Emptying the Sea: A Story of Tenacity, Community, and Compassion

I was in college studying philosophy and comparative religion when I had this revelation about myths and folklore and stories of all sorts.

We are always every character.

I don’t remember which brilliant professor planted this seed for me but I think about it all the time.

I mean this idea sort of changes how I see Goldilocks, you know? This particular story isn’t about Goldilocks but it is one of my favorites.*

Do I say that about every story? I think I might.

One day, two birds laid their eggs on the beach and then needed to get some food. After a short debate about whether or not they could trust the ocean, they decided to ask the ocean to watch over their eggs until they returned.

When the birds got back from their dinner, the eggs were gone. “Why oh why did we trust that guy? The ocean is so unpredictable. We should have known better!”

When they confronted the ocean about the missing eggs, he was devastated. “I’m so sorry! I meant to be reliable. I really did. I took the eggs to keep them safe and now I just don’t know where they are. I know I’m an unpredictable guy when it comes to stuff like this. I should have just been honest about who I am.”

The birds were distraught. The only solution was to empty the ocean to find their eggs. So they began, one beak full of water at a time.

Soon some other birds came by. When they heard what happened, they agreed to help empty the ocean to find the missing eggs, even though they had a bit of doubt about whether the task was even possible.

After awhile, an entire flock of birds had joined the effort, all of them taking one beak of water out of the ocean at a time.

Soon Garuda flew by with Vishnu on his back. When he saw what the birds were doing, he scoffed. “Look, Vishnu! What idiots! Those birds think they can empty the sea. They clearly don’t know the ocean is endless and can never be emptied. Fools!”

Vishnu chided Garuda, “Now, don’t be a jerk. Let’s land and see what they are doing. We might be able to help.”

When they landed, Garuda told the birds he thought they were fools. “It’s impossible to empty the ocean. You guys are really stupid. Give up on your lost eggs. You’ll never get the back.”

The birds were a tad crestfallen but still had a shred of hope. “We know it was a mistake to ask the sea to watch the eggs but we have all of these friends to help us. We’ve been at this for hours but maybe with all of us working together, we can empty just enough of the ocean to see our eggs and get them back?”

Vishnu had been listening to the exchange. “Birds,” he said, “I admire your perseverance and dedication and your hope. You’ve got a lovely community of friends here to help you.”

Then he turned to Garuda and said, “These birds deserve our compassion and kindness. They are working hard and trying their best. Bit by bit is the way to accomplish any task, even the ones that seem the most impossible. The challenging situations are the places that give us all the best opportunities for compassion.”

Vishnu then used his Divine vision to find and return the lost eggs to the birds, who were immensely grateful.

The birds who’d lost their eggs promised they would never leave their eggs unattended on shore again.

The ocean admitted that his true nature was unpredictability and that he wasn’t ever going to be reliable when it came to keep things safe and in one place.

The whole community of birds were bolstered by Vishnu’s commendations and felt good to be of help.

Vishnu felt confident is his assertions that bit by bit, even the seemingly impossible tasks can be manageable.

And Garuda learned his own lesson about his critical and judgmental ways and vowed to be more compassionate king of the birds.

Do you see what I mean when I say that we are every character?

We’ve all had those moments where we make a bad decision like the birds who left the eggs.

We’ve all denied our true nature like the ocean, took on more than we could handle, and let someone down.

We’ve all been in the community of helpers, who work at something that seems impossible.

We’ve all been the judgmental and critical Garuda who fails to find compassion.

We’ve even been Vishnu, with his kindness, wisdom, and Divine vision.

So. Who are you in this moment?

 

 


*Lately there has been a lot of provocative conversation in the yoga world about cultural appropriation, particularly around how white America has been inappropriately taking from Hinduism for profit, secularizing sacred stories, and making light of deeply important cultural references for Indians.

I am a white American woman. I have never visited India and I did not grow up in a Hindu home. I never wish to steal or claim any sacred stories as my own.

It is my intention to offer this version of this story with honor and care. I offer the stories of many traditions as a way to share their wisdom and insight with new audiences with the hope that we can all learn from them.

I’m sincerely open to any and all discussion around the topic of cultural appropriation and my role in it, positive and critical alike.

