Breath and belonging

I like being calm.

Some days, when I’m sipping morning coffee, reading the newspaper without railing at the news, or serenely waiting to be connected with a customer service agent while ads stream scratchily through the phone, I can’t believe it’s me who is breathing so evenly. Am I the same person who used to pitch fits? Slam doors? Who punched (yep) her high school boyfriend on the subway platform?

Am I the same person who was curled in sorrow on the sofa? Sprawled drunk in the hammock too early on a weekday afternoon? Stepped away from, stepped down from, stepped over every difficulty and obstacle instead of stepping through?

Sure. I’m that same person who feels deeply, cares mightily and lives with the genes of addiction. In fact, the more years I acquire the more I recognize the seven-year-old girl who is devoted to animals, sunshine, rain, who is skipping, swinging, cooking, laughing and sitting on the stoop with a friend.

Yoga scholar Richard Rosen teaches that the ancient yogis believed we’re each allotted a number of breaths. Pranayama, the yoga practice of breath control, allowed the yogis to extend their breath. I think of it as adding water to the last of the orange juice in the jug so it covers breakfasts until the next shopping run.

Meditation is the heart of yoga.

The postures, Rosen emphasizes, developed as a means to prepare the body for extended periods of sitting. Why sit?

Why live long? To increase the odds of acquiring knowledge, and wisdom, knowledge’s joyful, loving appendix.

When I picture old-time yogis sitting under trees on antelope skins, buying time by slowing their breaths while accruing awareness of bird song, breeze, their own ragged feelings and tangled thoughts, I recall people I have known who died too soon. They include my 8th-grade student, Carrie, who took her own life in a moment when no one was looking; a friend’s baby, Lindsay, who was shaken into silence in a fit of caregiver’s frustration; my husband’s best friend, Mike, whose last breath was underwater near the boats he’d restored. I think of those who made it to the end, last breaths tied off like a knot in run-out thread–my grandmother who held my hand as hers stilled; my husband’s grandmother, who had held her great-granddaughter shortly before she died; and my stiff old dog, Sasha, who accepted the veterinarian’s kindness with a slow blink of brown eyes followed by a quick release from pain.

When I played guitar as a child, the metronome taught me to keep time. I’d mark out a period to practice, establish the space by placing a cane bottom chair beside the music stand and setting one foot on the dented blue stool, pick up the guitar and begin to play. Tick-tock, the notes from the strings aligned themselves around the measured beat. I wasn’t particularly good. I could synch with the rhythm, but my ear is far from pitch-perfect and I have little recall for tunes. So simple scales made sense to me. The even repetition of finger movements and the predictability of the notes rocked me into emotion. Alone in my little pink-walled room at the back of the house, where no one could hear me but robins and sparrows in the trees along the alley, I lost track of time and place, the action of moving and making transporting me to a sense of belonging.

Trace the stream of the word “belonging” back to its spring and you find the Old English gelang, meaning “at hand, together with.”

Yoga is translated as union, with connotations of yoking or joining with, as in linking breath and movement or attention with movement or self with whatever the other is, a past-time, a friend, a sport, a book, a gesture or god.

Home practice is both the effort of stretching a bit, literally and figuratively, by making a shape with the body, an “asana,” filling it with breath, then releasing that breath to let the next one return. The Sanskrit word asana is related to the English “sitting” or “seat.”  The idea is that in a stable, easeful seat, we feel situated in an essential part of our selves, peaceful and aware.

Try it a little home practice right now

Sit where you are. Come forward on the chair seat so the back body is freed of the chair back. Establish sitting bones with the chair bottom. Let the feet rest solidly on the floor or a stool or a pillow. Imagine drawing the breath up through the feet, as if they have gills, up the legs, around the hips and waist, straight up, up, up through the neck and cresting at the crown of the head and then exhale imagining the breath showering down the outside of the body. Breathe steadily, un-forcefully. Align mind and breath. Express nothing more, nothing less than your being, alive.

