17 November 2013

Life's Rich Playlist

For my fortieth birthday, Dan made me a playlist.  He is a master of playlists, assembling songs that flow perfectly from one to the next.  The one he made for that milestone birthday, though, contains ninety-five tracks, each released between 1968 and 2008.  I’ve been listening to it again since my birthday this year.  And while I’ve been the recipient of some special gifts over the years, this playlist is one of my favorites.  There’s a memory, an era, a phase for each tune.  For example, I can’t listen to the following without some kind of flashback:

U2:  Where the Streets Have No Name.  If you were in college in the late 1980s, this song was the theme for every party, road trip, pre-game celebration, and, ahem, study session.

REM:  I Am Superman.  The first openly lesbian woman I knew, who lived across the hall from me my sophomore year in college, played this song a lot.  She was older than the rest of us in the dorm, and was very wise for her years.  It was a big deal when she moved in, practically a scandal, but I remember how most of us came to consider her a friend.  I think of her when I hear this song and I wonder where she is today and what’s she’s doing.

The Smiths:  How Soon Is Now?  The theme of my senior year of high school.

Paul Simon:  Hearts and Bones.  I fell in love with Simon’s strangely poetic lyrics because of this song.  He made me realize how playful and poignant words could be, sometimes simultaneously.

Led Zeppelin:  Stairway to Heaven.  My favorite song when I was in about seventh or eighth grade.

Dire Straits:  The Sultans of Swing.  This song was on endless repeat during my summer in Paris.  My Parisien friend Marco had this song, and nothing but this song, on the cassette he played as we drove in his little Peugeot from café to café on the weekends.  He sang at the top of his lungs with his French accent, the lyrics just about the only English he knew.

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Breaking the Girl, Smashing Pumpkins:  Disarm, and Cowboy Junkies:  Powderfinger. These are a few of the songs that Dan and I listened to a lot early in our relationship, and while I still love these songs, I also love how our musical tastes have continued to evolve as we grow older.

I doubt that Dan is aware of some of the stories behind these songs, and really, everyone has their own memories connected to music that can’t adequately be duplicated or expressed.  But I still love my lifelist, five years down the road.  A gift someone makes for you is truly something to be cherished.  Merci, D.  xoxoxox


03 November 2013

Lessons from the Mat

Over the past couple months I’ve been really busy, as is typical for end-of-summer and beginning-of-fall for me, as well as for most parents and all teachers.  And for most of the Saturday mornings in this period of time, I’ve been too busy or too lazy to make it to yoga class.  Or at least that’s what I told myself:  that it was because I had too much to do, or because I needed some extra zzz’s.  I did make it to class this weekend, and I’m so glad I did, because I realized that I hadn’t been too lazy to go; I realized that I’ve been avoiding class.  I hadn’t been avoiding it because I had too many things to do, or even because it meant I’d have to set an alarm on a Saturday morning.  I was avoiding it because of the mirror.

It’s difficult not to compare oneself to others, even (or is it especially?) in yoga class.  I know that goes against one of the tenets of yoga - that it shouldn’t matter if my downward dog looks better or worse than my neighbor’s.  It shouldn’t matter if my arms start to shake in plank after my neighbor’s do, or that my neighbor spends more time resting in child’s pose than doing anything else.  But I am secretly gloating inside when I notice that I am doing better than my neighbor on the mat, even though I know in my heart that yoga is not a competition.  And yet, still my eyes wander to others, to see how I compare, until I realize that their eyes must also wander to me, and that they are judging me and comparing themselves to me, and finding themselves superior.  Why this realization always surprises me, I can’t really explain.

Deep down, even the most confident of women (and, men, too, perhaps) have some kind of body image issue.  I’m obviously not alone in this annoying and ridiculous self-talk, especially after disfiguring cancer surgery.  I struggled with negative body image even before my surgery.  But in class this week, our instructor said, in the middle of a difficult posture, “I’ve noticed that this pose is much easier for those with long arms.  I have stubby T-Rex arms.”  Many people laughed, of course.  She paused a moment, and then added in a steady voice, without a hint of sarcasm, “But I notice that I do have arms.”  The laughter stopped and the reminder that we are lucky to be capable of taking part in a yoga class hung in the air.  I know that what she meant was to show us that it is possible to stop the cycle of negative words that even she was experiencing.  It was very timely for me, as I’d been lamenting my own losses lately and dwelling in the land of self-pity more than necessary.  But it’s not just about body image or ability.

She went on to talk about the yogic concept of santosa:  contentment with the way things are.  This is different from gratitude, which is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.  She asked us, if we would pause for a moment each day this month to consider santosa, and to be mindful of it, as we contemplate thanksgiving (with a small t and also with a capital T) this month.  Instead of being grateful for what we have, what if we were content?  I think I am pretty good at being grateful, but I am still learning to practice contentment.  We are powerless to change much in this life, but we are utterly capable of changing our own perspective about anything at all. 

Sometimes I think of the phrase contrast aids perception, but in my mind I often confuse it with contrast aids perspective.  So often we forget that contentment and gratitude, as well as unhappiness and desire, originate from within.  But contrasting ourselves with others often leads to unhappiness and desire rather than contentment, unless and until we begin to look to others as teachers.  I often find myself reading true adventure-disaster tales, and I think I start reading these books because I wanted to know what happened.  Now I think I read them because I want to learn something about the nature of the human spirit:  how did this person survive this experience?  what was it that he or she found within that elicited the courage to continue?  We’ve all survived something, be it cancer, the death of a loved one, or simply Monday morning.  What is it that gave you the courage to keep going?  And how can we find and practice contentment in that?