At yoga class tonight I was thinking about how much I love taking a class. I mean that as a separate point from taking yoga. I love yoga and the teacher and this specific Monday night class, but tonight I was thinking it is very lucky to be in any class on a regular basis, to be a student, to be learning and growing and to have expert guidance in that growth. One of the goals of yoga is flexibility, but learning in general is a practice in flexibility, in recognizing all the areas where others know more. It is resistance against calcification, against having all the answers, always knowing best. I’m surprised at how many people prefer to lecture than to learn from others in conversation. What a treat to know less, to have the opportunity to say, “Teach me,” to be able to show flexibility, and humility.
Back in New York City. That strange feeling of here but not quite here, which recedes in the evening, when the routines of this world reassert themselves. I can still hear loud cicadas (I think) here, but they compete with the traffic, the sirens, the planes and the neighbors. I put on a noise machine because I’ve grown intolerant of all this street noise. Alex, who loves the noise, the commotion, the confusion of the city, mistakes the sound of the noise machine for a truck parked outside.
I didn’t keep up with yoga and writing each day of the vacation. During the busiest part of the two weeks (the family reunion with my dad’s cousins and their descendants), I fell out of the habit entirely. Too many pulls, and even though a short yoga/writing practice each morning would have helped me to navigate them, I gave into the anxiety of helping host the event, and let them go.
After most of extended family had driven away, I thought—how do I get back into the routine now? After missing so many days? But the answer is always the same. Just light the candle. Roll out the mat (beach towel), stretch your arms up, and begin.
There are so many lessons from the lake I haven’t absorbed, haven’t sorted through, yet here I am feeling very far away, wondering how or when I’ll get the quiet to sink back into that mindset, and see what I can hold onto.
Nearly half our guests left the lake house this afternoon. The kids’ room—with the bunk beds (two now stripped)—felt particularly lonely for the rest of the day. After dinner was too quiet at first, then too loud when my kids started bickering, play-fighting, trying to fill in the emptiness.
I wish they could have stayed, but there is a new rhythm taking shape for these last few days. As the light went down, the sky turned blue then black, I read out loud from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, something I’d thought about doing for days (years?) but until now, with all the happy activity, had never gotten the chance to do.
August 18. Another quiet lake night. Swam as the sun went down and the moon appeared. Lakes are the most peaceful places. Of course I love the ocean too, and the waves can easily lull one into a meditative trance, but for swimming in the evening there is nothing to me like the gentle quiet of a lake.
Then again, I don’t know why I am always comparing. Which is better, ocean or lake? City or Country? Talking things through or letting things go? Why not just try to enjoy wherever it is you are, whatever it is you’re doing?
This always seemed so far off – this lake vacation – and now we’re here and I want to hold onto every minute. It’s hard to think of ever not being here.
Tomorrow I’ll be lucky enough to wake again to this lake. And soon enough we’ll be back in the city, school will be in fully swing, the streets will be full of shouting and crowds, the days full of a million demands. From that concrete jungle, in memory, these quiet nights will feel like a dream.
I have been trying to stay a little bit quieter lately. I would never have thought of myself as someone who is uncomfortable with quiet. I certainly love it when I’m by myself. But I guess I do feel responsible for “filling up” silences with other people much of the time. I feel like it’s up to me to entertain, to keep the energy going. I try to be a good listener, but what I usually do is ask question after question after question and listen as attentively as I can to the answers. But that is still guiding the conversation. It’s a relief to realize that I don’t have to always do that, to entertain or to keep the energy up or to keep the focus on the other person. Let go a little bit of the shape of things. Let a conversation trail off. Let the energy be low. It’s relaxing. Maybe all that hyper, enthusiastic energy is annoying at times. What is wrong with just sitting, having an okay time, a quiet time?
Hanging on the wall at this lake house where we are staying for a luxurious two weeks, there is a sign that provides the “Lake Rules”—swim, relax, sleep in. Despite torrents of rain, at times unrelenting, far more rain than not rains so far, we have managed to swim just about every day. Relax, absolutely, and even sleep in. My kids are old enough now (10 and 5), far too attached to their cousins (14 and 13), deliriously happy in the playroom, to care much about waking me up anymore. And so, for the first time that I remember since entering parenthood, I am waking up when I choose to on vacation. That has meant sleeping in until 8, generally, and—after a particularly bad night with my younger up and sick for several hours—even until close to 10.
