Monday, May 31, 2010

June is Freecycle month, at least for me

On impulse, I decided this morning that in the month of June, I am going to freecycle one item for every single day.  Yes, I will get rid of thirty things or groupings of things that I don't use, but which could serve someone else just fine.

For those who don't know about freecycle, I first started jumping around about it in November.  I've been a little less enchanted recently with the volume of emails I get every day, especially when people don't follow the rules (naturally they don't, naturally that bugs), BUT am feeling re-energized by this little task I've set myself, which accomplishes something I really want to do: streamline, create more space, clean out crap gathering dust.

None of it is really crap at all.  Just unwanted.

For a start, I posted 5 things that I pulled from the linen closet.  There's more in there, but I'm trying not to go too utterly insane, knowing that I have to sustain this for another 25 days.

- two hall runners, perfectly serviceable, but that I just am not crazy about.  They've lived in the closet for over a year, probably 5, who knows;
- misc. bag of cleaning supplies, including carpet cleaner (can't even remember when or why i bought this);
- two book lights;
- a bottle of Pantene shampoo that wound up in our shopping bag after a visit to Long's Drugs (RIP), paid for and probably sorely-missed by the man ahead of us in line;
- marbles and "gems" for floral arrangements (who WAS the person who bought that crap), and some floral foam.

Within twenty minutes of my posts, 4 of the 5 items are spoken for.  I love it that I actually know one of the people coming by for driveway pick-up - such a tiny world we live in.     

It is amazing how much stuff accumulates in a life, and how when you have space to tuck it away, you can just forget about it.  I never forget it's there, though, and feel its presence even when I can close the door on it and walk away.  So great that there's a way I can pass useful but unwanted items on, putting them up for adoption by a self-selected new loving family.  I will probably never have a garage sale again.  I'd so much rather give it to someone who actually wants it, than stand around trying to hawk miscellany for pennies on the dollar anyway, steadily building a head of steam as people haggle me down from $1 to 25 cents.

Thanks to Sally, Judy, Fran and Elizabeth for taking this stuff off my hands.  Thanks for freecycling!

I blame the Giro

I was planning on going to yoga this morning at 9:30, but then realized, as I was walking Jasper around the marsh near our house, that I am basically cross-eyed with fatigue.  No yoga for me today.  Hopefully no driving anywhere either.  I think we have enough food in the house to get through the day, but basically I do feel like I'm wasting a day off by being so tired that all I can think of is taking a long nap and sleeping the daylight hours away.

For this sleep-deprivation, I blame the Giro d'Italia.  I could blame the Tour of California but that was only 8 days.  The Giro was 3 solid weeks of TiVo'ed action, which simply had to be watched on a daily basis, even when I was getting home from work and yoga near 9 pm.  Juggling the Tour of Cali and the Giro for the 8 days of overlap was a challenge.  And to think there used to be no coverage, ZERO, even during the Tour de France.     Incorporating this abundance, complaining about this abundance, is a pretty funny thing.

Such great stories in all of this cycling, so many great examples of overcoming obstacles, going to the very limit of your endurance, staying smart, working as a team, shining when it's your moment.  I love every second of it.  And cry when winners of a stage cross the line, especially when they've never won one before, no matter how old they are or who they ride for: just reveling in their triumph and glory.

And Ivan Basso?  Coming back after suspension for doping and winning what sure seemed to me like the hardest EVER, most brutal ass-kicking grand tour ever -- pure awesome.  Impossible to take my eyes away.

Even if I knew I'd eventually pay, stumbling around the neighborhood cross-eyed on a holiday morning.  It was all worth it.

Bring it on, Tour de France!  I'm sleeping plenty now, knowing that I'll lose it all over three weeks in July.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Losing Lotto, finding peace

It seems like lately everyone I know, at some point in every conversation, sighs and says, "If only I could win the Lotto..."  I joke with friends about how bad I am at the lottery actually, since I can't seem to win it, even when I do buy tickets.

There just seems to be a gap for most people I know, myself included (BIG gap), between how we are earning our livings and how we want to live our lives, between what we do for money now and what we really wish we were doing.  As things got harder for most everyone in our economy last year, I think everyone got a bit more philosophical about what they should really be doing that circumstances forced them away from.  I do know some people who are actually doing exactly what they should be doing - who've lined up their talents and passions with how they pay for groceries.  They stand as shining examples of Possibility. 

