September 15, 2011 § 23 Comments

First Day of School

In my world, I’m standing just inside the door.
In my world, I’m speaking, to the ocean’s roar.
Jackson Browne, “Time the Conqueror.”

The beginning of September has flattened me. Literally. I am lying on the floor in pigeon pose and my yoga teacher, Gopi, is sitting on top of me, shouting at me in her British/Indian accent. “Thassit gurl. Get in thair.” She sticks her elbow into my butt and I see stars. It takes all I have inside me not to cry. That’s how everything has been lately; on top of me, all sharp elbows and painful edges.


I like to write blog posts when I have something figured out, at least to some degree. Right now, I have nothing figured out. Right now, I feel like I am wearing clothes that are both too big and too tight. It’s been weeks since I have written anything at all.


Gopi is talking about change, which is obvious now in the weather and the red tinge on the leaves that hang over our living room window. Yesterday it was ninety-one degrees. Now it is fifty-one. After I picked Oliver up from kindergarten at noon today, I took the boys to the park to ride their bikes in the warm sunshine. This afternoon, at home, we watched the front blow in, cold air on a freight train straight from Canada. I have one east coast winter under my belt after 17 in California, and frankly, I am anxious about doing it again. We had a week of 100 degree temperatures in May and three in June and July. August was hot too. Until now, winter has seemed so far away. I want it to stay away. And I want it to be here already so I can stop worrying about it.

“What in your life,” Gopi asks, ” Is the catalyst for a heart revolution?”


On Labor Day weekend, the week before school started, Scott and I flew back to northern California for a wedding.  We saw friends in Marin, San Francisco and on the Sonoma coast. We had pizza in Berkeley with my friend Stephanie and I got to hold her gorgeous 7-week old baby. We drank too much red wine with Scott’s friends from college in a house overlooking the Pacific. We went to my friend Michelle’s wedding and spent the whole time with my friend Loren and her wife Audra. Stephanie and Loren and Michelle were my cross-country and track teammates in college. They know me so well, even now, and I miss them. I miss what it was like to be together every day. I miss that.

The trip back from California to DC was hard – it always is. Something happens to me when I fly eastward over the Mississippi River. I contract. I become the smallest version of myself packed into the tightest bundle. I protect myself from what is inevitably coming. I try to ward off what has already happened.


Last weekend, during my yoga teacher training, something shifted and we all started to get it. Instead of sitting there, feeling confused, I felt close. I felt connected. Rolf talked a bit about our contracted states of fear, aversion, and jealousy. He said that when we move beyond our contracted states, we will realize that we needed each of them in order to arrive at this new, expansive place.


Tonight, Gopi is hell-bent on opening our hips. We do some crazy thing with our legs behind our heads. I am close, but my leg gets stuck somewhere by my pony tail and I can’t get it under. We do some other terrifying move to open our hip flexors where only my left heel and the top of my right foot remain on the floor. Gopi makes us chant three Om’s while we hold that pose. “Whatever you ease into eases up,” she tells us. In that moment, I hate yoga.


For a long time now, I have felt as if I were on the precipice of something: transformation, change, growth. I don’t know. It’s nothing big, nothing earth shaking. Just something new. But I can’t quite get there. It gets stopped, somewhere in my head. I get stuck, just inside the door.


Oliver started school last Thursday, during the rains that didn’t stop. We stayed inside all week, and it felt like winter. Oliver doesn’t like transitions so much. Like me, he tries to protect himself from what has already happened. Since school started, it’s been one meltdown after another. It would be one thing if he walked in the door, threw down his blue race car backpack, and began to wail. Instead, it’s more diffuse. Yesterday, he flung himself on the ground because I reversed the bath/dinner schedule. The day before, he stomped out of the room because I got him a new toothbrush. “I won’t brush my teeth!” he yelled at Scott, “until I have a toothbrush with batteries in it.”


