Begin · Rachel

Showing up

I feel the beginning of a nag. An impatient voice from the sidelines. A finger wagging in my direction. An imposing item on a To-Do list. A ticking clock. Slightly haunting piano music in the background. “You are supposed to post on the yoga/writing blog today!”

To reassure myself, I read through Kajal’s words here and here. Specifically, these words: “Rachel and I had discussed not putting pressure on ourselves for the blog to keep it fun and fulfilling and not like a task.”

I will myself to breathe. Better one real, true, deep breath than 10 shallow, manic breaths. I search around for matches that I am always hiding and then forgetting where they’re hidden. We can always begin. We can always write a few lines. We may not have the space to write further, to pull the various threads we’d like to pull, let alone think about how to tie them back up again, if that is indeed what we want to do. More and more—or I suppose I was always this way?—I am drawn to Rebecca Solnit’s embrace of the unknown, her suspicion of the known. About Woolf’s line: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think”  Solnit writes: “It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into the known through false divination, or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing—as that “I think” indicates—to be uncertain even about its own assertion.” Often we characterize uncertainty as weak (and female)—I think, it might, I’m not sure, maybe, sorry, what do you think?— when it can so often be the opposite. Female yes, but not weak at all. A brave willingness not to know and to admit to not knowing.

There is an honesty and a peace to this approach to writing. To commit to just showing up, and that’s it. Why does an anxiety still hang around it then sometimes, like today? It is not that I am too busy to write a few words. It’s that I feel too busy to write from the center. It’s that I feel I’m the one on the sidelines somedays, too.

I suppose when I think about it, my embrace of the unknown is not new, but it no longer feels like something for which I must apologize. I like open-ended. I like unstable meanings. I like postmodern literature. I like wandering and, metaphorically at least, getting lost.

I’m chilled by Woolf’s line. Today, too the future feels dark.

I dig around again and finally find the matches. I find a candle. I light it and look at the words etched on the side of the glass jar that holds it. A single word. “Begin.”

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Begin · breath · Rachel

Late in the Day

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I forgot to write today! Rainy NYC. I forgot to breathe today also. I did not start the day with either. No stretches. No scribbling in my journal.

So I will do it now. It is already 4:40 PM.

I remember when I was in high school and felt so overwhelmed sometimes with how much homework I had. I have a specific memory of crying in the livingroom about how much of the day had gone by and how I still hadn’t started. I can’t remember what time it was, if really most of the day had gone by or if it only felt that way. My dad sat with me and we went through, just listing out, all I had to do and we tallied the hours I had until I went to bed. I had time, it turned out. The situation wasn’t hopeless. I just had to get past the crying about it, the frustration and anxiety of thinking about “all I had to do” and begin doing it. Little by little, like Anne Lamot’s father famously told her little brother, who waited until the last day to begin a major project on birds, take it “Bird by Bird.”

Alex is working on lesson planning on the back porch.

Wally is quietly doing homework behind me, asking every now and then for White Out—which I don’t think I have.

“Why didn’t you ask me when I was out at the store?” I ask. The question hangs in the air. Petra is on the rug making up songs to the Pachelbel variations playing on the radio.

Sometimes being fully present and life-immersed—playing with the kids, engaged in political conversations, visiting my aunt, collecting shells on the beach—keeps me from writing, keeps me from yoga, keeps me from habits and have-tos. And then more generally,  some of those habits and have-tos, writing and exercise most clearly, are what allow me to stay fully present. I don’t know yet which  experiences fall into which category or if there is some limit to pure immersion at which point a build up of feeling needs to be released through writing, given space through yoga poses.

It is late in the day now for a “daily post” but here is a post, nevertheless. A breath. A moment to say, to myself, if no one else: I’m still here.

 

—Rachel

 

Begin · Kajal

Namaste – Starting the Journey

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Yoga is my salvation. I discovered it while living in Washington, D.C. after graduating from college where I’d met and become friends with Rachel, 19 years ago. I often wonder if I would be a different person if I had started practicing yoga sooner – or at the very least, had I benefited from the poses, or what’s referred to as asanas, combined with the breath, yoga being the union of breath and movement – how I would’ve dealt life as it unfolded.

But things happen when they are supposed to and everything happens for a reason. Yoga came into my life when I most needed it. And while I love to write and have been doing it in a professional capacity for others for nearly 20 years, for executives and big companies alike, I have to be perfectly honest, it’s something I put off doing for myself. I thoroughly love what I do as a storyteller and communications strategist. Best of all, every day I’m learning and challenged to apply my creativity in new ways.

Part of it is that I am my own harshest critic. Anytime I put pen to paper and write for myself, in my humble opinion, “It’s never good enough.” I have these grand ideas of writing a novel or even a short story. But I tend to be really hard on myself and have a lot of expectations of myself. That’s why I love Rachel’s Writer’s Bootcamp – it tells you to just go out and do it, warts and all, no excuses.