Readying for departure

In the end, you don’t have much time left, and who knows if it isn’t better to live like this, stripped of possessions, perpetually ready for departure.

– Luis Cernuda, translated by Stephen Kessler

As I sort through collages, letters, poems, essays and journals pasted, written and kept through the years, one theme recurs like spring robin’s song: Adventure is arrival.

As much as I cherish Harpers Ferry, close-by family and new friends and old, the open road calls me.

In the weeks ahead, I’m paring down to the minimum and setting out in a small trailer towed by a small truck, accompanied by my husband and dog. Destination: desert, a landscape that demands simplicity and kindles joy.

Whether on childhood summer trips to visit family in Nevada, or when I’ve lived in the desert as an adult, the tacit silence of such rugged fragile terrain unifies body, spirit and mind, concretizing yoga as I understand it abstractly.

The more I practice yoga, the more I find being outside is inside and vice versa. Home is the body.

If you’d like to stay in touch, just for fun or to bring me to your studio or community to teach, hop on over to Facebook (my personal page or Simple, Joyful Yoga) or send an email alexamergen@gmail.com. Or send a note to P.O. Box 6540 Pahrump, Nevada 89041-6540

Thank you for being a reader.

The piece below began in the Mojave in 2001 with the first line and I’ve revised it every several months since. Living on a mesa reminded me of times spent on sea cliffs. Desert and seascape, topographies for reflection. I turned 34 that year; this year (really?!) I’ll reach 50. Still enjoying time, relishing space, accepting changes, recognizing connections, paying attention with gratitude.

House in the Water

“If Mother Nature should ever call me to live upon another planet, I could wish that I might be born a beaver to inhabit a house in the water.”

–Enos A. Milles, In Beaver World

I burned the letters I’d been saving all my life the winter I spent beside a wood stove in a drafty house high in the Mojave. Wind rattled the diamond-shaped window panes. Black spiders dotted with blood red hid in the rocks of the sun room wall. A scorpion left tiny replicas of herself in a basket of magazines. I had begun shedding the past as new things poured from me that did not fit the woman I had been. I was in the desert for that reason, to find space to hear myself again. Next, I lived in a dark house on Bank Street, bound by Bakersfield’s highways and loyalty to the idea of sacrifice. The previous owner had collapsed to his death in the foyer. Our dog refused to cross the hall. I salted the corners of the house and chanted for relief but the ghost would not leave. He howled through heating ducts and slammed the doors when there was no breeze. The basement was painted the peach of hospital wards. Scalding pipes carried water to the bath upstairs. In this warm, low-ceilinged subterranean room, I reread journals written in purple ink by the girl I was. Overhead, my husband paced, desperate with the error of having moved us. I did not like who I found in the pages. A hand variously bold and timid, guilty and blameful, hungry for affection, kinder than necessary, prettier than she believed. Dolly Parton sang on the stereo of her coat of many colors, beauty stitched from scraps. At Kmart I bought a bare root rose called Joseph’s Coat. Blossoms ranging from yellow to orange to red on one shrub. I dug a hole deep and broad. The journals went in first, then dirt, and crushed eggshells so the rose would climb and thrive to cover the shed where I’d cried. The house we sold.

Bring me rattlesnakes and dust devils, crows that follow you on walks through sagebrush. Things that move in sand and sky. I need nothing more than time.

What I have most loved I’ve let go. The emptier the hands, the clearer the hearing.

Poem: Salutation

Pleased to have “Salutation” included in The Absence of Something Specified.

This poem arose during a dry Central Valley winter, when we were all waiting and hoping for rain in northern California. To distract from the noise of nearby Highway 50, I’d hung small temple bells from the bare branches of the pistache trees planted in the narrow strip between sidewalk and street.

I was also thinking about how we see. My dear dog, Molly, had rapidly gone blind from glaucoma. Her veterinarian would pull out a model of the eye on our visits to him, teaching us about the wondrous organ.

