Monday, February 28, 2011

Valuing Perplexity

We all have problems. We all grapple with the unknown, about the Universe, sure, but more specifically about our own complicated life. We all want to solve our problems as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Sometimes it is only by questioning, or struggling, that we are driven to understand an otherwise hidden part of ourselves and our potential. Our questions fuel us to open our hearts, to seek for inspiration, to perform the necessary work, and more profoundly, to abandon our will to the grander wisdom of the divine. We must at once be willing to seek and do, and also sit comfortably and simply be with what we don't know or with what doesn't feel comfortable-happily resolved with the phrase, "I don't know." And sometimes to get real answers we must be willing to sit in our own darkness for a while.

This human tendency for control occurs regularly in our yoga practice as many of us strive to either know everything there is to know about yoga or try to perfect our poses; we usually eagerly fill in whatever blanks present themselves in our life's scripts.

Instead, let us practice this week the yoga principle of Santosha, or contentment, by learning to sit with and even value perplexity.

The following poem by David Whyte seems to speak directly to learning from the darkness, instead of running from it.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb


The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

~ David Whyte ~

I'm out of town this weekend. See you at Prana next week.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I'm thinking of that big part of our yoga practice, our souls. What is that, anyway? This week, as I was practicing yoga, I felt it again for the millionth time. That big, big, part which is right there, which is everything but which is the part that I can't really put a name to. It's not Scott. It's bigger.

And I guess this is what people have been trying to point to since there have been people. We all have such a grand language for it. Such a crisis over it. We go to war over it. We put each other in hell for it. Something that isn't a question. Something that's right there. I can reach out and touch it. And sometimes, I feel that you can too-- yours, yes but mine, too. As I'm teaching and I can see you getting into your groove, I see you breathing, I see the focus. Then I see it when things click, lights go on behind your eyes and I see you think to yourself, "There it is!"

And if you're like me, you get it and before you know it, it slips between your fingers and suddenly you're looking all over for it again, under the couch, behind the dresser, because you thought you knew what it was and what it looked like but now you're not so sure any more.

Then it seems to find you because it was there all the time, or you were there and you and it are all the same thing.

Pretty soon, I guess we get so comfortable with it--it's like Peter Pan stitching his shadow onto the sole of his shoe--it doesn't go away anymore. Maybe Patantaji, the ancient guru/yoga scholar who wrote the yoga sutras about finding that big part of yourself called Samadhi, maybe his first given name was Peter Pan until he was reborn with the truth that his sole is always there, right at his feet, and it was then that he was bestowed the honorable name, Patanjali. He learned and teaches that it is by singular concentration that we simply open our eyes to it. We learn to see again.

This is what our practice is about. This is why it's a practice, yes, because it is slippery. And because it feels really, really, good every time we make that discovery, and even the journey leading up to it.

One of my guru teachers is poet Mary Oliver. She's a teacher whom I've never met but who has taught me so much by her simple and astounding words, written after she has paid acute attention to this amazing heaven, the world around us. She wrote (in much fewer words than I, mind you) something about this practice of searching for the soul. Enjoy.



Understand, I am always trying to figure out

what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape--

and so, last week,
when I found on the beach
the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died

hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something--
for the ear bone


is the portion that lasts longest
in any of us, man or whale; shaped
like a squat spoon
with a pink scoop where

once, in the lively swimmer's head,
it joined its two sisters
in the house of hearing,
it was only

two inches long--
and I thought: the soul
might be like this--
so hard, so necessary--


yet almost nothing.
Beside me
the gray sea
was opening and shutting its wave-doors,

unfolding over and over
its time-ridiculing roar;
I looked but I couldn't see anything
through its dark-knit glare;

yet don't we all know, the golden sand
is there at the bottom,
though our eyes have never seen it,
nor can our hands ever catch it


lest we would sift it down
into fractions, and facts--
and what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
the pale-pink morning light.

I hope to see you in class.


Monday, February 14, 2011

A Love Letter

The root of the practice of yoga is loving awareness. So to that end, and because it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ve written a love letter. Here goes . . .

