Sunday, September 24, 2017

Allow Yourself: Longing Retreat to Portugal

I have a database of thousands of retreat centers all over the world. I consult it when a client asks me to scout a retreat for them. I filter through their perimeters to find an ideal fit.

I also have a short list of my own ideal fits.

Monte Velho Retreat on the Western Algarve, Portugal was a short list. People always want to go to to Europe. I'm down but people often don't want to pay European prices. Portugal and Greece are currently two of the most affordable destinations (for unfortunate reasons to do with the Euro and economic destabilization).

Portugal is safe and an easy connect for US travelers.

It was also the last retreat I have planned for myself for the foreseeable future.

When Yogawood transitioned ownership this past year there was a lot of work to do. I usually plan retreats well over a year out to secure best dates, negotiate rates, budget tuitions, and set a marketing strategy. I couldn't do it all. There was enough change in the air so I decided to let it happen. Let this be my last retreat for the foreseeable future and see where there was flow, movement, and growth.

I don't ever feel like you should do something because you do it.

Do it because it's aligned. Do it because it serves. Do it because it works.

When I do plan a retreat I look at what I know of that particular place or what that place tells of itself. Costa Rica has an environmental tourism campaign around reanimating the world-- reminding visitors that the land needs to rest, that animals need a break from human interference. Cuba tells the story of the joy of rebellion. Alaska reminds humans that we are small in the perspective of nature's grandeur.

Places have an identity.

I look at the place and where it might illuminate a facet of yoga. We practice yoga all over the world. What is the intersection of place and practice? What do we learn? How does yoga help us land where we are? How does yoga help us see a as it is place and not be blinded by our own expectations? How does yoga help us see ourselves and not be blinded by our own delusions?

As I started learning about this windswept coast of Portugal I read about the cliffs sailors saw before they sailed away and the songs of lament and longing both they and their loved ones sang. I listened to Fado, birthed in fishing villages and working class neighborhoods of Lisbon, and sung in very ritualized ways to lean into our own longing.

Saudade. Longing. Yoga works with longing. Bhaktis use yearning to reach for God, worshipping God, singing to God. The stories of Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan are filled with reaching.

After having such a wonderful time working with Colleen Seng for the Belize retreat, I worked with her again to develop material for this retreat. We filled it with poems from Leonard Cohen, Sanskrit yogic chants, traditional Portuguese Fado lyrics, meditations from Tara Brach and Thich Nhat Hanh, and notes from Rumi, Hafez and more. I created meditations and consciousness practices to use the retreat to work with place, practice, and feeling.

And we went in.

You can plan retreats until you're blue in the face but like any yoga class, it is co-creative. Any retreat worth it's salt will shift to meet the participants where they are.

In yoga we work with our bodies and our thoughts. Longing, bhakti, reminds us to work with the material of our feelings. Follow the feeling. What is the information?

The beautiful experience was a group of people who were willing. Who didn't feel ashamed of taking a break to step into their own experience. They didn't apologize for going on retreat-- instead, they excitedly talked about other ways to build in breaks, experiences, and celebrations. While we tuned in to events at home and with our loved ones, there was equal space to turn in to the breadth of our own experience.

Allowing joy, allowing longing-- where we reach towards integration-- allows ourselves. It means we're not banishing a part of ourselves as unacceptable, thereby giving it the power to control and influence us in unforeseen ways. Allowing our desires, our feelings, the scope of who we are allows us. Allows us to be. To exist.

So we lived. Together. In a very beautiful place.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Allow Joy

Let yourself enjoy it.


I lingered over coffee and watched the light. I did nothing with my time. It felt still and luxurious. Some little thought nagged at me-- "I should apologize for this." Or, "I should justify this." "This relaxation will produce some later writing. Or it will prompt an idea. For work."

Because everything is work.

I know people who won't share the joy in their life. If they take a vacation, they keep it quiet to not seem to brag, or to not seem to ignore the problems of the world.

