Before Leaving for Pokhara

7 July 2011

I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days with a cold, an affliction that has beset many people in Pepsi-Cola.  The Nepalis blame the rain.  I blame the pollution, but who cares?  I haven’t had much energy and my spirits have flagged.  Lying around in bed, trying in vain to sleep while serenaded by carpenters cutting wood on electric saws, blacksmiths pounding metal rods, construction workers banging hammers, and, today, a brass band that struck up a cacophonous beat every 20 minutes or so, depressed me.  I’ve had too much time to think about the breakup with Tim and have dwelled unhealthily on my weaknesses, failures, shortcomings, and losses.   I started to get hold of myself when I realized that I was pre-menstrual and exhausted.  What I needed was a a good, solid rest.

I took a nap and then meditated for about 30 minutes.  What a relief it was to drop into stillness, into the what-is-ness of my life right now, right here and to stop fighting, stop resisting, stop expecting, and, best of all, stop finding fault with myself.  It struck me that I was wasting time.  There is no running away from the grief that I feel for what I have lost.  I am riding that wave.  But I can’t let it overwhelm me.   I am so incredibly lucky, after all.  Not only have I the opportunity to get to know truly unusual and generous human beings such as Kat and her best friend, Maria,  I am also here with my son, my only child.  I came here to Nepal in order to do something extraordinary with him.  I have spent much of the past ten years mourning my distance from him, and here he is now, a young, intelligent, and engaging adult.  We are bonding with one another but also with some of the same people during our travels.  We will only be here for another four weeks.  Every moment with this man, this man whom I love more than any man in the world, is a gift.

I took a harrowing cab-ride with Kat and a driver who seemed to delight in roaring directly toward pedestrians and stopping half an inch from their legs.  He veered into oncoming traffic two-thirds of the way into town.  Kat and I have both adopted the same strategy for managing our fear during these journeys.  We talk briskly to one another and keep our eyes off the road ahead.   We were meeting the group at a restaurant in Thamel, but Brendan and the crew had not yet arrived.  My heart ached for him and swelled when he came swinging into view.   I often worry about how I’ll do when he goes back to the States.

We all go to Pokhara tomorrow morning.  The gang—Brendan, Joost, Peter, Angela, Maria, and maybe also Sophia–will meet at 6 am downstairs before heading together into Kathmandu for the “tourist bus,” a lot more expensive and allegedly more comfortable vehicle than the notoriously overcrowded and filthy regular busses.  No farmer is likely to hop on board and deposit ten to fifteen half-dead chickens on my feet.  Still the road itself is terrifyingly narrow, busy, and likely to be rained out in places.  I am not looking forward to it.  But I am happy to be going with good friends, my friends who are also Brendan’s friends.  It will be heaven to escape Pepsi-Cola and the Kathmandu Valley for a few days.   We all need the break.

Shoulder Stand

I had no idea how hard one could work to do a proper shoulder stand.  O, and I’m doing nearly every other pose wrong, it turns out.  My muscles all want to work en masse, fused together, locked down, whereas to do a good triangle, for example, my muscles need to work separately, in different directions.  It’s an interesting mental game to focus on muscles I didn’t know I had and try to move them separately.  Kind of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time,  only much harder.

Well, it clears the mind to have to tune in so intently on the body, and to realize that the body is not even close to being something under the control of the mind.  No, in fact, the body–with all its learned postures, its hunches, its clenched jaws, its legs pressed rigidly together, or crossed, or arms folded, or brow furrowed–influences the mind, makes it miserable, and then the mind sends distress signals that tighten down all the hatches, and the sphincter jams shut, which backs all the toxins into the body, and the mind complains, and the cycle continues.   This is the feedback loop that Tara Brach calls a “trance.”

So when you practice yoga with an expert Iyengar teacher such as Nancy Crum Stechart, whose class I took tonight, you are working so hard trying to get your brain to send the right signals to the muscles you’re trying to isolate and move, not to mention the focus you need to hold the pose while your entire body screams “ENOUGH!” that you don’t have time for the trance.  All this thinking about what getting your thigh to move forward while simultaneously moving your pelvis back and up, and then lengthening the spine while straightening the back leg and bending the front one just another half-inch, while keeping the pelvis tilted and the front thigh moving in the opposite direction–all this actually interrupts the feedback loop that usually takes over.  The sensations of pain or discomfort that you experience have clear and obvious relationships to the thoughts that you are having at that moment, and there simply isn’t time to think about anything else.  The mind clears for an hour or two.  It starts to clutter up again in Shivasana, corpse pose, when you are supposed to let everything go slack but also to do this consciously, remaining aware of the body and sending release to those muscles which are still holding on.

My mind is a mess of monkeys jumping from thought to thought.  It goes right into the jungle swinging, and it usually takes me a while to figure out where I’ve gotten to.  And then I go back to where I really am, on the floor, listening to the sounds coming from outside, and sensing soreness or tightness or fatigue in my body, and just staying there. But soon the monkey-mind is off again, and I just go along until I realize that it has carried me back to the feedback loop, and that my muscles are clenching again. I come back again and again, because I’m trying to recover from all the times throughout the day when I’m caught up in the loop.

I have had the great privilege to take some classes with Nancy Crum Stechert (so I’m repeating her name), who happens to be one of the premier Iyengar teachers in this country.  She started practicing yoga in San Francisco in 1976 and began studying with the Iyengars in India in 1983.  She has been studying regularly with them since then.  She founded the Colorado School of Yoga in Denver as well as the International School of Yoga in Tokyo.  She holds a Senior Intermediate level certificate in the iyengar method.  But aside from all her accomplishments, Nancy is a lovely person to be around.  She’s calm, non-judgmental, funny, and intelligent.  She reads a lot.  She disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the same reason I did.  Neither of us enjoyed the sexual violence scenes. You can turn on the tv at any time of day and find a channel showing a film or show about a woman being menaced.  Why would anyone want to read more graphic descriptions of this masculinist torture?

