Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Late spring

Last year, my garden journal shows we had tomatoes in the ground April 13. This year, a week AFTER Mother's Day! No matter. Go with the weather & her determination.

It's amazing to watch the garden establish. Last year was the first year we got in a lot of the perennial trees, vines, and bushes. It often takes 3 years for those plants to fully recover from the shock of transplant. These guys are already looking healthy! It will be so fun to watch the trees grow and claim their space near the back of our property.

As you can see from the photo, we introduced some new perennials, some of them we'll use to create "guilds" or mutually beneficial plantings around the fruit trees. Laz is walking next to yarrow, which is a great beneficial attractor. We also introduced white sage to dry and use for smudging, bee balm for it's medicinal properties, and catnip for the furry man.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ego Trip: The Fear of the Unknown. The Fear of Bliss.

Last week, so on my game, I made class plans and playlists days in advance. Then I sprained my foot.

Today, I taught yoga by verbal instruction only. Students helped by giving visuals to one another as necessary. I have mixed feelings about the approach because my job is to facilitate my student's practice, not distract them. Nonetheless, I'm always grateful for their presence and support.

I returned to the first of my earlier class plans. This month at Yogawood and all Jivamukti-influenced studios we're exploring the koshas, or various layers of being. The first is annamaya kosha, the physical food body. We're taught that our liberation lies in engaging with each layer of our being and not negating any aspect. Our bodies need attention. They need to be moved and felt as well as rested (like when a foot is sprained. Doh.).

The next three bodies are subtler and intangible. Pranamaya kosha is the energetic self, sometimes experienced through breath as it leads to prana. By delving into the pranic body, we might also gain awareness of the energy in all beings.

Beyond the pranic body is manomaya kosha, the "mind-stuff" layer. This is sometimes the body we think of as "ourselves," the thinking self, the self identified with a place, people, time, aversions, and preferences. This, and vijnamaya kosha, the intuitive feeling body, are where we develop "I, me, mine" and ego identification. In my study, ego identification is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because by navigating ego identification and ultimately relinquishing the ego we know our true bliss nature. A curse, because ego is seductive and can be earth-shatteringly hard to shed.

Vijnamaya kosha is also associated with ego identification because here we sometimes construct an emotional self that also perceives itself as individuated and differentiated.

The state of yoga is in the ultimate body, the bliss body, anandamaya kosha, our true Self, the true nature. I think we all get glimpses of this bliss at times. Maybe in profound meditation or savasana, or being somewhere in the natural world where the other lesser identifiers feel less pertinent. Yet, in most conversations about ego-identification, there's a serious reluctance to relinquish. I have it too. I'm very attached to the assemblance of associations I've crafted. I like boho chic and gardening and activism and referencing the Simpsons. Don't take that away from me!

And yet, Kevin and I have conversations about how challenged we are when we can't cling to one of those identifiers. Kevin has been really busy with landscaping and didn't have time to write songs on his guitar. He looked at me, pained, and said, "Who am I?" (This actually happened.)

I associate so fervently with yoga that when I went to play with my 8 year old god-daughter last week (pre-sprain) she and her siblings yelled, "Let's do yoga!" (The delight!) And yet, I haven't been able to practice asana, or physical yoga in a week. Of course, I've meditated but that's a less showy practice of yoga. Who am I if I can't practice physical yoga? (Yes, I totally grasp the irony of that question.)

I remember when my Dad retired during my senior year of high school. His experience was far beyond my range of understanding, but I think back to it now. Who was he if not a lawyer?

I think of relationships ending. Who are we outside of that partnership?

In these instances, hopefully, we draw into something more profound, beyond the less reliable identifiers. Even if our relationships, work, and mobility are fully stable, don't we know on some level that our real Self lives outside of their realm?

In a sense, we have a truly schizophrenic relationship with our own liberation. We want it, we crave it, and yet we resist it. I think in part that's due to lack of familiarity. We know the "mind stuff," the constructed ego. What lies beyond it?

Friday, May 16, 2014


Is B.S.

For real though.