I also shouldn't minimize the impact, last year, of the dread cancer, which struck first my sister, then my dog, then my husband.  That damn disease just sucks a lot of oxygen out of the atmosphere for real, and in the context of After, having Survived, it does seem asinine to continue doing what we were doing before.  As if just because we survived all that, it should somehow be sunshine and rainbows and ease every day for the rest of our lives, without a care, having carried the worst fear around in our guts for a year. 

At the same time, I've been thinking and reading and practicing so much around reconciling that gap, minimizing it, by bringing yoga practices with me off the mat into the workplace and every other part of my life where I am less happy, like in my car driving too far to work every day.

I'm not going to lie.  That practice ain't easy.  

Mostly because sometimes, at work, I feel the drag of some crazy  personalities, clanging cymbal monkeys clamoring for attention (look at me! what about me! when can i eat!).  I know it's the best practice of all to maintain equanimity in a situation of imbalance and stress, but seriously: how much would I love to just not have to deal, to not have to practice equanimity against such enormous odds?

Sometimes I totally fall on my face.  Some days I am not patient. I am not compassionate.  I am not kind.  I am pissed off with bullshit and I am tired.  Even on days when I've tried to prepare myself, done my reflection in the morning, read my yogic texts, what-have-you, I don't stay calm, I do react, I am not nice.  I am irritated by sloppy work. I am a total bitch boss.

The Lotto isn't going to save me.  Especially because I always forget to buy tickets.  The only solution for me, really, since I know the situation I'm in is not right for me, is to move to the situation that is.  I'm working this with every ounce of energy and focus I have, but in the meantime have to keep moving through this middle place between what is right now and what is coming, and try to maintain some modicum of integrity.

And not rip the heads off the monkeys.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sing out, Early Bird!

I am an unabashed early bird, happiest in the early morning hours, especially if I'm the first one up in a quiet house.  It's even more fun than usual since our boy, who's been living with us (on the couch) since October, is away on a much-deserved post-graduation vacation, so I can make a regular amount of noise, no tip-toeing around.

Since I opened my eyes at 4:55, I've been having a great time.  Not to brag, but just to jump around and say I'm really happy about all the following crap I got done in the 2 1/2 hours before I left my house:
- read email, caught up on Facebook, especially the delightful posts by Samin who cooked for the PRESIDENT last night, so freaking cool;
- read the news according to NY Times and SF Chronicle on-line;
- did a little housework, emptied the dishwasher, folded *and* put away a load of laundry;
- enjoyed the sound of the roomba cleaning the floors (love you, robot!);
- talked to my adorable husband at full volume;
- kissed my dog all over;
- read Gurumayi;
- watered half the orchids (there are a lot of them);
- took a shower, got dressed and ready for a loooong day at work today (and missing favorite yoga class, boo on that);
- had time to reflect, curse my laptop a bit, write this post by hand.

In that reflection time, I got to remembering that today marks the 21st anniversary of the first time I laid eyes on Joe.  Oh darling Katherine Powell Cohen, what wonders cigarettes and lighters can work!

And then, wow, on the way to work, coming to a complete stop because the President's in town, not minding the traffic at all, warbling like a bird indeed inside my car, loving everything on the radio.

So it's a great day, I'm singing my early bird heart out, taking it all in, feeling good.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where is my summer?

This May has been so weird.  It's been raining pretty much every week, and cold.   On May 17th last year, San Francisco had a high of 84, this year 60. I know you can do the math, but I feel the need to remark: that's an astounding 24 degrees lower.

A year ago this weekend it was something like 100 at my house.  I remember because that was the weekend of Panoche Valley Road Race at which Joe crashed and broke his humerus.  I drove an hour and a half to go get him in Hollister where it was 110.  Hollister is bad enough, but Hollister when it's 110?  Ridiculous.

Here's a visual on the aftermath of that crash.  I couldn't resist taking photos of Joe in the ER where, seriously, every other patient had an armed guard. There was a point at which I had to leave Joe alone in the car while I had his prescriptions filled, while still in Hollister.  He was too wasted on whatever pain meds they'd given him to even walk, so wasted that he wanted me to turn off the A/C while he waited in the car because he'd been too cold in the hospital.  The whole time I stood waiting in the pharmacy, talking to scary people who loved my tattoos and wanted to know all about them, I kept expecting to look up and see my high husband shambling around the parking lot in his hospital gown in the full and blazing heat.  Thankfully he nodded out and dreamed his crazy dreams about polar bears and Jamaican cycling teams with which he regaled me on the drive home.

