Rachel

Pillow Fort Dreams

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I wanted a picture of rain to start this post. First the picture, then the words. Lately that is my “practice.” (Somehow “practice” feels like too big a word to apply to the habit of blogging, and yet given the nature of this blog—the commitment to writing and yoga and seeking the places where they overlap—it seems fitting, too.) All the rainy day pictures I found I would contemplate for a moment, and then reject.

A girl playing in a pond with an umbrella and rainboots—too happy!

A woman in a city—Paris maybe, or London—with an umbrella, ducking under an awning—too romantic!

A hiker contemplating a glorious, rainy vista—too inspiring.

No, I was looking for a picture of the monsoon of this morning, the dirty rivers of trash we had to continually jump over, the thunder and lightning that seemed to be hounding us, the flipped-up umbrellas that offer no protection, the soaking-wet pants, the wet backpack doing a poor job of protecting my laptop, the kids huddled with a friend waiting for the subway dreaming about about staying home drinking hot chocolate and lounge around in pillow forts, the cranky commuters. forgoing the bike or the walk to work that would have lifted their moods, instead dripping and shoving off and onto the trains smelling like wet dogs.

I fight against the urge to check something, anything—news, another blog, Twitter, email, text messages. I resist but also try to be flexible in that resistance. I tell myself it is not about fighting off the urge to check something, which comes when I am unsure of what I next want to say, or can’t find the photograph I think I need, but more about giving my attention to this little piece of writing, to this little space on the computer screen, to this moment I’m luck enough to have. I know the focused attention I give today it won’t necessarily make this post any better, but over time, the attention I give this practice will improve it, if only by improving my ability to attend to the task at hand, to quiet other voices, to give myself space to not necessarily be witty or clever or wise, to smile at the critic’s voice that rushes in: If the post isn’t witty or clever or wise, why are you posting it? Why should someone else read something you don’t think is particularly worthwhile? Shouldn’t you wait until you have something better? To that critic, I will reply that it is good advice for an essay, short story, novel, poem or song. But the nature of the blog is an open-ness to the everydayness of who we are.

One thing occurs to me, as I think of my need to offer photographic proof of the hectic, rainy morning—why is that important? Everyone around me is experiencing the same hectic, rainy morning, and if that is the major obstacle of the day, we are lucky indeed. When I think of the cozy longed-for scene of hot chocolate in pillow forts, I know it is coziest of all when dreamed of from a cold, wet subway platform. The rainy, hectic morning gave the image of cozy abundance it is often hard to replicate on the most perfect spring day.

 

—Rachel

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Rachel

Spring? (Finally)

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As I ran Wednesday morning, I felt that first little hint of spring, that relief, that clarity in the air. I reveled in the splendor of it. (God, doesn’t that sound cheesy? Sometimes when I try to write without too much metaphor, without too much critical distance, I’m stunned at the sentimental/cliche/unoriginal sound of the language. I have to think more about this.) Anyway it felt so amazing not to be pushing myself forward, not to be fighting against the elements.

I listened to the birds chirp, saw the daffodils, couldn’t help smiling as I ran up along the river with that joy contained in the early days of spring. That lightness in the air, the sky, the sweatshirt instead of a jacket. Light, finally.

But then I thought that just because that first hint of spring can make us feel that all is right with the world, global warming is still real, worse than predicted, impossible to reverse—all we can do is try to minimize the effects. So that made me think—maybe you shouldn’t feel so happy about this spring day, because that doesn’t erase the erratic weather of all the other days, the disordered seasons, and all the danger they signal. Maybe I should brace myself against the pleasure of the day. Too much #blessed Instagram* photos on days like this might lure us into what Marx would have called a kind of false consciousness.

And a related thought, less severe, but somehow equally insistent: it wasn’t a particularly cold winter (though it felt like a truly punishing one here in NYC), so therefore I hadn’t earned this day. I had not put in my dues, fully, and therefore wasn’t entitled to a wholehearted embrace of its beauty.

Yes, we need to continue to work to preserve the beauty of spring for many more centuries, need to listen to Rachel Carson’s words so that they will never go silent. But when it comes to earning the beauty of the morning or not, perhaps a lovely beginning of a lovely spring day perhaps simply be what it was and is: a gift.

—Rachel

 

*I didn’t think I was on Instagram, but somebody recently told me I am, and that I have 34 followers. Maybe lack of content is a way to gain attention!

Guest Post

Make “Room” for the Spring!

I was so happy to get this essay from Sharyn.  It felt like the exact advice I needed—encouragement to declutter (inside & out) but also permission to keep certain things. I too feel a greater lightness now with items I’ve chosen (for now) to keep even if they’re not all totally useful. Not everything is a “have-to” on our list of To Dos. So happy clearing out but happy holding onto what makes you happy. It doesn’t feel like it outside in NYC, but spring has sprung! xo, Rachel

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“Just as nature enters a cycle of renewal, growth and expansion in spring-so does the energy within us. Embrace the opportunity to shed old unwanted layers and make a conscious effort to begin again.”

