Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tall for this world

I love visiting Mexico. To see the diversity of this country reminds me of the variety of life and in the importance of history, beauty, hard work and good food. However, being a 5'11" Caucasian in Mexico is nothing short of difficult (no pun intended). Not because of the pinpointed approaches of beggars or street vendors, but rather because my ruddy skin was not intended for such sun exposure and most importantly because my statuesque height at 5'11" was not meant for the dimensions of this city.

I constantly find myself looking into mirrors on walls and instead of seeing my face, I see a clear display of my chest (a bit sunburned but not painful). I have to hunch more than usual to spit in the sink after brushing and of course find my knees bumping into the bottom of every table while my feet hang off every bed.

It is a challenge to stand up straight only to find your gaze thrown downward over the nose in an unintended glare. That is not the way to look at a friend or generous host. Of course there are the perks of being tall, namely the ability to see over everyone in a crowd. But, aside from that, The toilet seat seems miles away, and the ceiling much too close. In fact I can touch it, and I often do.

All of this does not diminish the enjoyment of my time here. But it does make me grateful for the luxuries of space I enjoy at home in the United States. I am a sucker for shoes, however stores here simply don't carry my size. And even the largest women clothing, is not made for my height and general girth. A bummer to say the least.

Being tall changes things. While it literally changes one's perspective, it also shapes one's understanding of one's place in the world. You can't help but feel a little like an outsider knowing that everything around you was not made for you or your proportions. It sends a subliminal message that you don't fit and perhaps even don't belong. While I don't feel depressed by this (because I am not Mexican), it is a constant reminder of how we as individuals are constantly faced with challenges in which we have the option to mold ourselves in order to come out on the other side.

In this way, life's situations are not unlike getting into the back of a two door chevy. One has to bend and fold, reach and angle, balance oneself gingerly between two sprawled legs at awkward angles and then duck and cover before finally becoming situated and for the time, measurably comfortable (knees apart to accommodate the seat back in front of you and avoid unnecessary bruising when riding over speed bumps or potholes).

We are constantly uncomfortable yet we are incredibly malleable. And, we put ourselves in awkward positions because from there we can discover new and exciting things about ourselves and the world around us. In fact, I will go so far as to say, we seek discomfort because through that process we are forced to grow (thankfully not literally in my case).

But being in difficult or awkward positions or situations is a reminder for us to acknowledge how and who we really are. It is a chance for for us to choose to adhere to our ways or to invite change. Just tonight, while brushing my teeth I noticed again that I was unintentionally hunching forward and jutting my chin forward and down just to see my face in the mirror. Here is a glimpse of my mental process:

". . . Wow. I really have to slouch down to see myself in the mirror. My neck hurts. My back too. Why am I slouching? So, I can see myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth. Why do I need to see myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth? Well, I don't. . . (straightening up). . . Wow. I am really much taller than this mirror. Perhaps 5-6 inches past the top. Past the lights at the top of the mirror. Look how far down the sink is from here! If I spit from here it would splash all over. Gross. And look how far away the towel and towel holder are. Was this all made for children? I can't reach it while standing straight, hands at my sides. I could pitch forward from the hips and keep my back straight. . . . Or not, because then my butt hits the door. Ok. Well, then I will stand as straight and tall as I can until I have to spit. Which is right now. . . "

I can only imagine how this place feels for my burly boyfriend. Lots of challenges for him to say the least. He seems to be taking them with remarkable equanimity. I admire that in him.

Off to bed (with sock covered feet to keep them warm off the edge). Hehe.

Life is funny.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learning to Practice

I have been blessed with multiple interests. This makes it so that I am never bored. In fact there are days I feel so overwhelmed I would give anything to bored. But, alas I am not wired that way. I find most things interesting and even in the rarest or most mundane situations I find myself pleasantly satisfied and engaged in ruminating about some aspect of the task at hand so my interest never feels strained or forced.

The downside to this way of being is that I am constantly torn between my many interests and there simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want-- and if there are enough hours in the day, I am plagued with a lack of energy. You simply can't do it all. Hrrumph. But I want to!

