Thursday, March 31, 2011


Overnight, we went from a long, wet winter to full-on Spring. It's like a liberation, like we've been sprung from the darkness, like finally, finally, we get to go play outside.  Like we'd never felt it before, Joe and I walked around the garden yesterday afternoon, stunned, reveling in the warmth of the sun on our skin.  Delicious!

Everything's unfurling, singing, budding.  Late last night, returning home after some errands, we slowed to watch two coyotes trotting down the sidewalk and across the street.  The cats were out in force, too.  Everybody outside, getting their Spring on, day and night.

Welcome, baby Arugula and friends.  Soak up the nutrients and push out into the light.  I'm right behind you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do = Is, Is = Do

For months I've been having trouble answering the question of why I dropped out of yoga teacher training.  I did one weekend of the training in October, and then by December -- before the second weekend -- I knew it wasn't right and had to bail. Each time I've answered the question of why, I've been stunned by how many things I wanted to say in response, in a jumble, in a rush, and yet nothing really quite captured the Why of it.  I've been observing that and marveling at it a bit.  How funny that something that I knew 100% clearly to be the right course of action should have such murky motivation.

Why DID I drop out?

Or maybe the question should be why I signed up in the first place.

It seemed like the next natural, logical step, particularly in a year when I was pursuing so much yoga in so many places.  And because I LOVE yoga, everything about it.  It makes me happy and I love sharing what makes me happy.  It's what I want to be engaged in all of the time, playing on the mat or off.  It seems like the Big Truth of life -- I just want to stay inside it all the time.  And probably there was a little ego involved, since last year my sister completed teacher training.  I had dreams of our shared studio or shared retreat somewhere - what a great thing to be able to do together!

But it didn't work for me.  Teaching yoga is super-hard and I love a challenge, but I just found myself dreading the second weekend, exhausted by the number of plates I had in the air.  Dreading it.  Which is really not the emotion you want to have, which is not an emotion I have ever had when it comes to yoga.  Which is an emotion that all of 2010's efforts and resolutions were designed to eliminate from my life.

The teacher was stellar, the group varied and inspiring.  And yet, there it was: dread.

I felt a little let-down by my own self, yoga school drop-out.  Dunce-capped.  Lame. What was my deal, anyway?

In classic break-up lingo, it's not you, teacher training.  It's me.

I dropped out because teaching yoga in this model, I now finally realize, is not me.  I love yoga -- I love to practice and talk about it and, mostly, I love to write about it.  And I spend a lot of time writing about it, some weeks maybe even more time than I spend on the mat.

Because writing is what I do.  Writing is who I am.

So I'm good now.  If asked again, I know the answer -- short, sweet and to the point.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Breathing in the silence

Our story has been a lot about breathing lately, for whatever reason.  I'm rejecting all attempts to make sense of it all, all quasi-mathematical postulations that begin, "Maybe the universe is trying to tell you..." -- as if somehow Event 1 + Event 2 + Event 3 = some lesson something/someone is trying to impart.  Nope.  Not buying that line right now, even though maybe there could be some form of comfort in it.

All I can say is that it's super-weird that two times in as many weeks, there's been something Really Big in our direct experience to do with pneumonia, lungs, danger and death.

It's making me think about breathing a lot.

Weird that virtually all of what we heard from the vets about Jasper's condition at the end is what we heard from Joe's doctors on Sunday.  The same rounds of tests and xrays and ultrasound and CT and bronchoscopy and oxygen masks and danger and everywhere death, its looming possibility in the room, in the rooms next door.

I realized yesterday, sitting in Joe's quiet hospital room, wanting visitors and dreading them at the same time, that I am still grieving my dog so much, that I wasn't ready for something else to happen already, that I'm feeling a bit battered by the sight (again) of my husband's body broken by bicycle.  It's so easy in some ways to be always the patient, never the care-giver, never to walk into the room into the horror of what has now been done unto the beloved, what harm this time, how many months reversal of fortune.

I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.

And breathing.

And realizing that for the first time in 14 years, the entire time we've been in this house, last night was the first time I ever slept alone here-- no dog, no husband, no kid.  That's just super-weird.

And really, really quiet.  I'm breathing, savoring each deep intake of breath fully, filling my lungs with it and then letting it go.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Perfect, broken, breaking, perfect.

Caveat, in the interest of not wasting time: from this moment forward, many of my sentences will begin with the words, “Douglas said” or “Douglas says.” If you’re not in the mood for that, it might be a good idea to change channels for a while. Truth is that this weekend I re-confirmed (in my heart, the only place that matters) that Douglas Brooks is my teacher, a formidable wise and funny creature at whose feet I would gladly sit forever just for the chance to learn some tiny fraction of what he knows. Being in his presence makes me jump-around all-out Snoopy-dance with joy.

For me, that’s huge.

