Religion and Spirituality


Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip? 

Lose Yourself by Eminem

Not quite the scenario I’ve been presented with but an apt lyrical representation in some ways.

The studio where I study and teach shuts its door at the end of the month. My friend and teacher, Jade, has chosen to step away and spend more time with her children and seek saner employment opportunities. She offered those of us who teach there the opportunity to take the studio over, and regretfully, I passed.

Timing is one of those serendipitous things. It introduced Rob and I to each other and brought Dee and I to Canada. It has afforded me with writing opportunities and yoga study and teaching opportunities that someone with my background shouldn’t likely have had. But it didn’t show up for this one.

I love the studio. It’s compact, elegant and well-situated. Sitting above a used bookstore (yes, the one I toyed briefly with buying) and sandwiched between a seedy pub and a liquor store, it fits the stereotypical ideal of city yoga studios everywhere. How often have you run across yoga springing forth from the seedy remains of crumbling downtowns like saplings stubbornly taking root in the cracks of sidewalks.

Even as strip malls and newer shopping plazas spring up on the other side of the highway, the town is determined to lure folks back to the former city center with a massive overhaul, repaving the streets, putting in wider sidewalks and creating a pedestrian plaza just a block away. The area improves with each year and there are signs that small businesses, at any rate, have taken notice and are moving into the empty retail slots at a heartening pace though not all have succeeded.

So location? The studio has that covered.

The rent, though I didn’t ask, is probably reasonable based in the information I acquired when I was checking out the bookstore.

And there is a need and a student base, but I am not naive about either. The former fluctuates with the weather, and the latter is a personality thing. Jade has a loyal following but it wouldn’t necessarily switch allegiance. When you are the product in a sense, you can’t “sell” that along with the physical aspects of your business.

Why not then?

Because any type of “fitness” oriented business is subject to the time constraints of those who use it. Shift work rules around here, so early mornings and evenings are prime time. I have a husband and child who expect me about in the early morning and evenings to accommodate them. As it is, teaching just three nights a week this past nine months has been strain enough. If I were to add more?

Rob’s enthusiasm factors as well and he couldn’t offer much when I told him about the studio.

“You’re not thinking about doing it, are you?”

He is my most ardent supporter, but he can be forgiven his self-interest. My working hinders more than it helps our bottom-line and that was never more evident than when we filed our Canadian taxes this year. And my not being around in the evenings shifts the burden of Dee’s activities to him alone in terms of carting her about and cheerleader duty.

One of the reasons behind Jade’s decision was the fact that she was missing hockey games and that precious four hours from the time kids get home from school until they are tucked in for the night. I know that many two income families live quite happily in the nano-bits snatched in the before and after school allotments. They pack everything that doesn’t conveniently fit into the week into a 48 hour weekend, but as I remember that life – it takes a toll.

And then there are the crucial factors. I don’t know anything about running a business, and freelancing more seriously this last year has taught me that the rules, which govern me from afar, are more complex and onerous than I knew.

Finally, I don’t know that I am ready to “be the teacher”. Sure, I teach yoga, but under the umbrella of the studio, which affords me credibility. I am unsure that I possess the experience and knowledge – or radiate the gravitas –  that one needs to in order to “be the studio owner” – to be THE teacher.

Regardless, it’s hard to let this one slip even though I know that there are good reasons for doing so.


Dana hace Yoga en la Playa

Image by leo.prie.to via Flickr

And not with each other.

Two distance healings, a trip to the dentist and many back rubs from my ever patient and saintly husband later, I ventured back to yoga class. There is a warm yin at noon on Fridays, and I arrived early to secure my spot by the heat lamp (must.buy. heat lamp.) where I snuggled into the Maduka Lite mat, as my new and far comfier heavy weight mat made my shoulders flinch under their own power, and prepared to “let go”.

Yin is not quite restorative yoga. Restorative is about relaxing, a far more difficult thing than people imagine and part of what makes it a harder sell than physically punishing practices like Ashtanga, but yin is about space. Finding a depth in a pose that allows the body to fill in until full expression is gradually found. Despite the props, there is not a lot of ease or comfort about it.

