Friday, April 29, 2016

That's why I'm here

Recently at the end of a workout, I was racking some free weights when one of the trainers passed by with a client. “I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty busy talking to other members today,” he playfully chided me.
“Yeah, I know,” I nodded.  “It seems everywhere I go someone wants to chat.” 
Heath smiled.  “That’s what you get for being so friendly.”
Heading toward the treadmills, I laughed, “I guess I’ll have to do an extra fifteen minutes as punishment for talking too much.”
Still, I must not have learned my lesson, for twenty minutes later while I was trotting away, my good friend, Badass Barb, hopped on the elliptical machine next to me.  I didn’t know she’d be coming to the gym, so of course we got into a lively conversation. 
Moments later, Heath walked past, cocking his head.  “See?  I told you…talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.”
“See?  I told you,” I replied, throwing up my hands.  “Everywhere I go there’s someone I know.”
Or at least someone who wants to engage me in conversation.
I must have a smile on my face all of the time these days because whenever I’m out and about, I walk by people who at first look somber or serious, yet within seconds they’re grinning from ear to ear.  One person even stopped me at Target to say, “It’s so nice to see someone looking up and not at their phone all the time.”
I had to chuckle because lately I’ve been taking a lot of good-humored crap from my friends for finally discovering the many merits of using an iPhone.  Sure it’s a temptation, but it’s only taken a couple of weeks to reign it in…unless I’m expecting a phone call or text. 
What a joy to Facetime with my friend, Richard, last weekend!  We email all the time, but seeing his smiling face touched my heart, hearing his gentle voice lifted my spirits, and our conversation easily picking up from where we left off the last time we saw each other almost nine years ago.
“In all this time you’ve never left me,” Richard said. 
“Nor you me,” I replied.  “We’ve always been together in spirit.”
“And we always will be,” he smiled.  “Such is the nature of deep friendship.”

Recently a colleague and I were talking about the meaning of life.  I asked him, “What’s the difference between people who ask the questions, ‘Why am I here and what does this time on Earth really mean?’ and those who coast through it, never really contemplating their true purpose?”
“Existential questions have no answers,” Tony said pointedly.  “What they have are experiences that come with them.”
“I can relate to that,” I replied.  “I would think that the more you experience, the more it humbles you.”
“I often tell my students that even though I’ve been practicing yoga for twenty years, I often feel like a beginner,” I said.  “The more I learn, the more I know that I know next to nothing.”
“Yep,” Tony sighed.  “There’s no end to the learning process.”
Thank God.
When I became a certified yoga instructor, I was given a new name, one I don’t often mention or use publically.  Like a koan, the name was a riddle, a Sanskrit word I didn’t fully understand, for I was to live my way into recognizing its meaning.  A few years later, while attending a workshop, the instructor explained the benefits of using breathwork in meditation and yoga.
“When we utilize the breath throughout the entire body, we begin to allow our spiritual energy to rise up through the spine,” he explained.  “This knowledge, or chitta, awakens and we begin to see our lives through a different lens…not the one of preconceived notions from the past, but from a place of present moment awareness.  Then, as this energy moves up the spine, it can finally blend with the peace, or ananda, of being at one with the Self.”
As the instructor looked at me, tears filled my eyes because I realized he was specifically teaching the meaning of my yoga name.  He smiled and continued, “When we work through our challenges with grace, chitta and Ananda become one thing…and we can enter into the peace that passes understanding.”
Finally, after all the years of struggle that led to my first yoga class, after all the years of study and practice and meditation, I had arrived at the gateway of my true purpose in life:  Chittananda…the way of peace.
There’s a quote on my refrigerator that says, “Peace…it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”  In the past, I needed to be alone to find peace of mind, to create balance and a place to call my own.  It was a vital hermitage, a necessary pruning of all that robbed me of my sense of self.  It took years to allow my inner chitta to rise up through the many challenges and sorrows and roadblocks on my way to the peace I feel today.  But it was all worth it.

This year I’ve come to discover that I can truly engage the world once more and actually crave an active social life, yet still be able to hold my center, no matter what’s happening around me.  This week my yoga classes have been particularly heart-opening as I’ve had many opportunities to share the practice with young women in their early twenties.  These incredible ladies bring a vibrant sense of themselves to the mat as well as a willingness to embrace their many challenges in order to let go of that which no longer serves them.
Yesterday a friend’s daughter was attending her first class, so I told Anna, “Just do what you can…have no expectations.  It’s all about allowing yourself to be who you are.”
After the initial meditation practice, I looked over to see silent tears pouring down her face.  “I’m sorry,” Anna said, swiping them away.  “I can’t talk about it.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I smiled.  “Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel.  You don’t have to hold onto it while you’re here.”
“It’s hard for me to relax,” she admitted. 
“I totally get it,” I said, handing her a box of tissues.  “When I started taking yoga classes, I wouldn’t even close my eyes during relaxation.  It’s scary when you let your body relax and stuff comes up, isn’t it?”
“You’re safe here,” I smiled, holding Anna’s hand.  “You don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.”
As we began moving through sun and moon salutations, I was simply amazed at the grace she embodied with every pose, every movement.  Halfway through the class, Anna shared some of what she’d been feeling and the thought occurred to me, She is so in tune with her experience, she’d make an excellent yoga instructor someday.
Once the class was over, Anna hugged me.  “Thank you so much, Katie.  I feel so at peace and I love you already.”
“You’re more than welcome,” I said, holding her close.  “I’m so glad you joined us…it’s wonderful to have you here.”

