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An unexpected benefit of migraine

A migraine has been hovering, for a week or so, on the margins of my brain, so I was disappointed but not surprised that as soon as I got to class last night after a fairly stressful day at work, took a breath and got quiet, it came in for a landing.

Disappointing because I was so looking forward to this class, the fourth in a series, in which I knew we were going to focus on my yoga-kryptonite, kidney loop.

It was super-weird not to feel up to doing partner poses or inversions, everything I did through a light-sensitive nauseous haze. Laura was good to me and assisted me through some things, gave my skull a good, strong squeeze and some great adjustments.

But mostly I spent a lot of time watching people in their poses and really deeply and silently working on that pesky kidney loop. And wow, observing in class is amazing, and I really feel like I learned MORE last night by not practicing than I might have if I'd been my usual jump-around self.

I'm not saying I'd choose to feel that funky in class - but it was an unexpected boon to just receive information, just listen quietly, just take it in.


Yeah, I mean it

- How many Anusara yogis does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

- One to demo and 99 to clap.*

The demo is one of my favorite parts of the Anusara practice. I love that moment when someone is called on to demonstrate a pose, generally saying Yes before knowing what the pose is going to be. I love watching the pose unfold, and the way the whole class appreciates the student in the pose, ooh'ing and aah'ing, and then the applause when the pose is complete. I suppose what I love really is the way that the person demo'ing gets to shine, has the entire attention of the class, and then is celebrated communally for their effort and expression. We genuinely cheer each other on. That's so super-sweet.

That general climate of appreciation extends beyond the demo and pervades the whole class. The teacher calls out praise in particular poses, and we compliment each other as well. "Nice handstand, Brian!" or "You rocked that, Nancy!" It's always 100% genuine, and makes it so much fun, like we're on the playground practicing new tricks, egging each other on. It just gets better and better all the time.

I've grown accustomed to compliments, to being praised, to hearing my name at some point in the class -- it's such a great feeling to be seen in this way, that the teacher or a classmate saw what I was doing and called it out. Maybe that's a little childish, but really who doesn't like the feeling of doing something well, with commitment, and being noticed? It's such powerful reinforcement -- progress on the spiritual path takes discipline and devotion, encouraging each other makes the progress easier. And bottom line: so much more fun.

Tonight in parsvakonasana, which is a challenging pose for me, I was working all of the principles, really focused on integrating the instructions, growing the pose. I felt good, the pose felt powerful. And then I heard Laura say from across the room, "Good, Ariananda: I can see that you mean it." And right away I felt even stronger, happier and bigger.

Because yeah, I mean it.

Those words went straight in, deep, and I'm still thinking about them, thinking about how important it is to mean it, all the time, whether you're on the mat or not. In class, Meaning It has a science: open to something bigger, fingerpads and four corners of the feet down, muscle energy, armpits lifted, thighs in, back and apart, tailbone down, organic extension. If you work the principles, everything gets easier. With practice, poses which were out-of-reach inch closer and closer 'til you stick them.

But Meaning It all the time, even off the mat, that's something else, isn't it, something for which the yoga practice is precisely just practice. Those hours of practice pay off, though, all that time stretching to new lengths, trying new things, working through challenge, encouraging each other, appreciating what's beautiful in each classmate. It requires the same discipline to carry that devotion off the mat and into the office and elsewhere, but that's where it's needed. Isn't that the whole point?

So yeah, I mean it. I mean it everywhere. So nice to have all those other yogis clapping - makes it so much easier to mean it every minute, all the time.

* Gratitude to my beautiful little sister Martine for telling me this joke. It still makes me laugh.


When I least expect it...

I am pretty bad at some normal inter-personal transactions, in my opinion. I don't like cab rides or manicures or attended gas stations or sometimes even haircuts, because I can be painfully uncomfortable with chit-chat. I've gotten better at this in my dotage, and sometimes now, perhaps as an overcompensation, am the chatty one, engaging total strangers in conversation for no apparent reason. Still it was with some apprehension that I dropped my car off this morning for service and agreed to the shuttle ride home.

And for whatever perverse reason -- trying to cure myself of my awkwardness, perhaps? -- rode shot-gun.

