Friday, November 3, 2017

Aparigraha and presence

I thoroughly enjoy nerding on yoga philosophy— which is some of why I’ve prioritized my own practice of physical yoga asana to balance out my own tendencies to only live in my thoughts and never in my own body.

In training other yoga teachers, I get to indulge much of my nerdery. This year’s class of Yogawood 200 hour vinyasa teacher trainees are approaching yogic ethics in the yamas and niyamas. These are codes of behaviors with others and oneself written down in the earliest yogic text, The Sutras. The distinction between behaviors with others and oneself is often emphasized— for example, the first Yama is ahimsa or non-harming. It’s pretty common to hear modern day yogis write or say, “I’m practicing ahimsa by not pushing myself too hard and doing every chaturanga. I’m not harming myself.”

The yamas aren’t really about you with you. Being nice to yourself is important, but it’s not ahimsa. Ahimsa is very clearly not harming others. From there, the yamas instruct us to be honest (satya), not to steal (asteya), to be respectful and careful with our sexual energy and behavior (brahmacarya), and to not grasp (aparigraha).

The last one, aparigraha, non-grasping fascinates me. I think it’s so illuminating in this current age. I read about it lots. I write about it too. It’s so comforting that for thousands of years millions of people have struggled with grasping after too many experiences, too many things, too many titles, jobs, relationships, trainings, accreditations, achievements, and more. I remember reading a Buddhist article on aparigraha (the idea shows up there too) reminding the reader that we grasp when we feel insufficient. The author’s antidote was to focus on feeling enough, to see where we have enough, and are enough. Then the grasping tendency abates.

As I revisited aparigraha recently I was struck that this is a yama, not a niyama, meaning aparigraha is very explicitly an instruction of our behavior in the context of others. I feel pretty clear on ahimsa, or brahmacarya for that matter (the sexual responsibility one!), but this felt different... grasping feels so detrimental to ourselves. If, like the Buddhist article suggested, it stems from a feeling of lacking the behavior is a bandaid or a distraction. How does it impact others?

I started looking out for it. My husband and I have amazing conversations and very different conversational styles. Conversations are combat sports for me. I want to parry the words and defeat my opponent. Kevin wants to learn something. Novel. We’re learned a lot from one another both in the content of our discussions as well as from our styles. I’ve urged Kevin to be more passionate and assertive. He’s shown me that listening is, perhaps, worthwhile.

My trained habit in conversations is grasping— I like to grasp after my response (“I will dazzle you!”) or find the perfect anecdote (“you will be charmed!”) so I’m usually hunting in my own brain rather than actually hearing the other person. Aparigraha. Grasping.

I realized that this causes me to not be present to the person I’m with. By practicing ahimsa, I no longer harm another. By practicing aparigraha, I’m actually present to them.

Aparigraha is absolutely a yama. It has everything to do with how we engage with those we perceive as other to us. It is inviting us to actually be with one another.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Feel your feet.

My feet are often purple. Poor circulation runs in my family. One particularly bad winter I got chilblains! I didn’t even know what they were. Kevin googled “swollen, itchy toes” and we discovered that I had more in common with those living at the turn of the century than originally suspected.

Recently, Kevin listened to a Gurdjieff lecture. An audience member posed a particularly combative question to Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff roared back, “where are your feet?” The audience member continued contesting. Gurdjieff asked again, “where are your feet?” The audience member heard, slowed, felt. The tenor of their exchange shifted radically to one of more mutual understanding.

Kevin relayed the exchange to me. I tried to feel my feet. I’ve taught yoga for more than 7 years and I’m not sure that I’ve felt them even in that time. Even teaching body awareness most days of the week.

And I am comparatively in my body. And my practice has landed me more deeply in my body than I lived prior.

And I rarely feel my feet.

So I now continuously ask myself, “where are your feet?” And the funny thing is that I start to feel sensation almost like pins and needles after the limb having fallen asleep. My attention is acting shifting circulation.