 Since Easter I’ve been spending time with a host of extraordinary people, from a group of college kids to a manager at the Apple Store to friends near and far.  Eventually the conversations evolve into a place where they all essentially tell me the same thing: “It’s so nice to talk to someone with whom I can be myself.”
I want to tell them that’s probably because I’m at peace with who I am, so I can hold space for them, but that’s not really necessary.  I figure the energy is out there one way or another, which is why Heath caught me doing what I do best these days.  For it's a blessing to be kind, to share a moment of laughter, to smile at a stranger, or to have compassion for someone who needs my time and attention. 
After all, there have been countless people who’ve done the same for me.
Last winter I had an interesting conversation with a friend over dinner.  Shortly after we sat down, his teenage son called to check in with him.  I listened while Chaz gently reassured him that he’d be home in while and if he needed anything to call back.
“I’ve not talked to you about my kids, have I?” Chaz asked as he set his phone on the seat next to him.
“No…tell me about them,” I smiled. 
So he shared what it’s like to be a single father and stories about his son and daughter, little things that allowed me to see how intuitive he is about what they both need, not only right now, but in the future.  I listened as Chaz told me something about a choice his daughter had made, how he knew that her behavior was coming from a place of pain, not defiance.  Then, when he told me how he was able to help her resolve it with compassion and clarity, I saw the kind of man he truly is as well as the incredible father he’s evolving into as his children grow older.
Later on, we talked about the process of writing The Lace Makers.  Chaz listened attentively, especially when I said, “I don’t remember writing a lot of it…it just came through me, kind of like how your kids came through you.  You nurture them, you raise them, and you love them, but in the end, they’re not really yours.”
Chaz gave me a slow smile.  “You’re a healer.”
“We can all be healers,” I replied.  “Just in different forms.”
“Yeah, but you’re like a channel for God.”
“We all are,” I said.  “You’re a channel, too.  You heal people through your work, and you heal your children…and yourself…by being a good father.  You’re healing me right now by having this conversation.”
“Yeah…we’re all here to heal and to help others heal,” I smiled.  “That’s what it’s all about.”

The meaning of life isn’t to be found, it’s to be made.  Each one of us has a different purpose, a unique set of gifts we’ve been given to share with others. Part of the process of living is discovering, then fostering those talents and abilities to fruition.  I know for certain I'm here to impart my love of yoga and gardening and good books.  I’m here to write from the heart, allowing myself to be a channel through which inspiration can effortlessly flow.  And I’m here to love others and allow them to love me in return. 
       Through it all, now more than ever, I’m here to bring whatever form it needs to manifest. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Right-side up

When I was a kid, I loved to look at the world while hanging upside-down on the monkey bars.  My sisters and I had a swing set as well as a Jungle Gym, so more often than not, they’d find me dangling by my knees, my arms flung overheard, my fingers nearly touching the ground.  I’d squeal with delight, swinging back and forth as long as I could before the head rush got to be too much.  Then I’d drop to the ground for a moment before I’d climb up and do it all over again.  It was a wonderful opportunity to see everything in a different way, from my mother’s flower beds to the old tree stump near the back fence to our Miniature Schnauzers who zipped around the yard. 
No wonder monkeys are still my favorite animals at the zoo…coming in a close second after the big cats. 
These days I’ve been upside-down a lot more than usual as I’ve been teaching headstand to some of my students who are ready to practice more advanced inversions.  For a long time now, we’ve been working with down dogs and dolphins and shoulder stands, so it’s only natural that many of the lovely ladies who attend my classes will be able to turn their bodies upside-down this summer…or I remind them that they have all eternity, so not to worry.
“It took me three years to get to the point where I’d even consider it,” I told them recently.  “Then it was ten percent knowing how to do a headstand and ninety percent getting over my fear of doing it.”
Many of them can relate, although my friend, Helen, said last week, “I’m not afraid to do it.  I take one look at you and think, I’ll never be able to do that.”
“So it’s not fear you’re going to work on,” I smiled.  “It’s your self-doubt.”
Helen nodded. 
“Well, you know I’m not so much invested in what you can do in yoga class,” I said.  “I’m more invested in who you are during the process.  After all, it’s just a yoga pose…and there are so many others you can practice.”
That lets them off the hook, but week after week, month after month, year after year, every single one of my students has slowly been progressing toward the King of the Asanas.  Not that I’ve consistently taught it until this spring, for in the past I often said, “I don’t practice headstand right now because I don’t need to turn my life upside-down…the Universe has certainly done that for me.  It’s more important for me to get my feet rooted on the ground…and stay there until I feel more stable.”
Hence the reason we tweak Mountain Pose in every class.  If a student can’t stand upright properly, their bodies will struggle mightily when they’re inverted.  Still, our journey into the upper chakras this year has brought about some swift evolution, and I find myself demonstrating headstand, then guiding a yogini or two in nearly every class I teach.
“You don’t do it the same way you did a few years ago,” one of my long-term students commented last week while I was sharing some variations they could try once they mastered the pose.  “Before it looked like work.  Now you look like you’re floating.”
“It feels like I’m floating,” I said, lifting my legs up from my hips, bringing them even closer to the ceiling. 
“Where’s the work?” one of them asked, echoing a question I’ll often ask during a class.
I had to stop and scan my body for a moment as there wasn’t really any work.  Not anymore.  Finally I said, “It’s more about the mental awareness of myself in space. I put as much physical effort into this pose as I do standing up.  Truly…it’s the same thing, but right now instead of being rooted into the ground, my feet are rooted in heaven.”
“I can see that,” the student replied.  “And you’re able to bring heaven to earth.”
“Exactly,” I said, coming down and resting in child’s pose.  “If your feet are your roots and the crown of your head is your heaven, then headstand is all about inverting your perception of what you see and how you see it.  What you feel and how you feel it.  What you know and what you can do with that knowledge.”
Helen gave me a sly smile.  “And knowing your limits, too.”

