Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Wandering Toast at Camp Swamiland

Some of you might remember why I call myself the Wandering Toast…it’s a tongue in cheek reference to Taoism.  I was at 4 day silent retreat at a friend’s house with her Buddhist meditation group and their teacher. Doing a slow walking meditation past a wall of library books I caught the title out of the corner of my eye- The Wandering Toast.  The host was a world class cook, traveler, psychotherapist, gardener extraordinaire, Episcopal minister, and Buddhist.  Her book collection includes books on all those subjects and more, neatly organized.  Then the book was behind me.  Curiosity! Could it be a cookbook on food to take on the road? Jonnycakes, unleavened bread, things that don’t need refrigeration and such?  Things to do with stale bread?  I walked around alternately beating myself up for not being a good meditator, wondering about the title, and trying to follow my breath and walk.  Finally, after zipping by it at a fast walk,  I got to slow walk by it.  The Wandering TAOIST.  Not Toast.  Giggles.  Not good.  I’m clearly not meant for monastic life. There’s a previous post about what happened next if you want to read it.

I’ve spent the last month at yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I decided over a year ago to apply for this program. I’m still trying to remember why, but it doesn’t matter anymore.  After the first week that question was plaguing all 62 of us, as we visited the sauna and whirlpools, got massages, and wept. 4-6 hours of yoga a day, anatomy and physiology, philosophy, teaching strategies, asana posture clinics, voice workshops, scary practice teaches, and the looming final exam. Up at 5:45 and crash into bed later than I should.  Initially I was terrified knowing that I’d be in a minority of older participants, surrounded by 18-40 years olds with uninjured, muscular bodies leaping into and sustaining difficult positions for as long as it might take me to drive to the Red Lion Inn and get a glass of wine and sneak back- whereupon they’d leap, undaunted, out of the asana and grin, begging for the next assignment.  I’d be in Swami boot camp. 

Not so. Because I have had injuries, done yoga on and off for 40 years, and learned to have some compassion for myself I was able to pace myself, modify poses as appropriate, and like the tortoise, I plodded along while the young’un dropped like flies the first 10 days.  Then each one “got it” and they started to take care of themselves, and the philosophy part that overwhelmed many of them in the beginning started to sink in.  One total cutie pie said early on “What do you mean this is going to ‘transform’ us??? I like myself just the way I am!  I don’t want to change!”  She is transformed- becoming more deeply herself every day. And joyful about it.

So I survived!  And what is the Wandering Toast taking home from camp? No potholders, or picture frames made of popsicle sticks.  No badges for excellence in canoeing. I’m taking my breath home. Breath creates an expansion, making space for movement, and change.  With that space and movement, prana (energy) can flow more easily.  Not just in the body, either.  It’s that breath I take before responding to a question- when I have the opportunity to disengage from my knee-jerk reaction and respond with thoughtfulness, and kindness.  In my final hour-long practice teach I invited people to begin every deliberate movement with an inhale and move with the exhale, and stay a few breaths.  The exhales became a gentle surrender – an invitation to go deeper into the posture, and into what was true for them, in that moment.  I’m trying to breathe into the whole day now, and see what spaces open up, what new movements are possible in my life.

So I am back in the Adirondacks, dog delightfully underfoot, and the planet is breathing thru the cottage- windows flung wide open, curtains flapping. The wind chime moves with the breeze, and the greens and blues of the summer day are stunning.  It’s a day to breathe and feel and allow- and I’m going to do all three.


  1. HI Eliza! So happy to read your blog entry and to hear that you completed your teacher training at Kripalu! I just graduated from Satya's teacher training 2 weeks ago and totally related to your experience. I am a changed person. It was one of the best things I've ever done for myself.
    Looking forward to seeing where we the journey leads us from here!

    Much Love!

  2. Just reading your post makes me think about breathing slower....about making new resolutions (on top of the many that have gone before) to allow life to flow rather than being in such a dither about pushing it forward. Every reminder is a help....You are so good about being open to the possibilities that life holds out to you....and I loved your initial "Wandering Toast" piece. XXOO