In yoga there’s a saying that “prana flows where citta goes” meaning energy flows in the direction of your attention. I’ve seen this again and again. When Kevin and I pay attention to each other, there is a flourishing in our marriage. When we first adopted our rescue cats they were a bit haggard— they’d been through a lot! As we attended to their safety, comfort, and fun they blossomed. Their eyes grew brighter, their fur shiny, and their sweet, authentic selves emerged. When I attend to my aloe plants the stems plump up and the green skin shines. I neglected my house for awhile and it showed. Now that I’m putting more care in painting a wall here, or replacing this appliance, or adding or removing a decoration there’s a different buzz in the walls and feeling in the air. Energy flows.

Feet are an interesting place to numb. It means that it’s also hard to feel where you are on the earth. I’m paying attention to all of my shoes— which shoes more contain me and which shoes offer a bit more breath.

Not feeling feet means less balance. Less ability to spread toes and nuance ones stance.

This energy flow is an overall inhabitation. Where I am that I am not? How often am I at home but mentally at work? How often am I in a conversation but actually talking to my high school teacher? How often for any of us?

We know presence is a practice. That understanding unfolds.

I wonder, too, at the fictions that convince us that presence is taxing. What feels simpler about checking out than staying in? What fear underpins numbness?

My body is proving a very trustworthy gauge. It’s a compass. It’s a locator. It’s a vessel. It’s a world unto itself.

I heard an interview recently where a young writer shared her frustration at working in a cubicle. She wanted to be “free” to write and her pragmatic 9-5 was other than her passion. In the course of the conversation her mantra emerged: “this is where the action is.”

I remembered all the times my life seemed other than where it was. The bored hours waiting tables, itching to get on the road. High school droning endlessly on until my life could begin. All the moments when I felt on the outside of my own life.

When I didn’t feel my feet.

Prana flows where citta goes.

I’m very invested in my life.

It’s amazing.

I am feeding it. I am paying attention to it. I am feeling it. I am grateful for it. It is where the action is.

I am in my feet.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Patron Saints of Lisbon

Upon landing in Lisbon, I wrote this and posted it on social media:

"All Hail the Lisbon Grannies! They are converting me to the Church of the Granny-Who-Gives-No-Fs. Their heads hang out open windows. They stare. They walk reeaaal slow on the cobblestones and you need to just match their pace. The old men try to please them. The babies climb on their laps. The Lisbon Grannies MESS with those in their midst. Ask Granny for directions at the bus stop and she waves you off-- she does not wish to be bothered.

They sell you shot glasses of moonshine on the street corner assuring, 'the alcohol is not too much!' 

The keepers of secrets. The secret fun.

These Grannies are everywhere reminding me how invisible elder women are in some parts of the world. The Lisbon Grannies are alive and do not care. A reminder that the play and the mischief can keep you in your power. That the Grannies create the magic."

The visibility of old women in Lisbon reminded me of how invisible older women are in most of the world. Also, how isolated they often are. The Lisbon grannies ran in packs. They met one another on the street and blocked the corner while they gabbed. They spread table cloths for one another's side hustles in the tourist district. They gave SEVERE side eye that caused you to clutch your pearls. They smoked cigarettes and used canes on tiled sidewalks that were basically vertical on Lisbon's steep hills. The grannies ran the streets.

The grannies also didn't seem overly preoccupied with the tropes of old womanhood that I know at home. They weren't particularly affectionate to babies. They didn't seem all that interested in knitting. In other words, they seemed like actual people. Not charicatures.

When did we make old women ideas instead of people?

They gave me such hope that I, as a woman, can keep living. That I, as a woman, can stay deep in my magic and my mischief at every stage of my life. That I get to be a little girl, a young woman, a full woman, and an old crone and that each stage doesn't have to be predetermined. I can decide what it means. Maybe I'll decide to be an old burlesque dancer. Why not?

Maybe it's the old world charm of Lisbon that preserved these women's humanity. Maybe they made some type of pact. I don't know what it is. At one point Kevin asked, "where are all the old men?" We went into a little cafe selling pastries, coffee, and liquor while a soccer game played on a TV. They were all there.