This poem passed through many versions before settling into this bony shape.

Salutation

rivers disappear w/o weather
determined salmon
swim into dry dirt
following
their peculiar compasses

bells ring to winter storms
when wind shakes bared
arms of pistache trees
rain drips
from down spouts to tick tock
night

people invent
understandings of death
while looking in one
another’s eyes
for pinpoints of dry light
our

marble organs of sight are
so many planets set
in galaxies
of
cadged
bone

Poets seeking…

Plate 50: Sacred Heart: From Portfolio “Spanish Colonial Designs of New Mexico.” 1935/1942, National Gallery of Art

Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

from Nasadiya: The Creation Hymn of Rig Veda, translated by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

War, Love, Yoga, Art, Tribes & Kindness

Sebastian Junger starts his brief new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, with accounts of the kindness of strangers. Tribe is thought-provoking. Reading it reminded me of a lot of experiences and other books.

I recalled the TRIBES team-building curriculum schools adopted in the 1990s. In addition to reading and writing, we spent time in conversation, building interpersonal skills among the children through structured practice.

While teaching Language Arts at Martinez Junior High School, I worked in a team, a sort of tribe, with my math, science, and social studies colleagues. We met weekly to plan lessons that reinforced concepts across our subject areas and to troubleshoot with students who’d hit rocky patches academically or socially. The counselor assigned to us interfaced with parents. Students thrived. The environment was one of pulling together to understand what and how the world works and pooling resources.

Reading Junger’s passages on his own experience in war zones and the effects of war on service members, I recalled books I’ve studied and taught that provided opportunities to discuss the individual in society: the incomparable Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko; All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque; The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane; and, Black Boy by Richard Wright.

These books and others underscore how art makes sense of life.

“Friendship Quilt” by Flora G. Guerra, American, 1935/1942, National Gallery of Art

One year, not long ago, I was hired to teach high school English late in September after the assigned teacher quit for an administrative position in the district office.

The room was in chaos–coffee dregs moldering in mugs, personal photos tacked to the bulletin board by the teacher’s desk, random thumb drives, barrettes, dried up markers, piles of ungraded papers scattered on shelves, in drawers, on windowsills.

The students were in the middle of Lorraine Hansberry’s wonderful “A Raisin in the Sun.” I’d taught the play before at another site and found it to be an effective catalyst for discussion about aspirations, race, class, family, neighborhoods, gender, education, honesty, forgiveness and just plain change.

Seeking to find out what the students had been discussing, I asked, “What’s the play about? What’s a theme?”

“Money,” they said and laughed. “It’s about how you can’t be happy unless you have money.”

Does a person’s jaw really fall then they’re surprised?

Mine must have because they laughed some more. “That’s what the teacher said.”

“Well,” I replied. “There might be another way of looking at this.”

That night I puzzled out a graphic organizer (we love those in teaching!) and had it ready on the whiteboard when the students filed in the next day. I wish I’d kept a copy. It was designed like one of those graphics that are the rage in glossy magazines these days to get you from point A to point B along a board game-like route, making decisions along the way.

The students talked their ways through the graphic. Where did they end up? Some identified a possible theme in the play as “parents and kids,” others as “dreams,” others as “loyalty,” and, ultimately, most saw a theme could be “love.”

Thinking about this gets me thinking about yoga. Everything does these days–gets me thinking about yoga.

“Friendship Quilt” by Florence Treason, American, c. 1937, National Gallery of Art

Yoga is the practice of love.

This doesn’t mean you have to pop up in downward facing dog right now and smile. It means recognizing that harmony is wholeness and wholeness is union, which is roughly what “yoga” means. The state of the union. The state of union. Union requires, if not love, sympathy and compassion.

Literature depicts and captures the universal human condition. Oneness.

We’re all in this together.

