Friday, December 31, 2010

Sleepless in Istanbul

3:50 am in the morning... sitting by my desk, far from sleep. My body and my mind are resisting to adjust the 10 time-zones I flew over. My phone and my laptop have already spotted their new location on earth and automatically changed their clock. My body could not. Neither could my mind.

In one of his books, William Gibson writes that it takes a week for the soul to travel and find the body when the body is taken to the other side of the world only in 24 hours. I wonder where is my soul now? Somewhere over Greenland? Maybe. I am sure it is not here in Istanbul yet!

Times of transition, always a hard one! This is the town I was born and grew up. Actually this is the apartment I spent my childhood. All I feel is my disconnection. All I want is to take the first flight back to Portland and have my morning coffee at Albina Press.

Well, that is not quite right. All I want now is actually to be able to sleep.

How strong the mind's addiction to habit and routine that I can't feel at home when I am at home. Oh well, I say to myself, this will pass too. I have people here. People I dearly love. My family, my friends, my students. Once I connect with them, I may feel at home again. First my soul must arrive!

We have a tendency to come to conclusions in times like this. Transition times, hard times. As I lay wide awake in my bed for the last 3 hours my mind kept telling me that the discomfort is a sign that we are not supposed to be here. "This should be last time" it tells me. "Make the decision right now" it insists. Such an insecure child the mind is! I don't want to make a decision based on my discomfort. Those decisions are rarely accurate.

And oh, yes, I made it safe and sound. That is what matters at the end.
And the sleep of course.
It does matter a lot.
Anyway...sleepless in Istanbul, I wanted to reach out and say I miss you Portland.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Precious Balance of Perfection

Last Saturday we saw the movie Black Swan. 

Natalie Portman is playing this ballerina in New York City ballet company whose life is completely consumed with dance. Although the movie was a disturbing psycho-drama and in many blood dripping scenes I had to close my eyes, I loved the dance scenes so much that I am ready to see it one more time. 

As name of the movie gives us the hint, it is the ballet Swan Lake, the company is performing that season and our troubled young ballerina is chosen to play the Swan Queen. Both the White Swan Odette and her evil twin Black Swan Odile. 

The story of Swan Lake, probably the most famous ballet music composed in the history, takes place in some Medieval central European setting where princes go to forest for hunting and where young girls dance by the moon and magicians put spells on young girls to turn into swans as soon as the sun rises. 

The story is full of symbols- sociological, mythical and spiritual- which I have no intention to dwell on here. However the music  Mr. Tchaikovsky composed sometime in mid 19th century, is so magnificent -yet very simple compared to music composed by his contemporaries- that every time I listen to Swan Lake, I get teary eyed. 

I don't remember how old I was when my mother played the Swan Lake for me. It is highly possible she had played it as a background music while she told me its story before bed. Later, when I was old enough to operate our record player on my own, I kept on playing it over and over until both of my parents begged me to please stop it. Soon our only record got all scratched from my unsteady five year old hands operating the needle and I had to stop. 

Knowing my fascination with the music,  my mother took me to watch Swan Lake when Istanbul Opera and Ballet company was performing it in early 1980's. I had already known the story by heart. (I made my mother tell it to me numerous times). So when my favorite music started and my favorite story came alive through human movement, I was to ready to fall in love with ballet. And that is exactly what happened! 

I did not stop taking ballet classes until I left Turkey at the age of 25.  I changed schools, we moved from one apartment to the other, my friends changed, my parents divorced, I had my first period, I fell in love for the first time, I finished high school, started university, fell in love many more times... During all these years, every Tuedsay, Friday and Saturdays I went to Madame Lili's ballet classes. I know now, Madame Lilie has been one of the major influences in my life.  

When I started yoga, expressing oneself through the movement has become exploring oneself through body/mind/ breath. Yet only after watching the Black Swan, the pieces all came together.  Since ballet and yoga are so different from one another, it never occurred to me my childhood love for ballet has transformed itself to a passion for yoga in my life. 

What I loved about ballet, more than anything was, its discipline. As oppose to many other children and teenagers, I loved it  that we all had to wear simple black leotards and white tights during our yearly exams. I loved it that most of us kept wearing the same outfit during the rest of the year to simplify the practice. It was in Mme Lilie's classes I  learned to stay still and not to fidget out of one pose. Again it was there I learned to watch the movement carefully before trying it and observe its effect in my own body. It was there I learned how to focus my gaze, my energy and my mind in to one single channel. 

It has been easy for me to transfer the sense of discipline to my yoga practice and later to my teaching. Staying still, concentration, paying attention to detail, these were easy and familiar things for me. 

The hard part was -and still is-  the other side of the coin. 

The part that requires Letting Go

In the movie,  super charismatic French choreographer  (played by Vincent Cassel) kept saying one thing to our stuck-up perfectionist young ballerina over and over:  

"Control is one part of perfection. The other part is letting go" 

My teacher always guides us into a yoga practice that will eventually wake up what is dormant inside of us. I always think it is sprit he is talking about. For waking up the dormant sprit discipline and perseverance are necessary. But not enough. There has to be keen observation,  patience and finally letting go. We can move gracefully and very precisely. Without the component of letting go, sprit cannot express itself freely no matter how much effort has been put out. 

Sage Patanjali, talks about the same thing in the first chapter of Yoga Sutras . Two core principles of yoga are abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment)

Here is an explanation of these two principles:

Never give up!
Always let go! 

Which side is heavier? Where are you losing the balance? The challenge is to balance the scale. 
Because it is neither one or the other. 
Perfection is in the precious balance of the two...
Take it easy!



