Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Basement

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. ~ The Monster, Eminem featuring Rihanna

I used to be afraid of the basement.

When I was little, we had a beautiful basement. Its paneled walls enclosed a living room, a toy room, game tables and even a grand piano. A sliding glass door opened onto a patio and into a big backyard.

As children during the day we’d happily play for hours down there, but at night it was a different story. I was convinced that Dracula and Frankenstein had set up home under the basement steps and in the back toy room, too. Inevitably, we’d leave something behind, and in the evenings I’d be sent to retrieve whatever it was. I remember many times peering fearfully down the stairs while building up my courage for a frantic dash down and back.

Of course I grew out of these fears. But once I was grown and married with children of my own, somehow they reappeared.

We had a basement that was monstrously large. There was an exercise room, a guest room, a fireplace, two bathrooms and a huge play area. Another sliding door opened onto a patio that led into a big backyard. During the day my children and I would happily play for hours down there; but at night it was the same old story. As when I was young, inevitably, we’d leave something behind from our day of play, and many evenings would find me once again fearfully peering down another set of basement steps, poised to retrieve a Teddy bear, a retainer or a favorite blanket. As an adult I was the same little girl, building up her courage for the same frantic dash down and back.
My childhood fears are easy to figure. They were the typical ones that most children have, like fears of the dark or the boogeyman. But the fears of my later years were never really as clear. Maybe they might have come into focus for me had I gathered more courage to look, but back then I blurred what was too painful to see, and I think that’s how a new boogeyman started haunting me.

Our sight is a precious commodity. It’s one of our five senses, and for many of us it’s an integral part of how we experience our lives. So important is our sight that we spend a lifetime seeking a steady gaze, making annual trips to the eye doctor in order to fine-tune the lenses through which we see the world.

But there’s also something else, other than a trip to the eye doctor, that can allow us to see more clearly, and it’s called our sixth sense, or our intuition. It’s what we sense when our other senses are not in play, and if we don’t pay attention, even our sight can get in the way. If we’re not careful, we can lose our steady gaze and deny the things we see. And, when this happens, the truth disappears, and it can make us feel crazy.

That's how things become scary, and I’m thinking this might be what happened to me.

A steady gaze is no small matter. It’s what keeps us balanced. In yoga, there’s even a name for it. It’s called the drishti, or focal point. When we practice, our energy follows our gaze, and so every yoga pose comes with instructions on where to look. It’s how we secure ourselves, so that we can lift our bodies off the ground and also turn ourselves upside down. In fact, rarely do we close our eyes at yoga, and when we do it’s always to purposefully challenge our balance.

The other night our practice focused almost exclusively on arm balances, and so there were a lot of instructions about the drishti. We were working on some funky variations, and so where we set our sights was all the more important.

“Look ahead!” the instructor said. “Your energy will follow your eyes.”

I pressed my left hand into the mat with both knees perched high on the back of my left arm. Then I pressed my right forearm into the mat, too, and leaned my chest forward. I lifted my feet off the ground and tucked my heart into my back.

“Look ahead!” the instructor repeated. “If you look down, that’s where you’ll go!”

I didn’t want to fall, and so I locked my gaze at the top of my mat and made like a three-legged table. I lifted my right palm to my chin and balanced on my left hand, my right elbow and my gaze. A three-legged table never falls.

On the drive home after class I found my gaze wandering toward the sky. It was a cold winter night, and two bright stars had caught my eye. They were so close together that it looked as if they might touch, and I wondered if my eyes might be deceiving me. I glanced at them again and again, doing numerous double takes all the way home.

I didn’t know it then but later on I would learn that I hadn’t been seeing things at all. That night, the sky had some funky variations among its constellations, the kind that hadn’t appeared for years! The stars I had seen weren’t actually stars; they were Jupiter and Venus, two planets aligned so closely together that to the naked eye they appeared as one. And apparently I wasn’t the only one to have ever seen this sight. I learned that reports of this sighting dated all the way back to biblical times, accounting for what many believe to be the Star of Bethlehem!  

