On the Externalization of Self

(LAOS, Luang Prabang) A monk texting; even the religious externalize. (Photo taken and edited by the author.)

(LAOS, Luang Prabang) A monk texting; even the religious externalize. (Photo taken and edited by the author.)

So the other day, I wrote my close friend J. to describe my intimations of what 2015 would be about. I briefly told her about teaching more to yoga teachers, writing more in my blog and reaching out more through social media. She wrote back promptly with the following line:

Looks like we’re each in our own way approaching a larger sphere of visibility in and engagement with the world.

Her summary made me laugh—partly because of her articulation and partly because of the irony.

(J. and I speak the way we write, which means that our conversations are marked by frequent detours into parenthetical remarks such as this, side trips into em dashes and the occasional swoops into footnotes and end notes. We’re both academics, and writers, and meditators, so our dialogues are part stream of consciousness, part commentary on the stream of consciousness, and part commentary on the commentary on the stream of consciousness.)

The irony comes from the fact that the circumstances of my life right now demand an increasing externalization of self, when by nature and by temperament I’m one of the most introverted people I know. This exhausting demand to be so “out there” in the world was one of the reasons I went silent on my blog the last three months: between leading a yoga teacher training for the first time and managing the studio’s social media accounts (daily, for the first time), there was no desire, energy or space left to say anything else (let alone formulate an abstract thought). There were days when I’d come home with a curious hollowness in my head—the kind that has nothing to do with the emptiness that Buddhists prize, and everything to do with the vacuum that copious amounts of caffeine, sugar and popular entertainment tend to fill.

(So yes, I did go back to caffeine, sugar and popular entertainment of the Japanese animated variety. As they say: nature abhors a vacuum.)

Nature and temperament aside, it looks like 2015 will be more of the same—with the addition (hopefully) of my blog. I’m not complaining though because the externalization simply means that the efforts of several months have finally started coming to fruition.

Here’s hoping that I grow a Self big enough for continued externalization.


On the Building of Furrows

(NEPAL, Chitwan) The reaping's a long way off. (Photo taken and edited by the author.)

(NEPAL, Chitwan) The reaping’s a long way off. (Photo taken and edited by the author.)

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while may have noticed my attachment to the firsts of the month.

I used to just be attached to the first of the year.

Then I got older and realized that I needed significantly MORE opportunities to start anew.

Another effect of age: I like preparing for my fresh starts. I find it hard to begin things cold turkey now (ahh, the bygone extremism of youth…). I have to carefully lay out the furrows for new attitudes and behaviors, so that when the season finally comes, I can just flow untrammeled into new funnels of thinking, and speaking, and doing, and being.

(Just to manage expectations, I’ve never actually managed to flow untrammeled, preparations notwithstanding. Whether that has to do with my tendency to resist life as it is, or, life’s tendency to resist people who resist it as it is is another question altogether.)

So, all of THIS is just about plowing the field for 2015. There’s a furrow called “writing,” another furrow called “sitting,” another furrow called “yoga,” another furrow called “mindful eating”—and a whole bunch of other furrows that have to do with the necessary logistics of embodied existence.

It’s a LOT of furrows. Which is probably why I’ve never managed (at least in the last three years) to flow through all of them consistently and continuously.

So what’s going to make 2015 different?

I don’t really know, and frankly, I don’t really care.

(Read yesterday’s blog post for my insight on life not really getting any better.)

What I mean to say is: it doesn’t matter. Let the season come when it will and do what it will. I’ve got my hands (and my cup) full building furrows.

On the Wearing of Age

(TAIWAN, Reuifang) Cliffs above, water below. (Photo taken by the author.)

(TAIWAN, Reuifang) Cliffs above, water below. (Photo taken by the author.)

There was a moment of panic when I realized that I couldn’t remember the username or the password that I use for this site.

It passed quickly enough, but the universe had made its point:

You’ve been gone far too long. There was a time when you didn’t need memory to access your blog—just the feel of the keyboard underneath fingers was enough to prompt the muscles of your hands to move in the requisite patterns.

But today, I had to pause, and think, and remember.

Which is fitting, because that’s why I write anyway.

To pause, to think, to remember.

In my defense—

(Revealing that I believe I need a defense.)

—even the people whose blogs I read have been silent. The last 3.5 months have been a conspiracy of silence.

I don’t know what their excuse is—

(Revealing that I believe they need an excuse.)

—but my silence began the day I turned 33. I’d like to think of the time since then as a timeout: a break for me to have broken my new age in.

(We wear our ages likes clothes. Or like shoes. And you know what they say: If the shoe fits, it’s ugly.)

I think I can wear 33 now. Which is just as well given that the year’s about to draw to a close. One of my most favorite people in the world wrote me asking (in her typically beautiful prose) to articulate what my 2014 was about. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet (I’m only six minutes into my return to thinking, pausing and remembering), but what comes to mind is that this year was about closing the gap between the life I want to live and the life I’m actually living.

Don’t get me wrong. The circumstances of my life (since I turned 30, at least) are pretty much the same. I’m still overworked and still underpaid. I still don’t get to see people or travel the world as much as I used to. I still fall apart in traffic, still defend my prejudices and still have a propensity to live in the claustrophobic yet comforting confines of my head.

But, but: I am startlingly, unexpectedly happy—and not by merit (which I thought for years was the only possible way) but by, well, seniority. In other words, age broke me in and not the other way around, and while 2014 made me distinctly and uncomfortably aware of my flaws, and failures, and fears and evasions, the addition of another year of life gave me the gift of a wider perspective.

Which is that life really doesn’t get any better. There’s a Buddhist story Pema Chödrön shares of a woman who clings to a vine by the side of a cliff, with tigers below, tigers above, and a mouse gnawing through her one tenuous connection to safety. She looks up, then she looks down, then she looks at the mouse, then she sees a clump of strawberries growing out of the side of the cliff. Then with perfect aplomb, she picks one strawberry—and puts it into her mouth.

That’s my 2014 right there: tigers below, tigers above, and mice perpetually chewing through my vines.

This is my 2014 right now: a strawberry growing out of a cliff, and it’s ripe, it’s luscious, it’s available and it’s sweet.

Happy December, everyone.

It’s good to be back.

P.S. This is for you, J. Just because.