As The Crow Flies – Crow Pose And (Broken) Noses

Oct 15

“Shit,” I thought, “if I broke my nose, I’ll have to wake up Matthias.”

Matthias is my roommate and of course it was 1am at night. I gingerly tested my nose, my fingers came away slightly bloody.

***

It started when I confidently posted in my fitness group that I could now consistently do crow pose.

No, further back, it started when I decided that I would do crow pose damnit! and went in search of strength experts to help my wobbly wrists grow stronger. I got the help I needed along with weekly accountability and stronger wrists. Two weeks ago I could hold myself up for five seconds for the first time. And since then I’ve moved to holding it fine most of the time. Most of the time.

To do this I carefully place my hands on a mat, fix a point slightly ahead of me. Put my knees on my arms and then lift one toe after the other off the ground until I’m precariously balanced on my hands. It’s a strange and exhilarating feeling.

Each day I noticed how I got more familiar with the pose and with the feeling, how I was getting stronger and more confident.

***

Then one night I decide that I can just do crow pose wherever. I have visions of myself balancing on rocks with sun-splashed waves crashing behind me with a delightful bokeh effect. And well “Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall” as they say in german. Overconfidence leads to stupidity, and trying to balance on your arms in the dark on a plain floor, when having a visual focus is part of keeping your balance IS stupidity.

And so I toppled over forward and couldn’t reach my hands in front of my face in time, for obvious reasons.

***

Like crow pose, balancing overconfidence and timidity in our habits is a constant precarious act, but, also like crow pose, one that can be learned. It’s learning the difference between standing up for oneself and brashly ignoring everyone else’s needs. It means knowing when it is ok to let people have their way and when you you are being a doormat. To most of us these distinctions don’t come naturally, but when we learn them it enables us to actively shape our lives. To live, as I like to say, more congruently.

***

As for the fall: Turns out my nose wasn’t broken, just badly bruised. I took a cold pack out of the fridge and stuck it on my nose to avoid giant purple signs of my stupidity. It seems I was lucky.
That day.

On The Linear/Cyclical Nature of Time

Sep 19

When we are first introduced to Captain Sisko, then Commander, in the Star Trek franchise Deep Space 9, we meet a grim and bitter man who has never forgiven the universe, especially Captain Picard, that his wife died at the battle field of Wolf 359 leaving him and his son. And yet the Prophets, the local gods of Bajor, choose him to be their emissary. But before he can fulfill his destiny, he has to let go of the past and move forward. During this process the Prophets and Sisko spin out a conversation on the linearity of human existence:

“You claim you do not know the consequences.
Then how can you take responsibility for your actions?”
“You try to anticipate, to set a strategy for all possibilities, but in the end it comes down to throwing one pitch after the other and seeing what happens. With each new consequence the game begins to take shape.”
“And you have no idea what that shape that is until the game is complete.”

“We are explorers. We explore our lives day by day, constantly searching not only for answers, but for new questions.”

It’s a great explanation of humanness and a hat-tip to the original idea of Star Trek, the reason I love(d) it so in the first place.

Then the scene returns once again to the spaceship at Wolf 359 and the prophets ask:

“If all this is true why do you exist here?”
“I was ready to die with her

I never left this ship.”
“You exist here.”
“I exist here.”

“None of you past experience has prepared you for this consequence.”
“And I have never figured out how to live without her.”
“So you choose to exist here. It is not linear.”

Each time he closes his eyes Sisko sees his beloved lying in the wreckage of the spaceship, dead. Ostensibly life goes on in it’s linear nature, he goes through the motions of raising his son and doing his work, but really he is stuck in the same loop a shadow of his former self. The difference between action and motion is that through action we shape the game. Motion lets us pretend to play.

For Sisko this scene is a turning point, he realizes that he must learn to live in spite of the consequences, to throw the ball once again and let the game take shape. What shape, is shown in the following 175 episodes of this epic.

