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The other day as I was driving to work on a particularly cloudy, drizzly, and ho-hum morning, I experimented with flipping the car radio to one of the local stations that’s currently broadcasting Christmas carols around the clock. I do not normally condone such pre-season holly jolly activities, but I figured that since Christmas songs are associated with mirth and merriment, perhaps just a song or two about Santa Claus and a few merry gentlemen would stir up enough warm and fuzzy feelings to get me into the office with a smile on my face.
However, after just a few seconds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I had switch back to the traditional hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today. The holiday music felt wrong, so out of place for that early November morning, like someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me on June 10 instead of July 30. Yet, in a way, I was disappointed about not being receptive to the music. I spend so much energy resisting this early onslaught of Christmas in stores, in TV commercials, and in people’s homes (walked by a house on November 14 with a tree already set up), that I thought to myself, Why resist, Jen? Just welcome it in, let the Christmas spirit flow through you as it is elsewhere around the country. Don’t wrinkle your nose at the fact that Santa made his debut at the mall on November 5, giving out candy canes even though pumpkins filled with candy corn and bite-size Three Musketeers are still sitting on the kitchen counters of every American household. That’s not a good attitude.
But as soon as I tried to welcome it in, the door slammed shut. I just did not want to hear about one’s experience rockin’ round the Christmas tree on November 14. And as much as I love Starbucks, I do not love getting my pumpkin spice latte served in a red cup. The resistance returns.
But there’s a reason for the resistance, and it all has to do with nostalgia. I can thank Kathy O’Connell from WXPN’s Kids Corner for this realization (yes, it’s true that I sometimes listen to the made-for-kids radio show), as she pointed out that, for her, the Christmas spirit is not allowed to creep into her system until Santa arrives at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only then will she begin listening to Christmas songs, consider dressing in red and green, and pick out greeting cards, because that’s the way it used to be growing up.
Now, Kathy is much older than me, but even back when I was a kid in the ’80s, the same theory applied. There was never any talk of Christmas before Thanksgiving, and even then I remember being confused why Santa Claus participated in the Thanksgiving parade. My hometown had a holiday parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and for me, that‘s when Christmas could begin. The turkey was carved, pumpkin pie consumed, Black Friday shopping done. That’s the way it used to be. Those were the good ol’ days, when Santa’s Village at the mall didn’t open until after Thanksgiving ended, when candy canes were handed out only after all of your Halloween peanut butter cups were fully digested and eliminated.
So it seems that as great of a holiday Christmas is, most of us are programmed remembering the way it used to be, and that’s the way we can’t tolerate Bing Crosby when the trees are still covered in yellow and orange leaves. Perhaps the younger generations of today will be A-OK with mistletoe and fake cobwebs being sold side-by-side on the same shelves when they become adults, but for most of us right now, we’re just trying to hold onto a little magic from our youth, upholding tradition, and doing everything in our power to prevent orange and black M&Ms from ever mingling with the red and green ones.
My workplace has a plate of leftover Halloween candy sitting out for all to grab at, and I was super-excited to see that it contained Reese’s Pieces, one of my all-time favorite candies (thanks to the Conehead sundaes from Friendly’s that defined my childhood dessert experiences).
Just as I keep returning to the plate to grab an extra piece of candy or two, November (what with Thanksgiving and all) is a good month to remember that life is like a
box of chocolates leftover Halloween goody bag, and each day has something amazing to grab at and devour.
What am I thankful for right now?
• That Monday being Halloween meant all the local youth were out trick-or-treating, so the gym pool was completely child-free during my lap time. I could actually use my ear plugs for their primary purpose–to keep out water–rather than as a means to block out the sounds of high-pitched squealing and excessive splashy-splashy.
• For using my sister’s birthday as an excuse to carb-load during the most amazing brunch buffet of crepes, French toast, potatoes, waffles, and made-your-way omelettes.
