Monday, August 31, 2015

Sit nicely or create a seat as though for someone you love

In the past year I've frequently been asked to teach meditation. At first I balked. I felt unqualified as my own meditation practice is not nearly as consistent as I'd like it to be. But I have a policy: within reason, if asked to offer something then understand that it means that I am ready. This helps me stretch into studying and teaching areas where my knowledge might feel thin. I do have training in teaching meditation, it just doesn't feel like my strongest area. When asked, I decided to do the work and offer up what I could.

The process of teaching meditation has helped me tap into what I've been taught. This is why to be good students, according to yoga theory, we must teach what we know. It pushes us to engage with our learning differently. We have to really internalize the teachings to be able to communicate them to another student.

Recently, whenever I invite students to sit for meditation, I hear the voice of a teacher very dear to me, Lady Ruth. Lady Ruth teaches students to "place nicely" their bodies in yoga practice, their shoes when entering a building, their seat for meditation. I think this is her internalization of her teacher, Sharon Gannon's teaching about the word "asana" or seat of physical posture. Sharon Gannon teaches asana as our connection to the earth. When we stand in tadasana or mountain pose, our feet should be placed and engaged very specifically. Our connection to the earth should be considered, light, and respectful. This extends to every pose or asana. In sirsasana, or headstand, our head and forearms press the earth. They should do so with lightness and ease. Our connection to the earth should be generous and graceful. In Lady Ruth's characterization, it should be done nicely.

When I share this teaching, I hear myself say, "create a seat for yourself that's like what you would prepare for someone you love." It makes me think of my grandmother. If she were still alive I would offer her a very good seat. I would think of a seat that gave her support for her back and a nice cushion. I would want her to feel very comfortable.

There are different attitudes about meditation in regards to the comfort and importance of our seat. These various attitudes often stem from different approaches, and so many access points have great merit. However, for many meditation students the body feels very uncomfortable seated in meditation and this can be a distraction in entering quiet, steadied space. Creating a very good, steady seat can minimize those distractions and help a student on their practice of meditation.

I taught meditation in this way during last weekend's Mythic Beings Retreat. Students responded very well and I was glad. Students created very good seats and entered into meditation gracefully. They took care with themselves in practice. I heard them say or read their words about treating themselves the way they would treat someone they hold very dear. Many of us absolutely do not treat ourselves the way we would someone we love. It can be a powerful transition to offer ourselves that level of care. It informs those around us to treat us with respect as we do them. It sets a beautiful example to those who look to us of how to be honorable with yourself and those around you.

Of course, all of this held in balance. We could sway too far in any direction. The goal is to not become self-centered, only catering to our own perfect throne to meditate all day. The goal is to be in balance. Most of the people I work with, myself included, spend most of our days pulled in many directions. We often overlook our own needs, like good, balanced meals and sufficient sleep. Bringing these needs into focus and meeting them can increase our capacity to be equally attentive to those around us.

If I worked with many people who were very indulged, maybe we would do manual labor together to create balance. Wherever attention is needed, offer it.

It's incredible that such a simple teaching can have profound impact. What if we held ourselves in the world with the care we would offer and hope for the person we loved the most dearly? What if we loved ourselves dearly? What if we inspired those around us to treat us with care and respect? What if we treated others the way we treated ourselves-- with great reverence and consideration?

I think we can see all the good that would stem on a broad scale. But what if we zoom in again? I think of the young women I'm grateful to have in my life. Thanks to their parents and those in their lives, I think they are growing up knowing their worth. I want to affirm that in every step. I want to show them what it's like to be a woman who loves herself. I want them to know how whole and good they are and to walk through the world with that bearing.

And I'm grateful to my teachers for sharing this profound message with so few words.

Friday, August 28, 2015

O cabin, my cabin

April & May are bat shit crazy in our world and then, happily, June comes. June is still crazy, but within in June is the Solstice, the auspicious date of Kevin's birth. We try to get away on that date. One year we visited his Aunt outside of DC and saw ball games. Another year his parents took us to Baltimore for ball games. Twice we visited another Aunt out in the Olympic Peninsula and basked in all things Pacific Northwest. This year when asked Kevin said, "Let's get a cabin in the Catskills." 

I went to hunting. I found some really cheap stuff, which is usually where I press the magic confirm button, but there was something a little higher than my normal price range, not too high, but on a creek. I kept turning away telling myself I could pay less. And then I thought, "on a creek." There was something about it and something about that proximity to water.

I started dreaming about this one room cabin on a creek. And then I realized that I needed to just book it. So I did.