A few days ago, I sat awkwardly on my chair and my foot fell asleep. I know. I teach yoga. I should always sit with perfect posture. I'm human. Working on it. My foot was asleep, and impatiently, I got up prematurely. My foot was in that numb state where you have to lift your leg high to ensure you get the sole of the foot down. Again, distracted, impatient, I somehow landed on the outer edge of my left foot. With my whole weight.

And I was down in a flash.

I almost laid in the cat food.

I didn't care. Kevin gawked while I rode out the first waves of pain. Holding onto the counter, I got back up. Figured it would bruise. Soon realized that I almost couldn't walk on it.

I began to fear I broke something. How many bones are in the foot?

Taking the situation more seriously, I migrated my office to the couch, elevated the foot, iced, began taking and applying arnica montana, and searched web md. All signs pointed to a likely sprain of a muscle or ligament in the foot. Phew!

(Side note: I spaz. And the brain is a dangerous thing. The brain can cause problems that weren't previously there. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the brain. Feeding my brain a probable scenario quieted that monkey. Very important.)

Frustrated, I began renegotiating my schedule for the following day so that my work didn't involve me moving around. Again, I teach yoga. It took some doing. But I knew it had to be done. I've messed around with injuries before, brazenly said, I can do it! And I wound up prolonging my own recovery. Also, I couldn't offer the service that I'd promised. Instead, folks felt bad for me. They accommodated me. Teaching yoga is about the student, it's not about me. If I'm going to be a distraction, I'm sidelined.

Today, is day three. I usually grocery shop on injury day, so I've been without. Kevin is at the height of his busy season. An Aunt sent some healthy eats like bananas, spinach, and raw peanuts up to tide me over. Plenty of my work is in front of a computer, so I have been able to largely stay on task.

However. There are moments of grumpiness.

And then I meditate. Meditation is necessary, but it's also healing (again with the powerful mind). And I had a revelation as I concluded a recent sit, not so earth-shattering, but offered perspective: I often crave these time outs. So why be grumpy about it?

Because I didn't chose it.

Again with the revelations: I chose plenty that I don't find satisfying. Isn't the goal to gracefully move into whatever your circumstances?


I'm injured. My job is to heal. I'll heal more efficiently if I rest, elevate, ice, meditate, and eat good healthy foods. Shoot, I could make it my own spa retreat.

Yet. I also usually clean the house on these days, which in my current limping state, I can't do. The house is a mess and I will not bathe in that tub.

So it's not a retreat. I'm still eating healthy, whole foods, reading some, catching up on a variety of projects while keeping up with work.

Each internal conversation echoes of every Buddhist, yogic, or generally spiritual teaching I've ever received: the problem is not my bum foot. The problem is me.

Normally, I can run around quickly enough to distract myself. My grumpiness might be shorter flashes. Stuck at home for a few days with the cat, I have to face myself more fully. Isn't this why most of us never slow down? And my mission in life *is* to face myself, and I'm *still* reluctant!

Here I sit, bum foot, monkey brain that wants to bemoan. I have food. I have shelter. I have work. Everything is fine. I am practicing healing, but increasingly I'm also practicing santosha, or contentment.

I'm so drawn to the yogic perspective on contentment (to the extent that it was the theme of my first ever yoga class). Contentment is not reliant on any circumstances or factors. Contentment is not a destination. Contentment is an active practice. We practice contentment no matter the circumstances. We practice ease and contentment when we're stuck in traffic, when there are insufficient funds, when it didn't go how we planned.

It never goes how we planned. Instead, we're patient. Observe where we've been asked to be. And within that space, find contentment.

Define Everything

I gifted myself six writing sessions with an artist I really dig, Shira Ehrlichman. I had a hard time narrowing down my chosen course from her ridiculously sublime offerings, but eventually settled on an exploration of writing about spirituality. We began today and I don't want to reveal the whole process, because I respect Shira's intellectual property, but also because I think you should enroll in her classes and discover for yourself.

What I will tell: I'm trying to write about God.