• The mutual love of breakfast sandwiches I share with my husband, and the fact that he does not mind having “brinner” once per week. Related: That Bryan won’t eat his sandwich until I give it my trademark little sandwich hand press. Also related: The amazing parmesan/spinach/roasted red pepper (“Popeye”) bread from Great Harvest Bakery that I use on either side of my egg whites and turkey bacon and that melts ever-so-wonderfully in the toaster oven.
• That my mother has taken a sudden interest in proper footwear and is encouraging me/providing financial assistance to purchase foot-friendly shoes. However, I’ve been doing this for years; “Old Lady Orthopedic Shoes” is practically my middle name.
• The magical $20 bill I found in my wallet this morning that prevented me from having to buy overpriced “credit card” gas. “Twenty bucks regular…CASH.” Yeah, you better give me the $3.15 rate. Related: OK, the $20 wasn’t actually magical. It was the “Here, treat yourself to something nice” grandma-secretly-shoves-a-$20 bill-in-your-palm money I had totally forgotten about receiving during the aforementioned family brunch. Ahhh, adulthood. Where “something nice” = paying cash for gas to avoid an extra 10 cents per gallon.
• Even after digging into all that leftover Halloween candy, a dentist check-up that ended with the relieving “No cavities!” exclamation from the doctor. Related: The hygienist’s comment on the marked improvement she noticed from me finally taking her advice and getting an electric toothbrush already.
What’s something you’re thankful for today?
Five years ago on this day, I wake up early in my dorm room at Kripalu, fascinated with the sun that, thanks to Daylight Saving being over, is beginning to rise as we do, too. I see it the minute I wake up, a fine line of orange outlining the mountain tops to the east. It grows deeper and stronger as I get dressed, like a fire is burning just beyond the hilltops. It looks like an oven, hot to the touch. It’s hard not to hum “Circle of Life” in your head as the sky grows pinker, shafts of light hues injecting the dark blue sky. Over the lake, the clouds hang low. Thin, wispy clouds so low that it feels like you could touch them if you were out boating.
After Roger’s delicious spinal-soaking morning sadhana, I step out between the great glass doors. It is bright, blinding, and…warm?! October 31, and I can stand in my flip-flops at 8 a.m. I face the east and do three sun salutations, being nourished by the divine light. I feel like the sun and my breath refuel me, like a car going to the gas pump.
Oh, and it’s Halloween. I only know this because some people dress in costume and there are jack-o-lanterns on the front steps.
Stephen Cope, one of Kripalu’s main men, talks to us during our morning session. We discuss dukha (ill at ease, suffering, pervasive unsatisfactoriness), the roots of dukha (craving, aversion, delusion), and raga (greed, craving). My notes include things like:
3 Characteristics of Afflicted States: (a) Disturbance (restless, distracted, mind heated up); (b) Obscuration (capacity to see things is obscured); and (c) Separation (the mind separates subject/object).
Wanting/pleasure = OK. Craving/attachment = not. Craving increases dopamine levels in the brain, and thus we need more and more to be satisfied.
To overcome craving/aversion/delusion, we must engage in meditative absorption. The mind is no longer caught in the afflicted state. Burns the roots of the affliction. Mind becomes profoundly one-pointed. Kripalu yoga focuses on subtleties–breath, prana, etc, in order to make the mind razor-sharp.
Investigate dukha. If your practice is not softening craving and aversion/delusion, you need to look at your practice.
We are prompted to fill in the blank: My passion (right now, currently, not yesterday and not three years from today) is _____.
Movement! Shadowbrook and Shiva taught me again, brought me back to my roots.
The nature of today’s lecture has me struggling so much, trying to find “me.” Who am I? What brought me here? What has yoga done for me and how can I spread that beyond Kripalu’s walls? What is my passion? What kind of passion can I bring to my yoga, my classes? Who do I look to for inspiration? Do I look to anyone for inspiration?
I am obsessed by and with movement. Dance. Yoga has refueled my passion for movement and dance, the singing of the physical body. I have never danced as passionately as I have after practicing yoga.
