Snapdragon nostalgia

I went on a road trip around the South Island with my Dad. I took a holiday from all my routines, except for writing every night. This is one of the few things I wrote that’s remotely fit for public consumption.

Richmond, 5 March 2017

There are still snapdragons growing on the street border of my grandmother’s garden. They are still bright pink but they’re smaller than I remember them being when I was six years old and played fascinated with the moving parts of their jaws, when my baby sister slept in a box and we fitted our family of four into the caravan where now there’s a garden shed and a washing line and grown-up fishtank pebbles for me to feel under my bare feet.I was always like this, my mother told me, taking my shoes off to feel textures wherever we went.

I was upset with my grandfather that time with the snapdragons and the plums, because “he treats me like I’m a baby”, and my mother gently told me about Alzheimer’s Disease and what that meant. I asked my father yesterday what his father died of, it was pneumonia or influenza or something that, without the underlying condition of Alzheimer’s, meant as little as “heart failure” on my mother’s death certificate when we all know she really died of cancer.

Tonight I’ll sleep in the little dining room with the net curtains where a cicada flew up my nightdress when I was a little girl.

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I am here with you

Lately I’ve been practising metta meditation, and “I am here with you” has come to be one of my lovingkindness mantras: for myself, for people I love, for neutral acquaintances, for people I have difficulties with, for cats.

Today I read this post by my amazing friend Clare, which introduces an exercise for meeting an emotion as a being. Then I wrote this:

The story of Grief

20170120_1943301I am in a room that is not dark but is not sunny. The door to my room is open. Grief comes in with a hunched back, his face is white, his nose is long, his cheeks are hollowed. I pat the low cushion next to me and he sits down with difficulty. He puts a bony hand around my shoulders. He doesn’t look at me until I look at him. His eyes are pale and wide and open. His mouth is small and shows no expression.

“What do you want?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I never seem to know what I want. Certainly not in the long view, often not even moment to moment.”

“That’s ok.” He starts massaging my shoulders and I relax a little beneath his bony fingers. After a while he leans his head against my temple and I can feel the slight movement of his temporomandibular joint. I can hear his light and vulnerable breathing. I don’t want him to go away. Our silence together is companionable. I feel an openness in our quietness.

“Are you lonely?” I ask.

He is quiet in thought for a while.

“Not when I’m with you,” he says finally.

I need and want to make space for him, to be with him.

And then I was reminded of this post by my wonderful friend Verdant.

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I stumbled out of bed, I got ready for the struggle (this is a post about posture)

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There’s a person I work with who has good posture.

Revision: there’s a person I work with who I think has good posture.

Revision: there’s a person I work with whose posture I notice with approval.

Let’s be honest, I’m judging the hell out of my colleague’s posture. Who am I to say it’s “good”? To me it appears upright, symmetrical, unafraid of taking up space. These are qualities that I appreciate and aspire to.

Why do I aspire to them?

  1. Because they’re qualities that so many of us lose to desk jobs and stress/fear/sadness/poor self-esteem.
  2. Because I’ve been taught to prize them through movement modalities that I’ve studied.

I have experiential knowledge that it feels bold and empowering to take up space, and that it’s rewarding to work towards postural symmetry. But I’m concerned that when I judge these things as “good”, I’m participating in a form of body-shaming of myself and others when we inevitably measure up as imperfect.

Being rather a fan of hard work, I listen when my teachers say “your glutes need to be engaged all the time”, but I tune out when they say “just practise this whilst walking from one lamp-post to the next” or “try not to try too hard”.

***

I’ve just been hanging out with some of my wonderful yoga buddies, including the lovely Russell, who has been training in the Ido Portal Method. I happened to open my notebook at the notes I’d made last month for this post, and some of what we were discussing felt like it tied into my thoughts. Most of us who were there had studied a bit of postural patterning, and Russell was saying that these days, he only really applies it consciously when he notices that aspects of his pattern are disadvantaging him in a particular movement.

