Art and Culture

“Bob Dylan is a strange one,”

says the man next to me with a slightly interrogative inflection, while we are both looking at a photo of Dylan taken by Alan Ginsberg at the show of Ginsberg’s photos at the Nat’l Gallery. He is a beefy guy with a crew cut, wearing chinos and a polo shirt. He looks like he’s maybe one of the thousands of police officers from around the country who are here for “Police Week.” Lots of police wives are taking a break from the demos and competitions to look at the impressionist and modern paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. Maybe he just got a little farther west than he had intended.

I smile at him in a way that I hope seems welcoming and open, yet does not actually convey agreement with his statement. I wonder how he felt about the photos ofd the Orlovsky brothers. I am at the exhibit on my lunch hour for the first of what will likely be a number of visits.

The Beats are an important part of my identity. My parents met in Greenwich Village in the late fifties — my mother dabbling as an artist, my father involved in peace activism, the places they frequented also frequented by the beats. My great Aunt H’s favorit book in those days allegedly was “On the Road.

As a teenager, I relished and romanticized this part of my history. In so doing I read widely not only the writings of the Beats, but also what they were reading, which included the great Hindu and Buddhist texts. To want to discover the illumination of the Beats was to explore Eastern philosophy and mysticism and to meditate and practice yoga.

“No,” I thought to myself, “I’ve never connected the word ‘strange’ to Bob Dylan. Maybe when I get home I”ll play me some before I sit to meditate.”

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Acqua al 2 (and Community)

Last night, after yoga class, I went with a couple of students to the new Italian restaurant at Eastern Market, Acqua al 2.  I’d been shown the inside before it opened, but this was the first chance to go and eat.  A long-time neighbor, yoga student, and friend is the mom of one of the co-owners and has known the other owner since childhood.  The co-owners were both were raised in the District and have returned after college, along with many of their friends to live, and work, and be with family.  I went to eat with the eagerness of knowing my friend and her family better and supporting them, more than for the purpose of needing to be one of the first to check out a new dining opportunity on the Hill, although that was certainly another pleasure.

As we planned the dinner (we have been awaiting the opening for some months and talking about going since then), I thought about how different it is to go to a business where I feel a connection to the proprietor or the workers.  I felt more open to what would be there, more joyousness at its very existence, and a yearning to find it wonderful and be supportive.  When the business is run by a stranger, or even more removed, some corporation whose duty is mostly to shareholders, the natural forgiveness for quirks that we have for those we like, welcome, and love is missing, and we ourselves miss out the essence of true relationship.  Getting to share this new place with my friends was a superb reminder how important is community and how we can support it and cultivate it.

What a delight that, even as a NY-bred food snob, I can cheerfully recommend the restaurant.  It is larger than most restaurants on the Hill, so it does not feel like a neighborhood-style Hill restaurant. but I think the neighborhood was ready for something larger.  The atmosphere is lovely:  communal seating in front near the bar for those who have forgotten to make reservation (yes, you already need them, unless you are coming after 9 [kitchen serves until 11]), spacious, pleasantly lit, comfortable tables, and  a great mural on the outside, which transforms a concrete wall a foot along the side of the restaurant into a view of Florence.

We started with the “zuppa del giorno,” which yesterday in keeping with the unseasonably cool weather, was a warm bread and tomato soup that was a rich and flavorful concoction.  Given the lateness of the hour, we didn’t have the entrees (though I’ve heard good reports).  We shared at our table for three, the pasta sampler (for two), which was five different vegetarian pastas of the chef’s choosing, and the salad sampler (which you can get as all vegetarian if you ask).  We each had different favorites of the pastas, but all were good and very classic in preparation and presentation.  The salads were light and fresh, with an emphasis on bitter greens, which I like, and were an excellent foil to the rich pastas.  The pastas came out one by one, giving an opportunity to have two or three bites to savor, with then a little wait in between for the next one.  This was not a meal to be hurried; things come at a European pace.   I was too full for dessert, but my friends insisted.  The cheese cake is the kind that is more like mousse than the heavy American cheese cake and my companions raved.  I had a fruit tart that was well-prepared — most of which I took home.  I will enjoy eating it today after speaking on a telephone seminar with people I know are asking challenging questions.