As someone who grew up in San Francisco, albeit in a relatively sunny and warm neighborhood, I revel in the warmer summer temperatures in central Marin where I have lived since 1991.  I do not miss the fog.  I love the heat.  I love those nights when it's so hot that it's hard to sleep, those days when going outside feels like stepping into an oven.  I love the quality of the light on a really hot day, how unbearably hot the sidewalk gets, how great it is to eat outside in the garden when it's dark but still 80.  I love not needing a sweater in August.   I love, most of all, how easy it is to grow things, how plants soak up the sunlight and warmth and visibly change every single day.

So this year, with this weird weather, I am experiencing some strangely-timed seasonal affective disorder.   Along with hay fever,  a given in these windy early summer days, I'm cold.  Cold!  Today, while gardening, I was in jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt.  Reminder: this time last year it was 100!  OK, that was abnormally scorching, but generally 80 is the norm around these parts as we approach the end of May.

I'm thinking about those devices they sell in that Gaiam catalog for people who get sad in the winter, to generate more light, to bring them out of their wintertime, shorter-days funk.  I'm thinking about that as I lie here on the couch, at 7pm, fuzzy with allergies and irritated by a day of cold wind, wondering how the vegetables will do this year if things don't turn around pretty quickly.  I feel strangely hopeless, worn out, which I know is the stupid hay fever, but it's also, I think, a product of my weather-based discombobulation.  I am craving the heat this year and can't wait until it's back.

Until then maybe I'll just stay in this exact spot with my computer on my stomach, keeping me warm, and wait it out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The final word on the PET scan?

I got the call this morning that I've been bracing for. Unfortunately, every time Joe calls me lately, I am instantly in a panic, wondering if this is The Call -- the call that contains the final information on the PET scan, which is really the final word on his lymphoma (oh jesus, please let there not be something else, not more chemo and suffering and pain). It's a drag because instead of feeling my usual total joy at hearing my sweetheart's voice, there's also this spike of nausea and anxiety.

But I think I can be done with that for a while.

The ENT doctor (Dr. Chien, love his name) called to say that he had indeed spoken with the radiologist about Joe's last PET scan. For those readers just joining the saga, we needed to make sure that the little Something on Joe's right tonsil wasn't some residual uber-lymphoma, power cancer, that survived the chemo scorched earth treatment.

The radiologist said that the Something was nothing to worry about. In a regular person, one who hadn't had lymphoma, he wouldn't even mention something like this when reviewing the results of a PET scan. In a normal person, not even worth mentioning. It's nothing to worry about, he said.

So Joe's not having his tonsils out, and we're trying to get comfortable. We both wanted news that would make us jump around and shout and laugh and cry and schedule a big party, but I think we're still a little stunned - not feeling exactly elated, not feeling exactly devastated, either. Perhaps just another aspect of our shared Post Cancer Stress Disorder which I assure you is very real and present in us both.

But really, even though we're stunned and not sure what or how to feel, I know that it really and truly IS good news. Once cancer has invaded your life, it's hard to feel safe, get comfortable. But I know this is good news. I just can't quite exhale yet, even though I know it's coming.

We will have a party. We will jump around and shout and laugh and cry. It might just take a little while.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Traveling through layers of memory

Taking the kid and his buddy to SFO this morning at 6am was an experience of swimming through thick memory, while the two of them snoozed in the car. 

I suppose this is what it is to get old living in the same basic place, seeing through what is there now to what was there before: oh yeah, long before Starbucks that used to be the Gap, oh yeah, when did Larson pool become Charlie Sava Pool and where did the airplane go, and here's where I lived in exile like Hester Prynne when you were a baby, in the boonies four blocks from SF State where I was a graduate student and it just goes on and on, the constant narration. Taking 101 back I looked for the Planter's Peanut man. And thought about the time when I was 6 that a truck rammed and took down a pedestrian overpass right near the Vermont exit on 101, so that its replacement looks completely different from the others.  

So, wow, coming up Larkin and seeing this blew my mind.  Something completely new, occupying a space where nothing was before. Wow.  

This work by Zhang Huan, "Three Heads, Six Arms," weighs 15 tons, is two stories tall and part of a sister city arts-exchange thing with Shanghai.  Whatever, i don't care where it's from or what it means.  I love it.  It snapped me right back to the present, out of my endless memory meanderings.  Snap!

I can't wait to go look at it again, maybe tomorrow, from the sidewalk rather than from the window of my car, this time with my own camera in hand.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gray anatomy: the PET scan results are in

It's been two weeks since Joe's PET scan, the post-chemo PET scan to check on the suspicious right tonsil.  We would really, really like to be done with cancer.

