Voting as Duty (and another practice in living your yoga)

You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich. But nobody has more votes than you. All human beings are more equal to each other than they are unequal. And voting is the great equalizer. It is important. It is imperative. There is no time for complacency.”
Maya Angelou, Winston-Salem Journal

I registered to vote the day I turned eighteen years old. It was 1989, and I was full of ideals and passionate optimism. I believed in my country. I believed in personal freedom. I believed everyone living in America had the same opportunities. I was naïve beyond belief, thinking, as many eighteen year olds do, that everything I needed to know I already knew. I was intelligent and free thinking, after all. Wasn’t I?

background

I was raised in a small town in Eastern Washington where it was commonplace to see more than one pickup truck on any given day outside the Feed and Seed with a gun rack and a “protected by Smith and Wesson” bumper sticker (located just above the mud flap women). My family lived on a gravel cul-de-sac in a house with a wrap around deck that my dad built by hand. From that deck, I could see the Interstate on one side and Idaho on the other. We had a vegetable garden and a freestanding garage in our yard where my dad fixed cars, built everything from furniture to dollhouses, and hung deer during hunting season. We owned a large, hand-built dining room table, but most nights we ate our dinner on TV trays while watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I never went without food or fresh water and I always had clean clothes (though I didn’t always wear them…).

I spent countless hours of my childhood running with wild abandon alongside the river that flowed from the Idaho panhandle past my hometown on the way to the Columbia River. I loved nature and I had no fear when I was in it. Well, that’s not true. I was afraid of spiders. And there were plenty of spiders where I grew up, but the men in my life handled them. All in all, I had it pretty good.

voting: a brief personal history

I have several memories of being bundled up in the back of my parent’s car to make the ride to the elementary school where my parents disappeared into little booths to cast their ballots. From an early age, I yearned for my chance to take part in this mysterious ritual, and I loved the feel of a community gathering together (I also loved the free cookies and the flag sticker that I got from being there). I had no idea exactly how my parents voted, but I knew that they took this responsibility seriously, and that I was being primed to follow in their footsteps.

It was a no-brainer that I would register to vote the day I turned eighteen, even though the first Presidential Election I would participate in wouldn’t happen for another three years. I was now an official adult. I had my own car, my own job, and I was now a card carrying registered voter. Could I be more mature?

The first Presidential Election that I had the fortune to be involved in was in 1992. It was strange and exciting times. I was living in the big city of Seattle when more than half the residents were wearing ripped jeans and flannel. “Grunge” had become a style and a descriptor for a certain type of music. I was living in a rundown apartment that had wood floors that slanted from age and where more than one appliance turned on at a time blew a circuit. I worked in the circulation department at the local newspaper and I was hanging out with people who talked politics over coffee. My over-caffeinated head was spinning with enthusiastic idealism.

At the time, Bill Clinton was running against George H.W. Bush, and people were thinking about presidential candidates in different ways. Bill had proven that a candidate could be “cool” and could discuss his underwear preference on MTV. He talked easily with young adults as a valid audience and he spoke in a way that didn’t immediately turn off blue collar workers. In fact, blue collar workers seemed as smitten as I did (that is if they weren’t smitten with Ross Perot). President Bush (Sr.) seemed sweet and grandfatherly, but he wasn’t as exciting, different, or charming in the ways Clinton or even Perot were.

I was about to cast my first ballot in an election that mattered, and I was filled with pride and what I can only describe as a feeling of superiority. I knew best what this country needed, and I judged anyone who thought differently than I did. It was an “us” against “them” thing. My thought was that if you didn’t vote the same way I did, you were ignorant, uninformed and wrong. Or you just didn’t care. About anything.

present day (or “The Yoga of Politics”)

There have been several elections since my first, and my passionate belief in the process has never waned. I believe in democracy and I love that I have the freedom to participate in it. What has happened in the many years since my first election, however, is that I care less about how people vote (of course I wish they would agree with my choices..) and more about the importance that people contribute to the process by voting. I would go so far as to say that I think voting is not only a right, but a duty. And here’s why I think that:

  • People have literally been beaten, jailed, and killed fighting for the right to vote in America. People are currently struggling over the same right in some countries.
  • Government impacts everything from social services to roadways to health care to environmental and international policy. Nearly everything we touch has some connection to policies that are enacted by government; the food you eat, the roads you drive on, the air you breath, the doctors you see, etc. If you think in any way that it doesn’t matter or you aren’t impacted, I dare say (lovingly, of course) that you are mistaken.
  • Taxes are spent on services that impact communities. Politicians decide how that money is allocated. Our elected officials make spending decisions based on how we vote. If you don’t vote, your voice/choice isn’t counted.

