30 Hours – Part I

Yesterday I taught my first class at Meredith College. Due to the oddities of scheduling half semester courses our class will meet once more on Friday and then the students will go on Spring break, during which time I will be taking the biggest, most daunting test of my life.

The Anusara Certification written test is the most comprehensive exam of any yoga certification in the industry and generally takes a minimum of 30 hours to complete. When I receive the test tomorrow I will have ten days to complete it. How on earth can an exam take such a long time? Well, it covers everything: anatomy, philosophy, cosmology, metaphysics, yogic texts, alignment principles etc. Also, there is probably a good bit of essay.

I’ve been preparing for this test since I took my first Anusara class in February of 2005. But now I find myself plagued with the old nagging feeling that I am somehow missing some crucial piece of information that everyone else knows. That I’ll only know the answers to half the questions. I’m convinced that my inability to remember the difference between flexion and extension will outweigh all of my other technical and experiential understanding of the practice; that all of my inadequacies will show up in large red letters and I will fail miserably.

And then I remember to breathe. The most basic principle of the practice is to look for the good first. I know the principles forward and backward, inside and out. I know the philosophy, the chakras, the therapeutics. I know that a femur is a thigh bone and that the head of the femur should be snug in the acetabulum. More importantly, I know my experience.

In a profound and sublime meditation I was held under water by Kali, Goddess of Death, Eater of Time, which is to say the Goddess of Great of Liberation. I thrashed and kicked and struggled as she got heavier and heavier, pushing me down, pushing me under. Then I looked up and saw a beam of light expanding through the sea. From nowhere and everywhere a voice, deep and clear said, “You have nothing to fear. Ever.” I stopped thrashing, stopped fighting and surrendered to the violent currents of the sea. And they calmed. There was peace. I was lifted out of the water and into the arms of Christ, radiant in light, exquisite and luminous beyond words, beyond poetry. And there was Love. Nothing but vast, free, precious Love.

So what if I have to look up flexion for the 950th time. I immerse myself in the depths of fear, step into the fire of self-exploration and surrender to the currents of Grace. This is the practice of yoga. This is Anusara. All the details and all the knowledge serve one purpose, to help me guide myself and others on the path of the deep inner Knowing that there is never anything to fear.

Where is the Love?

“The Spirit in all beings is immortal in them all: for
the death of what cannot die, cease thou to sorrow.1

I was writing about love and the power of the eternal moment when my husband called to tell me about the horrific sexual assault and gang rape of CBS news correspondent Lara Logan. My heart broke, breath became harder to capture, and tears welled up in my eyes. When I think of what she suffered in those moments in the middle of Tahiri square I don’t feel love, I feel anger, sadness, even guilt over my positive outlook on life.

"Love and Peace or Else" ~ U2

It is relatively easy to see God in the beauty of a sunset, in the unassuming countenance of a pet, or in the embrace of a loved one. It is much more difficult to find God in the face of horrific acts of violence and inhumanity. The questions  “Where is God in all of this? Where is the Love?” loom large. And they shouldn’t be avoided.

For me, God is in the group of women and 20 Egyptian soldiers who finally stopped the assault. God suffers with Ms. Logan and experiences the ignorance of her attackers. Love flows in the hearts of all who take up the mantle of compassion for the victim and the perpetrators. The experience of living is not “all good.” Bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to people who do bad things. Yet through it all there is a place inside each and every person that is eternal, unchanging, ever present and full of peace. It’s just more evident in nice people.

The first teaching of the Bhagavad Gita is that of the Eternal in all, therefore whatever is done in the world of the senses is transient for that which is everlasting will always endure. “If any man thinks he slays, and if another thinks he is slain, neither knows the ways of truth. The Eternal in man cannot kill: the Eternal in man cannot die.2” This is what Jesus means when he speaks of “life everlasting.” Knowing this is not an excuse for bad behavior, rather it is the knowledge of our collective Eternal nature that cuts through the illusion of separation and reveals the truth of our Oneness.

Yet remembering this truth, looking for the good, for God in everything, isn’t enough. We must translate knowledge into action. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, which is certainly not the easiest thing to do. So how do we do it? How can we respond with love  to the gang of men who took turns sexually assaulting Ms. Logan? How can we respond with love to anyone who perpetrates violence? What do we do when we feel utterly powerless over the evil deeds of others?

We must choose to be practitioners of Grace. We must act with kindness, respond with love and be the people we wish to see in the world. We pray. First for Ms. Logan and indeed for all who suffer from violence, abuse, torture, neglect. We pray that they may find peace, healing and comfort. Then we give thanks for those who put an end to the attack and all who support the process of healing. Last we reach beyond our anger and pray for the attackers and all who inflict violence on others, that their ignorance may be removed and they may know peace. For where there is peace, where there is love, how can there be offense?

