Being the Bow

At our lake house I have a Kahlil Gibran quote in a frame flanked by photos of each of my two boys.  They are smiling from the pumpkin patch, young and sweet.  Gibran was a favorite of my brother’s, this excerpt especially, and after his passing it became even more special.

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

~Kahlil Gibran

I have always loved the imagery in this piece:  God as The Archer, parents as the bows, the child the arrow.  The idea that He is ultimately in control; that as parents, we don’t own our children, but Life does.

One of those boys in the pumpkin patch will be starting college in a few weeks and “The Day We Say Goodbye” is marked on the calendar.  It’s a phrase that has permeated my summer.  It has dictated my mood, my interactions with people, my interactions with my son.  It’s like a cloud always hovering, darkening my days.  

Most days I can channel the sun, the clouds part, and I realize I am blessed, and I am grateful.  I know I am.  But some days I unexpectedly get this random glimpse of him at the age of three, or ten, or even right now, and my heart feels like it’s literally being torn from my chest.

Yes, I know it’s not “Good-Bye” in the permanent sense.  I will still be his mother; I will always be his mother.  But after “that day,” as we drive away, everything will change.  He will be embarking on a glorious adventure that will take him to places I cannot even imagine, within and without.  Places I “cannot visit, not even in my dreams.”  He will discover himself, apart from us. He will chart his own course.

More than anything, he will have the time of his life. He will create memories and friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. He will expand his mind and world and, most importantly, he will discover himself.  He will set his course and even though it may change, and change often, he will be blessed with the opportunity to take charge of his own life.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.  

But along with the gratitude comes the realization that he will have hard days, and hard nights.  He will get sick. He will question himself.  He will be disappointed, by others and probably by himself.  He will meet girls and maybe fall in love with one (or two) of them.  Or maybe get his heart broken.  In the midst of finals.  

The conundrum is that while this breaks my heart, and his absence will be profoundly felt by all of us, I know it is what needs to happen.  It’s what every parent wants, for their child to fly.  On their own.  If I am honest with myself, my children are my gift to this world.  They have given me purpose beyond myself.  And I need to give this gift away, no matter how much I love it.  

I thank God for the blessing of being this young man’s mother and the opportunity to raise him.  It has been my greatest challenge, my greatest joy.  But for now, I will pray to trust The Archer and the mark He sees on the path of the the infinite, bending as much as I can and feeling myself held in His arms.  

 

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Stealing from Myself

Last night I taught my usual Tuesday night yoga class, the one I’ve been teaching now for a year and a half. It’s typically a small class, with some regulars and some drop-in’s who attend intermittently. The pace is even and the asanas are mildly challenging.

For the past couple weeks, some of the students attending this class have been teacher trainees from another yoga studio; part of their training encourages them to go to different studios and experience different styles (very cool, I must say).

Last night’s visiting attendees were two women: one instructor and one trainee. Both were young and energetic, the instructor thin and lithe, her upper body overlaid with colorful tattoos. Her asanas were nearly perfect and lovely to watch.

Like most instructors, I’m sure, I always feel a little intimidated when an instructor shows up for my class; feeling not so much that I’m being judged, but watched. Very carefully. I do the same when I attend a fellow teacher’s class. I’m not judging, but always searching. Searching for new ways to explain a pose or inspire students (or myself). I recognize that my style is mine, that theirs is theirs, and that instructors can’t be compared. I have tremendous respect for all teachers. What intimidates me, however, is knowledge.

Yoga is so deep and vast that when I meet other teachers (especially if they practice a different style), I am always overwhelmed at how much I DON’T know. I am suddenly reduced to a student, a child seeking approval, feeling inadequate.

“No, I don’t remember what my dosha is.”

“No, I’ve never practiced ashtanga yoga (at least I don’t think I have).”

“Nope, never heard of the hasta or the pada bandhas.”

“No, I haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita from beginning to end.”

“No, I can’t do a handstand or hold a hip balance with straight arms and legs for more than a few breaths.”

“No, I don’t make a habit of adjusting my students.”

Cerebrally, I know that we are never “done” when it comes to yoga; that the depth of this practice is vast and never-ending. So why do I feel so less-than when I discover something I don’t know? And how do I release the self-judgement for not knowing everything about something which is fundamentally unknowable?

As always, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas for guidance. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-Fold path of yogic philosophy. Taken from the Yoga Sutras, there are five Yamas, or restraints, and five Niyamas, or observances.

For this particular experience, Astaya, the Yama of non-stealing, spoke to me. According to Deborah Adele, in her book, The Yamas and the Niyamas, “Astaya guides our attempts and tendencies to look outwardly for satisfaction.” In looking outward, we are stealing our joy and ability to look inward. Astaya asks us to shift our awareness of others to ourselves.

So in looking inward, I can appreciate how far I’ve come, without the distraction of comparing myself to others; because comparing either leaves you feeling dejected or superior, and neither is a healthy alternative. And often what we reach for is not necessarily what we want, but what may look good at the time. In our culture, we have much to compete with. There are pretty little baubles, bangles and beads in front of us wherever we go. If we keep reaching out for things just because they are there, we aren’t fulfilling our truth.

