Do not think
to buy your way out
to fuck your way out
to walk or talk or write
or dance or sit
your way out
drugs won’t do it
sobriety won’t do it
friends won’t do
enemies won’t do
Do not think
to twist your way out
to eat or starve
or cleanse your way out
you cannot cut it out
or feel it out
or think it out
Do not think
that over that hill
there is a god
or an answer
other than the swooning
dip and fall
Do not think
to prevent this fall
in the landing.
alignment, Denver Yoga Community, Essay form, grief, Humility, Iyengar yoga, Krishnamacharya Photo, Lineage, sadness, Sexual Violation, Somatic instruction, the Art of Teaching, vulnerability, yoga, yoga studios, Yoga Teaching
There is an arrogance in the act of teaching. When teaching involves touching a body, telling a body how to move, where to move, and offers suggestions on attitudes and worldviews usually left to close friends and lovers and priests, the ground one treads as a teacher is a landmine. As a student one is often blind to the effects of Practice until minutes, hours, years later.
It is a teacher’s moral and physical responsibility to see to it that the mines are pointed out and yet do not explode, and that a vulnerable student is awakened to the profundity of Practice in a compassionate, loving yet neutral environment.
For many years of teaching I have been aware of this arrogance, this risk. I first encountered my own unwanted power during my first year of teaching, when a much loved student with whom I had made friends came in tears to me one morning, and told me I was hurting her feelings by pointing out her practice in class. I almost stopped teaching on the spot: what I thought was affectionate communal humor was a knife straight in her heart. Bless her for telling me. And for forgiving me. And, most of all, for teaching me.
A true teacher, I suspect, reads students like a secret book. The crook in this finger indicates an old injury, which might indicate a tightness in the left shoulder. The tightness, however, may be due to guarding, from grief or a car accident or the stress of using the wrong desk – this the teacher does not yet know. A student is a secret book written in a language that reveals her plot slowly, with sudden revelations, stops and starts. A mystery. Occasionally, a comedy. More often, a tragedy. The more the teacher reads, the more quickly a plot might unfold.
But only sometimes, only with some bodies, some lives.
I have had one teacher who understood all of me all at once. Nothing about me surprised him. It was only his insight that surprised me. He is the most gifted, and the most troubled, teacher I have ever known.
We call these people outliers for a reason. One does not imitate them, but only learns what one can.
All of these thoughts and many more crude images were rushing through my head two days ago, when I made the mistake of going to an old studio where I used to teach to attend the class of a man I do not know. I understood by reading his biography that he probably possessed much arrogance and no lineage, and was in a great hurry, as for some reason so many Yoga instructors are, to show to the community that he possesses more insight and wisdom than most. I have lost count of the number of teacher biographies I have read that celebrate personal hobbies and an elevated state of status without mentioning training, gurus, or even credit from where the requisite “approved 200 hour training” was acquired. I like to walk my dogs and play in the ocean too, but the point of explaining one’s background to a potential student is not, or should not be at any rate, a whimsical exercise in “light and spirit,” but a list of one’s training, one’s background in Yoga and the teachers from whom one has learned this art. This is lineage. This is humility. This is the opposite of Western Yoga today.
The class in its “vinyasa” format was, to be perfectly frank, a usual iteration of repetitive standing poses, far too many lunges for any sort of body (the tight suffer with strain, the overly open risk tearing the labrum), followed by an odd combination of a deep back bend with no preparation, a deeper forward bend, and then, inexplicably, a call to go into urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow, a very deep back bend that can be harsh on the shoulders and wrists and hips, not to mention low back) with no instruction whatsoever.
As a teacher this made me discouraged, and I will frankly say rattled my own ego. All those years, I thought, of careful awareness, of loving alignment, of treating other people’s bodies like the sacred vehicles they are. Tender, tender, tender. And what most people want is some tunes and a groovy flow… bitterness flooded me for a moment like foul air. As an observer with some small understanding, however, I felt genuine sadness and fear for the students around me. No wonder doctors are suspicious of Yoga. As people who care for backs and hips and necks and knees, they should be suspicious. Because doing lunges with huge extension in the back leg for 60 minutes straight is… stupid.
And now, as I near the end of my rant, one I think about far more than I should, I will touch lightly on what was most egregious, most painful, about this class. And, if I could, I would share this with every teacher and student and victim of trauma I know.
The end of the class was an extended guided savasana. It was not, as advertised, Yoga Nidra, but was supposed to be a deep relaxation.
