Laura's new book Uncommon Voyage: Parenting Children with Special Needs, A Handbook will be published in 2016. From 2000-2005 Laura was the Project Director for the New York Foundation for the Arts on a film about Albania, Shqiperi.
Laura's essays were published in The Forward in 2014 and 2015 and are collected in, Uncommon Passages. Laura is a devoted student of Iyengar Yoga. Essays from her book, Can You Show Me Tomorrow Today?can be read on her website www.laurashapirokramer.com
To accept whatever comes, regardless of the consequences, is to be
Headstand turns the world upside down (the inner world and outer world.) When you do it every day, it reminds us nothing stays the same. Ever.
Balance is achieved between movement and
resistance. To balance we must move. If we are rigid, we fall over (and that
hurts!) Holding still brings tension. Moving helps us perceive the world.
Moving can denote a
strong feeling especially of sorrow or sympathy (he was moved to tears) and describes a stirring emotion.
Move along, move aside, move on, move on up. Move is a verb that
means to proceed or progress, to advance or shift or change position.
also a verb that implies inspiration or stimulation; it connotes affect, to
impress, provoke, and rouse. And it means to change, to budge, to shift one’s
ground or change one’s mind or have second thoughts, to make a turn.
Balance is an even distribution of weight enabling us to remain upright
and steady; it is the stability of our minds or feelings and it implies equal
or correct proportions.
Balance in art is harmony of design and proportion. If something hangs in the balance, it is uncertain and at a critical stage. When we are balanced poise and grace dominate. Head balance delivers steadiness. To be in head balance we have to be in a steady position so that we do not fall.
We need to
transcend our limits and self-transformation has its limits, yet I do not like
to think I have reached mine. I do not want to set limits on what I explore,
not inside and not outside. When we set limits we miss exploring what really
The compass I use searches for the center. The
clarity of the extremes is that the center is within. From inside emerges the
balance and it is always back and forth, back and forth: going out and
It is always back and forth, back and
forth: going out and returning in. Head balance.
I believe in curiosity, in diving
into others, into the dissimilar and deep into myself. I am a seeker.
I have the compulsion to
try and connect with something just out of reach - like trying to catch a
tiger, a search for something that constantly eludes me, searching for
something I refuse to let go of.
I want to taste the
deeper currents of existence, an occasional privilege. Gobble gobble.
The body is the framework for all
our bodies; the outer body is the frame for the organic body.
The physical body is a window into our interiors
where there are involutions and evolutions like Nature, like temperature and
rainfall and fire, clouds and sun.
We are like the Big Island of Hawaii where nine of
the world’s eleven climate zones exist on one island. Our body is like a mass of climate zones.
We have fiery
brains, warm and cold hearts, warm and cold hands and sometimes cold feet.
We express these manifold interior bodies in our
skeletons and through our skin.
We extend through our hand gestures and the set of
our mouths as much as the words we voice, text, and think.
Our handshakes and hugs are the intersections of
our emotional body, mental body, intellectual body and body in space.
The world wobbles: it spins on an axis that is
moving and long ago scientists noted that this axis also wobbles.
Scientists believe that tectonic plates of the
earth's crust drift around the globe like, for instance, the Pacific plate that
is the Hawaiian Islands.
The islands are like a gigantic raft and have been
in the process of creation and dissolution for about twenty million years.
Kaua'i has moved 350 miles since it was born and now is less than half of its
Some day like other islands, Hawaii will have moved
on. We do not know where it will sit eventually.
If Hawaii, why not us? What do we know about where
anything will be eventually?
We wobble. We move around and the world moves
around us. The word ‘forever’ is the miracle of gliding on and being reborn.
things collected mechanically by the brain and always remember events in which
we are somehow emotionally wrapped. We remember striking moments of our lives,
exciting moments where beauty and love are condensed.
