nymphs

wisps of mist
the sighs of nymphs
frozen in the sleep abyss
the crystalline dreamscape
embrace of winter
time

awakened by the simple kiss
the warm caress of their dear lovers lips
their lover
who everyone’s lover is
the sun

Translation

I was initially introduced to Simonne Guillerm Allen in order to teach her pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques. This was recommended by her doctors in France as a way to develop core strength and support her deteriorating back.

Simonne is an 87 year old French woman who grew up in Vietnam and spent her adult life between France and the United States, making her career as a university French language teacher. She moved from Brittany, France to New Hampshire to live with her son about a year ago.

At first we met once a week.  Over time, the breathing exercises evolved into a meditation practice. Then we started integrating yoga and movement adapted to her physical condition, accompanied by some of her favorite French music from the internet. We discussed the transition into both her new living situation and the changes in her body and independent mobility. We contemplated Yogic and Buddhist psychology and philosophy to help her adapt and find a way to access her best quality of life with things exactly as they were. It was during these meetings that she began sharing tales from her life story. I became fascinated and she became more comfortable. Her seated posture, range of motion, mood and energy level improved significantly as we continued to meet. I currently see her four to five times a week, and there is always more to do than we have time.

The first spark that led to our current project came as we were dancing to Charles Trenet videos on YouTube. We had begun dancing together, she holding my arms for balance, in order to make range of movement exercises more interesting and invigorating. While scrolling through the videos, I happened upon Trenet’s version of the poem Chanson d’automne by Paul Verlaine put to music. Simonne freestyle translated the words as we listened to the song so I could understand what what he was singing. We were both inspired by this, so we started looking through French poetry on the internet.

Simonne mentioned that she had memorized some poetry throughout her life, which gave me an idea. Although her recall of past events is often extremely precise, her ability to imprint new memory is waning. I recalled hearing that some people find “passage meditation” in the tradition of Eknath Eswaren improves memory. Passage mediation utilizes a memorized passage silently recited internally as a focus point for the mind, the way we often use the breath as a point of concentration in meditation. Although this style of meditation typically employs spiritual writings from a wide range of traditions, I knew it would be difficult for Simonne to memorize a new passage. I asked if she remembered any poetry enough to try it. She said yes, and immediately recited aloud Harmonie du Soir by Charles Baudelaire. In full, en francais.

We each brought our head, neck and spine into alignment so that our posture felt somewhat weightless and stable, and sat for awhile. She in her chair and I on the floor, she internally reciting the poem and I the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra – a Shaivite predecessor of sorts in meaning to the Serenity Prayer. It went well. I asked her to translate the poem so I could understand, and so she did, aloud, as I typed it into the computer. Our excitement was palpable. I left her with a copy of the translation to edit, and another poem to translate while I was gone.

She has been at it ever since. She direct translates first and then plays with it to make it sound clear in English, while staying as close to the original text as possible. We look at other English translations sometimes for inspiration and as a dictionary of sorts, and yet her versions are often unique and I typically prefer them to what we find in books and online.

And the poetry is beautiful; Baudelaire, Verlaine and Victor Hugo are our favorites so far. She recently translated a Verlaine, En Sourdine, which I discovered was the inspiration for a song composed by Debussy – one of my favorite composers, who we had been listening to while doing slow range of movement yoga in her chair. Looking further, I realized that poetry was often a muse for Debussy, which has led us into an interesting inquiry into the social history of the time period in which these artists were creating, gleaned from their personal histories and the medium of their art. Clair de lune, one of Debussy’s most famous compositions, is also a musical interpretation of a Verlaine poem. This translation is less distinct than many of her other efforts, as the original French is more straightforward than some of the other poems she has worked with, most notably Mallarmé, another muse of Debussy. Yet it is one of our favorites.

Enjoy! We sure do.

