Everyday Inspiration. Day Five: Hook ‘Em With A Quote

*Note: this post is part of an Everyday Inspiration 20-day writing prompt program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: Hook ’em with a quote.

chopped_melissa_darabian

open your baskets!

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. It is all we ever have so we might as well work with it rather than struggling against it. We might as well make it our friend and teacher rather than our enemy.” – Pema Chodron

After a full day teaching and practicing yoga, I sank into my sofa for a marathon of Chopped episodes…the teenage kid version. Flanked by a lazy kitty purring on one side, and a lazier excuse for dinner in the form of a bowl of Grape Nuts for dinner on the other, I inwardly sighed. These kids in their toques and aprons were making me look bad.

“Open your baskets!” the host demanded as four fresh-faced chefs below legal voting age peered in and pulled out a random assortment of ingredients: chocolate covered potato chips, canned rabbit, cranberry jelly, and some exotic spice I can neither spell nor pronounce. “You’ve got 30 minutes. And the clock starts…NOW!”

As they jumped into action it hit me: this moment right now, if I could allow it to be, was a friend, a teacher, not an enemy. Viewed from the perspective Chodron offers in the quote above, I could learn something from this present scene: the lousy bowl of cereal, my fatigue, the I-love-you-regardless-how-lame-you-feel-about-yourself-right-now cat next to me, the kids kicking ass in the kitchen on the screen in front of me.

My default, and maybe it’s yours too, is to draft a story around moments that make me uncomfortable. A 90-minute practice next to a yogi stronger than me, if I’m not mindful, could result in a dark tale about an undisciplined woman who ate croissants in lieu of daily plank poses and spent her bonus money on a pair of designer motorcycle boots instead of that inversion workshop she chickened out of. Watching a band of sweet kids get asked to create something edible out of a basket of total ridiculousness (they’re kids…can’t you give ’em some PB & J ingredients to work with already?) would typically have me cursing the Universe at the unfairness of it all.

But Chodron implores us to look at the present moment another way. The young chefs on my TV screen were here because they chose to test their creative chops under pressure, under the eye of a panel of world-renowned chefs (and in front of viewers eating Grape Nuts on the sofa at home). Chodron’s quote  reminds us that how we choose to receive the present moment can make all the difference in whether we’re able to cook up a new creation, or come to the party of life empty handed.

What wisdom can you gain from the present moment?

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Everyday Inspiration. Day Four: A Story In A Singe Image

*Note: this post is part of an Everyday Inspiration 20-day writing prompt program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: A story in a single image.

crowd-in-transit

“Promise you’ll save room for dessert in the Village,” she quipped, trying to keep the mood light, before unbuckling her seatbelt. Maurice squeezed her hand as confirmation before stepping out to help unload her bags. If anyone would celebrate her new life over a slice of creme brûlée, it was best friend Maurice, who’d insisted on driving her here.

Stepping onto the curb to face the eternally-revolving giant glass doors at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, she felt a momentary wave of panic: am I crazy? Everyone, except for Maurice, who self-admittedly was a little crazy himself, seemed to think so:

“but you just got promoted!”

“you two seemed so happy”

“I thought it was just a hobby”

“what if you fail?”

Too late now. They were already interviewing for her replacement (seeking PR manager to nurture strong industry network, generate enviable corporate image…). She’d said it’s over and meant it this time to her ‘it was just innocent flirting’ boyfriend. Forked over (literally) two paychecks worth of tuition money to the Culinary Institute in NYC. This was no longer a hobby.

Once through the glass doors, however, her disposition changed. Dwarfed by 80-foot columns and a coffered ceiling nudging the Heavens, she wondered – how many other fresh journeys began here? Opulent marble floors amplifying the echoes of heels conjured images of nattily-dressed ladies in gloves and gents in fedoras (before the days of ‘Athleisure’) saying goodbye without a guarantee there’d be a future hello. Leaving the past in style to somewhere exciting and new. Cathedral-like windows allowed varying degrees of light that beamed possibility – maybe she would make it as a Michelin-starred pastry chef.

