Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacation tomorrow: mixed feelings

Our garden has literally exploded in the last few weeks - everything looks just that particular Spring-beautiful, super-hydrated, unfurling. And the Pawlonia Empress Tree at the front of the yard is in full-bloom, utterly spectacular and at least 20 feet tall, which is amazing considering that when we planted it three years ago, it was literally a foot-long non-descript stick. The photo above is the delectably fragrant blooms on that tree, each one about 4 inches long.

The parts for the bee hive are sitting outside the garage waiting to be finished and sealed. And intriguing beekeeping supplies arrived in a big box today. Stay tuned for pictures of me in a ridiculous plastic pith helmet with veil and canvas gloves that go all the way up my arms. Joe unpacked the smoker and immediately torched some pine needles in it just to see what would happen. Guess what: it made smoke. Fancy that!

We planted sweet and shell peas last weekend, and amaranth and quinoa, all from seed. The lilac is just starting to bloom, and the asparagus is raging.

As much as I really and truly need this yoga camp week in Mexico and will delight and rejoice in every moment of it, it's also true that I am reluctant to go away for a week from this precious, brief part of the season.

But it'll still be here. And still be amazing when I get back. And then I'll be a whole week closer to getting our 3 pounds of bees and Queen and setting up our new honey-making operation. How much promise the spring holds!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Spring ruminations

I'm supposed to be working right now. That's the whole reason I just took off my gloves and muddy boots, put away my trowel and handed the seed packets off to Joe. Would much rather be outside than in today, in this breezy spring glory, but duty calls.

But before duty, just a small Sunday rumination or two, thanks to class with Peggy today. As we were heading into savasana, she said, "No guilt. No clinging. No desire." And I realized something.

That all this anxiety that penetrates my dreams or straight-up keeps me awake at night, is nothing more than clinging. And that clinging comes from fear. This endless knitting and re-working of scenarios is such a noisy not-letting-go.

And interestingly the complete opposite of the dedication I gave my practice today: "peaceful heart. peaceful home."

To achieve that peaceful heart, peaceful home, no clinging. Duh.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flashback: 1992

Recently we've been really digging listening to Pig Cow Dog, a band Joe was in in the early 90s and thinking back with love to those days gone by. Hearing PCD after all these years we've been stunned by how tight it was, how funky, how cool -- and maybe we're biased, but it still seems awesome. Plus: man, were we ever free in those days, way back in 1992 or so.

Unbeknownst to us, those days were the glory-days. Joe and I both worked for other people. We didn't own a house. We didn't own a business and a building. We were underemployed, had no debt and no money. But lots of principles. And a band practicing in our house three nights a week.

Laurent is probably 4 in this picture, and appears to be holding a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in his right hand. Note the giant cobra tattoo on his chest and think about what he looks like now :) The face-paint was pretty typical for that time, as were the colorful gymboree pants (red with blue and green patches) which you can't see in this photo. There are other photos from that same show in which he's on stage, shaker-egg in hand. At the time, he was in kindergarten at the Lycee Francais in Corte Madera.

We were vegan in those days, and very involved with the Green Party in Marin (I believe I'm wearing a Green Party pin in the photo, and there must have been some voter registration or tabling of some kind involved in this day). I've also got short, dark hair (probably growing out from bad henna), and a goddess pendant, and hardly any tattoos. Nuts.

It's so nice, though, to be able to look back on it all with love and appreciation for the idealistic, idiotic cute people we were then. Especially now that we're reconsidering everything in light of this stupid economic crisis, rolling back to simpler ways and times, and trying to get through it. We definitely had some things right back then.

Maybe it's time for a PCD reunion?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thanks, Ativan: Sleep changes everything

I am awake this morning -- really awake for the first in months -- after my first night of sleeping-pill-assisted sleep. I was asleep before 9am, awake around 5:30, which represents plenty of hours. After months of insomnia-riddled nights, I am feeling so much better this morning. Yes, I woke up a couple of times, but went immediately back to sleep, no endless mental knitting of every problem under the sun.

What a relief!

And what took me so long?

I put off calling the doctor for a long time, watching to see if the situation would improve on its own, which, of course, it did not. The doctor is convinced that my problem is anxiety (and can you blame me given everything that's going on in my family?). Addressing my lack of sleep should restore my sunny outlook on things and provide the resilience I need to face all these damn challenges.

I don't like turning to pharmaceuticals. Even with the migraines, I resist it, to my own detriment. So I got to learn again about the value of asking for help sooner rather than later, and the value of swallowing help sooner rather than later.

Ridiculous how much better I feel today with just 8 hours of solid shut-eye. I am so looking forward to this day and feel like I'm back to who I really am.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beekeeping 101

Today Joe and I had the first class in a four-class series in beginning beekeeping out at Green Gulch Zen Center. This represents the culmination of a long dream for me - I've honestly been interested in keeping bees for years, and am so glad that we're now on our way. I was surprised at how many people were in attendance, and at how most of them were from San Francisco, looking for ways to keep bees in an urban environment. Super cool!