Junger points out that nomadic people only own what they can carry. For nomads, acquiring external markers of wealth proves impractical, whereas inequalities of wealth become quickly evident in settled societies.

He says American society is at war with itself, hurling contempt at fellow citizens.

Citing this vitriolic rhetoric that clutters American society today, Junger asks in Tribe,

So how do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political game with itself? How do you make [war] veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? I put that question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Yehuda has seen, up close, the effect of such antisocial divisions on traumatized vets. “If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different–you underscore your shared humanity,” she told me. “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another and not on the things that unite us?”

Reading Junger’s book feels like engaging in a stimulating dinner conversation with smart friends, touching upon a range of topics in an attempt to understand people and how they organize into tribes and civilizations. I’m curious about this topic, too, so I’m glad I borrowed the book from the library.

I’ve written at length on this blog and in my stories, poems and essays about my lifelong investigation into the meaning of belonging. I’m working now on a little book, Home Practice, about how yoga study and teaching brought me figuratively home to myself and literally home to the place where I was reared.

Lastly, I think of an old poem I wrote around 1996 that was collected in the little chapbook artist friends made for me, We Have Trees. Like almost everyone’s early poems, it grew directly out of life experience and is as true as can be.

Hold Still

1.
Kindness is as kindness does,
a woman in the laundromat
tells me.

2.
In my life I’ve had kindnesses.
Twice my windshield wipers broke,
once in a North Carolina blizzard
and once during a Kentucky thunderstorm.
Both times strangers fixed them for me
for free
so I could see to carry on.

3.
A lady said Better get in, reaching
for the passenger door. It was raining
that night, too, and I was walking shocked,
barefoot, soaked and lost. She took me
to a dry place with orange couches.
I remember that.
She likely saved my life.

4.
Has kindness been done to you?
I can’t believe in angels quite
but I see butterflies.
Kindnesses alight like butterflies
midday on bare arms
delicately sampling the invisible salt of our skins.

The Earth, a poem

For Earth Day, a poem from one of my eighth-grade students at Martinez Junior High. It was 1993, my first year teaching school. My charges were so bright and friendly, and my colleagues so dedicated, smart and helpful, it’s no wonder I fell in love with teaching.

My education professors trained me to create “life-long learners.” I’m so grateful to continue this work by bringing yoga, meditation and writing to adults (and occasionally teens!), and through self-study.

“Allegory of Mother Earth” by Christofano Robetta, 1462 – 1535

The Earth

I see the pretty light blue sky.

I see the dark brown bark on

the sky-rocketing trees.

I see the brown dirt with pine

cones layered upon it.

I remember the pretty white snow until

it all melted away.

I care about the animals that get

tested for cures.

I believe that we will pull out of

this world problem that we’re in.

I hear the wind whistling through

the branches of tall trees.

I hear the birds chirping in the

green and lush branches.

I smell the car exhaust of my Dad’s

truck when he starts it in the morning.

I smell the vanilla on a crisp piece

of bark. I touch the rough bark on

the healthy trees. I touch all the waste

that we throw away. I understand the

economic problem that we’re in. I am

frustrated with the rain forests being

cut down. I try to help by recycling.

I try to help by saving water. I try

to save by not littering. I will help

the world by recycling and not using

deadly things for my hair to hurt the

ozone layer. I hope that I will live

long enough to see the rain forests

stop being cut down.

 

– by JS

Putting movement into your life

Joy is when another writer puts into words what you’ve not quite been able to grasp. A yoga student loaned me Putting Movement into Your Life by dancer and scholar Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, a nothing-fancy self-published book with piles of gems inside.

Lines are clearly spatial entities, whether actually drawn on paper and perceived or whether imaginatively constituted and followed. When imaginatively brought to life, however that is, when experienced as a linear design or pattern created by movement, they are not purely and solely spatial entities. When we apprehend any moving body–our own or that of another person–as creating linear design and pattern, whether in stirring a cake batter, hammering a nail, kicking a ball, or zigzagging to avoid colliding with someone, we temporize a spatial dimension of movement in the course of imaginatively spatializing the directional line or lines themselves. In other words, being essentially kinetic spatial phenomena, the lines created by moving bodies are inherently temporal in character.

