Mara's Last Trick

 The mythic story of the Buddha's enlightenment includes an assault on the meditating Siddhartha by Mara, the trickster bent on keeping humans stuck in samsara, realm of endless rounds of suffering.  First, Mara launches an army to engender fear.  Next he sends his beautiful daughters to encourage sensual craving.  Finally, when neither of those works, he seeks to instill doubt by asking, "By what right to you presume to gain Enlightenment? Who do you think you are?"  Siddhartha responds by touching the ground before him.  At this, the earth goddess arises to vouch for the seriousness and effectiveness of his practice over many lifetimes, and Mara must withdraw, defeated.

Well, Mara's trick has been working on me for the past few months, has kept me stuck, with reflections and inspirations coming and going and never rising to a level of overcoming my writer's block.  I have written many words over my lifetime.  I have authored six substantial books and so many articles, reports and memos I long ago lost track.  I know there was creativity involved in all that work, but I don't see it as "creative" writing because it was written for someone else's purpose.  It did not come from my need to express myself.  That's where Mara comes in, with the challenge: "What makes you think you have a "myself" worth expressing, worth putting out there for others to see?"

Lately, however, I have felt a growing pressure of thoughts piling up, wanting to be worked through more thoroughly.   In Words Are My Matter, Ursula Le Guin suggests that some things just demand to be written, ". . . purely on the principle of E. M. Forster's lady, who said, 'How do I know what I think till I see what I say?'" Gradually this principle has worked on me and brought me to the point I guess all creative people must get to, where I feel ready to write for myself, whether or not my writing will ever be worth anything to anyone else.  

I am posting this on April 3, but I wrote it on March 27, the first new-moon day of Spring -- an auspicious time time for a fresh start if ever there was one.  May the knowledge accumulated in the various phases of a long life, which feel like previous lifetimes to me now, inform and enrich my reflections on current experiences. May my Dharma study and spiritual practice help me approach myself and the world always with the deep calm and profound kindness exemplified by the Buddha.


New Moon Day

September 1, 2016. Today is the first new moon of my 70th year!  After a long period away from Moon Day Journal, I hope this milestone moon day will be auspicious for starting up again. Much has changed in my life in the last few years.  I feel sure most of the important stuff will make its way into future posts. For now, it's enough just to be writing again -- a triumph over writer's block and all the failure of self-confidence, energy and vision that entails. I have been dithering for months and the tension has been building: creative ambition competing with self-doubt and shame.  Feeling gratitude to my daughters for their encouragement and to my friend Sherry, whose small pat on the back for earlier writings helps lift me up enough to get over the wall of resistance.  May I build some momentum this year to cruise into my eighth decade with energy and joy. 

John Maarschalk via Flickr

Dark Night of the Soul

It has been just a little over two years since my last post to this blog.  This has been a difficult time for me, a time of wanting to get free of my marriage and yet so not wanting it to end.   A book by Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul, helped me by naming what I was experiencing in the grip of these conflicting impulses. “Sometimes a dark night begins to brew when you are caught between incompatible wishes,” Moore writes. “At one level you want change, but at another it’s the last thing in the world you want.”  

Moore encouraged me to accept that what I needed to do was sit with this dilemma until my internal conflict resolved itself and allowed me to move on.  This sitting with the feelings that arise and accepting “what is,” is, of course, what Buddhist practice and yoga practice are all about.  So, I have been practicing intensely but not feeling much like writing about it.

For the past year, I have been living on my own.  I still see my husband nearly every day, however, when I go back to the house to get our dog Suzie for a walk.  Also in the past year, our older daughter had a baby girl, another bond of love between him and me.  We talk about our family, see the occasional movie or concert together and help each other out with practical things.  The absence of rancor and continuing friendship are good things.  Yet, there has been a stuck quality to this arrangement, much like the stuckness in my interior state.

The past winter, in particular, was a dark period of grieving and ruminating over the 44 years of our marriage.  I have been painfully aware of the many aspects of our life together I want to cling to, for example, our house and the things we did well together as a couple, like making a home for our daughters and managing our joint finances.  Also, I now realize, I have been clinging to the pain caused by the fact that I wasn’t able to get from him the attention and affection I longed for.  I have experienced remorse over some very unskillful ways I responded to this pain, in particular my withdrawal into an extended period of workaholism (the deeper shadow side of “Shoulder-pad Bettye”).  Yet I have held on to the unrequited longing and the unhappiness associated with it.

