When I first looked at Lina, it was to study my opponent. There on Decatur Street, across the squares of a street-wide chess board, she stood draped in white. Tight tank top. Ankle length skirt. Bare feet. The white queen to my black in a human chess game. Boldly at ease. Hot sun illuminating her tan arms, her elegant neck, her high cheekbones.
I felt clunky in my black jumpsuit and red boa, my oversized sunglasses and wild pony tail. Next to her simple grace, I was trying too hard and it showed. Ordering her team members from here to there, she smiled gently, distracting us all from the intensity of her wit and competitiveness. She was royalty who chooses the back row, authority who governs away from the spotlight. I myself loved the attention, jumping playfully from square to square, more court jester than worthy queen.
Naturally her team won, and before I could meet her she had floated off. I looked longingly after her as the space between us grew. Already the lessons in letting go had begun.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness, writes Kahil Gibran, the great sufi poet. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Such a beautiful image. Such a great idea. The open plain that offers a wide perspective. The vast sea that allows for a long view. The spaciousness that invites breath to move and blood to circulate and authentic life to grow. And yet, in the actual experience of my heart, while in day-to-day relationship with those I adore, I crave the bond not the space. I crave the closeness and the fiery union and the puzzle-piece connection. Because such passionate merging is rare, when it happens, as it did with Lina, it is accompanied by a dizzying pleasure that only makes me want more. Of the person. Of the feeling they ignite. Of plans for the future. More of that best friends together forever solidity of adolescent fantasy and delusion.
When Lina and I met at a bar a few nights later we were both in braids and striped socks and our eyes met and a millenium of connection pulled us towards one another. It seemed that throughout time we had cycled through every manifestation of relationship - sisters, lovers, parents, children.
"Hi," we said shyly, letting our souls' connection find a new form in this lifetime.
"You were that white queen," I said. "So lovely and graceful."
"And you were the one in black," she laughed. "You had such flair, such brightness."
No matter how loudly the band played that night they could not keep us from talking. We yelled our life stories over the guitars, the drums, the bass. Sitting on the floor, oblivious to dripping beer and dancing bodies, the bemused and envious gazes of our partners, we pressed our bodies together, shoulder to shoulder, head to head, best friends on a school bus, two halves of a heart necklace uniting.
I remember it was hard to part that night. I remember that we held each other close. I remember that we both, at the same time, said, I can’t believe I met you. There was a wonder to her, a magic to our connection.
When we did part, as we had to again and again over thirteen years of friendship, it always hurt a little. Saying goodbye. Letting go. Surrendering to the space between our togetherness.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, advises Gibran, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Living hours apart with busy lives, we saw each other when we could. Soon Lina had a third child and I moved even further away and then she was diagnosed with cancer and our goodbyes became harder and time became even more precious and it contained always a love-at-first-sight magic, an old-soul knowing. I tried to enjoy it for what it was - to be alone and yet resonant with our heart's connection like the strings of an instrument. I tried to hold her and our friendship loosely, to appreciate our different ways of connecting and reaching out, to rest in the truth of our love, which I knew was undiminished by time or space or the constraints of this physical world. But this heart! It wanted more! The bond. The closeness. The merging.
In the Buddhist tradition, craving is considered one of the three main kleshas - poisons - and it causes our worlds to become small and tight and cramped. It's like you're“sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, writes Pema Chodron, but all you can see is this piece of chocolate you’re craving.
Sure, the chocolate tastes good, but more attractive than the pleasure we remember is the feeling that we can actually do something. We can hold the chocolate and smell it and unwrap it and eat it – or not eat it. In other words, we can control it. But the Grand Canyon... what do we do with that? All that beauty? All that space? How do we fully take it in, let it move our hearts and change our lives? And then, more importantly, leave it behind?!
It was like that with Lina -our connection that full of wonder, her presence and friendship that inspiring - but my mind was often distracted by what I wished was different and what I hoped I could control. That we lived closer, that we talked every day, that she didn’t have cancer, that we would never be parted. I wanted the rarity of our love, the grand canyon beauty of it, but I also wanted to contain it and hold it close. The irony, of course, is that when we hold a person or an experience too tightly, when we are captured by the power of craving and become too close to what we want, we can’t actually even see it. We can't know it in its fullness, the fullness that attracted us to it in the first place.
And so I did what I knew to do. I breathed in the pain of our parting and I breathed out ease and space. I practiced saying goodbye again and again, and I learned to let go and trust. I surrendered to the distance, though usually not with a good attitude, usually with a whole lot of craving still in my heart, and I tried to be as gentle with myself as she was with me. I loved her as well as I could, from across the space of two states and hundreds of miles and the differences between us and the nine year humming threat of her death.
