Monday, August 27, 2012

The day the Tail Whip came to town.

I really never thought I'd actually be able to do it. At the beginning of the mountain biking season, I had a couple of goals that I said out loud. I would like to pedal enough that I learned if I could like pedaling or not. I would like to ride a road bike up independence pass, I would like to commute to work on my bike at least once.

I want to learn how to corner, squash and scrub, I want to learn to ride clippless and ride more xc so that I can take an xc ride with my friends without them wanting to strangle me. I want to learn to roll a rock drop. Ride a rock garden, and go off the the medium drop in the fruit bowl.

And one day, I wish I could go off the green fruit bowl itself, and throw a big ole gnarly whip on my bike. And ride skinny bridges high off the ground.

Those last three, those are pipe dreams for me. At 40, with a fused neck and only two summers on a bike, riding at that level is really not a reality. So I watch it in the movies, and I fall asleep to Red Bull TV World championships DH race video, and I have a blast riding my bike.

And I kind of suck at riding a bike. About five years ago, you will recall, I fell UP Smuggler mountain. The only reason I won the DH races all summer last year was because I was one of the only women racing! Now all the girls I taught intro to jumping to last year (who are in their 20s and 30s) are kicking my butt. (And I kind of love that. That means I did my job.)

Last week, in Crested Butte, I pushed my bike up the ROAD on the way to the 401 trailhead. (But I rode about 30 miles in clip less shoes and didn't eat shit once, so CHECK and CHECK off some of the seasons goals! Boo yeah! Hike a bike is part of Mountain Bike and I aint afraid to push that sucker uphill!)

In other news, I was on that trip with Kurt, who was riding one handed the whole time and probably had time for lunch and a latte after every switchback... I didn't mind pushing as long as he didn't' mind that I was pushing, so onward we rolled, and I felt AMAZING when we got back to town, so CHECK CHECK, I like to pedal, and I feel like I can ride with my friends and only torture them somewhat.

Then I hoped in my car and drove to Steamboat all by my lonesome to ride with my great friend BT. You remember him from epic cat skiing of doom last winter in Whistler. He builds trails for Gravity Logic and he was in Colorado for a short time working. I jumped at the chance to go play with him, we always have a great time. BT was working so we didn't ride a huge number of laps, but I was out on a road trip on my own, making new friends and riding in a new place.

I loved meeting the trail crew and seeing their passion for how fun the trail would be when it was ridden in, and it was awesome to meet Lana, the only girl on the trail crew. She had an amazingly sunny disposition, so happy to be working outdoors. So psyched to learn to ride her bike even faster. (Apparently, she rips). The energy was so good, I felt inspired, free, and happy.

I haven't done that in biking yet, just taken off to go ride and visit and just see what happened. It felt really really good. Expansive. Happy. While I was there, I started tipping my bike over with more authority, keeping my knees more open, twisting down into the turn more, screwing my body down into the bike.

Something was changing. In me, in my riding.

When we got back, I found suddenly I didn't really care about racing right now. I had coached Michelle a little, and I really enjoyed watching her become blisteringly fast. I wasn't ready to ride that fast, and I was really stoked to see her take that leap. I wanted to keep practicing my cornering so that WHEN I rode that fast (one day, maybe), I would feel solid and happy whipping around the berms.

Riding that fast to try to win while putting my body at risk was not on my list of things to do. I just didn't have the skill set to hold the turn and feel really good in it at that speed. I needed to change something technically first. And that change might never come. And I had accepted that.

I taught a lot and didn't free ride that much because I was doing massage every afternoon and I needed to save my hands and my neck, both of which get tired from riding. I spent all the time that I was riding trying to demonstrate good cornering. Consequently, my patterns in my cornering changed.

Then I had a couple of jump lessons in a row, and suddenly all the work we had been doing in cornering on body position and my understanding of how to push my feet into the turn, to snap and bump the bike started translating into understanding the trajectory of the bike in the air so much better. I could finally begin to FEEL when to push my feet into the face, how to adjust the flight of the bike, at speed. With less guessing and more instinct. With less "Oh shit I hope I'm right" and more "wheeeee".

Now the only problem I'm having is I'm starting to overshoot the jumps and my cornering still isn't quite... I know that one of the solutions for overshooting the jump is to scrub or whip. But I just really don't think, even though its the next step, and its time to learn it, that I'm ready or really even capable.

And then I started riding with Ryan and Dean. I met them on the trail at Snowmass, Ryan was riding in a big pack. A couple of them split off and joined us, a little bike school group rolling, but not ripping. Mostly because they were waiting for me.

Ryan took off, Dean followed, and, tired of waiting in the back of the pack because I knew I was slowest, I jumped in. I hoped I could ride fast enough to let the guys behind me have a good time, not be held up, and to follow someone who I'd never ridden with before and see what the difference was.

Right off the bat, we were rolling faster than I usually do. I figured "Oh well, they are going to drop me and I'm going to be riding alone. But I'm gonna do my best to hang on and follow his line." Being dropped and riding alone is fine, and can be really fun, but there is something amazing about ripping along with a group of people.

Its hard to see what other people are doing on a DH trail, you have to stay fairly close, and manage your own flight through the berms and jumps while trying to watch the person in front of you do it well.

