Peace: A Work in Progress

Last night at my women’s spiritual group, we had to do a writing exercise about PEACE. The board asked: What brings me peace? Do I believe that people, given a choice, would choose peace?

The two people in my discussion group gave adamant no’s, which surprised and saddened me. These are the kindest, gentlest women you’d meet, so their despondency marked a change in my understanding of people today and made me feel like sharing my response about PEACE.

In our 2013 lives we face many challenges but most of them are safe and fed people’s challenges. This means that they are important, but not essential. Most Americans are not poor nor rich, but rather in the middle. We have stable homes, our kids know they can go to school and graduate, we have enough food, and we know that our laws, insurance and societal moral fabric will protect us most of the time.

I would never say that this is always true. I would never say that our country is perfect or even exemplary. Personally, I would not point to the USA as the model of how a country should be run. Yet, all that said, I am very thankful that I live here, where I don’t have to worry about my or my family’s lives. My community is strong. We all have access to education. We walk comfortably down our street. We sleep without anxiety in our beds. We trust the people we meet and deal with. We know that most of our neighbors operate from a will to do good. This is a solid foundation on which to build a life.

That life may fall apart. The weather twists and howls. Prices rise. We may suffer a blow to health or lose a job. We may even be forced to leave our home. Sh$##t happens—all the time.

Yet the foundation, with rare exceptions, remains. And I have learned to take time each day to ponder that with complete concentration:

I am safe.
I am loved.
I am fed and sated.
I am clothed and bathed and warm.

This alone is wondrous.

Then there is all the rest that comes with being middle class: the culture of too much. Almost every group of things a person can have, we have.

My husband opened his closet the other day and with exasperation announced “I don’t have anything to wear!” And my daughter sitting next to him laughed. She saw the closet full of clothes and thought he was telling an ‘April Fools’ joke. She said, “Mommy, Daddy is being silly!” And I had to laugh too because I say the same thing far more than he does, and because we are silly.

We spend most of our chores time getting rid of things. How we amass them is something that hurts my head to ponder. But the truth is, we are crammed chockablock. In this era of cheap available stuff, we pretty much have it all—and that’s on half of what many consider a living salary and refusing to shop at places like Walmart.

 Help! My Stuff is attacking me!

OK, I’ll fess up–my passion for thrift shopping is one culprit. Can I help it if Boston offers a cornucopia of gorgeous second-hand stores?  Kid’s books and clothes, furniture, books, games, clothing, shoes, kitchenware, jewelry, bikes, sports equipment, and all sorts of vintage finds are just some of the things we can get cheaply and easily. And get stuffed.

Another conundrum of this age is that we are starved for time. We are a country on the run, where seeing friends is akin to thievery to ‘steal a few minutes’ together. In the good US of A, family-time is a label with little meaning or support. New fathers are lucky to get 2 weeks off; kids get holidays off from school yet parents are expected to work.

I won’t even talk about mail, and how many trees died to print useless super-saver coupons and replicate credit card offers.

Lots of bad decisions are made and bad people are not punished. As a nation, we suffer from acute politicitus (yes, I made that up)

Do I trust everyone? No. Do I think the government is great? No.

       

SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA CRY IT OUT

Do I pull my hair out over issues that I can’t believe we have to live with, much less debate? Yes yes yes.

Yet, I am capable of peace.

Is this wrong of me? … In light of all the crap that goes on, I wonder if people might think so. I wonder if people might think me guilty of shucking the weight of the world. And perhaps, feel guilty of doing so themselves. I know I’ve been guilty of feeling guilty! (hmmm)

Yet, I am capable of peace.

The truth is most mornings I wake in…
1) a bad mood because I hate mornings in general,
2) a semi-alive state because I am a night person and I am almost always woken up early (aka any time before 8am) by my child,
3) creaky, because I am no longer a spry young-un.

 I always look lovely when I sleep

Yet, I scramble slowly up, shuffle down the hall blindly until I wash my face with warm water and slip on my glasses. Then I stretch. I do believe without a doubt that I’d be a different person, maybe even not alive, if I did not practice stretching. Each lift of the arm, each salutation, each deep breath rolls out tension. Rolls out each cobweb and creak and squeak.

Give me about ten minutes and I’m smoothed out. I can see. I can manage a smile. I can face the world.

