On the Pleasures of Ungar (Part 2)

By Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas
opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?

And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”

Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.

Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.


On the Pleasures of Ungar (Part 1)

By Lynn Ungar

The universe does not
revolve around you.
The stars and planets spinning
through the ballroom of space
dance with one another
quite outside of your small life.
You cannot hold gravity
or seasons; even air and water
inevitably evade your grasp.
Why not, then, let go?

You could move through time
like a shark through water,
neither restless or ceasing,
absorbed in and absorbing
the native element.
Why pretend you can do otherwise?
The world comes in at every pore,
mixes in your blood before
breath releases you into
the world again. Did you think
the fragile boundary of your skin
could build a wall?

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?

On the Rigors of Mastery

(PLANA Forma) The anatomy of a torture chamber. (Image sourced from Google.)

So, Abbey and I attended a truncated version of a Plana Forma class today on the invitation of our friend and Plana Form technique creator, Julie Alagde-Carretas.

It was the second time we’d tried this particular fitness technique, the first time being nearly a year ago. We were pretty fit even then, but that didn’t stop us from being massacred all the same. Today, we came in hoping that a year’s worth of almost-daily ashtanga practice had beefed up our strength and stamina (if only by a fraction).

Twenty minutes later, after the session had ended, Abbey and I crawled to our respective corners and decided—in true ashtangi fashion—that MORE practice (perhaps 10,000 hours more of it in true Gladwell fashion) is necessary.

Like most of my recent realizations, this one triggered contrary emotional responses. First, there was frank dismay: a year’s worth of ashtanga yoga and I can barely survive a beginner’s-level Plana Forma class? Second, there was grudging acknowledgment: I can actually follow the instructions!  And in the past, I couldn’t even do a grapevine!* Third, there was grim determination: If I can do all that, imagine what it’ll provide for my yoga practice!

(Yes, I’m a yoga nerd that way. The value of almost everything is measured in terms of what it can do for my practice.)

Outweighing all the other responses, however, was a profound sense of humility and respect—bound up with the realization I’ve gotten over the previous year of just how much mastery there is to (always) gain and how much hard, drudging, painful work is involved in the pursuit of such mastery.

And so I go back, as always, to the words of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Practice and all is coming. 


* The grapevine is a classic footwork technique that basically involves side-stepping while crossing one foot in front of the other. In fitness classes in the Philippines, it seemsto be frequently accompanied by rather florid hand movements whose cardiovascular value I have yet to establish.

On the Particularity of Risk

Upon visiting my friend Kaz’s On(e) Love blog yesterday (http://onloveonelove.blogspot.com/), I found this poem by Anaïs Nin:


And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

True to form, Kaz followed the poem with a beautiful meditation on the risks of love. And true to form (for my form, at least), I finished reading the poem and started meditating on the risks of new endeavors.

Which led to another meditation, in turn, on the highly individual nature of risk itself.

Because the thing is, there are things that are universally risky (like love and new endeavors) but our individual risk appetites for each of these universal items will vary, depending on which aspects of our identity tend to be most vulnerable. We’re all quite capable of throwing caution to the wind, but we’re only adept at it in areas where the caution (for us) was dispensable to begin with.

Which is why some of us can be astoundingly impulsive when it comes to love while remaining obstinately conservative when it comes to new endeavors (and vice versa). At the end of the day, we’re all desperate to protect some thing and it’s our life-long task to relinquish that urge “to remain tight in a bud” in those areas where it’s riskiest for us to blossom.

Because it’s in those areas, precisely, where we bloom most beautifully.

On the Pleasures of Levertov (Part 2)

By Denise Levertov

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves
back to the love of morning
after we’ve lain in the dark crying out
O God, save us from the horror . . . .

God has saved the world one more day
even with its leaden burden of human evil;
we wake to birdsong.
And if sunlight’s gossamer lifts in its net
the weight of all that is solid,
our hearts, too, are lifted,
swung like laughing infants;

but on gray mornings,
all incident – our own hunger,
the dear tasks of continuance,
the footsteps before us in the earth’s
beloved dust, leading the way – all,
is hard to love again
for we resent a summons
that disregards our sloth, and this
calls us, calls us.

On the Pleasures of Levertov (Part 1)

By Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.