But something happened. They didn't drop me. Either Ryan was waiting up for me a bit, or I was rolling faster, or some combination of both, but I wasn't completely dropped. I started following Dean's line.

"Early and High", I always tell my students. "That gives you more time in the turn". And it does. But what I had failed to realize is that the faster you are going, the earlier and higher you have to enter. I never even SAW the line that Dean was taking before I rode behind him. It never occurred to me to start my turn THERE.

Suddenly, I didn't feel like I was going to slide up the berm and out of the turn. I was able to tip the bike more, drop into the turn further, enjoy the sensation of the force pulling me into my bike without worrying if I could handle it and hold the line. I had time to dip my foot and push on the up bar. I was RIDING!

Over the next couple of days, I practiced at speed more. This morning, I ran into Job, an amazing rider from Brazil who can throw his bike around with unbelievable athleticism. He's also super easy going and encouraging. Last year, I taught his girlfriend how to ride downhill, and we had a blast.

Waiting at the water cooler for Ryan to get to the top, Job and I started talking about whips and scrubs. "You just take your inside foot and push the bike like that." He showed me.

"Ohhh!" I said, as though I was going to try it. I really want to learn to do this, but I really just don't think I have the skill level for it. I asked all the questions I had, because I really do want to learn, but I think more so that I can help coach people who want to do it than because I ever thought I could do it myself.

We talked about the pattern that the bars make in the air, how you bring the bike back around by moving your head. We talked about how you counter steer into it off the lip of the jump, how important it is to try it in both directions.

Ryan came up, and suddenly we were a posse of six or so. I wasn't hanging off the back. I was third from the back, kinda almost keeping up, but not really. The boys up front were rolling pretty casually, it was Job's warm up run. I was pinning it, but I never felt loose, for some reason, riding on the shops 2012 Giant Glory (I destroyed my front fork jumping my old Slayer and don't have the $700 to fix it) I felt like I was on a cush ride that just wanted to help me out.

Up at these speeds, the bike actually feels much more stable, and now that something has clicked in my cornering (LINE CHOICE, thanks, Dean!), I feel like I'm just rolling along, like I can play, not like I'm holding on for life and praying that I don't fuck it up.

The next lap, we are lined up at the hay bales at the top of Valhalla, and Job says, just before we roll out, "Hey Kate, lets work on those Whips, okay?'

Really? I was going to just work on them in my mind and never really try it until I went to a Whip Clinic in Whistler one day and sucked at it under the watchful eye of a trained coach. I was putting it off.

Mostly because I hadn't talked to anyone who could voice a concise understanding of the steps one could take to learn this in a safe progression. I was pretty sure I was going to whip the bike come down sideways, jackknife the handlebars and bury myself in a broken heap in the dirt.

Stay positive. Thats something else I tell my students a lot...

Apparently, Job thought I had the skill to do this, and hey, we've taken all of one lap together, who am I to argue with him about my skill and his ability to evaluate it?

(By the way, this is also how I broke four ribs three summers ago. Learning how to drop into the big bowl on a skateboard because a 13 year old told me I could do it. (To be fair, I trust this 13 year old, he has pretty good judgement)). (Side note, don't ever get the flu after you break your ribs, Throwing up sucks.)

Now, with a fused neck and healed ribs, I've been trying to be more adult. I walked through a lot of Psycho Rocks at Crested Butte, unwilling to take a fall with consequences like that. On the other hand, I had ridden all the little rock gardens with good energy and I felt solid helping the tire over the back side of the rocks while dropping down. Things were changing... maybe?

Also on the other hand, I had surprised myself at Steamboat, rolling along a skinny and dropping about  6 feet onto a bridge. I surprised myself again rolling down a steep rock drop. (Oh wow, CHECK AND CHECK off my seasons goals! Can this really be happening??) And then, who knew, CHECK on one I didn't even know I could aspire to; take a bike road trip and ride with a bunch of people I don't know just for fun. Hang with the group. Try hard stuff and pull it off. Make new friends who love to bike.  (Hi, Holly! We miss you guys!). (The hot tub incident and its ensuing late start consequences the next day were NOT on my list by the way...)

"Do you want me to follow you?" I asked Job, thinking he was going to say, "No, just work on your whips." "Yes. Follow me." He let the rest of the guys pull out and we hung off the back. Am I really going to do this?

We railed through the berms and pulled off at the top of the jump portion of the run. "Try this on these step-downs, you will have success here."

He said it with so much certainty that it just seemed rude not to try it.  And what the heck, we were not going that fast. Yet.

He dropped and whipped.

I dropped and scooted the tail of the bike to the side about three inches. Step-up, he throws a huge whip.

I follow him off of it and surprise myself. The bike goes out, i look and pull and it comes back under me. Step down. No time, wall ride. Im thinking about the whip so much that the corner takes care of itself and we are rolling at a comfy pace that makes the bike suck up the trail like I've never felt before.

Through the second set of berms, snap through the chicaine and then: jump line. These jumps are regular enough and far enough apart that I want to try it again. Mini whip on the table top, choke on the drop, straight air on the step up. Last chance. There's a big step down coming with a great landing and the group is waiting on the road. Kodak courage. I push the bike out from under me and everything slows down.