And then all the practice added up to the real thing, the big goodbye, when a year ago on August 14th, Lina passed away. She left behind three children, a husband, hundreds of admirers and a legacy of beauty, generosity, and intelligence. And while she taught me about all of that and much more – about courage and joy and equanimity in the face of suffering - what I learned most from her had to do with the grandeur of space, the beauty of the open-hand, and the practice of non-attachment.
Stand together, Gibran writes, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
The black queen and the white queen witness one another from a distance, neither understanding her own unique beauty until the other, from her space apart, sees it, shares it, and rejoices in it. In that space, an ocean can thrive with life, a meadow can bloom with wildlife, a temple can soar with inspiration, a friendship can flourish. In that space, there is no craving and no constraint, no container and no control, only souls on a mysterious and wonderful journey, coming together and parting, coming together and parting, in different forms for all of time.
In our yoga we practice this art of making space and surrendering our craving. In our breath we experience the fullness of inhalation and the letting go of exhalation. In the physical shapes of asana, we encounter limitations and tightness and also experience great opening and release. We gaze at ourselves - our emotional responses and our habitual reactions - from a distance and with a gentle spaciousness. We become our best friend, the one who sees the large grand canyon truth of who we are and our place on this Earth and sees that it is big and beautiful and complicated and we hold it all with lightness and wonder.
I invite you to come to your practice - here at Catskills Yoga House or elsewhere - and come again. In craving or in space, in joy or in grief, in holding or in releasing. We will honor the space together.
As always, I am yours in movement,
UPCOMING WORKSHOPS and EVENTS
Catskills Yoga House 2nd Birthday Celebration
Saturday, September 1st * 10-2 * By Donation
Our official birthday was August 1st, but we'll dive into our celebration and close out the summer with a Sara Beck-led slow flow, renew-restore style class from 10-12. Accompanied by beautifully curated music and culminating in 15-30 minutes of chanting and meditation led by the amazing Thiago de Melo, the class will be invigorating, devotional and restorative. Following the class will be an optional old-fashioned community potluck lunch in the studio with creek dipping encouraged!
Space in the the class itself is limited - only 10 spots left as of August 20th - so please reserve your spot here. All are welcome for the potluck, including extended families and friends who don't practice but are moved to celebrate and support the studio.
Goddess Retreat with Alison Sinatra
Saturday, October 6th * 12:30-6 * $100
The amazing Alison Sinatra is back! Settle into our beautiful studio with spectacular views of ripening, reddening foliage and experience a restorative day of connecting with yourself and other women. Alison, with over fifteen years experience as a yoga teacher and leader of women's circles, is known for her warmth, intelligence, and humor as well as her ability to hold deeply sacred, healing, love-filled space. She will draw on the energy of the earth and sky, the water and the fire, to help us work with the organic and dramatic transition of the fall season. Through asana, ceremony, conversation, meditation, breathwork, sound and song, we’ll be held by the vigorous beauty of Autumn and emerge feeling rested, restored and supported by sacred sisterhood. Expect a delicious, locally foraged, lovingly prepared snack/meal as well! This is a perfect event to attend alone or with a sister, friend, mother or daughter. Beginners welcome! For more about Alison, visit her website.
With space for only 20 women, this event will fill up fast.
THIS AND THAT
The LAST Reiki, Chant, and Stillness Class
will be held on Sunday, October 14th. If you've never experienced this beautiful, deep, uplifting class with Thiago de Melo, you have two more months to get yourself there. Every Sunday between now and then from 6-7 PM. You are going to feel so so good when you do!
Stay tuned for Fall Schedule changes beginning in October
If you have an AirBnB rental
and you love the studio, then please take a few schedule cards and encourage your guests to come on by and take a class or two. Word of mouth is where it's at!
It's a beautiful time to be here in the Catskills and particularly beautiful here at the studio where our practice space overlooks two lush acres of garden and forest and a wild, rushing creek. Book now - or encourage those you know to book - for private classes for wedding parties, birthday gatherings, anniversary celebrations and other special events.
Looking for a lovely, quiet place to practice your healing art, meet with a client, rehearse, have a dance party, give a performance, practice an instrument, host a class or...? Catskills Yoga House is available for hourly rentals! Please write for more details.
Class cards and Private classes make great gifts... for yourself or another!
$80 for 5 classes, $150 for 10 classes, and $280 for 20 classes. $160 for unlimited monthly and $650 for six month unlimited passes. Custom-made and designed gift certificates available. Private or semi-private classes allow students to deepen and customize a practice, work through an injury or limitation, create a home-practice, celebrate a birthday or anniversary or have a beautiful, personal experience with a friend or partner. Please email for more information. Classes in the studio or on site in your home.