the image on top is "Welcome Home Sweet Sugar" by Kelsey Brooks

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Colleen Saidman's Retreat (Preliminary Thoughts)

Everyone makes me nervous, which is unfair because it's not really their fault.

I just spent 48 hours sweating knee to knee with 36 women- brilliant, bright and insightful, talented and accomplished. I didn't expect that. Perfectly aware of my mistakes in misogyny, I've always seen women of a certain age as unapproachable, alienating. Perhaps I expect them all to disapprove of me, or to frown at the contents of my purse.

There was this funny moment walking down to the retreat when I walked out of my room wearing a bikini and a towel, not thinking too much. Two steps away sits Tracy, who looks at me and says, "Oh good, I think I'll change into what you're wearing if it's ok". She was wearing pants and a t-shirt. I panic, and say, "Uh, well, I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing. Maybe its not appropriate. Actually, I'm going to go change."

"Oh, I'm sure you're fine"
"Well, just in case..."
"Ok, then. I'll meet you down there".

I run and cover myself up with shorts and a t-shirt, and head back towards the sweatlodge. Suddenly I had this terrible realization:

Oh, shit. I just made a being less free.
.....how did I just have that interaction end with both of us wearing more clothes.
(Natti would kill me right now).

So I continue on to the sweatlodge, and there are all my "respectable" women hanging out in bikinis, "See, you had nothing to worry about," says Tracy.

I attempt to apologize to her, but she dismissed it with a smile- which didn't really offer me the dramatic catharsis I was looking for, but that's quite a lot to ask of a person.

The lodge itself was incredible, hearing the individual voices of these suddenly deep and personified people telling stories, singing songs, the rich history imbued in a simple name. Colleen got dropped the million dollar question by the conductor of the sweat lodge ceremony. A solid, fat, molasses voice begging for humor, with a deep respect for his culture and quite the busy schedule. Colleen began with "Yoga is the clearing of the channels that enables us to be with our highest self", and continued to say something eloquent along the lines of putting the body in poses to clear blockages and open space, living with impermanence and coming into the present moment, paying attention to generate love. Not to make excuses, but I'm afraid one's memory suffers in hundred-degree heat.

The theme of the retreat was coming to terms with death and dying, offering our prayers to Kali and burning what has been to make space for our intention. Besides my existentialism teacher Jean Graybeal, Lanny Harrison and mythical (as in, writing) characters, Colleen's one of the only people I've met to discuss death with such frankness and honesty, and it's quite a relief. More on that later.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Death and Rebirth: The Bat

We played with Medicine Cards on Thursday, I pulled The Bat.

An exacting choice, the bat is about the cycle of death and rebirth, the necessity of going through the periodic process to come into a new identity. The medicine card book mentioned rituals when tribal members about to pass into adulthood would spend the night in a grave with a blanket covering them, hearing the sounding threats of prowling animals passing by. The fear of being devoured in your grave. A sleepless night, no doubt. Quite the meditation.

My first thoughts were "Oh, I'd like to try that". Get it over with, you know? I feel that after being in a situation like that, nothing would threaten you. Reason says that's not near truth, yet still. Perhaps it is only fear itself that wouldn't threaten you- after you have known it, tasted it, felt it, it eventually looses its power. (Alternatively, perhaps becomes more powerful still, a long lost friend to pull you in an under to that night near dead? I suppose it depends on the experience and the duration and resolution of panic).

Strangely enough, Thursday night, this passage overwhelmed me with a sense of relief. It gave me a lens, a direction through which I could see my past week with.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cuddle with Chaos...not all alliteration is appropriate

I have always written very good letters of apology, and semi-decent letters of explanation. My mother suggested that I stay in New York on an unnamed "professional" course (professional often seems to be a synonym for decent, worthy and justified).

Dear Ness,

Your suggestion is truly an excellent path to pursue, one that I have indeed considered yet am not ready to commit to. It is one that may manifest depending on my other options. Certainly, New York is always open to me, and, as with my good friends, will greet me with ease upon my ready arrival. It may comfort you that I have often heard rumors that traveling for a year, or any unconventional actions as such, may actually be appealing to employers as someone who thinks outside the box and offers a fresh perspective.

I note a disturbing tone in our conversations: is that I feel as if all of the things I fear are being reverberated back to me in a strong and well-articulated manner.