I have plenty of time. The bike is floating through the air, stalling, floating out to the side. I push the bar over and down, thinking about putting my knee across the frame. I'm not there by a long shot, but the action makes the bike do the strangest thing. It tips over sideways as the bars float over and suddenly, I'm riding in three dimensions in a way I never thought I'd experience.

I push the bars down in space as I crest the apex of the arc, and the bike floats up. I turn my head back to the trail and the bike follows. The landing falls away just perfectly and I land, SQUISH, two tires at the same time at the bottom of the transition.

I can whip.

I, me, nearly 41 years old and who fell UP Smuggler mountain, today went 34.8 miles per hour at some point on that ride and whipped the crap out of that bike.

Now, just like everyone who gets a teeny tiny bit of air on their skis for the first time feels like they went huge, I'm sure that my whip has a LONG way to go. The bike is probably not going that far up, that far out, and I'm probably not landing truly straight yet.

But I feel it. and out of those 55 jumps, I got to practice about 10 whips. And on the next lap, probably 30. And out of those 40 attempts, there were three that felt like time stopped and space was there to play with.

Like the rules of gravity and force still existed, but I could experience riding my bike at a right angle to the mountain and feel as though gravity applied in all directions, sucking my tires down into the earth when I was cornering. And when I was airborne, it felt like everything was timeless and slow and smooth.

And then I wanted more time up there, so I adjusted bow I was hitting the face of the jump with my feet, and suddenly I went from passively guessing to some beginning of kinesthetic understanding of when to push with my feet, the bike was getting so high in the air, I had all the time I wanted.

Six more days to practice flying. Six more days to ride Snowmass.

Don't let it pass you by!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to be in love. Really, truly in love.

In love without attachment. How can I be really truly in love without being attached? 

Full of peace, no drama, no crisis, just being.
Ive been wandering around this question for years, reluctant to let go of the idea of “being in love” for the more noble goal of developing Bodhicitta. I felt often at war with these concepts, unwilling to let go of my desire to be in a loving relationship, to feel and to be loved, while developing compassion for all sentient beings.

I don’t think that these things are mutually exclusive. I think that you can love and be loved, while being free from attachment to the person you love and to the concept of love itself. 

And once you are there, the act of loving and being loved is pure, free from wanting and taking. I think in order to get there, you have to examine closely what it means to be loved, to give love. What love is and why it is necessary. 

One of the major tenants of Buddhist Philosophy is that we become free from attachment. Attachment to things, people, emotions. If we are trying to achieve emptiness (which is a desirable state, a place of equanimity, not a place of abandonment as many western minds would initially think), we must look at what causes feelings of attachment.

Our ego is the source of pride, of wounds, of attachment, of bliss, of elation. Identifying our ego not as the thing that defines us, (our ego is not our personality) but as the thing that emotionally reacts according to our programing. We were programed emotionally to respond by those who raised us, by society in general around us. So our programming, our automatic responses are not thoughtful and mindful, but are just that, reactions.

Our ego is a bottomless pit that desires to be attached, to be fed. We feel temporary sensations of elation and bliss when our ego is appeased. Often the price of appeasing your ego, or indulging it is equally painful as the bliss was wonderful. Being led by your ego into decisions you make on how you relate to others, decisions in business, decisions in general is being led blindly. It is decision making in life through base, un filtered emotion. It is also how most of us make most of our decisions, without even realizing it. 

We check with our internal desires: “Do I really want this?” might be a question we ask. “Is this healthy for me?” might be another. But what is the filter through which you receive your answer from yourself? Years of conditioning, fueled by want, probably. Even for those of us that have learned to find our internal compass, it becomes important to know what tuned or informed that compass.

A gift given freely. I feel love in my heart for you and so here is a kiss. Its yours, something to recieve.
The compass will get clearer as you begin to identify areas where your ego is asking you to respond one way, and you listen to it without first creating space between yourself and your emotional response to a situation. 

So first, in order to practice identifying ego, and removing it from decision making; practice observing your emotional reactions with curiosity. Observation and curiosity are two powerful tools that create space between you and your emotions, and your action following those emotions.

This is not to suggest that having emotions is wrong or bad. I think our minds easily go to a place where we might think, this is me being asked not to feel, or to deny my feelings. Not at all. To feel is to be human. To experience emotion is to live the human experience. 

The question is can you be a more evolved human? Can you experience your emotions with some detachment to their directive? Without being owned by them? Do you have choice in an emotional place. Can you feel pain and sorrow and observe it as it goes through your body, noting its depth, and its quality, without wishing you were not experiencing it? Can you let the emotion that you are experiencing be your teacher? Can you be grateful for the lesson without cultivating anger towards the person who you would like to blame for making you feel this way? Can you own your part in whatever mad you feel this way? Can you allow grace and compassion for yourself while you observe yourself going through the process of grief, knowing that it is perfect and necessary. 

Obviously we learn how to handle our emotions to some extent through social norms. Lets say we are walking down the street, and there is a person who is eating an ice cream. Our internal desire lights up. Ice cream tastes good, we may experience desire to taste that ice cream. We know better than to walk up to that person and just lick their ice cream cone. 

