Quite often, product takes precedence over process; ultimate achievements reign over necessarily laid groundwork and considerable effort. While the majority of our time and energy is spent in the climb up the hill, much of our judgment and pride resides in...Read More
One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read More
My new Swiss friend told me stories about giving his elder father a rambunctious cat. He told me about his experience being a nurse for people who knew they were on their last leg of life. He wants to quit his job of sixteen years and revolutionize the way people...Read More
I don’t remember why I first went in—it’s not like I have a thing for bagels. But I entered the shop into a long line and began the difficult process of not being a “bagel regular” and having no idea how I wanted to eat these plump round rolls with a belly button. (NYC bagel etiquette #1: Never call a bagel a roll.)
“Next!...Next!” The whole shop was a wave constantly shifting forward as customers shouted their orders à la carte to the men behind the counter. Dishes of flavored spreads are in tinted pastels. Would I like it toasted? …um, yeah? Three sets of arms fly through spatulas, grills, and toasters true to the noise and speed of a New York minute. I hear someone behind me request a plain. You have a plethora of options and you order a plain??…with regular cream cheese…?! Siddhartha Gautama grew up as a prince with wealth and plenty.
When I make it to the register, there it is, miraculously waiting for me, gift-wrapped and slid into a paper bag with shoved-in napkins. I’m spit out the door in under five minutes and five dollars. Made-on-site, I’m eating a morsel of NYC tradition and history. I’m gonna let you make my day dear bagel. At an outdoor table nearby I relished this brilliant orchestration of breakfast. The sun was shining and the event kept coming back to me.
On my next trip, I’m ordering for two and need to make a close train. My blood sugar is low and blood pressure high. My bag is extra heavy and forehead dewy. I can’t make a decision. I hate making decisions. Nothing sounds appealing. What a chore! It’s so clamorously LOUD in here. “NEXT!!” Oh! I spill out an unconfident order and anxiously twiddle my thumbs—at whatever pace the line is moving, it’s not moving fast enough. The cash register dings and I realize nothing aboutthe bagel shop has changed, but the experience I was hoping to repeat had vanished.
The third time, it’s the quietest I’ve seen the shop and there’s no line. A woman in white polka dots orders a large coffee with skim. Her pleasant expression is framed in air-drying ringlets. She’s bent over the counter while the cashier explains that she’s handing her one single, and then one five. She’s blind. I watch her leave with her hunched back reaching down to the harness her dog wears because it’s one that sees the streets.
Just outside, a woman with a healthy set of white hairs poking from her chin is clothed in an oversized tee that reaches her knees. A caretaker is nearby and her eyes don’t look like they’re registering anything. Does she ever get outdoors? Siddhartha steps out of the palace and sees illness and age for the first time. Or maybe he stubs his toe on the daily newspaper. Difficult realities can be a necessary attitude check. I sit underneath a park umbrella thinking.
So I had a mystical and humbling set of experiences sponsored by a bagel shop: a high, a low, and a dose of hardship. I learned a few lessons from my three sandwiches, but what happens the hundredth time I go? (Whoa—I don’t want to think about eating that many bagels!) But how do I sit for the thousandth time on a meditation cushion? Or always walk the same path to work or pick up a fork to yet another meal? We endlessly rise to another twenty-four hours of day separated by the concepts of months and years.
Yoga to me is more about the relationship and routine than about what’s being practiced. The material doesn’t change, yet we approach it in different ways and with different levels of education. I’ve heard Marianne Williamson describe a miracle as “a shift in perception.” We all have our own bagel shops, mats, and routines where we can compare our perspectives. Our practice is in understanding how we perceive and in coming back to the awareness of that fluctuation. What is the constant underneath? This can be pulling teeth or randomly easy.
I can have a euphoric sense of oneness and think that I’ve got “it,” but I know how often the cash register DINGS! me back awake, and I feel shameful about how I project my negative moods upon those close to me. The classic Buddha story covers ignorance and avoiding, or overly seeking, until there’s acceptance. I repeat this pathway on an hourly, if not moment-by-moment basis. If you really pay attention and are curious and observant in your routines, I think you’ll find the same lost and found repetitions. Life is all of these.
