January 28, 2007

Signs of Life

Passionate and inspired: words I once chose to describe myself when asked by a friend. I was supposed to choose only one, but felt that I wasn't either adjective more than the other. Right now I am feeling neither passionate nor inspired. I have nothing to write about even though my life is fairly interesting. Where I am, what I am doing, how I landed here. Even right now I am 17,000 feet over the mountains of Oaxaca state flying in a skydiving plane, going to our home Drop Zone in the mountains. The view is amazing, but I feel stifled and stuck, ready to move on. My instinct tells me to leave. My heart tells me to stay, to make a difference here, and in myself. I listen to which calling?

My passion for skydiving both grows and withers, all in one day. The thrill of leaving the door, huge grin on my face, staring into the eyes of a good friend or a tandem customer who is experiencing skydiving for the first time is indescribable; to watch someone fly through the air, to grab their hands, kiss their cheek, then to see their canopy open, watching them float, spiraling down, down, down and then land next to them on the beach is sheer bliss. To experience all of this in Mexico--at the beach no less--is a bonus, the icing on an already delicious cake.

But all of the emotion, the relief of surviving, the long, glorious exhale when I land safely on the ground is thwarted somewhat by the burden of working with my passion, to be so absorbed by something and allowing it to permeate all aspects of my life. I sometimes feel too obligated, tied down to this place, this job, which sounds ridiculous really. Seeing the written words, I am almost laughing out loud. After all, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the freedom I have, by an envious soul who wants to escape the confines of society and live like a skydiver, live like the free-spirit the human animal wants to be. To be living, not just alive. A beautiful soul told me last week that she wishes everyone had the sparkle in their eye that I have, eyes full of life and wonder, still impressionable enough to be amazed by everyday miracles.

To keep myself from stagnating, from becoming too complacent, I have to remind myself how beautiful the little things in life really are. This plane I am in. Watching my dear co-workers gear up to jump out of the plane as I, too lazy and comfortable to join them, sit here and write. Not a bad office to work in; the view of Popo the Volcano is stunning. I feel myself start to relax, and despite the onset of a wicked hypoxic headache, I am content.

An extremely wise person gave me some sage advice yesterday: Let it all go in one ear and out the other. All of the stress of cultural differences and work ethics and organizational skills poles apart from my own, I have to just let them go. For my own sanity. And know that if I can't be the head, I can be the neck and hopefully help guide the head in the right direction, supporting it and keeping it on straight. Not an easy task at the beach in Mexico, but I suppose I am up for the challenge.

Red light, two minutes to the Drop Zone. I scurry to tie down valuables, as once the door opens it will stay opened until we land. And then I sit and I watch groups of 2 get in line for the door. Bundled up in hats and sweatshirts, my friends do one last check of each other's gear. Yellow light and the door rolls open, cold air and wind come rushing in--a wake up call like no other. For a moment I long to be jumping with them instead of landing in the plane. But seeing them poised in the doorway when the green light comes on makes it worthwhile to be watching, a scene that has become somewhat commonplace to me, yet I know in the back of my mind that what I am doing here is special. I am lucky, and watching these skydivers leave the plane reminds me that this moment, right now, is worth more than I can even comprehend. That I may not know the value of it much later, when I've had time to reflect and let it all sink in.

All out, I watch the land pass by as Woody dives down, losing altitude. I see the DZ, and the sketchy gravel runway that barely passes as a road, let alone a landing strip for a Twin Otter. We wind down, my friends have landed their parachutes long ago and have probably started packing them by now. It is quiet except for the whine of the engines and the wind blowing in through the open door, and it is beautiful. A silence I needed to hear; alone with my thoughts for 2 minutes, I realize that for a change I am grateful I didn't jump, because removing myself from the scene and being a spectator helped me see that where I am right now is a great place to be. That my inspiration can come not only from the doing, but from seeing what I do from a different perspective.

Powerlines ahead, feels like we are going to take them out. But Woody finds that place just above them, just low enough to come in on final approach. There is not a lot of room for error, but Woody pulls it off beautifully and we glide across the gravel and the washboards as though we were landing on the smoothest tarmac in Mexico. We taxi across the zone, a sun-baked field in the shadow of Popo. Another weekend of work lies ahead, but I don't want to stop writing: I suddenly feel like myself again, plenty to say, feelings on the surface, ready to be exposed and shared.

Woody looks back at me and says in typical Woody fashion, "Wow Val, you look really happy right now. Happy you survived another landing in Cuautla?".

Something like that Woody, something an awful lot like that.

Photos, top to bottom: Leaving the plane; Cuautla runway; Volcano Popocatepetl and sidekick Iztaccihuatl

January 23, 2007

The Mexican Pipeline

Waves crashing, beach break. Mexican Pipeline: a powerful, tremendous force. Wave after wave pounds the sand. Receding, strong backwash collides with an incoming wave. One long tube after another, the beach changes: grows, shrinks, new topography everyday. A clean slate between tides.

Wind at my back, an offshore breeze, refreshing and cooling. The rubber sticky mat feels too artificial: I want contact with the earth, want to squish sand between my toes and lose balance in the standing poses. I want the connection, to be the conductor between land and it's inhabitants. Between flesh and earth.

Mountain pose is solid and stable, grounded. Strong legs, straight spine, tuck your tail: the vocal cues I would use while teaching echo in my ears, and I listen to them. Sun Salutations as the morning light peaks over the horizon, casting its orange glow, illuminating surfers braving the gigantic surf. Their boards are white, glowing in the soft, perfect dawn light.

