Friday, March 30, 2012

the art of non-doing

I've been thinking all week that I've been busy doing nothing. Well, not nothing per se, but allowing myself to wander more or less through my days rather than adhering to my usual agenda of do-do-do. My approach has been more like beach vacation state-of-mind: what would be most relaxing and enjoyable in this moment? And in this one?

No, we're not on Spring break over here and in fact I've been getting up regularly at 5:30ish (the ish-ness is an important lure for my mind - if I rigidly think "I'm getting up at 5:30" well, rebellion will ensue ... but 5:30ish gives a sense of leeway and easiness that tricks me into actually getting up!) In fact, I dare say my early morning routine is responsible for creating my more relaxed attitude and sense of an easy flow to my days.

What is the magic trick? I get up and sit on my meditation cushion and breathe.

Yuppers ... I get up early to breathe.

The yogis believe that we are allotted a certain number of breaths to a lifetime so if we want to lengthen our time in our current form, we must slow the breath rate down. Take our time breathing.

There are articles and studies related to the benefits of certain breathing practices (pranayama) but honestly, I am committed to this practice right now because I am already experiencing its benefits. My day feels more spacious, my relationship to time more harmonious and yielding, my reactions and responses calmer and more gentle. I just feel smoother and lighter and more focused and centered.

Clarity is my intention for this year and I am feeling it manifesting in my inner life and outer world.

Things that are making my days rich and alive:

Reconnecting with friends through letter writing. When I receive a letter or a card in the mail, I am aware of the time and care taken out of a busy day to connect with me and I so enjoy honoring that by sitting down with a warm drink, paper, pen and my thoughts. I think the greatest loss of our current age of clutter and over-stimulation is the space and time to cultivate a real conversation between souls. It is a dying art but thankfully there are many committed to its survival. I received this surprise in the mail this week from one such angel in and I recognize I am blessed to have many in my life who nurture my spirit with their words and care.

thank you dear Milena ... she hangs by the door to my yoga room,
greeting me every day!

I've been experimenting with herbal tea infusions thanks to the generous and playful HerbMother and her Spring HerbCraft camp.

Each day I take a quart mason jar and drop a handful of whatever herbs calls to me - nettles, oatstraw, catnip, spearmint, red leaf raspberry - then fill the jar with either boiling water to steep with the lid on, or room temperature water and then place the lidded jar in the sun for the entire day. The next day I strain it and drink it - delicious! My favorite concoction so far is nettles, lemongrass, catnip, licorice, hibiscus and rosehips. Even Cowgirl enjoys the taste and Latisha has several recipes she suggests for children, so I can't wait to brew up larger quantities this summer.

And as it is truly Spring here, it must be time for painted postcards.

I've been involved in two swaps with cards going to wonderfully exotic locales like Latvia, Sweden, Slovenia, and Malaysia. I have received a bounty of creative fun in my mailbox including a knitted postcard! (I know, no picture, how unlike me to not photograph something ... blame it on beach fatigue and too much sun ...)

I find making these cards inherently soothing and pleasurable. I am reminded of painting by numbers kits although my process is to sketch the one image - bird, dog, snail - and then allow the rest to paint itself in. I don't even mix my paints - I like them straight and full bodied.

I've been writing stream of consciousness bits of poetry or responses to these prompts: Today I am here to ... or This is what I have to say to you. I am surprised by how kind I am to myself and that there is this voice of forgiveness and acceptance deep within if I just allow the surface chatter, the loops of self judgement and criticisms, to wash away.

I found a letter I wrote to myself at the end of a week long silent meditation retreat. We turned these letters in to our instructor and he mailed them to us, months later. Eight years later, I re-read this letter and find my advice to myself, from mySelf still necessary:

Take time to reflect upon that which brings you joy and fills your heart with love and gratitude. Take time for yourself and also to be with others who share you beliefs or values .... Look at what is possible, not at what is lacking or missing or wrong. Don't shy away from challenge - push yourself to grow and respect the time you need for integration .... remember to laugh and don't take it all so seriously. Laugh, smile, and love - especially yourself.

