Category Archives: Lent

Day 3: Topic- Yoga

(Ok guys, just a heads up.  I’m starting this at ten pm after a busy buy kind of crazy day, and while I’m not tired exactly, I might be in that so tired I don’t even feeling stage, which usually lends itself to some crazy stuff.  So, you know, this might be a little bit bumpy or incoherent or really, really boring.  I don’t even know what’s going to happen.  Just so we are clear.)

A couple of months ago, I was feeling really down on myself for not being more physically active, and Mike asked me if there was anything he could do to support me in my goal of just getting up and moving more.  Not one to let an opportunity like that slide, I asked if we could attend yoga weekly and go for a hike once a month and Mike, not being one who makes offers in vain,  agreed, and so we’ve been attending yoga classes weekly since January.

 

The yoga class is an all level class held in the neighborhood across the river from us, in a studio above a tavern, overlooking a railyard to the west, a plane test field to the south and a series of brick buildings and little courtyards to the north.  The sky always seem grey and thick with water on Saturday mornings, and the air is always chilly, but J, our yoga instructor, welcomes us with lit candles, soothing music and an almost surreal attitude of welcoming calm.

I’ve done yoga off and on for years, and while I’m not good at it in any sense of the world, I know the poses well enough to follow.  J begins in starting off focusing on our breathing, settling into ourselves and dedicating our practice to someone or something outside of ourself to whom we feel grateful. Initially, that felt a little bit hokey, but I do like gratitude a lot, and I’ve started to really look forward to this part of yoga- the time to settle into the rhythm of my own breathing and quiet down that chattering part of my brain that composes to-do lists like there was some kind of Olympic Medal in to-do listing at stake, and to see who raises to the surface of my awareness, who I owe a debt of gratitude to, whose strength or kindness or grace I have been leaning on, knowingly or not. Usually it’s mom mom or my omma or my cousin Jessica or my Aunt Jeanine, but sometimes it’s Mike and sometimes its a client and sometimes it’s something just kind of general and hard to put into words, like “that color in the sky the other day” or “the dj who played that amazing song on the way home last night” or “people who are really, really patient with people I have no patience for”. Anyway, whatever or whoever it is, that process of quieting myself down to see them is powerful.

J leads us through the poses.  He is a big believer in making yoga sneaky-hard.  I start out spending forever on breathing and sort of relax into it, then all of the sudden, without me even knowing about how we got there, we are  doing crazy balance and strength poses that seem to defy both gravity and my own innate lack of athleticism.  At this point, whoever I have dedicated that day’s practice to becomes incredibly relevant.  I picture my grandmother’s eyes twinkle as she sort of laughingly encourages me on, and I see my bad ass cousin’s calm and expectant face, and I hear my mom’s words urging me on, and I picture that beautiful color that didn’t quit, and I don’t want to let them down, any of them, even if I now hate yoga.   It becomes very very important to me to offer this up to them, even though the people in my life are filled with grace and, where I to just collapse in an exhausted huddle, they’d encourage me to drink some water, calm my breathing down, and try again next time.

 

So sometimes I soldier through and sometimes I modify what I’m doing and sometimes I just hang out in child’s pose.  But the entire time, nothing feels wasted.  Nothing feels like quitting or disappointment.  I return to my breathing.  I return to my breathing again.

There are times in yoga when simply the change in perspective is enough.  Just the fact that my body is doing something so far from what my body is used to doing is a kind of pleasure, a kind of play or makebelieve.  Sometimes a pose involves a stretch or a movement or a way of balance that feels inside of me like wind or water or music, and I cherish that, cherish that glimpse of what it would be like to live in my own body more.

Sometimes the room is filled with the sound of labored breathing, exhalations that sound like gratitude and pleas all at once, and that is a sustaining thing too- to hear that honest bodily response to effort and difficulty, the doubt implicit even as the next breath is drawn. Sometimes we chant the chakras together, and even though I can never really do half of them, I love the way the sound opens us all up, aligns us to each other.  I love the sensation of being in tune with everyone in the room, for this moment.  I love the echoes inside of me.

At the end, when we lay on the floor and J covers us with blankets and walks quietly among us, the most amazing, communal silence covers us too, and we exist in it. This period of time always feels like an eternity that doesn’t last long enough, and when we come out of it it always feels to me like waking from a dream.  Like slipping back into my regular every day self, who runs things efficiently but doesn’t spend enough time contemplating her breathing, enough time synchronizing with the beautiful vowels exhaled by the world all around her.