I don’t see myself as a teacher, really, but a guide. I share what I know and take in what my students teach me. I don’t feel I will ever be one of those instructors that people seek out, revered as a master in my field. I work full-time, have a family, so my ability (and let’s face it, energy) to study and immerse myself are limited. But I love my class and my students and take the moments I do have very seriously.

No, I am not trained in Ayurveda. No, I can’t twist my 49 year-old body into asanas that a tattooed twenty-something can do. And yes, there is an enormous amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. Astaya encourages me to “be where I am,” appreciate the journey and discover where I really want to go.

Oh, and I don’t have any tattoos. Just sayin’.

Me, Myself, I

I was given the gift of a solitary weekend while my husband and kids were away. It has been a lovely and thought-provoking time. I spent some time with an old friend Friday night sharing wine, conversation and a ridiculous movie. I taught yoga, I practiced yoga, I sat in meditation in the morning sunshine with a symphony of birds as my accompaniment. I enjoyed an entire cup of coffee, sitting down. I cooked with fresh vegetables and herbs, savoring the smells and textures and tastes of good food. And I was even lucky enough to unexpectedly share it with a friend, with more wine and conversation. I read a magazine on my patio, almost cover to cover. I walked with my pup at dusk. I wrote. And I listened to classical music. Loud.

Nothing mind-blowing here, but I spent the precious time I had doing what I wanted to do, nurturing my soul. Because it needed it. As I sat reading my magazine, comfortable and warm and relaxed on a Saturday mid-afternoon, I wondered why I don’t find myself here more often, when I’m not alone.

What is it about my husband and kids that prevents me from taking time to do what I love, to stop and take time for me? Let’s face it, they are all pretty self-sufficient at this point. They don’t really expect anything from me. Yes, they are not the most organized or neat people on the planet, and sometimes you simply have to take care of responsibilities, but the Earth will not stop rotating because there are dirty socks on the living room floor. In the end, it IS a choice.

I didn’t realize how much I needed it, and, truly, how little time it really takes. In reality, it’s the simple act of recognizing that I am valuable enough to nurture. It’s not selfish. It’s self-preservation. It’s good for your health. Once you can just allow that concept to settle into your bones, you will find yourself doing what you love because, after all, you deserve it. You are valuable enough to nurture. Even it only means turning up the radio and refusing to move from the comfy chair until your cup is empty.

‘Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.’ – Dalai Lama

Old Enough

Awoke this morning with thoughts of church on my mind. Gorgeous day with plenty to do: grocery shopping, sheet changing, checkbook reconciling, and exercising. Any other day I would say I didn’t have time for church. Too busy. But these days, my days are different.

Lately I feel older. Not old, but just old enough. A month shy of my forty-eighth birthday, I feel like a new life has begun, like I have a second chance, and it is thrilling to feel.

I am fully aware that it is only by the grace of God that I have grocery shopping to do and can therefore have food for my entire family, clean sheets on every bed, money in the checkbook to reconcile, and a body that is healthy and strong enough for exercise. All that can wait so I can spend an hour to stop and give thanks.

I am old enough.

Five months ago I started teacher training for yoga, something I never would have dreamed I would do at this age, with two degrees already under my belt. I started work as an aide for kindergarten, content to have no pressure and no real responsibility but to show up, enjoy the children, and do what is needed by teachers.

I’ve had the dream of being a “career woman,” tried it, and realized it wasn’t for me. I’m past feeling dejected about it. I’m ok with not having something terribly interesting to say when I’m at cocktail parties and people ask, “What do you do?” because I know that who I am is much more than what I do for a living.

I’m old enough.

I have two children who are now able to do their own laundry, say “please” and “thank you” without a prompt (at least they better), and have personalities that will continue to develop, but now, it will be on their own, with not nearly as much help from me. And I like them. I really do.

I’m grateful for what I have and who I know and who is here to share this life with. I understand far too well, because I’ve experienced it far too many times, that it won’t always be like this: that people will move, or grow distant either physically or emotionally, or people will get sick and even die.

I want to be present every moment. Because even though I feel like a new life is beginning, in the back of my mind I know the clock is ticking. I am forty seven, after all. I don’t necessarily have my life ahead of me like I did when I left home for college or moved out of my parents’ home for the last time.

However, that ticking clock is no longer a source of fear or sadness, but a reminder that I must take advantage of my time. That it is best spent being comfortable in my skin, being willing to be vulnerable, being grateful, thanking God for my blessings and for the opportunity to still be here and be able to be just old enough.

Sweet Stillness

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This morning as I sat down to my meditation practice, things were a bit different.  Because of weather conditions, the school where I work was closed, so I took the opportunity to sleep in and linger under the warm flannel sheets.  By the time I took to my cushion, the sun had risen and I had a beautiful view of the blue sky above my neighbor’s rooftop.

