Which comes first?
For the longest time now, especially since I moved, I’ve been trying to handle unstructured time in a profitable way, and I think I’ve finally figured it out!
When I wake up, I usually have a good feeling. My bed is nice, my room is pretty, there are a couple of super cute cats to greet me, I’m alive again for another day, and so much awaits.
I putter around inviting the light in. I open the doors and the shades, leaving some just so, so the orchids don’t get burnt. I take a thyroid pill—still trying to discern whether that’s right, what it is, and how much, and does it really make the difference?
My home is expensive. It’s been fine while I’ve got money from the sale of my house, but without enough work, that supply is dwindling, this is what comes to my mind on these mornings. I’ve spent a lot of time creating a haven for myself, and I want to be here for awhile. But I am not sure how that’s going to work, and thus my dilemma. What do I do first?
I know the cats need to be fed, and even if I’m very hungry, taking the thyroid means I have to wait an hour. So, it’s all open after I do that, and thus my dilemma. Even getting dressed means making a choice, because it depends on what I’m going to do.
This should all be so simple as not to even merit discussion, or discourse, there’s only me here, I suppose, but then, there you are too. Which is why I write in this way. So I can consider things, and you might too.
The question I’ve been trying to answer is what’s most important. And that’s not easy to answer, because of course, you have to take into account what’s going on, and what’s required, other people, time schedules, etc. But the thing is, when I don’t have a regular schedule, I get all messed up, because apparently, I’m not that great at making the right choice about where I should start and what should come next. And I’m measuring how good I am at that by what’s resulting. I know, according to yogic philosophy, that’s not the measure, it’s always the process, the journey, what I’m experiencing and learning along the way. But I’m trying to achieve certain things, like being able to pay the rent and the bills, to advance creatively, to connect with more friends and family, both here at home where I now live, in LA of the sunny sunshine, and back at my old home in rainy Seattle, where there are so many beloveds about whom I care a lot.
The choices are many. I’m going to start grad school next week, and there’s a ton of understanding all the ins and outs of all the forms, the usernames and passwords, the organizing this, and the choosing that.
Then there’s the simple demands of what needs to be done here. Besides feeding the cats, I make sure the litter box is clean (although they go outside and barely use it except when I have to be gone for extended periods), making the bed, and tending all the many plants inside and out. I didn’t leave that behind after all. I have 3 outdoor spaces: a front porch, a back porch, and my rose garden down below. There are tons of plants friends that need so many different things: watering, of course, but also fertilizing, and bug removal- I know, yuck, right, but it’s just like giving your kid a bath, really – and moving because the sun changes its path and sometimes I don’t know that’s been necessary until someone’s leaves have gotten scorched in an afternoon while I was absent and then I feel bad. The rose garden I planted down below, and all the rest of the things I either moved around or added, like the hydrangea under the steps- perfect location because of the way the sun filters through- doesn’t get sufficient water from the sprinkler system, so I must make sure everything’s soaked. The temperatures have been in the 90’s and mostly high 90’s for weeks now, and if you miss watering, you’ll see disaster very shortly. So, there’s that.
And I like things to be clean. My daughter firmly believes that I’m kindof a pig, I think, just not aware of details like a refrigerator that could use a more thorough scrubbing, or the fact that my car needs to be washed, again. But she’s not a mother yet, and she hasn’t owned a home, so she doesn’t know the responsibilities I’ve taken on and had for years and years, and how tired you can get, and how, no matter how hard you try, there are only so many things you can accomplish in a day, and so many that seem to slip away repeatedly, either because they’re easy to forget or overlook, or because they’re somewhat out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Or they’re not easy, or they’re particularly time-consuming, or they’re just the kind you want to avoid, because they’re too hard, like repairing a fence gate, or hauling stuff away, or moving something that’s too heavy to do alone. Around here, I have less of that to deal with, and thank God, because I’ve needed a break from it for years. But certain aspects of that equal home to me, so I recreated them here, and I gladly do what’s there to be done, to enjoy what they offer, like the beauty of the mandevillea blossoms, that have just the right light, and the fragrance of the roses that are not getting too much light and heat. So, I’m not a piggy householder at all. I’m awake and aware and it can be overwhelming, just sayin’.
What I’m really dealing with is, though, is: body or mind or heart?
I don’t lose weight easily. I don’t overeat either. I exercise constantly, daily, and do I lose weight? No. Not really. Am I fat? Not very. Am I comfortable? No. I resist aging and the facts of my particular anatomy, because I feel that to surrender is just not one of the options. I’ve got a lot of pain from various injuries, and I know that I must keep moving, but I have to careful about how much I push. And so I have the things that I know work: swimming, and yoga, and weights and walking. I haven’t returned to Pure Barre, although I bought a month unlimited, because that’s how I injured my knee and although it’s been months since I did that practice, it’s still an issue.
What I know is that I have to move. And if I don’t, then, around here, I can get static, especially if there’s no appointment, no session, no class, no demand. If I don’t move early enough, then somehow, I get stuck. For me, there’s this middle-of-the-day doldrum that comes creeping around, and if I’ve not moved, then I’ll get caught in it, and need to lie down, even though I never let myself, because I don’t feel I can afford that luxury.
Then there’s the fact that I’ve woken up another morning alone. I’m used to it, but a bit numb. It used to hurt. I used to miss particular people I’ve loved, and even the ones I’ve hated, and I used to feel ashamed, like there was something wrong with me, that I—as that one popular card, with the pixelated cartoon of the tearful woman on it, said – “forgot to get married.” How could I forget this essential choice of American life? How could I have prioritized mine so differently that my path has been full of twists and turns that don’t look in any way normal? How could I let the best men go, or, in one case, die? And somehow keep around the destructive, harmful ones much longer than I should have? How? This remains one of the biggest mysteries I still have to solve. Because according to Daniel Giamario, the esteemed shamanic astrologer I consulted with, partnership is one of the main tasks I’ve come to learn, that I came in with what I know, which is the pride of doing things myself, and proving my worth by not needing anyone. This time around, I’m supposed to find a way to do it with someone, and God only knows, I better not get hit by a car or something, because there’s probably less than half of my allotted time here left, and if I don’t find him soon, then I won’t have fulfilled that part of my purpose. And it’s not just my need to understand mutuality and cooperation. It’s to know love, of course. Which is why I get stymied in this area, too. I cannot seem to bring myself to the now accepted way of finding a partner. I can’t stomach the idea of “shopping for people.” That’s how I view online dating, no matter how normal it’s become. I still have this old-fashioned notion that you could actually encounter a person in person! How quaint! I know that. Since, obviously, that hasn’t happened yet, or when it has happened it hasn’t panned out—panned out! Like gold-mining, no? How bizarre that we say this. Anyway, I know this is something I either need to take some action about, or not, and I keep choosing or not, basically, and here we are. Well, there is one person I am hopeful about. But I’ve done what I can do, and we have to see what we shall see.
Which brings me to the last category. My mind. I love to read. And I’d do it so much more if I only could. It’s now become something of a guilty pleasure—reading! when it’s so basic and necessary, we need it, and yet, I only really do it before bed, when my eyeballs are falling out from fatigue and my retention factor is greatly reduced because what I really need to be doing is sleeping.
But even more than that, and that’s a big thing, because I’ve loved loved loved reading since I was 5-year-old, I love to write. And I’m writing this today, because I finally came, after much trial and error in this still rather new location for me, this new home, to the conclusion that THIS is the first thing I need to be doing in the morning no matter WHAT else the day may hold. I’ve known this before, that no matter that there were miles to drive to dress that set, or that I had rehearsals to prepare for when I was at the Academy, I wrote during those periods, and you know why? Because I had that schedule. I knew when I had to be where, and it allowed me to choose my time wisely, to plan, to leave enough of it, to sleep enough, and to get up early enough, to keep my eyes open and be open to the ideas about what I wanted to say. It’s been since those jobs ended, and the subbing has been almost non-existent, and the private sessions have been few and far between, and I’ve not quite known what to do to scare up the work I must find, because I need to create income, somehow, somehow, that I’ve not been writing. And it’s bad.
Choosing to go back to school has been a mixed bag of emotions for me. Because I tried it before and I didn’t get in. And it made me question whether or not I was “supposed” to. But I am driven to teach, and teaching yoga, while in my rare previous scenario of working for a state-funded college offered benefits and retirement and all that, that’s not usually how it goes. However, teaching actual school is different. And part of why I’m doing this is that I don’t want to land on my daughter’s doorstep sooner than later. I don’t want to be dependent on her at all if I don’t have to. There it is again—this need to do it myself. But seriously, I’ve got to give her all the space she needs to flourish for as long as humanly possible.
And so this choice is motivated by several factors. I have always wanted to make a difference. I just want to do it as a director. And because I don’t know how, I figure this is a way there. It’s a bit round-about, true, but why not work with kids? All my directing is academic anyway. And I love school—being there, working there, the whole thing. I do believe that my greatest contribution is to tell story. And helping kids find the ways to tell theirs is part of that.
AND this brings me back to the relief I am feeling this morning to have, at long last! arrived at what needs to come first. It’s not that my body isn’t important—but I’m going to jump in the pool at some time of day no matter what, and I’ll drag myself to yoga in the evening, even if I’m much better energized for it in the morning. As far as finding the man of my dreams, well, much as I know I’m supposed to take action and get on those sites and pursue something, I just have to honor my way, and work more on opening my heart than spending time online.
No, what I have to do, what I must do, every morning regardless of whatever else is going on, is to take care of my mind and WRITE. Because when I do, I feel real. I know I’m here. I have a chance to articulate my thoughts, and to connect the dots, to consider things, and to place them before others for their consideration.
I think I’ve known this for a long time now. But, as guilt and shame are the major areas of healing that I have to work on, as they are my biggest life lessons, I have forever and ever and ever, let them get in the way. I’ve felt that I must make sure to be practical, and get that money coming in steadily, that I’ve got to do certain things to ensure my success on all kinds of levels. But the truth is, unless I do this, none of that will happen. Because I won’t be connected with myself. And if I’m not connected here, with me, first thing in the morning, then it’s no wonder that the rest of the day can unravel so easily. It’s no surprise that I lose steam and momentum and energy. I need to be tapped into the creative self, or nothing else is even worth doing.
And so! School begins next week, the blessed scheduling factor will be there helping me to plan and I will be writing each day. It may not be long, like this—longer than anyone apparently has the patience to read, perhaps- but it will be steady. That’s what I’ve come to, thank goodness! And I know, in my soul, that that’s how I’m meant to proceed… that that’s how I’m meant to live.
©2012 Annette Romano
All this time I wanted to make sure that the yoga I was teaching wasn’t just a physical exercise.
Think what you will about Bikram (some love that practice and some hate it) that was my first real experience with yoga.
Twenty-two years ago, I went to LA for a couple of months. I found a gym immediately, a good one, and loved it.
A friend of mine told me to meet with an astrologer friend of hers who lived there, and I did. She told me that if I wanted to stay centered in Los Angeles, then I would need to learn yoga. I had never done it before, except for a little bit with my child’s father, who had this book with this emaciated-looking Indian guy in some serious poses that, in black and white, didn’t appeal at all. I knew that Marc was a seeker and I respected that, and I knew nothing about yoga, really, so there wasn’t anything negative to erase. But I had just never considered it, much like I never considered anything, for many years, that didn’t seem directly related to acting.
I remembered this advice when I moved back down to LA a couple of years later and finding a place to learn yoga was one of my top priorities.
The first place I found when I went looking was (what I now know to have been) either a Sikh temple, or a kundalini place. In any case, they were wearing turbans, and I, although open-minded, though it might be a little too intense for me.
Then I discovered they had yoga at Voight, the gym I had belonged to previously. I was taking other kinds of classes there, particularly hip-hop, crazy 2-hr.-long classes in which the teacher never spoke, or at least not much, just employed hand signals. He used fantastic music and we would be completely soaked, from head to toe, by the time we got out of there. I did that 3 times a week for months.