Or not.

“Swapping press releases for puff pastries, are we?” her snarky but lovable colleague joked as they clinked champagne flutes and nibbled on devil’s food cake (a subtle omen??) at last week’s going away party. She’d miss justifying the cost of a pair of Louboutins or Chloe pencil skirt as work wear. It was aprons and toques from now on.

And maybe it was innocent flirting. He was a TV sports anchor after all. Naturally he’d get attention in public. Was she being overly clingy? Didn’t matter now. She’d ended it clearly enough by moving her stuff out of his apartment into off-site storage. And sure she’d graduate, but what can a novice pastry chef, at age 45, honestly expect to earn?

Taking one final look around the lobby as the platform announcement came across the speaker, she relaxed. Confidence took over. I’m not crazy, and I’m ready to begin anew.

One rolling pin and pie crust at a time.

Everyday Inspiration. Day Two: Write a List of Things I Like

*Note: this post is part of an Everyday Inspiration 20-day writing prompt program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: Write a list of things I like.

tree pose

tree pose

  1. I like lists, and how they help unsnarl the tangle of thoughts and emotions roaring through my brain. How they help distill life down into manageable bits.
  2. I like the minimart owner who greets me every morning with “go get em’ girl!” as I run past at 5:30 AM.
  3. I like rescue dogs and cats and the humans that rescue them.
  4. I like finding typos in published material. Gotcha!
  5. I like crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles and how the worries of the day disappear into the little boxes and pieces.
  6. I like pizza, french fries, margaritas, and the discipline I maintain to keep these occasional indulgences from destroying a body I love and work at.
  7. I like catching a glimpse of a little league game unfold just past my train window en route to NYC. It’s like I’m on the bleachers cheering my big bro on, all over again.
  8. I like relenting to the warm, snuggly purrs offered by my lazy cat stretched across my lap. I’ll get to whatever needs getting to later.
  9. I like mama’s who hold their little girl’s hands. And not just crossing the street.
  10. I like pedestrians without ear buds or phones to faces.
  11. I like yoga, running, bicycling, swimming, cartwheeling in the park, kicking a ball, throwing a frisbee, dancing like a dork, anything that requires one to move and have a wonderful time doing it.
  12. I like smiling at my late papa, arms stretched to the Heavens, mid-tree pose in a 90 minute yoga class. I look up, he looks down, assuring me all is well and he is well.
  13. I like a little bit of superstition, and never stopping on the number 13.
  14. I like kissing my husband’s bald head.
  15. I like getting lost in a new city and relying on smiles and hand gestures to find my way back.
  16. I like falling in love with a budding author’s debut novel and sharing it with everyone I know.
  17. I like Great Blue Herons, and if reincarnation is real, I want to return as one.
  18. I like going to bed earlier than your grandmother.
  19. I like getting wiser, even if it means getting older.

What do you like?

Everyday Inspiration. Day One: I Write Because…

*Note: this post is part of an Everyday Inspiration 20-day writing prompt program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: I write because…

why I write, even on my yoga mat

why I write, even on my yoga mat

I write because it makes me a better human being.

Writing harnesses my energy. Since childhood I’ve been told I have an unusually high degree of energy. Evidence suggests this: broken springs on a rocking horse that gave up before this jockey in pig tails said whoa; an occasional spot of bourbon in the bottle when grandpa needed me to get to sleep; crunchy joints that couldn’t keep up with an insatiable heart that had to run just one more marathon; myriad scars and emergency room memories from road cycling spills chasing a kind of high that only a 20 MPH pace line could provide. Writing keeps it from spiraling out of control and sending me into an exhausted heap wondering how I got there, and how to find the life reset button. Once I settle atop my pink velvet chair, plug in and tune my earbuds to a Spotify or Pandora piano concerto playlist and begin tapping keys, a sense of calm and focus begins to emerge.