But we also
sink back especially, where we have been
psychologically hurt and wounded and where fear was present.
these wounds like precious jewels. It is weight that does not drop easily from
told me a story about her daughter and her pet bunny. The little girl doted on
the bunny. One day the bunny got sick and died.
had fits of crying and hand wringing. My friend helped her daughter bury the
bunny with an elaborate funeral. A few weeks after they buried the bunny, my
friend’s daughter came to her and asked if they could dig up the bunny.
The girl wanted to see it, to indulge her wound. She wanted to gaze repeatedly
at her loss, turn it over and touch it, feel it, again and again. Human.
Amygdala is the dark aspect of the brain formation that is storage of emotion
and memory. It is the encoding and retention of emotional information or
learning, particularly the information relating to survival. It is the brain’s
muscle of memory.
are different than memory. The part of the brain in which our memories reside
is encrusted with all sorts of images, mostly of the past, covering our head
like a veil.
new is dropped on to that thick layer of thoughts and remembrances, it gets
more difficult to recall. Like a sponge. It absorbs the things we live most
intensely, sucking them up.
There is a
Zen story that tells of a Japanese master who received a university professor.
professor came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in, the Zen Master, served tea. He
poured his visitor’s cup full, and he kept on pouring. The professor watched
the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.
is overfull. No more will go in!”
this cup,” the Master said, “you are full of your own opinions and
speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” (Gary Zukav, The Zen Lee Masters.)
let shadows of dark events stay in their minds dragging the past into the present while others chose to get rid of
them and continue on with life.
Life shrinks or
expands in proportion to our courage (as opposed to our possessions).
When we hold our hand before our eyes, we can conceal the
greatest mountain, just as our little earthly life hides from our glance
enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full. The person who can
draw this little earthly life away from before his eyes, as one draws away a
hand, beholds the greatest shining of inner worlds.
We must be our own teachers. To
teach is an act of love. In ancient Indian tradition, the teacher was placed at
the very apex of the hierarchy. Even the King consulted teachers for advice. When
nothing is required of us and we can do whatever we want, who are we?
A few years
ago I decided to go on a trip alone. I wanted to leap into the dark, into places I had never been. Every
stranger and every street beckoned with mystery.
about a woman who gave herself ten articles of clothing to wear for one year and decided that would be me for three months: unencumbered; finding as much as possible in as little as I could. The trip meant taking a risk. I did not know if I was going to be lonely or struggle with the unknown and the unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure if I could find my way by myself. How can we know if we don’t try?
I went, the more ‘out there’, the more I was unmoored and the more I
wandered, the stronger my inner anchor. I grew secure by getting unfastened. My
travels took me to extremes. The clarity of the extremes is that the center is
within. From inside emerges the balance and it is always back and forth, back
and forth: going out and returning in.
When I returned people asked me all kinds of questions like
how much it cost; wasn’t I lonely? Wasn’t I afraid to travel alone? The most
common – and most annoying - question they asked was, “Where did you like
best?” My answer was “inside”.
We learn to walk new in the world when we step out. How can we
prevent disappointment and protect ourselves from injury while being pioneers?
The path of discovery is a razor’s edge. It can be fraught with danger and
uncertainty. Growth is a redrawing of boundaries so that we include more of the
outer world and the inner world. It makes us less secure, more fragile. In the
end it makes us more stable.
We must be
willing to live ‘imperfectly’. The practice of going within frees us to live
the kind of life we desire which is to be pointed to the horizon, toward
whatever appears; to penetrate and probe and venture forth; to
express our chest where the heart resides. Ultimately, we draw a golden thread
through all we witness and pass through.
sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible.
One summer children were digging in the sand on a nearby beach and
uncovered the head of a whale. First they exposed the tip of a smooth white
bone that turned out to be part of its skeleton. Everyone thought the whale probably
washed ashore during one of those mythic Cape Cod hurricanes, maybe forty years
before. Scientists came to do carbon testing. They determined the skeleton was at
least five hundred years old. The entire head weighed four hundred pounds! Sand,
blown by the wind over centuries, covered – and then uncovered - this leviathan
that for generations was waiting to be revealed.