They gathered around the table, talking shit, and gratefully accepting round after round of espresso from the young waitresses. They keep living too.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Allow Play

On the Portugal retreat, we woke up to horses neighing (or one allergic horse coughing) and the breeze whispering the pines. We got coffee or tea and wandered up to the studio for breath practice and meditation sits. Returning to the common area, we found breakfast displays full of home made seed breads, fresh juices and smoothies, more coffee and teas, herbal infused waters, fruits, local European cheeses, and protein and fiber rich bowls like the one below.


Our retreat site was a 45 minute hike, or shorter run, down to Praia Amado and Praia da Bodera. These are two of the best surf beaches in Europe. They're also on something like a Portuguese Appalachian trail, a beautiful coastal hike through Portugal's south.

If you didn't want to hike, the drive took about 10 minutes.


Surf schools had lessons on the sand. Rented campers parked in the lots while road trippers read novels in the open backs. Snack stands sold cappuccinos in addition to beer.


The cliffs created coves of natural shade. Additionally, one of our retreat participants had been gifted an umbrella. Portugal's west coast hit a COLD current of Atlantic. The little river tributary provided a warmer swim and shallow waters for kids.


After mornings spent in practice we spent afternoons hiking, swimming, sunning, watching.


From our retreat vantage in the hills, the beaches looked inches away. From our height we could watch the sun drop into the water each night. The ocean stayed with us.

As we hiked near, all the hills and valleys clarified perspective. Praia Amado and Praia da Bodeira, so near as the crow flies, were not so near!


Long hikes called for cold beers. And taxis back so we could make it to the retreat in time for evening Yin and meditation practice!


Our group was pretty adventurous, so we had a few days of piling into cars together and trekking to major points throughout the Algarve. South of our home in Carrapateira, we visited the famous beaches of Lagos. Praia Dona Ana is the stuff of post cards.


Little beach side restaurants sold grilled sardines and Portuguese baguettes in the shade.




Some of the beautiful women of our retreat.

Among many many topless women. Some of us joined them. 




Still in Lagos, the Benagil caves are accessible by boat or swimming from some beaches. We decided to get on a little boat tour to visit some of the beautiful grottoes.


We had SUPER fun captains who did wheelies in the water and took us to private coves to swim.


The hidden treasures of the Algarve, the southwestern-most cape of Sao Vicente, the grottoes and smiles...


Lauren was the CAPTAIN'S FAVORITE! This chick knows how to play along and have fun!


My favorite part of a yoga retreat is remembering that yoga is not so serious. Meditation and practice don't have to be austere. Let your well-being swell with joy.

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 place as it is 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.

Everything.

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?

Detroit.

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

Ancestry

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

Evidence

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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Yoga is a question

My relationship with yoga right now is funny and convoluted and for me, very central. I'm sort of having an affair with my practice. I made it secret and private and a bit clandestine so I could keep it sacred. I try to practice 4 mornings a week, doing the most classical and some say dogmatic stuff.

And then I teach sort of the opposite. I teach 6 regular classes a week and they're mainly informed by new conversations in functional movement. We explore patterns of movement, the classical poses deconstructed, and then reconstructed. To the degree that I have one, my goal is to try to make a space where each of us can truly begin to feel and know our body. Yoga teachers, for years, have told students "listen to your body" but the underlying truth is that most of us go to yoga to learn to do just that.

I try to teach a practice that is more about questions and space than answers and dogma. Cause what do I know?

My own body feels anchored by the classical because the practice I'm engaging in doesn't let me escape from my body. And I have a tendency to try to do so. Being placed squarely in my body, with no distraction, is useful for me.

I'm very clear that my students are not me. My students are practicing for a broad range of reasons. As facilitator, my goal is to see them to the best of my ability, keep them safe, and make space for them to explore, know, and steady. I learn a lot watching them. It reminds me that the broad variety of yoga practices (Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc) are generous-- there's an implicit understanding that we live many lives in one lifetime (if we're lucky) and we may seek balance in a plethora of ways. The practice is both a mirror so we can see ourselves and our own needs-- and a balm-- it gives us ways to create balance.

Yoga is not a magic bullet. It's not a one way ticket to zen. It's another means to coming to know ourselves and be intentional with how we are in the world. That's all. And that's everything.