We arrived when it was raining. Our little cabin was sweeter than I had anticipated given the photos. It was also only a 15 minute walk to downtown Woodstock. I kept asking Kevin, "Could we live like this?"

Right now, the answer is no. We would have to figure out how to work remotely. Or how to become independently wealthy by running landscaping and yoga businesses so we could retire. Unlikely.

We've both lived in Suburban and Urban environments but never Rural. We keep feeling drawn.

On our first full day of Kevin's Birthday Adventure we ran off to Kaaterskill Falls. These falls are beautiful and epic and were quite empty on a random Monday. We opened up our books and hippie snacks (tamari almonds! kombucha! spicy pumpkin seeds!) and stayed awhile.

Back "home" at our cabin was equally delightful. Meditations by the creek. Swimming in said creek. Hikes. More reading. Kevin kept the coffee brewing. We lit incense to keep the mosquitoes at bay and just because.

I had one other adventure in mind: The Blue Hole. This is one of those things of yore-- a swimming hole that is pretty legit off the grid. You have to triangulate blog posts. It's a bit like a scavenger hunt. All good things ask effort.

We set out, got lost, bickered, recalibrated, and ultimately found it. 

One must be pure of heart to enter the clear waters of the Blue Hole.

I would tell you where it is but I think that would deny it's treasures. Search it out. You'll find it.

The water was shockingly cold from its mountain spring source but so refreshing. We lounged on the big, flat, sun-warmed rocks. Kevin jumped in a lot. I tentatively put feet in. We hiked around and watched small waterfalls skid off the vertical rocks.

Back at our sweet little cabin we tried to concoct how to make a life like this-- on a creek, quiet, and small. A village in walking distance. We're still not sure, but we know that we feel really good within it.

Kevin took this photo of me taking it all in. I look so much like my grandmother here. Something about the stance, my body. She was born in Johnson City, Tennessee, birthed my Mom in Chattanooga, and raised her and my Uncle on a suburban farm in Atlanta, GA. Maybe there's something in frequent barefoot walks that I see in myself and her.

Until we figure it out, we keep living softly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dates with my Self

May is stupid busy in my world. Landscaping is in high gear so I'm working hard to keep up with billing and scheduling let alone covering both Kevin and my domestic tasks. The house is a mess. Groceries are bought sporadically.

I also Officiated 9 weddings last May, which added a new level of chaos. I would find myself on an hour long commute to some country wedding venue pounding almonds because I hadn't had time for a proper meal. Yet, when I faced a couple making this beautiful commitment to one another, I was present.

My activist life often feels in full swing in May. There are events that I want to attend and support however I can.

So I was shocked this past May when I found a previously fully booked day suddenly wide open. I called Kevin in a bit of a panic. "What do I do?" I mean, I had so much to do but I was overwhelmed and as such, I didn't know how to organize myself.

He said, "Take yourself on a date to Asbury Park." 


It sounded revolutionary. He said, "Take yourself to Asbury Park. Sit on the beach. I would go with you but I have to work to stay on schedule. Take your laptop and if you feel like it, do some work from a cafe."

But. "But won't you resent me for doing something fun while you have to work?" I asked, because I would. I'm a bad person.

"No. This is good for you. I do things that are good for me. Do what's good for you."

(Note to self: don't resent Kevin for taking care of himself.)

I did it. It was amazing. I got myself to the beach, which was empty as it was a weekday in May. I laid out my blanket and book with lofty aspirations to read and promptly fell asleep. I woke up to the alarm I had set to remind myself to feed the meter. I decided to go to the cafe, eat lunch, and work from my laptop. I did. And then I went back to the beach and ran. And I found a massage clinic in town and got a massage. And I took myself out to dinner at a Thai spot on the way home.

And I remembered that I used to do that. I used to jump on the train as a teenager and wander, notebook in hand, through Philly, through Brooklyn, wherever. 

But I forgot until Kevin reminded me.

About a month ago I spotted August 18 on my calendar. It caught my eye because it was a day that was blessedly empty. I work for myself and I usually never have a day off. I have lighter days where I might only work with one client but it's pretty rare that there's a day where I'm not scheduled at all. This was an unscheduled day.

I touched the paper of my calendar fondly. I vowed to protect it.

I did. I received a few requests to book a yoga session or a meeting or a something on that day and I said a beautiful word. I said, "No." I didn't explain. I just said, "no," and scheduled them on a different day.

Oh, sweet, cherished day.

I slept in on Tuesday August 18. I was a bit backed up and did have to get groceries and a few other things in the morning but by 2 pm I hit the road. I took myself to Atsion Lake, where I had vowed to take this second date with myself. 

