On a recent walk, I noticed heart shaped leaves dancing on a mostly barren tree. It reminded me of how when we face life's immense challenges and hardships, we can feel stripped, raw, and bare. I used to tape layer upon layer of preverbal duct tape over my heart when life served me heartache; not to shut it down, but to contain the pain long enough to function. Since I've made the connection that movement, meditation, and breath-work help me metabolize, and move through emotions, I've put away the duct tape (most always), and use these tools.
In WOW class this week, I shared the following message from Joan Halifax:
Cultivating a strong back and soft front, “is about the relationship between equanimity and compassion. A strong back is about equanimity and our capacity to uphold ourselves, especially during difficult times."
“All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.”
“How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly — and letting the world see into us.”
— Joan Halifax
Mindful Movement classes contribute to building a strong supportive back, while inviting you to connect with your soft, supple heart.
Autumn's dichotomy leaves (pun intended) me whiplashed every year. I'm torn between the visual, gluttonous consumption of VT confetti trees, and feeling the dread of imminent darkness and shortened days.
Emotional ripples undulate through my chilled bones as seasons shift. They tug at my tunic, yelling "pay attention," beg me to notice, and plead to be observed. In years past I've tightly gripped to the dwindling energetic daylight, shunned the lengthening nights, and ran away from increasing melancholy.
Interconnectedness to circadian rhythm invites me year after year to widen my aperture; to learn the season's lessons. To not busy past the wisdom and intelligence of nature. To not pile heavy blankets of comfort foods over my resentment of winter's arrival. To not mourn my spring and summer sunrise routine, and begrudgingly surrender to hibernation patterns.
As years pass and wisdom seeps in, I'm learning to honor the cycles, and respect that decay is humus for next summer's abundance. Shortening is required for lengthening to return; this interconnectedness is the secret and sacred sauce. What we leave to compost matters. We all play a part in this magical, intricate system.
The low-pressure warning lights up on my dashboard, followed by a thump, thump; never a good sign when you’re in rush-hour traffic on the highway. My only option: pull off into the slender emergency lane hugging a long row of guardrails. With every passing car and truck, my little Forester shook and swayed like a matchbox figurine. My mind went to the worst-case scenario: I’m going to die in the breakdown lane. A flat tire had sidelined me on my morning commute. After turning on my four-way flashers, I panic-dialed 911. An unfamiliar, shaky voice blurted out: “I’m on interstate 89 with a flat tire and I’m scared. Could you please send the State police to put out some flares...people are driving extremely fast.”
Expressing to the dispatcher, a stranger, “I’m scared” felt completely foreign. I abhor feeling dependent, reliant, or needy, full stop. As a mom, sister, daughter, wife, and business owner, my attempt to be an example of strength is immersed in my identity. After all, I share with women that physical strength is essential for health. I taught my daughters to be strong and independent, and less of a damsel in distress. I raised them with the “superman’s not coming” mindset; like I’d grown up thinking. I’d always preferred the deep sense of security that you can only get from being genuinely self-reliant. After this brief vulnerability reflection, I got back to problem solving.
A call to a local tow service confirmed a $150 minimum charge. Hmm, that’s like two new pairs of running shoes; no way. I know what you’re thinking; don’t you have AAA, like other responsible adults? You’ve heard of Murphy right? As in Murphy’s law...after being a card holder for eleven years, I gave it up this past summer. I mean really, I hadn’t gone anywhere due to COVID, so I thought what the heck. Note-to-self: you do have a daily commute, silly me.
Option two, call my husband at work. At the risk of appearing meek, I called, he answered, and was on his way. In the meantime beautiful, bright, blue lights on a green cruiser, (normally a nerve-racking event), pulled up behind me. Cars and trucks slightly slowed, and I got to work changing the flat. To be clear, the state trooper wasn’t getting out of his car. It was me, all me. Here goes: Jack the car, remove lug nuts (wearing black pants today – priceless), donut at the ready. Navigating the narrow space between the guardrails and tire was tricky business. I’ve never been so thankful for: agility, flexibility, and strength; thank you socket wrench and Pilates. All was going well until the jack collapsed. At this point my husband and a coworker pulled up asking what I was doing? “I’m changing the tire”, black, greasy hands proved my efforts. They took over, thankfully.
Later that evening, my husband detailed countless dangers, I narrowly escaped; including getting injured when the car collapsed on the tire (I may or may not have forgotten to set the emergency break). For a moment I felt anxious, and scared again at the thought of what could have been. Then I took a deep breath and reframed my thoughts. I’m both strong and weak, connected and untethered, lost and found, each and every day. I’m blessed to fumble my way through this thing called life in a cozy VT community. And on this morning’s commute, I was thankful for not just one superman showing up, but three.
An image I captured while on a quick bike ride recently. The sun was setting quickly, crickets were in chorus, and I was called to stop and witness the settling fog. This moment was fleeting, and sustaining. It filled me up for a moment – all I'm guarenteed.
