Halloween Misery Part 1

1965 was the year I was going to win first place at the church Halloween party. I dressed as a secret agent complete with trench coat and briefcase. The plastic mask was a woman with a fedora and dark glasses. It’s quite possible that a cigarette was smoldering between her red lips. Agent 99 of “Get Smart” was my heroine. She was the real brains of the show. Maxwell Smart was a goofball. Although she was a brunette, we were one and the same.

My real life nemesis was Lisette. Despite being a year younger than me, she had won first place two years in a row. Her mother made an elaborate Heidi of the Alps outfit the year I was a cow. Her Little Bo Peep costume won against my brother’s hand-me-down gorilla suit. I don’t know what the judges were thinking.

This year I remained confident as we marched around the parish house; that is, until Lisette floated into the room in mounds of tulle. The child bride, fashionably late, with veil and corsage did it again. She walked off with my prize.

I was astounded and horrified. “How could a stupid old bride win ?” I whined. “Don’t the judges know that a secret agent will help save the world? What’s a bride going to do?”

Years later I’m still complaining.

During a recent period of painful childhood reminiscing Mom said I seemed to have tough time with Halloween. “One year I brought home a nurses outfit complete with a cape and medical bag. You broke into tears.” Apparently I didn’t think nurses were that essential to saving the world either.

In part, Yoga Sutra 1:33 asks us to be happy for other people’s happiness. Jealousy only hurts the self. It’s not always easy to do when that self is 58 much less 7 years old.

Successful friends, acquaintances and competitors work at it. Nothing in life comes easy no matter what we think. Everything we do takes practice, commitment and hard work. Some of us work harder than others.

How many times did Lisette and her mother prick their fingers sewing on seed pearls? How many hours did someone spend crafting a story? How many yoga classes does another take each week? What does one give up in order to succeed or be happy? What am I not giving up?

I have no doubt that many brides and nurses have helped save mankind much more than me. I rejoice in their happiness and success when I’m not coming off of a candy corn high. Many of them have in fact saved my world.

Namaste- about Halloween there’s more to say.

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How you say?

The first time is at MacDonald’s in Greenwich, NY. Dee and I are heading to Saratoga for some higher state taxed shopping. We pull in for a cup of joe.

“You have to use an accent when ordering” she commands. The challenge reaches deep into my soul, the soul of a secret agent.

Quickly I run through possibilities, Miss Jane Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies”, the Swedish chef from the Muppets, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne? So many options. I play it safe as a Pepe Le Peu. “Pleazzze, donnez-moi, Errrrr, how you say coffee garcon.” Mission obviously accomplished as Dee tries not to wet her pants laughing.

A few years later while shopping in a town with lower tax rates, Dee requires a coke with crushed ice. As I pull up to the intercom she instructs, “Use an accent.”

Like Jason Bourne or James Bond, there are some assignments you can’t turn down. It’s in our blood.

My brain goes into tactic mode. A foreign person or tv star? Relative or people we know? I opt for the voice of an Irish woman who spent the last 20 years in the Italian part of Scotland.

Gosh I’m good.

Mission is successful as I notice Dee squirming not to laugh. She presses the dollar bill and dime on my leg.

“You have to keep it going” she says while trying to regain control.

“Hey, I’m a professional” I whisper back.

As we pull up to the window a sweet, cherub faced boy says “Here is your drink”. He gives me a look that says “You don’t sound like me, you are from elsewhere, I’m going to make you feel AOK.” His evident kindness causes me to drop my guard and the dime.

“Ach and begorrah mien leibchen”, I say moving to the German side of my beloved Scotland.

“Just leave it, don’t worry, it happens all the time” he says.

“Nay I’ll find the wee coin” I reply followed by “Ow f*ck”, in an undeniable Vermont accent as I hit my head against the door. Cherub boy looks slightly confused. I should have said “feck”.

“You broke character” Dee says, unnecessarily as we drive away. Like I didn’t know.

