Had a fabulous and intense time at the International Women’s Writing Guild Annual Conference where I led a daily workshop called Pen & Pose, moving participants through breath and postures and writing prompts. Thanks to the perfect New England weather, we practiced outside most days, incorporating the elements — the wind, church bells, a soaring hawk, a thick-trunked copper beech tree — into our sessions.
I last wrote about how I hadn’t considered this to be a therapeutic workshop. Duh! It was so obviously healing to all who attended, as evident by the smiles that I would get randomly throughout the week. Women kept coming up to me to tell me how they had a major breakthrough as they breathed deeply for the first time in years, stared at the sky in savasana, or made a list of what and who and where they love.
At least with this group, the yoga and the writing were equally responsible for how good people felt afterwards. But the simple act of being outside, of slowing down the mind enough to notice what and who else was around, was as big a healing boost as anything I could have come up with as I decided what I would teach.
Being outside also provided some interesting choices (read: challenging situations) for me as a teacher. What would you do if you’re about to teach an intricate meditation technique (tonglen in this case) and bells start going off and don’t seem to ever stop? Ever? (You think back to your wee bit of improvisational theater training and just say yes.) What about if someone walks over and starts shouting questions directly over your shoulder to one of the participants and they engage in a back and forth as though there wasn’t actually a class in progress? (You feigns a few moments as the patient yoga teacher and then your New York soul comes out and you shout “I’d rather you’d make this a one-on-one conversation please.”) Because you’re outside, you can almost guarantee attracting all kinds of folks — people who want to come take a snooze on the grass by you, or join in on the class 20 minutes into it, but only after sharing with much ado how much they hate yoga or can’t do it right or taught it 30 years ago and what kind of yoga have you taught and have you ever heard the one about…..
But then, the difficult ones look unmasked an hour later in the cafeteria. For one they’re smiling widely/wildly. “I haven’t felt this good since….” they say.
Most of the classes I teach are in yoga studios or gyms, and it’s easy to forget that yoga and writing are both about slowing down enough to pay attention to the smallest moments and unexpected shifts, and that paying such careful attention is what we might call the practice of love, arguably the most potent healer around.
Most classes I teach are also inside — and when it’s 90+ degrees outside, I’m just fine with that, thank you very much. But as a beautifully powerful writer and shaman I studied and journeyed with this week said “nature is the path of direct revelation,” echoed perfectly in the words of another amazing teacher I began each day with who spoke about “lucid living” and the arts of looking for hidden messages within the natural world. I had incredible experiences in both of these classes, so maybe my formula ought to be reflective practices of your choice + love + nature = wild wellness?
I’ve committed to posting a poem a day for July on an invite-only list for DC poets. Honestly, it’ll be more like a few each week, and some of these will be taken from what I wrote during my week in New Haven, within a “grove of tender women” as I wrote in one such piece. Following what I learned and remembered being outside and going so deep, I am going to try to write from my “natural” eyes. Will leave you with one that was inspired by Canadian poet Di Brandt.
As always, I love love love to hear your thoughts!
Then Break Me Open and Drink
Think of me when you think of me as a skyscraper
reaching beyond clouds, a shimmering spine
of steel sloping down, past pulleys moving cells
of workers up and in or beyond the light
into basement corridors, a complex web
of subterranean desire. Think of me
as a damp dirt floor, where packs of rats
travel through tunnels and trains, reconnaissance
troops following the scent of metal on track.
Think of me tracking your descent from fresh
waters to coastal lagoons that taste salty
on my tongue’s tip. Think of me as you rise me
like a cliffhanger along pacific shores. Think of me
as a littoral cave in that cliff, clinging to ocean
air through my core. Take a deep breath now
think of me as an expressway going everywhere
quick then roll my tires alongside a split-rail
fence and fill them with portulaca and mint.
Brush my skin with your fingertip as I become
the wheel, the dirt, the bloom. Think of me
as a weed pushing through the sidewalk’s crack
anointing spring, seeking sunlight through storms
and the clap of thunderous applause for the fact
you write at all. Think of me when you can’t recall
a simple image from your childhood and can’t
forget that last goodbye in your children’s eyes.
Think of me when you think of the rain dancing
on the canopies of trees that lunge toward the sky
and saturate vines with delicately flavored flowers
waiting for you to do more than think.