Soft and Supple Will Prevail

Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail. ~ Lao-tzu

It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself. We practice to change the way we live, to face the facts of the matter. ~ Karen Maezen Miller

I am going away in a few weeks to what I’ve been calling “yoga camp.” I’m going to Kripalu in far western Massachusetts to get my teacher certification. How badly do I want my certification? I’m honestly not sure. I’ve been doing yoga for about 18 years without it, and sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine teaching now at age 44, with my ankle getting all gimpy and while carrying some extra weight. But maybe now is exactly the right time.

More so, I am going in order to enter a transformational space. To wake up every morning for a month in a place that was sacred to the Native Americans who lived their for centuries and then to the Jesuits who built a chapel there and then to the ashram that would eventually fall on bad times before rebirthing itself as a retreat center. I want to wake up every day surrounded by people who are on their own conscious journeys of transformation and discovery. I want to eat food that’s been made with the intention of feeding people on such a journey. I want to embrace others who will surely come forward on the first day or two there and say what I am also thinking: “I’m not sure why I’m here; I’m not sure I deserve this.”

Tonight I read that by 2050 — the year my daughter turns 49 and by which time I may have grandchild – the world population will have increased such that there will be the equivalent of two more Chinas. I read this just after looking at heart aching photographs of birds caught in the oil in the Gulf. An animal’s holocaust, I read someone saying – so true. This news, these images made me all the more ready to go.

And believe me, I almost haven’t gone several times.  The idea came to me suddenly this winter and ever since I’ve been putting it into motion. I move forward with the idea and my life seems to move forward along with it. I hesitate with the idea – grow fearful and pause, and my life seems to pause, too. It is important – somehow – that I go ahead with this. I’m not sure what I’ll find there, what will click or shift in myself, but I’m confident that something will. It is only a month. Though this sometimes sounds like forever in terms of being away from my kids, I also know that it is not so much. And yet – enough.

Just going is part of the lesson I am meant to learn.

Shell and her daughters in Mexico.

I think of my friend Shell who has gotten herself to writing retreats in Mexico and then Hawaii and then San Francisco — took her daughters along on the first two — despite living a pretty bear-to-the-bones existence. Of another writer friend, Hope, who years ago took her daughter to a shaman in Belize despite having no prior reference or belief in such a healing system. And from that experience her life changed, the way she mothers and the way she operates in “the West” shifted profoundly. There is also my other friend Hope who last summer met a Dutch woman while hiking the Dingle Way in Ireland. They were both caring for elderly mothers who were ill. Along the route, they would run into each other and as women hiking alone, they of course started talking. The conversation continued through email and phone calls and then visits. Now, they are together – getting married as soon as  Hope gets to Antwerp, where she’s moving.

Each of these women went when it wasn’t the safe thing to do. None of them has or will regret it.

Seeing people’s reaction to this trip has been full of lessons. People are enchanted. People I hardly know are so happy for me and full of good will.

I think all of us want to live our lives in the truest way. We’re battling and puzzling out this whole work/money/spirit conundrum — year after year we fiddle with it. So many of my mama friends do this — my old photographer friends – Flynn and Julia, one on each coast. I think of how we met at Microsoft years ago and how we could still be there — safe and with ample money in the bank. Instead, each of us scurries for works; grits our teeth on deadlines; and prays that freelance jobs will pay.

Flynn and Juniper

And though yoga camp is clearly not any solution to this conundrum — I’ll be amazed if I actually make any money from teaching yoga, assuming I find a place to teach — it is part of the puzzle. It is the leap of faith.

I’ve been struggling lately with doing the right thing versus doing what is in my heart. A dear friend pointed out that these, in theory, should be the same thing; if something is “right” it should also be good for the soul, and vice versa. Too often I get in a tizzy about work deadlines and bills and my messy house and the roof that needs repairing and my body’s need for more consistent cardiovascular exercise. I whip myself with these shoulds and have-to’s. I have been very good at this form of self-abuse since I can remember. But more and more I see myself do it, and I know in my gut that it’s not helping anything.