I’ve wrestled for some time with feeling that because I have a wonky postural pattern (just like everyone else!), I shouldn’t risk taking it with me to do stuff like running or climbing because I might get hurt (I might get eaten by a velociraptor who only eats people with “bad” posture!).

 

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blame, shame and forgiveness

I like pears. #relatablecontent

clare coburn

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These three areas fascinate me. How do I resist moving into blame and shame when something goes a bit pear-shaped?

What’s wrong with the shape of pears anyway?

How do I notice when I’m tempted to blame somebody, something or even myself, ‘How dare he/she/they/I???’ and turn the question into something more useful like ‘Hmm, what precisely is needed in this sticky situation?’ Pears get a bit sticky when you eat them. They are like that.

How can I see any moment as an opportunity to shift away from blame and shame and to move towards forgiveness which can motivate a very different activity.

Brené Brown asks us to consider that everyone is doing the best they can given their circumstances, advice she received from her own therapist. Even those people who are behaving in ways that we just cannot understand and who seem to be motivated by values very…

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The lost art of keeping my mouth shut

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Introversion is dominant in my family. My mother was an extrovert and used to excel at filling the ample silences provided by the rest of us. When she died, I felt myself stepping into her role in that regard, even though I used to get frustrated with her because I felt that she didn’t allow anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

What had happened was, I had had a behaviour modelled for me that seemed to be based on the idea that silence was undesirable, so when I was confronted with silence, my tolerance for it had a very short fuse before I’d leap into my learned behaviour.

The problem with generating verbiage for the sole purpose of avoiding silence is that it makes me feel self-centered: I’m so busy thinking of things to say that I don’t have much brain left for listening to other people. And if I focus on just listening, I feel that I come across as uninteresting, or even uninterested because I haven’t thought up any engaging/witty responses.

I don’t like it about myself that I habitually interrupt people when they pause to find the right word or way of expressing something. I’ve been practising not doing this, especially with my friends. I’ve noticed that the newer the friendship, the easier this is, because I haven’t practised interrupting that person for so long.

I’m reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance, and in the chapter titled ‘The Sacred Pause’ she writes “We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person.”

The best conversations I’ve had are those in which I’ve been so immersed in listening to the other person that my responses and questions arise without conscious thought. When I look back on these conversations, it occurs to me that I felt no separation from the other person, it was as if we were co-creating the dialogue, and I got a glimpse of what yogis and Buddhists are on about when they say “we are all one”.

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Despair, fear, and the decision to hope. — Kōtukutuku in spring

My beautiful friend has pertinent words for these times ❤

I used to see myself as a hopeful person. I was always seeing opportunities to plant seeds of change. I had a dream for a future where we cared for and restored the vitality of our planet. I truly believed the arc of the universe bent towards justice. I thought this way of seeing the […]

via Despair, fear, and the decision to hope. — Kōtukutuku in spring

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Crash

It’s been over seven months since I moved out of my house with minimal possessions (which for a bellydancer means an extensive spreadsheet documenting what is stored at the houses of which friends and family members), not knowing where I was going to live and how I was going to afford it.

I found a rewarding job and a wonderful flat in record time. I turned into a person who’s at work by 8am and vaguely coherent with it. I caught up with my beautiful friends and cooked healthy lunches for my week and went to NLNL and taught my dance classes and went for bush walks at the weekend.

And all winter I’ve been getting sick. I have literally run out of sick leave. It starts as a cold and activates my asthma and turns into bronchitis. Someone I know said this used to happen to her before she gave up smoking. I don’t have any smoking to give up, despite the fair assumptions of people who don’t know me listening to me cough and noticing that I like to quite literally go out for some fresh air at morning tea time.

I feel like I’ve had maybe two weeks in the last six months when I haven’t felt like I’m swimming uphill through treacle and about to drown in my own lungs.

