Sunday, September 13, 2015

Between Here and There

When I was entering my junior year of high school I got the bold idea in my head that I could get on with my dancing career, the thing I really wanted to be pursuing, if I could just finish high school faster. So I did. I spoke with the school and, though it wasn't common, they allowed me to take junior and senior English and whatever other requirements were needed. I forwent a lunch period and worked like bee that year. What strikes me now, like an unanticipated gong ringing right next to my ear, is the realization that whatever energy found its way in my body that year, it has never left. It is humbling to admit. From 17 on, there has always been some urgency and sense of too much on my plate, along with a deep passion and dedication to get to something I love. It has all required so much effort, organization, and determination. While much has come of that will and drive, what I see now is what I missed in all that hustle. This isn't particular to my life. It happens everywhere...this sense of trying to get somewhere so much so that we miss what we have, what we have accomplished, what is right here in the present moment. We lose the ability to pause and be content with the in-between, with the path from here to there. We neglect to celebrate and rest in where we are and where we have been.

I was sitting at my iPad one night this week looking up the details on my friend's upcoming performance when I decided to do a search under my name and "dance." It has been 7 years since I performed and I was curious if Google had anything to say anymore. What my eyes spotted first after all the massage and meditation was a search title with a clip of a review from Eva Yaa Asantewaa in The Village Voice that read "solo specialist Jean Vitrano presented a trio of works at Joyce Soho. Although a petite woman, she dances like a cast of thousands...In each piece, she soon unleashed coiled energy, virtually washing herself with the space, wearing it, consuming it. At rare, momentary stops, her strong, supple body seemed to resonate. Always restless, sometimes reckless, Vitrano is nevertheless controlled and clear as she sculpts movements in these demanding pieces." I read the lines, closed my iPad, and felt tears wanting to surface from deep in the ocean. My boyfriend was there in the kitchen preparing dinner and in that moment, with his back toward me, when he casually asked "what else was going on" I couldn't bring myself to tell him the world I had momentarily visited. I couldn't read to him those lines that were once used to describe me. It would of sounded like I was tooting my own horn. He didn't know me back then. So I said nothing, unfortunately depriving him of a whole, rich part of me. There was more than one sentiment needing to be expressed in those tears that never did get shed that night, but the one that brings me comfort now is the realization that I can, in this moment, take in those words of that dance critic who so eloquently captured what I felt when I moved. I can honor what I did in all those years of urgent, passionate striving. I can now say, "wow, I did that!" People said so at the time, but I was holding on so tightly to the runaway horse that I couldn't really pause and smile at myself for what I had accomplished. Instead there was a fear that if I did, I might fall off, so I just kept going. But, isn't this true of so many of us? What if I couldn't make another good dance? What if I never received more funding or attention from presenters? What if I lose my job, my health, my family? We can keep running with these fears driving us onward. Or, maybe we can decide to go forward differently.

Where all this reflection brings me is to a really beautiful place. I am still striving and probably always will. That is not a problem. I am, again, in the in-between place of seeing the goals I am moving toward, watching all the parts slowly coming together like a puzzle or tectonic plates shifting the shape of the earth underneath me. But the difference in my 40's, is that now, I want to slow down and enjoy the path. I want to enjoy what is coming together before it is together. I want to be right here soaking it in. There is so much breath in that. This place right now has all the happiness I need. I will read this post again to remind me when I lose it, as I surely will from time to time, but something has shifted and I feel lighter, more joyful, more content to savor where I have been, where I am, and where I am heading. I invite you, too, to look at your life with same sense of awe and celebration. Without a doubt, we are all deserving of that gift from ourselves...not just once, but every day. There is so much power, gratitude and giving energy that comes from that ability. When we do this, we understand, in a deeper way, that the path between here and there is just where we want to be. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Laughing & Crying & Learning Equanimity