I also found this quote copied down in an old journal:

A single event can awaken within in us a stranger unknown to us. To be alive is to be slowly born. - Saint-Exupery

I am a baby, learning to breathe and crawl and walk all over. Only this time, I am able to pay attention to the process and enjoy the exploration.

What stranger waits for you? Are you ready to play? Just breathe and laugh ... it seems to be the season for it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

nonessential information with no regrets. Fly!
And if you are blown off
course, just change your
destination. Choose to
land wherever your two
feet are standing.

-"Turn Your World Red" by Danna Faulds (from Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga)

A little backstory - which may or may not be useful to share - but it's been on my mind lately and it acts as my reminder whenever I slide into forgetfulness or lethargy.

Close to twenty years ago (twenty years?!), way back when I was still an unformed and uniformed being if you will, I had an a little accident which really turned out to be a massive awakening.

Okay, it wasn't so little ... I broke my neck. More exactly, I broke the C-2 vertebrae which is the bone that allows the head to move from side to side. Go figure, I broke the bone that lets me to shake my head "No."

Other trivia delivered to me as I lay in the emergency room was the colorful term The Hanged Man's Break. "That's the bone that would snap when someone was hanged," a rather excited nurse informed me. Probably while I was using the bedpan because, well, waiting for the neurosurgeon to drill holes into your skull for a halo brace requires some waiting and lots of time for people to share with you just how lucky you are to be both alive and not completely paralyzed.

I think there are mountains of moments when we dodge proverbial bullets, but very few opportunities when we are left to grapple with that fact. With a broken neck, you have a long time to sit and think about it all, and here's what I learned about myself:

I would have been extremely pissed off if that had been it. Of course, if I was dead being angry might not have been an option. But after disbelief (No, really, I'm okay I just have a little neck ache) comes denial (this is some crazy dream; pinch me harder, I'm not waking up) and then for me, pissed-off-itude.

Anger, I've learned, is when something is so uncomfortable, it is better to try and deflect that emotion outside of myself. But with time, I came to understand the one I was angry with was myself. Because I realized I had put off so much living using the excuses "when the time is right" or "I'm not ready yet" or "one day, but not today" as means of escaping the truth that I just didn't take myself or my life very seriously.

Almost loosing everything, I recognized it was time to really embrace it all. To embrace myself. To stop avoiding what I most wanted to experience, which was full-throttle living. Making a difference. Making my mark no matter how small, to say "I was here. And it matters."

Shortly after that accident I dropped out of graduate school (my little slice of hell) and we moved from L.A. to Nebraska. I started studying and practicing yoga, went into therapy (examining a subject infinitely fascinating and perplexing- me!), took up a job in a total unrelated field to anything I had done before and got down to the business of making a life.

Any significant decision or action I've taken in the last 20 years is the result of my accident. It has been my greatest teacher for it woke me up out of a stupor and gave me the gift of knowing I am the one who is in charge of creating my life. Anything remotely resembling bravery on my part is really the product of believing "If not now, then very possibly, never."

This is what drives me to continually strive to Wake Up to my life. This is what propels me into action: painting, writing, taking pictures, skipping out on dinner duty to fly a kite. Each day is a gift I try to cherish to the best of my abilities. And each time I fall down, I remember getting up is cause to celebrate another chance to live.

Friday, March 23, 2012

springing awake

I am slowly stumbling out of the fog and lethargy that was the end of Winter.
I find myself craving solitude, space and time to think and breath. I move cautiously in my morning practice and often just sit in the sleepy peacefulness of predawn meditation. I gather loads of library books on herbs, container gardening, along with poetry books by my bedside. I reacquaint myself with old friends on the page and in real space and time. This feels more like a time for Thanksgiving as I find myself awakening on many levels: spiritually, personally, and creatively.

Everything feels fertile; especially my dreams which provoke a profound shifts in my understanding

Lying in a field
on my side
my lover -
the one I seek but never find, the one I yearn to know but am denied -
lies down behind me.

His body cloaking mine

I feel the warmth of breath against my ear,
I feel the press of lips upon my cheek,

I sense him waiting.

And as quickly as he appeared,
he is gone.