I’ve had four lots of antibiotics and two lots of steroids and I’ve been doing masses of meditation and pranayama and I’ve been acknowledging that it’s not all going to be easy but actually being in the times when it’s horrible is something I’ve been unconsciously resisting.

One recent weekend I cancelled at least four fun social things I had planned because I was sick. I was sad to be missing out on spending time with my beautiful friends. Fortunately they are very wise and understanding, and one of them, who has pioneered the end of a long relationship too, signposted that it’s likely that I’m running out of post-break-up adrenaline. And then another wise friend pointed out that my cortisol is probably crashing, too.

I don’t think I’ve ever had to budget my energy so carefully in my life, and it’s hard to learn how to do it.

So dear friends, I love you. Those things I said I want to do with you, I still want to do them. But it’s not likely to happen next week. I would love to be offered hugs and bush walks and entertainment. But sometimes I have to decline, and that doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with you, it means that I need to spend time with me.

After writing the body of this, I chased up the results for the blood tests that my GP finally ordered. My iron is low, they said. We’ll prescribe you some iron tablets. I spent the rest of my day at work feeling too tired to go and get the prescription for my iron tablets, knowing that was kind of ridiculous, telling my colleagues that so that they’d reinforce what I knew I had to do, which was go and get the damned iron tablets. I’ve been on them for a couple of weeks now and they’re definitely helping, but of course they can’t fix me on their own.

And now summer is coming and it’s vaguely light when I get up most days, and I feel a little bit like a moth coming out of its cocoon.

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(This is the cocoon of a giant silk moth)

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Strengths

I know I go on about it a lot, but participating in Niyc Pidgeon’s Upgrade Your Success programme last summer was a great thing for me and has had all kinds of follow-on effects.

One fun thing we worked with on the programme was the VIA strengths survey. On the day I completed it last summer, my top five strengths came out thus:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Kindness
  3. Curiosity
  4. Honesty
  5. Love of learning.

Niyc’s challenge to us was to keep applying our top strengths in new ways. It really is challenging, and I feel the challenge right in my heart, especially when it comes to gratitude, kindness, and honesty.

I am grateful for my curiosity and my love of learning. They help me to connect with people and to get to know myself better.

It was Melissa who put it into words for me that I’ve made time in my new singleness to connect to my spiritual self. This work was already in motion before I became single, but my change in circumstances has shaped my meditations and other spiritual practices. Alongside that, I’ve found myself coming back to theology, in which I did my first university degree all those years ago. I’ve been applying ideas from back then to yoga, to dance, to music, to help me understand myself better.

My workplace has a kind of informal lending library going on, and from that I’ve just finished watching Diarmaid McCulloch’s BBC documentary A History of Christianity. It’s a thoughtful and beautifully made series, and has proved great revision and expansion on my church history studies. The episode on Eastern Orthodoxy reminded me of my fascination with the interaction between Christianity and communism in Russia, in the persons of Rasputin and Stalin in particular. I found myself digressing to find out more about the mad monk’s alleged healing powers, which lead me to a slightly hilarious article in the American Journal of Hematology which was very interesting but miles from the point, and which in turn lead me to investigate to what extent yoga is contraindicated for people with bleeding disorders.

Then there was the final episode called “God in the Dock”, a very sensible look at natural philosophy’s challenges to established church beliefs as exemplified by such figures and Spinoza and Newton. I was formulating an opinion about biblical literalism and science-based atheism being the two extremes of making a black and white picture out of a richness of greyscale, then I looked at the Wikipedia page on Spinoza and it made me feel nowhere near brainy enough to assert such a thing.

I love that my brain can romp merrily down rabbit holes like this. If I’m not careful though, it can leave me with an overwhelming sense of not knowing enough, like the crushing weight of all the books I haven’t read that I sometimes feel when I go into a bookshop. Here’s where I need to get back to my other strengths of gratitude and kindness and honesty.

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There’s always an elephant in the room and sometimes it’s me

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…and there’s an elephant in every one.

