Friday, April 30, 2010

The Power of Love, and shoulder loop!

This week's focus in class has been the Power of Love, stabilizing and opening the heart, in honor of healer and Anusari Scott Marmorstein who nearly died this week from a congenital heart condition.  He had a heart attack on Monday at age 31, and was at death's door for a couple of days, on life support, intubated, unable the breathe on his own, his heart repeatedly crashing.  The way I hear the story, he didn't slip into a coma but was in and out of consciousness.  Meanwhile, someone sat at his bedside and relayed to him the hundreds and hundreds of messages of love and support pouring through the internet, through Facebook, from all of the people who have been touched by him in one way or another.  Late Wednesday, Texas-time, after another full-day of last-ditch invasive surgeries, his heart-rate stabilized. And has been stable ever since. The doctors will be using his case as a teaching tool, because a recovery like his just doesn't happen, they say.  The doctors are calling it a miracle.  

So yeah, this week is all about the Power of Love.  And boy, don't we feel it in our community at times like this, when everyone comes together and there is this deluge of love and support.  How not to feel buoyed, carried along, uplifted on this big, big wave we all make?

Last night was the 5th in the 7-class Shri Series Laura has been teaching on the universal principles of alignment.  Last night was, fittingly, shoulder loop, which is all about creating the stability behind the heart so that it can open, open, open in a safe and supported way. The practice itself was technical, heavy in partner work, lots of hands-on adjustments to the shoulder blades to get the feeling of their tips moving forward, urging the heart open.  

I have to admit that this week has been touch-and-go for me emotionally, with what was happening with Scott.  I kept remembering that our own crisis, Joe's cancer, was not long behind us, that really, we're not exactly done with that darkness, until we get results from the PET scan that's scheduled for Monday, May 3.  I kept remembering how gigantic was the outpouring of love and support we felt going through cancer and chemo, how we were never alone on the journey but carried lovingly by our friends.  How much strength and joy that gave us both, to feel so loved, so surrounded.  The Power of Love, indeed, is an awesome thing.  

I am so grateful for the practice, for the opportunity to have more love than ever in my life, for the particular tools it offers to grow the potential of body, heart and mind.  Mostly, this week, I am so grateful for Love, for Scott's recovery, and for Joe's.  Long may we remain on this earth together, using our shoulders judiciously, opening our great big hearts to each other and everything life has to offer.

Om Namah Shivaya!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh, Sara Crewe, how I still love you

I'm continuing my Frances Hodgson Burnett binge with a new Puffin Classics copy of A Little Princess, a book I adored and read repeatedly as a young person.  I still wish for the copy I read so many times which lives, most likely, at my parents' house, but for now am contenting myself with this lovely little paperback.

I cried and remembered myself as a kid when I read these final words in the chapter, "The Diamond Mines Again," the chapter in which Sara loses her beloved father and becomes a pauper, an equal to Becky, the scullery maid with whom she is friends:
"Oh, Becky," she said, "I told you we were just the same -- only two little girls -- just two little girls.  You see how true it is.  There's no difference now.  I'm not a princess any more."   
Becky ran to her and caught her hand, and hugged it to her breast, kneeling beside her and sobbing with love and pain.   
"Yes, miss, you are," she cried, and her words were all broken.  "Whats'ever 'appens to you --whats'ever -- you'd be a princess just the same -- an' nothin' couldn't make you nothin' different."
So much comfort in these words when I was a child, so much solace and inspiration.  No matter what the grown-ups do, how they treat you, how they talk to you or regard you, you can still be a princess inside, the only place it matters.  For me, it still has all the power of a manifesto.

It's wonderful to re-read, to take in the details, to realize how much my image of Sara is influenced by the Shirley Temple movie which I also adored and waited for eagerly when Channel 44 ran old movies at 10:30 on Sundays.  How lovely to realize that Sara actually had dark hair and green eyes, not blond curls, dimples and blue eyes.  How lovely to remember that she is a precocious 7 year-old,  not even a tween.  How lovely to be on this journey with her again, all these years later, and delicious to know the sweetness that's coming her way.  It's as good as it was then, maybe even better!

