Curvy Yoga and the Cultural Revolution

anna gj headshotBack to this blog again after a hiatus, I am still thinking about work.  Still working at the disability center, still writing, teaching one yoga class.  It’s just the writing that has changed:  I started freelancing for pay again, this time online.

But I felt a need to get back to this blog.  “Work from the Other Side” still draws me, because I’m still obsessed with questions of how we can work in ways that suit us, even energize us, but that are also gentle for the planet and the other creatures who live here.  And in my new freelance work I encountered a woman who started a business that fits the bill and also has a bit of that counter culture flavor that I dig.

That’s Anna Guest-Jelley and her Curvy Yoga “training and inspiration portal.”  Now here’s an innovative business meeting a true need.  Curvy Yoga provides podcasts, writings, videos, and now books that provide a new angle on yoga, one for people who are bigger bodied.  It serves as part advocate, part educator, and part trailblazer showing us a way to practice yoga that is good for our bodies and ways to make yoga more inclusive.

Guest-Jelley calls herself “a writer, educator, and lifelong champion for women’s empowerment and body acceptance.”  Says she, “I’m here to encourage people of every size, shape age, experience level & ability to grab life by the curves. And never let go.”

What I like about her work is that she has stepped up and spoken out about an issue that isolates many of us, that she is clear and professional and provides quality tools and education that are accessible and free.  She’s providing a tremendous service to many people who feel excluded from the fitness yoga craze, or even from the “gentle yoga” classes found in studios.  She’s speaking up about learning to accept one’s body and claim the right to honor it and to exercise as one wants and needs.  Guest-Jelley is also providing imminently practical advice.

Most of all I like that her business encourages women to be and love themselves while simultaneously challenging the paradigm of our society that values only certain body types.  On top of it all, it she is running an awesome website and has created her own niche.  Cool, I say, bring on more.  More of Curvy Yoga, and more new businesses that empower, more ways to make a living doing the empowering, more innovation in business and healthcare, more challenges to the status quo.

Gather the resources, network, spread the message.  I see Daniel Pink’s “right brain” approach in action, I see Seth Godin’s “post-industrial revolution.”  In Anna Guest-Jelley, I see finding one’s potential, clear presentation of message and values.  Hope my encounter with her “infects” me to spread a message, connect, and change the world.   Thanks Anna!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Quitting their jobs

IMG_1872Three of my friends quit their jobs last week.  A fourth intended to quit on Friday, but she decided to do a bit more planning for her transition.  Do I want to join them?  Yes and no.  Not yet. I am learning new skills, writing job proposals, talking to people about jobs.  My time will come, and in the meantime my friends inspire me and make me wonder about this sea change in all of our lives.

We are five of us women, in our forties and fifties.  I think of all of us healers in our own ways.  Maybe, just maybe, we are a few of those women the Dalai Lama spoke of when he said “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”  It is not his words that motivate us, and none of us has a lot of money; in fact we are scraping by or in debt.  But we know we have to do something different in work and in life, something that comes from our hearts and that begins to set us on a gentler and more life-affirming course, beyond the consumerism and the reductionism in our healthcare system (we are all involved in social work, healthcare, or psychotherapy).

Why do I say we are healers, particularly since that word is not usually associated with jobs in our time?  Because I feel that is our essence.  My friends are all deeply spiritual, and two are natural counselors whose intuition is keen enough that they sense the larger issues of a person’s life or circumstances.  They are able to convey their awareness and help others find their own deeper motivation.  Another friend, a teacher turning psychotherapist, is deeply intelligent cognitively and emotionally:  her clear awareness and compassion a gift to those who work with her.  One is a musician who works with people with disabilities.  She fell recently and experienced a severe concussion from which she healed through brain integration therapy, and she is learning this modality herself, exhibiting a natural ability for using acupressure and energy to help others with head injuries, learning disorders, and physical/emotional integration struggles.

Me?  I am drawn to write and educate, to support new models of health and mental health care.  To help people rediscover the wisdom of their bodies through movement, mindfulness, and inner exploration. To communicate new ways of being to our society, and to be part of a new sustainable economy.

When I get discouraged, or feel like I will forever be underemployed, I think of my friends, of these wise and gifted Western women.  Of their insight won from struggle, from continually listening to their hearts, from living in a great deal of uncertainty while remaining committed to meaningful work and their own authenticity.  We cannot ignore the awareness of a need in our society to change direction and live more gently on the earth, and these friends help me remember that truth.

There is something greater at work than our getting and spending, then our procurement of jobs with money and benefits, than our struggles with alienation or of feeling we do not fit.   I think of wise native people who remain clear in their awareness of spirit and nature, who consult the wisdom of the elders and honor the sacredness of earth, humanity, animals, and plants.  As we five women step forward we carry a trust in the necessity of doing our work, of making a stand for humanity’s  richness and creativity as well as its inseparability from the earth we live on.