Downward Dog feels good. I imagine I am the namesake dog, stretching out after a long nap, pointing my tail high to the sky, opening my chest, fingers spread wide. Moving to the tempo of the waves, I flow through the salutations, guided by breath. Feeling light but strong, I am warming up to this day, the sun's rays on my back. The movement warms my body. I let the setting envelope me, warm my heart and soothe my soul.

Sweat begins to trickle down my neck. The warrior poses are meant to be strong and focused. I concentrate on the waves. I imagine the surf is pounding me, and I am trying to stay standing in the break, my legs solid and unyielding. Balance comes from the core, strength from the mind, and grace from submitting to the pose: there is a surrender, a conscious relinquishing of control and to an extent effort that must occur, to maintain composure and to fully exist in the moment. The only moment that exists is this pose, this place, this feeling.

Deep, belly breaths. I let the air fill my lungs, slowly, feeling my chest expand until it seems as though my ribs will split apart, rib cage stretched and expanded to it's maximum capacity. Every last cell full of air, life-giving and maintaining air. With every exhale, pushed from the depths of my lungs, I expel tension and stress, aches and pains. Fresh clean air replaces the stale and stagnant.

I think of life in the context of the breath: out with the old, in with the new. But not entirely. The new inspires, the fresh reminds us that change is good, that life without it is both boring and stale. With each breath, I think of how I am cleansing body and mind as I practice yoga on the beach. I consider where I am, how I got here, and how life is so dynamic. Breaking out of the box, my yoga practice here is a metaphor for life: Breaking free from the confines of an indoor studio, practicing yoga here is a parallel to how I am choosing to live my life. Outside of the normal, differently than the rest, walking a path that is both difficult and rewarding.

Triangle pose flows into half moon: a balancing act made more difficult by the shifting sand beneath my feet, watch the waves and you will teeter. Find a fixed point and the pose becomes focused and unwavering. Tentatively I let my fingers float, balancing on one leg, finding the tipping point. I prefer to move, to play in the space of nearly falling, then regressing to the exact middle, the center of gravity, then allowing myself to almost fall, saving it in the last possible second. This is my style, both in life and in yoga: to push the limit, then with strength, style and grace, pull it all together again and carry on. Staying dead center balanced and composed stifles me; being playful reminds me to not take this pose or anything else so seriously.

Transition to seated poses, this is where the work begins. The waves are calmer, so am I. Paschimottanasa, seated forward fold: Legs extend, big toes touch. Fold from your hips, not from the waist. As I double forward, ribcage resting on thighs, I am supposed to gaze at my big toes, but prefer the view of the sea; the ships on the horizon are more captivating than my unmanicured feet. Feeling the release in my hips, I exhale deeper, hoping to unfurl the knots in my hamstrings and calves that have developed from running on the beach.

The beach is my sanctuary, my sanity. I run here, play here, swim here, land my parachute here, and do yoga here. It is my playground away from the mountains, the forest, where I roam the hills in search of serenity. A temporary replacement, a total departure from the Pacific Northwest, the Mexican Pipeline will have to do. It is serving me well, and seems to be having a balancing yin-yang effect on me: Everything here is different, down to my hair. The beach air, salty and humid, is sticky and hot rather than cool and damp. Sand beneath my feet instead of a carpet of humus and moss. Cactus, palm and mango trees instead of rhododenron and Douglas Fir. Sun and blue skies instead of the misty gray Oregon winter.

Pushing into Upward Bow, a full backbend, everything is inverted. If nothing else, going upside down offers a fresh perspective. Head hanging, chest opening, ribs expand, I am on the edge between pleasure and pain, going just far enough to know the pose is doing some good for body and mind. I remind myself to relax, to submit to the arch, let my body move and do what it needs to, down to the muscles in my forhead that are trying to resist giving in.

Returning to the sand, the view is right-side up again and it is time to wind down. The surf has calmed tremendously, seemingly paralleling my yoga practice. I ease into Half Pigeon pose, and for 5 long breaths I just relax, breathing into my hip joint, envisioning melting butter as the muscles soften with each exhale.

Settling into Corpse Pose, flat on my back, arms and legs extended, I welcome the moment I have to myself, sharing it maybe only with the waves. I think of nothing but hear the sound of the Mexican Pipeline, pretending that my own mind is like a seashore, that I hold nothing permanently there, that it all washes away: that things change, come and go, like sand with the tides. That life and all of the things we do, see, experience are temporary; just like footprints in the sand, nothing will stay the same, washed away by the next event, the next wave of opportunity that inevitabley rolls in.

Corpse pose is meant to clear the slate: The 'the death of the practice', it is a reminder that each practice is it's own entity, with it's own life cycle. Birth is given in the Sun Salutations, youth is the standing poses, strong and energizing. Maturity happens in the seated poses, where a wisdom is cultivated in order to let the poses happen, with graceful strength. Inversions and arm balances are the manifestation, the culmination of all the style, grace, strength, composure, focus and wisdom that has develped along the way, expressed together in one single pose, like the building of events to the climax of a good plot. The poses of the Finishing Series do just that: they round out the practice, polish the edges, and balance everything out.

By the end of Corpse Pose, my body feels heavy. My eyes open softly, slits forming between heavy lids. Light creeps in, blue sky above is all I see. I move slowly at first, then stretch out, lengthen my body head to toe. I roll to my right side, fetal position, and like a child am ready to take on the day, somewhat naive to the world, without judgement and with an unquantifiable amount of hope for the unknown. Open to opportunity and change, happy to exist right here, impressionable and young, I sit up and fold my legs under me and bow to the Mexican Pipeline, thanking it for sharing the morning with me.