Monday, October 16, 2017

Practice Me/ Practice You ♥

Practice ... it is what I return to again and again.  As I age, I find myself gathering more and more practices around me - meditation, yoga, art making, prayers, writing.  What is obvious to me now is how life IS my practice in the sense that a commitment to  maintaining alert presence, wakefulness, non-attachment and responsiveness (versus reactivity) demands daily  - indeed minute by minute - attention, effort and commitment. 

Recognizing this truth for myself has been a source of immense liberation. Rather than believing I "ought to have it right by now" I can relax into the vastness of my self, my life, as a work-in-progress.  There is great freedom and possibility in the notion that I am ever and always evolving, growing, changing.  The important distinction is intentional growth versus hapzhard growth. I can let life shape me, but that is a passive experience.  If I am choosing to enter into the conversation of living (as David Whyte describes it) I  am also choosing to be an active agent in this process of growth and unfolding.  And that seems to me to be the more exciting and rewarding option. 

This past year illness and lingering grief challenged me to dig deeper.  Oh, I thrashed around for quite a while.  But when I finally surrendered to it all, when I accepted I felt lost and stranded, then I was ripe for being found. The work of yoga teacher and author Elena Brower has guided and inspired my moving forward. More accurately, her online mentorship program Elevate provided me with the tools and the space to draft my own map home.  Now there is her newest offering Practice You: A Journal which combines all of my favorite tools for self inquiry: creative art play, writing, dialogue and meditation. 

Tarot cards from the Anna K Tarot

In addition to her new book, there is an online offering (a second incarnation of Elevate) to help us squeeze the most out of this already juicy gift. I have worked through the first Elevate mentorship program twice (in 4 months!) and the process was deepened through conversation with a dear friend also in the course. We will be together in this second round ... but what excites me is the invitation to share this work with my yoga students and my Cowgirl. 

Flipping through the pages of  Practice You what is immediate apparent is the versatility of the journal. The prompts and the artwork inspire wildly creative and personal responses. My Girl is not much for traditional journaling (read: not at all!) but the beauty of this work is the invitation to respond in a variety of ways: collage, paint, free flow word play, mindful doodling ... I have yet to explore all the possibilities but I can sense a ripeness for the unexpected to reveal hidden treasures of insight and understanding. 

"i am" page from Practice You

Life with a newly minted teenager has brought to the surface many old and triggersome questions: what does it mean to belong? How do I see myself and my gifts? Who is in charge of my happiness, my sense of self worth? How can I learn to embrace ALL parts of myself to both heal and to honor and understand the complexity that is being a human animal in this crazy wonderful world of ours?  

Just as I am a work-in-progress, so too are my relationships. As my Girl steps into the rocky terrain of teenager, our relationship is changing.  I am grateful to Practice You as a tool to support me supporting her. I don't know if she will engage fully in the process with me, but a copy waits for when she is ready. Meanwhile, I do my work so that I can hold space mindfully and lovingly for those around me to do theirs.

When it seems like Life is throwing up roadblocks, the choice for me has been to lean upon my practice. Illness, pain, emotional challenges, spiritual darkness - each and every time these challenges have visited me, I have felt stranded and abandoned.  Yet when there seems to be no solution in sight, the only option is "keep on keeping on" which for me means: turn to my practice. 

I have a mantra that kicks in whenever I feel lost or aimless: I support my practice and my practice support me. It is my formula for living. I could also say I support my creativity and my creativity supports me. I support my work and my work supports me.  I support Love and Love supports me. Underneath it all are foundational beliefs I have had to extract from the hard rock of inherited attitudes and concepts about myself held for far too long. Here again, my practice(s) have fortified me for this ongoing excavation.  I am excited to discover how Practice You supports and deepens the vital work of Practice Me. For if I want my Girl to understand the full extent of her beauty inside and out, if I want her to explore and express the richness of her talents and gifts, I must do the same.  

pages from my Elevate notebooks

Yoga reminds me that my natural state is Wholeness and Unity; that my experience of living in this human body is a journey of healing through the process of remembering myself already whole and complete. The outcome of this journey is freedom within and connection with Life around me.  

