Thursday, November 25, 2010

David Foster Wallace on Life and Work

Please read this in thanksgiving, love, and community. peggy

Adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If at this moment, you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude -- but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real -- you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues." This is not a matter of virtue -- it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being "well adjusted," which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default-setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what's going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what's going on inside me. As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about "teaching you how to think" is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: "Learning how to think" really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master." This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull-value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.

That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in, day out" really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home -- you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job -- and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid g-d- people.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth...

Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do -- except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am -- it is actually I who am in his way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you're "supposed to" think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it's hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you're like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat-out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line -- maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible -- it just depends on what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important -- if you want to operate on your default-setting -- then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars -- compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship...

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some intangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power -- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don't dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness -- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A VOW TO END SUFFERING: Sermon delivered on 26 September 2010 at Unitarian Universalist Church West, Brookfield, WI

When students first come to my Iyengar yoga classes, it’s often for pain relief. They have chronic back pain, or their knees ache, or they have painful menstrual periods, or they have carpal tunnel pain in their wrists, and so forth. The physical pain is often accompanied by fatigue, or mild depression, or anxiety.

My first task as a yoga teacher is to relieve the pain. Pain is a red flag that things are out of balance, something is out of alignment. So we traction the back and bring the spinal vertebrae back into place, we release tightness from the shoulders so the length of the neck can be restored, we bring the ligaments of the knee into symmetry, and so forth.

Even after the pain is relieved, students usually keep coming to class. Why? Finally there is spaciousness in the body, the cells are oxygenated, the mind quiets, and emotions stabilize. As students benefit further from the practice of yoga, they often want to share their enthusiasm and appreciation with others. They start volunteering at our nonprofit yoga school, they join committees and help out with events. In other words, they shift from the one who is suffering to the one who relieves the suffering of others. This is the spiritual practice we are all called towards: the vow to end suffering.

On one hand this comes very naturally to all of us. You can see it in toddlers who become concerned when someone is crying, or even in our pets who slip their heads under our hands when they see us upset. On the other hand, we evade eye contact with the homeless vet panhandling at the gas station. We tolerate the 25% poverty rate in our city. We may donate to the food pantry but resign ourselves to the injustice that created the hunger.

There are periods in our lives when we need to avert our eyes from suffering. Our own wounds are still so tender that to come too close to the suffering of others drowns us, overwhelms us in anxiety and depression. There are periods when we have to take a media fast. The news of the world—floods, wars, famines—is too much for us to hold. We have to honor those self-protective periods, just like we have to place the oxygen mask over our own faces before we pass them to our children.

In the beginning of our practice, and during these vulnerable times, we must surround ourselves with love and warmth and joy and comfort. We breathe in joy, breathe out pain. Breathe in love, breathe out hatred. Breathe in happiness, breathe out sadness. Breathe in light, breathe out dark. In the beginning of our practice we fill our baskets. We pile up information, and teachings, and treats.

But at a certain point we are called to do the opposite. We are called to empty our baskets. We are called to breathe in pain, breathe out joy. Breathe in hatred, breathe out love, Breathe in sadness, breathe out happiness, Breathe in darkness, breathe out light.

At a certain point we are called not to flee suffering but to walk toward it. What does it mean to take a vow to end suffering? It means we have to go toward it.

As we mature in our spiritual practice, we are called to the edge, we are drawn to the periphery, the precipice. When we have enough inner stability to stand at the precipice without fear, and without losing our footing, that’s where we need to go.

Ironically the only way to end suffering is to go through it. Like going on a bear hunt, can’t get under it, can’t get over it, gotta go through it.

The trick is to not think of suffering as negative. It just is. We needn’t put a charge on it. Can we practice acceptance and equanimity toward both joy and suffering?

It just is. Light just is. Darkness just is. One is not better than the other. Think of the racialized overtones of labeling darkness as evil and lightness as good. This paradigm has created untold damage on so many levels. Our psyches operate through symbol and image, and so symbolizing God as light and the Devil as darkness is a terrible problem. Unconsciously we assign literal meaning to this, and it carries over into our daily dealings. To many people God is a white man. How many images of white Jesus have you seen, when historically we know he came from a part of the world where people are brown-skinned?

You’re probably familiar with the doll experiment where young children are presented 2 identical dolls, one with white skin, one with brown skin. Recently the classic 1939 experiment was conducted again by young filmmaker Kiri Davis, and in 2009 a variation by ABC News. The recent experiments demonstrated that internalized racism still grips us, most children selecting the white doll as the “nice one,” “the pretty one,” the one they want to play with. Go to youtube and type in “A Girl Like Me,” to view the 7 minute film about African American girls and self-image which includes footage of the doll experiment. And if you think you are exempt from the grip of internalized biases, that perhaps you have transcended internal racism, that the archetypes of light and dark no longer apply to your psyche, go to implicit.harvard.edu to take some simple tests. You may be surprised.

