Shavasana

It’s been more than six months since I last centered myself and made that crucial mind-body connection that my yoga practice provides, and the effects have been brutal.  The necessity to practice is something I have taken for granted, my thoughts being, yoga will always be there. And, in fact, it is always there, like a dear friend you can rely on. But for the past six months I have been so preoccupied with the stuff of life, I pushed that friend to the back of a drawer, making excuse after excuse not to pay it the attention it so deserves. I missed it terribly but have felt powerless to do anything about it.

Why I chose to re-enter my yoga practice tonight is unclear. I’ve been feeling pretty good these past few days. A welcome change from the darkness that has pervaded my mood for the past couple months. Nothing special happened tonight to prompt me to breathe and twist and focus – the house is quiet, the children are with their father. Dear Vector had errands to run and went home to his puppy. I chose to stay in and do some reading, some writing, some relaxing. I did none of those three things. Instead, I slumped on the couch, in a position that wreaks havoc on my back and shoulders, and watched horrible television. I played four games of spider solitaire on my phone and lazily leafed through a literary magazine about which I have to write a review that is due in three days.

When my puppy unfurled herself from her tight ball of sleep, slowly stepped off the couch, stretching deliciously, and whined to be let out into the yard, I realized I had warped myself into a crippled, hobbled form of an arthritic old woman. I struggled to get up from the couch, my muscles tight and my joints protesting.  I shuffled into the kitchen after Penny Lane who yawned a lovely puppy yawn – she’s exhausted; we went on a two-mile trot earlier today – then stretched again, butt high in the air, shoulders flexing and opening. It is such a natural movement for this graceful little animal, downward-facing dog, indeed. And she was so energized by the stretch. It is time to resume my yoga practice.

Technology almost got in the way of my progress this evening. I fiddled with my external CD drive on my Mac and the damn computer wouldn’t read my yoga CD. I almost allowed myself to feel defeat. I’ve been fighting defeat every day for the past two months – a crushing, hopeless feeling that wore me down and turned me sour. Kneeling before my Mac I clenched my jaw. I needed this to happen. Tonight. Before the momentum disappears. And I needed this yoga CD – it is one I purchased when I spent a weekend at an ashram last year for my 40th birthday. That weekend transformed me, truly. It wasn’t a momentary change, like when you hear a motivational speaker and walk away feeling like you can rule the world, but ultimately you don’t because the speaker didn’t give you any specific direction or guidance how, precisely, to start the process of ruling the world. He, or she, was simply really charismatic. My transformation was nothing like that. I participated in a workshop while I was at the ashram that helped me to examine moments in my life that were peak experiences. Moments of joy, peace, contentment, triumph – small snapshots such as when, last summer, I watched my children run down the sand towards the waves of the ocean, their shoulder blades poking out of their slim backs like the buds of tiny wings. That was a peak moment for me, seeing them running, fearless, into the ocean. In this workshop we captured these moments and identified the emotions they elicited. From there we listed the top five feelings we want to experience everyday and these became our emotional goals. When I am living mindfully, fully immersed in my yoga practice, I question my actions and reactions, I weigh my choices and ask if I am bringing myself towards or away from my emotional goals. This questioning and weighing required a conscious effort for the first few months after leaving the ashram, then it became a split-second awareness. I had practiced, within my yoga and meditation, how to meet my emotional goals.

I chose to play the CD through my stereo and practice my yoga. It would have been easy to snap my Mac closed and bitch about fucking computers and how they are supposed to make life easier, but they just complicate shit, and then return myself to the couch and bad TV. Very easy, indeed. Thankfully, the instinct to live mindfully and reach for my emotional goals was strong tonight. I popped the CD into stereo and engaged in a gentle, healing practice. I was so eager to practice, I didn’t even dig out my mat or change out of my pajamas.

The instructor on this CD facilitated the first session I participated in at the ashram. Her husband played the drums softly as she led us through an awakening practice and focused meditation. What I loved about her session the most was that she encouraged the practitioners not to place judgment on ourselves. She guided us into postures and coaxed us to move as deeply as we wished into the posture without judgment. Within certain postures, as we exhaled she invited us to say, “I release fear.” Upon inhalation, we breathed in presence in the moment.