In the past few months, however, my hold on these emotions started to loosen a bit.  I have been working with Pema Chodron’s teaching on the Bodhisattva path, with her emphasis on letting go.  I have worked on developing other areas of my life more fully. Most important, I have decided to move to New York to live closer to our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter and this impending change has opened up my sense of what the future might bring.  Slowly, slowly, I am beginning to experience less internal resistance to how this part of my life is unfolding. Here’s what Thomas Moore has to say:

“Eventually you may have to give in to the conditions life has imposed: the love you want may not be available.  It’s that simple.  The relaxing of your will, however desperate, allows life to proceed.  It may not go according to your plan, but whatever it makes will be more secure and ultimately more satisfying than anything you could force into existence. Such are the lessons of a dark night.”  

My Daughter/Myself

Sarah & Kate after the toast

Our older daughter, Sarah, got married a couple of weeks ago. The weekend’s festivities were wonderful – a real love-fest. My husband and I reveled in the opportunity to celebrate our first-born, the beautiful, self-confident, woman she has become, the great choice she has made in a husband, and the warm-hearted and gracious group of friends the two of them have gathered around themselves. One of the high points was a toast by our younger daughter, Kate. It was an insightful and moving appreciation by someone who has seen her sister grow through her best and her worst moments. The whole event took on an even greater significance because Kate is planning her own wedding for early 2013.

On the way to Sarah's wedding
In addition to taking the momentous step of marriage, both daughters in the past year or so have stepped up to a higher and firmer level in their professional careers, one as a writer, the other an artist-designer. Seeing how good they have become at figuring things out and getting things done, I realize they have moved into the prime of life. I think of this stage as that challenging middle period when (if one is fortunate) perspective and capacities mature, responsibilities increase, confidence grows and, in any case, one’s life unfolds at a breathtaking pace. I am watching from the sidelines with enthusiasm, and often I want to share the hard-won wisdom I feel I have gained from that time in my own life. I imagine I am like Doc Brown at the end of Back to the Future, when he roars back from the future to tell Marty McFly about the wonders and dangers of what lies ahead.

Their life transitions also make me aware of my own passage into the final third of life, where the experiences are new and I am feeling my way. In the process I am finding that, more and more, the flow of guidance and support is reciprocal between my daughters and me. This is comforting, although I am sometimes humbled in the face of all the knowledge and experience they can draw on that I know nothing about. For example, Sarah selected an excerpt from a poem I didn’t know to be read in her wedding ceremony – “When Death Comes,” by Mary Oliver.  This poem is a wake-up call to open one’s senses and one’s heart to the miracle of life in all its forms. Especially the final lines, which Sarah did not use in her wedding, speak to me about the urgency of my quest to define my priorities for the time remaining in my life:

When it's over, I don't want to wonder 
if I have made of my life something particular, and real. 
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument. 

 I don't want to end up simply having visited this world. 

I won't need to wonder if my life is "something particular and real" -- my relationship with these magnificent daughters already makes it so.  The rest is up to me.

Opening the Heart

Mom & me in her awakening years

In First There Is A Mountain (p. 125), Elizabeth Kadetsky describes a kind of mind-body experience that I suspect many yoga practitioners have had: a surge of emotion, released when a long-held tension relaxes. My sense of what opening the heart is all about is rooted in this kind of experience.

Last fall, thinking about starting this blog, I read over some of my journals. In one of them I found a “Summary of Medical Care” that my brother, sister and I had pulled together for our mother’s doctors a few years before she died. It briefly reviewed the depression and paranoia, the suicide attempts, the shock therapy, and the many years of treatment with psycho-therapeutic drugs that eventually put her in a "near-catatonic" state. It also recorded an “awakening” that began when they took her off all of the medications, not long before the time of her oldest granddaughter’s wedding. All of the planning and anticipation of attending that event, not to mention the excitement of the wedding itself, gradually brought Mom back to life. It only lasted a couple of years but was an amazing time, a gift. We experienced a happy, active and outgoing version of her that I, at least, had never known. Coolest of all, she became an advocate for the staff in her assisted living facility and helped convince the management to provide them a room and time for regular breaks.