And so, I return each day to practice ... in whatever form it may take ...  it is like a walking stick that steadies me as I make my way forward.  I do the work, but my practice keeps me upright and moving along my path. "This is how I respect myself. These are my practices." (page from Practice You)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

my nature journal practice

It seems my life consists of many practices. Or more accurately: living an engaged life IS a practice that encompasses many threads weaving together into a rich, colorful and  abstract pattern that is wildly unique and personal.  Over time the individual elements will shift and change - sometimes it is all I can do to commit to one note - but the beauty of it surfaces when I can stay curious and open to the natural flow. 

This isn't my habit. I like completion. Or perhaps I was trained to view accomplishment as a long list of items carefully and methodically checked off. Complete A and move onto B. But I am learning life is never so tidy and that I am not so much returning (starting over/starting again) as I am circling back around for a deeper dive in. 

It was over a year ago that I began a nature journal inspired by a course I was taking with writer/mythologist Sharon Blackie called  Reclaiming the Wise Woman (the material for that offering is woven into her inspiring book If Women Rose Rooted).  So much of the course material shook me wide awake - how the struggle to feel I belonged was/is rooted in a disconnection from Nature and more specifically from landscape which is my current home. 

The sense of knowing our place is fundamental to developing the rootedness, the grounding, which is necessary to progress down a path of Wise Womanhood. It’s all too easy to get stuck inside our own heads, to live out of our imagination. But the deep, honest, authentic ancestral wisdom we’re looking to reclaim is the wisdom of the land, the wisdom of place, and in order to develop that wisdom we need to get out of our heads and out onto the land.
 - Sharon Blackie, "Becoming Native to Place" from Reclaiming the Wise Woman

Just a mile and a half away from my home is a nature center/park with over 6 miles of trails around a lake.  When we first moved here, I used to take Cowgirl there for mini nature explorations but we never ventured further than a half mile from the parking lot. Wedged in between the interstate and local highway, you can hear the hum of traffic and signs for the truck stop (a large and wonderfully kitschy coffee pot) hover over the distant tree line. For years I considered it too tame and I stewed in my envy of others living in wilder places. 

Thankfully my impatience is yoked to stubbornness (or a stick-to-it-ness) and if there is one thing I KNOW about any practice, it is to show up consistently and with an attitude of open readiness. (Yoga Sutra 1:14 Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.  Two out of three ain't bad!) When I first ventures into the park, I saw robins, blue jays, geese, dandelions and clover. Returning day after day, season after season, a wider and more varied world emerged as my senses adjusted. Taking pictures, I return home and research the unfamiliar plants and birds (who are totally familiar!) and then I transfer the information to my journal. 

Slowly, I am learning.  Trees and bushes  challenge me still (other than the most common ones - Cottonwood, Mulberry, Blue  and Black Hill Spruce, Ponderosa Pine, Sycamore, Staghorn Sumac and Dogwood) but my eyes and brain have gathered up quite a few of the native flowers. As I take time to learn the names and the faces of the locals, so I find myself welcomed into a community that reveals itself to me more and more as my willingness to show up earns me the gift of presence. Mine and theirs.

Here is one truth I've uncovered about myself (and which is a personal mantra whenever I find myself retreating into seclusion): my relationship with Nature is the foundation for all my relationships. 


Nature Journal on Vimeo

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

essentials ...

The first half of this year, I had been grappling with the concept of Simplicity and how to translate it into every day living.  A challenge for me as my natural tendency is to spin towards complexity. Even as I try to embrace less, I find ways to make that process, well, intricate.

My antidote to all the ills of modern living - especially energy draining distraction - is camping.  There is no other process that pares life down to the core basics: traveling, eating, sleeping, keeping warm (or cool or dry or shaded), potty matters, and most important of all ...

Clean water.

On our recent camping trip I was the camp water pumper. We were given a simple filtration pump which - while easy to use - was not the speediest process.  Filling pots for cooking, pots for cleaning, and our water bottles meant I was perpetually crouched down by the water's edge pumping and pumping ... and pumping.  (Note: after pumping your little heart out to fill a large water bladder, it would be wise to stay squatted just a wee bit longer in order to screw on that humble but essential cap on lest you knock the whole thing into the lake, thereby requiring the entire blasted procedure be repeated.)  It was refreshing to have one vital task to perform.  And once I took care of that chore, I found it infinitely easier to sit back and enjoy all the adventures happening around me.

