Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Oh hey, we moved!

You can read all Tracey's musings and find out about her classes and services at More Yoga, Less Bullshit. The calendar here will remain up-to-date. Just in case. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Solitary Confinement (or Why I Deleted the Facebook App)

My teacher, Michelle, once told me that being a yogi can be lonely work. She said this within the context of satsang, so it seemed a little farfetched at the time. Who could be lonely in the company of a bunch of other happy hippies?

The thing is that for every evening I spend in ecstatic kirtan, I spend twelve more days alone listening to Lama Marut podcasts or obsessively designing asana sequences. Teaching a lot of yoga classes requires a lot of personal work, and most of it is solitary business: meditating, practicing, studying.

I recently quit my day job (teaching school) to teach yoga and do massage full-time. My formerly super structured days are now more akin to controlled chaos. Some days I teach five classes, some days two, some days I travel the length and breadth of New Orleans twice, some days I scarcely leave Mid-City.

I schedule massages in between my classes and my personal practice in between massages. I end up with weird blocks of free time in the middle of the day when no one else is available. When I’m not engaged in super enlightened pursuits, I’m usually reading Game of Thrones or obsessively checking Facebook on my phone. Sometimes I’m doing both at the same time.

If I’m being honest, I should admit that I’ve spent more time on Facebook this summer than I have meditating. Far more time. Like I can’t even imagine how much more time.

So, finally after months of checking Facebook before classes, checking Facebook after classes, checking Facebook in lines to the restroom and sometimes even in the restroom, I had to ask myself, “What am I getting out of this?” I’m not sure how to answer that question, but I’m pretty sure I’m not getting what I want out of it.

I’m lonely. I spend a lot of time alone. I’m an introvert, so I like to spend a lot of time alone, but I never realized how many of my social needs were met by simply doing my work in the presence of others. Since that is no longer the case, I am trying to fill this social vacancy with Facebook.

But it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work partially because, actually, Facebook is no place for introverts like me. I have upwards of 1,900 "friends," which makes my Facebook experience super crowded. I hate crowds. I especially hate crowds in which some people think it’s okay to push, and Facebook is one of those crowds.

It also doesn’t work because I am in some weird awkward stage of personal/spiritual growth. I used to be pithy and witty and now I have a low tolerance for small talk. So I vascillate between posting quippy, tongue-in-cheek-statuses and posting kind of mindful statuses, neither of which garner responses that I find engaging.

If I say something smart alecky, there is always someone who takes me seriously or feels hurt or doesn’t get my sense of humor. I can negotiate this kind of situation in person by apologizing or explaining, but mostly it doesn’t actually happen that often because I am socially adept enough to figure out what I can get away saying to whom most of the time.

If I say something mindful, there is always someone ready to step up and say, “UR soooo stooopid ROFLLMAO,” and then my feelings are hurt. I make myself feel better by recognizing that probably people would be more emotionally sensitive and in tune if we were face-to-face, just like I would be.

But we aren’t face-to-face, because we are both in line waiting for our stevia sweetened almond milk chickory brews checking Facebook. Maybe right next to each other.

In my effort to reach out socially, I am actually more effectively alienating myself. Instead of engaging in incidental conversations with the people I am coming into actual physical contact with I am looking down at my phone.


Good question. I think because it’s seemingly harder to control what people think of you if you are actually with them IRL. You can’t curate what they will know about you. There are no privacy settings. They know if you have bad breath or a booger. They know that actually you don’t look anything like your profile pic because it was taken in really good light on a skinny good hair day.

Real life doesn’t have a filter that makes your skin look perfect and erases your flaws. And in real life, we are terrified that people will not like us if they see our flaws. We are scared that they will not want to be our “friends.”

But in real life, the people we call friends are the people who see our flaws and still love us. They are the people we love despite their not perfect skin in bad light and not quite photogenic homes.

In other words, I use Facebook because I want to make friends, but what I really make are “friends,” and they aren’t the same.

I deleted the Facebook App from my phone so I can have totally uncontrollable social interactions and learn to risk not being liked.

I haven’t done anything dramatic like delete my account, though. I’m not a teetotaler. It’s fine for me to be at home checking email and also checking Facebook. I’m just not using it instead of interacting with the people around me.

So, maybe I’ll see you around. And actually see you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Karma and Dead Kittens

Karma is a complex idea. Ask a Buddhist monk or a dedicated yogi to explain it to you and they will sigh deeply and start brewing a hi-octane French roast. Our colloquial, pop-cultural understanding of karma is somewhat less complex, however, and can be boiled down to the catchphrase, “karma is a bitch.” Add “and so am I,” or “LOL,” and you have the bumper sticker or Facebook status of everyone who got dumped ever.

