Public transit and I have rocky but passionate relationship. Though it’s anonymous, you become a member of a temporary community whether you like it or not.
You can make a million a year or live paycheck to paycheck but when you are stuck you are all stuck.
It appeals to my sense of fairness. You get to share collective groans or sneak a smile at someone when something hilarious happens. Occasionally, you witness a meaningful exchange that wouldn’t have taken place save for the fact that two random people are on a train. Last week, a guy in his mid-forties hopped on the train wearing a baseball cap. A older man in his seventies asked, ‘Is that a Brooklyn Dodgers cap?’ It sparked a lovely 5 minute exchange about baseball, college life and history. The older man ended the conversation by saying with a tinge of nostalgia, “Wow…Brooklyn Dodgers. When I saw that hat, I just had to say something.” And just like that the curtain closed. Everyone went back to reading, headphones and staring into space. But for five minutes we were all there with two people and a conversation.
Most of the time I wonder what’s happening with folks who ride the trains. I make up stories. I wonder what people think about me? I think about my ‘commuter community’ most when I tavel to and from Rikers. I try to guess how many people are getting off with me at 21st Queensbridge and taking the Q100 to Rikers. Are they volunteers? Are they visiting family? Do they know what its like to be in jail?
Mei-ling Wong and the creative team at Specular have created an amazing experience that explores this very idea. The project is called Blackout and it’s on Kickstarter.
A Documentary Set In a Fictional Environment
Who are these strangers?
The people in Blackout represent a snapshot of a single subway car in New York. Since this isNYC, our group includes an illustrious international cast of underground performers, artists, educators and scientists.
The project began with in-depth interviews with a group of 27 people for our virtual train. Their stories and observations interweave to create a beautiful documentary portrait of a crowd of strangers struggling to find their place in the city.
Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the world’s cultures are displaced and newcomers flood urban centers, it is urgent that we not just educate ourselves, but empathize with the lives of strangers that surround us. Through immersive technology and raw documentary stories, Blackout shows how one stranded group of city commuters has more in common than they ever imagined.
What makes this project even more dope is the fact that it’s a virtual reality film. As a viewer you get to be on the train and explore 27 real stories. One of the stories is about a yoga teacher who teaches at Rikers Island (hint, hint). She talks about what it’s like have to protect yourself and your soul. I hear she’s cool.
All jokes aside, I love what Specular has done. They’ve found a way to take technology and humanize it. So often our experiences with technology take us out of the moment and into the land of self. Blackout does the opposite, it uses VR so people let go of ego and explore another person’s viewpoint. This is revolutionary. In a world that is being ripped apart, a group of creatives are finding ways to draw us closer together.
It gets me thinking….none of get out of this thing called life alive but we have a shot to make it a better trip.
Check out the campaign and get a peak at my thoughts.
Adrianna Keener, a fantastic trauma-informed yoga teacher and I jogged across the street to catch the Q-100 bus. I was excited, not just because is an anatomy nerd like me but because it’s nice to go to Rikers with someone. Hey, we all get lonely. We saw a social worker who said we may not get on the island. There was a make-shift sign that said Rikers was on lockdown. No movement was allowed. This essentially means that people are on their beds all day. Since the sign was handwritten we decided, hey- we’re on the bus let’s go and see what happens. When the bus took the same mysterious turn it did a few weeks ago I knew something was up. Sure enough the driver said last stop (before the bridge to Rikers). We stood around for a few moments thinking what to do. You can’t walk over the bridge unless you’re looking to have a chat with DOC employees who carry assault rifles- so we thought the day was a bust. Employees could catch a shuttle. But, volunteers? Not sure. Fate intervened. Anneke Lucas, founder of LPY and apparently a woman who has perfect timing zipped up in her car. We hopped in and decided to see if we would be turned away. I was sure we would be, but when Anneke waltzed back with a parking pass I decided to keep my trap shut and surrender. We crossed the bridge without incident. Anneke was going to the men’s jail and Adrianna and I were headed to Rosie’s. We weren’t sure if we’d get to teach- but we had made it this far. The vibe at Rikers was sedated buy not heavy. But instead of yoga we led a meditation for 11 women on the 4th floor. Cheri Clampett’s meditation on meridians and chakras seemed like a good fit. Before the meditation Adrianna and I talked about meridians and how they relate to our body (geeks unite!!!). This set the stage for a powerful meditation. And while there were a few distractions everyone was grateful for the break in the day. One student talked about getting frustrated with noises and as a group we were able to talk about unhooking from the small stuff. Grateful for perfect timing. Namaste y’all.
