Fat on Silence

 

I need to write it down. I should do this before true memory fades and is replaced, as it so often is, by a recall that looks like The way I wanted it to be, or The way I think it should have been. This is what we do, being humans of great imagination and great fear. We twist and rearrange the past to suit our current longing or passion or outrage or collection of beliefs.

Here, then, is what’s left of it, the details in no order of significance. If you read it and relate, that is le cerise sur le gateau, French cherry atop French cake. I should tell you, since truth is being honored here, that writers write what first and foremost will save their sanity, which means they write for themselves, whether they tell you so, or not.

For the record, it was surgery on my dominant foot. Neither the largest reconfiguration of bone and cartilage ever, nor a mere removal of some tiny irritant. The Podiatrist called it a Big One, and said the recovery would be the hardest part. A slice was made, and ten years of free floating stuff was vacuumed out, and tattered cartilage was cut away. Bone, grown spurred and convoluted, was planed down, made smooth and then holey, ready to receive adopted titanium parts. A plate and seven screws married foot’s old bone in a ceremony of bright lights and shiny, sterile tools, officiated by a surgeon seasoned in the ways of the human foot.

It was December, and I planned as much as I could for the extended period of no weight bearing. Yes, it hurt. It was hard in all the ways you might expect, and a few you might not consider. While I was able to schedule a break of several months in my Yoga and Yogabilities™ teaching, the rest of the  process was quite complicated by my role as primary caregiver to Bink, my adult daughter with special needs. But it’s the afterwards I concern myself with here.

After the first week or so, I got used to needing assistance with many activities of daily living. Superguy began to adapt to doing the chores and errands and caregiving that typically make up a good chunk of my days. As I stabilized, he felt freer to leave the house for longer periods of time. I had some visitors, but there were lots and lots of spaces in my days, stretches with no people, or very few of them.

I’m an introvert by nature, and the intensity of my care giving experience tends to add extra appreciation for solitude and quiet. I’ve never been one to shy away from being alone. That said, I’d also never had weeks of enforced couch time in a very quiet house. When Bink was at her day program and Superguy was off at work, I had hours and hours of time and space.

I read. I watched the collection of home shows I record on a regular basis. House Hunters International is my only mode of world travel, after all! I did some art, and wrote a bit. After some time I was also able to wheel myself clumsily around the house on my nifty knee scooter, but most of my time was spent sitting.

I resisted it at first, and spent a little time feeling sorry for myself. The magic—and I can’t call it anything less— began to manifest slowly, and only when I allowed myself to surrender into this lifestyle. I required the acceptance that my primary vocation for a while would be healing.

It’s taken me many months to write about this, and I am still struggling for the best words to convey the transcendent experience I had while I was confined to my house for those few months last winter.

In Yoga tradition, we all contain five bodies of life force that nest inside each other. The layers are made of increasingly finer grades of energy. During my couch sitting weeks, it was as if the edges of my energy bodies spread and became more porous. All that activity I was so used to, had been keeping my energy confined to a certain size and shape. When the structure of my life fell away, the collection of energies known as me began to expand, and in the process, I welcomed a deep peace to trickle into my being. It became flood, the landscape altering kind, unlike anything I’ve ever known.

This was a peace that needs a new name, like superpeace or hypercalm. It settled over me like the softest blanket, lightweight but warm enough to melt the frozen places in my heart and soul that hadn’t seen sunlight in years. The hours of silence and solitude were nourishing some bits of my insides that I didn’t even know existed. In circumstances that I thought would drive me nuts, I found a state of deeply serene acceptance, a wild form of being present that went beyond meditation. I didn’t realize the extent of the effect until I was exposed to the outside world again.

After weeks of confinement, the only exception being follow up visits to the foot doctor, my Superguy and I decided I could go out of the house on a little field trip. He helped me into a portable wheelchair we’d acquired to get me to and from the house for said appointments. We went down the street to Panera bread for a cup of tea.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you my senses were bombarded with haphazard grenades of color, light and noise. It was jarring, to put it mildly. I’d lost touch with how loud and chaotic and abrasive the sights and sounds, textures and energies of the cars and clerks and crowds are. I remember actually recoiling at the store signs and the speed with which all those tires on the roads kicked out snow and gravel. And the pace! Frenetic, dizzying. I was exhausted after that first outing.

Subsequent outings had similar but very gradually more muted effects on me. When I was finally able to drive again and I began doing all the things I’d been relieved of for so long, I vowed I would hold on to the peaceful state I’d been gifted through my convalescence. It faded, though. The figurative leap back into the busy swirl of my life demanded my focus and energy. I’m sad to say that I felt myself contract again, fitting back in to the expectations that my life before the big surgery was modeled upon.

