life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Remember the sloth. Be the snail.

Whenever I see an image of a sloth, I am reminded of my first honeymoon in Costa Rica. My first husband and I climbed a rickety, old watch tower and were held more rapt by the scene unfolding right in front of us than the panoramic view of the landscape behind us.


A sloth hung from the branches of a tree. It seemed, in fact, to be part of the tree, in body and in the tones of its body. Its hair had shades of white, brown, and green. I remember wondering if the green was actually moss growing directly on it.




If you have been reading my writing for some time, you may know that I have a naturally restless disposition. Staying still is no easy feat for me. My second husband calls me a squirrel on a regular basis. So, it was not small thing for me to be held rooted in one spot for at least 30 minutes, watching this creature.


The sloth seemed ancient as the tree it held onto both firmly and tenuously. We must have caught it during the most active period of its otherwise sedentary 24-hour period. It did a kind of sloth yoga in the tree before us, reaching out with first one and then another limb.


For a half an hour, I was still and calm. After it disappeared into the trees without even a trace, I vowed to remember the sloth to help me be still and calm. At times in life when I felt anything but these emotions, I wanted to be able to draw strength and perspective from the memory of the sloth.


Like so many experiences in life, the power and urgency experienced in the immediacy of the moment tends to fade in its wake. The memory of the sloth has remained, but it has not been as easy to remember the feeling of calm and grounding I experienced while watching it.


Since moving to Brussels, I have been introduced to a creature that offers a much more proximate and regular reminder to slow down, be patient, and persist even when life crushes you.


The snail.


I have seen many snails in my time in Belgium. They cling to garden walls, inch (centimeter?) along sidewalks, and move through dirt, grass, and forest. I seem to see as many crushed snails as I do living, though I have not conduced a formal study on the actual ratio and rate of survival of snails in an urban setting with vast swaths of pavement between often-tiny island oases of soil and vegetation.


To be honest, I am not sure how any snail survives against such odds. Each time I see a crushed shell, I bow to it, apologize, and share my express desire that it is in peace, wherever its snail spirit may be.


Being a homo sapiens, my shell feels even more tenuous and breakable. I have but a thin sheath of epidermis between my very sensitive heart, organs, and interior realm and the outside world, which seems to be sending wave upon unrelenting wave of shell-shattering energy my way. Countless times this calendar year alone, I have felt pummeled by the other beings with which I share this world. I have started to wonder about the ways I might create a stronger sphere of protection, my own metaphorical shell. Even a fragile one might help me to bear the force of the waves, at least enough to get across the concrete to the safety of an island of forest.


I am that compared to the snail, I am lucky in many ways. Even with my fragile exterior and even more delicate interior, I have an ability that the snail may lack: the ability to rebound.


The refrain from a song that I do not feel any particular ?? but that seems a propos for this rambling metaphor comes to mind:


I get knocked down, but I get up again

You’re never gonna knock me down


Of course, I feel like I get knocked down quite frequently, particularly these days. So, it is really only the first line that speaks most directly to my situation. The second line is more of a hope than a reality.


After attending a yoga workshop with master teacher, Jaye Martin, I found the words of a Lucinda Williams song running through my mind:


I don’t want you anymore
Cause you took my joy
I don’t want you anymore
You took my joy


You took my joy

I want it back

You took my joy

I want it back


These lines held a different kind of energy and a kind of determination different from the getting knocked down song previously mentioned. A person might yell out the lines to the first song with determination, but the singer of the second song doesn’t sing at all, they demand. I imagine the singer clawing their way out of a dark hole, coming up to the edge, dirt-encrusted fingernails reaching over the side, one hand at a time, and slowly, but with increasing confidence and determination, pulling themselves up onto level ground.


I can relate to the dirt crawling, the sound of a voice that practically growls from within, Get up. You want to choose happy? Choose!


Then, once you have chosen, get up off your sorry ass, put as much space between you and the one sucking the light and life from your spirit, and reclaim your joy by whatever means it might take.


Since I seem to be on a roll with pop culture references, how about the line from the movie, Elizabethtown, where the bubbly flight attendant, Claire, encourages the protagonist, Drew, to get over himself when he was roiling in self-pity after a shoe design he created cost the company he worked for umpteen billions of dollars and he subsequently lost his job, identity, meaning in life, etc.


According to Claire, Sadness is easier because it’s giving up. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.


And one more for good measure:


You wanna me really great? Then have the courage to fall big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.


I feel like I haven’t fallen so much as been crushed like my snail friends, but I know I am strong enough (and equally stubborn) to get back up, shift my perspective, and choose happiness.


For a snail (at least, in as much as I can determine from my observations), once crushed there is no coming back. For a squirrely human, there is more choice and strength of will involved in the return.


This week while traveling in Darmstadt, Germany, a place whose name literally translates to the intestine city, I have been dealt yet another crushing blow. I have to say, despite my determination not to be crushed by it, I spent a couple days in a dark place, feeling completely smashed to bits.


Each morning, however, with the sun shining and the promise of a large cup of coffee and possibility, I gather my pieces together in a pile, then gently lift them up to cradle them in my arms. I may feel broken, but I have all of my pieces. I also have my heart, an inner joy that is mine alone, and the desire to put myself back together.