OK, it’s also true that I am prone to jump-around Snoopy-dance a lot. Life is delightful and I’m rolling in an abundance of gifts, too long a list to enumerate here.

But seriously, huge for me. I didn’t know I was looking, but I found.

That's right: I'm talking to YOU.

So, in class this weekend, Douglas said a lot of things that made my heart zing, not least of which was that the Honey Badger is the mascot of Rajanaka Yoga. Mascot!  A mustelid, a relative of my favorite creatures -- Badger and Wolverine. Sold!

And why is Honey Badger the mascot? Because the Honey Badger exemplifies the second characteristic required for success, as illustrated by Arjuna in the Mahabharata: temerity. Honey Badgers, like wolverines, are indomitably themselves. They do what they are. As Randall puts it in the video we’ve probably all seen by now (linked below if you haven’t): Honey Badger don’t give a shit. Honey Badger does what it wants.

This is exactly what I was trying to get at in my new year's post on Bay Shakti, in which I wrote about wolverine, "There isn't, can't be, an animal that is more totally an emblem for wildness, for independence, for doing what you want with boldness. I am holding on with all my claws.”

DB at the console

This weekend was devoted to the subject of how to live a Tantric yogic life in the world, receiving all of what life brings, wearing each of your guises (wife, mother, employee, friend, yogi, rocker, farmer, reader, animal-eater) authentically and fully. We, like the universe itself, are imperfect, are unfinished, always in a state of evolution, change, movement. In our imperfection, we are perfect, really, containing in that imperfection the potential for greater insight, growth. We have wiggle room. Nothing is set. It’s not all karma, determined, for a reason. There is also this element of lila, of play, of random mutation, of things that happen for no reason, just like that.

Yesterday was a perfect day, really. I slept for 9 hours, which is unusual for insomniac me, and which was such a relief following weeks of poor sleep as we prepared to and then ultimately lost our sweet Jasper. I woke up on my own, no alarm, at 6:45, plenty of time to make coffee, sit a bit, get ready to go practice with the kula and Douglas. The sky was clear, and so was my mind. No headache. All systems go.

Asana with Abby Tucker was great, as usual. She made me laugh, she was thoughtful and insightful and skillful. She was Abby. The room was packed. I was happy.

We moved next door for class with Douglas, and I was delighted to be in the front row, naturally my favorite spot, next to the lovely Alexandra and with so many delightful members of the larger Bay Area Anusara kula. I had all the stuff I needed: my notebook, writing instruments, coffee, blankets and blocks to stay comfortable, my phone resting upside down, on vibrate, in case I wanted to record or take pictures. Happy.

It was a perfect day and I knew it.

Throughout class, the phone vibrated 5 or 6 times, a bit unusual for a Sunday morning, but Joe wasn’t racing, so I was less antsy about the phone ringing. Still I was aware of it, even as I was delighting in the teachings. I was completely in the room where I was, mind in the same place as body, swept up in the stories and gems of truth. Super-happy.

When I flipped the phone over and saw 5 missed calls, I knew something was up. By the time I was in the hall, the phone rang again, one of Joe’s teammates calling me to ask me if I’d seen Facebook. The irony, of course, being that I, always so wired, unplug for three hours and that’s when people are desperately trying to reach me, so desperate that when their calls to my phone go unanswered, they resort to posting on my Wall. Funny, that is.

Lila happens.
So yeah, the details are that Joe was riding downhill toward Muir Beach. He had completed about 40 miles by this time in a couple of hours. The roads were dry, remarkable given how much it’s been raining. Two of his teammates had sprinted up the hill, so crested before him and were about 100 meters ahead. He came over the top and began his descent. A car turned left directly into his path. He hit the brakes but there was not enough space to stop or avoid the car. Joe hit the car toward the back, taking the force of the impact with his right side, breaking three ribs, his clavicle and scapula in the process, damaging his right lung. He was taken by ambulance to the emergency department at Kaiser which is where I found him, a few hours later, following my perfect morning, perfect classes, good company.

I walked out of Tantra class and into the emergency room. Again. What was it that Douglas said about the universe being recursive – Lather, Rinse, Repeat? Yep, been here before. Done this before.

And you know what? It was still perfect. In all its broken-ness, absolutely fucking perfect. I mean that with all sincerity.

Of course I wish it were different. I wish my Joe weren’t in pain (again), weren’t now facing months off the bike (again), weren’t confronting that dilemma of giving up the bike for good (again), weren’t worried about making ends meet, what will happen with his business, is his bike totaled, how long will he be fucked up (again, again, again, again). But this is what happened, so this is what we’re doing.  We've had a really hard month and a couple of fairly challenging years, but still we have love and friends and springtime and bees and love and love and love.