It is not uncommon to see people become emotional during yoga practice. As I moved in and out of the postures and followed her gentle voice my emotions swelled. I allowed myself to cry in a room of strangers and accept the comfort and the safety of being in a space where there is, in fact, no judgment. It was precisely what I needed within that first hour at the ashram. From there, I saw how necessary it was  to turn 40 years of age in a safe place where it was accepted to be openly emotional during the release of fear and the intake of energy. To be amongst people who were growing and healing and who recognize the need to expunge pain and anger and the burdens we carry with us and silently provide support and empathy as we accept it. I didn’t feel embarrassed when the woman next to me paused from her practice and offered me a tissue. Nor did I feel shame when after the session another woman offered me a hug, and, upon accepting the embrace, I began to weep again. Shame and embarrassment plague me daily. It is within my yoga practice that I have learned to free myself of that pain.

My fluffy red winter socks slipped and skidded on the carpet in my living room as the calm voice lilted from the stereo. I laughed at the slip and pulled my socks off, digging my cold toes into the pile of the new carpet. I struggled to stay in Warrior I, my balance very off and my legs feeling weak. I accepted the change in my practice and didn’t judge. Yoga will be there for me tomorrow. I will allow myself to release my fear and live mindfully. My practice will restore my strength. I just need to get off the couch. And stay off.

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And Breathe.

My puppy smells like corn chips. I inhale her sweet little scent just like I inhale the lavender scent of the sheets at my mom’s house – deeply and with relish.  When Ethan sweats, he smells like vinegar. It’s a sharp, acrid scent that does not suit him at all.  He usually smells like soccer fields and forests. Laura smells like my perfume. When I get ready for the day, she comes in to watch me. She asks for either sparkly eyes or pink cheeks and for a spritz of whatever perfume I am wearing that day. My cats sometimes smell like their litter boxes. I send them away to clean themselves up when they track that scent near me. Then I go clean their litter boxes.

Like so many people, I have a strong connection to scents.  I smell new tires whenever I go to a dentist’s office because the first time I got gassed before having a tooth pulled, the mask smelled like new tires. It made me sick. 24 years later, it still does. When my kids are congested, I can smell the mucous on their breath. It smells like sick – green and dank.  I can still smell the Polo cologne of my high school boyfriend.  Most likely because a bottle of his cologne shattered in my backpack after he haphazardly lobbed it next to his backpack, but it hit the wall instead. I held it at arm’s length and carried it to my locker where I stashed it before running down the hall to homeroom. The entire hallway of our high school smelled like Polo for a couple of weeks. Some things stick with you.

My ex-mother-in-law was an empty woman. She had so many cavities of sadness within her, so she filled her home with trinkets, baubles, sticks, bowls, anything antique. No tchotchkes, though. She was never quite sure what a tchotchke was, nor did she care to learn about them. When she couldn’t find any more nooks and corners inside her home to fill, she filled the air with scent – apples and cinnamon. There was potpourri, candles, cinnamon sticks, dried apples, small “cinnamon brooms,” faux apple pies that smelled “like the real thing!” as she would proudly exclaim. It was sickly sweet in there. I could smell the pie-filling inside of the 140-year old Victorian house from the front porch.  And just like the stuff carefully placed in the crevices and on shelves, the scent was an apt distraction.

Before my parents sold the home where I lived as a child, the front and the upstairs hallways smelled like sweet peaches.  Potpourri. Mom liked dabbles of scent here and there. But the peach potpourri stands out the most. Now that they live at the beach, the house smells salty, briny, and a little like the many pine trees in the yard. It’s a natural scent that I savor when I am there. Mom has gotten away from the potpourri. Sometimes when she cooks fish, she’ll light a delicately scented lemon candle to cleanse the air. The heaviest scents are in the bathroom. In the past couple of years, since receiving a bottle as a wedding favor, mom has begun buying Bath and Body Works liquid hand soaps. Everybody knows when you washed your hands, and, perhaps most importantly, when you didn’t, once you enter a room after leaving the bathroom. The dense scent of the soap lingers like little, puffy clouds around your hands. When I first told her about, and when she later visited, my ex-mother-in-law’s house, mom began consciously avoiding cinnamon and apple scents.

