Paris 2: Tamar-Kali’s Psychochamber Ensemble, and…

I have wept in a new way.

Tonight I got to see Tamar-Kali and her Psychochamber Ensemble. I don’t know if words can capture this experience, but that never stops me. it’s already a beautiful thing to see a stage full of women, almost all black women.

i spent the hours before in a hammam full of naked french women exfoliating and massaging each other, and was already in the space of loving the sacred spaces women create, the sensual communications women need.

the first sounds of these women tuning their string instruments (2 violins, a viola, a cello and 2 bass) started a tremor through me.

when Tamar sang it cracked me open. i didn’t notice i had tears all over my face til my friend found them. the sound of her fierce black operatic rock voice against and with the strings, with her two stunning background singers, was an emotional gift. knowing she composed every sound, seeing the control as she unabashedly aimed for perfection, I wanted to give her a MacArthur genius award. the work is spare, whole, holy.

I got to see one of Nina Simone’s last shows, at the beacon theater in NYC, as a non-graduation gift (I had just failed French, the irony of which never escapes me, especially not when I’m indulging my inner Francophile in Paris). I actually got to spend an afternoon with one of the women who gave me that gift years ago, walking the center Pompidou and being amazed at how life has gotten us to Paris.

I was reminded of the show because Tamar-Kali’s presence on-stage gives me so much Nina: she is not afraid to be vulnerable, to be precise, to be completely dramatic and beautiful and crude and elegant and complex and demanding, of the audience and her singers and her musicians and most of all, herself.

I feel deeply inspired, and moved. this came at the perfect time in my trip, when I was needing a good cry, and needing to be reminded that I can feel so much, and that I can create from that place, the trail is being blazed by so many powerful women.

at the end of the night we found ourselves waiting for a cab with one of the festival producers, and it came out that she helps people in the last moments of their life, a sort of doula for the last day, the time of death. I was so excited to hear this, and shared about my budding work as a birth doula, and we ended up speaking of the love work needed at the beginning and end of the human cycle.

I feel like everywhere I turn I am being faced with this calling, to be a doula, to attend to people’s most tangible life and death moments. I am on sabbatical and it’s been part of at least one conversation a day, the calling isn’t taking a break.

she also reminded us that in Paris, the people live in the suburbs, sort of inverse of most u.s. cities, a good reminder of the bougie nature of this leg of my trip. the rest of the journey is mostly in homes, with people, and I am glad about that.

I have thoroughly loved Paris, every single second of it, it’s woven into me. and I am ready for the next place, which is utterly new – Barcelona!

sun salutations

I started doing daily morning sun salutations on January 9. I started with one, worked my way up to five, then on the guidance of my chiropractor-philosopher friend Kweli I worked my way up to 9. I’ve been doing 9 every morning for over two weeks and I am loving it.

I’ll spend march and april mostly at a retreat center with lots of yoga classes, so in part I want to get comfortable with the basics by then.

I also deeply want and need a daily physical practice which I can do anytime, anywhere, as part of my journey towards spiritual and body health.

I want to share the flow I’m in with y’all. feel free to advise, add on, or try it out, or pass it on.

1. in breath, I sunrise my hands up on either side to meet above me in prayer.
out breath, I bring praying hands down in front of my heart.

2. in breath as my prayer hands rise above my head;
out breath as I loosen my knees, tuck under my pelvis to protect my back, and fold down. hands can sunset down, or stay in prayer. once down, i let them hang, along with my head, to be a comforting gift of weight to my spine. I often stay here a few breaths and really inhale into my open back.

3. when ready, I in breath up so that my heart is open and back is flat, 90 degrees from my legs.
I out breath back down and drop my left leg back down the mat, landing the left foot at a 45 degree angle.

4. in breath I bring my arms open all the way up to what i call humble warrior pose, which I was taught as warrior 1. i check my hips here to make sure they are pivoting forward, and that i am lunging enough to feel it in my thighs.
out breath I reach my right hand forward straight ahead and left hand back straight behind, dropping my shoulders and body center into what i was taught as warrior 2, but I call reaching warrior.