Part of my thinking on this issue of practice and time on task was prompted by my recent visits to a number of museums and archeological sites here in Mexico where I am visiting. Looking at hand stitched coats from the New Spain era, or the incredible pyramids of the Mayans. These objects of achievement took time and perseverance. Artists and craftsmen dedicated years of their lives to a box made of intricately inlayed pieces of wood, shell, bone or gems. I too want to look back and be able to say "I stuck to it" and made a something great because I persevered. So that is why I have revisited the importance of practice. It teaches us the diligence and focus required to be our best in way that is not just fleeting, but established and durable.

Regular practice is undisputedly a requisite for the arts or any endeavor, really. It takes time, energy and mental focus to complete large projects, a painting, a dance, a certificate, a school program, you get the idea. But, how can I accommodate all of my interests into my daily life so I feel connect to them all and yet feel productive? The fact is I am a notorious jack of all trades. Wonderfully aware and interested in most things while remaining horribly and painfully amateur (or average) at most of them.

Let's look at a couple of my practices to get a better idea of how this works in my real, mundane, 24-hour day, 7 day week and 52 week year:

Yoga: I love to practice yoga, sometimes I desire recuperative restorative poses, other times I want the catharsis, the sweat and the charge of discovering my strengths. But, despite my love of yoga, I do not have a weekly yoga routine. There are not classes I always take every week. I do not practice regularly at home. I am intermittent at best. I incorporate yoga poses into my dance warm up, but it is not a complete spiritual practice in the way I believe yoga is meant to be practiced.

When I do get on the mat on my own, I wonder what took me so long to get there. I most often surprise myself by starting with a recuperative, gentle intention and ending with sequences of dancing warrior, one legged balances or challenging sun salutations, sweat dripping in a glorious and wonderfully unexpected way. Where did this energy come from? But even while I am here in Mexico with little to no real schedule and certainly enough time to throw down my mat in a corner somewhere. I have practiced a total of 2 days in the 8 days I have been here. On the one hand: at least I am practicing, on the other hand: since I took space in my suitcase to bring my mat (although it is a thinner travel mat) why the heck am I not practicing at least 30 min everyday?

Hmmm. Next practice. . .

Writing: In the last year and half I have taken up a more conscious practice of writing. I have always written, mostly journaling, but I found that journal writing often left me feeling worse than when I started, perpetuating any downward spiral I might be in. When I felt good, I didn't really feel like writing at all. So my journals consisted of pages and pages and pages (and I have perhaps 15 journals from the years) of self-deprecating, frustrated, painful entries, often tear marked. Whew.

In the last few years I tried to write only positive things, affirmations and such. But that quickly faded away into not writing at all. About two years ago, I saw a flier for a poetry group where I work and voila! I became a poet. So I have been trying to write and it have been wonderful in many many ways. I have no pressure to be good so I just write whatever poems I want and enjoy the process and being silly. No goal no competition (if only the rest of the world were like this. Haha!) But, the group met on Wednesdays and I had to teach so. . . guess where my writing went? Uh. Nowhere. That's "wright"! (sorry couldn't help myself). It wasn't until I took on the 30 day poetry challenge with the group that I wrote poetry with enough regularity that now if I go too long without it, I can't help but pull out a piece of paper or start up my computer. But it took 30 painstaking days of writing poems, often when I was tired and didn't want to do anything. But, the 30 day practice taught me the rewards of writing with frequency, and it ultimately lead me to writing this blog.

I purposefully took Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" on this Mexico trip and bought a special journal here 4 days ago. As inspired as I am I have just two entries since I bought the book. I had grandiose hopes of writing throughout the days. I imagines and planned for wonderful gems of reflection and observation. But, I wrote two nights ago and I wrote tonight. Not quite the fervor I had intended.

On to. . .

Meditation: I started going to the Zen center two weeks before I left for Mexico. I went a total of 6 or 7 times in two weeks including an all day 8-5 Sesshin. I have meditated for a total of 5 minutes since being here in Mexico. Granted I miss my zafu (the solid pillow for sitting in meditation) but really. Can't I just sit in the chair? Not the best record.

