Category Archives: inspire

Extraordinary circumstances

Blessings, small and large

While shav­ing (beard and scalp) this morn­ing, I real­ized that it had not always been so easy. For the past 10 years, at least, I have cut my own hair, basi­cally buzz-​​cutting my hair to the small­est set­ting on the elec­tric hair clip­per. This year, I have gone even fur­ther and applied an elec­tric razor to give me the bil­liard ball look. It used to be that I could never get my right hand to reach the left side of my head; I’d have to switch the clip­per or razor to my left hand. I noticed this morn­ing that I don’t have to make the switch any­more, unless my right arm becomes fatigued from the awk­ward posi­tion. I attribute this improved range to my yoga prac­tice — what else could it be. All my time spent in downward-​​facing dog has served a purpose.

I went for the shaved head look as a ges­ture in sup­port of my brother, Richard, who was under­go­ing treat­ment for lung can­cer and los­ing his hair invol­un­tar­ily. After an oper­a­tion, chemother­apy and radi­a­tion treat­ment, his doc­tors have declared the can­cer in remis­sion, allow­ing him to look for­ward to some sem­blance of nor­malcy in his life. I don’t know if I am going to stop shav­ing my head. I kinda like it — a Bud­dha look that goes with my increased empha­sis on mindfulness.

Pale blue dot

I chanced upon this video mon­tage and it really struck home. I need to remem­ber its mes­sage. It’s inspired by Carl Sagan, one of my intel­lec­tual men­tors from a dis­tance, and the Hub­ble space telescope.

YouTube link

The eye versus the word

I have always been amazed at yogis (and yogi­nis like Ana For­rest) who can accom­plish amaz­ing feats of bal­ance and strength even though they do not appear to be over­pow­er­ing in strength. This morn­ing I chanced across a YouTube video of an exam­ple. I had seen Mark Giubarelli’s web­site years ago when he just had flip cards of poses. Big dif­fer­ence now.

I am run­ning into more and more videos of yoga online, from highly pol­ished pro­duc­tions to the equiv­a­lent of a web­cam point­ing to the back of a room. Just put Ash­tanga into a YouTube search, and it brings up scores of video on which you can waste your time instead of prac­tic­ing yoga. Then again, when you’re try­ing to crack the secret of get­ting into hand­stand from crow, it’s great to have a video demon­stra­tion because it so imme­di­ate, direct and pal­pa­ble. It would take hours of read­ing instruc­tions to under­stand it. On the other hand, the writ­ten word is great for reveal­ing things that are not evi­dent to the eye — where should your drishtri be focused.

Magic at Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Teresa and Michael outside the theater at Disney World Last month, Teresa and I took a long post­poned vaca­tion, five days in Orlando, Florida. For two days, Teresa kept me run­ning to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts so that she could sati­ate her thirst for the ocean — white sands, waves and sun. We stopped at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter for a cou­ple of hours, not long enough to take the whole cen­ter in. We also spent one full day at Epcot Cen­ter, Dis­ney World and also another day shop­ping for gifts and bar­gains at the out­lets that tempt the tourists to delay their return to the Magic King­dom. Teresa com­plained that we had waited 15 years too long: we should have brought the kids to Orlando when they could have enjoyed it. Of course, in those days, we couldn’t have afforded it.

For me, the high­light of the trip was the Cirque du Soleil, the Cana­dian ultra-​​circus, had a res­i­dent show, La Nouba, at Dis­ney World. I had seen Cirque du Soleil on tele­vi­sion and was intrigued by the con­cept. But TV or phtographs could never cap­ture the elec­tric­ity and scope of the per­for­mance. First of all, the Dis­ney World show is pre­sented in a custom-​​built free­stand­ing the­ater so it is a mag­i­cal set­ting. The light­ing, the set and wings were exploited to increase the impact. The audi­ence was seated in the round and the actors fre­quently ven­tured into the audi­ence. I thought the music was recorded but there was a full musi­cal band seated in the ele­vated wings and the singers roamed the stage.

