Reason to Knope: how character conversion might transform America

How American whimsy and binders full of inspiring women might lead us to the Beloved Country…

There are a lot of coping mechanisms we fellow Americans have employed to get us through this political season. Facebook rants. FiveThirtyEight. SNL episodes. New York Times Op-eds. Hashtags. Drinking games.

I have partaken in a few (read all) of these strategies with varying success. I have decided it’s time for a change. A cleanse. To let go of my coping mechanisms and claim instead my KNOPE-ing MECHANISMS!

So I’m going for KNOPE.

Leslie Knope.

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If you have not yet encountered the television wonder of Parks and Recreation or its protagonist Leslie Knope, frankly, I don’t know whether to be mad or jealous. Mad because where have you been? More importantly, how have you survived this political season without Parks and Rec re-runs or Leslie Knope (and cast) memes and gifs to get you through?

Jealous, because if you give yourself over to the six seasons of Parks and Rec that await you on Netflix, you will be revived, renewed, and ready to once again believe in the American Dream. Your patriotic soul will be exfoliated.

This year for Halloween, for the election, for America, I am becoming Leslie F-ing. Knope.

(I wrote the actual “F-bomb” then deleted it because I think she would go with “F-ing” given her long term goals for public office.)

Last year I came to two (initially) grudging (eventually) proud realizations about myself.

These moments of epiphany came around the same time. The first one was inspired by my colleague Andy asking me during a field trip… “Do you identify strongly with Leslie Knope?”

I gasped and grabbed his arm…

“Do YOU identify me with Leslie Knope?” I asked with eager (read, overwhelming) anticipation.

“Umm…well that all depends…I guess some might see her as a little naïve.”

If by naïve you mean hopefully exuberant as she fearlessly charges into the world with blinders on to the peril to herself or others but equipped with a bastion of binders to protect her…I guess I can see that.

It was also around this time ANOTHER colleague accused me of believing in unicorns in the midst of a professional development. (And no. She didn’t mean it in a nice way.)

Rather than take offense at either mythical association, I realized there is power in owning our magic. After all, Leslie AND unicorns (perhaps not coincidentally) have experienced a revival of believers amidst these darkened days of American Mordor. The world can use all the benevolent mythical characters we can imagine, particularly now.

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So I’ve been plotting my binders. Planning my Pawnee city council stump speech. Purchasing my waffle laden iPhone cover.

Confession. Knope’s not cheap.

Part of this process has been Amazon intensive. Between “I voted” stickers, a blonde wig, a Ron Swanson t-shirt, I had to PROMISE my husband I was done accessorizing for America. The final straw came when he looked over at me annotating during an episode of Luke Cage and asked what I was doing. I said “homework” and held up a copy of Pawnee: the Greatest Town in America.

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He closed his eyes, shook his head, and said, “I thought you were doing real work.”

When I claimed to be channeling the spirit of Knope for the greater good, he said simply.

“No.”

(He meant, “KNOPE.”)

It’s time for him, and ALL of us to say “yep” to Knope.

This is not just about a costume. This is about a conversion. Conceived amidst the RNC convention, this has become a symbol of defiant hope in America’s Super Ego rather than her Id. It is a way to channel all of my well-informed optimism and share it with my family, friends, students, and neighbors who are frightened of the future.

Leslie Knope would not let me go gentle into that future. She was like,

“Nah, girl. Not gonna happen. Not if you and I have anything to do with it.”

And I was like,

“Please stroke my hair, make me a throw-pillow with my face on it, and call me a poetic, noble land mermaid.”

And she was like,

“Only if we don’t tell Anne Perkins.”

Deal! Saddle up your unicorn, Leslie!

Then, something ELSE occurred to me. I realized that the power of this journey could be collective. Open to all. Super Socialist. Like Obama-care except less mired in political partisanship. After all, Leslie rarely goes anywhere or does anything without the efforts of her Pawnee people.

Parks and Recreation is an infinite resource! There’s enough Knope to go around! Our entire COUNTRY could be Knopeful!

So, if you’ve been feeling a little glum due to a combination of the demise of the American ideal and because you don’t have a Halloween costume yet, get your hands on a red hat (but not THAT red hat), just a plain one you can plaster with random buttons (but preferably “New Kids on the Block” memorabilia) pull out a pantsuit (or a pair of overalls if you want to get “folksy”) and you’re ready to hit the pavement and do some canvasing (err… trick or treating).