When I got home I stopped outside the front door and turned to look at the sky once more, but I could no longer spot the pair. And so I went inside and put my keys in the bowl on the front chest that sits right above the basement steps. In this house, the basement has a living area, a guest room, a storage room and a bathroom. As in my previous homes, there’s also a sliding door that opens onto a patio and into a backyard.

I looked downstairs. The lights were off and it was dark down there.

But I didn’t feel afraid at all. Things are different here, because I no longer live with fears. They went away on the day I chose to see what had always been right in front of me. That’s when I knew to look for space, and that’s how I came to find this place.

And now my boogeyman is gone. I can’t find him in this home, and so this basement has always been one that I can roam. On any night I can leisurely walk down the steps and retrieve anything I might have left.

And now, these days, when I look around, the view is always sharp and clear. I look up at night to see the stars, and I feel so safe in here. And this is how I want for things to stay, because it was just too hard the other way.

This home is where I made a table of three, with just my son and daughter and me. It’s where I set my gaze ahead, and my energy followed, just as the instructor said.

Anne is the author of  Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blogFacebook and Twitter.

Monday, November 28, 2016


 Baby Jordyn
“In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep from the mountains of faith to a river so deep.” ~ River of Dreams, Billy Joel

I’ve had so much energy these days that I don’t know what to do with myself.

And so I’m doing what I know to do when I don’t know what to do. I’m practicing lots of yoga.

Each night I’m on my mat, trying to expend the energy that I’ve captured in my body. It’s not that I’m not happy to have it; it’s just that it needs someplace to go. Who knows how it got there, but I think it happens while I’m sleeping. I seem to wake up with it, sometimes even in the middle of the night!

“I’m here because I need to melt,” I tell the instructor. It’s as good an explanation as any, and I ready myself to practice in 100 degree heat.

I change into my yoga clothes and open the door to the practice room. Rolling out my mat, I look down at my outfit. My top doesn’t really match my bottom, but I don’t care because the fabrics feel good, and I know that makes for a good practice. It also makes for a good memory. I think back to when my son dressed himself for nursery school. He arrived for class one day with stripes going this and that way.

His teacher was gracious. “I see someone dressed himself today!” she had said while nodding her head.

I still don’t know how all this energy found its way inside of me, but I do know that it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I think it’s been building for a while. The instructor puts us in Down Dog, and I am glad for this pose, because it sends my energy in three different directions. We have to press down into our feet and also press down into our hands, and then we have to hike up our hips. 

There was a time when I had no energy at all. Back then it was everything I could do in order to do everything I needed to do. It was a time when I lost my spirit, when I couldn’t imagine ever finding it again. This doesn’t make for a good memory, but I still think it’s good to remember. It makes me even more grateful for where I am now and for the abundance of energy that’s been gifted to me.

The instructor takes us through a bunch of Sun A’s and Sun B’s, and I move through them seamlessly. And later I take him up on his offer for deeper expressions, because my energy still needs more places to go. And so I stand on my hands and on my forearms, too, and I also balance in Side Crow.

I say that my energy’s been gifted to me, because it truly feels as if it’s been bestowed. These days I’m especially aware of all the blessings surrounding me, and there seem to be so many! And since I’m someone who processes things visually, what I picture is a river of goodness flowing down through me.

I don’t know how this came to be. It’s not as if it’s been smooth sailing. This year, personally, there’s been such great loss, and our days are still sprinkled with tears. And on a global scale for a long time now, and especially more recently, the world seems sprinkled with fears.    

At work, our CEO spoke about the gift of energy and asked us to put ours to good use. The office had just sat down to its early Thanksgiving meal, and he stood up to remind us about how fortunate we are. He spoke about the power of goodness in times that aren’t. 

“People can still do good,” he said, “even in a world where bad things happen.”

