The Yoga of Experience – Native Language


You never forget your first language(s).

I got back from California two weeks ago. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get back to the typewriter, so to speak. If I had to pick a reason – OK, if I had to pick two reasons, they would be:
1. Craft ADD. I love making stuff. With my hands. It’s fun. Sewing, knitting, crochet, making products to use on your beautiful skin. It’s in my blood, making things. Just ask my Dad. So I’ve been busy making stuff.
2. Fear of creative expression. Weird for someone who claims to be a writer, right? And even though I’ll be the first person to demand that the definition of “being human” includes the words “creative expression is one of the core tenets of being human,” it’s sometimes is easier to ignore this and just binge watch Cheers, than to put myself out there and let the inside out.
And sometimes, it’s just hard to find the right words.

I had a fantastic time during my three-week SoCal vacation. Duh! I practiced yoga in Long Beach. I read a PG Wodehouse book (among others). I walked on the beach (a lot). I ate sushi, I bought Vans, and I drank a lot of coffee. I enjoyed doing things and visiting with people, and I enjoyed doing absolutely nothing other than feeling the sunshine on my bare skin. Oh man, I love that place so much.
Even though I’ve been gone a looooooong time, Southern California still feels like home when I’m there. Everything just seems so relaxed, and there’s pretty much at least one of every kind of person you can imagine – everything goes. So it’s really easy to feel like I fit in. Especially in Sunset Beach. I can’t even imagine how much money you would need to actually live there these days, but nonetheless, the atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious.
When I arrive at the beach, I fall into a wonderful sort of familiarity that feels so natural. I don’t have to try to do or be anything. It all just is, and it’s always exactly as it should be. The waves keep coming, the sun sets over Rancho Palos Verdes, the cargo ships wait their turn to dock in San Pedro. My grandmother’s house still stands – empty now, but still full of memories tucked into every corner.

On this trip, I really connected with Seal Beach, too. It’s sooo cute! I love it there. My Dad told me that he and my Mom were living in Seal Beach when I was born. They rented a house, because my Dad had gotten a teaching job nearby. I didn’t really know that before; my Mom never told me much about her time with my dad. But realizing they lived there together, in that cute, cute place…no wonder I love it there too. No wonder it’s so familiar, somehow.
I will buy a house there someday. It might end up being a teeny tiny house, but it will happen. I’ll have a short walk to the beach, and a short walk to Main Street where I can meet my friends and have a coffee and watch the tourists. You can come visit anytime.

seal beach pier
seal beach pier

I started and ended my trip to SoCal with a visit at my Dad’s house, in the foothills of La Crescenta. It’s kind of a nice way to bookend the trip – a way to acclimate. When I first get to California, a visit with family makes the transition to the culture a little easier. And on the way back home, it’s a good transition back to reality. Because if I had to leave Sunset Beach and drive straight to LAX to get on a plane back to Tulsa, I would cry for three straight weeks.
And of course, it’s also nice to see my Dad.
After years and years of living with women, my Dad has gotten pretty good at listening, without necessarily offering solutions. Occasionally a logical (to him) solution does pop out – and that’s ok – but he’s a good listener. It’s really nice to be able to talk to him about things that I’m learning or discovering or working on. He knows my language, he understands what I’m saying. And one thing he does do, without fail, is call me on my shit.
He listens so closely, that he challenges me when I speak in opposition to who I am working on becoming (he’ll probably have an issue with how I worded that just now, but I can’t think of any other way to say it, sorry Dad!). He challenges me when I express doubt or negativity, after declaring that I am no longer going to express doubt or negativity. He requires me to clarify my thoughts and intentions. He knows my language, because I am his daughter. No one else is left on this earth who can know me like that. There’s a sense of familiarity between us that I sometimes still marvel at to this day, since we didn’t spend much time together when I was growing up.

