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!

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.

Look Before You Leap. Or Not.

A few days ago, I took a yoga class that felt like the Wild West of yoga. Folks were doing random headstands and handstands, crow poses and jump backs.

A yoga friend of mine who was taking the class with me said afterwards, “Yeah, I used to like to practice like that but now I’m too old and lazy.” And we had a good laugh.

The class made me think of a summer past when we were spending time with our family in Massachusetts. My kids and their cousins were having so much fun jumping off a dock into the lake.

Two of the kids – Sadie included – were super tentative, checking out the scene, assessing, planning, and finally jumping while holding hands.

The other three ran pell-mell down the dock at top speed and launched themselves into the water with barely a glance.

I remember applauding Sadie for her courage when she jumped off the dock she said,

“I was always going to jump. I’m brave but not foolish.”

In that class I took, I felt like Sadie and her cousin, being super cautious before I jumped and everyone else was acting like the other three kids, launching themselves from the dock without looking.

But actually everyone in both of these scenarios – the kids at the lake and the yogis in that class – were acting courageously.

None of the kids jumping off of the dock were really being foolish at all (despite Sadie’s assessment.)

And certainly no one in that yoga class I took was being lazy (despite my friend’s self-deprecating comment.)

It’s just that some folks – like my friend and I – needed to set up everything precisely, to assess all of the angles and possibilities and to do a lot of looking before leaping.

Other folks, needed to just get in there and do it.

The brilliant thing is that yoga gives us both approaches to practice.

We get to decide what we need in the moment and what will help us find some harmony and balance.

There’s great learning opportunities when we push outside of our comfort zones.

My tendency is to analyze and plan and triple check before I leap but I also have lots of ah-ha moments in classes where the teacher says, “Don’t worry so much. Just jump and see what happens!”

On the opposite side, many of the just do it folks could find some benefit to slowing down and assessing their hand positions and other finer points of alignment before launching.

As always, yoga works best when it show us our tendencies and gives us a chance to decide if those tendencies – attractions and aversions – are serving us best.

Any time we use the practice to look closely at ourselves, we are acting courageously.

So here’s to courage in all of it’s forms and to looking before we leap… Or not!

The Right Way to Yoga

Have you ever seen the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”?

Definitely not a cinematic master piece but a chuckle worthy early 2000’s rom-com that I think is worth a watch on a dreary afternoon.

Check out one of my favorite scenes…

sthira suka asanamMy celeb crush on Paul Rudd aside, I feel like this SO often when it comes to my yoga practice.

What does it mean to find the right balance between effort and ease, as Patanjali recommends to us in the most oft-quoted lines in the Yoga Sutras? How do we know when we are doing too much?

If you’ve ever come to my class, even just once, you know my favorite answer is…

IT DEPENDS!

And at the same time, our practice doesn’t have to devolve into an amorphous sea of relativism.

In fact, I’ve come up with a (totally click-bait worthy) list of questions for you to answer that will help you sort out the “it depends.”

1. Are you able and willing to pay attention?

When we are working too hard, it is as if our mind says to us, “This is miserable! I’d rather think about anything else than pay attention to this intense stretch/emotion/painful thought.”

At the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t working hard enough, it is as if our mind says, “Oh, this is easy. I can do this pose/meditation/breath practice and still solve the worlds’ problems and make my grocery list while I do yoga!”

2. Do you have access to your breath?

And we should definitely and especially be able to pay attention to the breath. When we are working too hard, the breath could become short, shallow, ragged. Or we can’t even begin to notice that we are breathing.

So if you can’t breath well and be able to observe your breath, then you are doing too much.

3. Is this a whole person experience, or just a sharp sensation in your hamstring?

First of all, modern postural practice is obsessed with hamstring stretching. Am I right?

Not to rag on the hamstring stretchy asanas, really you can substitute any part of your body for hamstrings here. The point is, the posture should be a whole person experience for you. Well distributed sensations are a hallmark of just right effort.

That sharp bright tug that you can point to means that something is not quite right. And first thing to adjust is your level of effort.

4. Does what you are doing feel like your intention?

We talk a big game about intention in yoga, especially at the beginning of our classes and sometimes at the end. In fact, you can check out my old blog post about it from last year.

But what does it really mean to connect our practice to our intentions?

For example, if your intention is to cultivate compassion but you berate yourself for losing your balance in tree pose… Well, you get my point, right?

So the bottom line is:

“Do less. Try less… No. You gotta do more than that….”

#ThanksKunu and happy practicing! Can’t wait to see you in 2019!

The Right Stuff for Non-Attachment

One of my kids’ favorite book characters is Chico Bon Bon from the “Monkey with A Tool Belt” series by Chris Monroe. Do you know these great stories?

If you don’t know Chico Bon Bon, you should definitely check out the Monkey With a Tool Belt books.

Allow me to summarize.