I've positioned myself between a few voices in the yoga world and they're providing me with a really interesting orientation. Whenever I can, I practice with Alex Auder. I understand through her teaching a lot of functional movement patterns. I feel safe and comfortable in her class because she is so unapologetically herself. She's not for everyone and that's the joy-- she's not trying to be. By being herself so thoroughly I have the opportunity to opt in or opt out, and I opt in. I pull that understanding into my own teaching, reminding myself "don't dilute, obscure, or diminish yourself. That can be a distraction too when it's felt by the student. Be fully integrated to actually be able to serve the student."

I read Matthew Remski for his studies of abuse of power in the yoga world. He talks about the subjects and controversies that many yogis avoid. Through his conversations and insights, I start to map some of the pitfalls of power and abuse. I start to figure out how to own my space, make choices that are right for me, and untangle what is yoga and what is nonsense.

I watch videos from Diane Bruni and some of the teachers she's gathered around her in the study of functional movement. Some of it's yoga, some of it's something very different. It's a study of our bodies, feeling, form, and option. It's very organic.

I think about the stories I've heard of why or how yoga was invented. Some say it was whispered to a snake man. Some say the poses developed so we could sit quietly in meditation. Others say the poses developed to flush the digestive tract. Still more say that the poses were attempts to reintegrate into the natural world. As original yogis watched the animals and landscape and felt other than, they decided to imitate what they saw to try to get to its sense of being.

And then somewhere along the line that exploration became dogmatic.

I don't think that was the idea.

I think yoga is questions:

"where are you?"

"what do you feel?"

"how will your body move through the world?"

It's everything and it's enough.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling

Recently, I heard an interview with a dancer. The dancer said to free up organic movement she and her collaborators practice falling.

The interviewer, thankfully, had my reaction. How you do that?

The dancer, thankfully, had language around the practice.

The dancer said that the reason falling interrupts movement or hurts is because of our interaction with what we fall into. She said that if you visualize the floor as hard, if you expect it to be hard, your body behaves accordingly, tensing. This means that there is hardness in the interaction. The floor slaps your body, your body heaves to the floor.

However, it doesn't have to be like that.

When she practices falling, this dancer visualizes the floor as a soft, permeable, permissive surface. As she starts to feel a receptivity in the floor her body get softer. Her body responds to the floor as though the floor were soft and the interaction between body and floor gains that level of fluidity.

I am now practicing falling all the time.

Yesterday, I went to the ocean. The sky was beautifully, densely grey. The air was in the 60s and the water was colder than that.

I walked into the choppy dark ocean. When the water swirled around my ankles I gasped. My legs started feeling numb. A year ago, I would have shrieked and run from the water. 

But I'm practicing falling.

I breathed and I started talking to the water. Well, I started talking to myself via the ocean.

I let myself feel invited into the water. I reminded myself of how grateful I am for oceans. Just watching waves soothes me. I wanted to be in that water. I wanted to be with the ocean. I started thanking the ocean and feeling at home in the swirling water.

My body started relaxing into the water. I walked out. I stayed in the water for some time. I dove under a wave.

The water was bracingly cold but when I was a kid, I didn't care. I was so excited to be in water that the temperature didn't register. It's only as an adult that I put myself at odds with my environment.

I'm practicing falling.


I think this perspective could expand. There are a lot of environments and situations where I feel at odds.

When I shift my understanding of them, I change. I respond differently. I fall in and am received.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Rediscovered Beauty of the Alarm Clock

Thanks to helpful human suggestions gleaned through social media, I ordered and now own the Moonbeam alarm clock.

It's cute, it's small, and it lives on my night stand. After setting up the alarm clock I left my phone downstairs for the night. I went to sleep and in the morning this thing loudly woke me up. It has one beep and it is not cute. However! I quickly turned it off and felt awake. I pet my cat for a bit. I slowly got out of bed. With nothing to distract me I decided to meditate first. I went into the office, sat on my meditation cushion, got out my mala, and did a 10 minute japa meditation sit.

And went about my day.

It was calm and intentional. It felt really liberating. I was choosing what served me instead of negotiating away from what drains my energy.

