When I was twelve - big hair, big teeth, big feelings – I came home on Valentine’s Day to find a present waiting on the porch. A heart-shaped box of chocolates with a picture of the comic strip figure Ziggy. His chubby body stuffed into the striped costume of an inmate. His hands gripping the bars of a jail cell.
Help! He cried. I’m a prisoner of love!
My heart beat wildly as I read the attached note: To Sara, From a secret admirer.
Seeking protection from disappointment, I instantly assumed a ruse. My sister shrugged, my mother shook her head, and when I accused my brother, a practical jokester fond of mailing me fake birthday letters from far away places, he looked insulted.
“Please,” he said. “Do you really think I’m as low brow as Ziggy?”
When no one else claimed responsibility, I let myself – my awkward, bookish, greedy-for-romance pre-teen self, equally inspired by Sweet Valley High as with Shakespeare, supermarket aisle romances as with the biblical Song of Songs – feel that I might be admired, loved, and longed for. Alone in my room, I held the chocolates and closed my eyes, revising my fear that I would someday end up a lonely spinster, allowing myself instead to dream: of whom this admirer could be and what about me inspired him and if I would soon have my first kiss and if we would then marry and have kids that looked just like him, probably a tall, athletic version of Harry Connick Jr. (the only “boy” heart-throb poster I kept on my wall).
Heart-craving plus mind-spinning = absolute disembodiment. By the time my mom called me to dinner, I was floating on a swell of joy and anticipation so intense I had no idea where the ground was. Gingerly, I placed the chocolates on my desk as if I was laying down my very heart, right there in the open, exposed and pulsing with heat, and then I let this cresting wave carry me down the stairs and into my meal and through my dishwashing duty and never had food tasted better or conversation been easier or dishwashing more enjoyable.
More! My heart-mind screamed. Give me more of this feeling!
“All minds whether brilliant or dull,” writes BKS Iyengar in Light on Life, “are equipped with a simple and instinctual survival tool that says, “Repeat pleasure and avoid pain.”
The drug of love. The addiction of admiration. The draw of desire. Though I had no awareness of it, I was experiencing the momentary, sky-rocket high of attachment to a source outside of myself, believing that something external would feed the craving that had awakened within me. Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, under the influence of desire, I believed this source to be unstoppable, satiating, and able to expand exponentially, building, growing and replenishing itself for all eternity.
I wish but for the thing I have, Juliet tells Romeo from her balcony just hours after they meet, craving more of him even as he stands there, present, available, and gazing up at her.
I, too, desired more of what I had been offered, but when I burst through the door to my room, I found not expanding abundance but extreme annihilation. There were the chocolates, crushed into the carpet. There was the box, torn to shreds. There was the note, smeared with slobber. And there was the destroyer, my very own version of the love-crushing Capulet/Montague feud: matted ears and bad breath, saggy eyes and floppy jowls, bared teeth and wet nose. My family, responding to my cries of rage, watched with barely concealed laughter as our dog Spunky slunk into the bathroom like a creature from hell, wedging herself behind the toilet where my anger could not reach her.
How quickly life’s experience can turn from pleasure to pain! And how responsive is our heart! Flipping from love to hate, euphoria to despair in the span of a second. I wept in the age-appropriate manner of an adolescent girl with a flair for the dramatic, one who had never had a valentine admirer beyond her father. What was the point, I pouted, of a box of chocolates that could never be tasted? What was the point, I sulked, of experiencing the pleasure of an open heart only to have it hurt, poked at and shut down again? It was easy to return to the notion that I would end up a spinster and that in fact life would be easier that way. I would be alone and tough, unable to be hurt. For weeks, I kept that bit of box that said I am prisoner of love, reliving both my desire and disappointment, locked into my own jail of ricocheting emotion and unaware that I was holding the key to my release, that I was both prisoner and tormentor.
Perhaps you are tempted to laugh, as I have many times, at the intensity surrounding this box of Ziggy-themed chocolates. What could be more poignant and ridiculous than the thwarted desires of an adolescent in love? But then I recall just last week (and last month and all the years of my life) when desire in various guises held me in a powerful grip, for minutes, hours, sometimes much longer. Desire for more of what I’d barely experienced. Desire to undo what I’d already done. Desire to find out what would happen next. Desire for affection. Desire for companionship. Desire to hear what I’d always wanted to hear.
Pleasure. Certainty. Control. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat again.
As human beings we feel we deserve resolution, writes Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company.
She goes on to describe the difficulty of staying with the raw sensations of the heart and the various emotions connected to it, and of resting in what she calls the middle way. Not here, not there. Not left, not right. Not someday in the future or back there in the past. Not more of this or less of that or different than now. The middle way lacks a spot on the map and a clear, comforting narrative (love gained, unchanged, and possessed for all of time, for instance!). The middle way is, in fact, not a place out there at all but rather a path that originates from within and takes us deeper inside on a journey with no end.