The habit to create Home is fascinating to me.  Within minutes of setting up the tent, the area around it took on a feeling of intimacy and comfort.  The few things we brought with us were all that we needed to complete this transformation, motivating me upon return to tackle storage spaces well over due for some decluttering. (Over this past weekend, I spent 3 hours clearing and cleaning out the kitchen pantry - it is a thing of beauty. Now to dive into the basement!

I learned about determination from this fellow:

We found him on the trail to the campsite, quite a fair distance from water.  At the time we thought (foolish human thought!) he was lost and so Cowgirl carried him back to the water.  The next evening I noticed him bobbing in the water at the edge of camp, looking to see if anyone or anything was lurking about.  

A few minutes later, I was startled by his presence on the camp trail!  He was more peeved to find me and quickly turned tail, scuttling and sliding back down to the water.  He returned several times and we finally realized the space by the fire pit was his nighttime sleeping spot, so we hurried our evening events.  After all, it was His Home

Like turtle, I can carry and create Home wherever I go and it need not be overly elaborate or intensive.  It is more about intention and presence, rooting in and settling down, utilizing and appreciating what is available and honoring those gifts. Unlike my usual habit of working to create simplicity for myself, the way in is through nondoing: tapping into what is truly essential for well-being and opening to that. What follows is a relaxing, receiving  ... and enjoying. 


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

hello hello! (it's me again ...)

Truly, honestly, hopefully ...

I'm bahhhhh!

I won't lie, it has been a bitch of a season ... or two, or three.  I was probably (read: absolutely!) in denial of the depths of my funky-funk and so I kept myself moving forward by thinking Tomorrow I will be back on track and ready to dive into my life

Oh, I was deep into my life, just not the version I wanted to be my normal. But somewhere along the way I realized This is it; this IS my normal. That was my surrender moment. Of course, a whole slew of gifts manifested once I accepted my new snail's eye perspective.  When energy is low, it becomes really easy to discern the essential from the inessential.  My world narrowed down and that afforded me opportunity to dig deep and anchor myself with the basics.   I returned to my yoga practice (stretching, breathing exercises, relaxation) which in turn has brought me back to teaching.  

My art making practice has also been an exploration of why I feel the need to create and what that process nourishes: slowing down, looking, seeing, celebrating and remembering.  Back to line drawings, back to quick sketches just as my asana practice has been a return to the fundamentals to keep things fluid, open and moving. 

I had cause this morning to search back through this blog (it really is a form of memory holding for me) and I was inspired by the color, by the play, by the childlike joy in creating and sharing.  I've missed that connection with myself ... and with others.

So this is my humble return.  

We took a family camping trip at the beginning of the month to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. It was my first time canoeing! We rented our gear from an outfitter who took us to an entry point, loaded up our canoe, handed us a map and compass and with a wave sent our little family off on a 4 day, three night adventure.  We had no set agenda other than a rendez-vous point down (or was it up?) river at a take out point.  We started paddling and pretty much were immediately lost in the sense we could not discern distant shoreline from the many small islands. We had to find a portage point (the first of many) and I admit, there was almost a mutiny among our grumbling crew.  In such matter, listen to the children. The Girl pointed out other boaters and by following them, we found our first portage.  (There is nothing more obnoxious than a preteen lording over her parents the fact she was right!)

The rest of the trip (after the long portage carrying heavy packs up and over rocks, through mud and through a rainstorm; after the thunderstorm brewing up while we frantically paddled in hopes of arriving at an empty campsite; and after the mosquitoes that feasted on any and all body parts bared no matter how brief the reveal) was an exquisite adventure. Few people, no devices, moonlight over pine trees, night time serenades by the loons, daily Bald Eagle visits, campfires, s'mores, fishing, tent time and laughter and stories and snoring.  A.Very.Good.Time.Indeed.

preparing our first night's dinner

Our second campsite came with a resident turtle and 2 fearless chipmunks

Now I am settling into the summer routine here. The Girl has been in art lessons and now a horse riding camp.  I have been putting in extra hours at the equine therapeutic riding stables where I volunteer, due to a health crisis (new virus) that hit the horses. It is winding down now, but it was intense and scary and one sweet horse was lost. I've had the horses on my mind and want to return to sketching portraits of the herd.  I know for myself such "projects" keep me on track while also stretching my muscles and honing skills.   

sweet Lucy, who is truly in the sky with diamonds now

Speaking of projects ... I also am slowly making my way through the creation of a final deck - Fire! - of Inner Alchemy Cards (a project created and mentored by Mindy Tsonas)  It all of my own creation (my other decks were created during a online class) and it is challenging and rewarding to be determining the concepts that evoke Fire for me.