It's perfect, it's broken, it's breaking (and keeps breaking), and it's perfect.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Twenty-First Century (Tantric) Fox

This is a Fennec.  And this is not really a post about foxes.
Probably getting more than four hours sleep last night would've been a good idea. But I'm a-buzz, a-crackle even, with the lecture we had last night with Douglas Brooks, the kick-off to a weekend on Living Tantra in the 21st century. Another seven hours of this topic await today, after an hour and a half of practice, so getting up at 4:15 was really the only way (thank you, restless mind!) to do everything I want to do today, to create that bit of sukha (space) in my schedule.

And if I learned anything in natural history classes -- meaning, in hours of field trips on beaches, in woods, zoos, museums -- it's that notes taken are so much more valuable when you go over them again within 24 hours, fill in the connections while still fresh, reinforce with a colored pencil (or two) what the essential lessons were.

So here I find myself at the kitchen table, before 5 on a Saturday morning, notebooks and pencils at the ready.  And yes, I said notebookS on purpose, since I pulled out last year's with its notes of other Douglas lectures, for reference.

I am wide awake, not just from the coffee, but from the sheer excitement of listening to Douglas, of knowing that I'm sitting in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment learning exactly the right things from exactly the right person.  That's pretty great at any moment, but most especially and particularly right now when we've been so devastated by the loss of Jasper.  I'm so grateful and eager for more.  And so glad I'm getting it, in just a few hours.

I've rhapsodized before about Douglas as a teacher.  I love him, all right -- it's really just that simple.  Last night, in speaking about yogic traditions that place their emphasis on extricating ourselves from the bondage of human material existence, Douglas said their theme song was The Animals, "We Got to Get Out of This Place."  And ever since, when thinking about the topic of the weekend and about its spirit, I can't stop destroying The Doors by singing. "S/he's a Twenty-First Century (Tantric) Fox." It's idiotic, I know that, but I can't get it out of my head.  The only thing that could make it even better for me would be to be able to work that crazy nastyass Honey Badger in there, too. ;>

Nuggets from last night?

- Life is not a problem for which yoga or transcendence or enlightenment is the solution.  A paradox, sure, but not a problem.  Our birth is a rare chance, exceptional in so many ways.  There is no gift beyond the one we've already been given.  There's nothing to get that we ain't already got just by virtue of being here.   

- This yoga we practice is not about finding a state apart from the state of ordinary existence.  It's about the virtuosity of becoming oneself, about how we may live more fully, how we may in fact entirely commit to living the life we've been given.  

- And we do that in relationship, in intimacy, which is the middle place, the mudhya, the paradoxical point of complete freedom at a clear boundary.

- We are unfinished and the yoga is a process of delving into this unfinished-ness, not to finish it, but just to delve, and most importantly to connect.

 - And adhikara, my favorite word?  Adhikara is more than studentship, or what I think of as the avidity (if that's a word) for knowing.  Adhikara is about what you can do, what you're able to do that's like what we all can do, like what some of us can do and like what only you can do.  Oh, favoritest part of all: adhikara means that what you can do IS who you are.

And that, ladies and germs, is just about as FANTASTIC as it gets -- that you are what you do and what you do IS who you is. This is what I'm jumping around about this morning (quietly, so as not to wake Joe). I knew this before, but I needed reminding, and damn if this doesn't feel like great fucking news! 

Nothing to seek, nothing to shake off or escape or reject.  Just endless opportunities to connect to others and the world around us, as a way of delving deeper into the gift of our existence on this earth, right here and right now.

This kind of learning truly is a reveling, a tapping into a deep wellspring of joy.  I am made so happy by the sitting and listening and scribbling and thinking.  And so happy by the people I'm learning this all with and from, in the room and in relationship, twenty-first century tantric foxes all!    

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Death, Tantra, animals, LOVE

One week ago right now, we were racing to UC Davis, desperate to see our Jasper, hoping against hope that we'd be able to cure him, take him home with us, have more time. It was not to be. Now a week later, I am still periodically feeling utterly nauseous with misery and missing him. I managed to get out of bed this morning without crying, but still have moments all day when I am overcome by the loss of him and my eyes leak.

It's so amazing to love someone -- yes, someone, even though he was a canine someone -- just so much.

I resisted going to Herpetology last night. In fact I spent all afternoon scheming a way to withdraw from the class. I lost my Sweet Pony, I said to myself -- what do I care about a bunch of snakes, anyway? All I wanted, I thought, was to go home, sit on the couch, stare out the window, think about Jassie, be sad if I felt sad.

But I went anyway. And that was so the right thing.

All week, glimmering just beyond my grief, has been this tantalizing thought that our lovely gorgeous Jasper was a temporary aggregation of molecules, of Shakti as we'd say in yoga, just as we all are. How lucky we were to share in that particular form that he took, so beautiful and brindle, so full of a boundless love.

I can see it more clearly now, with each passing day, though I am still aching from his absence and probably always will.