Post-empire Portugal reminded me that it all ends. Enjoy it.

I lingered over coffee in cafes with reminders of Portugal's one time power. I'm not trying to romanticize nor justify that power but it was there. Influence and wealth that seemed permanent. I sat in the ruins of Portuguese power watching my birth place, the United States, dissolve in its own pool of unrestrained grasping. For awhile now I've been reading historians who chart the US rise and fall of power and comparing it to other fallen empires, like that of Rome for example. Many signals point to those of us living in the US living through it's decline. The future will confirm which prophets got it right.

We know that some people survive empire's collapse. Portugal is an example of that. What is life like after empire?


There is so much I love about Portugal. One big piece: enjoy it.

It's a very European attitude to prioritize one's life potentially more than one's work. The United States tends to produce the opposite affect: work justifies your life.

Again and again, we learned Portuguese history of slave trade, navel power, colonization, conquest, without apology. The monks who sought to atone, the Templar Knights who avenged the church, the white knuckled explorers sailing uncharted seas. Their descendents pour coffee and live in the ruins. They live in life's inevitable cycle. And they do not apologize for their joy.

I often wonder about that-- why do we have to hide our joy? Does our joy exacerbate another's suffering? Is my suffering soothed by other's shared suffering? Isn't the cycle about the whole of it? Do we get to have capacity to allow ourselves it all?

Not all of us gets to travel. I readily acknowledge the realities of privilege and access.

We all get range. Within our experiences, there is a range of feeling and experience.

I want to live it all. I'm not going to apologize for it.

I wish you all the experiences. I wish you thrills, sunsets, late nights with friends. I wish you the big mile stone moments and the small gentle ones. And I don't need your apologies. Your existence entitles you to it all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


I burped a lot.

Not loud, aggressive belches but tiny windpipe burps. As a dedicated yoga student, this became tricky. I’d try to open my breath smooth and even. Instead, my breath would catch around air bubbles, burps, some type of disruption that I couldn’t fully resolve.

I met a myofascial release body worker at a party and thought it couldn’t work. As I laid down on her table, she began to lightly run her fingers through the sheaths of fascia around my throat, shoulders, and neck. I felt points of tension that ran from my thumb to my ears; she tugged and pulled and softened. She asked me, “Were you ever in a car accident?” “No,” I replied. “Huh.” More pulling, head turned, hair brushed away. “Were you ever choked?” “Thankfully no!” I waited while she moved her thumb deeper into my body’s webbing. “Why do you ask?” “Well… your body shows patterns as though your head whipped back. That can sometimes occur with people who had whiplash from a car accident. It also occurs if someone choked-- swam and swallowed water or was abused.”

She’s not the first person to ask me this. Body workers continually read this pattern in my body.

I went home thinking about it. I couldn’t shake the only story I knew in my line that fit that pattern: my maternal great grandmother. When her daughter, my grandmother, was away at Tennessee State Teachers College in the 1930s, my great-grandmother, the bookish, quiet, smart mother of 5 children, went into the barn and hung herself.

Throughout her life my grandmother said her mother had died from the “change,” a nickname for “change of life” a euphemism for menopause.

I’ve never known a woman to hang herself due to menopause.

I started looking into epigenetics, the study of how trauma is passed in DNA in surprising and seemingly improbable ways. I really have no way of knowing if I somehow, God knows how, inherited my great-grandmother’s hanging. I know that I have lived through so much of the trauma and tragedy written into her family line.

I grew up in homogeneously white, wealthy suburbs. Public schools funded by a strong tax base, well kept lawns, regular dental visits. The story told out there was that hardship lived in cities and refugee camps. We should be the nice wealthy white people who volunteered here and there.

In college, still safely inoculated from responsibility, I had enough distance to study systemic oppression, the web we all live within whether acknowledged or not. I began to notice the myth of the safety of suburbs-- as if there was a way to protect ourselves from one another, to let the fences allow some in and some out. I started to be able to name some of the ways we structured our relationships to one another and the embedded pain.