Oh, Sara Crewe, really, so glad to be with you again, in your attic room, a brave little soldier making the best of a terrible situation.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beauty is in the eye

I've been continuing my studies of the Austerities by reading Swami Chidvilasananda, first Sadhana of the Heart and now The Yoga of Discipline.  I try to make time to read some every morning, though that's challenging given how I love to stare the early morning away, walk the dog, ride my train of thought around the internet.  But since I still haven't created a regular meditation practice for myself, I figure the least I can do is carve out some time to read a couple of pages, re-devote myself, get my head on straight for the rest of the day.

The particular chapter in The Yoga of Discipline that I just finished, "Teach Your Eyes How To See," has been -- sorry, can't resist -- eye-opening.  Practicing discipline in seeing means being discriminating about what we take in through the eyes, about maintaining shiva-drishti -- i.e., seeing what's beautiful, what's auspicious, the divine in every form.  "The world," Gurumayi says, "is as you see it.  If you cannot find happiness in your attitude, in the way you look at things, then you cannot find happiness anywhere else either."  It is no wonder that Gurumayi is the teacher of my teacher and the teacher of my teacher's teacher -- Anusara begins with attitude, all in the interest of happiness.

What's so wonderful about Gurumayi's words is how practical she is, how cognizant she remains that "as people living in this world, there are so many things you have to do.  You are not living in a monastery like a cloistered monk who has the privilege of seeing only nature with all its beauty.  You have to do quite a few things that are unpleasant."  How to cope with these unpleasant things?  "All you need to do is pray inwardly to honor every form.  Whatever happens, see the Lord there."  I read "think" where she writes "pray" and "nature" where she writes "Lord," and then it's all good.  Yes, so many unpleasant activities are made so much more pleasant if I approach them with the same open-eyed delight as I would bring to a visit to the aquarium or a really good beach-find.

And really, just so practical.  Here's how to start the day:
When you first wake up in the morning, instead of rushing out of bed, pause and repeat your mantra.  Then rest your eyes upon the murti, the statue of a deity, or a photo or any object of worship.  It could be a photo of your chosen deity or of your Guru -- whatever is closest to your heart on the spiritual path.  You let your eyes rest upon that, and then you begin your daily routine, whatever it is -- brushing your teeth, taking a shower, going to meditate.  After that, you pause.
I've always been an altar-builder, and have long arranged things so that I see my most favorite things (aside from my husband, of course) when I open my eyes in the morning.  What I see first is books, my beloved dive-log, nature guides, lichen, feathers, my mala, coyote, bones, flowers, Shiva, and as the photo below depicts, my favorite perfume (Prada, delicious).
Though I've always piled things I love next to my bed within visual range, now I appreciate that so much more, knowing that the conscious effort of taking it in through my eyes every morning is actually beneficial -- fills me with the delight that I do want to carry through the day.  Beauty is so in the eye of the beholder, so my particular piles of beloved objects might not be anyone else's cup of tea, but for me, what a wonderful way to start the day.


Friday, April 23, 2010

An unexpected benefit of migraine

A migraine has been hovering, for a week or so, on the margins of my brain, so I was disappointed but not surprised that as soon as I got to class last night after a fairly stressful day at work, took a breath and got quiet, it came in for a landing.

Disappointing because I was so looking forward to this class, the fourth in a series, in which I knew we were going to focus on my yoga-kryptonite, kidney loop.

It was super-weird not to feel up to doing partner poses or inversions, everything I did through a light-sensitive nauseous haze. Laura was good to me and assisted me through some things, gave my skull a good, strong squeeze and some great adjustments.

But mostly I spent a lot of time watching people in their poses and really deeply and silently working on that pesky kidney loop. And wow, observing in class is amazing, and I really feel like I learned MORE last night by not practicing than I might have if I'd been my usual jump-around self.