The yoga teacher there was young and cute. The classes were packed. We didn’t use mats and there was no heater. The room was naturally lit and heated because the sun was seemingly always shining. His name was Baron Baptiste.
I didn’t know it right away, but his parents were 2 of the first yoga teachers in America. They began teaching in San Francisco the 1950’s, combining it with weight-training (His father, Walt, was Mr. America in 1949 and his mother Magana, was first runner-up in the 1951 Miss USA contest.) So, Baron had a pedigree. His parents were highly respected, and lifelong teachers.
Baron had had a rebellious period, he shared, in which he didn’t want to teach at all. But he ended up being a protégée of Bikram’s and in his 20’s was privately teaching cllents such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Our classes were the classic 26 poses, twice each, or 27 if you included savasana. I thought this was all yoga was.
One day, students started asking Baron for more and he obliged. So, from that point on, as almost everyone in the class was a regular attendee, we began to explore the ‘more” of yoga. It was great, because I had had no idea of anything beyond what we had been learning, and Baron was funny and smart and interesting and made things accessible to us.
Then I got hit by a drunk driver as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and landed on my should and hit my head pretty hard, breaking my collarbone and causing me not to be able to see straight for about a month. No more hip-hop or step class, or running, or biking, or any of the other things I’d been doing. For a while, I really couldn’t do much at all, because even turning my head would make the bone pop out of place, causing crippling pain. I’d have to somehow lie down, usually crying, and wait for the bone to drop back into place, which could take time, and then make my way up again, which took way more time, and the whole thing happened over and over again so many times, that in between, pretty much all I did for awhile was sleep.
Finally, I returned to class, and I didn’t do too much there, but it was nice to be in the room. It took a long time and much patience to put myself back together again, to weight-bear and balance and all the things a practice entails. It felt miraculous just to lift my arm up again and to heal.
I studied with Baron for nearly 2 years and one day he said to me, “You need to teach.” I was stunned by this, because I’d never considered it. I was planning on moving back to Seattle and had been also become certified as a personal trainer, and had been studying Pilates very intensively, thinking to teach that. But yoga? Despite the obvious fact that Baron was young and American, I still had it in my mind somewhere that yoga teachers were generally old, wizened Indian gurus, who were, basically, wise men. Not 30-something women. But he was insistent, and so, I listened.
The point of all this history is that when I first began teaching, it was in a gym. And as I was flying by the seat of my pants, I pretty much parroted what I’d been taught. Having been an actor for a long time didn’t hurt, and having a sequence people could rely on didn’t either. I just knew there was more.
And so, all this time, I’ve been emphasizing yoga as a spiritual practice. I personally “exercised” in so many other ways, I never thought of it as that. BUT. It IS a physical practice. And after 6 months of hard labor on my house, and 3 weeks down the road now, the last class I taught having been November 8th! eek! I can feel the value of what I’ve been doing for so many hours a week for so many years. And it’s time to get back to it.
Last night I went to Matt’s class at Yoga Hawaii, and it was harder than heck! So, I have to do it as much as I can with him while I’m here and then head back to LA once again and practice, because I know this much is true: You can’t substitute anything for yoga, not swimming, not walking, not meditation, not ANYthing! Yoga is yoga is yoga and THE BODY NEEDS IT and that’s all there is to it.
©2011 Annette Romano
There’s a bit of a letdown when you’ve accomplished something, ever notice?
I know how to get something done. I understand:
1. doggedness—literally, that sense of having the toy in my teeth and someone trying to pull it away, but no, me with my iron jaws will never let go, and
2. determination- that steadfastness that comes from having sighted the goal and then relentlessly pursuing it.
There are 12 definitions of determination on Dictionary.com, but here are just a couple:
Determination - noun
1. the act of coming to a decision or of fixing or setting a purpose
2. fixed purpose or intention
3. fixed direction or tendency toward some object or end.
Ah, so it would seem we need to investigate the word fixed which also has lots of definitions, so we’ll take about half. Here goes:
Fixed - adjective
1. set or intent upon something; steadily directed: a fixed stare.
2. definitely and permanently placed: a fixed buoy; a fixed line of defense.
3. not fluctuating or varying; definite: a fixed purpose.
4. supplied with or having enough of something necessary or wanted, as money.
5. put in order.
5. Chemistry .a. (of an element) taken into a compound from its free state. b. nonvolatile, or not easily volatilized: a fixed oil.
7. Mathematics . (of a point) mapped to itself by a given function. formal .
My fixed gazing point, or drishti, has been on LA for years. I remember wanting to go a very long time ago—and I did, for a couple of months. I worked, went back to Seattle, saved my money and a couple of years later, did it again. But I got hit by a car in a crosswalk, elected not to bake my child alive in a car with no air conditioning, sent her home, and doggedly made enough commercial money to move back myself less than a couple of years later.
What could’ve happened had I stayed? Who can say? It’s impossible to know, of course. And there was work in Seattle, more available and easier to get: on camera, radio, print and industrial, and before I knew it, regardless of where I wanted to be, there I was, because in the order of things, there are no obligatory relationships except those with our dependent children, and I am nothing if not responsible. There’s work? You work.
Can I just offer a commercial- ha -interruption? I happen to be observing a glorious sunrise, here at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary, owned and run by my best friend’s family, where I’ve had the great good fortune of spending Thanksgiving. Here’s a photo of what’s going on right now:
It’s fantastic. I wanted to move myself down here to southern California, partly because of the people that I know. These are some of my closest friends, involved in saving the diminishing herds of wild mustangs that our government is intent on destroying. It’s one good reason to be here, to find a way to contribute.
The two other strongest drives underlying this fixed need to change locations, and my life, have to do with what many people consider the key components to a fulfilling, satisfying life. Work. And love. The need for more of each of those—the kind I’m meant to give/have. That means a return to the original dream of acting and directing. And it means authentic partnership, conscious and equal.
Time feels shorter than to me than it used to—there seems to be less of it, and it goes faster – so it’s important to make sure that I don’t lose sight of what I’m determined to create. The interesting thing is that somehow I’ve felt that all I have to do is get here, and the rest will follow. And that’s why I say, it’s a little bit of a let-down, only because there’s been such a long build-up to get to this point, and after months of effort, with its accompanying pride-of-accomplishment and boatloads of stress, I’m here, and I’m not exactly sure what happens next. (And I realize too that I’m used to spending a good deal more time by myself. When I’m here, I’m always with people. It’s just different.)
Again: set or intent upon something; steadily directed; definitely and permanently placed; not fluctuating or varying; definite
And the one I like best:
Mathematics: (of a point) mapped to itself by a given function.
Hmm. Speaking of a particular point
Mapped to itself
By a given function.
Function: the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists.
I am mapped to myself by the function of my fixed purpose.
I love that! I’m not sure what I expected would happen upon arrival but what has happened has been most satisfying – a gorgeous full-out laughing attack the very first night and more in this just-over-a-week period than I’ve had in the whole last year put together; not one but two inspired student performances, both of which encouraged me that there are people in schools doing my kind of work; the finding of the perfect apartment, close to my friends, a place that welcomes the feline members of the family, with a pool—why live in LA and not have a pool?? plus grass and trees, etc. etc. crazy perfect; and a holiday with some of the people I love best in one of the most beautiful places there is!
The “let-down”or denouement is just a shifting of energy. It’s not disappointment, that’s for sure. It was just a little fatigue, having a break after a long period of hard-core concentrated effort, and some uncertainty in the face of so much possibility. But I’ve got the same doggedness and determination that’s gotten me this far. So, with an ongoing desire to tell story, and a heart open to love, there’s a renewal of purpose. Who knows what may happen next?
©2011 Annette Romano
The Gayatri Mantra
Om bhur buvah suvah – Om pervades earth, atmosphere, and heavens;
Tatsa vitur varenyam - That self-luminous, brilliant Divinity, who is Supreme Source;
Bhargo devasya dhimahi – On that we meditate.
Dhiyoyonah prachodayat – May that sacred light illuminate our intellects.
Om apo jyaso amrtam brahma – Om is the waters, the light essence, the immortal reality;
Bhur buvah suvarom – Om pervades earth, atmosphere, and heavens.
Or: May that unlimited, divine energy, that cosmic power, inspire my intellect to lead me on a life of good actions, by purifying the inner heart.
I ask the students what this is about. They always volunteer interesting interpretations, always sincere, but some of which they think I want to hear. (!) What I really want is to distill it down to its essence, and in this case, that essence is light.
Prana, which is measurable as light, is our life force, and it comes in on the breath, but in so many other ways: the tastes and smells, the vibrations of what we hear and feel, light shining on our eyes and on our skin. Its general energy is up, although it circulates all around and through us; its opposite is apana, or downward-moving energy, which we experience as anything falling or pulling towards Earth, including that basic force that has ahold of us all our lives, that’s just part of living here on Earth, and that’s gravity.
I ask them, What’s the opposite of light? And they always promptly answer, Darkness. Then I say, And what’s the other opposite? They look at me expectantly and wait, and I look back and wait too, until one of them eventually says, Heaviness.
Why is this the less obvious opposite?
I think it’s because of our sensory dependence on the eyes.
We seem to have become less about how things feel, and more about how they look— or to put it another way, we key into our feelings, or try to find them, or create them, based on what we see. And what we’re seeing, many of us, but perhaps especially, young people, is what’s on a screen of some kind. We’re extremely visual people these days, but the sights we’re taking in are not always direct or multi-sensory, but rather removed from us to some degree. And while we have certainly expanded our knowledge, in some ways we’ve become smaller. Our knowing is largely what we might refer to as “hearsay”, not truly connected - or not enough anyway - to our deep internal knowing.
Darkness prevents us from seeing. When it’s dark, it’s hard to find our way. It’s more likely that we’ll bump into things and possibly get hurt. When someone’s actions obscure the light in their heart, we can’t see their true self, anymore than we can experience ourselves truly when our actions aren’t enlightened.
It isn’t that darkness is bad, per se, of course, it’s not. It’s just another manifestation of duality, really, and part of life here. We like having day and night. It seems natural to us to be awake during the day and asleep at night, again, because of our dependence on the sense of sight. But there’s another kind of “seeing” that occurs in the dark and it’s the engagement of all the other senses: they kick in and it makes for richer experience.
Heaviness isn’t bad either. We expect certain things from gravity. If we jump up, we won’t go floating off into space. When we drop something, it falls. We long to have the weight taken off our hearts, our burdens removed. Chanting the Gayatri mantra, we can ask for help with this, because sometimes we can’t see how to let them go, often dragging around old insults, grievances, losses, and disappointments long after we’ve experienced them, to the point that, sometimes, we can’t even remember what they are. We just feel low. The ones we can remember, we often hold up as badges from battle, “See! This is what he did to me! And I will never recover.” But of course, that’s foolish, because it’s never someone else’s fault, really, or up to another whether or not we learn how to rise above things or not. It’s up to us.
And so, we practice.
We close our eyes, effectively removing external visual stimuli, and tune into the vast panorama within. We close off the light outside ourselves simply by dropping our eyelids, and find that it’s within, that we, too, being part of all creation, are infused with divine light. It’s always there.
When we’re scattered, or overwhelmed, all we have to do is stop for a moment, take a breath and relax, and with that letting go, our joints soften, our muscles release, our bones become heavier. There’s an empowering sense of choice, of being able to set things down, leave them behind us, and move on.
©2011 Annette Romano
Because it sounds like I am.
But I will tell you that, ever since I was young, I did what I knew to be right, and it has been.
The only things I’ve regretted in this lifetime are those that came from me overriding my innate wisdom.
What is it that causes us to stop listening? To suppress our intuition like one of those adults who can’t stand to see a child running around loose, who gets that uncomfortable, disconcerted look, who, if allowed, would suddenly turn vicious, and cruelly clamp a hard hand down on the head of that happy kid and stop its crazy running, threaten to wipe the smile off its face?
We contain so many selves. One of the tasks of yoga is to discern the true from the false among them.
