The Fault in Our Stars


That’s a stolen title.  From a book I just read, in which the main character is a teenager with cancer.  Read it.  If you want to be ripped open and sobbing at 2am, that is.  (Yes, like me.)

I’m just back from NYC, which always seems to be revelatory for me.  This trip, I got to see how acting, meditation and yoga come together in my life, as well as to take this little dive into early morning mortality and despair.  What a strange, strange trip we’re on (which is a misquote from the Grateful Dead, and I know it because I gave my younger sister a Dead album and then she and the next youngest brother became Dead Heads and followed the band around the country.  Oh, how our simplest actions come back to haunt us).

Anyhow, I rode Megabus back to the city, nauseated the whole way (why do I use that line?  $3 ticket is why…), and in the middle, because I couldn’t find my Ipod or my headset, and I was too nauseated to even try to read, I called my friend A., who reads Noam Chomsky and just about everyone else (though he may not have finished college, he is the smartest person I know), and talked about doing my new monologue, about a woman who’s ex neglected to watch their youngest, knowing the girl was uninhibited and impulsive, and so the girl drowned.  After 15 years of refusing to take responsibility the husband shows up to torture her again by absolving himself and threatening to take away her house (which he owns), so she kills him.

My kind of monologue.  And A., who misses nothing, said, “Why is it your kind of monologue?”  And I said, out loud on Megabus, “Because I can just really relate to a life of unbearable and endless injustice.”  And then we started cracking up.  Which is, of course, why we’re friends.  I mean, not everyone would see that as funny.

I don’t know what the people on the 6:10pm from New York to Boston thought.  Probably not my business, anyhow.

Here’s the thing–in America, we are taught to be happy.  Pretend-happy, as it turns out.  At least, I find true joy to require open heartedness and a willingness to be dashed against the rocks.  Pretend happy just requires that you pretend all the bad shit happening around you isn’t happening.  My family specialized in that kind of pretend happiness, and I couldn’t stand it.  It has left me with a lifelong passion for unpleasant truths.

So today I sat in an acting workshop in New York, having a bad day at best, watching the perfectly made up (everyone was super made up and super chosen in their outfits as only actors can be) and very talented actors try to hit.  I saw some great craft, and some very skilled acting, and heard some very great instruction.  I thought about how acting requires an ability to not be thrown while truly opening up to the unknown moment in which we live while everyone is judging you.  I thought about how acting requires a comfort in your own skin, with your own body, a comfort in revealing your personality, at least, and hopefully your soul.  I thought how I don’t want to forget that acting is about that kind of meaning and courage for me…and I do.  My ambition has always made me unhappy, because acting then becomes about staying thin, and getting my teeth fixed and other ridiculous shit.  Like every other actor, I keep asking, how do I get them to let me in the game?  And if I get too scared that they won’t, I’ll go start my own theatre company and make myself miserable.

It’s not just actors, of course.  We’re all dreaming of things we may or may not get–who knows.  And, going back to the cancer book, there are both possibilities and impossibilities.  That’s the problem, really, in this United States, where supposedly anyone can pull her or himself up by the proverbial bootstraps.  We look to the possibilities, and we are pretend-happy.  Or, we are happy where the possibilities open, and try not to deal with where they don’t.  (Jane Goodall, miracle woman, but so much trouble in her marriages.)

I love that Buddhism is the bummer religion.  I love that meditation is about coming to terms with “what is.”  I love that yoga challenges me to find the truth of my body in so many ways.  My love for unpleasant truths tells me that acting asks me these things:  1) to get over my insecurities, 2) to be relentlessly present, 3) to reveal what I most want to hide, 4) to have openhearted joy and be willing to be thrown against the rocks.  I did manage to spend years learning the craft, but if I’m not relentlessly present, the craft can be pretty useless, and if my insecurities get me, I can’t be relentlessly present.

I find, that because I relate to lives of unendurable injustice, I have a story to tell.  I find that this story is mine, and it is as much about impossibility as possibility, as much about surrender as accomplishment.  It is, in other words, a human story.  And because I relate, I have depth, but because I relate, I have insecurities.  This means I don’t find it a walk in the park to be relentlessly present.

You have to take that paradox somewhere.  I take it to the mat, to the cushion, to the page, to the phone, and then I find myself laughing with A. about the absurdity of everything.

We don’t get to be happy all the time.  As it turns out, happiness isn’t about resting, or stopping.  The real joy that comes seems to require the pursuit of something terribly difficult, a dharma you don’t necessarily get to choose.  As Stephen Cope quotes in his book, The Great Work of Your Life, “You can be anyone you want, as long as that person is you.”

This is me, at 2 in the morning, after a bad/good day, nauseated on Megabus, not relentlessly present in NYC, not having a day in which I can show who I am, and loving my friend A. because he laughed, and my partner because she understood my shame enough to give me a lift out of the hole.

This is me, understanding teenagers dying of cancer, and the impossibility and possibility of dealing with unendurable injustice.  My own, and therefore yours, and maybe, if I meditate enough, everyone’s.

This me.  May we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be safe and protected, may we all be at peace with what is.

Ayurvedic Pre-Cleanse Day 6: I Have Come to This


Once, a little more than a week ago, I wrote about Buddhism, and non-violence and the nature of the universe.  Now I write about bodily functions and will, no doubt, continue to do so for the next 8 days during the cleanse and then the post-cleanse, or integration period.

Oh, how low we fall.