We know that that ice cream belongs to them, and even though we have the desire to taste it, we decide not to follow through. If we observe our emotional reaction with curiosity, we may have the added benefit of being able to take that sensation of desire and turn it over in our mind. This is the quality of desire, this is what it feels like, this is how my mouth reacts to the idea of ice cream, this is how attached I am to the concept of needing to fulfill my desire. 

Ultimately it may be a more rewarding experience to meditate on your emotional reaction without being an unwilling victim of it. You can choose to go buy your own ice cream, and experience the sensation of eating it mindfully, or you can continue walking.

Here is where the question of love and attachment comes in. 

Blissful emotions are easy to become attached to. Experiencing them is amazing. We all desire bliss. They say that the state of enlightenment is blissful, entering a Nhirvannic state is the ultimate. (Bodhisaatvas continually deny this pleasure, refusing to attain their final state of Buddahood and enlightenment until all sentient beings are free from suffering. They “flee Nirvanna like it is a burning iron house”).
Am I holding on to you, or are you holding on to me? Or are we touching each other to transmit loving kindness, freely? A gift passing back and forth between us, each time giving with no expectation for reciprocation, each time received with gratitude.

But attachment is attachment. How do we experience bliss while not being attached to it? The same way we experience anger without being attached to it. Emotion is like the water in the stream. You wade out into it, and watch it swirl around you. You experience, in much more depth, the quality of each emotion when you are able to dispassionately and with curiosity observe its characteristics and qualities.

Attachment means thinking that you need this emotion in order to feel fulfilled. Experiencing your emotion fully means making space between you and that feeling, so you may observe with curiosity each aspect of the human experience, whether blissful or sorrowful, but ultimately without having your equanimity disturbed by either one of these emotions. 

Like a willow tree in the wind, imagine your capacity for feeling to be as expansive as the universe, imagine each branch capable of moving with the wind, whether its a gentle, warm breeze, or a cold gale force wind. 

Your ability to stand in the midst of all of these kinds of emotions, to see them, feel them, examine them, experience them without having them dictate your behavior allows you to have a greater depth of human experience. 

Now imagine that you are in love. There is one person in your life that you have formed a loving bond with. This is a good thing, and it doesn’t have to mean that you are “attached”. Think of attached meaning your sense of self or self worth being dependent upon unregulated input by someone else. In other words “they act loving towards me, therefore I feel my worth” that is a direct attachment. 

“I feel love from this person and experience its gift, I look at and examine the feelings of love not dispassionately but from a perspective of curiosity.” This allows you to actually experience the person, the feeling, to cultivate gratitude, to practice loving kindness, to remove your ego, to really experience love without contamination. 

If we are looking at an overall goal being that of achieving emptiness, ending suffering, that of yourself, and that of others, the road map would look like this, the end point being on top. (So read the list from the bottom)

Finally, Emptiness, void of attachment and suffering of any kind. Bodhicitta.
Resultant Equanimity, at peace with the fluctuations of our emotions, not owned by them, able to see clearly and have choice in the midst of bliss or chaos.
Compassion and loving kindness for all sentient beings
Cultivating Loving Kindness and Compassion for our enemies
Further exploration of and detachment from our Ego
Cultivation of Compassion for those we have no connection to 
Cultivation of Compassion for those we care for, like family or friends
Cultivation of loving kindness to those you care for
Cultivation of Loving Kindness to yourself
Each branch catches the wind, feeling its power, whether gentle or fierce. At its center, the tree experiences all of this, but in the end, is not defined by it. 

Loving kindness leads to compassion. When practicing loving kindness, we learn gratitude, we learn to give from a peaceful place. The process of learning not to be attached begins with attachment. 

Skipping to the end, trying “not to care” or “be attached” to others without first practicing cultivating loving kindness and compassion simply leads to a denial of emotion and an in-emotive state. You become conditioned to “not feeling”, rather than feeling all of it, but having a beautiful space of objectivity through which you can observe your emotions and reaction. 

Who do you feel attached to? Your friends, your family, your lover? Practicing gratitude for those people cultivates compassion for them. Practicing loving kindness towards them helps you learn to grow the capacity of your heart. 

In the next step, when you practice expanding your loving kindness to those you feel ambivalent about, you deepen your ability to not be attached while feeling love, or compassion. 

This is a good place to recognize your ego. If you can cultivate compassion for those you have no attachment to or affection for, you may find yourself wanting praise or accolades or recognition for these acts. 

This is a beautiful opportunity for a lesson. See the egoic piece that needs recognition, and then ask yourself if you can give your love as a gift, needing nothing in return. Because you are also compassionate to yourself, and have cultivated loving kindness to yourself, when it is time to give to someone who is not your friend or family, give willingly and without need for return. Give from your overflowing cup. 

If your cup is not overflowing yet, practice loving kindness and compassion toward your own self first. 

This is not selfish behavior, this is you practicing understanding what love and compassion are before you try to give them to someone else. If ultimately, your love is grounded in need, when you do give it to someone, you give it conditionally, with strings attached. 

“I will love you if you act this way.”