Writing forces me to be with it. To be with whatever it is I want to run away from. To be with restlessness – to stop squirming and keep digging for just the right metaphor, anecdote, or verb to underscore whatever thought I’m trying to capture and immortalize on a page before it flies away. To be with heavy emotions – and through whatever pain, fear or joy I’m experiencing at that moment, I can spawn a placeholder for others experiencing similar feelings to reference and contribute to. Good for them, good for me.

Writing reveals hidden treasures within my own brain and heart. I used to grind my teeth midway through a topic or assignment every time my heart jumped over a guardrail and took me off task with another thought or idea, until I eventually realized what a gift this was. Instead of fighting the inevitable detour, I now keep a pen and pad next to my laptop and jot down the out-of-bounds thoughts and list them under a “save for later” heading. My “save for laters”, more often than not, result into future posts or stories that keep the process of writing ongoing for me.

Writing spills over into every other area of my life. I prepare for the yoga classes I teach by practicing at home with a pen and paper next to my mat. Recording what’s happening in my body, and heart, lands on the page and informs what I share later with my students. Writing has widened my social circle and kept me close to those I no longer live near. The posts I shared about my time volunteering at an animal rescue in Pennsylvania has established an eternal tether line to a community of angels and animals I will hold onto forever. Writing forces me to pause, consider, and respond instead of react to whatever life might be tossing my way.

This is why I write, how about you?

 

 

Blogging 101: “who I am and why I’m here”

*Note: this post is part of Blogging 101. Today’s assignment: Write and publish a who I am and why I’m here post on your blog.” 

We Are All ConnectedQ. Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?

A. “Come from a place of we are all connected.” I heard this in a yoga training a few years back, and it’s made a difference in my teaching. Coming from a mindset of “we are all connected” stripped away the need to be a know-it-all deep thinking sage, or tight tushed rockin’ yogi with killer handstands and perfectly-timed cues. Connecting with my students required honesty. And once I started sharing stories in class about my challenges with the practice – patience, focus, self-love and conscious breathing, for example – I noticed a shift. They trusted me, and I had a helluva lot more fun teaching.

Starting a blog felt like a natural extension of the stories I shared in class. An opportunity for both me and fellow yogis to stew a little longer over the myriad thoughts and revelations that arise through the practice. So much comes up in practice – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – not all of it pleasant, but most of it poignant. Why do I get so angry when I tip out of a simple standing posture? Why am I thinking about what I’m going to wear to next week’s anniversary dinner during a seated fold? Why is it so damn hard to be still and fully present? Coming from a place of “we are all connected,” I wanted to create a forum for others to read and contribute their own reflections.

Q. What topics do you think you’ll write about?

A. The title has been a work in progress. Originally “Curious Yoga Monkey”, I changed it to “And Pause Here” a year ago to better capture how the blog has evolved. I don’t want my blog limited to yoga – especially the physical asana aspect of yoga. While every blog advice column I’ve read extols the virtues of getting hyper specific on topic and audience, I found writing solely on yoga-related topics was too narrow to keep me inspired. And interestingly, the longer I practice yoga, the more I discover there’s opportunity to find yoga in everything I do – including washing the dishes. Wash them mindfully, with gratitude for the nourishment they held and provided me with, and it’s yoga in action.

Right now I’m focused on writing about noticing what’s happening in the moment. Not ruminating on the past or anticipating the future. Because neither exist. For example, I have a draft started on 5 positive experiences that came with a recent move from my apartment to a townhome. Moving typically sucks, but I paid attention and found a silver lining with this one. To notice what’s happening, you have to stop and pause here. Hence the title.

Other topics include finding community – I’ve moved five times in five years; daily surprises (may start a category title ‘5 Cool Things’ I notice in a day); accepting and appreciating the changes that come with being a 40-something woman in a society that glorifies youth above all else; dog rescue work (not currently volunteering but hope to soon); short stories (a new interest of mine); and random writing prompts to shake it up.

I’ll still cover yoga via my monthly contributions to a high traffic site DoYouYoga, but looking forward to the continuing growth of And Pause Here.

