Friday, July 7, 2017

Betty.

A few weeks ago, I was paired with Betty at Adaptive Yoga.  Betty does not use a wheelchair; she has full use of her whole body, but she likes the class.  In adaptive yoga, volunteers like me facilitate movement for people who have limited mobility. Often we do hip openers by moving the legs from bent to straight to bent again. Or we rotate the leg right and left in circles to bring some lubrication to the hip joints.

I offered to help Betty move her legs because, even if you can move your legs on your own, it often feels really good to surrender and let someone else do it for you. Like many people, Betty had a hard time relinquishing control in this exercise.  In fact, she did the opposite of relaxing into the movement.

A few things to know about Betty. She is little, maybe 4 feet 10 inches. And she's old, a surprisingly young, and strong 92 years old. And, she always wears a royal blue sweatsuit.  As I tried to help Betty through the hip circles (and she resisted) I couldn't get over how strong her little 92-year-old legs were. Betty was married to her husband for 68 years and he died last year. She started yoga as a way to keep busy, and healthy. She also started wearing magnetic bracelets and anklets to help channel energy that would help her back pain. She got that idea from the suggestion of a vendor at the mall.

As a yoga teacher, I am surrounded all the time by people who are pretty open-minded. But these people are in their 20s or 30s or 40s. When I was a kid, we used to visit my grandmother in the Drexel Home in South Chicago. Sometimes our school would go to do crafts and sing songs with the old people who lived there. I always loved the visits with my class and with my family. My grandmother and the other residents were always so appreciative. Old people have experienced so much more life and loss than the rest of us that they are simply wiser. What a gift it was to spend time, doing yoga no less, with this special nonagenarian!

As the class came to an end and everyone was getting comfortable in Savasana, the teacher Nicole came over to Betty to ask her if she needed anything. Betty's eyes were already closed and her face emanated pure bliss. Her little blue sweatsuit-clad body was perfect as it was.  I looked down at her, watching her chest rise and fall with her breath, her anklets and bracelets slack on her ankles and wrists. "She's amazing," I thought to myself. Nicole and I shared a smile of appreciation for this beautiful soul before she moved on to check on the other students.

When I went home that night, I was, as I almost always am after Adaptive Yoga, jolly, excited, at peace, all at the same time. My heart was full of Betty, of all her goodness-- her open-mindedness, her faith in healing, her ability to be honest about managing the loss of her husband, her perseverance get herself to finally let go at the end of class. Gifts really do come in all sorts of packages.  Thank you Betty!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Seasick

Last week we went out on a motor boat on Lake Washington. The temperature peaked at 93 degrees and after hanging at the lake in the heat of the day, we were all excited to hop aboard our friend Andrea's motor boat and get some wind in our hair. Though it was very hot, it was also choppy on the lake and it seemed that every boat and jet ski registered in the greater Seattle area was out for a spin.

I'm prone to motion sickness. When we travel abroad, I alway pack a perscription anti-nausea, but I rarely take it when we're just on the lake. A few weeks ago we went out on the same boat and I was just fine. But last week, I found that I could barely hold on. A few times I jumped into the water to get off the rocking vessel. That provided a temporary solution but the seasickness came right back as soon as I got back on the boat.

Andrea offered to take us on a longer tour, all the way from south of Seward Park to the 520 bridge. Not wanting to be a pooper, I agreed but about halfway in I realized that I couldn't do it. Head between my knees, I told Nancy I was a goner. She told Andrea who graciously complied with this last minute change of plans. We made a B-Line for the west side of the lake so we could turn back and head to the moorage near our house.

I was okay when the boat was speeding, but as soon as we slowed down to pack up our stuff and get ready to dock, the seasickness came back in a furious wave. Andrea suggested she bring the boat a bit closer in so I could swim the 50 yards to shore. Desperate to escape the nausea, I jumped at the opportunity. I've actually followed this protocol before. Several years ago when Nancy and I were kayaking in Belize, I had to abort mission and swim the last leg of our trip because the rocking of the sea waves beneath the kayak was too much for me.