So as I understand the language of Southern California, so does my Dad understand the language that is me. I am fluent in Californian, I am fluent in Neil. Perhaps they are the same? Either way, I will craft something good out of this language, and it will be amazing, and it will be mine, and my Dad will love it.

ace and dad
ace and dad

The Yoga of Experience – The Vacation Inside the Vacation

Practicing My Quiet Skillz

vacation inside the vacation

Today marks the beginning of my third week of vacation.
I have never had a three-week vacation before, not counting summers off from school. Which was about a million years ago, anyway.
But earlier this year, I decided that if I was going to make the effort to come out to SoCal and soak up the sunny vibes, then I was going to do it HARDCORE and make it a 3-week affair – for better or worse. As a self-employed person, “paid vacations” are a just an enviable concept, and so when you are someone who still relies on trading hours of your life for money, not working for a while has its, well, shall we say, disadvantages. So I am toughing it out here by the seaside. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s and the Ralph’s Rewards Card.

My companions have gone home, and I have the next few days to myself before I head inland to my Dad’s, to spend some time with him before heading back to Oklahoma. A vacation inside the vacation, as it were. So here I am at the beach, listening to the waves. All by myself.

Being at the seaside is, to me, the best place to be. As an (extreme) introvert, always looking for potential escape routes or opportunities to extricate myself from possible mayhem, the seaside offers unique opportunities to feel very much on the outside of everything. I am at the edge here. There is one whole side of my view that has NO ONE IN IT and part of me really likes that. The ocean seems to go on forever, offering endless possibilities for emptiness… ah… Add in the salty smell, the sound of the waves, the sunsets over the water (and the surfers), and you have the fixins for My Favorite Place.

I cherish the time I spend here at the beach by myself. There is no stereo, no TV, no wifi, and for the next few days, very few people to talk to. A mini-vacation inside my vacation.
As I sit here, I can hear the waves, and see some kite surfing gear floating in the sky above the top of my grandmother’s house. I am staying in the apartment above the garage. And while it doesn’t have an actual ocean view, it is close enough. Plus, it’s been remodeled, and therefore has a few more modern amenities, such as a stove made in this century and newer plumbing. Since it’s on the second floor, there’s plenty of afternoon light coming in, and it’s truly one of the most pleasant spaces I’ve had the privilege of spending time in.
I stay up here because it’s comfy, but also because I’m hesitant to stay in the main house, my Grandma’s house. She passed away several years ago, but hasn’t lived here for maybe close to 15 years. The property belongs to a family member, who plans to keep the house as close to its original condition as possible (it’s one of the last remaining original structures here on the beach, with unique architectural features, as well as a whole lot of family and neighborhood history. I am dreaming of writing a book on the history of the Neil family and of Sunset Beach…)
I was here a lot as a child, and some of my happiest memories are of spending time here, with my Grandma. And so you might be wondering why I would be hesitant to stay downstairs, in her house…

While the house is definitely habitable, it’s just not… the same. Which is fine – it would be unreasonable to expect thigs to remain the same. But still…
Most of my Grandma’s personal effects are in storage, as the house will eventually be renovated. There is so much history and love and stories in those walls, but for the past few years the energy has felt “in flux.” It’s as if the house misses her. Only once have I felt her presence here – I think she is having a grand time traveling all over the universe, seeing all the sights she dreamt about when she was human, and is too busy to come back here to the beach. But the house is missing her.

I love it here, and I often can’t wait to be alone here. But once I am alone, and it’s just me and the wind and the waves and the setting sun, something akin to loneliness comes up, especially in the evenings and at night. Even us extreme introverts have our limits! Everything in life is all about balance, after all. Tip the scales too far, and we need to find ways to get back to center.

In my ever-increasing wisdom, I realize that this loneliness or emptiness is just a feeling, and once acknowledged, and with a little practice, it can be exchanged for thoughts that are more pleasant. Maybe that’s why I’m here – so I can practice that. There is no one to talk to, no music, no commercials, just me, and… me. So often we try to fill all the empty spaces. Sometimes facing the quiet – and ourselves – can be difficult. But what a great opportunity to practice making it easier.


