Tag Archives: Baltimore

Nothing New

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Sitting in a bar in Baltimore
waiting for the musicians to play
wondering if there are any new thoughts
a human mind could think—
or are all thoughts just iterations
of the same thoughts
humans have been thinking
for millennia?
I decide to embrace the awkwardness
of nothing new.
I decide I don’t need
to be spectacular.
Wow, the pressure is off.
That feels pretty good.

Baltimore Curfew

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In Baltimore this week,
everyone needs to listen to their parents
and be home by 10.
It makes me feel like I’m ten again,
having to hurry home
so that my parents won’t worry,
or become angry at me
and punish me with a hefty fine
or incarceration.

Can you imagine having a curfew now,
the adult you, adhering to a curfew?
I think of the business lost
and the opportunities lost
as military men and women
walk around with semi-automatic rifles,
and police in riot gear hold the line
making sure the streets are empty
like they told us they had to be.

What happened world?

What art has slipped away from us
as singers’ lips fall silent
and musicians hands lie idle
at home, in bed,
observing curfew,
indoors before 10?
Which dancers have suffered
with muscled legs begging to move
which actors have uttered
their memorized lines to the wall
with no one to hear at all
wishing to be in the theater on stage
without a curfew imposed no matter what your age?

What would you do,
YOU…
With such a curfew?

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 28: Spinning Rainbow Bridges

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In Baltimore things are pretty hot
even as winter holds on
driving fingers of cold
into the hearts of young flowers wanting to take root

When I think of the desperation
that drives the people in my city
to senseless violence
I wonder on the next breath
How can I help?

Today, like every other day,
I take a seat, close my eyes,
wait and listen.

Today, like every other day,
I acknowledge the basic goodness
of all beings,
and I silently repeat the phrases of metta:

May you be free from danger,
May you have mental happiness
May you have physical happiness,
May you have ease of well-being

As I repeat these phrases,
I spin a million zillion rainbow bridges from my heart
to the hearts of everyone,
sending waves of harmony, peace,
happiness to all beings.

If you aren’t already a spinner of
rainbow bridges,
it is simple to begin.
And please begin.
This world has need of your light.

Take a seat, close your eyes,
wait and listen.
You might feel the bridges that have been extended to you
since before the beginning of time.
You might start spinning your own
rainbow bridges now.

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Over at NaPoWriMo.net today the prompt suggested we write about bridges.

Homecoming: Writing in Spite of it All

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My family arrived in Baltimore at 12:45 am
Off the plane, at baggage check, all of our luggage made it–
Hallelujah!
Then a humid, exhaust-filled welcome
as we stood on the sidewalk,
waiting for the shuttle to longterm parking

When we finally got back home it was 1:30
and I sit down to write at 3 in the morning.

This all seems a bit obscene to me,
writing so late
so early in the morning

But this is what a writing practice does to a body–
We end up writing in spite of it all.

The Right Yoga

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These past few days I had been working myself into a tizzy imagining that I wouldn’t teach the right kind of yoga to the people of 26th street, who have been without their homes since Wednesday, April 30. What is the right kind of yoga, anyway?  In my mind, I wasn’t up to the task of helping people to find peace in the face of so much grief, upheaval, and challenge.  Some part of me doubted that I would properly convey my sincere desire to help, to hold a safe space for them to breathe and relax.  I was afraid that I would come across as a know-it-all, someone who presumes that they understand what everyone is going through because they are able to hold the concept of understanding in their minds.

As we know, eating and the concept of eating are not the same.  If all I ever had was the concept of eating, I would starve.  Luckily, I have good food and  actually experience eating,  and this real experience nourishes me and sustains my body.

Practicing asana and the concept of practicing asana are not the same.  If I only ever thought about doing yoga, but never got myself into the postures, I wouldn’t be developing true strength, balance and flexibility.  I could imagine myself more strong, more balanced, more flexible, but imagination is in the realm of the mind and wouldn’t be true experience until I took the time to move and breathe into the postures that would help my body to evolve.