Is gecko yoga a thing yet?

Last Sunday I had just returned home from my annual winter Restorative Yoga retreat and I was dragging my feet about unloading all of the things from the car. I happened upon a book about geckos that my kids had left out. 

Just to be clear, I don’t care at all about geckos but some times procrastination will lead you to the most interesting things. Sure enough, I found myself down the proverbial gecko hole. (See what I did just there? gecko hole = rabbit hole. Tee hee.) 

It turns out that geckos have an incredibly high amount of adhesive power in their feet. When they decide to stop, they will stick. It takes a crazy amount of force to loosen them.

However, when the gecko decides it’s time, just one small movement in the new direction, and the gecko is immediately detached.

Does that sound like yoga to you, too?

One of the most fundamental calls in yoga practice is for to use focus and determination to make connections in authentic ways.

And then when that thing you’ve connected with is no longer serving you, it’s time move in a new direction.

Simple. If only it were that easy. 

Now that January is over, our new year’s resolutions and intentions might be feeling a bit stale, maybe even discarded altogether. Old habits and patterns, the way we have adhered ourselves, are hard things to release. This shows up in all kinds of ways – physically, mentally, emotionally.

It’s easy to get down when you realize you slipped back into some old way of being that isn’t really that helpful.  But here’s where the practice of yoga in all of it’s forms comes to our aid. 

Continue to adhere quickly and strongly to the things that are useful. Hold fast to the things the support and uplift you. Be immovable. And when those things have run their course, let go and move in a new direction.

There are a lot of sayings attributed to the Buddha that may or may not be accurately quoted. Whether or not the Buddha actually said this almost doesn’t matter to me because the sentiment is exactly right.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you love, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of the things not meant for you.”

If you need some help letting go and moving in a new direction, meet me on the mat this month.

Recurring Choices

I once worked in an office job where part of the decor were so-called inspirational posters. You know the ones, right? They have these cheesy photos overlaid with glib sentiments like:

“There is no I in team.”

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.”

“Continuous effort is the key to unlocking potential.”

But there was one poster that I did actually find to be pretty motivating. And I actually still do! It said:

“It’s not that there are recurring themes in life. It’s that there are recurring choices.”

I think this is one really important thing to remember amidst this push to reflect, make resolutions, and to plan ahead:

We always get a chance to try again at the things we didn’t get quite right the first time.

When we mess up (and we definitely have, and we will again!) we will also get another crack at it in one form or another.

Every breath is a chance to bring our mind back from its uneasy wanderings.

Every ache or pain in the body is a new invitation to check on our wellbeing.

Every time our thoughts and emotions shift, we have another remind that good and bad are not permanent but there IS something timeless and ever-present that we should seek instead.

Don’t get me wrong here. This reminder that we have limitless do-overs is not an excuse to take our decisions and actions lightly.

It doesn’t absolve us of dealing with the implications of our bad decisions and missteps.

It doesn’t mean that we stop showing up or that we give up on working hard or that we abandon the requirement to rest fully.

We keep on doing all of that.

This is just a gentle reminder for those of us who are prone to taking our decisions so seriously:

Don’t worry, love.
Do your best right now.
And then you’ll get to try again.
And again.
And again.

That’s my resolution for 2020. What’s yours?

Happy New Year! See you in 2020!

Some Reflections on Rest

Today, I Rest

I don’t need fancy moves today.
I don’t want handstands or crow poses,
hollow body holds or revolved triangles.
I don’t want breath of fire,
or skull shining breath,
or breath retentions.

I don’t begrudge the repetitions.
I don’t hate on the powering through.
I don’t look down on the empowered muscled demonstrations of capacity.
I’m dutifully and honestly impressed by the drive.

But today
I don’t want to impress with how long I can carry the weight.

Today I ask
How skillfully I can set it down?
How lovingly and I can move away without wistfulness?

I’m here to celebrate the consistent,
the quiet,
the do it when no one is watching,
almost unnoticed increments of progress.

I’m cultivating slow.
I require the introspection of moving in steady a rhythm.
I want breath to merge with body,
the metronome of a beating heart to be the guide.
And above all,
I herald the boring
and yet the most revolutionary
Act of Rest.