In response to an email to his doctor, Joe heard this today:

The result came back and showed that there is even less activity in the right tonsil area which is great news. I am waiting for a call back from the radiologist to confirm that we don't have to worry about it anymore. I will let you know once I hear back from him. Thank you.
For whatever reason, we were expecting to hear one of two things: #1) it's clear, you're done; OR #2) it's not clear, let's get those tonsils out and see what the hell we're dealing with. We weren't really prepared for "even less activity," this familiar yet never comfortable GRAY AREA again. It just doesn't get easier to inhabit this land of uncertainty.
The YogiTea bag I just brewed myself yields the following well-timed message: "Bliss is a constant state of mind, undisturbed by gain or loss." Word, YogiTea. I'm working on it.

Serious Sugar Hang-over

A few weeks ago I read an interesting article posted by my friend and neighbor Linda, an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on how bad sugar is for women in their 40s.  I am surrounded by people who don't eat sugar, so I've been hearing about this for ages.  Even I think years ago I read a book (Sugar Blues?) about how bad sugar is for you, but I LOVE sugar, so I've held onto it.  Even when we were vegan, I was still a total sugar-head.  Still, I gave the interview a read, then another read, and then decided to stop eating sugar.  If Dr. Northrup is right -- that eating a lot of sugar causes hormone havoc in women in their 40s, who are experiencing perimenopause; that it's connected to migraines and insomnia, not to mention heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer, and other unpleasant things like hair loss where you want hair, hair growth where you don't -- surely that's worth a try, right?  I also liked something I read in the interview, that fat doesn't make you fat: sugar makes you fat.  Permission to eat butter?  Hmmm.

Keep in mind that ours is a house that generally *always* has cookies in the pantry, if not an open bag of dark chocolate chips.  That I do remember one evening finding Joe up on the stepladder, rifling through one of the top kitchen cabinets looking for chocolate (there was none below in the usual places), finally settling on the most unsatisfactory Baker's bittersweet (which nothing can make palatable, believe me).  That the other night I got a one-word text from the kid while I was in yoga: "Cookies?"  And being the person I am, of course I stopped at the market on my way home and picked some up.

I gave up eating sugar about two weeks ago.  It was easy.  It was actually not a problem.  I do remember feeling clearer in the mornings, and definitely felt steadier throughout the day -- no highs and lows.  No problem not participating in the afternoon sugar-fest at the office.  As luck would have it, we had a potluck lunch at work and I drew dessert.  I brought strawberries.  Really.  Next I'll be handing out raisins on Halloween, right?  But those strawberries were delicious.  I had no interest whatsoever in the lemon tart, the brownies, the other sugary delights loaded on the conference room table.

That's so weird for me.  It usually doesn't feel like a party for me unless there's chocolate, but here I was eating strawberries and feeling fine, not missing out, feeling good in fact.

Until this morning.  Yes, this weekend was the big graduation of the boy.  I had a small piece of cake at the post-graduation reception, and a bigger piece of chocolate cake last night after dinner at home.  And this morning I feel like utter shit.  I'm not kidding: I feel completely hung-over, super-fuzzy, tired, listless.  I got plenty of sleep and there is no other reason I can think of for this feeling.  The only difference between yesterday and the 13 days before, is the sugar intake.

So I'm climbing back on the wagon, to see what happens next.  I could have another piece of cake, see if the sugar picks me up, but honestly I have no interest.  I'd rather crawl into bed and sleep this off, give in to how fuzzy I feel. I miss my old friend Sugar, kind of rue losing that life-long relationship, but not enough to go through this again any time soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Graduation in May


So reads the graduate's Status since sometime last night, post graduation parties.

The ceremony itself was too long, far from casual in the first dry hour of speechifying and institution-building, but then delightful when, essentially, the students took it over.  Then the real feel of the school came through and it seemed clear why it was such an appropriate home for all these weirdos and crackpots and geniuses, each developing in their time at the school whatever singular talent, peculiar vision, they possess.  Delightful.

In the long two hours of the ceremony, finally the sun came out, though the wind was still utterly polar.  It took me hours to get warm.  The courtyard was packed with people and delicious eats, and it was so great to wander around the various galleries and rooms, checking out the kid's work on the walls, that of his classmates and peers.  They do put on a great party at the Art Institute, but how not to: the building just seems made for it, ideal for walking around, mimosa in hand, looking at whatever's hanging in the courtyard, whoever's hanging in the courtyard, all the smokers out front, relieving the pressures of the morning.

And in the crowd, to catch glimpses of the kid so exhilarated, running around, being hugged and congratulated by tons of people we don't know, other students at the school, friends who came to see him graduate.