The driver of the van was an older gentleman, personable. The car was a bit of a mess, I was glad to see, though not sure why. We had another rider as well. I was nervous but also knew that the ride would be short, as my house is about 10 minutes max from the dealership.

We had no sooner pulled out of the parking lot when our driver, Gary, said, "Have you two ever seen photos of my safari to Africa?" When I clapped my hands (dork!) and said, no, but where can I see them, he produced a photo album from a pocket in the driver's side door and handed it over.

Lions! Giraffes! Elephants! Zebras! Cheetahs! Wildebeest!

Gary and his wife went on a one-month photo safari in Africa in October 2008. All of the photos in the album were taken with a regular camera, no tele-photo, the animals so close you could touch them. And he also had photos of the camps they stayed in, their visits to Masai villages, to schools, to towns. It was the trip of a lifetime he said, a long-time dream of his wife's finally realized.

Crazy that at the dealership, while waiting for my ride home, I'd been reading the wonderful "Spell of the Tiger," writing down the word Ranthambore over and over, dreaming of a trip to that tiger reserve in Rajasthan, lost in my own life-long wish to see big cats with my own two eyes. And here were Gary's photos of lions and his almost-breathless narration.

As I was getting out of the van in front of my house, Gary was just wrapping up a story of their last night in Nairobi, how they had dinner with the owner of the tour company they'd traveled with and how his wife threw her arms around the owner and gave him a big fat kiss, an indication of how deeply, deeply the trip had moved her, satisfied a deep longing she'd had since childhood. Goofily, my eyes started to fill with tears as I said Thank you and stepped out to the sidewalk. Amazing.

And to think I almost begged a ride home from Joe, eager to avoid interaction with strangers. I almost missed the chance to travel on a mini-safari of my own this morning, with my shuttle-van driver for a guide, seeing an hour-old giraffe through his eyes, hearing the passion and excitement in his voice as he relived with us that adventure of a lifetime.

I'm not sure if any shuttle ride in the future will ever match up to this one, but this experience will surely make me approach the next with a different mindset. Who knows what wonders that total stranger will share? When I least expect it, the world blows my mind again. Just so amazing.


Book Report: The Secret Garden

For whatever reason, I decided recently that I wanted to re-read a childhood favorite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another of her books, A Little Princess, was essentially the bible of my early reading years -- serious inspiration -- but when I saw an utterly charming edition of The Secret Garden on a recent bookstore visit (check it out via this weird Amazon Associates thing I'm trying out) ), I just had to buy it.

And read it in three days. Laughing, crying, delighted.

My reading list this year has been wandering all over the place. It's not really that surprising to me that after Dragon Tattoo, I turned for solace to a sweet childhood favorite. Seriously, there was too much murder, violence and torture in Dragon Tattoo, but I was too deep in to stop, even though I had to give up reading it at night because of its creepiness. But what's super-fabulous -- and this has happened before, more than once, maybe it's happened to you, too? -- is how The Secret Garden actually reinforces themes from other books I've been reading, particularly yoga texts by Swami Chidvilasananda, in a way I never could have imagined or anticipated.

The Secret Garden is fundamentally a story about awakening to shakti, about the delight of being alive, about the great joy of awakening to the pulse of life that flows through all of us, all creatures, and binds us together. Amazing! And first published in 1911.

A horrible unloved child, Mary Lennox, who "by the time she was six years old...was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is sent to live with her horribly unhappy uncle Archibald Craven on the moor in Yorkshire after her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India. She is a beastly girl, utterly ignored by her parents, accustomed to kicking and slapping her servants.

Without giving away the whole story (and really, I do recommend this book, so charming), Mary's hard little Grinchy heart begins to grow when she meets a robin. A robin! No wonder I loved this book when I was a kid. "It actually gave Mary a queer feeling in her heart, because he was so pretty and cheerful and seemed so like a person ... The robin hopped about, busily pecking the soil, and now and then stopped... Mary thought his black dewdrop eyes gazed at her with great curiosity. It really seemed as if he were finding out all about her. The queer feeling in her heart increased." There are many adventures: a delightful boy named Dickon who is an animal-charmer and has squirrels, a crow, a fox for companions; a spoiled, rude, crippled boy who is redeemed; a garden that they bring back to life -- over the course of which Mary loses her sourness, becomes happy, full, loving.