I'm not saying I'd choose to feel that funky in class - but it was an unexpected boon to just receive information, just listen quietly, just take it in.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yeah, I mean it

- How many Anusara yogis does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

- One to demo and 99 to clap.*
The demo is one of my favorite parts of the Anusara practice. I love that moment when someone is called on to demonstrate a pose, generally saying Yes before knowing what the pose is going to be. I love watching the pose unfold, and the way the whole class appreciates the student in the pose, ooh'ing and aah'ing, and then the applause when the pose is complete. I suppose what I love really is the way that the person demo'ing gets to shine, has the entire attention of the class, and then is celebrated communally for their effort and expression. We genuinely cheer each other on. That's so super-sweet.

That general climate of appreciation extends beyond the demo and pervades the whole class. The teacher calls out praise in particular poses, and we compliment each other as well. "Nice handstand, Brian!" or "You rocked that, Nancy!" It's always 100% genuine, and makes it so much fun, like we're on the playground practicing new tricks, egging each other on. It just gets better and better all the time.

I've grown accustomed to compliments, to being praised, to hearing my name at some point in the class -- it's such a great feeling to be seen in this way, that the teacher or a classmate saw what I was doing and called it out. Maybe that's a little childish, but really who doesn't like the feeling of doing something well, with commitment, and being noticed? It's such powerful reinforcement -- progress on the spiritual path takes discipline and devotion, encouraging each other makes the progress easier. And bottom line: so much more fun.

Tonight in parsvakonasana, which is a challenging pose for me, I was working all of the principles, really focused on integrating the instructions, growing the pose. I felt good, the pose felt powerful. And then I heard Laura say from across the room, "Good, Ariananda: I can see that you mean it." And right away I felt even stronger, happier and bigger.

Because yeah, I mean it.

Those words went straight in, deep, and I'm still thinking about them, thinking about how important it is to mean it, all the time, whether you're on the mat or not. In class, Meaning It has a science: open to something bigger, fingerpads and four corners of the feet down, muscle energy, armpits lifted, thighs in, back and apart, tailbone down, organic extension. If you work the principles, everything gets easier. With practice, poses which were out-of-reach inch closer and closer 'til you stick them.

But Meaning It all the time, even off the mat, that's something else, isn't it, something for which the yoga practice is precisely just practice. Those hours of practice pay off, though, all that time stretching to new lengths, trying new things, working through challenge, encouraging each other, appreciating what's beautiful in each classmate. It requires the same discipline to carry that devotion off the mat and into the office and elsewhere, but that's where it's needed. Isn't that the whole point?

So yeah, I mean it. I mean it everywhere. So nice to have all those other yogis clapping - makes it so much easier to mean it every minute, all the time.

* Gratitude to my beautiful little sister Martine for telling me this joke. It still makes me laugh.

When I least expect it...

I am pretty bad at some normal inter-personal transactions, in my opinion. I don't like cab rides or manicures or attended gas stations or sometimes even haircuts, because I can be painfully uncomfortable with chit-chat. I've gotten better at this in my dotage, and sometimes now, perhaps as an overcompensation, am the chatty one, engaging total strangers in conversation for no apparent reason. Still it was with some apprehension that I dropped my car off this morning for service and agreed to the shuttle ride home.

And for whatever perverse reason -- trying to cure myself of my awkwardness, perhaps? -- rode shot-gun.

The driver of the van was an older gentleman, personable. The car was a bit of a mess, I was glad to see, though not sure why. We had another rider as well. I was nervous but also knew that the ride would be short, as my house is about 10 minutes max from the dealership.

We had no sooner pulled out of the parking lot when our driver, Gary, said, "Have you two ever seen photos of my safari to Africa?" When I clapped my hands (dork!) and said, no, but where can I see them, he produced a photo album from a pocket in the driver's side door and handed it over.

Lions! Giraffes! Elephants! Zebras! Cheetahs! Wildebeest!

