Harmonizing body, breath, heart and mind to connect in kindly ways with the world and ourselves.

I will live my life

In a few weeks, around the time of April’s new moon, I’ll be crossing the country, relocating from Sacramento to Washington, DC. I grew up in the city so it’s a homecoming.

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Essentials: doggie & truck. Matt snapped the pic last fall while I was teaching a Day Poems workshop at American River Conservancy. I’ll teach one more in early April before pulling out. Sign up if you’re nearby!

When I needed to stretch my legs a long way from what I knew, California adopted me. I am grateful. In nearly 30 years in the Golden State, I’ve made and lost friends and made some more, earned degrees, taught scores of students, loved and buried two wonderful dogs and a cat, befriended a third dog, and met and married my husband. As I begin this next phase of life, I’ll try to accept what waxes and wanes with the grace of Bly’s new moon, establishing a rhythm beneath a different patch of the same sky.

As always, I’ll teach yoga, write, coach writers, and lead an occasional poetry workshop. Maybe I will see you or work with you, or someone you know.

We do not need to travel far to begin our privacy over. The moon’s pattern is to orbit the earth. We find our patterns in other places, in a poem, through an asana practice, in the routes we walk, the stores and cafes where we are recognized. Every moment is an opportunity to notice something, to sit together with it. Every day an opportunity to live life.

 

Like The New Moon I Will Live My Life

When your privacy is beginning over,
how beautiful the things are that you did not notice before!
A few sweetclover plants
along the road to Bellingham,
culvert ends poking out of driveways, no one rushes towards or shouts about,
what lives like the new moon,
and the wind
blowing against the rumps of grazing cows.

Telephone wires stretched across water.
a drowning sailor standing at the foot of his mother’s bed,
grandfathers and grandsons sitting together.

 

Note: Poem to be published in Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life, click this link (by April 9, 2015) to support the Indiegogo campaign to published the book; poem used by permission of White Pine Press.

 

Edward Thomas’s Spring

In springtime, I  think of Edward Thomas, born March 3, 1878 and killed April 9, 1917 by a shell blast. Signs of the season on a Sacramento walk: a sparrow paused on the fence of a downtown preschool with a scrap of purple ribbon in its beak, tiny ginkgo leaves, miniatures of their later selves, exact as young praying mantes, scent of orange blossoms, the trees tirelessly gearing up for another round of fruiting. In California, we realize that in many places “winter’s not gone.” And we are wondering if rains will yet come with life-nourishing water to carry rivers, mountains, meadows, deserts, fields and orchards through the year.

But These Things Also

But these things also are Spring’s –
On banks by the roadside the grass
Long-dead that is greyer now
Than all the Winter it was;

The shell of a little snail bleached
In the grass; chip of flint, and mite
Of chalk; and the small birds’ dung
In splashes of purest white:

All the white things a man mistakes
For earliest violets
Who seeks through Winter’s ruins
Something to pay Winter’s debts,

While the North blows, and starling flocks
By chattering on and on
Keep their spirits up in the mist,
And Spring’s here, Winter’s not gone.

– Edward Thomas

“pitcher of morning light”

“Suddenly I realize/That if I stepped out of my body I would break/Into blossom,”

– James Wright in A Blessing

In a Meditation, Movement and Verse class, we read Wright’s poem and moved through it, identifying the verbs and embodying them, step, ripple, bow. 

canna lily

Canna by Jennifer O’Neill Pickering

After stilling and breathing for a few minutes, I showed students how to identify the heart center as a metaphorical and geographic home in the body and guided them through exploring that center as a pivot point. With a simple flow of the arms, we established the relationship of heart center to shoulders and arms, how hands do the work of the heart in the world.

Prompt: Take a variation of the title and write about a blessing of your own. Or, begin a poem with “Suddenly I realize.”

Jennifer O’Neill Pickering shares her poem below. Thank you, Jennifer!

Blessed

Blessed with a blossoming heart
with summer flowers seeded in spring
in this garden of wild, native, exotic, and tame;
blessed with this pitcher of morning light
poured on the wooden planks and the Canna’s lily leaves;
blessed with the walnut’s basket of nuts
the squirrels steady harvest
the Mandalas of Black-eyed Susans
fringed in luminescence;
blessed with sparrows’ passion to sing,
humming birds’ endurance, inquisitive jays,
afternoon baptisms their quiver of wings
release of sorrow opening space where joy cultivates;
blessed with feelings turned over making amends;
the yin yang of sadness and joy different and the same–
the sycamore and the breeze linked in song.