Of course it is the absolutely perfect subject for me to be working through as I make my way back ...

What sparks, motivates, and inspires me to action? What qualities provoke change, growth and transformation?  

How could I forget?! I know you want to know about Moose! After a long struggle with various and minor ailments (but none-the-less frustrating AND costly) I am happy to report he is a new boy and living life with the bowl half-full-of-kibble attitude. The very high tech "button-therapy" (sewing his eye shut with a real button on the lid to keep the skin smooth, the eye closed so it could heal) was a miracle treatment.  He is back to both eyes operational although he chooses to rest them frequently (the key to his longevity: lengthy and multiple naps through the day and night).

Moose, with his button (his left eye)

And that, my friends, is all for now. I will return soon-ish. I promise :)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Slipping back in ...

Oh my ... hello there ... didn't you see me oozing along the muddy path by your feet?

No? Well, I have missed you!  I didn't mean to vanish. I mean, I have been here and very much present in my corner of the garden, but I know I have been hugging the edges of things.  I didn't intend to vanish but then again, I suppose I needed to do so.

I could prattle on and on about how it was a hard winter; how grief clothes lined me and illness delivered a few sucker punches while I was down on the ground; how I thought I had made my way from the hanged man's tree only to discover I was still dangling there with yet another layer to be peeled away from my tender self.  

But here's what I came here to say:

It was a time to re-member my self and return to the practices that allow me to hold space for all that life brings to me with equanimity, curiosity and a willingness to see here is a place for growth and healing.  This aging body of mine was desperate for some tender loving care. My nervous system let me know enough is enough now. Grief turned me upside down and then back on my feet and heading towards the woods, the lake, the fields where the nurturing love of Nature reminds me I belong, that I have a voice and a story to share. But I needed to listen and be patient - not my strong suit!

I have been learning much about pacing myself.  And about staying open and in trust ... of myself and of this life to deliver the pieces of wisdom and learning that are needed for this next stretch of the journey.  

I have all my journal and sketchbooks out. I have library books piled up by the couch and a pot of tea by my side. I have letters and cards to write, relationships and connections to nurture with my attention and care.  The gift of getting older is a paring away of the inessentials and a vigorous understanding of what matters most to me. 

Where is my attention, my energy needed?  What do I want to cultivate within myself and my life?  I no longer can afford to squander my resources - which are my attention, time and energy - and so each day I make time to be quiet, to root myself in the now moment and then ask: How can I best serve love today? How can I open myself up to receiving it?

I am excited for this project which is inspiring me to understand the seemingly abstract pieces of my journey as the threads of a magnificent weaving of my own healing wisdom story.

I would love to see and hear about yours.  

To learn more about the community I will be building with Kristina Wingeier and April McMurtry, you can register to join our free call which is happening monday, may 22 at noon PDT.  If you can't make the call, a link to the recording will be sent to all who have registered. You can register HERE.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

for the ♥ of horses

Can you feel it? Spring IS coming! I can see tender green shoots shaking off the sleep of winter and pushing up through moist soil towards warm, sunny skies. I too find myself slipping outdoors, sitting on the stoop and turning my face towards the warmth, towards the promise of hope and growth.  

Winter has been an emotional and physical grind. For me anyway. But the gift of challenging times is discovering what truly supports me and leaning fully into it.  Community. Yoga and meditation practice. Music. My sketchbook practice.

And the horses. 

These past few weeks I have committed myself to painting portraits of some of my favorite horses in the Hetra herd: the very first horses I worked with as a sidewalker, Charm (pictured above) and Smokey (shown hanging with his buddy, Red);

the Dude of the herd (and last year's Horse of the Year) Waldo;

and the youngest (and wildest) member, Tenneson (with another herd newbie, Georgie on the right.)

Drawing and then painting each horse has allowed me to perceive the differences in  breeds but also in the wide array of personalities. After completing a portrait, I return to the Hetra barn with renewed appreciation for the contribution of these amazing creatures to the healing process for all involved in the therapy sessions. Yes, the riders are the clients served by all, but all - sidewalkers, horse leaders, therapists, client family members -  are impacted by the spirit of the horse working in the session. 