Self-sufficiency or community effort?

IMG_1646In a job interview this week I was asked about my philosophy on self-sufficiency programs.  The interviewer was referring to public aid.  I spoke without thinking based on assumptions I have held for years, and then I realized that my perspective has changed.  It is far more nuanced than it used to be.

My current job has shed much light on the subject, and life experience has made me wiser.   I still believe, as I told the interviewer, that society is healthier when it provides safety nets for the most vulnerable, and I am very conscious of vulnerability, having lost my physician father and my vibrant yoga teacher at young ages.  I don’t think a society that tosses people aside at the least infirmity is a society at all.

Working at a disability center has shown me another side to the whole issue of public aid.  I meet people who just cannot work because of illness or physical disability, and I meet others who experience a job loss, temporary illness, or divorce, who lose their ground and cannot regain it.  Time stretches on, they lose skills and confidence, and some never get back in the race.

Yet I am most struck by the “invisible disabilities.”  Actually, the term “disability” becomes meaningless because it seems one sees it everywhere.   Personality disorders like narcissism, for example, or a nervous temperament, or alienation stemming from abuse have a profound impact on a person’s work life.   Some people possess undefined cognitive issues that hinder them in the work place, problems they were able to compensate for when they are young, but which trip them up as they age.  Some people may even be affected by birth trauma in ways that are difficult to understand.

I work with people on the staff who have CP, quadraplegia, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis.    Some use a minimum amount of help and make the most of it, while others spend a fair amount of time soliciting and getting all they can.  Why is that?  Is it character?  Personality disorders?  Were some of us taken care of too much so we became overly dependent?  Are these issues even quantifiable or interpretable?  There is so much that is murky.  These days I wonder if that uncle who was a “ne’re do well” had cognitive processing issues that tripped him up.  Or if that college graduate who partied a lot and 15 years later is unemployed might not have experienced sexual or physical abuse and have post-traumatic stress disorder.   If that terribly shy person did not experience secure attachment with his mother and can’t get his feet on the ground.

While character and discipline are part of the discussion when it comes to work engagement, these other issues do exist, and an individual often becomes ashamed and defensive, or tells herself a story about how the world is unfair or how she is a “waste case.”  I’ve seen people who cheat, or lie, and that troubles me, but now I see how even those behaviors can come from a poor family that has used those strategies to survive.

I draw two conclusions on this subject of aid.   One is that hidden trauma can cause disordered thinking, excessive shyness or anger, or lack of confidence.  An individual cannot regulate her nervous system and develops an addiction.  My second conclusion is that discipline and integrity are as important as ever.  The people who come to work with us in our center are generally inclined to the expectation to be willing to learn new things, to change, to receive support and make the most of it.   We expect each other to be honest.

For some reason, public aid is a painful subject for me.  Probably because it appears that some of our social supports are being drawn away.  I have had my own work struggles, my own year of unemployment, and after working in a poorer community with people with disabilities, I have seen even more vulnerability.  Perhaps my discomfort stems from how deeply I believe the whole society is healthier when we provide help:  We cannot take social programs for granted, and yet I think we have done so.

These days the rich are getting richer, and the social aid systems seem antiquated and underfunded.  I think we have to start where we are and care for each other, build sustainable communities, find work for people who can do something no matter how small or easy.  I believe we people at the ground level will develop sustainable communities, if we consult our hearts.

In reading Yes! magazine, I came across a story about a Canadian man who suffered a severe neck injury and had a hard time finding a job that would accommodate his need for shorter shifts and frequent doctor appointments.  A non-profit agricultural operation hired him on flexible terms.  The organization provides work for many people who face barriers to employment.  It received loans and financing from a Canadian Credit Union that funnels a portion of its earnings to charitable giving and to building up the social economy in Canada.

This magazine details many such instances of co-operative ventures, of social economics, of businesses embracing low-income folks or those who have experienced life setbacks. We need to build a new social economy, a new social “safety net.”  It’s good to see the effort to help those in need is addressed by businesses, communities, and innovative programs, not just the government.  People working together are a big part of the solution.  They are the green shoots in the Spring of a cultural shift.

How do you think?

IMG_0886Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society.  When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.  Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture.  This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy. 

-Norm Chomsky

This quote stopped me cold.  It is just as relevant years after college as it is right after, and it applies to our work and financial lives years after college.  It makes me really ponder the influence of debt, or high expenses on how we think, how we live.

I am very fortunate by birth and family background that I do not have debt and can work in nonprofit organizations.  Every day I am struck by my upside-down job (unusual by most standards) and my great fortune to hike in the Rocky Mountains and hear my own thoughts.  I know lovely people who work in the healing arts, in nonprofits, and in carpentry who look wryly at the consumer economy, whether through circumstance or choice.  Though our income is limited, there is enough to live on and room for commerce of minds, hearts, and hands.  Energized with meaning, connection, and work to be done, these folks do not worry much about money.

