“The meek shall inherit the earth”

IMG_0579This blog’s Biblical title enters my mind fairly often when I contemplate my workplace.  And if I haven’t scared you off with this reference, I can tell you several reasons why my job draws it out.  For one thing, the disability services organization I work for as a program manager has little structure or supervision, and yet our staff engages in humane and caring interactions with people in pain, every day.

Another reason is that this job has introduced me to people who continually remind me of the most important things in life.  The job has exposed me to people with developmental disabilities with whom the only way to be, or so it feels, is present and genuine, responding from my better self as I talk with others about our shared realities.  A third reason the job suggests to me another way of being, which may one day come into focus, is that we recognize staff for their contributions, their losses, and their joys.  My cat died recently, and I was devastated to lose my long-time companion.  Instead of ignoring or belittling this loss, people expressed concern and verbally acknowledged it.  My boss bought me a card, and everyone signed it.

A few of us garden in a plot off the parking lot, share the vegetables, and instigate cooking contests.  We pick up food from the local food bank to give to those who need it, and we have celebratory parties with our clientele.  People of various races, colors, ability and disability, those of changing genders, share food together.

The effects of such an environment are disorienting if you’ve ever worked in a more formal office.  On the one hand, the lack of structure and accountability at our center elicits our insecurities, but it also allows us to find our own voice and our own compassion for ourselves and others.  I’ve had my share of struggles with the place, grappled with my own insecurities roaring up from the void, but slowly and surely, I’ve defined my own way of helping, and I’ve learned to be fully present for many an encounter with an array of unusual souls.

Like those with a psychic Iraqi war vet who attends my yoga class and describes vibrant images that arise for him during class.  With a woman with cerebral palsy who cannot talk but communicates worlds through her eyes and her expressions, aided by technology.  With several disabled children who grin widely when I walk in the room and settle down to a half hour of engaging play with iPads.  With the newly blind young man who lightly grasps my elbow as I guide him to his destination.

I will not work at this center forever, but for a time, as the world spins, the economy falters, the climate changes, and we continue to make and buy a plethora of electronic and plastic goods, I can feel the profundity in my own little world of our daily encounters, our care for one another, for the animals among us, and for our earthly sustenance.  In this environment among the forgotten and marginalized, I can find my center, my mindfulness, and I can remember that it is the small and human interactions that are the most precious and that it is the connection with the earth that is most integral to our life.  I know I am lucky to have a job that stirs such “memory.”  That reminds me it is the gentle in this human life that is truly most strong.


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!





























What are your core beliefs?

IMG_0042A decade ago I moved from northern Virginia to a small town in Colorado with just a carful of belongings.   I left behind a marriage and a job and joined some good friends who were living what I saw as a conscious and sane life.  A part of me was looking for time in the mountains to deprogram and start afresh.  With more space and quiet, in a gentler town, perhaps I could get down to some wiser ways.

Did that happen?  In many ways it did.  The East is so dense with people, buildings, and culture that a girl sometimes can’t separate her own values out from those of the society.  In the cacophony, the quick pace, the getting and spending, one doesn’t even have time to think.  The attitudes of society soak in through her pores and affect her thoughts and behavior.

When I settled in Colorado, I found a job with odd hours, and I hiked up many a mountain.  I sought out yoga classes, then a yoga teacher training.  Slowly I began to unwind my physical patterns, my muscular tension and my defenses against the world.  In a hakomi, or body-centered psychotherapy, training I sat with peers in mindfulness and observed my core beliefs emerge.  I found an outstanding yoga teacher whose classes took me on an ecstatic journey, and after all this, I could feel my feet on the ground, my animal body engaged in the world, my heart open so that I engaged more easily with others.  I hoped work and love would flow more easily.  And they did, especially love.  Work?  I’m still progressing on that front.

Presently I find myself wondering how we in this country developed the mindset we have and the belief that we must work excessively and purchase new gadgets regularly.  I wonder how our environment, healthcare system, and political system all became so toxic or dysfunctional.  There is an armoring and network of habits at the national level just as there is at the individual level, of course.  We buffer ourselves against remembering another set of values by escaping into entertainment and the pursuit of status, or things.  I see a clinging to old beliefs and habits.  I see a belief in the dominance of a market economy above all.

I turned to history to understand more, and I read about the founding fathers and their ideas, about Christian fundamentalism, about the decline of intellectualism, about our perspectives on the body and about the evolution of psychology.  How, I wondered, did we become so materialistic?  How did a business mentality so thoroughly permeate medicine and education?  How did we get to this place where we must work such long hours and commute such long distances to have enough money for expenses?