If you care about your personal rights, your family, your community, your country, and the world (or even just one of those), you will vote. Voting is staking a claim in the future and participating in community. It’s giving a damn about something larger than yourself. And that’s pretty cool.

As a yogi, I view voting as just one more act where I get to live my yoga. Yoga doesn’t begin or end on the mat. It’s being in the world in a way that speaks to my values as a human being who is connected to all other human beings. It’s living intentionally and committing to action and service.

I know that there are a lot of people I care deeply for who have different values and beliefs than I do and who are voting differently than I am. What I can say is that I am voting from my own values and from my heart. I’ve been a bleeding heart liberal for as long as I can remember (which is shocking, given my upbringing), and no amount of yoga is going to change that. But yoga has softened my need to change anyone but myself. The fact that I am voting for Obama does not take away my ability to love my more conservative friends and family. In fact, yoga has helped to soften my reactions to dissidence and to respond in a less defensive and more open way (more proof that balance can happen off the mat, too).

If you’re an American citizen and you’ve already mailed in your ballot, I thank you. If you are waiting to mail it in, I encourage you to do that as soon as you can, because you never know what might happen, and isn’t it nicer to take the time to be thoughtful about it? Turn on some nice music, light candles, burn incense, pour a glass of wine or green juice- do whatever it takes to get in the mood. Think about the people you love and who love you. Think about your community. Think about your country and your planet. And when you’re done, you can walk a little taller knowing that you participated in an important civic duty. I bow to you.

And to those of you waiting to go to the polls, I hope all goes well for you. I hope the lines are short and the cookies plentiful. I hope someone smiles at you on the way in and shakes your hand on your way out. I bow to you, too. Thank you for taking part in this very important act. You matter.

take off the mask, you beautiful mess.

The Moment
~Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Yesterday I was running errands when all of a sudden I was saturated with an overwhelming feeling of anger. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and irritated by anyone who was in my way. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be in nature. I wanted the library that I was encapsulated in to disappear and for everyone to shut up. I needed silence. And for some reason, libraries are no longer the sanctuary they used to be…

I usually love going to the library, but at that very moment, I didn’t want to be surrounded by library walls and library books and enthusiastic school children. I was suffocating in my awful mood and feeling too large to be held by four walls. I was pissed at the woman in front of me who was patiently teaching her son how to use the self check out, and I was irritated when one of my books didn’t register on the machine. I wanted to scream at the librarian and push everyone out of my way so I could beeline to the park where the trees were undoubtedly continuing to change colors under a hazy autumn sky. I was missing the show.

The funny thing about these moods is that I notice right away just how irrational and awful they are. But there’s a sense of urgency and intensity that is hard to shake off, let alone rationalize. If I slow down enough and utilize my breath, I can instantly notice the judgments that happen in my mind and the ways I want to lash out at other people who are around. Apparently, I want to make everyone else feel just as crappy as I do. Don’t they know I’ve had a hard day? Don’t they know I’ve had cancer? Don’t they know the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that I’m missing the trees changing in the park?

ahhh, the joys of anger

Brené Brown clarifies in her book Daring Greatly  (which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone wanting an amazingly life changing read on tapping into personal courage and living more authentically and wholeheartedly) that anger is a “secondary emotion, one that only serves as a socially acceptable mask for many of the more difficult underlying emotions we feel” (p. 34). Oh, right. My anger wasn’t really anger after all. It was sadness.

It’s true that my outward frustration was more socially acceptable than me melting down in a puddle of tears, but I felt like one of those monsters in Where the Wild Things Are. I was a beast who could have ripped my books apart and busted through the ceiling. I didn’t seem to have any ability to manage myself in that moment and, in hindsight, I should have listened to my gut in the first place and just bypassed the errands to go directly to the park. But I didn’t have that insight at the time. I just had my crappy mood and my sadness masked as anger (is there a Halloween costume brewing, here?).

I suppose the moral of the story (and I’m reaching, here) is that I need to take more time for myself and to notice when I’m feeling sad. Even if it means losing the books I have on hold at the library or not picking up my beloved coconut creamer at the grocery store. It means not checking my email or twitter or facebook to see if there’s anything I’m missing. Sometimes life is more important that the chores or tasks I have imprinted in my brain- those “shoulds” and “coulds”. And the real connection I long for is the one that doesn’t exist inside or online.