One of the things I love about my – I hate to call him a therapist, because he’s so far superior to those nuts I tried talking to before and got nowhere - but, I guess that’s what he technically is—anyway, one of the things I love about him is that he doesn’t expect me to come in there and regurgitate stuff.
You know how there are those people who, if you’re not crying - actively suffering, producing bona fide tears, don’t believe you. They deny the “authenticity” of your experience. Not okay just to talk about it, no, you’ve got to get back there in the trenches and relive the whole, horrible ordeal again, whichever one you’re referring to. It’s not enough that you had a catharsis and lived to tell. No, you’ve got to manufacture a whole nother one for their benefit. These aren’t therapists. These are sadists.
I think I have a particular sensitivity to this kind of thing because when I was little, there was No Crying. If you wanted to act like that, you could march yourself to your room and have some fun indulging yourself there. So I have a sense of shame attached to that kind of expression, genuine though it may be. And in fact, as I believe I’ve mentioned previously, my inability to turn on the tears like a personal waterspout was one of my downfalls as an actress. I just felt too self-conscious to cry in front of people because of my strict “training”. Now, laughing’s a different ball game, I can laugh for you no problem. Hahahahaha!! There are people who would kill to have my delightful laughter!! Ah, just teasing. But you know, there are those who sound fake when they’re having to “produce” laughter, for sure. You’ve heard them. It’s more like, Heh heh heh. A certain charm, but real? Nah. And you know it.
In any case, I’ve appreciated my being allowed to relay what I’ve gone through to this kind, wise person I speak to each week, and only when it’s necessary to get right down to wrestling with a serious demon does he make me relive something horrible. When it’s really, truly the thing to do, we’ve done that together and I’ve come out on the other side having actually shed some of the burdens I’ve been lugging around for years like old, smelly, dead fish. It’s a bloody relief. He doesn’t have any need to watch me suffer. He prefers that I find my breakthroughs for real, not for him.
So, because he trusts me when I tell him my experience, I’ve re-learned to trust myself. I’ve been practicing my deep listening diligently, and I now have sometimes painfully, but many times joyfully, gradually regained my ability to sift through the nonsense pouring through my mind from infinite sources, much of the time, and hear my sat guru. Not the voices of my parents in their less elegant moments criticizing the beJesus out of me, or the snotty assessments of former “friends”, or the misleading judgments of old agents or fellow actors, who may’ve meant well at the time, but did their damage nonetheless.
Most important to deny the validity of? The scathing comments of old “lovers” – lovers?? old Haters, who, in their shallow, narrow, self-serving way, branded my brain with their negative opinion of my – my everything—from looks to cooking, to my supposed inability to make anything, love or money.
And I still have to work to drown out some of this. I tend towards ice cream. There’s a kind of soothing, lulling quality to it that’s not so harmful as nicotine, say, or whiskey. But mostly? I listen. Even when I’m terribly disconcerted by events, I keep on preaching to my students and also walking the hard line of No Hypocrisy wherever possible, and Practicing what I Preach. They sit, and I continually counsel them to just be with themselves, difficult though I know it is, considering physical discomfort and sometimes even pain, but even more, mental distraction: the din of voices, voices, voices, some of whom have No Business being in our heads. Because it’s worth it.
I signed the papers last night, giving away my house. Ok, I am getting some money for it, but – well, let’s not even get into that. The point is that I, by hook and by crook, survived the process of prepping—months of it! You can testify! You were here!! (A sincere Thank You btw. :) ), and marketing, and inspecting, to arrive at the place where I can actually consider my future.Whew! Finally.
And here’s where I know people are like, What?? You haven’t really thought this through, have you? Especially my mother, who, God love her sweet soul, can barely congratulate me because the state of California is on the verge of bankruptcy and she is a Great Depression survivor, after all, and this does not seem like a Good Plan, to go to such a place.
No, I’ve been feeling my way through. It does freak me out now, to understand clearly the enormity of the task before me, that of the packing up, and organizing, the decision-making and all of it. Especially like, What to do with my piano? And beyond that, where am I going to live? Or even land? What about the cats? I don’t want them to get killed their first day in the City of the Angels (or any day after that, it sortof goes without saying.) And where am I working, again?? Oh yeah, don’t know. That job I have here with the incredible students and the health insurance? That Yoga teaching job with health insurance that I’m walking away from? What am I replacing that with? Right. Don’t know the answers. I don’t know.
But I do know that when I first started looking for work, right out of high school, I suddenly decided that I was going to teach swimming lessons. Had I done it before? No, I hadn’t. But I’d been racing on a team since I was 9 and I knew a thing or 2 about how to do it. And there I was that summer, working full-time teaching everyone from the infants to the “drowners”, as we called them, to the physically challenged, to the swimmers. And I could do it.
Same with acting. Same with yoga. Same with having a child, for heaven’s sake, does anyone know how to do that before they do it?? No, of course not.
It’s a matter of trust. I’m going to move away from here because I can’t stand to be in a place where I’m used to being able to go lay eyes on my daughter in 15 minutes if I really need to. And while she’s not going to be where I’m going, I also don’t expect her there, so I won’t want what I never had. It will be easier. And I’m going to where there are some friends who do what I used to do and know that I’m meant to be doing again—everything to do with the theatre. I need to. And I’m going to find some sunshine!! Yay. And who knows what else? Love? One can only hope.
I don’t know how it’s going to work. But I can say that when I’ve gone into worry, I’ve had my trusted, wonderful friends here (thank you! I love you!) to remind me that it’s going to be ok, to just keep my chin up and stick to my guns. And that every time I’ve gotten stuck, my beloved colleague Kelli has been there to remind me to envision not what I see in front of me as impossible, impassable, but to go beyond and see what it is I’m striving to create. And last night, Diana, one my dearest, and one of the reasons I’m moving down to Los Angeles, said, “You know that fear is just excitement without breathing, right? So breathe!!! And get your butt down here, already!”
I know the traffic sucks down there. But it isn’t exactly a cakewalk around here either. As much as the fine citizens of Seattle love to diss LA, there’s actually much to recommend it. I don’t need to list all those things for you and get into some ridiculous comparative analysis- although I do have to mention that Seattle seems to have the best grocery stores anywhere in the country, if not the world – But. Where is the Rose Bowl? The Tournament of Roses Parade? Where does this long-time grower and aficionado, who some will even go so far as to call a Rosarian need to go? You’ve got it.
Can’t WAIT. :)
©2011 Annette Romano
Obstacles to practice
Our personal obstacles. Consider just a few of the possibilities:
our fear of not knowing;
of looking foolish;
of losing our balance;
of not being strong enough, or not having the energy;
of confusion (our rights and lefts being the least of it, more might be wondering how something is supposed to feel);
the length of our limbs;
our girth, especially when it comes to bending and twisting;
pain or discomfort;
our previous injuries and scar tissue—that includes mental and emotional as well as physical;
of being distracted (or worrying about being distracted, which is just as bad).
Or, on the other hand:
a big ego, showing off or drawing attention to ourselves;
acting falsely humble;
believing that accomplishing the physical pose is all there is to it.
These are just a few of the pitfalls when stepping onto the mat!
Our personal demons.
Just as there’s debate in some spiritual circles as to the existence of God as personified in many religions, there’s some question as to the existence of Evil, as personified by The Devil. I don’t claim to have any answers here, but there does seem to be some wisdom in the yogic idea of duality, or opposites. You can work with this idea yourself, because as this is a personal practice, there needs to be personal application: hence, personal demons.
So, some would say, for example, that the opposite of love is hate. But others would say it’s fear. And still others would disagree and say, No, it’s indifference. But Krishnamacharya had it right. The practice needs to be tailored to the individual. And we, the individuals, are the ones doing the tailoring these days. (It makes as much sense as following any given teacher, at least after a certain point. Because the sat guru or true teacher, exists within.)
Consider the biggies: love vs…whatever!
Or just the smaller things- those obstacles listed above, or any of a myriad of doubts that plague our everyday.
It’s all good, all fair game, all worth examining and bringing to the work.
We walk into the desert and we face whatever we face.
We pour ourselves into the crucible and burn away the dross. There is this human struggle with the disunity of TRUTH and subjective outlook - our opinions about our history and our beliefs about what we do, or don’t, deserve, color our present and create our current experience.
Identifying our beliefs can lead to the releasing of them and to our freedom, but it takes practice and sometimes you have to do the same thing again and again to get it—hence, the repetitious sequences of yoga asana, and rounds of breath in pranayama, or the intoning of the mantra, or taking of a mudra. Again and again. This is what constitutes a practice.
Boundaries and rules are devised for lots of reasons.
We put fences at the edges of property to mark “ownership” although, technically, when you really look at it, owning land and animals, for just 2 examples, isn’t really possible. Where did they come from? These things and much more can be acquired for money, or handed down for generations in a family, but where did they originate?
The same goes with rules.
We devise guidelines so that we can play a game or participate in various relationships to one another, or govern ourselves. We make laws, see how they work and then amend them.
This figuring out how things should be done, or what we’re allowed to have, or how we’re supposed to be, is seen everywhere in our societies and cultures.
It’s meant to make it possible for us to experience things safely, as in the way we drive our cars, for example, or compete in sports.
It’s designed so that we can experience things more fully, as in a recipe, or a marriage.
There’s a kind of commitment involved in binding, because it defines: this is this and it is not that. This is “mine” and this is “yours.” Rarely are things actually that clear, but we make these determinations, because without them, life would become chaotic and confusing. Or, so we say in justifying the immense complexity of boundaries we’ve devised for ourselves.
I’m not sure that’s entirely true—and certainly, we’re always trying to find ways around these strictures – but I can see how the basic intention is helpful anyway. We take ideas and illustrate them.
We take raw materials and build something out of them.
From the unseen abstract world, we create all kinds of everything, bring all of this into a reality that we can see and touch, experience with our senses, know.
The bound poses bring us deeper into the asana practice. And so do the pranayamas—deliberate ways of working with the breath to affect our energy specifically, to benefit our health and well-being. As with all aspects of yoga, there is the immediate experience of whatever you’re doing, and there is the way it goes far beyond that, and applies to life.
The bound poses LOOK to be the most difficult, but maybe they just take more courage and consideration, more commitment – more willingness to set aside first impressions and immediate reactions and to just adopt an open, fearless, non-judgmental approach.
There are bound poses in every category, because you can always take things a step further—or so it seems. There must be the outer reaches of any posture (and you see photographs of some pretty crazy stuff—the kind of tying yourself into a pretzel that kept Americans from taking to yoga until relatively recently). Some I’ve experienced, and many I’ve not, and perhaps never will.
But this is the beauty of yoga as a life practice: you can do it every day, and still, when your dying day arrives, there would’ve been more.
©2011 Annette Romano
What is it about moving fingers around on a keyboard to type on buttons that form rows of black marks on a screen that allows for transformation in ways that sitting still with eyes closed, a candle burning, and meditating never can? I don’t know. But, finally, I begin to understand the obstacles! I can SEE.
Through language, I acknowledge them, meet them, honor them for their purpose, and then after this long waiting period of not knowing how to proceed, begin to find the ways to overcome them: moving over, under, around or… through. But, however it happens, this process of finding the words that express experience, works.
And it brings me to the similar miracle of the asana practice. Now I begin to understand: those old yogis knew that what was needed was to take that kind of translation and put it in form, give us a way to move it through our bodies so that we could truly FEEL what transformation is, that that was the way to learn. That’s the “space” aspect of it. And being that matter is slower than thought, it became a practice, because repetition would be needed to learn the requisite lessons and unlearn the mistakes, and that it might take a lifetime, but it could be done. And there’s “time”. Aha.
So, this being bound as we are in time and space seems like limitation, but it’s acceptance of that and putting it to use that sets us free.
Almost any pose can be bound.