Then again, once a student has the basics of headstand under their belt, I’ll remind them, “Now that your body understands the process, the fear doesn’t have as much power.  So it’ll only be a matter of time before you get over your fear of major life changes.”
Many of them nod, for they first were introduced to yoga during significant transitions in their lives:  marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, the death of a parent, retirement.  The list could go on and on, for I’ve been blessed to be a gatekeeper as they make their way to what one of my friends calls my new normal.
“Still, headstand can be daunting,” I said while one of my students was contemplating taking her feet off of the ground and kicking up against the wall behind her.  “You have to trust that gravity will support you…no matter where you are.  Trust the floor.  Trust the wall.  Trust your own strength.  Trust it all and see what happens.”
Within a few more classes, I was overjoyed to watch Kay spontaneously lift her legs and move into a beautiful headstand.  For four years she’s been gradually making her way toward that incredible pose, although I doubt when she first began that was ever a conscious thought.
“All poses lead to savasana (relaxation),” I tell my students.  “And for many of you, the last stop will be headstand.”
As for me, these days it’s usually my initial destination.

I’ve spent the better part of the past five years finding my feet, making micro-movements toward establishing a more stable life.  It’s not been easy when my work depends on how many students sign up for each series, how many people purchase my books, but I’ve learned yet again to trust that I’ll always be supported, no matter what happens.  And I am...not just financially, but in every area of my life.  Meditation and prayer support me spiritually.  My friends support me emotionally.  My garden provides a respite for my soul and a wide variety of organic greens for my yoga students and myself. 
Now I’m more than ready to turn my life upside-down so that I can shift the kaleidoscope of my perception, then encourage myself to take healthy risks and be open to whatever arrives, for it’s always much better than I imagined it could be.  To be rooted in heaven allows me to see this world from a much different perspective, one that reveals the phenomenon that we are one and the same with it all. 
Then, when I stand right-side up again, I can walk into this world more whole, grounded, and complete.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A tale of two Elvises

A tale of two Elvises
Originally published on May 3, 2014
This afternoon I finally cleaned out my closet and exchanged winter clothes with my spring and summer attire.  What a breath of fresh air to see shades of pink and sky blue, a plethora of pastels, and gauzy dresses again!  As I do every year, the stuff I no longer wanted was boxed up and taken to our local Saver's store.
I've been thrift shopping for years...ever since I moved back from California and taught preschool.  Buying clothes at full price when I knew my sweaters and pants would be exposed to paint, crayons, markers, and Play-Doh (not to mention tears, snot, and other things I won't write here) seemed like an extravagance.  Now I always shop there for clothes and a host of other treasures.  Where else can I find Coldwater Creek, Christopher Banks, and Talbots clothing at drop dead prices?
When I was teaching a knitting class a few years ago, one of my students asked where I found my purse. When I told her that I was an avid thrift shopper, she looked aghast. 
"Why would you admit to buying things there?" she asked.
I shrugged.  "Because it leaves me more money for more important things like gasoline and groceries."  And then I winked.  "And of course, more sock yarn."