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Don’t feel comfortable in a blond wig? I feel you. Consider becoming another amazing human on Parks and Recreation. There’s literally millions of quizzes to determine “Which Parks and Rec Character are you?” (Full disclosure. I have taken all of them sometimes more than once until they confirm what I already know. I’m born to be Knope).

Love bacon and woodworking but hate the government? Opt for Ron Swanson.  Want to make sardonic remarks all night long? April Ludgate’s for you.  Over-weight but endearing and married to a hotty? Jerry/Gary Gergich awaits. Have guitar and gift for ridiculous ad-libbed songs? Andy Dwyer is YOUR spirit animal.  “Treat-yo-self” to fine threads and friends with Donna Meagle or Tom Haverford as you live-Tweet the night away. Just want to be friends? We’ve always go room for one more Anne Perkins. Distracted by my earlier inappropriate use of “literally”? Chris Traeger it is!

The point is, America, there is room for ALL of us in this country and in this effort to make Halloween GREAT again. We all have a role to play. There is reason to Knope and reason to Hope and it begins with a combination of righteous whimsy and an Amazon account.

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Saddle up those unicorns! Summon your land mermaids! We are Leslie Knope! The beloved country is waiting, America, and we’re going to need some binders!

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P.S. In honor of Leslie, #womancrushwedesday , binders, the final #debate, and my BIRTHDAY, October 19th I will be live tweeting the unfolding of this “Binder of Inspiring Women” during the #debate – Embrace the Binder! Nominate women for inclusion who have given you reason to hope! @whimsagogy on Twitter and Instagram

Odd friends of Ramadan

Transformed by curious couplings during #Christians4Ramadan

Tonight, on Ramadan Eve, I finished two books, both of which were given to me. One by my daughter. One by a first year teacher.

A month ago, my daughter came home from Pre-K4 with I am Malala in her Ninja Turtle backpack.

Holding it up to me in two hands, like a stone tablet.  She said earnestly, (Ivy says most things earnestly) “Mommy I want to read this!”

She’d found it in the fourth grade classroom and I can only assume connected immediately with the tranquil gaze of Malala on the front cover.

“Umm…I want to read that too, five year old,” I said bemused. “Guess this is our first mother daughter book club.” We let Kip join too because…top bunk privilege. At bedtime, for the last month, we have been reading about Malala, Pakistan, Swat Valley, the rise of the Taliban, her Father’s activism, her own fight for human and children’s rights…and her love for Ugly Betty. Kip and Ivy have both been surprisingly riveted, only occasionally petitioning for a respite with Star Wars Rebels or Rosie Revere. After they become drowsy to the wisdom of Malala, I choose my late night profundity from a different direction.

Early in the school year, my colleague Andy (who had actually been a student at the school where I began teaching) asked me “Do you identify strongly with Leslie Knope?”

I gasped and grabbed his arm…

“Do YOU identify me with Leslie Knope?” I asked with rhetorical Leslie Knope-like eagerness.

“Umm…well that all depends…I guess some might see her as a little naïve.”

If by naïve you mean hopefully exuberant as she fearlessly charges into the world with blinders on to the peril towards herself or others but equipped with a bastion of binders to protect her…I guess I can see that.

I should mention here that my spirit animal is Leslie Knope riding a unicorn.

Andy took it all in stride and very thoughtfully presented me with Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, as a Christmas gift…which I finally finished today. I wish this pace could be explained by 1,500 pages, small print and no pictures…but the book is only 329 pages long and is laced with Polaroids, hand scribbled notes from 8 year old Amy, and large margins with riotous side-notes from  friends and colleagues. I have added to these with annotations of my own (should you wish to borrow my copy).

As I drink wine and write this, these two books sit next to me, the authors both gazing at me with challenge and expectation. I don’t think I seek out these kinds of peculiar pairings to be deliberately provocative. I’m just a reluctant sorter. They would seem an odd couple to anyone else…but to those who know me, this will likely not come as too astounding. The spiritual humanitarian alongside the hilarious hedonist. Sounds about right.