This idea of karma as a sort of magical universal force that deals out punishments to the wicked and rewards to the virtuous smacks of Judeo-Christian bias. It’s our yoga-fied interpretation of the angry Old Testament God. And while I personally love the idea of swarms of bees attacking, say, Mario Batali for stealing money from his employees, that’s just not how karma works.

Karma is actually a neutral force in the universe. It can be defined simply as cause and effect. It’s not a conscious, judicious entity. It’s more like physics. It’s a law that says if something happens, something else that is basically equal will happen in response. In other words, no one can escape karma, but it’s not out to get you, either.

I have a story to tell about karma. And it’s a terrible one, so if you’re squeamish you might want to just watch the trailer for Maleficent instead. Otherwise, here goes.

On New Years Day, my girlfriend and I stopped at Hank’s Super Market in the Marigny to pick up some cheap champagne for a celebratory dinner. In the parking lot were some very drunk and probably very high street kids arguing about something that was completely incomprehensible to outsiders.

One of the kids had a pitbull tied up with rope to a bench. The other kid had a small grey and white kitten mewing loudly from the shoulder of his leather jacket. As the kids got closer to each other, the pitbull strained and pulled against the bench and the kitten’s cries became more panicked.

The boys swung at each other. There was a fight. The kitten got caught between the boys. Someone threw a punch and the kitten was crushed.

The other boy jumped on the boy who killed the kitten and beat him until he was unconscious. He kicked him a few last times for good measure, and then walked off with his dog, leaving the unconscious boy and the dead kitten lying on the asphalt in the parking lot entrance.

I thought, “Things die when we allow our actions to be ruled by anger.”

Not just any things, but soft sweet innocent living things like kittens.

I saw the boy who killed the kitten wandering drunk down Frenchman a few hours later. He looked like the most lost person in the world. He looked like he had been crying. He looked like he wanted to die. And even though I was pretty sure he was a terrible person, I felt a little tiny bit of compassion for him.

Our pop-cultural interpretation of karma tells us that boys who kill kittens, however accidentally, deserve to have their asses kicked and to be left for dead in the middle of the road. They deserve to feel lost and sad and lonely and unloved. If they don't die immediately, they at least deserve to want to die.

And it is so unbelievably easy to give in to that line of thinking that I can actually feel my brainwaves magnetized in that direction.

But that, my friends, is not what karma means. Karma does not mean: I think you are a bad person and so you deserve it when bad things happen to you. In fact, I don’t get to know what you deserve and what you don’t. Buddhists say that only the omniscient mind of a Buddha can comprehend the intricacies of the play of karma.

So, as easy and fun as it would be for me to sit back on my yoga mat and judge gutter punks, that’s not my place. My job is to try to figure out what my karma has to do with this situation. Why was I the witness to this? Why me? What did I do in the past to belong in this equation? 

I was haunted by images of this beaten boy and this dead kitten for weeks. I felt completely overwhelmed by the sadness of this animal life lost, this human life broken. Bloody memories crept into my meditations, my yoga practice, my daily life. I was traumatized.

Finally, I talked to another teacher about it. He said, “Maybe you were meant to see it so that there would be someone to say a prayer for that boy and that kitten. Maybe you were there to see it so that someone would be there to spiritually digest this event and bring it meaning. Maybe you were there to do the spiritual work that the boy isn’t able to do.”

Maybe he was right.

I don’t understand the intricacies of how my karma brought me to bear witness to that event. I don't know if my deep spiritual work allowed me to be present or if it's some other kind of lesson. I don't even know if me being there is a cause or an effect. But I don't really need to know the answers to those questions. 

It’s what I do in response that’s important. I am in control of the karma that I create as a result of being a witness. And it is my job to make sure that I use that experience to expand my consciousness. 

My initial response was to feel traumatized and powerless, as though I am the victim of world I can’t control. But since I’ve had a bit more time to digest, being the witness to this violent but probably fairly common event has made me think a lot more carefully about my actions.

When I feel angry, I think, “Things die when we allow our actions to be ruled by anger.”

When I see street kids with kittens, I practice compassion. (Maybe not with a great deal of dexterity, but I'm working on it.)

Seeing what seemed like a textbook rendering of karma at work has forced me to think in a more sophisticated way about the whole idea of karma, how we think it works, and how it actually works. It has made me more attentive to the possible effects of my actions, not just on myself, but on the sweet fluffy world around me. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Replacing Cigarette Butts With Baby Carrots, or My Drunk Neighbors, Part Two

My neighbors are drunk again. I know, big deal, right? Anyways, this party started sometime late on Mother’s Day and ended on Tuesday. Yeah, I said Tuesday.
This is New Orleans, y’all.

So, you’re probably wondering whether I judged my drunk neighbors as I groggily walked my dogs past them at 8am. This answer is yes…kind of…and it’s complicated.

