Sometimes, practice

Sometimes my friend who is battling depression comes by my desk and asks if I can drive him to his shrink appointment in an hour. And sometimes I think, “God, I’m swamped with back-to-back meetings all day. This will take up my lunch break.”

I’ve practiced zen for a long time. One of the earliest teachings is my favorite: If a person is hungry, give them food. If someone is thirsty, give them water. Just because I’ve practiced for a long time doesn’t mean I don’t have thoughts about being inconvenienced. But it does mean that I stand up and get my keys and drive him to his appointment.

We have a lovely conversation on the drive, and as I park my car and head back into the office, I realize that work is a very small part of life. And that my friend is a very good teacher.


Moon Day

In honor of the Moon Day today I ate a huge eggplant and pesto sandwich for dinner last night. In honor of the huge sandwich, I had a stomach ache all night. Maybe I’ll skip that kind of celebrating when the next Moon Day rolls around.

Today really did feel like a Moon Day, too. I slept in. Then I had coffee and puttered about and drove to work. Then I remembered I’d forgotten to have breakfast. Sigh. I really am a creature of habit. On most Moon Days I wake up earlier than I need to, keep reminding myself not to practice, feel conflicted, have coffee and breakfast, and drive to work. I threw the whole thing off kilter by skipping the conflicted feelings this morning.

I found a good copy of the asatoma chant written in Sanskrit. Will show Sanskrit Scholar on Saturday. She’s going to check for correctness, and ask her teacher, too. Then I’ll get it tattooed on me. Still not sure if I can fit it on my neck. Apparently if you make characters too small and fine, they tend to bleed. So the font has to be a little robust. If I can’t fit it on my neck, I’ll put it on my shoulder. Either way.

And in honor of the Moon Day, a little Rilke:

It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer practice customs barely acquired,
not to give a meaning of human futurity
to roses, and other expressly promising things:
no longer to be what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
and to set aside even one’s own
proper name like a broken plaything.
Strange: not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange
to see all that was once in place, floating
so loosely in space. And it’s hard being dead,
and full of retrieval, before one gradually feels
a little eternity. Though the living
all make the error of drawing too sharp a distinction.

Pre-Moon Day

I look forward to the Moon Day tomorrow.

Good practice at the shala. All the way through supta vajrasana. Man, that’s a long haul. Really, it’s been 4 weeks since I’m back from the surgery lay off, and I’m just starting to feel psyched for the long practice again. Mostly it’s just been feeling like a big freaking endurance event.

Volleyball Guy gave me a great assist in kapotasana. Pointed out that I am working too hard in the shoulders/upper back, and need to shift some of that intensity to my legs. Okay.

In baddha konasana I can now routinely put my head on the floor with no push or sandbags to squish me down. If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have sworn such a thing was an utter impossibility for my body. This morning, as I had the very top of my forehead on the floor, Volleyball Guy came by and pushed me forward a bit, and I found my whole face smooshed on the floor and my toes at my collarbones. Seriously, this is something I still can’t believe is possible.

Did my urdhva dhanurasanas with straps around my arms and my thighs. Returning Guy calls it bondage yoga. I’ll tell you what, though, it is astonishing how much energy gets focused in the right direction when the arms and legs are cinched in tightly. It’s a little shocking to me, because those are some intense forces that usually kind of shoot out to the sides when I’m not pulling them in tight. I plan on using the straps until I can really feel the alignment as a habit — then I have to ditch the straps and hope that the habit will help me get the alignment without the props. There is a sense of urgency to it: I feel like I MUST get the energy under control and moving in the right direction, so I don’t overtax my knees (and elbows, though I worry less about them).

Finding out about how much energy runs through UD reminds me of falling when climbing. You figure you’re roped in, and you fall maybe 12-15 feet. How bad could that be? Well, you’d be really surprised! The forces generated, even in a short fall, can be really intense. It’d be interesting to measure some of the shearing forces generated by yoga poses. In the end, though, I guess we probably don’t want to know…


I worry about My Gift being lonely in her new home. Dorms were easy, because there was always someone around. More than she liked, as she pointed out repeatedly. Like almost everyone in our family, she needs large doses of solitude.