Gary and his wife went on a one-month photo safari in Africa in October 2008. All of the photos in the album were taken with a regular camera, no tele-photo, the animals so close you could touch them. And he also had photos of the camps they stayed in, their visits to Masai villages, to schools, to towns. It was the trip of a lifetime he said, a long-time dream of his wife's finally realized.

Crazy that at the dealership, while waiting for my ride home, I'd been reading the wonderful "Spell of the Tiger," writing down the word Ranthambore over and over, dreaming of a trip to that tiger reserve in Rajasthan, lost in my own life-long wish to see big cats with my own two eyes. And here were Gary's photos of lions and his almost-breathless narration.

As I was getting out of the van in front of my house, Gary was just wrapping up a story of their last night in Nairobi, how they had dinner with the owner of the tour company they'd traveled with and how his wife threw her arms around the owner and gave him a big fat kiss, an indication of how deeply, deeply the trip had moved her, satisfied a deep longing she'd had since childhood. Goofily, my eyes started to fill with tears as I said Thank you and stepped out to the sidewalk. Amazing.

And to think I almost begged a ride home from Joe, eager to avoid interaction with strangers. I almost missed the chance to travel on a mini-safari of my own this morning, with my shuttle-van driver for a guide, seeing an hour-old giraffe through his eyes, hearing the passion and excitement in his voice as he relived with us that adventure of a lifetime.

I'm not sure if any shuttle ride in the future will ever match up to this one, but this experience will surely make me approach the next with a different mindset. Who knows what wonders that total stranger will share? When I least expect it, the world blows my mind again. Just so amazing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Report: The Secret Garden

For whatever reason, I decided recently that I wanted to re-read a childhood favorite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another of her books, A Little Princess, was essentially the bible of my early reading years -- serious inspiration -- but when I saw an utterly charming edition of The Secret Garden on a recent bookstore visit (check it out via this weird Amazon Associates thing I'm trying out) ), I just had to buy it.

And read it in three days. Laughing, crying, delighted.

My reading list this year has been wandering all over the place. It's not really that surprising to me that after Dragon Tattoo, I turned for solace to a sweet childhood favorite. Seriously, there was too much murder, violence and torture in Dragon Tattoo, but I was too deep in to stop, even though I had to give up reading it at night because of its creepiness. But what's super-fabulous -- and this has happened before, more than once, maybe it's happened to you, too? -- is how The Secret Garden actually reinforces themes from other books I've been reading, particularly yoga texts by Swami Chidvilasananda, in a way I never could have imagined or anticipated.

The Secret Garden is fundamentally a story about awakening to shakti, about the delight of being alive, about the great joy of awakening to the pulse of life that flows through all of us, all creatures, and binds us together. Amazing! And first published in 1911.

A horrible unloved child, Mary Lennox, who "by the time she was six years old...was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived," is sent to live with her horribly unhappy uncle Archibald Craven on the moor in Yorkshire after her parents die in a cholera outbreak in India. She is a beastly girl, utterly ignored by her parents, accustomed to kicking and slapping her servants.

Without giving away the whole story (and really, I do recommend this book, so charming), Mary's hard little Grinchy heart begins to grow when she meets a robin. A robin! No wonder I loved this book when I was a kid. "It actually gave Mary a queer feeling in her heart, because he was so pretty and cheerful and seemed so like a person ... The robin hopped about, busily pecking the soil, and now and then stopped... Mary thought his black dewdrop eyes gazed at her with great curiosity. It really seemed as if he were finding out all about her. The queer feeling in her heart increased." There are many adventures: a delightful boy named Dickon who is an animal-charmer and has squirrels, a crow, a fox for companions; a spoiled, rude, crippled boy who is redeemed; a garden that they bring back to life -- over the course of which Mary loses her sourness, becomes happy, full, loving.

