To get caught up in our own heads and hearts is inevitable, as we exist in this world as particular beings. And truthfully, honoring that individuality is what empowers us to move out into the world, to create change and spread love in ways that only we can.Read more
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
These are the lazy, hazy days of summer. The days are long and hot, many people are on vacation, and projects are put on hold until after Labor Day. There's a sense of relaxation in the air, the urge to rest and recline takes over even the busiest brains. And yet, especially for the future-minded schedulers extraordinaire out there, the sense of anticipation for fall planning and activities begins to rear its head even though the true beginning of autumn is over 6 weeks away.
This summer I've been taking a step back from some of my usual commitments, freeing up some time to figure out what really belongs in my day-to-day life and what doesn't. While I prepare for a new season in NYC this fall, I long to leave space in my schedule that will allow me to carry a sense of summer along the way. In particular, I want to take that stretched out sense of time that comes from a summer day. A summer solstice baby, I was born on the longest day of the year. Summer feels like my time. This year over my birthday I was able to take a lengthy vacation, spending time with family both in the Midwest and California. In both places, the idea of time kept cropping up across my path.
I spent a day wandering through the old redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument in California. Nothing beats the sense of quiet and age that you feel amongst those trees. To be surrounded by living organisms that existed long before I was even thought of has a certain way of putting things in perspective. What are my worries against the long path of nature?
I also spent some time in Kentucky, surrounded by misty, forested hills and lakes that practically ooze history. At the prow of a boat, surrounded by a landscape rich with American history from the civil war to the Bourbon Trail, I was reminded that world is indeed, old.
Even my vacation entertainment suggested something about the age of the Earth. While Jurassic World was perhaps not the most important film in cinematic history, there's something about contemplating the existence and demise of dinosaurs that puts one in her place. I also re-watched Lord of the Rings, encountering fantastical, ancient tree-like creatures called Ents that speak slowly, walk slowly, and...think......slooooowly. So perhaps I spent my vacation as a true nerd, but this concept of time that I encountered has continued to follow me back in real life in NYC.
When dealing with troubling emotions, particularly anxiety and frustration, I find it helpful to think about time. I actually quite literally think about the dinosaurs, and then the age of the whole planet, and then the very, very, very small slice of time that humans have existed. Geological time is often best demonstrated with a clock; if the history of the Earth could be condensed into one hour, human life doesn't even come into the picture until the minute hand is at 59min. What?!!
This broad perspective of time really puts me in my place. I feel like I can relax against the whole huge history of the world and let my worries lessen. It's not that my life suddenly becomes insignificant, quite the contrary. Something about this long view of time, especially in relation to nature, actually makes me feel much more connected to the world. There is safety in knowing that the universe has existed long before my troubles and will continue to exist long after my worries have gone, but that me, and my worries, and my joys, are all part of this continuum of time and space.
During my break I also had the privilege of reading Ethan Nichtern's new book The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. I know many of us in the Perri Institute community have added it to our summer reading list, and I think any contemporary, literate person would find this book to be both inspiring and immediately useful to his or her own life. The subject I found truly interesting, and most applicable to this post's discussion on time, is karma.
Karma, while a term that is pervasively used in popular culture, is also often misunderstood. I'll let Ethan explain in his own words:
We often view karma as some indictment for all the awful things that have happened to us, and all the awful things that have happened in this world. For example, after hearing a bit about karma as a child I remember thinking that, as someone with asthma, I must have done something terrible in a past life to not be able to breathe very well sometimes. That kind of “blame the victim” approach offers us a convenient new narrative for the recurring story of our self-aggression, as well as a reason to continue to isolate ourselves from the plight of others…This kind of isolated worldview cannot hold up when we look at the larger interdependent forces that shape our world and when we recognize that everything and everyone’s actions are affecting each other all the time, that nobody lives in a vacuum of their own making.
Ethan goes on to explain karma in more detail, eventually moving into a discussion on past and present, and the Buddhist approach to working with both:
…if we reflect on the past with the clear intention to illuminate our experience in the present, and we learn, through both our own meditation practice and guidance from others, how to let go of our tight grip on the past narrative at the exact point the mind begins to fixate on it, then our understanding of the relationship between past and present can come into balance and harmony.