In uttanasana, standing forward bend, I can wrap my arms around grasping opposite elbows and tuck my nose between my knees. When I release that and roll up, lifting my arms overhead in urdvha hastasana, upward hands, I can interlace the fingers and maybe invert the palms, pressing upwards, or I might release just the index fingers from that clasp, and squeeze my head with my extended arms. When I let that go, I bring the hands back into the center of the chest in Namaste or atmanjali mudra, palms facing one another, fingers pointing up in prayer hands. At every turn, I can find a way to bind a pose so as to go deeper. Binding, paradoxically, creates more moksha, more mukti, or freedom.
Who doesn’t want to be free? But what does this mean, really?
We are all bound simply by being in form. From that come other limitations- our bones fit together the way they do, and our joints have a range of motion—we can sometimes increase it, but for most people, only to a certain extent. Our senses provide us with particular information, and this is colored by our contextual conceptions, so again, our experience is limited. And our individual experience is conditioned by idiosyncrasies, whatever they may be.
Part of the practice of yoga is to transcend given limitations, physically through asana, pranayama, bandhas, mudra, and so forth. But our greater work is to overcome other kinds of blocks - mental, or emotional, or spiritual - those handed to us by others, who passed on their prescribed sets of beliefs and ways of doing things, and those we took on from early experiences that taught us what worked or didn’t work, that we keep on using to make decisions, sometimes long after they’ve outlived their usefulness. When we’ve developed habitual responses, so much so that they become patterns, then we need to find a way out: over, under, around, or through. The whole point is to become aware of our tendencies and to be present long enough to make real choices, instead of continue to be trapped by them.
The fact is that the usual obstacles are still in my way. Not always, anymore. But when I’m tired, feeling weak, or overwhelmed.
I’m always wanting to feel good. And when I don’t, it’s because I operate in ways that mean I won’t: eating things that I know will make me fat, or hurt my joints, will make me tired or headachy or sleepy or despondent. Why? On some level, after all these years of concentrated work, there are times when I still don’t feel that I deserve to feel good.
I suffer from regrets. I’ve done what I can to repair my mistakes, to find my way back to my true path. I’ve also tried to remedy disagreements and fallings out with various old friends and relatives, but things don’t always work out, because, as my sister says (my sister the therapist with whom it’s IMPOSSIBLE to work anything out) that it takes 2. Yes, it takes both people. And they both have to be willing, not coerced, but truly willing.
So there are still some ways in which I feel bound by my past. The binding consists of my fear of hearing what I can’t bear to hear about myself, avoiding what I feel might be conversations I won’t recover from, fearing that I will then carry with me someone’s negative opinion, and won’t be able to shake it… and my behavior punishing myself nonetheless, as if I’ve heard it, even though it’s totally possible that what I imagine is much worse than anything they would ever say. This may be the biggest thing in my way.
Stated in its simplest terms: I’m still sometimes stuck in a cycle of not functioning at my highest level, because I become so crippled by criticism, real or imagined, that I couldn’t bear to operate at my most optimum and STILL not achieve what I’m going for, and STILL not ever receive the approval I evidently crave, and STILL not amount to anything.
I have an inability to work for others, to some degree. It depends on the level of independence I’m allowed. I can work under someone who operates hands off, and trusts me to do what I do. Under those circumstances, I can give it my all and let enrollment in class, quarter after quarter, and many repeat students, and more messages and papers that I can count, in which my students express their appreciation, be the proof that I’m doing my job well. But I don’t want anyone watch-dogging what I’m doing, or listening to how I phrase my instruction, or any of that, because it makes me feel suffocated.
In fact, it’s a wonder that I ever was an actress, when, when it comes right down to it, I don’t like to be observed. Of course, there’s a difference in that on stage, for the most part, the words I’m speaking, the actions I’m taking, the appearance I take on, are not my own. But I now believe that the reason I finally quit the theatre was that I couldn’t tolerate the constant scrutiny and seemingly unanimous agreement that I just didn’t have what it takes.
Which leads back to the concept of worth and where it comes from, and why we do or don’t have that, and if we carry this sense of unworthiness with us through our life still trying to make the most of our lives that we possibly can. What a burden. I guess I finally got to that place of realizing that it’s not what anyone else thinks of me—but, just in case, I don’t want to know. Maybe they wouldn’t be as harsh as some have been in the past, or as bad as I fear they’ll be, but I’d rather be subject to my own high standards. I know I’ll meet them.
Perhaps this is partially because I came into this world and the very simplest requirement was a burden, that of breathing. Perhaps what happened was that I, from my infantile perspective, assessed that I just couldn’t cut it.
I have often considered that first year. I’ve tried to remember what it felt like to be inside the oxygen tent alone. I have images but I don’t know where they came from and they could just be a combination of what I’ve seen on television, since my experience of hospitals is limited, and what I’ve been told by my mother.
I didn’t realize the extent of my illness as a child until much later. From the time we were 12 or so, we had our eyes on those cartons of Tareyton cigarettes that our parents smoked. We would sneak a pack out, squirrel it away, and then invite our friends for sleepovers and head out back into the alley, after everyone upstairs was asleep, and make ourselves dizzy experimenting with smoke-rings, standing around with a hand on one hip, and holding our cigarettes in the other, in what we presumed were glamorous positions.
When my parents found out, it wasn’t just some generalized sense of disapproval. They were beside themselves, because they knew I was the last person on Earth who ought to be smoking and were gravely concerned for my health. Unfortunately, by that time, I didn’t listen to or respect them, and refused to really take in what they were saying, because obviously, they were just my parents and what did they know about anything?
©2011 Annette Romano
The body. Hawaii is so much about the body.
Because of the light and the wind and the waves, although it is exquisite to behold, even more here I appreciate the senses of hearing and smell and most of all, of touch.
I hear birds I’ve never met except here and palm fronds clattering in high wind. I take in unfamiliar floral scents, and unidentifiable other ones- pineapple? dirt? that give new meaning to the word dizzying. But it’s the salt: in the cool water, and on the warm breeze, on my skin, and in my mouth, dripping out of my hair, swept out of my eyes. And it’s the sand - like sugar, everyone always says, but it’s true! Like sweet, light brown sugar, a little soft, a little damp, a little crunchy, on my skin, knees, elbows, and in between my toes, and in my towel, and my book, and on my apple.
The koshas are the 5 sheaths: annamaya, manomaya, pranamaya, vijnanamaya, and anandamaya. We are comprised of these layers and one or another of them may take precedence at any given time, but they exist and operate simultaneously.
My focus has been on the application of the spiritual practices of yoga. I have been determined to combine and include the various aspects so that I and the students get a complete experience.
But— and it could be said that, being raised Catholic I come by this naturally - like the priests of old, and some ascetics of today, there’s been a certain denial of the flesh, some worry about distraction, some concern about shallowness of experience, and most important, some guilt about pleasure. I didn’t even realize it.
The outer sheath is the one Hawaii brings to my attention. And although I’ve pretty much always taken care to maintain my health, I’ve done it more out of obligation than out of thanks and celebration. Here I keep being astounded by the constant pull into the present moment that the senses are providing, a connection here that I don’t feel in the cold, muffled by layers of clothing, and the contraction of muscles against it. And I feel in a way that I never did in Seattle, not even on the sunniest day. In my body, really there. Healthy.
In the material body, which is called the “sheath of food” (anna-maya kosha),reign the elements earth, water, and fire, which are those presiding in the lowest Chakra,the Muladhara, Svadhishthana,and mani-pura centres.
The two former produce food and drink, which is assimilated by the fire of digestion, and converted into the body of food. The indriya are both the faculty and organs of sense. There are in this body the material organs, as distinguished from the faculty of sense.
Annamaya kosha as the name suggests, is made of anna. The satwik meaning of anna is “the essence of earth”. Water, food grains, fruits and vegetables are all the products of earth; from this, milk, ghee and flesh is made and all of this is considered anna.
The human body is made up of anna and it grows and gets strengthened with anna and later after the death of physical body gets merged in the earth.
Anna means rasa of prithvi and this is the source of life on earth. Annamaya kosha is the controller, cause, producer and consumer (sanchalaka, kaarana, utpadaka, and upabhokta) of physical body but is still different than physical body.*
Of the physical body, but still different from the physical body. This is what I am learning about here in this very special place on Earth.
I am so accustomed to apologizing for what and who I am. Whenever Matt introduces me to anyone, he waxes on about what a fantastic teacher I am, and what a gifted director. And part of me shrinks against it, because I was trained from an early age not to brag, not to make much of myself, not to call attention, to be quiet. But it’s not about humility, that: it’s about being small, invisible, ashamed.
It has to do with shame. That ugly voice underneath whispering, Not Good Enough. Yesterday, our friend Mark Star called and got in on that conversation. This is the message he left us:
Shame is that lasting party visitor that just won’t leave.
Shame is that catalyst that devalues your net worth in unseen ways and leaves you penniless and poverty-stricken in mind.
Shame is that greasy, oily garbage that clogs your plumbing and causes everything to back up, and is most noticeably found after taking big craps (forgive the crass straightforwardness of this analogy) and having to resort to using a plunger.
Shame is realizing that the inescapable truth that you’re trying to run from is yourself, and you have to finally turn around and look in the mirror to face it and say: “Shame, that ‘s not my name.”
Got it. No more.
I find myself here in this sensual paradise, in a body. My body. My well-used and little-celebrated physical form that I rely upon and that’s given me so many gifts of experience, including that of bearing a child. So, I claim it now. And invite in the more that Hawaii (and my future) offers. It’s mine to use for good, for pleasure, and for love.
©2011 Annette Romano
There’s a bird whose name I don’t know singing outside my window. You can’t exactly call it singing, I guess- he’s more like a mockingbird in that his conversation is quite various. It sounds like he’s imitating things he’s heard, and I wish I could put it into words, but that’s impossible, you’d just have to hear it for yourself. :)
I’m not sure, but this could be him.
I slept last night with the wind roaring through the Manoa Valley. It rained a lot yesterday and it was dark when Matt picked me up from the airport, the roads all slick and shiny. He said everyone was complaining about how cold it was. 70 degrees! NOT cold in my book. But hey, everything’s relative, right?
Communication/connection has changed so much. Distances are a matter of mind anymore. The glory of free long-distance means that you can talk to someone all the time, so it seems like you’re with them. The actual being in their presence and viewing them with your own eyes, and being able to hug, and to see each other laughing, rather than just hearing it (or seeing a crazy weird version of it on skype) is so satisfying.
Matt gave me a little talisman to work with, that someone gave him when he first got here. It’s a small golden representation of a symbol worn by royal chiefs of Hawaii. It’s called a Lei Niho Palaoa, and traditionally, it’s a hook hung on cords of human hair, said to resemble fishing hooks. You wear it around your neck and it sits at the throat.
It’s so perfect for the work we’re going to do, because the vissudha chakra is all about communication, and it’s interesting as well, that the island of Oahu is considered to be the island of vissudha.
Here’s how it goes:
Hawaii, the Big Island – Muladhara, or root chakra - earth
Maui – Svadhistana, the navel center - water
Lanai – Manipura - solar plexus (just below) – fire
Molokai – Anahata – heart chakra – air
Oahu - Vissudha – throat chakra – ether
Kauai – Ajna – brow point, or third eye, seat of divine mind
Ni’ihau – Sahasrara - crown chakra – connection with the unseen
I lay in bed this morning with the Lei Niho Palaoa resting in the hollow of my throat and my hands in Varuna mudra. The mudra is made by taking the right baby finger across the right palm and covering it with your thumb, and then placing the right hand in the palm of the left hand and the left thumb across the right. Varuna is the God of water (and of death) and the mudra is practiced to relieve congestion.
There are many descriptions of Varuna, but I like this one—kindof quaint and weird maybe, but cool. (from harekrsna.com)
The demigod Varuna (or Praceta) is said to be the predominating deity of the waters, and his capital, which is known as Vibhavari, is within the watery kingdom. In the midst of the ocean of milk, in the valley of Trikuta, Varuna constructed a garden named Rtumat.