More than his walk across the stage at the sound of his name to receive his diploma, that part -- the glimpsing him in the deep embrace of his people -- was the real graduation for me, the happy knowing that he made it through, he persevered, he made his place.

And that's what it's all about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Full, proud Mother's heart

Tomorrow our son graduates from college. Our kid, now a grown-up, will be receiving his Bachelor's of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.  It's a little hard to believe, and I'm trying to get all of my goofy Mom emotion out ahead of time so I don't make a mess of the mascara tomorrow at the ceremony.  But I know I will anyway.

At left is the artist as a very young man, in the phase during which he toted his coloring book and crayon briefcase with him everywhere.  You realize, I hope, that I am taking a tremendous risk in posting this photo; the repercussions could be jagged, but like I said, this is me getting my goofy Mom out as a precautionary measure so I don't make an utter spectacle tomorrow in front of strangers.  We are so proud that he finished college in four years, that he was a disciplined student (or so we're told), that he learned a lot from this experience.  How can it already be over?

And now he will move on, move out, move up, into whatever it is that he chooses.  It's such an exciting time for him and for us who are observing him as he heads off into whatever comes next.

I've felt so lucky to have him close by throughout college, and now really close, back living with us since October.  It's such a special experience to watch someone you love, someone you grew, come into the fullness of who they are.  And now really truly to stand on the threshold of adulthood.  So, so exciting.

Congratulations, Laurent!  You make us so proud and happy and delighted.

Drive To Work day

Driving to work on Bike To Work Day pretty much sucks.  I cheered everybody on their two wheels yesterday while wondering at my own self.  Yes, it's a hybrid, but still it's a car. Yes, it gets 45 miles to the gallon, but still it's 10 gallons every week or so, so I'm still part of the oil problem.  And to think that 15 years ago, I used to bike everywhere, we rode Critical Mass every month. I used to take our son to school and daycare in a bike trailer.  Now I commute 44 miles total a day, in my car.  What the hell?

Two big events in the past month have made me think about this more than ever.

First, the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano in Iceland.  I admit to a fondness for natural disasters of this kind, so many warm memories of the post-terror clarity of earthquakes experienced in my home town of San Francisco.  Everything you think of as normal stops, you re-focus, you learn to live without telephones or gas, you break out the camping stove and eat in the street with your neighbors like we did on Liberty Street in 1989. You walk down Castro the next morning, in the quiet of after, and stand in the crowd assembled outside the plant-store and read along with everybody else the limited edition newspaper that's taped up in the front window.  You talk to strangers.  You make do.  

With the volcano, a whole lot of people had to make to do without flying.  I am not in any way minimizing the disruption and havoc this created in a lot of individual and corporate lives, but people had to stay put.  And without the vapor from so many aircraft engines, these same people got to see a bluer sky than they had in years, as one writer put it, "as if somebody suddenly ripped a veil away, exposing the true colors of the heavens."  It's almost absurd how silver lining that is!  Not a bad thing to have to make do with.  And it's our habits, the ease of flying here and there, that creates that veil between us and the true nature of the sky.  How lovely to be able to stay home, not fly away, and look up and take in a deeper-blue, quiet, empty sky.

Second, of course, is the criminal  and tragic man-made disaster, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, especially with today's news, as reported in the New York Times that BP was allowed to drill in the Gulf without permits from the agency that assesses threats to endangered species and over that same agency's strenuous objections!  And that the 5,000 barrels a day that we keep hearing about is an understatement. This oil spill makes me so sick at heart.  I can't imagine the thought-process behind the whole operation, it just seems so utterly insane. 

So, lately as I emerge from the Waldo Tunnel 5 mornings a week to the stunning view of the Golden Gate and San Francisco glittering beyond, I am really thinking about my part in this insanity and about how, if I didn't have a car (and paid parking), I would never even have considered taking the job I currently have.  The car is what makes the job possible, and the job pays for the car, along with everything else I have. But if I didn't have the car, ergo didn't have this job, along with an extra 1 1/2 or so a day not spent behind the wheel, what would I have instead?  How would I make do?

This is the year I get to find that out, since really, it's time.  By next year, May 2011, I will have shifted the circumstances that keep me in the car.  Next Bike to Work Day, I'll be on two wheels too, no matter what. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Keeping Good Company

Gurumayi says, Another way to be disciplined in listening is not to keep bad company.

She quotes Mirabai:
  Give up bad company
  and keep the company
     of those who love God, instead.
  Listen to their conversations
     and discussions about God.
- "The Yoga of Discipline," page 92.

