Thursday, October 12, 2006
Pigeon PoseIf you ever seriously want to freak yourself (and another person) out, try staring into someone else's eyes for five minutes straight.
That was one of the seemlingly-endless moments I lived through last weekend, at a yoga retreat hosted by my favorite yoga teacher. It was held up in the Santa Barbara mountains and the weekend was filled with everything you'd expect: serenity, peace, deep breathing, meditation, good conversations, good silences, the sound of the birds, the breezes through the bay forest.
We ate toothsome vegan/vegetarian meals prepared by a gourmet chef named Beatrix, who made us all kind of nervous at a deep level (even while we secretly worshipped her creations.) We slept in yurts and lofts and cabins. We killed ourselves in multiple-hour yoga sessions... but I'll get to that in a moment.
Sunday morning we were asked to find a partner. My friend Carol and I of course picked each other, as we automatically were partnering up for everything. We sat cross-legged across from each other and then we were supposed to, simply, look into each others' eyes.
For five minutes.
If we wanted to pull back a bit, Carolyn our leader said, we could look at the third eye between the two, on the forehead. But the best thing to do would be to simply look in each others' eyes. Straight on.
For five minutes.
Try it. It was really scary. We immediately started laughing, or trying not to, which meant we started laughing more. Luckily, we never really busted loose with the laughing. But it was a definite threat to our equilbrium for quite a while.
It felt like I was there for about six weeks. It was endless. And it took about four of those six weeks to get to a rather amazing thought: what WAS I so nervous about? What can Carol do to me? Carol is my friend. She's not my mother or my significant other or anyone else close enough to levy significant psychic damage.
What can someone do to you simply by you allowing them to look you in the eyes?
Well, logically, nothing.
But inside, it felt like the most exposed I'd ever been.
Those of you who know me, know that I am not a skittish person. I am social and outgoing and -- one could argue, especially after reading the book -- a pretty open person. But put me in this situation and I realize how deeply guarded I am on many levels. Not just the deep levels. On all levels.
Saturday night we had a "yin" yoga class which was supposed to be restorative and healing. Personally, I find holding awkward and painful poses for prolonged periods of time rather stressful. I'm sorry, but I do. It's good for me, though, and I acknowledge that, just as I acknowledge that staring into someone's eyes for five minutes is an important excercise.
One of the poses we did was my personal favorite -- pigeon. It's beyond painful. It's excruciating, in a very specific and intense way. I can't really describe it except that it involves laying down on a bent leg so that the hip on the bent leg pretty much feels like a hot poker is being slowly and forcefully forced into your bone. It gets at a muscle that binds around the back of your butt and when you're doing it right it practically makes you cry, it's that precise. Every other part of your body is fine, except for That Spot. And That Spot is just weeping with agony.
God, I love this pose.
I really do.
The first few dozen times I did it I thought, man, there is NOTHING that could be more painful than this pose. And as I held it I contemplated whether I would actually pass out from the pain. And realized I wouldn't... not quite.
So I started playing the edge of that sensation. Would I start crying? Noooo, probably not. Could I last another second? Ah... maybe. So I would.
I would hold it until I just could not handle it another moment, and then I'd hold it another moment. Or not. Sometimes I would fidget back and forth, avoiding the pure moment of pain but fidgeting and wasting energy to try to sidestep it. It's all too easy to let up on this pose. You can back off, you can wiggle, you can do a dozen different dance to avoid it, but it never goes away.
Finally I realized this pose was ALL mental. It was ALL about mental fortitude in the face of pain. The pain of the muscle was not going to kill me. But my mental attitude about it could make or break my success in holding it.
And pretty soon, I realized that I was getting pretty good at it. And, of course, the second I started congratulating myself on my success at pigeon I started losing it again. I started getting cold sweats and nauseated and I'd have to back off like a little baby. It is a pose that keeps me absolutely honest. And it refuses to let up.
Pigeon was, of course, one of the poses we held for five long minutes (each side) that Saturday night last weekend at the retreat. It was a pigeon fest. I was tired, I was sore, I felt like I'd been in the yoga room my entire life (we'd had a three hour class that morning and the evening's session was two hour of this relaxing and restorative shit.) And of course we were going to do pigeon.
My ego kind of yelped with joy because, I have to admit, I am pretty good at it by this point. When my brain is in a good place, when I can relax and just accept how much it hurts, I can lay down with my face on the floor and actually get so comfortable in all of it that I contemplate being able to fall asleep. And it was in that state the other night that I realized what a great metaphor pigeon is for the life experience itself.
Life is the same kind of painful as pigeon. If you let yourself think about any one thing too long, it can easily become a searing pain right through the heart like pigeon is through your hip.
For starters: everyone you know and love, including yourself, is going to die. The person you love better than anyone else probably doesn't love you back. Or maybe he or she does, but it probably won't last forever. Or, if it does last forever, one of you is going to die first anyway. Or maybe the person you love better than anyone else is married. Or they were married but by the time they got unmarried you were involved with someone else. And by the time you got UNinvolved with someone else, they were involved with another person altogether. The scenarios are endless, as all of us who love spinning heartwrenching stories can tell you.