Varuna presides over the water, the night, the western sky, and the western portion of the universe. Varuna is omniscient, and since he punishes sins, he is prayed to for forgiveness. He is also the sender of disease and is often associated with Mitra and Indra.
Varuna is the controlling deity for all relishable juices. Therefore the mouth becomes the resting place for the tongue, which tastes all the different juices, of which the controlling deity is Varuna.
Varuna is the keeper of the celestial waters, those which flow from the openings in the sky in the form of rain. He was worshiped with veneration and a healthy amount of fear, for as an asura Varuna did have his sinister aspects and was known to punish mortals who did not keep their word. He was the cosmic hangman and his usual method of punishment was to capture the offender with his noose. He was also a lord of the dead, a position he shared with Yama, and could confer immortality if he so chose. (Encyclopedia Mythica)
My mind has been as packed as my possessions in their truck on their way to me. My days leading up to driving away were full of so much—friends, and boxes, packing tape, wine. There were meals and celebrations all the way down, that continued when I got here. I feel warmly welcomed by the angels I love in Los Angeles. More busyness still, navigating crowded streets to discover my oasis of a new home, tucked back into a cul-de-sac, with much that I hoped for—room, a place to swim, welcome for the kitties – but so much more—light, trees, mountain views, and an orange grove. And then, all kinds of preparations and collaborations for Thanksgiving, up at Return to Freedom, surrounded by the benevolent hills north of Santa Barbara, where wild horses roam together in their native bands.
But it’s also just the transitions in air quality that caused me to call upon this god and to practice this mudra. Seattle is cold and wet and dark much of the time, it’s true, but as cities go, it’s CLEAN. The air is constantly being washed, if you will. So, the first week in LA has been a bit challenging, as my lungs (and ears and nose, and eyes, for that matter) adjust. The time up at the ranch provided some relief, and being here in the island kingdom of Hawaii, I will find healing.
There’s one aspect of moving that is still haunting me some, and whenever I think of it, I feel so much unexpressed anger. It’s the way that real estate has become such a racket, everyone taking their cut, gouging you for whatever they can get. The price exacted for owning a home here in our country is extracted practically in blood when you try to get out of it.
On the one hand, I had so many lovely, talented friends helping me in all kinds of ways, to transform the space and to leave it in as beautiful of shape as possible, and on the other hand, I had the greedy vultures who were just trying to de-value all of that and all the love I’d poured in over all the years, and get that price whittled down just as far as it could be, in every aspect that they could, right up to the very last second. It still makes me feel sick whenever I think of it, and I find that I dislike them very heartily and need to truly let it go somehow, because otherwise, it will make me sick.
Hawaii is most certainly the “watery kingdom.” Did you know that it’s as far as you can get away from another land mass? Here are a couple of statistics - and there are many more fascinating things but for now - from “50states.com” – ha! :
Hawaii is the most isolated population center on the face of the earth. Hawaii is 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines.
The Hawaiian Archipelago consists of over 130 scattered points of land stretching some 1,600 miles in length from the Kure Atoll in the north to the Island of Hawaii in the south.
From east to west Hawaii is the widest state in the United States.
Hawaii has its own time zone (Hawaiian Standard Time.) There is no daylight savings time.) The time runs two hours behind Pacific Standard Time and five hours behind Eastern Standard Time.
And it may be one of the United States of America, but thing is (and this despite the fact that our current president hails from here) it’s NOT. It doesn’t belong to our country any more than ANY of the other nations we invaded and tried to claim. When you are here, yeah, it’s nice to have decent roads, etc. but as far as pretty much everything goes, you might as well be in a foreign country, because, obviously, it’s nowhere near the mainland, and nothing like it!
The fish hook and the god of water, these are my first tools here in Honolulu. Mahalo. And Aloha.
©2011 Annette Romano
I had to tell my students that I’m leaving, that I won’t be staying to finish the quarter.
I never imagined it like this—I never really got that far in my thinking at all. Mostly, it was like, “I can’t take another long, depressing Seattle winter.” And I have had many visions, assisted by tumblr, and every kind of public media, of traveling. Not just traveling, but with a new Canon 7D in hand. It’s a big world! And there’s so much I haven’t really seen yet, not in person anyway. But that’s a whole nother story. More on that as I move into it.
In any case, I was under the impression that it would take months for my house to sell. Not that I felt that way about it, I thought it would be much quicker than it was, and hoped it would be, too, because keeping a house unnaturally clean, as if you don’t actually live in it, is really uncomfortable, and also just plain weird - but I was listening to people who are supposed to know about these things, and, as is often the case, they didn’t know. I was right.
But of course, I’d been trying to operate on the idea that it would be a long time, and so I planned to finish Fall quarter. I hadn’t prepared for having to tell my students I’d be leaving them before it was over, and it was really hard. I fall in love with them every time. So, it’s always bittersweet when we come to our last class together, but in this case, it won’t just be theirs. It will be mine.
Time. I used to get so impatient, and I don’t so much anymore. And in this process of letting go of my daughter, my home, now my students, and soon my friends, I’ve surrendered. I’ve really had to.
And I’m going to have to keep doing it.
2 parts of our practice this week:
Vajrapradama mudra and this mantra, which I’ve mentioned previously, but didn’t discuss at length:
Om asato ma sat gamaya - Om Lead me from untruth to truth
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya Lead me from darkness to light
Mrityor ma’amrtam gamaya - Lead me from death to immortality.
I touched on the vajrapradama mudra before as well, but mostly how we make it with our hands. It’s called “The gesture of unshakable trust.” I use it when teaching inversions, but it’s useful for so much more, especially now.
I need to trust myself in so many ways. Mostly it’s really having my intuition in full operation now, as much as possible, because this kind of seeing and listening and feeling will keep me on track as far as what’s got to happen. I am timing relinquishing various possessions, such as my beloved piano, and keeping some of what I need out and available- to cook with, for example – but putting what’s not needed right now- like the ice cream maker – away until it is. And yes, sometimes an ice cream maker is exactly what’s needed!!
I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for the right place to live, which involves considering many, many factors from who and what will be nearby to the safety of Little Huck and Coco.
I’m making timing decisions regarding the holidays: Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary with my dearest friend’s family (they own and run it) for Thanksgiving, a couple weeks after that to spend with Matt in Honolulu, writing as fast and furiously as our little fingers will allow while we have some precious time together in the same place, and Manhattan for Christmas, with Tessa.
I’m balancing my daily expenditure of energy between having to organize and do for the future, all the while finding ways to maintain the necessary energy to be present and available for my students, and this I’m doing by watching what goes into my mouth and by swimming and taking Pure Barre classes consistently. I’m also taking very satisfying walks, with my beloved cohorts who do that, in this fantastic Indian summer we’ve been having here in Seattle. Winter is not yet here, although the temperature is slowly creeping down – just in time to freeze the little Halloweeners soon to be running around in their costumes that are all about artistic fantasy and not much about warmth!
I just keep coming back to this trust I’ve nurtured within myself. No, it’s not easy, when I look at all the past “mistakes” and their aftermath, that have kept me partnerless and overly responsible for so long. But I can either freak out on a daily basis here, with all the arrangements, OR I can relax and keep some perspective, get a little accomplished each day, and know that it will all fall into place just as it should, as long as I stay awake and aware. And Keep Trusting.
I remember when we were pregnant, Marc and I, back in North Carolina, as students at the School of the Arts there in Winston-Salem. He had always wanted to leave school, never had been, brilliant as he truly was, into formal education and all its requirements. I loved school and never wanted to leave it.
In any case, there we were, pregnant, and having to make a choice. We dropped acid and went out into our backyard in a torrential downpour to watch the fork lighting dancing in the sky right over our heads. And he said, “We’re in the river. We can swim like crazy against the current if we want. Or… we can just jump in the boat and take the ride.” The rest is history, and although there’ve been many, many rough patches along the way, I don’t regret that decision we made together. How could I? No. We were given the biggest gift of our lives, and with as much grace as we could muster in our early 20’s, we gathered up our courage and set out on a great adventure.
Now my very wise, very brave daughter has made her leap to the big city in the east, and it’s been just the perfect impetus to get me moving out of patterns that I wasn’t even fully aware I was repeating. Time to go! Well, almost time.
My students are young, for the most part. College age and some high schoolers from the Running Start program. Plus plenty of others who’ve returned to college a little later to learn something new. But regardless of their age, our discussions are between people who are largely just discovering yoga, and many of them, for the first time. When they come to class, they’re expecting a 2-credit PE class. And what they get is something entirely else.
So, Tuesday afternoons are illuminating for everyone. We talk about our reading assignment for the week, and in doing so, the students realize that, no matter how different they may all seem, they have a lot in common. They talk about the concepts and ideas presented in the book, and my instruction is to apply it to themselves, in terms of what we’re learning in the classroom, and how it might extend beyond that, into their daily lives.
I have the students form a circle with their mats, and we talk about what constitutes an actual discussion. There is presenting your thoughts, but not really listening to, or taking in, or connecting to what someone else may be offering. Our classes are large and not everyone can speak, so it’s important that we not try to just get what we have to say said, but that we relate.
They have such lovely faces. It isn’t just youth and it isn’t just the amazing variety, because they come from everywhere you can think of. It’s their expressions. I’ve always been fascinated with people, their bodies and particularly their faces, and I notice and remember details that many people do not. Part of this is just from having trained and worked as an actor for as long as I did, part of it is from having been an extremely vigilant child, and mostly it stems from my deep love of beauty, in all its shapes, colors, forms, manifestations. I can’t ever get enough of the infinite variability of the human visage, the mind-blowing genetic possibilities and what people do with what they’re given- embellishment, decoration: all the colors of eyes, the shapes of brows and noses and lips, all the different ways that hair can sprout out of the male face! :) etc. etc. I’ve had the gift of being able to gaze upon hundreds of these exquisitely expressive faces throughout my years at the college and I remember them. I remember them.
We talked about the mantra at length and the primary focus was on the first line:
Om Lead me from untruth to truth.
Questions: What does this mean? Who are we asking to be lead by? What’s true and what’s not? How do we know that? If we’re not being honest, how? And with whom? When we’re not truthful with ourselves, what is it we’re believing about ourselves? Where do these beliefs come from?
What we discussed was how so much of what we’re driven by is sub- and even unconscious beliefs that came to us sometime in the past, or still, in present time, from a variety of sources. The loving, kind, supportive messages help us grow in a good way. The other ones create a kind of negative conditioning that has us uneasy, critical, dissatisfied, and more - angry, competitive, judgmental. Who told us we were ugly, fat, stupid, that we’d never amount to anything, never get anywhere? Sometimes we can remember and sometimes we can’t, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we identify these as untruths and learn to replace them with thoughts and beliefs that bring us the experiences to know that we are all good and beautiful and talented in our own, unique ways.
That we’re worthy.
It can take time, even with people who are young, because if we carry around false ideas of ourselves long enough, they seem to be true. How do we come to a different understanding of who we are? Practice. And yoga is perfect! It is a practice, because that’s exactly what it takes.
Several of the students have spoken to me. One of them I’ve had for a number of quarters and she’s very special and lovely. She had asked me for a copy of the mantra sheet we use, and I’d thought she just wanted it for herself, for reference. But it turns out that she was making extra copies for me. Just the kind of sweet, thoughtful thing she would do. Another, explaining to me how trying to balance full-time work and full-time school is almost more than she can handle, just about broke my heart, because her earnest, vulnerable face spoke volumes, and because I understand that so many of them are struggling with the same thing. And another came to say that my passionate words about how all of them are wonderful just the way they are were ones she would always remember.
We take vajrapradama mudra and sit together. The world is in turmoil, and we all feel it. All I can do is provide a space where they can practice their yoga, their union, their perfection, their oneness.
And I have to trust that that’s enough.