At the same time I wonder what might help us to loosen hold of those beliefs and reconsider.  Let some new ideas in.  Would it be a change in education?  More yoga and less time on treadmills?  More time in nature?  That’s my prescription!  But each of us thinks we know what would be best, and none of us knows the whole truth about our troubles and what to do about them.

The good news is that younger people are coming up with new ways of doing things.  Whether it is because they are facing less abundance than their parents or just seeing what the world is now, they are already trying something different.  Generation Y, for example, is said to want a shorter work day and more time for family, more flexibility in their jobs, and meaningful work or lifestyle that includes work.  They want to support their communities.

I see this trend evolving in this small town I landed in.   Many young people are starting small businesses, collaborating to build a counter economy.  There are people making a living as web designers, social media managers, artists, and healers.  They find ways to network, or share office space, to promote one another’s businesses.  When our society can sustain these folks well, or if they can sustain themselves, we will all be healthier.

There is so much that is rich in life that becomes buried in business and striving.  I am a baby boomer with the values of Generation Y.  A yoga teacher in need of a job, a job in which I work with others for something I believe in and yet also have time for family and creative work.  Time to be outside.  Time for prayer and mediation and the study of history.  We need to really think about what we believe, what we feel in response to the world around us, and where we need to go.  Because if we don’t change course, we will pay a big price.

Can we not examine the bundles of assumptions and beliefs wrapped around us so tightly that we can’t notice?  It is time, right now, to slow down, to look both inside and out and consciously choose the values we will live.

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.

Getting what you need

In my yoga class for people with disabilities are two people from Louisiana who have experienced huge setbacks.  Both are black, and both are gracious travelers through different worlds and cultures.  Both are open hearted and brave.

What strikes me most in both their cases is their fluidity.  They travel in social circles that vary markedly from one another; one attends a white Presbyterian church and the other a Jewish synagogue, and both attend a variety of social events in town.   They interact easily with people from all walks of life, respecting the individuals they meet and often finding commonalities with them.

Both actively seek connection, involvement and the resources they need to overcome challenges and to thrive.  One, I’ll call her Sandra, experienced a stroke in her late thirties that took the vision in one eye and dramatically slowed her graduate school career, almost derailing it.  The other, Ray, was profoundly wounded in Iraq and has had to confront a long and complex road to physical and emotional healing and to regain the ability to walk.

Sandra has hit many an obstacle in getting accommodations for finishing her PhD.  The student disabilities office did not understand how to help her, and tried to extend the wrong assistance.  Uninformed of the other resources in the community for a long time, she floundered and had to ask for extensions to meeting her degree requirements three times, the third of which is under contention.  In the meantime, she has found a mentor in the community, a disabled psychologist, who is helping her manage the system.  She has connected with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which performed assessments on her needs for learning and working then purchased the equipment that assists her.  Sandra and her mentor have met with the university administrators and disability office to advocate for more time to finish her education.

Ray too has had a grueling physical recovery with many setbacks.  Having waited 24 hours on the field for help after he was hit with shrapnel from a bomb, he had wounds in his legs that would not heal, then blood clots, seizures that kept him from working or driving, and other physical and emotional scars.   He’s had multiple surgeries, many hours in the wound clinic and hyperbaric chamber, worked with physical therapists.  He has slowly improved, become more active socially and physically, and recently began to substitute teach.

Sandra and Ray come to yoga at our center as well as social gatherings.  Wanting to make the most of their lives, they never complain.  And while Sandra is seeking to help other disabled students with her experience, Ray is working as a substitute teacher and speaking to veterans about disability with hopes of working full-time as a teacher in the coming year.

Neither of these strong souls balk at the idea asking for help.  Instead, they count themselves as part of the human race, with a right to connect with others, ask for what they need, and find their way to serve.  While I might vacillate, sometimes wondering if I’m worthy of someone’s help, they walk forward and meet others, ask questions, assert themselves to get what they need and to reach their potential.  They have big hearts and are fully here, engaged in the life of their community, encountering other individuals with openness and love.  They are my heroes.

Though I am currently able bodied, I know my own disabilities of habit and fear, and I identify with this process of taking our places within the human community, of claiming our right to help, and of finding our way to contribute.  In my book, the “economy” involving exchange of talent, heart, and skill, as well as the processes of learning and growing, seem just what make our lives worth living.