So yoga's been giving me that particular Tantric gift, of thinking that Shiva (goodness, consciousness) chose to take shape as Jasper, that the Shakti (energy) that animated him, is not gone. It's just transformed, returned to come again another way. And next year's peaches will be all the sweeter from his transformation, the roses that much more lovely.

Last night, sitting in a lecture I almost didn't attend, a lecture about crocodiles and alligators, oh I was so filled up again with the happiness of animals -- the sheer delight of looking at how they're constructed, what makes them what they are. It did so much to restore me, to draw my head back up, chin back, drink it in.

I will miss him ferociously forever. I would still trade just about anything under the sun to have Jasper back with me, but I see all the more clearly now what a tremendous gift his huge love was and that that big fat love persists, all around.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Busy-ness for my broken heart

Every day since Wednesday has started the same way, with waking up and remembering and missing Jasper.  I see his empty bed from my place in my own bed, and just feel so sad.  I stand at the window in our room and look out at the spot where we buried him and just miss him so much.  It's physical pain, this heart-ache.  It's the worst pain I have ever felt in my life.  

To people who think, "well, he was just a dog, after all. Isn't it time you got over this?", I am sending out a big Fuck Off with as much love as I can muster, out of this hole I'm in right now, grieving for my furry sweetheart who is no more.  

I can comfort myself for a little while by taking a philosophical perspective, about which I will write more later, but that comfort is short-lived.  I miss his face, the feel of his fur, his love and companionship so much, his sweetness and presence in every part of my life.

It made me cry more today to see that Joe had tipped the left-over kibbies from Jasper's bowl into the compost under the sink.   Of course I understand why Joe did it, there was no sense leaving the food in the bowl -- he was probably trying to spare me the pain of seeing it every time I walked past it in the kitchen -- but still the finality of it all is crushing. And yes, naturally there will probably come a time when we put away Jasper's things -- his collar and his various beds and dishes -- but right now I can't erase these traces of his brief passage through our shared existence.

What's crazy is how quickly we lost him.  It's a blur, really, the time between the first vet appointment on February 28th, the days between the incorrect diagnosis of pneumonia and the total failure of his poor, poor lungs.  I am dreading the day that I open the mailbox and see the new tag that I ordered for him on the day we got that pneumonia diagnosis, the day I thought, "ok, he'll be all right, we'll fix this."  It was only four days after that that we saw him for the last time, and now that damn tag is on its way here and he'll never even get to wear it.

But I will.  

As is my way, I am keeping busy through this, trying to find ways to process my grief that don't involve keening and wailing, though I have those times too.  

Broken Heart Activities:

- Compiling one big folder of all the millions of photos of Jasper we've taken over the past almost-14 years.  He was such a cute baby and such a presence through so much change in our own lives - so sweet to see all of that in one place.  

- Making a photo book of him that chronicles his life with us so that we can sit together as a family and treasure him.

- Designing the memorial to him in our yard.  We've already selected the stone that we will place over his grave (oh, i hate that word), one large enough to stretch out on, sit on, spend time companionably with him.  And now I'm thinking about what flowers to plant.

- Saying good morning and good night to him every day, stopping by to say good bye to him before leaving the house, in the same way that I always told him that I loved him whenever leaving to work or errands.

- Sitting on the bench we have pulled up near where he is buried, sometimes with Laurent or Joe, sometimes alone, and just taking in the beauty of that spot and all of the additional beauty Jasper is yielding back to it now, to become a part of the peaches and the roses and everything else.

- Reading fiction. I realized that all I had left were natural history titles and right now I don't have the brain for it.  So I took myself to the bookstore in San Anselmo yesterday and snapped up three titles, with "Slammerkin" by the immensely talented Emma Donoghue first on my queue.  It's such solace to escape.

- Watching too much "Battlestar Galactica."  We started this earlier, when we still had Jassie sleeping on the couch nearby, and now we're hooked, nearing the end of Season 2.

- Writing when possible, going to class, soaking up all the love of friends who have been so supportive and essential through this process.

This really is so painful, so much worse than I ever imagined it would be.  There is such a terrible emptiness without him here, such a loss of purpose for me: no sweet, sweet Pony to wake up for, to feed, to walk and water, to baby-talk and sing to at all moments in the day, to pet and love up and glory in every second.  I realized yesterday that I have spent so much of my life caring for someone in that way: Laurent starting in 1987, then Jasper in 1997.  It's hard to be without a baby, truly.  This is not the empty-nest I had in mind.

I know it will get better.  

He had a great life with us.  We had a great life with him.  We are learning to move on, now that his time with us in this form has ended.  And meanwhile, I'm trying to keep busy, to delight in all of the beauty that he was and still is, somewhere beyond where I can see.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Earthquake, tsunami, death, fall-out, LOVE

I am deep in my grief, aching for my missing Jasper, realizing all of the countless ways he is woven into every moment of every day.  The way my first thought is of him every morning, as it has been for years, seeing him, making eye contact and hearing the thump-thump-thump of his full-body greeting.  The way I'd whisper good-night to him every night before turning off the light, wherever he was, whether on his pillow in our room or taking up an inordinate amount of space on our bed.  And breakfast, breakfast is a meal of heartbreak for me now, so missing is his gorgeous face two feet from my right elbow, waiting for his share of toast.