©2011 Annette Romano
In Hinduism, Durga (Sanskrit: दुर्गा); meaning “the inaccessible” or “the invincible”; Bengali: durga or Maa Durga meaning “Mother Durga”) “one who can redeem in situations of utmost distress” is a form of Devi, the supremely radiant goddess, depicted as having eighteen arms, riding a lion or a tiger, carrying weapons and a lotus flower, maintaining a meditative smile, and practicing mudras, or symbolic hand gestures. The name is made of Sanskrit dur- = “with difficulty” (compare Greek δυσ- (dys-)) and gā (“come”, “go”).
An embodiment of creative feminine force (Shakti), Durga exists in a state of svātantrya (independence from the universe and anything/anybody else, i.e., self-sufficiency) and fierce compassion. Kali is considered by Hindus to be an aspect of Durga. She is thus considered the fiercer, demon-fighting form of Shiva's wife, goddess Parvati. Durga manifests fearlessness and patience, and never loses her sense of humor, even during spiritual battles of epic proportion.
The path of the warrior.
Durga is about passion. Check it out. She’s got a smile on her face but she’s fighting, her mount a big cat, the epitome of feminine energy. Some depict her on a lion and some on a tiger. Interestingly, the lion shown is the male of the species. She is “riding” him. With the tiger, it’s like being atop, and looking like an extension of, her strongest female self. She wields weapons in her 18 arms and there’s a man she’s beating in battle. It’s a one-on-one.
It’s so fitting for our times. How did we get here? Watching Mad Men, which is brilliant- this “battle of the sexes” is so painful to witness: the conscription of roles, and the limits, the striving to prove oneself worthy, the confining strictures they were all pushing against. And I just saw the uncut, re-mastered, complete with intermission, Lawrence of Arabia yesterday, having forgotten it almost entirely since last viewing. It’s such an excruciating portrayal of how the noble spirit is perverted by power, how the drive to champion and preserve life gets corrupted by destructive forces that are larger than the individual.
The duality of being vs. doing/having.
The drive to achieve, to accomplish, to have material gain that we can hold in our hands, this is the doing-ness part of it. There’s true value in in it, we wouldn’t be here if not. The actions we choose rejuvenate us, literally keep us young, as in the moving of the body causes blood to flow and all the systems to stay flowing and healthy and connected. We aren’t sedentary creatures by nature - I’ve always pointed out to the new students that it’s far easier to stand - and sitting actually hurts us when we do it for too long. No, movement, in its ability to cause creation, is necessary to life.
But so is stillness. Particularly with age, it facilitates appreciation. The tendency to stop, to still, to observe, to see things I haven’t been paying close attention to more clearly. I’ve always seen/heard/smelled them, and I voice my observations and opinions, and but this slowing is allowing me to feel them again. And with that depth of feeling, there comes gratitude. Really being so grateful just to have seen or heard or smelled or touched something beautiful—the sound of the hummingbird whizzing right up to my head and sending his trembling life force directly into my ear, the thrill of diving into lake water that’s shockingly chilly upon entrance but becomes like a warm second skin that my whole first one can slip through, it sliding like… what? like liguid velvet? The sensation cannot be captured any more than can a Voo Doo rose, that melding of orange and red in those watercolored petals and a fragrance that’s next to impossible to describe in words.
The question has always been put 2 ways: “What do you want to do/be when you grow up?” They are – not inextricably, but undoubtedly- intertwined.
The third component of that trio, having, isn’t really part of the equation at all, unless I suppose we try to put it together like:
Having-ness + doing-ness+ equals being-ness.
This isn’t just simply true however, because the infinite variation within that equation makes it impossible to measure.
We long for love and look to “own “ it. We say we love our homes and animals and our devices, from our cars to our phones. (A recent Harvard study showed that the part of the brain that responds to images of the iPhone isn’t that of addiction, it’s that of love.)
We even phrase the wording of marriage- the joining of 2 hearts and bodies—we “take” our chosen partner to be ours. But this isn’t real. We cannot possess anything really, and certainly not anyone. It’s all transitory. We long to own something, to have it, because we need the experience. But love just is. And so are we in the end.
The idea being: to find ourselves as this, in form, as LOVE incarnate, before we leave our human bodies and minds and return to spirit, and perfect love. It’s seems that we come here to know something we already know? But to know it more truly and deeply—or rather the having-ness and doing-ness that make true being-ness possible.
©2011 Annette Romano
(Krishna and Radha.)
There’s an innocence with which I started this endeavor of selling my house. And I realize that’s just one way to put it—it could also be construed as naivete. The one word suggests a child-like quality, and the other—although defined as “artless simplicity” (Dictionary.com) - a connotation of childish: foolishness, the sense that one should know better.
How can we learn but by experience?
The standing poses come at the top of practice. We sit and do transitional stretching to come from there to our feet, but then it’s standing work, often in the form of sun salutations. We take time to explore individual poses, including components of the salute, which involves, among other things, warriors and their variations.
I’ve often taken issue with this idea of the “warrior.” It seems a crazy concept for a practice that’s supposed to be about peace. And yet, I understand it, too: there’s a kind of fight, just plain gumption, that’s required to be here on Earth. It’s not an easy place. This practice – that of yoga, that of being a realized human— takes guts—if you don’t put forth your effort, you can forget it, you won’t learn it. And if you don’t consistently apply your effort, then all that you learned will be forgotten, because you won’t be living it. Which is where it counts.
When I was little, we were taught not to be selfish. I remember being confused by this regularly, because as a child, there’s a kind of delight in discovering what you love; when you’re young and attracted to something, you want to embrace it, jump into it, and experience it, or have it, again and again. There’s a kind of wrecklessness we know as kids, when it comes to pure enjoyment, that gets shamed out of us (especially if you were raised Catholic) and we spend so much of our lives trying just to get it back.
There’s a certain value to learning to share, to be patient, to give someone else a chance. We obviously need to get along, and these kinds of behaviors are crucial to prevent mayhem in the classroom, for example, or on the playground. But one thing you learn early, if you’re “good” – and that’s that, while your mother may be committed to having you understand these concepts, clearly, there are other mothers with different ideas. Look at any kid situation and you’ll see the ones who have been schooled to cooperate, and the ones who operate out of a sense of entitlement. They just simply believe that they deserve the best and have no qualms about going after it, at anyone’s expense. I’ve never understood these people, these and the bullies – where did that cruelty come from?? When I look at it now, I can see that those 2 kinds of people aren’t all that far apart.
Perhaps the Warrior poses come so early in practice because we need to know them.
On the second day of class, we begin to learn asana. In order to be able to string a sequence together for a preliminary sun salutation, it’s good to get some mechanics under your belt.
We begin with Virabhadrasana 1: How to place the feet just so, for stability, the grounding through the ball of the big toe, the centering of the ankle, the depth we experiment with in the bend of the knee. I bring the students to the wall and we play with the base of the pose this way. Toes flexed up, exploring the distance between the planting of the front foot and the anchoring of the back one - a 45-degree slant so the heel will find its grounding – front knee pressing forward to kiss the wall just lightly. We gather up our core and lengthen down all the way through the tailbone, square the shoulders as well, and open up the chest. And we find the center of the pose: hands on hips, how to keep them square and not lose the strength of the straight back leg, spinning down and back out of the hip? It takes diligence, a continued attempt to balance, a commitment, and a persistent awareness of our tendencies to lose focus and with that, our center. No matter. We just try it again, and again, until there is a newborn familiarity, like making a new friend that we like. Ah, this is how it feels. When we truly square to the front, and allow ourselves to drop down into gravity, the pose takes care of itself, we find an ease within it. And then we lift the arms up, into free space, like YES! Victory! Touchdown.
Being a warrior vs. walking in fear – maybe there’s a reason why there are so many variations of warrior poses. It really takes practice – this approach, that application, this version - to learn how to “fight” properly: the “art” of war. I wish I could’ve gotten into the Bhagavad Gita—all about Krishna and Arjuna and the big family battle- but I never really could. Maybe now’s the time.
I did a ritual the other day, with a learned man, a friend and teacher. He has a Ph.D from Harvard, and much experience in walking a medicine path. When I described my difficulty in selling the house, and how much I felt I needed to let go of to make the proper room for movement, he suggested that I create a ceremony around it. He asked me, What would it be about? And I knew just what: I wanted to let go of all my mistakes, all my regrets, anything negative I’d experienced during the past 15 years of living there. And he said it might be good to let go of everything, positive too, not the experiences themselves, of course, they’d always be in my memory, but the attachment to them. And I agreed.
I brought a lot of possibilities with me, in terms of objects and tools, to use in the ceremony, and what I ended up choosing perfectly represented all I needed to include: myself and my home, different aspects of my life there – family, loves, animals, money, etc. and the perfect potential buyer. At first, I thought we were focusing on the one whose offer was on the table. But Peter said it would be best to be open.
This was a crucial point, because I was feeling at the mercy of this person’s decision. In this “buyer’s market”, the seller is given the sense—by so much! the attitudes of all involved and what everyone says, repeatedly - that there’s not a lot of choice. The whole business is currently skewed to favor the buyer, and a scarcity idea in play, so the pressure to concede is enormous: You’d better take what’s offered, because you’re lucky to get it, shoddy and stingy as it may be, and there may not be another one for a long time. If ever. I realized that I was buying into this, against my will.
It got me thinking. When it comes right down to it, what’s the yoga here? And it came to me: aparigraha. One of the 5 yamas, precepts for action, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Aparigraha – non-avarice, non-greed.
What’s the difference?
Greed: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.
Avarice: insatiable greed for riches; inordinate, miserly desire to gain and hoard wealth. (Dictionary.com)
Pretty much the same, just a matter of degrees, I think.
I sat with my realtor on my borrowed leather couch in my staged living room the other night, and I was tired. We’d received an offer - well below the asking price - but an offer, nonetheless, and needed to respond. For me, it took a lot of surrender, because I have worked so hard on my house. I’ve wanted it to appeal to the right future occupant, of course, but as documented, I also wished to heal throughout the process, repairing my heart and psyche and recovering parts of my lost soul as I took care of long-overdue business. With all that investment, I’d been traveling under the mistaken notion that that would somehow pay off. Not necessarily so. But having never sold a home before, I haven’t really known what to expect. So, I’ve tried my best to listen to the advice of people with experience and still, keep tuning into my gut. With innocent optimism (or naivete) I’ve been fully committed, believing that it would be worth it.
We came up with what he deemed to be just the right compromise. We met them exactly in the middle. I didn’t like it because I didn’t think it was fair. Their offer was so ridiculous, meeting them in the middle meant coming way down, and it hurt to do it. I argued my case vehemently, but as I was doing it, I explained that I just needed to air my feelings, and that it would help me to do what had to be done. We drew up the paperwork, and he assured me, as much as you ever can in this kind of transaction, that this was the right thing to do and that he felt confident they’d accept it, and we’d have a deal. I didn’t feel this certainly at all, but I didn’t have any other ideas either.
And then the waiting. 24 hours later, we heard. The buyer came back with a demand for another drop of several thousand dollars. My understanding was that we had to be good sports, show a willingness to work together, and to be willing to give. And this was the response?
I was counseled by the realtor that, despite her reason for not accepting the counter-offer having nothing to do with the value of the house, if I didn’t want to risk losing the sale, I’d probably need to concede something. I checked in with a couple of friends who thought maybe that would be the best choice too.
That something was way more than I could stomach, and I started to feel rebellious. It made me want to fight.
The week before, when it seemed like progress was slow, and I didn’t have a buyer, my friend Vera suggested that I bury a statue of St. Joseph in my front yard. I was like, What? She said, Yeah, check it out, you bury the statue and your house will sell. All my friends have done it and they say it works. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal. I had to laugh, but it was true. I found the article, read it, and then called my mother to see if she’d ever heard about this, and she said, Sure. Everybody knows about that. I’m like, Not everyone, why didn’t you tell me?? And she said, Well, I didn’t think you’d be interested, you’re not really a Catholic anymore, are you?