Our house has two bedrooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. In the winter, we sleep upstairs because it's warm and cozy. I placed the alarm clock in that bedroom. For those of you in the northeast you know that we are in a heat wave of 90 degrees in May. Thanks Climate Change. We moved down to our downstairs bedroom as that room has three exterior walls, more windows, and cross breeze. The alarm clock didn't move with us.

I set my phone as an alarm and went to sleep. In the morning the phone gave me a more soothing sound but when I rolled over to hit snooze I saw 10 billion notifications. I was already stressed. The screen was brighter. After hitting snooze a kajillion times I decided I would wake up. I started mindlessly scrolling through email and Facebook and the rest instead of getting out of bed. When I got out of bed, I'd wasted a good bit of time and had to hustle.

I had been discussing this whole process with a friend and felt like it was an issue of willpower on my part. She very generously phrased it as too much choice, which drains energy. That shifted my perspective. When I travel to places with limited wifi I feel FREE because I don't have to chose whether or not to engage with email and the rest. I can't until I seek it out and make it happen. Instead, all of that energy can be allocated intentionally.

That is exactly what I'm feeling in my mornings with the alarm clock vs my mornings with the phone. World's apart. Alarm clock wins.

I've just ordered one for the downstairs bedroom. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother's Day with Father Divine

Lucky for me, Kevin is interested in following bread crumbs.

Case in point, last Sunday, AKA Mother's Day.

The plan had been to go to Asbury Park and swim. Thankfully, we're both getting better at veering away from the plan.

It could have been a good day to pack a quilt and wrap up on the beach but it was cold, a little colder than the previous days when we laid these plans. Instead, we got some food in Philly. I knew I wanted to pick up some sacred stones for friends so I suggested heading to Garland of Letters. Kevin, always the nerd, happily agreed. The shop keep, with Buddha's naga serpents tattooed around his skull, let us in. I found myself fumbling over some moss agate and smoky quartz and assembled my gifts. Kevin found three rare books he's been obsessed with. While Kevin and the shop keep nerded happily together, I realized I'd forgotten palo santo. I picked some up and our friend, the naga-headed one, gifted them to us.

I realized there's a coffee shop near there that always feels good to me-- good light, pretty tiles, succulents. We headed to Chapterhouse Coffee to sit and plot what was next. As I sipped my cappuccino Kevin pulled a few books from the coffee shop shelf. He thumbed through and said, "Father Divine! I was just talking about him with Anthony! He was a Black man who founded a religion in Philly. The Divine Lorraine hotel and a few others were run by him and his followers. The followers still live in Gladwyne. We should go."

Normally, I'm not one for Gladwyne. It freaks me out. Seems to me that the oldest money in the Philadelphia area resides in Gladwyne. Driving through is beautiful. There are sun-speckled glades and gentle hills and soft trees but it's freaky! All the land is private. You can't actually be in any of that beauty and it doesn't seem like anyone ever enjoys it. I have many suspicions about how many torture lairs are underground in Gladwyne. All I feel out there is repression and corruption.

I also don't know anything about Father Divine other than his fantastic name and his beautifully named hotels. Yet somehow, on this particular day, it didn't seem like a bad idea to visit.

We began to drive from center city to Gladwyne. Here's the other weird thing about Gladwyne-- you never take the same route twice. I don't know that the roads actually exist. I think that the powers that be that make certain access points from day to day. You think I'm joking.

I have lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life and I saw things on that ride I have never seen before. Somehow, somewhere near Manayunk we began riding on a residential street right along the Schuykill River. I DIDN'T KNOW ANYONE LIVED ON THE SCHUYKILL. A tiny street! People were FISHING out their back door! It felt like other areas-- maybe New Hope or Norfolk-- not the Philadelphia suburbs. I was shocked. If you want to get to this area-- if it's real! Try to get to Flat Rock Park. On the river. Stunned.

We climbed the hills into Gladwyne proper. Across from the Philadelphia Country Club we turned into the driveway of a private estate. One manor had 8 dogs barking at the fence. Fenced in nearby there were grazing donkeys, alpacas, sheep, and an emu.

I'm not joking about any of this.