I’ve not forgotten my experience, though. I’ll call this somewhat inadequate attempt to convey it to you a victory, because I’ve resisted even trying to explain this for so long.

A few years back, I wrote the following on one of my Yoga Facebook pages:

“There is a quality of fullness in silence, in emptiness, in spaces. Spaces nourish and soothe and spaces can heal. The space between sentences, between breaths. Space between footsteps and activities and thoughts. The space to be, the space to be with, the space to do small things well.”

Today I kneel before the transformational power of experiences we may dread and avoid. I bow to the possibilities that exist within the fullness of emptiness, and I testify to the immense importance of spaces between things.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

The art that blesses my listening hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Art with Beach Stones

My home hums with them–—
the smooth and rough,
pale and dark,
striped, speckled,
some with lines,
or bits of mica
mesmerizing the light.

They number
in the thousands by now,
populating table
and bins and buckets,
lining mantels and
perched on shelves,
all holding the sea,

having chosen to be plucked,
over years,
from their temporary,
sandy homes on beaches,
Massachusetts mostly,
with a Rhode Island minority,
a Florida few.

They called to me as I strolled,
or else I spied them first—
glimmering with sea water

having just rolled in
with latest tide,

or perhaps half buried
among their brethren,
co-habitating peacefully
in their transient villages

along a shore dotted
with shells broken and whole;
scallop and clam, oyster
and the thin,
pale yellow jingle shells,
the occasional smooth sea glass,

strewn with the crunchy brown or
slippery green salty seaweeds,

among seagull leavings
and the remnants
of humans at rest and at play—

and I asked the stones permission,
waited for yes,
cradled them
with my work worn hands,

guided them
into my cloth bag or
scratched bucket.

My home hums, perhaps
three thousand stones,
alive
as you or I,
just vibrating slower,

and they answer
as I approach, as I
hold, inquire
with loving intention,

as I invite them into art forms,
cairns,
ancient and new,
stacks and lean-tos,
bridges and
little families
all supporting one another.

We try one side, then another,
collaborate to find
balance

and then,
then we pause
breathe
feel,
and I wait for their final yes
or not this one, not now.

Together we make magic,
my humble hands
aligning each stone,

knowing
with all my six senses,
when I hear

yes. Right there.
We are perfection now.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

NOT ZEN, BUT NOW

Being present is easy when the blue sky moment is trimmed with green grass, when temperate breezes blow your hair back gently from your bright, clean face. You can hop off the worry train quickly in such minutes and hours. You can drop your baggage carelessly to the ground without so much as a glance towards where it lands, and feel your sneakered feet happy on some surface that may or may not be level. You can take the world and yourself exactly as it is, you are.

It’s jumping off in the dark that’s tricky, first opening your chest and reaching in deep for your courage and the faith that you’ll be welcomed by some surface, that you won’t fall and keep falling into some gaping chasm that opened in the earth while you were busy regretting and planning and being all sorts of things except grateful.

When the moment you are living in, the only one you have (which is all any of us have, ever), is a really shitty one by most measures, because you’re watching someone you love deeply (say, your child) suffer, and you can’t fix it, being present doesn’t feel like any gift you want to accept graciously, or at all.

We can know what we know, you and I, about the transient nature of pretty much everything; how all things pass and we are just temporary sculptures made of bits of stars and dust from dinosaur bones and the dreams of our ancestors. We can know all this and still want to do almost anything but be with the most painful parts of our existence.

And yet.

And yet, in time and over days colorful or washed out, through dark, thick nights and between joy sandwiched by crusty miseries, our capacity to sit with it all increases. It might be imperceptible for a long, long time, and then one day you mirror gaze and your jaw drops. There it is, your shiny heart, visible right through your tender skin, and it’s drumbeating and voluptuous, stretched out by all the exercise of crying and breathing and laughing and coping. It’s huge, in fact, and strong enough to hold you and everyone you care about, and even a few you don’t. Right about then you might remember that you’ve made it through absolutely everything so far, and even the thorniest ground doesn’t feel quite like a match for your deceptively tough lower body. Then you sit right there in that moment, and maybe you don’t feel tempted to pretend to be elsewhere at all.

And so.

And so you get up in the morning and pour a hot cup of something like tea. You drop in soy milk that turns the tannic liquid the color of hope. You wake your kid, even if she’s been up ten times in the night, and begin. You begin because it’s the only real choice, and maybe this day you stick around for more of the moments than you did the day before. You don’t zone out as much, or numb yourself as often. You don’t project, or regret, or try to edit what hasn’t even been written yet. You face what arises without censure, because you know and keep knowing you’re strong and wise and sober enough to sit or stand or slow dance with any given moment, be intimate with it, and then let it
let it
let it
go.