I studied systemic racism, sexism, oppression.

I became close to women of color as we had intense, painful conversations about the lived reality of racism. As I learned a level of accountability for my complicity in racial blindness I simultaneously felt waves of jealousy. Part of their path through understanding racism involved the lived details of resiliency. They poured over the lives of their ancestors who passed knowledge in food, music, and language. They investigated lost spiritualities, reviving them in their own lives as they lit candles to those who had passed, honoring them, and uttering their words.

Later, I traveled to Vietnam. In the corner of every shop and every home, a small altar held lit incense, small deities, money, and fruit. I asked people about these altars. They always said, “they are for our ancestors. They protect us.”

In the suburbs, I did not know my ancestors.

My paternal grandmother told me that I came from governors and governor’s wives. I should be the same-- I should aim high for a marriage that wielded political clout and power. I should learn to be a sparkling conversationalist to advance my husband.

These same people were slave-holders. After the Emancipation Proclamation these same people institutionally fought restitution. They voted for conservative politicians. They supported tough crime laws that resurrected structures of slavery in modern day prison industry.

My ancestors frighten me.

Their legacy frightens me.

As I walked in marches against police brutality and spoke out on behalf of political prisoners, I wondered if I could ever be “good” and what good meant. I knew I couldn’t ignore who I come from but I also didn’t know what to do with their memory.

I searched out for tender memories, memories of my grandmother braiding my hair or telling me stories. There were some… and the stories were racist. I remember my maternal grandmother laying in bed and telling me brair rabbit and the story of tar baby. Her voice still had the gentle Tennessee lilt. She’d never lost some of those colloquialisms like “hell’s bells” and “my stars.”

I hunted for the riches but they were always embedded with the shame.

My grandfather was a quietly hilarious man. He was really attractive, sharp, and mischievous. After his father died when he was a child, he held many jobs while going to school to help his mother and two younger brothers. He went to Georgia Tech and would take me to the Varsity, an Atlanta hot dog joint opened by a Tech drop-out. When we came home with greasy hands from onion rings, I’d go into the bathroom to wash up. I remember on the wall a framed picture with a caricature of a Black man captioned “I’ze a rambling reck from Gawgia tech and a helluva engineer!”

I still miss my grandparents. I don’t know what I would light incense to.

When my friend started exploring the tight tissues constricting my throat, possibly contributing to my burps, I thought of my maternal grandmother. My mother’s mother. I never got the sense that she was very motherly. My grandmother made it seem like her mother hid from her children, taking books into the barn or some other space of some seclusion.

My grandmother felt motherly towards her younger sister especially. She told me that they held dances in the barn and her mother would, on occasion, play piano as they danced.

My grandmother too, was bookish. She tried to help her father with farming one time. She took in the seed potatoes and cut all of them through the eyes. Her father came in seeing that the whole seed crop was ruined. He was kind with her and patiently explained her mistake. She remembered that with relief-- 80 years later.

That was a myth too-- they did have a farm but my great-grandfather hired white sharecroppers to work it. He was on the board of the local bank there in Sweetwater, Tennessee. I asked, reluctantly, if they had Black servants.

“Oh no.” My grandmother answered quickly. “They wouldn’t work for my family. On our property, there was an old slave auction block and when it rained, the Black folks said it turned red from the blood of the slaves. They wouldn’t work for us. We hired poor whites.”

Her mother, hid in the barn with her books, from her children, her husband, the slave auction block. Or did she? Did she think of it? What did she think?

As her eldest daughter studied to be a teacher, the next soon to follow, and three younger children still at home, she went into the barn and hung herself.

For the ensuing months my great-grandfather tried to keep his remaining children at home. And then he suffered a heart attack and died. Each remaining child was sent to a different relative, one as far away as Chicago.

One daughter died on her honeymoon in Niagara Falls.

Theirs was a Southern tragedy.