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I will write more specifics about my strange affinity for these powerful women and the lessons they have taught me in the days to come, but for tonight, I accept their odd juxtaposition in my life and their company into Ramadan just as I hope you will accept the oddity of an educational mystic once again inspired and cleansed by her pilgrimage through this holy month.

I don’t have a logical or convenient filing system for the world or the people in it. I don’t reject these curious couplings when they happen. When my daughter hands me book, I accept. When the first year teacher hands me a book, I accept. When a kid asks me to sponsor the Muslim Student Association…I accept. And then I also accept the possibility that, perhaps, we were supposed to co-exist all along. Become friends. Transform each other. Make the other giggle.

I think Malala and Amy might do some giggling together. I think I might join them. And you? You’re invited, too.

Giggle.

Accept.

Thin and Now – A Study in Liminal Space

In between is a space unto itself.

Sitting in a dead car on a country road in Colorado, I don’t know if I shiver from the cold or some deeper sense of awareness. I am not alone in the car. I sit with the only self-proclaimed neo-pagan I’ve ever met. This is the first moment I encounter the notion of “Liminal Space.”

As she describes the Celtic and Pagan traditions, she speaks of the sanctity of spaces between. Cliffs as meeting spaces between earth, water, and sky. Pregnancy as the time when a woman is no longer a child but not yet a mother.  Dawn and Twilight. Solstice and equinox. These moments perch at the precipice before we leave behind what was and step into what will be next.

Life at the threshold.

Yesterday I spent one of my spring break days on a pilgrimage with my dear friend Cara. An Episcopal priest on Capitol Hill, we first met at bible study in college. She knew early on that her’s would be the life of a religious. She continues to anchor me in the faith of my roots…even as I am tempted by Pagan fruit.

 

On yesterday’s journey she led me down into the metro and up again to the Renwick Gallery. This diminutive museum tucked away from the rest of the National Mall was a small marvel. Their installation right now one of Wonder. Quite literally. Each room has been transformed into a transcendent space. The effect is visual, but also behavioral.

We tilt our heads, puzzled.

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We crouch down.

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We get closer.

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Reach out.

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We step back.

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We prostrate ourselves, gaze and giggle.

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String becomes light.

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Wings become wallpaper.

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Cards become pillars of salt.

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Afterwards, on our long walk home, back the way we came, I am once again thinking about Space. How we shape it. How it shapes us. How often neglected this essential idea has become in a modern world where architecture is so often utterly utilitarian.

I ask Cara her thoughts on liminal space.

“Thin Space,” she calls it. I seize on this term.

Yes.

Thin.

As a priest, she is invited into these sanctified spaces, lives in them. Creates and consecrates them.

But in her experience, passing through liminal space is as likely to be distressing as enlightening for those who experience it. After all, she says, the most common time she has experienced this “thinness” is just before or just after death.

Looking back at my own timeline, I note a deep change that transpired in me and plot its beginnings in the birth of my children and the death of my dearest friend’s husband. This overlay of living and dying created new heights and depths I have yet to fully explore, but I nevertheless feel the shift in my landscape.

Liminal space might be literal places we can plot on a map. Retreat to or create. They might be occurrences we can plot on a timeline and revisit annually in traditions and memorials. Or, they may be states of being we can generate in ourselves and, perhaps, share with others.

In between is a space unto itself.

 

I’ll cut you with my Unicorn…

How to change workplace culture with your therapy unicorn.

Workplace meetings are not renowned for their magic or mythical creatures.

Two months ago I sat in a bi-monthly meeting with my colleagues. This is one of those long standing scheduled meetings that has unfortunately developed an atmosphere of smothering cynicism.  I’m one of the newest and youngest members to this team. On this particular day, there was a problem on the table. How do we get business partners, administrators, counselors, and students to buy into a new online platform where they can register to host or have an internship? I suggested brining all the stakeholders together at each school so they could learn and get excited about the platform in proximity to each other.

One of my colleagues responded to this idea with…

“Really, Barbara? And then will there be unicorns?”

Oh.

No.

She.

Didn’t.

Yep. She did. In front of all my peers she called me a unicorn lover.

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This day will live in infamy for TWO reasons.