My own job involves working with people who are visually impaired.  I do a lot of outreach and education, helping the motivated learn assistive technologies and cane travel.  At my center I also teach yoga for people with disabilities, develop communication materials, assist the director, troubleshoot computer problems, and handle a myriad of other tasks from taking out the recycling to setting up for events.

I encounter people from all walks of life.  An Iraq-war vet from the Louisiana bayou who is psychic.  Kids who are developmentally disabled and help out in our office once a week.  University students studying human services or special education who visit or intern.  People who have had strokes or heart attacks or who deal with multiple sclerosis.  People who have experienced healing and people who have not.  Liars and saints and people changing through community.

Here again I see provision for needs, whether it be through laws, food banks, Habitat for Humanity, grants, donations, volunteer services.  Yes frustrations, limitations, and inefficiency are present, but I also see people working together in advocacy groups, wellness classes, yoga.  And I see organizations collaborating, a willingness to find help and resources for folks in need.  There is less bureaucracy, less ego, less time spent posturing than there might be in other settings.

Most importantly, I see people change.  Coming to this community, an individual becomes less reliant on doctors, medications, social services, family members.  As they learn about managing their finances or health, find ways to work even if volunteering, and take part in activities, they begin to feel better and they develop a different conception of themselves.  They make do with the resources they have, make more connection, work, play, and laugh.  Whether they struggle with a mental illness or physical disability or chronic illness, they can begin to relate to the world as Mary or as Jim, rather than patient or client.

I see parallels with this model of support in my community of healers and freelancers.  We work together on solutions or simply share ideas.  We barter, simplify, grow food, start business and meetup groups.  We find ways to get what we need and to contribute.

It is when we get taken in by debt or fear (this happens to me fairly often) or “The System” that we cannot think.  We think we cannot afford to question, or to seek out better ways of doing things, and we do not have enough time to connect with others to develop our thoughts or find encouragement for our ability to effect change.  We are not as receptive to the beauty and possibility around us.

Chomsky’s words remind me of a poem that has been circling through my mind since college.  The poem surfaces to my consciousness at odd times, stopping and refocusing me, in the way I assume that voices speak to others imparting wisdom or pointing toward a new direction.

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

If we are feeling subject to a disciplinary culture, as Chomsky says, we are more concerned about obedience to an economy that some of us think is destructive.  I think we are here to live this life.  To feel our bodies, to move with joy, to engage with our hearts, to use our minds to create art, bridges, healing practices, good food, and communities.  It seems that we as humans won’t survive if the system continues as is, so we may as well take a leap and try some brand new things.

Wrestling with bulldogs

IMG_0945Two years ago, after a year of unemployment, I began a new job at a disability center in a dilapidated building.  That same week, another woman was hired.  We bonded in the rocky adjustment to cluttered offices and murkily defined jobs.  Our shared discomfort in landing in this neglected corner of the earth, along with the familiarity of her Catholic sense of social service to my Methodist upbringing, created for me a strange sense of destiny.

We cleaned out our spaces, working through piles of files and discarded junk, dusting and sterilizing.  Then we began to define our jobs.  Months into this process, conflict arose. Katie, a Christian who had worked in mental health, is committed to service and motivated to serve.  She’s social, outspoken, and driven to help people change.  I, on the other hand, a strong introvert fresh off a year at home alone and two decades of writing work, was uncertain I should be in human services at all.

Katie is 70 years old and a great grandmother.  Raised by various family members and nuns, she brought up five kids on her own, earned two degrees, and became director of senior services in a nearby county.  She’s used to fighting her way through the world.  I’m an avowed introvert, and I was reeling in the chaos.  Since neither of us was given guidance or feedback we felt uneasy about our work, and we clashed.  Katie tried to tell me how to do my job while I struggled mightily to create my boundaries in an environment where staff and clientele seemed ready to intrude wherever possible.  While Katie attacked her job with a vengeance, calling folks to see if they needed services, developing new programs, and organizing new activities, I tried to see if I could provide service to the organization and clientele in a way that I could sustain, behind the scenes.

I’d hear Katie cajoling, challenging, and encouraging others.  But she pushed me to do the same, and I resisted, wondering at times if she was right.  We squabbled a few times over how I should do my job or the wording of a flier.  Yet she learned to let me be, and I started to appreciate her strength and to find my own.  I enjoyed her colorful stories of exotic pets, encounters with police, and her husband’s ranching family.

Slowly, I became better at outreach for my program and found ways to contribute.  I made a new website, redesigned the newsletter,  set up a series of workshops.  I learned and taught others about assistive technology.