During one of the final poses before savasana, Jade, my teacher, read to us from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjail by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sutra 33 which discusses the four keys that open our lives to serenity and happiness.

We studied this sutra and Satchidananda’s observations during teacher training last year. Essentially, there are four kinds people and having the “keys” necessary for interacting with them puts one of the path to a serene mind which in turn promotes happiness.

Patanjali, the universe bless him, wrote this:

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

And Satchidananda reminds his readers that Patanjali was not describing some long ago world but one nearly identical to ours today because what people want and need at their core hasn’t changed. He reminds us to be happy for those who are happy in their lives because our jealousy or ill-wishes towards them will only harm us in the end. He entreats us to show compassion for those who struggle regardless of their reaction because in being kind we do ourselves a good too. He asks us to be “delighted” in the virtuous, see them for the shining examples that they are and try to imitate them for our own sake.

And then he discusses the wicked.

By wicked Satchidananda isn’t necessarily referring to the Adolfs and Wall Street swindlers of the world. He is talking about those we encounter in our daily lives who seek to pull us down because we are content and they are not. They are notches lower than the unhappy who though they may lash out truly do so without malicious intent. The wicked seek to hurt because they hurt and view our non-hurting and any advice we might give as an insult to them and their pain.

Jade went on to read the story of the Monkey and the Sparrow, which I believe I have shared before but it’s a wonderful teaching tale and it relates directly to something I recently forgot and was sharply reminded to recall.

One rainy day a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely soaked. Opposite of the monkey on another branch was a sparrow sitting in a hanging nest, staying warm and dry. The sparrow saw the monkey getting drenched from the rain, and points out that even though he only has a small beak and no hands like the monkey, that he built the nice nest (home) expecting the rain. He also points out that Darwin said the monkey was the forefather of human beings, so why hasn’t he used his brain to build himself a house? The monkey made a terrible face, and yelled at the sparrow for advising and teasing him, and then tore the sparrow’s home to pieces. The sparrow was left to fly out and get drenched in the rain.

There are four keys needed in life to deal with the four types of people. Friendliness, compassion, gladness and disregard. If we are friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy or sad, glad for the righteous/good and disregard the wicked, serenity of mind is ours and with that happiness.

Lately, I have been commenting on a blog written by a writer who was widowed but is long since remarried. Though he blogs about many things, he would occasionally write about his widowhood and this prompted women who are dating or married to widowers to email him with their questions regarding their relationships. In response, he began to answer their questions with a post every Wednesday.

I have replied and mainly just shared my story and opinions in an advice-free manner. Sharing from a personal perspective without judgment or placing oneself as an expert is the safest route when the medium is the written word. Mostly because people in general are such poor readers it is easy to be misunderstood.

The topic last week was on second chances. Widowers who’d established relationships. Pledged love, fidelity and a future, and then pulled the old “it’s not you: it’s me. I need more time to grieve.” It’s really no different from the divorced guy who suddenly realizes that his ex and their marriage have made him rethink commitment and not in a positive way. Or the never married guy who’s been “so hurt in the past” that he can’t bring himself to commit – even though if he could commit to anyone, it would be you.

Men who are … douchebags … um … wicked are so, regardless.

I threw in a sanitized version of my opinion along with my own story about readiness and moving on.

The end. Except not.

A widower found the blog. Even though the Wednesday posts are clearly marked and have nothing to do with being widowed personally, he felt maligned because it wasn’t promoting grief in a way that worked for him, so he came in swinging.

Mostly at the blogger but a bit at me. Probably because the blogger and I are remarried widowed, who are clearly in the “loss happens, you cope and then you move on”camp. The widower is new-ish and still very much invested in the idea put forth by the grief “industry” that promotes self-help, processes, journeys, and the idea that grief is never-ending. Which isn’t true but you can’t tell that to someone still in the thick of it. Time and distance move us all away from the idea that we will hurt like bastards forever. It’s not the grief but the rebuilding that convinces people to cling to that notion. Mourning is less work than moving on.