I awake from this dream
with the familiar sense of longing,
frustration from
denial of desire
that seems fated to know no home.

And then it strikes me -
all these years I’ve believed myself to be waiting
upon another,
when all along you have been with me
closer than my breath
under my skin
acceptance and love perpetually on offer.

And it’s not me waiting
but you.

Awaiting my recognition,
my receiving
what has been held out to me,
accepting the gift
I never believed was mine to claim.

Until now.

Spring awakening:

love and birdsong fill the air,

robins mad with a passion

that envelopes me.

I will no longer
deny what calls to me


I am ready to roll over
and give myself
to the embrace.

What is awakening within your heart, your mind? What new growth are you discovering? Is it just me or does it feel like this season is about to blast us into the next level?

Monday, March 19, 2012

horse medicine (thank you Ben)

One of the things I absolutely love about being a mother is the chance to revisit stories. More specifically, my stories.

Not that having a child is the only way to access one's past history, but Cowgirl insistently prods me to tell her stories and in those moments of scanning through my memory banks, I often stumble upon pieces of buried treasure.

Such was the case last night as I peeled carrots for a stir-fry. Cowgirl enjoys being my sous-chef (another plus to having a wee person about) so she was by my side chattering away about carrots which naturally leads one to the subject of horses. We were remembering her feeding carrots to her grand dad's horse, Pink Bell (Cowgirl named her after a beloved stuffed animal) which then segued into my horsy adventures.

And then I remembered Ben. Ben was a beautiful gray horse who was on vacation from his work while I was on vacation from my life. Well, vacation if you consider getting up at 5 AM and practicing 3 hours of yoga a day on top of attending classes and practice teaching sessions a vacation. I was enrolled in a month-long yoga teacher training program at Kripalu Yoga Center and Ben was spending that same month on holiday in the field behind the center.

I first noticed Ben while eating my breakfast in the dining hall. Breakfasts at Kripalu are held in silence. There is soft music playing, the clatter of dishes and the drone of fans but otherwise all is quiet. Breakfast was my favorite time of the day - I would float in, relaxed with a morning yoga practice already under my belt and the day still ahead of me. I would gather my favorite foods: oatmeal, fruit, yogurt with honey, hot tea and then look for a seat by a window. Since everyone was in silence, I would look out the window and daydream.

Until I discovered Ben. After that, I would look out the window to see if I could find him eating his morning meal of grass and I would watch him lazily move around the field nibbling here, nibbling there. After a couple of days, I decided to grab an apple at breakfast and take it over to him during my afternoon break.

The first time I approached the fence, Ben methodically moved away from me. Like a magnet when the same poles face each other, wherever I moved seemed to repulse Ben in the opposite direction. So I cut my apple into slices and lay them upon the ground just inside the fence.

We did the same dance over the next few days. Every day I would take an apple up and leave it for Ben who seemed rather indifferent to my appearance and the apple.

And then one day I started my trek up to the field and Ben slowly and rather nonchalantly ambled toward me and the apple he knew I held in my hand. Everyday of my remaining month's stay I visited Ben and everyday he would come to me and eagerly eat my apple. Eventually he allowed me to scratch behind his ears and stroke his cheeks and velvety nose. His reward for my patience.

Ben - and the crow that appeared at my window every morning (every!) to wake me up - are vivid memories from that period in my life twelve years ago this July. And here's the treasure I discovered while recounting my friendship with Ben to Cowgirl: when we are starting out in any new relationship we have to be patient and persistent. We have to show up and allow the other time to get used to our presence. It is our consistency and willingness to allow the other to move towards us in their own time which builds comfort and trust.

Of course the relationship I speak of here is really the relationship I am trying to build with the parts of myself I have neglected, denied or pushed away. When I think about nurturing my creativity, I am reminded of my willingness with Ben to show up every day and wait for him to come to me. It really isn't much different with my practice of writing, painting, photography. By cultivating patience and persistence or consistency, I place myself repeatedly in a space where inspiration knows to find me. I open myself to whatever may arrive and welcome it even if all I am afforded is a chance to place my offering upon the ground. I am feeding my creativity and in turn it is allowing the shy voices within me to find a safe and receptive place to speak and be heard.

