Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Thanksgiving Every Day

Hi, Boomers,
It's that time of year again - the beginning of the holiday season. Off to Vegas tomorrow at 5 am for the weekend; only this time there will be only one son in attendance and none of my daughter- in-law's side of the family. I like a bigger crowd on this holiday. It's easier to embrace the joy when there is more to spread around. So it's #1 son, my daughter-in-law and the three grandsons - oh, and did I mention my ex-husband. He'll be along, too. "Back together again." Not really. He has no place to go since his wife has Alzheimer's and I always head east when there is a holiday. I'm not brave enough to face Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Christmas alone. Single is great but not around the holidays.
I was reading in my Yoga Journal today about gratitude. We yogis know that gratitude is a natural companion to a yoga practice. In every class I teach, I we take a moment of gratitude for all of our gifts, especially the gift of yoga. It's is as natural as breathing to take that spiritual moment to be mindful of cultivating gratitude. Gratitude is also important for health implications, including better sleep, fewer ailments, and a greater ability to cope with stress and anxiety. Gratitude elevates, energizes and inspires. It can also transform a human being into a kinder, gentler spirit because it fosters a greater level of awareness. Gratitude helps us stay present.
Gratitude is an attitude of realizing what is in our present - what is real and what we surround ourselves with in life. The contrary of gratitude would be to grasp for something that is not there instead of embracing what is. One of the things that helps us connect to what is real is to embrace the interconnectedness of all beings as a path to gratitude. In a sense, gratitude is interactive every minute of the day if one is consciousness and mindful of everything that goes on in our waking hours.
It is Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and my burg was full of endless lines of cars. I pulled out of the drugstore parking lot and thought it would take me a half hour to drive two blocks. I had to cut into an inlet to make a U turn, and while I waited for the car in front of me to go, I saw that the man driving the SUV had not jammed into the intersection to block us from making a left hand turn. Could it be, I thought, that this man might let us pass in front of him? I absolutely couldn't believe it when he let the car ahead of me and even myself go before him. I had such gratitude for his kindness and I felt such a connectedness to this man I will never know, that I waved to him, mouthed a thank you and drove off feeling uplifted. It was a moment in time, so brief that I could have quickly jumped to the next thing. But I couldn't. It was too important to cherish the moment.
Gratitude is the path of yoga and gratitude is the way in which we ground ourselves in life. Cultivating daily gratitude gives us the ability to transform and appreciate joy.
Gratitude comes in big and small packages. It's everywhere. It's in an email from a friend I don't always hear from on a regular basis but embraces my life with joy. It comes in a phone call from a friend I really wanted to hear from. It comes with knowing I helped my client this morning find inner peace in her practice even though she is almost in her ninth month of pregnancy and is looking past her discomfort. It's expressing joy that my law school yoginis have been searching for an alternative room so that we can practice in the winter quarter and keep our class going. It's embracing a friend who has been working so hard the last couple of days to feed the homeless at St. Matthew's parish in the Palisades and finding joy in her efforts. It is organizing a dinner to say farewell to a dedicated yogini who is moving in a week. Gratitude is everywhere. All it takes to cultivate it is practice.
I am grateful this year for my growing family - two more grandchildren added to the bunch - for the tenacity and dedication of my sons in their professions and in their roles as fathers and to their supportive and loving wives; for my incredibly loving brother; my devoted yoga students; for the opportunity to continue to teach yoga; for my tenacity to once again publish a book that I had no idea would find an audience; for the new friends I've made and the old friends I cherish; for the ability to forgive; and for the ability to embrace my universe unconditionally with surrender and acceptance.
Happy Thanksgiving, Boomers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brother Where Art Thou?

Hi, Boomers,
It's always the best laid plans that go astray in my life. I was away for two consecutive weekends; one weekend was the tango festival in Albuquerque where I danced and sold my book, SIXTY, SEX, & TANGO, CONFESSIONS OF A BEATNIK BOOMER; and just last weekend I was in San Francisco for a book signing at Barnes&Noble in Corte Madera in Marin County. Just happened there was a tango marathon festival in San Francisco. Then I had a house guest staying with me for a week and I have been itching to blog and have had no free time. The week was a whirlwind of activity between teaching and my friend's needs.
But the essence of the San Francisco trip was my book signing - an event that was a kickoff for my 50th high school reunion next year. I landed in Berkeley on Friday night with my friend, Marc, who picked me up at the Oakland airport and I was immediately hit with memories of Berkeley in the 60's. I seemed to be carrying nostalgia for hours on end as memories engulfed me. There was San Francisco looming as we crossed the Bay Bridge; the hilly city streets I was so familiar with; Broadway and Columbus; North Beach, the Broadway studio, which was once a bordello where we danced tango on Friday night. I was tripping.