The instructor asks us to stand on our knees in the middle of our mats. It’s time for Camel, the first pose of the back bending series. I place my hands at my heart and lean back until I’m so far back that I reach up and land them behind me. I rise into a back bend and stay for a count of five.

I used to hate the heart opening poses, but tonight I can’t seem to get enough of them. We move through another Camel, and then through a few Locusts and Bow poses, back bending on our abdomens. After, we jump through our hands for some back bends on our backs, rising up into a few Bridges and several Wheels, too. This is the peak of the practice, and for me it’s always the hardest part.

The heart opening poses take so much work! But it occurs to me that maybe they're the reason so much energy has found its way inside of me. Maybe after so long my heart is finally more open! Maybe that’s why I’m so energized.

This is why I consider energy as a gift bestowed, because suddenly I can see so much of what’s around me. I see blessings and love and even peace. And, who knows, maybe all of that was always there, even when my energy wasn’t.

If that’s the case, then it’s surely cause for faith, which is sometimes an even harder exercise than a heart opener. But while I would never be one to profess to know the key to an open heart, I would think that faith has got to have something do with it.

How else is it possible to have hope in the face of loss or even joy in the face of pain? Somehow I’ve had both, which I figure is evidence that our energy is capable of flowing in all directions, whether or not we are suffering. At the very least, it explains how goodness is still possible when bad things happen.  

It’s time to go upside down, and I stand on my head in the middle of my mat. I like this part of the practice. I find it relaxing to stand on my head, and I like how it feels to pull up through my core and lift my feet toward the heavens. This upward pull is called celestial energy.  

Just this past year, a little girl was born in the wake of our loss. She was named for the young man whom we are mourning. She is called Jordyn, and at her naming her parents spoke of the River Jordan, a river that flows with goodness, just like the one that I picture when I sense a gift has been bestowed.

With open hearts, they explained that they gave this child her name so that the goodness of this young man would flow down through her. And I think their plan is working, for she shares the same engaging energy, and we can’t help but love her. She is the hope that arrived in the face of loss; she is the joy in the face of pain.

And when we hold her we can feel her celestial energy, and this brings a certain peace.

The practice is over, and I lie back on my mat for Savasana, or final resting pose. The heat has done its job. It’s taken an hour and a half, but I am finally melted. For the moment, my energy has settled, and the instructor allows us to stay like that for a while before closing the practice with three Oms.

The room begins to empty out, but I want to go upside down again. I wait until almost everyone has left, and then I press into my hands and lift one leg and then the other. My hips stack over my shoulders, I pull in my core, and I hoist myself to the ceiling.

I catch the balance on the first try, and so I plant myself there in a meeting with the sky. My hands are rooted into the mat, and I straighten my arms and stretch my body higher, and then still higher. 

And I’m able to stay like this at length, because the energy is making its way back into me. It flows down through my body like a river of goodness, and I float for as long as I can. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016


This is agony, but it’s still a thrill for me. ~ Agony, Paloma Faith

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

These are the words of the great poet and storyteller, Maya Angelou. I’m guessing she knew a thing or two about agony, because she spent her lifetime writing her stories.

By comparison, I’ve only spent about a moment of mine. And that’s because, before yoga, I didn’t even know I had any stories inside of me, much less any kind of agony.

But once I started writing I got to know myself a whole lot more. Writing down my stories helped me see inside in a way I wasn’t able to before. I’ve even solved the mystery of the writer who lives in me. I wasn’t even aware that she was there, but she came to light one night when I checked in at yoga.

“Oh, you’re the writer!” exclaimed the young lady from behind the front desk when I told her my name.

At the time, I never saw myself as such, and I almost laughed. But I found her looking at me proudly and expectantly, and the importance of taking myself more seriously suddenly dawned on me.

And so I caught myself and answered, “Well, yes, I guess I am!” not just for her but also for me.