Thank you Ben for this teaching. As I continue to befriend myself, I will think of you and our summer of rest and recovery.

Friday, March 16, 2012

the power of pigtails

I've been playing around with drawing figures in my journal and Book of Days and I've noticed a couple of trends ...

Yes, the head are ginormous which says a lot about the part of my body that gets the most attention (hello brain, I know you've been overworked and I am doing my best to convince you to take early retirement ...)

But what I am really enjoying these days are pigtails and ponytails (known as doggy ears in our house):

I seem to be fixated upon them.

Which got me thinking about my hair and how my relationship with it has been less than loving or accepting. As a child, red hair was just about the absolute last thing I would ever have wanted for myself, only to be surpassed by freckles as most odious physical trait. (As a kid I wasn't buying the old "angel kisses" line - quit giving me messy kisses! was my precocious reaction.)

When you have red hair, you stand out and I very definitely wanted to blend in. Vanish really. I would fantasy about the day when I could buy myself a wig. Blonde or brunette, it didn't matter, the hair just had to be long and silky straight.

Silky is not a typical characteristic of red hair. In fact, red hair has the annoying tendency to draw added attention to itself by becoming puffy (as Cowgirl likes to call my hair), frizzly, kinky and curly. It seems to know I want to be smaller and so perversely it makes itself larger. It curls when I want it tame and becomes a heavy flop of straw when I want it curly.

It really does have a mind of its own.

As a redheaded girl the only options available to me as role models were Carol Burnett and Ginger from Gilligan's Island. Goofball (Lucille Ball) or Sex Kitten. For some inexplicable reason my mother felt compelled to tell me at an early age that there never had been a red headed Miss America because redheads were viewed as "hussies." (My mom bemoaned the transformation of her auburn tresses to mousy brown throughout her entire life which makes the hussy comment even more perplexing to me now that I consider it.)

Mary Magdalen is often depicted with red hair. As are clowns.

So I've suffered my red hair most of my life (The Husband claims it was what first attracted him to me - he had a thing for Ann Margaret "in her prime") but it is only now as the color is fading that I am finding myself embracing it and all that it represents.

I am reclaiming Red and embracing the power of pigtails. I am proudly waving my Ginger flag and all that it embodies: spunk (Pixies were thought to be red-haired) , individuality, independence, defiance. Less than four percent of the world's population are true redheads (and yes, there is one immodest way to prove one's true redness) and the rarity of red hair may account for the belief in Medieval times that redheads were witches.

Adam's first wife, Lilith, is also depicted with red hair. It seems unruly and powerful leaders and visionaries often were redheaded: Boudica (celtic warrioress) and Queen Elizabeth I along with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

But when I wear my hair in pigtails I am connecting with the heroine of my childhood who gave me that first taste of the possibilities inherent by proudly celebrating my hair's redness:

Yes, I've come home to Pippi Longstocking. The most powerful girl in the world. How could I ever have forsaken you?

Just don't call me Red. Ever. Unless you want to see me really enraged ...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

struggles (a mother's heart)

I believe we each come here with tasks to attend to if not in this lifetime, then in future ones. I believe there are lessons and skills that are mine to master and challenges are opportunities for me to dig deep within and summon forth my courage to grow.

I suppose I envision each of us carrying an invisible laundry list, every item upon it essential if we are to manifest our full potential. I know myself to be stronger for all that I have survived; I know myself to be more powerful because I rose to meet my challenges even when I really wished they weren't mine to face.

I know no one else could do for me what I needed to do for myself.

I know all this and still my heart breaks when I see my girl struggling. I want to swoop in and scoop her up and away from any danger, any potential heart ache or self doubt. I want to cocoon her and her tender heart in bubble wrap and secure her away from danger, from meanness, from bullies who need to inflict their pain and shame upon others.

My brain is incapable of imagining the cruelties that exist in today's classrooms and playgrounds. Lord of the Flies seems mild in comparison. I have heard stories this past week from other mothers's that would stop hearts and freeze blood.