Photo: House troupe, La Nouba at Disney World
House Troupe, Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at Dis­ney World
© The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany
Cos­tume credit: Dominique Lemieux

Once the lights came down and the show got under­way in earnest, I gasped. It was over­whelm­ing; I felt as if my senses were insuf­fi­cient to take it all in. My eyes were dart­ing back and forth try­ing to catch all the action. As the per­form­ers soared through the air, danced across the stage, bal­anced on the edge and tum­bled, it sud­denly occurred to me that I was see­ing some­thing that I aspired to in my own yoga prac­tice. The grace and strength, the imag­i­na­tion and dex­ter­ity, the play­ful­ness and wit that drove the per­for­mance were the essence of my inten­tion when I stepped onto the mat. Not that I could ever aspire to the sheer ath­leti­cism and skill that the Cirque du Soleil cast dis­played, but that joy and courage could pro­pel my own body as it flew out of downward-​​facing dog to for­ward bend or bal­anced in crow.

Photo: House troupe, La Nouba at Disney World
Teresa in front of the Big-​​Tent-​​style the­ater where we saw La Nouba

A week later, I was in Bar­ba­dos at an eval­u­a­tion for a new online edu­ca­tion pro­gram that CICAD, my employer is spon­sor­ing. After our last ses­sion, I went back to my room and did a yoga prac­tice on my bal­cony — maybe it was some­thing mag­i­cal about Caribbean seas, winds, sand and sun. As I stretched out in side plank, my top arm reach­ing high and my shoul­ders arch­ing back, my vision just took in the blue sky above the rail­ing and it felt if I were bal­anced pre­car­i­ously on a high wire, and in a dar­ing flour­ish, I lifted my top leg into tree posi­tion, rest­ing my foot on my thigh. It was all an illu­sion, a trick of tun­nel vision and con­cen­tra­tion on my prac­tice, but it was also a seed of intention.

For pur­poses of clar­ity, I am adding the expla­na­tion of the term “La Nouba” because there’s no way of know what it means. I stayed through the entire show and I did not get. Of course, I did not buy a program.

La Nouba orig­i­nates from the French phrase “faire la nouba,” which means to party, to live it up. It trans­forms the ordi­nary into the extra­or­di­nary, engag­ing the imag­i­na­tion from begin­ning to end with opu­lent sets, bril­liant chore­og­ra­phy, the­atri­cal light­ing and provoca­tive music.

Post­script:
Debra Perlson-​​Mishalove told me that she had read that many cast mem­bers of Cirque du Soleil prac­tice yoga. It wouldn’t sur­prise me. Yoga Jour­nal has a men­tion of cast mem­bers in a yoga class.

Intention of the Year: Self Acceptance

Well, just accep­tance, pure and sim­ple , really — accep­tance of myself and the world around me as a start­ing point for move­ment to change. Last year the inten­tion that I repeated before each class was aware­ness. Accep­tance is key for me now because I rec­og­nize that I fre­quently over­reach, try too hard and gen­er­ally act as the dili­gent stu­dent as a method for manip­u­lat­ing the world. That usu­ally means that ease is not a pre­dom­i­nant char­ac­ter­is­tic of my prac­tice. Ini­tially, I thought of the inten­tion of accep­tance as a short-​​term solu­tion because I was in my first Jan­u­ary class and could not think of any­thing else. But the more I’ve lived with the inten­tion, the more I think that it’s a wor­thy prin­ci­ple to lead off each session.

A small gesture for a brother in need


I’ve shaved off all my head hair. It was a minor piece of hair styling since I’ve been wear­ing my hair as a buzz cut for the past six years, but it was for a big cause, at least for my family.

My younger brother, Richard, was diag­nosed with lung can­cer in Decem­ber. This came as a shock since he has never smoked and always had a healthy life style. He got mar­ried in Octo­ber 2005, and can­cer is not a good way to start of a mar­riage. For­tu­nately, Susan, a neona­tal nurse, took the news in stride and has been a tremen­dous sup­port for Richard through­out the whole process. He under­went surgery to remove about a quar­ter of his left lung and is now receiv­ing chemother­apy (now get­ting over his sec­ond treat­ment, which sent him to the hos­pi­tal for a day because of an adverse reac­tion). His hair has started falling out and he’s shaved it all off. I told him that I would keep my head shaved until he had recov­ered completely.