Had I not bothered to reply. All would have been well. But I made the mistake of explaining*, which is advice by another name and voila – a flaming hot comment thread.

And then I got irritated because the gentleman pulled out the tired “denial” thing to explain my inability to admit how right he was.

Denial. Irony abounds.

But thankfully, Patanjali has set me straight via yin class. All praise Yoga! Thank you, Swami Satchidananda!

*When you make the mistake of explaining, the other person will see it as defensive and begin deconstructing your explanation line by line, giving themselves the advantage of pulling things out of context and spinning it. At this point, you’ve been played and should walk away. A sad/unhappy person won’t bother to do this by the way, but a wicked one will.

UPDATE: The angry Widower wrote a scathing blog piece attacking the “industry” that is building up around the women who date widowed or GOW’s, as they call themselves. They have blogs and message boards and websites, which are almost identical in the defensive, selfish stance that widowed take. They share the misguided belief that grief is some sort of mental breakdown rather than a normal human experience. They just come at it from opposite angles. Both groups? Could use a bit of reality dosing, but it won’t happen because they group together and reinforce each other. Interestingly, a blogger/self-help writer was the target of the Angry Widower and she was quite unkind (snarky really) in her assessment of him when she found out and wrote this reply. I tried to leave a comment to the effect that she was misrepresenting grief and that men who play games do so for reasons that cross all types (widowed, divorced, and never-marrieds) because the reality is that widowers who love women – marry them and those who don’t act like douchebags until the women in question wake up, respect themselves and find someone better. She deleted my comment. As on the widow blogs, I don’t fit with the promoted view that grief is a syndrome in need of 12 steps. The irony is, of course, that these two groups are just the same and the people who cater to the delusion aren’t all that dissimilar either.


Graves at Old Holy Cross Cemetery

Image by Fritz Liess via Flickr

Last Thursday, the ghost tickled the crown of Rob’s head while he stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Not an “attaboy”. Rob performs housework without the need for warm affirmations or pats on the head. It was a “heads up”.

So, when the call came later that evening to let us know that his uncle had passed away, the ghostliness of the day made sense.

But it was hardly the only sign this month, lights have been on that shouldn’t have been and there was that incidence with the shadow in Dee’s room. For myself personally, it’s been this persistent feeling that someone was going to die soon. It’s caused me no end of anxiety. First with Dee’s class taking a field trip into the city during the icy weather earlier in the month and then Edie and Silver driving through the mountains to and from Vancouver on their vacation.

It’s not as if we didn’t know about Uncle Francis. He had lung cancer and recently went into hospice, but death comes in threes. It just does. What’s true for the rich and (in)famous holds true for we lesser mortals.

This morning I awoke from a bad dream about a dinosaur trying to bite me (long back story that I’ll go into another day) to see Rob sitting up next to me. At least, I thought it was Rob. The room was Devil’s Den cave midnight. I couldn’t see my own hand when I reached up and then had to bring my hand down to find Rob, who was lying down and asleep next to me.

It was frightening. I sat up and noted that there were dark shadows ringing the bed and then I lay down and went back to sleep.

Tonight, we returned home after depositing Rob’s mom and future step-father at a hotel near the airport. They are heading home on an early flight. A message was waiting on the machine from my mother. My Aunt Peach died last night sometime.

You might remember Peach. I’ve written about her before. She would have been 103 this coming March. She was my grandmother’s youngest sister and the last of the Fagan siblings alive.

Gran lived to 94. She might have gone longer but for the dementia. Uncle Fran and Auntie Anna were 102 and 104 respectively when they passed on. The ones that cancer didn’t get young lived to 75 at the youngest and if they didn’t have bad hearts 90 and beyond. Remarkably long-lived, my dad’s relatives. If Dad hadn’t queered the deal with his drinking and smoking, he’d have cleared 100 easy, I’m sure. He still has two siblings – though I fear for not much longer – who are in their mid-80’s.

Will one of them be the third?

I really hope not though I know many folks who would roll their eyes and say that living to extremely ripe to bursting old age is long enough for anyone, so what’s the big deal?