My great-grandmother dying of the change. Her daughter, my grandmother who went on to be a wonderful teacher and a wildly independent woman. During the age of Donna Reed, my grandmother embarassed my mother by wearing pants and refinishing furniture, less bound to the standards of white womanhood of the day. Her spirit influenced my mother. After bearing three children my mother went back for her master’s degree and started her career as I, her fourth, was a young child.

The women in my family are complicated and strange and I love them.

When I look at my family’s history there is mental illness, abuse, and dysfunction-- the ingredients for many of our families. They kept slaves, lived by slave auction blocks, and neglected their children. The stresses of power flowed out and in their homes. The weight of shame wound into repressed stories and half-lived lives.

I look back and wonder how long until I see people who belonged to a tract of land, to one another, to themselves?

And perhaps that’s the invitation. I’m steadily working on belonging to myself. Noticing where these histories choke me, force me to look at my own shame. The privilege I haven’t earned. The trauma not named.

My husband and I talk a lot about race. We still march against mass incarceration. We still visit our friends who are incarcerated-- Black men and women living in modern day plantations. We talk openly about race, about the access we have that is denied many. We talk about what it denies us-- a sense of kinship and closeness to our community.

And from my friends of color I hear their complicated ancestries too-- the white blood in their veins that came from rape, the African ancestors who sold their cousins to slavery, the compromises and negotiations of survival. It’s written in us all. Perhaps people of color don’t have the same insulating myth of amnesia.

I am a white woman who descends from slave holders and racists and I am naming it. My hope is that that I create space in the naming. This is what I come from. This is what I’ve lived. This is who I am. And I am working to be more.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Accountability is Help

Because I am no fun whatsoever, I am super into accountability. I love talking about it. I love thinking about it. I sometimes love being held accountable. I totally love holding other people accountable. I gaze longingly at it.

When I developed relationships where I was held accountable to behaviors and agreements I also found myself receiving help. These relationships are super invested in by all parties.

Recently, my friend and my Aunt were totally putting my business out there. For a bit, I squirmed. And then I thought, "They love me. They know me." I realized they were comparing notes on my nonsense because they want me to behave in ways that further my own joy and contentment. I sat back and sort of took it in. They know me. I have intimacy. I have people who respect me enough to remind me of how I can grow.

I'm lucky.

We're all scared of being called out and maybe ultimately dismissed or ostracized. This afternoon I had two big shame bouts back to back. I felt embarassed over some stuff and felt the immediate reflex to try to cover over that shame or bypass it somehow. I remembered what I believe and how I want to live and just sat a minute. I felt embarassed. I felt ashamed. It felt hot and stifling. And I reminded myself to treat myself as I would someone I really love. I would be compassionate and understanding. So I took a breath and let myself be human, fallable, and OK.

I've learned to self-regulate through my healthy relationships. If I didn't have them as a model I would have fallen into a different behavior when I felt embarassed by my own actions. Probably would lash out. Get defensive. Deflect.

The people who love me as I am and know that I'm capable of more than my worst behavior have shown me how I can love myself as I am and be my best self.

If they didn't hold me accountable, I would have been alone and really adrift in these very common emotions. Because they do hold me accountable, I have help.

Accountability works if both are invested, communicate in agreed upon ways (not abusively), listen, and have skin in the game. The beautiful thing about investment is that it flows in a multitude of directions. Investment means that my husband gets a look when I start arguing for no good reason but it also means that he'll pick me up at the airport. He cares. All around.

None of us has capacity to be accountable to everybody (beyond normal rules and regulations of community). But we can be accountable to our nearest and dearest. Most importantly, we can be accountable to ourselves.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Offend Your Mind

I recently heard a podcast where the interviewee related about a time when he left good, lucrative, successful work. There was something in him quietly pulling him in a different direction, but that new direction was pathless, off-the-grid, unpredictable, and frightening. While, on paper, nothing was wrong with the current path. He was good at what he did. Well compensated. Highly regarded.