When I was 17 I left my parents’ home and went back to the town where I was born and moved in to a student hostel. One early day I was walking to class, and one of my fellow hostel-dwellers was returning from class, and he complimented me on my clothes and smiled a beautiful smile, and I fell in love with him.

Almost 20 years later, I made this post on facebook:

19 years ago I fell in love at first sight with somebody. Now we’re friends and I just had him and his partner over for dinner ❤

I was very surprised by the reactions this post brought in. At first people assumed that I was talking about my recent ex. But the real thing that blew my mind was people’s assumption that “fell in love with” means “was in a relationship with”.

Around the same time, I went for a meeting with my amazing supervisor/energy work guy, and told him that I was relieved that the Ridiculous Work Crush turned out to have a partner, because “I realised I was more afraid of his being attracted to me than of his not being attracted to me”.

I moved straight on to talking about how I thought my relief was to do with knowing that I’m not ready for another relationship, and the wise man said, “hang on, let’s go back a bit to the elephant in the room.”

I couldn’t see it. I knew it would be in plain sight. “What did you just say?” he asked.

“I was more afraid of his being attracted to me than of his not being attracted to me.”

The elephant in the room is that I believe that being attractive is for other people.

It’s a big achievement for me that I can sometimes look in the mirror and smile at myself and think “you’re damn’ cute.” It’s a big achievement that sometimes I catch sight of myself in yoga or dance class and for a moment I genuinely feel sexy and strong. It’s a big achievement that I can put these thoughts into words, giving myself permission to feel good about myself in public.

But the idea of someone else finding me attractive or cute or sexy? That’s just crazy talk. Never mind the evidence. The few people who have professed their attraction to me weren’t lying, I believe that. But I studied theology, so I’m perfectly capable of holding multiple and apparently contradictory beliefs simultaneously.

So the idea that falling in love with/being attracted to someone automatically leads to being in a relationship with them makes no sense to me.

This is the point at which this blog post should start working towards resolution, but I’ve got nothing. All I can do is keep working on myself, on my heart, on honouring my limitations and my beliefs in co-existence with the evidence, on acknowledging and being grateful for what I have and what I am.

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Reasons to smile at passers-by

It’s just been world smile day. I want to see you smile.

I’m talking about smiling at people on the street, in hallways, in yoga class. People you know and people you don’t know and everyone in between.

  1. You’re smiling anyway
  2. They’re clearly on a mission to do good
  3. They’re dressed as an anthropomorphic vegetable
  4. They have dreadlocks and you used to have dreadlocks and forget that you don’t any more so you do that secret smile of camaraderie
  5. As above but for dreadlocks read braces
  6. As above, but for braces read orange shoes
  7. As above, for any shared delight
  8. They’re eating a cucumber
  9. They look a lot like a cool person you knew, but you know it’s not him because you went to his funeral years ago
  10. They’re singing along to music on their headphones
  11. They’re a big scary-looking man carrying a tiny sleeping puppy
  12. They’re wearing an amazing hat
  13. You’re totally not checking out their butt, you’re checking out their shoes
  14. You totally are checking out their butt but could convincingly argue that you’re checking out their shoes
  15. He was in a show one time and called you out for audience participation
  16. She’s laughing
  17. You’re laughing
  18. You can tell that your friend is checking them out
  19. You can tell that they’re checking out your friend
  20. They’re carrying a pumpkin
  21. They remind you of someone you know who is lovely
  22. She’s Wonder Woman
  23. They have epic jewellery
  24. You used to work at the same place but never really talked
  25. They’re a potential client
  26. They’re a local or national politician, whether you agree with them or not
  27. They’re wearing your favourite colour
  28. They’re doing something bold like running up the steepest street in the country
  29. You’re doing that lovely practice of silently saying “I love you” to everyone you see
  30. No reason at all.
smile-brian-wilson

Now I know why they were playing this album in a shop I was in yesterday

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