Using accents at the drive through is like practicing arm balances in yoga class. It’s setting an intention, focusing, and giving it all you’ve got. It’s accepting a challenge. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you don’t.

Life is filled with challenges, ones we ask of ourselves, ones asked by others and some that just appear. The remedy is to do our best, be kind to ourselves and to others, be forgiving. Find delight and laughter in all of our experiences.

A botched or aborted mission doesn’t equate to failure. It is a source of information for the next assignment. Focus and attention take practice on and off the mat. Sometimes you need to imagine yourself balancing with ease or speaking in someone else’s native tongue. It’s setting an intention. Keep at it.

Namaste- this post will self destruct in 30 seconds eh?

Wheels on the bike go round and round.

I consider myself athletic and I’m not the only one, the catalogs I get in the mail think so too. They are ready to outfit me for most every outdoor adventure under the sun.

Once I get a bit more serious at golf and quit practicing headstands while Honeybun tees off, I’ll purchase more appropriate attire. That’s bound to happen about the same time I buy a real biking outfit.

Dee and I rode on the rail trail today. My 10 speed (or is it a 12 speed) girls bike hasn’t been off the garage wall for years and the dense cobwebs left behind are proof. My helmet is quite comfortable considering mice removed all the interior padding. The seat seems a little high but then again aren’t you supposed to be on tiptoes when pedaling?

Earlier this week it was suggested that I practice mindfulness. I have a few too many tennis balls bouncing around in my head these days. An easy bike ride would be the perfect thing to do, be mindful, focus on this moment, this experience; enjoy the steady rhythm of the movement.

Because my helmet is basically a large bowl strapped to my head I can’t look behind me without it dropping over my eyes. Is something following me? I’m pretty good at scaring myself, especially if I’m not wearing glasses. Rabid dogs, stalking mountain lions and monsters could be behind me. Best not to dwell on the past (or what you never saw). Are my wheels completely attached?

I can’t look too far ahead because as wide as the track is, the illusion of it narrowing makes my arms and hands tingle. “Hey Dee, doesn’t it look like the track is a tightrope? What if it were? I’d be falling off left and right.” I veer from side to side feigning exaggeration as she moves on ahead.

No choice left but to slow down the breath and focus on the sensations of the two wheels under me.

“Wow dance sneakers slip off pedals pretty easily. Yoga shorts have zippo padding. This wide seat isn’t wide enough. These brakes sure are loud. If Dee points out one more ‘spooky’ thing I’m heading back.”

Eventually I end my soliloquy and spent the next 3 minutes in mindful bliss until I ride into Dee’s back wheel.

“I can’t believe you ran into me,” she yells. “We are barely moving!”

She’s right about that. It’s a slow motion collision. It’s not like I don’t see her, I just misjudge the stopping distance. For my own amusement I will be replaying that scene for decades.

“Remember the last time we rode bikes down that hill near your apartment in Somewhereville?” I ask.

“Yeah, your chain fell off three times” she replies.

“Is biking fun?” I ask rhetorically.

“Remember when we went mountain biking and I thought I could jump a log? Frankly I’m pretty sure I hate bikes. Do your handlebars face in a different direction than your front wheel? Maybe my bike is just for riding in circles. Can you imagine if we were on a tandem bike?”

“Stop talking right now or I will wet my pants” she replies.

Note to self: “This is what makes biking fun!”

On the return trip I find a steady pace nothing spooky behind me, no death defying obstacles ahead. “We’re almost back to the truck that took no time at all!” I feel happy, comfortable, calm, satisfied.

“Do you want to keep going?” Dee asks as she pulls ahead.

“No” I yell at her back.

“Oh thank God” she adds unnecessarily.

Mindfulness is just like riding a bike. At first it seems impossible without permanent training wheels. Once we have it down, time goes by and we leave it hanging on the wall too long and forget it’s an option. Brush off the cobwebs and we are soon sailing along again.

Time to find the old catchers mitt.

Namaste- anyone up for a game of croquet?