Moonlight
translated by Simonne Guillerm Allen

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masqueraders and jesters go
Playing the lute, and dancing, and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises

All sing in a minor key
of victorious love and the opportune life
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight

With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

Clair de lune
de Paul Verlaine

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Yoga Awareness Meditation Retreat in The White Mountains

Yoga Awareness Meditation Retreat in The White Mountains

~ flow yoga as experiential metaphor to bring meditative awareness into the rest of our lives ~

In this one day retreat we will experiment with yoga postures and breath as awareness meditation, cultivating an increased ability to sustain presence and center ourselves at will. Developing this skill consciously together in practice will help us recall this quality of awareness when we most want to, or need to, be present in the rest of our lives.
~
Starting with a short hike and meditation along the Pemigewasset River, we will then retreat to the sanctuary of The Mountain Club on Loon to integrate our meditative awareness into an indoor yoga asana practice. After lunch we will ride the gondola to the summit of Loon to practice in the forests of the White Mountains.
~
This class is accessible to students of all levels. Simple postures will be offered for newer students to hold and develop awareness, while more experienced practitioners will be guided into more complex postures to refine their skill and attention once the simpler postures become easy. We will experiment to find our own unique expression of the potential of each pose.
~
Bring clothing for yoga and a mat, layers appropriate for the weather outside, a towel and swimwear, and footwear suitable for light hiking. In case of inclement weather, we will utilize The Mountain Club as much as necessary and go outside as weather allows. Lunch is available at area restaurants, including The Mountain Club, or you are welcome to pack your own.
Please arrive well fed, enough to sustain you until lunch time.
~
Make it a weekend retreat with spa services and discount room rates through The Mountain Club,
or with private instruction or a Thai yoga session with Denise.
~
Denise practices in nature as much as possible, accessing a playfulness and deep awareness that she brings to her classes. In addition to teaching at the Mountain Club on Loon, she is the seasonal yoga instructor for the Loon Mountain Snowsports School and The Saint Anselm Cross Country Running Team. She leads yoga and meditation at The Plymouth House, a residential retreat center for drug and alcohol recovery, which has helped develop her teachings into a practical life skill that helps free us from dependence and confusion, awakening our potential through awareness and centering. She also brings yoga to festivals and events throughout New England and along the east coast. Her style derives from many traditions of movement and meditation and adapts to fit the specifics of her clientele. Denise is also available for personal and group private yoga classes and Thai yoga sessions.

Saturday August 10, 2013
9am – 5pm
The Mountain Club on Loon
Lincoln, New Hampshire
$80 – includes lift ticket

For more information or to register call 603 568 5977
or visit http://awarenessretreat813.brownpapertickets.com

deniseporterkemp.com

poise

“Always move with a sense of unhurried grace”
– Parvathi, paraphrased

I remember this in times like these
when I am running around busily taking care of things…
breathing steady to find the calm and grace
in the midst of the movement
without having to break my stride.

Scratching the Itch

I used to get really annoyed when people would suggest sitting completely still and not scratching an itch that came up during meditation. And even more annoyed when I would try and do it. I find great peace in stillness, and I found I could sit much more comfortably in silence for longer periods of time if I adjusted my seat occasionally and scratched itches when they came up. Then I was not so distracted and aggravated by my discomfort. And could just get on with the peace.

And I like this metaphorically as well…why stay stuck in something that is not working when you have the capacity to easily fix it? Plus, I know of numerous stories of people who messed up their knees and legs by forcing themselves to stay in seated meditation for too long in positions not suited to their body. Sometimes it even set off a bit of a panic in my body. I felt trapped if I couldn’t move.

I saw this discipline as an archaic tradition that I didn’t want to carry on. In theory sure. We can sit through what is uncomfortable. I get that. But in practice not so much. It is too dangerous. Could set people off or injure them. I like to view myself as part of the evolution of the practices, helping translate and adapt them to make them practical to our lives today. And I tend to see too much strictness as a block, enforcing an absolute paradigm on subjective experiences.

And yet, once I had convinced myself that I could move anytime I wanted too, that no one was forcing me to not scratch the itch, that I had the choice…I began to play with not scratching it. Breathing through the discomfort and experiencing the sensation of the itch blossoming across my body.

Sometimes I focus right on the itch as the center of my awareness, in its full blown intensity. Meeting it. Sometimes I utilize the breath as the center of my awareness, a tether that keeps me calm as I experience the cycle of the itch. Often it gets more intense before it starts to dissipate. Sometimes it is excruciating. Sometimes I find myself inadvertently scratching the itch or moving my position before I even realize what I am doing. Other times I catch myself right before I unconsciously scratch, and pause the momentum. Some itches come on really slow and I feel them as if they are coming from far away. Experiencing the itch as it crests and as it passes.