  1. Because I’ve told this story indignantly countless times and I’m now blogging about it.
  2. Because I never realized before this moment that I was out of touch with my inner unicorn love.

My rage and disbelief makes the memory of my rejoinder a LITTLE fuzzy, but I believe I said something along the lines of:

“Yes. I will be riding my rainbow haired unicorn, and you best get out of its way!”

Implied in her critique, of course, are other labels and accusations. A dreamer. A naïve optimist out of touch with the pragmatic constraints of the world. Here was a person who, for whatever reason, wanted to quickly dismiss and shut-down a possible solution.  Many of you reading this will undoubtedly be able to share similar encounters with colleagues or cultures characterized by “can’t”. But in her defense…a confession.

I am a person who moves through life with a lot of…exuberance. (For a more detailed account, consider reading “Turn Down For What?”) I’m kind of like a puppy. I might jump and lick your face when I first see you, but I swear, I calm down after like a minute. And it’s all totally genuine. I really do think you’re just that great! I really do think there are a ton of solutions to intractable problems! I really do believe that if you build the right relationships you can harness the power of the people around you and innovate your way out of or into almost anything!

Are you exhausted by my exclamation points yet?

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Crazy-eyed unicorn lady.

This can be a lot for the people around me to handle. Particularly if we’ve only just met. Folks are like, “She can’t possibly maintain this outlook or energy over time.”

Oh. But I can.

Before this moment, though, I didn’t even really LIKE unicorns.

Well…not in my adult life. I DID in fact grow up with “My Little Ponies” because my dad wouldn’t let me have Barbie’s because he didn’t want me to have a bad self-image. (And, yes I still have the pink castle. Yes you can come over and play with it.)

Being an ADULT PROFESSIONAL, though, who STILL likes unicorns, seems a little…infantile. But the more I told this story about a colleague threatened by my enthusiasm for creative solutions (which, by the way, I did in fact follow through on and all the stakeholders were TOTALLY excited in proximity to each other, thank you very much) the less it became about her, and the more it became about defending my right to carry my therapy unicorn anywhere I damn please.

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That’s about the time I grudgingly began to wonder if unicorns might in fact be my spirit animal. I was not initially thrilled about this prospect.

I get it. Not everyone’s a unicorn person. They shed their rainbow hair everywhere and some people are allergic to glitter. If you need the effusive affection and affirmation of your place in the universe, don’t get a unicorn. They’re very independent, particular, and can be moody.

What’s more, there are indeed BAD unicorn owners out there. They’re all “believe in my unicorn” but they won’t let you ride it, pet it, or share joint custody. There are the unicorn lovers, too, that don’t pick up after their pet. They promise big things with their inspirational demos, but they don’t stay around long enough to follow through on the practicalities. Their unicorn is knocking shit over because they didn’t take it to obedience school or think about all the responsibilities that accompany unicorn ownership.

But if I’m going to own my unicorn, I’m going to feed, groom and board it, too. Its mane will be braided, its coat will be shiny, and we’re going to win some dressage blue ribbons together. So, don’t confuse my optimism with naïveté. If I tell you I’m planning a trip over the rainbow, you best believe I’ve booked the tickets, found a cloud to sleep on via “airbnb”, and filled up my tank on lucky-fucking-charms.

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I am a pragmatic optimist. I see opportunities everywhere not because I’m making them up but because I’m looking for them AND because I’m already a regular member of a Unicorn playgroup with like-minded unicorn owners who believe in magic and will show up when I call. I have a smattering of “little orphan Annie” and “Pollyanna” in me. I will sneak out my upstairs window to go to the carnival.  I will rescue strays and hide them under piles of laundry. I will decorate the ailing curmudgeon’s room in prisms. I will persuade Daddy Warbucks to adopt the world.  I may be whimsical, but I’m also scrappy, self-aware, and “charmingly subversive.” Just. Like. My. Pet. Unicorn.

Once I crossed that rainbow, stopped talking bad about my colleague and unicorn hater behind her back, something (dare I say it) magical happened. People started saving a seat at gatherings for me to bring my unicorn.

It started small. At a meeting in a school library a “Book of Fantastical Creatures” appeared on my table. This same meeting my boss brought glitter and covered my work space with it. People started texting me pictures of t-shirts at Target, sardonic Memes, and screen shots of unicorn slippers.