Still very queasy, I leapt from the nose of the boat into the lake. The waves were big, my stomach was inside out, and the lake bottom was nowhere near my toes. I panicked. Even though I was a competitive swimmer for over 15 years, I often forget my skills in open water and lose my calm. I turned over onto my back and treaded water. I tried to take little sips of air, but I couldn't catch a full breath.  I wasn't okay. "Laura, are you alright?!!!" Nancy yelled from the boat. Not wanting to scare Lucia who standing right behind Nancy, I made a face gesture indicating that no, I was not okay. I was literally over my head. I didn't know how to get control. I needed help.

Nancy threw me a life preserver. I managed to wrangle it onto my body and I dog paddled to shore. As I climbed out onto the wall, I could see people sitting up on their towels, on paddle boards, in boats looking at me, wondering if I was okay, trying to figure out what the spectacle of the woman jumping off the boat and needing a life preserver was all about. I didn't care.  I was simply relieved to be safely on land.

In my younger days, I would have died of embarrassment to demonstrate such weakness, such vulnerability. I might have tried to power through somehow, attempt to override my nausea or deny my panic, but these days I am older and wiser. I know that, try as I might, I am not invincible. I am a human being with frailties, fears, and limits. And life is not in my control. The conditions that day on the lake brought me to my knees and I needed help. The only way to take care of myself, on the boat and in the lake, was to admit my weaknesses, to ask for help.

I resist showing my vulnerabilities. I like to be in control. I often find myself in conflict because I can't just admit that I'm scared or hurt or overwhelmed. It's unlikely, but possible, that I could have drowned had I not asked for help that day on the lake. It's one of the great ironies of life, that admitting our weaknesses makes us stronger. It brings us closer to other people because we show up fully, vulnerabilities and all. The experience on the lake was a gift, a reminder that asking for help is a good thing, a necessary part of life.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Goo Goo Gaa Gaa

I've just finished listening to Esther Perel's new podcast, "Where Should We Begin." It's seven episodes of couples therapy, each episode a different couple. In one episode, Perel has one member of the couple blindfold herself and the other member speak only in French. Perel reminds the couple, and all of us listening to the podcast, that most humans are non-verbal for at least the first 18 months of our lives. Prior to speaking, we communicated through our bodies. Our first language is non-verbal;  body language. When we were pre-verbal, we could tell our parents if we were happy, sad, curious, hungry, in pain, constipated, hot or cold with our bodies.

As a hyper-verbal person, this is an important reminder. I often get caught up in the intellectualization of an experience because I am quick to attach words to it. How would I describe that?, I often find myself thinking in the middle of a feeling.

As a yoga student and teacher, I am in the unique position to reconnect and more deeply connect with my first language, the body. The other day before class, I shared this idea-- try to notice what language you are using to experience your yoga practice. To be able to be in a posture and just feel it instead of attaching words is a gift. The words usually come with judgement or analysis, thoughts that take us off the path to becoming more connected with our true selves. Feeling, through the body, on the other hand, is where true healing and liberation can happen.

When I was twenty I lived in Spain for a year. I flew home from Madrid via Kennedy Airport. I remember, as I waited in the terminal for my connection to O'Hare, how disoriented I felt.  It had been so long since I'd spoken English regularly that I couldn't remember certain words. So when I think about the 20 or 30 or 50 years we live speaking a language other than the one we were born with, it makes sense that rediscovering our body language would be challenging. It might feel at times impossible.

The couple who wore the blindfold and spoke French were trying to reconnect with one another by experiencing each other as different people with the idea that, seeing each other in this new way would enable them to see each other more completely. They were opening the door to that idea that we are never just one way. How we act most of the time is not who we are all of the time.

Yoga opens that door too. I'm shy and guarded and a little bit worried all the time, but that's not all I am.  Yoga gives me the opportunity to take a break from seeing only that, from being only that. The experience of yoga is hard to put into words. Right, because it's in the body.

Friday, June 9, 2017

You're the best!

In my little family, we have a frequent saying around the house. "You're the best!", I will say to Lucia when, in search for her black leggings in the dryer, unsolicited, she brings the whole load of laundry up from the basement. When either Nancy or I bring the other coffee in bed, the act is always met with "You're the best."  Sometimes when we're hurrying out the door to school,  Nancy will yell, "Lu, you're the best!" giving some props and support for another hard day of sixth grade.