So let me say, by way of an update, that in some ways I am a very lucky person.  I ran with the bulls in Pamplona and didn’t die, for example.  I also jumped out of an airplane, tubed down the Gila River in flood season, went free-climbing in the Alps, leapt from the top of some monkey bars into a tree five feet away at midnight (yes, I’d been drinking), hitchhiked around Europe, Japan and parts of the United States, back-packed and hiked by myself everywhere and didn’t die.  Instead, I was adopted, over and over again, by people who seemed to find me entertaining.  The nuns at my high school who took me in to live with them (and then listened to me preach atheism), the women in Spain who invited me to stay at their houses when I missed trains, etc, the family in Ireland who took me in for Christmas–I have been loved, all over the world, by strangers.  Move over, Tennessee Williams and Blanche DuBois for the queer world traveler, also dependent on the kindness of strangers (and so far no Stanley calling in the men with the white coats).

However, even given these very meaningful experiences about the benevolence of the human race (look, I am stating benevolence exists before going to bodily functions!), I must now register a complaint about the pre-cleanse experience.  Yesterday, when I finally stopped trying to do everything perfectly and ate egg whites as well as two smoothies (both with avocado and protein powder), I didn’t have headaches, mood swings or light-headedness.  Of course, today is the last day of the pre-cleanse, so of course on top of facing a whole new more rigorous phase of the diet including drinking oil tomorrow morning, I had to get my f$%^ing period.  With worse than usual cramps.

So basically, I would still like to kill someone.  Benevolence be gone.

My partner has taken to reading this blog and then texting or emailing to ask if it’s safe to come home.  OF COURSE IT’S NOT SAFE!  I AM A HYPO-GLYCEMIC MANIAC!  WHO IS NOW DMC!  (During Menstrual Cycle)

Unfortunately, the daily meditation forces me to recognize that trying to be perfect before rebelling and finding my own way is a pattern (see my blogs about yoga teacher training and attempting to live through four hours of flow without complaint…I failed miserably).  Meditation forces me to recognize that I didn’t put superwoman to bed when I learned to make fun of myself, to have humility (1 or 2 minutes of every day when I consider I may not be smarter than absolutely everyone), and to say metta.  Superwoman is alive and well and kicking my butt.

I have two words to say on that subject.  German mother.

Let it not be said that this pre-cleanse, homicidality and extreme menstrual cramps have taught me nothing.  I took a pain reliever right away, two minutes after the cramps hit.  It’s called Ecotrin, and it doesn’t work quite as well as ibuprofen, but still.  I am not trying to be perfect.  I just want to stop whining out loud about my gonads falling out and get to work for the day.

One can hope.

Everything moving down and out on this cleanse, in more ways than one.

On to basmati rice, yellow mung beans (dal) and curry-like spices.  I’m allowed to add in protein powder stuff to keep from killing people.  I’m also allowed to quit, but I’m eager to get to the day on which you drink a lot of Castor oil and purge.  That just sounds like fun.  Or at least it was fun when my partner was doing the cleanse alone and she’d yell, “Out of my way,” and run for the bathroom.  Of course on this, her third time through, she’s having no side effects whatsoever.  She’s like, “I’m not focusing on the cleanse much this time.”

I’m like, “I noticed.”  (Imagine my homicidal glare.)

Then I think sweetness and light and go stare at the Cacao Bliss.  Yesterday she moved it to the back of the cabinet.  She is worried, very, very worried.

As well she should be.

Ayurvedic Pre-Cleanse, Day 4: Homicidality on the RISE!


Okay, so, I’m hungry all the time.  And sometimes light-headed.  And don’t feel like doing anything.  I find myself wanting to eat the grossest, most disgustingly unhealthy foods ever.  French fries at Cane’s, next to the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.  The jar of Cacao Bliss in the cabinet.  A steak.  Fried anything.  I find myself getting angry at every meal (I’m up to about 10 a day now, so that’s saying something).  I’m like, what is with you, you f*(&ing green soup!?  I mean, you have a problem in that I would really just like to kill you right now!  Forget you, aduki beans!  You don’t even fill me up.  I don’t care how much chipotle powder there is in your recipe!  And as for you, avocado, you are becoming a significant disappointment in my life, since you are making me fat and not even satisfying my craving to eat a car, a house, or anything covered in fat and sugar.  Rice, oatmeal, and 100% rye bread, you can go stick it.  I used to like you, but now it’s just a bored, washed-out relationship….

Before this cleanse I was moderately insane about food, more than some women, definitely not as much as others.  I ate healthy, I watched calories, and I knew what I needed to do to maintain a healthy size 8, which I did and do actually care about.  I had passed the stage of starvation diets or any diets at all, and I didn’t get hungry much if ever, since I ate lean protein and healthy fats instead of carbohydrates and sugar.  I had accepted that since I’m Irish, with a body somewhat good for child-bearing, I was always going to have curves and my thighs would never be skinny, and this was okay with me.  Aging, not so much, but I was working on it.

Now, however, I’m probably going to end up a homicidal size 12 in 2 weeks, ready to eat pretty much anything.

And on top of that, all I have to do is think about someone I didn’t like who I knew, oh, say 25 years ago and I want to go kill him/her.  Like, I mentioned my train wreck first girlfriend in the last blog, and all day today I’ve been monologuing in my head about how she did me wrong and she was in the top three of most amoral women I have ever known, and how she voted for Reagan, twice, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and actually used ethnic epithets.  Instead of being all Buddhist and being like, “Well, you know, she was nineteen and so were you, and who knows anything then, and unfortunately she knew less than most, and was more f-ed up…”  I’m like, “Where is she?  I’m going to X state and find her and make her pay!”