If you're anything like me, as summer turns her page to fall, nostalgia and heart-heaviness sometimes wrestles me. I breathe into these moments and remember, fog will lift.
WELLNESS FOR ALL-Originally published on- 11/17/2019
Attending workshops at the Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, MA is my favorite way to invest time and money. Learning from remarkable practitioners of yoga, coherent breathing, stress reduction, Ayurvedic-nutrition, and most recently Metta meditation has influenced my teaching, and ways of being. Expanding my views (literally and figuratively) helps me cultivate an open, curious mind. Without this wider lens, I’m embarrassed to write, I’m not 100% certain I’d notice the inequity of the current social landscape.
My October Berkshire visit for a Metta meditation workshop with Sharon Salzberg was deep and full of transformational moments. The practice of Loving Kindness is done silently, offering benevolent health, peace, and ease to yourself, acquaintances, enemies (perhaps a difficult stretch), and all sentient beings. Who knew sitting on your butt (at times in discomfort), has the potential to amplify circles, broaden awareness, settle anxieties, and shake you awake to the life you’re living.The act of wishing good-will to others, has the capacity to not only make your inner world more peaceful, but also foster acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion and love.
Social and racial disparities are obvious in wellness spaces such as Kripalu. Access to health enhancing programs seems reserved for the affluent few. Not unlike many college tours I’ve been on (primarily in New England), the Kripalu campus was overwhelmingly white. However, diversity was strongly represented by employees cleaning bathrooms, stocking cafeteria trays, and providing fresh towels. In mindfulness practice, they say change begins with noticing. Noticing when your mind has spun out in a fantasy, your itty-bitty committee has taken a turn for the worse, or paying attention to simple pleasures- like the gripping hug of a child, snowflakes on eyelashes, or the taste of a steaming cup of cocoa on a winter’s day. We can’t change what remains unseen.
During the meditation practices, when invited to wish positive, peaceful, healing energy to acquaintances/strangers, I knew precisely who I’d be offering blessings. I fantasize about a future where healthy living isn’t reserved for the privileged and monochromatic, and where we take care of the whole and not just the haves. A future where thoroughly seeing becomes prevalent, and un-noticing doesn’t feel right in our soul, and where all beings have access to the privilege of health and wellness.
Today (post- George Floyd's death), "un-noticing" is impossible. Excavating another layer since writing the above blog-post...why do wellness presenters look the same?
Are Black Americans facing greater health risks and hospitalization rates during COVID-19 because of people's choices and lifestyles, or circumstances beyond their control?
Vermont's rebirth is happening. Although I'm no stranger to this yearly transition, it always leaves me weak in the knees. The daffodils (standing energetically above), have risen to the occasion. The blue For-Get-Me-Nots are blanketing my gardens, valleys, and everywhere the wind has blown them. What began as a small bunch from my mom's garden, has grown into a sea of pastel blue waves throughout the entire property. When I slow down and take in the beauty, all else fades away. Pandemic, what pandemic? The fleeting moment is temporary, as all things are, but this magical space between "being" and the pull of thoughts, allows me to access a hint of a greater knowing.
Gardening was a way of life from a very early age for me. My mom's flower gardens were revered by neighbors, friends, and South Hero passerby. My parents grew veggies, and tended berry patches long before farm-to-table, organic-produce, and farmer's markets were IN. Back then it was called "feed a family of seven without breaking the bank."
No surprise this VT girl loves playing in the dirt. Whether it's tending to herbs, veggies, or picking from my prolific blueberry patch, I LOVE the "growing season". It's an opportunity to nurture that which nourishes me. Maintaining a connection to soil is healthy in many physiological ways, but the ways it serves my psychological-being is priceless.
When bulbs I planted in autumn show up in their splendor, my hope is restored. When green seedlings poke their heads out of countless rows, I trust the process. When my husband trucks home yet another load of compost, I'm ready to amend. When each of my children's life-trees bloom, I count my blessings; all four of them.
I wish you a magical Memorial weekend, full of light, flowers, and love.
Okay. Enough. Done. Day 54 of this social distancing thing, and I'm beginning to feel a wee bit off; see, I just wrote "wee"...enough said.
I'm not going to indulge in all the things I'm missing, because let's face it, you're most likely missing them too. I do feel terrible for young people who're are missing their "firsts": graduations, first year spring college experiences, proms, trips, etc. They wait anxiously for these passages, and the loss is real.
Please conspire with me for just a moment to curse (yup, a drunken sailor mouth I may have), this Vermont winter, I mean weather...my daffodils are hearty, but let's not push our luck, snow pile. So here's the thing, just like Vermont weather- wait a day and it'll change- I have noticed magical things during the past 54 days during COVID-19 shutdown.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Bake-offs and families sharing recipes over Zoom.
2. Harry Potter makes a come-back for a mom and daughter (my best friend in NH), as part of homeschooling.
3. While on the homeschool subject, kids are getting almost enough sleep; not having to rush to the bus😏
4. Parents and kids doing gym class together; never before have I seen so many folks out walking, running, biking, and playing.