Practicing being enough for you makes you whole and healthy enough to give your love without toxic attachment, and at the same time, allows you to receive the gift of someone else's’ love without needing to take it from them. 

So how do we deal with wants and needs in a relationship? Giving your love without stating your needs can feel like laying down and letting someone walk all over you.
Its integrity intact, the tree bows to the force applied, acceptance. Over time, the tree will stand as the weight is lifted. 

However, laying down and letting someone walk all over you shows that you do not have compassion or loving kindness for yourself. It is not a compassionate choice to be in a relationship with someone who is not practicing gratitude for the love the are receiving. And at the same time, we do not give our love conditionally.

Here is where it can get tricky, and I think a good step to remember is that in order for you to give your love to someone else, whether it is a stranger or your committed partner, you need first to shine that light on yourself. Fill your vessel to overflowing, and from that place, give. 

If you practice making the compassionate choice for yourself, when your relationship boundaries are bumped, you can say clearly, that was the boundary of how I like to be treated. If you want to be with me, I need for you to respect that boundary. As we cultivate gratitude for the person we are with, and compassion for them, it becomes second nature to see our partners boundaries, and honor them well, without feeling like doing so takes from us. 

If we are practicing cultivating loving kindness towards first ourselves and then to those we love, and then to those we are ambivalent towards, and then towards those who cause us harm or feel like our enemies, we become powerful in our equanimity. We can stand in the center of bliss and loving kindness with those we care for just as easily as we can stand in the anger and ferocity of our enemies. 

Being able to stand and bend and see with objectivity both the positive and the negative allows us insight into the situation, enabling us to cultivate a strong middle path. 

This does not mean not to feel or love dive into the hearts of those we love. By all means, dive in. Love with ferocity. But allowing yourself to be owned by that love, attached to that sensation, dependent on it like food, as opposed to cultivating it and then having gratitude that in this moment, that emotion is present, you miss the point.

When you chase the bliss of love and attachment, you let the essence of its depth slip through your fingers. Compassion for the person you love means and includes loving them not in spite of, but inclusive of their faults as you see them. It means standing next to them with equanimity when they struggle. It means loving them the same whether they are on top of the world or being beaten up by it. When you are attached, or mistaking attachment for love, your partners ability to give love to you may define your experience of the relationship. 

If your partner loves to go hunting, lets say. And you are a vegetarian. You have nothing in common with this part of who they are. But it makes them happy and fulfilled. It is a healthy pass time, they get into nature with their buddies and get all muddy and bloody and come home feeling like they have accomplished something. They experienced time in the woods with their friends, cultivating gratitude and increasing loving kindness towards their friends. Lets say its not a trip you’d want to go on, or even better, not a trip you were invited along on.

Living in love without attachment means that when an opportunity for your partner arrises to do something that is meaningful to them, a wonderful way to cultivate loving kindness for them (which leads to compassion, which leads to equanimity), is to find a place in your heart where you WOULD be ego attached. 

This is the place that says, “Why doesn't he want to stay home with me? Why am I not invited? Why does he need these guy friends? Why is the trip a month long? Why do I have to stay home with the kids?” 

And hearing those little hurts and milking them, that’s your ego. That’s attachment.

Hearing those little hurts and recognizing them as your teacher, and then looking for a place to be able to say with truth, “I recognize that this is something that makes him happy. If I love him, I want him to be happy. Part of my job as a person who is in a loving relationship is to help my partner experience his world with love and joy. Therefore I am so excited for how happy he will be when he goes on this trip!”

Look for the emotion that he will get to experience. Let his potential to go without guilt, to feel freedom and support and compassion from you also fill you. Find the gift of yes, truly unattached to the outcome, not expecting tit for tat (If you go on this trip I get to go on this other one). Live your love free from worry or want or fear, let them go with your blessing. When you are willing to make that choice, and really practice it, you are living a depth of love that is that much more fulfilling for both of you.

Now this, of course, is about you experiencing love and commitment to a partner while practicing not having attachment. It is difficult if one person is practicing this way, and the other person is not, and therefore just takes.
Wrapped in each other, neither one owning the other, giving freely, experiencing the gift of human emotion without being defined by it.

You must evaluate whether you are making a compassionate choice to yourself to be with a person who is very ego attached and can not practice compassion towards you. If you stay in this situation, eventually, you will be depleted. 

However, practicing compassion for the fact that this is a path that takes people lifetimes to walk down, cultivating patience and grace for their practice is also important. This is a long journey, you yourself will need plenty of grace along the way. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How do I move my edge forward so I'm always pushing myself?

I had a friend email me the other day after I wrote the post about looking over your edge but not jumping off of it.

You might have to take a running leap off your emotional or mental edge to make change, like getting to class in the first place.
He asked to some extent, "What about moving your edge, so you are always pushing yourself?" Another friend asked something like "What about re-evaluating your boundaries and deciding if you want to move your edge?"

I thought those were good questions. And I think they have the same answer.

If you practice the right way, your edge moves itself.

But you have to pay attention. And have grace for where the edge is. And test it. Is it your mental edge or your physical edge? You have to push against it to see if you have more to give. You must not judge where your edge is compared to where it was yesterday. Your job is just to walk forward, every day, to your edge.