Skunked

My brother came by to deliver New York magazine and pick some kale. As we chatted about nothing much an alarm went off in my nose. Some odors don't require a keen sense of smell. It wasn't a direct hit but Had got skunked.

“What happened?” I asked as I casually moved us outside.

“The cat wanted to go out early this morning so I opened the slider for her. An hour or so later she came back to the bedroom and was acting really strange. I got up and there was a skunk in the living room by the door. I moved towards it slowly and opened up the other slider and out it went.”

The cat got sprayed just enough to lovingly rub the scent on to Had.

He was on his way to get hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. That's what humans use when they don't want to sit in a tub filled with tomato juice. A couple hours later he came back for a sniff test.

The nose has a way of ignoring skunk scent after a while. I know this for fact because Georgia has been sprayed twice. The mind steps in and soothes the nose by reminding it of similar scents like Heineken in a bottle or maybe wafting smoke from a Dead show back in the day. Did I ever say "This beer tastes like skunk piss”? If not me someone did. Was skunk weed bad pot or just odiferous? Eventually the smell doesn't seem so bad, it starts to loose its potency, then again, on Had, it hadn't. Back to tub.

Fortunately Had is Summer Retired, no longer spending hours with the public under a hot sun. Luckily he isn't a yoga teacher either. What if Spooky got misted? She sleeps on my head most of the time. Chances are I would get used to the scent but my fellow practitioners might not. If ever a test there was to let thoughts, sounds and smells pass by without attachment this would be a doozy.

Pratyahara encourages us to ignore the mental chatter instigated by internal and external sensations or discomfort, and it takes practice. Like bad smells, this chatter will inevitably dissipate if we let it.

Admittedly I find the whole incident pretty funny and Had is used to me laughing at misfortune. It's good for the stomach muscles.

Ironically I’ve introduced all my classes this week with a quote by Shunryu Suzuki, “In zazen, leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don't serve them tea.” It's a reminder to stay focused in meditation.

However, rather than leave the doors open I would suggest just leaving them unlocked and spread a little Skunk Begone around the house first.

Namaste- Had's skunk smell is gone HOORAY!

Be still.

It rained all night and it didn’t look like it was going to let up during the day. Honeybun forced Georgia out for her morning constitutional. She’s not keen on wind or rain.
When they returned Honeybun said a fawn was curled up in the tall grass on the side of the driveway. “Georgia almost stepped on it. I don’t think she knew what it was”,  he said.

The mother probably got spooked when she saw the human and the dog start down the road. Rather than urge her little fellow to follow on wobbly legs, she had him lie quietly as she bounded off in another direction. That’s what doe do; they become the target for a predator. Fawn are born without a scent so will often go unnoticed.

It’s hard to imagine the conversation.

“Hold it! I hear something. Lie down and stay still. I’ll be back later” says the Mom.

“Wait! You’re leaving me HERE?” cries the babe.

“Trust me, I’ll be back.”

“If you say so….”

 
Georgia and I stayed inside as the storm settled in around us. By late afternoon I forced her out again. Considering I used the bathroom at least five times by then she must have been bursting. Nonetheless it took some coaxing.

I was afraid to see if the fawn was still there. It was miserable out. Finally curiosity got the better of me so we circled from the field and back up the driveway. Georgia was happy to be heading home so she moved along at a good clip. She showed no signs of searching or finding that creature from the morning. “Please God, let it be gone” I prayed. No such luck. There it was, a curled up, drenched, slow breathing, beautiful animal. I attempted nonchalance as I scurried past. That’s my go-to attitude when frightened, unsure or overwhelmed.

I notice it when I meet famous people, I become indifferent, easily unconcerned, acting like it happens every day.

A rockstar was waiting at the same gate as me in O’Hare once. A kid went up and asked “Are you Sting?” “No, I’m Reginald”, he replied. The boy walked away disappointed.  I gave Sting  a Mom look that said “Reginald, really?”.

