Rachel

Endings

shallow focus photography of sunflower with bee
Photo by Jennifer Murray on Pexels.com

The sunflowers in our garden were enormous. They blocked out the sun for the rest of the patch. In the shade, with so many days of rain, everything grew, overgrew, wild and tangled. A mess of morning glories ravaged nearly everything in its path.

When we pulled the sunflowers out, after they died, I couldn’t believe the stalks, how thick they were. The bulk of them. “All this from a seed!” I kept saying. “Since May!” No one else seemed as impressed as I was, as surprised by the fecundity. The huge growth in a short time.

They were so tough, those stalks. Unpleasantly tough. You could build a treehouse out of them. I worried about putting them into the compost bin. They would take forever to break down.

There is a little bit of sadness in the end of a project. Even a shaky, uneven one. We didn’t post twice every week as planned. And for the past several months – more? – it has been mainly just me posting. This didn’t become the place for conversation and collaboration I had dreamed it might. One wants to write “but” and offer something to offset the disappointment —a lesson in self-reliance, a glimmering metaphor about finishing a hike alone. But no, I’ll let it stay as it is. I’ll sit with the disappointment and not spin it into something that attempts to obscure it.

Yet this ending is a beginning too, as all endings are.

Here we are at the start of the school year, and the start of the Jewish New Year, even as the days are growing shorter and the light is leaving.

With writing so often things grow, overgrow, wild and tangled, not what you intended. Maybe you hack away at the mess and find a treasure, or maybe there’s nothing there but emptiness, a patch of dirt, the chance to begin again.

Of course I’ve always known Jewish holidays begin the evening before, but until attending my first ever Rosh Hashanah service last week, I never stopped to think that the Jewish day itself begins in the evening.

The birds ate the sunflower seeds, the remains of the flowers and stalks are now part of the compost bin, ready for metamorphosis into dirt for the garden next spring. The light is gone, for today, this project over, but in the evening, on our way soon to sleep, the day is also beginning. Let’s dream it into something worthy of all the growth from this past year, and the many others we’ve already lived and bid farewell.

—Rachel

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Rachel

Invitation

It is Friday morning and I just pushed myself to do two sun salutations. Once you fall off the habit—even for just a few days—it’s that much harder to get back to it. Just like with writing. I had to convince myself—Just do two sequences, that’s it. Then you can stop. A similar kind of deal so many so us make with our writing when we’re tired and have other things we need to do. Just write half a page. Just a few sentences. Just an opening line. Then you can stop.

The line between have to—I must do yoga! I must write! I must run!—and should—C’mon, get up, put down your coffee, close the NYtimes website, and get to work. It’s so tenuous sometimes. Once something moves to habit, you just move through it. The decision-making process is gone and with it, the energy that it required.

Today, once I finished those two sequences, I sat down at the computer just to quick, quick, quick check the news and see if somehow maybe Susan Collins found her soul in the middle of the night but that too, I had to fight. Instead I came here, to this blank page.

I said—just type a few sentences. Instead of the “have to” of writing, make it something inviting, something ongoing, something with energy, a discussion you can’t wait to pick back up.

Imagine Kajal, I told myself, sitting with two cups of Chai tea at Rosey Jekes in Hanover. She smiles as I walk in and a little bell rings and I bring with me a gust of cold New England winter. Inside we are cozy and happy and overflowing with so many things we absolutely have to discuss.

 

Garden · Rachel

A Single Day

Our radishes started out so promising this year.

WP_20170524_08_00_01_Pro.jpgThere’s no sign of them now.

Five years ago on my main blog (Last American Childhood), I wrote these Lessons from Seeds.

  1. Take your time.
  2. There’s a lot of potential stored up inside you.
  3. You’ll have a better chance of growing if you separate yourself from the pack.
  4. Protect yourself.
  5. Don’t be afraid to travel far from home, but once you land, make the best of where you are.
  6. Put down roots.
  7. Drink water everyday.
  8. No matter what happens in life, ask yourself, “Am I growing?” That is the one essential thing.
  9.  Use whatever resources you have on hand.
  10. Head toward the light.

As I begin this blog, the second official week, I wonder which of these lessons I’ve managed to learn, even a little bit.

Number three about separating yourself from the pack jumps out at me as I struggle and kvetch and circle around social media unproductively, sometimes participating, often criticizing, unsure if I can stay in “the” conversation or any conversation without it, then wondering if that kind of bite-size, fleeting, uncomfortably public conversation is I one I want to have. I stormed off Facebook, returned five years later, (just recently), can’t decide whether I should post these posts there and Twitter, or let them simply live here and hope others will find them.

I don’t know. But in this is space I’ve allowed myself not to know. Am I growing? Yes. Can I take my time? I find that hard. But the task is a post for today. In mindfulness training, today—right now—is everything. But today is a single day.

Kajal reassured me over email last night when we discussed the logistics of the schedule and reviewing the Guests Posts and other effluvium of running even a very simple site. “We’ll find and set into a rhythm,” Kajal wrote, “And it will be good!”

Something mysterious took over most of the garden. I thought it was a zucchini plant with no zucchinis but then I realized it was maybe Morning Glory. See it hear, with the pink flowers closed? And I don’t know if the orange and yellow are Mums or what. They all came from a packet of mixed wildflower seeds my friend sent from California.

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My mistake—one I’m sure of many—was not giving the radishes enough space. You can’t just plant them and hope for the best. And you especially cannot do that if you are going to let young children sprinkle wildflower seeds anywhere they like.

But it depends on what you are seeking from the garden. Are you focused on the harvest? On the process? On the chance for something to grow? On impressive presentation? On experimentation?

As a student of yoga, I would be asked merely to observe the garden as it is, not what it could be.

Those early radishes are gone now, like a first draft that’s been all but destroyed by revision. But the garden is a palimpsest, as we are too. Perhaps if I dug through the tangle of maybe-Mums and maybe-Morning Glories, I’d find traces of the early radish days.

I have never seen a Morning Glory—or any flower—open or close. “It’s very rare to see them,” my nine-year-old Wally whispers in my ear one late summer evening in the garden.

Through a simple Google search I learn the flowers open only and close only once. Other flowers replace them the next glorious morning, but each flower on its own lives only a single day.

—Rachel

Begin · Rachel

How to begin

Flowers - 2

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