A few nights after reading this summary, I dreamt about her giving a speech to a large group, including Dad and me. She was forceful, witty, impressively smart and in command of her subject. As a girl and a young woman, I saw Mom as the opposite of this kind of capable person; and I had judged her harshly for it. In my dream, however, I was in awe of her. The next day in yoga I was strong pushing up into backbends – three successful lifts with my feet on blocks, which is something I cannot achieve most days. It was an intense opening of the chest, and it brought thoughts of Mom, sadness, and the relief of tears.

Not long after that, I found myself on Mom’s birthday, November 4, driving west across Massachusetts to a weekend Ayurvedic workshop at Kripalu. I was at the end of a two-week Ayurvedic cleanse and was feeling light, as if I had let go of a lot of internal baggage. It was a beautiful late fall afternoon; the view of the Berkshire Mountains was spectacular; the Bach piano music on the car stereo was precise and soothing. I felt that Mom was at peace and I, having let go of that bit of my sadness, could be too.

My Posture Project

Getting help with Pasasana

In 2012 I am making a concerted effort to improve my posture. For some years now I have been working with the first fourteen poses of the Ashtanga second series. These include a lot of chest openers – Pasasana (the noose), Dhanurasana (the bow) and Ustrasana (the camel), among others. This work is essential for good posture, and it has an important mind-body dimension, as suggested by the fact that teachers often refer to it as “opening the heart.” I was reminded of this not too long ago when I read Elizabeth Kadetsky’s “yoga romance,” First There Is A Mountain (2004). It is her memoir of studying yoga with B.K.S. Iyengar and his family at his institute in India. Iyengar’s daughter, Geeta, comes across as someone who terrorized Western students like Kadetsky, frequently ranting about their bad posture and superficial values. Yet I was struck by the insight Geeta offered in the teaching described here:

 “Geeta stood behind [a French woman] and, gripping one hand over each of her shoulders, dug her knee between the student’s shoulder blades. Geeta pulled, causing the woman’s sternum to move forward from her shoulders several inches. The woman looked instantly more confident, though the illusion faded as Geeta moved again across the floor. . . ‘You never see a person who is depressed walking with an open chest,’ Geeta was saying . . . She instructed us to lie on our backs with wooden blocks pushing our sternums forward. ‘Life’s sadness collects behind the sternum. Your sternum is like an introverted child. Make it the extroverted child. When the mind is lifted it is pure. When the mind is dropped it is impure. Have the lifted mind in the chest.’”(122-5) 

 Clearly, for my posture project, in addition to the chest openers, there is internal work to be done. I have found affirmations to be very useful in the past when I have seen the need to shift an attitude or perspective and need support in actually making that shift. The guidelines for composing affirmations are simple: they should be short and specific; in the present tense; and framed positively. Then you repeat daily for at least three months until you gradually begin to live the intention the affirmations express.  Here is what Geeta’s teaching inspired for me: 

I lift my chest and let go of sadness; I lift my chest and make room for joy 
I lift my chest and let go of regret; I lift my chest and make room for compassion 
I lift my chest and let go of fear; I lift my chest and make room for love 
I lift my chest and let go of discontent; I lift my chest and make room for peace

Sounds good, doesn't it? Check back with me in three months!

Teachers and Other Helpers

Recently, I waded through the reams of commentary on a New York Times magazine article on the dangers of yoga-related injuries To me, the most sensible comments simply acknowledge that injury is possible in any physical activity (including sitting and typing, as I know from experience). Why should yoga poses be any different? What emerges clearly for me from all of this is that practitioners need to approach yoga sensibly and make sure they have a good instructor. I want my teacher, at the very least, to pay attention to how I am doing my practice and adjust me in the postures when I need it. The best teacher, in my experience, is also a coach who will encourage me to challenge myself when I am being fearful or lazy and remind me to be patient when I am pushing too hard, and who knows me well enough to tell which of those is right in the moment.

Over my years of practicing yoga I have also found that having the support of other helpers can make a big difference at key points.  For example, my chiropractor played an important role in helping me heal my hip injury and still helps me manage the imbalances between my right and left sides. I have also gone to an acupuncturist and a physical therapist for help with specific issues. Lately, however, I have been working with a massage therapist as part of a concerted effort to improve my posture. Aside from having a closed chest that pulls my shoulders forward, I have a tendency to raise my left shoulder and collapse into my right side. I know this has been a pattern for me at least since the age of ten or eleven, when my mother took me to a doctor to ask about it. The other day the massage therapist was honing in on the hard knot this tendency has created over the years in my left shoulder. The pressure he applied was very painful, and in the midst of it he said, “Focus on the time in your life when this pattern started and release it if you can.”

