{discovery} Cat Hair Pills

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 3.48.37 PMI’ve seen this ad for 2 weeks now glued on numerous lampposts along Bedford Avenue, on my way to-from Bed-Stuy YMCA. What do you do with cat hair pills? For humans or for animals? A traditional cure or a new homeopathic invention?

No answer would surprise me. After having immersed in the study of yoga some 15 years ago I tried a lot of things.

Nothing was wrong with me as such. But as I discovered, and was constantly reminded of, with yoga, the mind, spirit and body are in constant dialogue and they all should be taken care of, their health maintained. Everywhere I went in those circles, the message was that the best way would be a “natural” one. So I went for Ayurveda, many forms of energy healing (I’m a Reiki Master), all kinds of mediations and natural medicines, diets and fasts, massages and visualizations.

A part of most of these practices was to study oneself. To immerse in self-reflection. To peel the layers of the onion. That way, one would re-discover more of the true self, and true nature of the holiness of life. So to enhance the process, I read ancient texts and new age guide books to a healthier, happier existence.

Result? Many insights and happy moments. Quite a bit of money spent.

And then, 2 years ago, I threw my back out. It was the single most scariest health-related experience in my life so far. I went to bed feeling some stiffness in my lower back. I woke up next morning and within minutes I couldn’t get up anymore. I spent over a week on the living room floor, crawling to the bathroom (no details about that). When I could finally walk again every step was a tentative one, coupled with an irrational sense that my back would break any minute.

Duh, one might say. I’ve since learned that my experience is very common.

But what followed was interesting. I tried a chiropractor who scared me by telling me about someone like me, on the verge of paralysis. I tried osteopaths for $200 per hour. I tried acupuncture that hurt like hell. I tried Chinese medicine and energy healing, and still couldn’t sleep on my back. I read about the revolutionary research that indicates that back pain is indeed stress-induced and can be mentally managed. And yet I kept feeling a stabbing pain close to my sacrum.

Many different yoga teachers gave me many different authoritarian explanations, mostly psycho-spiritual, and as many instructions as to what to do. I developed a painful sciatica that travelled from one leg to another. Any forward-bend would set it off. Any backbend would set it off. Most poses in any yoga class, really.

The cure? When I started to go to sports massage and to spinning classes. I was so desperate to do something, anything, and figured out that indoor biking wouldn’t require much of bending of any kind. Already after the first class I felt refreshed and renewed and pain-free. Now all the pain is gone, and when it reappears, I just do another spin class.

Why? Who knows. (Often cyclists get sciatica.)

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So back to cat hair pills. I’m not the only one wondering. As with the pills, we may never know whether a claimed cure is about an art performance or someone’s real experience. It’s great to get tips and free samples to guide us in life and health. But the decision and responsibility is mine and yours.

All-One, or, on Pitts, Maps, Cakes, and Soaps

After a blogging break, a little rant that has been brewing inside of me for the past weeks: A set of thoughts inspired by travel, dogs (of course), sustainable living, and finally, soap. I’ve been thinking of the road to knowing and self-awareness.

I used to do yoga. I used to do, and talk about, almost nothing but. My name was Minakshi. I was the happiest (and the most desperate) when practicing, both the physical and devotional paths. I had moments (and realize this is merely my personal sentiment) of divine clarity and intense belonging to the world. So I felt I was a bit more ‘aware’ of what life is about, than the average person.

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Then I adopted the Mu, kind of by accident or because of temporary insanity. All of a sudden I didn’t have so much time for practice and reflection. All of a sudden I had left my yoga community.

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But suddenly I begun to feel, like this blogger on HuffPo, about her adopted pit bull:

Even if you don’t believe in a God above, this bond will feel like it was magically planned many moons ago, where the stars aligned perfectly and placed you two exactly where you needed to be to find one another. And you will be so blessed.

Nobody tells you your heart will change. But it does. You judge less. You care more. You learn how to accept life a heck of a lot better than before. You learn how to forgive and how to let go and how to live in the moment.

They should have told me I was going to learn how to love better. That loving this Pit Bull was going to change my whole life.

Even now, that I’m about to write something quite skeptical about the text above, and about my own experience, I’m taken by emotion, knowing exactly what the blogger means.  And feeling like, yes, I know a bit more about life than those without a dog, particularly those without a pitt bull or two.

Recently, I’ve also felt that I’m wiser, more experienced, than a certain someone from my past. That someone contacted me, having found an Indian guru, and hence wanting to apologize about a long-forgotten conflict between us (signing off the message: “All in One”).

My thoughts: Oh, that’s sweet. And: Oh, I’ve been there. (I have — I’ve sent a couple of intense emails when I had started to practice yoga etc., wanting to clear old misunderstandings and share kindness.)

And yet, as David Sedaris wrote a few weeks back in the New Yorker,

As I grow older, I find that the people I know become crazy in one of two ways. The first is animal crazy—more specifically, dog crazy. They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, “A black lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe.” Then they add—they always add—“They were rescues!”

The other way is  to become food-crazy (look at this New York Times Lemon Ricotta Bundt Cake I just made for the first time).

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But there have also been moments lately when I’ve felt I don’t know as much, I’m not as much aware as Mr X and Friend Y, or Ms. Z. That is when I’ve looked at the maps people share on Facebook about the countries they’ve visited. I haven’t seen anything compared to them!