 

41 minutes.

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Day Two: So a crazy thing happened at the bank the other day…

Recently I left one job to start another.  Because I don’t really like lingering in states of abeyance, I gave myself exactly one day in between my end date and start date, during which time I planned on taking care of the sort of tasks that just get neglected in a rich and fulfilling life, like getting a hair cut and changing the oil in my car.  (Ha ha.  In truth, even during the periods of my life when what is going on is Facebook and an obsessive re-watching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still can rarely be bothered with car or hair maintenance. I will probably be reincarnated as a very irate mechanic.  Or a much neglected wig).

Another item on my to-do list was to go to the bank, which is generally a pretty straightforward, even pleasant, experience.  The tellers at my local branch are all extremely polite, kind of young woman and men who giggled when my husband used to write me checks out of a hello kitty checkbook (fact!), always find something pleasant to say about my appearance (once it was “your cheeks look so scrubbed!”) and blink a lot.  I kind of adore them.  I also like going to a bank that is frequented by a white haired aristrocratic looking lady who literally clutches her pearls as she attends to business, day laborers, immigrants of all nationalities, and many, many taxi drivers.  It’s like the economic United Nations of banking, and I like to go in and think that the meager money I’ll be passing over for the tender caretaking of the earnest, youthful tellers will mix and mingle with the fruits of labor and wise pre-birth choices of parents alike. A melting pot of an entirely different sort, even as we live out our separate and segregated human lives.

So, because I am a pretty simple person who has apparently decided that renting for life and avoiding car ownership are the keys to happiness (so far, yes!), my banking needs are usually basic and handled within minutes.  Sometimes the tellers try to give my life tips like “Seriously, maybe you might want to eat out less?” or “Have you ever considered getting a job that actually pays you money, like, for real?” (which I kid you not are pieces of advice these tellers, or their youthful forbears, have offered me over the years.  Which I love.  These 22 year olds are probably right about a lot of things, and I appreciate that they tend to take me under their wings), but mostly even that is brief and things go well and I leave and go on with my day.

Yesterday, it all started pretty well.  When I got to the bank, I was feeling kind of rushed because I did have a hair appointment scheduled at a place that is sort of geeky-trendy (they sell endless loop decorative scarves with Star Wars prints along side some seriously sexy platform shoes and long flowy dresses with Octopus tentacles screen printed on them), and while I knew my normcore outfit  (this is a new word I learned this week. Normcore.  It is a word that describes a new hip trend amoung people for who new hip trends are a thing, and it means that a person is choosing to dress “aggressively normal”.  I am not sure, but I suspect this is the one and only fashion trend I can legitimately say that I am a pioneer in.  I am one aggressively normal dresser!) and rapidly assembled ponytail wasn’t going to be impressing anyone, I hoped to at least demonstrate my commitment to exploring fashionable styles by showing up on time.  So I was relieved to see that there were two tellers and three people ahead of me.  Awesome!  A cinch! Total in and out and on with the rest of my day.

Nope.

Directly ahead of me, there was a very adorable older couple.  Maybe you know this about me, but I used to work as a case manager for seniors who were disabled or otherwise struggling with independence, and then later I worked as a case manager for the family care givers of seniors who were trying to make it so their loved one can stay home.  While a lot of that work wasn’t my cup of tea, the ability to occasionally spend time with people who had spent a life figuring out how to live together and be devoted to each other was a powerful, amazing, humbling experience, and whenever I am out and about and I see an older couple patiently leaning in to each other, helping each other along, I feel touched, and also immediately they get all my attention.  This couple talked to each other quietly in whispers, moved very very slowly, and the gentleman of the pair (this was a male/female coupleship) carried what looked like a battered woman’s purse, a huge shapeless kind of fake black leather thing like the sort of thing a mom with young kids might carry with her to tote around a small portion of her household.

When it was their turn, the couple moved together to the teller’s window.  The gentleman hefted up the purse, which kind of seemed to be heavy to him, and out poured out stacks and stacks of banded together hundred dollar bills.

I mean stacks and stacks.  I mean, they overflowed off of the window shelf and onto the floor, and the teller looked shocked (and I was shocked, and also was like “oh my gosh, this is a real thing that actually happens?” and also like “have I ever seen this much money at one time before? ” (answer: no)) and the gentleman said something and then the lady said something and it became immediately clear that they did not speak English.