Before I knew it I was headed to Marin on Sunday morning to have a delightful brunch with an old school chum and his wife. Then to the bookstore to set up and then the arrival of friends from high school, especially my oldest best friend since I was two years old. It was so good to hug her and be in her presence. And those from my high school class were absolutely terrific people who evidently live with a lot of happiness.
Then, out of nowhere, I feel a tap in my shoulder. I turned around and there was my sister in law. It took me a moment to re-adjust to my surroundings. I thought I was in Vegas and I suddenly forgot what I was supposed to be doing.
"Where's my brother?" I asked without thinking. "He's coming," she responded casually.
There he was. My brother was walking towards me smiling like he had just swallowed the canary. That cool cat, my brother. I was speechless and feeling so loved that I wanted to collapse in tears.
"Did you drive from Vegas?" I gulped. "Of course. We left this morning?"
'You're crazy," I joked.
"Wouldn't miss it, Joan," he said with joy.
Who does that? Who loves his sister so much that he wouldn't miss her reading in our home town? What did I ever deserve to have a brother who is so selfless and tenacious, a man whose values have always been in the right place.
"Did you visit mom's apartments in Greenbrae?" I asked.
"Yep, all five are there and in great condition."
My mom and dad built apartment building in the Greenbrae hills and they are a great source of pride in my family.
The reading, the event with old friends who were smiling and laughing and supporting was icing on the cake. I loved this moment more than ever because my brother was there! I decided to read from the tango section of my book and then my friends and I did a tango demonstration. And there were questions after and there was so much interest that we could have gone on for another half hour. My brother had never seen me dance tango. It was special.
I think that there could be no higher joy that seeing my brother walking up to me in the Barnes&Noble children's section that afternoon. I know I will cherish this memory and experience for the rest of my life and it will be one of the highlights of living on this earth.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Tango and Other Addictions

Hi, Boomers,
My favorite doctor friend, one of the most important opthamologists and plastic surgeons (neck up only, please) in Los Angeles, said to me today, "I wish I could live just one day of your life."
She has no idea what a crazy day inside my body and mind can produce. And sometimes, I'm even surprised at how my day turns out. Be careful what you wish for, my adorable and brilliant friend because your world is incredibly fulfilling. Besides, my friend studied music at Julliard, which makes her the envy of my eye, and she and her doctor husband go to Africa to to take care of those who have so little in their lives. Now, that's a life worth living!
I went to a tango festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the weekend with a stay-over in Santa Fe for two nights with one of my very best friends, a designer of tango clothes and other fabulous outfits. I went to the festival with my load of books to sell (Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer) and with my best intentions not to dance like a maniac for two and a half days. I was mindful that I did have a serious condition called pneumonia. That condition doesn't go well with high altitude and Albuquerque is about 5,000 feet (Santa Fe about 7,000 feet). I barely made it to a couch in the Hilton Hotel where the tango festival was going to be held. Except for Thursday night when I arrived, I found out we had to drive to another destination for the milonga (the venue where we dance tango).
I walked in to a warehouse that had been transformed into an urban chic, totally cool atmosphere. We could have been in Soho for all we knew. Old doors from around the world lined the walls and tables were decorated with clever bright paper flowers. The dance floor was full and tango music filled the room. My expression changed from dog tired to excitement.
My addiction began to take hold. I'm like Pavlov's dog. I hear tango music and I have to dance. This has been a sixteen year addiction, but not the kind of addiction that I trekked off to Buenos Aires and lived there for years and forsook my family and all personal responsibility. Although I have been to BsAs thirteen times, I only once heard the call to move there and then it passed as quickly as it came upon me (Hey, Joan, why don't you teach English as a second language to Argentine executives every day and dance all night and that would last about a week and I'd die of exhaustion).
But I stil have a deep love affair with tango music and dance. I'm often thrilled and elated by its rhythms accompanied by the characteristics sound emanating from the bandoneon, the instrument created by a German just for tango music.
Three years ago, I decided to try to lead a normal life unlike the nomadic life of a tango dancer. I stopped cold turkey from going to Buenos Aires every year. I realized that I'd never see more of the world if I just kept repeating myself as a tango dancer going to Mecca once a year. What more could the Argentine world offer me in terms of personal growth and experience?
I pulled away reluctantly that first year and went to Costa Rica in March, the usual time of my trip to Buenos Aires. I felt liberated. It was like I had abandoned my pack a day habit and my trip to someplace else became a triumph of personal strength. And then I went to Spain and Morocco the next year, and then I went to Bali and I was seeing the world through different eyes and difficult cultures. And I felt I had choices once again.