But the chief charm of this book for me is what the children refer to as Magic.

When Mary found this garden, it looked quite dead... Then something began pushing things out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren't there and another they were... I keep saying to myself, 'What is it? What is it?' It's something. It can't be nothing! I don't know its name, so I call it Magic. I have never seen the sun rise..., but from what they tell me I am sure that is Magic, too. Something pushes it up and draws it. Sometimes since I've been in the garden and looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden -- in all the places.
And of course, of course, this garden is within us, as well as without us.

And then this morning, in the new book I'm reading, The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda: "At the heart of the universe, Gurumayi says, lies supreme bliss, and to live in the experience of this bliss is the highest expression of human nature." This bliss is the very Magic found in the garden, that "strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest." Sometimes it takes a robin to make us see it. Or a lovely story like Hodgson Burnett's.

Such a wonderful reminder, thanks to the former Mistress Mary Quite Contrary:

So long as Mistress Mary's mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced, sickly, bored, and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, ... with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures,' there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired... Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.
May we all tend our roses, and fill our minds with robins and springtime. Truly we are surrounded by and made of Magic. How grateful I am to Frances Hodgson Burnett for the hours of childhood and recent joy she has given me, one hundred years after she published this story. Super big Magic!


Bees find us again

"That buzzing noise means something. You don't get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there's a buzzing-noise, somebody's making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you're a bee... And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey."
- Winnie the Pooh

Yesterday we had the good fortune, karma, luck, whatever you want to call it, to catch our THIRD swarm of bees. I have been thinking about this non-stop since 12:30 pm yesterday when Joe first noticed the distinctive buzzing-noise and tracked it to a redwood tree in our neighbor's yard. How is it that before we started beekeeping, each of us, Joe and I, had seen only one swarm of bees ever in our lives, but as soon as we started learning beekeeping, bought our own bees, not one, not two, but three swarms have landed practically in our laps?

From bird-watching, snorkeling and diving, I've learned that the more you look, the more you see. It's crazy and gratifying how as soon as you start noticing, there is so much to notice, so much more than you noticed before. It keeps expanding! And surely now, because we're attuned to bees in a way we never were before, we're more likely to notice. But three swarms? OK, it's true that there is a big hive two doors over from us, under someone's deck, the confirmed source of the first two swarms we caught last year, and most likely the source of yesterday's. And right now, April, is a very likely time of year for swarms. But really, why always come over toward our place? And why always swarm when people are coming over for meals?

The first swarm arrived in our apple tree on Mother's Day 2009; we had all of three weeks' experience under our belts and were just wrapping up brunch in the garden with friends. A week later, another swarm landed in a tree next door, and Joe, his humerus freshly broken and casted, worked with our neighbor Dave to capture them while his parents and I waited for him to come home so we could eat. This time, a year and a week after we started our beekeeping adventure, Joe noticed the swarm just I was starting preparations to host my parents for lunch. He threw down his hat and the weed-wacker, grabbed the swarm-catching necessaries and was off, 100% engaged in the task, delighted. It was, so he says, the easiest catch yet. We went back last night to pick up the hive box, drive them here and set them up in their permanent spot in the yard.

It's wonderful to have more bees. We lost two of our three hives over the winter, one colony was weak and starved after stronger bees robbed their food stores; the other lost their queen late, too late to make another and they eventually died, too, leaving behind a hive full of honey. Our only remaining hive until yesterday was the first swarm we caught, the Mother's Day bees, so wild and sturdy, such tough survivors. And now we're up to two again, more wild-caught bees, likely to survive and prosper.

Of course I know it's just a combination of circumstances -- the location of the mother-hive, the season, perhaps the breeze -- that has brought us three colonies of bees since last year. It's not a reward for good behavior, it's not karma, but damn, it sure feels like something more than just luck. We're listening for the buzzing-noise, so naturally we're going to hear it, but that doesn't explain the Why Us we feel every time the buzzing-noise shows up. I am fully aware that it's not personal (even though part of me wishes it were), that it's instead that somehow we've managed to create, just maybe, a deliciously intoxicating pollen- and nectar-rich oasis aromatic with bee-ness. Whatever the reason, every time has felt like a charm, like a privilege and delight. Keep coming over - we can't get enough!