“Do you teach intuition?” a man asks me from across the table where my books are on display.
“Do I teach intuition?” I ask the question again—more for my benefit than for his own. “I do not think someone can “teach” intuition. When the Self, or someone’s highest Light, is grounded and centered in the body, that person usually knows how best to proceed. And, when that same individual expresses a sincere desire to walk a path of service, then intuitive nudges or guidance usually comes through—with greater accuracy and frequency—to aid that individual in the endeavor of service. ‘Intuition’ or, more appropriately, ‘Divine guidance’ stems naturally from a state of alignment with one’s optimal internal integrity, which involves a desire to serve the greater good.
“The purity of intention—free from greed, with a commitment to non-harming and the desire to serve—is critical to the receipt of accurate guidance. In my experience, the more selfless the intentions are the more accurate and frequent the guidance is. So, in answer to your question, ‘No, I do not teach intuition.’ My books are designed to help people connect to the Self, bringing that individual into alignment with their personal integrity.”
“I don’t actually think you are allergic to dairy as such, at least this is not the reading that comes through for me. What comes through on your situation, from my perspective, is that you are so sensitive to the manner in which commercial dairy products are produced—with no respect toward an individual animal’s proper care or the sanctity of an individual life—that that, along with a milder concern about packaging in plastics, causes your body to reject the commercial-dairy category of foods.”
“That makes sense,” the woman, with whom I have been paired at an energetics workshop, comments on the reading I provide based upon her request to know something more about her apparent dairy sensitivity. Our conversation had started with her wistful wish to be able to eat yogurt again.
“As a matter of prudence, I would definitely work with a healthcare practitioner before reintroducing dairy into your diet. Before going to the organic grocer to test my reading, be sure you are working with someone who is an allergy specialist. The wisdom of your personal intuition and experience will always take precedence over any reading that I or anyone else might provide.”
“I will step gingerly and move forward with appropriate clinical assistance. My body is so messed up right now that I needed a different perspective on things. Thank you for the reading.”
A dim, overcast light filters into my graduate, art-studio space from the skylight at the center of the large room. I am meeting with one of my major faculty advisors to discuss a few sculptural projects I have been working on. During the conversation, the broader subject of making fine art comes up.
“This is not reality,” he says finally. “You know my wife’s daughter works for River Cleaners. They staged an environmental action last month, where they took an over-sized plug out in a dinghy—in symbolic gesture—to stop the flow of pollutants from a major drainage pipe which dumps directly into the river. There were four or five people bobbing up and down in that little rubber craft in their flimsy rain coats, holding this huge plug up next to that giant pipe while it dumped harmful chemicals into the waterway. Working to help the environment—that is reality. What we do here is not.”
With the conversation from this meeting running in a loop in my mind, my relationship with fine art effectively ends. And, I begin the process of observing the relationships among people and their things. What I begin to observe amazes me.
Having spent most of the day in meditation, I am out for a lengthy walk to revisit the space of my body. It is late evening and early summer. Walking through a section of town where I do not usually wander on foot, I observe more closely the beautiful trees of a broad boulevard beginning to extend their generous foliage across the closest lanes. The trees separate four lanes of traffic near a newly renovated park.
The umbrella formed by the trees places a protective veil of nature over what would otherwise be a rather stark urban setting rendered in concrete.
Heading toward a mature adolescence, the trees’ arbor is already substantial. City planners have taken special care in designing the boulevard to accommodate for the trees’ full growth. And, yet, the trees’ roots are already cramped beneath the road, bulging visibly above the designated apron of earth provided to them.
So fresh from the meditation cushion, I can feel their mild grief with their urban placement, as if it is carried in the evening breeze. Their leaves rustle like an ancient Greek chorus. And I respond, “Sisters, how graciously you serve us and how thoughtlessly we proceed.”
The Self in man and in the sun are one. / Those who understand this see through the world / And go beyond the various sheaths of being / To realize the unity of life.
Connections. The connections I see when I drive over a newly constructed bridge in the United States have to do with pride in workmanship, integrity in professionalism—no matter where one stands on the socio-economic ladder—and an adherence to values as a culture that we, in general, strive to live, build, create and sustain not only for ourselves and our immediate needs but for the greater good of our posterity. This is why the newer bridges I drive over are higher, wider and stronger. We are thinking not only about ourselves and our immediate needs, but also about what is best in the long-term.