I was adjusting, and at the same time coming to see Katie as a bulldog—indomitable, resilient, energetic.  On the other hand it seemed she couldn’t slow down and listen, and I felt like I was always wrestling with her.  We traveled to other cities together for conferences, trainings, and outreach, meeting with farmers and ranchers disabled by work or age.   Crawling back into my hotel room after a long day of meetings and lunches with my cohort, I could breathe again.

On the most recent road trip with my friend, she chatted away, ready to direct until we established a pattern of cooperation.  This week we went to a senior fair together in a small plains town in Colorado.  We’d found new sympathy for each other on that road trip, and when she started insisting on how a client needed to quit smoking, I laughed and pretended to bang my head on the steering wheel.  She laughed too.

At the fair I had an epiphany.  Seated along the wall adjacent to us were three tables, one for a senior living residence, one for assisted living, the last for a funeral home.  Katie commented on how the booths represented the stages we all go through and then started talking about her plans for where to be buried and with whom.  She joked about her sister in law and brother saying she could be buried in a stack three high with them, but she responded she didn’t want to spend eternity in between them.  “Well, we won’t be doing anything!”, said her relative.  Then Katie turned to the woman in the table next to us and began a lively conversation.  Sharing her experience as a gerontologist and spiritual director and learning about the other woman’s love of working with seniors in assisted living, I felt privileged to learn about work that is not often acknowledged and about these stages of life at the other end.  Here were two elders themselves helping people take their last steps on the earth.

My own process of changing in this strange job, of softening and opening, of letting go of my previous definitions of myself, seemed suddenly tremendously fruitful.  I felt wizened and blessed, strengthened by schooling about the stages of life and the forgotten areas of this human experience.  And I again had the sense of fate in my connection with this woman.

Here’s why:  Though we were raised quite differently, have different personalities and spiritual practices, we are also of the same ilk, fighters who have come to unusual perspectives on healing and wellness through our own experiences.  Katie is a strong spiritual being from a background of abuse and poverty, riches gained and lost, now in tune with the reality of aging and death.  A student of psychotherapy, Emotions Anonymous, wellness training with wellness wheel, and spiritual gerontology, she has wisdom to share in a world bent on material gain, youth, and fitness.

My life has been more stable, but early acquaintance with illness through my dad’s work made me a questioner, and my experience in Quaker meetings, with yoga and meditation, with managing health issues through holistic medicine, with mental health counseling and body-oriented psychotherapy, have led me to a perspective much like my coworker’s. We have the same sense of wellness as involving spiritual, emotional, and physical elements, of being a lifelong process of learning and letting go.

In this relationship, over time, our spirituality, our life struggles, and our experience with uncertain positions, led inevitably to a bond. So often, different languages, backgrounds, personalities, or fear and the need for clearly defined beliefs create barriers between us humans.  In this case, I now have a strong sense of crazy adventure and of a chance meeting of fellow travelers on the road, perhaps a cliché, but an apt one.

On that outing to the senior fair, I saw beyond the grind of a job into the precious encounter with the divine and a woman full of fire and spirit.  I felt I understood the biblical parable of Jacob wrestling with an angel.   I really thought I was wrestling with this bulldog, but it was definitely an angel, both the job itself and this bundle of love and courage that is Katie.

My lack of ambition

IMG_0325Ambition

noun

a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work : her ambition was to become a model | he achieved his ambition of making a fortune.

• desire and determination to achieve success : life offered few opportunities for young people with ambition.

ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin ambitio(n-), from ambire ‘go around (canvassing for votes).’ 

What is ambition?  Last week, my friend said she was struck that my partner and I accept each other’s seeming lack of ambition.  What does she mean?  Should I be offended?  My friend comes from a very accomplished family and has siblings and friends who have high status jobs and high salaries, its true, but I assumed she was commenting more on our acceptance of each other and our humble material status (I’ll have to clarify with her for sure).

Her comment elicited some interesting thought on my part.  Ambition . . . I think my partner and I have different organizing structures than much of society.  In a way we are dedicated to a lifestyle and to values of simplicity.  To gentle vocation . . . He is a carpenter who likes to build things, fish, mountain bike, and hike.  He is devotedd to me, to his children, and to his parents.  I am committed to a mission, in a sense, to help individuals and communities be healthier in mind and body.   Money therefore, is not the main motivator for either member of this couple.

So no, we do not have big, high-paying jobs.  We aspire to earn more money, but we’d like to do so by doing what we do better.   In the meantime we are happy.  We enjoy our relationship and lifestyle immensely, and we love living near the Rocky Mountains.  We have good family relations, good friends, good food, and time for books and building fly rods and writing.  We spend as much time as we can outdoors, and we consider ourselves richly blessed.

If ambition in our society connotes success, than I want to ask what success entails.  I identify with passion, with the development of excellence, with innovation, and with developing work, art, or vocation with enthusiasm and integrity.  Ambition can easily become merged with destructive ends, or it can be clouded by insecurity or the undue influence of others.  Consider the instance of the woman who becomes a doctor because her parents want her to while she wants to be an English professor.