I always find a great bargain at Savers...especially this time of year and today was no exception.  The 30% discount coupon I received from donating would expire soon, so I snapped up a couple of yoga shirts and a lovely blouse.  As I walked toward the checkout, I noticed only one register was open and a little old lady was unpacking her cart very slowly.  With each item, she discussed its merits, then pondered if she should keep it or have the cashier toss it into a pile to restock.
I waited with fascination as the young man patiently helped her while the lady pulled two boxes from her cart.  "Now which one should I keep?" she asked.  "I'm not sure which one I like best."
The cashier put down the hand-held scanner and leaned closer.  Imagine my delight in watching a kid who couldn't have been more than twenty-five, both of his arms covered with tattoos and with enough ear and facial piercings to rival Lenny Kravitz discuss the merits of two Elvis dolls with a woman dressed from head to toe in mis-matched polyester, her hair a vivacious shade of bluish gray, and her shopping cart piled high with treasures for her grandchildren ranging from books to a Snow White doll.  Even though they were from vastly different generations, the two of them were absolutely if they were in cahoots to decide which delicacy they should order at a nice restaurant. 
"Well, this one has a guitar and is in better shape," the cashier said softly.
"And this one has a microphone," the lady replied.  "Well, I do have a 30% off coupon.  Let me think about it."
Time wore on as the lively discussion continued.  Finally the manager asked the cashier to call another employee to the front.  By this time, several more people were waiting with armfuls of secondhand treasures, so when another line opened, I deferred to the woman behind me.  Eager to see which Elvis the lady would choose, I said over my shoulder, "You go ahead."
"Are you sure?" she asked.  "Thanks!"
"Of course," I nodded, then turned back to the scene unfolding before me.  The manager was busy organizing a return rack and gave me kind smile which I returned.  We're all going to be her age someday, our mutual acknowledgement seemed to say.  Better to be kind than fast.
By the time the lady had made her decision, the tally came to $29.24.  "I'll give you $30.00 but I want to get rid of some change," she said.  Then onto another discourse about how she had collected almost all of the state quarters and she didn't want to give those away.  A few minutes later, her transaction complete, the woman beamed at the cashier and said, "Thanks for being patient with me.  I know I can be so slow!"
"No problem at all," the cashier replied.  "Come back soon."
When it was finally my turn, he said to me, "Sorry about the wait."'
"It's fine...really," I said.  "Some customers take a little longer."
"No, I'm apologizing for myself," he explained.  "I just started and am learning the new register."
"It's all good," I said.  "I'd rather you go slow and take your time...learning new things can take a while.  Is it your first day?"
"My third," he said.
"Well, good luck," I smiled, taking my receipt.  "I'm sure I'll see you again...I shop here often."
"Well, that's great!" he beamed, the silver lip rings pulling his smiled more broadly. 
"I'll look for your line next time."
"Please do."
As I walked toward the door, in darted the little old lady, making a beeline for the cashier.  "You won't believe it," she said sadly.  "I locked my keys in my car!"
"We'll help you out, ma'am," he said kindly. 
"Oh, thank you!" she sighed.
And as I headed out to the parking lot, I knew for certain she was in good hands.
Yes, I always find a great deal at Savers, but I rarely bargain for what I experienced today.  To witness two very different people connect over a couple of Elvis dolls and do so with unabashed authenticity lifted my spirits, allowed me to see compassion in action, and gave me a sweet story to share with you. 
So which Elvis did that sweet old lady choose?
"Oh, to heck with it," she said with a giggle.  "I'll take them both."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pavlov's cat

I haven’t consistently slept through the night in almost three years and it’s starting to wear me out.  At first it was dealing with the New Kitten Blues when Aditi arrived in early July, 2013.   Of course I couldn’t blame her as she needed to eat every four to six hours, but did she have to do anything and everything to wake me at three in morning to feed her?  From tearing at the box spring to knocking over the bedside lamp to deviling me to death, Aditi ran the gamut, so each and every time she’d do something naughty, I’d get up and plop some kibble into her bowl.
Now I’ve got an overweight cat who you might have read about last year.  Jhoti has to have her food rationed (which means my other pets do, too), and it never ceases to amaze me the lengths she’ll go to in order to get my attention.  Jhoti even took the time to teach my oldest, best-behaved cat to chew on electrical cords while she hollers, “Hello…MOM!” and her little sister climbs on the headboard, hovering over me like a hawk.  Still, I refuse to rise before five AM, so if they wake me before then, all of them are kicked out of the bedroom until sunrise.  Not that it deters them from rattling the knob or pounding on the door and yowling for all they’re worth.
You would think I’d be used to it by now, but I'm not.  You’d think that after all these years of sleep deprivation, my body would simply rise and shine when my pets do.  But no.
They’ve trained me well, those darn cats…and I don’t much like it.
I’m a night owl and prefer to stay up late and sleep in (which means seven o’clock during the week if I’m lucky).  On Sundays, I’ll feed the crew and go back to bed until nine or ten…that is if they’ll let me.  Since the days are getting longer, Aditi thinks that any time after sunrise is fair game to cajole me into opening up the three-season room so she can watch The Bird and Bunny Show in my backyard, which is on pretty much every day from six AM until noon.   None of them give a rip that I’m dog tired, so here I am still helplessly disciplined by a bunch of felines who could give Pavlov a run for his money.  They all know I’m a light sleeper, so any noise they make will rouse me, ensuring that breakfast will soon be in their bowls.  One “meow” and I’m up and at ‘em…doing their bidding before I try to get an hour’s more rest before yoga classes.
Since they were little, I’ve trained them to stay off the kitchen counters.  To keep their little paws off of the dining room table and any place where food is involved.  They use their litterboxes and keep themselves neat and tidy.  For the most part, they’ll come when I call them, especially if I use words they understand like “treat” and “nip” and “porch”.  But try and get them to do anything that goes against the grain of what they want, and I’ll be kept waiting for a while because, unlike dogs, my cats don’t really care about pleasing their owner, for they’ll do as they please for as long as they like...unless I get out the squirt gun.
Still, they’re not the only things keeping me awake these days.