In contrast, when an economy is fractured by corruption and moves into a state of duality—or another more complex configuration—(and I am unsure of the cause-effect relationships here) the very nature of base-line social connections at work, to one another and our concepts of integrity begin to change radically. And, when an economy continues to function with a shrug or a nod toward petty theft and corruption, ethical numbness sets in. In my experience, trust is lost in these cultures—trust in the economy and trust in social relationships. Social connections in cultural contexts with active black markets are about making “friends” for purposes of personal economic survival or gain because what is needed–on a material level—cannot be procured reliably at a store or through official means of work.
Ethical numbness is a disquieting set of two words. As things stand now, in the context of my regional backyard, I still hold trust that you and I will both stop at the next red light, follow safety codes governing new construction, that the large collection of library materials, we hold in common, will be available for check-out and that the average person remains steady in honoring the principles of pride in workmanship, integrity to use work materials for and at work and that our commitment to service is genuine. This is why I feel safe driving across a new bridge.
Ultimately, the only thing we as individuals may truly safeguard in any market is our personal integrity. And, personal integrity has the opportunity to travel to work with us in our lunch pails every day. Integrity means that the sausage, should I choose to purchase meat, is made of up of what is on an accurately labeled product. Integrity means that the requisite cement bags and steel at a work site remain at the assigned location to be used in the designated building project. Integrity means performing with professionalism for the hours we have clocked in to work.
Functioning in this way, with attentiveness to professionalism and integrity, often produces spontaneous purple waves of gratitude and amber waves of awe while driving down some new and beautiful stretch of road.
Driving across a new four-lane bridge, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude for the solid safety and engineering of the structure. Forty feet below and off to the side, I see the old retired bridge, a narrow, two-lane affair, which has stood for about fifty years. The new bridge is one of many structures being upgraded and expanded on this stretch of highway. The entire road is being upgraded through a general widening, heightening, as well as the systematic replacement of older bridges which are being improved as a public safety measure in order to better handle additional traffic and potential flood waters.
Generally, when driving across new bridges, I do not experience purple mountains of gratitude or amber waves of awe. These emotions are conjured because of my experiences of living in foreign cultures with alternate economies. Academics and theorists might have us believe that economies are cold-blooded constructs devised for the discussion of resource acquisition, distribution, manufacture and the consumption of goods. Yet, economies are created, shaped, upheld, corrupted or sustained by people and their behaviors. Economies are in fact warm-blooded.
In countries where there are dual systems of economic distribution—both the official and the black markets, the black market often pulls its resources or goods from the official system. There was a running joke in one of the countries, where I was a student that addressed this very issue: Do you know why there are no stray animals around a sausage factory? They have to get the meat from somewhere.
The “official cuts of meat” slated to make it from farm to factory to table were frequently commandeered through petty theft by workers along the official chain of production, transportation and manufacture. Thus, the “sausage” making its way to the official supermarkets apparently had substantial portions of unofficial fillers—stray animals, paper and who-knows-what. One close friend, living in this economy full-time and preferring to purchase imported sausage when it was available, noted that even her dog would not eat the domestic sausage from the grocery store.
Issues of petty theft and corruption, inherent in economies where the black market is strong, do not stop with sausage production. Where there is an active, dual-system economy in operation, construction sites also might see a few bags of cement disappear or several lengths of steel go missing. These materials then show up in personal building projects or on the black market to be traded or sold for other goods or services that the average person might not otherwise be able to access (e.g. tickets to a cultural or sporting event). And, the bridge or high-rise building being constructed goes without the structural benefit of these materials. The appearance of the bridge or high-rise might match the proposed completed structure on a set of blueprints, but the reality is that these projects are not necessarily complete or structurally sound.
As I lay in bed that evening, I pondered one of my working theories about people and personalities. Some people are like the beautiful hard, fruit candies of my childhood—with liquid centers of pure flavorful goodness inside. This is where the best part of a person resides. A “hard-candy personality” usually yields the most amazing life flavors when the outer shell finally gives way. I went to bed wondering what my new neighbor’s story might be.