Tell me that the heart doesn't get itself in pigeon poses on just about a daily basis. Tell me that if you thought about it for more than ten seconds you wouldn't start whimpering with the futility of it all. Tell me that drinking and driving fast and playing loud music isn't our way of wriggling out of the pain. Tell me that even when it hurts beyond belief that you have any other choice but to endure and accept it, because that's one of the few real things we have in life: the knowledge of the pain and our ability to transcend it.
Transcending it doesn't mean it goes away.
Transcending means you lie down with it, breath deeply and accept that it's just going to hurt for awhile. Like five minutes, or five years, or fifty, or forever.
Transcending means you stretch and grow.
But it never goes away.
Like looking into someone else's eyes, it's something you want to laugh off, glance away from. But, if you want to get to the deep core stuff, you may as well not. Stay there. Feel it. Be real and intense and unapologetic about how much it sometimes freaks you out. Acknowledge your core vulnerabilities and stay there in a way that you can't fidget out of. Get through it in the same way you get through a pigeon pose. Hold it. Breathe. Make friends.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:47 PM 0 comments
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Email from TibetGot an email today from my pal Jill, coming to the end of her trekking in Tibet. Because it sounds so cool, I'm going to just excerpt it and share it with you guys....
Well, I was kind of mistaken about the accessibility of internet in Western Tibet -- either it isn't available or our schedule (pull in at night! eat dinner! leave in the morning! (and nothing in Tibet opens before 9 or 9:30 a.m.)) didn't allow access.
I'm typing this in the internet cafe of Saga, Tibet, surrounded by fatigue-clad members of the Chinese military who evidently have been let off the base to
come here and play video games and monopolize all the PCs. There's a heavy military presence in Western Tib, presumably because of the disputed border with India.
We're on our way back east after 14 days in the West; stops included Everest Base Camp (which is basically a small collection of large tents housing tea houses, cots for rent, and souvenir shacks) and where we didn't see the Mount because of clouds but which had some pretty spectacular peak views nonetheless, and where I went hiking on an obscure trail (at 18,260 feet, let me point out), couldn't find the way down and ended up descending a VERY tall and vertiginous hill of scree on all fours and my butt like a spider. Which was, thank God, effective, but I couldn't help picturing everyone at BAse Camp watching me and giggling.)
Yes, Heather, I know that was a long sentence.
Anyway, besides EBC, we've stopped at various remote monasteries which are emails in themselves so won't go into it here, did a three-day trek around Mount Kailash (google is your friend) of which I barely survived day two (peak altitude 19,140, but no nausea! yay!) but was manically ecstatic on day 3, and a long, steep 4--wheel drive through Tibet's Grand Canyon to the beyond remote Tsada and cliff fortress/monastery/castle ruins of the 10th century Guge Kingdom.
The landscape here is incredible -- it's kind of like the American West and Southwest times about 15. Long golden meadows of either sand or short grass (dotted with dark shapes of yaks, nomad tents, walking Tibetans, goats, etc.), sometime intercut by dark blue or milky grey blue (depending on altitude) snaking rivers, stretching to multi-colored (painted desert) mountains that are themselves just foothills for the more remote. blue, ice-topped Himalayas. It's hard for me to describe off the cuff without cliches. I use "this is really cool" a lot.
We have 2 more days on the road trip -- another pass through the Everest area, hoping for better weather and a view of the peak(s), then down to the Nepal border where Isabelle & I catch a bus or car for Kathmandu.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:39 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
9/11 - Part IIIf, as my friend Tom has pointed out, the formula for my essays can be boiled down to "Life sucks, but it's OK," then you will have noticed that I kept my first September 11 entry limited to the "Life sucks" part of the equation.
It felt really wrong to ruminate about the event and then immediately go onto why it's all OK. It needed to sit. It needed to be sad. It needed to stay sad for awhile.
However, I guess Tom is right. I AM compelled to always find meaning or humor or something OK in even the worst situations. Some friends accuse me of being a magnet for somewhat disastrous events ... attracting the stupidest scenarios just because I, and only I, have the ability to find the Deep Hidden Meaning underneath it all.
I don't have the DHM for 9/11. I really don't. But there is a Part II to the entry. It's not as easy to come to grips with or describe, but I do believe there's an "it's OK" element to the world at this moment.
My friend Keith decided, out of the blue, to come over and fix me dinner the other night. He unloaded six bagsful of food from his car and proceeded to grill up some fish and steak, smothered in scallions and mushrooms and herbs, which we ate by candlelight out on my back patio.
It was one of those perfect evenings. I was piping my iPod through my stereo speakers: the playlist ("Kathy Turns 50") had been downloaded onto the iPod for my party by my friend Skye, and the connection to my speakers had been surreptitiously wired for me by my old friend Glenn, after I had bemoaned the fact that I couldn't play my iPod through my house stereo system.