“May all beings, including myself, be free from pain and suffering.3” And “May the peace of God which passes all understanding, live and remain with you always, now and forever. Amen.4

*** A note on the use of the word “God.” In our Anusara yoga community we, especially as teachers, often refrain from the using the word “God” as a means to make our classes and teaching more ecumenical and accessible to all. Personally, I have no problem with the concept of “God” because I have one of my understanding. For me God, Love, Grace, Christ, Shiva etc. have different connotations but all point to the Eternal Divine. For the purposes of this piece and spiritual investigation I use the word “God” as a conscious personification of the Eternal and unfathomable Divine that permeates everything. More on this later.
1 Bhagavad Gita, trnsaltion by Juan Marsco, Chapter 2, verse 30          2 Bhagavad Gita, translation by Juan Marsco, Chapter 2, verse 19       3 Prayer from John Friend      4 Closing Prayer from the Episcopal Church service

Seven Days of Grace

The skeletons of trees stand stark against the cold. The lava sun sets in the west, throwing a cast of copper over branched fingers reaching to the sky.

At lunchtime, a gaggle or two of Canadian geese mosey through a congested intersection. The light is green but drivers halt and wait for them to pass.

Me: Hi Granddad. I thought I’d surprise you.
Granddad: Oh Honey, I’m glad to see you for one reason. I need cat food.

An old woman, the archetype of a crone, climbs down the steps of the bus. She and the driver exchange smiles. With her red shawl wrapped tight to guard against the wind, she hobbles into the post office to mail her packages.

A neighbor trains his new dog.  A firm command and the pup sits. A clear “here boy” and over he runs, black tail a waggin’, into a symphony of praise, and a cookie.

Dry, dead brown leaves weave and twirl in the wind. Their edges skim the pavement like fairies skipping across a pond.

Our house is drafty and difficult to heat. In the winter Mark stays in his man cave where it’s warmer but lacking in comfortable furniture. Tonight, we sit on the couch in the living room and watch TV. He leans back into the pillows. I rest my head on his chest.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Soup

It is dry in Tucson. My sinuses hurt. Breathing is difficult and exhaustion has set in. At lunch a friend and I venture into a little Greek restaurant. We go there because of the geraniums and twinkle lights.

Athens on 4th is a small, family run restaurant of the best kind; clean, bright and decorated with trailing plants and alluring photos of the sparkling Greek coast that hang on whitewashed walls. I scan the menu. Avgolemono, a Greek chicken soup. I’ve never had Avgolemono. It turns out to be a creamy, citrus delight. A perfect combination of lemon infused broth, rice and shredded chicken. It’s zingy warmth slips down my throat and I can breathe again. Exhaustion gives way to life.

The Perfect Meal

A year later at my home in North Carolina we are expecting a wintery mix of snow and ice. In the Friday twilight following an active week of teaching, office work and design I am ready for soup. Specifically the lemon chicken soup I had back in Tucson. Problem is, I can’t remember the name. Avignon? Avglo, Avgolemon? Fortunately some brilliant college kids invented Google.

I type “Greek Chicken Soup” into the search field. “Avgolemono” comes to life in blue links and bold sub-descriptions. I follow a few, each one purporting they learned this recipe from their “real Greek grandmother.” If this works, I will tell my progeny I learned this from the Greek grandmothers of the internet.

“Place a whole chicken in a large pot of boiling water with the vegetables and simmer for two hours. Remove chicken and add 1c. white rice or orzo pasta…”

Oh. I am not going to make my own broth. Not when I can buy 32 oz of perfectly good broth for $1.99 at Trader Joe’s, which I always have on hand for occasions such as this. Some modern culinary conveniences such as prepackaged broth and flash frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts are just swell. Where once it would have taken two to three hours to make (more if killing and plucking your own chicken), I can have Avgolemono in about thirty minutes. And unlike other soups, it is best fresh. No need to endlessly simmer here.

I click the back button and scroll through a few more recipes, finally deciding on one with only 5 ingredients, including ready made broth.

I set the stove on medium high heat, then pour one and a half packages of broth and 3/4 cup of white rice into my Faberware soup pot and bring to a boil. After years of preparing only the more wholesome and trendy brown rice, cooking plain old 20th century white rice gives me a kind of rebellious thrill, and a touch of guilt. In a separate pot I bring 5 cups of water to a boil then add 1 prepackaged, flash frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Image from countryliving.com

As the broth boils and the rice softens the wind picks up and snow begins to fall. I drink in the steam rising from the cook pots. The chicken is done, the rice is almost ready. I remove the chicken from the water, let it cool, then shred and add to the broth and rice. Now comes the tricky part.

“Turn the heat down to low. Beat two eggs and the juice of two lemons. Whisk one cup of the hot broth into egg and lemon mixture. If the broth is too hot, the egg will curdle.”

Unlike broth, I refuse to use prepackaged lemon juice. Some things are not worth a sacrifice in quality. Ever used generic toothpaste?

“Slowly pour the egg and lemon mixture into soup, whisking continuously until combined.”

My soup turns yellow like the center of a daisy.

“Add salt and pepper to taste.”

Nah, I don’t need it.

With a big ol’ grin, I ladle the Avgolemono into my favorite ceramic bowl and serve alongside a small slice of hearth bread and a salad of pre-washed baby spinach, pre-pitted black olives, mini tomatoes, and goat cheese drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a spritz of balsamic vinegar.

In my pj’s and slippers I wrap myself in a blanket and carry my colorful meal to the table, dip my spoon into the sunny concoction before me, raise it to my lips and…ahh… the warm tang of lemon lingers on my tongue. Avgolemono. Warm and creamy and perfect.

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