In order to write honestly, I’ve had to admit to some agony. If nothing else, it’s made me recognize a lot of who I am inside, all that’s good and all that’s not. And as I’ve never been one to share much personally, writing it down for others to see has been somewhat of a big deal for me.  

The agony first appeared in my practice. I think it had something to do with the poses. Early on, an instructor explained how the poses heal us by releasing our emotions. At the time, I didn’t understand how something like this could possibly be true, but it wasn’t long before I was experiencing it for myself.

Like the breath, the poses drew something in and let something out, and somehow that made it easier to breathe. Once I noticed this, my practice gained momentum, and I flowed as if I were desperate for air. I felt an urgency to it, as if something in me knew that I needed to do it.    

All that moving moved me! I felt as though I had spent forever in some kind of traffic jam and suddenly all of the cars were moving. I think that’s why in the beginning so many emotions arose all at once. I felt amazing and awful; awake and tired; happy and sad. And, like a driver wildly alternating lanes, I did my best to navigate these new highs and lows.

The practice invigorated me, and I loved it, but the chaos it revealed was surprising. I think what was coming up for me was what Maya Angelou might have called my agony. Apparently, she was right about the stories that get stuck inside. When we ignore them, they can hurt!

And so this was the shape I was in when I said yes to an opportunity to write about yoga. I was surprised to have agreed, and even more surprised to discover how much I had to say! With so many emotions driving me, my writing quickly gained the same momentum as my practice. It shared the same urgency, and I wrote in the same way, as if I were desperate for air.

Like the breath, the words also drew something in and let something out, and that made it easier to breathe, too. The words were as healing as the practice. In them I sensed the same flow of energy, and very quickly they worked the same magic. Each story released a little bit of agony, and that was a good thing. It’s why I had to write them down, as soon as they came up.  

So, really, it’s the poses that help reveal our stories. Like positions of recognition, each one shows us who we are. We twist and we turn and we stand on our hands, and somehow the shapes undo our traffic jams.

The poses release our karma, or what some might call our agony, and that clears the way for a smooth flow of energy. Like the words of a story, the poses synchronize our bodies, minds and spirits, and that’s how we really heal. Because when we are aligned like this, there is a clarity in how we see ourselves, all that’s good and all that’s not. And this is how things start to make sense. It’s what makes it possible for us to connect the dots, so that we can tell our own stories, if not to others, then at the very least to ourselves. 

Before yoga, it had been quite some time since I was properly aligned. But the practice has worked. It’s connected me with myself and with others who also do their best to see, one of whom happens to be a master of astrology.

I’ve met him a few times. He is an author, too, and his writings connect the dots of all mankind, all the way back to ancient times. With stories based on the galaxy, he’s told me the story of me, which of course includes a little bit of agony.

At the end of our most recent session, he pulled a deck of Tarot cards from a blue velvet pouch and spread them face down across the table.    

“Close your eyes and see yourself,” he said. “And now pick a card.”

I closed my eyes and looked inside to all that I have synchronized. And then I selected a card and handed it to him.   

“This is you!” he exclaimed, and he showed it to me. “It’s the card of the High Priestess!”

I looked hard at the card. On it was an image of a woman, seated in Lotus pose with a scroll across her lap. She was a yogi and a writer. He said that she was royalty. He said that she was me!

And then he sat back in his chair and looked at me, proudly and expectantly.

“It’s time you saw inside,” he said, “to what it is that I can see.”

And then he simply shrugged his shoulders, because it’s up to me to be the story of my own discovery. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


“I’m here, and I’m on the mend, my friend.” ~ On the Mend, Foo Fighters

For almost a year, I’d put off getting my elbow checked out. I was afraid that if I did, I’d be told to stop practicing yoga. But what had started out as a dull ache had turned into a sharp pain, and so I set up the appointment.

I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which for me these days is writer’s elbow. Who knew that writing could hurt? But apparently I had some microscopic tears that only rest could heal.

