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Yoga & Love

Yoga & Love

I came to yoga, the ancient physical system for opening the heart, by way of heart break.

It was a bleak February years ago during the bleakest part of my divorce. The end of a twenty year relationship, of which twelve were spent in marriage, doesn’t qualify as easy. I found it fraught, a spiky tangle of anger, relief, grief, and confusion. I couldn’t integrate the double vision I experienced when I interacted with my former husband. There were now two of him: the sweet man I’d married, whom I’d always love, even if we couldn’t make a happy life together, and the difficult stranger who did not mean me well, when things came up to negotiate. It was painful. I was a mess.

I wasn’t alone during this time. I had a boyfriend. He looked like the reason I had left my former husband. But the higher calculus of the heart metabolizes change with infinitely more complexity than that, and no one ever leaves one mate for another. You leave a union for yourself, for the person you hope to be. “She left one man for another” was simply the judgment people made, uninformed people who hadn’t lived the emotional poverty of my marriage.

This boyfriend had a lot of patience for my desolation, but at a certain point, the change in my feelings over the elapsed time wasn’t an impressive differential. He’s a practical man. “Time for you to fix yourself,” he said. “I’m calling the Ashtanga place downtown to send you a teacher.”

So I began a practice of yoga. My teacher Laura arrived with her mat and didn’t want to hear any sad tales about my divorce. She wanted me to practice mountain pose and standing forward bend. She kept adjusting my sacrum. She kept telling me to drop my shoulders down from my neck, where they were squeezing my cervical spine in a relentless grip that would do any pit-bull proud. In retrospect, it’s amazing that any blood was getting up to my brain at all.

The first few weeks were a haze of twisty pain. I didn’t notice it at first, but I wasn’t as obsessed with the cycle of stories that had been playing in an endless loop in my head. It wasn’t until after a month of lessons that something clicked. I was watching Laura demonstrate trikonasana, triangle pose. Gracefully, consciously, she let her straight back leg pull her front body forward until she was clasping her big toe. She rotated her torso while extending evenly through it. She reached up in harmony with her breath while looking up, and it was such an expression of balance, strength, openness, and ease that the light-bulb flicked on over my head. I got it: there was a better way. A better way to move. A better way to feel. A better way to live.

I started to pay close attention to yoga. I asked questions: “How do I get an angle closer to 90 degrees in my leg in warrior two? “How do I better feel the relationship between my breath and my pelvis?” “What does my focus point mean to my mind?” Most of the time, the answer was, “Keep practicing.” Laura told me that all poses are led by the heart, and I took that seriously. Something inside me began to heal. The scars would remain but I was moving forward with my life. After a while Laura told me it was time for me to move on from her as well. She said I needed to attend a variety of classes and to pursue the practice of yoga in the way that I was led to, from within my own heart. It was a gracious example of setting someone free.

So I continue to practice and pursue yoga. It spills over into the time off my mat. When I stand at a street corner and wait for the light to change, I tune into my body. I drop my shoulders and check my pelvis and let my body flow softly into mountain pose. The subtle changes in position open up my breathing, and I remember that all movement is led by the heart.

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I don’t understand

I don’t understand

Let me start by saying that I am a woman, a Jew, and a New Yorker, so I don’t have a good opinion of radical fundamentalist Islamists.

In my mind, the enslavement and mutilation of women that is institutionalized under radical, fundamentalist Islam is one of the greatest human rights crimes in history, alongside the slaughters of the Holocaust and Rwanda, and African slavery. It isn’t okay to maim and oppress women just because an interpretation of some holy book says it is. I have some strong feelings about the institutionalized misogyny of orthodox Judaism and the Roman Catholic church, also. Not okay.

So I am already biased. I stood on top of my husband’s parents’ building on west 66th street on September 11, 2001 and watched the column of black and brown smoke that was once the World Trade centers. I knew people who survived, had friends who barely missed being down there because they stayed with their kids in class on that first week of school, and knew of students who lost parents at my children’s school.

So I have some questions about why the world is blaming Israel for the Gaza war. If Mexico were continually lobbing missiles at the US, would we stand for it? If a group of Basque Separatists were firing rockets at France all the time, literally thousands of rockets, would France really say, “Oh, gee, merci beaucoup?” What if Turkey faced a daily ration of rockets from Cyprus?

Or is there just a subtext of anti-Semitism in all this nasty world criticism? Is it just that Israel isn’t supposed to defend itself?

Why isn’t the world more critical of Hamas for using ordinary people as human shields? Why is that okay, but it’s not okay for Israel to put an end to continual bombardment and threat?

If Hamas doesn’t want the war, it seems to me, they are in a position to stop it: by not firing missiles at Israel. If Hamas doesn’t want ordinary people to be hurt–and it is deeply painful to see all the images of bloody children and wailing women that the world press delights in running–then why doesn’t Hamas stop using civilian locations as military positions?

Hamas bears the responsibility for this war: Hamas has relentlessly baited and attacked Israel and then done the sleaziest trick imaginable by hiding behind innocent children and women. Hamas does not have a right to fire rockets at Israel, just like Mexico doesn’t have the right to do that to the US, Spain doesn’t have the right to do that to France, and Cyprus doesn’t have the right to do that to Turkey.

I have dared to voice a criticism against radical Islamism. Because radical, fundamentalist Islamists are the bullies of the world, I have to wonder, am I safe for daring to ask these questions? Look what was done to Theo Van Gogh.

