Monthly Archives: May 2013

Think Inside the Box

Yeah, I know. The saying is “Think Outside the Box.” But sometimes, you need to turn things inside out and take a look inside because what you think is going on around you isn’t what it appears to be. Huh?

Let’s back up a bit. I am now home. This marked my biggest stretch of time away from home since going out on tour with Noah. I was gone for two solid months, a bit more. The last time I was home was for only a few days in mid-March when we came back for Noah’s state exams. He was in testing and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get a months’ worth of appointments crammed into four days’ time.

So now we are home for a couple of weeks. Although I still have tons of appointments and organizing to do (including opening mail, sorting files, paying bills, etc.) this time at home also includes time for introspection. It’s necessary. It’s about time. You see, living on the road leaves little time for contemplation of any kind. My meditation practice has been kicked to the curb, I hardly have time for an asana practice anymore and I feel lost in the shuffle of an odd sort of reality show.

It’s like living in a traveling college dorm. You live, eat, travel, work, exercise, and socialize with the same people for months on end. You grow to understand each other and know each other – sometimes a bit too well and sometimes not really at all. The “not really at all” part is when things tend to go awry in a social experiment like a touring musical. You see, rumors can run rampant and people often get sucked into believing things about their travel mates that can be, well, let’s say not nice and untrue. Usually I just try to be the best mother I can be to my son and stay away from the fray. It can be isolating at times but mostly, it feels safe. Most of the people I live with do not know me very well. With this said, I can say I have some tried and true tour friends – some people I hope will be my friends for life. They are good, kind and honest people – people I know I could go to for any kind of help. But in order to really know me, or anyone you live with, you have to look inside the box and not just at what’s going on outside. This means forming your own opinions of people and not listening to what others may say. It seems easy but it isn’t. It’s hard enough in the “real world” when you go to work every day and come home to the sanctity of your own home and family. It’s even harder on tour.

Yesterday I enjoyed something I haven’t had time for in a while: reflection. I delved into my Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient and brilliant sage. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sutras, they are a collection (sutra can be translated to mean “thread”) of kick-ass advice on how to live a more compassionate and fulfilling life. I immediately gravitated to Sutra 1:33:

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness” – Sutra translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

The first three parts of this all-important sutra come easy to me but the last part is where I struggle. I’m going to paraphrase a couple of pages from Satchidananda’s book so you all can understand what I’m talking about here. After that, we’ll discuss and hopefully you will all weigh in as well.

           “Whether you are interested in reaching Samadhi (enlightenment) or plan to ignore yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra. In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always. 

            Who would not like serenity of mind always? Who would not like to be happy always? Everyone wants that. So Patanjali gives four keys: friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard. There are only four kinds of locks in the world. Keep these four keys with you and when you come across any one of these four locks you will have the proper key to open it. What are these four locks? Sukha, duhka, punya and apunya – the happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.

            When you see a happy person, use the friendliness key. Why would Patanjali say this? Because even four thousand years ago there must have been people who were not happy at seeing others happy. It is still the same way. Suppose somebody drives up in a big car, parks in front of her huge palatial home and gets out. Some other people are standing on the pavement in the hot sun getting tired. How many of those people will be happy. Not many. They will be saying, “See that big car? She is sucking the blood of the laborers.” We come across people like that: they are always jealous. When a person gets name, fame or a higher position, they try to criticize that person. They will never admit that she might have gone up by her own merit. By that jealousy, you will not disturb her but you disturb your own serenity. She simply got out of her car and walked into the house, but you are burning up inside. Instead, think, “Oh, such a fortunate person. If everybody were like that how happy the world would be. May God bless everybody to have such comfort. I will also get that one day.” Make that person your friend. That response is missed in many cases, not only between individuals but even among nations.

            And what of the next lock, the unhappy people? We should have compassion. If you can lend a helping hand, do it. If you can share half of your loaf, share it. Be merciful always. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds. Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our feeling of mercy, at least we are helped.

            Then comes the third kind, the virtuous people. When you see a virtuous man, feel delighted. “Oh, how great he is.” Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down. Appreciate the virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life.

            And, lastly, the wicked. We come across wicked people sometimes. We can’t deny that. So what should be our attitude? Indifference. Don’t try to advise wicked people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace. I remember a small story from the Pancha Tantra which I was told as a small child.

            One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched. Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest. Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze…it was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow just peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak. But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day. Even if the rain continues for days and days, I will be warm inside. I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of the human beings, so why don’t you use your brain? Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’ You should have seen the face of that monkey. It was terrible! ‘Oh, you little devil! How dare you try to advise me? Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me. Wait, you will see where you are!’ The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.

            This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it. Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult. They think you are proud of your position. If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.

            So have these four attitudes: friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference. These four keys should always be with you in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then.

Okay, discuss or think…but take it all in.

I am sure that some of you who know me personally might be thinking, she wrote this about me. If so, check the egos with your baggage and get real. I am writing about me and you and everyone who is human. And remember, the sage Patanjali said the words above, oh, about 4,000 years ago. This means that WE, as human beings, have not changed much in thousands of years. We have the same issues, the same problems, the same struggles that our ancestors had. The reason I brought up my current situation (being on tour) is because living in a bubble gives me a unique perspective. Once I stepped out of the bubble, it became much clearer to see where my own struggles lie. It’s also evident that Sutra 1:33 can be applied to everybody and every life circumstance in some way, shape or form. It’s like taking a good, hard look in the mirror and then placing the same mirror in front of everyone you live and associate with. Most of us can relate to one or more of the four character types outlined in Sutra 1:33. Maybe you’ve even associated with all of them at some point or another in your life, as life is constantly changing.