This morning Lucia had three tests before fourth period and was losing it a little bit. Nancy was mediating a very difficult case that would likely go well into the evening hours. As I ran around the kitchen doing breakfast things, they sat at opposite ends of the kitchen counter with their laptops open, scrawling notes-- Lucia for her science test and Nancy for her case.

My day ahead involved a tapestry of lots of little things all over town--- I had to go deal with a heat glitch at the studio; I needed to go down to the Seattle Department of Transportation to get a truck permit for an upcoming project; I had to meet the landscaper at the rental house; I wanted to get the first draft of the newsletter written; and I was on a mission to replace two evergreen clematis that recently died. I was a little stressed about getting it all done.

About a year ago, I started writing daily messages on a little kitchen chalkboard. I try to get Nancy and Lu to come up with ideas, and sometimes they are good sports, but usually it's me. As I looked across as these two dear souls, working hard, stressing hard, as I scurried to get all the ducks in a row for my own day, the message of the day popped into my head clear as rain. "Your best is the best." I scratched it onto the board and propped it on the counter so they could both see. "Your best is the BEST!" I screamed, rejoicing at the pure truth of it, hoping it would bring some ease to the furrowed brows hovering over the four eyes across from me.

"Good one," Nancy said, "did you make that up?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed.
"Mom, if I get an JS [that's an F] on my health test, it's not the best, it's a JS" Lucia groaned, punctuating her sentence with a grand roll of her eyes.

Needless to say, Lucia didn't get an JS, but if she had, and if she'd done her best, I would still have given her the house standard, "You're the best!" because I believe it. It sounds simple because it is simple. Doing our own personal best is all we have in each of our little galaxies. Finding it--our personal best-- is the journey every day. It's trying our hardest and being present to whatever it is we are doing, whether it's being a lawyer, memorizing sixth grade geology, or making time for all the moving pieces of life. Try hard. Engage. Face the challenge. Do your best.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Middle Ground


I practice yoga every day because it makes me feel good. Oh, and it keeps me sane. I often struggle when I practice. Sometimes it's really hard physically, other times mentally, oftentimes both. The usual pattern: I start in a resistant, amped state of mind and by the time I land in Savasana, I'm in that glorious end zone of tranquility. But between these polarized places, there is the space in between, the peanut butter and jelly that I live in the majority of the time I'm practicing. The magic of yoga is the union of the physical and the mental, the body and the breath. This energetic tandem play creates a magical state---perfect and beautiful, though temporary and fleeting.

I've been trying to think of a term for this enchanted space. It's a real thing, this space in between the angst and the grace. I visualize it as a something invisible but with form. It pushes and it pulls, it moves around the body, kind of like the slime in Ghostbusters, only very friendly, very loving, and very gentle.  It's the opposite of destructive. It's integration, happening even without me knowing or trying. It comes through me, takes over, becomes the strongest sensation. It's not the amped up starting point, nor is it the blissed out end point. It's the space between the two, created only because the other states exist. Its the Middle Ground.

For my lifestyle-- parenting, running a business, managing a household-- I recognize that I can't stay in the Middle Ground all the time. But I think that because I have had a daily yoga practice for many years, there is resonance when other Middle Ground moments show up throughout my day when I am not doing yoga. It's during morning coffee in bed talking to my sweetheart about nothing and everything, floating in those moments between being asleep and brushing my teeth to start the clock on the beginning of another long, usually harried day. I find it driving my daughter to school, between rushing out the door and saying a hasty goodbye "do you have your lunch?" at the crosswalk. I experience the Middle Ground when I take the time to walk instead of drive the two miles to the community center where I volunteer on Tuesday nights.

It's a relief and a reward. I don't imagine that I would ever stop practicing yoga, but if for some reason I had to, I would know that the magic slime shows up in other ways. And a reward because, hot damn, all those years of in the yoga room have seriously paid off!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Forgiveness

Several months ago I did a very, very bad thing. It was more than bad. It was cruel and unconscious and deeply unkind. Like the bitter flavor that sits on your tongue after eating a bad walnut, it's the kind of bad thing that lingers.

In a catty, rushed email, I inadvertently cc'd someone when I meant to just copy and paste their address. Long story short, I said some things that were jugemental and obnoxious and hurtful in an email to another friend, inadvertently ccing the person who's email address I only intended to copy and paste. The victim of my nastiness confronted me immediately. I owned my actions whole-heartedly and apologized profusely via voicemail and email. But there was never really closure. I had hurt someone with my words and I drifted in and out of that shame limbo for months.