I love moving my body. I love a moment of stillness and the chance to draw inward and feel the moment. I love to watch someone else offer a random and selfless act of kindness, to see a person stoop to drop a dollar into the worn hat of a street musician. I love sitting around a table of friends, our cheek muscles sore from smiling and laughing, breaking bread and simply stewing in each other’s presence. I love to teach yoga. I love to sing my guts out to a really, really good song, most often alone and most often in the car. I love it when someone shares something personal or painful and trusts me enough to hold their heart for a moment as we look into each other’s eyes. I love the permission to be held in the same way. I deeply love Celeste who gets me more than anyone else and who believes in me more than I do. She reminds me of who I am. I love the opportunity to grow and to learn, even if it’s after scraping your way up a grueling mountainside only to realize that you’ve crawled up the wrong mountain and now that you’ve learned that lesson, you’re on to the next peak, clueless about new struggles. It’s especially easy to love that last one after you’ve been away from it long enough to appreciate the lesson. I love playing the saxophone. I love the feeling of the weight of sax around my neck. I love the action of the keys under my fingers. I love the freedom to dance along a form of a song and find some way of carving a path, a message inside that path. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting next to my teacher in a sax lesson and we’re both practicing improvising together and he’ll rip off some outrageous line of notes that makes me take me sax out of my mouth in some sort of clear deference and all I can do is shake my head in equal parts amazement and equal parts “blues face.” I love that. I love it when people hug me. I love it when I get to see people grow. I love it when someone comes to some realization or learns something and things I’d understand so they share it with me. I love that people are willing to share who they are with me. I love the perfectly timed joke, its wit and gracious power to send a lightning bolt of laughter through my guts and I love it when an entire room explodes into laughter. I love that scene in the movie Invincible when the character Vince Papale, played by Mark Wahlberg, shows up to open tryouts for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 without a hope of making the team, without a chance to make even the first cut, just a regular guy without the support of even his family members, not even himself believing that it could happen. But he shows up nonetheless, in jeans and a t-shirt, a scowl on his face reflecting the fear in his heart and almost smothering the single ember of hope buried deep down inside. But he showed up. I love that hope. I love walking with my love around the block late at night, shivering hand in shivering hand, barely hanging on to all of this, but hanging on, together, with nothing that needs be said but the sound of our boots scraping along the street as the cold light filters from the street light onto our shoulders. I love seeing someone do what they are really good at, a guitar player, a teacher, an asana practitioner. I love my family who lets me be whoever I am and loves me for it. I love listening to people’s stories. I love moving my body. I love running in the canyon at dusk when the night is beginning to come alive and I feel invited into that mystery, my lungs pumping, my legs moving, my feet dancing on the trail beneath me as they somehow navigate rocks, roots and dirt in the dark. I love the support I have received as I’ve taken a leap to start this new adventure of Prana Yoga. I love all those who believe in me. I love meeting someone for the first time. I love it when people are creative. I love a great discussion. I love art. I love to hear music that makes my face turn sour with the funk of a great lick. I love the warmth of a coffee house. I love the Morning Bun and hot chocolate at Tulie Bakery. I love the feeling when I know someone has my back, even simply by patting me on the back and giving the old shoulder a squeeze, tacitly telling me that it’s going to be ok. I love a good poem. I love a good story. I love driving away from my uncle’s ranch in Woodland, after a fantastic retreat, snow piled high beside the road, the sun light and warmth soaking through the window and landing on my face, nothing but the sound of the engine and my own thoughts, as I feel the hum of the road beneath me and the hum of the heart inside me purr to some rhythm, understood by something deeper than intellect. Love that. I love a heart-wrenching song. I love a mean harmonica or banjo or fiddle player. I love it all. May I invite you to write your own love letter and then watch how you walk around all day filled with the enchantment of what you love. Watch how this shines to all those around you.

I’ve decided to include some fantastic love poems as well.

(For Scott, From Celeste)
By Celeste keele

To be the size of a butterfly,
my soft, colorful wings
folded 'round me,
and rest from this flying
inside a smooth canyon
of his broad heart.
To be small enough,
tonight, To be the size
in this dark,
to find refuge there.
To be in his cupped hands,
fingers parting
and releasing me at dawn,
sending me
with his prayers
to the sun.

The Gift
By Hafiz

Union is like this:

You feel cold
So I reach for a blanket to cover
Our shivering feet.

A hunger comes into your body
So I run to my garden
And start digging potatoes.

You ask for a few words of comfort and guidance,
I quickly kneel at your side offering you
This whole book—
As a gift.

You ache with loneliness one night
So much you weep

And I say,

Here’s a rope,
Tie it around me,

Will be your companion
For life.



The illuminated

Whoe keeps
Seducing the formless into form

Had the charm to win my

Only a Perfect One

Who is always
Laughing at the word

Can make you know



Like This
by Rumi

If anyone asks you about the huris, show your face, say: like this!
If anyone asks you about the moon, climb up on the roof, say: like this!
If anyone seeks a fairy, let them see your countenance,
If anyone talks about the aroma of musk, untie your hair [and] say: like this!
If anyone asks: "How do the clouds uncover the moon?" untie the front of
Your robe, knot by knot, say: like this!

If anyone asks: "How did Jesus raise the dead?" kiss me on the lips, say:
like this!

If anyone asks: What are those killed by love like?" direct him to me, say:
like this!

If anyone kindly asks you how tall I am, show him your arched eyebrows,
say: like this!