And for those who will probably want to label me as rascist, I would ask you to read Irshad Manji’s essay in Newsweek (“Special Edition Issues 2009”)  about helping the Muslim world by giving micro-loans to Muslim women to start businesses. I support this and would agree to a special tax–say everyone in the US making over $20,000 pays between $20 and $200 for a special fund just for this purpose alone. Empower the women, and the religion will take on a more tolerant, modern-age-friendly shape: a shape that we can all live with in peace.

It isn’t women who promote constant firing at another country.

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On Transparency

Of late I’ve been thinking about karmic entanglement. Maybe it’s because 2008 is drawing to a close; maybe it’s because Ketu, the moon’s south node & the keeper of the book of the past, is transiting the ruler of my chart. The past, and my past actions, are much in my consciousness.

I think it comes down to mutual forgiveness. Meaning, forgive the other person, and forgive yourself. Send forgiveness to neutralize the acid of interaction that’s fraught with hurt, longing, anger, pain, or even with the alkalinity of love and kindness. Peaceful forgiveness, so that the interaction returns to a clear state without the varnish of meaning, without the binding of a bond, any bond. Transparency. Liberation.

As a believer in reincarnation, I have a sense of the occlusive stickiness of the wheel of birth and rebirth, and how action and reaction, cause and effect, desire and fulfillment play out, over and over again. I wish to stop riding this wheel like a caged rodent. I think a lot about how to get off the ride. It’s also scary. What will happen to my precious individuality when I merge with all that is?

But the first step is to release. May all conscious beings be released from their suffering.

Miyoko Olszewski: World Champion
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Miyoko Olszewski: World Champion

Miyoko Olszewski

On Thursday evening, Miyoko “The Hawaiian Mongoose” Olszewski defeated Elena Reid to win the WIBA flyweight title.

Miyoko is a longtime friend and I was there, screaming and cheering in the audience. Those of us who had come to root for Miyoko wore leis, nodding to Miyoko’s Hawaiian origins. What a fight it was, all 10 rounds! Miyoko came out strong in the first few rounds, fighting in her trademark crisp, thoughtful style. For a few rounds in the middle, Miyoko seemed to conserve herself, and a few voices screamed, “Jab, Miyoko! Double jab!”

I laughed to myself when I heard the calls. I’ve sparred with Miyoko, and her jab is like a solid brick wall. There’s simply no getting through it. Miyoko’s jab is so tough and skilled that there’s not even the possibility of a few atoms making use of quantum tunneling to get through it.

Then in the 8th round, Miyoko brought it. She came forward with powerful, relentless punches and dominated the fight. By the 9th round, Reid’s face was swollen to twice its original size. It was a clear, decisive victory for Miyoko, and her fans yelled themselves voiceless.

Miyoko deserved this win: she has worked long, hard, and consistently to achieve World Champion status. She exemplifies values that I revere and that I try to teach my children: hard work, sacrifice, self-discipline. These are not glamorous values today. Our culture has been overly psycho-therapized into mediocrity; we think any old half-hearted effort is just swell. We teach our kids that losing soccer games is just as good as winning them. And while good sportsmanship is imperative, and everyone needs to learn to deal gracefully with defeat and failure–we’ve done our children a disserve. Losing is not the same as winning. Mediocrity is not okay.

Winning matters. Being the best matters. If being the best isn’t an option for genetic or other reasons, then hard work, self-discipline, and sacrifice still matter; those qualities differentiate between mediocrity and excellence. The 4000 failures that are required along the path to success matter. It’s a question of persistent integrity, another value that is not considered important in today’s moral relativism.

But people who persist in these terribly old fashioned values are world champions. Some of them win a belt and acclaim, as Miyoko did. Some just win a quiet internal sense of self-esteem.

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Reflections after the road

Reflections after the road

Last week I went to California to do readings in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Strikingly different towns, both fun. I got to reconnect with old friends and acquaint myself with some interesting new people. Best of all, I stayed in a gracious old hotel in Santa Monica where SOMEONE ELSE made the bed & tidied up.

People in LA like to be looked at, and they go to extremes to get to be the object of other people’s attention. It seems to me an exercise in narcissism at worst, at best an attempt to bolster a career, however sophomoric it looks. I’m used to that abrasive NYC question: “What are you lookin’ at?” I did the requisite red carpet photo op in honor of Trump vodka and Hadaka sushi, and attended a party where a pretty young woman laid atop a table, naked except for sushi. “Do you think her mother wants her doing that?” I said to my gorgeous, kind, funny LA publicist Michelle Czernin. “Should I ask her?” But Michelle whisked me away before I could commit a faux pas of that order.

The crowd in SF I stayed with was young, hard-working and hard-partying, intent on moving up in their careers. Bright young people, a pleasure to hang with.

And back home, there was an orchid awaiting me, given by my friend Debra Jaliman in honor of a reading in NYC. And four kids, each with her own needs.

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Hello, Dear Readers:

This is the inaugural entry of my blog, In the mouth of the serpent. This blog will consist of my ramblings, rantings, observations, opinions, suggestions, and hopes for the future. My interests are passionate and diverse: books, pop and literary; art, especially of the Renaissance; spirituality and healing; politics; relationships; children and child-rearing; movies and TV shows and travel and yoga and any other topic that seizes my imagination. I hope this blog stimulates and intrigues you. Feel free to email me with questions and comments; if I’m intrigued, I’ll post your email and respond.
In Vedic astrology, I have entered a particular cycle of my life ruled by Rahu, the north node of the moon, the iconic head of the serpent. Rahu in general is considered malefic but in my horoscope, it’s unusually well placed by sign and house. So, for the next 17 years, I am standing in the serpent’s mouth: this is the view.
Very truly yours,
Traci L. Slatton