So, my friends, my personal assignment is to become more aware of my own needs in any given moment and to listen to my gut, which happens to be right a good portion of the time. If I need more outside time, I’m going for it. I’m going to (try to) admit my imperfections, even it means looking like a watery mess, and honor that this moment is another opportunity for growth. This is what I love about yoga- it’s all a practice and a journey.

The Yoga Sutras begins with Atha Yoganushasanam, translated as something like “now begins the practice/discourse of yoga”. It all leaves room for improvement. That was then, this is now. The past and the future do not exist. There is only now, and this is my yoga practice.

reality bites. confessions of an imperfect yogi

holy crap. I suck.

Last night my sweet, patient, loving partner said these words to me: “If only people knew you weren’t the person you portray on your blog”. Ouch. I’m not?

Apparently, the person I am at home can be really impatient and snappy with a cynical edge…

And yet here I am thinking I’m on this pilgrimage toward enlightenment with hopes of being patient, kind, compassionate, witty and good. And, for the most part, that’s what the world sees…unless we’re related or I’m really hungry or I was just cut off in traffic, of course. And it never fails that when I’m mean-spirited, impatient, or brazen in a bad way, I experience a major guilt complex afterward and I get all judgy and in my own face.

some of the horrible things I say to myself:

 A real yogi wouldn’t act that way.

Someone who is really good or compassionate or kind wouldn’t do that really terrible thing you just did.

You’re a yogi hypocrite.

You don’t practice Ahimsa or Satya or Asteya, (enter any number of yogic terms, here), blah, blah, blah.

You need to get the hell out of contact with people. You’re totally irrational and super freaky, sister.

Wow, you have some serious karma to work off.

What the hell are you thinking? Are you insane? Yes. You’re insane.

Now you’ve blown it. That person sees the real you.

No wonder you got cancer.

wtf?!?

Ok. I’m lying. I’m actually way meaner in my head. And I curse more. Way more.  But I don’t know that it means I’m not the person I portray here on my little blog. Maybe it means that I’m constantly changing and that I’m totally imperfect, but in a human on a journey to be a better person kind of a way. Because every pilgrim and every seeker has different experiences and struggles that they need to go through in order to be a better person. My path might just be a windier one….

But here’s the grab. I’m open about my imperfections, and in a large part, I accept myself as a work in progress. This life is ever changing, and I am always working on cultivating forgiveness and patience. When I catch myself saying a variation of any of the cruel statements above in my head (about myself or anyone), I try to slow down to notice it. Where’s that coming from? Is that the real truth (answer: NO). And when that fails (as is often the case), I try to reflect later to think about what the real truth is; the truth isn’t that I’m a terrible person. The truth is that I may have had a moment (or longer) when I was irrational or mean (or any number of things), and that I’m a human being on this human journey. I make mistakes (sometimes really big ones) and I try my best to make up for it, grow from it, and learn about myself and others.  And that, my friends, makes me a freaking righteous yogi. Just one with an attitude.

Daring Greatly- a pledge to live wholeheartedly

taking the wholehearted pledge

My Friday morning yoga book club is currently participating in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly online read along and we are so freaking on fire and inspired by it. Just reading the preface and intro felt like a much needed kick in the pants to begin living more intentionally and authentically; no more judgment. Well…it’s impossible to let go of judgment altogether, because judgment comes with the human experience…but the idea is to focus less on what others think and more on living wholeheartedly (a huge piece of this book). Brené outlines how to do this so perfectly:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.
~Brené Brown (2012, p 10)

Hot fucking damn. That’s exactly what I want more of; courage, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. So, without sounding like a book report, I offer here my pledge for living more fully and daring greatly (based on the “guideposts” for wholehearted living that Brené offers in the intro):

  • I pledge to be more connected, engaged, and loving in my relationships. The people in my life mean the world to me, and I want to let them know that through my words and actions. I want to tell people why they matter to me, even if I sound like a crazy person.
  • I pledge to take more time for play. Designated time without talk about work, money, or stress. No checking email or social media. No tv. No chores. Opening up to FUN. Stepping into the world and noticing how it feels to just be (insert deep sigh of relief here).
  • I pledge to allow more mess in my life/environment in order to make space for creativity. The laundry and dishes can wait. I have a life to live. Living wholeheartedly and allowing vulnerability means allowing people to see me in my full messy glory. And the more I allow people to see me for who I really am (chaos and messiness included), the more I can be open to deep human connections.
  • I pledge to begin taking more risks and thinking less about what people might think. There’s a lovely fierceness in being bold. I want to do what I feel inspired to do- break into dance in public, sing out loud, practice yoga on a crowded beach, ride my bike through puddles (you get the picture).
  • I pledge to speak my truth, even when it’s scary or leaves me feeling exposed (within reason, of course). This is the whole “speak your truth, even if your voice shakes” principal. My thought is that if my voice is shaking or I’m experiencing fear, I’m closest to my truth. And when I squelch my truth, I’m letting myself down.