I also didn’t think, “Well, you could have left a lot earlier than you did.”  I thought, “I don’t care how gorgeous she was or talented or how much of an idiot romantic I was about those things, SHE WILL PAY!”

So, I think I need some f$#^ing food!  Preferably something protein soaked in a lot of fat.

But, I am remembering the cleanse leader saying that feelings may come up.  I’m like, Right.  I already went in this week and told the IFS therapist she dresses like an interpretative dancer and talks too much and she better get with the program on how smart I am.  I’m not having any feelings.  I am FINE!

Perhaps I will now drink some water with a cinnamon stick in it and meditate mindfully on my homicidal feelings.  I will learn something new about my dark side, as if that needed any more encouragement.

And then, sometime tonight, my partner will come home.  She slipped up today and ate Indian food with some FAT in it.  I am so jealous, I could…

I will meditate.  I will.  I will stand on my head for at least 3 minutes.  I will do a handstand.  IT WILL BE FUN, DO YOU HEAR ME?  FUN.  FUN.  FUN.

I think there are about 10 more days to this cleanse.  It is very hard for me to say die, but it might be real enlightenment to do so, if death (for someone) is the other alternative.  I am considering this.  Ahimsa.  Or flatulence.  Or unmitigated rage.  It’s hard choice.

PS–I have no back pain.  So apparently, all my rage is now conscious (read John Sarno mindbody blogs if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

I Love My Life! (at least for the next 10 seconds)


Today I was in yoga teacher training after 5+ hours of working on devised theatre with 22 teens and some super talented adults.  And though I am so tired I keep walking into walls, forgetting things, adding things wrong, I am also grateful for the day.

Working backward, since I just returned from yoga teacher training, I have to say, where do these women come from?  I ordered a bunch of blankets and blocks in bulk for us, and I’m basically dealing yoga materials out of the back of my car, and everyone is so conscientious about giving me money, and trying to be generous about the better colors, or the better quality blankets, and I’m so spacey I walk away from the money with the trunk and car open and someone stays with it…I never really understood why I took this training and I still don’t, except that I really like being around these people.

Then, the yoga philosophy discussion was great.  Like church, just listening to what each person utilizes to pull him or herself toward the light, whatever that light is–but definitely non-harming.

And all this followed a day of coordinating the monologues and scenes the students wrote themselves with movement we’d found accidentally in improvisation with them, and watching it work, watching it fall into place, deep, sweet, young, holding every poignant thing about life.

So, for today, I love my life.  Even though I bought all these yoga materials thinking I was going to leave theatre behind in some way, and now I had a waiting list for my last acting class, registration coming in for fall, a new potential opportunity for a fall collaboration, auditions, etc.  So it seems like many of the blankets, straps, mats, etc might not get much use.  But, oh well.  I still get to love everything, to be doing the exact right thing, right purpose, right moment, right life.

I’m about to post on the yoga teacher training facebook why people should come to this teen show.  Not to support me.  But because it looks to be so magical and funny and moving, that the human experience of watching will be rare and full of wonder.

I’ll go back to complaining and having aversions and everything tomorrow.  After I get some f$#%ing sleep.

The Thing About Restorative Yoga Is…


I’ve been lying around a lot.  Anyone who truly knows me will doubt this as a real fact, but it is, nevertheless, true.

I have two yoga bolsters.  I pile them on top of each other and lie on my stomach for, say, 30 minutes or so (asana: balasana).  Then I take the pile apart, prop my knees up on blocks, lean my back on the big bolster, strap my legs to keep the soles of my feet tight together (asana: supta baddha konasana).  Then I put my legs up the wall (asana: viparita karani).  Then I go to sleep like a corpse (savasana).

So, I’m lying around a lot.  But, as my title says, the thing is, being on floor level for an hour or two a day mostly makes me notice that the carpet needs to be vacuumed or that there’s dust and pollen coating what from standing look like gleaming wood floors.  I lie on my stomach, looking at the lint and threads on the carpet.  The carpet is navy, and I also see that it is kind of matted down and old, and it shows lint horribly.  I look at my pale hand, slightly curled up.  Then I look at the carpet again.  I think about vacuuming and I don’t move.  Then I marvel that I’m not moving.  I think of my German mother’s anal higiene (she vacuumed at least 3 times a day…she had 6 kids and our house looked like something out of a magazine).  I think about vacuuming again.  Then I think that it’s been my turn to vacuum for about a month, but my partner keeps doing it and I keep letting her.  Then I close my eyes and lie there some more.

These are my profound thoughts about which I do nothing while restoring myself with yoga.

Sometimes I do think about hiding more Snoopy stickers where my partner can’t see them.

And sometimes I think I may never move again and why did I ever want to be an unstoppable force, a go-getter, a shaker and a mover (all things people have called me throughout my life) in the first place.

Sometimes I think about getting up and then I don’t.

Or I get up.  And then I make homemade ice cream and eat it.  I look at the carpet and I don’t vacuum it.

I think this is ahimsa.  It could also be called extreme laziness, but I’m convinced it’s somehow spiritual.  Because I am watching the anal cleanliness thoughts come and go and not cleaning, and that’s got to be worth something.

