Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A long way, baby

On Valentine’s Day, I spent part of the morning volunteering in my friend’s first grade classroom.  Since last autumn, I’ve visited a couple of mornings a month to quiz the kids on their math facts.  It’s been a great way to spend time with children and in the process, save Christy some much-needed time.  A few days before, February 14th, she invited me to stay and watch her monthly yoga class that’s attended by students of all grade levels.
“We watch an episode of Cosmic Kids on YouTube,” she explained.  “The yoga instructor guides the class through a lot of poses through storytelling.”
“Reading Comes Alive with Yoga,” I brightened.  “That was part of my training…I’d love to watch your kids in action.”
As the children filed in and found their places in the classroom where desks and chairs had been pushed to the perimeter, I thought to myself, Yoga in schools has come a long way.  In 1999 when I first earned my certification, I taught pro-bono workshops in the school system where I had worked for ten years.   Back then I wasn't allowed to call it yoga.  The administrators and teachers dubbed it creative moment because many of the parents were fearful I was going to indoctrinate their children with something completely unknown to them.
Fast-forward eighteen years in a time when yoga has become commonplace in my hometown.  Every year there are more studios opening around Toledo.  Meditation and vegetarianism are no longer mocked, but embraced as healthy alternatives to fast living and fast food.  As a yoga instructor, I’m no longer considered to be a nut or a novelty.  In fact, just the other day, my sweetheart explained that when he thinks of my yoga practice, it goes beyond what I do on the mat.
“It’s like your religion,” he said.
“More like a way of life,” I replied. 
So when Christy started the episode of Cosmic Kids in which the teacher told the story of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using a host of yoga poses and breathing techniques, I was overjoyed to watch the students eagerly engrossed in what they were doing.  Sitting in the back of the room marveling at the quality of the program, I was equally thrilled that kids ages six to twelve were able to experience movement in ways that will hopefully serve them well as time goes by.  Who knows how much healthier my teenage years would have been had I learned that I can use awareness to diffuse stress and tension or that peace is my natural state of being?
Schools all across the country are discovering the wide variety of benefits from practicing yoga and meditation, some even using classes as an alternative to detention…with very positive results.  That’s a far cry from my creative movement days, and I hope teachers and parents everywhere will continue to seek ways to help children create balance in our ever-frenetic world where inner peace can be hard to find.

Lately I’ve had people come into my life who are performance-based.  And since it takes one to know one, I’m often reminded of my younger self who was fixated on how much work I could accomplish.  How many classes I taught.  How many books or blogs I could write.  While productivity is all well and good, I realize now that my life was out of balance and that ultimately, all of the work could never take the place of quiet contemplation.  Of spending time with Satish, Danta, and their family.  Of falling in love.  
These days I’m curiously confused about which direction to take.  Should I write a novel or let it percolate a little longer in the back corners of my mind?  Should I spring clean since the weather has been uncommonly warm or simply enjoy a gorgeous afternoon on the front porch where I’m currently writing this blog in company of my sweetheart’s adorable dog?  Should I query more prospective literary agents or wait a while longer for a response from the ones I’ve already contacted?
Still, if I’ve learned anything in the past twenty years of yoga practice, it’s to stop “shoulding” all over myself.  For as Yoda once said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  I suppose it all comes down to following the guidance I’ve given to my students lately:  move at the speed of my own body…not my mind.  As winter easily melts into spring, I’m captivated by the fact that I don’t want to move at all, and when I do, it’s at half speed.  No longer needing to accomplish anything to prove my worth, I’m peacefully content to do my own thing in my own time and in my own way.
For a former work-a-holic, Type A, achievement junkie, I’ve come a long way, baby.