Without knowing it, I had prepared for this moment: for more than a year I had been doing a targeted stretch of my left shoulder muscle; and over a much longer time, I had reconstructed the history of my feeling that I needed to shoulder the pain of my loved ones. With my shoulder throbbing, I went back to the time when, for two or three winters, I spent a month or so with my grandparents. My aunt used to come to New York and take me to their home in Virginia by train. I remember the train’s sleeper car as a great adventure, but I was only two or three years old my first trip, so I’m pretty sure the separation from my family was traumatic. When I asked Mom about it a few years before she died, she said she had felt terrible about sending me off but she just couldn’t cope with three young kids. It was not until my college years that her mental illness was formally diagnosed.  Yet I imagine that, on some level, my little-girl self perceived the depth of my mother’s struggle and decided I needed to be strong and independent for her sake. That’s where I located the origination of the knot. I felt the sadness of that part of my life and also reminded myself that I no longer need to carry that burden.

The knot released and my shoulder relaxed. Whether this was a permanent fix of the problem remains to be seen. But it was definitely a step forward that, as hard as I work on my own, I could not have taken without help.

My Father's Final Hours

The circumstances of my father’s death were ordinary: he died in a nursing home after a series of small strokes and one massive one. My brother called me to tell me about the latest stroke and said I should come to Virginia if I wanted to see Dad again. Our sister lived too far away to get there, and he wasn’t going because he had already said goodbye. So I would be on my own. I had visited at the nursing home before, and it was difficult, both to see my proud, image-conscious father in that drab institutional setting and to face the state of physical and mental decline that justified his being there. I still wanted to go.

What did I imagine would happen? Before leaving, I bought some knitting needles, yarn and a pattern, so I guess I thought there would be some hours when I would sit quietly by his bedside and just be a comforting presence. I did spend a few hours that way – enough to cast on stitches and knit a few rows – but I doubt I provided any comfort. He was unresponsive but could have heard me if I had said anything, which I didn’t. I didn’t even say goodbye; I didn’t know how. I left to return the car to my stepmother so she could visit him, thinking I would go back the next day for more knitting and “comforting.” But he died at dinnertime, alone except for the guy on the other side of the curtain that divided their room.

At the time I was thirty-seven, had two young children and a PhD and was busy with two part-time jobs. I was an adult in outward appearance but far from it in terms of having dealt with childhood wounds. I was also part of a family culture that discouraged plain speaking about difficult emotions. I could talk endlessly with my sister about Dad and all the anger and sadness I felt toward him. Yet, when the opportunity and the need arose to talk directly to him, from the heart, thoughts deserted me and feelings were inaccessible. I wasn’t able to give Dad and myself the gift of forgiveness – for his alcoholism and the meanness it brought out in him; for the way he didn’t seem to see me as an individual or honor my aspirations and ambitions; for the fact that he had wanted me to stay home and take care of him and Mom the way Mom’s older sister (“a saint,” according to Dad) had done for my grandparents. I also missed the opportunity to say I was sorry for the pain I had caused when I left.

Dad has been dead for nearly thirty years. With a fair amount of inner work, I have managed to grant both him and myself the forgiveness I could not offer in those last few hours of his life. Yet the memory of that time with him still brings a pang of regret. I take this as a reminder of why I need to keep working to overcome my conditioning and fear and learn how to access and speak my truth, however difficult, in the moments when it really matters and to the person who really needs to hear it.

Yoga Practice Buddhist Practice

Photo by Susan Crowder

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the ancient, foundational yoga practice manual, defines yoga as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind.”* Patanjali’s teachings are primarily focused on meditation, not the physical postures, which are largely a 20th-century innovation. Yet for me the movement – linked in the Ashtanga system to focused breathing and steady gaze (drishti) – has been an essential doorway into mental stillness, which I can achieve much more reliably on my yoga mat than on my meditation cushion. Yoga drew me into spirituality. Now that I am looking to go further in my spiritual life, however, I have found Buddhism more compelling than the Hinduism that underlies Patanjali’s writing.

Recently it hit me that, in my Buddhist practice, I am about where I was with yoga ten years ago. I have had some teaching and read some books. I have been meditating daily for a couple of years yet remain a novice in relation to those states of absorption that are the goal of meditation. In recent months I have been attending weekly meetings and done one weekend retreat with the local branch of the Triratna Buddhist Community. So, I am encountering people who are practicing Buddhists, but I have barely started on the work of understanding the teachings, much less made the commitment to try to live them. I’m in the water up to my knees but have yet to dive in, and it seems I am caught up in wondering where this stream might take me.