Not because I can’t take one more step
or push anymore.
But because I can.
I can do more.
But because I choose to stop.
To lie down.
To withdraw.
To be still.
To be exactly as I am in the moment.
With nowhere to go,
but here.
With nothing to do.
But this.

Today, I rest.

 

The So-Called “Yoga Challenge”

my yoga challenge is not
requiring
more work
efforting
alone

my yoga challenge is not
discomforting
endeavors
hard working
dramas

my yoga challenge is not
pushing
body
expanding
capacity

is yours?

my yoga challenge is
honoring
kindness
being
present

my yoga challenge is
managing
sorrows
knowing
love

my yoga challenge is
arriving
abiding
serving
breathing
reflecting
learning
understanding
stopping
resting

is yours?

Maybe we should just let the monsters in?

Seems a likely time to talk about monsters on the day after Halloween but it was actually something else that inspired this month’s musings.

One of my family’s favorite board games is called Castle Panic. Do you know it?

All of the players work together to save the castle from invading monsters. It’s a combination dice and card game where you use various warrior-type cards (archers, swordsman, knights, and others) to injure and eventually kill the approaching monsters who are en route from the perimeter of the board to attack the castle sitting in the middle.

If you get rid of the monsters with at least one tower of your castle still standing, you win the game.

There are lots of strategies that you can employ to rid your space of monsters.

For example, you could work to damage and kill as many monsters as you can while they are still on the outer edges, farthest away from your castle and keep them as far away as possible.

Or, the favorite strategy employed most often by my kids is to build up as many reinforcements as possible around the castle and just let the monsters come and do their worst.

The first few times we played this game, I kept trying to convince my kids that their strategy was too risky.

Why not just kill them when you have the chance? I would argue. Why waste time building up extra walls? Who would want the monsters that close?

But most of the time, their strategy works and we win.

Even so, maybe you are like me and you always try to keep the metaphorical monsters at the edges.

Ogres,

trolls,

ignorance,

self-doubt,

illness,

failure,

even death…

Who would want any of that to come close?

But many times no matter how hard we might try to slay the monsters from a distance, we just can’t always keep them on the perimeter.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patañjali warns us about kleśa – afflictions, things that cause suffering, sometimes the word is even translated as poison.

We are told that everyone experiences ignorance in one form or another, egoism, attraction and aversion, and the fear of death.

The good news is that our yoga practice gives us tools to build up our reinforcements for those times when we can’t keep the monsters away.

Yoga calls us to remember our true nature of interconnectedness.

Practice helps us develop our capacity to find calm in the moments of distress.

Like all great games – board games and life alike – the elements of luck and chance mean that we sometimes get it wrong.

We don’t always have the outcome we intend.

We get stressed and scared.

We doubt ourselves and each other.

We forget our essential nature.

All.

The.

Time.

The monsters overtake the castle and we lose.

But it’s not forever.

We just take a little break.

And then we regroup and set up the game to try again.

 

Join me this month for some classes and a workshop or two to help you build up your reinforcements and resiliency. Need a bigger break? There’s still room for you to join my Costa Rica retreat in May and there’s one spot left in my winter yoga retreat

Where is your Harbor?

This past weekend, I had the great privilege of spending a few hours learning from a brilliant teacher named Sam Rice. Her workshop was called “Harbor of the Heart” and at the beginning, she offered this as the definition of the word harbor:

  1. a place of security and comfort
  2. a part of a body of water protected and deep enough to furnish anchorage

While the posture work we were doing was deep and active and full of precise and and intentional alignment cues designed to take us into a deep place with backbends, the whole time I was thinking about Restorative Yoga.

(But not for the reasons you might be thinking. It wasn’t like “Help me! I can’t possibly do ANOTHER wheel pose! When is savasana?!?” Though actually, after the 12th wheel pose, there might have a been a bit of that too!)

I was thinking about savasana because these two definitions of harbor describe EXACTLY what we are doing in Restorative Yoga.

First, the props create a safe haven, a place of security, and comfort.

That security and comfort communicates to our nervous system that we have entered protected space.

We hold the poses for such a long time in order to plumb the depths of the consciousness, and to anchor ourselves there.