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blogger's Block

I have been living outside of Turkey for the last 8 years. More than half of that time, I have been living in the US. If we include earlier times that I have been abroad I can roughly calculate that almost for a quarter life time my primary everyday language has been English.  I teach my classes, I read my books, I talk to my partner and my friends in English. Some nights I dream in English. Nowadays I realize that I am even writing my to do list in English.

However...when it comes to writing blogs in English,  it looks like I have a permanent writer's block.
That is how it has been so far. Now it is time to break it.

Oh, well, I wrote my 220 page long master's thesis in English! C'mon!

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak -to whom words sometimes come in English and she writes novels with those words- mentions in one her TED talks, Turkish language is poetic and emotional and for her English is cerebral and mathematical. She finds joy in writing in both languages.

She also mentions for people like her, for whom English is the acquired language there is a continuos and perpetual frustration. I exactly know what she means by that. She says "There is always more to say, we want to crack more jokes but we end up saying less". It is the gap between the mind and the tongue when you are speaking an acquired language. This gap is very intimidating yet it is very stimulating as she tells us. It is in this gap we think about what we really want to express. We create the same gap in our yoga practice when we deal with the habitual mental/emotional patterns.

I am a prolific blog writer in my native language. Words come to me and flow from me with no problem. Some say I know no other way of expressing myself other than poetic and emotional writing therefore I can only write in Turkish. (Some may go further to argue that I know no other way to live than poetic and emotional anyway.)

Whatever the pattern or the reason I am here to break it! And I am well aware what a unique relationship could be built through blogging between people who are geographically apart.

So I am here to break the blogger's block and keep the connection between myself and people whom I have already left or about to the leave on the other side of the world.

Your comments are always precious. Please let me know what you think about what I write or simply how you are doing!
Keep the connection!

Love to you all,

If you would like to listen to Elif Shafak's talk on politics of fiction here is the link: (I really like her)

Me Blogging


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Farewell to Şaşkın

When we first went to Sundance Camp, Cuma (pronounced Juma) was not even one year old. Born in the back streets of Istanbul with a short tail and having spent his short life on the fifth floor of an apartment building, like many of us, he felt like he had landed in paradise. During the ten days we stayed at the camp, he spent his time running around on the beach, laying on the grass, experimenting with the sea and getting to know the other animals who shared the campground. The dog, that once drove me crazy with his hyperactive behavior turned into a mild and balanced animal over the span of just ten days.

When we returned to our apartment in Istanbul, Cuma went to a corner of the living room. Taking the shape of a bagel he laid there with his back turned towards us until the next morning. Back then I thought he was resentful that I brought him back to the city. He wasn’t. Dogs don’t know how to resent. He was just sad. Next time we went to Sundace for vacation, Cuma didn’t come back to Istanbul with me. He stayed there. During the years I traveled across the world , with no land and no home to call my own, my dog planted his roots and became the legendary Cuma of Sundance Camp.

One summer night we were eating in the dining area of the camp. A young guy approached our table. He was pulling a puppy behind him. The leash, a loose string around its neck. He said to my friend who owned the place, "I was walking by the nearby village and the villagers said that the puppy belonged to the camp, so I brought her back". We all laughed. The young guy, being just a visitor at the camp, naturally, didn’t get the joke. Sending the homeless puppies to Sundance Camp was a well known trick of the villagers.

We petted the little one and asked the owner, Suleyman, to please let her stay here. With one voice we all begged. “Don’t you see how cute she is… look how small she is… look how silly she is…”

Şaşkın (pronounced Shashkin), which is Turkish for silly, stayed. She made the camp her home the very next day. A couple of months later she and Cuma fell in love. She turned out to be the perfect mate for him. She remained at his side bearing him three generations of puppies. All of them with short tails. Even after she was neutered she maintained her onlyness for Cuma and sometimes got in life-threatening fights with his potential mistresses. Cuma has been loyal to her as well. He might have had affairs here and there but never appeared in public with any other female dog except Şaşkın!

Cuma and Şaşkın have been an item for more than seven years. They walked the visitors to the beach, they showed them the way to the ancient ruins through the forest path. If one of them felt a danger approaching, the other one would sense it immediately. They would bark and run in that direction together. In winter they slept side by side in front of the wood stove. In the spring they competed for a spot on my yoga mat while I practiced in the early morning.

Yesterday morning they found Şaşkın’s body right outside of the camp. The bullet in her side came from a shotgun which is used by the local villagers for hunting wild pigs. Some say they shot her to protect their goats.

Can the intention behind the bullet change the pain in my chest?

The cruelty that human beings are capable of producing is the source of my pain. Stepping into the camp’s territory with the intention of killing a dog that is not attacking anyone is nothing less than sadistic. How can it be that destruction satisfies human beings so much? What are we lacking inside that leads us to violence? As I think of the man shooting Şaşkın I feel the pain from all the violence waged against the weak and the innocent.

The pain of death is so sudden. It shocks us and catches us unprepared. On the inside and through my yoga practice I am searching for tools to cope with my pain. Ancient Yoga texts mention the workings of the universe as a cycle of creation, preservation and destruction which keeps us all going. There can be no creation without destruction and no destruction without creation. One part of me sees this eternal dance of the universe: Creation, preservation and destruction. The other part of me is scared, angry and helpless. Killing for the sake of feeling powerful is hard to accept. Since yesterday I can’t help my burning heart flowing through my tears and down my cheeks.

A few hours ago I called Sundace to ask how Cuma is doing. They said Cuma took the shape of a bagel and was laying in a corner of the restaurant with his back turned towards us.