I've been keeping a lot of good company lately.  In fact, I suppose the sadhana is to keep good company all the time.  Whether it's actually going to yoga, or hanging out with my yoga-homies after class, or hanging out with my friends live or on-line via FB and email, or reading other people's blogs, or reading Gurumayi, or waking up in the morning and giving the murti a look-see first thing, or even the words on the YogiTea teabag as above, ALL of that is keeping good company.  For those hung up on the God word above (and you're not alone since clearly I'm still thinking about it), for me it's all just about truth, about ananda, about happiness.   Keeping company with seekers of happiness and purpose, that's what this is about for me.

And the good company is so helpful when the challenging situation comes. And boy, it always does, so why not have a well-developed system of good company to get us through that, to keep our eye on the auspicious ball?  When I am faced with some ridiculous situation at work, so nice to fall back into that comfortable net of good company and feel just fine, thank you, just fine.

Good company appears to make for more good company.  The more I practice, the more practiced I am.  It's not an accident that more good things happen, more good people appear; it's a function of the very real discipline -- there is, of course, effort involved -- of seeking the good, seeing the good.

Right now it's making me smile to think that this is a post about yoga, really, and yet not one word about physical asana.  Hah, yoga is wonderful. So many gifts beyond the physical practice!

Keep good company.  Be good company.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Use the Five to come back to The One

Last week Laura's theme, throughout our classes all week, was the 5 principles and the 5 mahābhūtas, the 5 elements. [Confession: because inside I am still a 12-year-old sitting on the stoop with my junior high friends, I hear mahābhūtas and turn it into "maha booties," and giggle a little inside...]

With the usual elegance of Anusara yoga, each of the 5 principles has a direct relationship to each of the mahābhūtas, as follows:

1. Open to Grace --> Space
2. Muscular Energy --> Earth
3. Expanding Spiral --> Water
4. Contracting Spiral --> Fire
5. Organic Energy --> Air

It was so helpful to think of the qualities of water, for example, when working inner spiral, to think of the openness and freedom of movement that water has, as we set about opening our hips. And to visualize the qualities of fire when activating outer spiral and the tailbone, firing up the belly. So elegant!

Whichever five you choose to focus on -- principles or Mahābhūtas -- Laura's real point was that we use The Five to come back to The One.

In Anusara, we go through these principles (open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy), and always end up back where we started, Open to Grace. We expand, then contract, but ultimately always expand again. And though I've heard this probably thousands of times already, last week this hit me with a new power.

Use the Five to come back to The One.

That's it, in a nutshell, really, whether we're talking about our 5 senses or the 5 elements or any other 5s or 3s or 2s under the sun. The real purpose is always opening, expanding, recognizing what is already there, using every tool at our disposal to come back home into our own bodies, into what a delight it is to be here in this form right now. Elegant and so awesome!

Deep love and gratitude to my teacher and to my teacher's teachers! XX

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Austerities and Iron Man 2

I’ve been integrating a new practice of reading some Gurumayi (Swami Chidvilasanda) every day. Her writing is really delightful, and so accessible. “The Yoga of Discipline” is such a great extension of what we’re practicing in class, so helpful as I work to integrate yoga throughout my life, even at my job (challenge of all challenges). I’ve almost finished the book, and am engaged in my super-dweeby habit now of copying favorite passages into my notebook. There’s something about that particular practicing of physically making the letters that burns the words into my memory, carried by the visual of my handwriting on the page.

So it seemed really funny to me to be sitting in a gigantic theater with a really loud sound system on Saturday night, watching Iron Man 2 on opening weekend with Joe and two of my darling yoga buddies. I spent most of probably the whole second half of the movie with my right ear pressed against Joe's left shoulder, my left hand covering my left ear, eyes closed. That movie was just so freaking loud, so many guns firing, and explosions, and yelling. And with my ears blocked and my eyes covered, all I could think about was Gurumayi's words on the importance of discipline in seeing, on considering what we let in through the eyes, what we express back out.

When you have discipline in seeing, you see everyone, and you act like a proper human being in whom God dwells. You wait, you pause, you act with awareness. Discipline in seeing becomes part of everything you do.

What else can be done? Choosing what you read. You don't have to read every novel that comes along. You can choose what you're going to read. And what about movies and television? The senses are attracted to those things. You may say, 'Well, why should I limit my God-given freedom? My senses want to watch violent movies; my senses want to watch somebody being killed -- just in a movie, of course, not in real life.' This is where you need discipline. You need to be careful about what you take in because toxins and impurities accumulate in your body. Then even digesting your food becomes very difficult because so many harmful energies have been allowed inside your system.