As many of you know, I purchased my first iPhone last week and since then have been enthusiastically figuring out all the bells and whistles.  Speaking of bells, I’m going to have to turn off the one that lets me know every time a text has been delivered (yes…I caved).  Even though I use proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar, from what I hear, I’ve become an advanced texter in only five days, but it’s not like I jump to it every time the phone rings or a message arrives.  In fact, most of the time the iPhone is in silent mode because I don’t want to be disturbed when I’m teaching or writing.
Or getting some much-needed sleep.
I’m alright with having a few felines as my masters, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to let a phone control me, even if it is  incredibly fabulous.  During a meeting with one of the managers at the Apple Store I said, “We’ve come to a point in our culture where we love technology and use people.  I truly wish we could learn how to love people and use technology.”
So even though I’m having a ball with the latest version of Word on my MacBook and my iPhone comes along for the ride whenever I’m out and about, perhaps I am more like my cats than I care to admit.  From what I hear, a lot of people who don't like cats have control issues, and that would apply to me, too, as I used to despise them when I was little.  But since I adopted Scout, my first rescue cat, I've learned how to loosen up and appreciate the mystery of let go of the need to obey and experience the joy of going with the flow.  
         In any event, I imagine if Pavlov had a cat and a cell phone around the house, his pet wouldn't have salivated when the bell rang...only when there was something really good on which to pounce.  So feel free to text or call, but unless we have a phone date or other plans to meet, don’t expect me to answer right away.  I’ll get to it - usually within the day - and hopefully when I’m using the laptop so text messages are synced and I can respond with a larger keyboard instead of needing to squint to see the tiny print on my cell phone.
Thank goodness summer’s in the wings and fairly soon it’ll be warm enough for the cats to sleep in the three-season room where I’ll kindly lock them out of the house for the night.  My cell phone will be in silent mode, quietly charging in the living room and I’ll be in bed, blissfully unaware of all the bells and whistles so I can finally sleep through the night. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

I am that girl

What we remember from childhood we remember forever…
permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen.
Cynthia Ozick

After last Saturday’s snowstorm, I trekked to the gym for a little cardio since running at the park was a non-issue.   When I arrived, one of the trainers was at the desk and we ended up having a chatty conversation.  At one point Justin and I talked about the many possibilities for what our futures might hold.
“You’re at an age when the potential for marriage and kids is always in the background…mostly because your friends are doing it,” I told him.  “I’m at the point where I don’t know if I’d ever get married.  And really, the only reason I’d do it is to have a child, but that’s not going to be a reality in this lifetime.”
“Why not?” Justin asked.
“Because that ship sailed a long time ago,” I laughed.  “When I was younger, it was all I thought about, but now it’s too late…I can’t have kids.”
He shrugged.  “You could have a miracle baby.”
“Nah, it’s alright,” I said, shaking my head.  “I helped raise a bunch of children when I was teaching.  Every time there’s a pool party here for some kid’s birthday, I always see a child who used to be in one of my yoga classes.”
“Really?” Justin smiled.
“Yep,” I nodded.  “My pal, Satish, always says Wherever we go, we see someone you know.
Sure enough, when I walked into the locker room, there were two little girls changing into their swim suits, both of whom I had taught a few years ago.  The oldest one recognized me right away, but her younger sister needed a little prodding to recall that I had once been Yoga Katie at her Montessori School.  Then, when I headed out into the gym and hopped onto a treadmill, another group of kids passed by, one of the boys being a student I had taught when he was in kindergarten. 
I don’t need a child of my own anymore, I thought, revving up the floorboard.  Because my kids are everywhere.

I’m an avid people watcher and the gym is one of the best places to clandestinely notice the subtle interaction of a host of different personalities.  It’s a wonderful way for me to gather character ideas for a novel and allows me to witness the vast diversity in the world around me.  My friend, Tony, says to watch the interaction as if people are a bunch of marbles in a bag, moving and swirling around each other. 
I tend to resonate more with the ones who roll outside of the perimeters and stand on their own.  So, fifteen minutes into my workout, I noticed a man and his daughter walk past.  Being too old to go inside the men’s locker room with her father, the girl stood outside for a long time, waiting for him to change.  She pensively gazed around the gym, her eyes wide and somber.  Every once in a while, she’d look my way and I’d smile, but she didn’t return it.  Once her father appeared, they walked to the machines behind me and I didn’t see her again until I went into the locker room to take a steam and a shower.
I’m especially sensitive to little girls who are shy when it comes to undressing in front of others…or to have adults undress in front of them.  There’s a wonderful mother and her young daughter who often come to the gym for swim lessons when I’m there to lift weights.  Once when we were talking, I leaned over to tie my shoes.  When I sat up, the little girl had disappeared.
Looking over my shoulder, I asked the mother, “Where’s your daughter?  Did she get into a locker?”
“Yes,” the mother smiled, pointing to the lower one near her bag.  “Tess likes to put on her suit inside this one.”
Sure enough, out popped the child, beaming from ear to ear.  “I fit right in there!” Tess said proudly.
“You’re like a little Super Woman!” I laughed.  “I wish I could do that.”
“You’re too big,” she replied. 
“Too bad,” I said, nodding.
Last Saturday when I saw the girl who came with her father standing near my locker, I smiled at her again.  For the first time, she smiled back, her brown eyes searching mine for a moment.
“You remind me of someone…did I teach you when you were younger?” I asked, turning to face away from her as I undressed. 
She did the same.  “No…I’m from Delta.” 
“Oh,” I nodded, wrapping a towel around myself.  “What grade?”
“Well, it’s nice to see you here today,” I said, heading off to the steam room. 
“Thank you,” she quietly replied. 
A while later, I was standing at the counter combing out my hair when the girl walked by after having taken a shower.  I was careful to respect her space and stay where I was until she had dressed.  Then we introduced ourselves and talked a little more.  Moment by moment, Emily inched closer until she finally brought her gym bag to the counter where she stood next to me.  I noticed both of our bags were bright pink.  Our eyes the same shade of brown.  Our hair, long and straight.  Our expressions both quiet and open.
This girl could be my own child, I thought. She reminds me so much of the introspective girl I used to be…and still am.
When I slipped into my jacket, Emily did the same and of course, we both were wearing identical hot-pink fleece zip-ups.  “Look!  We’re twins today,” I beamed.
Emily nodded.  “Yeah…that’s cool.”
Together we walked out of the locker room and into the gym where her father sat waiting for her.  “Hope to see you again,” I told her.
“Yeah…me, too,” Emily waved.