As I have walked around the city

As I have walked around the city, I have been sent reminders of the snail within in the form of a bright yellow print of a snail hanging in a shop window and a silver pendant, which is no longer hanging in another shop’s window because it clearly wanted to travel and become an even more proximate reminder that I while I may not be able to choose how other people behave and that there actions do affect me, I can choose how I respond to their sometimes crushing blows.


I am clearly not the Walrus, and while I like the idea of embodying the spirit of the sloth and I am inspired by it, I know that I am also not the sloth. I can remember the sloth to help me keep the energy and impact of life forces in perspective, but I just don’t see myself ever being content to hang from the tree branches, swaying gently and peacefully. It isn’t me.


I am more a snail 2.0. I am stalwart, and I move through my life with fortitude and character. I am determined to find balance amidst the chaos, and I will be happy, even if it means crawling on hands and knees across pavement and broken glass to get there.


In other words, be peaceful and/but persevere!






Find your yoga

 On my way home from yoga training, I started thinking more about the class I am in the midst of preparing to teach. I have three weeks. I wondered if I should allow myself to start panicking? It would not be very yogi of me to panic. Or would it be completely yogi of me to panic?

According to the teachings from today’s anatomy training, the greatest purpose of yoga is to wake up to the essential nature of you.

Is my essential nature to freak out about things? Or is this more of a learned habit? My vote is for the latter, though learning about anatomy could certainly send me into a spiral of doubt and concern for the health and well-being of my own body and those of the people I may someday hope to teach.

So I shifted my perspective and thought about preparing and teaching the class as an opportunity to learn and be supported by my teachers and the people who attend the class.

I could think about the money I have spent on yoga and worry about having spent so much. Or I could think about it as the ultimate gift to myself. What better gift than one that gives me complete permission to delve through the many layers of external expectations and teachings to get to the heart of who I am and what I desire for a yogic existence.

Every Saturday morning, we travel together—my fellow yoginis and me—to Skull Valley to learn about Ayurvedic yoga.

Ayurvedic yoga is the practice of bringing balance to our shifting pranic selves.

This morning, our teacher suggested that the healthiest way of being a yogi is one where we are honest about who we are and where we are in our practice. There is no need to rush to the finish line, and skipping steps will catch up with us eventually and influence the kind of karma we spread around.

So it’s ok to be attached to things? One of us asked.

Of course it is, she said reassuringly.

I thought about this. I remembered how each time I put a bunch of things to give away into a bag, there seems to always be one or two items that I take out of the bag just before giving it away. I don’t know why. It just brings me some comfort to know those items will not be lost to me forever.

I may give them away the next time, or I might not.

Either way, it’s ok.

I am ok.

I don’t need to be anything that I am not. I only need to be honest first and foremost to myself and then, as I am ready, to the rest of the world.

I thought about all of this and reflected on the kinds of asanas I had been envisioning teaching in order to lengthen the spine and open the heart. I tried to remember what I hoped to accomplish in terms of non-attachment through these poses.

And an epiphany-like thought came to me. Without a firm foundation, all of that lengthening can lifting could be detrimental. I don’t want my students to float up and away.

And how was I to know where each student was in their own process of letting go and detaching from whatever they were holding on to so tightly?

It could be an unhealthy relationship or a sweater they with which they were not yet ready to part.

Having no way to really interview each person who was to walk through the door or to send out a pre-survey questionnaire, I realized that I needed to think about the most important first step to letting go.

For me, it has been becoming aware of the desire to move through this process and then creating a solid foundation of strength and faith in myself that I really can let go. I needed to be given permission and to give myself permission to go to that place of letting go of one aspect of myself in roder to discover and create another aspect.

So, just as we empty our diaphragm to make room for new breath to come in, I think it is important to learn to be solid in ourselves before expanding outward.

How does this translate to a yoga class? I harken back to an earlier post that I wrote after my first weekend of training: Tadasana, foundation, foundation, foundation.

It begins with being able to stand on my two feet with confidence and strength. From there, I can invite poses that build from a solid center and core. Tree pose. Chair. Warrior 1 and 2.

Without a solid foundation for these poses, it is easy to lose your balance.

Should some people in the class be reticent to expand outward too much from their center, they can create a solid foundation in these poses. Others who may be further along their own path of non-attachment can modify the poses to branch out with arms, legs, spine, head, or heart.

There is no race. We are each on our own path, however parallel it may seem to another person’s.

And what I learned today is that We use yoga to figure out what is actually going on, not just the stories we create from the misinformation and misinterpretation our senses and emotion bring in.

Repetition equals learning

The more you repeat something, the better you get at it

Habit extends to movement, breathe, alignment

The more I practice standing on my own two feet, the better I get at it.

The more I practice letting go and detaching from judgment, material possessions, plans, and expectations, the more readily I can practice patience and acceptance.

For my class design, I might have an idea of what I would like to create for a person in attendance. However, I also need to accept that people will respond through the filter of their own past experiences and what they have been grappling with and may bring to their mat.

What I would like to do is to help people “put everything else on the shelf,” as my teacher suggests to us at the beginning of our weekends together. This does not mean to forget everything in your life that may be troubling you. It simply means to de-clutter your mind so you can be present and focused.

This afternoon, our teach told us, The purpose of yoga is to wake up; to wake up to the essential nature of you.

And she extended an invitation that I now extend to you: Find your yoga.