Where did I see God today? (a poem for the pre-occupied)

I recently started a new kind of spiritual discipline.  It is the (almost) daily practice of taking a few moments to ask and ponder the simple question: Where did I see God today?  Where did I hear him?  Feel him?  It has been a way for me to come back to a simple gratitude without the standard, “I’m thankful for…”  It helps me remember that God was there all along–that in the hardest moments, in the brightest ones, I was not alone.  Most days, I remember.  Most days I remember the moments I felt the presence of the eternal.  In a song.  A look on my child’s face.  A breeze.  Today, as I sat down to reflect, something different came forth–a realization that all the times he must have been nearby I was nowhere to be found.  I was the one who didn’t show up.  My head was swimming with thoughts of the past, the future.  So preoccupied with what could be, I failed to see what was.   I took myself so far out of the present that I seemed to not notice the Presence.

Where did I see God today?

Was he in the sunshine that warmed my skin
as I sat still on the park bench
stewing about the work inside the building across the field?

Was he in the faces across the table –
All the many tables that held my elbows up
In the difficult conversations today?

Was he in the food on my plate:
The bread and the greens and the cheese,
The glass of water?

Was he in my breath? The few, short, shallow breaths?
Was he in my tears? The ones that waited for home to come forth?
Was he in my children tonight?

Where did I see God today? Where was he?

Was he as there as everyone says he is? Can you feel alone with him beaming down on you? Can you feel trapped when the creator of freedom is on your plate?

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The magic of ‘maybe not’.

yoga

I went to a yoga class this weekend and the teacher was someone new to me. It was my same studio in my same small town, but I had never had a class with this particular instructor. She was so friendly and warm. And she was super-fit so I figured if I did everything just like her, then I’d be a size 2 by the morning.  I’d like to say the class was high-intensity, but I think that really I have just been away from the studio for about 6 months so laying in the corpse pose for more than 1 minute would have felt high intensity. It was all strength-building stuff which I love. Core and back and legs. Lots of shaking and clenched jaw and big breaths and sweating.

I really enjoyed the class. I was happy to be back on the mat noticing how my own body felt. Noticing my thoughts and releasing them. Finding the edges of my strength and then relaxing just a bit beyond.

But something was missing.

I’ve only ever had yoga instruction from one teacher (mostly). There have been one or two other teachers here and there, but mostly one woman has been my person. She was the first person to ever teach me the basics of yoga four years ago, just after my second son was born. She was the first person who ever witnessed me doing the crow pose. She’s the one who taught me warrior three and happy baby. She’s great at the physical part—noticing when you can shift a half a centimeter with one finger and change the way the whole pose feels. She’s great at the emotional and spiritual parts too. Her language is powerful and she kindly and boldly leads us through what feels like church with her centering scripts. Today, she used the analogy of a conversation with a dear friend to keep bringing us back to the present moment; encouraging us to give ourselves the same respect.

And there’s one phrase she says many, many times during class. And I almost took it for granted until I went to a class without her. It’s the one thing that was missing with the new teacher: “Maybe not.”

My main teacher will guide us into a pose. She’ll then suggest that maybe we bend our arm. Or maybe we set our gaze upward. Or maybe we bend our leg. Maybe we reach just a bit beyond where we are. And then she says, every time: “or maybe not.” Maybe not is code for ‘you don’t have to do what the teacher says.’

It’s another way of reminding you about what’s most important on the mat. What’s most important is not what you think you should do or what the thin lady next to you is doing or even what you did yesterday on the mat. It’s what your body says to do today. So she can kindly suggest it, and then she kindly gives you permission to take whatever shape feels good to you. Maybe you want to do this standing stretch thing, or maybe not. Maybe you should be in child’s pose resting instead.

Maybe not is permission to choose. It’s the anti-should.

‘Maybe not’ is a reminder to listen to your best teacher:  not the woman in the front of the room, but the body you are living in right now.

It’s a reminder that yes, you can trust yourself to know what shape you need. You know when to push and when to relax. You know what will serve you well and what won’t. And you can trust that as long as you’re on the mat, there’s no judgement for the choice you make.

There was a series of core work that the new teacher led us through at the end of our practice. Lots of heavy breathing in the room and a little grunting because we were doing a pose called ‘boat’. It sounds lovely, I know. Relaxing, almost. Boat! I’ll do that! It’s like vacation! But it’s really more like abs on fire with your legs in the air.  After the third round of these boat things, I was wondering how many more times she’d want us to do it. And then I remembered ‘maybe not.’ So she said once again to lift our legs in the air and I said out loud, ‘or maybe not.’ And everyone in the room giggled and exhaled and relaxed. And I gave myself permission to get out of the boat.

