and stressed. I really can not deal with this right now.
I’m sure no one saw me. Do it. Just drive away.
It’s hard to do the right thing sometimes. Really hard.
I didn’t drive away. I got out of the car, wrote a note, and just as I was putting it under their windshield wiper, a pretty blond stressed out looking mom arrived at her car, which I soon found out was brand new, as of yesterday. And would she please consider handling this privately between the two of us? Ummmm….no.
Sure seemed like I brought more trouble onto my plate by sticking around and “doing the right thing”. Maybe I should have just driven away.
But I knew I could not sit in front of my next yoga class and talk about being a good person if I did.
There are many subtle ways that stealing can show up in our daily lives. The littleral stealing of resources and things that don’t belong to us of course. But what about stealing energy? Time? Ideas? Trust? Lord knows there is a lot of stealing happening in our society along these lines right now. But a better society is only going to be made up of better individuals.
The full yoga practice is really an amazing thing. For me, teaching has been a critical part of my self development. I swear there are many things I do “right” simply because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to steal the trust a student might be putting into the words I share. I don’t want to be a teacher who says one thing but does another. Clearly, I don’t always succeed. But I have been steered many times in the direction I hope to go by the north star of the yamas and niyamas.
Essentially, behind the practice of non-stealing is a willingness to accept that you are enough the way you are. You don’t need more and more and more, you don’t need to take things that are not yours to be better somehow. And if that you makes a mistake, is not perfect, has an accident let’s say – it’s ok. This is not the you that makes excuses in exchange for the temporary comfort of not feeling bad. It’s the you that values time, energy and resources. It’s the you that can stand up and say “here I am”. I’m trying. And hopefully this version of you is able to stand up more and more for those from whom things are being stolen. To work towards a more equitable world for everyone.
Added bonus: if you are enough the way you are, then what does come your way feels a lot more valuable. The smallest thing can make you feel like the richest person in the world.