– Jennifer O’Neill Pickering

Old Griefs

Gently squeezing a snapdragon between fingers to hinge the blossoms’ jaws open and close guarantees a smile. Pleased to have my poem “Old Griefs” appear today in the inaugural issue of the journal Snapdragon this almost-spring day. In Sacramento, scented jasmine is spilling from garden walls; below, the poem’s spilling off the page. I just decided to let it go….

 

Old Griefs

Fallen into a well of sorrows born 
	at an earlier age, my violet eye emits 
		light enough to brighten stale tears. 

			Pain coils; 
				love does
			the opposite. 

		Open, unfasten, unfurl until all within is without, 
	until the volume of these disclosures propels me
to the surface of the grim borehole.

Steps to intuition

Re-reading Frances E. Vaughan‘s plainly written and comprehensive Awakening Intuition. Her steps for awakening intuition provide good advice for approaching any learning, or even for getting through a Monday!

She’s somebody I would love to chat with over coffee.

“First of all, it is a good idea to check your existing attitudes and beliefs about the subject.”

It is also a good idea to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. This does not mean you can just be lazy, ‘space out,’ or go to sleep; maintaining alert attention is essential to awakening.”

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, photo by Matt Weiser.

Check. check. check. My role model for awakening intuition: Tucker’s clear about his attitudes, treats himself kindly (sleep, good kibble, fresh water, exercise), and relaxes. A terrier who is the artist of his own doggie life.

“If you are willing, you can begin by learning to relax….The practice of meditation is one of the most direct methods of tuning in to intuition.”

And, why bother?

Vaughan says, ” In a sense, everyone is an artist in charge of designing his or her life. If the unexamined life is not worth living, what about the uninspired life? Certainly many, if not most, people in our society would not consider their lives to be particularly inspired. Yet the possibility is there for everyone to tap the creative source of inspiration which comes from well-developed intuition.”

 

Savasana + Robert Bly

Sitting with students as they experience savasana, corpse pose, is one of yoga teaching’s great joys. It reminds me of when I taught school and students slipped into silent sustained reading (s.s.r.).
Each person retreats a bit into his or her own experience, whether of deep rest in the body or of deep absorption in a story, while remaining within a community of shared breath, linked to the commonality of life.
Both savasana and s.s.r. end.  The transition out of savasana into an upright seat, back to the work of the world, the transition away from an enjoyable book to the task of a lesson, are forms of waking up. Activities are resumed with a renewed sense of being alive. A poem provides the experience of being there and here; each reading of a poem a re-awakening.

Waking Up

When he wakes, a man is like the earth
Rolling over, as it rolls at dawn, turning
Jagged mountains gradually and grasslands
Up to the fierce light of space.

Someone in me remembered all night
To breathe on as I slept.
The breath protected me the way the atmosphere
Around the earth protects the earth.

When I was a small boy I like to think
I thought once it would be best to die.
That would make everything better
For others, and knives flew around the house.

At dawn I resemble a soldier who wakes after a battle,
His friends all dead, and himself still alive.
What do I do? I walk through the ditch grass,
Skirting the towns, asking in barns for fresh milk.

- Robert Bly

Note: Poem to be published in Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life, click this link to support the indiegogo campaign to published the book (by April 9, 2015); poem used by permission of White Pine Press

Pair with: savasana

Speak: Allow space between the stanzas to provide a mini rest in time by pausing.

Consider: What do I do with this, as Mary Oliver says, “wild and precious life“?

Astonishment

moo in snow

The perpetual ideal is astonishment. – Derek Walcott in White Egrets

Enough is enough

Asteya, the third yama of yoga’s ethical guidelines, translates as “non-stealing.” We’re taught from a young age to not take what does not belong to us. That’s clear. In our crowded 21st-century world we who have excess are also learning to not take more than we need, be it water, fuel, food or someone else’s precious time. We conserve at the faucet and gas pump, show restraint when ordering at the restaurant and employ responsible use of technology to increase efficiency.