I love my neighborhood and the people in it. After a long day of school I get to go to local yoga studios and teach. More often than not class is filled with a sense of togetherness. Sometimes class is tough and I hear collective groans or giggles if I make a joke to ease tension in a challenging moment. Lately, as a massage therapist community has a more intimate meaning. Community is healing. This is new for me. Not gonna lie- I have hermit tendencies. Being alone comes easily to me. But I know I’m not in this thing called life by myself. I find a big smile sliding across my face riding down the street and saying hello to students, clients and friendly faces I know from the yoga classes I take. It takes a village to raise children and to sustain a neighborhood. This is good. This is life. This is love.
Be a good neighbor.
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
― Albert Ellis
I woke up this morning at 6 instead of 5:30. I rushed to do a morning sit. I know- rushing to meditate? Doesn’t bode well. I sat on my block and silently began to chastise myself as soon as the bell rang.
I should’ve gotten up earlier.
I should’ve taken a shower first.
I should’ve turned on the washing machine.
Suddenly I remembered what one of my teachers said during my yoga for cancer training.
‘We need to stop ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.’
Peace crashed down. Things were as they were supposed to be, because if they were to be different I would have made different choices. I returned to my breathing. My steady in breath and out breath softened the tops of my shoulders. I began to unhook from tension and eased into the morning. I heard birds. Then a truck backing up. Then a passing bus. And always I came back to my breathing.
What started out as a tight morning resulted in the ability to reclaim the moment. And that’s what meditation is about. When I can recognize what is going on and investigate it I allow for a chance to let. it. go. Sometimes this is the yoga. It’s not about asana. In yoga we talk about Ahisma, practicing non-violence. This means being kind to others and the one’s own spirit.
No more shoulding on myself.
During my Therapeutic Yoga Workshop I spoke about the concept of being with whatever is happening in the moment. I think that our society gets caught up in the idea of having to be happy all. of. the. time.
I think that’s ridiculous. Sure, I try to live life peacefully and that can be joyful. However on some days I feel meh. Or tired. Or even depressed. Trying to be one thing consistently isn’t how we work. The one that is constant is our fluid life.
And that’s okay because it’s living authentically. If I relentlessly pursued the notion I should be happy all of the time I’d be setting myself up for a crushing blow. It ain’t happenin’. Life has seasons. Our bodies have rythyms that work to keep us in a state of harmony. I like this. Congruity. Things fit together in a way that is balanced. Can you imagine if your body lived in the pleasure center. All ‘dopamined’ up with no place to go.
So let be. No need to chase a happy dragon. Thich Nhat Hahn says that by following our breathing we invite ours to be in the present where we have an appointment with life. That moment may be full of joy, completely fucked up or blissfully dull. But life is in that moment. Not in the future or behind us in the past.
Happy? Sure, sometimes. But I think I’ll opt for what’s happening all of the time. That’s where my life is.
“Our notions about happiness entrap us. We forget that they are just ideas. Our idea of happiness can prevent us from actually being happy. We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
On the 4th floor I was met with a ton of empty beds and lethargy. Lots of women had been released and others were at work. None of the regulars were around and it was a hard sell on some unfamiliar faces. I did see one student I knew and she said she was tired and didn’t feel like coming to the mat. Oddly though, no one seemed to want me to leave. I chatted for a little while- but hey I have yoga to peddle. I said my goodbyes and decided to go to the 5th floor.
A group of 15 settled on blocks and bolsters. I led practice off by stating that I would be teaching using the word ‘I’ because I was going to do what made sense for me. In turn, they should do what makes sense for them. It was jazzy.
When presented with the opportunity to choose (anything) we are both liberated and accountable. Our class started to draw onlookers. It might have been with some of the laughing, but I think it also had to do with people moving to their own rhythm. I risk sounding new agey typing this but the vibe surrounding a group of women making choices feels differently than a group of women being told what to do. It just does. By the time meditation rolled around I had a few spectators grab mats.
Typically, I do a guided meditation that uses visualization. But because the room felt solid and safe I opted for a traditional yoga nidra. The CO in the dorm kept things at a dull roar (for which I was grateful). It allowed for a deep state of meditation. Quite a few women hung back after class to chat with each and ask me a few questions. This is usually a good sign. One student told me that she used to go to a studio where I practice in the city. She said when she gets out she’s going to go back.
Maybe that’s what the day was about. Having a student make a choice to go back to her practice. From there, who knows. She’ll choose I guess.
Sometimes blame feels better than starting the healing process. Yesterday, I banged my shin while I was straightening up my bedroom. I have a large bin that is full pf shoes that I no longer wear but nostalgia allows them to take up space. I really should confront getting rid of them in the name of clearing space and all that. Alas, it’s a struggle to be evolved every day of the week. I mean c’mon, give a girl a break.
Anyway, while vacuuming I saw the edge of the bin sticking out from under my bed. Annoyed (because I hadn’t dealt with the useless shoe issue) I shoved the bin with my foot. My shin slammed into the bed. Hard. I could fit my index finger in the dent. After cursing for two minutes I looked at the bed as if it were guilty of the crime. Then I turned my attention to those god damned shoes. Stupid shoes….