In the midst of this wondering, my thoughts often run to my experience with yoga practice. These are comforting thoughts, I think because of the incremental nature of practice. I know that on any one day the gains are likely to be small but so are the risks. No great declaration of faith is required, just a commitment to inquiry renewed on a regular basis. I know there will be challenges for me when I am ready for them, and on the days when the most I can do is show up there will be psychic rewards in that. Looking at it this way both draws me forward and gives me the courage to proceed.

* Edwin F. Bryant, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (2009), p. 10.  My comment on 20th-century contributions to the physical practice of yoga is based on Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (2010).


Empty-nest Dog
One good book I have read lately is Flourish, by Martin Seligman, about Positive Psychology. According to Positive Psychology, one of the key factors contributing to personal wellbeing and happiness is gratitude. One recommendation is to do the “three blessings” practice every night just before going to sleep. A counterbalance to our natural tendency to pay attention to what is not going well, this practice involves writing down three things that went well during the day and why they happened. I tried it and liked it but have not kept it up. However, I do visit the website 1000 Awesome Things now and then for a silly gratitude reminder.

Another recommended activity is to write a letter of thanks to someone and, if possible, pay a visit and read the letter to her or him. Such a letter would be wasted on our dog, Suzie, yet she ranks high on my gratitude list. I know it’s trite to enumerate all the benefits one gets from one’s pet dog or cat. At The Hunger Site, I “click to give” support to animal shelters, among other things. I love the daily animal rescue stories and photos, and I note that as often as not, it is the humans who have been “rescued” by the animals they have brought into their lives. Suzie – our empty-nest dog – is not a rescue, but in important ways she has taken care of us as much as the other way around.
Suzie & Jack

To mention just a few things: arriving in our lives eleven years ago, just as our younger daughter was taking flight, she has accepted and seemed to appreciate all the attention, concern and care we have wanted to lavish upon her. An extrovert with winning ways, she helped me – a confirmed introvert – meet people and establish friendships when we moved to a new city. Suzie is a Welsh Corgi and therefore a herder. She particularly likes to herd retrievers, the more fanatic ball-chaser, the better. Through her attachment to her best friend, Jack, and my friendship with Jack’s owner, Nancy, my nerdy, workaholic self has learned to make time for a long daily walk in all weathers and discovered the pleasures of hiking and kayaking. Suzie was part of the glue that kept me and my husband connected during our separation. Like Montaigne’s cat, she makes me doubt the superiority of the human species and thereby helps me to feel kinship with all living things. At the same time, her loyalty, her patience and her capacity for joy inspire me to try to be a better person. Thank you, Suzie.

Hip Openers 4

Hip Opener: Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana

My hip injury has long since healed. I have retired from the work that involved international travel. I have taken classes on Ayurveda, done spring and fall ayurvedic cleansing diets and even tried a sesame oil enema. (No more about that, I promise.) My husband and I will celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary in a few months, the trauma of our separation largely subsided. For the first time in a long time, I am focused less on changing things and more on living fully what is, including staying open to what might emerge. For now, what I most want to do is stay settled in my practices: in marriage, practicing staying out of the victim mentality and showing up “authentically present;” in meditation, studying the Dharma and making it onto my cushion every day; in yoga, keeping the hip openers going.

More than the lunges these days, I rely on Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) and the Yin Yoga version, sleeping swan. I also make it a point to step out of Ado Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) with my right leg, because the right hip is still much tighter than the left. The fact that I am also doing lotus regularly, which I could not do a couple of years ago, is a sign this hip opening is having an effect. On the other hand, I can’t sit in any position for more than 15 or 20 minutes without my hips being stiff and sore when I get up. I feel that, if I were to stop practicing, I would go straight to decrepitude.  Chip Walker’s fine poem on practice says it all:

Dig deep


The gold vein beneath all gold veins
Way beyond the mother-lode

With only tap hammer     and chisel
                       the going   is slow

Every inch                        a universe

No such thing as faster
Not on this dig

Tapping harder
Only breaks the chisel

What’s the rush

Chipping patiently
Yields steadily
Ensures longevity

 Chip Walker, "Practice," in Half a Mala: Threading Towards Wholeness (2011).