OK, so Iron Man 2, in that context? Let's be honest: Robert Downey, Jr. can do no wrong in my book. I'll watch pretty much anything he's in, just for the pleasure of watching him say words. There's something about that guy that I really, really like - it could be (it most likely is) just a projection on my part, but it's enjoyable. I liked the first movie -- I generally like cartoon-y movies, it surprised me, and again, Robert Downey, Jr. -- so there doesn't have to be a whole lot of logic involved. Oh, and hang on: let's not forget that Mickey Rourke is in it, and he fascinates my eye. Plus, they did a great job on the Russian prison tattoos on him, and he didn't too badly butcher the accent. In a different way, something so intriguing about Rourke -- both actors have such an interesting life story, so much of which is written all over their faces.

But I have to admit that it was a bit of a let-down, in two ways. One, I didn't think the movie was that great. I enjoyed scenes with people in them, but really didn't like all of the robot bullshit and the shooting, and the writing was weak and the female characters just so flat. [Scarlett Johansen: really? That fight scene was so lame!] But second, and most significant to me, it was a let-down that I spent two hours and $10.75 to let that unfold before my eyes, when I could have been doing something so much more beneficial. A let-down.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm becoming a total sour-puss stick-in-the-mud who can't go see a summer blockbuster and enjoy the ride. I'm telling myself it's just that this wasn't the right ride, not a good-enough ride to make the trade-off worthwhile, and hoping that this isn't an occupational hazard, the inevitable result of reading so many yogic texts and working so hard on integrating yoga into the rest of my life.

I'll be testing that theory soon. After all, the new Robin Hood comes out this weekend.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things change

As gardeners, we love change.  We jump around and go and get each other and say, "Look at this!  Look at what happened in the past day, look how this grew!"  We are excited and delighted and constantly observing the changes, watching for the seed to germinate and unfurl leaves above the soil, for the flower to open and startle us with pollen, for the fruit of the plant to grow, for the cycle to end, for the spent to enter the compost and come out as delicious soil and start again.  We love it.  For me, it is fundamentally spiritual in nature, the deepest honoring of life there is, to have this intimate contact with the force that awakens the seed, animates the plant for a time, and then departs.

But even though outside we revel in change, we are struggling right now with the big change that entered our life last fall, with cancer and the changes it brought deep inside us both.  Everything we do now, we do in company with this shadow.   It changed Joe, and it changed me, and we will never be the same as we were before.  There's some deep sorrow about that, about never again being able to return to what we remember as the thoughtless unaware eden of Before, to who and what we were before we were changed by this experience.  Back then, we say now, we only thought we had problems, but we had it all, we were fine and we didn't even realize.  And we're sad.  We wait for the results of the PET scan, wonder what the hell we're doing with our lives, feel despair, fall down.

And yet, the gardener jumps around.  There was a blight, but we cut it out, and we're still here and what's unfolding now before our eyes?  What paradise can we dig into now and help to bloom?  What can we add, what can we do, to support this delicate life we see, to feed it, make it stronger, help it open up, drink deep, get strong, shine out?

Our actual garden, the one we make outside, is the biggest, fullest, most beautiful it's ever been this year.  Our devotion to it has expanded.  My own connection is so much stronger than it ever has been.  I have my own hands in our own dirt for hours every weekend, every moment a delight -- almost as if I'm creating the vision outside, in the yard, to which the inner will gravitate.  It has a pull all its own, a gravitational force. If we keep our eye on it, nurture the life around us, outside us, then our own inner landscape changes, matches it in beauty and variety and vibrancy.  At least I think that's what's happening.  I don't really know.

Cancer happened, and it's true that we'll never be the same.  But because I see the wonders we've made in our own little world outside, I know that yes, we'll be different, but we'll also be better than we were, sometimes terrified but always bigger.  If nothing else, in a few months, we will reap the bounty of what we've sown, we will eat beautiful food that we grew in soil that we made in a paradise of our own creation.  If there's more than that, it's icing on the cake.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

CAOS Nudi lecture: BEST thing I've done for me in a long time!!

Cashing in some Personal hours this afternoon to attend a lecture about nudibranchs at the California Academy of Sciences was definitely the best thing I've done for me in a long time.  So great and refreshing to do something completely different with my brain!   So exhilarating to be immersed in marine biology!  Today's experience confirmed me as a HUGE fan of the Academy of Sciences.  Really, I'm a little starry-eyed in love.