To date I have painted close to half the Hetra Herd. (If you follow me on Instagram, I have been posting images there.)  As part of the Horse Penny Race (a yearly event focused upon raising funds to support the exceptional care of these hardworking therapy horses) I have created a set of 11 postcards depicting 10 of the Hetra Horses (one card is a horse image I created before this project started.) All proceeds (after printing and shipping expenses) will be donated to the Hetra Horse Penny Race.

I hope you consider supporting these amazing creatures by purchasing a set of cards (cost includes shipping.Quantities are limited, so get 'em while they are fresh off the press!

Thank you for all your support!  Over $400 was raised through the sale of these postcards - Way to go!
My plan is to complete all 22 of the current herd (including the mini horses) sometime this Spring.  I am not sure if I will create more postcards, but then again seeing the entire herd spread out upon my table may be more than I can resist :)

Monday, February 6, 2017

aligning with Light (and HeartFull Living 2017)

I recently shared this image on my Instagram feed along with a section of lyrics from a Wah! song (Ma Chant/Kali):

If you look for anything in this world, find things that draw you into the greater Love...
Coach's one blue is just such a portal in ...

I don't know about you, but I have been white knuckling the things that draw me into the greater Love.  I am ever on the lookout for new avenues and opportunities to align myself with Hope, Light, Love and Empowerment.

Much has caused me to feel less than ... and while fatigue has been the overriding physical and emotional state du jour, I chose not to dwell on the particulars. I mean, I am weary of feeling weary.

So. Here I am again. Realizing there is no better time for healing and hope than Right Now. Or as the Beastie Boys might say "No time like the present to work shit out." I look over at the calendar (yes, I do have wall calenders!) and I realize February is HeartFull Living month.

I truly had planned to ice it. But here's the truth: I need the incentive to connect with others for Love and in love. And more importantly, the therapy horses of HETRA need the support. The past two years HeartFull Living has been a fundraising vehicle for Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy. I have been a volunteer there for 2 1/2 years but honestly, it has been my therapy and lifeline. 

There are the riders who inspire me weekly: the father wiping away his tears with one hand while video recording his son riding for the first time and more magically, his son talking when talking is not the norm. There is the woman who declares "I feel whole again" while riding, her walker,for the time being, forgotten by the side of the arena. There is the young woman who arrived for her sessions in a wheelchair and after months of hard work, returned home walking. 

And then there are the horses.  Each patiently facilitates therapy sessions, a cluster of people surrounding them. (Each rider has a horse leader, 2 side walkers and an instructor or therapist - quite a busy and stressful space for the horses.) I am fortunate enough to be able to assist stall cleaning and turnout ... a chance to be with the horses as I take them outside and watch them interact with each other. There are romances and friendships blooming among the horses who come from a wide range of backgrounds. They create their own mini herds. They run and roll and remind me that no matter what the circumstances of the world, each day offers me the space and time to celebrate being embodied, being alive, being in love with life and what it offers me in each and every moment.   

I have rested my weary and tear stained cheek against the velvety neck of one therapy horse. He graciously held me up. I have been known to breathe in deeply the uplifting fragrance of the horses; they suffer my singing to them; they enjoy the essential oils I wear and they remind me it is okay to be cranky - that cranky is a means of communicating I need care and time to myself

I honor we all need time and self care and yes, cause to remember we are powerful agents for love and hope.

To honor love ... to honor the horses ... I am offering a very simple version of HeartFull Living this year. Starting February 13 and running for two weeks, I will offer a daily love note sent to your email inbox. Nothing lengthy, nothing overwhelming just a morsel of inspiration, a practice or poem, images, artwork or ideas to inspire HeartFull Living in your daily life. All proceeds will be donated to Team Coach, the Hetra horse I am fundraising for in this year. (For more information on the horses in the Horse Penny Race or to donate directly to a horse, visit HERE)

I would love to connect with you this season. To join me, click on the button below. I have created additional donation options, but all donations receive the daily love notes/inspiration and a little snail mail treat.

Thank you for your interest & participation in HeartFull Living 2017.  Together, we raise $460 for the therapy horses of HETRA!  Giddy Up and Thanks!  xo

Are you ready?  We are!

Don't hesitate to bring yourself into the light. It's a journey you must take without a pat on the back or any advice. What you find is your own. What you find is that your dreams grow well with love.
(Wah! Ma Chant)