Perhaps this is just a slower cycle on my way to higher energy.  Perhaps I’m finally allowing myself to gently respond to the incredible life-changes that have happened in the past fourteen months.   Perhaps I’m recognizing the fact that I can’t move at the speed I used to (and probably didn’t need to back then, either).  It doesn’t really matter, for I’ve found that the more I move at the speed of my body, the more present I am with others.  The more patient I am with the challenges of life.  The more thoughtful I am when making choices. 
Hopefully, the more loving I am with my friends and family.
The other day I was talking to a young woman who is only beginning her yoga journey.  She shared some of her personal story with me and tears filled my eyes, for much of it mirrored my own.  When we hugged, I felt her whole body tremble and held her closer, for I remembered what my life was like when I was her age.  What a miracle it would have been to have discovered yoga back then.  But the practice found me when I was ready…and ultimately saved my life and allowed me to create a brand new one.
“I’m so happy I found you,” the young woman smiled.
“Me, too,” I nodded.  “Keep coming back…I look forward to practicing with you.”
On the drive home, I called my dear friend (and first yoga teacher), Michele, to thank her for being such a loving presence all those years ago.  “Twenty years later, you’re still paying it forward,” I told her.  “I’m so thankful that I can be for others what you were for me.” 
Even though I may have taken the long way, looking back on it now, I can see how far I’ve come.  Yet looking forward, there’s still so much more living and learning to do.  I’ll endeavor to venture on…practicing contentment, curiosity, and compassion every step of the way.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Behind the wheel

      Over the weekend, Satish's sister, Neela, and I spent some time driving around Maumee, Ohio.   Having earned her temps a while ago, Neela needs to log in fifty hours on the road before she can take the test and become a licensed driver. 
     When I arrived at her house on Friday, Neela smiled, "My dad has taken me out enough so that I'm safe to drive with other people."
       Buckling my seatbelt, I laughed, “I’m sure that’s true.”
      Sure enough, Neela carefully and conscientiously drove us to her high school where we practiced parking.  Then she drove through traffic to Target and on to her brothers' school where she maneuvered around the parking lot before taking us back home.  As we headed west on Bancroft, I thought about the summer before my senior year when I was petrified to drive, but did it anyway so I could finally get my license…and experience the freedom of stepping more firmly into an independent life.
      Along the way, I pointed out what Neela did extremely well and gave her pointers on listening for the gears to change when accelerating after a stop sign.  To be honest, it was the first time in a long time that I had been in the passenger seat with a newer driver, yet I wasn’t nervous at all, for Neela kept her eyes on the road and her cell phone in her purse (as did I except for texting her mom to let her know where we were).  When we arrived in the driveway, I enthusiastically said, “I’m looking forward to practicing maneuverability with you next week!”
       For the next month or so, I’ll spend Friday afternoons tooling around town with Neela, remembering that sunny afternoon in the summer of 1983 when I was behind the wheel, petrified but hopeful to enter another rite of passage on my way to adulthood. 