I try to arm her with the tools she will need to face her challenges head on, but each time I send her back out into what appears to be an increasingly dangerous, cruel and lopsided world I panic and fear I have failed her. I haven't given her enough. She is so very tiny and the world so very large and fast moving.

I have no insights here, no positive spin on what is really the beginning of her journey. She's only in first grade and it has been a frustrating and challenging year although truth be told, I believe it has been tougher on me than her. I freely admit I tend towards over-sensitive on the scale of feelings.

I just know this is my struggle and place for growth: to trust in myself enough to know what I pass on to her will be sufficient, will lead her to discover the tools resting dormant inside of her own warrior's heart. I believe in her and she has coaxed some fragile tendrils of faith in myself to take root; I just need to relax around my own anxieties and remember we both came here for this particular journey and there are no refunds, no cancellations. Only living fearlessly because after all, we are joy warriors to the core.

And whenever I do forget the truth of all this, she reminds me.

It really is a karmic dance where we each take turns leading. I love it. Oh, and how I love her.

postscript: I know I am being vague here ... the events being Cowgirl's story and not really as Dickensian as I may be making them out to be! Just to clarify: Cowgirl was not the victim of bullying though I mention bullying because so many mothers this week shared with me their children's stories of torment and pain which only intensified my angst.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

examining the clues

I've been listening to and loving Jen Lee's 4 cd set entitled The Iconic Self. It's been on constant play in my car and in my mind.

The series of conversations and stories between Jen and Phyllis Mathis, a licensed counselor, are about uncovering all the parts of oneself and - in their words - inviting ourselves back into our lives, into our own self. Claiming and experiencing a truer expression of who it is we were born to be.

The talks have generated lots of excavation work into my past as I look for patterns and trends in my understanding of myself and in my behavior and actions. I am gathering pieces of a puzzle and one section just became clearer.

I realize I have had a long-lived fascination with a certain kind of character in books and films - the sleuth or investigator. As a child I loved the book Harriet The Spy. I wanted to be like Harriet and so I got myself a composition notebook and carried it around with me everywhere. What Harriet did was collect her observations in her notebook but I felt there was little of interest or value to put into my notebook.

As a preteen I devoured volume upon volume of Agatha Christie novels. I also loved the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and carried a tattered penguin edition copy of the complete stories with me as I traveled throughout Europe my junior year in college.

I've never thought about why I have been drawn to such stories and characters. But I am now recognizing a quality inherent in the super sleuth that captures a piece of who I am: the ability to look carefully, gather clues and through the power of the intellect understand and solve the mystery. The power to know.

But what is the great mystery in my own life? I am thinking the riddle I am trying to figure out is myself. By identifying with the super sleuth, I believe I can uncover the truth of who I am and what it is I am meant to do with my life. That with enough clues, the answer will be revealed.

As much as I would like to believe otherwise, I have lived most of my life in my head. If thinking and feeling are opposite ends of a spectrum, my teeter toter is clearly tipped towards thinking. But always there has been this sense that I actually know, but I don't know. When prompted to "ask what is your heart's greatest desire" and told "the first thing that comes to mind is the correct answer" well, I draw a blank. Because the response isn't to originate from my brain; it is to come from my heart and clearly that line of communicate has been fuzzy most of my life. It's getting clearer with practice but there is still some static.

Yesterday I listened to a beautiful talk by a yoga teacher about the Bhagavad Gita and how the warrior character of Arjuna expresses the experience we all face in our lives when it comes to living out our life's purpose or dharma as it is called in yogic philosophy. Our dharma is to manifest who it is we truly are and who we can become in this lifetime. She went on to explain " Whatever it is you do that upholds some kind of balance and harmony in your life and in your world, that is your dharma." And here's the kicker: when you turn away from fulfilling that duty, you create a rift not only within yourself, but within the well-being of those around you which ripples out into the whole world.

This is the central riddle of my life and the core of my angst: how do I discover my dharma? What exactly am I to do with this one "wild and precious" life of mine?

Just to be clear about the significance of this inquiry, it is important to keep in mind the setting for the Bhagavad Gita is a battlefield and the warrior Arjuna is being asked to fight in The Fight that will determine the outcome of an entire kingdom. What is interesting is his helper, his charioteer and the one who counsels him, is none other than Lord Krishna, that great cosmic flirt and lover of life.