I ask you to reconsider the use of the term “fair,” as in “a fair deal” or even FAIR Wisconsin, which works for LGBT rights. One of the meanings of the word “fair” is Iight-skinned. I actually wrote to FAIR Wisconsin and asked them to reconsider their name and what it implies. What does it create within us and within society to equate justice with whiteness? This is the level to which we must become conscious.

Darkness is just as necessary and beautiful as lightness. Night is as wonderful as day. The depth of the cave, the darkness at the bottom of the ocean, the blackness deep in the earth, these are all important and necessary.

And death itself is beautiful and good, just as life is. I believe our fear of the dark, and of suffering, and of pain, ultimately stems from our fear of death. No one is afraid of the state before birth. Why are we afraid of the state after death? It’s the same place, We come from the garden, we return to the garden. We come from the mystery, we return to the mystery.

I’m a huge fan of compost and vermiculture. I’ve instructed my children that when I die, I want to be dropped in a burlap sack into the earth, and have a tree planted over my body. I love the idea of returning to the soil, and being composted and consumed. It’s just my body anyway, my vessel. We come from the garden, we return to the garden. The body decomposes, and the spirit returns to that place of generative and regenerative mystery.

Why run away?

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron reminds us, “Gloriousness and wretchedness are both necessary. One inspires us, the other softens us.” That’s what suffering does to us: it softens us. And why do we need softening? To teach us compassion and forgiveness so that we become appropriate vehicles for healing.

So taking a vow to end suffering is also a vow to embrace suffering, or at least to accept it, not push it away. Remember, we attract what we resist. The more I try to run from suffering, the more comes my way.

It’s easy to see in yogasana. Let’s say my hamstrings are tight, so I avoid bending forward, because it hurts. But the more I avoid bending forward, the tighter my hips get, the shorter my hamstrings become, the more I strain my back. So avoiding pain is increasing my suffering in the long run. The only way to relieve my suffering permanently is to move into the discomfort with awareness and discernment, and slowly, lovingly, create more length in the hamstrings, more flexion in the hips, and more space between the vertebrae. I have to go through it, not around it.

The other day "Pan’s Labyrinth" filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was on the radio. He was saying how he tells his daughters that if you find anything difficult, face it and vanquish it, because every time you avoid a difficult situation, life sends you one twice the size two years later, and if you avoid that, you get another difficult situation twice that size. We attract what we resist. What is that thing you have been avoiding? That conversation you have been delaying? Do it today.

This law of resistance, so to speak, happens on a literal as well as figurative level. How did one dirty dish turn into 20? Take 30 seconds to wash it now to avoid spending 30 minutes cleaning up later, Keep the sink empty. Empty your basket.

To end suffering we must go through the threshold of pain, but as we stop resisting pain, it ceases to be suffering.

I tell my students that the difference between pain and suffering is the emotional charge we place on it: the judgment and resistance. Instead can we just observe the pain, say, ah, there it is, and accept it. In fact Pema Chodron says, welcome it, because here is yet another opportunity to learn compassion, to practice lovingkindness, to transform ourselves, and become more centered.

What does it mean to be centered? I think it means to be able to stand in the midst of strong sensation, stimulation, turmoil, without being overwhelmed. In yoga, we practice Tadasana, the mountain pose, and I instruct my students in how to align their bones and muscles so they can stand with stability and symmetry so that even if a hurricane blew through the room, they would still be standing, stable as a mountain.

To be centered does not equate being cold or passionless. In fact as we walk toward pain, we become more feeling, more sympathetic, more sensitive. Just as when you stop smoking, smells and tastes become sharper, when you stop resisting pain, you experience both pain and joy with a new intensity. But you are no longer afraid of pain. It can no longer crush you.

Joanna Macy was on Krista Tippett’s radio show with the new title, Being. pointed out that pain and joy are 2 sides of the same coin, and when we really love something or someone, we gladly walk toward the pain. It’s our intense love for the earth that compels us to examine ecological harm. It’s our intense love for our child that compels us to nurture them through illness. We don’t turn our backs on the suffering of the planet, the suffering of the child. When we love deeply, our hearts break deeply. Suffering breaks our hearts open more and more so that we can love even more deeply. And so the cycle goes: we love, we suffer, we open up, we love, we suffer, we open up.

This summer I began practicing a Tibetan Buddhist meditation called tonglen, which means giving and taking. In this meditation we practice being with someone in their suffering, or being with ourselves in our suffering, then committing ourselves to taking away the suffering and replacing it with well-being.

We open our hearts wide to transform the suffering. We merge the suffering with the grace of the divine within us, that largeness of the eternal and universal that we all contain, that wellspring of compassion and forgiveness within. This merging transforms the suffering into a healing force.

To end this talk, please join me in a brief tonglen meditation.
Place both feet on the floor, sit upright, pull your shoulders back, and balance your head at the top of your spine. From here close your eyes. Take a slow soft inhale, opening your chest, and as you exhale, keep that heart center open as you release tension. Listen to your breath become soft and steady.

Allow someone who is suffering to come to min d. It could be a friend or family member, it could be someone from your community that you don’t know very well, it could be someone in this room. Picture this person before you.

