Life Lessons from MDOT?

June 12, 2014
Katherine Austin Wooley



Recently, I found myself pondering that sign on the freeways admonishing us to "Pay Attention" (exclamation point clearly implied!).

That command has always felt a bit insulting and patronizing, insinuating that I don't know better. Maybe it's morning sadhana or maybe it's Kundalini yoga or maybe it's something else, but this morning I can see that sign, I choose to see it, as gentle, benevolent and even spiritually coaxing to notice what is, to be in the moment.

I know that I was born living just this way, but I can't remember a time when the moment wasn't seen through a complicating and diluting lens of yesterday and tomorrow. Relearning the present, tasting the incremental moments one at a time, gives a whole new meaning to being "born again."

What led me to ponder that sign on a sunny Sunday morning while lazing on my porch, dog draped over my lap and no plans to get into my car anytime soon?

The bagel man, of course!

Kelly Haskee, Katherine Austin and Betsy Cohn at Winter Solstice Kundalini Retreat

On my way home from sadhana, I made a pit-stop for bagels at a place I don't normally patronize. As the bagel man sliced half a dozen everything bagels for me (actually, seven, he explained, the extra being thrown in to compensate for a sixth bagel, whose "everything" was barely there), he happily shared with me a whole philosophy behind his technique.

This was a man enjoying his job, one action at a time, and his customers, and this is the kind of fleeting exchange that has always formed the backbone of my existence, at least when I pay attention.

There was the post office clerk who used to roll my change to me across the counter, one coin at a time. He didn't know that my sister had just died and that my heart was broken, but I think he sensed that his rolling of the coins (he didn't do that for anyone else) lifted me up just to the point that I could handle.

We never learned each other's names, but when I was about to move out of state, I made a special trip to say good-bye.

There was my uncle, who at one of my sister's memorial services, came and sat next to me on the stairs, where I'd limply surrendered, all cried out; he knew just to sit, not to talk. That sensitivity is probably what attracted a beautiful butterfly to waft in and sit briefly on his casket years later at his burial. I was the only one who saw it.

Betsy Cohn

There was my previous dog, who gave me countless magical moments, as dogs living in the present do—stopping on a walk to smell a single blade of grass, her ears moving precisely, letting me see all the information and nuance she was taking in; her non-swimmer self in reckless abandon leaping off a dock and swimming to the rowboat that my friends were in and then leaping back out and swimming back to shore to be with me, all joy and spontaneity; her licking my nose while I gave her her final bath, which she used to fight, just days before she died, seeming to thank me for taking care of her; her soft, brown eyes staring straight at me and the single drop of moisture that came from her left nostril when she took her last, beautifully peaceful breath.

There were my brothers—the impromptu, hours-long motorcycle ride from my older brother, who was always hard to connect to, all around our home town, Washington, DC, with me on the back yelling for him to lean farther on the turns and knowing that made him love me even more, and the near-disaster turned hilarious when my twin brother used a napkin as a hot grabber and then handed it to me in a panic when it caught on fire, sensing that I had the presence of mind to throw it into the stockpot of soup my mother was making to extinguish it (she found out about 20 years later).

There were my parents—the impromptu (only?) walk that my mom and I took just by ourselves, where a kitten followed us and we circled back home halfway through to get sweaters so that we could keep going;

her setting me up for what I still consider my best pun as I left one morning for high school; her in the late stages of Alzheimer's, unable to speak and even unable to see but grabbing my shirt in a fistful, the closest thing to "hello" that she could muster anymore, and my trying to stay still so she wouldn't let go;

my dad and I grocery-shopping together and hitting the cookie aisle, where he always said with festivity, "Well, well, well," as if we didn't know that aisle was coming, and then entering a serious consultation over the week's choices;

my dad and I playing keep-away with the very last Devil Dog, which I hid in the silver teapot and which he then found and hid in his filing cabinet under "D";

my dad on his deathbed as I leaned over to tell him how proud I was of him and him managing to get out his last words to me: "Proud of you too."

What does all this have to do with yoga?

It's all about making an immediate, often poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes raw connection to another soul in a way that expands our own.

All of the singular moments of being that I treasure most perhaps explain my immediate and overwhelming sense at my first experience with White Tantric yoga, knowing that was where I was always meant to be.

How else does one get through an hour-long meditation in a taxing, frozen mudra than to live one moment at a time?

"Pay Attention[!]"—unexpected thanks to MDOT for the reminder!

Betsy Cohn teaches English full-time at Henry Ford Community College, where she lists her rescue dog, Rosie the Rambunctious, as her teaching assistant; Rosie thinks down-dog was invented to make licking faces easier and thinks the point of everything is to laugh. Both Rosie and yoga have been teaching Betsy well. Betsy's latest milestone: receiving her spiritual name, Atma Nam Kaur, which she hopes to identify with more over time!

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