Q. Who would you love to connect with via your blog?

A. Readers interested in drawing their own inspiration through what I discover by pausing, noticing, and seeking joy in the present moment. That might come from a morning yoga practice, or a walk down the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona, or a snuggle with my cat. Life is precious and the hyper speed nature of it makes it frighteningly easy to totally check out and miss it all.

Q. If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

A. Obviously I’d love to have more followers, but most importantly, I’d love to have more engaged followers – those who comment and share not only with me, but with each other. I’d like my blog to be more interactive, and to inspire others to start their own blogs.

My most prized possession? A beat up blue yoga mat. Here’s why…

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Tell us the story of your most prized-possession.”

My most prized possession is something I doubt you’d want to go near. It’s not pretty. It stinks a little. And the varying shades of blue on its surface are not some artistic mosaic of creative intuit, but rather the cumulative sum of sweat, tears, and a little blood. On one end of it, there’s a few nicks. On the other, a trace of stubborn sticky name tag residue from a recent 6-day teacher training in a remote region of the Arizona desert I endured.

It’s my yoga mat: a six-pound, 71″ x 26″ beast that’s followed me to Seattle, San Francisco, that arid desert in Arizona, an old textile mill-turned studio in the Berkshires, a Miami beach, countless airplane overhead bins, and on the back of my bicycle en route to the studio in Cambridge, MA, I’m currently practicing at. For the most part, where I go, it goes.

I have other mats of different sizes, textures, and colors, but always come back to this one: my beat up blue mat. Maybe it’s the visible scars that draw me to it – as though every discoloration and marring were evidence of the effort I’ve put into the often times ugly process of better understanding myself through years of ninety-minute stretches on its sturdy surface. Or perhaps it’s simpler than that: I know it, it knows me.

My most prized possession is not intended to sit pretty on a shelf somewhere. No, the beauty of my beat up blue mat lies within its flaws. And unlike the Honda CRV I’m told is losing value each month I put off selling the damn thing, my mat’s value continues to rise. Neither time nor wear and tear could ever diminish it’s worth. To me anyway. Every time I roll it out, balance on it, stumble on it, cry on it, even curse at it, it delivers:

The way that we see things today does not have to be the way we saw them yesterday. That is because the situations, our relationships to them, and we ourselves have changed in the interim. This notion of constant change suggests that we do not have to be discouraged. – T.K.V. Desikachar

Vasistasana variation

Vasistasana variation

My beat up blue mat kicked midlife blues in the ass. In many ways, it acted as my GPS through a series of changes that began at age 40. Some might call that a midlife crisis, and I very well could have, but dragging my mat into a hot studio every morning at 6 AM in the throes of a painful divorce and financial tailspin shifted my point of view. Instead of staring helplessly down the back nine, I chose to tee off for the first time. Rolling out my mat, day in and day out, despite the wild fluctuations of emotions I was experiencing at the time, enabled me to approach life as a brand new beginning and opportunity to reinvent myself – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

It absorbed the sweat as I gritted through pose after pose, helping me rebuild my semi-starved, former runner’s weak frame into something more powerful than I thought my DNA would allow. It collected tears of frustration and anger and reminded me to keep moving through the inevitable discomforts that arise with change. It hugged my fatigued bones in Svasana at the end of every practice – shortening the distance between some Greater Force looking out for me and whatever earthly nuisances were conspiring to pin me down. My Svasanas on my beat up blue mat, even today, in better times, give me a glimpse of God.

When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world. – B.K.S. Iyengar

Egypt - one of my favorite girls

Egypt – one of my favorite girls

My beat up blue mat taught me how to play with pit bulls. Time on my mat has cultivated a diorama of courage and grace that has led to some interesting revelations – most notably that I adore animal rescue work (read more here: I’m Going Home!). Courage gained from Handstands, agonizingly long held Warriors and Plank poses made locking myself in a glass-enclosed dog run with two spry, pent-up pitties seem entirely doable – if somewhat insane – last summer at Main Line Animal Rescue. Grace from balancing in Tree pose, eyes skyward toward God, followed me into the fields with the many distressed doggies I worked with trying their best to acclimate to human beings after being abused and neglected their entire lives.