I typically begin my practice before dawn, with eyes closed and lights off, the only light coming from a candle in the window (assuming I have enough energy to find a lighter at that hour).  This morning, however, I was riveted by the sky and a steady stream of clouds that appeared slowly from behind the roof and moved upward, each one unrushed and unique.  The formation of the clouds was such that each was a thin strip, so it looked like lines slowly appearing above the apex and continuing, one after the other.

I was mesmerized and comforted into silence by this movement.  The clouds weren’t trying to get anywhere, they just “were,”  allowing the air around them, the temperature, whatever it is that moves clouds (what can I say?  I’m no meteorologist) to move them.

Every day we are moved by things around us:  our jobs, our families, our insecurities, our angst to be somewhere else, someone else.  What if we, for just a few moments a day, allowed ourselves to stop moving, to not be moved by some external process, but look inward and stop the movement?

Watch the clouds.  Observe the trees moving in the breeze.  Follow snowflakes falling to the ground.  Watch a fish gracefully moving through the water in a fishbowl.  Harmonize your breathing to your beautiful sleeping baby’s.  Meditate.  And then, most importantly, incorporate that stillness into your being, and into your daily life.  It’s always available to you.  You just have to be still.  And let it in.

Peace.  Namaste.

Happy New Days

The house has been de-Christmased, all the remnants and leftovers of dinners and gatherings have been eaten or disposed of, the refrigerator is ready for the usual fare.  It’s a new year.

This morning when I woke, I wasn’t feeling it.  I wasn’t feeling the anticipation of things new, of starting fresh.  Instead, I woke up thinking, “This is my last day of Christmas vacation, and I don’t feel any different.”

Sure, I got some cool new stuff, saw some great people, did some fun things, and I think I really managed to make some headway with the laundry, but new beginnings?  Not so sure about that.  Mind you, I’ve never been one to make resolutions; I’m an everyday-is-an-opportunity-to-start-fresh kind of person.  However, I can’t help but be impacted when, after entering all the birthdays and critical dates in a new, clean calendar, I throw away the old one, all 365 days, wondering where they went and what I did with them.

After some coffee, l looked around at the laundry and dishes (our dishwasher decided to break yesterday – Happy New Year), and the beautiful sunlight shining in through my smudged windows, highlighting the dust on and under the furniture.  I decided the first step in tackling my day was to get the hell out for some perspective.  I bundled up, grabbed a five dollar bill, my camera, and my very excited (and obviously neglected) dog.

We walked for two hours.

I breathed in the cool winter air and felt my cheeks get red.  We stopped for an occasional photo when the mood struck, or we trekked up hills, peeling off layers. I used the cash for a lovely cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop (which was blessedly open on New Year’s Day), and chatted with other folks, out getting their own bit of perspective.

I paid attention.  Because I had my camera (a bit of the cool “stuff” I got for Christmas), I looked for beauty everywhere:  in the way my dog pranced, in the bit of snow left on trees and the ground, in the sky, in buildings, in people.  And I realized it’s always there if you are open to it, if you look for it.  That’s the key.  And you need to know when it’s time to start looking.

I came home from our walk to our warm house – our laundry- and dish-filled, dusty, smudged house – and plopped into a comfy chair.

Yes, it’s the first day of a new year.  There were no fireworks for me.  There was no goal-setting or grand plan to make big changes.  I go back to work tomorrow and the usual routine of life.  But there is beauty in that, and everywhere.  Breathe deep, friends.  And pay attention.  Maybe any day can be a Happy New Day.

Wishing you opportunities for being open to beauty and new beginnings – every day of the year.

When Childhood Beckons

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Last night I had some extra time on my way to a meeting so I decided to grab a tea at our local coffee shop and enjoy the beautiful fall evening.  My meanderings landed me at the elementary school playground, where the swings were completely empty.  There was a football practice on the adjacent field and several kids were playing on the monkey bars and slides, supervised by bored parents.  Almost compelled, I set down my tea, purse and folder and grabbed a swing.

I’m sure I was quite a sight:  a forty-seven year-old woman gleefully swinging on a swing, alone.  But it was just that:  gleeful.  I started slowly, a little apprehensive, but then found myself pumping and trying to get as high as I could, finding that my stomach was not used to the movement and the tickle almost made me giggle.  Giggle.

What an unexpected release it was, to be childlike, if only for a few minutes.  To forget, for a few minutes, about the fight I had just had with my defiant teenager, the bills I paid the day before with not a lot of money.  You know, the overall weight of adult life.  I went to my meeting refreshed and a little lighter. 

I began to wonder:  what can we do to incorporate childhood, and this lightness, into our everyday lives?  Lay in the grass and watch the clouds, eat cookies and milk, jump in the leaves, blow bubbles, take a nap?  Or swing on a random swing that seems to beckon.

Whatever it is, I recommend that when childhood does beckon, listen.  Be silly, be free, feel the tickle in your stomach.  Giggle.  You will totally love it.  Just sayin.’