On meeting Tim Daly I said jauntily, “Oh yes, you are the guy who had the misfortune of speaking after me at the Ted-X event. Hard act to follow.” Incidentally we had that same conversation twice.

Perhaps the fawn was practicing nonchalance with me too. Chances are he was frightened, unsure and overwhelmed. Maybe the mom was as well.

Back inside I checked online to see how long a doe will leave a fawn on it’s own and was reassured that 24 hours was not unusual. It had only been about eight hours so the chance that she would return during the night was good. 

When Honeybun turned into the driveway I started yelling and waving my arms. I’m pretty sure the message “get up here right now” was ignored. For some unknown reason I thought he would step on the fawn, pat it or pick it up. I think I turned into a new, overly protective mother. He just wanted to take a photo.


The next morning returning from their walk Honeybun said the fawn was gone. What a relief.
In our physical yoga practice as well as in daily life we come across postures and situations that may be challenging, scary,  irritating, uncomfortable or confusing. Let’s become like a nonchalant fawn. Be indifferent, unconcerned, accept how we are today. Keep breathing and sit the storm out.  Wait for our metaphorical mothers to come and get us. Maybe that mother is you.

Namaste- Bambi made out AOK.

Let’s talk about the weather.

Weather is a safe subject, more so than politics or religion. For some it may be safer than discussing yoga. It's something we experience together.
“It's so hot you could fry an egg.”

“You got that right. My brain feels like that egg.”

Sometimes misery loves company.

The tv is on every morning. When it's time for the weather I completely zone out. I'm not sure if it's the monotonous cadence of the reporter or the swirling graphics that send me to la-la land.

I must be practicing Pratyahara unintentionally. Pratyahara is the 5th limb of the classic yoga path. It refers to letting go of our senses like sound, sight, smell and thoughts in preparation for meditation or deep concentration. Ignoring outside influences in order to quiet the mind.

“What's the day going to be like”, I ask Honeybun with regularity.

“Weren't you listening? He just said rain in the morning, may clear up by noon.”

Considering a lot of what I do is weather dependent you'd think I'd be more attentive but I'm not.

You'd  also think I'd lose attention during commercial breaks instead; but, I like commercials, especially in other states and countries. You can get a great deal of information about local life through advertisements. It's reassuring to know that people in Ireland, for example, promote car dealerships in the same obnoxious way they do in Albany, New York. “Huge” is an adjective used globally and it didn't start with a United States president. We in this world have a lot in common.

I prefer listening to the radio versus a CD in the car for the same reason. Constant chatter means the world and I are still in this life together doing similar things.  Fortunately for other drivers out there I don't zone out as much driving as I do eating breakfast.

Pratyahara encourages us, not only to let go of our senses, but also to let go of the stimulus associated with them. It's not reacting in the same old way to surroundings or circumstances.

For example, not opening our eyes during final relaxation in a yoga class to see who is leaving early and wondering why. Or resisting the urge to look around when someone thumps out of balance. Same kinds of the things cause distraction in church, at the theater or in conversation.

Pratyahara encourages us to be part of the world without necessarily reacting to every little thing. Focusing our attention patiently. Knee jerk reactions make a monsoon out of a spring shower.

Reactions are quick; responses take more time. It's the difference between assuming and understanding or between a tweet and an email.

A 4 year old and I got caught walking home in a rainstorm. She lamented, “ We're going to be drenched rats”. That remains one of the funniest memories in my life. My initial reaction was to laugh but she sounded so miserable; instead, I responded “Great! I've never seen one!” We both began to enjoy our sodden transformation.

Next time the weather comes on let it be background chatter. Accept the day as it comes. If you get caught in a downpour see if you can continue what you are doing instead of running for shelter. I hope we can all agree there is something inherently funny about getting drenched.

Namaste- there's a chance that it will snow today.