Steve Jobs and me

I am reading Steve Jobs’s biography.   Why does this yoga teacher want to read about an arrogant nasty person whose work centered on technology?  Really it was encountering the applications of iPhones and iPads in the disability world and the recommendation of a woman I met at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

A person could write about 15 different aspects of Jobs’s career, but I’m particularly drawn toward two of his work traits.  He knew how to focus, and he usually knew what to focus on.  “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he said.  “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”   So he narrowed down the projects that Apple worked on and sought to perfect the products and services associated.   The other trait I admire in him is realizing what people need before they need it and creating it (and yes, it can obviously be argued that we don’t need iPhones).

The truth is that my current greatest career challenges are learning to focus and developing the confidence to press forward to create something I think many folks don’t know they need.   I have this problem of being distracted by some shiny existing job with a good salary when I am already on track in terms of creating my work.

Instead I need to hone in on my task, find others to work with, and follow Jobs’s example by going my own way, keeping my finger on the pulse of change, creating that which people do not yet know they need.

What did Jobs decide to turn away from as he moved toward his vision?  He turned away from developing some products, from working with other companies in sharing software, from employees who were not smart, creative, and tough.  Perhaps he decided not to focus on gentleness in his rush to produce.  He certainly didn’t waste time with people or things or designs he didn’t like.  What he did focus on was products he thought people would need, that would help them to be more creative, that would change the world.

What do I need to turn away from?  Fear, fancy mainstream jobs, the latest “lucrative career fields” posted on Yahoo.com.  I think that the need to belong and the fear of poverty are behind the process.  Like everyone, I want to feel needed, valued, productive, and like I can make a good living.  Such needs can supersede my creativity.  In addition, we are trained and conditioned from an early age to take our places in the system as it is rather than to question it and create new things.  Such conditioning has a strong hold on me and it slips in when I feel frustrated or isolated in what I’m doing.  Jobs’s cantankerous personality and his rebellions streak may have actually helped him stay on track, to be immune to the above mentioned needs and fears.  I do think his drive to create affected his behavior with others and was linked to his meanness.  Yet it seems his internal value system influenced his ability to inspire those who are creative, intelligent, and self-motivated.

And how do I stay focused?  I need to turn toward what excites and challenges me.  And toward tasks that align with my personal characteristics.  To calling attention to the failings in our health and mental healthcare system and proposing new models, to teaching yoga and writing.  I need to keep poking my nose out there.Image

I keep connecting with organizations and individuals involved in health care as a yoga teacher and writer.  My thought is to help individuals with health issues tune into their own inner wisdom, their own talents (re Jobs), their communities.  I take inspiration from the part of Jobs that was committed, took risks, connected with bright individuals in garages and corporations, dressed to suit himself, and kept his sights on the product.  Yes, many of his qualities were not as inspiring, but his focus and drive are.  And I do choose to take his advice to “think different.”

When the shell cracks

I’ve been wrestling with my job in a disability center since I started it a year and a half ago.  Once I went in to the boss to quit, which led to a surprisingly good outcome:  She clarified my job description for me and then for the staff, which seemed keen on having me do parts of their jobs.  But I continued to struggle with defining my tasks for each day.  All the while I’ve squirmed with my role in a free-form environment with a complex clientele.  To top it off I felt a disconnect between my identity and the role.

Yet this complex situation has taught me more than the jobs that felt like a natural fit.   I’ve learned to stand up for myself, to really assert what will and won’t work for me, and I’ve learned to let go of my ego, my previous way of defining myself.  Sound paradoxical?  Yes, and true, and the beauty in the paradox is more evident to me through the help of yoga and mindfulness meditation.

Here is one good lesson:  When new to the job, I met with three women working in similar positions at an organization in a town nearby.  These folks have created elaborate social activities for their constituents.  They go out to restaurants, take vans of people on weekend trips.  Made me want to run the other way if those things are part of my job.  But I’ve built my program with smaller support groups, based around assistive technology and other topics, leaving room for some sharing.  I started a yoga class.  And I carved out some time to retreat to the computer for record keeping, newsletter creation, and website management.

I’ve been able to find ways to serve that are compatible with my more introverted temperament.  Instead of den mother, I am behind-the-scenes facilitator.  I water flowers, set out recycling, demonstrate use of assistive devices.  I participate in community gatherings and parties through setting up, clearing up, socializing.  I connect more deeply with those in my yoga class.

I watch myself respond; I honor my nature; I let go of some resistance.  And the environment accommodates me.  Whatever this job is in terms of career development, I cannot yet say, but in terms of spiritual development it is filled with fruit.

This strange little job has cracked me open while yoga and meditation kept me grounded.  I have been witness to the lives of those with disabilities, and I have been part of a community sharing experiments on healing, on living with limitations, on finding our roles in the community.  It is an unusual job in a unique environment.  I love my alone time as much as ever, but I also love this way of being connected.  I love having the chance to experiment.