The night before mother’s day, I emailed a bunch of artist-mama friends who inspire me and asked them to send me photos of themselves with their children. More than a few sent me photos and some sent little stories or memories. I was excited. But then I felt like I had to do something very clever with them. What was supposed to be fun was suddenly yet another reason why I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Ugh.

So the photos have sat. But the feelings behind them and what they represent have not. And that’s this sense of a group of women who can be fearless, who combine their passions for their art and their children, and who somehow manage to stay afloat financially — I mean, no one’s roof has fallen in on her yet. Their examples continually inspire me. Such as Karen, who just today wrote:  “Enlightenment, Dogen Zenji taught, begins with the recognition of impermanence, the moment we perceive the utter and astonishing transience of life, the moment we see through the constructed illusion that anything stays put. …It is a mistake to think we practice to change our lives, because life changes by itself. We practice to change the way we live, to face the facts of the matter.”

Julia, Jen, and Karen - with kiddos

This kind of practice is why I’m going to Kripalu. This kind of noticing – slow, thoughtful, daily, and patient. Ahhhh, thank you Karen for reminding me – again!

And I’m thankful for my friend Jen. We’ve only spoken a few times but each time it’s been long and very, very fruitful. I type out things she says as we talk because they’re just so good. Her story of bringing her friend’s daughters from Rwanda to live with their mother in the US is awe inspiring — makes me feel downright lazy, though I know this is the last thing Jen would want. What she’s said before is, “If you want to stay in that house, then go around and love it. Light candles. Burn incense. Do a smudge. Tell it you’re staying despite the roof and the windows; they’ll wait. Just be there.”  … and here I am. Staying where I feel it is right to be. Listening to my inner voice.

Monica and Gabe - then and now

Down the street is Monica, who has gotten a bill supporting midwifery passed in Iowa. More amazing to me than her very impressive state capitol lobbying is the story she shared with me of having her son Gabe when she was 19. The tale is long and has many dips and arcs, but suffice it to say, even then at such a seemingly tender age, Monica was clearly someone who LISTENED to herself and who followed what she needed to do without falling off course from the shoulds and the have-tos–not to mention the perhaps even more awful supposed-tos. Her guides led her down a not very easy though a fairly specific path–that of young, single mother, and fearlessly she followed. This has made her who she is today:  resplendently strong and open-hearted.

“Why are you going; what do you want?” my friend Chris asked me two weeks ago about Kripalu when I was hesitating, when I nearly called them and asked them to send  me a refund. “To surrender and go deeper,” I said without hesitation. Which is, of course, the essence of yoga itself — exhale and surrender; inhale and try to reach just a centimeter further, to lunge just a tad further. Let go in order to become more.


a sign at Kripalu

7 thoughts on “Soft and Supple Will Prevail”

  1. I so loved and needed to read your stories today, of your own and of these women who have chosen the not-as-safe (i.e. known) route. It takes presence to do this. And practice and trust, sometimes beyond anything we thought we would ever be able to do.

    I’m rambling.

    Gratitude, love & solidarity.

    1. You so do not ramble, Jena. Thank YOU for being among those who have given me the courage to make this choice. I look forward to reconnecting when I return. I think anything before that might be superfluous!

      best ~ J

  2. jennifer,
    you’re going to be an amazing teacher; you are already. motherhood gives birth to pupils and you have raised and taught two beautiful beings to be in and of this world so fully. embodying this yoga journey will enrich the lives of many, many, many. so go, let your intellect protect your motherly instincts, defending it from doubt. can’t wait to take your class!

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    My friend, Catherine White, shared your blog with me a while ago. Yoga teacher training (with the Integral Yoga ashram) was a gift I gave myself two years ago. I loved the physical challenge and the spiritual immersion and, most especially, the chance to step out of my life as a mother and wife for a month. I came back to motherhood renewed. Enjoy the journey.

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