Tonight in class I think about what in my life might be a catalyst for a heart revolution. Maybe it’s my yoga teacher training. Or maybe it’s Oliver’s tantrums. Stay, I tell myself during the heart of them. Breathe. Sometimes I can. And sometimes I can’t.

Next, Gopi has us doing heart opening poses. Our arms are entwined behind our backs and we bow forward into the geometry of devotion. Please, I think as my heart moves towards the floor. Please.


Last Sunday, I set an intention to keep my heart open, to stay in the moment and hold space for Oliver’s transition. What happens is what always happens when I finally act like the grown up and do what I am supposed to do. Oliver stops yelling and starts crying. He asks for a hug with both arms. We bypass anger and move straight to the heart of his anxiety. What also happens is that I become exhausted from all that life being hurled straight at me. When I become a wellspring to my son, I become a drought to myself. I wonder if there is a way to bring the two together, to nourish both of us at the same time.

In our teacher training, Rolf told us to be the thing we loved. What would happen if I could remember the word devotion? What if I could become that?


Later in class, we do Hanumanasana or seated splits with one leg straight out in front. The pose is named after the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman, who devotes his life to the god Rama. When the demon king who presides over Sri Lanka abducts Rama’s wife, Sita, Hanuman and Rama travel from India to Sri Lanka to rescue her. During the battle there, Rama’s brother becomes wounded and to live, he requires an herb that only grows in the Himalayas.

Hanuman so loves Rama that he says he will accomplish this impossible task. With one foot still in Sri Lanka, he stretches himself all the way back to India. He can’t find the herb, so he lifts up the entire mountain and carries it back to Sri Lanka, where Rama’s brother is saved. Hanumanasana embodies Hanuman’s devotion, each leg in a different country, arms high in the air, carrying a mountain.

I can never get into this pose all the way. Mostly I just hover, uncomfortably, suspended a few inches off the ground, my hands on the floor.


On Labor Day, on the way home from the wedding, I bought Gail Caldwell’s book, Let’s Take the Long Way Home in the San Francisco airport. The book is about Caldwell’s experience of losing her best friend – Caroline Knapp, another of my favorite writers – to breast cancer at the age of 42. In the book, Caldwell writes, “I was in the corridor of something far larger than I, and I just had to stand it and stay where I was.”


Tonight, I go into Hanumanasana the way I always do: I squeeze my front thigh and flex my front foot. I walk the toes on the other leg back until they can’t go any further. Tonight I do this until I feel something under my front hamstring. It takes a split second until I realize that what is directly under my leg is the floor, which has miraculously risen up to meet me.

“Yes!” I think to myself. “Yes!” and then I am instantly humbled. I have been practicing yoga consistently since I was pregnant with Oliver. It has taken me more than six years to come into the shape of this pose.


At the park today, watching Oliver ride around like a crazy person on his bike, I found myself wondering how many weeks it would take until he feels more settled at school. Maybe next week. Maybe never.

I keep wondering when I am going to get there: back to California, my leg over my head, the end of winter, the end of tantrums, and of course what I really want, which is to become a more spiritual person. I thought if I did a lot of yoga, it would happen on its own. There is something to that of course, but it’s not that easy. It requires a bit more stretching than that. It takes a long time, sometimes, to get around these big corners. There’s a lot of hanging out, suspended over the ground, feet in two different countries. It might be that I never get there, that this is all there is, right now: waiting and staying and standing it.


§ 23 Responses to Transition

  • Pam – It doesn’t matter how often you write, every entry is so worth the wait. Your writing, your ability to express your deepest emotions, is humbling. I wish I could walk over, knock on your front door and we could take a long walk in the woods together. I think we’d have so much to talk about. Stay well and remember that you’re doing everything just right.

  • Lovely, so rich, layered and honest. I’ve heard it said, about Hanuman, that when the root reaches the floor the heart gets quiet. Let’s just say my heart is not yet quiet, but I’ve been working on my Hanuman nonetheless. Perhaps when it comes to revolution, heart or otherwise, as the Beatles sang, we’re all doing what we can.