Why I needed someone to tell me that part of me was hurt and needed rest, I really couldn’t say. But my plan to dismiss the ache hadn’t turned out so great. Of course I was glad for the X-ray and to know that nothing was broken. Still, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d ignored this signal from my body.

Stopping my practice was a very big deal. Yoga gets me out and about, and the schedule shapes my week. Plus, I remembered another injury from before that had been tough to wait out. Back then, I was certain my practice would leave me if I were to leave it first, but in the end it proved loyal. When I got back to the mat it had been there, waiting for me.  
Having certainty is no small thing. On the contrary, it’s everything. If I’d been more certain, I probably would have addressed my elbow sooner and not been scheduled for physical therapy. In fact, if I were to look back over the years, I probably would have addressed a lot of things sooner. But certainty is not without its challenges. I can get stuck when I have big doubts, which fills me with anxiety, and that messes with the signals that my body sends to me. 

Last winter, when I was out of town, I attended classes on Kabbalah, the tradition of ancient Jewish mysticism. I learned all sorts of things about the meaning of life and about how when we have doubts, we should seek the light. When I returned home, I continued the classes online, but I’d long since fallen behind. Luckily for me, the topics I’d missed were on certainty, and so a decision to catch up now seemed to be timely.     

“Certainty is the way to fix your Tikkun,” the Kabbalah instructor says. “It’s what you apply in the tough times to correct the darkness.”

Tikkun is the Hebrew word for correction, and the Kabbalists identify it as the purpose of our lives. And they don’t believe that doubt is a bad thing. We’re here, they say, in order to correct things in our souls, and our doubts are simply the signals for what needs fixing. According to Kabbalah, we are supposed to do this through certainty.

That's not to say that we need to be certain of knowing exactly what to do, because sometimes we just don’t know. All that’s called for is the certainty that one day we will.  

If this is true, then it means that it’s okay if we can’t fix a problem right away. We can allow ourselves the time to rest and mend, so that we can be calm enough to let the answers in. And this, I think, makes for a compassionate plan, especially when we find ourselves having to begin again.

And so I did my best to remember all that and to view my break as a finite amount of time. I was certain that it would begin and it would end, and that after that my elbow would mend. This made everything so much easier. I watched movies and caught up on television. I went on walks and out to dinner. And I even got the chance to catch up on my sleep.

In the end I was away from the practice for two months, until one day while traveling I realized that my elbow was better! It was finally time to come back.

I awoke early and walked to a familiar studio just around the corner from where I was staying. The streets were empty and the sun was barely up. It was my favorite time of day. I checked in and put my belongings in a locker. I’ve always gotten a little confused with the locks at this studio, and, as usual, I accidentally scrambled the combination. When I entered the practice room, I knew that I’d need some help at the end if I were to see my things again.  

I rolled out my mat in front of the mirrors in the big empty space. The heat felt good, and so did my mat! I sat for a while and then braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And that’s when I looked around and noticed that I was still the only one there! Someone popped her head inside the door, and I asked where everyone was.

“The class is in the other room,” she said gently.

A rookie mistake on my part, but I told myself that it was okay as I gathered up my mat. I was giving myself a pass on my first day back, figuring I needed to be as gentle on myself as the practice I was hoping to have. I followed her out the door and into the other room, where everyone except for me had already known to be!

I have to admit that, even while studying the topic of certainty, it was hard to keep all of my doubts at bay. But the practice was indeed gentle, and my elbow was feeling okay. And so I made plans with myself to come back again the very next day.

And this time I set my locker combination correctly, and I chose the correct room, too. I settled in among the others and braided my hair, tying it up in a ponytail. And then I laid back on my mat to wait for the class to begin.

But still I was bothered by a niggling doubt. It’s hard to admit, but before I came back I had started to wonder whether I still belonged on my mat. I sat up and checked my reflection in the mirror. Why was I questioning my loyalty? And what were those puckers on the sides of my top? Uncertain and without answers, I dismissed such questions and made myself lie down again.