Only now, after multiple decades and through achieving greater self-awareness with my yoga practice am I starting to reach a place where I am starting to accept that I’m enough.

Through this experience, my intention is that my creative writing practice grows as my yoga practice has. I miss yoga when I don’t do get a chance to do it. My body actually reaches out for it and misses it. And it fuels my creativity at work. So, how can I use it to fuel my own creative writing and put me on a path to actually writing something that I don’t judge before I’ve barely tapped the last key on the keyboard?

Let’s see how, as I take this journey with Rachel, I start from the opposite end and use this wonderful outlet to start to move out of my comfort zone and explore how I can use what I’ve learned in yoga to help me write creatively for myself.

—Kajal

 

Begin · Rachel

How to begin

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In June last year, I began taking yoga once a week at 7 o’clock on Monday nights.

The classroom faces West. Throughout the year, I’ve watched the light change. Moving slowly between Warrior I, Locust and Child’s pose, we pause long enough to watch the seasons come and go.

In June it still feels like late afternoon when we begin. When class ends, we step out into twilight, air buzzing with cicadas and the first sign of fireflies. Toward the end of summer, the class itself feels like a sunset ritual. Daylight leaves us during that quiet hour and by Shavasana—final relaxation pose—it is fully gone. It is mid-September now. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. At sundown, the blowing of the shofar will signal a new year. With its sound we dedicate ourselves to ten days of introspection. A month from now, it will be fully dark again before we even begin, the Himalayan salt lamps and candles twinkling in the windows to welcome us in.

During these months, I’ve thought about the influence yoga has had on my writing practice, the way it helps me focus and leads me inward.

Writing helps with yoga, too. Journaling helps me commit to practicing yoga, gives me a space to consider the way I stretch myself on the page and on the mat, increasing flexibility in both places.

Both practices allow me the pause I need to figure out where I am in the swirl of days.

Coming to the mat. Facing the blank page. Yoga and writing. As I continued my own writing practice, and tried incorporating yoga poses into my day here and there on my own, I kept thinking I had to do something to bring these two practices together in a more structured way. Maybe a book?

I reached out to my friend Kajal to pitch my idea. We had become close friends in college and worked on papers side by side, dreaming our writing dreams in a little coffee shop in Hanover called Rosey Jekes. Kajal is a trained yoga teacher and also a writer by trade. “What do you think about doing a project about using yoga to activate your writing?” I asked her. She loved the idea. Emailing back and forth, we put together our Author Bios. Drafted a Sell Sheet. Talked about what yoga could help writers do: release tension, find clarity, harness creativity.

Using yoga as a tool for writing seemed a great way to position the book, to “market” it and convince others of its worth. It lent itself to an effective elevator pitch, unlike many of my more nebulous book ideas. But as I sketched notes in a Google doc I began to feel the “pitch” was limiting. Framing yoga simply as a tool for writing devalued it. I wanted a way to explore the relationship between yoga and writing with energy and light and insight flowing in both directions.

But the problem was I didn’t know enough about yoga. Although Kajal is a super-successful corporate communications executive, she has not focused as much attention as I have on a personal writing practice. So perhaps it is fair to say, outside of a professional context, she did not know enough about writing. Her personal writing practice—in terms of time—looks more like my yoga practice. Where I’ve committed to the page, she’s committed to the mat. That meant we had complimentary skills, but it also meant that we perhaps could not write a book on how each practice enhanced the other until we both went deeper into the merged experience ourselves.

I am a daily writer trying to make yoga a daily practice. Kajal is a daily yogi trying to make her personal writing a daily practice. We are going in opposite directions (toward each other?).

Trying to write a book guiding others was getting ahead of ourselves. We were both experts and beginners, but neither of us had the expertise to lead with authority in the places where these fields overlapped.

This felt like a big obstacle. An “ugh.” The advice from a wet-blanket friend who points out all the ways your latest idea will fail. I wrote about it. I tried to meditate on it. Other thoughts pushed their way in. I tried to push them out. This is not meditating! I berated myself. Well that isn’t either! came another voice, just as strident.

And then, all at once, with a candle lit and incense going and Snatam Kaur music playing as I looked outside—not trying to meditate, not trying to do anything—I realized the wonderful Zen saying, “The obstacle is the path” had proved to be true once again.

It is not an obstacle to avoid that I am a beginner when it comes to yoga. That too is the path. It is not an obstacle that Kajal is a beginner when it comes to writing daily outside of work. That is the path.

We needed only to see the path opening up right in front of us. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

We have many possibilities, beginners that we are, and one is to acknowledge, accept and even embrace that beginning. That beginning gives us everything we need.

I can, starting now, commit to trying to develop my yoga practice, building on my writing practice. Kajal can do the same, the other way around. We can begin where we are. We can be where we are.

When I presented the idea to Kajal, she answered full to the brim with the happy openness and joy I hoped she might. She too agreed this was a better way to approach the idea.

We would blog about it, we decided, alternating days.

Here is the first day, today.

Mid-September of 2017. Here is where we begin.

 

—Rachel