That's part of the compassionate choice. That's part of listening. You will NOT make improvements every day.

You will make improvements over time. The body changes every day according to how much sleep its had, what kind of food its had, how much it stretched or worked the day before.

That's why in weight lifting, you take days off of body parts while they heal and grow.

In yoga, your body becomes MUCH more flexible over time. In fact, tonight, I surprised myself by putting my face on the floor for the first time ever in a certain posture. Ive been practicing diligently for about two years.

Over time, if I came to my edge with diligence and patience, every single day, my edge moved. Overall, my face was closer to the floor. But day to day, in this posture, my edge was a good eight inches away from where I'd been the night before in practice. Sometimes it would stay that way for a week.

Once you are there, it will feel more like this every day. Walk willingly to the physical edge. Have grace for wherever that edge is today. 
Sometimes, I'd have weeks where I was a millimeter closer every day for a week, and then suddenly be able to go several inches further, followed immediately by a class where everything felt tighter.

If I fought the process, I frustrated myself. If I had grace and patience for the process, and just made the commitment to go to my physical max every single time I practiced, over all, the result was hugely positive.

If you practice the right way, that is by dedicating all of your effort to practicing well and correctly, rather than practicing through a prideful place, you will be far less likely to get injured, you will be much more likely to get amazing depth in your practice, and your practice becomes singularly about you and where you are in your body on that day. You have grace for your own becoming, and with that grace, you grow faster.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The ghost of who you were can be a guide for who you are becoming

Yesterday, I was in an amazing Ashtanga workshop at Arjuna Yoga in Aspen. I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I was confronted suddenly with who I had been. 

Ashtanga. The first series of Hatha Yoga. One Hundred Breaths here.
When you dedicate your life to healing, and you feel like you are making progress, sometimes its shocking to see vestiges of who you once were, or to hear old stories about what is true playing out in real time. 

It took me by surprise and shook me hard.

I have been so happy to have the opportunity to examine what drives me, why I made the choices I made, to ferret out emotional responses that exist because of past triggers. In therapy and over the years in personal practice, I have been able to face those sometimes very frightening automatic responses and dissect them, exposing their origin and rewiring its power over me. 

In any journey, there are more difficult sections. Over this summer, I've been enjoying a bit of a respite from what sometimes feels like forced Becoming. Readers that have been with me for a long time might remember posts where I asked, annoyed, "Can I stop learning now? Can this not be a day where I have to be humble and learn another lesson? Can I just rest and be enough today?" And the answer has often been no. You can not rest if there is work that needs to be done. 

And sometimes it is yes. And often, a period of rest is preparing you for your next big evolution.

And since tryouts ended in April, and because of the gentle and loving support of some good friends, I had the opportunity to not be under scrutiny suddenly. I was not surrounded by mentors who kindly hold the mirror up every day and ask for more. I was at the beach. In the sun. It was amazing.

Since I got back, Ive slowly relaxed into enjoying my summer jobs, Downhill Mountain Biking is freeing and fun and its incredible to be a teacher in a sport like this. The barriers to entry seem huge. People look at the gear and the pads and the jumps and the bikes and they think, "I could never do that."

But they can. And showing people that there is so much more to themselves than they ever bargained for is why I am passionate about teaching. 

But in order to be a great teacher, I think you have to be an outstanding student. Especially of yourself. And while there is a LOT for me to learn about riding DH, there isn't the depth of instructors at Aspen yet. There isn't this level of technical accountability that drives me in skiing. (There is in the sport, just the school is young, and we are learning as we go.)

And so to fill my need to be a student with a guru, I continued my yoga practice, crossing my fingers that I'll get the Bikram scholarship so that I can go to LA for nine weeks and get my ass kicked as a student, and emerge with another level of Becoming unfolded, lick my wounds, be grateful for them, and put all that into my winter teaching skiing and massage. 

Its a strange cycle. And I wasn't really planning on having to do that work until I went to teacher training. But I accidentally started studying before I left for Bikram.

Your teacher shows up when you least expect it. Sharon Caplan continues to learn while she teaches, inspiring us all during every class.
A few months ago, I started an Ashtanga yoga practice with this very gentle teacher whom I admire greatly, Sharon Caplan. She has an incredibly giving heart, she is incredibly inspiring in her demonstration, showing depth of practice that is beyond a physical yoga body. I don't really know how to describe it. She expects you to give all you have to give. She expects you to be accountable for your health and injury situation. She doesn't demand. But you'd be a fool not to take all she offers. 

So I'm standing in class. And I’m looking in the mirror. In general, I like what I see. (Im not talking about the body, I'm talking about the person. The body seems to be a reflection of the person.) And I begin to see glimmers of these old beliefs about myself, some of which I had worked through. Some of which are being revealed as the practice strips away armor I didn’t know I still had. 

Old Belief : (This I know is not true, but the whispers surprised me and took my strength) I look strong, but I’m not, I’m heavy. People who think I am strong are fooled by how my body holds weight. 

Belief: All of my strength comes from my mind. When I believe I am strong, I behave as a strong person does. (Part of this belief is true, but I think it needs to be framed right.)

