To Be A Student Again: Falling into the Pond, Repeatedly

Monk's Pond, Kripalu Center. Two possible paths in learning, and life: I could worry about stepping perfectly from one broken-down, submerged plank to another, or choose to play, expecting to fall in, enjoying all parts of the exploration of balance.

Monk’s Pond, Kripalu Center. Two possible paths in learning, and life: I could worry about stepping perfectly from one broken-down, submerged plank to another, or choose to play, expecting to fall in, enjoying the exploration of balance. Especially taking in the part I’m most scared of initially: getting wet.

April’s training at Kripalu once more flung me deep into non-ordinary time, like the months of grief around my friend J’s death*; with much to say afterwards, and yet so much unprocessed and unwritten-about.  I’m stymied in the richness of my adventures, and exhausted again, still.

Information, information, poured in for twelve days. From the senses: exotic dishes on the buffet, hiking to jade-green ponds and a blue mountain lake, new faces to learn, voices, expressions, chanting, body movements and stretches and muscles micro-damaged then self-repairing;  loosening of muscles and expectations.

From the emotions: old frustrations hidden in the back and neck, released!, even-older habits of perfectionism popping up and rejected repeatedly.

From the intellect: how to memorize? how to rework language? philosophy to examine and reject or accept, examples to wonder at and incorporate.

We fifty-some students were fed and watered on a regular schedule:  yoga now, eat now, learn now, more yoga now, eat now, learn more, sleep now. Sometimes I opted to sleep instead of eat, as the fifteen hour days wore on.  We studied (or not), absorbed information, wept, breathed in new ways, chattered, practiced asanas, laughed, walked the labyrinth, mused, closed our eyes a lot, danced, practiced teaching, meditated, listened to each other’s life stories.

More to come about the food--but here are the staples of broccoli and kale. I ate kale at every meal some days. Yum.

More to come about the food–but here are the staples of broccoli and kale. I ate kale at every meal some days. Including breakfast. Yum.

I’m groggy coming out of school, as evidenced by my writing:  incomplete phrases dangle, run-on sentences jackrabbit ahead.  Regular life assaults me while I self-challenge not to leap recklessly into the old hurry-hurry. Yet requirements push impatiently through the door as I bring my luggage in:  lists, schedules, topics internal and external: what for dinner? hmm, those piles of unfinished projects, cleaning; oh, and here come other people, can I handle interaction?

Another fact reverberates in this bumpy integration: I return to Kripalu in June for a second round, and preparation is required in the form of teaching practice, absorbing a three inch binder full of materials, memorizing Yamas and Niyamas (Character Building Inquiries of Restraints and Observances), becoming familiar with even more poses (seventeen asanas down, twenty-six more to cover in June).

And most important for me: the internal dialog shift.  Teaching is not giving a performance, it’s having an experience. Breathe and meditate first. Breathe and don’t take yourself so seriously. What do I experience in the moment of teaching? How can I flow with self-awareness along with students’ needs to understand? What about timing the various sections of the class, and whoops! I need to use a new kind of language–not the language of anatomical teaching from my former days in massage therapy but rather directive, guiding phrases to move the participants to internal sensations and lack-of-self-judgment–yes, language cleaner yet more poetic.

Months ago, coming back from Kripalu, I didn’t realize how painful it could be to re-enter regular life.**  So this time I moved back into the world deliberately and slowly.

I let other people take care of me a bit with:

–A zen motorcycle ride to Saratoga Spa State Park; moving meditation different from the yogic variety, world going by but not attached to it:  smells of cut grass, newly manured fields, flowering crabapples and Japanese plum, all cascading inside the helmet, forced up my nostrils; the call to give as little input as possible to the bike’s movement, merely shift with the driver’s body to stay upright or angle to make turns.  Then crunching along gravel, smelling the sulfur-y carbonic acid water when we pulled up to the springs, hearing toddlers in shorts giggle along the paths to the spouters.

Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, NY. Mineral rich waters bubble out and down the rocks.

Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, NY. Mineral rich waters bubble out and down the rocks.

–An hour’s amble to Jumpin Jack’s hamburger shack on the first hot day of the season,  for a cheeseburger topped by coleslaw, finding a long but quick-moving line of post-baseball league families and tattooed Harley Davidson riders, everyone patient but happy-bouncy like little kids because of the warmth.  A measured amble afterwards to settle dinner on the way to Stewart’s for dark chocolate ice cream.

–Another day: the sun was golden at John Boyd Thacher Park where a bald eagle rode troughs of air over the escarpment, along with turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, ravens circling–and then three rare Blue Karner butterflies indigo’d the path in front of my hiking companions and I.

Rare scarlet trillium, imperfectly framed AND glowing deliciously.

Rare scarlet trillium at Thacher Park, imperfectly framed and yet glowing deliciously from the sun behind.

–Talks on the phone caught me up with family and colleagues as I put in window screens  to catch the cooler night air, then re-stocked the fridge.

Finally I could bring myself to clean out the email queue, a hundred messages at a time (a task not yet complete), unpack the suitcases and put down the new green yoga mat.

And to the garden: Planting has begun in the actual garden plot, in addition to my life plan.***  An entire row of three varieties of carrots!, stringless pole beans, lacinato kale, peas, radishes, and this year sweet pansy-faces smile on the row ends, with bachelor button and cosmos seeds strewn in. The little girl and boy who live in the house next to my community garden begged for seeds when they saw the activity; we tossed a packet of zinnias over the fence.