Experience this. Put movement into your life right now.

Sit in a chair, toward the front edge of the bottom. Lift a foot. Gently point the toes. With the foot, write the alphabet in the air, toes leading. Try cursive, capital letters or lower case. Move through both feet.

In so doing, we experience the imaginatively drawn line as a temporal as well as spatial phenomenon, a temporal phenomenon not simply in terms of its duration, but in terms of its pauses, quicknesses, attenuations, and so on. Indeed, lines have an intricate dynamic structure.

Sheets-Johnstone points out the impermanence of movement.

This is why I love teaching yoga, one-on-one and in small groups: How we move, what I say–the very action of my breath and lips in speaking–is unrecorded. We glide through moments in time, tracing imaginary lines, even stealing into imagined spaces in the body and the room and it’s all impermanent.

We are fully present for what is until what is becomes what was and we’re in the is. Union.

This is the magic of live performance. The sublimity of a kiss. This is what I was getting at with my collage postcards. Ephemerality. Letting be and letting go.

Adventure

Ask me

Sheets-Johnstone quotes the poet Antonio Machado as describing us as “wayfarers” and “wanderers.”

…the source of our path is unknown or not remembered and has no goal….What humans do to make up for the impermanence of their movement through life as a whole is draw figuratively on their imaginative consciousness of movement. We humans indeed dynamically recreate lines along which we have travelled, the paths of our lives once followed; and we dynamically create the paths along which we are now moving and might move in the future, the path of the moment and the paths along which life might take us.

In a recent workshop, a student commented, “I wish I were a movement person, but I’m not.” We paused the discussion and moved the palms of the hands with the breath like this.

“We’re all movement people,” I told her afterward. “We’re alive.”

Leza Lowitz: from Here Comes the Sun

I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from Leza’s new memoir, Here Comes the Sun, her journey to motherhood over two oceans, two decades and two thousand yoga poses. 

If you live in California or New York, catch her on book tour. In Tokyo, visit her studio.

Leza was an early contributor to Yoga Stanza with her poem The Six Perfections. Thank you, Leza!

The Long, Windy Yoga Road to Motherhood

The doctor sucks in his breath, folds his hands over his chest. He leans back in his chair and tells me that my eggs are too old, that IVF will probably fail.

“I’d like to try anyway,” I say.

To my surprise, he flat-out refuses. Perhaps this famous Tokyo fertility clinic doesn’t want to add any failures to their high success rate. In America, I think, they’d keep taking your money until you ran out.

“Don’t waste your money, time, or energy,” he says, not unkindly.

“What are her options?” my Japanese husband asks anyway, catching my dejected look.

“She could always try a donor egg,” the doctor says, shuffling papers on his desk and glancing up at the clock.

There’s just one problem. Donor eggs are illegal in Japan. After ten years of trying for a child, I know I’m at the end of the road. But I’m not someone who gives up easily. My husband reminds me that walking away from the fight is often a sign of strength, not weakness. The Japanese have a term for it: the nobility of failure.

You hold your head high as you walk away from the fight. Throwing down your sword is a way to take back your own power. When one has tried one’s best, “failure” is noble, dignified. I also understand that “failure” is sometimes just a prelude to success. So I hold up my head, try to be dignified. I try to embody the samurai spirit. I tell my husband: Just keep me away from anything sharp.

Letting Go

I get out my yoga mat and I practice. I breathe out the frustration, the disappointment, the pain. I still feel that our child is out there. I just have to keep searching.

As in many days over the years, I ask myself questions many mothers never consider. Why do I want to be a mother? I meditate on the answer. I want to experience another kind of love, something beyond what I know or can even imagine. Mother love. I want to experience this kind of earth-shattering, unconditional love of a mother for her child. The oneness.