One of the yoga sutras addresses the tendency of the mind to conceptualize, and warns us that conceptualization is not a source of true knowledge–it is the result of words and ideas that are devoid of actual experience and is therefore not a valid means for attaining knowledge and understanding.

Pondering this sutra,  I was afraid that I would come across as a phony, that in the face of their suffering, I would hide behind my role as teacher and deliver a ho-hum class full of repetitive sequences of postures.  Basically, I was assailed by self-doubt and feared that my teaching would completely suck.  The anxiety that this kind of thinking generated become agonizing; I regretted volunteering to teach the class, afraid that I would reveal myself as a teacher who can blurt out sanskrit names but doesn’t really know how to connect with students, to be present for them.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it struck me that our suffering is the same at the very heart of it all.  We might experience suffering in reaction to different events, at different times in our lives, with different people and in different circumstances, but the feeling of loss, of heartache, of grief, of pain–is unequivocally universal, and crosses all barriers of race, creed, religion, social status, and generation.

And then I remembered that many students have come to me in a state of suffering over the years of being a teacher; this wasn’t going to be the first time that I taught yoga to students in pain.  The only thing different in this particular situation was that the residents of 26th street shared their suffering as a neighborhood collective of 18 households, households that were evacuated because of the fear that their homes might be unsafe.  These people had experienced the same traumatic event together, and shared the same feelings of uncertainty, homesickness, frustration…

Ok then, I don’t do anything different.  I don’t need to prepare a special sequence, to ease their particular brand of suffering–I only need to show up to teach, and open myself to the good medicine that will flow through me to them if I allow that flow to happen.  When I met them, I was immediately touched by their vibrancy, their bright smiles, their realness.  When I asked a mother of two how she was doing, she said, “It has been stressful, but we are fine.”

Another student answered, “All things considered, I’m good.” So much courage there.

The class flowed as all classes have flowed–being attuned to their bodies and their breathing, I was able to guide them through some asana to get their energy flowing and ready for stretching, breath work, and relaxation.  My ego’s fear was gone, to be replaced by the certainty that this is exactly what was supposed to be happening, and it was all perfect.

There is no right yoga; “right” would imply that there might also be a “wrong” kind of yoga–there is only yoga–union, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, a binding together of the different aspects of awareness that they might be experienced in the wholeness of this one eternal present moment.

I feel so grateful to have been given the honor of leading a class for the residents of 26th street this afternoon.  Grateful for their trust, their willingness to be open, to breathe.  Grateful to witness their transformation in the course of the hour long class.  Grateful for their open hearts, inspired by their courage.

There is no right yoga.  There is only yoga.

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What Makes Me Human

I am tired, my body is weary,
I need rest

I am excited,
I want to play, to laugh

I am devastated by grief,
I want to hide, to heal

I am hungry;
I need to eat.

I am lonely;
I need companionship.

I am cold;
I need warmth.

I am afraid;
I need encouragement.

These needs do not make me a failure,
they make me human.

These all make me human.

 

How Can I Help?

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Last week in Baltimore City
the rains came swift and hard
unrelenting drops of water
combined into rivulets, then rivers
and an embankment on 26th street and St. Paul
slid away, washed away, just like that,
taking ten cars, but luckily no lives

yes, no lives were taken,
and praises to all that is holy for that!
however, since then,
(and it has been a week and one day)
the residents of 26th street
have been without their homes

can you imagine what that would be like?
to be told you can’t live in your home anymore,
because it isn’t safe?

can you imagine what it would be like
to suddenly have to pack up a few belongings
–enough to get by–
and to have to make an appointment with an expert,
just to go back home to feed your fish?

imagine being told
“you won’t be able to go back home for 40 days”
can you imagine that?

how can I help?
my heart goes out to them,
38 people, living in 18 households…
32 adults, 2 teenage boys, 4 children…
asked to evacuate their homes,
handed some money from the mayor’s office
–money for food–
but now the money is running out
and still no home

where did they go?
and where are they now?
and how can I help?

this Saturday, the yoga studio where I work
is giving them a space in which to meet
so that they can discuss their next steps
as they wait for their homes to be habitable
they asked for a gentle yoga class geared toward
relaxation and stress relief

I volunteered to teach the class.
I want to help.
I was granted the honor of teaching the class

And now, with just two days
between me and facing these people
who are on a path fraught with uncertainty
I ask myself,
What can I say to them?
How can I help?

