Category Archives: The Magazine of Yoga

Sitting Pretty

I ran into a friend this morning in a beach parking lot. Figuratively, I mean. We’re both okay.

She was wearing a navy Izod polo dress, faded to denim and soft with wear. “I’m wearing all my old clothes from the ’80s,” she said.

No one wants to see me in my clothes from the ’80s. Black lace and camouflage, arms ringed with plumbing supplies and a pair of pants that looked like they were made from a Hefty trash bag – it’s a mercy none of it fits now. It was my way of saying “I am not from here and I am not one of you.”

I was of course from there and looking back, was one of them. I just didn’t like admitting it. I used my clothing to define myself, as did we all.

I remember a political science professor in college telling a classmate that although he was welcome to wear hot pink nail polish in class, it would just make things hard for him out in the real world. It was his choice, to either smooth the road ahead or make it unnecessarily rocky. Like it or not, we are initially evaluated by our appearance.

He didn’t say it’s right or just, he said it’s the way it is.

My friend is a mountain biker and likes his roads on the rocky side. This guidance did not phase him or alter his course toward what became a very successful career. He probably doesn’t even remember the conversation.

I’m not a mountain biker, and prefer to stay off the really steep inclines. I’m more of a Parisian side street kind of girl.

I used to wear vintage dresses to parties because I am shy and the clothes always inspired people to come talk to me. They sparked conversations about history, art, fashion and eventually the hors d’oeuvre table because that’s where my real interests lie. The funny thing is that because I wore clothes that were different, people thought I was confident and extroverted.

Which isn’t to say I’m not extroverted. I am very extroverted when I am at my house, alone, expressing my thoughts via my laptop. In my vintage kimono.

Clothes do many things, then. They mark us as one of the herd or single us out as the black sheep. They make the road a freshly paved expressway or a treacherous single-track of adventure. Not all on their own, of course, but as my professor pointed out, they do weigh in.
Part of their influence is the way they make us see ourselves. If you tell yourself that something is true enough times, eventually you believe it. If you choose to wear that message daily, it expedites the process.

In college I was incensed that people would judge my friend by his nail polish. I thought they should see him for who he was and value his contribution. It’s a two edged sword, this fashion thing. We use it. We are surprised and appalled when it uses us.

Years ago I spent a long weekend at a Zen monastery. One of the things they asked was that we wear loose, dark colored, simple clothes, with no patterns or pictures. They didn’t want our clothes to be visually distracting.

I didn’t think about it much as I packed my favorite black sweat pants and t-shirts, but it’s one of the things I appreciated most while I was there.

With no visual statements to distract me, I saw people as they were: beautiful and exquisitely memorable.

When I came home I made a concerted effort to simplify my wardrobe. We are all so perfectly us, we don’t really need the sandwich boards around our necks, telling people who we are and what makes us different/better/smarter/wiser. Sandwich boards are heavy.

I don’t always practice what I preach. Today I am wearing a particularly loud sundress because it makes me laugh like a maniac when I see a reflection of myself. It also makes random strangers smile when I walk by. It’s not good at a monastery, but it’s perfect for work.

These are my current guidelines for clothing choices, subject to change. I don’t need to be different. I don’t need to tell people who I am. I just need to be comfortable and happy.
And although I would have eaten live frogs before wearing my friend’s Izod dress in the ’80s, it looked covetously comfortable this morning.

That’s pretty fashionable.

This column originally appeared in The Magazine of Yoga

Love Fest or hornet’s nest?

The other day I was on Twitter (shut up, it was work related) and I noticed that a friend’s Twitterscope happened to also be my Twitterscope. It said:

You shift from being okay to not okay and back in just a few minutes. Although this may be confusing to you, it can be truly disconcerting to others. Consequently, it’s smart to keep your mood swings to yourself until they settle down. Be patient; you will gain clarity in the days ahead.

To which I said, Screw you, Twitterscope. It’s not about me. I never knew what I was walking into – a love fest or a hornet’s nest.

This horoscope advice from the planets came on the heels of my own realization that things were topsy turvy in a particular area of my life. One minute I was doing everything right. The next minute I was doing everything wrong. My moodswings? I don’t think so.

As luck would have it, every time things were going badly I’d come home and the kids would be louder/messier/slower/stickier than usual because they can tell when I’m at my wit’s end.

That’s when they put grape jelly in their hair. To make sure my love is truly unconditional.

Because I do love them unconditionally, I try to practice a little of the horoscope advice. I focus on the “be patient” part.

I can do that much. Doing the be patient part helps me realize they don’t just get jelly in their hair because I’m stressed out. Things like jelly happen all the time, but when my head needs help it throws my game.

When my head is okay, I get out the hose and am done with it. So it’s not that they’re being less loud/messy/slow/sticky normally. It’s that it doesn’t always affect me. I don’t make it part of my experience. It looks like I go from okay to not okay and back because of what the people around me are doing, when really it’s how I am handling my interpretation of what they’re doing.

It’s always an inside job.

If it’s true of my jelly-crusted children, it’s true of the hornet’s nest. I can’t control the actions of others, but I have every right to not make them part of my own reality.

