Happy accidents and the Zen Little Terrapin

Every now and then, perhaps when you need it most, something amazing and unexpected happens. I am not sure if this is coincidence, synchronicity, serendipity or a gift from the Divine.

I nearly stumbled over my happy accident letting the dog out this past Saturday. Olive the goat-hound was circling something on our riverbank.  I,  poised with coffee in hand, was waiting to see her stop, drop and roll – standard procedure when something delightfully smelly and dead is in her midst. But, she only sniffed and stared.

May 2009 043What she was sniffing and staring at confounded me at first – I thought it was  a rock, until I saw two eyes staring back at me.  Our dear little crackhead (a term of endearment for our pup) had directed my attention to a turtle momma laying eggs in a nice stretch of mushroom blend mulch, smack dab in the middle of the spot I had pegged for a wagon full of day-lilies. She was about a foot in diameter, and sporting a nice wig of dirt.  Her paddle like front feet were anchored in the soil and her back feet straddling a hole. Her entire being was completely absorbed in the task at hand. She seemed serene and certainly paid no attention to us. Why, with me and my camera and Olive and her barking and sniffing, you would have thought she would have become distracted but she was in the zone, a very zen little terrapin.

After each and every egg, she very gently tucked them into their little dirt bed. I, taking on the self-appointed role of turtle Douala, watched her lay another seven eggs, while keeping the dog and my toddler at a safe distance. I had the strangest urge to offer her ice chips, but decided to give her my glowing praise and verbal encouragement instead, all the while knowing it was equally unnecessary. And, when she had strained the very last egg from her tiny body, I watched with sympathetic exhaustion as she ever so carefully covered her nest with dirt and lumbered her way back to the water and disappeared into the tidal grass.  What a leap of faith that departure must have been considering the neurotic voyeurs standing so close to her helpless baking brood.  But she never looked back, not even when my 3-year-old yelled “Goodbye turtle – see you later.” 

 From my limited, amatuer research on the topic it will be late July or early August before the shellback pack makes an appearance and that’s if they survive undisturbed by the resident racoons, foxes, muskrats and a certain blunderhound in the area.  But, if we are very, very lucky, if the planets are aligned just so, if our goat-dog has her nostrils pointed in the right direction, perhaps we will get to witness another miracle of happenstance . . . stay tuned!

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Tenderfoot Yogi Chronicles – It Ain’t Easy Being Mindful

prayerI’ve been practicing yoga for the last six months and while I would like to say I’ve gotten better at it I really can’t. What I can say is that I am finally getting “it.” That is to say, that there is no room for struggling, competing, hurrying, or worrying in yoga.

The goal, the prize is serenity – to unify your body, mind and spirit – to transform.  It makes me think of the chubby caterpillar, Heinrich,  in the children’s movie “Bugs Life” who knows that someday he will be a “beautiful butterfly.” But, like Heinrich, there are layers of conditioned thought I must shed if I am to experience a new dimension of self.  In a nutshell, it’s all about letting go.

Applying that while on the mat is where the “practicing” comes in.  I am able to let go for a few moments here and there, concentrate on my breath, be in the moment.  But, I still catch my mind wandering off to grocery lists during “downward facing dog”, or wondering if my “camel” looks as graceful as the woman’s on my left. I have wished for a fresh pedicure more than once while gandering at my hooves during “dolphin” pose, but I am finding that letting go of the image I have of my feet and my body is a challenge that gets easier the longer I practice.  Who cares what my butt looks like in forward fold? Everyone is facing their own knees anyhow! And when I fall out of a pose, which happens nearly every class, it is not as defeating as it used to be – I just try, try again.

As a tenderfoot entering into some of the more complex movements yoga has to offer I often think of my 3-year-old son, Colin, when he was learning to walk. He was quite determined, no matter how many times he landed on his bum, and every fall elicited a gleeful giggle. He approached walking with good humor and curiousity and was always forgiving of his own mistakes. So, I too am trying to approach yoga with the fresh eyes and passion of a child. I am letting my yoga experience free me, from, well, me.  And I am finding many of life’s stale platitudes echoing anew in my ears, like: “Attitude is everything,” “pride goeth before a fall,” “practice makes perfect,” “wherever you go there you are.” And strangely, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

I say echo, because the lessons are learned over and over and over. Yoga for a novice can turn on a dime, from deep understanding to self-congratulation and right back to frustration. But, with gentle compassion, I nudge my little engine back on the track and think “I can.”

Why, just yesterday I managed to relax into a twist.  Accomplishing such contradictory movements is par for the mat – for instance,  staying grounded in your sitting bones  while lifting up toward the ceiling from the base of your skull actually is possible. Yoga is full of such opposing actions and when achieved – even for an “aha” moment it is a taste of bliss. So I press forward, while being patient – another contradiction conquered!

The awakening is slow, but it keeps me coming back to my mat.  I love the joy that comes after such demanding concentration, the layers of understanding that peel away with every session. I love the deep enigmatic metaphor that is yoga. I have come along enough with my practice to uncover the best kept secret of  yoga – that life is best lived slowly, mindfully, focused in the moment and unencumbered by the small stuff.  It will take many backbends, inversions and sun salutations for me to keep this lesson fresh in my mind, but a moment of unshakeable peace is worth the many moments of practice to get there.