This year, our tree can only have lights due to the overabundance of Fresh Cats in this house. All four of said Fresh Cats range in age from 6 months to not even 3 years. And two of them in particular (I won't name names...Tuppy and Lilly) love to insert themselves inside the tree!
Every morning, Tuppy, Toby, Lilly, and Daisy are just Happy and Excited to Be Alive! The joy with which they approach each day is infectious.
As it should be. Though there has been sadness in our lives recently, it never ceases to amaze me how abundant Joy and Love and Beauty is, and how it works to assert its presence even in the midst of darkness.
And so we come to Christmas Eve.
Tonight, Marcy and I will attend Midnight Mass at the Cathedral. A Mass of candle light and song and great ritual. A Mass signifying the end of the dark season and the beginning of the light. A Mass to remind us that there is so much Love in the here and now that nothing, not even death, is greater.
What better reason to celebrate?
May all of you have Great Love in your Lives; May all of you be Showered in Healing Light.
May your Hearts be wide open to that which you most need.
I taught a private Yoga Dance class recently to a group of yoga teacher friends, who have created a lovely sister community after having gone through teacher training together. It made me miss the community that happens through training, the community of shining, bright, beautiful women who accompanied me through Yoga Dance training, who saw me so clearly and affirmed my deepest needs and desires.
Though, of course, being around a group like this in any way is a gift and a blessing. They were so warm and took me in so graciously. Here you can see us all after the class, sparkling from the fun and the sweat of it. (One person is missing, obviously, and taking the photo.)
This week as we approach the birth of light and love, are you surrounding yourself with people who support your most beautiful and dream-filled self?
Last week, at a very fragile time, I got a snarky and mean comment on this blog. It was flagged as possible spam and so I got to delete it before anyone saw it. I do not do snark. I do not post snark responses. Snark is sarcasm taken to a new (low) level and it usually is born of a writer's own insecurities. (There is an entire book out about how it is indicative of the fall of a culture.)
But this post is not about that. It is about the content of the snarky comment: the writer was asserting (anonymously, of course) that I am not a Real Dancer. That my age forbids that, first of all. That no one will ever take me seriously. That yogadance does not exist and that what I do is simply fun exercise.
This brings up a lot, doesn't it?
First, the term "Real Dancer." I have the soul of a dancer. Period. This person has also never seen me dance...but beyond that, I am a Real Dancer, because I dance every day; I take my dancing seriously and it is my Work in this World; I share that love with others. I could go on and on, but you, dear regular readers of Blisschick, don't need me to, because you come to this blog with open and loving hearts.
You know that the world's definitions of us are too limited, too small, and that we are way too shiny and grand to stay in those shoddy, cardboard boxes.
What constitutes a "REAL" anything? Writer? Painter? Singer? Yogi?
I will tell you what! Intention.
What intention do you bring to this world and your work here? I bring passion and joy and love and desire and need to my dancing. I must dance. Therefore, I am Dancer.
Fame and fortune are obviously the only things my snarky commenter thinks are important in this life.
For me, Dance is my Path -- physically, intellectually, creatively, and spiritually all at once.
I feel badly for people who use age as an excuse to avoid anything.
Third, YogaDance. I will no longer partake of this discussion after this post. One, dance was our first spiritual path once we were upright and walking. Two, therefore yoga was born of dance and not the other way around (yoga asanas are NOT that old). Dance is in every single human being ever born. Babies dance; toddlers dance. Third, my spiritual path is not the same as yours and STOP THINKING YOU CAN KNOW MY INSIDES.
Furthermore, YogaDance is about bringing a yogic level of mindfulness and breath to Dance, which has definitely been missing for most dancers. For example, watch this video about one of our important choreographers, and you will see that the dancers are rather mystified by his emphasis on breath and it is new to them to think that breath could inform movement!
I am so frustrated by know-it-alls. I am so frustrated by infighting in the freaking yoga world. I am so frustrated by angry people who just want everyone else to be as miserable as they are.
Snark? Cruelty? Anything but Love? You are not welcome here. You are Served Notice.
When you open yourself to Love, you also open the inevitable door to loss. Loss hurts but there is no alternative.
There is an infinite amount of room at the LilyPad for Love, and in the last couple of years, having a number of older animals, this has meant a lot of loss, and there are moments, to be sure, when I don't think I can do it. When I don't think I have the strength to face it. When I think for sure that this time, this is IT, I am not loving another animal.
Ridiculous, yes, but the mind can get so confused when the heart is hurting.
The main lesson that Miss Zoe the Rabbit set out to teach me from the moment I met her was that there is always room for more love, that love begets love, that love expands us.
When Marcy asked if she could have Miss Zoe, I initially said, No, There is No Room. I changed my mind quickly and then got to watch and feel the love in my life blossom past what I thought were its edges.