(My partner’s like, “Yeah, it’s worth hiring a cleaning lady, oh Queen of the Universe.”)

Satya–Do I Really Need to Be More Honest?


My yoga teacher says that whatever issues you have will show up on the mat when you do postures.  It is partly for this reason that I frequently want to kill her.  (Of course, I want to kill EVERYONE because I am reactive, unenlightened, have an aversive personality–according to the Buddhists–and am basically a dramatic artist who enjoys swooning over every emotion I feel.)  (I long to swoon in yoga teacher training, but then I might fail and yoga teacher training is EXPENSIVE.)

Here’s what shows up on my mat:  AVERSION!  INNER CONFLICT!  And F*&(ING TMS SYNDROME!

Yoga is so peaceful, truly.

(When I do it at home it’s peaceful because I lie on a bolster in several different positions not moving and usually falling asleep.  I have become a yoga slacker.  This is the result of yoga teacher training, for some reason.)

Anyhow, if I’m talking about satya, or honesty, the second of the yoga yamas (the first is ahimsa, non-violence, and I’ve already written about that, ad infinitum) then I really have an excuse to say that TMS Syndrome is kicking my butt on the mat.  (TMS Syndrome’s other name is mindbody syndrome, a term coined by John Sarno.  Basically, TMS people like me have no severe anatomical abnormalities, but still experience chronic pain, usually in their backs.  I have it in my back, but sometimes also knees, and occasionally shoulders.  (You know, I don’t do things in half measures.  Probably I have pain in the guy down the street.) Anyhow, the pain, Sarno says, comes from an unconscious process that denies some amount of oxygen to areas of the body to cause physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain like, for example, homicidal rage.  (It’s because of Sarno I talk about how homicidal I am all the time.)  (Look at me!  I’m blaming someone I’ve never even met!)

Anyway, as I practice self-study (also a part of yoga, but really just an excuse to be fascinated with myself), I can’t help but notice how it goes on the mat in yoga teacher training.  Here’s how:

It’s Saturday.  Usually we do 3-4 hours of yoga in the Saturday practice.  So, 2 hours in I start to want it to be over.  By 2.5 hours in I REALLY want it to be over.  I mean, I start to feel like I’m being tortured.  I’m getting angry.  But I’ve always been athletic, and as you know if you’ve read my other blogs, I had a football player father who taught me to never be a quitter.  Plus, I want to prove I can do anything anyone else can do.  (Both of these things are insane, so it’s a good thing I’ve never claimed to be, you know, sane.)  At the same time, I want to practice ahimsa, not only because that’s what yoga is REALLY about, but because it’s the kind thing to do for myself, and though I am insane, I hate being unkind to myself.  So basically, during yoga teacher training, the inside of my head is like World War 3.  Right around the 2.5 hour mark, as we approach inversions (which I love because going upside down is really fun), and I realize I’m too blasted tired and whacked to do inversions, the inner conflict reaches its zenith and WHAM!  BACK PAIN!

It’s only because you’re not allowed to talk during yoga practice that I’m arguing with myself and noticing all this stuff.  And it has become glaringly obvious that when I want to be kind to myself and there’s pressure to do something else (perceived or real pressure, mind you), all this tension builds inside of me and then it goes into my back.

And get this:  when I figured all this out and really took breaks and gave up being Ms. Middle Aged Cool Yoga Girl, I didn’t have any back pain AT ALL.

I guess John Sarno is right.

So in my fascination with myself, I’m now on the hunt for my moments of intense inner conflict and tension, trying to notice them, trying to just stop, breathe, sense into my body.  Yoga teacher training is prime fodder for this practice.  As is any time I’m trying to act like a mature adult and not jump on my partner’s lap (a struggle I always lose, but here’s hoping).

Anyhow, crazy or not, my need for gentleness and kindness, from myself, first and above all, would be legend if anyone knew about it.

Oh, I guess you now do.

Send flowers.

Though money would be better.

Knocking on the Door of the Yoga Sutras


Last night in yoga teacher training we spent time on sutra 1.33, which is:  By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind (the mind retains its undisturbed calmness).  (Incidentally, this is called the 4 locks and the 4 keys.)

And yes, I pay money to read language this stilted.  But beyond that, I have to say that I’m glad I’m such a heretic/rebel and instead of really working on my homework I spend a ton of time doing related reading in Buddhism.  Because this sutra DRIVES ME OUT OF MY MIND.  (Not, admittedly, that I’m in my mind most of the time, but hey, meditation says that’s a good thing.  Hah!)

And, my class is to consider the last of the 4 locks and 4 keys–equanimity toward the non-virtuous.

I HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT THIS!  And, of course, I have to practice step up/step back in class and not do a 40 minute lecture on the nature of evil and the dangers of holding ourselves to standards of perfection.  So, here I am, blogging away.

The first thing to say about sutra 1.33 is that the sutras, as part of Hinduism, can be a little like the 10 commandments.  They are gentler–they say, if you want to be calm, do this.  The commandments threaten hell and damnation.  But outside of that, it’s all about rules for behavior.  And I don’t disagree with the rules so much except for the fact that the minute someone lays down a rule I want to rebel in some way.  I mean, I don’t want to covet, lie, steal or kill…or, with the sutras, give myself over to jealousy, coldness, condemnation, etc.  But I know this–I can’t pretend that my fears, jealousy, resentments and withholding don’t exist.  I mean, me, personally, I’m really good at pretending about a lot of things, but not about this.  And it’s good, really, to be in reality about the nature of being human.  It’s mistake with these kinds of teachings to repress, deny, and bully ourselves into trying to have good behavior when we just want to get homicidal or at least bitchy.