So much of what we heard today echoed what know and think about the state of the planet: bees are dying due in large measure to the madness of commercial beekeeping, in which bees are trucked from Florida to California to pollinate the almond orchards, for example, subjected to the stresses of the transport, the chemicals used, the mono-culture diet. This is the same crap that is making us all sick and poisoning the earth in general. We're excited about doing our part to add more bees to our patch of the world.

Our teacher, Alan Hawkins, is all about natural beekeeping which suits us fine. We think we know just where in the garden we'll put our hive when we set it up in April (after getting our packet of bees with queen!), and can't wait to get some hands-on experience.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Expansion and Over-Extension:not the same

Insomnia, like jetlag, is a state I enjoy -- I work a lot of shit out in the middle of the night, when I can't sleep. It might be that I can't sleep because I have a lot of shit to work out. Either way, it tends to work out for me to have those long stretches alone in my head while Joe and Jasper dream on. As a Type-A personality, I have to admit that I basically need sleeplessness as a way to stay on top of things. [The only thing better was the brief period when I was hyperthyroid and only slept 4 hours a night, the other 20 being filled with almost-manic productivity and genius ideas, a month-long multitasking non-stop orgasm of accomplishment. But I digress...]

So at 3am this morning I began to realize that it's pretty easy to confuse expansion and over-extension. I've been focused on expansion for some time, really trying to bring this quality from yoga to the rest of my life. Expansion happens from the core, is connected to a solid center, unlike over-extension, which is more of a damn-the-torpedoes, let's-just-go-for-it-and-worry-about-it-later approach. Which is what our economy and news are all about right now, as we experience the sorry outcome of an over-reliance on credit and magical thinking about money.

And I am no exception! I did a lot of over-extending last year and have been continuing it recently, most especially as I was trying to figure out what to do, what my role was supposed to be, vis a vis Carla's cancer. This past week I was in such a funk, just freaked out about money and family issues. Really sucked to feel so low for a whole week. Fortunately, I pretty much hit bottom yesterday and then got mad. Which helped me realize what was happening. A few handstands later, and I had it worked out of my system, but it took me until 4:30am today to really GET it.

Re the money: yes, there's no way we could have anticipated the extent to which the economy was going to pull the rug out from under Joe's business, but did we really need to over-compensate for no vacation in 2007 with TWO vacations in 2008 (Oaxaca; France, Italy)? That was ridiculous. And I will admit that I didn't hesitate to buy myself pretty much whatever I wanted in 2007 and 2008, when I should have been more thoughtful about squirreling money away for the rainy day that inevitably comes. I am trying to get comfortable with how over-extended we are financially right now, and sticking to my plan of how to get us back to some state of comfort at some point in the near future. But for right now, I am sitting with my own responsibility for what's going on. Not blaming, just sitting.

Re my sister: I remembered something that a wise person once said to me when I was complaining about how I wanted to prove to someone who didn't like me that I really wasn't all that bad. This wise woman (by the name of Phyllis, by the way) said, "You know, you really just need to stay on your own side of the street." In other words, don't make it your business that this person doesn't like you. Just keep walking and let them do their own thing on their side of the street. Clear. In trying to figure out how to act toward Carla in the cancer diagnosis, how to have a relationship when we haven't had one for years, I was definitely not sticking to my piece of sidewalk and that's what has been making me so miserable. I'm not going to extend myself where I don't belong. I'll just stay here where I am and wait. It might come and it might not. I'm OK with that, on my sunny piece of street.

Expansion happens when there is simultaneously a sense of boundedness, of a container. This crazy over-extension is another matter altogether, a reckless thoughtless flying-outward in which it is so easy to get hurt. It's a losing of self and sense that might be satisfying momentarily but comes back to bite. What a great reminder - thanks, insomnia!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Let's not get small

This blog is aptly named, even if it only serves to remind me every once in a while, when I manage to forget, that the best response to virtually every situation is to expand, get bigger inside, even when the first knee-jerk is to contract. Just so with my sister's cancer diagnosis. Fear of suffering and death make us want to contract, but our challenge right now is to push past those bounds - and not get small.

What I think has been bothering me about this whole situation is my feeling that my sister is trapped inside a small life, having made herself tiny to fit inside it. I don't know this, it's just my feeling. And I feel bad writing this 'cause how fucked up is it to say anything negative at all about someone who's sick? But I'm trying to tell the truth this year, so I'm going out on a limb, even if it makes me sound like the asshole I probably really am. [an ever-expanding asshole, i guess, god that's gross :)]

I realized a few years ago that one of the reasons that my first emotional response to most situations is to get angry is a desire to get big, to use emotions to become gigantic -- which of course is ridiculous and pretty funny for someone who is under 5'1" tall. Of course, I now know better (most of the time) and realize that the only way to be big is to stay big on the inside, keep the heart open, be receptive, not let the emotional train get under me and take me on a wild ride. This is where the constant reminder of the yoga practice is really helpful.