I met a woman at a feminist function who raved about the trilogy.  I couldn’t understand why.  I like that they’re set in Scandinavia, because my mother was Norwegian.  And the little mystery about the photo frames was somewhat interesting.  But it took me a long time to get into the plot, which became a page-turner only because I had already invested so much time into the book.  But I really didn’t enjoy the blow-by-blow descriptions of violent rape.  I don’t mind graphic descriptions of sex.  In fact I like them. And I have no political beef with porn, in general, but simply do not personally get off on this particular type.  This seems to be the type of porn that people who like to say they’re against porn really like.  The quasi-feminist heroine gives them an excuse to indulge in this stuff they otherwise wouldn’t let themselves read.  They’re against rape and sexual violence against women,  but perfectly happy to spend hours reading and imagining it.   Indeed, they’re enthralled.  Well, I don’t enjoy it and feel unhappy when I have to experience more of it than necessary, either on screen or in a book.  Rant over.

I’m home now, exhausted.  I’m having a glass of excellent unoaked Chardonnay from Leroux vineyards,  halfway between here and my excellent yoga class.  I just ate an entire spaghetti squash, baked and served with butter and salt. My soup from last night, by the way, turned out to be excellent.

I’m going to end on this excellent note.

Edgy

So for three days now I’ve been rewriting the introduction and it is not going well.  I have written I think one paragraph that I like.  And I honestly do not know what else should go into it.  Enough introduction.  I am so heartily sick of writing the introduction.

The sun starts to hit the table where I work, in my brother’s kitchen, at about 3 pm, glaring off the screen and making it pretty uncomfortable to work.  I took a long break and drove up into the Grand Mesa National Forest, which you can only access by miles of dirt road.   Pretty awesome.  The road starts out through a valley bordered by a rim of rock that runs along the hills, winding through ranches with airplane-sized watering tractors, and long bunches of cedar and scrubby brush, and then heads upward so steeply that even my brother’s enormous truck slipped on the gravel at times.  I hadn’t put it into 4-wheel drive yet, trying to save gas.   After about 10 miles the ranches dropped out and there was just open sagebrush sea and scrub, and up ahead in the far hills a forest of gold.  And then I was in the aspen, all apricot shimmer and white trunks, and nearly hit a very black cow and its calf.   On I drove over a road that got markedly worse, so bad that I had to slow down and roll over the rocks and valleys at 1 mile an hour.

I reached Bailey’s Reservoir at about 4.  It is really just a lake nestled into the skirt of a small and barren valley.  Beautiful, but dark.  The sky was overcast, threatening to rain.  There was one bright yellow aspen against the black-green firs.  The ground was rust brown, mottled with cow-pies.  Little breeze.   I was away from the road, away from the truck, and tucked back into the woods, just the way I like to be.  Not a sound except for one weird cry that could have been a coyote or a crazy human. I guess it spooked me, because I didn’t want to stay there.  Maybe it was too quiet, deafeningly silent, after that.  There was no breeze, and I was too far away from the cows to hear them.  I regretted I had not brought the dogs.  It was so quiet that my brain started to make up sounds–to hear the buzz of the highway, or cars, or other kinds of urban noise.  These phantoms passed away.  An airplane thundered pass and it took a long time for the sound to fade.  But then it did, and all was silent again

I drove further down into the valley and headed back home.  Then I began to feel irritated with my cowardice, turned around, and headed back up to the lake.  But I couldn’t stay there.

I turned around again and drove downhill about a mile, across a rugged washboard road, got out, propped an easel against a rock, sat, and looked.  I could see way down across the Grand Mesa and out towards the West Elk Mountains and the flat land where Highway 92 runs from Hotchkiss to Delta.  I was way up on 3100 Road.

Even though I enjoyed the softness of the aspen trees that had already shed their leaves feathering up against the evergreens, and the broad swathes of gold behind them, and the valley spilling out below me; even though I was happily straddling a granite boulder like a horse, I couldn’t simply sit and be.  Too edgy.  I needed to move, get back, reach home before dark, before the rain.  Plus in this spot I could hear the cattle lowing, and they annoyed me.

They annoyed me more on the way back down, because they all seemed to have decided to go somewhere on the road at the same time.  Dinner?  There must have been thirty or forty of them, all told, on the way back.  All different colors, browns and tans, creams, and russets and blacks, bulls and cows and calves.  They frequently stopped right in the middle of the road, turned their enormous bodies sideways and stared at the headlights.  When I finally got through them all, and drove a little further down the mountain, I saw one pure white young cow grazing among the aspen.

I also saw hawks, and chipmunks, and deer.  I think they were deer.  Could have been elk.  One froze by the roadside, so I stopped and looked into her eyes until she decided I was no threat and moved on.  She had enormous ears.

Once I had a dream that three animals came to me, and when I awakened I fancied that they were my spirit animals, or totems.  They were an owl, a jackal, and a doe.  I saw the face of the doe this afternoon.

I’m making soup with last night’s creamed corn (I made it from fresh cobs), tomatoes that come from my brother’s garden here, caramelized onions and carrots, and sweet potato.  The broth is water-based. Since I’ve sworn off all processed foods I couldn’t use a cube, so I took a chicken breast out of the freezer and popped it in to the slow-cooker.  I made this before I left for my drive.  When I got back the chicken was tender enough and cool enough to shred with my fingers.  I poured another cup or so of water and about half a cup of wine into the broth, and it has been simmering for the past 40 minutes or so. I will have to let you know how it turned out.