There just doesn't seem to be much point to getting up in the morning.  No one to feed, no one to walk, no one excited in that particular way to see me again, every time just like the first, every time just like the last.

Look, I know there is serious shit going down in the world right now.  Bodies washing up by the thousands in Japan, millions fleeing nuclear fall-out, my friends and neighbors buying potassium iodate in the event that the radiation comes here to our coast.  I know there's big shit happening in the Middle East, too -- people rebelling, government oppressing.  All kinds of human misery.

But what's happening to me and Joe and Laurent right now, this is family.  It is our own 8.9, an event that has changed our lives forever, brought more pain and heartbreak than we knew was possible.  Family.

As we were driving back from Davis the other night, with Jasper on his pillow for the very last time, Laurent remarked that he couldn't remember a single instance of ever, ever being angry with Jas.  For him, Jas was just an endless source of happiness -- never anything else.  To which Joe responded (typical), that we should all be more like dogs, really, just be love, all the time.

Joe is so right, as usual. How right it would be to approach life like Jasper, every morning glorious, every walk exciting, every glance at his people a source of full-body joy. I'm working on this right now, especially because I feel like the hundreds of endearments and kisses I gave to Jas on a daily basis for years need to go somewhere, need to be expressed in more than tears.

I'm so glad that the spot in the yard where we laid Jassie's beautiful body is a spot I can see from my bedroom window, from my bed even. We went looking yesterday, the three of us, for a suitable beautiful stone to place in that spot. For now we have a bench pulled up close so we can sit and think about Jasper, tell stories to each other, have a cry and love him up.

Our sweet boy is everywhere we look, though. Everywhere.

Jasper was all love all the time. [ok, except for that one HVAC guy he tried to bite, but he was so right about that, I almost bit him myself.] He was a true source of joy and delight, every single moment of every day.

So we're making our way through this bleak sad part, feeling every feeling, hearts big and full and aching, remembering all that love and holding it high, little furry beacon, to lead us out of this dark patch.

We miss him so much.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh, how much you taught us about love, sweet boy

At the end, when he could barely breathe -- his poor lungs so compromised by they still didn't know what -- still our beloved Jasper  struggled off the gurney to come to us, into our arms, so we could cover him with kisses and all our love.  

In those final moments with Jasper, we knew so completely how much he loved us and knew he felt our gigantic love for him. We called him by all of his names, pet him sweetly, buried our noses in his fur, tried to help him to breath from the oxygen mask, felt his beautiful body under our hands, and knew that it was time.

He fell asleep in our arms, surrounded by our love, slipping away sweetly, away from his terrible physical suffering.  His brave spirit left his body at around 6:45pm on March 16, 2011 and his body stilled.

We are wracked with pain, we are utterly heart broken, we are keening and grieving his loss, and we remember with so much gratitude how much love he brought to each of us and to our family.

Long may you run, sweet sweet Pony.  You live on eternally in our hearts, hearts made so much bigger by your love.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

So quiet

It's so quiet in a house without a dog in it.  It's not that Jasper is noisy, exactly.  It's more the just knowing that somewhere he's walking around, claws clicking on the hardwood, or snoring on one of the many pillows laid out for him around the place, one in every room.  It's his absence that makes this quiet.  Such a strange, strange feeling.  I feel like there's just no reason to be here, without him.

We are so accustomed to every glance including him, to looking for his shape in every part of the house, to that cozy thump-thump of his greeting.

So quiet here without that.

Miss you, little pony.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Toast Hound: wish I could give you my heart, for reals...

"Politely requesting," in better days...

It took an inordinately long time this morning for Jasper to make his way down the hall and take up his place by my side for our customary daily sharing of toast.  This has been our way for years.  I’m not proud that I taught him to beg food from me, but I don’t think of it as begging.  It’s more like sharing, really.  It’s more like polite requesting, though there have been times when it’s gone a little too far, chin resting on the edge of the table or on my knee, eyes imploring.  But chinnies is so cute that I don’t care. 

We play a little game at breakfast.  The moment I look at Jas, his tail starts to beat the floor.  The moment I look away, the tail slows to a stop.  Look: tail beats.  Away: tail stops.  I can’t tear my eyes away from him these days.

Our boy is so slow right now, suffering as he is from what we now think is almost surely congestive heart failure.  Our once super-active dog and we are adjusting to this new normal, this greatly-slowed pace.  He doesn’t finish his food, no matter what goodies we tuck in his bowl to entice him.  This has never happened his whole life.