The practice of yoga teaches us that desire drives greed and can lead to careless actions. One day, full of ego’s ambition, eager to jam myself into a deep backbend, I ended up with a crick in my neck for months. A pose that in its truest form would be a heart opener resulted in body and mind slamming shut with frustration. Gentle, slow, movement, rest and breath gradually led to the ability to move into camel pose, ustrasana…when I was ready. But by rushing literally headlong into injury I had cheated myself and the tradition of yoga itself, which is not founded on haste. Equipped by my error, I teach ustrasana slowly and systematically. The approach is not of “getting” into a pose, it’s making a shape.

meditation seat

The best way I know of to literally take my mind off of what Wordsworth calls “getting and spending”–sit outside and breathe.

Non-stealing boils down to not rushing. Taking, stealing, thieving, nicking, are actions designed to beat the clock, to not get caught. Generosity is spacious and can be quite slow. Think of sweet time passing as a planted apple seed transforms to a fully fruiting tree.

Living in Bakersfield years ago, I’d sit on my front porch to watch the sunrise. This untitled poem prefaces We Have Trees (Swim Press, 2005).

Beg belongs in beginning
the place I began.
Into the world born full
with empty hands.
And beginning each day
before sunrise.
Even dreams hold requests,
goodbyes ask for promises.
I beg of you to keep my arms
empty until they are full,
to beg of you only
that which you have to give
and to begin anew
at the moment
of each invitation.

– Alexa Mergen

 

 

“with loving feet”

Barbara Aragon, a student in my Meditation, Movement and Verse class, agreed to share these two poems and I am delighted. Thank you, Barbara.

Scene setting: Before writing, we read Evenly Divided by Emma Suárez-Báez. We mapped three internal gazing points along the body’s central axis and explored how peripheral vision relates to them, and we moved through a walking meditation.

The prompt: To write a poem divided into parts with an awareness of part to whole, refraining from punctuation.

 

March: With Saguaro Witness

Looking down from eighteen inches
chubby cheeks hanging like heavy ripe apricots
eyes shining with pride and awe
at white leather hi-top shoes
thick with support
She Walks

March: With Saguaro Witness II

Dancing in a Circle
with feet and
steps that tease
independence
Steps that are pulled back
to the Circle by the thump of the drum
the whine of the accordion and smiles on the faces
Take off the shoes
Massage the earth with your loving feet

Class Notes: wild breath

Sometimes, as I guide students through breath awareness, I liken the breath to a wild animal. In constructive rest or sitting supported and upright on the floor or in a chair, we can sidle up to the breath, see how it moves at its own natural rhythm, exercises its own curiosity in the habitat of the body. I tell the students the breath has been there all day, now we are sitting still beside it, to observe it without changing it.

We can take the analogy further if we think of the breath as a wild animal that is undomesticated, but not unfamiliar with people. A pet is an animal that is not eaten, has been brought into the household and is named. Neither stray cat or feral dog, the breath is never fully domesticated. We do not name the breath, we certainly don’t voluntarily seek to end it, but it does live in the houses of our bodies.  The breath is a dolphin that recognizes a swimmer in a bay or a crow that caws hello to a gardener every morning. Breath is in us and of us, like animals in the umwelt we share, trainable, like a marine mammal or bird, and always capable of moving outside the mind’s control.

Through the laboratory of yoga, can we understand how the body is both tamed and untamed? Can we then courageously make space for the rest of the world to remain a little wilder, too?

 

Some naturalists say there are no wild animals anymore. Humans have reached long arms of technology into every corner of the skies. Oceans’ waters carry traces of discarded chemicals, plastics swirl through tides. Roads criss cross remote regions. The omnipresent noise of machinery has altered the sound landscape of every other species’ lives.

Sitting with the wild animal of the breath is one of the surest ways I know to come into intimacy with one’s own body, the body that houses the what of who you are. I believe that a deepened intimacy with oneself — I mean something beyond acceptance, closer to a knowingness that we are animals also, alive organisms — will bring us into a deeper intimacy with every other living thing, from the neighbors we are instructed to love as ourselves to the mountain lion wandering into a subdivision in search of water, from a fish in a desert lake we’ll never see to a frog yet undiscovered and unnamed.

So, try it. Exercise the imagination. Sit or lie down. Close the eyes. Sidle up to the breath, your wild animal of inspiration and exhalation. Observe it. What does it sound like? Where does it like to linger? How does it move and in what way? Give it some attention. Try to understand it for what it is. Knowing is where love begins.