Hip Openers 3

During the time of my malingering hip injury I was traveling quite a bit, including to India, the Philippines, South Africa and other interesting places. I kept up my yoga practice to some extent on these trips, but when I got home there was always a recovery period. One day when my hip was giving me trouble, Kimberly said to me, “You know, you should really stop travelling and do sesame oil enemas if you want your hip to get better.” Welcome to ayurveda! I wasn’t having any of that, and I wasn’t ready to listen to what my body was telling me about the travel. It was exciting and the work felt important. But it was good advice.
My friend Chip Walker, a poet who practices and teaches at Yoga East, speaks to this experience:

Teachers guide
Reach inside
Pull things out
Expose the scars

Students get scared
Thinking that it hurts
That it's death

Knowing that it is
Teachers smile
         and stand back

         allowing room      for such a birth

Chip Walker, "Lineage" in Half a Mala: Threading Towards Wholeness (2011).

Hip Openers 2

“It’s the flexible side that gets injured,” Kimberly said as she adjusted my hips. “The inflexible side stays weak.” This was one of those moments when something said almost casually strikes you like a thunderbolt. You know it has hit home when the tears arrive. It seemed she had given me the perfect metaphor for the problem in so many of my relationships, especially my marriage.

Nearly four years later, I am still exploring the meaning of this metaphor. In the first instance, however, it touched deep-seated feelings of being a victim of what I saw as my husband’s problems, the root of which was – by my diagnosis – depression. I felt that the anxiety and depression that often beset me were the injuries caused by his inflexibility, his resistance to change. Suddenly the various strategies I was using to remain open minded, patient and loving with my husband, while taking care of myself as best I could, seemed misguided, like the impulse in my poor left hip to over-rotate and compensate for tightness on the right. This view of things started me thinking and talking about moving out of our home, and this led about a year later to a six-month separation.

The trauma of that experience prompted me to reevaluate the whole victim thing, along with many other aspects of my life. The process has been both difficult and rewarding. Now my effort is directed toward finding a workable balance between flexibility and strength, in my relationships as well as my hip joints.

On Loss

A friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago, aged 84.  She was someone I worked with and also stayed with and “just visited” a number of times over the thirteen years I knew her. Spending time with her was wonderful in many ways.  She was a rigorous thinker, intellectually stimulating and passionately committed to making the world a better – especially a more equitable – place.  She was also compassionate and considerate on an everyday basis.  Well traveled and sophisticated in the best sense of the word, she taught me about many things beyond my fairly sheltered experience.


Being with her was also a wake-up call that inspired me to get serious about my spiritual life.  My friend had lost her husband in a senseless accident about a year before I met her and had a terrible time reconciling herself to his death.  She also lived with chronic pain from multiple hip surgeries, shoulder surgery and a host of related problems.  Her last few years were made more miserable by the fact that she could no longer travel and so could not stay engaged in the work she was so passionate about.  She talked to me more than once about suicide.


Her experiences, as I perceived them, made it clear that aging can be hell. Even if things don’t get as bad as they did for my friend, I realized there would be challenges dealing with physical discomfort and the emotional pain of loss – loss of loved ones, loss of capacities and ultimately loss of life. It seemed to me that, although my friend had tremendous intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, she did not have a spiritual grounding to ease her suffering.  I wanted that grounding to cultivate acceptance of the inevitable changes coming down the road.  There is much more to spirituality, of course, just as there is more to aging than pain and loss, and there was so much more to my friend than her unhappiness.  But the desire to face the hard parts of old age with equanimity has been a good motivator.  I am glad she is beyond pain now, and I will miss her.

Left side-Right side Dialogue

One of the most useful tools I have encountered for getting perspective on the different sides of me is Voice Dialogue or “parts work.”  It inspired me to imagine this conversation between my right and left sides (see December 1 post).


R: So why are you always so uptight?

L: Well, maybe it’s because you are always so weak and unsupportive; I have to do all the work of holding things together

R: What exactly do you have to hold together?

L: Well, there are lots of things in Bettye’s life to be controlled and managed.  I keep her on the alert for any weakness she might show and keep her working hard to be all that she can be.  And, I may say without bragging, I have been doing this for over fifty years now!  When she was a little girl she took care of herself when her mother couldn't cope. She was nothing if not independent. And just what have you done all these years??  You are the lazy side, the underachiever!