The only goofy thing about the lecture was its title, ham-handed in its halliteration: "Sneaky Sea Slugs: Three Tales of Tidepool Thievery."  The presenter, Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a marine invertebrate zoologist who has studied nudibranchs extensively, was fantastic - the perfect combination of knowledgeable, passionate, approachable and funny.  If you don't know why someone would devote their career or 1 1/2 hours of Personal time to delight in sea slugs, check this out: David Doubilet's remarkable photographs from a recent National Geographic magazine.

Aaaah, the calm of taxonomy: understanding what makes a Mollusk a Mollusk, a Gastropod a Gastropod, an Opistobranch, a Nudibranch.  I love the classification, the definitions, the relationships.  I love knowing the four kinds of nudibranchs, and observing their peculiar and delightful little bodies and knowing now the names of their various parts: gills (really, that's what those are!), rhinophores, cerata.  And of course that they're simultaneously hermaphroditic, even more fun: each nudi is simultaneously male and female so any individual can mate with any other, like land snails and slugs to which they are very closely related.  

But the whole point of today's lecture: to revel in the remarkable tendency of nudibranchs to retain and use features of their prey -- nematocytes (stinging cells) from anemones or toxins from chemically-defended sponges -- for their very own defense. Or how about the kleptoplasts, sea slugs who actually harvest the chloroplasts (organelles that conduct photosynthesis) from the algae they eat and in whose bodies photosynthesis continues for months, making them solar-powered!  It's so crazy that if you made it up, people would scoff.  And it's real!  

I'm signing Joe and me up to go on a tidepool excursion to Bolinas at the end of May that was advertised at the lecture. For $10, we'll wander along with a naturalist or two and look for nudis and other delights. I can't imagine a better place to be at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, honestly, that ambling along with some fellow nature geeks on the look-out for treasure.

Today was so great.  I can't wait for more!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Final PET Scan?

Today's the day Joe has his we-hope final PET scan.  We haven't talked about this very much, if at all, beyond the two of us, since the very thought that they'll find something throws us both into a whirl of despair.  And we've been trying to enjoy the springtime and Joe's recovery from the chemo and return to his old self instead.

They'll be looking to see if the spot on his right tonsil that still showed up on the PET scan three months ago -- meaning it was resisting the chemo -- is still there.  An ultrasound since then didn't provide too clear a picture.  Despite the oncologist's assurance that it will be gone, we're on pins and needles waiting to know.

Waiting to know if we're done.  If the shadow's gone now, if we can fully emerge out from under this and move on.

OK, so if they find something, then Joe will be scheduled for a tonsillectomy, since they'll need the tonsils in order to biopsy the Something and figure out what it is.

If they find nothing, then the party is On.

I'm voting for Party.  But am braced for anything.  And will make the best of leaving work early today to drive Joe to his appointment, read in the waiting room, drive him, glowing with radiation and avoiding pregnant women and babies, home again.

Party, please!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Land of Dreams

I'm freshly home from Saturday morning yoga class + mandatory class-extension at Cibo with my delightful yoga posse, the gangstas as Nancy calls them.  The time sitting together and talking and laughing over delicious coffee and food is so super-special, has become such an essential part of my weekend, that I can't imagine a Saturday without.  So funny how I never thought I'd have all these friends in my life, this abundance of love and joy.  Aaaaah, yoga: so much good has it brought me.

So I'm driving home from there, thinking about the conversation I was in this morning, listening to people originally from the East Coast talk about what it is they like about living in Marin County now.  And thinking about how really, on Saturday mornings, I always realize that I live in the Land of Dreams, an utterly stunning place that offers so many opportunities to live richly and fully, fed on open space, trees and gardens, great eats, so many people seeking a beautiful life.  Where driving home I marveled at a dazzlingly white egret slowly flapping its way over the highway, hyoid bone tucked back (OK, I don't really think they have one, but they sure work their skull loop when flying!), gargantuan-seeming and terradactyl in its loveliness.

Who would I be if I hadn't met and fallen in love with Joe and this Land of Dreams across the Golden Gate that he grew up in?  How would I live if I hadn't found yoga and this brilliant community of delightful people I have the supreme pleasure of calling friends?

All I know for sure is that I do live in a Land of Dreams.  Every weekend reminds me, opens my eyes wide at the beauty in me, in others and around me, at the enormous potential we all have to make simple miracles (and sometimes not so simple) happen just by being in this place at this time.  Together.  With Delight.

So wonderful!  So tasty!

PS This is what I mean about the skull loop on Great White Egrets.  Yay!