Finding intention in California

When i started this blog my intention was to focus solely on everything I am learning about flowers. I really should have known better, because really, when is anything just about itself? I hope my flower friends will forgive me for branching out a little this week!

Today’s post is inspired by my yoga teacher Kate. As many of you know, I am currently in Sacramento, California. I had a number of plans for this summer. They involved learning floral design with the talented Jennifer at Bloom Floral Design in northern Michigan and working on a flower farm. My plans have since changed, as plans have a tendency to do, and it now looks like I may well remain in Sacramento for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Having spent last winter hibernating in my loft in Charlottetown with piles of historical fiction and endless cups of tea, doing nothing that was not absolutely necessary, I really want to get back into shape, so when my friend Mariela suggested we join a yoga studio I immediately started researching teachers and yoga studios in Sacramento. After a good deal of research we settled on One Flow Yoga Studio owned by Kate Saal.

Since starting at One Flow Yoga Studio I have taken a number of level 1 classes. I haven’t done very many yet, but I was starting to feel that I was making some progress. So on Saturday I decided to attend an “All Levels” class. I figured the class would likely be challenging, but I love a good challenge, so I turned up for class feeling pretty damn proud of myself. Those of you who practice yoga on a regular basis are probably already chuckling here. You are right to chuckle. The class totally kicked my butt. I have been having what the doctor thinks is an inner ear issue recently that has been making me feel dizzy. By a third of the way through the class I was feeling so dizzy that I was worried I might pass out, so I settled into child’s pose and stayed there for what felt at the time like an eternity. While I was down there feeling both painfully aware of the fact that I was the only person in the room in child’s pose, and equally aware that if I stood up I might pass out, Kate started sharing some insights. I haven’t been taking her classes long enough to generalize, but so far I have found that Kate somehow seems to know exactly what I am thinking (often before I realize that I am thinking it), and always seems to share a thought, insight or piece of music that helps me to become aware of my thought process and invites me to consider the situation from a different perspective. On Saturday, as I lay on my mat in child’s pose feeling intensely the fact that my body is not as strong as I would like it to be right now I heard Kate say “and if you are in child’s pose, be there with intention. Don’t just be there. What are you thinking right now?”

I am deeply grateful that when Kate asks us to become aware of what we are thinking she does not ask us to share out loud (because really, nobody should have to listen to the vast majority of what goes on in this head), but just hearing the question and becoming conscious of what I am thinking inevitably makes me laugh, forgive myself for not being where I would like to be, accept where I am, and celebrate the fact that I have turned up and am ready to grow and shatter self-imposed limitations that I may not have even been aware that I was placing on myself.

On Sunday I went for an early morning run. Normally I love to run. But lately I have been having a hard time with my running. It has been hot, and I have been struggling to adjust to the change in temperature between Canada and California. I have been feeling dizzy on and off. And since I am so out of shape right now I have been struggling to enjoy the run while it is happening. This Sunday as usual I got out there and was sweating, my heart pounding, struggling to keep my breath steady, and calculating how much smaller the distance between me and my house was getting with every step that I took. Mid-stride I remembered Kate’s question: “what are you thinking about? What are you focusing on?” I was focused on my own discomfort. On how much longer I had to be running. On how I could get my run done as quickly as possible. In other words, not at all on the reasons that I love to run: the sunlight filtering down through the canopy of trees, the breeze against my skin; the feeling of air filling my lungs and my heart pumping, and, when I hit my stride, the glorious sensation that I am flying.

I find it pretty easy to have realizations after the fact. But real growth happens when I’m having them while I am in the experience. It doesn’t look graceful, and it demands that I keep returning, over and over again, to a posture of humility and learning, letting go of that ego voice that is always standing there ready to take charge. So while I was running on Sunday, and again on my run this morning I stayed aware throughout the run of what I was thinking, and every time I noticed myself drifting into thoughts about how much further I had to run or where I was feeling pain in my body I consciously told myself to refocus my thoughts on what brings me joy. This morning it was the dappled light on the sidewalk; sooty black bodies of crows pecking along the pathway; happiness on the faces of people who I made eye contact with and wished a good morning; late summer roses tumbling over a brick wall; the clear blue sky; the sound of my own heart beating in my chest. I also reflected on how much joy the sensation of running brings me, because even in the early stages of getting fit again the joy that I find in challenging my body is present if I take the time to look for it.

Kate has been sharing a lot about intention, and it has made me reflect upon the fact that intention is not the same as plan. I had a lot of plans over the last two years, and many of them have not worked out as I had hoped they would. If I focus solely on the plans that I made over the last two years I can get pretty discouraged. But if I take a step back and look at the last two years from the perspective of intention, my whole perception shifts. Because while many of my plans have not worked out, when I think about it, my intention has remained firm and clear. I lost my marriage this year, but I have remained true to my intention, which was to continue growing and learning, share love with those around me, be faithful to my beliefs, and serve my community. All of this I have done.