First sit quietly with this person and open your heart. Invite this person to share their suffering with you. It might be a physical ailment or injury. It might be emotional or mental pain. It might be a long-term chronic condition or an acute short-term condition.

With each inhale, draw this person’s suffering out as a dense heavy cloud that hangs between the two of you. With each breath, you pull the pain out, and the cloud becomes denser, heavier. Take a series of soft breaths to draw the suffering out.

Now, take a vow to end this person’s suffering, to transform their pain. You long to alleviate this person’s pain. Some trepidation is normal, but know that you have the compassion needed to help this person. Now you will take a series of inhales to draw this cloud of their suffering into yourself. Hold this cloud of pain in your heart center.

Now draw this cloud in to the back of your chest where a small flame burns. This flame is your protective self-centeredness. On your next inhale, touch the cloud of pain to this flame, and watch the flame of your selfishness transform into compassion, which turns the cloud of suffering into a golden, effulgent light. Let this light fill your entire being, from your head all the way into your fingertips and toes.

On a series of soft exhales, breathe this golden light out to your friend. Bathe this person in this glow of lovingkindness. Let this light fill them and surround them, and picture them completely free of suffering. Bathe them in the glow of wellness.

Before we come out of this meditation, dedicate the good karma generated here to someone else who needs support. Pass it forward.

Let your eyes open and continue to sit quietly.
Namaste and amen.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TRANSFORMING INSTINCT TO INTUITION

“Don’t be so cocky-sure, young lady!” my father used to reprimand me as a rebellious teenager when I dismissed his concerns and tried to do things my way. I thought of him this week as I endured a short bout of digestive illness. Just when I thought I would get through my India trip without getting sick….

My first trip to Pune I got sick the final week when I accepted a meal of delicious wheat dishes at my landlady’s brunch. I had been off gluten for a year and thought I might be able to indulge this once. But alas, I spent 24 hours in bed and in the bathroom, and weakly made my way back to class for restorative and pranayama.

My second trip I succumbed to the winter “Pune cough.” You can hear the hack from the dust and pollution in the recordings of the classes, as students and teachers cough their way through the dry Januarys.

This time, I was feeling great, cooking delicious and healthy meals at home, doing 5 hours of asana and Pranayama each day. The only thing I missed were my fresh raw greens that I gorge on each summer. I saw some nice palak (spinach) on the vegetable lady’s cart for sale and bought 2 bunches. I knew enough not to eat it raw, but I cooked it very gently just until it wilted, dressed it Korean style in soy sauce, vinegar, a bit of oil, and hot sauce, tossed in some cashews, and ate it cold. Yum.

But the microorganisms here, that foreigners do not have the flora for, got the best of me. My mistake was not cooking the spinach to death. So I spent a day at home, reading, practicing Supta Baddha Konasana, listening to music, and purging. Just when I was feeling so smug! I’m better now, and humbled, once again, by India, and what this experience may bring.

One thing I had to do during this short bout of illness was tune into my body ever more sharply. My body told me what I could eat and what I could not. I would touch my fork to a brownie I bought as a special indulgence. Unh-unh, my stomach would say. How about some fresh fruit? No, my body said. Some plain rice and dollop of dahi (curds/yogurt)? My stomach did not turn at this suggestion, so I lived on this for a day.

BKS Iyengar addressed a similar aspect of listening to our bodies in class today. He invited us to turn instinctive knowledge into intuitive knowledge. He insisted that just applying action upon action to our bodies in asana is a beginner method. Instead, he chided us, how can we increase our intelligence and apply what we observe through instinctive behavior and make it intuitive?

For instance, in Prasarita Padottanasana (look it up in Light on Yoga if you need to), the back calves instinctively roll out. Try it a few times and notice that they almost automatically do this. But do our back thighs do the same? Due to hip and/or hamstring tightness, they do not. But can we apply the instinctive intelligence of the calves and make it intuitive intelligence in the thighs?

Guruji has been teaching largely through this Socratic method, continually asking us questions and making us probe deeper into our own bodies, observing the most minute details. This is not to make us “physiocrats,” (as Prashant Iyengar would say), but to draw us deeper into the organic (physiologic) body and into the mind.

Now when yoga practitioners talk about the mind, they’re really talking about the consciousness and all its components of brain, nervous system, ego, soul, spirit, and more. So as we probe these actions in asana, we are supposed to be probing the responses in our minds.

“Dual mind or single mind?” Guruji asks us, when we are deep in asana. Hopefully we can answer, calmly, silently, and humbly, as we merge our instinctive intelligence with our intuitive intelligence, “Single mind.”

[I’m heading into my final week of study, so this will be my final Pune blog. Thanks for reading, and accompanying me on this journey! See you in Milwaukee and in class soon.]

Monday, July 19, 2010

PAST THE HALFWAY MARK


It’s taken me three trips to India to figure out the mosquitoes. I was getting most of my mosquito bites inside my little bungalow instead of outside where you think they would be, usually in my sleep. But recently in the morning I noticed several mosquitoes sleeping on the nets (screens, in the USA). I slid open the net and closed the glass windows, and sure enough they eventually flew off into the nice outdoors. You see, they were stuck inside because I was trying to keep the house snugly closed up and protected.