Then again, if I truly want to see her likeness, all I have to do is look into the mirror, for Emily reminds me of the girl I used to be who's still there, remembering the ghosts from my childhood, the things that had a hand in creating the often-guarded woman I am today.  The girl I used to be remembers the boys who covertly punched her in the classroom just because she was quiet, the ones who teased her mercilessly because she developed early.  She remembers her older sister being resentful that she got her period first and the high school boys who callously pinched her on the school bus, leaving bruises on her legs and hips. 
“Those boys just like you,” she recalls her mother saying.  “That’s why they do those things.  They’re just being boys.”
So the girl I used to be mistakenly believed that anyone who showed any interest in her wouldn't be kind…they’d be cruel instead, crossing her fragile boundaries and thinking nothing of it.  She can still list the dates she had in college, guys who wanted nothing more than to use her, then throw her away.  She remembers the one she took to a formal dance who disappeared in the middle of the evening to hook up with someone else which set up a pattern of men who dangled a carrot in front of her, then pushed her aside so another woman could take her place.  And she knows the exact moment when she decided no one would ever hurt her like that again. 
But of course, as I grew older, I found myself in similar situations, for how else would I learn to break the pattern of my unconscious conditioning?  Even though the circumstances may have been the same, I’m infinitely changed, for I’ve come to learn that we encounter the same lessons over and over again until we’re able to make different choices that allow for healing and evolution to the next stage of life.
I’m no longer a little girl, and yet in meeting Emily, I've been wondering what I could share with that latent part of myself, what wisdom can I send back in time to repair the wounds of my childhood that often surface in the choices I make today?  Perhaps I’d say that no matter what happens, no matter how many times I’m broken or brought to my knees, I’ll always be able to make my way through it.  That my introspection is a blessing, not something to be feared.  That silence and solitude always bring illumination and mercy when I need them the most. 
It's a miracle to have children in my life who continually reveal who I once was, who I can still be today.  Like tiny Tess, I was able to magically tuck myself into a space in which only I could fit…then when I was ready I emerged, transformed into someone new, someone who can now venture out into the world as an adult, yet still cultivate a childlike curiosity about all that life has to offer.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A little cup of crow

I finally joined the 21st century this week and purchased my first Smartphone.  I know...I know...I swore I wouldn't do it until I needed to travel more for work, but what can I say?  My friend, Richard, gave me an offer too good to refuse.  However, my tiny, trusty flip phone will remain tucked in a desk drawer just in case I decide I like it better than the new one.  
Yeah, right.  
After spending less than seventy-two hours with an iPhone, I have the feeling it's the start of a beautiful connection.  Now all of you who've tried to twist my arm for the past seven years to join the new millennium can finally say, "I told you so!"
But there's still a little of the old-fashioned me along for the ride.  When I called Verizon on Monday to order my new phone, the tech support guy and I ended up talking for over half an hour.  I asked if I could still block texting and Elliot replied, "Sure.  I wish my girlfriend would turn hers off.  All she does is text all day long, but sometimes I don't know what she means by what she writes."
"Yep, I'd rather talk to someone," I replied.  "So much gets lost in translation when you're trying to write something abbreviated."  Then, being the wise ass that I am, I also said, "As a writer and former teacher, I'm sure that if I did text, I'd use proper spelling, punctuation, and capitalization."
Elliot laughed.  "Really?"
"Yes!  Texting has really changed the way people write...and not for the better."
"That's true," he said.  "But sometimes it comes in handy."
"Oh, sure," I smiled.  "I can imagine if I need to get in touch with someone and calling isn't a good option, it'd be a great way to connect.  I just don't want to make a habit of it.  There's nothing better than being able to reach out and touch someone.  Remember that ad from the 80's?"
"I do!"  Elliot laughed.  "Say, I'll send you my business email, so if you need any other technical support, you can contact me directly."
"Thanks!  That would be great," I replied.  "When I write, I'll remind you of who I am by saying, This is Kate Don't Text Me."
"I'll remember you," he laughed.  "And I hope you enjoy your upgrade."
"Thanks," I said.  "It'll be a big learning curve for me."
What a big surprise to learn that it's not all that different than having a mini Apple computer in my hand, even though I'm not quite sure what iCloud is all about.  For the next few weeks I'll be visiting the friendly fellows at the Apple Store for a host of tutorial classes and tips on syncing the phone with my new laptop, creating brand new presentations, and honing my latent technological skills.  
        After all, the guy who sold me the MacBook said, "For someone who thinks she's behind the times, you sure know your way around a keyboard."
"What can I say?" I shrugged.  "I'm a writer."
Sure all this new stuff is going to make self-publishing and my business life a lot easier, so I'm happy to eat a little crow...just not a whole plateful.