So we have two bank tellers, a gigantic and uncomfortable amount of cash, and two very frail, whispering elderly people who don’t speak English.  And me, watching this from a respectful distance, trying to be circumspect. (Again, not ever having been around a large pile of money, but my general sense is that the etiquette is to maybe pretend it isn’t there?  Or at least pretend that you have absolutely no knowledge or awareness that it’s there? Seriously, if someone knows the agreed upon decorum in this situation, let me know! ) .

The tellers tried to ask questions, like “Do you have an account here?” and “Is this your money?” and also, but really more aimed at each other, and less a verbalized thing and more a sort of shared air between them, “What the fuck?” But the couple just kept pointing to the money, which was clearly the salient feature in the experience but also really the one feature which everyone got.  Everyone got that there was a fricking huge pile of money in the middle of the room.  The couple seemed pretty serene, and also possibly used to young people tragically not understanding them.  The tellers were kind of tag teaming this situation, and it became pretty clear to me that I had nothing to offer by way of a pressing claim on anyone’s time, and also that a hair cut, and possibly a few days of looking like the sort of woman who knows how to manage the top of her head, were beckoning.  So I kind of quietly just sort of backed away and then sort of gently tiptoed out (I don’t know why, but I felt very, very weird drawing attention to myself.  Almost like I was trespassing or something?).  And one of the tellers noticed me and followed me to the door and after it shut behind me she locked it and that was kind of that.

But obviously, that *isn’t* really that at all.  Because, guys, what is going on?  Was that their life’s savings, which one day for reasons not explained they decided to just- rehouse?  Was this something they found in a lot behind their house?  Was this the result of drug deals?  Money laundering? Extortion of their grandkids? A life time of winning bingo at the local parish? Tips? A grand heist? Was this a good thing or a bad thing?  Were they trying to just make a deposit?

Whatever it was, they didn’t seem flustered or unhappy, so I can only conclude that this is just a day in the life of this extraordinary couple.  You get up, you put on your dentures and find your tri-focals, you stretch out the aches and pains, you negotiate into clothing and you hold the hand of your beloved and you take a gigantic bag of cash out into the world and you see how it goes.

Mazel tov, dear couple who blew my mind yesterday.  I hope the beginning and the ending of that story was/will be as incredible of the tiny little sliver of the middle I got to see.

Thank you for reading!

43 minutes (give or take, I had to deal with an anxious cat).

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Day 1: Topic: Why the heck?

40 days of devotion

 Today is the first day of Lent.  In the Roman Catholic Tradition, this is the beginning of the 40 days of repentance that Christians participate in as they prepare to honor the death, and celebrate the resurrection of Christ, who died for the very sins that they/we are to spend our time repenting of.  Beyond adding some heft to the act of atonement,  Lent also offers, by way  of voluntary deprivation, the opportunity for  Christians try to symbolically partake in the experience of Jesus as he went through the mortification of betrayal, torture and death at the hands of the people he came to save.

In the Western Hemisphere, Lent takes place at the end of winter and beginning of spring- that in between time when the days are still dark and wet and muddy and cold, but when green things begin to shiver themselves out of the ground and poke out tentative, slyly defiant heads, and when birds begin to return to trees and the length of the sky moves slowly out of its winter shadow to show more blue, less night.

The combination of these two things- the felt sensation of experiencing the greening and renewal of the world even in the midst of its annual darkness and death, and the consideration of the psychological and spiritual deaths we experience as broken (or sinning, depending on your language) creatures who, nevertheless, have this opportunity to renew ourselves, to be whole- is a powerful thing.  Or at least for me, always,  each experience lends credence to the other.  Growing up in a Christian world, I looked to the signs of spring as irrefutable evidence of Christ’s resurrection. It was like the crocuses and the baby ducks coming from their shells and the lady bugs and the leaves unfurling in increasingly relaxed spirals all pointed in this one direction- look, look, we come back to life and so did He (and so will you!).