The teachings on karma demonstrate a very important point about the past: the fundamental force behind our conditioning isn’t stupidity or evil, nor is it a flaw in our genetic design. We adopt habitual patterns to begin with as the result of misperception, or lack of awareness.
If we view the root of the problem as a misperception about the nature of experience, then forgiveness is always possible. We can rise out of feeling ashamed at our habitual confusion…We have to forgive ourselves for being stuck in habits and addictions, for being caught up in the commute. Working with karma is something that everyone has to go through; none of us are free of conditioning.
I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you read the book yourself.
What I found most interesting in this explanation of karma was the idea that I could be living a life where my past and my present were not in balance and harmony. Upon reading Ethan’s text I was struck by the idea that perhaps my attempts to live a more mindful life in the present moment, in the here and now, were not actually helping me slow time, but really making it go faster because of a lack of scope about time, and my life in time. Perhaps a broader view of my life, or maybe even past lives, would increase my sense of awareness about the interdependence of my world and all the people, ideas, and redwood trees inside of it. Without reconciling my past habitual patterns with my experience of the present moment, my perception of the here and now will always be a little lacking.
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here, and my philosophical understanding of karma is basic at best, but I think my point in all this talk on dinosaurs and summer and cycles of time is that from my experience, just saying “Slow. Down” as an antidote to the crazy fast pace of life isn’t quite enough. Sure, taking some time off and lessening my workload and sleeping more will make me a happier, healthier, more relaxed person. This is true of most people. But I am beginning to think that without an actual change in perception, without a shift in perspective about how my mind works with the present moment AND the past, I will continue to be unsatisfied by the ever quickening pace of life, no matter how much I pledge to “unplug.” I will continue to long for the stretched out days of childhood summers.
Being in nature most certainly helps nurture this relationship between past and present. As a young woman of 28, I can stand next to a 130-year-old tree and feel young, but I can also look into the nest of hatching birds on that tree’s branches and feel quite old. Can we work with our mind in the same way? How can we experience this full range of our life in the present moment? Can we actually shift our perception of time?
I don’t presume to know the answer, but as we enjoy sun-filled days on the beach and make plans for fall, I might suggest that we remain curious about what it really means to slow down. Does is it mean take a day off to sleep and order takeout and watch a movie? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something else a little less concrete, a little more subtle, and a bit more interesting.
I recommend thinking about the dinosaurs quite often. It really does help.
The following post was written by Callie Ritter, a certified yoga teacher through The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and a Restorative Exercise Specialist as of summer 2015. She's professionally trained the connection to her body and movement as a Modern dancer for over 15 years; she aims to spend the future helping others in their bodies with her accumulating knowledge and passion. Callie was born and raised as a cowgirl in Southeast Idaho, but currently resides in New York City.
I was appreciating an average but perfect glass of rosé when I caught my reflection in a window: solitary with a wandering gaze. I grimaced at the thought of going back to my accommodation for the night, never mind, I leave for the airport at 6 AM tomorrow morning. I left my extra euros for a smiling waitress with good English, and began the hour walk back, my eyes up and watching. I shared paths with a goose whose yellow gaze studied me carefully; I secretly took pictures of people’s window displays; I asserted myself to some young punk men: “Can you please leave me alone?”
I killed time by watching the underside of a tree.
Traveling is a lonely and not-lonely thing. It brings you into the unknown, where your perception zooms out and blows open your mind—yet it also zooms in, bringing into focus the intricate texture of an experience. The edge requires you to pay attention, helping you remember what it feels like to be awake.
I made a friend from Sao Paulo named Cauay. I remember his dark eyes shifting serious when he paused to see if his physician skills were needed in a huddled crowd in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. He later ordered Nutella-smothered waffles with such introverted, boyish excitement that it made me smile. I already had my pack on as he stirred from sleep on his bottom bunk. I wished him luck and shared our last glance.
Ellie was a mother and daughter and asked about my love relationships as we sunk our bare feet into the sand of a windy beach. We rode cruiser bikes under arches of great green trees, and on our path the sun laid Dalmatian-print shadows. She told me about being a new Singaporian, and how you can always start over—because you always have a choice. Whenever she orders tea, it’s usually for the biscuit that comes with it.