Another epic, and please forgive me for the slightly blasphemous idea of comparing DS9 to the Gita, the Bhagavad Gita tells the story of Arjuna, who is faced with a similar loop. He sits on the edge of a battlefield on the opposite side sits family that has usurped his throne. He is a warrior and his duty points him to battle, but he refuses out of love for his family. Krishna through several chapters now teaches Arjuna the importance of playing the game of throwing the ball to make it take shape. He later reveals his divine nature and like the Prophets he sees time not linearly, but in it’s entirety. In chapter 11 Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna in his true form and Arjuna is fearful of the immense complexity that he sees, because Krishna is the whole universe. He sees for a moment the shape of the game and the part that he and his family on the opposite side play in it. He sees the complexity and the infinite possibilities of action he could take. He also sees that in the end all things perish, as is the nature of the universe.

Reductionism is a model to understand the world that states that a complex system can be described as the sum of its parts. As chemists we often joked that biology is nothing more than applied chemistry and then laughed at the pique of biologists. Of course physicist would do the same thing to us, stating that chemistry is just applied physics. By this logic you should be able to explain the emotions I feel watching Sisko let go of his wife’s death, or the at the beauty of the Gita, by the fundamental laws that govern subatomic particles. In reality though even here we stumble over a level of complexity that is hard for us to describe, making approximations necessary, just as we make approximations based on past experience to determine our actions in the everyday. The Gita, and Sisko’s speech above ask us to act in spite of not seeing the whole picture to trust in the Universe, the game taking shape, it is the other side of taking responsibility for our actions.

As humans we can only fully grasp the parts of the game that have already been played. We see bits and pieces of the game that is developing, maybe a few steps ahead of the current throw, seeing the batter brace for his swing. Sometimes, if we are lucky our intuition will show us a little more of the game and its overwhelming complexity. We might learn that the answer is 42, but not see the question. Yet it is our duty to play anyway, to take responsibility for our actions even if we don’t know the consequences.

Most of all it is our duty to act.

***
Why am I writing this? Because it is something I need to hear. I get so stuck in trying to anticipate the game and then dithering on the playing field and I need a call to action.

On Silent Retreat

Sep 04

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I’m not on silent retreat. But Havi is. She was also on silent retreat when I was in Portland at Rally. She [verbed] the Rally on silent retreat. And it was ok. In fact it was more than ok, I learned that few questions really need an outside answer. I found all the permission and answers with myself.

Then there is the other way to be on silent retreat. This is a good thing to have handy for all the small vulnerable places that you hope will blossom.

This post though, is about the former.

The first time I was on silent retreat was last year in the teacher training, along with 60 other people. It was my birthday weekend and I didn’t say anything all weekend, except on my birthday I said “I love you” to myself and believed it.

The second time I was on silent retreat was this year and I was the only one. Everyone thought it weird. It was ok though, there were some jokes and uncomfortable silences, some provocation, some sighs. We giggled and I wrote little notes. And then someone shocked me out of it, by a knock on a door and a demand, I lost the center of my attention, but somehow this was ok too.

I learned that you can still be funny if you are on silent retreat and laugh at all the jokes.
That you can still connect with other people, you find other ways to connect than mindless chatter and gossip.
You ask yourself, what really needs to be said, because it better be important if I’m going to laboriously write it out on a post-it note.
You notice at first all the gossip and chatter in your head. And then slowly that quiets down too.

Turns out that when you don’t say much, you find the important things much easier to say.
Turns out, not much needs to be said to be understood.

10 Ways to Bring More Play into your World

Aug 29

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Why? Because it’s fun. Because it changes your perspective. Because you change the way you do things. Because everything is both less and more serious. Yes, it’s a good thing.

  1. Blow bubbles into the breeze. Glittering, irridescent, I dare you not to be a little happier.
  2. Color with crayons. You can stay in the lines, or go wild. Just think of all the possibility.
  3. Write each word of your notes in a different color. Sure you are much slower that way, but slow is good.
  4. Do a secret Playdate. It’s amazing what you can get done in an hour of playing.
  5. Have a spontaneous dance party in your living room. Move and shake and dance the silliest dance moves that come to your mind.
  6. Do everything backwards for a day. How about you start your day going to bed before dinner?
  7. Make public art. Not everything is a political statement and sometimes fun and pretty get to be just fun and pretty. You could use more fun and pretty.
  8. Build a nest and take a nap with your favorite stuffy.
  9. Washi Tape goes with everything. With your notebook, your computer, your wall and even your mood.
  10. Visit the Playground in Portland, or around the corner from your house. When was the last time you swung on a swing?

What does it mean to “just let it go”?

