Tar Balls

Grief in my body feels like black sludge that bubbles and expands in my intestines. I feel it most in that area between the solar plexus and my pubic bone. It swells, it bubbles, it stinks and it is thick like tar.

It is like those oil balls that would come up the coast in the Gulf when the Deepwater Horizon blew up off the coast of Louisiana back in 2010. Those oil balls that no one knew what to do about because there was nothing that would dissipate them. Detergent would ruin the flora and fauna, and to leave them would for sure cause more destruction to the natural habitat.

This is what grief feels like in my body. The stench then moves to my brain and creates what my friend has termed “grief brain”. It sucks.

But as cheesy and new age-y as I’m about to sound, I’m going to say it any way. Feeling grief in the body is a really important part of the healing process. I am not sure I realized this until my latest bout with grief. My daughter and I were sitting last weekend, crying, and working at just feeling the process. She asked me what it felt like for me on the inside. She told me hers just feels like a big dark hole that she can’t fill.

The next day in my yoga class I could really feel my black tar start to move. It became active as I focused on that part of my body, on that chakra center. I felt the energy begin to swirl. I felt lighter at the end of class as I usually do after yoga, but something had shifted. In my body I felt that it was going to be okay. I felt the big tar ball begin to get thinner.

The next day my lungs were a little congested. But I knew why. It is the grief and the despair working its way out. It is the knowledge that while I miss Brother Grandad more than I can express – everything is going to be okay.

Brother Grandad…we miss you.

My daughter called him Brother Grandad when she was little. On trips to Mexico they would walk the beach, or he would prop her up on a fountain and hold her hand while she walked around and around. Ever patient. Always laughing. Ever thoughtful in how he interacted with her.

The man’s life is a testament to the way he loved those he cared about. When my husband was little, his mother left him. He drank too much. He was an alcoholic and she had had enough. Most men, they would leave to live on the periphery. Not this man…no. Lon Clyde Robbins dug his feet in.

He took care of himself. He set himself straight. And once he was on an upswing, he began to woo back his ex wife, his love of his life. Their second marriage was set forth in Mexico, near San Carlos. We went there once with them. He sauntered into the hotel like he owned the place. He walked outside onto a little concrete pier that looked out onto the bay. He held out his hand for his wife to take it, pulled her in close, “This is where it all rekindled. Right in this place.” Mary Anne laughed, but he was serious, in his mind this is the place where he won her back.

And he never let go.

Once he had her again, he knew to be on his best behavior. He never had another drink again. He never wavered from his commitment. His love is manifest in his family.

He died yesterday, peacefully. He had Mary Anne by his side along with his daughter, son-in-law, and one of his grandsons. The last conversation I had with him he told me he loves me and that he’s happy his son met me. Then he teased my husband and me about our new bed.

He was at peace. He knew the end was near. He knew that he is loved.

Because You Asked

From a purely physical space, I began committing myself to my yoga practice a little over a year ago because I had back surgery the spring of 2013 and it was bugging me whenever I rode my bike or did a spin class. Since having my back surgery, I have worked really hard at listening to my body and doing what it tells me it needs. With this said, it was clear I needed to do something other than spinning. My discovery in exploring physical activities? Yoga did not aggravate it. Yoga felt like it may have helped it. Yoga helped me become aware of what was actually happening within my body: my spine and my muscles.

As cliche as this will sound, yoga has given me much more than this. Growing up in Colorado, I was of the school that I had to push my body to its limits to be strong, to have an activity be worthwhile. I did this with skiing, I did this with cycling, I did it with running, I have done this with any activity I have done. I like to feel strong. But here’s the reality: all of these activities have beaten my body up so much that I lost the ability to listen to it (“Just push through the pain”). So I kept working through injuries and I kept ignoring what my body was telling me: that I could be strong and not beat myself up doing it. This is one of the superficial things yoga has given me – a way to feel strong without beating my self up.

None of the activities I mentioned earlier, running, cycling, skiing, involve a high amount of skill other than skiing. It took me years to perfect my technique and it may be the only activity I do where I feel graceful. It is a sport that I mastered over a long period of time – but it hurts me to do it now because of my back. As a writing teacher, I am pulled to activities that require some type of skill to earn mastery. It is through this skill building, this thinking through of process, that helps me engage with both my body and my mind.

Here’s a quick example: a few months ago I took Amy Baker’s inversion class thinking, “I’ll go, see what inversions are about, laugh at myself, and be done with it.” I saw it as something to try out because I never had before. I like trying new things. But after the class I was hooked. She showed me that with practice, with effort, someday I might be one of the cool kids in class who can do these things, these inversions.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been working on them and can do a couple of inversions and am getting closer to others. This has opened up a trust that I never had in myself. I am more grounded. I fall back to my breath and my body awareness when I feel stressed or overwhelmed.

The lessons this practice has given me fall back to one basic lesson: trust. Trust myself, trust the people I care about, trust that what the universe brings me is good for me: trust.