I’m believing that one because when I am not attached to other people’s concept of me, but happy to be who I am where I am, practicing and training for my health and equanimity, I am strong. I can do all the flows, all the chattarangas. That I can do that is not a measure of my physical capabilities over someone else’s. It is a measure of my belief in myself and my dedication to my practice, which lends me strength, and as a result, strengthens my body over time.

Here is the doozy that I realized was pointing at truth:

Belief: Although I have gotten stronger over time, my core is weak, has always been weak, will always be weak, and is a weakness that I must work around. 

I know that beliefs like this are crutches. This is a road block. My core will not get strong until I look in the emotional mirror and decide that I have lived under the power of suggestion that my core is weak, has been weak and will always be weak, therefore, I work around it, I compensate, I protect the weakness so that I have an excuse. 

I used to be ruled by a disappointment that I didn't, and couldn't look like this. Now I'm so happy just to look like me.  But acceptance is different than complacency.
In order to change this belief, I have to be willing to make my core strong. To look right at it, not to work around it or compensate for it. Just like a lousy drop shot in tennis. You want to have a whole game? Your lousy drop shot is now your favorite shot, eventually developed into your most deadly weapon. Want to be a whole person? Welcome to your fear that keeps you from exploring a weakness you covet. 

Seeing this belief in the mirror hit me hard. Because once a Victim Crutch like this is exposed, if you are really a student of Becoming, you have a responsiblity to unpack that shit and get to work. 
Tummy issues are difficult. Not just for women, for everyone. And we all have our story. 

Ive grown to love and except my little paunch, a beautiful result of making two people. I don’t really mind that the skin on my belly is stretched and it doesn’t look like it did when I was 20.

I do mind that the strength under the skin is something I’m not willing to look at or change. Or haven’t been until now. I’ve paid lip service to it, I’ve strengthened my body all around it. But I haven’t run right at the thing that scares me. 

Our bellies have been described as our seat of creativity, our intuition and our will. Its is for this reason that I often do belly massage in massage therapy sessions. Cultivating love and joy for the soft home of creation. But in my own practice, grateful as I am for the creative space, I have accepted weakness as part of who I am. 

If I want to grow and become, I need to examine that belief. Because physical manifestations are so often just reflections of how we view ourselves. What am I protecting by not going in there? 

I journied back in my mind through the healing of beliefs I’ve encountered before, and I realized that this area, this belief system, is really deep, and really protective. 

Initially, I always kept a layer of fat on my belly to keep the monster at bay. Readers who have visited with me for a while will know that as a young child, I was abused by a man who I trusted to be a parent to me. 

I don’t hold any resentment or anger at him, he behaved the way that he did because of factors in his life that drove his behavior. Ultimately, I received the gift of examination and healing because of this obstacle. Un-believing the things I learned about myself at his hands has been a good practice for me, it is like looking for treasure in a dark and treacherous cave. There’s really nothing scary inside there unless you let the shadows tell you stories. And if you are diligent, you will find gold. 

Its either opportunity or fear. You chose.
And so. 

I feel these whispers, and its a familiar sensation, and I am momentarily frustrated because I feel like I’ve healed this place already. Its annoying to have to go back and re lay foundation.

But when I take a closer look, I realize only the sensation is familiar. Old whispers are an indication that we are close to a protected place that no longer serves. This isn't a place I've healed. This is a place I've not even visited.

The hint of disappointment and self rebuke, which once was so loud, is now just an invitation to discovery. The familiar sensation is my internal teacher telling me there is work I can do here that will lead to freedom. I know there is nothing real or scary in the cave. 

I know to run at the thing that scares me.

I know that in the darkness, with patience and diligence and willingness, I will find a piece of treasure. And if I examine it carefully, I will be rewarded with Becoming. With new clarity, new space between me and my story.

Its time to learn again.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Find your edge. Look over it. Don't jump off of it.

Lets say all kinds of light bulbs went off yesterday and you found your compassionate mind. You use it when you are standing in line for coffee. You ask if it is the compassionate choice to spend the $5 on a latte, knowing that it will be painful at the end of the month, causing stress and anxiety when you go to pay your rent. This impacts how you feel about you, your ability to save and spend wisely, this affects your relationships, this affects your ability to let your kids go to skate camp if they want to.

Your compassionate mind is not at work. Your automatic mind is not allowing you to let discomfort be your most tender teacher.
You order a drip instead of a latte. You feel warm, loved, cared for, content when you make this choice. You just put $50 back in your bank account over the next week. It is the compassionate choice.

How else can you use your compassionate mind?

In Yoga, we talk about going to your place of benefit. On the mat, it works like this:

In each posture, go only to your place of benefit on that day in that posture and go no further. Never sacrifice depth in a posture for alignment.

Its easy to say this, its harder to live it. Our western minds like the idea of being excellent at something. Of being best in the class, better than the person next to us. We get some satisfaction in excelling. We like to have our successes seen and lauded. If we aren't doing as well as we believe we can, we often want people to know it.

We throw our tennis rackets, or we roll our eyes or we sigh loudly, or we shake our heads. All of these silent (or not so silent) signals to whoever might be watching that we are frustrated because usually, we are better than this.