As I approached the lake the beach looked EMPTY and I thought, "Score!" I rolled up to the kiosk to pay my $5 car fare and the young woman pointed to the sign that said, "No swimming on Tuesdays." 

"I checked your website and it didn't say anything about no swimming days. I came from 40 minutes away." 

She did seem sympathetic. "You can go to Bass River to swim."


It was my date with myself. I should be spontaneous to show myself a good time. 

The trek from Atsion to Bass River wound me deeper into the Pine Barrens, through Batso Village, and then into another state park. Man, I formally take back all the smack I have talked on New Jersey. The Pine Barrens are stupid pretty. The ground was soft and strewn with pine needles. Wild blueberries grew on the shoulders of the road. There was water peaking through the tree trunks for miles. Gorgeous.

I made it to Bass River park and joined a solid percentage of the working families of New Jersey with small children. This is a super affordable day trip as all the park only charges $5 per car. Packed cars of extended families unloaded picnic gear as they grilled and watched the kids charge into the water. 

I found a spot at the fringe of the shade and opened up my blanket. With the same ambition I pulled out my book and then promptly fell asleep. I woke up and watched the water. Then I watched the sky through the pine needles. Then I watched my fellow revelers: those sitting quietly while a baby slept on a blanket, those feeding excited kids hot dogs, those sitting and talking while digging their feet in the sand.

I swam in the lake and returned to my blanket. I sat with the thoughts that I had time to think.

At sunset, I wound back through Batsto Village and the wilds of the Pine Barrens. 

August 18 is a goddamned holiday.

I'm now looking at other blank spots on my calendar. I feel tender towards them. I feel tender towards myself and my need for quiet, private, unstructured time. I'm guarding these days. I'm caring for myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Last Thursday night I sat in a circle of women beginning the task of writing. We were at the opening writing session of the Mythic Beings Retreat that I co-facilitate with poet, Caits Meissner. A participant, Jean, had found us via a Google search. I didn't know Jean yet, but I was looking forward to this weekend with her. As we began responding to some of the sample pieces Caits had offered, connecting to our overarching theme, Jean said, "this makes me think of that idea of enough. Am I enough? Is this enough?"

I stayed present for the exchange. Later that night I laid in bed and remembered the silent retreat Kevin and I attended this past January. I was in such awe of what I could realize and resolve when I had the space to not respond. An unexpected mantra that came and stayed with me during that weekend rotated around the word "enough."

I am a picky vegetarian, which is the worst. I wish I wasn't this way and am trying to just be grateful and open to nourishment. Travel has helped soften me. I've realized that I will ignore a growling belly if it means I get to go somewhere great. I've spent many hours and missed meals on buses roaring through some backwoods part of some country that enticed me.

On the silent weekend, meals were taken care of for the participants so we could just meditate and be silent. (Thanks!) The institute's staff rang a gong when it was meal time. They wrote out what was served on a dry erase board so folks could make educated choices based on allergies or preference.

I read that there would be hummus wraps. I silently groaned. (Get it?) And roasted parsnips. Parsnips? There was a farm on-site. I figured they were off loading their stock of winter root veggies.

I tried to talk myself down. "You came here considering that maybe you would fast. If you don't eat this meal it will be fine and was what you originally thought you would do!" Yeah, yeah, I responded to myself. "If you were on a 7-hour bus through the Amazon right now you would totally forgo a meal and happily." This is true.

I stood in line, collected my hummus wrap and parsnips. In case you've never practiced silence for a sustained period of time let me fill you in something: food tastes better. This is real and true. It's because you pay greater attention to it. You are quiet and still and you taste your food. You chew more thoroughly.

Even if I didn't have the help of silence-induced heightened-flavor, the wraps were good. As I ate my wrap I thought, "I want a second but there aren't many. I won't get another! I won't have enough."

The same wraps I rolled my eyes at before I took a bite.

I told myself to eat what was on my plate before trying to hoard all the wraps. I took a bite of parsnips. Yo. Roasted parsnips are delicious! What was I thinking?!

As I went to town on my portion of parsnips I looked up and saw that some fool was taking the last of the parsnips! Again, "I won't get any more! I'm going to be hungry until dinner! I won't have ENOUGH! WAH!"

The beautiful piece of silence is that no one else could hear the absolutely absurd crisis going on in my head. And the gift of silence is that I had to hear it and self-soothe. I kept returning to the rational part of myself, the part that knew I did not need to eat three meals to be OK, that I could fast for some time and be fine (maybe even better for it), and that I had enough.