But what is the benefit of exploring that path? After all, as any adolescent/human person knows, the fluctuations of the heart can make us feel so good! Does the middle way mean not feeling as deeply? Does this kind of hovering groundlessness mean settling for toast without butter and pretending cheerfully that it's fine?
No way, explain both Pema Chodron and BKS Iyengar. Feeling is what the heart does - particularly related to the shifting external circumstances of life - and no matter how we try to cocoon ourselves in comfort or numbness, heart-ache and heart-joy and heart-break and heart-ease will come and go. So, the question is not how we might toughen up or reduce the amount of emotion we experience, but how we can watch our heart-minds without reacting, how we can stay with what we notice, how we can then keep ourselves open and willing, strong and clear, soft and resilient. How we can, ultimately, release ourselves from the prison of our own emotions.
The ancient spiritual practices tell us how and scientific research supports it! Meditation. Asana. Pranayama. Prayer. The key to enduring the fluctuations of the heart-mind – and ultimately stilling them - is to turn from and tune out the shiny glitz of the outer world in order to experience the quiet nourishment that exists within the internal space. We might not feel that nourishment immediately – it takes practice and time to detach from the illusive sources that will never sustain and to become aligned with the subtle waters that will that never run dry - but we stick with the practices anyway. We continue to watch, notice, honor, laugh at and stay with whatever arises in our yoga practice, in our meditation, in our lives. And we make efforts to connect with and direct our breath in order to still our nervous systems, steady our hearts, and hydrate our bodies.
When breath prevails, Iyengar reminds us, desires are controlled, the senses are held in check, and the mind is pacified.
I wish someone had taught me that when I was twelve. I wish someone had smoothed down my tightly coiled brick wall of bangs, helped me to place my own hands on my heart, and showed me how to sweetly breathe myself into the middle way, into connection with the steady source of nourishment that is ever-available and without end.
It is Valentine's month, my friends. Month of heightened hopes, rekindled desires and subtle/not-so-subtle disappointments. The perfect time to connect with and befriend your own heart, to examine your habitual reactions to the heat of desire, and to gently, lightly offer yourself practices of middle way nourishment and care. Catskills Yoga House is here to offer you the tools to connect with the fiery beauty that is your own heart.
With this deeply-feeling, ever-dramatic, fully-alive heart, I am yours in movement,
EVENTS and WORKSHOPS
Winter Goddess Retreat
with Alison Sinatra
Saturday, February 24th * 12:30-6 PM
The amazing Alison Sinatra is back! Cozy into our beautiful, snow globe of a winter-time studio and experience a restorative and comforting 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 water and woods to help us work with (not against) the quiet, soft, and introspective space that winter creates. Through asana, prayer, conversation, meditation and song, we’ll be held by winter’s softness and emerge feeling rested and restored and supported by sacred sisterhood. Expect a delicious snack/meal prepared by Tanya Himeji-Romero 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 18 women, this event is filling up fast... only a few spots left!
Reserve your spot here
Spring Gong Bath with Ricarda O'Conner
Saturday, April 7th * 4-5:30
$20 Pre-Reg / $25 Same Day
Kick off your Spring season with a deeply renewing bath of sound. Healer, teacher, and musician Ricarda O'Conner will guide you on a journey to reset and recalibrate your nervous system... something we could all use after the long winter! A gong bath meditation restores the harmonic field of the body. The sound waves emanating from the gongs come in through your ears, but also move through your body, gently guiding you into deep relaxation. The gongs recalibrate and rebalance the body, mind and spirit, raising your vibration and returning you to your essential resonance.
For this event you will lie down on a yoga mat, close your eyes, and simply let the sound wash over you. Please bring a yoga mat and a pillow and/or a blanket and eye covering if you wish. The more comfortable your body can be, the more beneficial the experience. For more about Ricarda, please see www.ricardaoconner.com.
Reserve your spot here!
THIS AND THAT
Kid's Movement and Dance Classes, Starting Soon!
Tiny Dancers/Big Moves
with clyde forth of Lokasparśa Dance Projects
Fridays, 4:15 - 5pm beginning February 2nd.
Registration for the Four-Class Series: $48
Single Drop-in Classes: $13
Tiny Dancers/Big Moves is a movement class for children ages 3-6. The approach of TDBM is an open but disciplined introduction to moving, understanding, and expressing through the awesomeness that is our human body. Using both live percussion and recorded music to inspire, we explore rhythm, space, and gesture. Maintaining a spirit of free play, students build skill in managing their movement, respecting other bodies in space, and creating with direction. The objectives are to instill life-long appreciation for dance, love and respect for the body, and ability to express ideas and feelings confidently.
Boys and girls should dress in soft comfortable clothing. No special dance wear or footwear is necessary.
For more information on clyde forth and Lokasparśa Dance Projects, please see www.lokasparsadance.org.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Registration available here.
Due to low attendance, Wednesday night classes have been canceled.
Please feel free to write with dates/times for classes that you hope to see on the schedulethis Spring/Summer. I always welcome your feedback!
Looking for a beautiful, 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.