But the chief charm of this book for me is what the children refer to as Magic.
When Mary found this garden, it looked quite dead... Then something began pushing things out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren't there and another they were... I keep saying to myself, 'What is it? What is it?' It's something. It can't be nothing! I don't know its name, so I call it Magic. I have never seen the sun rise..., but from what they tell me I am sure that is Magic, too. Something pushes it up and draws it. Sometimes since I've been in the garden and looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden -- in all the places.
And of course, of course, this garden is within us, as well as without us.

And then this morning, in the new book I'm reading, The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda: "At the heart of the universe, Gurumayi says, lies supreme bliss, and to live in the experience of this bliss is the highest expression of human nature." This bliss is the very Magic found in the garden, that "strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest." Sometimes it takes a robin to make us see it. Or a lovely story like Hodgson Burnett's.

Such a wonderful reminder, thanks to the former Mistress Mary Quite Contrary:
So long as Mistress Mary's mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow-faced, sickly, bored, and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, ... with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures,' there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired... Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.
May we all tend our roses, and fill our minds with robins and springtime. Truly we are surrounded by and made of Magic. How grateful I am to Frances Hodgson Burnett for the hours of childhood and recent joy she has given me, one hundred years after she published this story. Super big Magic!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bees find us again

"That buzzing noise means something. You don't get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there's a buzzing-noise, somebody's making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you're a bee... And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey."
- Winnie the Pooh
Yesterday we had the good fortune, karma, luck, whatever you want to call it, to catch our THIRD swarm of bees. I have been thinking about this non-stop since 12:30 pm yesterday when Joe first noticed the distinctive buzzing-noise and tracked it to a redwood tree in our neighbor's yard. How is it that before we started beekeeping, each of us, Joe and I, had seen only one swarm of bees ever in our lives, but as soon as we started learning beekeeping, bought our own bees, not one, not two, but three swarms have landed practically in our laps?

From bird-watching, snorkeling and diving, I've learned that the more you look, the more you see. It's crazy and gratifying how as soon as you start noticing, there is so much to notice, so much more than you noticed before. It keeps expanding! And surely now, because we're attuned to bees in a way we never were before, we're more likely to notice. But three swarms? OK, it's true that there is a big hive two doors over from us, under someone's deck, the confirmed source of the first two swarms we caught last year, and most likely the source of yesterday's. And right now, April, is a very likely time of year for swarms. But really, why always come over toward our place? And why always swarm when people are coming over for meals?

The first swarm arrived in our apple tree on Mother's Day 2009; we had all of three weeks' experience under our belts and were just wrapping up brunch in the garden with friends. A week later, another swarm landed in a tree next door, and Joe, his humerus freshly broken and casted, worked with our neighbor Dave to capture them while his parents and I waited for him to come home so we could eat. This time, a year and a week after we started our beekeeping adventure, Joe noticed the swarm just I was starting preparations to host my parents for lunch. He threw down his hat and the weed-wacker, grabbed the swarm-catching necessaries and was off, 100% engaged in the task, delighted. It was, so he says, the easiest catch yet. We went back last night to pick up the hive box, drive them here and set them up in their permanent spot in the yard.

It's wonderful to have more bees. We lost two of our three hives over the winter, one colony was weak and starved after stronger bees robbed their food stores; the other lost their queen late, too late to make another and they eventually died, too, leaving behind a hive full of honey. Our only remaining hive until yesterday was the first swarm we caught, the Mother's Day bees, so wild and sturdy, such tough survivors. And now we're up to two again, more wild-caught bees, likely to survive and prosper.

Of course I know it's just a combination of circumstances -- the location of the mother-hive, the season, perhaps the breeze -- that has brought us three colonies of bees since last year. It's not a reward for good behavior, it's not karma, but damn, it sure feels like something more than just luck. We're listening for the buzzing-noise, so naturally we're going to hear it, but that doesn't explain the Why Us we feel every time the buzzing-noise shows up. I am fully aware that it's not personal (even though part of me wishes it were), that it's instead that somehow we've managed to create, just maybe, a deliciously intoxicating pollen- and nectar-rich oasis aromatic with bee-ness. Whatever the reason, every time has felt like a charm, like a privilege and delight. Keep coming over - we can't get enough!