Short Cuts and Term Papers 

My friend Andi is a part time yogi and a full time mom. In addition she’s a writer, a horsewoman, a dancer and a speed-walker- slow-jogger. She also asks the best questions like, “Where are the short cuts in yoga? How long does it take to feel better, calmer, able to let things go?” I explained that unlike vacuuming, yoga is a steady, committed practice.

In college I was a master at shortcuts. I used the same three part, Mad Libs style, template for every paper I wrote. Each one started with the title,
“(Insert Chimpanzees, Sexism, Sign Language, Self Defense, Public Speaking or Ethan Frome here) of the Newer World”. This brilliant idea came after reading “Explorers of the Newer World” in an Encyclopedia Brittanica back in 7th grade. Some things just stick.

The second part was the content and I use the word loosely. 

The third was the summary, one line, “Thank you for your kind attention”.

I thought I was quite clever and I was also content with mediocre grades.

There are five Niyamas in the eight-limbed path of yoga. It’s basically a list of things to do. Santosha asks us to be at ease, appreciate and be content with what is. Sometimes  however, as in my case, it leads to complacency. 

It was easy to come up with a term paper topic at the last minute. I appreciated that editing was for English majors not me. I was also quite content with a passing grade until after I took an independent study self defense course in town. In order to satisfy the physical education requirement I wrote a quick paper. All my part-time sensei required was the class fee.
I received a grade much better than I deserved or expected. Of course I boasted about my “B+” to my instructor. Of course he wanted to see the paper. I couldn’t do it. I knew it was lame but I sure didn’t want anyone else to think I didn’t know it. Time to stop practicing fake Santosha.

Incidentally, all I have to do is remind Dee of my academic history and her concerns about my nieces’ schoolwork goes out the window. “Don’t worry so much; look at my pathetic papers; I turned out fine!”
Considering one of her college works was titled “My Life as a Black Man”, I’m not sure why she’s concerned about anything.

Santosha requires a little effort on our part. It requires a commitment to be our own true selves, our own best selves, by appreciating and accepting what is now. Looking back with regret or forward with anxiety isn’t part of the deal. This is the practice of yoga.

Sometimes our physical yoga practice is frustrating. One day we feel like tired old farmers and other days as nimble as monkeys. One month I may have to vacuum the kitchen twice instead of once. It comes down to being content with what is and what is not.
There are no short cuts, it is a continuous way of living and thinking. It’s enjoying the long haul.

Perhaps we could practice yoga, on or off the mat, the same way we write a thoughtful paper. 

Start with an introduction by taking inventory of ourselves, thoughts and circumstances. 

“This is how I feel and what I’m thinking.”

Then get into the important message, the content.

“The only thing that matters is that I pay attention to this moment.”

Wrap it up.

 “I’m content because I’m me and only me. I appreciate all experiences.”

Namaste- will this template ending ever go away?

Tag Sales

I used to like old things. I bought a light brown, beaded sweater at a church rummage sale and wore it for years. I’m wearing it in most photos taken in the ’70’s. I would never buy it now, even for a couple of dollars. The color isn’t really brown or tan, it’s more like the color of Georgia’s physical reaction after I added old vegetable and faro soup to her dog food mix. 

My father and I went to tag and rummage sales when I was putting together my first apartment. That was fun because he paid for everything and I felt like an only child. It’s not like Had, Dee and I vied for Hopper’s attention, (that’s what we called him…another story) but more so that we vied for making him laugh. Having him alone meant he was a captive audience.
Hopper was 22 when his ship was hit by Kamikazes in WW2. He spent one and a half years in the hospital recovering. Some of that time he was in the psych ward because no one knew or believed that pilots were intentionally killing themselves in order to kill others. The government had a part in that.

He was 90% disabled. His right leg was fused at the knee. Excellent for kicking but not so good for running bases in a game of kickball. His left arm was reshaped into a curve. I think the elbow joint was removed. No muscle left, just skin and bones. Although Hopper had long fingers, the ones on his hurt arm were incredibly thin and incongruous with his body. He was lucky. Born a lefty, as a young boy in school, he was forced to become a righty. 
We never really noticed that he was physically different from anyone else. He was just Hopper. His dry sense of humor was his greatest gift if I say so myself.