As I calmed down the chef arrived from the kitchen with a heaping, steaming platter of roasted parsnips.

I was able to get a second helping.

I sat with this experience in meditaton. My panic all revolved around not having enough. I wouldn't have food that I liked or at least not in sufficient quantity. Others had what they needed but not me. The feeling was real but it was not at all based in the reality of that present moment. It was amazing to see that lingering feeling when reality proves that I absolutely, 100% have enough. Why can't I feel that way?

As I meditated that afternoon I breathed in, "I am enough" and breathed out, "This is enough." I realized that scarcity mentality leaked into my experiences. Another meditation retreat was happening during our silent retreat and they took the big exciting meditation room (yes, there can be exciting meditation rooms!) with the towering golden Buddha. I had a slight internal whimper at that realization. "This won't be as great if I can't get enlightened in the impressive room." And then hearing it. Really?

This is enough.

As I remembered how enough my experience was, I encountered unanticipated treasures like a labyrinth and a stone bench hidden in a bamboo grove. More than enough.

I am enough.

The dissatisfaction with everything around me ultimately stems from that relationship to myself. The constant barrage of "I don't do enough, I'm not good enough, I'm not pretty or smart enough, I'm not enough." Even if I don't feel conscious of these thoughts all the time, I catch glimpses of them here and there. As I meditated on "I am enough" it gave me such permission to just be. It gave me such permission to just experience the space and time around me without expectation. It freed me.

I shared this story last Saturday on retreat and acknowledged Jean for reminding me of this moment. It resonated with so many participants. I'm so glad that Jean helped me connect to that teaching because it reminded all of us to free ourselves up to be in the experience we were creating together. The experience of being and having enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Wild New Jersey: Recap of Mythic Beings 2015 at Seven Arrows East Homestead

Last year Caits and I co-facilitated our first Mythic Beings Yoga & Writing Retreat for women in Vermont. The weekend wound up being a big creative love fest between the participants. (On the last night I tiptoed down the old farmhouse to ask those dancing in the yoga studio to lower the music a bit. When I cracked the door I found them all slow-jamming like seventh graders at a Middle School Dance.) It was pretty exceptional. Caits and I nodded enthusiastically at each other when we reconvened to answer, "Do we do it again?"


I went to work scouting out a location. I found a rambling old mansion on the Navesink River in New Jersey. Minutes away from sandy beaches with an organic farm on the property. What?! Jersey is so weird and amazing. As the location was only a ferry ride from NYC, Caits joined me.

I picked her up at the ferry bracing both of ourselves by saying, "It may not be as cool as it seems online."

Nope, it's cooler.

Booked and done. This past weekend we all wandered into Seven Arrows a little dazed at this magical space. 

Though I was busy prior to the retreat fine-tuning class plans, creating playlists, handling the retreat accounting, and tending to all the other last minute bits prior to a retreat, I had an overwhelming compulsion to brew iced tea. I thought of the porch at Seven Arrows, with it's lacey wrought iron featured above, and thought, "we must sit and sip!" Even though it was a complete stretch and likely not worth my time to add another chore, the morning of the retreat I taught 6-7 am yoga at my local studio and rushed back to brew tea while I finished packing and fielding emails.

Caits and I arrived on-site early to greet our participants, orient them in the house, and serve them tea. There was much relaxed sitting and sipping.

We themed this retreat "The Elemental Body" to guide our inquiry into yoga stories, yoga practice, and our own creative expression. Initially, I was a little stumped as I began looking into fodder for our weekend. I knew Ayurveda, yoga's sister science, relies on the elements. I began to think of how earth, air, water, and fire appear in yogic stories. As I sat with this concept I realized a huge amount of stories that connect directly as well as the subtle body and chakras. There were riches to mine through as Caits and I allowed the sessions to gain focus.

We took twice daily yoga practice on the porch, facing the river. The breezes were cool and fantastic. On Friday, our day assigned to water, it also rained a bit, which felt cooperative. The other days were clear and perfect. Many participants used free time to dash to the beach and swim in the ocean.

I just jumped off the dock into the river.

Most of our writing sessions took place in this little upstairs sitting room. After convening to think through prompts, questions, and sample pieces, we had some break out writing time. During one of our break outs I sat at an outdoor table by the on-site farm. Some very friendly/nosy chickens joined me.

In addition to writers we had participants who self-identified in a myriad of ways. Lauren mainly works in graphic arts so she spent a lot of time drawing. There were participants who didn't identify as artists but came anyway to connect to their creative selves. Some came with goals, like to work on memoirs or specific pieces, and others came without a clear agenda.