Now here we are at loss...again. And those old thoughts of not being able to...again. My initial, instinctive response to this loss is to close ranks. To shove everyone away. To hide my heart. To bear my teeth at anything that feels threatening.
I feel myself pulled toward Fear Based Living, living that is really a slow dying.
Then I went to Mass on Wednesday, after Zoe had peacefully passed on Tuesday evening. I went and I knelt and I prayed and I understood something big (and please, bear with the Catholic of this and see to the core).
That crucifix that seems so macabre to people? It's about this whole love/loss/fear thing. That crucifix at the center, even during the joy of Christmas, reminds us that death is always and forever, but that love is even bigger and stronger and makes us the same. There are multiple times in a Mass where we are reminded to be free of fear, free of anxiety...even with that crucifix at the center.
Be free of fear and anxiety. Always. In the face of anything and everything. Because there is love and again there is love and around that next corner? Love...again...
Marcy and I are quiet right now, because we are mourning the loss of Miss Zoe the Rabbit, the most fabulous, beautiful, sweet, soft animal you would have ever had the privilege to meet.
Side note: Miss Zoe is now, officially, in charge of your Karma, and she says one way to ensure her good graces is to give a donation to Orphan Angels, a no kill cat shelter run totally by volunteers, where they also happen to be taking care of two, large house rabbits.
(The orb tree in winter; remember when it looked like this?)
Last week, I learned a really valuable lesson about teaching movement: that I can do it even when I don't feel well.
Here's the thing: the classes I teach are not typical yoga classes in which the teacher is spending most of their time walking around adjusting and guiding (no judgement here; they are just different). YogaDance is a full participation class, as you can imagine, because part of the point is to create an experience of community.
My other class, Kundalini Yoga & Movement, is also full participation but for a different reason: Kundalini teachers always do the entire set with their students, because part of the point in this modality is creating a shared energetic experience. To walk around and make adjustments would interrupt the energy as it builds.
(Furthermore, in Kundalini there are no "poses" to be adjusted but rather rapid movements that must be explored and discovered and created in each unique body. The movements are simple for this very reason: each body can do them no matter their fitness level, and they can grow and morph as the body becomes stronger and more flexible. Added to that is some amazing, deep, challenging breath work where most of the magic resides. I tell people (and it's true) that the breath work alone could give you a stronger core, which then makes for a more supported spine.)
So last week, I was pretty sick in a way that meant I could NOT move around. This was during a Kundalini class and I had always wondered what would happen, how I would handle this situation. The key, I realized, was not to over talk simply out of a desire to be doing something. The other key was to sit in simple seated as they were sitting or stand as they were standing and imagine the yoga happening in my body so that I might first, speak from a feeling state (as always), and second, be participating on an emotional and spiritual level if not a physical one.
It totally worked! They all affirmed afterward that they had just as awesome (if a bit different) an experience as always.
I also had an amazing time watching them so much more closely than I normally can. To see their faces glowing and their heart centers expanding, to witness their opening and relaxing and rejuvenating was a privilege that I usually only get glimpses of.
In a classical hatha class (of which I have had so many with many different teachers), there is a sense that there is someone leading and others following, but in Kundalini, it feels much more like a religious ritual in which every person is priest or priestess. I was relieved to find out that that feeling can be maintained no matter how I am feeling.
Penn State Erie, the Campus Where I've Been Teaching
Today is a big day: my last class day at Behrend (Penn State Erie) until next Fall. I am excited, to say the least.
I am excited to not have to drive out there in the winter weather. The taste I have gotten this week is icky. I am excited to not have to be thinking about a writing class practically twenty four seven, because that's how I roll. I am excited to be able to completely focus my efforts of my and Marcy's creative works.
But I am also very nervous about that last one. I feel a bit lost, a bit ignorant when it comes to the building-a-business part of teaching yoga/dance/movement. I am a fantastic teacher, but how do I get more students? How do I also work on my own movement creations?
So here I am, standing before you, with open hands and a quizzical look on my face: Do you have any tried and true methods that you are willing to share? Do you have any advice of any kind for this newbie?
I've had a few rough days to put it mildly. That's why you've not heard from me. I have been feeling too raw, challenged by my emotion disregulation -- a state of existence that can also be called "Freaking Out to the Point of Paralysis."
Just because I'm working the program, so to speak, utilizing the techniques I have learned so far through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, well, that doesn't mean that my symptoms have just disappeared. Quite the contrary.
But it does mean that when this happens, I have a sense of what is really going on and I have coping mechanisms -- healthy coping mechanisms, as opposed to the old, rotten, self-destructive ones that I have lived with since I was rather young.
