Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “meditation”

Tucking in Stray Thoughts

I was unbegrudgingly late to yoga today and was rewarded with a bit of insight.

I was late because Owlet appeared inside with a mildly bloody finger just as I was about to leave. Thor was with Platypup outside and would have handled it for me, but she would’ve gotten upset at the delay in bandaging.

I didn’t hesitate, or feel overly stressed about being late. I took exactly the right amount of time to hug, wash wound, apply ointment, wrap bandaid and tape, and say a slightly hurried goodbye, and then I left. I didn’t speed on the way there or feel my body contort with tension. I sang gustily to myself in the car, as is my habit these days, parked with the usual care, walked briskly but not urgently, and arrived roughly ten minutes late, with just enough time to set up and settle in before the opening meditation period ended.

This is far from the way things might have gone. More often than not I would have shunted Owlet onto Thor, she would have cried, and I would have left feeling both annoyed and guilty only to discover that I was also running late. Hopefully I would have resisted the urge to speed too much, but would definitely have hunched forward in my seat with too-tight limbs and a furrowed brow, parked in a rush, run across the street, and awkwardly whispered a flustered apology in the teacher’s general direction as I shuffled in, out of breath and clumsy with stress.

It would have taken half the class just to unravel the morning’s damage.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my flexibility, strength, and mental focus had all mysteriously improved since my last class several weeks ago.

At what felt like just the right time, we concluded the active portion of class and submerged into yoga nidra. Usually when I meditate I treat thoughts as gnats, mostly to be ignored, the more persistent ones brushed gently away. Sometimes I let my mind ramble a bit first, recognizing that my time for lucid uninterrupted thought can be in short supply. I almost always eventually coax a sweet, elusive stillness into joining me.

I was alternating between periods of gnat-swatting, stillness, and mind-rambling when I found myself mulling over a parenting gem I keep as close to the top of the heap as possible since I would very much like it to one day be second nature. It is the best (though oh so hard in the heat of the moment) way I know to respond to a child spiraling out of control: namely, to articulate your best guess as to how they are feeling. Every time I do it, I am sure it isn’t going to work, because the kid usually ramps up their upset in response, but immediately thereafter a corner is turned and soothing toward equilibrium is magically possible. Because more than anything we all just want to be understood.

All in a moment I realized: this is a way to approach meditation.

When a thought appears, I could shoo it away, or allow it to tumble into a horde of ideas running rampant through my restless mind.

Or I could truly see that thought, describe it briefly to itself, and then smooth it effortlessly back into stillness.

It shouldn’t work. Engaging the idea in any way should lead to the usual endless chain of follow-up, right? But something about the act of succinctly rephrasing… It just so satisfyingly works.

It works so well I can’t even remember what those stray thoughts were, and usually I do because I figure if it was important enough to interrupt my meditation attempt it deserves attention later (again, not unlike a child).

The process goes something like this. Let’s say I am distracted by lesson planning. I then say to myself, quite gently, “I am concerned about issue &$@ with student XYZ.” And that finishs it. And my mind is left utterly clear.

Like working a stray piece of yarn seamlessly into the pattern, then setting the completed garment aside.

No. Easier than that. Faster, too… I do so hate the tedium of weaving in ends.

More like tucking in the tail of a ball of yarn: one quick move and no more unraveling.



Question #21: Noble Grammar Snob?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 21: Is upholding the finer points of grammar a noble endeavor or petty snobbery?”

Most of my life has been spent in accordance with the official rules for the English language, and a good deal of my teenage and adult years have been spent looking down upon those without skill in this arena.

Then awhile back I read this post by Painting the Grey Area.

Go on, read it. I’ll wait here.


So. Thoughts?

To me it resembles nothing more than the issue of classical music (orchestras especially) in modern society. As a classically trained musician, I have done quite a bit of thinking and reading on the subject (I highly recommend Greg Sandow’s blog) so will start there and extrapolate back to our question of grammar.

Classical music is not better than all other musics.
Yet classical music is a richly rewarding art form.
On average, more training required of its performers, composers, and conductors than rock or pop.
It provides breathtaking scope and depth of emotion as well as the development of ideas over time to an extent unmatched in the traditional popular arena.
It has a subtlety of tone color, dynamics, and melodic complexity not often found elsewhere.
Yet it also requires more of the listener — not in terms of education, as some feel, but in terms of focus. Despite common usage, it makes poor background music, in my opinion, compared with rock, pop, jazz, “world,” or any other genre. Complete aural submersion akin to meditation is best.