Having adjusted to the altitude, we settled into a new routine. And, we started to bump into our nearest neighbor, Martha, with greater frequency. As it turned out, Martha lived alone with three large cats and, according to her own report, had gone through as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor. Truth be known, I do not remember who broke the ice first, but pretty soon I was being welcomed over to Martha’s place for an hour or so of girl time on weekends, to simply lay in a recliner, pet a cat or watch some television. (We do not own a television. And, all families and family members sometimes need mini-breaks from chores and big personalities to remain strong and diplomatic.)
Our relationship with Martha unfolded from there. Martha and I went for rides in her giant eight-cylinder truck to the local greenhouse. We both benefited from breathing the moist greenhouse air, petting the resident cats, lazing about the only koi pond in town. It was after these outings that Martha showed me the best local haunts for real Mexican food.
With Martha, we hosted impromptu holiday dinners, inviting the neighboring residents who were often miles from relatives. We planned and cooked for picnics, sharing stories about the times, people and circumstances that were the best in our lives. In essence, we formed a new extended family with our fellow residents. Martha served as the primary host, always preparing the party’s main dish. She offered no-nonsense wisdom and life-experience straight from her heart.
Perhaps the most amazing gift we received, as a family of three, was the unbridled generosity that was at the core of Martha’s being. We often returned home to find a huge pot of still warm stew on the porch. Saturday mornings Martha delivered fresh, whole fruit pies. There were hot biscuits, pumpkin bars and an amazing variety of other delectable dishes made by Martha, who had found a recipe she simply had to try. We relished our roles as official, new-recipe (or tried-and-true recipe) taste-testers. And, no matter how many times we helped her shovel her truck out of the snow or offered a “reciprocal” dish of one, modest serving, there was no way we could ever hope to fully honor the natural generosity in Martha’s heart.
The years have erased the details about which of our households received the nudge to move first, but start packing our households we did. One day, as Martha and I were swapping boxes, to ensure that we each had the sizes we needed for our independent moves, she looked up at me saying with an unusually pained expression on her face, “I want to tell you I am sorry.”
“For what?” I looked up incredulously, “You haven’t done anything except be kind and generous toward us over the past five years.”
“I am sorry for not signing on as an emergency contact for your child after you first arrived. I didn’t know you. I just could not take on one more thing.”
“Oh, Martha, no apology is necessary. Everything has been forgiven. You have been an exceptional neighbor—every step of the way. Put that out of your mind and move forward in peace.”
Things fell into place like clockwork during the process of our relocation from our native region to a completely different area of the country. Providence seemed to be at work in each transaction. We traded two smooth-highway vehicles for an SUV capable of handling unpaved roads and mountains. We walked from a week-long stay in a hotel room into a wonderful housing opportunity at the foot of a hill and with a view of a picturesque mountain. We were on the edge of Federal Forest land. And, two buildings away from our own, there was a coffee shop.
Setting up our household in a region without family or friends nearby, we were at a complete loss for only one thing: the additional, local emergency contact required on one of our child’s school forms. Our new property manager, a busy working mother, with three small boys of her own, had her hands full. When I asked about whom she might recommend to us for the local, emergency contact, she suggested we talk to our closest neighbor, whom she described as a very regular and reliable person.
On the afternoon I knocked on our neighbor’s door, I did not know what to expect. Although we had been in residence for two weeks already, I had not yet met our new neighbor. She was always gone to work before we rose and returned home after work and shopping—long after we had settled in for the night. Then, in one brisk motion while I daydreamed, a tall woman with short gray hair opened the door. I could feel the outside air being pulled into her apartment with that abrupt motion as it swept past my body. I outlined our situation, explaining that she had come with the property manager’s highest recommendation. Attempting to appeal to her sense of compassion, I explained that we needed just one additional local emergency contact for our child’s school form. I received a brusque, no-nonsense reply.
“I am done being responsible for other people and other people’s children. And, I don’t have a problem saying, ‘No.’ So, the answer is no. I am not available to act as a contact on that form.”
End of story. I thanked her for her time and took four steps across the sidewalk that separated our two buildings and our front doors.
“How did it go?” my husband asked.
“I don’t even know what to say except that we need to find someone else to act as an emergency contact on that form,” I replied, still feeling a bit dazed.
Leaving the hotel banquet area with a full pitcher of unadulterated tonic water and a tray of stemmed glassware, my friend George and I are headed back upstairs to meet with our writers’ group.