It is a big deal to die, regardless of when. Death is one of the milestones. It represents fruition – which is a big fucking deal – and opportunity, which is nothing to sneeze at either.

Aunt Peach always made me a bit uncomfortable as a child and teen. She was forceful and larger than life though I towered over her even as a 10-year-old.

The last time I saw her was on our visit to Iowa last spring. She was playing bridge. It took us a good twenty minutes to track her down. No one knew where she was though everyone in the nursing home knew who she was.

She gave Dee a doll and probably more of her interest than she’d given me since I was that age myself. She barely acknowledged Rob or my mother, who was with us.

There’s quite the family reunion going on, if I know my dad’s relations – and I do.

I wonder if they are waiting on anyone?


Christmas in the post-War United States

Image via Wikipedia

The always awesomely amazing Julie Pippert, who took a huge chance on me and gave me my start as a blogger beyond my own little realm, asked me if I would share my yoga journey at Choose You today.

Though I meant to blog for you dear readers, the Christmas Express is hurtling at me with deadly accuracy and with in-laws arriving today and the house still at half-ass status (not to mention the demonic dishwasher taking a header – again), my to-do list is long enough to make me cry.

So, head over to Choose You and I’ll update you on the state of progress – or my nervous breakdown – tomorrow.

Oh, and the tree pic? That would not be a representation of ours, which is still a pine-cicle by the swing set in the backyard.


my android apps menu #5

Image by laihiu via Flickr

My boss called today. Yes, I have a boss. I know it seems like I’m living this Life of Reilly up on the prairie, but I am employed. I am hired in a manner of speaking though it is so different from my previous existence as a public school teacher that when I come up for air, now and again, I blink a lot. That spotlight I try to hide from is bright.

Cee conducts these random phone updates with the bloggers at Care2 to take our enthusiasm temperatures, I think. Mine’s been flagging a bit. Partly because I know that in order to be a success as a pseudo commentator on current events and life in general I need to lay fingers on the keyboard more often and far more furiously than I do now. And, I need to check my scruples at my office door. Blogging for the masses – the hordes that feed the advertisers – means inciting them to comment.

You might have noted that I closed comments on my Jennifer Petkov piece due to a persistent commenter. I don’t feel the need to engage in that way and this is a personal blog at any rate, but it’s highly reminiscent of the type of response I’ve inspired at Care2 from time to time. My karma prefers to be less sullied but my ego is entirely game. Let the tug of war begin.

So, on the one hand there is the very real possibility of making my mark in the world of op-ed and on the other hand there is coming back in my next life as an invertebrate.

Okay, it’s not that black and white. Probably.

Mostly this is coming down to time. Which is precious even if it’s nothing more than sitting in the office with Rob in the evening sharing thoughts about items on our Google Readers.

However, I don’t have as much time as I did.

My other boss emailed me today. Yes, two bosses though Jade’s in a gray area. She’s my teacher. I like to think of her as a friend. And she lets me teach at her studio.

Jade’s off on a yoga cruise soon. The studio was supposed to close because Rob and I had planned a vacation for that week, but we’ve decided to demolish the wall between our living and dining rooms and reno instead – seriously, and I will explain that another day – so I am suddenly around and she asked if I will cover classes for those who have memberships.

Teaching yoga is feast or famine. I am busy beyond comprehension until Christmas and then …? I don’t know.

Here’s the thing. My old life was scripted from the outside. Order was imposed on me by a schedule not of my making. Not a bad thing because being a Sagittarius, I tend towards free flow and formless when left to my own devices.

Now, life needs order.

Why?

Because I am not – never have been – okay with just being good. At anything. I need to be awesome. Ego. Yes, I am well aware.

But, I can be awesome. I know this.

I am ruined though by twenty years of being scheduled. I wish I had shunned teaching for writing earlier. Maybe I would have a better handle on scheduling myself?

Both hands are required. Cee gave me license to write at will for any channel I want at Care2. Go nuts. There’s a career in there somewhere.

Jade is trusting me an awful lot to find my yoga feet, take root and bloom. There’s a future there too.