The only thing that will make it better
is being safe inside their homes again
to grab some food from their refrigerator
to cook at their stove
to sit at a family meal together
eating with their own dishes and utensils
to sit on their couch and read or watch TV
to take a shower and wash away the cares of the day
to sleep in their own bed
to…be home again…

But I can’t give that to them
How can I help?

How will I face them
and feel true compassion
having just come from my comfortable home?
What postures will help them find relief
from the grief and pain and anxiety?
what words will help them heal from the trauma?

Am I up to this challenge?
I want to help.
I pray to be a channel of healing wisdom,
for angels to be present as I teach,
so that I may step out of my ego identification
and allow the good medicine to come through

on my own I am not so much,
but perhaps with some divine intervention,
I may be of some help.

God, how can I help?
How can I help?

Union Memorial Counseling Center

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On the 3300 block of Calvert Street
just a stone’s throw from the hospital entrance
with a nondescript door hiding in a corner
Is the Union Memorial Counseling Center

This morning the wind gusting noisily
Told me that Old Man Winter is alive and well
and still holds hostage my hopes for warmth
with bony fingers, unrelenting, stubborn, cruel and proud.

I stepped out into the mocking gusts and
I heard Winter cackling gleefully,
reveling in my discomfort.
Those I saw walking by seemed forlorn
in a way that they never would be were it truly spring
and gentle and beautiful with flowers smiling into the
blue eyes of the sky.
My steps quickened; I longed for warmth.

Taking even longer strides to hasten my arrival
I wished I had put on the warmer coat
(but I thought it was spring and so I didn’t wear the coat)
And after a minute of rhythmic thumps of shoes on pavement,
there it was
Union Memorial Counseling center.
I wondered why I needed to ring a bell and be buzzed in
in the light of day
But this is Baltimore City, after all.

Once inside, I saw the dingy grey walls and many
people waiting,
people who have been kicked out of the school of hard knocks
and I knew this was no Roland Park private practice
with nice lighting and floral arrangements
and a smiling staff of receptionists.
No, this was a counseling center in the middle of a city
full of junkies, domestic violence cases, disenfranchised masses
yearning for a break
and here I was, being checked in by a woman with gold teeth
and places in her smile where teeth should’ve been
She wasn’t any less beautiful with those gaps between
the glints of gold.
A smile is always beautiful if it is sincere.

And then it happened.
A black man began singing the blues
and another man joined in.
This beautiful duet in the middle of misery,
and nobody seemed to notice.
I said to the receptionist,
Do you get serenaded every morning?
She rolled her eyes, shook her head, said
It happens all the time.
I listened for moment longer,
I could’ve been in a blues bar,
so soulful were their voices,
swaying in a rhythm that only a
true musician could sustain.
There are worse things to be hearing,
I said to the receptionist.
She smiled wryly and told me to behave.

I have spent so much of my life
feeling removed from the people around me.
This morning was par for the course.
As I viewed those with whom I shared the waiting area,
they all seemed kind of crazy, disorganized
Nonchalant about their station, disheveled
Some were shaky, some were on cell phones
Some spoke inarticulately
Some were in a daze.
I had just showered, put on mascara, a bright sweater, earrings
I had brought my agenda and a pen and folder to hold my paperwork.
In a sea of disorganization, of chaos and noise,
I was a little island of pristine orderliness.

And then I realized that I had told myself the same story
that I always tell myself–
I am me and they are them and nary the two shall meet.
But then I realized,
I’m here in the Union Memorial Counseling Center
I must be crazy too.
Why else would I be there?
I guess I’m not so different from the men singing the blues.
They just have more courage than I
singing out loud
while I keep my blues hidden,
singing on the inside.