While we crafted our pieces, Lulha, a 7-year-old who lives on-site with her care-taker parents drafted her Zombie apocalypse plan. Well thought out and inspiring to us all.

As with all our retreats, we build in unstructured time to provide the opportunity for each individual to create the experience they need. Some wandered to nearby downtown Red Bank to take in all that is weird and cool. Some sat by the river and answered big questions. There was lots of lingering over lunch, reading, napping, farm visiting, orchard wandering, hiking, and river swimming.

On our final night we honored the fire element with a bonfire and sharing. Sharing is always optional and some just sat and listened (like me!). It was a great opportunity to get feedback on what had been generated throughout the weekend. Also, a big moment to bask at the creative talent of these fine women.

Sweet Candra found this gem of the Dirty Jerz on site. (She also wrote this incredible reflection on her experience as a retreat participant.) It's such a rare gift to be able to witness people willing to create health, vitality, and creativity-- to not shy away from that call. I'm grateful for their presence and willingness to create with me. These experiences remind me: press pause. Create. Be. It's vital.

This past weekend I wrote:

I'm realizing that
         I love you
         I love us
because we make quiet
we turn off
        & away
from manufacture
d noise
we turn toward
         the stillness
water, air, leaves
I'm realizing that
I love life
         with you
         because we ask space
         & time
         of each other
we wander down soft paths
safe in our awareness
we spread a blanket under
firs & sit
drink water
and write the thoughts we
have time to think
I'm realizing
         that we chose this
         we chose a life
lived between the branches

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Jivamukti Satsang in the Hamptons

Before our group left to train as Jivamukti teachers in India, we were connected online through a Facebook group. Early on, a fellow trainee who I had yet to meet contacted me about flights. I offered what help I could and then of course stalked the petitioner. It was Abby, a yoga studio owner in the Hamptons. I've never been to the Hamptons so my idea of the area was Gossip Girl on the beach. If this was true, I guessed Abby wouldn't spend much more time speaking to me once we met in India!

And I was so wrong. I met Abby once we arrived at Govardhan. Warm, earthy, and an authentic yogini. Abby told me about her training, her Thai massage practice, and then after our India training concluded, her apprenticeship with Lady Ruth. She was generous in her sharing of the commitment and study demanded by our teachers. 

Abby and I set plans to work together again. She saw my regular offerings and invited me to give a yoga and creative writing workshop at her studio over the summer. Her fantastic assistant, Allie, designed the flyer below.

Beth and Kevin came up with me to the Hamptons as there's a thought that we might offer a yoga retreat there in the future. Just like Abby was beyond what I expected, so was the area. I don't know much about the shoreline north of New Jersey but I imagine clapboard houses and grey shingles. In some ways, this met my fantasies. The area is beautiful. In truth, not a lot of beach front is publicly accessible so the ideas around exclusivity have truth. However, there are a lot of families, like Abby's husband, who have roots in the area that predate its fame.

Abby's husband Skip has lived in the area for generations. He knows the inlets, bays, where to find the best clams, and how to predict storms. They have a quiet haven on the bay with private beaches only steps from their front door. In this way, this area of the Hamptons reminded me a bit of the Catskills. I think it might be the shared distance from the art and intellectual stimulation of New York. I love encountering vibrant culture in such a scenic respite.

The town also displays this mix of history and escapism. When we got into town proper we found a circus! Kevin flipped.

My sister-in-law saw this photo on instagram. She claims it haunts her.

JUGGLING BOWLING BALLS. (They talked a lot of smack on Cirque de Soleil!)

And a little more creepy clown for my sister-in-law.

The public beaches require that you pay $25 to park your car for the day. Definitely not super accessible. A lot of beach front is privately owned by country clubs or individuals. Unsurprisingly, the beach was not super crowded.

And across the bay, Skip and Abby's quiet retreat. Land that has been lived on by Skip's family for generations. The additions they've built were designed to feel like a ship-- long, wood-paneled hallways and hidden doorways. I love it. They are true artists.

I offered my workshop to Abby's wonderful community. A yoga studio should be a sanctuary to those in it. Abby's space felt that way-- the conversations between students demonstrated history and familiarity. And such a treat to me-- Aaron, another fellow Jivamukti trainee, came to see Abby & me & take the workshop! Jivamukti India Satsang in the Hamptons!

Abby and I are concocting more ways to collaborate and mutually support. Interested in getting to know this lovely corner of the world? Stay tuned! We're making space!