And suddenly, I began to notice that I was becoming a better dancer, a more mindful interpreter of the tango music. a dancer whose detachment found a deeper attraction to the tango world.
I was dancing one night at the festival with a really adorable young man who has danced about three years. And he was a very good dancer, rhythmic, sensitive to the dance conversation, attentive to his partner. He has a smile you could drown in . There was a break after the tanda (three or four tangos played in a row after which there is a break) and Rick was telling me how much he loved to dance tango and how he wished he were me - someone who had danced for sixteen years and traveled to Buenos Aires frequently.
"Be careful, Rick," I said. "You can drown in tango and never grow. It's kind of a trap like all addictions. One sees the world in fantasy when someone is an addict, no matter the drug and it's dark down there in addiction-land. It's hard to climb out but I haven't been to Argentina in a long time and I don't miss the scene."
Rick looked at me totally riveted and was silent for a short time.
"You're right, Joan. I've felt that, the darkness sometimes when you feel too much or go too deep in tango. Too much tango can stunt your growth and it's hard to come up for air."
"Too much of anything can stunt your growth. Tango doesn't produce growth. Tango produces more of tango and that's when there's too much attachment, too much fervor, and too much of anything is never good."
I danced the weekend in spurts because my breath wasn't fully back. I did see my old tango maestro on Friday night and we danced like we had been dancing for the last decade together. We danced seamlessly and he glided me across the floor as if I had never left his arms. Tango is still my drug of choice but I was sure that I would continue to take steps toward personal growth and exploration in the future. Let's hope it lasts.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Itching For a Fix

Hi, Boomers,
This pneumonia thing has really made me crazy. I'm itching for a fix - a yoga fix.
I was confined to bed for a very long weekend and in between drinking gatorade and hobbling to the kitchen to forage for food, I checked off every little bit of business I had on my to-do list, and I was about to find myself out of things to do. Organizing my photos was the end of the line for me.
By Monday, I took an assessment about how I was feeling. It was okay. Not the most energetic but better than days before. I had an early morning class at UCLA that was not covered by a substitute. I was up way before my 6 o'clock alarm went off, so I could make it to class, albeit on a much slower pace. And I did. And then I went home to rest for an hour. So for two days, I was not a perfect patient and I showed up to teach in buddha fashion, wan and slightly out of breath. I was lucky. Nothing bad happened to me. Some of my privates divinely cancelled. Less running around for me. I walked slowly to classes and rested in between with diligence.
By Tuesday, however, I was itching for my yoga mat. I had not unrolled my mat at first because I didn't want to bother with folding it up into its cozy yoga bag. Too much energy to do that task. But it became apparent to me that by not rolling out my mat, I was not triggered to move about and demonstrate to the class and, thereby, get out of breath.
Then I began to look at other yoga mats with longing and desire. There were yellow ones and blue ones and fancy designed ones and my students were practicing yoga on their mats and I was sitting immobile on my rolled up mat in its bag because I was under house arrest.
By Wednesday, fifth day of my antibiotic course, I was being triggered all over the yoga rooms. It got to the point where several times I asked a yoga student to let me onto the mat to demonstrate. I was being sneaky and had began to get my fix in bits and pieces. By the end of my last class on Wednesday, I was actually standing on my head. "Please move off your mat," I asked a yogi, practically pushing him off. "I'll show you how to set up a headstand." And then I did one.
Bless me father, for I have sinned.
I am in love with yoga. I am in love with teaching it, talking about it, and doing it. It thrills me and make me very joyous and positive. I believe it is helping me to move through my illness with grace; it has kept me present with my healing. It has kept me calm and flexible. Yoga is a way of life because it is a practice - a practice that connects the mind and body together with the breath, prana or life force.. Integral to the practice is a beautiful philosophy with ethics and a code of behavior that centers on an open heart. The heart represents a generosity of spirit and a true sense of forgiveness. It's principle of non-violence in thought, word and deed, truthfulness, non-grasping, dedication to being thoughtful about the body are all values that lead to a more fulfilling an satisfying life.
It's really nice being on the back nine and dedicating a great part of my life to yoga in these last decades of my life. It creates a sense of peace and tranquility for me that I find increasingly satisfying. So, okay, I'm triggered by a yoga mat. I get the itch to practice after days of being off my mat and wandering around the yoga room adjusting bodies. It's okay. It will all come back in time. My breath is getting stronger by the day. And I have the advantage of always being aware of my yoga breathing, the deeper inhales and exhales that fill up my cells, create more space in my body for a more energetic life.
What could be better than itching for a fix?