The restaurant is still getting its rhythm.  It was packed with lines out the door even at 8pm on a Tuesday night just two weeks after its opening, which is no doubt inviting the staff to live up to intense challenges.  The food is sure to be good, and if you go with the generosity you would have for family and friends starting out on a new venture, you will have a delicious experience.

Note:  Plenty of vegetarian options with the pastas and salads, but it would be harder to find vegan on the menu (given that it is a Florentine restaurant).  My only wish based on last night’s meal, is that the restaurant would use more environmentally friendly containers for taking things home.  Right now, it is using foil trays with a plastic cover, so if you anticipate bringing part of a dish home, try to remember to bring your own carry container.

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Forgetting to Take a Break (and a reminder of the importance of practice)

I got caught up in something in the middle of the day today.  By the time I could reasonably take a break (I did eat my lunch from home), it was too late to be able to get a real break.  I then worked fairly late.  By the end of the day, I really noticed the difference between a day when I have taken a walk, met a friend, sat at the Botanical Garden or the museum for even 15-20 minutes and this day, when I let myself get so tangled in the demands of work that I did not take a break.

I work better in the afternoon when I have taken a break, just as my work, my body, my digestion, my sleep, and my relationships are healthier when I practice consistently.  I no longer need a reminder how important it is both to take a good break each day and to find time for practice.  I am looking at this day, though, as a teaching lesson, an extra reminder of the importance of finding some delicious time to bring into the rest of the day.

Do you take a break to eat quietly or take a walk in the middle of your day?  Can you notice the difference the days you do and the days you don’t?  What about the weeks you practice and the weeks you do not?  Does this not fire you up with resolve to be steadier in your practice and kinder to yourself?

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Taxing Yoga?

I just received the following email that makes it easy for you to comment on the DC Council’s proposed tax on yoga classes.  If you believe yoga should not be taxed, please take action as moved:

Dear Elizabeth,

We just learned that the DC Council may impose a 6-8% sales tax on yoga classes and gym memberships. This Friday, May 7th (tomorrow!), they’ll consider the new tax. And, they’ll vote to approve or reject it soon thereafter.

Before this vote happens, please tell the DC Council: “Don’t tax yoga!

Washington, DC is no stranger to the challenges of modern life that yoga is so well-designed to address: stress, stress-related illness, depression, anxiety, and the secondary impacts of these ills that make it harder for people to simply “get along”. Why put yoga — a potent antidote to these problems — further out of reach for District residents?

Some advocates of the new tax argue — mistakenly — that people who practice yoga and attend gyms are wealthy enough to afford the additional tax burden. The truth is that most yogis and gym members are middle income-ers who’ve simply made it a priority to invest in their health and well-being.

The DC Council should reward their behavior, and encourage more people to take responsibility similarly for their own well-being. Doing so will have direct upsides on the DC coffers. Why? Because when people are healthier, more balanced, grounded, and happy they’re also more productive, more self-reliant, and better able to function in our interdependent society.

If you agree, please tell the DC Council now: “Don’t tax yoga!

We respect the DC government’s need to increase revenues in a time of economic recession. We just feel that taxing yoga and other health and wellness services is one of the worst ways to do it. Services that support people’s health and well-being are not luxuries. They are essential – just as much in the District of Columbia as anywhere, if not moreso.

Please make sure the DC Council gets that message. Tell them: “Don’t tax yoga!

Many thanks,

Ian

Ian Mishalove
Co-Owner & Director of Flow
Flow Yoga Center

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The Four Gates of Speech

One of the  offerings in John Friend’s Anusara Teacher Training Manual, is the “four gates of speech,” which I believe comes from Buddhist practice.  The four gates are:

1.  Is it truthful?

2.  Is it necessary to say?

3.  Is it the appropriate time?

4.  Is it a kind thing to say?

It is easy to see this application in terms of speaking with others, though not always easy to practice, especially in a group setting where the culture is to condemn and criticize.