—Danielle Marchmay

I had an epiphany not too long ago about clutter. I am surrounded by my “stuff” and I love it. It is a very important part of my life and I am ok with that. Things are connected to the people that I cherish and meaningful places that I have been. I have been told that being with my loved ones and remembering the memories of my travels should be enough. And I couldn’t understand why I was not able to agree with them until I went through a yoga trauma training and realized that my life is enriched by the memorabilia that tie me to my “clutter.” That was a big relief…and a weight was lifted when I was able to finally accept this part myself.

However, I also became aware that I don’t need to keep every little thing that my children made in pre-school or every pen that I collected at each hotel on my special trip with my fiancé! I became more focused on what served me and that which did not; this is an inventory that I try to do every year now. I also do not feel stressed out about the items that I want to keep, which makes the process more enjoyable and meaningful. Some people prefer to do this in the beginning of the new year. I choose the springtime because it is the season for renewal and growth. Look around you and you will see the flowering buds on the trees, the baby crocuses peeking out, and the leaves unfurling and ready to receive the energy from the sun. For us, it is the perfect to time to unclutter both our inner and our outer spaces.

We have huddled up in our bodies to stay warm and surrounded ourselves with things and food and drink since the beginning of the holiday season in November! I invite you to inhale, spread your arms wide, and take a mental scan of your body’s edges and inner self. Exhale anything that is not serving you: tightness, unhealthy cravings, habits that you hope to break. Can you visualize breathing into those spaces and making room for the renewal of this season? Clearing out the stale energy from our “winter body” is reinvigorating. The same is true for our mental space; allowing ourselves to let go of old patterns and anxieties can be replaced with the setting of new intentions and visualizations that will encourage growth and expansion of our place in the universe. I invite you to do a short exercise that you can embrace daily to help you to begin this process.

Sit comfortable and close your eyes. Visualize in your mind’s eye a favorite place that either exists already that you only visit occasionally or that you wish to create. Imagine the details, including the colors, the furniture or open space, and the items that are present. What are the scents associated with this space? Next, imagine yourself IN that place. See yourself being relaxed, comfortable and happy, and feel the emotions that embrace you in this space. Inhale and exhale, physically feeling your inner space expanding, making room for newness and fresh air. Exhale and watch the energy spread throughout your body and fill this imagined place. Hold this visualization for as long as you would like to during this session. You can come back to it whenever you want!

Once you have done this exercise several times, you will be ready to move to your physical space and tackle the uncluttering of your living areas. Clear out unnecessary papers, take pictures of gifts that were given to you this past year that you have never used but that you want to remember, and then donate them to people who need them, discard expired food or donate cans and boxes that you have duplicates of in your pantry. Tackling your closet is a huge project, so if it too much to do all at once, set an intention that is more focused, such as going through your shoes or your jackets and seeing what you may be inspired to clear out.

Fill your renewed open space with flowers, purchase one of the visualized items in your “ideal place”, and feel the lightness that is the result of uncluttering both mentally and physically. Look around you and experience the earth’s renewal. Breathe in the scent of spring and align it with your intentions that you set for your own personal “Springtime.” Namaste.

—Sharyn

Sharyn Hahn has been a teacher to students of all ages for 33 years, with a focus on teaching French at a private school in NYC. During the past eight years she has added a new dimension to passion for teaching and is now an ACE certified Personal Trainer (FitWomaNow!), and a YogaFit instructor with a 200-hour RYT certification in Mind-Body Balancing from the Deep Yoga Center in San Diego, California. She is currently pursuing a certification in Yoga for Traumaas she continues to broaden her understanding of the significance of yoga, meditation, and breath in her students’ lives. Sharyn holds a Master’s degree in French literature and language and runs Tutorcise.com.

Rachel

Commitment

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This photograph is the furthest thing from my daily yoga practice, but I love it for its imaginary quality. Yoga magazines and articles are full of unrealistic photographs. Mountain yoga. Seaside yoga. Breathtaking sunsets. Solitude. Quiet. The landscape of dreams. The photographs have value if they inspire us. Motivate us. Or maybe just make us feel calm. We can imagine that if we were sitting in that spot, we’d feel immense tranquility. Maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t.

I don’t have a particular desire to be somewhere I’m not—to be wherever that woman is (Utah?). More and more I’m a believer in finding zen wherever you are. “The only zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the zen you bring there,” says Robert M. Pirsig.

My ideal daily yoga practice would be to light a candle, play quiet music, have a view of the sun rising and zero interruptions. When I am rigid, and only proceed with the right conditions (not outrageously beautiful “right” like in the photo above, but even just daily life “right”), I go many days with no yoga at all. By accepting that most days I will be interrupted, I won’t be able to get the music on or light a candle because someone’s on the computer or I can’t find the matches or it’s too early for music or whatever, I am able to do two sun salutations every day. It’s so little, but day after day it gains momentum. There is great stability in choosing how your day will begin.