He abandoned his toast post very early this breakfast and is now curled up under the table a few feet away from me, too far for me to hand him bits I tear off my bread.  This is all so new and strange and unlike him that it is almost unfathomable.

We used to spend hours in the hills, Jasper and I, running and walking, Jasper after every rock that rolled down hill, every rabbit or deer that happened across our trail.  This morning I’ll feel lucky if we can get out the gate and to the corner without poor Jassie having a coughing fit or losing his balance.  I will only take him out because he still perks up when he hears the word “walk” and just to momentarily change his scenery. 

It’s a struggle to stay in the present, to not fast-forward.  I fall apart regularly, and then force my eyes back to Jasper’s gorgeous brindle form, stuff my nose in his fur and breathe him in.

None of us are here forever, but it’s so hard to let go.

My mother once said, in 2009 actually when I was upset about Jasper’s diagnosis of canine melanoma (which he survived very nicely, thank you), that that’s why you shouldn’t have pets – it’s too painful.  And this is certainly painful.  But come on: to be clear, I’ve cried over every fish, every turtle, every hamster, every frog, every lizard, every single rat I ever loved and lost.  I have loved them all.  And this is by far the biggest love and the biggest pain of all.

But I wouldn’t trade it, not if it meant that I wouldn’t have had these glorious thirteen years and six months of companionship with this remarkable, beautiful dog.

We go in for more x-rays this morning.  The having-something-to-do-about-it helps a little.  The vets will be checking to see whether the meds Jas has been taking since last week are helping to clear the fluid out of his lungs.  I think he’s doing better, but he’s still laboring.  From there, we’ll discuss whether to take him to a canine cardiologist.  What is the true state of his heart, and how much can we do to prolong his quality of life?

It’s unbearable.

And yet we bear it. 

We adapt to the new circumstances and we go on. 

Truly I would do anything to make this not true, to wield some magic in which his life extends the length of my own and beyond, in which he is always with me, in the woods, constant companion.  In which I could give him my own heart, keep him here, healthy, prancing.  But such magic doesn’t exist, does it.  Even Dumbledore died.

He will, we all will, return to the formless.  I don’t have to like it -- right now I really, really hate it --  but there’s nothing to be done except keep my eyes on Jasper, savor each breath he takes, take each step as it comes, slower but with no less grace.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Fever: happy-work

Pawlonia first bloom, 3/10/11
As self-proclaimed High Priestess of Happy, I take Happy super-seriously. It is my life's entire aim, a subject I love to read about, think about, write about. It is my Rule #1, the barometer of everything. I love it when we chant Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu in class -- May all beings be happy, may all beings be free. Maha Amen to that.

I've been a veritable frenzy of work recently, busy, busy, busy, both at my paying job and in my various projects on the side, whether school or blogging or writing. I was just out in the garden planting peas and listening to the busy bees in the borage, and got to thinking about how much I love work, how much I love having some bustle, creative things to do, challenge, goals. I can feel the Spring inside me in this exhilaration of work.  Like a bee, I need and thrive on the purposefulness.

I was reminded of a passage in Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., in which he writes about our ingrained prejudice against work and how actually work makes us happier:
In their article, "Optimal Experience in Work and Learning," Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Judith LeFevre show that people prefer leisure to work, a conclusion that no one would find startling.  However, they also discovered something else: that people actually have more flow experiences at work than at home.
     This paradox -- that we say we prefer leisure at the same time that we are having our peak experiences at work -- is strange and revealing.  It suggests that our prejudice against work, our association of effort with pain and leisure with pleasure, is so deep-rooted that it distorts our perception of the actual experience.  When we automatically and regularly evaluate positive experiences at work negatively, simply as a learned response, we are severely limiting our potential for happiness -- because in order to be happy we must not only experience positive emotions but also evaluate them as such.  (p. 92)
Obviously, the nature of the work matters enormously, but the point is that it isn't work itself that's the problem.  The challenge, or rather the opportunity, is to find the right work, happy-work.

At this time of year when I'm outside in the garden or even inside at the laptop, I am reminded that happy-work is the only kind worth doing.  Sure, there are reasons to put up with the opposite -- I know I did it for ages in the interest of college tuition, and I know plenty of others who "keep head down, collect paycheck" -- but it can only be temporary.

Ultimately the real joy in life is to find this happy-work and get lost in it, whether it's spreadsheets (yes, me) or compost (also me).  

Every spring offers another opportunity to get out there and plant seeds of future deliciousness.  Ours is the sowing, and also the harvest.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Michael's Sourdough Challenge: Week 1

I love a good project and/or game, and will make a project or game out of just about any activity.  This leads to hours of amusement and entertainment -- sometimes I am the only one entertained or amused, but that's fine by me.  I am a total nerd this way, but don't forget that I am the very same person who worked on a report about cats with Medora Payne when we were under-10 kids on Liberty Street, neither one of us able to have cats as pets (family allergies), out of total love for subject spending hours at the library, reading books about cats, collecting images of cats, writing page after page after page...  Yes, I have a long history of this.