    But when it comes to pizza on Berkley, I wonder if you went to Gioia… that’s my nephew’s shop and if not a revolution of the heart, perhaps a revelation.

    Sending warm tidings in the face of winter’s approach, while missing the flowering of trees’ true colors.

  • Laura Plumb says:

    Or sinking into it. The geometry of the pose. The nourishment of the breath. The simple truth of not knowing… just being. Hanuman is the son of Vayu. He is the breath… Everywhere is the opportunity for devotion. As long as we breathe into each moment.

    That is your victory. Achieving the pose, by following your breath into your deeper self. Jai Hanuman! Victory to the breath. To life. To you, Pamela!

    Thank you for another beautiful, intimate, thoughtful post. We send you love from a very autumnal California.

    • Pamela says:

      I knew I would learn more about this from you! I had no idea Hanuman was the son of Vayu. Thank you!!

      I so wish I had this insight when I was writing – to not just wait and stay and stand it but to also sink into it, breathing, being nourished by the experience itself. This is a perfect example of how sometimes I feel so close – yet am a lifetime away. xoxo

      PS Can’t wait until your products are going to be available. I am doing a giveaway and want to give some of your jams and sprays!!

      • Laura Plumb says:

        Oh, I am so glad I checked back. You are so dear. Not only are you deep, wise, compassionate and inspiring, but you are surrounded (at least cyber-ly so) by wise, deep, lovely friends. I so enjoy “being here.”

  • Kate says:

    I always think of winter in New England as a time of nourishment, sort of in the face of the way it is usually approached, i admit. a time for pies, sweaters, board games. My kids barely lived through that week of rain by the way. barely escaped with their exhausted, pent-up lives. oh, the transition.
    as always, a wonder to read here.

  • ayearoflivingwisely says:

    You’re one of the very few true spiritual writers I’ve ever read and the great thing is that you’re so apparently spiritual to me without thinking you’re spiritual enough. I believe that’s why your writing resonate so much within me. It touches directly, deep down to my soul.

  • Lindsey says:

    My favorite image in this glorious, gorgeous post is of protecting ourselves from something that has already happened. Goodness that is the perfect way to describe so much of my frantic fussing and panicking. If only I could let go and realize the floor is there, under my leg, after all. By the way I loved Gail’s book – and actually loved A Strong West Wind even more, her other memoir … amazing. xoxoxo

  • I love how you take all of these little threads and weave them into something with meaning and power. It’s genius.

    About the “standing in it”…God, why is that so hard? I’m always looking behind me or ahead of me or out of the corner of my eye. “Standing in it” is often so unbearable, yet it’s exactly what I need to bear.

    Your yoga teacher, sitting on your back and barking orders, sounds like quite a character.

  • Christa says:

    I love you. And your writing, whenever it comes.

    Thank you for sharing this journey you are on so eloquently, so openly.

    Deep bows and lots of love…

  • mb says:

    i sat here reading this, chewing my nails, my shoulders hunched up to my ears in contraction, full of my own crap that is flattening me right now (and it does follow the “change” theme) and yes as lindsey also said, the image of “protecting myself from what has already happened” is so very much where i am at. my goodness, the beauty of this post. i will bookmark this.

  • Every entry of yours I read, I think: when is this woman going to write a book? Because I want to read it.

    I’ve been taking yoga classes that don’t challenge me in any major way, it’s a quick vinyasa, no muss, no fuss, no pushing. I’m fine with that, for now. But the thought of someone sitting on my back, elbow in my butt, freaks me out and makes me feel a little… ready?

  • Oh, Pamela, as always, your words go right into my heart and my gut. I get every. single. thing. you say here. This one line, in particular, summarizes the worried place that I live too often: “I want it to stay away. And I want it to be here already so I can stop worrying about it.”