 

Rachel

Monday

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I remember the relief I used to feel Monday mornings heading out to to school when I was a teenager. All weekend I felt the burden of the mountains of work ahead of me. Then much of Sunday was spent fretting about the outrageous amount and trying to climb through it. (Lots of energy wasted dreading/fretting). Monday mornings, my backpack full to bursting, I felt light.

I may not have finished in my assignment book, but there was nothing more I could do. The reading, the studying, the problem sets, the projects—they were in my bag or in my head or they were not. I felt free. I didn’t mind taking tests: adrenaline can get you through a short, focused burst of concentration, similar to writing on a deadline. I liked most of the subjects. I enjoyed the reading. I’ve always loved writing. Here’s what bothered me:

A) The idea of all the work—in the abstract, it all feels so overwhelming [“journey of a thousand step”s before you’ve taken the first step]

B) The prospect of finishing with enough time to re-do, revise, polish & perfect

Recent research says that looking forward to vacation is often more pleasurable that the vacation itself. The flip side seems equally true: dreading something we have to do is often more aversive than the task itself. That seems true of exercise, dealing with the DMV, writing an article. The best response to A above would seem to be: start your work immediately because putting it off only causes more anxiety. But, here is where B comes in.

If I finished with enough time to re-do, revise, polish & perfect, then what I turned in was the best possible work I could do. I didn’t want to be judged for the best possible work I could do. I wanted to be judged for the best I could do in a limited time frame. The limited time frame lets you off the hook.

I hardly got a chance to practice that piano piece

I wrote that draft in an hour last night

I didn’t even finish the reading before the exam

I dreaded the work ahead, but felt a compulsion to put it off long enough that I didn’t experience the anxiety of being judged for the best I could do.

This comes down to a lack of faith, a lack of confidence.

I have connected this somewhat self-defeating behavior to postponing decisions in my adult life and to my generally frantic behavior. If I put off decisions, make them impulsively, then obviously they can’t be the best possible decisions I’m capable of making. They are ones I made in imperfect conditions. If my purse is a mess, my clothes mismatched, if I’m speaking quickly, rushing, out of breath, then any “mistakes” I make can be at least partly attributed to the fact that I’m clearly doing more than reasonable. Defense mechanism.

It’s taken me years—switch that to present tense—it is taking me years to change my position.

Every Monday morning feels like a new chance to work on changing my habits. Little by little, the only way anything worthwhile ever gets done.

 

—Rachel

 

Rachel

Building a Platform (for what?)

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In the writing world, I feel this constant pressure to get to one place first, and then from that perch, I’ll be able to get somewhere else (i.e., the place I really want to be). I think a lot of this has to do with the word “platform.” Before you can expect an agent or publisher to be interested in your submission, you need to build a platform. To build a platform, you have to do something that appeals to many people. Often something that fits neatly in that category—the category: appeals to many people—has to be simple, readily identifiable, marketable, visually-interesting, formulaic, predictable. In other words, not new. Something that lends itself to a 20-second elevator pitch.

Maybe advice for busy new moms. Maybe 10 ways to slow down. Maybe gardening tips. Maybe a nice before/after picture of a newly-simplified living space. Maybe something funny the kids did. A beautiful latte with a heart in the foam. These are a few possibilities. There are many more. And they can have value, potentially. Even if it’s just a picture of the cat in the sun that makes someone smile, someone who has seen (and taken) a million pictures of cats in the sun.

And you could accept that broad category, whichever one draws you the most. You could say, I will start by curating or recording or musing about something with mass appeal. And even then, who knows how many followers you will attract? Maybe you’ll take in lots of tips about “successful” blogging and boosting your online presence, and you’ll apply them well and have some natural talent for publicity and self-promotion and you’ll get somewhere.

And then maybe you’ll have a platform. Enough followers, enough likes, enough friends, enough fans, enough, enough, enough! so that the guardian of some cultural access point whose approval you’re seeking (the editor or agent) will finally approve. At last you have enough—enough people who will pay money for something they will help you sell.

This platform pressure drains me.

Isn’t it highly possibly that you could invent yourself, reinvent yourself,  be that person that people want to follow, that person with a platform, that you could climb up high and see far and wide, then be granted the opportunity to speak to the crowd through some establishment channel like book publishing, and quite possibility the speech you’d want to give, or book you’d want to write would have nothing to do with that persona at all? That was the persona you used to claw your way to that platform. Do you jettison it? Would you be allowed to? Could you throw off your pink wig, trade your platform heels for running shoes?

 

 

Rachel

“…Very well, then I contradict myself…”

 

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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.