My Graffiti Mantra

When traveling from Brooklyn into Manhattan on the B train, there are a few minutes during which the subway cars emerge from the dark underground into the sunlight. It happens as the train crosses over the East River by way of the Manhattan Bridge, and the views can be pretty spectacular.

First you see the rooftops and water towers of Brooklyn; then the view looking north up the river, with Manhattan to the left, Brooklyn to the right, Queens and the Bronx beyond; and finally the train submerges once more, dipping into the crammed and colorful tenements of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. And this is only the view to the north – the view to the south is unbeatable:

Beautiful it may be, but whenever the train comes up for air on its journey over the East River, you can count on one thing: every single passenger will whip out their smart phone.

It is, after all, the only moment for many of us to get cellular service during our commute. And though it speaks to our collective dependency on techno gadgets, not to mention a certain jaded disposition toward the splendor of NYC, ultimately it’s kind of fun to see everyone – even the little old ladies – refreshing their Facebook feeds so they’ll have something to peruse for the remainder of their underground trip.

A few weeks ago, I happened to look up from my iPhone just as the train was coming up on the Brooklyn side, and I spied a bit of graffiti that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Jim Joe my heart is proud of its painOn the side of a building near the rooftop, clear as day, were the following words: My heart is proud of its pain. It was followed by a smiley face. I too was smiling. I spent the rest of my ride thinking about the pain we all endure just by virtue of being alive, but also of how we overcome, how we grow, and how we can build upon old patterns of suffering to create something better.

My heart is proud of its pain.

As far as I can tell, that piece of work is from an elusive street artist called Jim Joe, who’s been on the scene in NYC since 2010. Not all of his work is so straightforward, but it is typically clever, and often makes you think. Consider me a fan.

Now whenever I cross the bridge, I take a moment to find that scrawl before checking my phone. It reminds me to pause and check in with myself, to breathe a bit. It reminds me that suffering comes up for all of us, but that we have some control in how we respond to that suffering.

no mud no lotus thich nhat hanh

Can you think back on a time of real suffering and cultivate a sense of warm, loving pride that you were able to endure it? Imagine the beautiful lotus blossoms that bloom out of the mud and the muck; we are all capable of creating beauty and cultivating love, even in response to the most painful circumstances.

What Is Yoga?

Well, in the midst of finding and preparing to move into a new apartment, I have certainly neglected to keep up with my blogging. What a wonderful lesson for me to ponder at a later time, when I’m not going coo coo bananas out of my mind with stress. In the meantime, I’ve decided to politely decline my ego’s offer to beat myself up mercilessly for not being committed / hardworking / passionate / professional / [fill-in-the-blank] enough. No thank you, Ego! I’ll do better next time, and that’s all I can do. But thank you for your concern.

This weekend is a bit crowded. In the next four days, I:

  • celebrate my 4th wedding anniversary
  • turn 30
  • graduate from my 200 hour yoga teacher training
  • pack up my whole apartment
  • and move from Queens to Brooklyn.

And let’s not forget that I’m knee-deep in season 2 of House of Cards, which needs to be squeezed in here and there, obviously. It’ll all get done, I just have to take it one breath at a time.

Source: Jack Affleck, Affleck Photos

Source: Jack Affleck, Affleck Photos

I’m feeling especially proud as I enter into this last weekend of yoga teacher training, and I thought I’d share some thoughts about it today. Below are two short essays, both entitled What Is Yoga?, that I wrote over the course of my training. The first was written just as I embarked on the program, nearly five months ago:

My earliest understanding of yoga was that it involved a system of physical postures which, when practiced regularly, were shown to benefit both the mind and the body. In other words, I thought yoga was all about asana.

A few years back, when I began practicing regularly, my conception of yoga shifted to include a subtle spiritual practice involving improved communion – or union – between mind and body.

By the grace of my teachers, I’ve come to see yoga as an all-inclusive life philosophy, a spiritual and physical practice, a way of approaching life that seeks to quiet, still, or master the fluctuations and compulsions of the mind.

 The beauty of this definition is that it includes my former understandings of what yoga is and then expands upon them. Yes, yoga is about postures (asana) and control of breath (pranayama), but it is also about universal codes of behavior (yama), self-purification by discipline (niyama), the conquering of sense-driven conditioning (pratyahara), and varying levels of concentration, meditation, and consciousness (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi).

 My early impression that yoga strengthens the mind-body connection is also reflected throughout the canon of yogic learning. For instance, the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, applies to the self as well as to others. Therefore, yoga teaches us to avoid harshly criticizing our bodies and to work toward accepting the truth (satya) of our physical form with loving acceptance. Dedication to asana under the influence of aparigraha (non-possessiveness) and santosa (non-comparing) can help us to take pride in our physical abilities without judging or identifying with them. In other words, it encourages self-worth without the trappings of pride. It cultivates a more harmonious relationship with The Self – body and mind.

These revelations about yoga have cracked my world wide open and created so much room for new study and growth (svadhyaya). I’m sure my definition of yoga will continue to evolve, but I’m grateful for the understanding I have now.

The next essay is something I scribbled down today, and though it’s vulnerable, messy, and impulsively written, I wanted so deeply to share it with you here.

When last I wrote a short essay entitled What Is Yoga? I spent a great deal of time integrating all the fancy new Sanskrit words I was learning and crafting calculated paragraphs to please my teachers. The whole thing was rather intellectualized, rather academic… rather hollow.

And so this time around, I’ll be opening no reference books, nor reviewing my notes to make sure what I’m saying matches up with past lectures, nor even spending much time re-reading and editing this final product. This one comes from the heart.

So what is yoga? Yoga is an age-old life philosophy, the practice of which enables us to yoke – to rejoin, unite, and unify – our individual selves with the greater whole. This means different things to different people. For some, yoga enables them to feel closer to the Source, the Greater Intelligence, God. For others, yoga may help to bridge a painful and hard-to-pin-down gap between mind and body, or between the mind-body vehicle and an enduring sense of self, sat-chit-ananda, being-consciousness-bliss.

What I know in my bones is that yoga is more than asana. Yoga is a soft pillow that comes up to meet you wherever you are and helps to carry you that last impossible mile. Yoga is medicine for mind and body. Yoga provides the guard rails on this confusing, emotional, and wild ride called life. Yoga is introspection, pratyahara, and svadyaya, but it is also community, and selfless sharing, and exuberant bhakti! Yoga is everything. And I’m so grateful that I can continue to journey into its depths.

Interesting to read them side-by-side, yes? Does any of it ring true to you? Or have my musings made it all seem more muddled and confusing than ever? What is yoga to you? Please let me know in the comments below.

Hope y’all have a fabulous weekend. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be a Brooklynite! xo