All of this, and I haven’t even begun chapter one. Hot damn. I love this book.

SUP Yoga: Breath, Balance, Fear

warrior one on the shore. cheating? maybe.

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself. 
~ Kierkegaard

Stepping onto a stand up paddleboard (SUP) didn’t change me, and neither did taking my yoga practice onto the wobbly surfboard shaped mat. I didn’t leave the two hours on the SUP thinking that this was going to be my yoga practice from now on. I didn’t have some miraculous experience of complete balance on the water with a life changing awareness of myself as a yogi (quite the opposite, in face).  But I loved every minute of the practice. I would even go so far to say that because of my SUP yoga experience, I understand more keenly the importance of taking risks rather than staying in stagnancy- now that’s a pretty big deal.

Back story: I purchased a deal on Living Social several months ago for 3 sessions of SUP yoga for a nominal fee. I couldn’t seem to find a friend to go with me, and I was considering not going because of my nervousness of trying something new/ scary/ different. I finally decided that I had a very narrow window of warm weather in Seattle, and I was being un-adventurous (which is unacceptable). If I didn’t go I was not only wasting money, but I was possibly missing out on something really great. So I registered for a class online and ventured down to Washington Surf Academy just south of Shilshole Marina on a gorgeous day in mid September. I rented a wetsuit and sat in a chair waiting nervously for the others to arrive for class (I’m nearly always unfashionably early).

After sitting awkwardly on a bench  in the wetsuit, I finally decided to forego it for the comfort of my own yoga clothes (the first of many risky moves). This was partially prompted by the fact that nobody else had a wetsuit on. I made my way with the group of very fit yogis to the beach where we set off for our practice space.  We paddled along shore and across a main waterway where boats set off waves and sea lions jumped in their search for migrating salmon. My sea legs were barely forming and there I was, teetering on a skinny little board in the Puget Sound alongside seven other people. We had all hooked our SUP’s to a rope that was connected between two buoys, but even still we drifted with the current and bobbed with the waves. I loved the sun on my skin and the sounds of water, birds and boats around me, but I struggled with keeping myself steady as we moved our practice from standing to sitting to actually attempting poses that require balance and attention to the breath. Every breath felt like I could pitch myself into the water. Every movement felt like a dangerous experiment. For the first time in years, I was petrified of yoga postures. It was lovely.

Something happens with fear that isn’t life threatening; it makes the body come alive to the senses. I felt my heart in my chest and could hear pulsing in my ears. I could see with a bit more clarity and I tasted the salty quality of the air on my lips. When we closed our eyes to begin our practice, my ears perked up to sounds around me. I tried relaxing and realized that the best I could do was to surrender to the fact that I was in this predicament and I just had to try; another opportunity to practice surrendering. Thanks, Universe.

I listened attentively to the instructor, Hasna Altry (who is truly blessed at teaching SUP yoga- or any type of yoga, for that matter), and I attempted nearly every pose (aside from wheel or headstand, which just felt like asking for a swim). I pushed my hands and feet into the board in downward dog, working to point my tailbone to the sky as if my life depended on me forming the perfect V. I balanced on my board with my arms and legs spread in a wide warrior pose and I worked hard to settle the chatter in my mind. I moved slowly through the asana noticing details that I rarely pay attention to when I’m on dry land; like what happens when I focus more on listening for approaching waves than on my body and breath (answer: complete loss of balance).

We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light.
~Hafiz

What I learned in SUP yoga more than anything is that I need to experience little bits of fear from time to time, just to feel my pulse and remind myself that I’m alive. I need to slow down enough to notice the details of what’s going on in my body when I’m scared and to observe the ways I hold panic when it’s not about life and death but more about taking a risk.  I’ve lived through some pretty big ordeals, and I’ve made it through relatively unscathed (scars aside, I’m pretty fortunate). I need to remind myself that I’m courageous. And SUP yoga helped me to realize that it’s not only important to confront my fears, but that it’s an act of bravery to admit them.

I confess openly that SUP yoga was scary, but I can also say that I’ve never experienced a better savasana (corpse pose- final relaxation) than the one in SUP yoga- envision the sounds of water lapping underneath, sea birds overhead and sunshine pouring over your entire body. It’s magical. And it was the perfect way to end an act of courage- to connect to the universe in complete and utter relaxation. This is all there is. I am in control of my body and mind. And if I fall in, I get wet. So what?