Instead, in India you’re supposed to keep the air flowing without screens during the day, then close up at dusk when the mosquitoes like to come inside. If you don’t air out, the bugs get stuck inside for days at a time, and they get ornery, and they bite you, because you’re their only source of food. You have to learn the rhythms and go with the flow.

Everything in India is this way. Tonight in class it was time to set up for Salamba Sarvangasana, which is quite an ordeal for 120 students. We go and get a stack of thick mats and line up in threes. But tonight I was at a mat with two other foreign women who insisted they already had a third person for their mat, a friend of theirs. Now, trying to protect your spot in a crowded yoga class just makes things unnecessarily complicated, IMHO. The Indians know this, and will take any spot willy-nilly, and expect us foreigners to do the same.

But the Euro-American ethic is quite different. We are acculturated with a strong sense of individuality and territoriality, thus the “mine” attitude, which makes living in India quite stressful. There’s one American woman here who has become quite attached to a particular yoga mat, and insists on using it, digging through the stacks at the Institute, or asking you for it if you happen to have it under your feet.

I find that I have more energy for asana and pranayama and study if I am willing to let go of my little quirks and preferences,, and especially if I consciously and joyfully relinquish my American privilege. Lucky for me in some respects, I am not recognized as an American. There are quite a few Korean university students here in Pune, and although we are treated as foreigners, we are free from the  baggage and stereotypes of white Americans—you know—big spenders, loud, demanding, etc. So, except for my sun hat, I sort of blend in, eating Indian food with my fingers, and moving from yoga mat to mat as the class requires.

Guruji also visits this theme over and over in his teachings. “This is not a health club!” he insists. “This is a health education center. You must all come here to learn, to be students,” not, he implies, come here to exercise privilege. He continues, “You come here to use my name, to get a certiicate. You make money from my name, and write books. But you must be humble to learn. Are you really here to listen, to learn?” he asks, evoking the old themes of colonialism and empire that still impact India.

Yesterday, a film crew came into the practice hall, with massive lights and cameras. Some Germans are making a documentary about BKS Iyengar. We lifted our heads from Adho Mukha Svanasana, as extension cords were being pulled across our hands, and a stream of people filied in. They wanted to film him practicing and coaching granddaughter Abhijata. At nearly 92, he is quite the presenter, so we all gathered round as he gave Abhi some jewels of instruction in Sirsasana, Trkonasana, Tadasana, and Urdhva Dhanurasana. At her young age (mid 20s), Abhi has accepted the circumstances of her public life. As long as her grandfather is in the spotlight, so is she, there at his side.

All the students at the Institute were invited to her engagement party and puja (religious blessing) this week. We skipped class and flooded the hall behind the post office in our nicest Indian clothes, along with the extended families and all the expected dignitaries. Then we were fed a feast of 10-12 traditional dishes, and this only the engagement.

“Stop thinking!” Guruji roared in class recently. “Receive the instruction in your body. You are all thinking about superficialities.” So now back to the simplicity of breathe in, breathe out, asana and pranayama, taking the learning into my body, making the most of my study here for the remaining 2 weeks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

SETTLING IN


You know you’re turning Indian when:
-       You prefer the squatting toilets.
-       You walk into the middle of the street slowly and calmly to cross, knowing the motorcycles and rickshaws will go around you.
-       You start doing the head bobble.
-       You slooooow down. No rushing anywhere. Allot double to triple the time it would take to complete a task in the States.
-       You start bargaining at the fruit cart.

I’m settling into my routine here, and the simplicity is beautiful. Each morning I awake with the birds before dawn and do some Pranayama. Then boil some water and drink it hot with a quarter of a tiny lemon. I eat some fruit—today it was a salad of papaya, banana, pomegranate, and orange. Then off to either practice or class.

I come home around noon and eat a simple lunch of rice, dal, and vegetable subji (Indian stew/stir fry). Every 2-3 days I cook a little something from veggies I pick up at the green market. Eggplant, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower… Yesterday I bought 3 potatoes, 3 lemons, and 2 tomatoes for 12 rupees (about 25 cents). All the veggies are about half the size of what you see in the States. So if I take the time to cook, I can eat very inexpensively. Just some mustard and cumin seeds in oil, some garam masala and turmeric, toss in some vegetables and a hot meal is ready in 10 minutes.

After lunch I write some notes on class or practice, check email, maybe get dinner started, do a bit of reading or take a nap. At 3pm the library at the Iyengar Institute opens so I walk down the street and go on over.

The basement library is a happening place. Guruji, BKS Iyengar, is always at his desk there, going over manuscripts or answering letters. At a long table at the center of the library sit yoga students from all over the world, our noses buried in amazing archival material and books on every aspect of yoga, from therapeutics to anatomy to philosophy to spirituality. We sit quietly and read and study, and every once in a while Guruji pipes up with a comment or question or request.