My morning was a typical one. I had gotten the kids off to camp with its usual frenzy of "let's go, let's go, we gotta go" going on, sprinted up hills in the woods, packed my breakfast and lunch for the day and showered. But toward the end of my getting out the door for work, feeling the stress of the morning rush, I started to simultaneously laugh and cry. They both wanted to happen with equal strength, so much so, that neither one had its way. Instead, what emanated from me was the strange sound of both. There I was, looking in the mirror as I put on my minimal make-up, repeatedly checking my phone to see when I needed to stop everything and bolt out the door to the train, while these expressions came out. Tears were at the edge of my eyes ready to jump, when suddenly a smile would find its way on my face with a stunted chuckle of incomplete laughter. All I knew was that the intensity of the anxiety I was feeling was absurd and yet I had to make a train and couldn't stop. It was a most bizarre physical display of stress. The part of me that knew the morning rush was too much for any one person wanted to laugh. She knew the pace at which I was moving was beyond unreasonable; the athleticism alone in multi-tasking was at once heroic and comical. Yet, the part of me that couldn't take this level of going anymore wanted to shut the whole thing down and cry. It didn't matter. I didn't have time to do either one. Instead I got myself to the train. The day went on and I was fine.

A week prior, I was on vacation enjoying waking up every morning doing meditation and yoga on the deck of the cabin I rented overlooking Acadia National Park. I am sure it looked like a picture out of a yoga journal or some spiritual retreat center catalog....the kind you see in stock photos and know to add a grain of salt (or maybe a tablespoon). On the day before we left, I cried. I dreaded coming back to the busyness of my everyday life. But I did. I came back to a week where, in addition to the usual array of work and children, I was also leading two meditations as part of a spiritual project in town. Those two mornings felt great with large groups of people turning up to be guided into meditation for an hour. How could it be that I could be the person guiding people and the person having a seemingly deranged laugh/cry meltdown while rushing out the door two days before? 

This is a mindful life...believe it or not. It looks like that at times. It does not look like a stock photo we can order for a meditation flyer. It is sloppy, uncomfortable, and disturbing as much as it is peaceful and grounded. It is what in Buddhism is known as The Four Noble Truths. What years of suffering (as we all have in varying degrees in life -- The First Noble Truth) and finding my way, with the help of many teachers (looking deeply at our suffering: The Second Noble Truth), has shown me is that what makes a life a mindful one is our ability to see our strong reactions to whatever arises without believing the messy part is all of us, without putting ourselves down when we see it, and our acceptance of all of it (there is a way to end suffering: The Third Noble Truth). We gradually get it. Sometimes it is like a light bulb going off or it may be slower, more like brown rice cooking (The Fourth Noble Truth: the path). We step back and observe without reacting to what we see as if it is the whole truth, nothing but the truth so help me...even if it feels like it is. The acceptance of what comes knocking at our door...the joy, the suffering, and everything in between, is what separates a mindful life from one driven by our ever changing feelings spurred on by an ever changing life. It is not being detached. It is being present. There was a time that I would put myself down over that apparent contradiction of rushing, feeling tremendous anxiety and being able to drop down into the breath, the present moment and to be able to share that understanding. But something in very recent years has shifted. What I thought I needed to be and what is more real, more loving, more kind, compassionate and joyful has made itself known. The teachers and leaders we see who inspire us are no different than us. They experience anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, joy, peace, excitement, wonder, contentment just the same. What makes them inspiring is the part we can't see...that they have all of those feelings and sensations and they embrace all the parts equally...that is learning to view all things with equanimity (one of the Four Brahma Viharas). The stuff of life doesn't change with a monk's robe, a title, a published book, a following. It is a good thing to keep in check that a mindful life is not a picture. Or if it is, all we need to do is step inside the frame and we are there. What a relief.

What I happily learned in my returning weeks home is that I do not need to be any different than I am. I can love the part of me that runs around like the Tasmanian Devil filling water bottles, washing the dishes, feeding the dog, drying my hair all in the same moment and the part of me that can be still like a Bodhisattva. Since I started writing this entry, I have had more anxiety ridden moments trying to figure out how to get everything done and everyone where they need to be as school starts, business picks up, doctors appointments get handled, and a kids' birthday planned, along with laundry, meals, dog walks, etc. But, in the midst of all of that, something stops me somehow and I get a moment to simply sit in Washington Square Park. I look up at the wind moving through the leaves in the trees on a hot day with the returning NYU students navigating their way on overcrowded sidewalks. As I sit there, I take in the anxiety of the morning rush still simmering inside, the peace that also exists in me, and so much joy. It is all beautifully there to sensation after another and all of which make us alive.