Rachel

The elements

A gray, rainy day when I began my sun salutations this morning. I couldn’t see the sun, but the sky had a kind of sheen to it, a glow.

Just before we were leaving the house (me and the kids, Alex had already long gone) I noticed the ground was white. The kids had their rain boots on, rain jackets. “It almost looks like it is….” I started to say, then looked up toward the sky and saw that indeed it not only looked like snow, but was snowing. They switched to snow boots, winter jackets.

Later when I dropped them off I hesitated before heading out to run up the river. I lingered for a minute or two at the bus stop thinking, If one comes, I’ll jump on it. One didn’t come and I jogged over to the river. It was beautifully white and quiet as I made footprints jogging carefully along the water.

I was thinking about how so far, the hardest thing to run in hasn’t been rain, cold, or snow, but wind. I did not try running on any of the arctic days, not have I run through any kind of blizzard or had to contend with much ice. But still, it seems surprising in a way that wind would be such a tough element. That air moving would be so powerful.

That makes me think of breathing. How simple it is and how profound.

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Rachel

MLK Day

The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted over a year. For over a year, African Americans in Alabama walked to and from work, often starting in the middle of the night to make it on time. A young pastor—just twenty-six when it began—led the movement. With all there is to criticize about our country today, and there is so, so very much, there are some things it gets right. Taking time to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of them.

Watching his 1963 “I have a dream” speech on heavy rotation tonight. Dolores O’Riordan’s voice floating through the house, the once-continual-soundtrack to so many of my days and nights on the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Rachel

Going Inward

I began this post this morning, just after 8.

I have music playing quietly.

A candle lit.

The cold front has broken; today is full of sun.

That’s all I had written when my 4.5-year-old, Petra, interrupted me.

Here I am more than twelve hours later. What was I going to write about this morning? I had a few ideas, but they’ve escaped. I had a point I wanted to make about Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. What was it?

Yesterday I took Kondo’s book The life-changing magic of tidying up out of the library. I know the main idea is about keeping whatever “sparks joy” and getting rid of the rest. Also sorting by category and folding in a certain way. I wonder how weeding for joy-sparking applies to things that are functional. (A toothbrush? A vacuum cleaner?) As I flip through, one line jumps out at me: “The urge to point out someone else’s failure to tidy is usually a sign that you are neglecting to take care of your own space.” How true that seems, not only with clutter, but with anything. Of course there are times we might have perspective that could help a friend, but often our advice, our “you shoulds,” our dwelling about how this one or that one should change, really are signs that there is something we ourselves need to change. I suppose it’s a variation of Jung’s shadow, pointing toward a flaw in ourselves or an undeveloped part of ourselves.

What would that mean? That each time we notice something someone else “should” do, we should re-direct our attention back to ourselves? That could make us awfully solipsistic. Maybe it only applies when the attention to another’s perceived flaw becomes obsessive, wearisome, distracting.

We want to change ourselves, and we want to be change agents, activists, engaged citizens. But when it comes to friends and families, the key, it would seem is acceptance.

Last night I stayed up late reading Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. I didn’t know anything about this author and I loved not knowing as the house and city grew quiet around me as I flipped the pages of her brilliantly-written (except for the end) and also grotesque and disturbing book. Today I read about the author and when she said that she doesn’t do Facebook and Twitter, (steers clear of the internet in general) I thought that was amazing. At least in her interviews, she doesn’t seem to worry that others are consumed with their smartphones, wrapped up in their online personas. She is focused on what she wants to do. That is so highly developed. I know my obsessive concern about how much others are living their lives online says more about my own lack of discipline than anything else. I should ask myself, if I am pulled to think about others’ habits, what I might be neglecting in my own.

I have no music playing now. No candle. The sun has long since gone down. Tomorrow I’ll try again to write in the morning. It seems the best time for making sense of the day.

—Rachel

 

 

Rachel

A moment, just barely

I have found a new way to go through a few yoga sequences with my 4.5-year-old by my side. We pretend we are teaching a class. Sometimes we are both teachers or sometimes I’m the teacher and I had to bring my 4.5-year-old with me to teach a class because she was home sick (which she was today).

This way I can perform the poses without Petra climbing all over my back, desperate to be a part of it. This way she is a part of it.

Oh goodness, she was finally asleep, but here she is awake. Wide awake. I’m shutting down the computer.

Rachel

Winter Twilight

We were in Massachusetts last week at my parents’ house. My absolute favorite time of each day began around 4:45 in the evening, during the last moments of daylight. I would turn out all the lights on the main floor so I could fully enjoy it. Sometimes I put on quiet music or lit a candle or had a glass of champagne or cup of tea. Sometimes all I did was stare out the window.

First there is the radiant yellow/orange glow of the sun’s last stance. Then the light leaves but there remains a blue glow for about a half hour before the dark completely settles in. During my day-to-day routine in New York the morning is the most sacred time for me. The time that I light a candle and look out the window and feel the most connected to…something bigger. I was lazy there in Massachusetts and rolled out of bed in pajamas and drank coffee took the time to chat with my mom. The evening became the sacred time and I suppose now that I think about it, the orientation of the house also factors in. Here we face East. My parents’ house (condo) has a main view facing West. The sun’s arrival or departure, a beginning or an end or a different beginning, or the other way around. Two entirely different spaces.

Winter’s solitary quiet makes it easier to pause and be attentive to these transitions, to recognize these everyday but awe-inspiring events with the reverence they deserve.

