With MMV, we enter a poem with the assistance of breath and movement. On this day, we practiced mountain pose and ocean breath. We brought flowing movement into the arms and awakened the legs. In a quadruped position (also called “table-top” or “hands and knees”) we practiced a pelvic tilt and imagined having an animal tail. We also moved through some heart opening poses, breathed in a resting crocodile and sat quietly in thunderbolt pose.
The prompt: Write about what happens after an event, in the human or animal realms; include, if desired, an insight that occurs. Use stanzas of three or four lines, depending on the desired effect.
In the last century (it’s so fun to say that phrase!), I studied educational psychology at Sierra Nevada College (SNC) with Professor Dixi Dougherty. This was the early 1990s when the college occupied a single building in Incline Village and focused on teacher education and the hospitality industry. (They do go together, in a way.) I recall almost everything we learned in Dixi’s course; the knowledge served me as I went on to teach my own students, ranging from preschoolers counting numbers to high school juniors reading American literature.
Dixi impressed on us that when you’re entrusted with the attention of people ready to learn, every moment is an opportunity. There’s no coasting. She liked to tell the story of a substitute teacher in Texas who was awarded Teacher of the Year. The woman was that dedicated, that effective, as a sub.
Welcome every opportunity to practice your craft.
Moving frequently for several years, I subbed in Whitmore Lake, Michigan and up and down the state of California. Each time, I recalled the advice of another top-notch former SNC professor, Dawn Skailand: “Eat the fish and leave the bones.” With exposure to many learning environments and teaching styles, I adopted what works and discarded what doesn’t.
Substituting in public schools served me well when I transitioned to teaching yoga. It’s All Yoga, the studio that offered a home for my yoga heart, also gave me opportunities to try out sequences, get to know students, and serve as a sub in a range of classes. I am grateful.
“Yoga is not ultimately about wrapping our legs around our neck or arching back into beautiful back bends. It is about using the body as an instrument to fully realize and stay connected to our own inner joy, love, and compassion. Yoga is about opening our hearts with love and compassion to others who suffer in innumerable ways. Yoga is not about touching our toes. It is about tenderly touching the hearts of the people around us.” – Miriam Austin in Cool Yoga Tricks
Jenny was the first journal to publish a short story of mine, “Rolls.” Now that Jenny is interviewing past contributors about their writing process, I am experiencing a full-circle moment. In “Rolls” a young woman takes a road trip from Washington, DC to California and, when her car breaks down, learns a little about the kindness of strangers. In a few weeks, I am heading back the other way, back to DC. May the trip be free of mishap!
Dear readers, I’d never write like this now, drawing so directly from my life–such is the innocence of youth, that burning desire to set down a story, every sentence an attempt to understand. Jenny published “Rolls” in 2012; it was drafted in about 1990. I am so grateful to the editors and staff of Jenny who are dedicated to creating a home for writers.
Here’s the interview, if you’re interested. Jenny asks things like, “What got you into writing?” and “How has your writing developed over time?”
If you read “Rolls,” please keep Emily Dickinson’s gentle appeal to readers in mind. Judge tenderly. ED says,
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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….
Fallen into a well of sorrows born
at an earlier age, my violet eye emits
light enough to brighten stale tears.
Open, unfasten, unfurl until all within is without,
until the volume of these disclosures propels me
to the surface of the grim borehole.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.