Finally. . .

Dance: Ahhhhh. Dance. My water and my arsenic. How I love thee and how I question thee? Are you good or evil? You bring such joy and such pain in turn. While I have been enjoying the past week of touring and visiting ruins, cathedrals and museums, I am actually here in Mexico to work.

I was brought over by a dear friend Karina to teach and set choreography on her small company. Rehearsals start Monday. So, this past week has been a treat, but I am really here to practice doing my job and in so doing practice my art. A true blessing for an artist to share what they have to offer to the world. In this case internationally. But, how much have a practiced dance since my arrival? Zip. Zero. Zilch. That's right, I have not practiced at all no plié no tendú (just what happens to be coincidentally present in my yoga practice). BUT, the mind is going. Ideas have been surging and there is something to that. For that time in thought is in fact time on task and time well spent when the time comes to actually do what it is you do.

So, I have an idea for myself. I am not sure when I will implement it but I would like to perform my own 30 day challenge. This time for choreography. Get the juices flowing and not letting the pressure of creating inhibit my actual dance making. I plan on making some really bad choreography. Stupid, silly, odd, ugly. But, I hope it will allow me to release the tension and pressure I have come to feel as a dance teacher, who is constantly faced with the task of creating dance on a timeline and to serve the learning process of the student.

30 days. I am not sure when to start. Probably in August. But I promise to post it all, even the crappy ones for your enjoyment. Who knows, perhaps you will get a good laugh out of it at least.

As for practice. Twyla Tharp's book, "The Creative Habit" is all about routine. And, I guess it time for me to figure out mine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Darkness Descends

There is a physical sensation of depression. For me it is a pointed drop in energy, extreme lethargy that is not just sleepiness. It is a droning state in which time becomes plastic and all I feel is the desire to curl up in the bed, on the couch, on the floor, anywhere. When sleep comes, it is a blessing because it is an escape from the discomfort of being awake and conscious, but upon waking it can be even harder to face he waking state. Distractions like TV can help pass time, but do not change my state of being. Two hours later I feel the same, but the clock has changed positions.

Monday was this for me. Intellectually I knew I should do something to break the state, get a reprieve from the situation. But in the moment, nothing else exists. Only the draw to lay down, only the desire for time to dissolve, only the wish that I felt better. It is ironic that in these moments when I most need to do something, move, act, change, my hands are the completely tied by the situation and all signs I see point to sitting, staying, and dropping down further into the abyss. It is a seduction I can't resist.

My state included no tears, often it doesn't. Tears are another blessing in a way, because they transform at least the moment into a catharsis. Instead there is just silence in the soul and the more I listen the more silent it is. Being home alone doesn't help, or perhaps it is a grace from the grating presence of others who aren't affected. It is hard to discern when you are in the fog.

I bring all this up, because creating a dance about depression has been an interesting journey in part because I have not felt truly depressed for a while and it is hard to remember the sensations. It is somewhat like being drunk. You can remember you were drunk, but you don't remember exactly what it felt like or what happened. It is masked in the haze of being drunk. But, just as it is hard to work while drunk (some artists might disagree) it is likewise near impossible to work while depressed. Not because you don't want to, but because you are handicapped by the state itself. You are striving to just exist let alone create a dance masterpiece.

Therefore, this writing is my attempt to get down on paper some of the realities of depression as I have just come out of the state, but before I forget it completely. This piece is in many ways the most challenging undertaking I have made. Not just because it is personal, but because it is attempting to concretize something that exists in me as a hazy, fuzzy recollection. Because as real as it is at the time, when gone it is hard to believe it ever existed.

Afternoon State

I curl on the couch
impressions on the cushion fit into the nooks and crannies of my soul
Clock hands pass in time as shadows silently shift positions
I eat, I lie down, I pee, I lie down, I check email, I lie down
I lie down into myself deeper and deeper
disappearing into swirling thoughts that are forgotten as soon as they arrive
Lying with a heaviness that promises sleep
The couch holds me patiently, unmoved by my state
The soul however goes silent when I ask it questions
Undone, I try to wait it out.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

an anticipatory stress story

Summer: the time when the heat and sun allow you to melt all stress away. For the teacher and student summer is the time when you recharge the battery, get to the list of home and garden improvements, and watch all of last year's box office hits on DVD.