Are they compatible? I think so, but it’s a matter of blocking time and not losing sight of Rob, the girls and the other people who are far more important than anything else.

Life was easier when I didn’t have to think about where I should be at a given time. When it was all decided for me.

But I recall, vaguely, wishing for this freedom. Must. Control. Blind. Wishing. And possibly break down and get a Blackberry or an Android.


Heard of Mark Driscoll? He’s got himself a mega-church somewhere down south (of me). Among his other charming interpretations of the bible, he believes that women shouldn’t be allowed to hold leadership roles in any church. He probably likes the idea of banishing us to red rooms during our periods too – but I digress.

Mark recently explained the whole Satan/demonic training/hell connection of yoga to his flock during the Q&A part of their Sunday service.

Q&A, the Catholic in me giggles, consists of the flock submitting queries via their cellphones or iPads, no doubt, and Mark reading them off a screen on stage.

A stage? I’ve attended an evangelical worship thingy here and there and still can’t wrap my mind around the theatre aspect of it.

Someone asked if it was okay for Christians to do yoga.

Christianity’s apparent incompatibility with an asana practice has been much in the news lately. Personally, I believe that if yoga’s spiritual center bothers a person, he/she should do Pilates or something, but knowing that most people bring so little of themselves to their personal religions anyway – I don’t think many people are in danger of being seduced away by yoga.

Mark, like most uber-religious, totally over-estimates the average yoga student’s interest in anything other than having a yoga butt and being able to touch their toes. My students tolerate the “namaste” at the end simply out of respect for me.  I am not converting anyone to my way of thinking about the “oneness” of the universe as he puts it.

It’s interesting that he can explain the purpose of yoga and still not get it at all.

No one’s head spins round in yoga though I have witnessed some painful looking displays of near freakish flexibility and if getting in touch with yourself and by extension – everything and everyone – is evil, more of us should choose the “path of darkness”. The world would be a better place if we focused more on it and the people around us rather than wasting our energy chasing a capricious God and his conditional love.

Yoga is good for the body and one’s emotional well-being. Research backs me on both counts.

What people like Driscoll worry about is that the exposure to other ways of interpreting the world will lessen their power as people begin to question and think for themselves.

If Christianity is the be-all/end-all than people will come to that conclusion without the Driscoll’s guidance. No one leaves a faith based on their fitness choices. People who have faith aren’t swayed by a little inward reflection and perhaps are even strengthened by the opportunity.

Ultimately what we call “religion” arose from a need to explain and impose a sense of order on life. What actually guides the universe is not so simplistic which is evidenced by the fact that there are so many creeds competing for dominance.

Yoga is the last thing Driscoll should be worrying about or wasting his words on. Real life in America, riddled with real problems, would be a better focus, but what’s a dogma without tangible demons, eh?


Kevala Jnana of Mahavira

Image via Wikipedia

The business of yoga enveloped me the past couple of days. In many ways, teaching yoga and teaching public school has much in common. Paperwork. Association dues. Insurance, though I have to admit I never once carried a liability policy in my twenty years of teaching and coaching children.

And there is the money side.

Yes, yoga isn’t all asana and heavy breathing. Perhaps the yogis of Patanjali‘s time wandering like minstrels or jongleurs, spreading enlightenment for table scraps and a night’s lodging, but yoga teachers today would have a difficult time getting anyone to take them seriously if they wandered the streets of Edmonton pushing shopping carts and setting up their mats on the sidewalks of Whyte Ave.

It’s interesting (my catchall phrase for when I don’t have all my opinions in a row on something) how the yoga teaching has fallen into place. I’d anticipated filling in here and there and maybe having a class at the studio in town to call my very own. Not what has happened.

I have three classes at the studio and two more to start at the community hall across the street in October. I’ve turned down other offers for work since yesterday afternoon. Stuff I would have taken if not for the fact that I have other stuff already that conflicts.

Another graduate of the training who I keep in touch with remarked on how lucky I am to not have to run work down and I am reminded of something related to the practice of asana/poses – that we are to find “ease” in each posture.

If that is the goal of yoga than it is also the goal of life because I have learned that yoga and life have nearly everything in common.