Anyway, I felt yesterday like I couldn't have any real access to my sister even though I was sitting across the table from her, because her husband has become her guardian, filtering all communication in and out, answering questions posed to her, so vigilant about her health that he is practically her epidermis. I know he means well -- he really, really does -- and that everything he does he does out of love for my sister. But it also really worries me how narrowly her life is now outlined, how tiny the circle she gets to move around in. It is not for me to judge, it just scares me and makes me sad and I wish there were a way to help push the line out a bit, inject some breathing room, more room to stretch in.

I'm trying really hard not to get small in every possible way, including in my judgy monkey mind, and to stay positive about ways to help, ways to offer some possibility of expansion, a little more room, a few more resources. And I can only do that if I follow my own advice and remain a force expansive, remember that we're already big inside, we just need to stay that way.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dog shit: ruminations on culture

Walking down the street this morning, a bag of dog shit loosely dangling from my left hand, I remembered a story I must have read somewhere. The details are fuzzy, but I think it was a David Sedaris story about seeing a photo of some American starlet (Cameron Diaz? Jennifer Aniston?) walking down the beach with her dog and a plastic bag, while he was getting his hair cut in France. [Feel free to correct me - I beg you to let me know the real story since I appear unable to recall it!] The hair dresser was appalled that this American beauty was blithely walking along, bag of shit in hand. Quelle horreur! Because in France, of course, this picking up of shit is not the cultural norm. They have darling little green street cleaning vehicles for such things in Paris, for example.

Of course, we're forever grateful to Harvey Milk for, among other things, initiating this pooper-scooper culture we live in. It is disgusting to deal with other people's dog shit. But really, isn't so it interesting that in this culture we live in, the individual is responsible for picking up shit, instead of the state.

Which then reminded me of a book that the wonderful Pierre gave me, called "The European Dream." The basic premise of the book is that one of the chief differences between the so-called American Dream and the European Dream is the definition of the individual and what s/he is responsible for. The American Dream rewards the individual who is self-reliant, entrepreneurial, the "self-made" man, independent, doesn't need a hand-out. The government is not responsible for taking care of any number of social problems -- homelessness, poverty, the education gap. Instead a gigantic social service and non-profit sector exists to handle these, as long as the will of the individual is to support it. All in the interest of keeping taxes low. If you want to contribute to helping other people, so be it, but the overall ethic is that we'd rather keep taxes low and helping other people voluntary.

I'm grossly oversimplifying obviously [in the interest of not being hours late for work]. Anyway, in this context, that simple act of picking up fresh shit really struck me as so indicative of a number of things that are both laudable and lame about American culture. Yes, we should be responsible for ourselves -- I agree. But what about those people who can't be? Then the rest of us have to deal with their dog shit anyway, since they don't. Would it really be so bad for everyone to pay a little more, in the interest of there being less shit?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Knowing Things Doesn't Tell You How to Live With Them

It occurred to me yesterday that learning all of the facts about something doesn't provide any real preparation for that particular thing. It doesn't replace the experience -- which imparts lessons that no book or website ever could.

When I was pregnant with Laurent, I read a lot of baby books, just as all new parents probably do. Meanwhile my mother would stand back and remark, "You have just no idea," with strong emphasis on the "no." At the time I remember thinking she was just expressing a resentment toward my life-long reliance on books. Turns out she was right, of course. There was just no way that a stack of books could prepare me for the realities of a baby. They helped a little, sometimes, but really I just learned from doing it.

While listening to Carla on the phone the other day relate all that the doctors told her about anaplastic astrocytoma, grade 3, which repeated much of what Martine had already read me from while we discussed the situation earlier that same day, I realized that none of the medical facts help a bit with the hardest part of this whole thing. Knowing the details doesn't help me figure out how to live with my sister's death.

What was more helpful than medical facts actually, was something Martine emailed me this morning, from a teacher of hers, Zhenja La Rosa, regarding the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri, marked at this past new moon.
Maha Shivaratri is an invitation into the potency of darkness, the possibilities that open up from uncertainty and doubt, and the power of imagination.

Shiva Sutra 1.2 states "knowledge is bondage" (jnanam bandhah). It's a reminder that if we think we already know, there is very little room for an expansion of consciousness. It's only when we step into doubt that we can open to the moreness of life.
I have been struggling with the not-knowing, with my confusion about what to do, how to act, how to be with this. In that vacuum, it was natural probably to focus on the facts, forgetting that that particular knowledge is bondage because it gives primacy to the head in a situation when only my heart is really called for. That's the only place I need to be in order to operate in the best way.

If I take a hint from Zhenja, then I can let that uncertainty and doubt sit there and not be quite so driven to be done with them. I know I'll figure it out, we'll all figure it out, as we go through and experience it.