–Melinda Coppola

 

The Art of Being Present

art by my friend Marina Powdermaker. Find more of her work at https://www.etsy.com/shop/MarinaPowdermaker

PAST

where I am rereading the same testimonies from the same perspective: accused, accuser, over and over the details wearing deep grooves into the ledger in my mind. It must be truth, Mind says then, because I can’t erase the lines.

FUTURE

has to be better than the here and now. I can make it better. I must! Ghosts from presents past are riding my shoulders, clinging to my beltless loops as I try to be light, unencumbered, different than before. Not just different, but better! It must be, I must be.

PRESENT

is like painting with my hands, in watercolors. Moments melt into hours into whole days like huge blank walls with no rules allowed. Some lovely velvet jazz meanders through my consciousness. Here I learn to stop discerning boundaries, all that versus of mind/ body/ spirit settling into patterns, now shifting again and again, the leveling sand between layers. It’s like finally falling awake this day to the bright understanding that life is papier mache, layers of transparent color cleaving to a whole. We gotta be in it to see it.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

Of Two Minds, or Many

What if there’s no such thing as right side up?

 

Of Two Minds, or Many

When Left Brain speaks,
she is right on
about doing it
right or don’t do it
at all, do it
all right, do it
right now,
for all the right reasons.

Left Brain says I’ll whip you
into shape and that would be square,
four equal sides,
no curved lines,
nothing left over and nothing
to spare.

Right brain listens
before she speaks,
and after,
or doesn’t speak at all,
just listens, nods,
listens again.

Right could not care any less
about being true to her name.
She knows what’s left
after all the talking and listening,
after all the reasons and arguments,
what’s left is the raw, moist truth.

Right sings to left body,
coos and coaxes, makes suggestions:
Write with your non-dominant hand.
Pick up the paintbrush, charcoal,
Breathe out a poem before breakfast.

Chakra Theory says there is a meeting place,
a union of two minds,
found deep in the Ajna* forest
of your third eye, where the trees glow
an unearthly shade of indigo
and the birds, when they come,
beak out soundless songs
that make exquisite,
immediate sense.

It’s on my To Go list,
this mercurial destination,
and I know I’ll get there someday,
but right now, my Left says
a unified I
is on the no fly list,
and balance evades,
and all my selves seem content
to wander internal circles,
muttering niceties to each other,
and humming.

 

—Melinda Coppola

* Ajna is the Sanskrit name for the Sixth ( or brow) Chakra, home of inner knowing and intuition, where the energies of Yin and Yang meet

Yogabilities™: Peace as a civil right

Doesn’t everyone deserve to be peaceful?

 

When I tell people that one of my occupations is teaching Yoga, there are some common responses.

Oh, I love Yoga! I take it at the gym/the cool studio in the upscale shopping center down the street
or
I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible enough.
                          or, perhaps
I read an article about how many NFL players do Yoga.

When I tell people that one of my specialties is teaching adapted Yoga classes for individuals with special needs, there’s also a common response, variably worded but along the lines of:

               Oh, that is so wonderful that you do that for them.

Translation: you must be a saint. You are so self-sacrificing. That must be so hard.

Insert audible sigh here. I know this territory. As mother of a young woman with special needs, I’ve heard things like it all her life.
1. I don’t know how you do it.
2.
You have the patience of a saint.
3.
God gives special children to special people.

Those are well meaning comments, I know. And sure, it can be really hard, and I do happen to have super-sized patience. I also believe that each incarnated soul is special, and God//Goddess/Universal Life Force has a way of putting the right souls together to help us learn and grow in the ways we most need to. In other words, everyone—parent and child, with or without extra needs— is special, so therefore # 3 applies universally.

When someone would roll out the old “How do you do it?” in the past, I was often too tired to answer, or too taken aback, or too caught up wondering how the hell this person knows what it is I actually do with my kid, given that they maybe just met me.

As my daughter and I grew older, I’d more frequently have the right snappy response, which is “ She’s a blessing.” Short, true, succinct. These days I’ve added on a few new handy lines, also true,” If this were your child you’d do anything you could for her, too. You’d rise to it. You probably have moved a few mountains for your own kids, right?”

