Practice

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It’s been awhile since I wrote. Some of this is due to the places my mind has wandered lately, down dark and lonely roads. But some of this is also due to being out of practice.

My honesty has felt terrifying even to me, so I stopped practicing writing it out publicly and went underground. Found other ways to let it out – primarily the aforementioned dark places that my mind has wandered. Anxiety creeps out of the cracks of the mind-box I’ve tried to shove it in, and since I won’t create, my body trembles with the force of holding it in.

Previously, I would have bled out on paper. But I haven’t been able to. And then I got too tired. Writing felt exhausting. I didn’t lift a pen for a couple weeks. Then I started thinking about the practice of writing.

Writing doesn’t just happen when inspiration strikes.

but, you see, this is when I have usually written. And when inspiration doesn’t strike, I don’t speak, so I let it lie. Leave the ground barren and fallow, and all my blog readers drift away, tiring of waiting for me.

These are not excuses. These are lessons learned. Writing is not magic. Writing can be born of tired, bored moments, too. Not just the electric ones I wait for. In fact, maybe better writing comes from the mundane. The tedious, tenacious task of doing the same thing every day, slowly growing your skill from persistent practice.

My yoga teacher training lately has been talking about this very subject. Devoted practice. I’m finding out that I’m… well, not bad at it per se, but very undisciplined. I like to follow the shine and glimmer of newness. In yoga teacher training, I’m finding that it’s wearing off. Now I get to dig in even deeper (and with great love) to do the work. To stay consistent, even and especially when, I do not want to.

I’m finding that a big key to all of this is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.”

So inspiration is still slow to strike. and I must admit that is again why I am here tonight, although now it’s 10:13pm and the inspiration that made me a lightning rod earlier is now wearing off. It’s taking a bit more effort to hammer out these words.

But it was my sister’s practice that inspired me.

See, she’s been taking a drawing class this semester. From the beginning of the semester until now, she’s worked hard and stuck with it, and her improvement is marked. Today, I felt a huge rush of gratitude when she told me how she was now using her talent to also process some personal things.

Besides the gratitude though, it reminded me of my own work. My sister… my lovely sister Grace who turned 18 on the 30th (holy crap! I remember when she was born!) pointed me back to my own work. And she reminded me that I can use even my darkest, most painful, most shameful feelings in a brave act of creation.

I’ve been scared to be vulnerable because

GOD. DAMN.

I’ve got some ugly shit going on in there and I don’t even want to see it. Me. The one who holds it in me. Yikes. That crap is too scary. My teacher talks about how yoga opens up the door to the basement where we’ve been stuffing crap forever. Well, the basement door got opened up for me and, really I’d rather just keep slamming the door and pretending it doesn’t exist.

Oh. And the other thing is, all that stuff in the basement reminds me that I have choices. Lots of them. All of them in fact, and all mine. For the first time in my life that I can remember, I am basing my entire life off of my own choices.

That thought in itself makes me want to hide forever. As awesome as that sounds, choice is dizzying. Decisions can make or break my whole life (I overdramatize sometimes). I’ve never picked up the pen and become an autobiography, instead of just a simple biography. I’m unused to the feel of my own fingers penning words I choose to ink down. Something about this, something about the idea of authoring my own story, scares the shit out of me. Something about the idea of choice is terrifying.

(I’m trying to be gentle with myself right now, because… sweetheart, so much new. and it’s okay, and I know this is different and hard, and like you’ve lived underground and you’re seeing the light for the first time. It’s going to be okay, I promise)

So, you can see why I’d like to stop practicing, frankly. Yawn yawn, nothing shiny and fun here, nope, just a basement full of crap I’d rather not deal with. I’d rather stay in boredom and allow that to lead me to something shinier, more electrifying. I’d rather chase the high. (As my teacher would say – isn’t that interesting? When the practice is finding your true Self, you’re… bored?)  Fear is… chilling, ghastly, panic-inducing. Give me something fun so I can keep pretending it’s not there.

This is where the going gets tough. I was warned this would happen. I’ve never before noticed how this happens for me, though. It’s not by just running away… boredom is the name of the game. Procrastination is another name it goes by. So, it’s time to practice with it. Keep showing up even though I really don’t want to. Even though it doesn’t seem important (BO-RING). Even if it seems to be too much effort. It’s time for me to make my bones.

Patanjali’s first yoga sutra: “Now, this is yoga.

Yep, now, in the fear, in the boredom avoiding the fear, in all the things I feel that I am afraid to become… now. this. is. yoga.

The night I wrote this, I practiced by expressing some things I’ve been afraid to. In an effort to continue that practice, I’m sharing it with you:

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That great love part in Patanjali’s I.14 sutra is very central, for me. I can muster up plenty of earnest and reverent energy. But I have found in the past that this results in performance. It’s only when I’m approaching my practice out of great love for myself, and for those around me, that I am able to continually remain firmly established in my true Self. Without that love, I am much too apt to stop showing up, because fear takes over.

So here I am… committing again to practice. With earnest and reverent energy. And great, great love.

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Neruda; the flowers.

I have had a little obsession lately that has sprung up in my bones. It’s really been waiting for me for years, ever since I saw the first line in a Neruda poem. I don’t remember what that first line was. I do remember the feeling, though.

“Oh, hello. It’s so wonderful to see you again.”

As if I had written that line years and ages ago, and I was meeting it again after a long parting. The way we met was with a joyous pang, a breathless smile, a freefalling of surrender into the bonds that once held us close; that held us even still.