When I'm working on a novel, I spend the better part of the day in front of a twenty-inch monitor, so to shift from that kind of visual freedom to a six-inch narrow focus has been hard on my eyes.  After only a few hours of setting up the iPhone basics, my head was pounding and I needed to escape to the gym for a little socialization, a run, and a steam bath.  When I got home, I left my cell phone connected to the charger and went to bed, too tired to even read a book.  Sure, technology truly is a wonder and I value the accessibility of so much information in my hands.  
Still, I can tell already I'll need to pace myself. 
We've come a long, long way since the days of answering machines and cordless phones, so I'm absolutely overjoyed to be able to access my emails anywhere at any time (and play Pandora on the car radio).  It'll make life so much easier when I'm out and about or taking Satish and Danta to soccer practice and the like.  There are a host of ways I can communicate with friends and clients, so I no longer have to wait until I get home to log onto the Internet.  Now more than ever, I'm aware of how easy it is to connect with the world, simply by holding a little piece of electronic machinery in my hands.  I can go anywhere online, visit any website, and Facetime with friends near and far.
While that's a truly incredible thing to behold, this week I'm reminded by experience that technological advancement can never take the place of human touch.  It can't replace the ability to be fully present with another person in order to experience every nuance in their voice, their body language, the way their energy feels when you're close.  This world is literally starving for meaningful connection.  We see it all the time in how people disengage from each other via a text or email because it's the easy way out and they don't have to look each other in the eyes.  What a paradox that we have a plethora of ways to stay in touch, yet not much seems to be conveyed with integrity, rather it's like skipping a pebble on the surface of a pond.  
As for me, there's nothing quite like watching ripples widen after dropping a solid stone into the water of an in-person, deep, heartwarming conversation.
"I need my Kate Time," close friends often tell me. 
When I ask what that means, they say something like, "With most everyone else it's just blah, blah, blah.  With you I have a real conversation."
Smiling, I reply, "I don't have any other kind."
When I called a friend this week to catch up, I told her I was writing this blog and she said, "Oh, yes...I need my Kate Time, too!  We can communicate all we want electronically, but when I'm with you, I can feel the true passion and understanding you embody just by who you are.  You sense what's not being said, the unspoken words, the emotions, the vibes, etc.  Electronic messaging is void of all that.  When it replaces true communication, that's where the problem starts.
"As a writer you understand what that means, Kate," Rhonda continued.  "How to communicate with real feeling...with an understanding of touching people with authenticity.  You know there needs to be a purpose."
"Even if that purpose is just to let someone know I'm thinking about them," I replied.  "Sometimes just a quick call can mean a lot."
"Exactly!  Last week I was Facetiming with my family out east for my birthday and my little granddaughter was dancing and blowing kisses to grandma."  Rhonda paused for a moment.  "It was great to be able to see her, but my arms weren't long enough to reach Boston.  Sometimes I just need to feel her heartbeat."
I know exactly what Rhonda means, for my arms aren't long enough to reach California so I can hug my friend, Richard, who has given me so much support this year, gratitude doesn't begin to reveal how I'm feeling right now.  Because of his love and generosity I've been able to carve out more time to write.  Because of his unparalleled encouragement as a fellow author, I know I'm not alone in my vocation.  Because he's given me freedom in the form of new ways to communicate technologically, I've been able to connect with people in ways I never imagined.  Sure we email almost daily, but I can't wait to fly out west and give him a big hug so I can feel his tangible, tender heartbeat just as much as I've felt his metaphorical one through all these years.
Lately I've been able to deeply reconnect with my own heart...a place I'd abandoned long ago, a place I've only recently rediscovered through a host of relationships.   In recognizing the center of myself, I find that when I'm with others, I yearn to relate with them in that way, too.  Now through a variety of choices, I'm able to communicate with a phone call, an email, a blog...or even in person...and know that to be able to reach out and authentically touch someone is a gift not only for them, but for myself as well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