I should have gotten some ice. I did, it took longer than I can to admit here- but I think my point is made:
- Whether you chose to deal with something/someone or not you pay. My bad.
- My bike life has made my legs strong. Sweet.
Pay attention to what is really important.
A few weeks ago I was pretty sure I had hurt my hamstrings. As I get older I find that I’m not as flexible as I use to be, yet I let my ego get the best of me and go deep when perhaps I shouldn’t. It’s tough because it’s not like I have serious pain or there’s an ‘oh shit’ moment that I can blame.
You know the OS moment. You’re in class feelin’ groovy, loosey goosey and juicy. Instead of recognizing these moments as a time to hold back because you are too open, I take it as a sign to go HAM. Bad idea. This is my modus operandi. The next day I’m a lil’ sore but never left feeling ‘injured. But a few weeks ago something happened.
I should back up.
The past three months have been intense and exciting. I’ve been in massage school full-time and planning how to combine massage and yoga. School and teaching at night has been a bear. On the love front I’ve made some choices about the things I really want and deserve. All of this has required processing old hurts that I have both caused and received. Unrelated (or so I thought) I began to notice a tightening in my hamstrings after class. Not gonna lie- on many days my ischial tuberosities (you may know them as butt knuckles) hurt like a mf, but never the hammies.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Before a 4pm class I let my teacher know that my I may have injured my hamstrings. But even as the words came out of my mouth I wasn’t so sure that was accurate. I was at Jivamukti taking Julie Kirkpatrick’s class (I think she’s a compassionate and brilliant teacher). The focus of the month is karma and reincarnation. Whether you believe or not isn’t as important as understanding that unless we heal the old wounds we can’t move forward and receive all that life has in store.
So here I am saying I may have a hamstring injury, but honestly, I’m not in pain per se. No shooting pain, no tearing, no searing, no ripping. Just a sense that things are tight and uncomfortable. Julie gave me a couple of really thoughtful suggestions and I decided to dive into class with an open heart. The more I moved, the more I started to think about my past. Fleeting memories and a flurry of feelings seemed to creep up the backside of my body. But my range of motion was unaffected. I had the same depth that I normally do.
Thant’s when it occurred to me. I’m not physically injured. I’m working through some psychic shit. Old wounds that need to be healed. Feelings of insecurity that I thought had been long processed (thanks therapy!!) were trying to get out. From a body wisdom perspective it’s said that we process old hurts through the back of the body. In class the more I moved and was present with what I was feeling I didn’t feel tight. It was amazing a little unnerving. While there are times when an injury is an injury a sense of self-awareness and ability to listen to the body is critical.
Yoga has taught me not to run. Yoga has taught me to trust myself even when I’m not sure what is real. What things am I grasping? What could happen if I let go? If I take a moment to pause and look deeper, I have the answers. And if I don’t have the answer I know what questions to ask.
The sentenced women’s dorm is quiet due to lots of women heading home.
Class Friday morning was small and I was touched that students were asking about my hip. I had injured it and had to miss class. One student was chatting about how she had been feeling and was met with a little surprise by another student who seemed shocked at the level of confession. We all started talking about yoga and how it opens you up. I shared how yoga had opened me up.
‘Kathryn’ (not her real name) said that it sounded like my old life was my prison. I’d felt like that but it wasn’t anything I ever felt comfortable saying to my students- after all, creating you’re own ‘prison’ and real jail are two different things.
Or so I thought….
I confessed that I have always felt comfortable teaching classes at Rosie’s, that in fact I feel at home in jail. I didn’t get looks of shock- but knowing nods. I confront the self I used to be when I walk inside those doors. It was a defining moment. One that I haven’t been able to shake.
We create prisons for ourselves. These prisons can be built on a soulful level, draining and leaving us feeling unfulfilled, bitter and judgmental. We can spend our time pointing fingers at people’s lives and choices when we really should be putting up a mirror (with unflattering fluorescent light to really bring that shit home) to our own bs. These same prisons can keep us from stepping into our true calling because we are encased in fear and anxiety. We block our ability to give and receive unconditional love. But it doesn’t stop there.
When we create prisons- we add stress to our bodies.
It puts unnecessary pressure on our endocrine system. It makes our heart work harder. It deprives us of sleep. Sleep is needed to repair and restore our body. It increases our blood pressure. Creating prisons can set us up to reaact to triggers and abuse drugs, alcohol, sex, food and money to fill a void. Scary stuff. But there are ways out.
I’ve heard so many students at Rikers say that they needed to come to jail to find yoga. It happens more than I can say. The students who say this give me hope. They sound as if they have found their path. Yoga put me on a path to healing. I had spent most of my life putting up bars and locking myself away from life.
‘Kathryn’ thank you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts before class. You’ve made me think.
Are you in a prison of your own making? Liberate yourself.
May all beings be happy and free.