This is why I’m glad I’m a heretic/rebel.  My latest book on Buddhism is called Living with Your Heart Wide Open, which I bought because I thought my friend Don had such an open heart, and I truly want to learn to be more like him.  And thank whatever/whoever, the book contains all these mindfulness practices for being with your jealousy, judgment, self-hatred, shame, etc.  It teaches you to live with them in kindness to yourself.

What scares me about the sutras, over and over again, is the idealization…that we are somehow capable of being all happy for people all the time with no envy, or capable of witnessing evil without real pain.  The sutras contain a potential for disowning what is broken and hurt in me and I know, as deeply as I know anything, that disowning is a recipe for disaster.  It causes shame and feelings of not being good enough, whenever I try to meet impossible standards.  And in trying to be perfect I build a strait-jacket that I then must escape…and the internal pressure means the escape is likely to be desperate and not very pretty.

Like I always say, it’s much better to just say I’m f*&(ed up… and enjoy it.

And so, part 2, we now come to the 4th lock and key, having equanimity with the non-virtuous.  The teacher of the training asked us to think of what this might mean, other than utter denial.  She asked us to think about non-virtue…or evil.

And I have been thinking.  Remembering.

I’ve been an activist since 1987, first as a volunteer, and then as a professional working with women through Family Planning.  The first issue I worked on was stopping violence against women and children.  In my position as a counselor and community liaison at Family Planning, I joined SECAT, the South Eastern Child Advocacy Team and became the secretary on the executive board.  This led to some networking (with the Nashua Rape Crisis Center among other non-profits) and I organized a supportive protest at the trial of Jessie Murabito, who had taken her children into the Underground after a jury found her husband not guilty of felonious sexual assault against her six year old daughter Bethany.  (Bethany had testifed against her father. )  I was in the room when the judge found Jessie Murabito guilty of abducting her children and took away custody.  I had heard about the social worker who independently decided that Mark Murabito was a good guy and made a unilateral decision to give him unsupervised visits–and then, after his ex-wife found guilty of abducting the children, he was given custody.  (In the late 80’s and early 90’s this was how it went when women took their offending husbands to court…especially if their husbands were white and upper middle class.)

I don’t have equanimity about this.

But the story–mine at least–doesn’t end there.  Two years later I was teaching creative writing and one of my students won a grant to go into the New Hampshire prisons and interview sex offenders, some of whom were part of an in-prison rehabilitation, and some of whom had refused to participate.  She interviewed 10 men, then wrote their stories in the first person, so the reader had the same experience she’d had, of listening to a man’s life.  She asked me to edit the book.

She’d done a brilliant job.  With each man–and these were serial rapists who’d raped 40+women, multiple offender child abusers–I entered the story of their painful childhoods, and I saw them as boys, being hurt.  And inevitably, as they became teenagers, I could feel the line approaching, the line they crossed…at 15, 16, 17, when they offended for the first time.  In my mind, reading, I’d be saying, “no, don’t,” even as I knew that they would, that they did, that they had been incarcerated for just this.  But I was enough on the side of these men that I wanted them not to cross the line–not only for the horror of what they did to their victims, told in detail, but the horror of what they did to themselves.

Reading that book made me want to scream, but it ripped away any ability I had to judge without mercy.

This morning, following last night’s class, I have been thinking about this…about my life as an activist, about evil, about women and children, about all the men I watched die of AIDS while Reagan refused to do what he could have done to halt the epidemic, about my witnessing of racism, about my own experiences of discrimination as a woman and queer person.  My yoga trainer wants us to come up with a way of understanding equanimity about evil, or another word that might express this sutra.

My words are spiritual fortitude.  Because while I can’t, in the particular, think of Jessie and Bethany Murabito without crying and wanting to scream at the injustice of their lives, I can, in the universal, hold what I know about humanity.  It must be held, all of it; it must be held by me, because it has been given to me to be up close and personal with evil.

How do I hold it?  This morning, I’ve used the mindfulness practice–I have to do this first–and I’ve sensed into my body, into the emotions, into the particular grief of the Murabito story and my connection to it.   But there is a larger awareness–all the women who came when I put out the call to support Jessie, the heroism and kindness I’ve seen in my own life and that I’ve read about, the people who fight, and those who love.  I put that with Mark Murabito getting custody of his daughter, with Ronald Reagan’s homophobia, with the cops with their hands on their billy clubs as they kicked my African-American friends out of my apartment in 1978.  I put it against the Holocaust, I put it against Rwanda and the Sudan, and then I grow bigger, bigger, bigger, in awareness, in the depth of my own heart.  I open.  It isn’t comfortable or easy–it’s a very painful stretching to just know and hold to knowing:  this is all of who we are, there isn’t anything else, the war and the palm against a cheek, the outstretched hand and the knife.  This is who we are.

I call this painful stretching spiritual fortitude.

In Stephen Cope’s book, The Wisdom of Yoga, he describes a character who he calls Rudy, a man who, Cope says, is the closest to enlightened of anyone he’s ever known.  Rudy is at peace, but it is a peace edged with sadness.  Rudy does not deny the world, or its terrible and beautiful reality.