But the thing is, the deeper I go into yoga, into learning what my body can do if my mind believes it can, the more I fall in love with the process of learning, getting stronger from the inside out, and seeing what this little body can do. There are poses I struggle with, and I will keep working towards them-but the poses are only a symbol of the shifts occurring within my being, my process, my happiness.

Be the change…

A few days ago one of the secretaries at my school came to me to tell me her frustration, “I miss how things used to be. I miss having lunch with the other secretaries. I miss that we used to fee like a community. I miss feeling close to the people I work with so I don’t feel alone.”

As we talked and I probed it became clear that she thought our school community is better than the behaviors that are manifesting. I told her I would do what I can, but that it would be hard seeing as I’m not a secretary. But then something else happened.

Another person in our building approached me and said, “Remember how we used to do happy hours all the time. Everyone in the building had a place to connect and talk and laugh. Remember that?” Of course I remembered. It became a way to connect with people I don’t see daily. A way to build community with acquaintances, something that is hard to steal time away to do in a school.

A couple of days later as I walked towards the office this secretary waved me down. She had a smile. She couldn’t wait to tell me, “You know, after we talked the other day I thought to myself, why am I asking for help when I have the power to change it?”

So you know what she did?  She invited the other secretaries to have lunch with her outside, a picnic. While she only had a couple of people show up, she knew that she had the power to take control and build a more unified environment. 

I felt inspired, so you know what I did? Yep, I sent out an email that very day to call a happy hour because here’s the thing: I really do believe that if you want change… It has to start with you. 

However seemingly insignificant or small, change happens one ripple at a time. 

What will you change today?

In the Middle

When I joined the Peace Corps a friend of mine told me, “Oh, watch out. It’s awesome, but you need to know that you will have your highest highs and your lowest lows of your life in the time you’re away.” I had no idea what she meant. I thought I was pretty savvy. I hoped I had already had my lowest lows of my life with the death of my three friends in college, and I hoped I was in for just my highest highs.

But my friend was right. I did have my lowest lows in the time I spent in Nepal. I had days where I questioned how I could exist in a country with so much, while my counterparts struggled for everything they got. I questioned how I could make an impact with so much work to do. I questioned myself, my god, my culture, my very being. It took everything I had to figure out how to help myself be a happy member of my community, one I did not fully understand.

With that said, I also had my highest highs during this time period. The night I understood everything my host family said at dinner time was a time that highlighted my growing linguistic skills. I hate to admit it, but when I got lice in my village, the women started inviting me to nit pick in the evenings. We sat on the steps of one of the houses, each person behind the last picking through each other’s hair, searching for nits, all while we gossiped and talks about the happenings in the village. These friendships carved on this staircase are powerful reminders of how something so traumatic can open us up to the beauty of life.

Everything that has happened to me since my experience in the Peace Corps has been measured against the statement my friend made. I have had some amazing highs and some desolate lows. I am sorry to say that some of my lows have been lower than they were in my life in Nepal, and I have had comparable highs to my time there.

There are days with extreme highs and lows like today. But I have to remember that everything in the middle is just that, a disappointment not a catastrophe. And on the same token, the highs I feel do not mean that I am some kind of rockstar. I must stay the course in the middle. It is in the middle where the sweet spot is, that place where awesome happens and can be sustained.

Soft Goals

In the spirit of Vicki Davis’s piece, “Why You Should Set Soft Goals for Your Classroom This Year,” I would like to take some time to explore this for my own classroom.

  • I want my students to be mindful in the ways they approach their reading and their coursework. One of my favorite yoga teachers, Amy Baker, says “Nothing is casual.” Everything is felt, received, and investigated. In my classroom, this would mean that nothing is casual. Everything I put in front of my student holds meaning to feel, receive, and investigate.
  • I want my students to engage in their world. I want them to see how their actions create ripple effects, both good and bad. I want them to see that they ARE the change they want to see in the world. I want them to investigate how other people’s work has created change in the world, but also examine how their work changes it as well.
  • I want my students to be able to step outside of their own points of view. I want them┬áto examine the big picture of the world, to look at the major philosophies, so they can see different perspectives.To understand why major movements happen means they might be more open to movements taking place in their lifetimes.

These soft goals Vicki Davis talks about are every bit as important as the objectives, the assessments, and the assignments we have in our classrooms. These goals create the undercurrent through which we create everything else.

I hope to touch base with these goals before or during every major break this year – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Change = Progress

The beginning of every school year brings with it a lot of change. This year is no different. As I embark on this new year that has begun this week, I want to take some time to reflect on changes I want to make for this year:

  • Be open to possibilities. Often this means being vulnerable and open so these possibilities might open themselves and become revealed.
  • To steal a phrase from Brene Brown, stick with people who are in the arena with me. There is not a lot of time during the school year, and believe me I know not everyone holds the same passions for the same things I hold. 
  • Always have the end in mind. This is true both working in the classroom and outside. Goals and collaboration are always more healthy if we engage with the target we are shooting for.
  • Have fun!! Stop taking everything so seriously!!

Here’s to an amazing and positive school year!!