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Yoga Year so far

Because I'm a geek with a notebook (see 2/21/10 post for TMI), I keep pretty good track of my practices, the who and what and how long, and of course take notes in class. Over a peaceful solo sushi lunch yesterday, I had the great pleasure of re-reading my scribbles since January 1. Amazing teachers and amazing lessons!

January, on into March:
Kicked off the year and turned up the tapasya with Laura Christensen on New Year's Day, poses in 20s and 10s to celebrate the new year + one-minute handstands. Over the next months, we worked our way through the Austerities, keeping the fire of intention alive and smokin'. Such good times: regular classes, start-up of Sunday morning advanced Rock Your Chit playtime on the mat, a tremendous three-hour shoulder workshop, a yoga benefit for Haiti. Wow, so glad to be a part of this kula: so much love and friendship and fun.

February: Spent a week at Immersion led by John Friend, followed by weekend workshops. That week blew my mind. Here are a couple of my favorite bits from the pages and pages of notes I took:
The dharma of embodied life includes becoming more cultivated and involved, more skilled at being a poet of life, this ever-unfolding game of expanding consciousness.
Every experience, including those practices that are challenging, can be used as a gateway. Challenges are opportunities for awakening. Use everything for awakening. Every moment is a gateway to the heart.
Literally, I came away from those 7 consecutive days of practice with John and with the expanded kula completely on Cloud 9, just so happy and aware of being in exactly the right place, right in the center, right where I belong. Aaaaaah.

Hit the road with Laura and other members of our home-kula, for a series of great workshops at Tahoe Yoga and Wellness Center in Truckee. In class we reviewed the austerities and started in on the malas. We stayed in the lovely home of our dear Diana, played in the snow, had some long, sweet practices in a gorgeous studio, made new friends, played ping pong, generally just reveled in beauty and love all weekend long. I spent most of that weekend in a state of utter delight, just so amazed at the bounty life brings. No malas on me!

April: On April 1st, Laura started her Shri Series, a 7-week course that dives deep into the Principles of Alignment. It's been my enormous pleasure to arrive early, open the room, set up the puja, greet and check in my fellow students. And we really are diving deep, going back to the basics, the fundamentals. All of which is making my practice so much more solid.

Also this month Darren Rhodes was in the Bay Area again, so for the third year in a row, I went to Yoga Kula in the Mission for a weekend and played with the big kids. This year's theme "Kali Kick-Asana" certainly kicked my asana. I loved being with the larger kula, having Trixie and Laura right next to me in class, and being blown away by the poses Sianna and Darren led us through. There's something so fun about just trying things, even crazy things like some of the toes curled-under poses we were asked to do, like we're on the playground daring each other to jump off the monkey bars, higher, higher, higher!

Outside of class it continues to be my concerted project to incorporate what I'm learning on the mat into the rest of where I spend my time, mostly into the office where I spent too many hours each week. The inspiration of these great teachers and friends and practices is with me throughout all of those long hours away, and really is changing how I move and talk and operate. At the same time, it's also true that the more yoga I do, the more commitment I bring to my practice, the more time with my friends doing what I love, the less I want to spend time doing what I precisely don't love -- all of which, if I remain aware, keeps that blaze of tapasya burning hot. It's a delightful unfolding, really, and so gratifying: the more I practice, the more practiced I become, the more skilled, the more devoted, all of that More squeezing out the other stuff, the stuff I'm not crazy about. So, big lesson for me: to change your life, just change your life. Like awakening, it doesn't have to come after a lifetime of sitting under a banyan tree. It comes at every moment, at any moment, when I just do what I love: plug in, delight, jump around.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


We've been patiently waiting for flowers for months now. It's a funny thing putting seeds in the ground in the fall, watching foliage develop through the cold of winter, waiting, waiting for flowers. Now here they are! This particular poppy -- and we planted several varieties -- is a Peony Flowering Poppy, so very peony-like, its flowers really just as the seed packet describes: "huge glamorous poufs of softly ruffled petals." Huge and glamorous indeed!