Sometimes, these days, I approach that kind of peace.  For a minute, or an hour, or half a day, I know it.

I believe I am beginning to be able to hold the death of my friend Don, his tenderness and kindness that is not here any more, and yet is, if it lives in me, if I can find it in myself and give it away, over and over again, as he did.

Spiritual fortitude.

Metta for Bethany and Jessie Murabito, wherever they are.  May you be well, may you be happy, may you be safe and protected, may you be at peace with what is.

As hard a thing as that is to achieve, in the life you have been given.

 

If you’d like to read more about the Murabito trial, go to:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1928&dat=19880701&id=XgcgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8GQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1322,384372 (About the decision to let Bethany Murabito testify)

http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1989/Two-Say-They-Were-Molested-by-Man-Cleared-in-Alleged-Attack-on-Daughter/id-9deb442e3cd075d27a0b714228b5d02b.  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1914&dat=19890826&id=SvUpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=L2UFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4184,5130150  (Other accusations against Mark Murabito.)

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-03-12/news/vw-1222_1_underground-railroad  (Brief article about parents using the underground to protect their children)

There is also a TV movie, starring Meg Tilly, based on cases from the late 80’s, called In the Interest of the Child.

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga and the Truth about Yoga


Well, first of all, yoga is a way of life.  It’s part of the Hindu religion, and the Sutras spell out a path to nirvana and peace (since the Sutras were written about 500 years after the Buddha lived, some scholars claim they would not have been possible without Buddhism and are heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy as well as the atheistic Hindu system of dualism).

Of course, here in the West, yoga’s rep for sweaty hot rooms and twisty bendy postures has caused us to forget that it’s part of Hinduism at all.

And face it, I love the twisty bendy everything.  I have recently fallen in love with the investigation of the philosophy (just as I fell in love with Buddhism last year), but the twisty bend everything still claims me, tests me, makes me face so many things.  And not the ones you would expect–not aging, stiffness, the limits of my body.  But who I truly am.

I go to the mat.  And wherever I go, there I am.

I’ve written that my worst case scenario was to have an eruption of back pain while doing yoga teacher training, and that, of course, the worst case scenario happened.  And here’s the thing–I get kind of sick of turning worst case scenarios into AFGO’s (another f&*#ing growth opportunity), but what else is a girl to do?  I’m not allowed to lie down, wail and writhe in yoga teacher training.  So, AFGO.

I might add that the AFGO keeps honking its horn because I’ve had flare ups in three separate weekends.  I went back to the lovely Dr. Martinez to re-charge my John Sarno-I-am-insanely-homicidal-and-don’t-want-to-know-it approach to back pain.  I went to Thai massage and shiatsu, even though what I’m really supposed to do is examine my unconscious rage (and other feelings).

And I’ve returned to the mat.  If I wasn’t in teacher training, I might not have.  Weight lifting significantly changes the pain equation (when paired with examination of homicidal tendencies) in a way yoga does not.

Anyway, so I’m on the mat this Saturday, sweating my brains out after 2+ hours of incredibly strenuous yoga.  And satya (truth, a yoga yama): I’m getting angry.  I’m starting to have intense inner conflict, because even though I can continue to do the asanas (postures), I know from the other weekends that when I do, I reach over-exertion, my mind fogs out, I get triggered and unhappy and overwhelmed and I really just want to cry.  I mean, past two hours it’s just not fun at all.

At the same time, I have my lovely conditioning from my Irish father, a stellar athlete who was offered football scholarships to a million colleges and played halfback for Notre Dame.  We played sports all the time growing up, and he admired only fight, only never giving up, only trying no matter how much it hurt.  So I’m on the friggin’ yoga mat, knowing that yoga is a way of life and starts with ahimsa (non-violence, with self as well as everyone else), with this never-say-die tape running in my head, and the really great teacher, who I genuinely like, giving us instructions and assists, and it’s like a pressure cooker, because I’m totally overwhelmed and I really, really, really want to just stop.

On top of that, Saturday was an introduction to inversions, so I was excited to do headstand, handstand and stand on the forearms because they are really fun.

I didn’t stop.  And by the time we got to the inversions, I was in a black mood, and unable to concentrate, knowing if I did go upside down I’d likely have back pain because the point in every training where the back pain descends is just then–the overwhelmed, over-exerted point.  The point of intense inner conflict.

Though I didn’t do much with the inversions–I went up in handstand once, knew it was enough, and stopped.  But then I got triggered and tried again…and the back pain descended with FEROCITY.

I lay in savasana (corpse pose) crying a little, because I was so frustrated and disappointed.  I mean, I am often a 5 year old and not getting to go upside down was a big let down.  I decided, while lying there, that when everyone else went to lunch, I’d just hang upside down on the rope wall in 3 or 4 different ways to make myself feel better.  Which I did.  And it kind of worked.  The black mood lightened a lot.

Then, AH-HAH!  The light bulb, the explosion, the-I-did-notice-but-was-too-embarrassed-to-admit-it moment.  The back pain descends when I’m overwhelmed.  When I have internal conflict.

Earlier Saturday morning, I’d been struggling with wanting to go to Pride.  I’d been talking about it with my partner all week–our 25th anniversary on Pride weekend, Obama coming out for gay marriage (I’m back in love with him, which he no doubt intended)–I mean, it was too much to miss.  But a make-up for a day of yoga training is like $200-$300.  And I’m not teaching.  So, INTERNAL CONFLICT.  I woke up with back pain, and then did my Sarno writing (and some meditation) and decided to do one Pride event–not the parade, which I’d have preferred–on Saturday.  And the pain went….whoosh!  Gone.