Despite my concern about her being lonely, I am really happy she chose to stay up in her college town, versus coming home for the summer. It would have been an easy choice, to come home: The Cop and I would welcome her into our home, The Frenchman lives in a neighboring town, her high school friends are often around the area.

So why, if I am concerned about her being lonely, am I happy she’s putting herself in a position to suffer some loneliness? I guess the answer is because I want her to see, or at least consider, that loneliness might be an existential issue that cannot be solved by having other people around. It’s important to learn that loneliness doesn’t kill you, and that it can be alleviated, rather counter-intuitively, by solitude and thoughtfulness and a sense of gratitude.

The usual way to deal with it is to search for a person (particularly a special, romantic interest) or hang out with a bunch of friends. But it’s something of a trap, to think you can only work through loneliness by means of external attachments. I mean, loneliness is a given.

I think of Rumi’s poetry, or Hafiz’s, which are infused with such longing. We’re culturally programmed to read longing as longing for another person, or for an object of some sort, or an event or situation. Just something we don’t have. Something we need.

People always read Rumi’s poetry as if he is longing for a lover. But what he is longing for is a reunification with God/oneness/Ishvara/however you posit the absolute. It’s all about the Atman and the Brahman.

There’s something in us that feels this restlessness. I think we get trained to call it loneliness, and directed to look for a solution outside ourselves. I was thrilled when My Gift said she does get lonely sometimes, but she feels better when she goes outside for a walk in her neighborhood with the dog. She looks at the trees and the houses and can feel as if something has been resolved.

I see this as the heart of thoughtful independence/interdependence. It’s not always easy, but perhaps it is more useful than trying never to be alone.

I’ve not gotten this all worked out in my mind (obviously!) 😉 But it is something important and I am happy she is experimenting with it.


And in a very amusing note I just got from my Mom, you can read in one fell swoop pretty much everything there is to know about my parents, as individuals and as a couple:

The mother finch and babies took off yesterday. Now Dad won’t be so stressed. Earlier he thought the mother had abandoned them. He was trying to feed them. They knew he was not their mother.

Charming neighborhood

Visited My Gift’s new place yesterday. I was prepared for the worst — she said it was a very funky house and dirty from the previous (college guy) tenants. Got there and found it quite delightful. Yes, the floors in the kitchen slope, and the place is teeny, with three lofted bedrooms for the girls and a little livingroom, but the ceilings are high and the neighborhood is full of similar tiny places, all full of students who put lounge chairs in their front lawns and sit outside and play guitars. Very charming.

As it turns out, the place I lived in when I was a sophomore undergrad was MUCH scarier than this place. Even The Cop looked around and said, “I’ve lived in worse places.” I told My Gift that apparently I’d brought her up in too much affluence, that she would think her new place worth crying about. “Well, I don’t know about that, but you did make me a neat freak,” she said.

Yup, she cleans her house. I guess she really WAS watching as I cleaned around her all those years 😉

The Cop was wonderful: packing up, unloading and setting up a TV for her, purchasing and installing a new showerhead, driving us to the mall so My Gift could find some suitable clothes for a job interview this week. Then we went to a new sushi place. There’s a great one that we usually go to, but we decided to try another, supposedly equally good place — but it wasn’t. Oh well. Now we know.

I asked My Gift if she regretted deciding to stay up there for the summer, versus hanging out here in Scottsdale. A lot of the kids are out of town for the summer, so it’s a little lonely up at her house. She said she was happy, and that she enjoys going for walks downtown and taking the dog out for some fresh air. I’m glad I saw her and her new home. Makes me feel much better.

Good practice this morning. No crazy thoughts/fears at kapotasana. Well, no particularly crazy thoughts or fears.

Emailed Sanskrit Scholar yesterday to ask if she’d help me get a proper script of the Asatoma chant. I’ve been contemplating a new tattoo and that is what I would like to have. I was debating lower back or my left shoulder, next to a lotus tattoo I already have. The Cop, though, had a great idea: back of my neck. I will think about it a bit, but I think that’s my answer.

No simple answers

Vanessa got a wonderful answer to the “round or flat back” question. Oh, those cagey teachers! Volleyball Guy, if you ask him about something (“Is rounded back a good idea?”), will say “Try it for a month,” and make you actually try it. Then if after a month you ask, “Well, but what about flat back?” you’ll be assigned to practice with a flat back for a month.

Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.
– The Buddha

So there’s always the teacher/student issue (or guru/disciple, if that’s the way you look at it). A good teacher points. A good student tries not to mistake the finger for the moon.

This morning I tried out OKRGR’s research poses for kapotasana (5/25 post). Also did the virasana/supta virasana before bhekasana sequence. Worked out really well. Bhekasana is a fun pose for me, but kapotasana is decidedly not. I think crazy things when I get to kapotasana. For example, when I’m at home and too lazy to take my black mat out of its bag and unroll it (God, that really is quite lazy, isn’t it?), I just grab a Tapas mat out of the basket in the yoga room and use that. Everything was a-okay until I got to kapotasana. As I was setting up for the pose, I had a few visions of my spine splintering, and then this intense urge to switch to the black mat. Like a dramatic, I’m-gonna-die-if-I-try-kapotasana-on-this-thin-mat kind of terror. I’m relatively accustomed to the weird things I think before kapotasana, so I just went on. Did one try (which sucked, as per usual, in terms of where my hands ended up, but which was actually kind of an improvement, in terms of being able to lift my arms over my head and bend more before coming down), and then stopped to do all of the #10 poses in OKRGR’s list. I get a huge kick out of viparita dandasana, so that actually helped clear my mind as well as open my shoulders. Try two of kapotasana was much more relaxed and open.

The Cop and I are off to visit My Gift today. First time I’ll see her ghetto house. She’s warned me that I will probably cry a little. Ought to be interesting. I lived in a house that made my Mom cry when I was My Gift’s age, so this is a “what goes around comes around” moment. We’re bringing her a TV, and then we’ll go see “Pirates #3” and out to dinner.

To round or not to round

There’s some discussion on ezBoard about rounding the back in forward bends, versus doing the straight-backed, swan-dive version. I am very curious about the whole deal, having noted in the past that the photos in Yoga Mala are distinctly rounded. Apparently Nancy Gilgoff is a proponent of the rounded back, as, according to a story on the ezBoard thread, is Guruji.

Now, when I went to Richard Freeman’s workshop, he did mention the “curling the tailbone” business. Obviously, a curled tailbone is going to result in a rounded back, at least until you practice enough to maybe open the upper back even as the lower back is somewhat rounded. Oh boy, as you can tell, I’m kinda confused by all of this.

Decided I’d try rounding my back a bit at led class this morning, just to see how it felt. Volleyball Guy is vacationing in Vegas this long weekend, so Muscle Man taught class. Immediately he started talking about flattening the back in forward bends. Curses! My plan to try out the curved back was foiled. One of the things I learned in zen practice is to listen to your teacher. No, not in a dumb lemmings-off-a-cliff way. In a gracious way.

The whole deal isn’t as black and white as it seems either, since whoever stands before you is your teacher. I love that idea — that any person you interact with stands before you as a teacher. It boils down to this: if I go to someone’s class and they want to do flat back, I do flat back. Why? ‘Cause I’ve chosen to partake of the community of the class.

Here are some of the other “rules of engagement” I’ve discussed with monks over the years: If you go to someone’s house and they offer you yak butter tea, you have some yak butter tea. The monk who was talking about this made a specific point of mentioning how hideous yak butter tea tastes. Then he laughed.

Here’s a tougher one: If you are a vegetarian and you go to someone’s house and they offer you food with meat, you eat what’s been offered.

In the end, I suppose we have so much, as Americans (or Europeans, as I know some of the bloggers in this community are), that these rules kind of go out the window. Chances are, if a host offers food to most of us, there will be a big enough spread with enough choices that one can select what they prefer. If you’re some place where someone is sharing all they have, though, it’s a different story. Less selection, less abundance — and the need for more gracious behavior.

Okay, so anyhow, I’ve been taught to eat creepy meat casseroles, drink yak butter tea and do all my forward bends flat-backed if the situation requires. But I’m still left wondering about this rounded back question. Someone said John Scott is a recent convert to this method, after years of practicing and teaching the flat back style forward bend. It all makes me very curious. If anyone has any insight into this issue, I’d be really interested to hear.