Aug 22

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We talk a lot about this in yoga.

Someone annoys the hell out of you and you’re upset, then your yogi friend will tell you to “just let it go” (in the most annoying sanctimonious tone evar!). You hear “suppress all your emotions.”

You sit in meditation, your knees hurt and you can’t stop thinking about how hungry you are and then you have this brilliant (brilliant! I tell you) idea and start calculating how embarrassing it would be to get up to get a piece of paper to write it down, then your instructor tells you to “just let all your thoughts go.” You hear “suppress all your thoughts.”

A little love story has entangled you and now you worry about whether he will call (it’s only been 2 hours, so no.) or not and you decide that really you should “just let it go.” You think “suppress the desire for validation.”

Rather than suppressing, what we are really trying to do here is to not identify with our emotions, our thoughts, or our relationships. More big words, let me give you an example.

The darling from your love story gives you a rose, one with a long stem, thorns and beautiful red petals, and it is storming outside. As you walk home through the wind you grasp the rose really tightly, lest it blow away. Once you are safely ensconced at home you unfurl your hand and you see that the thorns have pricked your hands until they bled and the stem of the flower is broken. You wanted so much to bring this rose home that you clung to it with all your might. What would have happened if you had held it more lightly?

You probably would have brought it home safe and sound. Or it might have been blown away.
Neither possibility would have changed the regard that your darling feels for you. The rose is just a symbol for love, not the love itself.

The same way your emotions aren’t you, they are just a symbol of you.
The same way your thoughts aren’t you, they are just a symbol of you.
The same way your desires aren’t you, they are just a symbol of you.
Only because you identify with them do they become your identity.

No matter whether you are annoyed, or happy, whether you sit in meditation or not, you are you. That spark of youness doesn’t diminish with the external circumstances. And so we yogis practice not identifying. We feel annoyance and then hold it lightly, letting it go if it goes and feeling it as long as it is there in the knowledge that my emotions do not define me. We have a brilliant thought and hold it lightly, if it is still there after meditation we can write it down if not there will be something else. We want our darling to call and then hold that lightly, knowing that his call won’t change our worth.

You can compare it to a tree. That is rooted in it’s spot and sometimes a flock of birds come and sit in the branches, sometimes it is wet from the rain, sometimes it sheds all it’s leaves and sometimes it flowers, the external circumstances change yet always it is a tree.

We practice holding our identity lightly and letting it go. We practice being treelike.

And then a thing happens that is most extraordinary, we experience happiness bubbling up form inside us, pure and undiluted. The happy hum. The yoga text have a name for this “Ananda”, bliss. They say that this is our true nature and that the more we let go, hold the things we identify with lightly, the more we will experience the truth of our true nature.

Home is where…

Jul 19

I was born in Rostock, but I don’t have any ties there anymore. My parents feel at home in Berlin and my Grandparents have lived there for all my life, but I have always been there as a visitor. My formative years I spent in the US and I do feel a strong connection there, but is that home? There was a stint in Australia and I’ve spent the last 12 years in Stuttgart, but more than half that time I’ve been scheming about how to move away from this place.

Sometimes I feel quite rootless. I fear being blown around by life, getting swept away. And yet, this rootlessness is also a chance, full of possibility.

I get to move all over the world and belong. There are places all over the world that represent pieces of home, the baltic coast, the Coorong, Portland the younger, California and Virgina, even this room I am sitting in and places I haven’t been yet. I can find, through meditation, that inward connection that roots me in my own being instead of some outside bit of land.

There is freedom in that and joy. Yes, sometimes I still look at people who come from families that have always lived “there” and sigh with a hint of envy, but that dissolves the more I discover how much I belong with me.

********

Pico Iyer gave a great TED Talk on the same subject this June. Here are two quotes that spoke to me especially:

Home is not the place where you happen to be born, but the place where you become yourself.

Movement is only as good as the sense of stillness that you could bring to it to put it in perspective.

I suggest you watch the whole video and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Return

May 05

I returned. Everything is different, also familiar.
The same street. The same door. The same bed.
Yet I have never been here.

The heart is full of longing. Aching to be home.
Familiarity, sameness, knowing.
Yet what is home?

This is home. Though unfamiliar.
The street. The door. The bed.
I am here now.