So, back to the Yoga teaching. I’ve been teaching my adapted classes, which I call Yogabilities™, for about 11 years now. Like most things in life, I’ve learned as I went along. I’m not a saint, it isn’t a sacrifice, and Yoga is not some special privilege that only belongs to the, umm, …so-called typical folks.

In our times, everyone has stress, most people have anxiety, and I’ll drop and give you twenty push-ups right this minute if you can find someone in your daily life who does not contend with poor sleep patterns, inability to focus, lousy posture, stiffness, or difficulty with balance. Everyone can benefit from Yoga.

Further, people with special needs have more stress than many. Society often treats them like children all their lives, limiting access and choices and self-determination and robbing people of a very basic human right—dignity. So, if anyone is more amazing than anyone else, it is my Yogabilities™ students and their peers. They deal with challenges we can only half imagine, and many do it with humor, patience and grace.

I love working with these particular students because, cliché as it sounds, they teach me as much as I teach them. There is no pretense as we sit together and breathe, practice being present, and share strategies for coping with anxious and unpleasant feelings and situations. We all seem to accept each other rather unconditionally. My experience with my own daughter serves as a constant reminder to release any rigid agenda, meet each person as they are, and go with the flow. Moreover, these students and I seem to co-create an energetic space where each person can feel welcomed and safe. In that container, I’ve seen magic happen.

On those Yogabilities™ afternoons or evenings when I am particularly tired and would like to just stay home and catch up with laundry or check out with an HGTV home show, I cue up a mantra from my daily life and let it nudge me into place: I GET TO, as in

I get to be her mother
I get to go teach Yogabilities™.
I get to spend time with some of the most interesting people I know.

So yeah, I get to share my knowledge of Yoga with people with special needs. Some of them are saintly for putting up with the rest of us. I don’t know how they do it. God must have created the circumstances whereby they can teach me the stuff that really matters. It’s so wonderful that they do this for me.

–Melinda Coppola
www.SpectrumYoga.net

5/24/17

Today I celebrate my incarnation

Fifty six trips around the sun,
carrying a moniker
that took decades to like,
and I continue,
residing more,
or sometimes less,
inside this soft tent of skin
held up by strong bones
that shape this form
we keep agreeing to call me.

So much to marvel at,
a couple tens of thousands
of sleeps, of sunrises,
so many chances
to shake it off and begin again.

If I could line you up–
the ones who noticed,
and the ones who never did,
the ones who took me in,
or under a wing,

and those who laughed at me,
and those who laughed with me,
and those I loved but never told,
and those I didn’t love enough,

and those who knew I could
when I thought I could not,

and those who spoke truth
even when it shattered me,
and those who lied to me,
and those who betrayed me,

and those who were afraid of me,
and those who were afraid with me,
and those who lost hope,
and those who gave faith,
and those who questioned,
and those who accepted,
those who showed up
those who left without leaving a note,

those who explained themselves,
those who never tried,
and those who encouraged,
and those who could not,

if I could gather you all together
I’d go bowing through the crowd,
hands in loving mudra
thanking each of you
with my sentient heart,
for all of it.

As it is,
I ruminate
on how you helped me grow,
and how I hope
perhaps I helped you, too.

I kneel and praise a universe
that does this,
that keeps us
offering ourselves to each other
over and over,
as rough stones,

each encounter smoothing a jagged edge
through pleasure or pain,
returning us as pearls
to a larger sphere in need
of our perpetual adornment.

Melinda Coppola

Welcome, Winter!

img_3231

Solstice 2016

On this, the shortest day of the year in my part of the world, I have a confession to make. I’ve been swirling, these darkening days, around and around like a pile of dry autumn leaves. Allowing myself to be picked up by the loudest winds of fear and unrest, carried this way and that, and spun around until I am dizzy. I’ve been letting this happen. And, because I know better, and because I sometimes ask others to know better, it seems appropriate to re-publish something I wrote for my Yoga students a few years back. It goes like this:

How to Welcome Winter

Listening is a dying art and science. Let’s listen to ourselves for starters. We begin to complain about the shortage of light. It is so much harder, we’ll say, to slip in the walk/the run/the gym/the sunrise Yoga, almost impossible, we’ll agree, to Get It All Done. The Holidays, someone will whisper, and you or I will nod gravely and point out the circles beneath our winter eyes. And if we pay attention we’ll hear ourselves repeat the litany of insults that Winter has hurled against us, has slid underneath our skin. It’s so cold, we’ll say to anyone who’ll hear. We’ll find new ways to explain the way the damp chill invades our very bones and how even the car groans when the key inquires about a ride to the market. The market! The lines are long, the fruit is pitiful, the prices prick our sense of decency. Damn the season. You know the one, the one where we are supposed to Joy! and Cheer! and Buy! our way to a healthy economy and happier family and friends.