Then, I stop and look inward to seek that banner that lists what I love, what I’m thankful for, what I enjoy and savor and appreciate. I borrow from my spiritual teacher Pema Chodron when I offer thanks each morning to these obliging old friends:

Safety,
love,
warmth.

Then, I give gratitude for my most essential gift:

I have another chance to be alive, to love my loved ones, to do my best, to make this world a better place in my little way.

I am here today. Yay! Cause for celebration. I get another chance this day. This present.

I woke up.

Literally, that was my change. I woke up. Once I simply assumed that I would unfailingly rest and rise, like the sun. But one auspicious day a lightbulb went on and I saw that waking up is an amazing miracle: Isn’t it cool that I get to open my eyes, that I get a beating heart, that I get a body that’s mine to move through the world in?  I get to hug my husband and kiss my daughter on her cheeks and nose and forehead. I get to see the new Spring flowers start to bloom.

Because one day I won’t wake. Or one day I’ll wake and look in the mirror like it’s any day in a row and that will be the last time I stare at my face. Then I’ll be gone. Chances over. No more time to try.

So I am thankful for today. I try today and today only. And in this way, I can feel peace.

May my lightbulb be your lightbulb.

Slipping Yoga In

While it’s great to have a yoga class to go to and yoga practice, I find the act of slipping a little yoga time into other parts of life rewarding. One place I do this is with my Adult classes. The students are there to learn English or computers or to study for their GED, yet, if they happen to be in my class, before they know it, they’re imitating a tree! I find it very gratifying, albeit sneaky, to give yoga to people who normally might not ask for it.

  Let’s be Trees!

These days, when I teach adults English or GED classes, there seems to be some unwritten rule that they are assigned a hot stuffy room–sadly, often called “community rooms”. Yuck. Then there are the computer classrooms, often in dreary windowless basements or shadowy caverns. Basically the ‘no one else wants this room so you can have it” variety. When you enter one of these rooms, all moisture is sucked away by the parched air. My eyeballs instantly protest. My lips crack. It’s no wonder why these often huge spaces are sparsely inhabited.

The rooms are crying for some vim, some energy, which I the teacher am charged with dispensing. Thank goodness I can wield a yoga respite as a very helpful tool. Sometimes we begin with a little warm up, but more often I use break time to have students up, stretching and breathing deeply. We love our class, yes, but we also love our breaks! I like to say that we can create our own ventilation. Of course, we have no other choice.

Some of my students might not know what yoga actually is, some are suspicious, and a few others believe themselves allergic to exercise of any stripe. But within the confines of a class setting it’s usually possible to ask that students try something new. I advertise the ‘break’ as a chance to get their brains flowing, which sounds enticing to most people who want to learn. There are the odd naysayers, but it has been rare. After all, it’s just 5 minutes! What can it hurt? C’mon, give it a try…

I am not a certified yoga master nor yogi, but I have been doing yoga on and off for over 20 years. To keep things as simple and efficient as possible, I mostly adapt sun salutations and basic asanas that highlight stretching, awareness of breath, and circulation. There is no room for pretzel postures or anything too bendy. I like to throw in a tai chi movement or two for flow, as well. People also like the pose names; they’re interesting or funny.

 Pretzels discouraged in my class

So, if nothing else, our modest yoga timeout brings a laugh and a smile. The students love that it alleviates yawn-i-ness. Most people in my experience enjoy a challenge, especially one that I set as deliberately relaxed. They also get a kick out of watching each other’s attempts. Just as a shared activity it’s worth doing. And if we’re lucky, it can accomplish a measure of true gain: lower stress, better concentration, alleviated stiffness and aches. My hope is always that they’ll ask for more, and then that they’ll want to bring what we learned home. Someone might even get the ‘bug’.

In one such arid community room I teach a class of awesome Russian, Persian and Korean Grandmas. These ladies have led long, fruitful, enduring lives. They deserve relaxation and time to enjoy. A flexible nature is one of the strengths that has them here today, in their later years still interested in study. Unsurprisingly, they are enthusiastic yoga participants.

Today our room was so poorly ventilated and so drily hot that one of the women began to feel faint. After water was dispensed and the door propped open, we stood to get our communal blood flowing. It is so gratifying to see how just 5 to 10 minutes can have people smiling and breathing again.  The faint student began to feel better and could continue with class.

   No competition here

My modest yoga break is one practice that always works, for me and for my students, and for that I’m so grateful. I honestly don’t know what I would do without it.