The Vanishing Stamp

Upon the recommendation of a friend I recently visited my local library to pick up a copy of Margaret Maron’s Shooting at Loons, volume three of the Deborah Knott mystery series. (Which was delightful.) Book in hand, I walked up to the check out desk and gave the librarian my card which she scanned along with the book. Then she handed them back.

“Don’t I get a stamp?”
“Oh, we don’t do that anymore. All books are now due two weeks after check-out. Would you like a receipt or an email reminder?”

Crestfallen I said, “Thank you, but no” and left.

There’s a sense of rightness to the world in a library, a feeling of abundance that comes from being surrounded by rows upon rows of books just itching to be read. You can have one dollar in your bank account and still return from the library with a large stack of books. A library is a place of respect. As a group we keep quiet so as not to disturb one another in our common bond of love for the written word. People generally seem nice in libraries.

So when the librarian told me they no longer date-stamp books, a little piece of my heart broke. It’s just one more sensory imprint being replaced by “the tech*.” I like “the tech” but as crisp and sexy as an iBook is, I prefer the sensuality of words printed on paper and bound between two covers. I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.

As physical creatures our senses trigger memories, emotions, states of consciousness. The stamp rolling on the ink pad then landing on the labeled book, the crinkle-crackle of smooth plastic protecting the hardcovers, the scattered due dates that offer a brief glimpse into the lives of persons unknown, these things are part of the library. They awaken an ease and simplicity of living just as do the sounds of children playing outside, water running from the kitchen faucet, the feeling of a spring breeze floating through the window. It’s Life loving life in all its playful bounty.

I didn’t have this kind of reaction when card catalogues were replaced by computerized databases. Sure I was a little sad, I have fond memories of leafing through drawers of index cards in varying states of decay to find the call number of a book, but the change made good sense. It certainly made finding information a lot easier.

A week later I returned for the next installment in the series and asked why they stopped date-stamping. “Well, they’re convinced they’re going to save thousands of dollars a year by not buying all those labels. But I know what you mean, the stamps are just part of what a library is.” I suppose saving thousands of dollars a year is a good enough reason if it means they can buy more books, hire more folks, or just keep the lights on. But I will miss the faint smell of ink, the heavy fall of the date stamp on the cover, the thread of connection to those who read the very same book.  And, without a librarian date-stamping, how is Indiana Jones going to find the Holy Grail?

*”The tech” is a term my brother, Adam Thomas, uses in his new book, Digital Disciple:Real Christianity in a Virtual World, to refer to things such as computers, internet, phone, texting, etc. He borrowed it from Joss Whedon’s  show Dollhouse and now uses it for his own purposes. You can buy a copy of his book at

The Orphanage: A Home for Homeless Words

To write, you must edit. And to edit, you must learn to detach. You must learn to detach from that beautiful, elegant, witty, sardonic, and just plain brilliant turn of phrase that unfortunately detracts from the whole of the piece. Oh but how it hurts to delete our best work! If only there were a way to save it?

Treat Your Orphans Well

A superb writing instructor from West Virginia (whose name unfortunately escapes me) offers the perfect solution to the difficult parting of writer with word. It’s called “the Orphanage.”

“The Orphanage” is the home for all of those genius word compositions that have nowhere else to go. When the flash of brilliance gets booted from its place on the page it’s not left to fend for itself on the mean streets of a cold, forgetful mind. Instead, it gets to live comfortably with all the other orphans, enjoying 3 squares a day, love, remembrance, and the hope that, it too, will one day find a permanent home. And if it doesn’t, it’s still in great company. Plus there’s always the chance that after you become a famous author and die, some mournful soul will scour through your journals, find the Orphanage, and you’ll be quoted for all eternity. The essays, poems, and novels will fade, but those poor orphans will live on on coffee mugs, publisher’s weekly compendiums, and dorm posters.

Painters aren’t as fortunate. The heartbreakingly beautiful stroke of alizarin crimson swimming across the buttercream sky doesn’t have anywhere else to go. In painting, it’s do or die.

So my fellow writer, despair not. Build yourself an orphanage with bright beautiful walls and clean comfy beds. Be it a computer file, a series of voice memos, a notebook or a stack of napkins, make it a place of love. Nurture your brilliance, take care of your orphaned children. Who knows what illustrious lives they may lead!

30 Hours – Part II

After graduating from college I was shocked to discover how quickly the mind atrophies without the structure of classwork.  When there isn’t any guidance for reflection on a text or class material, even reading “serious non-fiction” just isn’t the same.  So now it’s rather humorous that I approached the coming of my certification exam with such trepidation. All I could see were the words I had read over and over “30 hours,” “among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the industry.”  It never occurred to me that it could be fun. I was convinced that I was going to be mentally and emotionally exhausted and prepared myself accordingly, i.e. I made brownies.

Yet for nearly ten days I reveled in introversion. Reconnecting with sacred texts, reviewing philosophical concepts, discovering I know more anatomy than I thought; it was invigorating. By Monday I’d settled into a nice little routine: wake, journal, practice, test, lunch, nap, test, dinner, rest, bed, repeat. My nervous system relaxed, my sleep regulated. Within the bounds of the questions on the exam my mind was able to expand rather than wander aimlessly in a vast matrix of information.

I have always wanted to be thought of as a free-spirit but my need for structure and routine put a damper on giving myself that venerable self description. Today I understand that freedom isn’t just another word for nothing left to lose, nor is it a state of unrestrained bouncing around in the clouds. Freedom is an essence, our essence, the essence of the Divine. Freedom is the stability of self-love and the offering of oneself to life and whatever it extends. Freedom is the yoke of knowledge and experience that leads to wisdom, which brings about authentic choice. Freedom is Breath. Freedom is Life. And we are all ultimately, absolutely, intrinsically, Free.

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.

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