So I don’t really identify with the concept of ambition.  Do I have drive?  Yes, I feel an enduring and deep motivation to investigate what it means to be healthy in mind and body, to live from spirit and humble inquiry into what spirit means.  Do I work hard and persist?  I think I do:  I work hard to integrate yoga into healthcare, and I challenge myself to work with others, learn from others, about what they need to be healthy, what helps and hinders.  I explore models of health and mental healthcare.  I keep writing and stirring up conversation on the issue.

I do relate to ambition more in the original roots of the concept, “to go around [canvassing for votes].”  I travel about, looking for like minded people, listening to people struggling with illness and pain, investigating organizations that were set up to help but may or may not be.  I read history and Eastern philosophy and explore various healing arts to learn more about where we came from, about our imbalanced institutions and professions and what might be missing.  I work in different institutions to learn when I am too idealistic and to compare notes with others.

What a different meaning the word ambition had originally.  The current meaning is one I relate to in this sense that I have of drive, but I am wary of how distorted, or corrupt it can become.  My driving question is, How do I live this one life that I have?  What do my head and heart say?  How does my body want to engage?  What makes me a better person, more present?

I want to be present, internally motivated, a healing presence.  I love this life.  I want children to grow up being honored and feeling free to follow their passions and to align those passions with their ambition rather than living a distorted or destructive sense of the term.  I want to enjoy my connection to the earth and to my loved ones.  I want to create and share.

You see, my friend’s comment made me think of lifestyle and motivation, but it also lead me to the idea of archetypes.  My partner is an artisan, and I also see him as a “husband” in the old sense of the word:  a master of the home who can construct the hearth, build the fire, feed his family, cultivate a garden, fish the streams and care for the earth.  What does a man like him do with ambition and pressure to succeed in the material world defined by the current version of Western civilization?  From my perspective, he is a companion, in the archetypal and practical sense.   Me?  Perhaps I am a rebel, visionary, or storyteller:  I am a person seeking to bring deeper wisdom to our society and our healthcare system.

It seems to me that once you touch into these archetypal energies, once you think of a life unfolding, ambition can show itself to be misguided energy.  For me the intrinsic motivation is the gem of a life, something more like the idea of the “daemon,” or forces of nature, or the gods themselves guiding us strongly and surely and shaping our outer life.  A deep and driving force inside us, something ambition, fear, and conformity can stifle.

My yoga career as a template

child pose eliza snow istockHave you had a lot of satisfaction in your career?  A sense of mastery?  The ability to make things happen?  Those are questions I wonder about, for myself and others.  Mostly because I have not found such attributes in abundance, at least not in my office jobs.  But I did experience them as a yoga teacher.

If you are imagining me as that advanced student, as master teacher demonstrating extra-advanced poses in my trendy yoga wear, let that picture go.  It’s not applicable.  Here is the real story:  I ordered a couple of half-price yoga pants online, incorporated some comfy tie dye t-shirts, and went looking for gigs.  I applied to various institutions, a recreation center, the local hospital, a corporation, and a drug court.  I was inflexible, shy, and naïve about yoga.  But I loved it and had to do it.

Teaching was excruciating for me for several years.  Sitting before a group of people and conveying something I barely understood was uncomfortable to say the least.   But darn if it wasn’t compelling, and I listened to feedback and learned.  I felt my way through, literally, in my body.  In this job I could move, demonstrate, engage physically, mentally, and spiritually.  At the same time, my yoga teacher told me that people would just be grateful to be led through a class, and her comment helped me relax.

I developed a sense of myself and a sense of my vocation as a yoga teacher.  I saw ways to integrate yoga into institutions, and I became a good promoter.  I felt motivated from within, energized by my work.  As I ventured into various organizations, I was not discouraged that administrators knew little about yoga, instead I became a translator between the institution and the practice, the fitness world and the mindfulness world.

About eight years in I became really good at teaching yoga, something I attribute to having lived and absorbed it and to the inspiration of a teacher who taught me what I most needed to learn.   From her I learned that yoga was more about undoing patterns and waking up, and I was able to guide people through that process.  For me, it was about educating the body, mind, and soul.

In my career I learned many skills, like teaching methods, communication, promotion, translation, conveying material through multiple modalities.  I used many of my strengths and learned to work better with my weaknesses.

In time I changed and began to explore the idea of educating about integrative medicine.  For a while I lost my bearings.  Yoga didn’t seem like a resume building skill, and my other skills had faded into the background.  Forgetting about the success I’d had and the many folks who expressed gratitude for my classes, I felt “unmarketable.”