Stop. Hear yourself. What is it your body needs at this time? Your mind? Your soul? We drown out the true voice within with our very human tendencies to complain and rail against what is. WHAT IS. We know, don’t we, that no amount of protest will raise the temperature, coax the daylight to linger a little longer, or stop the incessant cultural noise that exhorts us to continue on without change as if there wasn’t this season called winter. As if the natural call to slow it down, get a bit more sleep, find refuge in quiet practices….as if there was no wisdom in that.

Winter wisdom doesn’t whisper. When we listen, winter wisdom belts out it’s songs with bold baritone vibrato, sharp and clear in the frigid air. There’s a foot of snow on the ground–stay in! It gets dark earlier; go to bed earlier too! It’s cold outside-eat warm nourishing foods! I am winter, season of introspection. Go within; meditate and bear witness to those seeds sleeping under the frozen earth. They will bear fruit in their time and your worry will not hasten their germination! At least that’s what I hear winter saying, when I really listen.

You faithful Yoginis and Yogis are likely to have a more highly developed ability to tune in and really listen to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. That is, after all, a huge part of our practice, isn’t it? The witnessing without rushing to judgment, the respect for natural cycles and our place within them? This season, let’s do it differently. Let’s go slow as if this is the most natural thing there is. Let’s remember that we are enough, we do enough, and that the gift of being present with ourselves and each other is truly the greatest gift there is. That’s when we can begin to pay attention to that spark of light that flickers in you, and you, and you. We recognize it because it lives within each one of us, and we are mirroring each other. It’s the great grand NAMASTE, the honoring of the divine and universal light and life force in each other that emanates from one source, call it what you will. And that, my friends, is the essence of Bhakti Yoga; our devotion, yours and mine, to what created and sustains you and me and everyone else. It’s highly personal and universal at the same time.

I think winter is a beautiful symbol for the going within that is an essential part of the process of realizing who we are and what we are here for. I also think that’s a run-on sentence, but I digress. What do you think?

Take care, stay true to what grounds you, stay well,

Melinda

 

Why Yoga Matters Off the Mat

yoga[1]As I prepare to return to teaching classes next month, I’ve been musing and mulling over new ways to translate the essence of the great big practice that is Yoga. My desire, when I teach, is to reach underneath what you presume Yoga is, or isn’t, and touch your curiosity about your true nature. You know what I come back to again and again, though? There is no real way to explain why your practice changes you. It just has to be experienced.

Yoga is so much more than prescribed body proddery and an opportunity to slow the heck down. The practice is like skin, stretching to adapt to the changes within as we grow and shrink, get taut and then get loose. Mostly, we choose how much we let our Yoga ripple, from that 75 minutes once or twice a week on the mat, outward to encompass moments of intensified awareness: while driving, walking, being with transition to sleep or waking.

We humans can be very good at compartmentalizing, keeping details in their place and honoring divisions between this hour and that, this person and that other one, this insight and that chosen blindness. Yoga practice can weaken the walls that we build to separate ourselves from others and from our own essence. The word Yoga actually means union, to yoke or join.  Body, mind, soul, are not strangers to each other. If we allow, Yoga takes us by the proverbial hand and leads us gently deeper into exploration of what it means to be alive as flesh imbued with something sparkly—call it Spirit or Universal Energy or God or G-d or Goddess.

This – the being alive – is so like a dance. We say yes, then no, we allow ourselves to be led, and dipped and twirled. We hesitate; back into a corner, take a break, decide a different partner will, well, change everything. We’re always dancing with some aspect of ourselves, though, so any coupling or uncoupling just gives us an opportunity to meet ourselves again and again. Yoga as a Way is continually offering up a new window, and the more we peek or study the view the more it begins to look familiar, like a spiral that appears to move outward, yet, when studied, leads in, and in, and in. There is space there, inside. Loads of it. Space and silence and, sometimes, the deepest peace you’ll ever feel.

 

 

 

 

MEDITATION | Meditation, Poetry

IMG_0123

The Sit

When I am asked how to meditate
There are no words the color of presence
No shapes that look like attention

I can only tell you what my senses tell me
Or how I dread and then savor it
And how little I attend to such reaction

Most of all I love the earned silence
The way it drapes over my shoulders and
Fills the hungry belly of my soul.

The deep delight lives,
not in sweeping thought away,
But in having no attachment to mental litter.

The sit asks little, really. Just to
Do it, please, and be with what arises.
Just to be it, please, and not do what arises.

-Melinda Coppola