Anyway, long story short: Toby cat had one simple symptom and was perfectly normal otherwise. We thought it was something but that didn't go away so we took him to the vet and he just has some allergy stuff going on. He got an antihistamine and is fine now.
Simple, right? Wrong. When stress and normal human emotions feel like tidal waves and your brain can't discern the difference between TOTAL EMERGENCY and minor regular schtuff, well, it is a snowball turned avalanche kind of way to be. (Sorry about mixing metaphors and all that.)
I immediately think someone is going to die. That my life will end as I know it. That I will never be happy ever again. That I am too...fragile...not strong enough for these things that other people seem to be able to...handle.
None of that is true, of course. My brain is not like your brain. It processes emotion way too big and then it takes a very long time to come down.
This was all happening and I was a mess but I also was not the mess I would have been six months ago.
And during the entire thing, I was praying and meditating on my inability to trust this life, to believe in the love of it.
So here are some reasons I contemplated for NOT freaking out:
Life is essentially beautiful. All of it. Including the end of life. It all matters.
Love is the Ultimate Reality, the Ground Luminosity (to borrow a Buddhist term). Love exists and is not something that can ever, by anything, be destroyed.
Which brings us to the Big One: Death is not the end of anything. It is just change. I still have loving, meaningful relationships with the loved ones who have passed over, including Jobie, Rosie, Ernie, and Scottie Cats, and my Great Aunt Dell, who guides me with her light and laughter to this day.
That's it. Those few, intertwined things are all that matters.
One of my favorite people on this planet happens to be (through this strange and beautiful interwebs) someone I have never met in person, and yet, she is someone who feels like a sister born of my own heart's sorrows and joys. I interviewed Michelle Halm here at the very beginnings of our budding friendship, and she has quickly become one of those people whom I feel I have know forever.
What is that Chinese saying? Something like -- you will know your friends more in ten minutes than you know acquaintances in ten years.
As Advent has begun, she has been on my mind a lot, and it turns out that we are experiencing some similar (at their core) issues. I feel blessed to have someone who understands these mysterious, Catholic parts of me, someone who never finds my faith strange.
There are many people who cannot get past the external, material facts of my life or those of the church for that matter, and so they judge -- from both ends of the political, spiritual spectrums.
But Michelle just gets it.
The whole point of this post was to share something with you that I recently shared with Michelle, but why not express my gratitude at the same time. ((Smile))
Two days ago, I listened to a talk by Rob Bell, and in it, he kept repeating a prayer...a little different each time, and I am about to paraphrase but I think this keeps his meaning.
I think that people may relate to this right now. This season is supposed to be about waiting and preparing our hearts and souls, but we have turned it into a season about "getting." Getting presents. Getting things done. And on and on. (And do not blame media and advertising; we have done this ourselves.)
We have, thus, through our own frenzied actions, stripped the season of the awe and beauty with which it wants to speak to our souls.
So here's a little mantra/prayer to keep in mind. See if it changes something in your heart. See if you gasp a little or perhaps sigh:
One of the last roses in our garden from a few days ago.
The world will be saved by beauty.
--from The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
When I first started this blog, at the top of every post every single day, I would include a link to the music that was my current favorite, and then I would write a small paragraph of that day's bliss. (You can see an example here.)
Every day on every post. This was when I was writing seven days a week.
The point of this part of the blog was to show how, no matter what else is going on, there are always bright spots. Little things that we can be thankful for. Always.
(Side Rant: what a disturbing thing over this past Thanksgiving week to see a backlash against...of all things...GRATITUDE. Too many posts on Facebook were people complaining and saying they didn't feel like feeling grateful. Don't feel like feeling grateful!? This blew my mind. Perhaps they could start by being grateful for having computer access which implies a certain level of wealth...)
I am not sure why I stopped writing that particular part of my blog. It had more to do with design and structure, though, than any sort of existential crisis.
And recently, I have found myself using Facebook to do a similar thing. Anywhere from one to three times a day, I write little "Good Things" lists.
It can seem all Pollyanna, but it is a mindfulness practice and it is one that is speaking to people. Besides the comments I get on my status updates, I have been getting pretty regular emails about my "Good Things" and how much they affect the quality of people's days.
What got me to really thinking about the power of all of this was an email I got the other day via Facebook. I've surely gotten a lot of these, but for some reason, this one made me think.
It was a brief "love note." Just a friend writing to say, basically, "I see you; I care about you" or some such version of that message.
Suddenly, because of that message, I saw my Good Things in a different light. They are a mindfulness practice, for me, for sure, but they are more than that. They also help other people to be more mindful.
As of today, I will change my "Good Things" lists to "Bliss List" on Facebook, and I will start writing them at the top of my posts again, also.
I invite you to do the same.
Let's change the world by noticing one little bit of bliss at a time.