Pain is the constant chaperone of living. Everyone I know has it: back
pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, arthritis pain, headaches, heartaches and loss.
We cannot always change this but there are ways to live with courage. Get the hang
of being still; stillness that does not depend on what happens. Let a new wind
blow in without knocking us over.
Spend time on any beach. Shifting sands are real. The beach where I
live in the summer has gone from being covered with sand to being covered with rocks
and is now morphing again to sand. We are that beach. Who knows what will be
revealed over time that for the moment is hidden? It could be a whale of a
Things turn out best
for people who make the best of the way things turn out.
Can we imagine
walking backward through life? If we want to go forward, do we take steps
backward? If we want to see what is ahead of us, do we look behind? There are
no eyes in the back of our heads.
In fact we have to swivel our necks to see what is behind us. And we
know how tired our necks can get from looking back.
Who has not heard
the saying 'that for every door that closes, another opens; that sometimes a
disappointment can lead to a new road?'
How can we see the door or the new path if
we are turned around; if we are not looking ahead and instead thinking about
We live on the
front part of our bodies. Everything about us points forward: our eyes, our
nose, our mouth, and our shoulders, hands, and chest. Surviving the challenges of life has to be
eyes straight ahead. We have to go onward without looking backward. At the same time we must not drag the past into the present.
The past inspires the present. We are never
really without our past and never without our future. In Yoga in the great warrior
poses, the back leg is the ‘brain’ of the pose. Keeping the back leg strong and
articulate gives stability. Then we move forward with intelligence and grace, balanced
and secure. There is no need to look back: we have a strong leg like an anchor to
Our eyes look ahead
to see what is ahead. A sailor steers by keeping the horizon in sight. The
horizon is always moving (there are only twenty-two miles to the horizon no
matter where you look.) Mostly we are
pointed in predictable directions, straightforward and positive, but there are
more difficult times. We need more attention and care to keep from stumbling.
Sometimes we need to side step or be still.
There are special
features in our human necks that enable us to keep our heads still (but not
stiff). This gives us an advantage: it helps us avoid falls and injuries. Stillness
is pause without rigidity or going in reverse.
Do not be like
Lot’s wife. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar
of salt when she looked back. We do not want to be a pillar of salt or have a
sore neck. We not want to be ‘stiff necked’.
The past, present
and future are not today what they were or what they will be. These are the
mysteries. Go forward one step at a time. Without looking back.
Doing poor or feeble practice in the
worst of times is far more meritorious than doing a good practice in the best
Practice is a
taste of the sacred. It is about health – mental, psychological, physical and
spiritual health. Fitness happens quickly with a big energy output. Health
takes a long time. This is where practicing comes in. We learn to do it by
imagine the conversations I have convincing myself to practice. When practice is
intended for the end of day, often I procrastinate as long as I can until I
might not do it at all.
People who know
me cannot believe this about me. They always tell me, “You’re so disciplined.” Little
do they know that the conversations I have with myself give meaning to the word
What I know from
years of practicing is that it transforms me. There are dragons to battle in
the world - frustration, despair - as well as demons within. But there is a
possibility of transfiguration with practice. Practice makes me different. I know how hard it is. If I don’t want to do it, I do it anyway.
Think of practice as having a flashlight to explore dark (scary) places. The more we practice the
more our eyes get used to the dark. The challenge is to switch on the flashlight
The glory and splendor of practice is like a telescope with immense
power, opening gradually and incrementally when the sun sets and the dark presents
itself. The greater the opening, the greater the
space, the more observation, the more we can see ‘in the dark’.
There is so much more to being a human being than we
realize. When we penetrate inwardly, we make a connection to the divine. We
meet our true selves.
I learn from practice is that it does not make perfect and that I can not
control anything - except what I put in my mouth, literally and figuratively. Yet
practice gets inside like the most delicious food.