He took a walk with a friend of his to sort out the tension. His friend listened as he laid out the terrain of the current conflict. Finally, the friend turned to him and said, "Offend your Mind."

At that, the interviewee burst out laughing.

It gave full permission to move away from his current work and explore the curiosities that were emerging. The path emerged in front of him in real time. New territory. Exciting. Worthwhile.

The only place the problem existed was in the limits of his logic where he had firmly defined worth, work, and self. In ways that didn't account for any of their scope.

I laughed when I heard "offend your mind" too as I've made my best decisions when I couldn't understand them.

I remember the fall of 2002 when I "should" have been a promising Junior at Mount Holyoke College. Instead, I had recently withdrawn, with a high GPA, and become a waitress, renting a room in West Philly. I remember walking down the sidewalks of Baltimore Ave often with tears streaming down my cheeks because I couldn't understand who or what I was anymore.

I made that decision with more clarity than almost any that preceded or followed and yet I still had to grieve. I had to grieve leaving that path. A path that I know, without a doubt, wouldn't have been healthy for me, but was clear.

I offended my mind. I offended my ideas and opinions and imaginings and beliefs. I offended it so greatly but that's because I was operating from other intelligences.

I've done that a few times since. I've felt really murky about my actions and choices because they lived in mystery. My mind couldn't decipher what we were doing. There was a lot of internal panic and sleeve tugging: "what are we DOING here???" But my body said, "keep going." Intuition said, "trust."

And intuition is a muscle. You can build it. The more you listen, the more you slow, the more you write down the dreams, journal the tarot, and trust what's off the map, the more guidance you receive.

I know. I live with an offended mind.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Comfort's Discomfort

Kevin loves landscaping long, muddy days in pouring rain. Bonus if it's cold. He's obviously a weirdo but he actually has some reasons for his preference-- among them, days like that make him more easily satisfied.

It seems counter-intuitive, but I've learned this to be more universal than his personal quirk. When he comes home soaked to the bone, cold, mud plastered to his boots, his hot shower feels like manna from heaven. Sitting, doing nothing, eating some food is a miracle.

When I've comfortably worked inside the shelter of my home, my shower, meal, and sitting are far less noticeable.

Recently, whenever possible, I go as remote as possible. It's hard to find truly uncultivated places these days, but I try. West Virginia is always a strong candidate. There are parts of West Virginia that are largely undeveloped, in fact, seem practically impossible to develop. I sat outside under a cool drizzle watching state park workers. Kids had set off fireworks from a trail and kicked off a fire. which closed the trail. No trail, no sun, no problem. I bummed about, ultimately swimming in an unlabeled swimming hole, found after multiple queries. I watched the workers reestablish the trail. I watched the workers navigating traffic, in the rain. Everything felt quiet. Our expectations, collectively, were pretty low.

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I'm curious what happens to your mind and outlook in those environments. I drove through more Christianity than I can remember. Christianity of every sort but Catholic! Tons of Baptist, even Mennonite. I saw country stores hanging fox skins and signs that said, "We're broke, we believe in Jesus, we know who we're voting for, leave us alone." There were proud Trump signs next to iconography and symbols of Indigenous people. Not one country store had any cheese apart from American though goats would be grazing nearby. There were plenty of jars of pickles and mayonnaise next to the white bread.

I've written before about how in these environments I get read as a WASP really quickly. I've also had a year. During it, I've sort of shifted how I encounter others and it's working better. I used to trust first and be surprised later. My current mantra is "trust no one and love everyone." I know it sounds dark, but it actually works way better. It means I'm more self-protective and more at home with myself. I'm responsible for myself and aware.

I saw a flicker of recognition in this worldview. I started noticing that with this as my outlook, I fit in better. In this neck of the woods, being polite doesn't mean being stupid.

I saw sign after sign urging us to humble ourselves before God as mountains soared overhead and trucks nearly ran me off curving mountain highways. This is a part of the country where humans are in context and proportion. Human power is very clearly limited.