It wasn’t as if I’d put my life on hold. I’d written some books, opened up a yoga studio in a foreign country. Maybe it was because I’d opened a yoga studio that I’d failed to conceive. If I’d had a child, I’d certainly have been too busy to care for the students who depended on me there. We’d created a community, a family together. We mothered each other.

Perhaps my body was protecting itself. Giving birth might have been too risky for me, with my very slow heart rate, which I’d had since birth. I, or the child, might have died in childbirth. The doctor said these things. My mind chatters on and on. I have to stop these endless wanderings. So I sit and close my eyes, focus on my breath. I practice Tonglen, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “giving and taking.”

Tonglen is one of the best methods I know of cracking open the heart. To help get me outside my own “story” and “suffering,” I practice taking away someone else’s pain. I breathe it in and send them the wish for happiness and peace. In my meditations and in my yoga practice, I try to listen within. HereCometheSun_FrontCover

Soldiering On

I go online and research adoption in Japan, which is rare. In 2004, family courts recognized 322 adoptions of children under the age of six, and 998 adoptions of children over six.

That’s 1,320 adoptions, with less than half of those between children and parents who have no blood connection. In other words, most adoptions are still within the family. In the U.S., there are approximately 127,000 annual adoptions. 1.7 million households have an adopted child.

We decide to apply, though the odds are daunting. To add to the challenge, of course, everything must be discussed in Japanese. I appreciate that Shogo is a translator and that he has the patience of a saint. I also appreciate that in some ways I am probably only going to catch half of what is happening. So I won’t know how much I am up against, and that’s a definite plus.

But my yoga has taught me the value of process, of being in the moment. We just take each step as it comes, breath by breath. At forty-four and forty-eight, our ages make us low priority. But my age also makes me more determined.

When our application is approved, I am overjoyed, and surprised. Could our dream finally be coming true? We wait for a placement, and we hope. I practice and practice. At my yoga studio, I have students do Sun Salutations blindfolded. So they can look, and listen, to the teacher within. It’s unnerving, and powerful. How much of what we do is dictated by what we’re told, or what’s expected of us, or what we think others will approve of?

I put the blindfold on myself. I forge onward, keeping my ears tuned to that faint inner voice that gets louder and louder in the listening. I keep my ears open for the voice of my child. Trusting. Letting go. Trusting. Hoping. Letting go. I watch the thoughts come and go. I do my practice throughout. I remember the words Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita:

That one is dear to me who runs not after the pleasant or away from the painful, grieves not, lusts not, but lets things come and go as they happen.

And then, six months later, my husband and I get the call we’ve been waiting for. A placement. A two-year-old boy.

This time, when I sit down in meditation, instead of waiting to hear his voice, I speak directly to him.

“Hold on,” I say. “We’re coming.”

Leza Lowitz is an accidental global citizen, yoga studio owner, and multi-genre author of over twenty books. Her book Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, is an Amazon best-seller. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Yoga International, Shambhala Sun, The Best Buddhist Writing, The Huffington Post, Wanderlust.com, Origin, Mantra, and the Japan Times.

 

The above is excerpted, in slightly different form, from Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras which debuted at #1 on Amazon. See Stone Bridge Press for further information.

Leza’s Young Adult novel in verse about Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Up from the Sea, was just published by Crown Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House) and was also a #1 best-seller on amazon.

Please visit: www.lezalowitz.com

Feet first

Scanning a weather map in March reminds me how many climates the country has. Forecasters predict chilly wind, sunshine then snow for the D.C. area this week; rain and warmer temperatures for my friends across the country in Sacramento.

This winter has been the first true cold weather I’ve experienced–I mean needing boots, hat, gloves, scarf and coat most days–since I lived in Ann Arbor in 1994. As I walked D.C. in December, January and February, I noticed plenty of people sliding around on loafers and pumps. I had to refrain from tapping their shoulders and insisting they don overboots.

