The Canaries

A Close-Up On The Subtle

The other day I said to my three year old son, "Just because mommy is talking nicely doesn't mean that I don't mean it. Now, please, stop splashing the water out of the tub."

I don't like yelling or raising my voice. While it can be effective and commanding in the short term, I am looking to parent peacefully. However, it's far more difficult than I had imagined. I have earned many skills for moving mindfully through relationships, but parenting tests these skills, and shows me that I have more work to do. One thing I am focusing on is volume. How can the volume of my voice remain low, while the meaning behind what I am saying is strong and powerful? By the transitive property can my son learn this skill? And soon!

I remember one night, in my twenties, I had tickets for back to back nights at The Bowery Ballroom. On the first night, I shall let the band remain nameless, there were people by the bar talking, and bothering the musicians. They actually yelled at them to shut up, and it led to a very awkward silence, and then rebellion in the crowd. Not even kidding, the next night, Alexi Murdoch took the stage, and the room hadn't settled yet. Alexi just waited, in darkness, and utter silence. But it wasn't awkward. It was peaceful, respectful even, and everyone received the message. The music was what we were all there for.

Now, I can hardly believe that there was once a time when I went to concerts two nights in a row. But, what's more profound is how this lesson has stuck with me. Sometimes, when we want to make a big impact, holding our ground, and holding space, while remaining composed and even quiet is more influential. This was MLK and Gandhi in action, at a concert, and now I'm trying to implement it in my parenting, and relating, and seeing it live with a beer in my hand made it less lofty, and more everyday.

One of the reasons I think I have (knock on wood) stayed injury free after twenty years of practicing yoga is because I listen to the whispers. I hear from many people that yoga is too slow for them, too boring, they don't understand the point. Sure, we can turn it into power yoga, but it's very nature is to explore the subtle, and that does require listening to quieter volumes. That is the point of yoga. We turn inward and focus on the subtleties of sensations within our own selves. But we do so in order to loosen our selfishness. This is key. When we come in contact with thoughts, sensations, and fears, within our own bodies and minds - how can these experiences help us to connect more deeply with humanity, and the greater world we are embedded in? I can do a beautiful sun salutation, but can I coordinate my breath with my son when he is pushing my buttons? I can feel my attention go simultaneously to my feet and my hands, while staying physically centered in triangle pose. But can I spread my attention evenly to my two children, simultaneously, at bedtime, when they have different needs? Not without clarity in my center, but, yes, I can. Can I attend to the needs of my nuclear family, extended family, and my global neighbors if I do not feel integrated? I cannot.

I know the work we do in yoga is rather invisible. We aren't jumping around, or lifting weights, or burning calories rapidly. But, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says, "what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I was reading an interview with the poet, Gallway Kinnell, and he said,

"While poetry is rather invisible publicly, it exerts a quite powerful influence on a very large number of individuals. In this way, it percolates up through the populace and, over time, may have a profound effect on who we are as a people and how we relate to each other and to other peoples and to other creatures."

Of course. It isn't only the headlines that influence us. Those speaking softly, passionately, and poetically influence too. Somehow this helps me forgive myself for the times when I have raised my voice, or set up punishing ultimatums - the headline moments. I am confident that my general, daily demeanor, my subtle gestures to be a peaceful, poetic, and kind human being will percolate up through my children. They will be effected by all of my tones and volumes, not just the loudest ones. Perhaps they will even learn to respect that I am trying, even when it is difficult for me, and we can all have compassion for each other at how difficult it is to be influential and peaceful.

This influential part is important to me, because those who notice the subtle, and are taking the care to listen to the whispers, hear the problems of our world before they are out of hand, and can influence change prior to emergency status. If we can hear the whispers before they are screams, and respond like a nursing mother, ("a nursing mother, all she does is wait to hear her child. Just a little beginning whimper and she's there," describes Rumi) then perhaps we can help to generate peace in the everyday, and avoid some catastrophic headlines. Perhaps.

My question I am living and encouraging his holiday season, "How can we learn to listen to the canaries, the preliminary warnings of sensations that we receive from our intelligent bodies, and the world around us, so that we can be more healthy, centered, and caring leaders?