I don’t know the ultimate key. I don’t think there is one. All I can tell you are the times that I’ve been humbled and how many times I’m willing to try again. I can tell you that I prefer a bagel with the right “pull” and inner consistency, but how it tastes will depend on my perspective. And it won’t always be the latter half of bittersweet. Can I have two eyes, a slice of reality, and a spread of gratefulness on a WHOLE wheat EVERYTHING.
Photo by Callie Ritter
The following post was originally published on November 17, 2013. As we find ourselves once again nearing the busy holiday season, this post becomes relevant to return to. Katherine Moore 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.
It is at this time of year that I tend to feel especially tired and overwhelmed. Various projects and work commitments seem to move at lightning speed, and everyone I know (including myself) seems to be in some show or hosting some event at opposite ends of the city that make it impossible for me to attend all of them. Meanwhile, the holiday season approaches at breakneck speed, and as usual, promises to be both a lovely, yet hectic time of year. I find that my thoughts have left the present, jumped to the encroaching New Year, and before I know it, I’ve convinced myself that the year is over and I haven’t done half of the things I meant to do.
This, of course, is not true. Many, many, many days are left in the year – many days that can be used productively or leisurely, as I deem appropriate. In my life, I find that it is my creative endeavors that suffer the most when I become overwhelmed and over-booked. As a “sometimes” choreographer, my motivation lacks at these times and inspiration seems hard to find. Even as I thought about what to write this week for this blog, I found myself coming up empty, distracted by other commitments and worries.
What I try to remind myself at these times is the importance of ritual and practice in the creative process. Research has long shown that talent alone does not produce the best work. The most successful artists of any genre excel in their field due to discipline and the constant rigor of trial and error, in addition their natural talents and inspiration. Creativity is a practice that needs exercise to blossom.
The next book on my reading list is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Curry. Curry spent over six years compiling information on the daily habits of the world’s most successful artists, composers, and writers. In an article for Slate, Curry writes:
“This doesn’t mean that inspiration doesn’t exist, or that some work is not more inspired than others. It merely means that you should work each day regardless of whether you feel the urge to; it is the process of working itself that will give rise to new ideas. And with steady application, you can expect to hit inspired patches from time to time.”
When I was going through the MBD teacher training and first setting up a regular yoga practice and study patterns, one of the most striking changes I felt in my life was the upswing of creative, critical, and connected thinking. The rituals of practicing, writing, and weekend sessions somehow allowed the varied facets of my life to fall under one umbrella that felt more connected and therefore, more fruitful. After all, a literal translation of “yoga” in Sanskrit can mean “union” or “yoke”.
I understand the teachings of yoga to be just as much a creative pursuit as writing, choreographing, composing, and similar endeavors. The yoga practice allows us to make connections between our bodies and our minds, between nature and art, between science and the shape of our hands on the mat. It has been said that good art is art that makes connections between ideas we wouldn’t normally expect. While yoga isn’t “art” in the sense that we don’t end up with a finished product, I think that the creative thinking involved is closely aligned with the artistic process. Practicing and teaching yoga gives us the ritualized time and space to think creatively about the world and make connections about our experience in it.
I think where I’m going with this is that those moments of feeling empty and uninspired, especially when we’re snowed under with other work, are perfect opportunities for more practice, and that practice will yield creative thought. Yes, sometimes we have to take a break, step away, and return to our work refreshed, but sometimes we can use that emptiness, that writer’s block, to our advantage. For any trainees out there who are feeling overwhelmed with all the things you think you don’t know, for any teachers who are feeling uninspired, take some time to really be in that void of not knowing. Take yourself back to being a truly empty cup. Get to know that place and then, infuse it with practice.
I think I’ll leave off with one of my favorite quotes by Ira Glass:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
– Katherine Moore