the yoga of tea

Listen,
if you can stand to.
Union with the Friend means not being who you’ve been,
Being instead silence: A Place: A view
Where language is inside seeing.
-Rumi

I don’t sit still very well. Never have.  I’m always scheming about what else I could or should be doing. Even in meditation or asana practice, I’m often battling a case of the “could/shoulds” and cursing myself for not having a cleaner, less cluttered house or thinking about what I could be eating or should be doing for some radical cause or things I could be creating out of my insane amounts of craft supplies. Just sitting isn’t going to change the world or get things done. Or is it?

The funny thing is, the older I get, the more I find that I need periods of sitting in order to get things accomplished- even when I feel as though I’m going to crawl out of my skin. I need time to acclimate to all of the changes that are happening in my life and to force my mind to settle just a little. And even in the chatter that happens when I sit still, a miracle occurs and the could/shoulds come into a clearer perspective and become more of a case of the “maybe laters” or “I can’t remember why that was so important in the first place”.

Since yoga camp (aka: yoga teacher training), two amazing changes have happened in my life that have helped me to find a greater clarity about my need to sit still; Friday morning yoga book club (which should  really more aptly be called “yogis sitting around talking about life and bringing up yoga philosophy over baked goods, green juice, and intermittent cursing”, but that’s just not as easy to fit in my calendar) and periodic marathon afternoon tea dates (lasting upwards of 5-6 hours at a stretch) with some new friends that my partner met in her job as a cheese steward at the local grocery store.

If anyone would have told me a year ago that I would be dedicating large chunks of my time sitting over green juice or hot tea with friends, I would have rolled my eyes and explained that I have very little time for such things.  Now, I can only say that I can’t imagine not making the time to commit to cultivating friendships, dreaming, talking about philosophy, and hearing stories about someone’s life while sipping tea out of dainty little tea cups in an antique filled dining room. These times have helped to remind me that sitting still can often settle my spirit in ways running around and multitasking never do. And, more importantly, I actually get to spend time just being with other human beings- being seen, heard, validated, inspired, and honored.

I spend so much of my time trying to fit an insane amount of things into my life in order to connect more, learn more, create more, or to get more done in less amount of time. I don’t know if there’s a theory in quantum physics to explain it, but I can tell you that in my own experience, it doesn’t work. No amount of tweeting or facebooking or emailing or even talking on the phone can compare to the deep connection that happens when I share time with people face to face (though video chat comes in as a close second). And the less I do at any given moment (meaning the more I slow down and notice what I’m doing), the more time I feel I have. Running at a rapid pace does not make the clock slow down. It just makes me tired.

My new(ish) friend June has been one of my greatest teachers for this very reason. We spend entire afternoons into the evening sitting still in uncomfortable antique chairs while she spins the metaphorical yarn of her life. Rarely do I speak more than a sentence or two, and I have heard many of her stories multiple times. Yet every time she repeats a story, the spark in her eyes shines as if she is offering it up for the first time with worldly wisdom that I will take into my own life (and she is). June believes in the importance of tea, complete with a charming tea set, and connections in a way I’ve never experienced before, and it always feels as though I’ve entered another time where women connect over the dining room table to share oral traditions. It’s lovely. And despite my occasional tendency to get antsy or to fall into my could/should ways, I am honored to call her friend.

I think this must be the yoga of friendship; committing time to cultivate loving relationships over hot tea (or green juice). Looking in the eyes of another person and validating their existence as integral to your very own. Recognizing the divine experience of being human together and practicing patience, compassion, humor, and vulnerability through real connections.

dance

Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Begins.
Maybe you don’t hear the tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
Music. Dance.
A brilliant city inside your soul!

– Rumi

 In the past two weeks, my body has been reawakening and my spirit lifting. I’ve been integrating moments of spontaneously removing my head coverings, which seems like a small thing, I’m sure, but there’s vulnerability in baring a naked head to the world. Especially when that hairlessness isn’t by choice. And so the times when I take off my hat in the park to take advantage of the sun shining down on my crown, I try to quietly acknowledge this temporary place that I currently occupy- that space between treatment and healing, life and death, internal and external. The present moment, where I am able to recognize that vulnerability is a gift of this human experience, and that I am not alone in it.

This past week, I had my fourteenth infusion, and I celebrated the following day by dancing at NIA class with a community of joyful souls. Even though nobody but me and my friends knew about the countdown of infusions, it was a precious gift to feel secure enough to throw my hat and over shirt to the back of the room when I was too hot. Wearing just my camisole and yoga pants, I spun, leapt, and danced with a smile on my face and my bald head shining for the world to see. I couldn’t have felt more beautiful or healthy, and it was clear from the responses of some of my classmates that they appreciated my honest presence- scars and all.

The more I consider what is important in my world, the more it boils down to the people around me and my ability to be authentically me. I love that I’ve been encouraged to be open and honest in my experience and to continue to be my silly self. Cancer doesn’t always make one wise, but it absolutely encourages one to reflect on what really matters. To me, that includes dancing, even when I can’t keep the rhythm, and laughing, even when nobody else gets the joke. Isn’t that where joy begins? And it flows into the world, creating possibility.