A few days ago I went down to the library and everyone was gathered around a laptop playing a new educational film about Iyengar yoga for children. The project leaders came to consult with Guruji about it. He made no bones about it: it’s too serious he said, there is no humor. With children there needs to be lightness and quickness and humor. This film made yoga a serious subject when it should be fun for children. The filmmakers went back to Mumbai with some major feedback from the guru.

After an hour or so in the library, I go back upstairs to the yoga hall for the medical class. Here you find 30 or so students with every condition from heart disease to scoliosis to sore knees and hips.

Today I spotted a little girl I remembered from my last visit in 2008. She had traveled with her parents from Delhi with scoliosis so severe she couldn’t walk straight. Today she is performing her sequence on her own, tall, and healthy. Her scoliosis is still visible but so much less severe I hardly recognized her.

I decided to take the risk and begin assisting in the medical class. It’s a little scary because it’s a circus, with people running about with every manner of yoga prop, and Guruji overseeing it all, imperious and fierce. It’s easy to get tripped up and get a set-up wrong or misunderstand an instruction from one of the teachers. The other day I had an absolutely mortifying moment when I started to take apart someone’s setup because we were finishing up the class. What I learned is that you never touch a setup done by Guruji, who stormed up to me and demanded to know why I was moving things without asking him. It was like being in a hurricane with no shelter, and all I could do was be humble and apologize.

I was flooded with doubt. Maybe I shouldn’t be assisting. Maybe I’m being presumptuous. However I decided to sublimate my wounded ego and go back the next day. If everyone who has ever been yelled at gave up, we would have few students and teachers indeed. I decided I had to go back to the medical class for the sake of my students with aching backs and knees and necks and hips, to learn whatever I can to bring back. Never mind my little hurt feelings, that’s just asmita, ego.

After the medical class is evening class of asana or if it’s Thursdays, Pranayama. I get home around 8:15pm and eat leftovers, take a shower, more notes, and early to bed. It’s a beautiful life.

My first time in Pune I was fascinated by the marketplaces, beautiful clothing, textiles, housewares, and so much more. I spent many an afternoon shopping through various neighborhoods. My second time in Pune I brought my family and we traveled to southern India, and to caves of Maharastra. This time all I am doing is studying, practicing, learning. Absorbing all I can in the short time I have….

Here are a few more tidbits of wisdom from our classes during forward bends week:

Prashant: The nostrils are the gateway of the breath. How can we awaken different parts of the nostrils as we breathe? He defined the parts as the opening, the floor, the septum, the outer membrane, the roof, and the very center which doesn’t touch anywhere.

Raya: If Parsvottanasana is Uttanasana with the partner leg gone, don’t cheat on your partner. Apply all your knowledge of Uttanasana into the one-legged Parsvottanasana.

Abhi, Guruji: In Uttanasana, draw the lateral buttocks down and the tailbone down as you draw up through the backs of the legs. This creates a compactness to lengthen the spine forward and down.




Sunday, July 4, 2010

WORD FROM PUNE

Perhaps where I feel most at home is in international terminals of airports. Born in Korea and raised in Hawaii, I’ve never felt quite at home on “the mainland.” Ever the outsider, at the Air India gate at O’Hare I am nevertheless quite comfortable, sitting on the floor and eating my pesto and avocado and sliced mango with bamboo chopsticks (brought from home, not purchased in the terminal). I feel at ease with brown people speaking languages other than English, their clothes and shoes and behavior a bit out of the American mainstream.

Since the Mumbai bombing, India has been trying to impose order on its innate chaos. Before 2009 I rarely saw queues of Indian people, only mobs. The lack of queues bothered me until I realized the mob was a feminine use of time and space, a sort of resistance to the Protestant ethic. Instead of taking your turn and earning your right, the person most in need got her way, and the crowd allowed it. But now at the gate, the airport staff insists on lining us up single-file.

Our connecting flight is delayed out of uber-efficient Frankfort, and we arrive in the Mumbai rain near midnight. The airport, undergoing remodeling since at least my first trip to India in July 2005, is finally complete and unrecognizable. Gone are the Gandhi posters in baggage claim. But just as always, as soon as I step out, my glasses fog up from the heat and humidity. Ahhhh, India.

I’m determined to stay awake on the car ride to Pune so I can get a solid night’s sleep and get over the jet lag. This is no problem since my driver passes trucks from every which direction, including the shoulder, honking away. I arrive at my apartment and settle into bed around 3am, only to be awakened at dawn with the most raucous bird songs imaginable. I wish I could tell you all the parts comprising this celebratory, orchestral cacophony.

I arrive at the Iyengar Institute and learn that Geeta Iyengar, the grand matriarch of the Iyengar tradition (daughter of BKS) will not be teaching this month, for health reasons. This is quite troubling, but inevitable, as she has been threatening to retire for some time now. Send positive and healing thoughts and prayers to Geetaji! To compensate for her absence, we international students are invited to take all of Prashant Iyengar’s (son of BKS) classes in addition to Geetaji’s subbed classes.