My mat continues to nudge me toward giving at every opportunity. Toward the hard-working student in front of me in line at the grocery who didn’t have enough cash. Buy her yogurt and granola. To the volunteer application I just submitted to the Boston Animal Shelter. Orientation is this month. The more I receive on my mat, the more I want to give back. The more I want to serve.

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. – Heraclitus

Handstand

Handstand

My beat up blue mat thinks I’m Peter Pan. I don’t know if there is a giddier feeling, at age 46, than floating upside down on my hands for five, or, on a good day, ten seconds. The strength, focus, balance, and elasticity that comes with a daily yoga practice to me is youth defined. The period of time in my thirties when I quit practicing yoga, and ran marathons, bicycled centuries, swam miles, and disciplined myself with military precision down to a certain weight, I now realize, made me older. I may have looked younger, and tighter, but I was tenser. My body and spirit felt clenched, as though every goal reached was just short of something higher, harder, that I had yet to attain. My beat up blue mat talks back to me when old feelings of inadequacy show up in a pose. I fall out, and it collects me, reminding me that I’ve crossed a dangerous threshold reserved for unhappy adults. Yes I take my practice seriously, but with the playful quality of a child exploring Neverland.

My beat up blue mat inspires me to talk to strangers, like I did as a kid before worrying about imposing on other people’s space. It has led me into studios all over the country, and now New England after living most of my life in Seattle. I chat up fellow yogis, teachers, post-practice baristas, anyone walking a dog, construction guys who sometimes whistle (if I smile big enough), in a way I was too afraid to before entering this spectacular relationship with my beat up blue mat.

The moment I begin to feel old or defeated is when I know it’s time to roll out my beat up blue mat.

*If you want to find more of the quotes I’ve shared in this post, consider this gem of a book: 1,001 Pearls of Wisdom – Take Your Practice Beyond The Mat

 

 

you’re freestylin it then. A totally unedited blog idea draft

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. Just go.”

you're freestylin' it then... (1)The past week I’ve had the coolest brief conversations with individuals around me:

1. the young African American from Charlotte studying sports medicine seated next to me in the back of the plane (last minute planning landed me in seat 36E, my husband one row ahead). We were talking about what we were going to do in Miami. He: meet up with his friend for the weekend, go dancing. Me: nothing planned other than relax by the pool, beach, hang out. “You’re freestylin’ it then…” Yeah, freestylin. I liked that term. He asked me about places I’ve been, I told him, and in doing so, started appreciating the travel I’ve experienced. Paris, San Francisco, Vietnam, etc. He was from the Bronx, said he loved how you could eat from anywhere in the world right there – great Jamaican food. That’s how he ended up loving Reggae music, his Jamaican friends from the Bronx. But he loved Charlotte more, though. Said I should go there. Several times he said this. I should go there.

2. the checkout woman at Star Grocery. About mid-fifties, dyed blond hair and giant smile in spite of losing her voice. I asked her about it. Said it’s because she spent the entire day prior (16 hours) welcoming home sailors at the Hilton Boston near the airport who’d been at sea for a year. I asked how she got involved with that? “Craigslist – I found the opportunity and signed up. It’s program to make them feel appreciated and acknowledged when they get back.”

3. the young, hip barista at Starbucks with a cute short haircut who recognized my perfume “is that Kenzo?” Yes I told her, asking how she knew it. Her friend from London loved it and brought her back a sample. A conversation ensued…

All this is leading me to think about creating a second blog, this one with a more singular focus (as opposed to my current blog which is a cornucopia of several topics). This new blog would be all about simple engagements with people. Who they are, what’s interesting about them, what I learn from them, share with them, and learn about myself in the process. Fewer people, it seems to me, engage in simple conversations instead reaching for the phone or walking around with ear buds mashed in – a signal to others to back off. I always feel more grateful, more alive, after I’ve had a conversation with someone new, and yet it’s a challenge due to my somewhat introverted nature. All the more reason to do it, I suppose.