And yet it is my experience with yoga that is coming back to me now and informing me in a visceral way.  I realize that yoga has taught me what was most important in my overall career.  I remember that feeling of vocation, of commitment, of mission, and I remember the willingness to barrel ahead even though I had little experience in a field.  I know that I can come up with my own proposals, contact folks who might need my skills and knowledge, translate my heart-felt sense of contributing to my stress-ridden society.

I sense the fertile ground available to me and my opportunity to create something new.  And I continue to do my own yoga and meditation practice so that deeper wisdom and steadiness might accompany me on the path.

Magical connections occur, a sense of possibility surfaces.  I feel my muscles, my conviction, my confidence in my ability and my right to assert myself in the world and offer what I’ve got.  If I do not fit in a particular job, that’s okay, I still have my mission, my contribution to make, work to do, and spiritual lessons to learn.

To sum it up, yoga gave me a sense of myself (this being who knows the connection to mind and body), it gave me some inner knowing and some muscle, and it gave me a bridge to the medical and mental health realms which are so in need of change.  It provided me with connections to individuals that educated and supported me, and it gave me a meaningful role in my community.  When I feel like there is a hole in my “career” experience, I remember how satisfied I was, how much I grew, and how much I gave.  I know I built new bridges, and I know I provided something there, under the radar of the institutions, that woke people up a little.  If not to spiritual or physical mastery, to just knowing their bodies a bit better, knowing how to move more easily, knowing how to be embodied on the earth for this short time we’re given.

When I was a yoga student with the right teacher, I felt like I was getting the single most important education of my life.  I hope some of my students felt that way, and I hope I don’t forget what I learned.

Clash of cultures

What motivates us to work? We know from an early age that we have to work as adults, and we find our way into jobs one way or another, some through years of education and some not.  How much time do we really spend thinking about it?

Many of us don’t get to know ourselves, or have the opportunity to try out numerous jobs, before we really need to “make a living.”  We choose a job, or a field, and we enter an enculturation process either in school or in the workplace.  The culture we absorb becomes a motivation itself:  We learn a vocabulary, way of thinking, norms, even habits of thinking, often without realizing it or taking time to reflect.  Some may relish the process and enjoy having a niche, others may experience a bit of unease, a sense of something missing depending on the fit with the culture.

Some professions, such as medicine or social services, possess a strong culture, one the employee has to embrace to some extent to excel in the field.  My father said medical school was like boot camp, a challenging experience in which his own ego and perspective were subordinated to the process of becoming a doctor.  He worked so hard for so long, was sometimes belittled, and he became one with his role, demonstrating decisiveness and as much clarity as possible to treat illness and perform surgery in a capable way.

Many of us are unknowingly brainwashed by a worldview, unaware of the underpinnings and influences forming that perspective, not possessing the tools with which to question or examine.  For some darn reason, not completely known to me, I have stood on the outside and asked questions.  While I had an interest in psychology in college, studying it raised more questions than it answered, so I asked my favorite professor to recommend books on the history of the field, because studying it made me uncomfortable, and I wondered why.

I think we need to stay alert, to ask questions as we learn a field and after we are in it.  To develop our own perceptions and to participate in ongoing inquiry with peers and supervisors.  But generally we are not encouraged to follow our hunches, to turn inside, to question, or even to dialogue with others in our fields.  We instead become absorbed into the work, the money, starting a family, building security for that family and ourselves.  But I believe there is a place for curiosity.

I have long conversations with a friend who teaches a contemplative education course at a university and is a sometime psychotherapist herself.  She teaches in a scholars’ program populated by pre-med students, future scientists and engineers, future writers.  She encourages the students to examine their assumptions, to consider their personal relationship to the subjects they study, to explore the underpinnings and influences on the professions they are considering entering.  Some of the students are resistant to her proddings in this class, at least at first.  The pre-med student is a bright, busy, focused fellow, or gal, who usually embraces a belief in the medical model, says my friend.  She does not ask them to let go of that belief, only to be circumspect, and many find themselves immensely grateful for the process of internal and philosophical inquiry she guides them through.  While some see no use for the process, others tell my friend they will go to med school as more sensitive, well-rounded humans.

My friend herself is examining the mental health field, from psychoanalysis to psychopharmacology, as a consumer, professional, and researcher.  She has experienced ill effects from medications and explored alternatives from re-attachment to ayurvedic herbs and diets to yoga and dance.  You could say she is a renegade academic and psychotherapist.

A person awake to her own emotions, adventurous in her intellectual pursuits, and brave enough to ask questions, is a different kind of professional.  Rather than immersing herself in a culture and system of thought, she remains a sensitive individual with an ability to respond to situations from within her self.

The book, The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down, is about the clash of the Hmong people’s needs and beliefs with that of the Western medical system.  It is about the damage that can occur when two strong belief systems meet.  I was struck by a story in the book about a young Western enthnographer and fan of improvisational theater who is able to appreciate and understand the Hmong peoples’ perspective on illness and their resistance to the imposition of Western ways upon them.  He learns about them and their beliefs and is able to encourage them to get immunizations for their pets through staging a theatrical parade.