I gave myself permission to really relax over this past week. Prior to that I of course was a busy bee with performances and all that it entails. So, I allowed myself sometime to NOT be productive. Instead I attended Yoga classes, slept anytime I felt like it, stayed up late, watched movies, gardened, read and found a new Zen meditation center. Life was looking good. Even my chronic jaw pain had nearly disappeared. For two whole days I didn't check my email. In fact, I didn't go online at all. I was free.

Then guilt set in and I knew my inbox was gathering messages. So, I decided to check my personal email, which inevitably lead me to work related issues and then a waterfall of nerves and anxiety pummeled me. In denial I said I would get to bed and deal with it tomorrow after I lead the meditation. My body and mind had other plans.

I was up at 5:00am (after going to bed at 1:00am) this time with the relentless knocking of pressure keeping me awake. This pressure, even during my vacation, felt very very real. It seeped through me and I came to understand that this feeling is the feeling I associate with the rest of my school year, over 3/4 of my annual life. I felt immediately like I was underwater. That my to-do list was as long as it ever was before and there was no way I could get to everything. I tried to go back to sleep, but decided getting up was far less painful than actually getting up and onto the computer.

I did some of the work, and of course it begot more work and reminded me of more things I needed to get to before the summer was over and "the real school year began." Before I knew it I was tearing myself away from the computer screen in order to make it to my own meditation session at the Yoga Nook.

I was in a crummy mood. My spirit felt crunchy and my skin felt heavy as I drove to the studio. I felt myself dropping into the familiar place I know as depression and as usual once there I didn't know or want to get out. My intellectual self told me I should "Let it go!" But, my body and spirit do not know how to listen to my intellect. That is the addiction element to depression. Like a drug, once you are high, you never think to come down even if you know it is unhealthy. It is an illogical drive, it taps into some deep part of the brain and takes hold. And, here I was being held by this invisible set of hands.

By some miracle, I had the room to myself for the meditation-- I felt relief that I didn't have to lead anyone toward peace and calm in my current state. I sat down. Lit the candle, rang the bell. Eyelids fell to nearly closed. I surrendered.

Within moments I felt relief. I felt the urge to apologize to myself for giving into the stress, I said it again and again to myself "I am sorry. I am sorry." Then I felt "It's ok." Never before, had I found meditation to transform me like that, to make me feel safe and loved for who I am as I am. For the rest of the 45 minute period I watched my thoughts dance around from topic to topic, free from the grasp of stress or depression. I don't mind that thoughts bounce around during my meditation, because they move like butterflies beautiful and light, never staying so long I wish they would go. I don't expect all of my meditations to be as this one was. But, I am grateful for this experience.

Now, I am only half shadowed by the darkness that woke me up this morning, proving that a great moment is only that, a moment. But, I now have new cause to look at how I work and how I relate to work. There is something to be discovered there.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Poem for Thursday

The wise screech owls call in rasps not meant for the weak at heart.
A call to arms for the souls ready to leap
out into the dark caverns where ideas are born and pencils set down onto paper
where feet travel through the space like paint brushes soaked with black ink
treading a path forged and unforged by all who have come before.
These caverns house echos of last year's shouts and you hold your weapon ready
to defend yourself against warm gusts like belches from the earth's core.
Darkness dissolves all shape and form as no shadows can be casts in this pitch black interior.
You scoot your feet ahead in the dry earthen floor, drawing lines of uncertainty that grow bolder as you listen to the screech owls outside and press ahead toward the unknown.

A poem not meant to be anything remarkable. Just a poem to reflect the turning over of my mind. I have found the brilliance about poem writing for me, is that I am completely untrained (formally) so I can just write in a luscious ignorance that I no longer have in the rest of my life. I can't beat myself up for "knowing better" and I would like to keep it that way. For now.