The Yoga of Experience – Parenting is for the Birds

Watching the sparrows grow up…

parenting is for the birds
this is not a sparrow from my yard. i did not take this picture. but it’s still awfully cute.

It starts at the beginning of spring, with a few little chirps, which I notice as I stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes. The sparrows are back!
I watch a pair of them hopping from the fencepost outside the window into the bushes, searching for a place to nest. A few days later, they begin to appear more frequently, sometimes holding small branches or pieces of plastic in their beaks. They are building their nest.
Sometimes as I watch, I imagine what it must be like to be a sparrow, and to get married to a cute sparrow dude, or maybe just shack up with one (I don’t know how conventional sparrows are).
Then I see them hopping into the bushes with snacks. Either they’re trying to hatch some eggs, and someone is stuck on nest duty, or they’ve set up a sweet TV room and are binge-watching Netflix. Or maybe they’re doing both.
As I watch them prepare for parenthood, I wonder what they’re thinking about. Do they wonder how they’re going to feed all those hungry mouths? Or whether or not they should start 529 plans for all the kids? What must it be like to be a bird parent?
I don’t even know what it’s like to be a human parent.
By choice (I could say something like “the timing was never right,” but that is still a choice), it just never happened; the desire to become a parent was never overwhelming enough to overcome the fears of doing it wrong or bringing a child into the world who might have a childhood like mine. Looking back, my childhood wasn’t terrible or anything, but why possibly put someone through having to be separated from a parent?
So, nope, no kids. But several years ago I started dating my current partner, who has two sons. When we started dating, and when we decided to start sharing a household, one son went off to college and the other spent half the time with his mom across town. Then their mom moved 3800 miles away and the youngest came to stay.
I should have better understood the phrase “anything can happen” as it applies to parenting – but this is just one of the ways I was incredibly unprepared for the experience. Due to the age of the young man in question and the nature of my relationship with my partner, I was a hands-off “step parent,” keeping quiet about most things. No one was particularly interested in my inexperienced yet more objective opinions, so in some ways I’ve been more of a roommate than a parent.

Last week, we drove over to Arkansas to help this young man move into his dorm room for his first semester at college. Our assistance wasn’t needed and though it was most likely appreciated, it was minimally acknowledged and after a quick lunch we were informed that there were places to go and people to meet, and we were on our own. So we went for a cappuccino, visited a used bookstore, and drove home.
And here we are. Empty nesters.
I am not sure how I feel about it; it’s great to have a clean second bathroom, and as a hardcore introvert I certainly don’t mind having more time alone at home. And I never felt much like a parent. But I know it’s a big transition for my partner so I try to be supportive and sensitive to that.

This time of year, at the end of the summer, the sparrows stop by the fenceposts once more, after having been gone for a few weeks. Only now, their numbers have increased to a small flock of about 20 birds. Are they all kids from that same couple that was here earlier? Or is this an extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents? My imagination kicks into overdrive. Is it a big family reunion?
You can tell that most of the birds are adolescents; somehow their coloring doesn’t quite look grown up yet. And their behavior is most definitely juvenile; even though they are birds, they act like tweens or teens. They hop awkwardly on top of the fenceposts, and wobble too much when they try to sit on the chain links of the fence. Sometimes they still motion to their parents that they want to be fed. Typical teenager. Always looking for food.
I wonder to myself where they have been the last few weeks. Did they go on a family vacation? Maybe one last big trip to Disnelyand before the summer is over and everyone starts school or goes off to work?
Soon those teenage birds will be pushed out of the nest. Or maybe more accurately, they’ll be so eager to leave that nest, and go out on their own, to begin their own adventures and define their own lives.
I wonder if they will still call home to ask for money for food.