R: Hey, all those years she had to work so hard to take care of herself, I provided relief.  I helped her relax, take it easy, acknowledge how hard it was just to function with so little mothering.  I encouraged her to escape into reading and daydreaming to keep her spirit alive.  You would just be work, work, work all day!  Why couldn’t you just relax?

L: Because, what would happen if she relaxed?  It’s scary to think about it!  All the hurt and anger could just flow out and make other people feel bad. She would be critical of her mother, she would be -- worst of all possible things -- selfish!

R: That does sound scary, all right; I wouldn’t like it either.  I guess that was also what kept me in the more passive mode, distracting Bettye and always taking the easier path, not wanting to risk making a big effort and failing. 

L: Yes! Without that, she might have begun to think critically about the situation.  She might have stood up for herself much earlier than she did instead of rebelling secretly and self-destructively with her mediocrity in school and her smoking, drinking and partying in high school and sleeping around in college.

R: Well, she was just so unhappy. I mean, starting with the move to a new city in the middle of sixth grade, it seemed like she was always carrying the weight of her parents’ unhappiness—her mom’s depression and dad’s alcoholism.  Remember that chiropractor who did the kinesthetic diagnosis on Bettye’s shoulder – on you! – and named the underlying emotion as grief for her father at the age of sixteen?

L: Yes, I remember that, of course

R: What I’m beginning to think is that “shouldering” their pain was your way of keeping Bettye from feeling all the hurt and anger from their failure to parent her fully.  They were too caught up in their personal dramas to pay attention in the way a child needs.  So you got her caught up in their drama as well, to explain and justify what was really very hurtful.  She took on “the tragedy” of their lives as she used to call it.  In fact, she became more and more consumed by it as her own life was most miserable, in her college years, when her parents seemed most out of it in relation to her unhappiness at being where she was.  Remember how her dad even accused her of being selfish for trying to transfer, because she wouldn’t be able to go home every weekend like she was doing??

L: Oh, god, I remember that only too well.  But look, what was your role then?  Maybe she would have actually gotten into one of those other schools if she had gotten straight As that first year.  But no, she only did well in the courses she liked that were easy for her.  And she spent all those hours in the butt room playing bridge.  Then, after stupidly giving up the chance to go abroad for junior year so she could do the honors program, she procrastinated and bombed her junior honors paper and abandoned it altogether.  So the whole underachiever thing just followed us through the entire time.  What a mess!  Not that anyone but us even cared by that time, or perhaps ever did!

R: Hey, don’t get so discouraged.  This is the past we’re talking about, right? 

L: You’re right.  Now, if Ijust learn to relax more and you suck it up and pull your weight, we will all be in great shape!

R: There you go again, Miss Uptight.

Morning Mysore

Starting to learn backbend with Kimberly

Three great things about morning mysore

1.The teaching: For most of my time at Yoga East, every time I showed up for morning mysore class I was rewarded with the attention of either Karen Rafferty or the founder-director of the studio, Kimberly Dahlmann.  It’s impossible to calculate the value of the steady stream of guidance, support and encouragement they provided.  When I was ready to try something new or more challenging, or when I needed to accept where I was and stop pushing for awhile, they pointed that out.  When I was hurting in body or spirit, they showed me how to work with the pain.  They taught me how to breathe and how to use breath in the practice.  All this was in addition to thousands of adjustments to bring greater alignment, openness or ease into the postures.  Thank you, Kimberly, Karen and all my morning mysore teachers!

2. The community: Morning mysore class is busy these days but there is a fairly small core of practitioners who have been coming to this class regularly over the years.  This group is an important community for me even though we don’t talk much or know much about each other’s lives outside of class.  The closeness I feel is in the unspoken support of being together day after day – just being present for the struggles and the triumphs as we each work to evolve our practices.  It’s definitely one of the things that keep me motivated to get up early for yoga.

3. The morning ritual: Since Ashtanga vinyasa yoga works the internal organs fairly intensively, it’s best to come to it with an empty stomach, bladder and bowels.  This has meant I couldn’t just roll out of bed and onto the mat for morning mysore.  I have always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person but most of my adult life have used the early morning hours for work.  Instead, for the past seven or eight years, on yoga mornings, I have taken time over my cup of tea for spiritual reading and reflection. Eventually, a daily meditation practice evolved out of this routine.  I doubt I ever would have gotten there without the pull of mysore class on weekday mornings.