Friday, July 30, 2010

The Space Inside*

Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

Pay attention (work hard),
rest all that is not needed for the work,
relax into the effort,
feel how this pulse eases into hum,
contributes to all others’
to make our lives more rich
make us more joyful
more alive to our gratitude
more able to feel the ease from our troubles
wash over us,
leaving them sparkling, crystalline
with salt.

Invite them in,
all those you think you cannot feed,
who will fill themselves
with exactly what you can give
what they can receive
from the basket of your compassion –
your strengths,
the limber moments
between your daily plans –
who will spice each bite
with all you have learned
to let go.

Set the even table of your prayer for justice
with the spirit you bring
when flinging your loving arms
to all you can reach,
all you can harvest
in this season that feeds us
and the guests
who bring us so much more
than we can return.

I will open the dark doors
of my small home,
feel the rooms grow
as a vessel swells
each time the water
then hollows
the space inside.

*Interesting that I had forgotten a poem from 2005 called "The Space Between Us" Chapbook, anyone?

Thursday, July 29, 2010


In yoga we learn that our thoughts and feelings line our joints like hard water deposits. I never give this much thought, partly because I'm so inflexible that I never get to that layer and partly because I'm too busy trying to match my perfectionist tendency to my woefully imperfect poses ("practice" be damned).

But late in May I committed myself to going to a hot yoga flow class every weekday through July, which I've done with few exceptions. There have definitely been changes -- things I can feel, effects I can see, progress in good directions on many fronts. In the past week, I noticed an opening in my hips that has certainly never existed before and almost immediately heard a concomitant litany of past voices -- my voices -- saying all the things I say to myself when things are hard for me: This is impossible. How can anyone be expected to do this? I can't stand it for another minute. It's so hard I have to stop, etc.

The memory associated most strongly with these messages was a summer swim team, my first swim team, without ever having learned "real swimming" beyond 2-week YMCA classes when I was little. A seemingly irrelevant yet probably vital detail: my oldest sister was one of the coaches. We swam lap after lap, and as I struggled to breathe, I struggled harder against the growing panic in my lungs that this just wasn't FAIR. I couldn't do it, so by logical extension no one could do it: it just couldn't be done and therefore asking it of me (and us, I rationalized desperately) was fascist. Did I mention I'm a perfectionist? Yes, the ugly side of perfectionism is the utter inability to deal with not being good at something, even when it's YOGA for god's sake, as though being good at yoga is anything more than practicing it intentionally!

I know this, yet the voices are so distracting this week that I cannot calm myself, cannot focus, cannot stay in that hot, unbearable room. Today, cooling myself like a nuclear rod in the shower, I realized this simple truth: I do not know how to be gentle with my ... what? failure? It's not that. Imperfection? It's not quite that either. With my own inner fascist demanding that only perfection equals even "practice." Trying means giving 100%. Not trying means skipping the pose, leaving the room, checking out. There's some subtlety here that I can't quite finger. Throughout the class, I modify the poses to be less difficult, but then I give 100% within the modification. What I can't do is approach a pose half-heartedly knowing I can do better and (gasp!) choosing not to.

This seems like a life skill that I should know by now. Yet the fact that I don't clues me into why I'm so baffled -- and resentful -- at the majority of folks who seem to be floating through life entirely unfazed at their lack of exertion and unapologetic about ignoring expectations and responsibilities that affect those around them. Who was your mama? I want to ask them. And maybe that's another clue that there's a voice other than mine distracting me in yoga.

So I need another way to think about effort - a valid middle ground between all or nothing. A new way to be gentle with myself and the chasm between my intention and the unforgiving hardness cementing my joints closed, tight, and unmoving.

These adjectives no longer serve me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Weather or not to be

The rain,
staccato in me,
drums past any knowing
of the first drop.
Shifting puddles
cannot reflect their source.
Instead of a steady beat
lulling me into peace,
each drop swords
past capture,
slaps from my hand
what I grab –
the knowledge of self
I’m supposed to live in,
shoes off.

Shoes slushy,
I mush around,
confusion spilling
onto your bristling welcome mat
I hop on and off so quickly,
not wanting
you to ask what I don’t know
about what I left behind,
what sloshed out of unloyal shoes
when water realized I couldn’t hear
all it came to say.


Until the pebble settles on my last rib, I breathe around the empty space at my core. I am not yet resigned to what’s next. Without knowing the shape of my gifts, I cannot tie the ribbon or wrap the box filled with quiet resolve and generous layers of plenty. The swell will come, juicing my fingertips, levitating the hands that can hold all I love.