Later in my life, when I learned that Easter doesn’t actually mark the actual anniversary of the resurrection (if there was a resurrection at all) but instead was  celebrated at a time chosen to co-opt and replace the pre-existing pagan religions of europe at the time of its colonization by the roman (catholic) empire, it wasn’t so much that my mind was blown, as it was that the world sort of opened up a little bit to be a bit wider and richer and more complex than I had realized it was as a little kid growing up in a little town bounded on all sides by woods and fields, as far as I could see.  But when I read that the earlier pagan traditions celebrated not the lofty experience of spiritual eternal life triumphing over physical death, but instead the far earthier miracle of birth- the bloody, messy ushering of helpless and naked life into this world, and the urgent desires that give that life shape- it took me a long, long while to reconcile these different celebrations.  As I knew him from the stories of my childhood, Jesus was pretty uninterested in this whole aspect of existence- sex and pregnancies, woman’s bodies and men’s desires and the whole power of the erotic.  How bizarre, to have this layered celebration, all eggs being laid by bunnies and men dying on crosses and resurrection into clouds and fertility.  What a weird jumble.  How could anyone make any sense of it?  I’d look at the crocuses and the misty green in the trees and they weren’t fingers pointing anywhere, but question marks written in an old, old language I didn’t understand.

I’m thinking of this all now because, while I’m not a Catholic and kind of skeptical about the resurrection as a literal and specific event, I’m in a place in my life where I crave to celebrate Lent.  Not because I am craving either atonement or deprivation (atonement is a lifelong process, really, along with healing, and isn’t anchored to a time of year, and deprivation is not so much the thing I’m going to do right now), but because I miss the intentionality of Lent, of a spiritual practice, of devoting yourself to something.

In this jumbled up season of life and death, the hereafter and the immediate right now, green bravery and the unpredictable grip of winter, there are so many ways to meditate, so many ways to instill a seed in oneself and tend it during the last, rich space of fertile pause.  It strikes me that what I want to devote myself to these next forty days is not meditating on the ways I have failed or potentially ushered in the death of the son of god (again, a point I’m sort of dubious about anyway), but instead spend this time trying to focus, intentionally, on the various and specific aspects of the world that get presented to me in such a rush and bustle of any given day that I overlook them, move past them so quickly, and fail to take in the gifts as they are offered.

For the past three years, I’ve lost so much of the wonder and stillness I used to find in reflective writing.  Ironically, since the entire crucible of graduate school certainly taught me better habits about writing, and lent me a kind of desperate discipline- but I’ve not used it in any kind of thoughtful or creative or joyful way in a while.  Like the spiritual practices of walking or praying, writing has been something that has for years anchored me to the wonder and the beauty and the vulnerability of the world.  It’s slowed me down at my most anxious and immediate, and helped me connect to whatever is deeper and most eternal, whatever is kindest and most hopeful in myself or the world.  And in all the devotion to entirely other things, in the past three years I’ve lost track of all three.

This forty days ahead of me, I’m covenanting to spending forty minutes each day writing- perhaps my own form of atonement for getting out of practice, but I think of it more as reparative, honestly.  More  of an opening myself up and preparing myself for a part of me to grow and blossom that has been unfed, dormant.  It’s more exciting than somber, to be totally honest.

But oh man, am I rusty!  When I came up with this idea, it was so intimidating (that white page! All the words in my head just sort of trying to get out so fast they just get stuck somewhere in my nasal passage, making me feeling sneezy and choked!) that I spent a good solid two hours cleaning and preparing the space.  (Not a bad idea- I’m writing in a tiny corner of our guest room, on an old steamer trunk, surrounded by little talismans of the people in my life and the parts of me that are so important to me- but that’s another topic for a different day :P).  Then I wrote out the topics I could think of- things that happen throughout the day, things I’ve been wanting to honor in my life but haven’t somehow made a priority, ideas for story charecters, etc.

I’ve come up with forty different topics (and a jar to hold them in), and each day, at some point in the day, I’ll draw a new topic and meditate on it.  Then, each night, for forty minutes (minimum!) I’ll just write.  Some days fiction, some days poetry, most days this kind of free flow reflective.  I’m going to put this up somewhere public (tonight or in a few days- hi everyone!) and so I want to be mindful about things long grammar and sentence structure: of what it means to be reading someone else’s thoughts.  (And if you don’t read this, totally I do not feel offended.  It can be weird reading the thoughts of people you know, right?)

But if you do read this, man oh man, I would love some accountability!  (And prompts!  If you send me a topic, I’ll add it to the little jar I have and if I pull it out, I will write about it!).   (And if you do read this and ever want to talk about any of these things, well, these are all topics I’d love to talk about to anyone who likes talking with me about things :).

Whether this is a sacred season for you, or just March; whether you spend this time in deprivation or in hedonism or just living life, thank you for reading this and I hope things are going well.

47 minutes.

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