And sometimes I just choose to scratch the itch. Without too much judgement that one choice is better, just noticing the experience and the results. Sometimes scratching the itch brings relief, for a while at least, and sometimes it just sets off every other itch that wants scratching. Each time is a little different. Through time and paying attention I become more adept at discerning when a pain is a signal that I need to adjust to protect myself and when it is just a passing discomfort. And I get better at listening, and more creative at adapting. Cross-legged on the ground is not the only way to meditate.

It’s true, I can always just scratch the itch. If I can reach it. Yet in life I can’t always so easily fix what is uncomfortable. Or worse. And I began to experience how sitting through the itch, by not moving my body right away if my legs get achy or my back gets tired, that I am cultivating the capacity to stay steady and go through uncomfortable stuff when it comes up inside me, in the moment, in the rest of my life. Without having to react. And without having to block it either.

And not just in theory. The practicality of sitting through the itch. Yes, it passes. And also practicing how to go through it while it is still happening.

For if I have to scratch the itch to be alright, I am not free either.  And if I have to feel “peaceful” to be truly at peace in any circumstance, I stay a slave chasing my own comfort. Which is not always possible to maintain.

Its not that I can’t scratch the itch, but maybe I don’t have to.

Which is pretty empowering.

I like the metaphor, and the experience, of this too.

The Space Between

There is nothing that I need right now.
Appreciating this. I know it won’t last.

Something will wear out and need replacing.
I will become hungry, or tired.
An inspiration will arrise that warrants being followed.
Sometimes I thrive on the chase.
Sometimes it runs me ragged.
And then that will pass too.

In this moment, I rest in balance.
The still point, the space between the desires.
The tide of my breath pulses through me.
Recognizing. Gratitude for this.

The sun slips behind the mountain.
Ah. Here it comes.
And I am off and running again…

Skillful Use of the Past

Someone asked me hopefully the other day, “It’s all about being in the now, isn’t it?  We’re always either stuck in the past or living in the future, but we just need to be in the now, right?” Which seems to be a common mantra right about now, and in its essence, holds a lot of truth. 

I’m reminded of Utah Phillips’ and Ani DiFranco’s song, Bridges, on the album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, when Utah says, “I always thought that anybody who told me I couldn’t live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that if I remembered it would get them into serious trouble…” (if you’ve never heard the song check it out here: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Bridges/iTzz7?src=5 and really listen to the words).

I find it useful to make a distinction between living in the past, or being stuck in the past, from how Utah describes the past as informing the present, and that the lessons of the past are available to us in the present when we are open to accessing them.  And what Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to as a skillful use of the past in his insightful and practical writings on meditation and how the lessons we learn through meditation translate into and are applicable to the rest of our lives (which are distributed for free online here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/meditations2.html).

A skillful use of the past means paying attention to intentions and actions and noticing the results as they unfold in the present moment, allowing discernment, perspective, and wisdom to grow as the present becomes the past, preparing us to deal as skillfully as possible as the future becomes the present. While each moment is a completely new experience, for the variables have never come together exactly as it is right now, the present is created by the past and directs where we are going in the future.  It’s all a continuum.

“Time is an enormous long river…and I am standing in it just as you are standing in it…My elders were the tributaries, and everything they thought, and every struggle they went through…flows down to me…And if I take the time to seek…I can build that bridge between my world and theirs…I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world…bridges…from my time to your time, as my elders from their time to my time…” Utah Phillips…

Being in the now is not tunnel vision, it includes an awareness of all that came before and all that will become in the future, in the peripheral vision, like a visual dristhi in asana, or physical yoga practice.  By focusing on the present, or the breath, or the visual focus point, we still see everything in the periphery, without having to stare or block anything out either.  We are focused at the center.  Which helps keep us from getting thrown off balance.

“We all put into the river, and it flows away from us…till it no longer has our name, our identity, it has its own utility, its own use, and people will take what they need and make it part of their lives…” U.P.