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“Make the pose feel like home.” ~ Liz Reynolds, yoga teacher

In a few days, Frank and I leave a house we love and step out into the next part of our life together. There are countless things in this house that I love: all the light and the windows and the arched openings, the view to the woods behind us, the front door that I refinished and the knocker we bought in Guatemala. And the kitchen. It has been just the most lovely kitchen to be in.

As good as these things feel, they aren’t what make it home. When Liz suggested making my yoga pose feel like home, it got me thinking. What is home really anyway?

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” ~ Cecelia Ahern

I’ve felt at home in houses that were not my own and in many natural places with no walls and recently in a very small camper pulled by a big red truck. And there have been times in my life when my own house hasn’t felt like home to me. Ultimately, it is the feeling, the ease and peace and connection that I feel there that make a home. Circumstances and other people may contribute to those feelings, but the one who has the greatest impact on the hominess of any situation is me. It’s up to me to make myself at home.

“Just keep coming home to yourself. You are the one you have been waiting for.” ~ Byron Katie

I have laughed a lot in this house. I’ve cried, too. I’ve felt calm and relaxed and I’ve felt rattled to my very bones. In the five years that we’ve lived here, I’ve deepened my practices, my marriage has gotten stronger, and made better friends with myself. One of the main reasons I get on the cushion, on the mat, in the studio, at the computer is to cultivate more ease and friendliness with my body, my mind and my emotions. Whenever my (multiple and easily accessible) buttons get pushed, I ask myself, how can I be easy and peaceful with whatever is happening in or around me?

“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

The coming weeks will be a slow motion transplanting, with our roots hovering in the air for a while until our next house is ready. As we’ve prepared for a summer of peripatetic adventures, we’ve talked a good deal about the difference between “need” and “want.”

When I’ve felt most upset by the uncertainty, that’s when I’ve been most attached to what I “need.” I get tight and make lists: my favorite sundresses, my yoga mat, blue tea cup, my computer, my four-color pens. I need my pillows, my hiking boots, my decaffeinated green tea and all my earrings.

The more I can relax and be present, the more I can trust that everything will work out, and that I have the power to change what I need to, the less attached I am to what I “need.” The less I need, the freer, the more peaceful, the more content I am. And the more at home I feel.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

This is my intention for the summer and beyond. May it be so for you. Make yourself at home wherever you are and however you are.

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P.S. For more on this topic, read Rick Hanson’s post Be Home from Just One Thing

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kind without caving dalai lamaIn yoga this morning I’m finding my feet in the flow of poses, feeling the ripple of my spine, bobbling, tipping, falling over, then finding my feet and spine again. When I get myself into a pose, I am determined to hold it, keep it, not lose it. That’s when Liz, our instructor, glides past my mat and says, “Be soft and strong at the same time.”

I lose my drishti and eyeball her. I so want it to be one or the other. I want my poses to be all soft and bendy or I want them to be crisp and sharp. I don’t even know how to do both. My brain and body look at Liz and knit their collective eyebrows, “At the same time?

Even though it feels unfamiliar and even counter-intuitive, I practice being both soft and strong on my mat. Over and over, I plant my feet and lengthen my spine and get strong and grounded without caving my chest or collapsing my core. And then I soften: soften my jaw, soften my eyes, soften my heart. There is a sensation when I can find the balance – a sweet spot of both/and.

It’s no shock that I deal with this bamfoozelment off the mat, too. With people, to be perfectly candid. I am forever figuring out how to be soft and strong at the same time.

I want to be kind. I value kindness. Kindness feels good. I never regret kindness.

So I practice kindness as I make my way through my day. I practice sending kindness to that zipperhead who just careened past me on the highway. I let my tight hands soften on the wheel. I melt my scowly eyebrows. I practice kindness with the person who cannot put their phone down ~ not at the table, not in yoga, not while driving. I breathe softly and wish her well. I practice kindness with the friend who is so stuck in his self-sabotaging pattern ~ a friend with whom I’ve had this exact same conversation 6000 times.

And yet. I want to be strong. I value strength. I don’t want people to walk all over me or take advantage. I want to call it like I see it. I want to have a backbone.