One of the basic things I believe about fears is that they are in essence inaccurate. If they represented the whole perspective, they would not inspire the feelings of horror and disgust and anger. When we encounter truth that we "don't like" or "would prefer to be different", they do not affect us in this manner. I find it easy when I learn something, such as that I shouldn't stay out here longer or that there is no opportunity here for me until next summer, to move on, shrug my shoulders and continue.

However, many of the things you tell me, that I am lost in the world, no scientist and no artist, that my school did not held me, that it did not pick up a striving for knowledge, that I completed no projects....these are the very things I struggle to face every day. Perhaps it makes me a stronger person to have someone I love so much (you) place them before me each time we speak. Perhaps it makes me weaker to always be brought back to that point, to be caught in the web of that perspective. I don't know. It certainly upsets me.

There is certainly some truth to all of the things you say, or they would not upset me so. Yet taken from a different perspective, they are not all that troubling.

It's true that I feel lost in the world, that I don't know who I am, that I feel like no artist and no scientist, that I am ignorant and know so little and wish to know so much. I wish I was wise and I knew which direction to go in. It's true that I always feel as a child and one of the problems I have is that everyone is urging me to throw my perspective onto the world (to teach, to create, to inspire) and all I feel I have to offer is questions and questions and uncertainty.

Natti thinks I should write a book of questions.

Finding a place in the world feels terrifying. What is this world that I want to create a place for it? Who am I to do so? And how am I to live? I understand so little in the absurd dimensions of reality that to try to establish a place in whirlwind is terrifying.

I do not believe there is shame in acknowledging my own ignorance, confessing my confusion and admitting all that I do not know. I have a brief glimpse of you saying "so study philosophy!" "so go back to school", and yes that is what I want to do, yet, one of the most interesting things that college taught me is that it limits and enlightens at the same time.

I do believe that I have to follow my own curiosity, my imagination and my dreams. No matter how ridiculous and inexplicable they seem to other people. As long as I am not harming anyone (for instance, if my dream is to hurt others or control them, that's not all right in my books), I have that freedom, or at least, until my money runs out.

So you can't understand how I am feeing, what I am doing, and what, if anything, I am creating. Do not be upset by this.

Perhaps it is always like this at the present moment, change seems threatening, values lost and people astray. Yet looking back on it five or ten years later, it is as if it was a perfectly planned story where everything happened at the exact right moment, and couldn't have happened any other way.

If you are confused, give it time. Sit with it. Walk with it. Cuddle with chaos, breathe comfort into your shakes. Wait. Will a phoenix to rise from the ashes, more powerful than the works of imagination, beyond the scope of any reality we can create.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yoga Mala

Has anyone accidently walked into a yoga mala?

I wonder if she planned to do it. I had heard rumors that Colleen does a 108 sun salutations, a yoga mala, every Labor day. When I walked into class today at 5:30, I expected a full crowd, the usual packed room that a class with Ms. Saidman usually gathers. Yet I was shocked to see no line, no crazy parking, no mat-to-mats. Just me and ten-odd people, a majority of which I recognized as teacher trainers.

We started off moving our arms from tadasana to heart center. A circular moment with the arms, up on the inhale, down on the exhale. Forward fold. Repeat, again. "This will be ten of 108", she says.

Right away, I was excited. I had come to class to shed off some old concepts of self, some people there was no fear to be anymore. My friend Natti came to class with me, after touring China for the past couple off months- I felt like this was a surprise he would appreciate, too.

Throughout the process, I gradually came into the room. My nose was clogged, an expression of how stuffed I felt in my own life, confused, my energy positive but stagnant, directionless.

Flash forward 108 vinyasas, and I feel like I can finally breathe. I may have been observing Colleen's manner at some points of the class, how absurdly present she felt. Each statement precisely practiced yet purposeful, every moment her eye on someone's hips, their throat, so very there. There was a moment I asked for an adjustment in my down dog- not verbally- she came to me right away. A woman sat down in class and Colleen came up to her and asked what was wrong. Upon learning that it was a stomachache, she placed her hands on her belly and just sat for a while.

I take everything with a grain of salt. I'm idolizing, one might say, but the overwhelming waves of respect and admiration are a recognition of a way of being I like. I think that's pretty powerful stuff. Admiration and respect are human emotions that I want to feel. I remember one reading a line; "relief in the feeling of gratitude". Admiration is an emotion I want to experience, much like awe, exhilaration, thrill, passion and all the other things that remind you of how fully you are to be alive.

I believe that life's question, how being a body is experienced and signified, is the most relevant thing I can think of dedicating time to. I think that's fair enough.