5. Returning birds, spring flowers, and blooming bushes all being "noticed" with greater passion than most fast-paced springs. Mother nature is taking this opportunity to show us what's possible!
6. Zoom virtual cocktail gatherings...way more fun than the striped-shirt wearing kid's Zoom I watched as a teenager👯
7. The sound of fire trucks and car horns celebrating kids on bus routes.
8. Gas expenses down, grocery bills up, dinning-out costs down, gluten consumption up...machine-drying jeans a definite no, no right now!
9. Happy, socialized, unconditionally-LOVING pets!
10. Lastly, the ease of rush-hour on our little I-89 interstate; this I relish in.
I wish you continuous magical silver linings as Vermont slowly reopens.
Take good care, be well, and notice what you're noticing.
Have I ever told you about how I communicate with my Dad? He passed 19 years ago at age 64; yes, way too young. For many years now, when I look out in the distance at Camels Hump, I communicate with him; sometimes in Waterbury when I'm on my way back from a walk, run, or bike ride. Other times, while driving back from Burlington from the back-side of the mountain.
Why the mountain top? Soon after his death, I'd make myself move my body, in an attempt to overcome raw angst, empty heart, and bitter appetite. One day I stopped on my way home and looked toward the mountain and asked for guidance. That's when it happened: the connection. From then on, the mountain became "our" place; the place I could say to him what I never had the chance to say. The place I'd launch my prayers. The place I leaned hard on. The place that was bigger than all my insurmountable pain.
To this day, 19 years later, Camels Hump rises out of the clouds each day and offers a spot to pitch my humanity-tent. She (I'm certain she's a she, due to her strength), never fails me. She's familiar with my innards. She allows the sun to slide down her back in the evening, and wakes with me in the morning. Some days she catches clouds in her tall branches, but winds comb them away and she's waits for me in her glory.
I hope I never misinterpret her hight, cold-shoulder, and ruggedness for cruelty or abandonment. I hope when my wounds open, I don't hesitate to look up and ask for guidance again, and again, and again.
I'm grateful I found her. Are you grappling with a loss? You can borrow her if you’d like.
I hope each and every one of you are healthy and have your most valuable needs (shelter, food, healthy- family & friends) met during this time.
My goal is to stay in touch and offer practices that may help ease your body, mind, and spirit during periods of information-overload and situation-overwhelm. This week's practice is simple and can be done anytime you're feeling the need of a reset.
Postural set up
Sit in a comfortable chair, crown of head lifted, chest open, belly relaxed, open palms (facing ceiling) on lap, feet flat on floor.
Take long deep breaths in through your nose allowing the belly to expand as the diaphragm moves downward, and exhale out your mouth with softened jawline and relaxed brow.
Attention & noticing
With each breath cycle focus on the following:
1. Breath #1- Bring your attention to your palms...notice any sensations of heaviness, tingling, or warmth.
2. Breath #2- Guide your attention to the bottoms of your feet...notice toes and forefoot position (encourage them to soften, uncurl, and open), root the outside and inside edges of your feet down, connect to the floor...foundation...and earth.
3. Breath #3- Allow this in-breath to expand your chest cavity (ribs wide, collarbones lifted, sternum wide), as you exhale relax your face, neck, shoulders, belly, and pelvic floor.
Part 2- gratitude-attitude
Use same breath technique- in through the nose, out the mouth. Focus on the following:
1. Breath #1- Bring to your mind's eye to several beings that you're grateful for (pets included).
2. Breath #2- Bring awareness to needs that are being met during this time...food, warm home, clean water, face masks, technology- making it possible for kid's education and virtual work to continue.
3. Breath #3 Repeat in your head and heart "help me stay open to life's gifts during this period of social distancing, family inter-connectedness, and economic shifts.”
Thanks for all your messages. I'm grateful for your friendship, honor the path you're on, and stand beside you.
Happy practicing 💜
During this extended period of time being inside, we’re forced to literally go inside. Throughout the years in Mindful Movement classes, many of you are privy to how connecting with breath, movement, and awareness of thought is an “inside job”. Each of us takes on this job for ourselves. No resumé tweaking, outsourcing, or “getting” through the last three years until retirement; only you, when ready, can do this kind of work.
Now more than ever, as our homes become smaller (or is this just me?), you may need a practice to lean on. Our new normal will continue to shift and morph, provoking confusion and loss of what we thought we controlled. Using your body as a tool to connect, engage, and release is available to you always. This isn't a plea to get fit; far from it. It’s an invitation to access subtleties such as: softened jawline, relaxed shoulders, uninhibited movements, and most importantly an open heart.
My greatest joy as an instructor has been witnessing you leave the studio unharnessed from the restraint of a guarded exterior. You have the capacity to continue this journey of transformation. My hope is that you find space, time, and a reservoir of innerwill to practice.
I’m supporting you from afar and praying for the health, safety, and wellness of you and your families.
Becky Widschwenter- Mindful Movement with Becky