We continued down the drive until we found ourselves at Gatsby's place. Seriously. An old mansion with an air of 1942. When Kevin and I are on adventures we're endlessly chatting so we were happily talking about something or another, parking the car, and walking towards the mansion when an old German woman in a 1930s school uniform comes to the porch and says, "Are you here for the tour?"

And that's when I thought we might die.

OK, I thought we'd wander around a largely abandoned place, maybe find a caretaker, and maybe take a tour.

It was way weirder than that.

This woman was genuinely sweet. Kevin eagerly said, "Yes!" The woman looked at me, dressed in jeans and a loose sweater and clucked, "Oh, we'll have to put you in a skirt."

She invited me into the mansion and found an old apron skirt with snaps. I began putting it on over my jeans as an old man in spats sat thumbing through a book to my right, a hunched over sweet woman in her 90s began clucking at me, and I spotted another very elderly woman seated in a chair in the room in front of me. I began to realize there were people EVERYWHERE. And they were all watching Kevin and I attentively.

It felt like a cult retirement home.

They gave us booties to slide over our shoes to maintain the cleanliness of the manor. The women debated who would take Kevin and I on our tour. The mansion was absolutely beautiful and completely frozen in time. The great room has vaulted ceilings, a fireplace with a Bible quote on the mantle, and life size portraits of Father and Mother Divine overhead. There was a music room, a drawing room, an office, and a dining room set for Mother's Day dinner. A table off to the side was filled with the only recognizable technology, a CD player and CDs. I asked about it and our guide said, "We listen to Father Divine's sermons as we eat."

In the music room she opened a beautiful wooden box filled with a giant perforated silver disc. "It's a music box!" our guide said, "this is what people listened to before the radio!" She wound it up and began to play it's tinny tune. We listened politely while people sat in their chairs or quietly watched us.

Holy shit.

From the dining room we were taken into the kitchen which was much more lively and gregarious. Women were preparing dinner, cleaning up, ironing, and cutting flowers. They even had a room dedicated to preparing vases!

After the tour of the house we were shown the outdoor shrine where Father and Mother Divine rest. There were estate trails that our guide invited us to enjoy. One took us to a cave where Revolutionary soldiers hid during the war.

Everyone we met on the estate was kind. We saw one other family touring; a couple about our age with two small children. They entered as we were touring the kitchen. The women giggled saying, "The children are wearing booties!"

Throughout the tour Kevin kept asking questions about belief and customs but we didn't hear much response. Our guide told us that followers believe in the Constitution and are patriotic. They believe Father Divine is the incarnation of God as was his wife, Mother Divine. However, theirs was said to not be a traditional marriage. Followers stay "virtuous." They all believe they are married to Mother and Father Divine but do not consummate relationships, which is why the group is slowly dying off. When we met visitors or followers everyone greeted us by saying "Peace." The Sisters, as they call themselves, lived in the mansion. The Brothers lived down the road. They share communal chores and responsibilities.

Father Divine was a Black man who originally married a Black woman. She passed when Father Divine was in his 50s. He found a young white woman in her 20s who he said was the incarnation of his deceased wife. This woman became Mother Divine. I tried to ask a bit about the group's racial politics but didn't hear much response. The elderly followers were predominately Black with a few white members, including our German tour guide who's parents joined the group when she was a toddler.

They seem to believe in prosperity gospel. At it's heyday Father Divine had or was given properties in Europe as well as many parts of the US. There were photos of Father Divine homes in the Hamptons and Hudson Valley in addition to the Gladwyne headquarters. The Divine Lorraine Hotel and second hotel in West Philadelphia must have also been sources of income but it wasn't entirely clear who built, owned, or managed what.

The space felt sweet and creepy-- a combination Kevin is fond of. The friendliness and care the collective gave to their daily tasks reminded me that these are simply the practices of any devout people. They infused meaning into tending the home, preparing the food, and engaging in the rituals they'd lived all the decades of their life.

It also reminded me of being with my grandmother. The house had the feel of the 1940s. Not much had changed. It's a time capsule and those are rare to find.

To see exactly what it looks like with a generous story, check out this piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/02/kristin-bedford-father-divine_n_7673846.html

We followed the bread crumbs to the Father Divine estate. We wandered the grounds a bit before returning to Flat Rock Park and winding our way home.