And then the instructor walked in and it was time to begin, and right away the practice started to work. The flow was more rigorous than the day before, and I relished every stretch and every fold and each release after every hold. The poses awakened all of my muscle memory, and I moved with what I can only describe as an inner certainty.  

And this is why I always come back, for certainty is a gift, and the practice is precious because of it. When I practice, the movement smooths out all of my puckers of doubt, even those that had appeared with my shirt inside out!

And this gives me the chance to heal my Tikkun, because for the moment my questions are gone. And then at the end I get to lie down again, and I’m certain I’m where I belong. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


“Limitless undying love, which shines around me like a million suns, it calls me, on and on, across the universe.” ~ Across the Universe, The Beatles
Last night at yoga we did a few stretches before we were called to the tops of our mats for the start of practice. Once there, the instructor asked us to set an intention.
I used to set an intention by making a wish, like a private prayer. But I’d struggle to come up with something quickly, and I couldn’t always get it done. So I started to simplify things, and now I just conjure up an image, usually one of someone I love, and then I wait to see what comes to mind.
Last night the image was my son, decked out for the swim portion of the New York City Triathlon. He was in his wet suit, wearing goggles and a bathing cap, mid-air in a feet-first jump into the Hudson River!
Only two days earlier I had witnessed this event, supporting him with family and friends as he swam and biked and ran in memory of a loved one whom he considers his brother. This young man had shared a life with my daughter, and when we lost him, so many plans were cut short, including the one he had made with my son to enter the triathlon.
Loss is a complicated thing, and when it takes us by surprise, as this one did, there’s never a plan for it. Yet that’s what loss seems to beg for most. It begs for plans that no one wants to make, plans that no longer include the one we’ve lost but that still remain very much about him. 
For my son the triathlon was one of those plans, so he designed a training regimen.
Since he had never been a big swimmer, he signed himself up for swim classes for triathletes. The only one to show up in board shorts and winded after just a few laps, it would take several months and a Speedo to build up the skills and stamina necessary to swim in open water.
He mapped out routes to run and ride around New York, reporting home with photos and updates from all over the city.
He kept up his yoga schedule and did his circuit training. He ate as clean as he could.
And then he selected a charity in the name of this young man, so that others who wanted to support him could also become part of his plan.
And he respectfully asked the family of the one we lost whether they’d mind if he rode the red bicycle that had belonged to their son, the one that had hung in the home he and my daughter had shared. And the family graciously agreed, because they, too, were part of the plan.
My son did all of this on his own, for that’s the other thing about loss. It’s personal, and so even when it’s shared, it’s yours in a way that’s not anyone else’s. It leaves you on your own to cope in ways that only you can.
And the way for my son proved to be the triathlon. He had set his own intention, and that’s what I think I was witnessing when he jumped into the Hudson.
Each person is on his own in this race of individual endeavors that include swimming, biking and running. These activities are not done holding hands. There are no teammates. Even the training is individualized, and so are the results. Everyone participating would be receiving his own finishing times for each section of the race and also for the transitions in between. 
We cheered him on as he swam steadily for 1500 meters, or nearly 20 blocks in New York City measurements. We hollered as he came out of the water in a sprint toward the transition area, where we then lost sight of him for a few minutes while he readied himself on the bike. Then he came out of the gate and pedaled away, as we cheered him again and held up our signs. And then, while he rode for the next 25 miles, our group made its way to a place he’d earlier scouted out, a spot outside a café where we’d line up to watch him run by.    
And as I stood there waiting for my son, a familiar feeling came over me. It was the one that I have at the end of my yoga classes, when I realize I’ve just done something on my own with others who have done the same. At the end of the practice, my individual effort suddenly feels like a shared effort, and my heart fills with love for everyone in the room, even for those I don’t know.
Maybe this is why the instructor asks us to thank the people practicing next to us when we’re done. It brings home the fact that none of us are in it alone.
And so I found myself clapping and cheering for those I didn’t know, because outside of that café my heart had filled like it does at yoga. I recognized the shared effort among the runners, even though I’m sure they had each set their own intentions when they jumped into the Hudson at the start of the race.
There were almost 3,500 triathletes and just as many or more spectators, and standing there I loved them all! Suddenly, my son ran by, and I reached up with the others to give him his high five. He was grinning and feeling good, and I wondered if maybe he could feel it, too, that feeling that he wasn’t in it alone.   
At the time of our loss and since, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming amount of love and support that’s come our way. In the aloneness of our grief, we’ve been touched by so many others who have generously reached out from every single part of our lives from as far back as I can remember. And this is what stays with me, and it’s what I was reminded of as I watched the race and experienced the shared spirit and universal love that made everyone there a part of the plan.
We saw my son again near the finish line. He sprinted home on his own and brought every one of us along with him. And then we didn’t leave! All of us spent the rest of the day together, sharing food and drink and laughter, and some of us even shed some tears.
Later that evening I asked my son what he had thought about during the race. For me the race had been quick, but for him it had lasted two hours, 47 minutes and 10 seconds! I imagined that was enough time for a triathlete to think. And he told me that, in addition to this and in addition to that, what had come to mind was the one we had lost, and that he had thought about him the whole time.
Jeff Bart and Ben Samit planned to do the New York City Triathlon together. To make a donation in Jeff’s memory, please visit Ben's link here. All donations go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. 