It’s been very uncomfortable and rewarding at the same time.  I move out in the world, and yet I am authentically quiet and gentle, finding the background when I need it.  The stories I tell myself shift; my experience in the world transforms; my body and mind soften; my feet stand steady; and my heart engages.  That yoga and mindfulness practice has taught me how to feel, how to open, how to free fall:  It is pretty smart stuff.

Ralph and company

The disability center where I work exists in a tight-knit community, and my job provides me an opportunity to work with various organizations.  I regularly walk to the senior center, retirement communities, the university, or the printer.   Many area restaurant managers and retailers contribute in our annual fundraiser to raise money for services to people with disabilities, and I have communicated with them at certain times of the year.  In the cross-over of efforts and sharing of referrals in this community, I’ve come to know some very good people.

Since I see folks regularly, I learn a little bit about them.  For example, I consult our printer, Ralph, on our newsletter and marketing needs and have slowly developed a relationship with him.  When I visit his business to pick up projects, he greets me personally and we chat.  By coincidence, Ralph has a disability himself–cerebral palsy.  He has overcome a lot, including an absent, alcoholic father and poverty in addition to his disability.  In spite of these things he has found his way in life and work.  A few weeks ago, Ralph told me a story that stayed with me on many levels, partly because it relates to the mission of my organization.

Ralph married a woman with three children, and her youngest happens to have cerebral palsy like her stepdad.   This youngest daughter was an infant when Ralph married her mother, and the wife’s parents chose to blame him for the granddaughter’s disability despite the fact that he wasn’t the biological father.  Though hurt and offended, Ralph stuck it out and became a devoted husband and stepfather.

Local doctors, whether through lack of knowledge or some other reason, told the couple there was nothing to be done for little Trisha and that she would never be able to walk independently.  Again Ralph ignored the pronouncement of others, and this time he stepped in where the medical system fell short.

Since there was no recommendation of therapy and few resources for the financially strapped family, he began to work with Trisha.  He held her up by her belly while she moved her arms and legs about.  He held her middle and set her hands and knees to the floor as she oriented and developed strength.  As often as he could he moved her limbs, massaged them, helped her sit and develop core muscles.  When she grew older he designed some leg braces for her and helped her to walk with their assistance.  Now she is eight, and she can walk without aids.

While my organization helps people use resources and maintain independence despite their disabilities, Ralph has accomplished a great deal on his own.  He learned the printing business and is now running his own company.  He is raising three children and doing his own brand of physical therapy with his stepdaughter.  He has used his intuition, and he has experimented.  He has been loyal to himself and his family, and he supports his community with good service.

He’s a humble fellow, without a college degree, but he’s a smart man, a man who doesn’t always accept what the doctors tell him, who believes in himself, who taps into his own resources, intuition, and ability to heal.   He is a great example of what my organization was created to foster—resilience, connection to inner and outer resources, and involvement in community.  He consulted his own wisdom and used his instincts in helping his stepdaughter, and he has tapped into some resilience and intuitive healing wisdom.

I am fortunate that my job provides an experience of old-fashioned community and the individual business-owner within it.  Ralph’s story teaches me that all of us can choose how to react to things and what perspective we take.  It also reminds me that some of our fancy higher education, medical technology, and corporate power are not of much use without the involvement of a thinking mind-body and engaged heart.  Encountering people like him shows me the value of my humble little position in disability services.  Both Ralph and I live and work in a model one would call alternative, in the best sense of the word.

Teen Teaching

I’ve been writing in my journal about teaching yoga in county drug court, trying to find a way to convey an experience close to my heart.  The task intimidates me, and yet the program was recently cut, and I feel a need to record what I can on paper.  And so I find myself in the wake of this departing boat, touching into memories, emotions, and effects.

This blog is titled “Can we bring ourselves to work,” and yet in this instance, I have to say work brought forth my self.  I sought this position out because I wanted to share the grounding that yoga provides with these kids taking drugs and confronting the justice system.  I wanted to give them a sense that they have wisdom within themselves and that they can best access it when they unwind tension, relax, and listen within.  I knew many would be angry, or simply not receptive to my mission, but I sure wanted to try.  Only now do I realize how applicable the saying “we teach what we most need to know” was for me, because teaching these kids helped me learn to convey yoga from a deeper sense of bodily awareness as well as from internal guidance.