Instead of relaxation, for this brain and body, there was a clearly memorized or at the least oft-repeated and bossy script. Every word was directed toward the teacher himself, toward, quite literally, giving our full attention to him, to him as guide, as master, as the leader of the spirit body. We were told to separate the spirit from the body (where he got this notion as Yoga I know not. Perhaps he was a Catholic priest in another life), and that the spirit was to “hang over” the body, giving relief to the mind that, yes indeed, we are separate after all.
Not only was this instruction an act of destruction, to me, it was the very epitome of arrogance, of the attempt to embrace and steal a knowledge of a student one has not earned, has no right to, and of which this teacher, in particular, had no understanding.
I felt violation and memories of my rape wash over me. I felt my body recoil from his voice, as if I could sink further into the floor. I listened to the need for control in his voice, and thought for a moment I would never escape. I did not get up and leave out of respect for the students around me.
I did not get up and leave because I was scared.
Now a day later I see what a powerful lesson that wretched class was for my own teaching, my own insight about somatic vulnerability, respect, and the necessity to cultivate a light touch with all beings, particularly those who arrive at our doorstep as mysterious strangers willing to lend their trusting hearts to the unknown and the unseen. These strangers, these students, are the real teachers.
How I miss it. Teaching. How I grieve the ubiquity of arrogance, apparently everywhere victorious in our broken world.
Andre 3000, Berlioz, bipolar illness, children, Claude Cahun, death, erotic love, grief, love, motherhood, Music as metaphor, poem, poetry, Sacred Love, Structured free form poem, Terrence Malick, Titian, Tree of Life, war
~~ “He suffered with daring; he died without complaint”
— Claude Cahun
~~ “He gon’ think I’m a ho
fuck that I liked it
I was drunk & it was my birthday anyway -”
— Andre 3000 (spoken by Rosario Dawson)
In The Tree of Life
Malick fuses the link:
brocade of grief.
And the dinosaur
who died by the river
where the dead boy caught crawfish
and his mother now stands
speechless as a Saint
or a rock
or may not
be an old bone.
Bone, stardust, flight.
Her fingers trace
her hand becomes
When he grabbed my neck
I heard Berlioz.
(Unto Thee shall all flesh come…)
Ascendent voices. Encircling lyrics
of loss, of pleasure
and the gorgeous
and I died to it –
to his linked fingers
and the chorus
and the leave-taking
his eyes took
so soon after ~
drop of rain in the desert.
A teacher said:
“the mind is slippery.”
I imagined an eel,
but really the mind
is a newborn child
all want and need and hunger
and guiding scents.
And these elements
change in relation
to one another –
which is a slippery
for self-absorbed tale-telling
the kind we know best
and usually only.
I woke to swollen hands
and eyes that looked past themselves
in a dusty mirror.
It was time
for the quarterly burn.
I am an expert
as an army might:
I love watching embers
to the night sky.
To one beau
“I am in the mood
And I will win, so please
In my kindness I spared him;
the rest I just deleted ~
I thought of writing to my children
while I walked in the rain:
Trust no one.
And my Angels there
is no such thing
as a happy ending,
the repeat and repeat
that carry the weight
of a village priest
or a mother
burying her dead.
I work and I dress beautifully.
I work and I dress beautifully and I listen with attention.
I work and I dress beautifully and I listen with attention. I speak with elegance.
I work and I dress beautifully and I listen with attention. I speak with elegance.
And then I go to a disassembled two room apartment
and I fall – no, I do not fall, because I cannot and because writing
the phrase “I fall” is lazy and anymore I do not write nor do I dance
nor really even practice – really I do not live
I just think about it.
What it might be like
What it used to be, but this, too,
as is all sentimental mental gestures.
I keep thinking
or a feeling-state
and how the fuck
did we get
into this State –
on the button
Iran on the brink
I cannot listen to voices anymore
When did language
Celan on the bridge.
Berryman on the bridge.
Woolf in the water.
that cannot contain
or the end of States.
Here is an amusing story:
I am in Love.
Get me closer, shave away the excess.
Elusive and cruel
and he shook
like a predator.
His eyes are blacker than his skin.
For a long time
she was Artemis.
The Dull “I”
When I began writing I loved the long essay form of autobiographical essay.
Now I am so tired of myself, of writing even the slender, deceptively simply “I” that I find it impossibly dull to do so.
What is left when one has grown so very weary of oneself?
Perhaps all, not in that order.
The I knows nothing. I know nothing.
Experience is a sequence of felt sense, pattern that turns on a dime to addiction or perception, opaque desire, and even when desire is sated, discomfort.