For example, coming home from Tahoe a few weeks ago, I decided that I would make a little project of counting how many medical marijuana dispensaries there are along the freeway corridor.  Lately, I've been noticing these everywhere. So I kept a running tally in my notebook.  Unfortunately, it appears that really, the bulk of the dispensaries I remember are on a different stretch of road, so it wasn't that fruitful.  But then, since it was getting to be twilight, optimum raptor hunting time across the flatlands of Highway 37, I turned it into a game of Pot vs. Hawk.  Hawks won it, hands down.  Awesome!  There are many, many more examples of my project-mania, but you get the idea.

Over lunch at the delicious Michael's Sourdough a few weeks ago with some friends, we were discussing our unfortunate tendency to always order the same delicious thing.  I always get the #23 with Dijon, no onions, half-wrapped.  Always.  Because it's delicious.  Half-wrapped because the sandwiches are enormous and certain to induce food-coma if eaten in their entirety.  How sad, we said, that there are broad swaths of menu we are not accessing because of our favoritism.

And so a new project was born.

The Michael's Sourdough sandwich menu has 26 items on it.  Twenty-six -- how tidy, I thought.  If we eat here every other week for one year, I proposed aloud, we could work our way through the entire menu.  Thank goodness my friends are generally willing to humor me and my silly ideas.

We start today with Sandwich #1: Idaho Ham.  The rules are that everyone orders the same sandwich; we eat and discuss.  If nothing else, it's an opportunity to see some people I love on a regular basis in the middle of a work-day.

The Michael's Sourdough Challenge will not be easy.  The menu (sorry, vegans and vegetarians, and me with my sometimes-narrow tastes) is quite meat-y, and does include liverwurst (week #12) and salami (week #8, oh the breath!).  Schedules are another challenge, since it's absurd how hard it is to coordinate the schedules of just 4 people.  Keeping a commitment with each other for a year is another aspect of the challenge.

So we'll see how it goes.  I'll be there today, tasting the #1 sandwich on the menu and in our game, enjoying the company of friends and a little mid-day break.  And naturally, taking notes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jasper: two possibilities, only one wish

These are your lungs on fluid...
Our poor boy Jasper has been having some troubs recently.  Today was our second visit to the vet in as many weeks.  We didn't sleep most of last night, concerned about Jassie's shallow, labored breathing, all night long.   Our good eater hasn't been eating much, leaving kibbies behind in the bowl, no matter the enticements offered.  And even though Jas clearly wanted to go, I cut our morning walk short;  even the slightest trot would cause him to cough and weave.  Heart-breaking, really.

On top of that, I swear he has been giving me this look for the past week or so, head held kind of low, direct stare into my eyes that he hasn't done before.  Like he's asking me for help.  I know that's probably total projection, but I swear this is a new intent gaze he's never directed at me before in our 13 years 8 months together.

I was about to leave for work, with the plan of calling the vet at 9.  I chanced it and called them from the driveway at 8:20, and lo and behold, they had a 9am slot for us.  All manner of blessings on the staff and doctors at our vet clinic.  They are unfailingly sweet and kind, baby-talking Jasper like there's no tomorrow. 

One physical exam, two chest x-rays, some bloodwork, 1 shot of antibiotics and 1 new prescription later, Jasper is home and resting on his pillow, still breathing with a great deal of effort.

The verdict: our little sweetheart has fluid in his lungs.  If you look closely at the x-ray above, you can see it: where he should have nice dark lungs filling out his rib cage, there is a smokiness -- that's the fluid.  No wonder breathing has been such an effort, pobrecito!

The question is why, of course.  Jasper has a mild heart murmur, so immediately we go to the possibility of heart failure.  This is not unusual in older dogs, especially those with murmurs, and was the very thing that drove us to the vet two weeks ago (after my Googling turned up this alarming possibility).  The good news is that his heart is not enlarged, looks fine, and really on the scale of 1 to 6 on which they grade heart murmurs, his is only a 2.  Mild.  Heart failure is treatable not curable.  We could keep him comfortable with daily medication.

The other most likely possibility is pneumonia, something else that's common in older dogs.  But naturally, the thermometer didn't indicate a fever, which you'd expect with pneumonia, though not always.  Antibotics would clear it up.

Possibilities eliminated: cancer (phew), heart worm disease (phew).

Still nothing's clear-cut at the moment, except that our boy is struggling for air.  Most likely it's either heart failure or pneumonia.  Yes, there are some other options, but those seemed less likely.

By later this afternoon, I will have heard from the vet re the blood panel they're running right now.  That'll help narrow things.  The radiology report tomorrow morning will tell us more, perhaps even something definitive.  By later today or tomorrow morning, we are hoping to see some improvement in his breathing: either the antibiotics will start doing the trick on the pneumonia, or the other meds for the heart failure will have helped to move the fluid from his lungs so he can get full breaths.  Either way, he should be feeling better. 