Obviously, a pretty common project. Yogic theory says that God, or the Divine, is in all things, in everything. I definitely came across that idea in my Presbyterian upbringing. JOHN AFRICA said that "God is common as dirt."

In poetry, we want to be so specific. Microscopic. Freeze frame the moment when it happens, before it happened, the aftermath. Poetry fogs the windows and cuts the lines. Everyone is hostage until it is told. If God is everything, how do you define everything?

Everything includes what scares me. Is God a car accident? A car accident is sometimes described in Divine proportions. "Because of the accident, I woke up, and it all changed." "Because of the accident, I got home too late. It was better that way."

Is God a Hurricane? Hurricanes clean natural systems. Water is more clear afterwards, the air is sweeter, the planes were grounded, traffic stopped.

Does God benefit universally in every act? Or not?

Is God there when crimes are committed? Is God the criminal? The victim?

God is everything.

A central metaphor to Hinduism, Buddhism, and where they bleed into Yogic theory is the lotus, a gorgeous flower rising out of muck.

Where is your God?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Belief in Practice

Yoga has taught me how to have mutually uplifting work relationships. Thankfully, my primary work relationship is with my teacher and yoga mentor, who models clear, respectful, application of the yamas in her personal and professional life. It is so gratifying to work with a clear, shared, moral code.

I also manage Rooted Landscaping with Kevin. It's interesting comparing the two experiences. In Rooted, there's more anonymity with most of our customers, because I correspond with them via email but haven't met them in person the way I would if I taught them yoga or on a retreat. Also, there isn't the obvious philosophical component as there is in yoga (though permaculture principles certainly overlap). However, Kevin and I work to apply the same yamas to this work as we would to any other part of our life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the yamas, they are a set of guidelines put forth by Patanjali to guide aspirants towards the state of yoga. They are:

Ahimsa -- non-harming
Satya -- truth telling
Asteya -- non-stealing
Brahmacarya -- respecting energies
Aparigraha -- non-grasping

Applying the yamas continually reminds me to obviously not harm a client but also to not harm *myself*. It's easy to run yourself into the ground when you own your own business. Working endlessly, not having professional and personal boundaries, is unsustainable. To be fully present, I have to actively create time for rest, play, and replenishment.

Telling the truth also means not telling white lies. We are all taught to people please and there is even common thought to white wash in professional communication. Of course, we all have to exercise judgment, but I am continually taught in yogic theory to be honest. Honest about my time, availability, and clarity in managing expectations.

Non-stealing. Absolutely. Offering transparent estimates so that people understand where their resources go. Also, non-stealing from myself! It's easy to work a lot and underestimate your labor hours. Running a small business for several years has shown us how easy it is to work hard and for free! So not stealing from a customer, but also not from ourselves.

Brahmacarya has to do with sexual energies, abstaining from encounters that simply release your life force without meaning or connection, and making sure that every interaction is mutually uplifting. In regards to professional life, I reflect on the idea of making encounters mutually uplifting. Seeing the best in others and offering my best self.

Non-grasping. Not reaching for every job, not feeling a sense of desperation. We've found we do the best work when we're mindful, not over-extended, and have a manageable schedule.

This time of year, the landscaping business takes the majority of my time and energy. Sometimes that can feel overwhelming. Increasingly, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to apply these principles. It's easy to apply the yamas when we feel like our circumstances are conducive. When we're stressed, it's simple to fall into default patterns that might not raise us into our higher selves. Demanding periods are *exactly* the time to meditate consistently and look at every interaction as an opportunity to practice yoga. Jai!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Survival of the Blueberries

I'm beginning to realize that growing food on the scale we hope to requires help. I'm grateful to receive it!

Yesterday, Kevin had to put his truck in the shop (again!). He had some workers with him so he asked them to work on our property.

They hooked it up! Rooted Landscaping rocks!

Last year, we planted 15 blueberry bushes. I was worried about them. Their beds were weedy and I hadn't had time to check on who made it through the extreme cold. Their beds are now cleared, compost added, and fertilizer. Of the 15 transplanted, 14 survivors! Awesome rate.