So far I have taken 4 classes, asana with Prashant, Pranayama with Prashant, asana with Raya, and asana with Abhijata (BKS’s granddaughter). Here are a few tidbits from these very good classes:

Abhi, with Guruji (BKS Iyengar) practicing on the side and feeding her instructions: Tadasana is Adho Mukha Sirsasana (upside down head balance). Just as we take care of our necks in Sirsasana, we must be as mindful of our necks in Tadasana. Draw the cervical spine toward the throat without hardening the throat or thrusting the chin.

 Prashant: Viloma exhales can be from any part of the body. What happens when you take Viloma exhales all from the abdomen? What happens if you exhales from bottom to top instead of top to bottom? What about bottom, top, then middle, etc? We must be seekers and not simply repeaters of what is given to us.

Raya: Drop the trapezium down in Tadasana as if you’re throwing it off a cliff. In the beginning we must use effort to do this, but eventually it has to happen effortlessly, otherwise we simply harden. Same with releasing the head down in Uttanasana.

More next week.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

AN EASTER HEART TRANSPLANT

Ezekiel 36:26-28 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Now that 30 million more of us are guaranteed health care, are we any closer to receiving those brand new hearts, new knees, healthy new bodies? Will we then have renewed spirits, and walk in God’s statutes and ordinances?

I like to think that physical well-being does contribute to spiritual well-being. As a yoga teacher, that’s what I live by: that as we alleviate our aches and pains, become stronger and more limber, improve the healthy functioning of our organs, and train our minds, we improve our spiritual health.

But is physical health the same as spiritual health? What does it take to really get a new heart, not just a mechanically transplanted one?

And why would we want one? We’re fine just the way we are, aren’t we? We have decent jobs, nice homes, our kids turned out well, life is pretty pleasant all in all. Why rock the boat?

And besides our hearts are not made of stone. Don’t we tithe, and volunteer, buy fair trade, and use our own shopping bags? Isn’t that enough? If we gave any more we wouldn’t be able to pay for college, or travel, or buy Christmas presents. And isn’t it patronizing of me to try to change someone? And isn’t it enabling to help someone who should be helping themselves?

All of us content ourselves to some degree with our hearts of stone. How else would we get through our days? If I responded to every one of my email and phone solicitations with a donation, no matter how worthy the cause, I would be penniless. There are too many needs in the world for little me to meet. So I shut it off.

Recently, I got an email from an old college friend, encouraging Ed and me to go to the university reunion, because the Glee Club, where Ed and I met almost 30 years ago, would be reuniting and singing. This friend encouraged us to join the Facebook group for the Glee Club. I went to peek at the page, and found that instead of making me feel warm and nostalgic, it made me slightly nauseous. Why?

Were your young adulthood years your happiest? Who really wants to peak that early? To me, college was full of growing pains and hard-earned lessons. At that time I invested heavily in learning about and conforming to the dominant culture, studying European classics, reading literature authored by men, and adopting the privileged point of view of the white patriarchy. In the men’s Glee Club we women sang first tenor and wore tuxedoes for performances just like the men. It wasn’t so much a feminist statement as it was being “one of the boys.” Our director was a talented 40-something Juilliard grad with a wife and baby daughter. He acted like one of us, partying and carrying on. At the time we thought his heavy-drinking, philandering antics distasteful but somewhat amusing, but now, at age 67, he’s in prison for sexual assault of one of his 15 year-old students.

When I read this news, I thought about all the girls and women harmed by this person since we failed to report him back in the 70s and 80s. I thought about this 15 year-old girl and how the rest of her life might be affected, and what his own daughter might be feeling. Hundreds of us over the years knew our director was an alcoholic and sexual predator, and we acquiesced; that is, we stayed quiet. This is only one example of how, so often, we harden our hearts; decline to look at a difficult, painful, or confusing situation; and fail to change it.

Another reason why this situation bothers me is because this happened at an Ivy league school, at Columbia Unviersity, in the bastions of privilege. So often, the people who are the most privileged are the ones most likely to acquiesce. That is, the people who enjoy high status, who have financial stability and are well-connected, are the least likely to shake things up. They are rewarded by the status quo; why disrupt it? At the same time, they are the people most capable of making a difference because they have the educational, cultural, and economic capital required to effect change.

Just as a medical heart transplant is painful and risky, so is a spiritual heart transplant. We don’t want to be rude, presumptuous, or hurtful. Our hierarchical society tells us to stay in line and not speak out of turn. No one will want to be our friend, no one will like us. If we point out racism, we make someone feel bad. If we object to sexism, we’re told we’re being overly sensitive. We may lose friends. What we used to find acceptable we may now find intolerable. How much easier and safer it is to acquiesce, to laugh it off, to have another drink.

But that’s not the job description of a Christian. As Christians we are called to stand with the oppressed, not to identify with the oppressor. As Christians we don’t uphold the status quo, we challenge it. The famous aphorism of journalism also applies to Christians: we are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

For those many occasions when we fall short of our job description, we forgive ourselves and each other. Otherwise, how can we move on? How can we grow new hearts? The Easter message is that, although we are the very ones who crucified Jesus, we are also fully forgiven. As Christ forgives us, we must forgive ourselves and each other. As we practice forgiveness, our hearts soften, and become hearts of flesh.