I have various fantasies about living in the country but also an ethic that says, "don't move there unless you have a remote job." Jobs are hard to come by in all parts of the country. Moving to a poor part of the country and taking work is poor form.

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Kevin and I were fantasizing about living somewhere rural and I confessed that I'd likely want to build cabins to rent on airbnb and various projects like that. "I'd be developing what I love for being undeveloped." Kevin paused, "It's a bit different here. Yes, you're developing, but on that scale the forest takes it back quick. At home, when you build, it's permanent. No one is under that illusion here."

Life is a mandala, a moment of impermanence. Standing in the rain, under the shade of tremendous cliffs, directing traffic through nowhere.

The poet Morgan Parker wrote a beautiful book called Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night. A Black poet, Parker writes clearly about race relations in the US. Many of her poems illuminate the priority many white people place on their comfort and sense of well-being over truly understanding the functioning of racism in the US. I've had more conversations than I care to remember with fellow white people, trying to work through race, and hearing, "It's uncomfortable."

Yes, it is.

It's also more uncomfortable to brutalized or discriminated against.

When I travel, my comfort becomes significantly less important. I go longer without eating, I curl myself into tiny bus seats, I pack layers. My excitement over the adventure outweighs any temporary discomfort.

I've watched this tendency and tried to transfer it to my daily life. Why do I need to be so controlled by access to the food I want, when I want it? The sleep I want, when I want it? Why is my contentment so conditional?

Kevin's theory is that we need to be far less comfortable. He thinks the modern priority of convenience and comfort is making us sicker and sadder. Anytime he's by a body of water, in any season, he jumps in and swims in it. I've seen him swim in water with ice on the surface. He'll lose his breath and gasp for a minute, but as he recovers himself he smiles broadly.

I used to be very hesitant about getting into water. I'd walk very slowly. I wanted my body to gently acclimate.

This past winter in Mexico, I stopped that. I started jumping in without hesitation. It's better. My body is rushed by the surrounding water and then I surrender.

I'm curious: the more uncomfortable I am with myself, do I seek proportionally greater comfort in the world? And inverse: the more comfortable I am with myself am I then more willing to let the world be no matter my perceptions of how it affects me?

I'm watching out for where else I resist.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


On a particularly playful evening, my Mom started sucking in her belly and showing her rib cage. My older brother, then 16 (making me 8) started becoming all rib cage, all hollow stomach, squatted and haunched. She laughed and swatted and said it was yoga.

She had been one of the leotard-clad women in the 70s teaching her friends yoga in the basement. She was trying to juice and eat vegetarian. She knew she was pregnant with her fourth, me, at age 39, when she craved a cheese steak.

As a girl my parents took me on a trip to California. My Mom and I spent a day in Laguna Beach. Around lunchtime we hunted for a spot to eat. We dipped into a temple and looked at the buffet of ghee-heavy vegetarian food, listened to the droning kirtan, and saw the young white kids wearing saffron robes. My Mom asked the Hare Krishnas where we could get a burger. They giggled nervously and said, “I forgot people still ate cow!”

In college, I needed a part-time job. I wandered around campus to see what I could do. The religious center had an intricate Japanese tea garden. Woven mats. Stones (one duty was to pick leaves from them). I was hired to clean the tea garden.

The summer after first year in college I found a sublet in Brooklyn. I had an internship in Manhattan. My college had given me a stipend that covered some rent and expenses, but not all. I wandered around looking for a job. Randomly, unexpectedly, the health food store in the West Village, Integral Yoga, hired me. The dreadlocked yogi who worked in the bookstore came in to buy his bulk nuts. After classes above, students came down to pick up ingredients for dinner. I was cashier for the yogi's transactions.

My husband and I purchased our first house on a dead-end street across from a park. At the far end of our street there is a Jain Temple. I often run past the creek behind the temple. On the best days, the creek is bright with discarded marigold petals.