Behind the Wheel

I’m way past my sixteenth birthday, in fact, I’ll turn seventeen in only three months.  Still, I’m afraid to enter into the rite of passage looming before me.  I sit in the cool, dark basement rocking in the brown recliner that's so old, the seat feels as though I’ve fallen into a bucket. 
I’m studying for my driver’s road test.  I’ve already passed the written part, but I’m terrified to get behind the wheel with a stranger.  Heaven forbid I get the same old bat who flunked Patricia the first time around. 
I don’t really want to drive anyway.  I’m terrified that I’ll ram my car into someone or that I won’t be able to control it in snowy weather.  Once I earn my license, I’ll get to drive my grandmother’s old Chevy Malibu; but I see that huge blue beast for the enormous Boat that she is and feel overwhelmed.  I was supposed to take my test with Mom’s smaller car.  Dad had me drive it to the church and practice for hours in the parking lot.  Breaking.  Accelerating.  Parallel parking and using the signals.  I had it down pat. 
But last night, Mom’s car broke down and I have to drive The Boat for my test.  I’m so terrified that I've skipped breakfast.  My stomach churns and my hands sweat as I studying traffic laws for the tenth time this morning.
“C’mon, Kate,” Mom calls down the stairs.  “It’s time to go.”
I take a deep breath and make my way to the driveway where The Boat ominously sits waiting for me.  Mom and I drive to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in silence.  We walk to the counter where my mother makes a face that says, “Tell him who you are.”
“I’m Katie Ingersoll,” I timidly tell the man behind the counter.  “I have a driver’s test at 9:30.”
The office manager glances at some papers.  “Yes…Officer Manson will be right with you.  Please fill out these forms.”  He hands me a clipboard with a pen attached to a beaded chain.
I sit next to my mother and fill in my address, my height and weight.  I check the box to become an organ donor if I should die in an accident.
“What if I flunk?” I whisper.
“Then we’ll practice some more and you’ll come back again,” Mom says matter-of-factly.  “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.  Mr. Houck says you’re a fine driver.”
Mr. Houck is my driver’s ed teacher who once said I couldn’t talk and drive at the same time.  Still, I've learned how to consistently check my blind spot and signal.  To parallel park and put the car in reverse without stripping the gears.  After six long months of getting up early to practice at Southland Shopping Center along with a horrifying driving experiment downtown, I finally have enough hours to take my test. 
When I'm finished filling out the paperwork, I give it back to the man behind the counter.  Moments later, a uniformed police officer comes through the front door, with a dejected looking teenager in tow.  “Come back in a couple of weeks,” the officer says brusquely.  “Work on those braking skills.”
She reaches across the counter and exchanges clipboards with the office manager.  “Ingersoll?”
“Oh, no,” my mother whispers.
I don’t have to ask what she means.  That's the officer who flunked my sister.  Patricia told me how tough she was, that she was an impatient, bossy witch.  I wanted to say, “It takes one to know one,” but thought better of it.  I kept my snippy comment to myself and asked questions instead:  “What did she mark you down on?  Did you have to drive on the highway?  Did she make you do the parallel parking first or last?”
Now I bite my lip and stand up.  “I’m Katie.”
The police officer curtly shakes my hand.  “Nice to meet you.  I’m Officer Manson.  Where’s your vehicle?”
“In the back lot,” I tell her.  I glance at my mother who gives me a quick nod and a smile.
I’m surprised that Officer Manson is friendly.  Not overly so, but nice enough.  She politely makes her requests all the while making notations on her clipboard:  “Please turn on the second street on the right….now please make a left.  After the stop sign, please take the loop to Cass Road.”
When we get back to the Bureau, she instructs me to drive to the section where orange cones designate the maneuverability part of the test.  I’m not sure if I can do it with The Boat.  Nervously I pull forward to the right, then back up slowly, staying within the boundaries.
“Please park your car over there,” Officer Manson says, pointing to a row of empty spaces.  As we exit the car, she unclips the form and hands it to me. “Congratulations, Miss Ingersoll.  You are now a licensed driver.”
I beam with relief.  “Really?”
“Why are you surprised?” she asks.  “You did an excellent job.”
I nearly fly into the Bureau where Mom sits reading a magazine.  “I passed!” I whisper excitedly.  I catch Officer Manson’s smile as she hands the empty clipboard to the manager.  “Can I get my license today or do we have to come back?”
Mom shakes her head.  “No…you can get it today.”  She wraps an arm around my shoulders.  “I knew you could do it.”
As I sit and wait for my picture to develop, I think about all the things I’ll get to do now that I’m a senior and have my license.  I'll be able to drive to my job at Denny’s Doughnook, a bakery downtown.  I’ll be able to drive to my babysitting jobs, to school in the fall, and even to the library. 
I’m elated to tell my dad I got it on the first try and to gloat that I had the same officer who flunked Patricia!  It’s not often that I can prove I’m better than her at anything.  This is a big deal and I savor the moment for a day or two…until Mom asks me to drive to the Rec Center to pick up my little sister who's been swimming with her friends.
“Greta will be waiting by the front gate,” Mom says.  “I’m fixing dinner, so will you get her?”
It will be the first time I’ve ever driven all by myself and I don’t know if I can do it.  As I pull out of the driveway, I’m scared and want to go back inside the house and admit to my mother that the shine of my success has already worn off, that I don’t want to drive anymore.  Getting my license is one thing.  Driving in the real world is another.  I don’t want the responsibility.  But I also don’t want my mother to think I’m a baby.
As I carefully make my way up Cass Road, I tell myself, “You can do this, Katie…you can…keep going…keep going.”  I arrive at the Rec Center ten minutes later and find Greta standing near the entrance, a beach bag in one hand, and a cardboard cup with the remains of a slushee in the other.  As she opens the door, a blast of warm, moist air enters the car. 
“Thanks for getting me, Kate,” she says, buckling her seatbelt.  Greta’s wet, rust-colored hair is plastered to her head and she smells like chlorine mixed with tropical scented sunscreen.  
“Yeah, no problem,” I casually reply as I make my way toward the main road.  Now that my little sister's in the car with me, I’m magically less afraid.
“Will you drive to school this year?” Greta asks.
“Can I come so I don’t have to ride the bus?”
“Of course,” I say, glancing at her.  “You don’t even have to help pay for gas.”
          Greta smiles and we head home together, slowly…and very carefully.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Square 10