And back to official laws of English grammar? Can we rephrase the above?

High-brow English is not better than all other dialects.
Yet it is a richly rewarding language.
On average, more training required of its speakers and writers than other dialects.
It provides breathtaking scope and depth of emotion as well as the development of ideas over time to an extent unmatched in the traditional popular arena.
It has a subtlety of tone and grammatical complexity not often found elsewhere.
Yet it also requires more of the listener — both in terms of education and in terms of focus. Despite common usage, it is much less readily texted on mobile devices. Complete visual or aural submersion akin to meditation is best.

My answer, after much mental wrestling? Both, of course. Upholding the finer points of grammar is a noble endeavor when constricted to one’s own writing or via formal education or informal education by request of the recipient only, and petty snobbery if used against others with scorn.


I stepped briskly across the melting frost yesterday morning. Chill breeze, warm sun. A wakeful blend. I was headed to yoga, but instead of dancing out of the house, light on my feet without bags or babies, I was anchored slightly by an old friend: my cello, along for the ride.

The full tale begins last October at the fundraiser my friends and I put together for a rockstar of a child named Caemon. Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of last summer, just before his third birthday. He is currently recovering from bone marrow transplant and preparations are being made to ready home for his return. You can follow his story here.

I was lucky to receive a raffle item at the fundraiser: one month of unlimited yoga classes. In order to squeeze every ounce from this unexpected windfall, I waited until quiet January to begin my month of yoga.

Most mothers of young children do not take month-long yoga sabbaticals. No time! Cooperation from Thor has been essential and ongoing, and I know it hasn’t been easy for him to take on extra hours of solo parenting beyond our usual balance. It is a gift I will remember long after our children are old enough to put themselves to sleep.

I’ve enjoyed several forms of yoga over the years — Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Kundalini, as well as unspecified Hatha yoga — and anticipated a relaxing break and the chance to regain some semblance of shape after months of pre and postnatal sloth. I had no expectations beyond that, which is truly the best way to begin any adventure.

My toes sank gratefully into the heated entryway floor that first day, and my mind reveled similarly in broad bare floors spread beneath a high peaked roof adorned with silk and skylights. I gathered equipment together and, taking my cue from those already assembled, settled into the light meditation common to the first minutes of yoga.

Class began with guided attention to breath, again not unlike my past experience with yoga, but once we began moving I immediately felt a departure. Where other classes had either swung briskly from posture to posture in an effort to raise heart rates or stayed resolutely mired in a single pose with instructions to breathe through the discomfort, Triyoga moved slowly, lithely, deliberately from one position to the next. Those postures that were sustained were entered and exited with glacial grace so as not to break the serenity draping the room like fine fabric. Props were encouraged and frequently offered to avoid strain wherever the well-trained instructor’s eye saw need; clearly, pain was not revered as the route to yogidom here.

Somehow, yoga and tai chi had a love child, and I was only finding out about it now.

Immediately my composer’s fingers itched to depict the slow, graceful arc of class, to weave its flowing form into music. The recordings used in class formed a quiet, subtle ostinato; the melody was in our movements, a thrumming heterophony as each person followed the tempo of their own breathing, synchronized yet individual, like waves, or souls.

My inner musician already thus delighted, it was chocolate truffles after all-you-can-eat sushi when the chanting began. In the Basics level, class closed with three simple repetitions of “om,” which was invigorating enough, but in the Level 1 classes the teacher and more experienced students would soar confidently through an intricate melody while the rest of us fumbled behind, longing to follow.

I was hooked.

I went home and taught what I remembered to Owlet, and she was adorably approximate in her mimicry, her enthusiasm entirely unsuited to slow, precise motion, her small child’s flexibility more than making up for it.

Suddenly, I was hooked not just on my behalf, but for her and Platypup as well. Unobtainable visions filled my head of gentle little yoginis in moving meditation. It was akin to being handed a recipe for raising happy, fulfilled, peaceful children. I might fall short of the ideal in execution, or my cooking tools might be less than perfection, but with a good recipe one usually winds up with a good end result if your chef is moderately skilled.

I feel moderately skilled.

Gosh, I hope I am moderately skilled.

Before long I realized, with a flash of insight, that it might be a gorgeous thing to accompany Triyoga class with my cello. I wanted to suggest it, but the clear, open, nearly memory-free mindset I obtained through yoga combined with the need to fly back to my nest meant the opportunity never presented itself… until this past Wednesday evening, when I arrived to find a guitar player settling in to play for the class! It was very nice indeed to have live music, and afterward, a simple thing to suggest I do the same with my cello.