When we first started our classes, we met in a musty old probation building, in a windowless room where we had to move about 16 tables and numerous chairs to create a practice space.  I was very nervous, and I taught a rather rigid class, walking students through sun salutations over and over to calm both myself and them.  Some criticized or resisted, some listlessly did what they were told.  The mood was mostly resigned, and kids were quick to leave when class ended.

Meeting weekly and engaging in yoga, we began to connect with each other and create a practice.  I observed some that some were still going through the motions, a distracted look on their faces, but some began to notice sensations and satisfaction in the poses so that their eyes softened and their minds and bodies quieted, perhaps deepening in connection.  Some were angry and disruptive, asking why they had to do yoga and saying it was too hard;  I had to tell them to leave and try again in the next class.  Some, before and after class, talked to me.  One complained there wasn’t enough variety.  Others told me about their journey into drug court and their reaction to being there.  Some told me that yoga relaxed them, made them feel less angry.

Over time, with support from the magistrate, parole officers, and caseworkers, I learned how to handle behavior issues.  But more importantly, I learned from the blunt feedback and questions kids asked.  Can we do some new poses?  Can we make up poses?  Can we see who can stand the longest in tree pose?  Can we try handstands?   And, once I introduced partner yoga, can we get a partner?  I learned to loosen up, to teach what I felt.  Then, most importantly of all, I felt again the raw exposure to life and death an adolescent feels (particularly around confronting family issues, experiencing anger and drugs, sometimes the death of friends), and I witnessed naked courage.  When I met the mother of a kid hooked on meth and heard of the imprisonment of the family men, I was awed at the girl’s strength to pull up and choose her own health.  To finish school and begin taking classes at the community college.  When my favorite student killed himself, I was stunned by realization of how open his heart was and how much pain he’d been in.

Ultimately, I was opened up. I learned to trust myself, and I learned to respond more fearlessly to people of varied temperament, social adjustment, and maturity.  Less threatened by criticism or resistance, I felt a deep patience for all the kids, and yet I stopped behavior that disrupted class.   I learned to be real when I couldn’t do a particular pose or made a mistake.    In the mix of emotions and conflicts, I was pulled into community as I never had before.

Within a few years we moved into a peaceful yoga studio with a large window, calming yellow and brick walls and soft multi-colored tapestries.  Students who had been in class a few months or more did not want to be disrupted, and they let the new kids know by example or words.  I had some demonstrate poses, or sometimes they would tutor each other unasked.  And in the more peaceful environment, with the benefit of years past and supportive staff, we developed a strong practice.  In the afternoon light, we practiced mindfully, delighting in the sensations and resting deeply at the end of practice.

Through the teachings of the teens and my own extraordinary yoga teacher during these years, I learned to convey openness, gentleness, playfulness, and peace. I truly did bring myself to work, and I brought the teachings of the students into that self.  I became more whole, and I hope they did too.

The next step

On February 2, I celebrated my year anniversary at my current job at the disability center.  I am proud of having survived, and proud of having opened up to new tasks, new experiences, new perspectives.  And I’m ready to move on.

It’s true.  This year has been an amazing one for which I will be forever grateful.  I am now blind to physical disability, seeing people rather than wheelchairs.  I am well-schooled in the fact that appearances mean little, having been surprised by people’s resilience, love, tenacity, and wisdom, no matter what their circumstance or education level.  I have taught yoga to people who respond to the mindfulness and who wake up in their bodies, even though those bodies are injured.  And I have seen community at work in a loving way.  Best of all, I’ve seen societal values turned on their head:  There is no pretension here, where we are all equal, all struggling, all misfits in our way.  We cannot and do not pretend or posture or hide behind status.

At the same time, my mind is not on the government program I am supposed to oversee.  I am restless:  I am clear that I need to write and to teach.

On my anniversary day, I sat at lunch on a park bench in the sun, thinking of how sometimes opportunities fall in our laps, and how ready I am to more fully engage with work, how ready I am to teach and write about new models of health and healing.  Later that evening I received an email inviting me to apply for a position teaching holistic health classes at a community college:  I blinked and rubbed my eyes to make sure it was real.

Perhaps that higher power is guiding, is interacting with me.  In this work life, I seek to be open to presence, to letting go of my ego while honoring my temperament and my heart’s desire.  I am aware of my ability to deceive myself or simply to overanalyze, and I practice prayer and meditation to find my way.

Sometimes I feel a source of support:  It feel as though the spheres are aligning, and I am deeply grateful.  I believe we are one with the earth and with each other and that we need to listen for our true paths if we are to survive.  God or goddess, gaia or universe:  It speaks to us and we must choose whether or not we will listen.

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