Of course it came back at the overwhelm point in the training.  But I’m starting to get that these intense moments of internal conflict can be addressed or avoided and then NO BACK PAIN.  It’s more than my lovely homicidality (give me a break, anyone who meditates gets to find out they resent everything).  It’s when I go to war with myself and my conditioning and the pressure builds and I don’t know how to resolve it that I get back pain.

Yesterday, (Sunday) more intense yoga.  I sat out for part of it.  I didn’t get overwhelmed.  Though I’d walked in to class with a ton of pain, I was down to minor twinges after an hour.  AND, I went up in both handstand and headstand (I’ve always been able to do shoulder stand with no problem).

The truth about yoga is wherever I go, there I am.  And meditation teaches me to focus on myself.  It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is overwhelmed.  What matters is that I am, and managing my internal world in a kind and skillful way brings me peace.  I get to decide how much physical yoga is too much–that is something I have the power to do.

On the mat, it’s not about back pain.  Back pain is the teacher.  It’s about admitting I get overwhelmed, that lots of instruction can be hard for me to process, that whether the over-exertion is physical or mental (holding concentration for so long), doesn’t matter.  I get to say die.  I get to just stop.  And be with what is.  Until being with what is becomes peace.

Once a woman I had trained on a job I used to have told me the first time she saw me, she immediately felt intense resentment.  She said I seemed so confident, and she thought, “Nothing bad has ever happened to that woman in her life.”

Then she became my poetry editor.  So she read about my family.  She actually apologized for completely misjudging me.

Satya is finding a way to honor the poetry.  The truth and the beauty, the dirge and the psalm.  And really, who wouldn’t want to do that?

If I Do Yoga Am I Hindu?


Because let’s face it, yoga is a Hindu tradition.  A fact I’ve been in denial about for, well, an embarrassing amount of time.

Of course, the denial helped with the simple fact that all I really know about Hinduism is that it is, or was, the major religion of India (until forced Muslim conversion), and that it related strongly to the Brahmins.  I also had learned somewhere that the Brahmins are the highest level of hierarchy in the Indian caste system (a commonly known fact here in Boston where we refer to rich old money people as Boston Brahmins).  Since I am absolutely anti-authority and fairly anti-hierarchy not to mention a member of 3 minority groups and completely identified with the underdog and counterculture movements…and since I fell in love with yoga from my first experience of the practice, well, suffice it to say that all human denial has a purpose.  I just didn’t want to examine the roots of yoga too deeply.

Now, of course, I’m in yoga teacher training, so whoooooooossshhhh, there goes the denial.  Not that the training addresses the social inequities in India or the poverty or how religion played a part in social hierarchy.  It doesn’t.  But being me, and having been fully bit by the yogic bug, and therefore wanting to know everything, I’ve started to read outside the training and to really investigate Eastern religions.

That this fits nicely into the self-study of Buddhism I started last year seems bizarrely uncoincidental, but it is, nevertheless, an adventure, because I have no idea where what I’m studying will take me.

I have learned that Indian religions and religious history is a tangle.  People kept revising the religion and inventing new branches.  Because of this, the crossovers between the yogic school of Hinduism and Buddhism are immediately noticeable, not to mention that the Buddha was, after all, raised in a Hindu society with Hindu beliefs.  But get this, from Wikipedia:

Hinduism does not have a “unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed“,[50] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions.

The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism’s openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic.

Apparently there are Vedic, or Brahmanic traditions and anti-Vedic traditions (yoga being one of these), and I just have way too much to learn to say anything else about this.  Except that any religion that can’t define itself can’t be all bad, so studying yoga is okay with me.

Of course, I won’t become a Hindu or a Buddhist.  I mean, I couldn’t even join a Unitarian Church when that was my practice.  Blame my freak of a cultish family.  I am emphatically not a joiner.  I am, for example, an Independent because I don’t like the political parties in this country.  Of course, that’s just sane.

Anyhow, more to come on yoga and being or not-being a Hindu, Buddhist, yogi or whatever.

I am on a mission of understanding.  I always kind of wanted a degree in comparative religions and this is probably as close as I’ll come.  I don’t need the degree.  I just want to learn stuff.  As always.

More YOGA: Ahimsa or At Least I Crack Myself Up


Ahimsa, is the first of the yamas of yoga and Hinduism (rules for ethical conduct) and it means non-violence.

I took my first yoga class with Patricia Walden in Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and she was leading off the class with a discussion of the yamas.  The class was on satya, the second yama (truth or honesty), but she mentioned ahimsa and off I went.

Ahimsa is the building block for all ethics, of course, and perhaps because of that the most difficult to practice.  Oh, I know, it’s easy to have some basic level of decency and then not question.  Or at least, it must be easy for someone, somewhere, as long as that person isn’t me.  On one hand, no one will ever accuse me of not examining my life.  On the other, on the list of the 5 hindrances to enlightenment in Buddhism is doubt, and questioning too far, too much, too often, questioning everything, all the time, does add up to doubt.

And, on the 7 deadly sin list is pride, which I use to counter doubt, telling myself, and everyone who will listen, how I’m smarter than pretty much anyone.

Religion.  Gets you whether you’re coming or going.  Or even just standing still.