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And then, the penultimate miracle moment. The colleague who had started it all…who had made manifest my mythical affinities. What did she bring to the notorious bi-monthly meeting of doom?

A Solar. Powered. Unicorn.

For me.

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It bobbed gently in front of me throughout the day. Reminded me that even cynics can soften. Emboldened me when our Assistant Superintendent joined us to raise my hand and say…

“I want to know if something is possible.”

Instead of groans from my colleagues? Laughter. “Here come the unicorns!” These comments were no longer accusatory or dismissive. They were intrigued and bemused.

I can live with that.

This conversion from unicorn doubter to believer will forever serve as a testimonial that if we believe in unicorns…they suddenly appear. If we believe in unicorns, others do too. And they start to make room for them. They start to book meetings in proximity to verdant meadows where there is room for unicorns to frolic and room for humans to twirl. Evolve. Learn to fly. Breathe Fire.

Because…who DOESN’T want to believe in the possibility of unicorns?

So, Yes. My name is Barbara (not Annie or Pollyanna), and I believe in unicorns.

Climb on, or get out of our way.

Just another Mean Girl Monday

Oh, Regina.

Since I’ve established a certain level of comfort with making broad-sweeping generalizations about days of the week, today was EITHER:

  1. Mean-Girl-Monday or,
  2. “Mind yo’ business” Monday.

Either way, the day ended with the purchase of a box of wine.

MeanBox
Box-o-Whine

Let’s play 10 truths and a lie, shall we? Which of these is NOT true. Yep. Only one is not true.

I yelled (like screaming yelled) at my children in the car.

I told my children my boss yells at me when they make me late. This is blatantly false.

I took their toys and made them cry.

I took my husband’s toys and made him cry.

I bad mouthed a guidance counselor.

I passive aggressively BCCed a librarian.

I put in an email “I am…frustrated.” When what I MEANT was, “I am…muttering obscenities under my breath and have torn up your memo into tiny little pieces because we’re too underfunded for me to have a shredder.”

I said, “It doesn’t matter if they’re mad if they do what we want.”

I mimed stabbing myself in the eye with a dry-erase marker.

A student said (while I was miming stabbing myself in the eye with a dry erase marker) “I think she’s going psycho.”

You think, kid?

And if you’re WONDERING whether that became a F@#!ing “teachable moment” where I discussed with the class why it’s a bad idea to alienate an angry authority figure (particularly one who is trying to HELP them and who is at least self aware enough to have WARNED them beforehand)…then yes. We had a little teachable “Mind-yo-business” moment.

And all of that happened before noon. Except for the thing about Zach’s toys…but only because his toys are stupid and I don’t want to play with them anyway.

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Hard-hatted-Woman

I have written previously about my “inner mean girl.” My friend Matt told me recently that my inner mean girl is not always so “inner.” And Matt’s a lawyer. Probably makes people cry daily, so…burn.

My MOM put it more simply. “You’re scary when you’re angry.”

Mom!! I KNOW THIS!!! (And why would you SAY that to someone who is scary when they’re angry?! Have you no sense of self-preservation?)

I wish I was only a mean girl on Mondays. But I am very aware of my capacity to make others suffer when I’m grumpy, tired, disappointed, overwhelmed, stressed, hungry, etc. Insert negative emoji face here ______ .

In my defense (because you know I got’em, Mr. Fancy prosecuting attorney) I’m way better than I used to be. I remember pulling out a full-on crying fest because my boyfriend forgot to get eggs for the home-made vanilla icecream we were going to make. This is not what we call a critical issue. I very truly no longer resort to emotional extortion as a matter of course.

And even though I was grouchy, there were definitely moments when I was able to get myself together and:

  1. Have a productive meeting with my principal about a mentorship program.
  2. Encourage a student NOT to fight another student in the office.
  3. Hug Kip and Ivy and say “I love you even when I’m mad.”
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Darth Mother

The truth is, though…I’m not willing to give her up. Regina. I…kinda like her.

This is not a Lenten apology.

I need my inner mean girl. The world can be MEAN and it’s most often mean to folks that can’t fight back.