I had too many clothes on for the temperature inside the bus, but was too busy scanning for a recognizable street sign, my stomach unsettled. Quit pretending to know what you’re doing Callie—because the truth is you don’t. This is all new.
Traveling sharpens the perspective. I feel and see much more than I do in my normal life. I breach the ‘stranger wall’ by crawling over to ask someone for help, or if they mind having company. I open myself up to the experience—however uncomfortable, bland, or blissful it may be. I take in my surroundings and spread my consciousness, and something truly unique happens; I feel like I’m a part of it all.
Intersubjectivity is a philosophical and psychological term to define how one’s subjective, identity-driven experience relates to another’s. It’s typically found in anthropological and social contexts describing shared common culture and things we agree upon. On a deeper scale, it can provide a pure definition of relationship, where and when it is that we see eye-to-eye, or rather as I want to venture: eye-into-eye.
I implore to the goose, “Come on, be my friend. I’m sad I’m traveling alone.”
The goose replies by sidestepping away. “You’re a strange and tall creature who seems to want something.”
The city’s energy fades like a weekday, and the light from the west is dimming golden into blue. I’m wearing sneakers without socks and have a belly full of bread.
Traveling isn’t comfortable, and branching into new territory can be risky, but it requires you to absorb information at a heightened intake. This newly expanded awareness leads you to observe a moment so deeply that you begin to merge with it. Merge with the glance of the waitress, the sip of glassy rosé, the wet-foot smell of a hostel, the way sun comes through the trees. When you’re open to the smells, the sounds, and how you feel in a situation, you view yourself from the outside and you see what all around you sees as well. This is intersubjectivity: relating to everything else to the point that you dissolve into and overlap realities. You find that feelings of discomfort can actually help seal in how real an experience can be.
The Third Nobel Truth of Buddhism states that a remedy to the inherent discomfort of life is a state of Nirvana or connectedness. Christos Yannaras, philosopher and author, writes, “We know God by cultivating a relationship, not by understanding a concept.” Connection is about living in a state ofrelationship where all comes into focus. This is my meditation. My practice as a yogi is to try to come back to this state of intersubjectivity over and over again, and do so on and off the mat.
I step off the plane into the humidity of a high noon. Fulton Street is full of color and swagger and fresh ripe mangos in rows. I’m home but I’m not the same. What does this feel like? What are they wearing and saying; what’s in that window?
Can you experience the same walk home freshly each time? Can you get out of your head and into your body and your environment, and touch it with your perception? Wherever you are, do you hear the birds? The sirens? Humanity’s breath and profanity? Yourself inside this moment? Whatever the experience is—don’t you want to be here for it? Within it?
Photography by Callie Ritter.
Last week I taught class themes encouraging students to release what they might recognize as inessential - not necessary - to continue carrying along in body and mind. Sometimes when deep into the yoga practice, we come face-to-face with something we do not need which we have been holding on to. It can take the form of a concern, a thought pattern, or a habitual judgment. It can feel like a pang in the heart, a pain in the hip, or a pulsing headache. By freeing ourselves of the space it occupies, we create room to cultivate something we need to grow in its place. There is an exchange.
Mid-week, the word "inessential" took on sharp potency when I read Oliver Sacks' Op-Ed for the New York Times, My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer. Mr. Sacks, thinker/writer/neurologist, is dying. An excerpt:
"Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential."
I encourage you to read the full piece. It is honest, heartfelt, simple, and inspiring to those of us who still have time to live on this earth. Mr. Sacks has given us a gift. I am grateful that in the process of his detaching, he found a moment to share this lesson with us as one of his inessential tasks...always teaching by example.
While it might be a futile exercise until the moment we learn of our impending death (perhaps we truly cannot answer until that precise moment), I would like to pose two questions to all of you:
What could you let go of that is inessential to your living? What is essential to your living on which you could place a greater focus now?
- TaraMarie Perri
I just returned from a long overdue trip to London. Since my early twenties I have traveled there once or twice every year, and I nearly relocated there eight years ago. Over the last few years, a series of events has prevented me from making regular trips to my other home. Family-friends and pockets of my research live there, and it was nourishing for my heart and brain to finally make the journey.