Anyhow, ahimsa.  And, watch me, here I go with the pride thing.  I am going to marry yogic principles, Buddhism and couples therapy.  Let’s see if I can do it in one sentence.

I’ve been thinking about ahimsa because in couples therapy my partner and I complain about each other’s angry energy, showing (yogic principles) that we are both sitting somewhere between the 3rd (dvesa: aversion to old bad experiences) and 4th (abhinivesa: fear) branches of avidya (bad perception) and that we possess no real equanimity (upekkha–Buddhism).

A long sentence, but there you have it.

In therapy terms, we have intimacy and attachment issues with some boundary problems thrown in.

Or, in Lyralen language, we are just gloriously f%$#ed up like the rest of the human race, scared of each other on a good day, and likely to blame each other because that’s what people do and also because growing up just isn’t on the agenda.

AHIMSA.  Really, I should just start this topic with how hard it is to treat myself really well.  I run into it on the mat all the time, as I push to do perfect asanas, and then catch myself and slow it down.  “Forget all the skinny bendy young things,” I tell myself.  “Never been there, never done that.  Think acceptance for tight hamstrings and an athletic competitive family and think of the joy of this tense, stretching, living body.  Think peace.”

For me, non-violence starts with letting go of ambition, competition, striving, stress.  I have this secret joke with myself that I get up to lie down.  Many mornings I get up and then do restorative yoga, which is basically lying down in different positions.  I often fall asleep again.

I do not think of my German mother or competitive athletic Irish father.  Well, maybe I do.  Because there is no rebellion like lying down as soon as you get up.  I mean, who does that?  I’m not even trying to meditate.  I’m not trying to do anything.

I could go on…the tiny violent things, like do you tear a brush through your hair or do it gently?  The antidote comes down to Buddhist mindfulness, but frankly, trying to be perfectly mindful is another trap for doing violence to yourself and I should know.  (Plus, you should watch all the people mindfully eating breakfast in slow motion at the Buddhist 10 day silent meditation retreats.  It’s enough to drive you out of your mind.  Permanently.)

Anyhow, I figure going around saying that I’m f$%#ed up and so is everyone else is a pretty good practice of acceptance and imperfection.  You know, like I’ll be mindful, but in a relaxed way, when it’s not too much trouble.

I would be a bad Buddhist if in fact I had signed on, which, of course, I haven’t, because I am too much of a nonconformist to even sign on for nonconformist Buddhism.

Anyhow, the point of this blog, now 649 words in, is the whole couples therapy ahimsa thing.  I have worked hard, all my life, to be contained and dignified.  I know, reading this thing, you won’t believe me, but it’s true.  I have rules for my behavior off the page (and even on the page…notice, I don’t say my partner’s name or tell any of the personal details of our fights or blame her on the world wide web even though she drives me crazy and everything is her fault) (okay, I don’t blame her by building a case with details).  I try very hard not to lose my temper or be disrespectful of other people, and, as you’ve no doubt noticed, since I can be a bit of a hothead when I’m not meditating and doing yoga, this is no small feat.

But in the last theatre production, I was so angry when people didn’t do their jobs, and so stressed with picking up slack everywhere, I know I exuded misery and anger and stress.  And here is where ahimsa becomes so difficult to practice.  I don’t yell, or swear or name call, but I know from my own relationships that sometimes that almost doesn’t matter.  You can’t claim virtue because you don’t speak when your energy speaks for you.  People know when someone is unhappy, or judging, or criticizing silently.

This is what both my partner and I find so troublesome in each other.  Plus, we’ve known each other for 29 years now (our 25th anniversary is in June), so it’s not like there are any secrets.

When I was going on and on about keeping my mouth shut the first week of yoga teacher training, what I was really, on a serious level, worried about, was ahimsa.  I was worried about containing my energy, because, let me belabor the point again, I am grieving, and grief is painful and dark, and it feels isolating, so spending 14 hours with a group of people I didn’t know scared me.  I was afraid of not being able to be centered; I was afraid of going somewhere dark in my own energy and being energetically incapable of practicing ahimsa.

Pia Melody (who I often hate and am embarrassed to admit I have read) says that energetic boundaries are a key area of safety in a marriage.  If you get really angry, you have to first put physical distance between yourself and your partner, and then you need to contain the energy itself.  This isn’t because we might hit each other, it’s because the energy feels very threatening, and you have to indicate you’re in control enough to practice love.

This makes me wonder if getting angry is seen as one of the 7 deadly sins of psychotherapeutic culture.  It’s definitely listed as one of the 5 hindrances.  But get this–swallowing anger, taking it into your body, repressing it, leads to self-violence, or, as John Sarno would say, lots of back pain.

Ethics.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know that anger is a force that can be used for good, and I know I don’t want to scare my partner with my critical or angry energy, and I also know that with a German mother (repress everything) and an impulse-driven Irish father (why bother), I can only look at all the craziness and say, well, I definitely do know we’re all crazy.

Ahimsa.

I love the word, I have to say.  I’ve been a pacifist my whole life, but I do hate mosquitoes and kill them with relish.

In other words, as I said in the title, at least I crack myself up.  As I try to understand the nature of existence, as I tell the truth about some things if not everything, as I come back, over and over again, to the existence of human insanity, I find that humor is often the only answer.

That or homicide.  But, since I am contemplating and trying to practice ahimsa, I guess homicide is pretty much off the table.