5. in breath I bring both arms forward and down on either side of my right/front leg;
out breath I drop the right leg back and slowly lower myself through plank to the ground. the slower I can go the stronger I feel.
in breath I press my lower body and hands into the ground, flatten my feet so the tops of my toes are pressed into the mat, extending my upper body as far off the ground as I can, in cobra. i let my eyes lead this pose, looking up as far as possible.
out breath I come down fully to the ground, curl my toes under, and push back into down dog.

6. I measure down dog in breaths – whichever salutation I am on I take that many breaths, as slowly as possible, with as much joy and sense of capacity as possible. by the 7th, 8th and definitely 9th salutation this is trembling prayerful personal work. I often remind myself here that I am playing with my capacity in order to grow it. it is play and growth, not punishment.

7. in breath I walk my feet up to my hands, out breath I drop my right leg back, right foot landing at a 45 degree angle.

8. in breath I raise my arms into humble warrior, checking that my hips are pivoted forward, and that I can feel this stretch throughout my body.
out breath I drop my left arm to reach forward, and my right arm to reach straight back, reaching warrior. keeping my hips forward, I drop my shoulders and body center just the next step deeper.

9. in breath I step my right foot up next to left foot at the top of the mat and drop my arms and head, with pelvis tucked, into what feels like my impression of a heavy river. I out breath once more here, then in breath, straightening up one vertebrae at a time with my arms sunrising up into prayer hands, then out breath drop the prayer hands to my heart.

i usually then actually pray for a while, thanking my body for its work, my spirit for its willingness, and creation for allowing me to exist and know such a unique pleasure as completing sun salutations.

I have had lots of yoga teachers over the years. they have each offered nuggets which flow into each other when I practice.

gopal taught me that if it’s not part of a spiritual path, it’s just deep stretching. Kerri taught me to protect my body and back. angel taught me to give each pose 30%, then 50%, then 80% and then 100% based on what I am tuned into in my body. Janine reminded me to lengthen and relax my spine, kavitha reminded me it should be joyful and elegant. ilana taught me it has to be consistent. gregg taught me that sun salutations might just contain everything the body needs. every teacher has taught me that it’s about the breath first, last, foremost and utmost.

I offer all this to all the other beginners out there! especially the thick peoples who have to navigate tummies and breasts and thighs trying to feel powerful and extended and all – this flow actually feels powerful and not like i am missing anything 🙂


Paris 1

I am in Paris, and I love Paris.

yesterday and today I did my nine sun salutations in the whisper of space between my bed and the door. my view was the sun on the sacre couer. I then locked all my luggage obsessively and set out in the streets of Paris.

my first two observations on this journey:

1. cold is not negotiable. I have spent euros on silly hat and jacket because it’s actually and truly cold here.

2. language is life. to be surrounded by non-English is liberating and daunting. I messed up a few times by starting in English, then realizing my ignorance. no one likes that. it’s important to start in French, to apologize for not being fluent, to request English or amateur sign language or at least slow speaking. to start with taking responsibility, not assuming the world should accommodate my lack of preparation, my needs.

then it’s beautiful to see how we long to communicate. over and over again, a meals, on the train, in the hammam…up against the wall of language, I find myself and my non-english speaking companions mirroring each other as we repeat the words, sure that if we say it enough times, with enough gesture and desire, comprehension will just happen. sometimes it does, and we both nod vigorously and celebrate.

example 1.
me: ‘wifi? internet? computer? *typing motions, pointing to space, pulling out iPod’…
her: ..’ohhh wee-fee? oui, oui, ici Le wee-fee!!’
me: *internal backflips of joy!*

example 2.
me: ‘ou est Le…exfoliation?’ *rubbing my arm*
her: ‘er…Le massage? (string of words I don’t understand, my face of huh?)
me: ch-ch-ch-ch *frantically rubbing skin and going ooh ahh*
her: ah Le gommage? oui? c’est la, Porte un (the key her is lots of instructive pointing!)
me: *internal backflips of joy! applauding us!*

the beautiful thing is that words I learned over 10 years ago are coming back to me, the marvelous brain and it’s grooves.

now I’m off to get lost again 🙂