It might be tempting to think that this is the whole game of our yoga practice:
To get super comfy and supported and then to anchor ourselves and hold fast to those deep places in ourselves.

Who needs to face the outside world? It’s hard enough to deal with the dark places within. Why not just drop anchor, batten down the hatches, and stay until we’ve sort it all out?

Many a yogi have renounced their worldly possessions and attachments to do just that.

But our life as modern householders doesn’t really give us that option.

We have jobs, and families, and responsibilities to each other and the world.

Instead, our yoga is to find that protected space, to seek out and create a comfortable place where we can let go safely.

In the harbor of our Restorative Yoga practice, we drop in to the deep waters and we give ourselves time to rest and to notice what we notice.

When our lives and the world around us require it, we pull up the anchor and head back out into the open waters.

It’s only when we leave that safe and quiet harbor to face the problems of our lives in the world that we can really assess the efficacy of our practice.

If what we learned about ourselves in that deep, quiet, and protected place helps us navigate the relationship with ourselves and others in the world with more clarity, compassion, and ease, then we will have succeeded.

And when it doesn’t, we head back into the harbor to rest some more.

single boat in the harbor

The Side Show

Many years ago, I heard this piece on NPR about how multitasking is a delusion. We think we are doing more than thing at once but what’s actually happening is that our brain is moving from one single thing to another single think at such an unbelievable pace that it makes us think we are doing multiple things at the same time.

Fast forward a decade plus to Nick & Lindsay of the Side Show Opera on American’s Got Talent.

Nick swallows razor blades! Lindsay throw knives! Nick lays on a bed of nails, with a cinder block on his torso and then Lindsay breaks the cinder block while blindfolded with a flaming mallet!

All of this while Nick is singing opera.

For reals. I couldn’t even make this up if I tried.

After their last audition on the show, one of the judges noted that much of which seemed to be doing depended on precision, but each “talent” was not very precise at all and each individual things merely mediocre.

Of course it was! As science tells us, we can’t possibly manage all of these things at one time. Our brains just don’t really work that way.

The yogis of ol’ didn’t need our modern science to tell them this. In fact, if they saw Nick & Lindsay they would understand the judge’s comments completely.

The truth is that the mind is better at focusing on one thing.

But the Yoga Sutras give us guidance for these scenarios, from a cluttered house to a busy mind to a knife-throwing, razor blade swallowing, opera singing extravaganza.

Sutra 1.12 tells us that with practice and dispassion we can stop our mind from it’s faux-multitasking ways.

Sutra 1.13 goes on to say that once we have a goal, our effort to keep our focus on the goal is called practice.

“Patanjali’s approach to yoga requires you to find an object on which you can focus your mind. Without that focal point you will not be successful in withdrawing the scattered forces of your mind from the external world. Even if somehow you do succeed in withdrawing your mind from the external world, it will begin to wander because the mind does not know how to stay in one place without support.”

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

As the year winds down into fall, it can feel like the demands on our time and energy are ramping up.

This makes fall a great time for us to get support to renew our focus on what really matters. No side shows or illusions about our ability to multi-task.

So give me a call, Nick & Lindsay.

You too, my friend.

Yoga has the goods to help us refocus and shape our reality into what serves us best. All we need to do is show up and be willing to practice.

See you on the mat!

What We Get When We Fail

The Swamis once gave me an assignment:

Make a list of all of the times you wish you made a different choice.

Sounds easy, right?

At first it was. I just started making a (very long) list of all of the times I screwed up and wished I had done things differently.

Then I started getting pretty sad about all of my screw ups.

I had to keep reminding myself of this bit from The Way of the Bodhisattva:

If something can be done about it
what need is there for dejection?
And if nothing can be done about it,
what use is there for being dejected?

Shantideva

And it helped because the longer I sat with this assignment, the harder it was to leave all of those things on the list.

For every “bad” choice, I would think about all of the things that happened as a result of that choice.

It was like I kept having my own “Sliding Doors” moments.

Do you remember this late 90’s movie with Gwyneth Paltrow before she was the eye roll-inducing “health” advisor that she is today?

In the film, she gets fired from her job and we watch the what-ifs play out for the rest of the movie. In one scenario, she catches the train and in the other she doesn’t .