A few months ago, I got a huge book of Neruda poems in both English and Spanish. I read them as if I were in a trance. I fell into the ocean of words and wanted to drown. I lost myself among them…

“…little one, red grain
of wheat.
the struggle will be hard
life will be hard
but you will come with me.”
(
Neruda – The Mountain and the River)

—–

My mom sent me a card recently. We had met for coffee and I had broken some news to her, about going away. Depending upon this or that. Afterwards, she was sad. We live in the same town, but a few days later I got a card in the mail, with a flower on the front.

“You still stop and look at the flowers when you walk by,” she wrote.

I don’t remember everything from when I was two years old. But my parents tell me about this facet of my early personality. It’s one of the lovely times when I was young. They would walk along the Highline Canal in Denver, and I would stop. Because there was a flower to be looked at. They used to call me Ferdinand.

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I have been rather unfamiliar with this story, but looking it up just now, I am moved to tears. Silly me.

“My love, to my life,
you came prepared
as a poppy and as a guerilla fighter…”
(Neruda – Ode and Burgeonings)

—-

In life, there is fighting. And some things are worth the flaming chaos of battlefields.  The point is to pick flowers in the middle of it all.

That was poetry for me, always. Since I began, it was a way for me to endure the ceaseless fighting. To find my own internal ceasefire despite the rain of grenades, bullets, and bombs all around. I was awkward with words at first. Trying to fit them together in ways that opened my soul to the light. It wasn’t until the deepest dark that I split myself open and scooped out all of those slimy little seeds buried in the red flesh.

Now I have vines growing everywhere. And flowers.

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—–

Even in the darkest of times, I only need look around and my soul is eased. The gift of Ferdinand, bequeathed on me from the start. This morning, I looked out of the windows at work and snow was dancing in the sun. The sparkling flakes reminded me of a quieter place, deep within yet high above myself. I caught my breath and was brought back to silence, again.

Ceasefire.

——

I love Neruda because words get me through things. And his words are like lassoes. When I am fighting, fighting, fighting, here they are suddenly. A beacon on the hill to keep my eye on, a lighthouse in a rocky sea, a handful of daisies with yellow suns in the middle.

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I bemoan my lack of funds on a regular basis. I pinch pennies like a tax collector in Bible times. Poverty licks my feet like a stray dog.

“If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.”
(Neruda – Poverty)

I fell in, again, to this ocean of words. Words I could have written myself. I want to lose myself in them, because for a moment there if my eyes are on those words, I forget the battlefield.

——

My favorite collections are the ones that has both Spanish and English versions. Through the eyes of Neruda, Spanish has become like a coded language for me. Not only do his words trap me in English, they seduce me in Spanish. It’s like getting lost in someone’s eyes and completely forgetting yourself.

So I’ve been learning Spanish by learning his lines.

“Mi lucha es dura y vuelvo
con los ojos cansados
a veces de haber visto
la tierra que no cambia,
pero al entrar tu risa
sube al cielo buscandome
y abre para mi todas
las puertas de la vida.

Amor mio, en la hora
mas oscura desgrana
tu risa, y si de pronto
ves que mi sangre manche
las piedras de la calle,
rie, porque tu risa,
sera para mis manos,
como una espada fresca…”
(Neruda – Your Laughter)

With each line, I feel as if I am speaking rosebud petals. Wrapping words like chocolate around my tongue. Gathering in my hands, in this wild battlefield, a fresh sword.

——-

“Because while life harasses us, love is
only a wave taller than the other waves:
but oh, when death comes knocking at the gate,

there is only your glance against so much emptiness,
only your light against extinction,
only your love to shut out the shadows.”
(Neruda – XC)

Neruda’s words are how I talk to myself. They are the way I am learning self-compassion. They are, for me, as Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Oh my darling, let’s talk on Friday.” When I say these words, I am saying, “I love you. I will never leave you. I will always take care of you.” (Elizabeth Gilbert) These words keep me from the edge of death. When I’m standing on the precipice, they give me the desire to walk backward. When I’m on the battlefield, they rouse my courage as Aragorn – “But it is not this day!”

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These words are a way for me to keep the faith  – they are the flowers.

With these words, I endure.

—–

“Stand up with me.

No one would like
more than I to stay
on the pillow where your eyelids
try to shut out the world for me.
There too I would like
to let my blood sleep
surrounding your sweetness.

But stand up,
you, stand up,
but stand up with me
and let us go off together
to fight face to face
against the devil’s webs,
against the system that distributes hunger,
against organized misery.

Let’s go,
and you, my star, next to me,
newborn from my own clay,
you will have found the hidden spring
and in the midst of the fire you will be
next to me,
with your wild eyes,
raising my flag.”
(Neruda – The Flag)

And yet… I will show you the most excellent way.

I take my sensitivity for granted.

Certain times of the month (read: PMS!) are more difficult for me than others. At those times, I become raw. I curl like a flower at night, protecting the stamen from the cold. My petals turn brown if they are touched.

At those times, tears come quickly. Simple and quiet things can move me, like a singing bowl rung at the beginning of a Sunday church service. Or one too many things on my schedule. The events of the past 2 weeks. Hearing the grief that seems to be coming with this season for many others, not just me.

I have decided I want to learn a new way. I want to celebrate these times where my heart feels raw and rubbed with salt. Many times, I go down the path to where ALL THE FEELS are torturing me to the verge of breakdown. That’s okay. Actually, it’s beautiful, even. Because that’s when my heart is calling a checkmate on my egoic mind. I have the chance to be exceedingly compassionate to my small, frail self.

No more taking this for granted. No more doing, doing, doing. No more perfecting myself into a tiny box and trying to be everything to everyone.

Instead, I can approach my darling little self with tender compassion. I sit at the stoplight and instead of reaching for my phone, I can reach for silence. “Hello, my little darling.”

Like the verse in the Bible that concludes 1 Corinthians 12 in preparation for the well-known words on love:

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”