My first trip to London was at age 23. Winding streets, customary tea, flowered B&B curtains, skyscapes of grey clouds hanging low over bright white buildings—some historically old and some distinctly new—are all vivid memories. One treasured memory of that maiden voyage was sitting in the Southbank Centre where I was drinking tea and diving into a copy of Wallpaper magazine. It was a fairly new periodical at that time. If you are unfamiliar with the publication, Wallpaper curates a view of travel, leisure, design, and lifestyle. Its feature articles are about the distinct styles and creativity of people and places. The photography makes you want to step into those worlds…for a day or a lifetime. My perspective greatly shifted on that day, and a tone was set for how I wanted to live my life as an artist and thinker. I defined specific dreams, goals, and possible pathways.
The city, the tea, and the reading material made it possible.
I am extraordinarily comfortable in my skin when in London. I also feel I am able to meet again with the young woman who created her vision on the banks of the Thames. Each time I visit I pick up where I left off with her. My customary way to reconnect is to walk back and forth across the varied and spectacular bridges over the Thames River until I zig-zag my way to the Southbank Centre for tea and contemplation. What dreams have I honored by taking steps towards them? What have I forgotten and should prioritize again with renewed energy and focus? What must remain a dream?
When I returned to London recently, I needed my walking meditation more than ever. I even considered buying a Wallpaper magazine to complete the experience, but did not (more on this part of the tale later). In the last few years, my path has greatly shifted from what that young woman had once imagined. Some experiences have been wonderful surprises and some have been deep disappointments. Usually, I pull her vision forward and compare it to my current situation. On this occasion, I was also broadening her vision to include aspects of my present experience. There are some developments that would certainly have met her approval. I felt like my past and present were in conversation. The contents of that conversation are not of importance, but it was an intense experience. I came home with work to do and dreams—old and new—to honor. I brought a little of her with me, and I left a little of my present-day self there for the next visit.
We often speak of time chronologically in the order of past-present-future, but there are so many theories in quantum physics that explain how time actually moves in both directions. When we make choices, interact with others, and tend to emotional situations, we are not only affecting our future, but also our past. Doesn’t that open up possibilities to be more patient with our present selves?
If our present day can alter our experience in both directions, then perhaps we can take the pressure off ourselves to make the “right” decision or the “best” decision today. Perhaps we can allow our daily life a certain fluidity, knowing that another moment will present itself when we can edit, revisit, question, or redirect. It certainly allows us to take more risks. Furthermore, we do not lose the ability to remember a day or a time or a place that inspired a dream. Those moments are worth carrying forward with us. And sometimes those past definitions can be broadened to include our present day and future dreams too.
You can look at every book you read, every place you visit, every person you meet as a potential partner in writing your life story:
Have you ever read a book that transports you to another place or time familiar enough that you could step into the pages to live there? Have you ever traveled somewhere and felt alive and open because you were able to access a freedom of spirit you don’t access at home? Do you notice that you shift into a slightly different yet familiar version of yourself when you are there? Do new people in your life allow you to discover dormant aspects of your personality? Do you ever wake up and find yourself deeply connected to the places of your dreams that it takes time to find your bearings again?
With such fun questions to contemplate, this is where this post could naturally end. But there is one last tale to tell.
I did not buy a copy of Wallpaper magazine to accompany me that day for tea on the river. Additionally, I resisted the urge to buy a copy at the airport for my flight home to NYC a few days later. I had to laugh, though, when I arrived to my gate early and found on the seat behind me a lone complimentary issue of Wallpaper. Of course, I dove right in and brought it home with me as a souvenir. At that point, how could I resist? Yet, the tale still does not end there. A week after I returned to NYC, and London was a distant memory, I was waiting in line at Whole Foods. Right next to me was a single issue of Wallpaper magazine, thrown on top of a stack of impulse-buy chocolate.
It seems the magazine was a time-traveling signal from my London self, wanting to keep the conversation going. And so I am.
Is there a time or place calling you into contact with another part of yourself? How can you inform the present by reflecting on how that space takes you into past or future time? Or vice versa?
- TaraMarie Perri