    Thank you so much for writing what you do, and writing it how you do. xo

  • Justine says:

    I found you from Kristen’s tweet and I have to say, I’m so glad to be here. I miss my yoga practice. I’ve stopped since I went back to my full-time job post maternity leave. It always centers me and these days, I feel like I’m not quite here, not quite there. Not sure where I want to be mostly. Your post resonates with me in such a way that had I your talent, I would be writing these same words.

    So glad to have stumbled onto your blog.

  • Cathy says:

    You are such a beautiful writer. I am opposite of you in that I was born and raised on the east coast and now live in Northern California. I’ve been here for almost 20 years but I still feel like I have one foot on each coast. I still miss it. California doesn’t feel like “home” but it is – it’s where I’ve lived half my life, had all three of my children and owned my first home. Maybe I am still in transition – waiting. Maybe it isn’t transition at all and just how it is.

  • Betsy Marro says:

    Pamela, I think this proves you should not always wait until you’ve “figured something out” to write about it. This exactly captures for me all things “September” – I’ve always thought of it as the real new year. It’s when things start and end. My New England roots sent signals to my brain as I read this piece — your writing caught that feeling of anticipation, dread as things unfold. Here’s to “standing in in it.”

  • Wolf Pascoe says:

    Re: figuring it out.

    The single best writing advice I ever got was to leave out what you know.

  • Claudia says:

    Even your transitions are beautiful, and also beautifully described. I wonder whether perhaps you’ve actually already arrived at your perfect destination but just haven’t realized it yet?

  • Maya says:

    Pamela –

    I came here via Jena Strong at More Joy, Less Oy ( What a beautiful piece of writing here. And so much in it for me to soak up, especially now, as I have felt straddled a bit too, having rented out my San Francisco apartment for the year in July and moving temporarily to Amherst, MA. I grew up in New England, so it’s familiar in many ways but I’ve been on the west coast for 16 years, so the approach of winter weather has me a little nervous. But that isn’t want your post was about, not really. Straddling in so many other ways. And things shifting and turning under you when you don’t even realize they’re doing it. And trust, even in the face of questioning. And you manage to weave in your experience with yoga training in a way that makes it resonant for those of us who have shied away from that practice for so long. I’m such a yoga dabbler, but you make the lessons rich and real and relevant. I love the rhythm of this post, the journey it took me on, the light it gave me to see own life more clearly. Thank you.

  • Amazing. This is written like Dani Shapiro’s book, Devotion. I like the snippets of your life, and how it comes together. My favorite section is the one in which you write, I set an intention to make space for Oliver’s transition. I need to do that for my kids and my self, as september is always a tough month, I just forget that. I also love the search to find a way to take care of both you and your children. Must we be a drought for them to feel good and safe? I have been working on that – I just wrote a post that I will post tomorrow about that. Thanks for your insights………

  • Oh friend. I have been angst-filled for a week, or more, since before we left for our trip to Williamsburg. Unsettled. Grumpy. Not fulfilled. I said to a friend recently that I understand that growth comes from these times, but that I could really go for a plateau right now.

    It helps knowing a friend is there, too. Reading your always grounding, powerful words helps me a lot. More than my fledgling words can express in this space. Thank you.

    I haven’t written since early Sept. Well, I’ve written, but nothing I can publish. I was supposed to go to my first ever yoga class today (all others have been on DVD) and then had my oldest home sick from school. So I was in the basement, doing that which I knew. Which wasn’t much. But it was a start.

    I hope Oliver’s feeling a bit more settled. Hugs to you. xoxo

  • I don’t know how I missed this post… you are an amazing writer.

    I feel like I’ve been on the verge of transformation for a long time, too — eight years for me, sinking, sinking, and knowing/coming to know that it goes on, beyond me.

    ~namaste ~

  • […] writing down the truth of acceptance and change: good animal and transition  […]

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