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Ben Samit completing a triathlon swim.
“Bring all the lovers to the fold, ‘cause no one is gonna lose their soul.” ~ Love Is My Religion, Ziggy Marley

We’ve been studying the soul.

We’ve been reading books and taking classes and looking for one soul, in particular. He belonged to my daughter and left without warning, leaving us all at a loss. He was the one who fed her soul, so that she was never hungry, and now her plate is empty, and she has no appetite.

He was a loving young man who knew that his body could feed his soul. He was a runner and a biker who had completed marathons and bike races. He loved to dance and had just started practicing yoga. He often worked out with my son, and together they had talked about entering a triathlon.

From the books and our classes, we are learning that certain souls are tied together in what are called “soul contracts”. Supposedly, we make these contracts before we are born. So the people in our lives, those we love and even those we don’t, are here with us because we’ve previously agreed upon it. It’s not anything we may ever remember, but it may be something we already know.

This is why we regard the soul of the one who left us as a brother to my son. His name was Jeffrey Paul Bart.

After he left, my son called me.

“Hey, Ma,” he said. “I’m going to enter the New York City Triathlon!”

I should not have been surprised. My son had once thought it would be a good idea to run up the steps of the Empire State Building! It was a vertical race. I never knew there were such things, but I’ve since learned that they happen all around the world. They’re called run-ups. The sign-up for the run-up was closed, but my son had entered a lottery and somehow gotten himself a late spot. He called to let me know.

“Hey, Ma,” he said over the phone. “I’m going to run up the Empire State Building!”

We hung up, and I looked it up. I’d never even taken the elevator up, much less the steps, but apparently the Empire State building had a lot. There were 86 floors and 1,576 steps!

He started to watch online videos. Apparently, a champion vertical racer had posted videos on how best to run up the steps. There were instructions on how to grab the railings and how to swing around to the next flight. My son gave me his own instructions. I was to watch the videos, too, so that I could listen intelligently as he mapped out his strategies.

He picked a charity for those who wanted to support him and ran up the stairwells of his apartment building as practice. His doorman was in charge of the stopwatch. He conditioned further with lots of yoga.

A few short months later, he ran to the top of the Empire State Building! 

Really, I don’t know what made him decide to do that. I don’t even know if he knows. I just think he knew that he had to do it, and so he did. If I think hard enough about it, I would say that, on some level, he knew that his body, too, had the ability to feed his soul, and that his soul was hungry.