So I practice standing up for myself. I practice saying what is so and doing my best to tell the truth even when it’s difficult or embarrassing or not what the other person wants to hear. I practice asking for what matters to me…without being controlling … or saying what doesn’t need to be said … or overstepping my bounds or….

Argh.

How do I do this? How can I be soft and strong at the same time? How can I be clear without being defended? How can I be kind without caving? It feels like when my first ballet teacher told me to draw my front ribs together. Um, what? I don’t think I even have muscles that do that. Be soft and strong? Be kind without caving? I don’t even know how to begin.

To unwind this contradiction, I’m bringing in the big guns: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He said,

Cherishing others does not mean ignoring our own needs and caring only for others….While one form of self-interest is selfish, stingy, and irritable, another is wise self-interest that understands that benefiting ourselves and helping others need not be contradictory.

As is often the case with HH14, I find myself wanting him to explain more instead of turning away from the microphone right when he’s going to tell me how to do it.

If I sit with his words, though, just as if I sit with the sensation in a yoga pose, I can feel the difference between “selfish, stingy, and irritable” and “clear and strong.” I feel my attachment to controlling my friend or other drivers and phone users — and that attachment is not strength. I feel my resistance to the way people are and the nature of things — and that resistance is not soft. What I’m looking for is a middle way just like when I can feel my feet planted and my spine lifted while my neck and shoulders relax.

Like everything, it is a practice. “Soft and strong” and “kind without caving” have distinct sensations. The practice is becoming more familiar, more intimate with how that middle way feels and when I lose it — which I do, over and over — to keep coming back.

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“How generous are you willing to be? Will you share yourself? Do you dare? Or are you just going to be stingy? In case you fall? In case you fail? How generous are you willing to be with your whole life?” ~ Jesua

One of my favorite definitions of generosity (yes, I’m going all English major-y again) is “freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.” I’ve received materially generous gifts that were replete with meanness or smallness of mind. They felt terrible to receive. Gifts given with strings attached or hidden agendas are stinginess in disguise.

Generosity of the spirit requires an open, vulnerable heart. Generosity of my energy, of myself, is risky. What if my gift isn’t welcomed or accepted? What if they don’t like it, and by extension, don’t like me? What if I’m rejected or laughed at?

It takes courage to step forward and generously offer that which only you can give. Your gifts, your Self. How generous are you willing to be?

My wonderful yoga teacher, Liz Reynolds sent an essay to me not long ago that speaks directly to the courage it takes to be truly generous. The writer, Jesua, tells the story of studying modern dance in her twenties after a serious illness that left her nervous system damaged. Moving in a room full of lithe and nimble dancers, she felt clumsy and gracelessness, embarrassed and ashamed.

When I was in my early thirties, I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to dance. My students these days often presume that not only have I come from a dance background, but that throughout my life I was always the first one on the dance floor.

So very not, actually. I was far too self-conscious and fearful to dance. Except for 5-year-old ballet, my first dance class was when I was 33 and I never got on a dance floor without heavy alcohol lubrication (and even then, my dancing was severely inhibited). I know all about that embarrassed shame and fear of ridicule that Jesua describes.

The story goes on, though. Jesua sticks with her dancing and she heals both her body and her mind. She starts to get it, to feel the connections and the flow. This part of the story resonated with me, too. I’ve been teaching movement for 15 years and I know the feeling of my body and mind becoming more integrated, of the flow of movement and energy, of being danced.

But then the essay took a turn that made me catch my breath. The author tells of a day when the dancers were warming up in the studio and her teacher stopped everything and came up to her in a rush of loving fierceness and said,

“How generous are you willing to be? How generous are you willing to be with your whole life? Will you share yourself with us? With the world? Do you dare? Or are you just going to hold yourself tightly in, hold these long arms and legs all to yourself?
“Are you just going to be stingy? Just keep yourself to yourself for the rest of your life? In case you fall? In case you fail? In case you make a fool of yourself? In case we see how imperfect you are?
“OR: are you going to choose to just be generous anyway? To just take up as much space as you actually take up? To be as big, as graceful, as long, as gorgeous, as enormous as you actually are?”

My eyes filled when I read these words, I feel the truth of them …for myself, for my students, for so many people I know. When will you unfold yourself, show up and give us the gift of you? How generous are you willing to be?

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