All my long-sown karma was coming back. Keith was cooking dinner; we were listening to serene music thanks to the generosity of my friends; I had just finished writing some words that I felt good about.
I walked into the kitchen and said "Aren't there moments when life is just ridiculously perfect?"
Keith laughed and commented that he hadn't, truthfully, thought that recently. And I, truthfully, agreed. It's not something that comes up regularly in my consciousness either. But life sometimes IS just ridiculously perfect. And some moments come with unbidden sweetness, in their own time, bestowing their own grace.
Keith took my hand as we said our thanks before eating. Neither of us are religious but it seemed the right thing to do. "Dear Lord," he said "The world is in a shit sandwich right now. Help us make it better. Help us get out of the mess we've created..." And we proceeded to eat and talk and drink until he admitted his cheeks were sore from laughing and smiling so much.
The world is in a shit sandwich right now. That's the "Life Sucks" part. We're fucking up, politically and globally. We have young men over there. We have signs that say "support our troops" and they are put up by people who are supporting our troops' rights to stay in the shit storm. For some reason, that's another phrase we lilly-livered, well-intentioned liberals have lost. We somehow lost the position we should be taking that says supporting our troops means bringing them home and stopping the madness. I suspect they would prefer that support any day.
Other words and phrases we've lost control of, inexplicably and incredibly: God, America, patriotism, and life. How did we ever let "pro-life" get in the hands of the people against a woman's right to choose? How did we ever get stuck in a position of having to say "no, we're not pro-life... we're pro-choice." They get the word "life;" we get the word "choice."
We need a new branding team.
It's unable to be believed. But that's not what this blog is about.
This blog is about the thing that I think is going on outside of and around the general shit sandwich. It's nothing that can be really spoken about without sounding New Age-y. I suspect you're going to start hearing "this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius" in your head by the time I'm through... and for that I apologize. Just try to hear me out.
I am not an expert. But I am noticing something. There is a conversation going on, one that seems to be swelling and growing more resonant every day.
This conversation is something that many people seem to be having. I find myself falling into it with increasing frequency. It can be seen in the burgeoning of yoga studios, the mainstreaming of authors like Eckhart Tolle, the popularity of Wayne Dyer and Carolyn Myss.
Eastern healing techniques are being acknowledged by the insurance companies as viable. My most conservative friends talk about getting energy work done on them. Most people know what chakras are, or at least don't look at you like you've grown antlers when you mention them.
I can start throwing out bigger metaphysical concepts in many of my conversations these day. When I meet someone new, I can usually size them up fairly quickly and figure out how much of this thought process they can take; and 7 times out of ten, I'm pleasantly surprised that they can.
Do I think the Mayan calendar rightfully predicts the end of the world happening on 12/21/2012? No. I don't.
Do I have a clue, truthfully, what the Age of Acquarius is? Nope, not a clue.
Do I know where all this is heading? No, I don't. But I can tell you some of my hopes.
It seems to me that these conversations are getting more frequent and more clear in direct proportion to the level of shit that's emanating from Washington. The more we mire ourselves in the political, environmental, economic and milataristic muck, the purer the song of consciousness that is starting to be heard.
It's a dialectic. We're polarizing. The country is, truly, in the worst shape it's been while I've been alive. The fiscal legacy we're leaving our children is shameful. We're caught in a situation that we cannot win in the Middle East. We have no leaders on the horizon that seem capable of turning this around. And most of us, myself included, walk around in a self-aborbed haze hoping that we don't get touched by any of the stuff flying by and retreatung back into our iPod and TV-induced anesthesia.
All the while there are more people going inward, looking upward, connecting to the spiritual world (with and without organized religion). People are learning how to get still within themselves. The vocabulary is expanding.
As with all dialectics, eventually there will be a synthesis of these polarizing states. The "it's OK" part of the 9/11 musings is this: that the pendulum has to swing back eventually. And hopefully it's not going to swing back in the same way. We've been doing the inflation/recession, republican/democrat, left/right, hawk/dove dance for generations now. Maybe it's time to find some third options to those polarities.
Maybe true morality can be taken away from the religious and given back to everyone.
Maybe patriotism can be wrested away from the narrow minded "love it or leave its" to include people who love their country like they love their family, faults and all, and are not afraid or castigated for trying to improve it.
Maybe God can become a God that everyone can access. Not just those people paying their tithes by internet to the preachers in the glass houses.
And maybe we can all become proponents of true life once again. Not in terms of the abortion issue, but in terms of the way we're living. Maybe the synthesis of these conversations will enable us to put space back into our days, breath back into our lungs, enable us to work with wisdom and compassion, rather than strategy and power.
And then, maybe, we will all receive our collective moments of unbidden sweetness, that come in their own time, bestowing their own grace.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:38 PM 0 comments