I let the little guilt part go and headed off to Kaufer’s Religious Supplies. When I inquired about the St. Joseph statue, the cashier said brightly, Oh, are you looking for the home-selling kit? I couldn’t believe it. I settled for the 3-inch plastic statue for $1.59 and went home and buried it. You are supposed to put it in upside down, facing the house, 12 inches down out by the For Sale sign. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do the upside down part, I don’t know why, it just seemed kindof disrespectful, so I put him in right-side up.
When I got the bad news, I decided I needed more options, and I suddenly remembered the statue. I thought, What the heck, time to follow the protocol now, so I dug him up, and then plunged him back into the dirt, head down this time. I was restless, because they were waiting on me to make up my mind and I didn’t know what to do, so I went out walking by Shilshole Marina. And it worked: I got several phone calls almost immediately from realtors requesting showings for that night and the next day. I was encouraged because a bunch of new people came… and… went. Still, no new offers.
Thank God for the return of the sun. With the cooler nights, the temperature of the lake has dropped considerably. I had my first wetsuit swim of the season after school the first day. After having sat and gone through the syllabus 3 times, it felt exhilarating to get out under a bright sky and navigate the choppy water. Yesterday, the air was about 10 degrees hotter and who knows about the lake itself, but I shed the suit, just used my drysuit vest, and was blessed with a smooth, unruffled surface. That kind of raw, natural, ever-present, ever-changing beauty pierces right to the heart.
I wondered if I was the one being greedy. How can the value of a home be measured anyway? It can only be valued by the quality of life you’ve known, and nothing else, the rest is all just random numbers, and we assign them, just like we assign meaning to everything. I had been talking to Matt at lunch and he said, it isn’t a matter of winning or losing, Annette. You win no matter what, because you’re setting yourself free.
I came home and I called the realtor. I still hadn’t made up my mind and it weighed on me, made me feel sad. But during the course of the conversation, I came to the realization that I was not going to give any more.
There’s so much power in choosing to open up, make space, and be generous. And yet, we must also stand up for ourselves, learn how to yield and be strong at the same time. To be a warrior. It takes focus and conviction and being steadfast, especially if you’re used to conceding, being “gracious” and unselfish, as I was taught, instead of defending myself, taking a stand, holding my ground, trusting my truth.
And they accepted it.
During this final phase of the endeavor, while I cross my fingers and hope that the inspection proves that my little house is as solid and whole as I think it is, this is my mantra:
Om saha na vavatu – May (Brahman) protect us both together
Saha nau bhunaktu - May (Brahman) use us together
Saha viryam karavavahai - May we work together powerfully
Tejasvi navadhi tamastu - May our study together be filled with light
Ma vid vishavahai - May we not oppose each other.
Om shantih, shantih, shantih – Om, peace,peace,peace….
©2011 Annette Romano
Interesting that I began to write about being bound/freedom and the overcoming of obstacles yesterday, because it was Sankashti Chaturthi, which falls on the 4th day after the full moon, which (at the time of writing) yesterday, 9/16, just happened to be!
This is one of the days dedicated to Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, the Overcomer of Obstacles. It also happened to be a Friday, which, along with Tuesday, is one of the days of the week on which Hindu worshippers offer puja to Ganesh, to honor him and to ask for help in making their wishes come true.
Here is one translation of the Ganesha mantra, Om Gam ganapataye namaha:
Om = Salutations! Everyone wake up!
Gam = The secret power sound of Ganesh. It is his “seed syllable” or bija mantra.
Ganapataye = Another name of Ganesh, the breaker of obstacles.
Namaha = Yo! Ganesh! You da God!*
(*Donald Michael Kraig, Circle Magazine)
Ganesh is also known as Ganapati (among many other names), hence the use of a form of that name in the mantra.
When we chant there is a kind of resonance that is created within, and the reverberation through all levels of our being is healing. When we do it together, we also have that added vibration from hearing the sound being created by others all around us, and this increases the intensity—- we set up the movement in our own auric field, and it ripples outwards into the fields of the others, and into the pranic field that connects us all, and it comes back to us simultaneously.
I often remind us that Yoga, meaning union, meaning oneness, makes it a practice that always involves more than just us. We set our intention to hone our focus and make our practice more meaningful, but there is an added dimension that we don’t control. Healing vibration just moves. We can dedicate our practice and send some of it specifically to whom or what we’d like to help by our efforts, but it also just extends beyond our conception, and the sound continues to travel long after we would seem to have stopped making it.
Here I have us take Varuna mudra. (There is also the Ganesha mudra, but I use that with the core work.) This mudra is named for the God of water (and of death, incidentally- we’re all bound to that, in the end) and it is used to combat congestion or sluggishness, wherever it may occur: respiration primarily, but digestion too, and maybe in the muscles and joints, or in the thinking process, or in the emotional body.
Take the baby finger of the right hand and hold it down across the palm using the right thumb. That hand rests, facing upwards in the left, with the left thumb pressing down on top of the right. Mudras work like all wholistic practice, and here we have a perfect microcosm of a bound pose.
The meditation connected with Varuna mudra, involves envisioning flow: being in it, being connected. For those who tend to get bound up, part of the personality might be a tendency to try to tackle everything by oneself., which is not just misguided, it’s impossible! We all need assistance on some level. Practicing in groups the way we now do, is helpful energetically for so many reasons. One main one is just the sense that, no matter how different we may all seem to be, the truth is that we are not. We are one. It helps to know this.
In my case, teaching is a crucial part of the equation. Being alone in an oxygen tent, needing assistance to breathe, unable to be held… I consider these now and realize that when you don’t have choice, you just surrender. As an adult, I imagine watching a baby in the position I was in, and my heart literally hurts, and I want to cry for her courage, but when I put myself inside, I see that it’s just what must be done. Maybe it’s not so much bravery as… surrender.
I teach from this place of accompanying my students on their journey. No one has to do it alone. When I take class, myself, I am inside my experience there on my rectangle of rubber mat, and I can hear the breathing of those nearby, feel them finding their way, listen to the voice of the teacher, and it’s comforting. When I teach, I become that voice of assurance that keeps on filtering through their senses into their consciousness and whatever the guidance is—place your foot here, hold your center there, lift your arms just so, focus your gaze - what I’m really saying is: “You are not alone. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let your doubts get in your way. Relax and listen and trust. Because I know from experience: You can find it. You can do it. Stay with it. It’s ok.”
And so, with closed eyes in the seat, we get this sense of how we’re bound in form and by whatever the current circumstances are, and then we straighten the spine and take the mudra and key into the movement of the breath.
It isn’t hard to get a sense of what our obstacles are. Some of them we were born with. Some we carry from wounds made long ago, while some we can feel from the now—our toe that we stubbed, the cut on our finger… or perhaps, something larger, such as the pressing worry of where the money’s going to come from, or a broken heart… all these we recognize as obstacles, and as such, teachers. We consider them from a place of both compassion and dispassion… we come into that place of pure beingness, where all is accepted just as it is.
And then we invoke the name of Lord Ganesh for assistance with all that has come into our awareness and those things that we barely remember or might’ve forgotten altogether, things that we are un-, sub-, or fully conscious of. All is welcome.
My students come from, truly, all over the world. The college is one of the most diverse environments I’ve ever known. This is because many of the students who come to this country find their way into the community college system. There is so much to learn before tackling the larger university system. Some of them don’t speak English at all. For some, chanting is part of their culture. For others, it’s a bit worrisome to call upon some unknown Hindu deity. They don’t want to do it. They are concerned that it might clash with their religion.
But this is the beauty of the mantra practice, and of course, yoga in general. It’s not a religion! So, all are free to partake. I believe that all paths lead to the same “place”, it’s just that, like an individual life - the manifestation of the singular soul’s journey - that path will look different, have its own signposts, directions, guardians, and wise men. Unfortunately, wars are fought all over this planet over who’s on the right road and who needs to get off the road, period, but here, we make an enclave of peace where all are welcome.
I ask them to consider the obstacles before them. Sometimes there are many, sometimes there’s just one big, obvious problem, and sometimes we feel pretty free. The practice is the same. See what’s on your plate clearly. Face it squarely. Have a good, close look at it, unflinchingly. And greet it as friend and teacher.
Sometimes people cry during this part. It can seem overwhelming, especially if you have a lot happening in your life at a given moment, which, so often, college students do. But this is all part of it. And nothing has to be ”done”, per se, right now we’re just looking at things.
Then we think of an elephant, not an image, or artistic representation of an elephant, or that combination of Elephant and God that is Lord Ganesh. Just simply the animal, as we know it here on Earth.
What are the qualities the elephant possesses?
They are large and very strong. They can bear a great deal of burden. They are powerful and can push things out of their way, steadily.
They seem slow and thoughtful, but if provoked, can become quite ferocious and protective, and move at great speed. Think of a stampede.
They have large brains, are very intelligent, and are long-lived, which may be what spawned the expression, “Elephants never forget.”
They are pack animals and travel in complex social groups.
They are a matriarchal society, but they do share leadership in a democratic sort of way, where input from others, including juveniles, is important and considered. They operate with a great deal of respect.
These are just some of the qualities, and we relate to those as we prepare to chant the mantra, because in our practice, it’s not about worshipping the actual Hindu God, it’s about calling upon those aspects of ourselves that are like the elephant, or our potential, at least. What do we already have in us that can help us acknowledge, meet and overcome obstacles? What would we like to cultivate in order to improve our ability? And while this may be an assessment of our strengths and weaknesses to some degree, we consider this not in an anxious way, but as an awareness practice, so that we can accept ourselves as we are and move from there.
©2011 Annette Romano
Today’s topic is forgiveness, and I’m not sure how to couch this in yogic terms right off the bat… because even in considering it, I can feel my lip start to curl into a bit of a sneer in my cynicism that you can blah blah blah all you want about forgiveness and it’s not going to change anything. There are entire programs based around this idea, largely, (there are other concepts but this one IS a biggie) like The Course in Miracles. I used to go and hear Marianne Williamson’s lectures when I lived in LA years ago. She’s done a thorough job of taking this material and not just making it available, but talking about it for so many years, it would seem that if we’re listening we’d have to get it, since she’s been saying the same thing for ever and ever and ever. But here again is my first point: that that’s kinda what it takes, because forgiveness is oh, so very hard to do.
I’m stressing out trying to get out of Seattle, but Seattle is currently at its absolutely most glorious, so I’m also thinking, What? Am I nuts? This is paradise! Why would anyone want to live anywhere else? in that laughable way that hypnotized Seattleites do when the sun shines for more than 3 consecutive days. The capper in this past week has been – last night for example- some of the most unbelievable sunsets ever, I mean, last night I practically cried. This guy in this little pickup truck ahead of me, and I, both zipped onto the side street as I was heading home after teaching my class, driving down from Phinney Ridge, trying to get a perfect vista so as to shoot the perfect shot. With our phones! And I don’t care what anyone says about how smart those cameras are- they do NOT measure up to a real camera.
But since I’ve been engaged in crazy, ocd housekeeping behavior (it’s insane pretending not to live in the house where you live - it has to be so immaculate before I go anywhere, in case anyone should come to see it) I’ve developed laser vision for the slightest aberration. Fingerprints on the microwave? Quick!! Grab the sponge! No, the towel, no, the paper towel, and that eco-cleaning stuff, quick, they’re COMING! So I keep forgetting to bring my camera with me everywhere I go. Which I promised myself I’d do. Which brings me back to the concept of forgiveness, because I get pissed at myself when I forget things like that: little promises I’ve made to myself, things I’d do for my general betterment, and possibly to make a little more money, maybe, if someone would ever love one of my photos enough to buy it, for example, or maybe I’d just be more artistically fulfilled or whatever, but the point its, I feel guilty when I don’t do these things.
And I feel like that’s why I’m setting out on the journey that leads God-only-knows-where, because my life is where it is, just because I’ve done so many things like that, unforgiveable broken promises that have equaled letting myself down, such as the above, or falling for either complete passive-aggressive sociopaths, or perfect people who are already in love with other perfect people, who are unfortunately in love with other perfect people. And that leads right into hell. So. Where were we? Forgiveness.