What if you were able to lay down your ego attachment, your idea that it matters what other people think, how they judge you, and then, even better, how you judge yourself?

What if in each moment, you did only what you needed to do according to how your body was feeling on that day. What if you could find the Ultimate Expression of the posture for YOU on that day in that moment?

The Ultimate Expression exists. You've seen pictures. Its Seth Morrison hucking off the cliff. Its Shane McConkey's back flip. Its Kelly Wade putting her toes on her head. Its Kate Giampapa flying Amanda in the air. Its Sharon Caplian in full extension. Its your best friend getting straight A's without studying.

The reason that an Ultimate Expression exists in yoga postures is because yoga is a life long activity. And as you age, and you continue your practice, your body changes. And over time as your body changes, you need a lamp post to head towards. A beacon. Its like a fairy light, a destination that is always moving further away as you approach it.

We in the west tend to think of the Ultimate Expression as a benchmark for how "good" we are at Yoga. A lot of us want to compare our ability to get close to the ultimate expression when we first begin our practice as a benchmark for our innate talent at yoga.

And you can be "Good" at yoga. But not because on your first day you can put your head on your knee. As one of my favorite teachers said, you aren't going to reach enlightenment when you can put your head on the floor. There's another step after that one, anyway.

You can be good at yoga because you practice the right way.

Because you have the discipline to look for your Place of Benefit and go with full commitment to that place but NOT PAST IT.

Past his place of benefit and unaware of it, most likely. The enticing goal of getting head to knee is tempting him past his place of benefit. His standing leg is bent, he has sacrificed the entire benefit of the posture for the goal of being "good" at it. Unfortunately, this is how you get hurt in yoga. You go past your place of benefit in search of victory. 
My little sister travels in the summer. She goes all over the world, and as she goes, she practices yoga. Recently, she was in Israel practicing. The studio where she had just bought an introductory week long pass was having some internet difficulty. My sister is a bit of a SEO genius. She offered to help the studio. They happily agreed. In exchange, they'd give her a free month of yoga.

Unfortunately, before they could have their first meeting, the week was expiring. My sister's yoga practice is important to her. She was worried. Would she have to find that $130 to practice for the month?

The studio told her, "Don't worry, we'll start your month and we can meet next week."

My sister asked the owner, "How do you know that's a good choice for you? What if I don't keep my end of the bargain? How can you trust me?"

The studio owner answered, "Oh, its okay, we've seen your practice. We know it will be fine."

Now, my sister has a beautiful practice. She does not go to the ultimate expression, she is a beginner. She's been doing Bikram for about a year. She tries the right way, in every posture, finding her place of benefit, all the time.

Sometimes, her place of benefit is in child's pose on the floor sitting out the posture. But this is a choice she makes by and for herself, without showing drama on her face, or pulling anyone off their mat and onto hers while she makes the choice to back off. She just sees her edge and backs off.

The amazing Sharon Caplain likes to say, "Find your edge. Look over it. Don't jump off of it."

We all want to try our hardest.  But how do you know you are trying your hardest? Can you tell because you are trembling, and sweating and breathing so hard? Maybe you are trying physically your hardest with your muscles. But there is more to practice, and more to life than that.

What if it is hardest for you to pay attention to your injury in your knee? What if its the hardest to back off in general because you had a huge day already? Do you need to announce to the world that you hiked up smuggler and then rode your bike to Basalt and back or can you just do your practice for yourself to your place of benefit on this day and let that be enough? Can you LAY DOWN YOUR EGO? And rather than being defeated by your injury, you come to class anyway and focus on how to go to your place of benefit with your knee in mind?

Now you are trying your hardest, but you aren't trembling and shaking.

Do you miss trembling and shaking? Do you like to tremble and shake because that tells the teacher you are trying hard?

What if you didn't need to tell the teacher, and everyone else in the room, with your body and your breath that you are trying your hardest? What if you just know it internally? What if you were enough for you, and your practice was about you, your health, your strength?

What if being good at yoga meant being dedicated to finding your place of benefit in each posture, according to how your body felt on that day?

Everyone to their place of benefit and no further. A room full of mindful practice. Bliss, joy and FREEDOM exist in discipline of this kind. 
Over time, when you have a dedicated yoga practice, you get popped into the big picture. You see your body evolving over time. You see that on one day, your legs are tight, and on the next, you stretch more than ever. You see your body staying the same for three weeks and suddenly opening for a week. You realize that you are never going backwards because over time, your body is changing. Internally.

Your ability to metabolize waste is changing, your patience is changing, your concentration is changing, your equanimity is changing. And your hamstrings are changing.

So you have this huge moment of relief when you realize, its not about me stretching an inch more today than I did yesterday, or an inch more than the person next to me. Its about finding excellence in the discipline to try the right way.

And when I try the right way, I am full of compassion for myself, and my body is rewarded with a safe, strengthening, liberating practice.

And then you walk off the mat and you ask yourself, where is my place of benefit today? In the office, on the hike, on the phone. It leads you back to the compassionate choice. And from here, there is security and solidity, a willingness to explore the unknown, because you can trust yourself to come from the compassionate place.