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Sit Up. Stand Up.

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In January, I will be teaching a workshop on the hidden stories of the body, working with Jenny Otto, my yoga teacher and friend who is a brilliant body worker. Every discomfort, every dysfunction of the body is a mystery to be unlocked to her. She is a body detective, a tracking the paths muscles and nerves and bones take, unraveling old patterns and structural quirks to reveal blocks and the true source of pain.

My part in this “Body Talk” workshop will be to help others give voice to the body, to make conscious those life habits and thoughts that we carry in our bones. We will be cartographers of this flesh and blood map of our lives, attempting to understand better how our experiences – our thoughts, beliefs, hopes, despair, love, losses, delights- are embodied in this beautiful instrument that is our most constant and faithful companion.

These past few months, planning the workshop, I have been trying to listen to my own body, observing how I react physically to being a physical being. It’s all there in the way I walk and sit and move. My body is mute, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t communicating constantly. If I pay attention, I can feel the effects on it when life throws me onto the mat and also when it delights me. I can begin to see how this body sustains me, gives me joy and feeds me the sensual smorgasbord of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.

My meditative practice starts by observing the body. When you’re “sitting” (what us Zen practitioners call meditation practice), it’s impossible to ignore your posture. My habit of slouching is not a new revelation, but I have been pushing myself lately to pay attention to the entirety of how I sit. And this is what I have discovered: In general, I am a collapser – my entire upper body bows sightly forward, ribs sinking into waist, shoulders rounded, neck bent forward, head following that forward and down trajectory (chin up, I remind myself). My lower spine- from tailbone behind the lower ribs – collapses, too, fiving in to the soft belly that tips me entire lower back forward. What little support I give myself!

The collapsing is a reaction to a lifetime of trying to stay upright through decades of gale force winds. A tree can bend and snap back, but if the winds are constant, the tree grows at an angle. It is its way of surviving. My fallback is falling, collapsing into myself. It is the position of giving in and giving up, But I also have to honor that it is a position of endurance. This is how I have survived. This determined little body has bowed, but is still standing. Still sitting. Still in the game.

When I catch myself in this fallback position and right my ship- head up, shoulders back, chest up, ribs up, belly and spine lined up and holding me up – I feel an immediate difference in my demeanor. I breathe in, deep, not the shallow breath of a collapsed body. I do know how to stand up for myself. My body tells me when I am not doing so. It is always telling me. And waiting for me to pay attention.

The word collapse came as a revelation to me as I write this. I have been feeling and sitting and standing collapsed in the wake of what I feel is an enormous tragedy for my country. I feel defeated and not sure how to stand up. But my body reminds me I do know how. Pull that head up, chin up. Shoulders back. Open your sternum wings, as Jenny once told our class – or at least that’s how I heard it – and so the wings come out. And the mind follows.

My body loves being upright. It wants to be there for me. Now I have to be there for it. Maybe today, that’s all I can do. Breathe and stand. Feel the earth under my feet and the sky above. Be there for my body. Be there for myself.

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Dancing Barefoot with Patti

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Last Wednesday, I sat in on a conversation with Patti Smith – Saint, Poet, Goofball, Punk Priestess, and one of the most unpretentious, authentically themselves people I have ever encountered. This was more evident than ever in a casual, two-person chat on the stage at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC. last week with Seth Hurwitz, the indie promoter who pioneered bringing in alternative bands to DC in the 1980’s and became a force to be reckoned with – starting the 9:30 Club and then IMP Productions.
At first, I wondered why Seth? I was disappointed that a more literary or musical person wasn’t in the chair opposite her. But he was fine, and Patti’s choice of him became clear. Think of Seth as a local, anti-corporate (i.e. Clear-Channel/I Heart Radio) bringer of joy and music to the people. I think that’s why Patti liked and trusted him so much. You could feel their long and comfortable friendship, their mutual admiration.
And of course, I think almost anyone could sit there with Patti and wonderful things would be brought forth. She’s just Patti, in the moment Patti, honest and humble and yet fully all of who she is- an artist, a mother, an “old girl” on the edge of seventy, a woman still so in love with her beloved Fred Smith, and in love with life, with the world.
She still believes in possibility. Maybe all artists do.
***
After the hour-long conversation, she got up and played a few stripped down songs with her guitarist and daughter Jessie on piano. I cannot get “Dancing Barefoot” out of my head, and now understand she is saying:
I’m dancing barefoot
Headin’ for a spin
Some strange music drags me in
Makes me come up like some heroine
Not heroin like I thought for thirty-something years. HEROINE. Fuck yes.
She is a Heroine- certainly mine. And how appropriate to know the real word in the song now, at this time, because we are on the cusp on Heroine Rising, so many heroines showing up in 2016, telling their stories, listening to the strange music of love for themselves, for truth, for female-ness in all its Dolly Dagger fierceness. We’re dancing barefoot now – and while dancing barefoot always brings with it the danger of our souls/soles bleeding, not to dance NOW is not an option.
Patti does not speak much about politics, even on the eve of Candidate Trump’s “Gropergate”— her way of addressing it, she indicated, was by singing this song, the one she has been ending all her shows with now, the anthem to democracy she wrote with Fred:
PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER…People have the power…People have the power
To dream…
To rule…
To wrestle the earth from fools.

THE TRANSCRIPTION BENEDICTION:
In the dark of auditorium, I bent over my journal and tried to capture some of what she had to say, although she says nothing as if it is important, it’ simply what she thinks and sees and believes.. Here’s what I got:
“Poetry is written in code, a structure and language that people may not fully comprehend, but feel. I mean, I didn’t know what some of the poems meant that I was reading, but I knew them, felt them.
(Thank you Patti for not making me feel like a thick-headed fool for not getting some poems at first—or thinking you were singing HEROIN when it was HEROINE.)
On smoking pot, which she said she had to stop doing around the time she had kids:
“You can’t have children and smoke pot, because they seem like aliens.”

“Every morning, I get up and write for between 8-10 am and that’s my writing time. I write everyday.”
“I like the act of writing. It’s a discipline. Even if nothing is there at first, I write and write and sometimes something opens up. (If it doesn’t, I use my left hand.)
“M Train started when I decided I’d write about nothing – so I did. And this unfolded. No expectations. Nothing.”
“The first person I have to please is myself. And I’m always working on it.”
“It took me a long time to write Just Kids. To write it out and figure how to do it. Sometimes I got so frustrated. I didn’t think I was good enough. It took about twenty years. I was just trying to give Robert the book he asked for.”
“I believe in the trinity of memory. We are always in all our time zones simultaneously.”
“I just had a fit of shyness.” (She giggled this one out when getting up to stand before the mike and begin singing.)
“I dreaded becoming a “woman.” Let me be, like, an old girl. Yeah. That’s it. I’m an old girl.”
What the favorite thing I’ve done? The next thing. I think any artist would say that.”
And her next thing? “A memoir. About the early years, mostly about how I got here.”
Can’t wait.