What made him sensitive to these people, capable of understanding their perspective?  Was he less enamored of the Western view he was born into?  Was he secure enough in himself to open his mind?

I have been immersed in this very process throughout my life:  I studied psychology but wanted to know where it came from, I was interested in medicine but had the mind and heart of an anthropologist.  I’m not sure why I am like this.  I think it may be feeling close to nature most of my life, through listening to old-time music as a young child and driving through inner-city DC with my dad on his way to work, through reading black authors from off my parents’ bookshelves.  I knew there were other ways of thinking about things than mine, other cultures and races, varied spiritual paths.

My role is that of an amateur ethnographer, a student of work cultures.  I make my living as a yoga teacher and writer, and I work various part-time jobs along the way.  It is a grand adventure, and I am grateful to share it with friends like my university teacher buddy.   This is my enduring question:  Can we not work from our authentic selves in ways that make sense to us and are healing to the world?  We must let the world change us, but sometimes we need to change it.

Upside down and inside out

In an independent living center, an organization serving people with disabilities, almost every characteristic of a workplace is inverted.  What do I mean?  I mean that hierarchies, workflow, work standards, the value of the individual, definitions of jobs, and even socializing together are virtually the opposite of what they might be in another nonprofit organization, let alone a corporation.

At least half of the employees must be people with disabilities, and it seems those without physical issues are iconoclastic or coming from a “down-and-out place,” just by nature of the organization.  An employee with a tracheotomy tube struggles to communicate, a woman with osteoarthritis is in pain much of the time and works very slowly.  Someone with MS deals with cognitive issues stemming from the disorder, others are erratic from the ups and downs of fibromyalgia or recovery from divorce.  Yet we are productive, the best kind of crew to serve others with disabilities who come in from the streets struggling financially, vocationally, physically, in myriad ways.

Whereas most work places exist to create products or services, we exist to help people with disabilities adjust to their situations and society, to find resources, inclusion, connection, work—all things vital to human beings.  Sure, a mental health center has a similar mission, but we have a more fluid, community-like approach.   We create an environment that is welcoming, a home-base for getting one’s feet under herself.

In an independent living center, people who are not good at their jobs are given many tries, many months to get it right.  People come in off the street who are destructive, or recently out of jail, are given support to try again.  People who don’t fit in more rigid work environments are given a chance to work in a more flexible, accepting place.   In the center where I work there is little supervision, so we really do find our own way, molding our own jobs and serving in ways that we are most suited to, whether that be as caseworker or bookkeeper, educator or fundraiser,   then we back each other up and take on different roles as needed.

I am struck by the unusual circumstance of being in a community within the disability community within the workplace.  Like a family, we have real dysfunction.  But we go much farther to accommodate “limitations” and personality quirks.  We have people from all walks of life come through our doors, which means we are exposed to people off the streets and some danger, though providing a welcome diminishes the likelihood of harm.

What I find compelling is this juxtaposition with the norms of the mainstream workplace, and what I find intriguing is the display of characters and character.  For example, I have been challenged to change and serve in new ways, while at the same time I have come to greater acceptance of some of my introversion.  I have been exposed to people who are radically different from me in socioeconomic status, educational background, race, and physical capacity and yet found a common ground with them.  I have seen people find new strengths and purpose or acceptance of limitation.  I have heard stories of surviving, coping, and overcoming that happen in spite of the systems put in place to help and stories of people aided immensely by those systems once we helped them use the services more effectively.

When I sit down with my yoga group on Tuesday afternoons, I see a group of people willing to try something new, be changed, challenge their previous experience, grow stronger and more resilient.  There are definitely other jobs where such things happen, but I don’t think there are other workplaces quite as quirky, quite as frustrating and lovely at the same time.

We are very human in this environment.  Under the uncertainty, the stress, the crises people find themselves in we find our natural compassion, our ability to stand up for what is right.  This week my coworker gave a man hell for the dangerous situation he and his relatives exposed his niece to.  I did an intake with an addict whose young daughter was taken away by child protective services.  I heard a success story of a woman getting accommodations from the university to get her PhD.  We helped, or at least provided a sympathetic ear, to all these folks, while at the same time grappling with our own flawed humanity and struggles.  People stripped down, honest, sometimes floundering and sometimes shining, that’s what you find in an independent living center.

When who you are is what you are

This morning I cannot resist writing about Jack Kerouac the man and Jack Kerouac the writer.  He’s been read and romanticized for decades now, but I have to put my two cents into the mix.   I read On the Road years ago, and I didn’t understand it, but recently I read Dharma Bums and then a biography of Kerouac written by Gerald Nicosia called Memory Babe.  Last night I just cracked open the original scroll of On the Road.