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—Rachel

Rachel

New Year’s Day Intentions

Here we are in the New Year. I would love to say I woke up early and and put on quiet music and did yoga and lit a relaxation candle and wrote in my journal and started off the year mindfully and properly and the way someone committing to a practice of yoga and writing and co-blogging about it should start the year.

But the truth is I woke up much later than usual (after 8 am) a bit bleary from champagne and hot toddies and drank coffee and raced off to return a rental car. Most of the day was spent unpacking and doing laundry and folding and sorting and answering piled-up emails doing whatever else attends transitions back to real life. I was hoping to, as my mother would say, “get ahead,” not just keep up. Not just do the laundry piled up, but fix something, get a stain out, organize a pile for Goodwill, figure out what in God’s name to do about the totally unsustainable current “solution” I have for the kids’ clothes. (My four-year-old’s clothes are still mostly in my room; My nine-year-olds are half in a tiny night-table chest and half in plastic containers and not fitting in either.) But I didn’t get ahead. I just treaded water. Stayed afloat. But I did it in slippers and sipping “Winter Solstice” tea–a beautiful combination of apricot and cloves and rosemary and other stuff too–from Java Joe in Park Slope, where Alex once worked. And I did have candles going and music and I washed and gazed all day at the new yoga blanket my sister got me.

We had planned to have New Year’s Eve company, but in the end did not. Planned to be away, but in the end, were here. My nine-year-old is a bit sick, nothing bad, but just enough of a fever to wear pajamas all day and eat saltines, leaving crumbs everywhere.

It was quiet.

I’d like sometime to write about resolutions vs. intentions.Resolutions sound fixed and closed-off, like they could be written in a ledger, accompanied by check-marks; goal accomplished—yes or no. Intensions feel more mystical, open-ended, more about sending out a hope and harnessing the power of the universe to make it happen.

As for today, I can’t say I followed through on my intended practice, I can, with four hours left in the day, under this Supermoon, follow through on intentions more generally, not to judge myself too harshly. This is what I did and did not do. This is what I’ve done and left undone.

I see that Kajal posted last week, wonderful essays posted on her usual days but with an expansiveness to her voice, I imagine, because for once she had a little more time to process the events of her days. I don’t know what gave me the idea that we weren’t posting last week, but it somehow got into my head and stayed there and I never signed in or checked anything last week. I didn’t realize she had posted until last night when I came across a stray email “Liking” a blog post whose name I didn’t recognize. I first felt embarrassed that I had not posted. Then I wondered what Kajal thought about it. Then I thought about how neat it was that she just went ahead and did her work and didn’t worry about what I was or wasn’t doing. There is something rare about that. Something gentle. Most people seem to seize the chance to “check in” somewhat critically. “Did you forget…..?” or “I see you haven’t posted…” or something else that gives them the upper hand.

There were days I did not post when I (now realize) I should have posted. Yet nothing about that feels heavy. One is allowed to make mistakes. Realizing it, acknowledging it, pausing to think about Kajal’s quiet acceptance of it, makes me feel light.

 

—Rachel

Rachel

How to be calm

I noticed a tendency when I start a blog post to first vent/unload about all the chaos of the moment I am in. Sort of like when you show up a few minutes late to meet someone and in a frantic, breathless way you list through all the obstacles that blocked you on your way there or more generally, all the crazy goings-on in life that week/month/year.

That is often my impulse. First I suppose it’s a way in. A way to begin. You are here, but maybe not fully here or not sure where that here is. So you circle around for a while before setting in.

In some ways I think my days are objectively busy—I work, I have young kids, I drop them off and pick them up every day. My partner is outrageously busy now, working way past midnight every night, out the door by 6:30 AM, no longer able to help with cooking or cleaning in the evenings. But I know the reality is there are many people equally or far busier than me who don’t have that frantic energy. Maybe they do more yoga. Maybe they do more heavy lifting of weights. Maybe they’re non-neurotic. Maybe they don’t feel they owe anyone any excuses about anything. (Was it Julia Child who said, “Never explain, never apologize”?)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, that rush of anxiety that attends the beginning of something. Part of it I think is defensive, an excuse, pre-emptive—forgive anything I do or say that seems scattered or haphazard because I am, in fact, fully aware of how scattered and haphazard I am. I want to move away from that pattern. I think it’s very female. Talking about her female friends, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in We Should All Be Feminists (Random House, 2014) about how important it is for them to be liked. “…they have been raised to believe that their being likeable is very important and that this ‘likeable’ trait is a specific thing. And that specific thing does not include showing anger or being aggressive or disagreeing too loudly” (24). It is only recently that I am connecting my frantic theatrics to likeability. What’s counterintuitive is that the frantic theatrics are annoying, so why would I perform them to increase likeability? That is the protective element. It is a bargain being made somewhere, for the most part below awareness—that it is better to be frantic even if it’s annoying than to be too self-possessed, too self-assured. To me self-possession and self-assurance often feels aggressive. My current question is this: Is it indeed a kind of aggression in some cases? Or do I read it as aggressive only because I was taught to go so far the other way, into the “Sorrys” when someone else drops something or bumps into me, the excessive apologies and maybes.

Calm but likeable women exist, but they are rare. The overlapping region on a venn diagram would be razor-thin, a sliver, barely there. I am trying to figure out how to move toward that calmness, that okay-ness, that slower and less-apologetic way of being and acting, but without veering into narcissistic self-satisfaction.

In the abstract, it’s hard to figure out how one does this. Perhaps it’s best to start with places where that feeling I’m seeking exists. In Kajal’s post from yesterday, which I just read today, I found it.