A bit unlike Paltrow’s character in the film, for every single one of my choices on my list, something really good had come out of the bad decision.

In fact, for all of those things on the list, I realized I had to make the “wrong” choice – the choice that led me to fail – in order to be clear about something else.

I never actually complete the assignment for my teachers.

Or maybe I did?

Perhaps what they wanted me to realize is that failures, bad decisions, and disappointments are the only way to find our true path.

The Art of Yielding

Will and I were in the car a few days ago, about to merge onto 495 when the traffic in front of us came to a dead stop on the ramp.

As we were paused, Will looked over and noticed the yield sign.

“Mom, does that mean stop?”

When I explained that it means the cars on the ramp have to make way for the cars on the highway and slow down to find the right time to fit themselves into the flow of traffic, Will was perplexed by why the car ahead of us had stopped.

I told him that it can be scary to have to merge into this fast moving lane of traffic and sometimes it feels safer to just stop.

“I can understand that,” he said in his oh-so-wise 8-year old way. “But mom, how do you know when to go?”

Now that question made me pause.

How do we know when it is time to go? How can we tell if it is time to assert ourselves into the flow or if it is wise to hang back?

The answer, of course, is my favorite… IT DEPENDS.

And of course, we know when it’s time to go because we practice.

Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness by Donna Farhi

This whole conversation with Will reminded me of this book. So when I got home, I dug it out from the depths of the bookshelf and remembered the brilliance of Donna Farhi’s Seven Principles of Moving. In very brief summary:

The first principle is to breath, and more specifically to let the breath move you.

Second, she says we need to yield.

Yield to the Earth to find levity.

At first the idea that we need to yield to the Earth to find lightness seemed almost counter-intuitive. But I realized that my idea of yielding was this first set of definitions in my dictionary:

capitulate… relent, admit defeat…quit, give in, give up…

I don’t know about you, but giving up or giving in rarely makes me feel light.

But what Donna Farhi is really talking about is here:

This is what we are called to do, my friends, whether it is on the road or on our yoga mat or in our relationships.

Pay Attention.

Permit.

Allow.

This is kind of yielding that gives us access to levity. And to possibility.

It doesn’t feel like sinking or giving up.

It doesn’t feel like fear.

And it definitely doesn’t feel like uncertainty.

When we pay attention, permit, and allow, we know when it’s time to take action…Or not.

But you know what?

It is not easy. It takes tons of practice.

Just like driving the car down the onramp to merge into the fast-moving traffic on 495 takes practice.

So I’ll see you on the mat and out in the big wide world where we can practice the art of yielding together.

Earth. Breath. Beauty.

Jillian Pransky shares this story in her brilliant book Deep Listening. It’s been on my mind a lot lately.

A Buddhist community in France was visited by a reporter who was on assignment to write a story about the comings and goings of the group.

When he arrived, he was invited to take the daily silent walk with the group.

Upon returning from the walk, the members of the community were refreshed and joyful but the reporter was exhausted. All he wanted to do was take a nap!

It might be tempting to think the reason for this was because the community was accustomed to the exercise and the reporter was not. (He was just out of shape, right?)

Or maybe it was because the reporter was jet lagged. (Traveling is really depleting!)

Perhaps the reporter was an extrovert and being in that silent more introverted place was difficult for him?

But the answer was none of those things.

You see, on this walk, there were three simple rules:

  1. Feel feet hitting the earth.
  2. Connect with breath moving in and out of body.
  3. Look for beauty.

But the reported did none of them. He was caught up in his busy reporter’s mind. He was watching the community members, he was assessing and analyzing, he was basically writing his story as he was walking.

How often does this happen to you?

Me? ALL THE TIME.

I end up feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and unproductive – even on the days when I’ve done all of the things all of the time because I’m caught up in my busy mind.

But… when I do heed my yoga practice’s promises – the exact same rules the Buddhist community had for their walks – I feel so much better.

And I don’t even have to be on my yoga mat or anywhere even near a yoga studio to feel this way.

Give it a try, my friends.

Feel the earth under your feel.

Connect with the sweet pulsation of breath in your body. Inhale… Exhale…

And look for beauty all around you.