Dug and double-dug, compost and mulch added in, planted, marked and covered with sphagnum peat, watered. Growing underground where we can't see it. growth occurring that we can't see yet.

Dug and double-dug, compost and mulch added in, planted, marked, rows covered with peat moss, thoroughly watered.  Growth, that we can’t see yet, already occurring.

These May mornings I rise at 5:30 just like at school, loop mala meditation beads around my wrist to remember my sangha (study community) and chant along with the grainy video I took of my instructors singing the Student-Teacher Mantra. I listen to my own body’s needs on the yoga mat, and study how to teach others, giving myself hours a day to learn.

Of course I overextend in studying, and other parts of my returned-to life. Then I remember the Niyama I am practicing of Ishvar-Pranidhana: softening and opening to the play of the universe. I kindly, gently and compassionately, rein myself back in.

April's full moon, called the Awakening Moon in some traditions, certainly appropriate for this period of learning for me.

April’s full moon, called The Awakening Moon in some traditions, over the lake at Kripalu. Awakening, indeed.

*See posts Sep 14 & 28, Oct 8 & 19, 2012; found in the category “Death and Grief”

**See “Confidence that I Know Nothing: The Labyrinth” posted November 2, 2012

***See “To Plant a Garden–And a Life” posted February 1, 2013

Eating Out: A Light-Hearted Post

Since I am on my way out of town once again, here are some meals to sink your eyes into, from local non-chain restaurants.

OUTDOOR FARE

Ok, seriously fried food: crab cakes and onion rings, outdoors at The Boardwalk, Lake George NY. The view of the water and people para-sailing was more fun than the food; washing lunch down with local brews helped.

I ended up taking most of this home, and reheating it in the toaster oven over several days. Also had to make big piles of vegetables to eat with it, as I am just not used to the oil.

P.S. Never reheat crispy/fried/texture-driven food in the microwave; it’s such a disappointment.

Next, cheeseburgers with slaw on top at Jumpin Jack’s Drive-In, Scotia NY, with a side of excellent onion rings; rode up hungry on bicycles for the first summer visit and on a motorcycle for the second. A large sweating cup of icy unsweetened tea rounded out the meal.

Last summer we saw television pictures of Jumpin Jack’s under water from Hurricane Irene. Apparently they are all dried out now and back to long but quick-moving lines of customers again.

I don’t eat that much red meat, so when I do it has to be worth it.  Even then, I usually split a burger with other people, and nibble on two or three onion rings. Ok, maybe four. I really, really enjoy the zesty crunch of the coleslaw as my teeth sink into the salty cheese and meat.  All right, maybe five onion rings, you know, if I’m really hungry.

BREAKFASTS

Oh my heavens, mascarpone-stuffed French toast topped by fruit compote at The Parkside House, Buffalo NY.  The Parkside is a B&B three blocks from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House (note the FLW inspired china).

This meal kept me going for absorbing architecture in the morning, followed by three hours of hiking Niagara Gorge at Whirlpool State Park. Thanks, Chris and Jonny–breakfast was delightful.

Home-made waffle and broccoli rabe (aka rapini, a brassica related to turnips of all things!) & mushroom omelet, with some of the least greasy breakfast potatoes I have ever eaten. Someone was bringing in fresh local bunches of chard, for lunch I presume, as I sat drinking tea.  Skyport Diner, Schenectady NY

DINNERS

Crab cake with–get this!–lemon & vanilla-bean aioli (kept thinking there was something “chocolatey” about it ’til I double-checked the menu) over mango coleslaw, at Waters Edge Lighthouse  Restaurant, Glenville NY.

I suspect most people who dine out have a food they just must sample and compare to previous versions whenever they see it. Mine used to be chicken fried steak with sausage gravy (known in Yankee country as “southern” or “country” fried steak), but since I spend most of my time in the north now, I eat much less meat and fried food–oh, and I’ve eaten more than enough chicken fried steak for several lifetimes—I am now a crab cake taster. This exquisite cake proved one of the best ever, not too bread-y or fried-tasting, accompanied by such exotic flavors! What’s your “search out food”?

The chicken satay appetizer (big enough for a meal), again at Waters Edge Lighthouse. Note the Mohawk River flowing by behind the food, and yes, boats are bobbing there with the sun reflecting on them. Eating on the water is wonderful—especially when Hurricane Irene is not overflowing the banks; this was another restaurant that flooded last summer.

Vegetable samosa nestled behind a bowl of shrimp masala at Shalimar in Delmar NY. The creamy masala sauce with its peppers and onions is best eaten by dipping garlic naan (bread) into it, though you can eat an awful lot of naan in the process. I am also partial to the bund gobi aloo (cabbage and potatoes) all golden and yummy.

NOT DESSERT—INSTEAD, PRETTY COLORS TO FINISH WITH.

The beer flight at Madison Brewery, Bennington VT. The color, just look at the color and the varying opacities!—so many shades of red, amber, gold. Included in this sampler were Crowtown Pale Ale, Sucker Pond Blonde, Wassick’s White Wall (the cloudy one), Buck’s Honey Wheat, Willoughby’s Scottish Ale, and Old 76 Strong Ale.

Cheers, summer!