I feel so crappy today. I ate so much, I felt like I was going to burst with emotion and confusion. Who the hell am I? Why am I here? Why Kripalu, this mega-huge institution, with so much weight and importance attached to its name? So.much.responsibility. These people here are phenomenal. How can I even think of striving to be like them? But I want to be like them. I want their passion/compassion, dedication and bursting, overflowing love. But how?
I eat like a demon here. I am obsessed with food. I think about our meals all the time. One morning during savasana I saw everyone’s heads as hard-boiled eggs. The day before, I saw a vision of me scooping up lasagna. I think I have become more obsessed with chocolate here than I did in China.
The teachers take our afternoon session outside for an anatomy/physiology lesson. What troopers–they all dressed up for Halloween and put on a “play” about the different systems of the body. We sat on the east lawn and watched Helga play the circulatory system, Jurian the nervous system, Leila the respiratory, Megha the digestive, Rudy the lymphatic, and Roger (dressed in wooly fur pants) the endocrine. How these people got Helga to wear wings is beyond me.
So there we were, spread out on blankets, avoiding dog poop (which J got on her pants), dodging worms, and lying on our backs very vulnerably in supta baddha konasana. Megha got us chanting one of the “forgotten” sutras (“I digest, I absorb, I eliminate!”) and talked about poop and farting in class. Roger talked about gonads, and Rudy allowed us to stand up, face the mountains and lake, and soak it all in. Visually. Audibly. Sensually. It was just absolutely stunning, our whole group standing there, staring at the scenery, awed and amazed. It must have been in the mid-60s out there in the sun. We each ate one raisin and cherished it, contemplated it. One raisin, under the perfectly blue sky.
I just noticed that my toes have separated and spread out more. I guess walking around barefoot and not having my feet constricted in shoes all day helps. My right piriformis/glute/whatever pain has been steadily going away. I can kick without that usual twinge of pain.
Afternoon sadhana was with Micah. He was intense. We started with shoulderstand, bridge, and utkatasana. Nadi shodhana, kapalabhati, and bhastrika. I was exhausted. We ended with supta matsyendrasana, and I started to cry. I cried during savasana. And then some. I stayed after class to curl up in a fetal position and cry some more. At that point, I didn’t even know why I was crying.
I stuffed my face during my silent dinner, ate a second rice cake with jam, and then bought and ate a whole package of those fake M&Ms. [Made a voice post on my old blog] and vented. Left a message for [yoga teacher from home], because she is great and could be a Kripalu teacher without even coming here. I admire her, love her.
I got my period, and that made me feel better. The hunger, the emotions, the pimples.
I knew I needed to dance tonight. Movement was calling for me. Even though I wanted to go to bed after my 8:15 shower, I put on my headphones and went to Shadowbrook. The doors were still open into the lobby, so I sat in the corner and slid around on the floor to Indian music. I stayed planted on the bamboo floor until prana spoke to me, and then I leaped up without warning and was soon dancing in front of Shiva.
Janitors poked in, but I kept moving, especially when “Beating Drums” from Winged Migration came on. I flew. I soared. I danced like I was in my living room at home, in private. But I was not alone. I was at Kripalu, with passersby and custodians. I knew this. This is why I love yoga. It gave me passion again, in dance. I dance more soulfully than I ever have. Yoga shows us our true passions. Yoga doesn’t change us; it re-connects us with our true selves. I have to remember that within the postures; there is movement, liberation. I trust that. Now I have to express that to others.
Everyone talks about yoga here. You’ll see people on the couch, in a deep conversation about yoga, asana, pranayama, whatever. There are always conversation about yoga going on here, even from people you’d never expect.
I try not to think about the future, about post-Kripalu life, but it’s hard. These people–these faces–these smells and sounds and songs…how can I study aparigraha with such sweetness surrounding me?
It’s 9:50 p.m. and I am dead tired. I am so old, so exhausted.