Of course, I have hopes of trading cello playing for yoga classes, who wouldn’t, but first I wanted to offer the studio owner a gift as thanks for the donation she made on Caemon’s behalf. I spend so much of my professional life as a musician fretting over money; it felt freeing to be donating my talents in this way.

Yesterday I arrived early to attend the first class of the day as a yoga student and play for the second class. I would gladly augment warmup time at the cello with yoga in the future! When the time came for me to play, I was loose, relaxed, and focused.

I began with a free improvisation somewhat based on the opening to Randall Thompson’s Alleluia crossed with a fragment of Triyoga chant. I eventually settled into a rubato version of Morten Lauridsen’s Les Chansons des Roses. I used the two movements I knew the best to form a large-scale rondo for the duration of the class, interspersed with my cello accompaniment to Thor’s version of California Stars, the G major Sarabande from Bach’s cello suites, and several original improvisations. I returned to some of my opening material toward the end and finished with long, drifting harmonics as the class settled into closing meditation.

Uncomfortable chair aside, it was blissful.

I may have been built for this, a thousand strands of personal history leading here. Or it could be one shining moment and that’s it. I don’t know.

It has been a long time since I’ve done anything that effortlessly and had it mean so much.

An Atheist with Two Churches

Owlet, Platypup, and I made our triumphant return to Quaker Meeting today. (In case you missed it, here’s the prequel to today’s post.) The Unitarians were having some sort of regional shindig a few towns south of here that would definitely have messed with naptime. (Never mess with naptime.) I’m feeling pretty good about my decision not to go based on naps alone — both kids and Thor are all zonked out at the moment!

It was nice being back. Owlet is still shy when people start conversations with her, but she’s very comfortable in the kids’ room with a babysitter she loves. I’m not sure she even noticed or cared when I left to go into meeting! I hadn’t been able to decide what to do with Platypup ahead of time, partially because I couldn’t predict what state he would be in upon arrival, but since he took a mini-nap in his car seat on the way there and was in great spirits as almost always, I left him in the kids’ room, too. It was bizarre to go in so unencumbered by children or their belongings, and I dove into meditation with an unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for crawling into bed at night.

It was refreshing. I have a tendency to get too cerebral even in meditation, but today my mind relaxed more easily than usual and I fell into a really fun, kind of playful state. I spent a longer-than average amount of time connecting three basic ideas: the goosebump-inducing climactic points of several songs Thor and I were rehearsing yesterday, the overwhelmingly painful stretching feeling just prior to Platypup’s birth, and the standard “open mind” image I usually target loosely while meditating. Other than maintaining my focus on each, I didn’t try to make anything “happen,”  which is another trap into which I sometimes fall, and I think that may be why I was able to enjoy my triple analogy for as long as I did. It is only now, back in my analytical mind, that I notice one reason why it may have seemed so stable yet powerful — one image for heart, one for body, and one for mind. Neat, huh?

Thus soothed and invigorated, I was perfectly poised to receive the community’s response to my return. They did so with expert grace. Each person I conversed with — or even just made eye contact with! — sent me an extra dose of kindness, but nothing more gushing (and therefore more embarrassing) than that. It was exactly the right amount to make me feel welcomed but not overwhelmed.

I’m glad I resisted the urge to make a snap, black-or-white decision after the “incident” a couple months back. I didn’t decide to stay and be uncomfortable, and I didn’t decide to cut all ties and go for good. A break, and a different experience in the meantime, were exactly right, and the whole experience has been remarkably drama-free. All along the way I’ve felt myself staying true to what is best for me and my little family. Today on the drive there I remembered something the Unitarian minister had said while welcoming new members a couple weeks ago, something like “you know you’ve found the right place when you leave one week saying ‘those people are crazy!’ and still come back again anyway.” Choosing to return… it feels really good.

Going forward? I think I’ll spend some time going back and forth. I like the music, the ritual, and often the sermon at the Unitarians. I like exposing Owlet to more kids and being able to keep Platypup with me without feeling disruptive, even though he and I spend a lot of time popping in and out for diaper changes, swaying at the back, or playing in the room where they have live video and audio feed of the service. The UU feels like an extra-special slice of what the world has to offer. I’d like to keep it in my life to some extent.

But Quaker Meeting feels like home. And after seeing Owlet there today, I sense she feels the same.

It’s nice to be back.

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