The Great Equalizer

Summertime in New York is the great equalizer. There are those days where the heat is so intense that you feel like you’ve walked into a wall when you step  onto the street. We walk slowly and lethargically from our homes to the subway, to work; all the while sweating. No one is immune from the heat. The other week’s 100+ degree temperatures created the perfect reminder of this idea. There wasn’t one of us who walked the sidewalks or stood on the train platform who didn’t have that little bead of sweat run down their back.

Early last week I finished work and headed to the subway. The station itself wasn’t uncomfortable, but it still held the residual effects of the prior week’s heat. The train rolled into the station. I generally get on the last car as its closest to my exit and typically less full than the other cars. That day, however, the car was unusually empty.  I boarded the car and it was immediately obvious there was no air conditioning in the car. And while it was indeed warm, I found it to be tolerable and I sat down enjoying the feeling of rare physical spaciousness around me.

As the train entered the next station, people boarded the train. The immediate reaction for many was to escape to the next car where it was cool and comfortable. For others, exasperation immediately set in. They sat, shook their heads, looking around to see if there were others as miserable as they were, and began to mumble and complain. One particular woman was so irritated, you could see the blood rushing to her face as she feverishly fanned herself with her magazine. Finally, there were those who boarded the train who recognized the car was hot, but took their seat and sat quietly.

So how is it you deal with the challenges and adversity that present in your life? Do you flee the moment things are uncomfortable? Do you sit and complain only to make matters worse and create more suffering? Or do you take your seat and allow the “heat” to wash over you knowing that it won’t last?

Meditation and asana create this “hot subway car” scenario every time we practice. There are those days when you sit and close your eyes and within the first ten seconds you want to get the hell out of there. If you wind up staying there, rather than fleeing, the mind races thinking about how closed my hips are, how tight my shoulders are, how stiff my back is only to create more suffering on top of a challenging practice.

And then there are moments, despite all the challenges, you’re able to quiet the mind. You’re able to calm the body. You sit and simply let it all wash over you. Sure,  the discomfort may still be there, but you don’t let it distract you from the work.

On the flip side, sitting on the train that day and observing the different responses to the hot car, I began to think about those moments when I  flee from uncomfortable situations, when I sit and complain only to make matters worse, and ultimately when I am able to sit at peace.

And this is ultimately what it’s all about. I become the proverbial “observer and the observed.” Recognizing the “I am that” in every scenario and begin to widen the space between those moments when I can sit quietly within my challenges from those when I flee. The perfect equalizing moment.

Center Stage.

I’m grateful to have stumbled upon Sankalpah Yoga three years ago. Isaac Pena, co-founder of the studio, is an awesome guide and practitioner. Anyone who knows him knows this. His classes are strong, powerful, and transformative.

Near the end of recent class, as is customary at Sankalpah, handstand, forearm stand, and headstand were all in play. The room was full of upside down yogis/yoginis. One young woman, new to Isaac’s class, was simply lying on her back watching everyone go upside down. Isaac swaggered over to her and asked, “Whatcha doin’?” She responded, “Watching.” Isaac motioned to her, said, “C’mon,” and with his impish smile began the process of coaching her into  handstand. After coming out of handstand and back to sitting up on her shins, Isaac said, “See…now you’re part of the show.”

Seems like a simple enough statement, eh?

How’s that watching thing working out for you? Is life happening around you or are you making life happen? It’s in the “taking action” that we become part of our show. We come to be at center stage in our own life. How will you take action today to become part of your show rather than watching from the audience?

Taking a Risk

In order to practice, we have to surrender, we have to take a risk. Otherwise, what we’re doing is standing back in order to judge, in order to feel superior. Often the obstacle is fear: we don’t think we’ll ever succeed. And so we’d rather stand apart and be cynical, to feel protected in that way, not having to try…

We need to be able to utilize the positive energy of wondering, of wanting to know the truth for ourselves and working to do that, and not get lost in cynicism or endless speculation.

-Sharon Salzberg, “Sitting on the Fence,” from Tricycle Fall 2001

How will you take a risk today?

Oh Lord, Not another blog!

Oh Lord. Not another blog! Yes, another blog.

Over  a year ago I wrote something I posted to facebook which was actually intended to be my first post on my new blog.  What can I say? I get distracted. Tony Robbins is apoplectic right now. Sorry, Tony.

I remember my early yoga classes where “monkey mind” was referenced. You know, the idea that the mind moves endlessly from one thought to the next.  As the teacher guided the class through quieting the monkey mind, all I could think about was some caged monkey screeching and jumping from one side of the cage to the other.  So much for quieting the mind. What can I say?…I’m flawed.

These days the monkey is a little quieter.  My friend the monkey is always there. He enjoys sitting on my shoulder, sometimes in my lap, and other times  he sits behind me…just looking…waiting. He waits for me wondering when I might become so distracted that he might make his entrance and take things a little further. He rarely gets the opportunity. Rarely.

Since starting teaching yoga, I don’t refer to monkey mind. I know what that visual did or, more importantly, didn’t do for me. I leave that out of the shala…wherever that may be. My focus is about quieting the mind and only about quieting the mind.

More importantly, what will you find here in this blog? Hmmm….some original material. Some material I find inspirational from other sources. Some videos. Some music. Some pics. Some posts will be one liners…some posts will be a little more. Hopefully there will be some food for thought and maybe a few laughs. Whatever. Monkey mind and all, right? What won’t you find here? I don’t know…’cause I don’t know what you’re looking for. I can say that I’m not sure this will be a space for spiritual enlightenment, but I can’t be sure. Remember… I’m flawed.

Will this be the best blog ever? Will I be the best writer ever? Probably. But I won’t know for sure unless I try. By the way, my first intended post is below. Check it out.

Rush Hour 4/1/2010

I stepped onto the rush hour 6 train at Spring Street letting go of the day’s business. No seats to be had, I stood and, as is my habit, took in what was happening around me…the young couple next to me entwined and making out, the dude bobbing to whatever was on his iPod, and the family of four, dad seemingly contemplating the day’s events, mom on her blackberry both book-ending their young daughters dressed in identical pink track suits giggling and discussing whatever might be important to two girls.

At Astor Place, a gentleman stepped onto the train and immediately began his apologetic request for spare change. As is seemingly customary, most on the train remained attentive to whatever they were reading including the woman next to me who was reading something about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, the two young girls in pink track suits were fixated on this man. They listened to every word he had to say.

As the gentleman continued his plea, he indicated that he was in no way too proud to accept food. The elder of the two young girls leaned over to her father to ask him something. He nodded. She immediately removed the backpack from her shoulders, unzipped it, and began feverishly rummaging through it…turning every few seconds to keep an eye on the gentleman to be sure he was still there. Pulling out books and papers…she reached deep inside to pull out a bunch of celery wrapped in clear plastic. She looked at the celery…looked at her Dad…and back at the celery.

At this point, the gentleman was nearly at the other end of the train as it pulled into Union Square. She pushed through the exiting passengers to deliver her offering to the gentleman. He thanked her graciously, she smiled and returned to her family where she immediately took up where she had left off with her sister.

God was dressed in a little pink track suit on the Uptown 6 train yesterday afternoon.

(originally published on facebook 4/2/2010)