When we have our new hearts, what happens? According to Ezekiel, we “walk in [God’s] statutes and [we are] careful to observe [God’s] ordinances.” Having a rebellious personality, my first reaction is, “Um, no thanks.” Yet another reason to avoid that spiritual heart transplant—my life will become even more boring. But upon further reflection, I see God’s statutes and ordinances not as restrictions, but as justice itself. We could consider God’s justice in the same light as the law of karma. My first yoga teacher, whose primary language was Spanish, explained karma with extreme simplicity: you get what you deserve. I might rephrase it as: eventually, the most just outcome for all prevails. Or as Martin Luther King Jr phrased it, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” With our new hearts of flesh, we have the power and courage to bend that arc of the moral universe more and more toward justice.

May we let Christ’s love and resurrection cleanse us, renew us, and turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, hearts of compassion. May we stand courageously with the oppressed. May we use our privilege not to protect ourselves from change, but as leverage for change. When Mary the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, and Salome come to Jesus’s tomb on Easter morning, the stone has been rolled away. The stone is gone! May we forgive ourselves and each other so that the stone of our hearts may also be removed. This Easter, may our hearts of stone indeed be transformed into hearts of flesh. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Race Diary: Randomish Thoughts on Race


About to embark on a trip to Costa Rica, I feel a mix of eagerness and dread. Eagerness to bask in warm weather and stimulate my vitamin D factory, see my daughter who is meeting me there from her current home in Martinique, and take yoga classes with my friend and teacher extraordinaire, Carolyn Christie. And dread, coming into a developing nation as a tourist and all that implies.

Yes, I know Costa Rica loves its tourists and depends on them to keep their economy going. Costa Rica pioneers the concept of ecotourism, which supposedly helps the environment instead of harms it. But I still feel conflicted.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Hawaii, where locals cultivated a love/hate relationship with tourists, who fueled the economy, yet made residents feel sort of like servants. Behind their backs, we made fun of their easily-burned skin and their big cameras, because we knew we had to be polite to their faces. After all, we were colonized people. Hawaii had lost its independence and the white people on the island felt like the bosses.

I don’t know if I can go to Costa Rica and not be that obnoxious tourist that the locals have to revolve around. All over the internet are beautiful bed and breakfast inns owned by white people, just like white people who came and dominated Hawaii. When levels of privilege are so disparate, what is my role as a visitor?

When Americans visit France and complain about the unfriendly French, the subtext is: why aren’t they catering to my needs, including my need to speak English? Why aren’t they being obsequious? Instead they act as our equals, or even superiors. How dare they?

I was telling friends at my food co-op about my upcoming trip to Costa Rica, noting that I wanted to learn at least a bit of Spanish to get around. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that,” they said. In other words, the center doesn’t have to cater to the periphery. Their response indicated that the Costa Ricans revolve around me, not the other way around.

It’s disingenuous for me to pretend to shed my privilege as I travel to a developing nation. I can hide a little behind my ethnicity and perhaps not stand out as much as a white person, but I will always have economic privilege. I’m too old and middle class for couch surfing and youth hostels, but at the same time, dislike the wasteful extravagance of resorts and hotels. That is, I’m too self-conscious to be slumming or exploiting. In my mind, I identify with the native workers. In reality, I’m a privileged interloper.

In the end, I didn’t have enough time to teach myself Spanish. I booked a b and b in a woman’s home for $20/night. Then I will move on to a small resort on the coast for an Iyengar yoga retreat. I am still torn, as only the highly privileged can be. This is the true cost of vitamin D, and the old story of the colder climates needing the resources of the warmer climates.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A TRIBUTE FOR KATE MCGARRIGLE, 1946-2010


How could I have survived college without the McGarrigle sisters? Their records are nearly worn smooth, and the needle jumps around them as I listen now, 5 days after Kate’s passing.

Who else but Kate and Anna could have matched the torrent of my coming-of-age in the early 1980s, the emotional rollercoaster, the heartbreaks, the longing, the search for self and the search for a voice? Their music was large enough to contain all the passion of a twenty year-old living in New York City, asking all the big questions with nothing close to an answer.

It was pre-AIDS and post-sexual revolution, and I thought feminism was passé. In their plaintive voices and sweet harmonies, they sang of love, loss, and longing, the raw material of a young woman’s life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fcBEGjK3cM

I lost track of the McGarrigle sisters for a while as I went through the throes of motherhood, but reconnected with them when I discovered Rufus Wainwright, and a little later, Martha Wainwright. In their music, I could hear some of the strains of Kate. I loved the McGarrigle Hour album, and I pored over the family photos as if they were my own.

I put up photos and clippings of Kate and Anna and Rufus on my bulletin board, and my kids teased me about being “obsessed with that family.” The McGarrigle-Wainwrights serve as a mirror for me of my own aging, my own journey through family, where I’ve come from, where I may be going, and my own work as an artist.