My own house smells like puppy pee. Not everywhere. And not all the time. And maybe I’m the only one who can smell it (or so I’ve been accused) because of the many puddles of pee I’ve cleaned since puppy Penny Lane arrived. My dear friend, Vector,* gave me two nature-inspired scented candles. One is “Sun-Kissed Leaves” and the other is “Cool Serenity (Relaxing Moments).” He was buying candles for his house, thought of me, and bought extra. Of course, this furthered my conviction that my house smells like puppy pee. He insists it doesn’t. I always forget to light the candles. He lights them when he is here.

I splurged on a rather expensive reed diffuser for my writing desk this summer.  My favorite home scent is fresh fig. I have a candle (that I always forget to light), oils (that I forget to put in the diffuser or forget to light the tea light to warm the oil and release the scent) and a spray (that I can’t find) in varieties of fig scents. Given my history, and my desire to have a figgy-scented home, I went the path that requires the least memory, and I purchased the pricey diffuser. When I brought it home, I simply pulled the stopper from the curvy bottle, dipped the reeds in the amber-colored oil, flipped them over, and was gifted with scent. Continual, fresh, musky, figgy scent.   My room is not filled with the scent, however. It stays on my desk. I love this most about my delicate reed diffuser. I am seduced to sit, relax, and breathe. Then I begin to write. Despite the cyclone on my desk – the papers from work, school, my children’s schools; bills; the empty, and half empty, water bottles; the mints; the highlighters; the four Sticky Notes pads; the binders; the checkbooks; the makeup; and my hat. Despite the chaos, I breathe.

 

*Not his real name.

Promise

I can only promise myself that I will focus on what is…not what will be or what was. I have this moment, and it is a moment in which I choose to be fully present.

My son is sleeping a few feet from me. His allergy-labored breathing is the soothing metronome of my evening. I must remember to tell the tooth fairy that he is crashing in my bed tonight, so it knows where to find his tooth. A flash of lightening brings thunder that brings my daughter padding into my room. Son, daughter, puppy, and cats pile on and under sheets in my bed. I turn off my desk lamp and type by the LED of my Mighty Bright book light. Just because I don’t sleep, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

I spent most of my day crying from exhaustion after pushing through two weeks of 10-hour days in a writer’s residency at Goucher College. The residency ended Friday. Saturday I was still buzzing with the heady intoxication of new friends, inspiration and motivation. The hangover set in close to midnight.

My two weeks at Goucher gave me a solace I so desperately needed. I was surrounded by my “people” – fellow writers who ‘got’ each other easily. Writers who existed in a space where competition did not exist. It was a nurturing environment. I drank deep. My writing life had been shelved for nine years prior to this residency. The man I divorced was given his pink slip for many reasons – the most salient, his refusal to allow me time to write. Lance – as he shall be referred from here on – harbored resentment towards my writing life. He distrusted it as though he suspected an affair. Because I thought it my place, I demurred and resumed my position as faithful wife. Those were empty years.

My children were with my parents for the two weeks I was in residency. The house was quiet and clean. After the first week, I missed them terribly, so much that the phone calls became frustrating. I wanted them to talk and talk and talk like they do when they are home. But the beach and TV and dinner and pool were distracting. Meanwhile, happiness and loneliness fought for my own attention. With each day, loneliness won. Come Sunday morning, I was distraught. I crawled from my bed at 11:00 a.m., weeped through two hours of traffic on 95 North and ambled through the rest area food court in a stupor looking for my children. I sobbed when they saw me, jumped up, and tackled me with hugs. My parents were concerned for me, seeing my sadness so palpable. We said hasty goodbyes – band-aids are best ripped off. The car ride home was difficult for me. I was emotionally wasted and anxiety about maintaining my new life patterns were looming large. I focused on the chatter of the children to make the miles slide along.

Once we arrived home and began to unpack, make dinner decisions, clean up, mess up, and even argue a little, I came back into my own. My hinges have begun to come together. And now, late at night, during a thunderstorm, glass of wine almost drank, cats relocated from bed to my desk, kids curled around the puppy, I take the first tentative steps to recreating a writing life for myself.

“My insecurities are in all the right places. Have a look.” ~B. Wakefield

xo,
~AJC

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