I grew up involved in sports like track and basketball and I would hear daily that I needed to push myself. We used to practice so hard that we’d throw up and our coaches and teammates applauded. So there’s this old story-line in my head from that—and probably also from some of my early workplaces—that says if you don’t push yourself to exhaustion you aren’t really working hard. You’re weak. Lazy. Never going to get any better. Destined to lose. There’s no room for ‘maybe not’ because we were too scared of not improving, not winning.  Giving up.

My journey for the last year has been about trusting myself again. It’s never God I lose faith in. God I can trust for sure. When I’m struggling—physically or emotionally—it’s usually because I’ve quit trusting myself. Or I’ve quit listening long enough to even know what my gut is saying. Every day provides hundreds of temptations to turn the volume up so loud that we can’t hear. Every day also provides hundreds of opportunities to get quiet. The magic of ‘maybe not’ is the magic of choice. The magic of maybe not is that you have all you need and you are enough—no matter what you choose. You have permission to go fast or slow. You have permission to push or pull. Either choice is the right choice. You’re enough—with or without the headstand twisty pose.   In or out of the boat.

Namaste.

namaste

the music never stopped

We recently took our 7-year-old son to his first concert.  Because it’s what my husband and I have been listening to almost daily for the last couple of years, one of his favorite artists is Jason Isbell.  Isbell came to play at a venue about 45 minutes away so we made plans to take the kiddo.

Leading up to the show, he would grin every time we mentioned how cool it was to go to your first show at age 7.  He wore his Jason Isbell shirt the day of the concert.  We dropped his brother off at a sitter and we took him to deli that we go to every time we see a show in this town.  Sandwiches piled high with processed meats and cheeses.  Cash only.  Delicious and so bad for you and perfect, really.  The kiddo ordered a kids meal–a huge grilled cheese sandwich, potato chips, a pickle, a soft drink, and a cookie and ice cream…all for $2.95.

We finished our meal, paid up, and headed to the auditorium.  We were there in time to see the opening act that started at 7pm.  The band was good, but not quite our favorite kind of music–and certainly not who we were there to see.   Kiddo’s attention was drifting.  Finally, Jason Isbell came on stage.  His face lit up and I could tell he was a little overwhelmed. He played the opening song, which we all knew every word of, and it was so good.

By the third song in, I looked over at our son and he was sound asleep.  It was right at 8:30 (his regular bedtime) and he was completely out.  I wanted to wake him.  I didn’t want him to miss the music.  Especially when I heard the beginnings of “Flying Over Water”, an older song that I didn’t expect–and kiddo’s absolute favorite one.  I patted his leg and whispered in his ear but he did not wake up.

The music played on.  We were there for our son–not for ourselves.  We have seen and heard Isbell live a few times, once at the Ryman in Nashville.  After that, nothing will sound better.  We were here so our son could be blown away by live music.  He wasn’t really blown away.  He was just sleeping.  We enjoyed the show which seemed to last forever and then left before the encore so we could make it to the car ahead of the crowd.  He slept the entire way home.

The moment illustrated a haunting truth: the music plays on even if we miss it.

The kids play happily, pretending they are fast cars in a race and help each other to the finish line.  Pure joy expressed while you are on the phone in the next room.  

Trees drop their leaves in a beautiful act of surrender and you are in the house vacuuming.  

A customer in the next line pays it forward in an act of simple generosity while you are busy thinking of what you’ll order.  

A musician belts out poetry to indescribably beautiful sounds and you’re asleep.

Last week I wrote about false choices.  Our awareness is a different story.  Our awareness forces us to be single-minded.  To choose.  We can’t be two places at once.  Our awareness has boundaries.  We can’t be fully present with our spouse and also be outside talking to a friend.  We can’t be at work and playing blocks with our 2-year-old at the museum.  We can’t be asleep and rocking out at the concert.

My first reaction to my son’s sleeping at the concert was disappointment and a little bit of panic.  He was missing out.  We paid money for him to see this and he never got to take it all in.  He was missing the beauty, the sound, the fun.  How could I allow that?

My second reaction was joy: the music plays on.  For those of us who are awake.  Even for my sleeping son.  What better lullaby than this?  The music plays on.  If for no one else, for the one playing it.  There’s something really humbling and magical about living in a world where beauty happens just for happening’s sake.  Flowers bloom whether you see them or not.  Babies smile in rooms all by themselves.  The music plays on while you sleep.

There’s a big difference between “I’m missing out” and “the music plays on.”  The first says that there isn’t enough.  That the world is a scarce place and I must hustle to get my fill.  The second says the world is a place of abundance–so much so that even when I don’t show up, there will be enough.  As Geneen Roth says, “Enough isn’t a quantity–it’s a relationship to what you have.”

We are surrounded by more magic and beauty than we’ll ever be able to take in.  I am reminded to pay attention. To be a witness to the life around me.  I am reminded that the problem of scarcity is a problem of my own attention.  The problem isn’t that the magic doesn’t exist–it’s that I miss it.

Here’s to a 2016 of awareness and attention and gratitude.  Here’s to a 2016 of the second response: The music plays on.