In terms of work, the subject of my blog, Kerouac was a dedicated writer.  He felt compelled to live, feel, and respond, to be a conduit for expression of emotion and the grappling of his generation instigated by the atomic age and paranoia around communism.  He also felt a need to write in an honest and personal way, expressing his experience in the moment as an art in itself; he needed to create new forms of literary expression to respond to the world around him and record his search for meaning.  I am inspired by people so driven as artists to grapple, learn, express, to feel and respond to beauty and mortality. An artist in temperament and vocation, Kerouac’s work was to be a conduit for life.

The thing is, his way of being and working required an extraordinary openness and vulnerability and honesty, and he drank a lot to cope.  Maybe he drank a lot to numb out and hide.  I can’t speak to that.  What I respond to is his sensibility and honesty, his friendships and development as a man of ideas and art.  I believe in his biographer Nicosia’s perspective here:

How he was in life and work:

“He was observing a complete fidelity to the moment, changing colors like a litmus as impressions flowed through him, simply registering everything, and, like Whitman, unafraid to contradict himself.”

The difficulty in his life and work:

“He was able to resolve nothing because he was speaking directly from a genius whose locus was outside his personality—a genius that might be triangulated somewhere between Riviera du Loup, Hollywood, and heaven.  He was a hillbilly scholar and a hokey saint, with Japanese mezzotints and works by El Greco, Rouault, Picasso, Van Gogh, Rousseau, and Gauguin sharing his bedroom walls with little pictures of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph and the crucifix above the bed.  He was determined to blast out from his very heart all the garbage of his age, the processed shit with which fifties American was stuffed like a Christmas turkey—even if much of the time he was flipping or weeping, really weeping—and to give his tortured and grappling nation a voice, even though the job would kill him; and knowing that, he had taken it on anyway, and there was no reforming him now.”

What I want to say is that Kerouac represents the artist to me, a role and calling that has always spoken to me.  And this immensely gifted, very complicated man pointed so strongly to life and death:  He does not let us forget either, challenging us to not hide behind convention or routine or fear but to acknowledge how we feel.  He worked with discipline, with heart.  He read and experienced and wrote.  He loved and attempted to paint pictures of characters bursting with life and confronting a world that didn’t understand them, like Neal Cassidy.  He responded to loss; he responded to the disillusionment of his time; and he wrote.  At the same time he knew, as Nicosia wrote, that putting oneself in the role of great American Writer, such a role was a “shuck,” a fraud.

He was torn by contradiction, felt the pain of his vulnerability and loss of love and optimism, possessed a keen awareness of mortality and a belief that artists must suffer.  He did not have a regular home life, perhaps fearing that such a condition would deaden the artist in him.  And still he loved and experiment, reflected and WROTE.

I can’t think of anyone more dedicated to his vocation, anyone who had more congruency between who he was and what he was.  He did directly grapple with issues of identity, self-worth, and vocation, and ultimately, religious questions.  As Nicosia writes, he and other Beat writers took on the spiritual task of “ransoming the nation:”

“Both the beat and the beatific get their revelations from intuition. Both are pushed beyond the limits of the physical and the rational by the horrors of suffering and death.  In the case of the Beats, the urgency of vision was poignant with their sense that America had lost its soul.  Their homeland was being sold to the colossus of industrial materialism.  The holiness in America had been beaten down and covered over.  It could be ransomed, Jack believed, only by people who had learned to speak not of themselves but from themselves, who had learned to tap those deep sources that are the fount of all religion.  This was why he wrote as he did, in the very same manner as St. John of the Cross had written for the salvation of his fellow men.  ‘When God speaks,’ Jack told Gioscia, ‘just take it down.’”

Man.  What a calling.  What a way to live and work.  I almost understand why he drank the way he did.

Teen Talking Circles

Interviews with Ingenious Solutionists

Ensight Skills Center

Colorado Low-Vision Service and Care

A Woman's Way of Knowing

Interbeing, work, health, nature

Thanissara

Dharma & Climate Action

Holistic Yoga School and Studio

Holistic Yoga School and Studio

Theodore Richards – 2019

Can we bring our selves to our work?

Hundredgivers

Accelerating Sustainable Communities

Transforming Money

Can we bring our selves to our work?

THE ONENESS of HUMANITY

Earth | Peace | Truth | 2019

home, garden, life

home, garden, life ~ sharing a sustainable lifestyle

body divine yoga

unlock your kundalini power, ignite your third eye, awaken your inner oracle

Brain Pickings

An inventory of the meaningful life.

Louisiana Dreamer ~ Embodiment of Courageous Wild Creative Freedom

Musings and meanderings of writer/artist Linda Hubbard Lalande on art, culture, social media, spirituality, yoga, life

epilepsy me and neurology

complimentary wellness and epilepsy experiences