Every morning we heard him sing “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got this wonderful feeling, everything’s coming my way”, along with a pause after each step up the steep stairs. Funny now, not funny when I was a teenager. 

I had a tag sale a while after Hopper died. I was married, divorced and remarried at that time. It included a few ancient kitchen items bought from tag sales past but mainly books. As I spread them out I noticed the titles. 

“Creating Your Own Wedding Vows”

“When to Call it Quits”

“How to be Your Own Best Friend”

“Weddings For the Second Time”

“Children After Forty”

“Tantric Sex”

“Our Bodies, Our Selves”

“Oh my gosh” I said to Dee. “This is the history of my whole f*cking life!”
“Maybe you should display them in alphabetical order so no one notices”, she advised.
Dee is pretty funny. Funny as a crutch as Hopper often said.

Here I was bemoaning that fact that strangers could pass judgment on my life because of my old books. In all the years spent with Hopper I never heard him wonder if people were judging him for how he looked.

Dee owns a consignment store filled with old stuff. People bring in all kinds of things. Are the consigners ever embarrassed at unloading old collections? Do they pretend the junk belonged to a relative so they themselves aren’t pegged as crack pots? 

What did one crack pot say to the cracked pot? “I know you are but what am I?”

 I know Hopper finds that funny.

Sweet Potatoes the size of grapefruit.

It was 5 pm, time to start the hour long yoga class. I turned the music down so Tibetan bells sang quietly in the background. It was a small class of four. Large classes can amp up the energy but I like the quiet intimacy of smaller groups.

“Good evening everyone, welcome to Slow Flow… “, I began but was quickly interrupted by Moe.
“Excuse me, when does this class end?”

“At 6, one hour.” I replied.

Moe said “Oh” and lay back down.

“Now take a big inhale…” I continued.

Moe sat back up and asked how long it took to cook a potato. “I put it in the oven just before I left the house.” She said.

Curly sat up and asked, “Regular or sweet?”

“Sweet of course” said Moe. We all murmured our approval.

Larry stayed prone but asked how big it was.

Moe made the size of a grapefruit with her hands.

Shep, with eyes closed, asked what temperature the oven was set.

“300” answered Moe.

“It’ll be fine, can’t really overlook a sweet potato” added Shep.

Everyone lay back down and I started class…again.

Unfortunately all I could think about were sweet potatoes.
Funny I never liked them as a kid, wouldn’t even try them, marshmallows added or not, just not happening. I love them now. Isn’t it funny how palates change? Acorn squash is also added to the list of things I now eat. Then again enough butter and thyme works on a myriad of vegetables. Honeybun likes squash but not sweet potatoes. (He had a terrible experience as a child.) I wonder if he’d notice if I mashed up sweet potato and put it in an acorn squash shell. He’d be mad if I tricked him. I’m getting hungry.



This internal monologue went on through the warm up, standing and balancing poses, until I glanced at my watch. Holy Hot Potato, I have 15 minutes to cool everyone down and go into final relaxation. Where did the time go? The thing is time didn’t go anywhere, my mind did. I managed to shorten the class by 15 minutes because I think 45 minutes is the perfect amount of time for a sweet potato to cook in a 300 degree oven.
Moe said “Wow that was fast!”
Larry, Curly and Shep echoed her sentiment. “We must have been in the zone!”

“Uh, I have a confession to make.” (Yes, I really did confess.)

Dharana (dah-rah-nah), the sixth limb of classic yoga, is the practice of roping in our wandering minds. It’s concentrating and focusing, and it takes a lot of effort to disengage from distractions whether you are a student, a teacher or a chef. Pranayama (pra-nah-ya-ma) , listening to, controlling and feeling your breath, helps. Sometimes repeating a mantra or intention will draw the mind back in as well.

I don’t recommend chanting “One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, more”, but then again…

Namaste- what will we have for dinner today?