The Dalai Lama, who totally knows about such things, said “When our minds are clouded by hatred, selfishness, jealousy, and anger, we lose not only control but also our judgment.”

It’s funny, isn’t it, that the wanting to be in control is what actually makes us lose control?

Be patient and you will gain clarity. Fight it and you just make it more real. It’s true on the mat and it’s true in life.

Isn’t it great that we have so many many many chances to practice this every single day?

If you focus on what’s not working or get angry with yourself, your kids, your breakfast drink, whatever, then that’s what becomes more real and that’s where your day goes. If you can let go, you can be right where you want to be.

As I was writing this, three kids spilled three glasses of chocolate milk. It was like some kind of test. Because I was writing this and I didn’t want you to see what a hypocrite I am, I handled all three spills with patience.

It seemed like good practice for when the hornets start buzzing again. Maybe I’ll learn that even the hornets are just a bunch of big kids with bad hand-eye coordination. Maybe I’ll realize that their loudest buzzing is about needing unconditional love, and it’s not directed at me at all.

Maybe, when that promised clarity comes, I can get this jelly out of my hair – and resume my love affair with Twitter.

This column was originally published in The Magazine of Yoga. Reprinted with gratitude.

Life is like an eye exam

(reprinted by permission from The Magazine of Yoga)

History, repercussions, and desire

BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SUSAN BLOOD

I have no idea why I put off my eye exam for so long.

I haven’t read a book in ages. At restaurants I take the menu into the bathroom where there’s better light. My kids have stopped coming to me with splinters and just wait for the school nurse. This is a bummer on weekends.

One day I was proofreading a playbill, squinting, when a full page ad for an optometrist came up. I enlarged the image on my monitor and dialed the number at the bottom of the screen.

Do you know any optometrists? They are lovely.

They give you a comfy chair to sit in and ask you all kinds of questions in an effort to make your life better. They never tell you you’re wrong – how would they know if you were? All the questions are based on how you see things, not how anyone thinks you should see them. Everything should be so simple and ultimately gratifying.

That’s when it hit me: Life is like an eye exam. Trust me, I just had one (an exam, I mean. I’m still working on the life). Every day, every hour we are asked “which one’s clearer? One? Or two?” This is how we go through our days, making strings of choices. Each choice makes the path a little clearer.

Or not. It depends on our choices, obviously.

There is a reason they give you a string of consonants and vowels instead of, say, lines of poetry. Or tax law. We do not attach things to strings of consonants and vowels. We don’t read in consequence or innuendo. We just look at the letters for what they are – blurry or less blurry – until, bing! Things become radiantly clear. At which point we start over.

While life may be like an eye exam, it is not a string of consonants. There’s history and repercussions and desire to consider. Things are complicated in real life! It is not a simple choice between a and b. A and b have an awful lot of baggage. They have attachments. Some of them are scary.

We’d rather not look at them at all, much less see them clearly.

Over the winter I was invited to submit a proposal to a newspaper as a columnist. Having a regular writing gig has been a long time dream and I was, needless to say, out of my mind pleased. Conventional writing wisdom says you have to work your way into being a columnist, taking odd reporting jobs along the way and doing your time. This was a huge opportunity to enter the newspaper world at exactly the point I wanted to end up.

The only problem was, they were looking for a fishing column.

And I don’t fish.

Not only do I not fish, I am incredibly squeamish about things like fish guts. There was no way I was going to become an ace fisherman, or write like one. I agonized for several days, thinking of all the ways I could write a fishing column without ever having to touch a fish. It would be like if the previous columnist had opted to write a column on quilting.

Have you ever noticed you can distill pretty much all your choices down to fear and love?

Look at your motivation and you’ll see. In this case, I was making a fear-based decision. I was afraid that this was the last time an offer like this would come my way. I was afraid I’d miss out on something.

I overcame my fear of not ever being asked to write again with my love of the editor who invited me, and my desire to not get her fired.

I could be wrong because I can’t seem to practice it consistently enough to find out for sure, but I think if all our decisions are love-based instead of fear-based, we make progress faster and find ourselves in less of a blur along the way. Someone please try that and let the rest of us know how it goes.

If this whole scenario had been an eye exam, I would have (pun alert!) seen it clearly. The Optometrist of Life would have said “is this one a good fit?” and when I said “no” the Optometrist of Life (and this is important) would have given me a new set of choices.

Which the Optometrist of Life did

Before long I had a phone call from a theater, asking me to interview as their new director of marketing. I’ve been a long time fan of this theater and love everyone I’ve met who works there. I was a little afraid of how I could make it happen, given the complexity of the rest of my life. I was also nervous about measuring up to their standards. But the thought of working there made me want to skip and sing and hug people, which I think is a good sign.

Once the decision was made, all the pieces fell into place – including finding my optometrist through their playbill. I still find myself wanting to skip at work sometimes, which I couldn’t do all hopped up on Dramamine and wrapped in fishing line.

In my actual-life eye exam, my optometrist told me what glasses to get and said I’d be just fine for a couple years, after which we’d do the whole process again. What was clear yesterday may not work tomorrow. No one wants to stay in the same place for ever. Each time we get to a place of clarity it just gives us a chance to see a little farther and be a little more fearless.

That’s the glory of having so many choices. And so much love with which to make them.