And that's all I really want: for our sweet Jassie to be ok, to be able to fill those capacious lungs of his with air and keep that big, bold heart beating strong as ever.

Jas, in better days, curled up in a garden chair.  Love!

Birthday Kula Rejoicing

The best gift of yoga in my life, truly, is the kula, this community of delightful yogis I find myself a part of now.  Little did I know when I started practicing 8+ years ago that I would find this enormous many-armed embrace.  These new friendships have brought so, so much to this decade, to my dotage as I like to call it.  My teacher calls me AriAnanda, naming with the Ananda the deep joy that is in my heart and busting out all over when I'm on my mat and in the glow of the practice.  A volcano of Ananda!

AriAnanda totally fits me.  Totally.  It reminds me that my parents named me this too, waaaaaay back when, when they invented my middle name Felisa from the word "feliz" in Spanish, meaning "happy."  Coincidence?  Nope. I do think in the practice I have been able to connect to who I truly am (and always have been) -- a happy, happy person interested in the happy-happy of others, eager to spread more of this good feeling (naturally, without being a total freak about it).

AriAnanda is why I was able to leave my last job, finally.  The contrast between who I know myself to be in class and with my friends and on the weekends and what I had become in order to survive on that job became too sharp, too false.  Thank goodness I got out of there, so now I can be Ananda all the time.  Oh, fuck yes.

The kula is so much a part of how I able to maintain this Ananda 24/7.  OK, sure, I have my ananda-free moments like everyone else -- frustration, sorrow, anger -- but so quickly I am able to come back to this wellspring of bliss, of just feeling like everything is right and better-than-OK, awesome in fact.  Because I have these amazing people in my life who keep reminding me.  Who keep the truth front-and-center for me.

Because, in short, to steal a line from a (now-dated) movie, I see good people.

At no time is this more clear than on birthdays.  The rejoicing starts early, on Facebook.  It's always a delight to see the messages come pouring in from all parts of the country and globe.  On Nancy's birthday yesterday, it made ME so happy to see how much love was pouring in, so very many sweet heartfelt messages.  Then in class, to feel how much love was pouring from us to her and back again the whole time, so much celebration of how precious she is to us all.  Crazy-powerful!

In last night's class, in honor of Nancy's birthday, Laura woven Nancy's sutra for the year, believe, into the practice.  It occurred to me that believing in each other is what allows us to better believe in ourselves. When I look out, even just in my mind's eye, and scan the smiling faces of the kula, my belief in their goodness is so unwavering that I feel it refracted back to me and I remember that that same brightness that animates them is in me, too.  All the time.

The intensity of it sometimes makes me feel like I've become a crazy lady in this-here-my-dotage.  But if you're gonna be crazy, might as well be crazy-in-love, right?

Sending a shout-out to all of my friends, yogis and not, for all the love year-round, birthdays and not-birthdays.  You make it all possible, people.  You keep it all good.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Maha ha ha ha ha ha: how yoga rocks my world. A thousand-fold.

Shiva is my homeboy
We've been celebrating Maha Shivaratri the last couple of days, Wednesday night into yesterday.  [For more about what that means, check out Bernadette Birney's delightful post or this one, by Katrina.]  In our practice with Laura, the emphasis has been on being super-clear about our intentions, since on Maha Shivaratri, intentions, like mantras, are magnified one thousand-fold.  On this dark night of Shiva, they are a whole lot more potent than usual.

Really, when you come down to it, a strongly-held intention is a mantra, something we hold to, something that keeps us on the path.  Remembered, it does play like music through the mind, a little melody behind everything else we do.  Just like a mantra that we come back to, and back to, over and over, as we move forward into creating the lives we really want to live.

I love the word Maha.  It means "great" or "biggest."  Since Tuesday, I've been trying to Maha up everything I'm doing. Why not GO BIG?

And I've had a lot of help, mostly from my teacher, who inspires me and blows my mind regularly. Several things that she's said over the past few days are echoing through my thoughts day and night, sinking in, seeding mantras of their own. But mostly I've been struck, again, by how consistently yoga delivers magic on the mat. How I can be working my loops and tucking my tailbone and spiraling my back thigh in -- working all kinds of physical technique, sweating, focused -- and then BAM comes a moment of total delight in which I am so happy I could just burst.

How the practice itself, consistently, opens up opportunities for joy and comfort and a simple reveling in being alive, having this body, being incarnated in this form, if I could be so bold.

Nothing I have ever done in my entire life has been so consistent a source of happiness.  How freaking amazing is that?!  So amazing that I just want to laugh and jump around.

How lucky we are to be here, to have this opportunity to take in the world around us, to dance our lives into being, just like Shiva.  To make magic on our mats, over and over. 

Go Maha!