It’s clear I haven’t posted here every day as was my stated intention on August 3, when I thought about how to end this project, looking back at how we’d begun.
I liked trying to post every day at first, for a while in the middle of August. It drew out the days, marked them, protecting them from simply flying away. I don’t share the feeling that I’ve heard from so many around me that the summer flew by. For those of us lucky enough to live in a land of abundance, it always tries to fly. If we want to hold onto it, we have to be intentional about slowing down, not just intentional about reading articles about it, dreamily gazing at photographs about it. We have to really think—What makes the weeks feel like they are fully lived, not racing by, not getting away from us?
Yoga and writing, and within those practices, deep breathing, music, meditation, those are the best ways I know how to accomplish that pacing that feels closer to what I remember from childhood. Practices that help us returning again and again to the moment we are in.
I think looking past and forward can help too, though a Buddhist would likely disagree.
Throughout the summer I would stop and think about how many weeks had gone by, what we had done during them, what plans still lay ahead. During bouts of insomnia, I would sometimes think down to the day and the hour since summer began, trying to remember everything. It’s not that I’ll be able to, but even the attempt made me feel more deeply rooted in the season.
It is easy to be attentive alone on the beach, with a journal, a pen, and an old black & white book on the history of Long Island in hand.
While racing, pushing, rushing through the streets of New York City, it is harder. Before our schedule returns to early mornings, hectic afternoons, while the days still feel long and somewhat shapeless, I am trying to soak up all the chances to be attentive, to take note of the infinite opportunities the city offers to pause and admire the view, no matter how big or small.
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.
I had fun writing the prompts for this 5-year diary from Clarkson Potter: Q&A A Day for the Soul. From the web copy: “The next installment in the immensely successful Q&A a Day series focuses on practicing mindfulness, encouraging self-growth, and building a more meaningful life.”
Have any of you tried one of these 5-year diaries? I got one from my friend Kara two years ago. It’s amazingly satisfying (to me!) to see what I was doing on exactly the same date a year before (and before that).
My friend Hein recently gave me the Mom Q&A diary. I love that too. I love diaries of all kinds. Probably too much.
How lucky this feels to me today to have a writing/yoga blog, about which I’d so often dreamed for past year. To have a space to enter. Writing. Yoga. Fitness. To see the posts from Kajal. Some really make me laugh! To know that Sharyn is now teaching Yoga at Bowery Yoga (and somehow credits her arrival there to me, for connecting her with our neighborhood garden for our Mindfulness in the Garden workshop). The Mindful Gardener is reprinting. I gave a copy to my aunt this past weekend. She is about to move from her big, beautiful house on the beach where we just realized this weekend as I said goodbye that we should have hosted a women’s wellness retreat to a small condo near the woods in the next town over. In her “new life” she is excited to start her own little garden. She flipped through the pages of the journal to the question about who taught you to garden. It was her mother Eleanor (my grandmother), she said, proceeding to tell me about the glorious roses out front of her childhood home.
Today I said I will come here, that is, pull up this WordPress page, and give it my full attention.
We try to fight distraction. We’ve rid ourselves of multi-tasking. But instead of focusing on what I don’t want to do (get distracted, wander to another page, another task, an article, a chore, an email) I am telling myself that instead I should focus on the act of attention, its potential for power, grace, and joy. Here is Marjoleine de Vos:
“Nothing is better than fully opening up to what you are doing, whether it’s gardening, reading, listening, or bird-watching. Instead of doing a little of many things at the same time, doing them one at a time is more efficient and more enjoyable.”
When I started this project with Kajal, my partner Alex posted on Facebook a link to the blog with the description that it was “not very rock & roll” of me. It is not. It is a different aspect and I sometimes feel like a bit of an imposter in this yoga world. I wonder if I have the “right” to write about mindfulness. If I am allowed to participate in a discussion about a realm that is not only new to me but also at odds, possibly, with other realms, other roles. I wonder what is at the root of that fear. Why one can’t write rock songs and also write about attempts at meditation. The fear extends to other areas. At Fordham in my Master’s program I often felt on the margins because I was a mother. I felt discredited because, along with my nonprofit work, I write books for a living that are mainly just for fun (commercial, gift books, often silly, often illustrated, not serious, the furthers thing from scholarly). Part of me thinks that I can’t help but think in terms of a personal brand, given that our social media feeds, more than anything, have seemingly come to define us in our larger networks. And knowing that my “brand”—if I have one, as a freelancer, I partly rely on having one—is rather incoherent gives me pause. Genre-bending, disobedient.
Is writing about yoga, practicing yoga with the mind of a writer, a departure from who I’ve been? Will it take me further away from something essential? Or help me return? I don’t have answers, but I have felt something stirring and I’ve started to listen to recordings from my band Dimestore Scenario. I posted a few here. Part of me wants to write all new material. A new EP, a new album, maybe a compilation. And part of me thinks, no. You need to exercise restraint. Go back and finish something you started. Remember Bruce Lee, practicing the same kick, 10,000 times.
In front of a bar in Tribeca, wandering around between two awkwardly-spaced parent-teacher conferences, I saw a sign for Happy Hour Wednesday and thought—Yay! It’s Happy Hour. I could get a $5 glass of chianti. And then I remembered—Wednesday, that means it’s my day to post here and it’s already 6 o’clock (now later!) and I haven’t yet.
I happened to have a notebook with me, and I sat down at the bar with the $5 glass of chianti and looked through it. There were early days of this school year where my 4th-grader Wally and I tracked the morning commute. We wrote down the day, the time of the commute total and any obstacles we encountered a long the way. Other entries in the had To Do lists. (Satisfying, now, to cross off many of the items.) There were various stray notes. Thoughts. Observations. Musings. Nothing much.
It was funny to me that on one of the busiest days with a major deadline approaching and the kids needing to be shuttled to disparate plans (which is unusual) and the parent-teacher conferences and only showering for the first time today at 4:45 PM before racing downtown for the third time, funny that on this busy day I should find that in-between time to look through that little notebook.
I was alone. No laptop, so I couldn’t work. No plans, partly because I didn’t realize I’d actually be alone…adrift?…for an hour until I came out of the first conference and realized the next one was a ways off. Poor planning, perhaps. Had I known about the in-between time I might have filled it with work or a long-delayed social plan. So what’s the lesson? Surely not a defense of busy-ness or of planning poorly. But perhaps that in-between quiet moments, a pause, a breath, a look back, a moment of reflection, a can come when you least expect them.