Like me, Kate put her kids before her career. She could have made dozens of albums over her 40 year career, but only made 12. Just yesterday, gazing at her first album cover, I noticed the note on the bottom corner of the back, thanking someone for looking after “Little Rufus” while they were in the studio. NPR cited a story of Kate standing up a promoter to take her kids to a puppet show. I found a great clip of a documentary featuring young Kate and Anna and little toddling Martha and big brother Rufus.

She stuck close to home and did her own thing. She made music on her own terms, She wasn’t at all trendy. She just kept her own vibe strong and clear and we came to her.

And we still come to her, the music fresh as ever. For three nights now, I’ve been listening to her records and weeping. It’s as if each song was preparing us for her death, opening us up to her big heart, bringing us in, only to tell us she has to go. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5OiMfM3txk&feature=fvw.


May Kate McGarrigle always live on through her music. May her children soar and sing on her wings. Bless your heart and your music, Kate.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xzwJVNTNKs

Friday, January 8, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Better Late Than Never Irreverent Holiday Letter 2009












































Our friend Tina in Connecticut is giving us one final chance to get back on her Christmas card mailing list. We were banished years ago for lack of reciprocation, and she was pretty pissed off when we saw her this summer and she heard about the birth of our third child (19 years ago).



So here is our lame attempt to stay in touch with friends far and wide. Originally I intended to make a 60-second home video and email it to you all. You know, kind of like a commercial for the Hong/Krishoks with some quirky camera angles and an indie-rock soundtrack. But I didn’t have enough parental capital to coerce my kids into shooting it, and after all, at age 46, I have no idea how to make and edit digital video.



My next idea was to use what would have been an award-winning photo of Ed cleaning our bathtub and make cards out of it. See, I made a sweet deal with Ed back in August when Malachi, our youngest, moved out to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College. “This is the best offer you will ever get in your whole life,” I told him. I would clean toilets and sinks of both bathrooms, if he cleaned the bathtub. Ed totally agreed that indeed he had never had a better offer, and he readily accepted. This is what our lives have come to.



September passes, then October. The toilets and sinks are spotless. The bathtub? Well, I never use it. I belong to a hot tub co-op in the basement of my yoga studio and I use the showers and big cedar tub there. Meanwhile, Ed is in survival mode, Harley-Davidson hit hard by the recession and negotiating lay-offs and major restructuring.




Ahem, remember that deal we made?



So a few days before Christmas, Ed decides the time is finally right to clean the tub. After he showers, he dons rubber gloves, grabs the Tilex and a scrub brush and gets to work. Now you all know that when Ed commits himself to a cause, his Virgo self takes over and he devotes heart and soul to the task. He squatted naked in the tub (why mess up your clothes?) and got every molecule of mildew scrubbed out. The image was particularly Christmas-y because the tub and tiles white as snow, Ed shiny pink as Santa Claus, and the scrub brush, holly berry red.



Alas, we have no camera. The kids have requisitioned all that stuff and Meiko is flung way out in the Caribbean on the island of Martinique, Katja tucked away in her East Williamsburg apartment, and Malachi in LA. Otherwise I would no doubt be sending you a photo of our clean bathtub for Christmas.



Even though Katja and Malachi are here in Milwaukee for the holidays, camera-less, I had to ask them to email me a photo of themselves, cut and pasted here. See? They are real. Katja is 21, a junior at the Gallatin School of NYU, and Malachi, a first-year at one of Obama’s alma maters. We have adequately brainwashed them in leftist ideology and Katja is doing an interdisciplinary concentration in post-colonial theory, gender studies, and creative writing. Mal is thinking about majoring in Diplomacy and World Affairs and is playing baseball at Occidental. Meiko graduated from Barnard in May with a degree in Comparative Literature and is employed(!!) by the French government teaching English in Fort de France, Martinique. She didn’t come home but instead chose to camp out on the beach Christmas night. The nerve.




And me and Ed? Empty nesters after 23 years of attachment parenting, homebirths, breastfeeding forever, a parent always home with the kids, then years upon years of cheering for them at basketball games, cross country meets, orchestra concerts, spending every last cent on education, and, and, and…. Now we go to movies. We take walks along the Milwaukee River. We might even take a trip together one of these days. We’re building up to it.



Don’t worry, these are not yet ketchup years. Maybe not quite Sriracha, but certainly we’ve got quite a bit of kick. In fact, we’re just getting started in this next stage of our lives. Come and visit us. Last year we downsized into a brick bungalow along the river, but we still have space for guests.




So, we have no video, no photo of naked Ed in the tub, no family photo by our nonexistent Christmas tree, and this greeting, which contains surprisingly little news, is not in time for Chanukah, solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s. BUT just know that we are thinking of you and wishing you all a wonderful year to come, full of surprise and revelation and transformation and love. Maybe even a year of health care and human rights and employment. Why not reach high? 2010 is going to be BIG.



"Our wishes foretell the capacities within ourselves: they are harbingers of what we shall be able to accomplish. What we can do and want to do is projected in our imagination, quite outside ourselves, and into the future. We are attracted to what is already ours, in secret. Thus passionate anticipation transforms what is already possible into dreamt-for reality." ––Goethe



Love and blessings, Peggy and family