“How do you rate?” I exclaim. “Free pitcher of tonic water for the whole crew? They made me pay for the pitcher I treated last week—not much—but, still.”
“Yeeeaaaah,” George’s vowels are long with sweet tea, his hair is unruly and the corduroy jacket he wears has professorial leather patches on the elbows, “But, you look like you have money,” he responds thoughtfully.
“But, you look like you have money.” I have to think about this . Clearly, George is not alone in his perspective on things. Whether it is a request for food money from a homeless person or fuel money from someone who is stranded, I am often approached to fulfill requests for charity. At some point, I decide that all of this wishful requesting is coming about as a result of my being white, female, middle-aged or of a certain demeanor. Or, perhaps it is more important that I am middle-aged, female, of a certain demeanor and white. I am not sure which trait or combination thereof, in terms of my external social markers, makes me so approachable. Nonetheless, many members of society, who are in need, perceive me thus.
Case in point: One day, while loading the back of my parked vehicle, next to two, deep-discount stores, I am approached yet again for cash. Something in me snaps as I reach some unknown threshold or peak. I am hungry. (Always dangerous.) I have my hand in a freshly opened bag of large discounted corn chips. From behind me, I hear the cash request come in from a man looking for gas money so he and his friends can make it to Phoenix, Arizona.
Whipping around to meet my would-be recipient of charity, I turn so abruptly and ferociously on this unsuspecting Latino man that he puts both of his open hands in the air, while backing away from me very slowly and responding, “Whoa—lady—take it easy. Relax.”
Pulling my hand from my bag of corn chips, I tell him that I cannot offer him any gas money, but that I could give him and his friends my newly opened bag of corn chips. He graciously accepts my offer.
On the road to charity, this incident proves pivotal. First, there is the social shame I felt about my own initial response of volatile anger at receiving yet another request for fiscal assistance. Although we have chosen to live a life of simplicity, no one else knows this when I walk down the street.
The second thing that I realize is this: If we cannot turn to one another for help, whom are we to approach? Everyone should retain the right to request assistance from another human being as long as they are neither aggressive nor intrusive.
The third thing that causes this exchange to stand out above many others is that I actually caused fear to rise in a fellow human being. That day, I decided that I do not want my being here on the planet to cause someone else fear or unnecessary discomfort. (My one caveat to being the catalyst behind another person’s discomfort is when discomfort might actually spur someone else’s spiritual growth.)
Finally, I also realize that perhaps I need to accept the role that I am being asked to play—that of a minor relief provider—in response to these universal requests. Maybe this is a role that Grace would have me fill. To this end, I now attempt to keep pop-top canned goods on hand with plastic utensils attached to them. If someone is truly hungry, I make an offer of food from the space of a clean heart. This form of charity is usually gratefully accepted when people are indeed hungry.
But the important questions are much, much larger: Who shapes you? Who shapes me? Who tells us who we are as individuals? What if society attempts to thrust a role upon me or you that is far less than our individual best or perfect whole? What if society attempts to push you or me into a box that does not address our potential greatness or inherent Light? Consider these questions the next time someone else responds to you based solely on your external social markers. Are you being asked to fulfill a role greater than the one you thought you were designed for, or are you being limited by another person’s restrictive notions?
In my case, I was and am asked to fill a role greater than I ever conceived of playing. Thus, society has caused me to become more charitable, compassionate and economically aware than I was originally. And, for this, I am grateful.
“Don’t you think the ladies, who come here to practice yoga, come to ‘do their bodies’—just as they ‘do their hair’ or ‘do their nails’ at some salon?”
The perfect sense of the question switches a bare, bright bulb ON above the object of my inquiry, during a conversation with one of my mature and well-respected students—also a fellow teacher.
The yoga boutique classes I have been teaching are not allowing me to create learning situations that follow a defined arc, with philosophical concepts and postures introduced so that students’ individual paths become clear, change directions or open to them. In this venue, attendance is erratic, and most students are not willing to commit to a series of classes designed to ‘advance’ them. The boutique setting makes it impossible for me to accomplish what I am used to being able to do—open doors.
Consider these issues when you are in the process of selecting a studio, yoga classes or a new instructor. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this experience?
Because yoga—authentic yoga—offers so much more than a physical workout. Why settle for ‘do your body’ when you have the opportunity to find your Way?