We used to devote almost all of our garden space to edibles, and I'm so glad that we took a turn into flowers, growing pretty for pretty's sake.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rogue Elephant

One of the things I most love about my walks in the woods across from my house, besides the abundance of the non-human, is the funny little traces other people leave behind. I rarely see people while I'm out, though I do see coyotes, rabbits, deer, squirrels, ravens, hawks, crows, banana slugs, newts, countless little brown birds. It's strange to me how much I appreciate it when I can tell that others have been on my same path, using it in their way, getting their fill, like me, of being outside. I read their signs, the cleared scotch broom, the downed-trees moved off the trail, and wonder about them, who they are, grateful.

But it's particularly wonderful when clever lovely people create little altars like the Ganesh that appeared a few years ago.

The first time I saw it, I was utterly delighted that someone had seen this as they passed this tangled oak root, had remembered to bring the marble for the eye, the Ganesh candle and the coins. Someone had stood there and thought about it and then come back and created this for others to see. At one point that same someone cleared the leaves directly in the front, and laid little stones to demark a path, a little run-way to the elephant's head.

I pass Ganesh several times a week, always greet it (Jai Jai!), replace the candle when it tumbles, appreciate how truly elephant-y that root is, its curling trunk, and thank the Someone who brought it to life for the rest of us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Retiring the porno pants

Once, years ago, in the beginning of our yoga time, Joe and I had a crazy, crazy sub. That, in itself, was far from remarkable, since in those early early days, we were taking yoga at a gym which, with some exceptions (love you, Lori), seemed to be a refuge for what I think of as kooky super-70s yoga, the leotard and long braids kind, very Lilias. No disrespect, but not my cup of tea.

Anyway, the one time of this super-crazy sub, we were dismayed to find that, in addition to her really loopy vibe, she also had an extremely unfortunately-placed hole in the crotch of her yoga tights. I do not mean a certain worn-ness of the seam. I am talking about an actual gap, a void, a quarter-sized revelation. Distressing. Because no matter your penchants, something like that has its own gravity. Throughout the hour-long class, no matter what poses she was demonstrating, she never seemed to be aware of the extra air, but just carried on. Perhaps she did know and just played it off as well as possible, but we strongly felt that she was just so out there, that she didn't even care about flashing that bit of cootch, like life was just one extended everybody-naked-in-the-hot-tub.

Dear god, have I become her?

Sadly, there is a point in the life of every beloved pair of yoga pants when they just break down. The repeated wearings and repeated washings break those babies down after a while: they lose their hug, their ass-seams get thin. Joe was good enough to tell me this about some LuluLemon pants a couple of years ago. I was mortified but grateful that he happened to mention it before I left the house (although I spent a good hour or so feeling a little queasy about the huge yoga workshop I'd been to the weekend before in those very pants, yes, like 250 people were there). I still have those pants, but don't wear them for yoga -- maybe just sometimes around the house, yard-work, no company.

The problem is that you can't always tell about a pair of pants when you pull them from the drawer or dryer. It takes a prasarita to tell whether they've rounded the bend, and when you're in a hurry, packing yoga stuff as you rush out the door for work, not always time to check the integrity of the pant-booty. Trix and I have pinkie-sworn to tell each other, but honestly, then there's the question of how and when -- certainly not while assisting each other, maybe on the ride home when debriefing the class (ha ha ha)? It's delicate.

Just to be on the safe side, I am retiring the blue Hard Tail pants I wore last night. They have been my favorites for a long time, but I am uncomfortably aware of their age and of my nether-regions lately when I wear them. I bid them adieu, and for safety, throw them in the rag pile to be cut up into squares that will dust the house or clean bikes. Anything to ensure that I not wear them out again.