For yoga teachers, feet are fundamental.

We seek to help those toes, arches and ankles feel flexible and strong. I kid my private students that their narrow feet will broaden into wide yoga toes. Look down at the feet of the most lithe yogini and you’ll likely see some sturdy-looking dogs.

After observing two women leave my apartment building to walk through the snowy courtyard in four-inch-heels last month, I got curious about how important foot care really is.

The result is “Tending to Your Soles” that ran in My Little Bird

Warm-weather pals, if you’re skipping off to the salon in flip-fops for a pedicure, click on the article. You might reconsider after hearing from the podiatrist!

 

Word Search, Life Learning

Dawdling one afternoon in a gift shop in my D.C. neighborhood, this book caught my eye: Bet You Can’t Do This!

For less than $8, the book has already provided hours of entertainment, and I’m not even halfway through. I tackle one or two puzzles most nights before lights out.

IMG_0159

The trick is that the puzzles contain words not listed. You need to think about the subject matter. A search for extinct animals included “woolly mammoth” and “dodo.” Not listed were “ptarpan” and “giant sloth.”

Some searches provide the comfort of familiarity. I aced a puzzle on California city names, having lived in and explored the Golden State for many years, and another on ice cream flavors. (In high school I scooped my share as a Haagen Dazs and Thomas Sweet server.) I struggled over a puzzle with words from Mardi Gras.

U.S. Presidents, Greek gods…many of the puzzles review vocabulary learned in grade school. (In the “First Ladies” puzzle, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was listed along with Michelle Obama. Martha Washington and Helen Taft were the unknowns.)

The book’s final word finds don’t list searchable words at all, only the topic. Early on, I thought I’d outsmart the system and work through the book back to front. The 92nd puzzle of the 115,”9-letter C words,” was the third I tried.

But my mind wasn’t primed. I ended up peeking at the answers like a fifth-grade math student keeping a finger on the solutions page at the end of the textbook.

Sometimes rushing ahead takes away the fun of solving and learning.

After all, isn’t all learning a process of solving?

We emphasize in meditation and yoga the necessity of learning with a “beginner’s mind.” Most of us have stories of taking on too much too early in practice. I know I do: letting my feet fall asleep in meditation so that when I stood up I stumbled; wrenching myself into backbend I hadn’t prepped for and tweaking my neck.

The arrogance of the over-eager.

The word “arrogance” translates from Latin, “claiming for oneself.” That sounds greedy.

The word searches remind me to take things slowly, steadily and systematically.

Confession: Even though I’m progressing through the puzzles step-by-step, I do peek ahead at those to come.

In “Y Words,” “yoga” jumped out at me. I humored my fervor by marking it, a word I read, think and say a zillion times a day.

IMG_0157

Soon I’ll finish the “Y” puzzle, uncovering the rest of these words.

IMG_0158

Each little letter cluster is rich in associations. There’s “yahoo,” the address of my first email account; “yardstick,” an essential tool when I taught middle school (for pointing and drawing straight lines!); “yellow,” my favorite color the summer of 2002; “yeast,” the smell of a bread-baking phase using Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book, which took me deeper into Zen; “yearling,” the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings story given to me one Christmas by my grandmother, I reread it every few years; “yesterday,” the great Beatles song….

Thank you John Samson for writing the word search book.

Propped by pillows, holding my highlighter as late night sounds of the city seep through the windows–pedestrians’ laughter, sirens, helicopters, revved engines–these searches transition me from a yoga teacher and writer’s daytime seeking to a dreamer’s nighttime sifting.

The word “search” derives from Latin’s “circle.” These (not-so-simple) puzzles take me into the mind’s treasure chest of antecedents while anchoring me in the present. It’s as if the purple pen marks the line between right and left hemispheres and in so doing imaginatively draws them together. Yoga.