The lesson here is that to live an authentic life, to follow our dharma - to fulfill our potential - isn't going to be easy. In fact, there will be much doubt, overwhelm and despair which Arjuna expresses again and again to Krishna. "I can't do this" and "I don't want to do this." And yet what guides and inspires us to continue on, to go into battle if necessary, is the force of Love. It is the call to be passionately engaged in my own life; to have an intense love affair with living and to experience that level of commitment and engagement which propels me forward.

Uncovering the mystery of my dharma has become my personal koan for I know, but I don't know. After the talk on the Gita, there was an asana practice. The first pose, child's pose, had me folded over my knees, forehead to the ground in a posture of supplication. In this posture the head - th emind - is placed below the heart. Then we were told to stretch out our arms and turn our palms to face up. With hands ready to receive we were invited to inquiry within: What is my dharma? And of course we were told "the first thing that comes to mind is the correct answer."

The challenge is to receive that answer; to trust the source of knowing will not come from my head, but from deeper place of knowing - from my heart and my gut. And then to take action understanding the outcome is not the issue. What matters is standing up in one's life and being fully present for it and in it. The warrior's duty is to fulfill that mission knowing it will be hard, it will be challenging, it will be at times a great battle but if we take that challenge on, we will have Love always fighting by our side.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

the "in between" time

I've been having these recurring dreams in which I am gathering with others in preparation for a big feast or celebration. It seems like night after night I am meeting with a new group of people - people I actually know - which is unusual for me and my dream life. Usually my dreams involve bears speaking like Hugh Jackman or cameos by celebrities but rarely people from my world.

But my current dreams involve real people who I am excited to be seeing. The overall mood is one of anticipation, celebration and excitement. I've even wailed - in my dream, of course - "Oh, I've forgotten my camera and I know this will be a photo-worthy event!"

Needless-to-say, my waking life has been more ordinary with excitement being a long awaited (and welcome) root canal or an adults only dinner out while Cowgirl attended a birthday party. It has been an uneventful winter and while hints of an early Spring are everywhere, I am feeling like burrowing deeper into my cave.

no, Cowgirl did not have the root canal;
hers was the usual rock star cleaning.
However, this Winter I saw the dentist enough times to ask about a punchcard.

I think it is the fact that a tangible sense of time and season is missing. Remember when seeing strawberries in the grocery store signaled Summer had arrived? Or blueberries? Up until last year it seemed peaches and nectarines were only available late July and August but just this week the store had all four summer fruits in abundance.

adding to my discomfort have been the excessive winds blowing everything out of place

I am feeling like I am being prematurely awoken; a Spring bulb being "forced" to bloom before her time. There are still two weeks left to Winter and I am feeling this need to hunker down and enjoy the waning moments of this in between time.

patience epitomized

I mean, the best part of any party is the anticipation, the preparation and the lead up to the actual event. I am not wanting to rush past these weeks of preparation. Exactly what I am preparing for, I cannot say. But whatever is awaiting me down the road I want to greet it fully rested and revived. I want to have my camera ready with eyes and mind clear and ready to see and capture the magic.

Naturally, I turned to The Man for a little support (oh Mr. O'Donohue, how do you always know what I need to hear?):

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
(-A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted, John O'Donohue)

This morning I heard the geese flying overhead, on the move. And the robins have been caucusing in the trees around my neighborhood. But I am still cocooning. Peeking out occasionally to see what is going on before burrowing back within.

Snippets from my world ... or is this the dream?

favorite activity du jour: the remote controlled helicopter

in our Em Falconbridge skirts

blissfully making postcards for a swap
and enjoying the bounty of soda bread that March brings

Is anyone else feeling this pressure to awake before they're ready? Time may be speeding up, but over here we are slowing down. Be warned: we are grumpy when prematurely roused.

[Explanation of Cowgirl's Scooby Doo band-aid: while it is covering a scab that needs to be left in peace, she also believes it makes her look tough. Oh to be young and the maker of one's fashion statements!]