Swimming is a big part of a triathlon. In fact, it’s the very first part, and my son was never really a big swimmer. When he was little, he was so little that it took some time before he had the strength to hold his chest high enough to keep his head above water. And so it was a while before he could, and then it was never really an activity he actively pursued.  

My son began to put his plans in place for the race. He registered for the NYC TRI and signed up for a swim class. Then he chose a charity in memory of his brother Bart and bought a bike map of the city, so he would know where to go. He started running, too, and he further conditioned with lots of yoga.

I listened as he mapped out his strategies, and for months I watched as he fed his soul in the way that he knows how. He met with a run coach and sent me videos from his swim coach. He worked out his workout on either end of his work day, in the mornings and in the evenings and on the weekends, too.

The training provided my son with a purpose at a time when he was looking for his. The loss of a loved one can leave us questioning ours, and that’s why we want so badly to believe in our souls. We want to believe there’s a reason we’re here and a purpose in the company we keep. We want to know that it matters when we love someone and that our contracts with them are for keeps.

There was so much more to be done. My son acquired a wet suit and goggles and a bathing cap, and then he arranged for the bike and the shorts and the shoes. He actually borrowed the bike that inspired him to enter the race, the red one that hung in his soul brother’s place, in the home that my daughter had shared. He learned the gears and met with the guys at the shop to learn even more, and he spoke with his brother as he rode through the city of New York.  

“Bart and I rode the streets hard,” he reported one day. “We cursed up a storm,” he said of the cars and the people who got in the way.     

And then it was time for a practice race, and his sister and I were invited along. He had signed up for a nearby triathlon in a town outside the city. He packed up his car with the bike and his things, and we booked a hotel overnight. The next morning, we were up before dawn, and we drove to the beach where he put his wet suit on.

He entered the water and swam out with the others until they became dots in the distance, blue like the color of their caps. We watched the blue dots move along the horizon and then turn toward the shore before they rose up to become people again. And we clapped for him as he came out of the sea and ran by on the beach and transitioned to the ride on his bike.

But then another rider collided with him, and he and the bike were down before they could even begin! And I have to admit that I heard him curse as he got up from the ground and fixed up the bike and then pedaled off, as if it had never happened. And we cheered him on then and did the same again as he rounded the bend in a second and final loop.   

And then it was time for the run. He stashed his bike and put on his watch as he ran, and then he was gone again. And that’s when my daughter and I walked to the finish line, so that we could greet him when he came in. And it was not too much longer before we saw him appear, a dot in the distance again. And then we heard his name in the air as he drew near, and we clapped and hollered and cheered.

“Here comes a runner with some real grit!” the announcer announced over the loud speaker. “There’s no one behind him right now. There he is! Ben Samit from New York, New York, New York!”
He blew by the finish line, and suddenly he was with us, catching his breath, elated, a little bloody from the spill on his bike. He gave us big, sweaty hugs, and we took celebratory pictures in the rising sun, and then we listened as he told us what it was like.

He said the bike ride was good, and that he still had gas in the tank after the run. But the swim, he said, was not good at all.

Although I hadn’t noticed, he told us he had entered the water but was unable to exhale his air. He wasn’t prepared for the cold temperatures and lack of visibility, and he froze right there on the spot. He almost turned back but made the decision instead to move on ahead and swim with his eyes above water. It wasn’t until the end when he headed to shore that he finally put his head in for the rest of the swim.

“Bart was definitely with me in the water,” he said.

We took so many photos of that day, but they don’t do justice to the image that remains in my mind. In the mental picture I keep, I see my son from behind. He’s in his wet suit and goggles and cap, and he’s moving into the water at the start of the race.

The day has dawned, and it freezes this moment in time. He’s hungry and ready to feed his soul.

Next up: The NYC TRI.

Jeff Bart and Ben Samit planned to do the New York City Triathlon together. To support Ben’s race in Jeff’s memory, click here. All donations go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook.and Twitter.