Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Winter's Long Dance Into Spring: Some Random Thoughts on This and That

Spring is hiding around here.  It's -16C this morning, with a wind chill of -22C. The forecast is for a high of -6C, bitterly cold for the end of March, even in this region.  Snow is piled everywhere-in yards, alleyways, the streets.  Side walks are few and far between, making it tough for those of us who rely on shank's mare to get around.  It's been a beast of a winter and there are days when everyone finds it difficult to discover any beauty around us.

This morning when I pulled on my snow boots and ventured out to collect the newspaper, I had a glimpse of the beauty that comes with a very late spring:

There are signs of the Sun behind that combination of hoarfrost and snow:

The patterns of light and dark remind me of this guy, who is ever so helpful, always hanging out where he should not be (rather like this winter):

The books in front of Mickey are my yoga stick figure/note journal and a book of doodles I'm painting. (Among the gifts that yoga has given me is a renewed interest in drawing and painting.)

One of this month's yoga teacher training assignments is to read the Bhagavad Gita, taking note of anything that "jumps out at us."  What's jumping out at me now is annoyance, not only of Krishna's admonitions to Arjuna, but the lack of a female voice in so many yogic texts.  I've lamented this lack before, when taking Colin's Yoga 390 Class at the university. It's as if half the population did not/does not exist, except as something to avoid. Admittedly, I have only read translations of the Gita and my understanding of it is severely limited (to the degree that I probably shouldn't discuss it), but in the versions I have at hand (including M. Gandhi's translation), there is one small mention of women:

"Where there is no sense of unity, the women of the family become corrupt; and with the corruption of its women, society is plunged into chaos." (translation by Eknath Easwaran, p. 81)

Oh, well, then.  Bad women, not knowing their place.  Perhaps it's my grumpy frustration at winter's long stay, or perhaps I'm pulled by the stirrings of the recent full Moon, but I am tired of the rule books, tired of the notion that men build, women are to be watched guardedly.  

This is not what I want for my daughter or my son.  In response, I restarted a painted notebook which I began way back in 2000.  The doodles are fragments of sayings, many from the Gita, and my reactions to them.  They're not planned, but the theme has become a call to my children to thumb their noses at the rule books that present themselves at every turn in life.

It seems to me that, rather than bowing to convention and "knowing our place," it would do all us good if we abandoned our habitual behaviours once in a while. Knitters caught up in making practical items can practice some free form work or dress a cow.  (If you're on Ravelry, you can click the links.) If you're a 2 ply lace yarn spinner, make some wild art yarns:

All of us can open our hearts to the wonders of the Other.  When we do, we may discover that we can dance:


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Here Comes the Sun: Musings on Snow and Salutations

We've had a record amount of snow this year, something in the range of 200 cm, so well over 6 feet of the white stuff.  This is the view from my back step:

Morris is running out of places to do his thing:

Our resident bunny is still hanging in there:

Everyone has her own ideas about what will encourage warm weather to make its arrival. Heather taught the last class of winter in the studio last night; she teamed up with Ali, who taught the first class of spring this morning, to complete 108 cycles Surya Namaskara, or Sun Salutations.  Conventionally, Sun Salutations are done at the solstice; however, our teachers decided to celebrate both the passing of winter and the arrival of spring at the equinox.  Heather led us through 54 cycles of Salutations in the evening class.  If someone chose to do so, she could complete the cycles at the 6:15 am class today.  (No, I was not there.)

I struggle with Surya Namaskara.  The quicker pace of the cycles usually makes my asana practice rather sloppy and I have to be careful not to pinch muscles in my back.  I was a little hesitant about attending the evening class, especially after the challenges on the weekend, but I knew that no one would force me to do one cycle, let alone 54.  I decided to give it a shot.  13 students gathered for practice as Heather guided us through the asanas in 6 sections.  I didn't complete all 54 cycles; I managed to do 36, more than I've ever done at one time and without injury.

I wanted to participate in the full session, rather than watch from the sidelines, but I couldn't think of a way to do this.  An idea came to me just prior to class, at the end of the Breath and Meditation class:  when my body signalled that it was time for a break, I would sit out a section of the practice, but I would continue to participate by drawing stick figures for each asana.  As it happened, that practice was not as easy as I had anticipated.  the poses moved quickly; drawing even simple stick figures for each move proved challenging. Drawing Surya Namaskara stick figures turned out to be active, more than just sketching.  It took one full cycle of drawing before I found my rhythm, but eventually, things began to line up (literally):

The stacking of my little figures wasn't intentional, although I was aware of it at the time.  At the end of our class, I had completed 4 rounds of Salutations, physically, and completed 2 cycles of asanas by drawing figures.

When we're confronted with challenges, it helps to remember that there are many ways to meet them.  We can avoid them, push through them or find a way around them.  Any or all of those methods can be the right solution at a given time.  Sometimes, when we think we are missing out because we can't do things as expected, we discover that we have been given a new perspective.  With last night's practice, I not only had the opportunity to discover Surya Namaskara as physical practice, I received the gift of discovering a new way of exploring it as meditative practice.  Life is full and good.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Wall: On Being Gentle With Yourself

We finished our yoga teacher training weekend intensive and I was so exhausted by Sunday night, that I had to miss my Monday morning class in order to recover.  Saturday was especially challenging. I taught my sock knitting class prior to running over to the studio.  We were at the heel flap, heel turning and shaping gussets, which is the trickiest part of shaping a top down sock.  Sock shaping is magical, but it's not intuitive for a first time sock knitter, so everyone left the class feeling a bit frazzled, including me.

By the time I got to teacher training, I was tired, hungry and stressed (mistaking those sensations for My Self); as the day progressed, I was hit by a wave of fatigue that left me on the studio floor (literally), able only to watch others move into poses. That fatigue (which hits at the most inconvenient times) is frustrating, so much so that I was ready to quit the teaching programme, because, in that moment, it seemed like something for younger bodies and minds.