This is the current felt sense of the body I inhabit: discomfort. It has always been thus.
Eating disorders, unhappy childhoods, rape, assaults physical and mental, ambition, failures, love, touch sex marriage, children, embodiment in physical form – it all seems to lead to the same portal: let us be elsewhere.
I love drugs as much as I love practice. It is a prayer, isn’t it: let us be elsewhere.
Today I walked away from a lover, began perhaps to finally grieve my unending love for my husband who is the X on my blooded heart, found out he was dating, cried for hours upon hours, had my daughters come home only to observe them punch one another, and then felt the exquisite pain of my smallest child’s delicate teeth sink with rather alarming consequence into the softest part of my tricep. Blood, rage, tears, regret… on and on it goes. For all of us, every sentient being, all the time.
We took the dog outside into the warm spring dusk.
The moon reflected down on us her borrowed light.
And the patterns were suspended, drifting upward like used webs.
All that remains.
When the arrival
is upon us
after years or minutes
I do believe
all that is left
of our great
And how could it not
after the cities and roads and mountains
the grandeur of the Southern Pacific,
moon at dawn,
brown bodies balanced on waves
that look like lapis jaws
and you remember
only the footprint of a small seabird
whose name you never knew ~
“The glacier knocks in the cupboard
The desert sighs in the bed
And the crack in the teacup opens
a lane to the land of the dead.”
~~ W.H. Auden
I have grown weary of “I.”
It is so tiresome, to be thinking always of oneself, to write always of oneself. Writing about the intricacies of a daily life, one’s own daily life and history, has value only in that others might see a breathing thread of union, or a mirror of their own joys, passings, miseries.
Eventually language ceases. Where, then, goes the binding thread?
The ceasing is a death. Isn’t it? Or is the ceasing a pause in the recitative, a momentary relief from the constant chorus?
Writing in this little world, my world, is constant, almost compulsive. On my last trip to Florence and Paris I filled a journal of several hundred pages with notes, essays, observations. And, of course, complaint. Perhaps it is the compulsive nature of my need, our need, to communicate, to keep record, that has finally exhausted and humbled me.
I have arrived, I believe, at the limits of language. Or to my admittedly limited creative capacity to use it.
The second to last day I was in Paris, the air itself was alive with trembling vivid color: green of Cezanne, domed sky of an aged Rubens – blue both soft and electric – limestone glowing a secret inner sun. Wandering from the shadows of the old Jewish quarter in the 3rd into the stunned openness of the Tuileries, the sheer odd fact of my own presence, of this finite body taking part in the communion of the reborn Earth, buds of spring, lovers intertwined like vines, came upon me with a force of brutal primordial Joy.
These are moments given not earned; they come suddenly and are gone. They carry with them all the baroque wisdom of ancient gods, and like gods they disappear as quickly as they unexpectedly arrive.
I once knew a man who understood gods, who like them spoke the language of grandeur and fearless exploration. He did not observe art, or books, or philosophy; he entered them, encased himself in a life of inquiry, appreciation, and Love for the finest monuments of human creation.
Had he been with me during that perfect moment in Paris, I think I might have clutched his hand. I think I might have said, “The Light.” That’s all. Almost too much. Because he would have been lost in the same wonder.
This is companionship. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. This is Indra’s Net: Union through Communion. Oh, how he knew. He just… knew.
Until he didn’t. At some point the knowing turned to arrogance, the arrogance turned to isolation, the isolation turned to rage, the rage turned on itself, an inferno inverted.
A few months ago he killed himself.
And now his absence is an even bigger presence than ever his life was, and perhaps this was part of his intention in taking his life with such settled annihilation. Self. Murder. He took the perpetrator with him, but we will always ask, “Are we not also perpetrators? At what point does the crime committed become collective? Is there a beginning?” We know, of course, there is no end.
Sometimes the richness of existence is too much. However complex the analysis of existence, or however simple a life seems through the lens of meditative awareness: it is too much, and the only sensation one knows is pain.
Through luck, love, work, a trick of the brain, that pain can be treated with time, a pause in the flowing phrases of one’s life. In the pause lies both relief and danger: linger too long and agony appears permanent, and those Parisian days drift further away, someone else’s movie.
On that sublime afternoon my thoughts stayed a long time with this death. I traced as well as I knew how the mystery of this man’s mind as it turned slowly against itself, the months and years it took to turn his back to the light right in front of him. I wanted him with me, I could feel his rough hand, fingers thick and strong.