More impor­tantly, I believe, I reminded him about the value of med­i­ta­tion in get­ting through pain and suf­fer­ing. As a Christ­mas gift him, I sent him a copy of Full Cat­a­stro­phe Liv­ing: Using the Wis­dom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Ill­ness by Jon Kabat-​​Zinn. He had done a research project on biofeed­back and was famil­iar with the idea. He even had some med­i­ta­tion tapes, which he dug out of the boxes remain­ing from his move to a new home. He says that the med­i­ta­tion has helped him a lot when he’s feel­ing the worst side effects of the therapy.

I hope my karma is not reduced by my lik­ing my new Kojak/​Michael Jor­dan look, which I may keep for good. And it also begs the ques­tion of whether it means any­thing if most of your hair has already turned gray and fallen out.

Stephen King speaks the truth

Wash­ing­ton Post The Writ­ing Life: “There’s a mys­tery about cre­ative writ­ing, but it’s a bor­ing mys­tery unless you’re inter­ested in this one small ani­mal, some­times quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It’s a scruffy lit­tle thing with fleas and often smells of what­ever nasty mess it’s been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-​​domesticated and isn’t exactly known for its loy­alty.” I have never been a big Stephen King fan — I have never read one of his books, which must make me a minute minor­ity in the first decade of the 21st cen­tury. But I respect him a lot as a writer because he has pro­duced, because he writes because he has to, because it’s his life force.

I chanced across this arti­cle on the Web by acci­dent, but some­thing made me read it. I have a hard time get­ting into this piece that appeared in the Book World sec­tion of the Sun­day Post. But once I got passed the fourth para­graph, his mes­sage hit me square in the butt. And done with such decep­tive ease and self-​​deprecating humor. I got up, hunted down the weekend’s stack of news­pa­pers, found the hard copy and clipped it. It will be hung on the wall above my com­puter mon­i­tor. Hope­fully, I will remem­ber its core of truth each day that I try to write.

I am not going to sum­ma­rize King’s ideas here; just check it out your­self if you are inter­ested in being cre­ative, writ­ing, dig­ging deep. At least, this glimpse of truth made me put together these few lines, and also start writ­ing about some other ideas that had been nip­ping at my heels for weeks.

Fitness

It is not the strongest of the species that sur­vive, nor the most intel­li­gent, but the one most respon­sive to change. – Charles Dar­win, nat­u­ral­ist and author (1809-​​1882)

When the expres­sion “Sur­vival of the Fittest” gets thrown around in con­ver­sa­tion, we usu­ally inter­pret that phrase to mean that only the strongest, the mean­est, the most ruth­less will come out on top in the end. But that is not what Dar­win was say­ing. Fittest means the organ­ism that could adapt to an eco­log­i­cal envi­ron­ment or niche — in other words, it fits in, not that it was in the best phys­i­cal shape. It also implies that sur­vival implies a capac­ity to lis­ten, to adjust to the envi­ron­ment and to take fullest advan­tage of the conditions.

Something to remember

Amer­i­can nov­el­ist William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize accep­tance speech in 1950:

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will pre­vail. He is immor­tal, not because he alone among crea­tures has an inex­haustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capa­ble of com­pas­sion, sac­ri­fice and endurance.

Tip of the hat to another nov­el­ist, John Grisham, for using it in his New York Times op-​​ed piece about the nat­ural dis­as­ters of Kat­rina and Rita and the spirit of humankind. Words on which to found my daily practice.

On my mind

I am going to have to find a place to hang this quote from Ralph Waldo Emer­son some­where I can remem­ber it:

To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intel­li­gent per­sons and the affec­tion of chil­dren;
to earn the appro­ba­tion of hon­est cit­i­zens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appre­ci­ate beauty;
to find the best in oth­ers;
to give of one’s self;
to leave the world a lit­tle bit bet­ter, whether by a healthy child, a gar­den
patch or a redeemed social con­di­tion;
to have played and laughed with enthu­si­asm and sung with exul­ta­tion;
to know even one life has breathed eas­ier because you have lived…
this is to have succeeded.”