Chico Bon Bon is a monkey with a tool belt. (You could have guessed that from the title, right?)

He has absolutely all of the tools anyone could need for anything. All of the things. As you can see.

In one story, Chico gets captured by an organ grinder and taken to the circus. The story is about how he uses his tools to escape.

Every time we read this book – and I’ve read it so many times I could probably recite it from memory for you – I think about the classic Indian allegory about catching monkeys. It goes like this…

Do you want to catch a monkey? Let me tell you how.

Build a small box of wooden slats to hold a banana. Place a banana in the box in the jungle and go out of sight to wait.

Soon enough, a monkey will arrive. He will be able to put his hand between the slats to pick up the banana but he will not be able to get the banana out through the slat.

The monkey will become OBSESSED with getting this banana out. He will try every trick he knows. He will pull and yank. He will twist and bang. He will be so very focused on getting this banana out that you will be about to leave your hiding place and walk right up to him.

He might even notice that you are approaching but he will not let go of the banana. He will be so deeply attached to the banana, unwilling to release it, that you will be able to pluck him right up.

I’m not sure if this is true or not but the point of the story is pretty clear.

Freedom for that monkey is so close. When he hears the human approach, the logical thing to do would be to let go of the banana, pull his little hand out and run. But he doesn’t.

How many times have you been holding onto something so tightly, trying to solve some problem, to the point that it captures you?

I have. Dozens of times.

The story is meant to be a lesson in practicing aparigraha or non-attachment or sometimes non-possessiveness. I hear this message in a infomercial sales pitch voice:

Are you suffering because you are holding on to something too tightly or too long? Let it go and you are free!

Sounds so easy, right? And yet.

Here’s where I think about good ole’ Chico Bon Bon.

I think we need some tools to help us figure out let go of the bananas.

The solution to the grasping too tightly problem is probably somewhere between Chico Bon Bon’s overly stocked tool belt and just simply letting go.

We probably don’t need a zoozle and a snoozer like Chico’s. Whatever the heck those are!

And we definitely don’t need 2,100 yoga asanas either.

Fellow restorative yoga advocate and teacher Jillian Pransky recently wrote a great blog post about the difference between letting go and letting things be. This distinction is at the heart of the lesson of aparigraha. Check it out.

And perfectly on topic, in this short video Chico Bon Bon creator Chris Monroe talks about how Chico Bon Bon is about to get his own Netflix show.

I love how enthusiastic she is and also totally not surprised by it. Consider her attitude as she speaks about how it happened. It’s a great example of non-attachment.

Buying and Selling Goats

Do you know this folktale about a yogi who lives in a tiny house with her husband, her mother, five children, a dog, two cats, a cow, and chickens?

Well, as you might imagine, she was feeling so overwhelmed by the chaos in our daily life that she went to her guru for advice. Her teacher told her the problem was easy to solve:

Buy a goat.

Really? – she thought with great skepticism. Should I really be adding more to this chaos?

Nevertheless, she trusted her teacher who had never led her astray so she bought a goat and brought the goat home.

Now she had her husband, her mother, five children, a dog, two cats, a cow, chickens, AND a goat running around chomping on everything. Things were even more crowded and chaotic than ever before.

The exasperated yogi returned to her teacher who told her the solution was easy:

Sell the goat.

‘Really?’ she thought with great skepticism once again. ‘I just bought this stupid goat!’ But trusting her teacher once more, she sold her goat.

As she looked around her house at her newly goat-less house with her husband, her mother, five children, dog, two cats, a cow, and chickens she thought…

Wow! It’s look how peaceful it is around here!

While I’m (only slightly) tempted to make some joke about the rise of goat yoga, this story is really just reminding us of how yoga can sometimes work in an unexpected way.

So often we come to our yoga practice as a way to let go of something. Maybe it’s tension, the trauma of an injury or an emotional experience, or the distress of life in a fast-paced demanding world. And when the aim is to reduce, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to add something.

But when we add an engagement in a particular part of our bodies, or an intense breath practice, it hones our focus. Then when we let go of that precise effort – when we sell the goat – there is a tangible, noticeable sense of relief.

Buying and selling goats ends up as a perspective shift that informs what it really means to be at ease in body, mind, and otherwise.

Now I know this story of  buying and selling goats might seem like a big contrast to the message I left you in last month’s blog post.

One of the greatest gifts yoga offers us is the promise that we already have everything we need. And also, sometimes we got so wrapped up in everything we have going on, we can lose our perspective. It’s only until we add one thing, and then take it away, that we have the same perspective shift as the heroine in the story.

You must look within for value, but you must look beyond for perspective.

-Denis Waitley

In other words, I know summer can be a super busy time. I can hear you thinking, ‘Come to class now? Really? You want me to add one more thing?’

But yes, come to buy and sell some goats and I think you’ll be delighted by the results.

And I know, I know…