Come to think of it…I feel some more justification coming on. Today, much of my anger stemmed from someone trying to either take advantage of or not fulfill their obligations to another human being. And yep, that makes me MAD and it’s not going to STOP making me mad and just because I’m a woman and an enlightened human being who wants to become the best version of herself EVENTUALLY, that DOESN’T MEAN I HAVE TO DO IT RIGHT THIS SECOND, THIS LENT, OR THIS MONDAY.

(Breathe, Regina, Breathe.)

If you’re still there and you made it past the CAPS LOCK YELLING…I know I need my anger. My mean-ness even. I plan to lead a life where I’m plunging into spaces where people are swinging, hoarding, or just plain looking the other way from folks who are struggling. I don’t think anger and “mean-ness” is always the answer to get people to pay attention…but it’s not NEVER the answer.

MeanMommies
Leana started it…

I’m not claiming that’s what happened every moment today. Today I was mad at a box of wine because it was too big to fit in my refrigerator. Ain’t no moral justification for that.

So maybe…alternating Monday themes.

Today? “Mean girl Monday.”

Next week? Making amends Monday.

Let’s try to make THAT happen Gretchen. #Fetch #SayCrackAgain

No need to remind me which day we’re on, though. It’ll just piss me off.

 

Be still, my monkey…

My son moves at a pace faster than the speed of sound. That is the ONLY explanation for why he only hears me the third time I say something.

 

Kip.

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Kip!

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KIP!!

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(sigh)

Kip happens.

My son moves at a pace faster than the speed of sound. That is the ONLY explanation for why he only hears me the third time I say something.

Zippy Kippy.

Skippy Kippy.

Kip-to-my-lou.

Oh, my darlin’.

It is hard to be angry with such an exuberant, gregarious, hilarious primate. Somehow we still manage it.

Just.

Be.

Still!

Stillness is not easy for the five year old.

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Stillness is not easy for his mother, either. Neither in body nor in mind.

Last Lent, I wrote about my monkey mind

It jumps from one idea to the next. Knocks things over. This is true if I’m reading. Writing. Teaching. Walking. Eating… You get the picture…the fragmented, sparkly, frenetic picture.

Yoga, I wrote, was one of the only things that could calm my rushing psyche. The faster the flow of my body, the slower my mind becomes. When I began my practice, I gravitated to the hardest teachers. Barely keeping pace with my breath, dripping in sweat, my feet squeaking and slipping, this was the soggy path to my Zen moments. I would catch glimpses of silence and stillness in my mind before they slipped away around a corner of my frontal cortex.

Lately, though, I find I don’t have to chase down stillness. It has begun to come to me.

This week my friend Libbie invited me down to Annapolis to meet and practice with her favorite Yoga instructor. Tina.

Her class was without heat. Without sweat. Without mirrors. Without haste.

We began with seated meditation. We ended with seated meditation.

There was movement between, but all I remember, all I craved was the stillness.

Afterwards, I sat with her for a moment and marveled aloud how much I had reveled in the methodic, meditative slowness of the class. How did this happen? When did I change? How did I slip into someone at ease with silence and stillness?

“You’ve trained your mind,” she said.

When did that happen?!

 

Be still my heart.

Be still and know.

Peace. Be still.

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In stillness we hear.

In stillness we’re here.

Sleep tight, little monkey.

Humble Warrior (and the Holy Harrumph)

Finding balance between strength and humility…

Humility has never been my strong suit.

Consequently, sometimes the universe harrumphs at me.

Quietly, but definitively, I often feel the affectionate exasperation of the cosmos aimed in my direction.

This year during Ramadan and my sporadic attempts at fasting, the closest I came to prostrating towards Mecca was on my yoga mat. When you’re hungry, every sensation becomes nourishment. And if the mundane is made profound by your burning thirst, the profound is even more so.

Yoga has been the one space that has remained constant through my spiritual transformations. It began in 2002 with Fred Hagstrom, an art professor at Carleton College who would move his students through the Ashtanga Yoga series with no variation. It was the same. Every. Time.

For some, routine is comforting. For me, routine is tedium. Usually.

But something about the fluidity of…

Sun Salutation.

Forward fold.

Flat back.

High Plank.

Low plank.

Upward Dog.