A more subtle practice of the four gates is how we talk to and about ourselves.  I am someone who was raised to have a very strong internal judging voice.  Although with the steady practice of yoga affirmation, my tendency for self-judgment has eased, the propensity reasserts itself when I am stressed.  I have taken to asking myself, when I hear the judging voice, does it pass the four gates of speech?  I find it a challenging practice, but a necessary one.  When we honor ourselves (we can honor ourselves and our own light and still know there are ways we would benefit from expanding or shifting), we will more easily honor, recognize, and affirm the light in others.

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Boycotting Arizona?

Having just returned from Arizona (yes, Sedona is in Arizona, as hard as that may be to believe from any perspective other than cartographically) from a meditation retreat, and having two more scheduled with my teacher at the same location during the year, I have pondered with my usual degree of self-questioning about the potential impact of my choices the suggestions to boycott Arizona.

I had decided — perhaps because continuing to study with my teacher, including on retreat is so important to me now — that as I pretty much go straight from the airport to the meditation retreat and back without shopping, I am probably supporting people who did not support the immigration law.  On previous trips, in addition to paying for the food and lodging at the retreat (my teacher lives in California, so the tuition goes to California), we ate at a Mexican family-owned restaurant and a raw foods restaurant and bought some supplies at the natural foods store (eschewing the Whole Foods in favor of the local natural foods store).  I’ve decided it is OK — perhaps even a good thing — to support those who clearly were not in favor of the immigration law.

What does it mean to engage in a boycott?  Who does it hurt and help?  What impact could the Arizona boycott have? Have you thought about whether to boycott Arizona?

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Great Swan

I found a used copy of Lex Hixon’s Great Swan–Meetings with Ramakrishna, last week that I am reading with delight.  Lex Hixon has rendered the teachings from the seminal and extraordinary voice of Ramakrishna very accessible.  It also provides in a light-handed and intelligent way, an excellent perspective on the history and dance of the mingling of East and West. Ramakrishna, as Swami Vivekenanda‘s guru, is an incredibly important part of the path of yoga to the West.

As an American drawn to the teachings of yoga, I feel it important for me to know the context of how these teachings reached me, and how they interconnect with the embodiment of religious and social practice in both the society whence they came and the cultures they have reached and shifted.  Those who have imbibed the teachings with pure bhakti (devotion) might think it is not necessary to study so much.  For me, whose nature and practice includes skepticism and questioning, the more perspective I gain by thinking, exploring, and studying, the more I am able to open in different ways.

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The Four Agreements

Several years ago, I was introduced to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements in a yoga book group.  I come back to them periodically.  I am not usually one for self-help books, but I think the agreements are a wonderful teaching.

I have them taped to the bottom of my computer monitor at the office because I find them especially useful in the office setting.  In particular, they are helpful in my relations with a co-worker senior to me in the chain of authority who tends to be very critical or speak in a strained or loud voice when anxious about work.  As it involves my projects (or we wouldn’t be talking in the first place), it is hard not to react and take it as personal criticism.  Today, I found myself in two different discussions about them.  First, I found myself reading them aloud to someone who called me to talk about a painful situation through which he is living.  The response was “thank you” and, in particular for Agreement 2, “amen.”  In the second situation, I was talking to two co-workers.  One was describing a work situation, and she said she had found it very helpful to come back to her desk and read “agreement number two.”

The Four Agreements are (I found them on the Facebook page for The Four Agreements, so I feel OK printing them in full here; you can also see them on the “inside flap” view on Amazon.com (I have honored copyright by buying the book long ago for the book club meeting):

Agreement 1:  Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Agreement 2:  Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Agreement 3:  Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Agreement 4:  Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I find Agreement 1 the most challenging.  When I am under stress, I tend to fall back into the ways in which I was raised and use “the word” to diss myself pretty fiercely, though I am getting better at not doing so persistently.  With Agreement 2, the tricky thing is simultaneously not to take things personally and keep perspective, but still to listen openly for ways in which one might still want to seek to grow and shift in response to what is said.

Are you familiar with The Four Agreements?  How have they assisted you in giving perspective in your relationships and life?

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