That's what friends are for

My friend, Barb, is a total badass. 
It's not because she's a redhead or because she says it like it is or even because she infuses every conversation with an allusion to the Beatles.  Barb's a super badass because she knows she's never too old to stretch her limits and challenge herself to try new things.  After spending almost four decades in the classroom, she retired last June and is enjoying all that life has to offer...and then some.
For more than thirteen years, Barb's been a yoga student of mine, so we've become the best of friends.  I know her strengths and challenges on the mat and Barb knows my strengths and challenges in everyday life.  Our birthdays are only one day apart, so as Virgos we have a tendency to talk about most any subject, analyze most anything, and always strive to do our best. 
How wonderful to say something particularly precise and have Barb smile and say, "Oh, you're such a Virgo!" 
"It takes one to know one," I often sass back.
These days I remind my students (and myself) that we're not attempting perfection in the poses...we're working toward completion.  So, last month I encouraged Barb to let me show her how to use the free weights at the gym.  Her workout routine wasn't taking her where I knew she could go, so we created a new exercise plan that instantly revealed how awesome Barb truly is.
After one particularly challenging overhead pull, I readjusted her alignment and said, "See if you can do a couple more reps."
"I'll do five," she shot back. 
Then she did ten!
See?  I told you...badass all the way.
Now it's commonplace for me to show her something new and she's on it like white on rice.  Take yesterday for instance.  I demonstrated a particularly challenging flutter kick designed by Marines to torture plebs for conduct unbecoming and after giving it a whirl, Barb took a break, huffing and puffing.  "I'll see if I can do five more." 
But of course she did ten.
"My body loves this," she exclaimed during a particularly heavy workout.  "For the first time I know what it feels like to be really strong.  Girls should learn how to do this in elementary school."
"It's never too late," I smiled, handing her a heavier free weight.  "Next time I'll add some more fun stuff."
"Yeah, I should get you a whistle," she quipped.  "...and a whip."
Week after week, workout after workout, Barb tries every single thing I offer.  From bench-stepping to supported squats to plank after plank after plank, she eagerly goes for it.  Sure there are days when she doesn't feel as strong or times when she has to back off a bit, but that's par for the course in anything.  Still, she shows up at the gym with a smile on her face, a willingness to keep going, and her badassery always pays off in the end.
"Thank you so much for doing this for me," Barb said last week while we sat in the steam room.
"Of course," I replied.  "That's what friends are for." 

Still, it's a great way to give something back to a woman who's given so very much to me all these years.  From the moment we met in January of 2003, I knew she was a kindred spirit.  After yoga we chatted for a bit, then I walked her to the door.
"Oh look, Katie!" Barb smiled, pointing to the glass plate on the front door.  "It's so cold, the condensation froze and made an angel."  Sure enough there was an icy, winged spirit guarding my house, welcoming Barb to what she often calls "the womb room". 
We've laughed and cried through countless seasons of our lives which have taken us to places often unimagined, but never unaccompanied.  When I moved my business to a studio off of Sylvania Avenue in 2005, Barb continued to practice with me.  When I prepared to move west in 2008, she attended one of my last classes and wished we well on my new adventures.  When my heart was broken in Big Sur, I called Barb and sat in a stuffy phone booth crying my eyes out while she patiently listened, encouraging me to keep walking forward. 
"You're stronger than you know," she told me more than once. 
Now I repeat those words to her every single time she pumps some iron.
It's an incredible gift to have a friend who understands how it feels to not quite fit in anywhere, but still want to be a part of the world.  We often talk about our propensity to steer clear of the social norm and go our own way even if it means being the odd woman out.  Barb was single for a long time before she met her husband, so she totally understands what it means to be completely alone.  Like me, she once wanted children; but instead of giving birth, Barb was an incredible special needs teacher who inspired thousands of kids.
Perhaps the thing I love most about Barb is her droll sense of humor, for she always knows just the right moment to crack a joke or say something exceptionally witty, if not a bit bawdy as well.  A few weeks ago before Saturday morning yoga, we were sitting with a dear friend who had been having an awful week.  Rachel's mother was recently diagnosed with ALS and it's been a long, difficult journey for her and her brothers.  When Rachel relayed the story of how hard it was for her mother to speak, all three of us were in tears.  
Barb and I shared a moment from our lives in which we cared for a loved one who was dying, revealing the most tender parts of the progression, the ones that both touched us deeply and allowed us to see that in the end, it's all about the love you give.
"I know this is just a bad week," Rachel said, wiping her eyes.  "It's just so hard to watch my mother go through this."
"I can imagine," I nodded.  "If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask us.  We'll stay in touch with you if you're not able to come to yoga."
"Absolutely," Barb nodded.  Then she spontaneously stood up.  "Uh...excuse me."  Reaching down one side of her sweatpants, she rummaged around for a moment. 
At first I thought she must have had the Mother of All Wedgies, but then she pulled out a big, black sock.  "I've been looking for this!" she exclaimed.  "That pant leg felt so weird!  That's where it's been all this time!"
Rachel and I stared at her for a split second, then burst into laughter, our chortles mingling with our tears.  Barb soon joined us and we giggled so long and hard, that when the other ladies arrived for yoga, we were still at it, holding our sides, trying to catch our breath.  Tears rolled down our cheeks, but now they weren't just tears of grief, but tears of joy as well that reflected how we all were feeling. 
Bittersweet, my favorite emotion.

My dear friend, Barb, is not just a badass.  
She can pull anything out of her ass, be it a clever pun, words of encouragement...or even a sock!  She's taught me that we get by with a little help from our friends, all you need is love, and even in the darkest of times, there's always a moment when we can smile and say, "Here comes the sun."
A few years ago, Barb gave me a birthday card with a picture of two young girls joy riding in a convertible sports car.  Of course, one of the girls is a redhead, and the other wears a hot pink ball cap just like mine.  "It's not the destination that matters," the caption reads.  "It's the company."
Ain't it the truth?