Downward dog.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Yoga managed to do the one thing no other spiritual practice ever could…

Quiet my Monkey Mind.

Yoga Toes

Yoga during Ramadan nourished me in a new way. When I visited former students at the local Mosque in Gambrills, Maryland, I witnessed their prayer cycles in person for the first time. Sitting in the back of the prayer room, I watched women in beautiful robes and scarves in a choreographed dance towards the divine…

Stand

Bow

Kneel

Forehead to ground.

Stand.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Soon afterward when I came to my mat…the parallels were pronounced.

The central tenet of Islam is Submission to the will of Allah. Humility is likewise a tenet of my root faith, Christianity.  I never really got it. Never really wanted to.

It may have been in part because being raised in a conservative faith in the Midwest, it seemed that those most expected to be humble were…women. I was strong like a boy. Brave like a boy. Smart like…myself. Why should I pretend otherwise?

I remember the distinct moment in middle school when I first had the “B” word lobbed in my direction.

“Barbara’s hot, but she’s a bitch.”

Huh.

I didn’t see myself as either of these. Could I accept one but not the other, my teenage self wondered?

Intimidating. Bitchy. Cocky. Crazy.

Bitches get stuff done

I moved through various whispers or second hand labels like these, mostly from males I only vaguely knew. At some point I learned that being “cute” could offset my power. Obscure it enough to make it palatable. I’ve been figuring out how to contain, explain, and tame “my inner mean girl” ever since.

My mat has become a space to face this part of myself. I’ve always found it difficult to practice on my own. I can only do it for about 20 minutes and only about once every two months. But give me a roomful of sweaty yogis, I can go for an hour and a half (and give me a trust fund and I could go every day).

Yoga is funny. It’s a practice, not a performance, so you are not supposed to be comparing yourself to other people in the room.

Tell that to Lulu Lemon.

In truth, We (read I)  watch out of the corner of our (third) eye as someone falls out of tree pose. Bummer. And then we wonder who’s watching us (and gloating) when we do the same.

I’ve been practicing now for 15 years…so I can do a Cosmic Dance or two. Balance on one foot. My head. My forearms. I can fold and bend in old poses and stretch and strain into new ones.

Like I said. Humility has never been my strong suit.

Still…

Something internal shifted in my 30’s. I think it was Kip and Ivy that maybe did it. Parenting is humbling. My leftover baby-belly is humbling. For the first three years of their lives, I was lucky if I could get to yoga every couple of months. When I did…the heat of the room was nothing compared to the warmth of my gratitude. To be in this space. To polish my heart with my breath. To be strong sometimes and wobbly others. Kind of like the two most important little people in my life.

I would begin my practice in child’s pose and end in corpse pose, the final resting posture, tears slowly seeping from the corners of my eyes, having moved through the cycle of life and death.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Humility came with the realization that the best work of yoga is invisible to anyone but myself. No one can see my heart grow bigger. My spirit expand. My affection, compassion, and admiration for my fellow yogis moving in unison around me. And no matter my triumphs or tribulations on the mat, they mattered not at all unless I could bring their lessons with me out into the world.

During my Ramadan Yoga practice I thought a lot about submission…what it meant that I sucked at it. How I should feel about that. And then, all of a sudden I found myself in Humble Warrior.

For those of you unfamiliar with yoga, every posture has multiple variations. Dogs can be upward, downward, walked, or flipped.

Warriors can be reversed, flying, or…humbled.

Humble Warrior

How do we accept our inherent human power without lording it over others?

That’s it! I thought. I am a humble warrior!!

(Cue Holy Harrumph)

Cue self-aware chuckle.

Okay, okay. Not just yet.

But humble warrior, I realized in that moment, ought to become my life’s aspiration.

To be strong.

To be balanced.

To be humble…because I may topple over at any moment.

Humility and humiliation are not the same. My humility comes not from thinking myself less…but from thinking all of us MORE. Being able to look at a stranger and marvel at all the realities and possibilities they embody. To see people’s failings (and my own) as both inevitable and evolve-able.

I am powerful because…aren’t we all?

I feel myself called to action on issues rife with peril. Feel a future trajectory that will require courage.  I will fail unless I am first, humble. Second, powerful.

May the Cosmos, in Her mercy, help me balance both.