Behind the garage, the persimmon tree is leafing out. To the right of the clothes lines, our bicycle wheel trellis is covered in leafy conchord grape vines. In the bed below, bok choy self-seeded and is returning. The service berry is growing healthfully and the fig on the far edge of the trellis is leafing out as well. The main greenery behind the clothes lines are beds of garlic almost ready for harvest. Behind them, kale, spinach, carrots, peas, turnips, and radishes. In the foreground, in front of the clothes lines, mustard greens, and off screen to the left, swiss chard. In the front yard there's a bed full of horseradish, potatoes, chives, and a pot of mint. The lavender plants were pruned in February and are starting to bud out. And the strawberry patch in the front yard? Lawd! Full of flowers. The blackberry and raspberry brambles in the backyard are reaching towards the apple trees, cherry, peach, and paw paw.

This upcoming weekend we'll get in some annual vegetables. Kevin has been sheet mulching all the paths with leaves he cleaned up from client's properties. The soil back there is RICH!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Worship what stops you

My current obsessions are mosquitoes, poison ivy, and bees. I am absolutely not immune to the threats these creatures pose. In fact, I once had a case of poison ivy that went systemic and required I take a course of steroids to treat. I get bit by whatever bites.

How interesting, though, that the creatures that often pester or threaten us the most are so small and seemingly vulnerable.

A recent episode of RadioLab explored the epic battle royale that has existed between humans and mosquitoes for some time now. Full disclosure, I haven't heard the episode yet. I received the second-hand synopsis from Kevin. The program reminded listeners that in parts of the world mosquitoes carry the threat of malaria. I totally get it. My blood is malarial. I was infected while in Zambia in 1999. Of course, I was able to receive treatment, so my only lasting impact is that I can't donate blood. The reality for many is far more dire.
The poison ivy flower is totally pretty!

There has been research into eradicating mosquitoes, for the public health reason of malaria, because people don't like them, and don't know what function they serve.

That last thought troubles me. There are a lot of creatures and phenomena that I don't understand. And yet, I see a multitude of evidence telling me that all natural creatures serve functions. I may not know what they are, but I'm an idiot in a lot of ways.

The researcher on RadioLab made the same case. He's cautioning against various proposals to eradicate mosquito populations exactly because we don't know their exact function. Based on his research, he speculates that mosquitoes may serve as a needed barrier against human settlement. Typically, mosquitoes are dense in tropical regions like the Amazon. Apart from small groups of people who either developed immunity or found salves in the jungle to protect against mosquitoes, the insects created an effective barrier against human encroachment.

Again, this is just a theory. But I LOVE it.

Kevin also recently discovered that poison ivy is a native species, or as native as can be determined at this point. Poison ivy certainly predates European settlement. Poison ivy flowers also offer needed pollen to support bee populations.

And we're all clear on why bees are important, right?

Poison ivy and bees serve multiple known functions. Perhaps, poison ivy, bees, and mosquitoes also serve the needed function of limiting human expansion. Maybe they're all a highly effective warning for humans to leave some regions.

I think we should worship them. I think we should laud and acclaim and support the boundaries. Heeding mosquitoes' warning at the edge of the Amazon could have limited widespread deforestation and left the earth's lungs to support us and the rest of living creatures. Healthy bee populations keep us fed. Perhaps poison ivy is policing forests or other fragile zones.

Blessings to mosquitoes
who shoo me away
Blessings to mosquitoes
marking my skin, pricking
blood to the surface
drawing depths to light
saying, "Don't be
precious, be real."

Prayers to poison ivy
that tattoos my skin,
erecting castles on joints,
dribbling flesh like
sand, saying, "patience,
stay with sensation.
Honor leaves."

Deep bows to bees who
buzz, who hum, who
feed, who flower, who
honor Divine Feminine.
Blessings to bees who
shock me awake, blush
my skin like love, swell
my skin like life.
Praises to bees who remind
me to watch where I
step, to mind what's
small & powerful, to remember
there's sweetness in danger,
to sometimes, be
so still.

Pranams to the boundaries,
to the keepers of the
gate, to sacred limitations,
to reminders blooming
on skin.