The Yoga of Experience – The Stories We Tell


Proper alignment is key

What I learned in school

They told us it would happen. They told us we would notice it wherever we went, whoever we looked at, whatever we were doing.
They were right.
When I went through training to be an RYT™200 yoga instructor, we studied a lot of anatomy. We studied how different parts of the body move, and we studied the proper ways to move the different parts of the body. We focused on alignment in yoga postures, and more importantly, how the body takes up space in the world. We read from books, we listened to lectures, and we also practiced a whole lot of yoga. We practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more, and we became aware of our own bodies in ways we never had before. Because in order to teach the subtleties of movement to someone else, we first had to understand them in our own bodies.

Our instructor told us, with a smile on her face and lightness in her voice, that we would start noticing people’s alignment and posture and areas of tension – while at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the beach – everywhere. She told us that the more we understood about the body, the more we would start seeing the bodies around us differently; that it would just happen. She was right.

Now I see misalignment, or asymmetry, or the results of long-ago injuries that went unattended far too long. Often times, people don’t even seem to notice these things about themselves.

Being an extreme introvert, I often find interactions with people I don’t know very well to be tiring, due to all the small talk involved, or the generalness of the conversation topics. I am uncomfortable and always feel like I need to fill the silences. As part of my own growth, I’m wanting to change this, and be more accepting of others…and the silences. I’ve found a great way to conserve energy when meeting new people – I just let them talk. Which means I do more listening.

What am I hearing?

I hear lots of stories. Stories of victimization, stories of self-proclaimed ineptitude, stories of perceived unworthiness and stories of fear disguised as laziness. Just as people often walk around with parts of their bodies misaligned, so they also walk around telling negative stories about themselves. I’m sure people have always been telling stories like this – and I know I have, too. But as I become more aware of my own thoughts and learn to be more present not only to my body but also my mind (and not to get to Oprah-y, but also my spirit), I become more aware of what’s going on around me, too. Just like they said would happen with alignment, back in Yoga Teacher Training.

Stories of the body, stories of the mind

Just as the body can fall into further depths of pain or misalignment if nothing is done to correct the underlying cause, so can the personality fall deeper into negativity or fear, without practicing to rediscover ones true nature, which is inherently good. Both practices require diligence, awareness, and patience. But it’s possible to take oneself towards proper alignment.

Just as I don’t know how someone’s permanently hiked left shoulder, or slight tilt to the right began, I don’t know how people’s negative stories start. Perhaps it was something from childhood. Or having regrets about the past. Or fear about the future. Whatever the reason, here they are, and I hear them all around me. And there are so many different kinds.

There are the blatantly obvious self-deprecating stories, like the ever-popular “I’m no good with technology,” or my own version which is “I suck at math.” These stories are easy to recognize, because the author has gone straight for the basic plot in ten words or less.

But then there are the more subtle stories – the ones that are told in more words, but quieter words. Someone’s desire to justify their profession by stating their credentials and years of experience with unusual emphasis, or the camouflaging of anger or guilt with words like “when my husband left me.” I don’t know what the real stories are, when I hear them told by people I don’t know well. But the words are an indication that there are other stories there, just under the surface, occasionally bubbling up and popping with a tiny “ploop” sound…

Keep practicing

The first step in healing the body, or making a positive change to health or behavior, is to be aware of what you are doing now. And as I take my yoga practice and spiritual practice further, it becomes easier to see – in myself and others. I can’t really do much for other people – except listen, live my own life the best I can, and hold space for them. In a yoga class, people want me to correct their alignment or posture. I’m not so sure this would work quite as well off the mat.

I should add that I don’t just see misalignment and maladies around me. I also see strong, aware, beautiful people who move through and take up space with grace and acceptance and generosity. It’s the same principle – as I become more aware myself, and strive to be a better person, I also see a lot more good in the world.

We all are good people, we all want the world around us to be filled with good things. Most of us may not be perfectly aligned. But really, who is?