A few years ago, I would have done just that-packed my bags and headed out the door, convinced that this is the way things will always be.  One thing time has taught me is that everything is in flux; if we wait, change will come.  I have learned to step back and observe My Self as if I am watching someone else.  I would never tell someone struggling with their knitting, spinning, yoga, etc. to give up, nor would I feel angry if what she was learning didn't come easily.  (I might feel frustration because my teaching methods weren't effective just then, but I wouldn't quit teaching because of it.)  So, why would I punish My Self by being angry and judgemental?

Challenges are inevitable.  Often, we face them by being much harder on ourselves than we would be on others.  We expect to start where the experts finish; we refuse to acknowledge that our bodies, our skill levels and our learning rates are unique.  We don't give ourselves the time we need to absorb lessons learned.  It's our default mode and it would do us good to "unlearn" that practice.

When I hit a Wall, I try not to continue throwing myself against it.  Instead, I step back and survey the surroundings.  What do I need to change my experience, both practically and emotionally?  This weekend, what I needed was a good night's rest, lots of food and water for the Sunday class, and acceptance that things don't always go the way we wish.

The Sunday teacher training went more smoothly.  My energy levels and confidence actually improved as the day progressed (although discovering that my Virabhadrasana II required so much correction was a bit of a blow to my ego).  I didn't quite pass my Sanskrit exam (passing grade was 70%), but I was pleased that I'd at least made a start in recognizing Sanskrit words and asanas.  I decided to stay in the teacher training programme for a while yet.

I looked exactly like this in Virabhadrasana II, minus the smile.

If we judge others harshly, we can step back and ask ourselves if we are practising loving kindness. As we work to apply loving kindness to others, we can ask if we can apply the same gentle acceptance to ourselves. Learning to be gentle and tender with Our Selves can help us to step away from the Wall of Frustration.  Who knows, we may even learn to read what is written there.  At least, we can learn to accept it and know that, in time, a maze of yarn becomes a sock heel, that Wall becomes a Door.

A lovely pair of hand spun and hand knit socks at a craft sale.  Photo taken with permission of the maker, whose name escapes me.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Aria 51: Thoughts on Shiva/Shakti and Finding Balance

We began a new session at the studio this week.  Colin’s theme in his Level 1 and 2 class was Shakti energy.  He spoke of Patangali’s yogic philosophy which was based on stilling mind and thoughts. Hatha Yoga (and I hope this is an accurate paraphrase) is not about stopping thoughts; it’s about being aware of the thoughts and the stillness, learning to enjoy both.  The You that is our core is the space between those gaps.

Traditionally, Shiva and Shakti are partners.  Shiva is often associated with knowledge and concentration.  Shakti is linked to creativity and intuition.  Shiva is male force, Shakti, female.  (This description is not even close to accurate; click on their names if you want just a hint of how complex the concepts of Shiva and Shakti become.) Knowledge requires creativity-even the most logic-based ideas need a spark of intuition to fuel them.  Intuition is heart or core-based knowledge, that moment when we “know” something.  To hear intuition speak, we require concentration.  None of these things are restricted to either sex.  Shiva and Shakti can stand alone, but are at their best when one is in balance with the other.

Back home, I spent some time thinking of Colin’s words, wondering how they translated into practice, including fibre practice and my life.  That evening, while picking over a pile of hand spun yarn experiments, deciding which ones to use and which to toss, “it” came to me. 

This is Aria 51, knitted from 2 yarns, an art yarn sample made for my Spinning Designer Yarn class and a Plain Jane 2 ply spun from a Merino/silk blend, plied with a wool and mohair singles:

Neither yarn is remarkable.  The art yarn was one of many attempts to spin stable coils.  Most of the coils in the yarn stay put, but the fibre blend resisted the fulling the yarn needed to stabilize it.  Repeated fulling attempts left the fine silk binder thread weak. There’s a lot of Shakti energy in this yarn-you can see it in the coils, which bring life to the skein.   At the same time, I see where Shiva has wandered off-when I slipped into mindless spinning, I forgot simple spinning rules, such as “Use enough twist to hold your fibres together.”

The plain yarn is more Shiva-based.  I wanted a low twist 2 ply lace yarn and that’s what I got-a rather boring, adequately spun yarn.  I can tell that I didn’t follow my intuition with this yarn.  For one thing, the twist is inconsistent; I knew it needed more, but I rushed the spinning.  As a result, both Shiva (the “rules”) and Shakti (the “spark”) are missing in the yarn.

And yet.

When I saw the yarns side by side, I knew they were what I needed for a concrete example of Shiva/Shakti energy.  Knitted in garter stitch, the plainest of all stitch patterns, the yarns highlight one another.  The Plain Jane yarn frames the boldness of the designer yarn.  On its own, a wrap in the plain yarn would be remarkably boring, but the coils in the art yarn add life to the piece.  Used alone, designer yarns tend to be too much, but here this yarn is just enough.


Another spinner may (and likely will) look at Aria and quickly spot her flaws, the hint of negligence in the yarns, the art that isn’t quite there.  I see those things, too, but they don’t matter at the moment.  I have the skills to improve similar yarns.  The time will come when I will need to apply those skills, but something else came to play today in this scrap of knitting. 

What I can’t show you is how soft and light the fabric is or how lively it feels when worn.  (Our household is short on models.  Neither Morris nor Mickey were willing to fill the void.)  It feels good just to touch it.  You can’t feel how my heart lifts, how I smile every time I touch her.  I tell myself that’s because Shiva/Shakti have found balance here.  And, just for a moment, I did, too.


(For Colin, who kind of asked for it.)