Friday, June 8, 2012


The last week of my mother's life is a week which seems engraved in my memories.  At the time I wasn't fully aware that it was her last week, as death by cancer is a progressive transition from the land of the living.  It's sort of like growing out my hair, the difference is noticeable only by someone who hasn't seen me for a while.  So, while it was sad and shocking to see my mother become bedridden, it wasn't a sudden realization, instead it was more of an inevitable eventuality.

What I remember most from that week, however, is not my mother's passing, nor the emotional embrace she shared with my sister or even her last breath.  I remember all of those things, but as I mention above, they all seemed expected if not predictable.  The piece that didn't fit, the variable in the equation which had no solution, was how I spent that week trimming the ironwood trees in the back yard.

For anyone not familiar with ironwood, or more appropriately Casuarina equisetifolia, it is a tree with very dense branches which are heavy and difficult to cut.  At one point the entire street, owned by the Mortensens, had ironwood trees on both edges of the property line.  Over the years the parcels were split and sold, and the new owners progressively traded in the trees for fences, which helped to keep dogs and keiki from wandering too far.  Our property was one of the few which still had the ironwood trees in the back and it had been a long time since they had been trimmed.  I estimated the growth to be about 30 feet on top of the 10-12 foot trunks and I remember the branches ranging from the thickness of my leg to the thickness of my arm.  I bought a chainsaw and starting a pile in the back yard which eventually consumed almost all of the grass and reached over my head.  I remember it taking about a week to make the pile and 3-4 days to cut it into truckloads and transport it to the dump.

I don't know why I did this, but eventually my father and even my neighbor joined in.  It was my coping mechanism, my way of channeling my emotional frustration into productivity.  There was only so much sitting around waiting for death that I was able to do, I needed an outlet and I found it in the back yard.  I've done similar things since then, perhaps as a means of escaping much like an alcoholic or drug addict might.  Today I had a similar moment, a sudden desire to do something with my pent up energy first brought me to my mat at noon and then to my which has now become a pile of rotten lumber on my back patio.

But wait, what does the title have to do with the post?

Great question.

I think the most significant difference between working and not working is how much time I have to think about myself.  If I seem particularly self absorbed this week, it's a by-product of not having to turn my brain into work mode for 8 hours each weekday.  Instead, my thoughts are free to drift, which I've done a fair bit of both on and off my mat.  I've been pondering why exactly I like to beat myself up so much.  I don't have an answer to this question, but I'll keep thinking about it.  I don't think it's so much of a bad thing, although it does seem to wreak havoc in my relationships and friendships.

All that aside, I do have one small epiphany which is worth continued thought.  This week I realized that one of the reasons I loved 2003 so much, a year I spent training hard and not working for the most part, other than the obvious realization that not having to go to work sort of rules, is that I was finally able to slow down.  And that is precisely what yoga has done for me as well, over the past two years, to give me space to force myself to slow down.

Now, I should clarify this.  When I run with the yogger, I'm the one begging him to slow down :)  So I'm not talking about speed in the sense of how fast an activity is performed.  I am actually very slow at eating, and with just about every task I do, work-wise, home-improvement-wise, cooking-wise, cleaning-wise, folding-laundry-wise, etc.  I am much more tortoise than hare.  But the slowing down I'm talking about is the chilling-out that seems so natural and effortless to many people.  I have difficulty with it.  I can't sit still very well.  I've known this for a while.  But I think I finally realized why.

My whole life I've felt behind, as if I've been trying to catch up to the place I should be.  I think this stems from being one of the youngest in my class.  Typically kids are held back a year when entering Punahou, especially boys, in order to gain an extra year of physical maturity for sports and intellectual maturity for college admissions.  Neither my sister nor I was held back, we both went from 3rd grade in public school to 4th grade at Punahou.  I don't think it affected my sister in any way, at least she always seemed like she was not emotionally, intellectually, or physical disadvantaged by her youth.  Being a boy, however, just might be a different story.  I remember despising my skinny arms and legs and putting a lot of time in the weight room in an attempt to catch up with my peers, many of whom were simply a year older and much closer to manhood.  I now lament all of that mass I put on during those years and I wonder what I would look like had I not done that.

The irony of it all is that I was not behind and I've never been behind.  But I feel behind.  And I'm starting to realize that.

What is the take-away?  Where are my action items?  I suppose the answer to that is to recognize when I feel this way and work to ease myself out of the tension I tend to feel about it.  There's a nice crossover to my practice.  When I'm feeling stressed, when I'm reaching my limit or approaching meltdown, I notice my breath changes from deep to shallow, from legato to staccato.  It's almost like the stoplight changing from green to yellow, telling me that I'm about to crash to the mat if I keep it up.  Sometimes I choose to push through, accepting the inevitable failure and collapse.  Sometimes I back off and try to continue with less vigor, less intensity, accepting my limits.  And other times I retreat to balasana and check out for some rest before continuing.  I try to reconnect with my breath, which is so easy to talk about and yet in the midst of a hot class it can be one of the most challenging things I ask my body to do.

In many ways, this week of unemployment feels like one of those moments on my mat where the class is continuing without me while I sit in child's pose, forehead resting on a sweat soaked yogitoes, chest rising and falling as I try to get myself under control, as I try to regain some composure.  I don't know when I'll be getting back up, or if I'm even ready, but the chance to slow down and try to catch up with myself is one that I should learn to appreciate more than I do.  I think when I talk about selling everything I own and moving back to Hawaii I am really just talking about my need to feel caught up, to slow things down to the point at which I no longer feel like I'm falling off the back.

Now that the deck is no longer, I think it's time to read Siddhartha.

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