Another lesson Kate has been sharing with us in class is the importance of transitions. As she put it, at least 75% of our lives are spent in transition. We live in a goal-oriented culture, and it is easy to forget that the result is shaped by the quality of the process of creation. Transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Just getting from my house to the yoga studio is a transition of sorts. A relatively painless one, but a transition nonetheless. Losing my father and my best friend this past year has been a harder transition. Losing my marriage right after losing my father and best friend an even harder one. In my faith tradition we have what is called a year of patience. If a couple decides to separate, they must spend a year living separately but not getting involved with anyone else — taking the time to really work on the marriage to see if they can find ways to come back together. If at the end of the year it appears that this is not possible, then the couple is free to divorce. My husband does not hold the same belief system as I do, and has not been participating in this year of patience. It is his right, but his absence from our year of patience has left me with a lot of questions about how I honour my year of patience without him.

On October 23rd 2016 it will be exactly one year since he left, and I have spent the last year honouring my commitment. Sometimes it feels pointless, but most of the time I feel grateful that I am intentionally taking this year to reflect on what turned out to be a very brief marriage — what took me into it; what my intention was in unifying my life with my husband’s; how to let go of what is not meant for me with grace; how to learn to open my heart wider but with greater wisdom in the future instead of withdrawing or deciding that relationships are just not for me; how to forgive him and myself; how to move forward with purpose and joy; what I want to take with me that will help enrich my next relationship, and what I want to let go of; and, in the last few months — figuring out who I am now and what I want to do with this next chapter of my life.

I share all of this because when Kate started talking about paying attention to the quality of our transitions it brought me back to the truth that ultimately the key here is purity of intention. What is my intention when I step onto my yoga mat, and can I remain conscious of this throughout my practice? How do I remain conscious that not only am I embodying my intention when I take child’s pose in the middle of my practice, but that my child’s post is an integral and essential part of staying true to my intention in a way that pushing through the practice to the detriment of my health never can be? All of these questions and their answers can be applied to life off the yoga mat too of course, and I am finding answers and hidden truths in the most unexpected places.

Last night I attended a Native American poetry reading. Four Native American poets who have poems published in an anthology of Native American poetry from California shared their poetry. Much of the poetry that they shared was about the natural world and their connection to it. But what struck me most was the purity and clarity of their intention. One of the women came from a tribe called People of the Meadow. They used to live in the mountains all summer, returning to foothills and plains in the winter. During the gold rush 85% of her tribe was entirely obliterated. She said that she is often amazed that she is standing here today. And yet she is, and she is here with the intention to carry forward stories of connection, community, love, prejudice, fear, pain, courage and justice with integrity and purpose — sharing it with others without blame or bitterness, but with the intention of inspiring healing, connection, understanding, and, ultimately, bringing about positive change. Another of the readers shared that he is the nephew of the last member of his tribe to speak his native tongue. He shared that his aunt spent the last five years of her life at the Smithsonian working with anthropologists and linguists recording her language and documenting it so that it can continue to be learned and shared with future generations. A third woman shared how she has been learning her native tongue as an adult — re-learning the language of her people after it had been lost because they had been forbidden to speak their native tongue to their children. The intention of all of the readers came across crystal clear in the poetry that they shared. They were using poetry to reach out, forgive, invite us to connect, and share the wisdom that they have kept sharing even when nobody was listening.

Listening to the language that the poets used last night also reminded me how essential the precise words we use to describe our experience are to the quality of the experience. Referring to the earth as Mother Earth, for example establishes an underlying expectation that the relationship will be based upon love and respect. In yoga I notice that the simple act of telling myself that I am “flowering” my fingers up into the sky as opposed to simply stretching or reaching upwards changes the entire experience of the pose. The other day Kate shared the idea that rolling onto our side in fetal position before moving out of our practice was a good way to pause a moment, absorb everything that we had just asked our bodies to do, and then be aware that if we choose to, all our thoughts and interactions for the rest of the day can be shaped by what we learned in our practice. As such that last pose is a preparatory pose for a re-birth of sorts — a letting go of previous ways of thinking and an embracing of new ways of being.

Back in the yoga studio yesterday evening balanced on one very shaky leg with sweat pouring down my face and dripping onto an already drenched mat, my thoughts drifted to worry about losing my balance; uncertainty about how much longer I was going to be able to hold my leg up in the air, and irritation at how hot the room was getting. All of a sudden the music changed and a Brazilian love song started playing. The change of pace pulled me out of my train of thought and I looked up and caught Kate smiling. Nothing like some playful Brazilian music to remind us to not take things so seriously. To loosen up. Breathe. Let go. Be present.

Here’s to becoming more aware of our intentions this week friends. And to finding ways to be more playful. Because as Richard Lingard said, “you can discover more…in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” 

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