Fast forward seven months-- to today. This morning as I mounted my bike after dropping my car at the mechanic, I heard someone calling my name. When I looked behind me, I saw the person calling me was the woman with whom I'd created this terrible email foible.

"I've been thinking about you," she said.

"I've thought about you so many times," I replied. "I am so so sorry for being such an asshole."

She looked at me straight in the eye and said, "I forgive you. You should forgive yourself. You're a good person Laura."

We discussed getting together to talk more about the experience we'd shared and then we parted ways. We said goodbye, but with the expectation that we'd see each other again. We left it that I'd reach out to her next if I wanted to continue the conversation.

I got on my bike and rode towards Capitol Hill. I felt like my heart and my stomach were both in my throat. Having seen this person in the flesh after all these months had left me with a lurching, nauseated feeling, but the gift of forgiveness she offered pumped my heart so full, I can barely remember pedaling the three miles to the studio.

It was a gift, her forgiveness, an unprecedented offering that I am not sure I deserve. I don't use this word lightly. I rarely use it at all, but I consider her act a blessing. The lessons I learned from the initial unkind acts I engaged in with my bloopered email were profound. The shame I carried and the hurt I caused another person shone a light on places where I want and need to be a kinder, more conscious person. Like most people, I've had different incarnations of these shame-filled lessons throughout my life and I am sure I'll have others.

But the lesson that came from being forgiven this morning is a much rarer one. Today I was the recipient of true open-heartedness. It's not everywhere, this kind of bold, generous gesture. I recognized it's specialness and I could feel it in my body like a blood transfusion.  A blessing, a gift, an offering, an act of grace. I am forever humbled, eternally grateful.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Did you ever wear rainbow jammies?

Writer's block is a real thing. It manifests in different ways for different people. For me, I periodically get stuck with the feeling that I don't have anything new to say so I should just keep quiet. But writing for me is a therapy, an indulgence, a place where I can feel my clear channel showing up, so I am glad that my writer's block always goes away.
Usually a life event, a conversation or experience sparks me to write. It's to the point where, after a big talk or long walk, my 12-year-old daughter Lucia will say, "Mom, are you going to write about that?" This morning when I woke up, I was thinking about my weekend visitors. My cousin Kirsten and two of her friends came up to Seattle from Salem to see the U2 concert. My partner Nancy, Lucia and I babysat Kirsten's three-year-old daughter Emily for the night.

During dinner, Emily, Lucia, Nancy and I were talking about fairies when Emily let us know that her favorite color was rainbow. Then, in a very earnest, serious way, she told us that when she was in her mommy's belly, she wore rainbow jammies. There is no way to possibly recreate the tone, the face, the rounded vowels, the overall image that came with little Emily's rainbow monologue.

"When I was in my mommy's belly I was wearing rainbow jammies," created a moment for all of us-- of pure joy, inspiration, and connection. The evening evolved into more fairy conversation. We shared with Emily that she was really lucky because the Rainbow Fairy actually lives in Seattle. The spoon she ate her ice cream with became a special fairy spoon. Emily and Lucia made Rainbow Fairy dolls. We made her a Rainbow Fairy card that welcomed her to the Fairy world and left it as a surprise on her suitcase for the morning. 

Thinking about Emily thinking about the rainbow jammies she wore in her mommy's belly is not a radical concept. It is a radical moment. A moment where all the other issues, problems, crisis in the world come to a full stop and for a blip in time, fantasy becomes the fabric that connects us. It's still in my head, that perfect moment, "When I was in my mommy's belly I was wearing rainbow jammies." It makes me smile and my heart beats a little bit faster from the internal laughter.  I can see the faces of Nancy and Lucia, the glow of delight as Emily looked to each one of them to make sure they heard her.  I'm so happy that I woke up with images from Rainbow Fairy night. This feeling is a necessary respite from reality. Today I will be a mom, go to work, attend a fundraiser and a soccer parents team meeting. I have no idea what other surprises are in store for my day, but whatever comes, I'm grateful it's starting like this. Thank you Emily.