“Look,” I wanted to say. “Come back. Come back. And just look.”
~~ For my Father
Ten Stories Up
I have the flu.
This morning I was so sick I could not make it to my children, who now primarily live at their father’s home while I take care of them during the days and evenings. I was so consumed with fever I could not see from the pain behind my eyes, and so have spent a strange solitary day in bed, the restless vision of illness my only companion.
Nothing fits anymore. Not on the widened scale of our shameful puppet in the White House, the numberless and numbing atrocities that drift past our gadgets like so many hallucinatory vignettes; and not on the personal level either: so many people I know are in the middle of illness, transition, pain. Myself included. I cannot remember the last day of respite, or deep sleep, or a simple absence of injury.
I know that somewhere in New York right now, or down the street from this apartment, there is a couple falling in love, or a woman enjoying a fine dinner out by herself, or an old man walking his dog in the snow. These things still happen. And that is a joy, no?
On other days, when my mind is not so muddied, I write about memory, illusion, and the manner in which desire and current circumstance reshape the past, so the past itself becomes something that never really happened. But today, a day of freezing snow, my body chilled and then coated in sweat, covered with five pale-rose comforters and cashmere only to kick it all off, frantic from heat – today I am nostalgic and soft and sad.
I made the aching, horrible decision to not own a home, to not “provide” a home for my children, so that they might stay in one place. Because my X has the temperament and money for a house, and owns one the children love already, I ceded that part of the endless battle to him. I cannot tear my children’s minds down the middle, demanding they sleep here, now over here, simply because their parents are selfish fuck-ups.
So they stay. And I flutter around them, a little like a nanny. And I am homeless, there is no center for me. I wake, I drive to them. I pass the day with the littlest or wait for them to be done at school. I hate my apartment, as beautifully as I’ve designed it – the beauty itself feels hollow, like something staged for someone else’s life. And I hate, utterly loathe, the house they inhabit, because it is his, not mine, and I am some cross between a mama, a housekeeper, a beggar, and an uninvited guest who must from necessity return to the table.
If this were a fairy tale, which I suppose like all life it is, one could say that I used to be the queen, sitting at the head of the table with her first born prince and two beautiful princesses. My fingers were draped in diamonds, and in my vanity and worship of the prince and princesses the king grew angry. Finally his anger brought a curse on our kingdom, and now I have lost my crown, allowed still to own the title “Mother,” but only as a handmaiden, bended knee, praying he does not change his mind.
For a few weeks I lived in terror of banishment. Until I realized that the banishment had occurred already, and that in trying to appease the angry father and tend to the suffering children I had unwittingly turned myself into a strange old witch, begging to be let in.
There is a modern term for this kind of parenting. It is called “nesting.” However, in this understanding, both parents sometimes live in the home. In my situation, I am a permanent visitor, so that, for instance, upon falling ill, I return to a lonely bed ten stories high. There is a bedroom next to mine with three adorable beds.
They have been slept in once.
This afternoon I dreamt that I emptied the apartment. All my clothes, all the absurdly gorgeous, art deco-bohemian furnishings, gone. A couch. A place to practice. A pair of jeans and some books. Why?
In tears, hours later, it came to me:
My children will have no memory of this place. It’s just where Mama goes at night.
No homework fights.
No movie nights or political diatribes they recall to their own children after I am dead.
No dinner table or heirlooms or a place to rest a tired body on holiday from University.
What will they remember?
The smell of their sheets on a hot summer night. The sounds in the hallway as their father turns out the lights, at exactly 11PM every night.
The kitchen with its gleaming black quartz and brilliant white cupboards (that I designed), and the hideous, comfortable table where they draw and fight and make endless messes.
Do you remember the opening scenes of Terrence Malick’s great masterpiece “The Tree of Life?” The manner in which the Madonna-like Mrs. O’brien loved and mourned her children? The wind, the whispered phrases of love, grace, faith?
This. This is childhood. It is Origin. And birth. And Divine Love.
It is what I have known as a mother. It is all I’ve known.
The sky against a singing swing. The let-down of milk from heavy breasts. The grief-joy of each passing birthday. Small dresses and huge curls, minds of the infinite New.
And now we are 4
Please tell me, winter moon or god or sun-at-dawn,
how am I to possess this
tight breaths – intake, release,
the pause between –
and bring to fruition
in the effulgent
and Deserved Joy
of Life Unfolding
am an etching incomplete
portrait of a Solitude
a more generous god
only during those
precious… slow… breaths.
how shall I be
their marbled wisdom