Yesterday I took my friend Victoria down to the little beach where I swim in the summers. And in the spring and fall too, when the weather’s not as totally heinous as it was this year. I wear a wetsuit during those months usually, but this year, even that wouldn’t really do, because it was so damn gray, overcast, and miserably, (uncharacteristic for Seattle) freakin’ COLD, that I just couldn’t do it. This was the latest start I’ve gotten swimming in 15 years, July, for heaven’s sake… but I digress. (See, though, what I said about people in Seattle and their obsession with the weather? Gosh, I can’t wait to move back to LA! And have my obsession turn to traffic. FUN.)
I picked Victoria up on Capital Hill where she was dropping her 3-yr.-old back at his first day of preschool after summer off. And I felt a little guilty because I haven’t see more of Jackson- but I haven’t seen much of anyone this summer, as I’ve spent nearly all of my time with inanimate objects such as paintbrushes, and spackling instruments (what do you call those again? Scrapers? All that time did not an expert make.) I picked her up, because she doesn’t have a car, and down the hill we went to swim.
Victoria is quite unique. She’s just older than my daughter, not even a year. We met because she was my student, both at a studio where I taught for many years, and at the college where I still do. And then she became my “mentee” in one of the 5 years I was a mentor for the teacher-training program. This was a particularly satisfying endeavor, because I got to monitor my group’s progress, work one-on-one with each of them, read all their papers, correct their tests, etc. It happens that Victoria’s mother died of pneumonia when she was just a year or so old, and so our age difference was perfect. The thing is, though, that Victoria really is an old, old soul and she has always taught me, a lot. She has a way of moving that can only be described as gliding and I don’t exaggerate. She has a way of sifting events through her lens, and somehow, what she perceives causes her to wear this gentle, teasing smile most of the time. She naturally possesses an awareness and tranquility that yogis practice for years to cultivate. Basically, she’s got her shit together in a way that I most certainly didn’t at her age, regardless of how that may look in terms of wealth or work or whatever, to the outside eye. If you met her, you’d know.
We go down to this little beach and throw down out towels. I wished I’d worn my 2-piece, but because I’ve been so immersed in myself, I didn’t take into account how Victoria would operate: nothing sudden, nothing impulsive, so, of course, we didn’t just jump right in like I usually do. No, we put our towels down to soak up the sun for awhile to get warm before getting in.
If you’ve never had a swim in Lake Washington, it probably deserves mentioning that the lake is fed by mountain run-off, and while it doesn’t have the bone-chilling coldness of Northwest mountain lakes at higher elevations, it is a little on the chilly side, even after a few (and in this case, we’re talking really few) weeks of summer sun shining on it. So, if you don’t get in it much, it’s usually not a bad idea to take your time.
I’d been down to the beach earlier that day. Having taught out on the east side and knowing that V wasn’t ready to be picked up for another hour or so, decided to take a much-needed nap while I waited. And the water was rough. Not the weekend rough of way too many boats, but the wind’s-in-a-playful-mood kind of rough. It was gorgeous out and warm—on its way up to 85, but this was 10 am- and pretty darn wavy out there. Before I fell asleep, it occurred to me that it might be a little too rough for someone who hasn’t been at the beach once all summer. But when we came back after my trek up the hill and a good tour of Jackson’s little school, it was calm. But of course it was. I was with the embodiment of calm herself and her waves of benevolence were spreading far and wide, so naturally, the lake was complying.
And the great thing is, she manages to move this way in the world pretty much regardless of circumstances. She calmly weathers things that would have me downing bottles of wine and pints of chocolate-peanut-butter Haagen-Daaz nightly, things like the bar where she worked just suddenly up and closing, and her child’s father deciding to go into a film program that would take virtually all of his time. Not as much money? No matter. V has become the Reigning Queen of Value Village. She always manages to look like a million bucks and when I inquire about this or that, that she might be wearing, she gets that amused little smirk that so becomes her, and says, “Value.” Value indeed. I had thought I’d scored when I found this latest Speedo I do serious swimming in, because it’s not completely “swim team”- and I used to love those suits for the years I raced (geek!) but it’s this nice, even kindof sexy Hawaiian print, and made of an unusual fabric for Speedo. But of course I paid dearly for it, because even on sale, these suits are ungodly expensive. Well, Victoria is sporting her latest V.V. find, this seriously darling black and brown v-neck, one-piece suit that makes her look like a 60’s model. With matching flip-flops. And she gives, in response to my question, the same answer I always get, “Value,” and then adds with a little grin “Slightly retro.” Yeah, well tell that to any man and he’ll say, YEAH! Bring it ON! Yeah! RETRO! because of course, she looked like a dream.
And we laid on the sand (yes, there is sand in Seattle) with the New York Times that an old man bequeathed us as he left, and proceeded to do some dearly-earned relaxing. Ahhhh, the guilt of it! But there comes a point where I’m completely exhausted, particularly after a day of big pushing. The day before I was at home with my helpers, who had been putting down a new vapor barrier in the crawl space and replacing all the electrical outlets, freeing the sailboard from its tethering to the roof of the shed, and sorting things between the Goodwill and the dump, AND getting to the storage space for my daughter who’d moved into her Brooklyn sublet only to discover that there were no sheets, and needed me to overnight them because, in her words, she’d spent the night on “a skanky piece of fabric”. Plus, I had already done Pure Barre, swam, and then gone out sailing – ahhhhh, the pain of it! - but that had involved a couple bottles of wine and so there was that.
We lay there, chatting in the way that old friends do, about this and that, and after awhile, we were warm.
And then I spot her. Coming in, a couple of wet-suited arms swimming freestyle, my ex-friend, we’ll just call her ___. And I said to Victoria, We need to get in right now. She looked at me quizzically, because the last time - and it had been awhile - we’d been down to the beach together, the same thing had happened, and it was looking like I wasn’t going to respond any differently. She was like, What are you going to do, ignore her? Aren’t you even going to say hi? And I said No. We need to get in right now, I am NOT going to deal with it.
I have made plenty of enemies in my time. Don’t ask me what the karma is—did I bring it in? Did I just earn it this time? Who the hell knows? I’ve been working on all of it, diligently, forever, but I tend to have a period of testing with all friends, during which it is decided whether or not we will remain friends. And it is those who’ve weathered that gamely and dealt with whatever the cause might be that have become my true-blues, my life-longs, my trusted I’d-do-anything-for-you friends. But then there are those with whom you don’t even really get to that crux, those who are in most ways just so unlike you that there’s nothing to work out. In my case, this has usually been because the economic disparity is so large that we’re speaking different dialects altogether—the same language maybe, but some things just don’t translate and are not, therefore, entirely understood.
This ex-friend I had known for a very long time, united by the a number of things—we’d lived across the street from one another briefly, coincidentally bumped into each other repeatedly in airports and other places, and then she hired me to teach her yoga privately. From there, we’d discovered that we shared a love for books, gardening, and cooking, etc. And this was a case of that disparity I mentioned, because ___ came from money, a lot of money. She didn’t really live like it—her house was small and her clothes, although made of quality fabric, were rather frumpy in style. She wasn’t ostentatious in any way really.
We spent much time over many years together, swimming right from this beach over to the Tennis Club, where she’d watch from below while I climbed up the 20-foot tower and, flinging whatever my issue of the moment was to the winds, threw myself off, and then swimming back again. During the winter months, we’d go back and climb into her tub—yep, together, we were like sisters then- and it was very hard to wait, even driving back to her house which was on the edge of the lake and not far, sometimes we felt like we were turning blue. So we didn’t take turns, we just got in there fast as we could. And then she’d make something marvelous for breakfast and we’d drink tea and then part ways for the day.
She had so much to give. And I loved being on the receiving end, because she had this nurturing quality and I so needed that. I’ve always taken care of myself. It started in that oxygen tent when I had pneumonia as a baby and learned that no one could be there for me. That stuck with me—it’s not like my mother didn’t care for me, or that my father didn’t provide—it’s that I felt that I was ultimately responsible. Finally, though, I got so tired living like that, that from the time I was a teenager, I welcomed love and care, from wherever (herein the trouble lies) it would come.
Eventually, it became apparent to me that, with this person, it was a one-way street. I was perceived (correctly) as having this need, so that whatever I had to give wasn’t even part of the equation. And that is simply not viable. Energy doesn’t work like that. It has to go both ways. There needs to be a balance, that give-and-take that’s so essential to us humans. We know this instinctively because that’s what the breath teaches us. You have to let a new one in. You have to let the old one out. If you don’t, you die. Simple as that.
But she didn’t want anything I had to offer- not really. She seemed to appreciate my various talents, but she didn’t really want anything. There’s a kind of guilt that can come from having everything you need from birth, never wanting. I’ve seen it more than once- a compulsive kind of giving that comes from that need to achieve the balance I just mentioned.
In any case, after years of my feeling unnecessary to the relationship, she was the one who ended it. She was going through a divorce, and normally during such a transition, you try to be there for a friend, help them in any way possible. But she simply didn’t want it. On top of that, she’d always had this weird hypochondria that turned every other headache into a possible brain tumor, any persistent pain into impending doom. So, when she went for the latest MRI to detect the cancer she was sure was present, she said she’d had a revelation that she was supposed to let go of certain people—her husband being one of them, of course, but unexpectedly, I was also on that list. And I was so incensed that I was one of the possible causes of her imaginary cancer, I finally let it all out. I finally said no. No! You won’t take anything I have to give but cancer? Which I don’t have, for one thing, and can’t give you, for another. You want nothing from me, but consider me one of the causes of your…disease? It struck me as completely insane. And I’ve never forgiven her.
I’ve forgiven lots of people. There are a few I’m still working on. But there are a couple that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive in this lifetime, even though I know I need to, even though I’m certain that would be a major break-through and one I’m longing to experience. The Course in Miracles teaches that forgiveness is not “letting someone off the hook”. It’s not, from on high, allowing someone’s mistake to go, but it’s seeing the best in that person no matter what. And it’s understanding that nothing but love is real. Nothing. So anything that causes pain, anything that offends, is just a brother’s striving to find the way, and getting confused, acting in a manner that is not true. I know this, and often am able to hold those who’ve hurt or rejected me in this light, but sometimes, when confronted with them directly, it becomes much harder to do.
So. This old, once-beloved, ex-friend was one her way back to the beach, and rather than risk that some of my old anger (that should’ve been spent long ago) would re-surface in an ugly, unpredictable way, I jumped right in to avoid having to deal with her, swam around in circles while Victoria, true to form, waded in gradually.
And then the chop returned. With a vengeance. It was a rough swim, so much so that Victoria, who hadn’t been swimming for a really long time, had to keep stopping and resting on the ladders of the various docks along our way. I know it sounds all Michelle Bachman with her asinine take on Hurricane Irene. But sometimes, the timing of something helps me to get the point. It’s rough when you can’t let go. It tosses you around to be at the mercy of your inability to forgive.
Last night, I smacked my head on the handle of the lawnmower in the shed, trying to bring the cat post back into the house so the baby boy would stop crying and have toys to play with. It was dark, and I thought, as I was walking across the yard to get it, that I should’ve brought the flashlight and then, just as quickly, decided that it wasn’t needed. But as I was lifting the cat tree, I knocked over one of the only remaining cans of paint, and just in case the lid should’ve been knocked loose, I dived for it. I hit that lawnmower so hard, I was stunned for a moment. I missed my eye by less than an inch.
It’s not God, it’s just common sense: If you bumble around in the dark, you will hurt yourself; if you don’t shine the light on what you need to see, you may not be able to see at all; it’s going to be rough if you don’t let go and forgive. And it’s tough when your cynicism tells you it’s impossible, because how else can it be? There’s really no other way. All of us are fallible human beings, hoping for a miracle, when the perfection is that our path will give us every opportunity we need to overcome our mistakes.
Gorgeous all week this week. Going swimming every day…
©2011 Annette Romano