I wish yoga pants lasted longer, particularly given their price, but they are transitory just like all other material things. Memories are a different matter, like the one I still carry of that sub and her so-sad tights. So I'm retiring the porno pants and making favorites of other pairs, until they too hit that point of no return. I'd rather be remembered for other things, thanks. ;>

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Still working it, now with laryngitis

The power and effectiveness of your words increase in direct proportion to the silence that you observe.
- Baba Muktananda
I am still working on the practice of silence, maunam, super-challenging for me generally, but made a teense easier for the next couple of days by the fact that I have developed laryngitis. This is an extremely well-timed case since tomorrow I am attending a dreaded work-retreat, something which I have been responsible for planning all while I'd rather be pretty much anywhere else but there tomorrow. Really. Those things are like utter torture for me, worse than the dreaded staff picnic. Horrible.

I am enjoying thinking about how much I genuinely, Snoopy-dance LOVE yoga retreats, compared to how much I genuinely loathe and despise work retreats. On the one hand, spending time with delightful people on the same path, playing all day long, laughing, having fun, generally eating really well. On the other, a day spent with people I feel like I only associate with, really, if I'm being honest, for the paycheck, in a required camaraderie which I don't feel, braced all day for the attack that will come, it's only a matter of time.

Though convenient, it's not a nervous laryngitis, since I've been battling full-blown illness since Wednesday of last week. The throat just totally degenerated over the course of yesterday until I find myself here, with achy ears and a voice that is just about gone. If I could, I would go straight back to bed and sleep this out, but I'm instead going to do what I always do: keep going.

One of the main reasons I've been dreading this particular retreat is that the facilitator shared the feedback with me the other day that some of my colleagues complain that I don't talk enough at work about my husband's cancer. Let me repeat that: I am being faulted for not talking about my husband's cancer at work. At work. Really. As a stand-alone, that statement represents in one fell swoop everything that is most fucked-up, dysfunctional and boundary-less about the place where I work. Really.

But when I spend a little more time with it, what I get from that complaint is that my silence AT WORK about what was a nightmarish, terrifying and deeply personal experience is interpreted as withholding, as not participating, as not being sufficiently collegial. And in that case, I suppose I am guilty as charged.

So, hmmm, thinking a lot, trying to push aside the dread and go into tomorrow with no expectation, good or bad, thinking about the quality of silence. Not so concerned with how my silence is perceived, as much as where it comes from and why.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Baby Barn Owl, Dead

Taking a detour this morning from the yoga blabla, to indulge another of my passions: animals. In particular, my fascination with dead animals, who offer me the privilege of closely examining them, appreciating their form and beauty deeply. Those who've been to my house know I collect animal skulls, most of which present themselves as I hike in the hills around my house. My husband, though, like the loving loyal cat he is, also brings me occasional gifts, like the time he carried home a vulture (5-foot wingspan) on his bike or the bobcat he stowed under a tree so no one else would take it. Um, as if.

This morning's walk took Jasper and me through the neighborhood, past the house on the corner that I covet for the sole reason that two tall palms stand in the front yard. We've seen barn owls fly to and from nests in the tops of these tall, tall trees; the ground is often littered with their very interesting poops. Seeing an owl is always a thrill.

Sadly this morning we found a little owlet on the sidewalk near the base of one of these trees. I had a thrilling instant of thinking I could take him to WildCare, so those capable lovely angel-people could fix him up and set him free. But he was, alas, irreparably broken, fuzzy little body cold. After very brief deliberation, I re-purposed one of the plastic bags my dog-walking pockets are stuffed with, and carried Baby Barn Owl home. Where I laid him down on the patio table, took photos of him, and generally took in his lovely attributes, the tiny feathers on his face, his great big eyes, his reptile feet, finally laying him to rest with great honors and much love in a clay pot.

Some people might think this is morbid or weird, but when I look, all I see is owly perfection, another beautiful example of how remarkable is the world around us. And actually, when I think about it, this really isn't a detour from my usual yoga blabla, it's the same refrain: delight in what surrounds us, delight in the physical form, delight.

Rest in peace, owlet.