We have ALL also encountered happy, unhappy, virtuous and wicked people and have probably handled these folks quite differently depending on our world views and life experiences. Again, for me, the toughest type to deal with is the fourth. Wicked is a pretty strong word, I know. But it was not my word choice, it was Satchidananda’s. And, wicked, as I interpreted it through my readings of various Sutra translations over the years, doesn’t have to mean wicked as in “Wicked Witch of the East.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see “wicked” on the surface and again, this is why we need to look “inside” the box.

Patanjali says there are four keys. My struggle, again, lies in finding and accessing the key to number four. You see, it’s hard for me to be “indifferent.” Usually I internalize things for a while and take everything personally. Slowly, I am learning to let go and go about my own business. I know I need to try harder still just to disregard and ignore these types of people. If I can do this successfully, anyone with a wicked nature can’t affect or hurt me. Again, this fuels my resolve to work towards letting go through yoga, meditation, breath work and whatever other means are useful to me.

What keys are challenging for you? Have you taken a good hard look in the mirror lately? What type of person do you see: happy, unhappy, virtuous or wicked or a combination of more than one? How do you best deal with each of these types of people? Do you hold the keys?

Life is not easy. The best we can do is be friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy, delighted for the virtuous and indifferent to the wicked. Amen Patanjali.

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Categories: Etcetera, get real, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

When You Can’t Stand (On) Your Own Two Feet

On December 31, 2012, I woke up in my own bed, put my feet on the floor, stood up, and sat right back down again. I thought I was imagining things, but it hurt to stand. And not just a little bit. A lot.

I stood up again on my hard wood floor and walked to the bathroom. Each step was more painful than the previous one. What the hell was going on? It wasn’t just one foot. It was both. Every time I rocked forward on the balls of my feet to propel into the next step, it felt like I was stepping on sharp objects.

I couldn’t imagine what I did to my feet or why I was experiencing this pain. I had been on the road with my son for months and just arrived home the night before (mind you, after a snow storm delayed our trip home by 24 hours. We had to stay at yet another hotel). Maybe it was the stress of the storm or having to walk on ice to get from the hotel to the diner across the street? Maybe it was from wearing bad shoes to walk all over Baltimore the week before in icy conditions?

All I know is that I was experiencing searing pain every time I stood up and walked. That day I bought cushy insoles for my running shoes but that didn’t help. I took Motrin. That didn’t help. I just hoped it would get better. I couldn’t teach yoga, let alone practice standing asanas as it was just too painful. Meanwhile, my week home was spent stressing about what to do with my studio (keep it going, close it, etc. – see my last post here). I chose to ignore making any major decisions….again.

The next week took me to Montreal. The pain in the balls of my feet intensified. The next week took me to East Lansing, Michigan. The pain was yet worse AND I caught the flu. I dragged myself fever and all to a podiatrist,  who diagnosed me with severely inflamed metatarsal joints. He made me special inserts for my shoes, I bought super expensive “nurse” shoes at an orthopedic shoe store, and I started taking heavy duty doses of Aleve. Meanwhile, a standing yoga practice was out of the question as was walking more than a couple of blocks.

I spent the week in East Lansing sick and depressed.

The next month took me to mainly warmer climates. My feet were nowhere near made for walking, but at least I could drive around in a convertible and catch some rays while sporting my nurse shoes.

In February, I went home again for a few days and this time I went to see a recommended podiatrist in the Boston area. He diagnosed me with nerve damage AND severely inflamed metatarsal joints. He crafted another round of inserts and I continued the Aleve.

Still, no one could figure out why this odd injury occurred in the first place. I mean, of all people…to me? I live much of my life barefoot teaching and practicing yoga on hard wood floors. I almost NEVER wear high heels. I’ve NEVER had a foot problem or foot injury in my life.

y2But something happened while I was home last February, moaning about my feet. I REALIZED why I couldn’t stand (on) my own two feet! And that was the beginning of the end of this injury.

As strange as this injury is, it happened to me for a reason. It was sort of like a wake-up call. I was saddled with indecision. Indecision about what to do with my yoga studio. This was causing stress. And, emotional stress manifests itself as physical pain.

Backing up, let’s take a look at the location of the pain: MY FEET. The soles of my feet. The balls of my feet to be more specific. The EXACT area where weight bears down when you need to stand and walk forward. The pain was immobilizing. I couldn’t practice standing asana or teach. I was stuck. The universe was sending me a very strong message to the exact spot where it knew I would eventually need to stand up (ironically) and take notice.

My first chakra (root chakra) was completely stagnant. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that this post was interesting until I went and got all New Age on you. But let’s be real here. The first chakra has everything to do with security and stability. It’s about feeling grounded, centered, safe, comfortable in your surroundings and with your decisions. It’s about being financially secure and rooted in family and community. Deciding whether to close my business – my sense of financial security AND community for almost a decade – was throwing my root chakra out of whack. I finally knew how to heal myself. It was time to close down.

I picked a date: April 1. I would close on April 1. Now I knew my feet would start to feel better but I also knew that they would not heal completely until the studio actually closed.

In that transition phase, my feet had their good days and bad days. I started practicing yoga again – slow, modified poses. I gave up worrying about fashionable footwear (not that it was ever something I thought much about anyway). I wore my “nurse shoes” everywhere. Slowly, walking became easier.

In March, I went home again and dealt with closing the studio head on. We arranged to move some classes to the community center and I worked on a transition strategy.

On April 1, we closed the doors. One day in mid-April, not too long after the closure, I woke up in California, put both feet on the ground and walked pain-free for the first time in 2013. I began to roll out my mat regularly. I took the inserts out of my running shoes.

I sent my “nurse shoes” home.

I can stand on my own two feet (even one) once again.

Categories: Etcetera, On the Road, Philosophy, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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