The Yoga of Experience: So Empty You Are Full

Flashback on a bridge

The other day I was driving across the bridge to Jenks, on my way to teach a yoga class, and one of my favorite songs came on the car stereo. It’s “Traveler/Make It Mine,” by Jason Mraz, from his live album released in 2009. Suddenly, I was transported back to the summer of 2011, driving around in the hot, humid weather with the windows down, screaming the lyrics to this song for everyone on Highway 169 to hear.
That was the summer right after my mom passed away from cancer. After she spent 13 short, yet seemingly endless, horribly difficult weeks declining to the point of ultimately turning into someone I didn’t recognize, she passed away in March 2011. In May I got divorced, then the weather turned warm and summer arrived, and I was alone. As a hardcore introvert, with no family in town, my time was completely my own. So what now…

But I’m not writing this to talk about the grief I felt, or the PTSD I ended up with. Hearing that Jason Mraz song last week reminded me of the happiness and the freedom I felt that first summer on my own.

Feeling the feels and being ok with that

I have tried several times to write this blog post and could never finish it. Each time I got stuck and frustrated, which is ironic considering the subject matter. When writing doesn’t come easily, I have to stop and ask myself why. What’s in the way? This time around I think it’s guilt.
I feel guilty for admitting that after my mom passed away, there were times that I felt more free, and happier than I had in a long time. You aren’t supposed to feel that way after someone dies.
Part of why I felt so happy and free is because my mom and I had a really complicated relationship, and I had let myself live under other people’s shadows all my life. Now, the biggest shadow was gone. Time to get some sun.
Another reason why I felt the way I did is because grief does weird things to you. I felt a little relieved those 13 weeks were over. I felt like I could now take control of my life again. I felt… lots of things.

summer 2011: down to 105 pounds and trying golf. who IS that person?!?
summer 2011: down to 105 pounds and trying golf. who IS that person?!?

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Sometimes it makes you do things that you feel a little guilty about. I ended up not only having to make peace with someone’s departure, I also had to make peace with how I was reacting to it.  I’m not sure I can explain this part very well. But if you have lost someone yourself, you might know what I’m talking about.

These things account for some of the reasons I felt free and happy and open after just having gone through something that was, well, really bad. But here’s the biggest reason why.

I had witnessed some really difficult things that spring. I had made some even more difficult decisions. I watched the person who was supposed to be indestructible, crumple like a piece of aluminum foil. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

I am still not sure my heart will fully mend. But that’s actually OK. Because out of the broken pieces comes something beautiful. Because when you are so raw, so full of heartbreak, you increase your capacity to feel. And if you can feel a huge amount of pain, you can also feel an even greater amount of love.

Love is possibility, the ability to be open, to give of oneself, and to receive. Love is life force, love is, well… love is everything.

I want to forget, but I want to remember

As I drove over the bridge last week, listening to that song, I felt those feelings of openness and of love again, and it took me back to 2011. It truly was, in many ways, a magical summer. Even though it was also filled with some tears, a bit of loneliness, and very little sleep.
There is even a magical story that relates directly to that Jason Mraz record, or more specifically, to one of the musicians on the record – but that is a story that is for now best left in the past, and taken out only occasionally to marvel at. It acts as a reminder for me to never forget that magic can happen.

And as I drove over the bridge last week, listening to that song, I had to wonder, why did it take a traumatic experience for me to understand my true capacity for love? Why couldn’t I have learned this an easier way? How come I keep forgetting my true capacity for love? Why can’t we all feel this way every day? Just think, if everyone remembered how huge our hearts are. Think of what our world would be like.

Ultimately the answers to some of these questions aren’t important. The past just… is. The only way is forward.

For me, it took being completely empty before I understood what feeling full is like. I don’t know if there’s an easier way. I hope there is – I hope that maybe through meditation, or yoga, or prayer, or some other great thing that you can come up with – I hope that we can empty ourselves enough to fill up with love.

one of the last photos of me and my mom together, new year's eve 2010
one of the last photos of me and my mom together, new year’s eve 2010