That extra sleep I surely needed, yet now feel ready to return—if not to the early, early mornings of vacations past—to awaking early enough to greet the morning.
The air is wet, so the matches won’t light. It takes me seven tries. I stretch out a beach towel, and practice four sun salutations, taking deep, slow breaths (but continuously needing to remind myself to do this, even during yoga, even during these moments alone). I had wanted to hang the suits and towels on the porch, hoping they’d catch one of the rare moments of sun, but everything out there is still wet.
So many ways to enjoy the magic of this early morning at the lake. So much that feels possible now that somehow doesn’t for much of the rest of the day. Practicing yoga. Sipping coffee and staying at the water. Reading the book I brought, The Point of Vanishing, by Howard Axelrod, sent to me two years ago from my dear friend Matt in Seattle. Take quiet, nothing notes in my journal. Attempt to write something semi-coherent here. Take a walk. A quick little swim. Anything at this hour feels more purposeful, more imbued with meaning. The angle of the light, the solitude, the quiet, the invitation of another day.
Yesterday I practiced tree pose in public, accepting that to improve, to expand my practice, I will need to be like the Chinese ladies in Chinatown, practicing Guang Chang Wu and various martial arts in an empty basketball court every morning. Inward focus, no matter the setting.
Now, as I am attempting to stay balanced in tree pose, an animal appears in the field across the street. It is a deer, gracing me with its presence. I feel this is a sign I am still enough, like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Now, coming out of tree pose, out of my yoga sequence, folding up my “mat” and pouring a cup of coffee, I notice various sounds—birds, a dog barking, a plane maybe overhead, insects buzzing, I’m never sure which ones. Someone starts stirring upstairs, the kids are growing louder, probably getting hungry and ready for breakfast.
The air here is enchanted, the lake rules easy to follow, but “sleep in” is one I’ll ignore as many days as I can.
What happens when we turn inward and can’t find anything to say? We finally clear a little bit of space, find a spot on our couch, open up our journal, or a new post on our blog, and…stare at the blank space, feeling more intimidated than comforted by it?
But perhaps I am skipping a step. Turning inward with the intention of writing isn’t turning entirely inward, especially if the writing is meant for an audience. It is turning inward to go outward, to create something, even something as small as a fleeting thought on an ordinary summer morning, to produce something. It is not enough to just be, to absorb and soak up the blank space; this kind of inward-focus has to have some output. In a journal, if we’re fairly certain no one will read it, we might feel free to write anything at all, a list of things to do that day, a quote, an affirmation, an observation about the tree outside our window. But on a blog it’s natural that censors will stand guard and protect us from sharing too much, or too little. There is the risk of TMI (too much information) and the risk of saying something trivial.
MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes about the limitations of our digital lives in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.Her emphasis on the importance of human connection is one I share. I am equally horrified by the scene of families or friends in a restaurant all on separate devices. And yet I am at the edge, just beginning to scratch at the surface, of a new kind of understanding of alone together.
Trying to bring writing and yoga practice into alignment, I am asking myself to be alone (through yoga/meditation) but together (share it on this blog). At the end of my yoga class, each student fully absorbed in Savasana, we are alone together. Coming out of that focus, into the room, into the final “Om” and “Namaste” is difficult, disorienting. We are coming back to each other, in a way, to the rag-tag group of neighbors in a community room in Manhattan, about to be unleashed to the streets full of people, and back to our lives, but the communion we felt together but alone in yoga class slips away. Back together, we feel more separate.
Similarly I have been noticing more and more how my lifelong attempts at togetherness, belief in sorting through issues and difficulties and different points of view in conversation, often results in me feeling more alone. Rather than work through and sort out in conversation with others, I am relying more and more on retreating, meditating, going inward. It would be neat ending, a clear point, to say that ability to disconnect, go inward, meditate for a few minutes, write in my journal, allows me to ultimately feel more connected to others, but I am not sure that is true. Relying less on others, believing less in the ability to see eye to eye, accepting differences and distances, makes me feel more connected to something but not necessarily to other people. There is perhaps a loneliness to it, to saying, I disagree, don’t like the way you’re acting or treating me or other people, but I’m going to try not to say anything about it anymore.