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… Until someone noted (on Facebook as well) that those who tend to consume organic kale, wear recycled/vintage clothes, and clean their apartments with eco-friendly detergents, tend to have huge carbon footprints as they travel so much… And I felt a bit better, perhaps again more in the know.

What do we really know, then? What makes us wise about ourselves and the world? Who knows.

Or, maybe… When taking a bath today, I read once again the crazed rants of Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One soap bottles. (For those who don’t know, Dr. B was not only a maker of organic soaps but a very spiritual man — and he included all kinds of good messages in the label of his soaps.)

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One message went like this:

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.

While not a unique message, today I read it as new. It made me think that self-realization, and world awareness is actually simple. While the negative of the web is true (if we destroy others, we destroy us), it goes in the other way, the way of caring, understanding, and knowledge. Whether we love a dog or downward-facing dog, a guru or bundt cakes, or distant shores we haven’t visited yet — that love we give to ourselves. When we feel we know something big and fundamental about the universe, that knowledge is, at the end, our knowledge about us.

We have these different triggers, maybe different at different times in life, that open us to see. Travel, or friends, or spiritual practice, or soap bottles.  All-One.

{discovery} On Being Rescued_Upward Facing Dog

A version of this post was published a few years back in the Finnish yoga journal Ananda, soon after I had adopted Lady Mu (formerly known as Sita). I have kept thinking about the events described below quite a bit, with Mr. Tee.

2014-06-20 09.29.57I met her almost by accident. I had been arguing with my that time boyfriend plenty. The last fight before we broke up was about him being unable to find the time to go and look at a clumber spaniel puppy that we (read: I ) wanted to adopt.

Out of spite to that man. That’s why I went to AC&C Brooklyn, just to look what a city shelter is about. It wasn’t the most uplifting experience. Plenty of big dogs in small cages, plenty of barking, and more than enough smell, I thought.

Only one of the dogs I saw was quiet, simply observing me from the back of her crate. ‘Do you want to take her for a walk?’ I sure did, but the dog crawled close to the ground, like a reptile. Only later it dawned to me that she was basically terrified of the outdoors.

I barely know how or why I decided to adopt her. I simply remember that I was asked to decide right there and then, and to take her home ASAP. I must have gone back home to get my lease — one needs to prove that dog’s are allowed in one’s building — and I must have called a friend to secure someone to look after her while I’d be at work the next day.

I also must have given her the new name, Sita, right then. Where did it come from, the wife of Rama, the perfect wife and woman? (Maybe because I had just seen the brilliant animation film, Sita Sings the Blues.)

But the next thing I know, we are in a car driving back to Eastern Parkway, and she’s drooling and throwing up.

And the next thing that happens is that Sita cried, barked, and howled incessantly if I was away. My landlord let me know that she was too big and loud for the apartment and that I might have to leave. Sita nipped at people. She got very sick and spend two days in the animal hospital. Nothing was found to be wrong with her — but I spent my vacation savings on those days and all those X-rays. She also ran away, once to the street, once from doggy day care. I got well-meaning but (I felt) somewhat condescending advise from seasoned dog owners at Mount Prospect Park.

I started to read dog training manuals. The advice I encountered was familiar to me — from yoga. Your energy is the deciding factor. Breathe deeply, in and out; observe how you feel. If you are nervous relax your mind and body consciously. The most important thing is to remain unwaveringly balanced and grounded. The dog will react to your state of being and its problems will reflect your problems, habits, moods. If you are giving the dog mixed signals, it will become nervous, or dominant, thinking it needs to be in charge and work towards a more balanced state of affairs. I thought, if we look at our communication closely, isn’t this so true for any other kind of interaction, with any creature, as well?

I also read that dogs have had a crucial role in many spiritual traditions. Zen koans are told about dogs. the Lhasa Apso breed has been bred in Tibetan Buddhists monateries; the St. Bernhard dogs were originally kept in the hospise of St Bernard of Menthon. One of the most famous dog training guides in the U.S., How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, is by the Greek Orthodox New Skete Monks.

A yogini-friend noted: a dog is a model for someone who follows ‘the Master’: Devoted, tuned-in. On the other hand, your dog is your mirror, hence, your teacher.

I remember looking at Sita, her, one night, perhaps three months into our life together. Based on my personal belief system, it was easy for me to accept what I felt: That we know one another. I also realized something scarily fundamental about me. When things get rough, I’m easily discouraged and want to disengage. But Sita couldn’t be without me, my care. That is why she has to come first.

*   *   *   *   *

It’s been over four years since Sita and I met. Since then (and with the help of many, including the wonderful Susie’s Pet Care) she has blossomed into a calm, gentle and sweet model dog who now graciously tolerates (and sometimes cuddles with) her wild brother Mr. Tee.

Since then, I’ve met someone else, whom I married, and who said: Sita is such a heavy-duty name for a dog… Can we call her Mu — short from the Finnish word murmeli — groundhog — that I sometimes used for Sita.

Little did he, or I, know that even with the name change, Mu remains the upward-facing dog she’s always been. As a Buddhist Koan (that I recently found by accident online) tells us:

A monk asked Master Chao-chou, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Chao-chou said, “Mu!”