If God brought you perfect people, how would you ever learn to spiritually evolve?
Shannon L. Alder

More than a quarter century ago, I took the first step of an infinitely long journey.  What I naively thought would take perhaps a couple of years to get my act together quickly turned into almost three decades…and I’m still discovering endless roads untraveled.   Through it all, I’ve frequently begged the universe, “Please, can I fall back to sleep…just for one day?”  For it seems, the more lessons I unravel, the more lessons appear.  Some are fascinating.  Others frustrating.  More often than not, I’m forced to look at the circumstances around me as they are, not as I want them to be.
Step by step, moment by moment, I’ve grown stronger.  Wiser.  More capable.  Through each crisis, each creative endeavor, I learn more about who and what I truly am beyond what the outer world can see.  And yet, lately I’ve been reminded that life isn’t about walking unaccompanied in this world.  It’s about being in relationship with people who allow me to grow beyond the limits of who I am alone. 
In my early forties, someone told me, “Kate, we’re all wounded in relationships, so the only way to heal is in relationships…but not always with the people who wound us.” 
I took that to heart and have explored a host of friendships that have healed my past experiences with men and women, both professionally and personally.  My circle of surrogate sisters is wide and wonderful, and I can’t thank them enough for allowing me to see myself as a whole and healthy.   A bountiful band of brothers-by-proxy keeps me balanced and broad in my perspectives.  And now I have a relationship with someone who knows me better than anyone has, someone with whom I’ve revealed the most tender, broken places that I thought had long been put to rest.
It’s not been easy, this heart-opening unfolding that reveals both light and dark, joy in the present moment and unexpressed grief from the past.  We’ve all been wounded and it’s in our closest relationships that we often tear open scars that have long-been healed over.  No one’s perfect…and that certainly includes me, but my significant other often reminds me, “Kate, you can do no wrong.”
At first I couldn’t believe him.  Having made the same mistakes over and over again, there was little left inside of me that truly thought any part of me could ever be flawless.  But last week he explained it more clearly:  “If you try something and it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, I know you’ll go back and do something different.”  
Even though I still need reminding now and then, it’s a blessing to have someone clearly appreciate that I’m doing the best I can.

This time last year, I was facing a lion’s share of lessons I thought I’d long mastered.  But I guess the Universe had other ideas.  A dangling carrot came from the literary world simultaneous to being enticed into a budding relationship with someone who only wanted me for one thing…not that I gave it to Trey in the first place.   In the past I would have been devastated by the swift rejection of an agent or the stifling silence of a would-be boyfriend.  But not that time around.  Sure, it took me a while to get over my anger toward Trey, and I learned exactly what I was worth.  I spun the story around in my head and my circle of friends until it was a tightly woven web of encouragement to take a pass on what I thought was good for something even better.
Through most of it, a budding friendship with my sweetheart was taking place, not that I had any inkling of what the future would eventually bring.  At the time, he was a wonderful sounding board, a support, a kindred spirit, often reminding me, “It’s not about Trey…it’s about you.”
Truer words were never spoken. 
So when he and I recently went through a difficult period, I was able to clearly acknowledge and say why I was hurt, then ask myself, What part are you playing in this? 
The answer didn’t surprise me at all, for I was quickly reminded that healing can often take a lifetime.  Things that came up between my boyfriend and me were triggers for some unresolved emotions that lay in wait, unable to surface until I was in a relationship with someone I love deeply.  My sweetheart was afraid we’d have to start back at square one, but in the end, we were both able to practice empathy, to communicate clearly, to bridge back to each other, coming full circle, yet even better than where we were when we first met.  
Now we’re at square ten…a new beginning with a little more life experience under our belts.   Not perfect, but perfect for each other.  For me, that’s the essence of opening my heart to real love.  
It’s a blessing to look back on where I was last year and recognize that while I may be destined to live the same lessons over and over again, with patience and faith, with each turn around the spiral of my personal progress, I’ll be met with grace, peace, and eventually the key to taking the next step in my perfectly imperfect evolution.