I actually didn’t judge them on Monday. On Monday, I wondered whether they knew someone who had been shot in the second line on Mother’s Day. I felt sorry for them, which is like a stepping stone to feeling compassion, only totally not the same thing at all. I noted the difference between sympathy and compassion, and sent them prayers as I scooped up my dog’s poop.

So, yeah, I’m basically Enlightened.

On Tuesday, though, guess what? I judged them. I stopped myself pretty quickly, though. I stopped myself by instead actively wondering what kind of drugs they were on. Molly? Coke? Adderall? Crystal meth seems unlikely but possible? Does anyone do crack anymore? I really don’t know.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lay Back, It's All Been Done Before

A couple of years ago I was charged with the task of minding my friend's Avril Lavigne fan blog while she was on vacation. It was a paying gig for both of us, not a product of our passions. We were hired to track then current news and gossip. So, for a few weeks I knew a lot about Avril Lavigne.

Please forgive me. I needed to pay the rent.

Does it go without saying that I have never been a fan? Her pink-pop-punk gives me cavities. But I always want to be a fair writer, so I did a lot of research about her. Frankly, I wanted to find something about her that redeemed her in my eyes. Instead I found a (not very flattering) interview in which she was asked to name a song by the Sex Pistols and couldn't, but then claimed to be "Sid Vicious for a new generation."

Later she would respond to criticisms about her lack of knowledge about punk history by saying:
People are like, 'Well, she doesn't know the Sex Pistols.' Why would I know that stuff? Look how young I am. That stuff's old, right?
I feel like I don't actually need to draw out the nuances of why it's not okay to proclaim yourself a member of (sub)cultures that you don't actually know anything about. Right? You don't get to be the next Sid Vicious if you don't know who the first one was.

This is Sid Vicious. He couldn't actually play any instruments and he couldn't actually sing and he is arguably the most famous punk icon. Why? Because he got on stage and made a band and played the shows and didn't give a fuck about what he was supposed to be or do. Am I saying this DIY attitude is what Avril Lavigne is expressing when she says she doesn't need to know about punk (even know she is one)?

Absolutely not.

Sid Vicious was probably a dick, but he wasn't a shiny pink product. He wasn't trying to sell punk. One of the dominant ideas behind punk is that you can't buy it and you can't sell it. You have to embody it.

So, there's a couple of ideas I want to tease out about this. The first one is that, as a yoga culture, a lot of the time we act like a big crowd of Avril Lavignes. We call ourselves yogis, but we don't know where the tradition came from. We say namaste, but we don't really know what it means. And sometimes we get scared to ask questions because it seems like everyone else already knows.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yoga For Smart People

I apologize for not being terribly on-the-ball about posting this past week or so. I've been launching a new site called Yoga For Smart People. If you want to read what I have to say about Celebrity Yoga Culture, Johnny Depp, and yoga sex scandals, check out my essay, "Gotta Getta Guru." Otherwise, I will be posting again here in a few days.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Compassion and the High Life

My neighbors down the street have been drunk since 4pm yesterday, roughly two hours after the explosions in Boston. I could hear their hollering from inside my kitchen all afternoon and evening. They’ve been out on their porch again today since I walked my dogs this morning, holding cans of beer in soggy paper bags.

Does this make me nervous? Yeah, kind of. When they’re sober, they wave and say hello, but when they’re drunk they just stare at me hard when I walk by. If you aren’t the kind of person that’s drunk at 9am on a Tuesday, it’s just sort of hard to wrap your head around, which is why I’ve been thinking about it all morning.

I’ve been trying really hard to practice feeling compassion for them. I was mostly failing until a few minutes ago. And then I thought about how I felt when I heard the news about Boston.

I felt scared, angry, sad, and confused. I felt like something bad had happened and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like something bad might happen to me, my loved ones, or my home and there was nothing I could do about it.

You name it, I felt it. We all did.

And maybe if I hadn’t sworn off drinking for 2013, I would be drunk right now, too. Because that moment when you are overwhelmed by grief and confusion always seems like the best time to have a beer.

I can imagine my neighbors watching the news for an hour, growing increasingly more agitated, when finally someone suggested that they turn off the TV and roll a blunt on the porch. What a relief that first hit and that first crisp swallow of cold High Life must have been.

And maybe for a few hours they talked, and consoled each other in the way that a lot of men (and not just men) seem to; by theorizing about who to blame and how to get revenge. And then a few hours of beer and weed and talk of vengeance might have passed and eventually settled into angry despondence.

And that’s when I walked by with my dogs and waved and my neighbors were just too drunk and overwhelmed to acknowledge me, to do anything but stare. And their stares seemed scary because they were scared.

And then I was scared.