It was an ordinary winter break.
Sure, there was a ridiculous blizzard, mucho tree karma again, kids stranded overnight in Atlanta, anise cookies baked too late for aging, fruitcake eaten too early for aging, the last minute gift wrapping frenzy, and unexpected visitors, including our dog-guest, Yoshi.
But there was also the traditional cheesy plastic nativity set on the mantle, the tipsy angel on top of the tree that we finally found after three days of searching the backwoods of the county, way too much cinnamon and citron Christmas stollen, too much loganberry wine, too little sleep.
It was Christmas after all. And even though I worried that I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to create the seasonal magic my parents pulled together year after year, I was nonetheless pulled into dreamy, timeless and very joyful days.
With ten people in the house for nearly a week, there was amazingly little conflict. There were no raised voices, except in laughter; there was no sulking or even passive aggression. Everyone worked hard to interact with each other and yet, maintained respect for each others space and feelings. Geesh, not much of a story here, but I warned you, it was all pretty ordinary. We cooked, took long walks, and hung out. We played a couple of games and racked homemade wine. We sat on our bums and talked, catching up with what’s been going on in our lives, munching each others insights and news like cookies.
The weather spun crap, keeping us nearly housebound the entire break. One day it’d be frigid blowing white stuff, the next thick, icy rain; the next day would gray over imbued with bone-numbing damp. Never was there enough snow and sun to snowshoe, nor enough green and balm to walk.
So why was this a season filled with grace? I was sporting an entirely new attitude. Yep, life’s all about ‘tude and I finally figured out that my life went down a whole lot more fun if I embraced a yogic attitude.
Last year, when a friend dropped by on Christmas day. I nearly bolted out the door to go for a walk with him. I was soooo glad for a respite from all that was going on in the house – which I would say now was absolutely nothing except my negative outlook- so why did I need to escape so badly? I have a journal entry from then wherein I recorded how alienated I felt, how separated from everyone, including those supposedly closest to me: my immediate family. And of course that was bringing on depression, the all-too-common holiday blues. I’m not trying to go all-confessional on you here; it’s just evidence of how my attitude, which included such stellar qualities as resentment, insecurity, formless ambition and competition, shaped not only how I looked at life, but created the threads of my existence.
There really wasn’t much different this year, except my mind – that great instigator of human turmoil and unhappiness. The great wrecker of human lives.
It’s all in the attitude!
What is? you ask.
Pretty much everything, I answer.
We create our world, thought by fleeting thought.
Yes, reincarnation probably happens when we die – the physical body eaten by slugs – the spiritual self enters the realms of the bardo and reemerges in another realm of existence. But we also have the ability to reincarnate during this life. We become new-old beings, that is, if we decide to change our minds – the way we view life. That’s the miracle of birth we celebrate in the Nativity every single year. We pray for the grace to invite transformation. And as everyone knows, change often occurs when we are at our lowest, darkest points. It’s no surprise that so many of us celebrate birth during the solstice’ short days. Or that depression runs rampant as hungry bears during Christmas cookie season.
Sure, we practice yoga asana or postures so our limbs and core will remain supple and strong, but there are deeper, much more fundamental changes that often go unnoticed since they accrue silently and invisibly, year after year of maintaining the discipline of the mat.
Here’s a list of some changes I’ve noticed growing in my heart and mind:
Acceptance - I learn from not being able to clasp my twisted hands in eagle or to touch my forehead to my shin in forward fold,from my distractedness and rushing in bellows breath, from my pitiful attempts at living by the precepts of nonviolence and nongrasping, from my restlessness and sleepiness in sitting meditation; acceptance must run parallel to self-knowledge,,,as I go deeper, it’s not always pretty inside! Acceptance of myself leads to accepting others in my life. I don’t have to always be right; peace is more important AND accepting you as you are, striped with faults of every color just as I am…well, it’s OK. Accepting who I am means also accepting my past decisions as well as yours; it means accepting where I am physically as well as mentally. There is a freedom I’ve found in this acceptance by and by which has led to a fundamental shift to a consciousness of contentment. At least greater contentment than ever existed in any precious life.
Flexibility -As I hold pigeon and camel – poses that break old patterns of holding, my body and mind and heart grow more bendy! When I let go my routine and any semblance of schedule (hey, with all those folks in this little house, there wasn’t much room nor was it ever quiet for practicing) …I ate different, heck I think my breath assumed a different rhythm for nearly three weeks. In the interest of flexibility, I let it go and didn’t look back, didn’t hold on to seeping strands of resentment, which left me free to fully enjoy my company and to welcome the relief from routine!
Confidence – Standing in tree or dancer pose light the inner fires of confidence; being able to sit with my thoughts alone or to spend a day in silence have given my self-assurance that even if my practice nearly disappeared, even if my beautiful schedule was obliterated, I am still me with my core intact and I will return to the balance that my practices afford on a daily basis after the holiday. This sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t always the case in days of yore. I’d lean a tad crazed and unbalanced in a semi-permanent fashion when thrown off schedule.
Presence (awareness) – By training myself to become aware of my toes and fingers, my heart and mind, while teetering in half-moon pose, or sitting in siddhasana meditation, or stretched in savasana, I begin to observe how my attention wanders while I am “listening” to you. I try to grow my awareness by staying on task and paying attention to whatever it is I happen to be involved in at the moment. It’s a tough call in a culture that praises multitasking and it’s a challenge when there are several conversations going on in the room simultaneously.
Playfulness – This is the attitude fostered when I fall out of half-moon or dancer pose! This is the attitude that keeps me from performing sun salutations like a robot, that drives my twisting self into crazy dog pose. This is the attitude that says, hey, whatever comes up during sitting meditation is AOK. In fact, bring it on…all of it, ‘cuz I’m gonna just sit here and watch! This is the attitude fostered by a sense of community that says we are all flawed and wonderful human beings (hmmm, even dogs!) and we don’t have to uphold any longstanding personas anymore. This is the attitude of the Laughing Yogini
I recognize these forces at work in my life when I celebrate with kith and kin, filled with hugs, laughter, ease and well-being, letting go and giving away. It all feels natural and makes me wonder what else lies on the road up ahead as I continue the path which no longer seems like a way; it flows as constant evolution, a constant rebirth.This all makes me curious to know what sort of changes have appeared in your life lately? Do you connect any of them to your practice? Wishing you Happy New Life and ‘tude in 2009!