Saturday, May 28, 2016

That's The Thing

Eight AM through the eyes of a 19 yo.

Sometimes the truth of impermanence is easy to forget and sometimes it insists on being right in your face.  Of course death makes it ever so real and clear.  But so does children growing up and taking on adult roles in the world.  Ok, scratch that...I just went up and took a gander (and a sniff) at Finn's room and he still has a way to go on the adult front.  But, the truth is, he is slowly getting his act together and seems poised to go on another international adventure, this time far outside his comfort zone.  Although I suspect he has no idea just exactly how far outside.

Then, on Thursday, Lucy will officially graduate from homeschooling.  That era of our lives will be officially finished.   I was never very big on anything official as it related to homeschooling, but if you count it the way the state of New York counts it, then I did it for 13 years.  When I said this to Lucy, she said, "More like six!"  (That's her assessment of how I participated in the endeavor - such is the gratitude of a 17 yo.)

Zen onion skins at work.

Napatree Point, Watch Hill, RI
Our opinions about how things are flowing through our life are just, like, our opinions, man.  

If you think this yarn is excessively hairy, you would be correct.  I carded my friend's hair into the wool and she is going to make her boyfriend something with it.  We'll see if he appreciates this gesture.

Or as a wise person recently said to me when I was telling him how one day I feel one way and the next day, I feel another way - that's the thing about feelings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Good Man

How to make the world a better - and funnier - place for 97 years.
My former father-in-law, James W. Allen, died on Monday night at the age of 97.  For nearly all of those years, he was healthy and sharp - Jack the Needle, he sometimes called himself.  A heart attack five months ago was the beginning of a decline in his physical health but, for the most part, he defied all expectations about what a person in their 90s was supposed to be like.

He was a walking piece of history - in the picture above he is re-visiting Anzio beach in Italy, where he landed as a 19 yo foot soldier in WWII.  He did many, many things in his lifetime, including, at age 40, get married and start a family, eventually having six children in the space of ten years.

I knew him for 31 years, first as one of his son's girlfriends, then as a daughter in law and then as a former daughter in law.  Men of his generation aren't really the type to be warm and fuzzy so I felt his affection from his teasing and the way he enthusiastically took up the minutia of the local geography of my hometown in Massachusetts and, later, Newfoundland.  Indeed, one of the first questions he would ask anyone he met was, "where are you from?"  I honestly never saw him not be able to pull out some obscure geographical reference in reply to their answer, "Oh, that's about ten miles from Sioux Falls on Rte 29?"  leaving the rest of us standing there wondering how in the world he knew that.

How do you measure success?  Money?  Houses?  Flashy accomplishments?  How about creating a family of very good, smart, funny people who love you dearly and devotedly?  By that measure, Jim Allen was a stunning success.  He also was a decent, good man who will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Earlier this week, we had the floors refinished in our downstairs rooms.  The night before (it was Mother's Day - Lucy said, "so manual labor is your Mother's Day present?"), we moved all the furniture either up into our bedrooms or down into the basement.  It was no small feat.  ("Yes, manual labor is the best Mother's Day present!").

We all agreed that the empty rooms were very appealing.  Lucy suggested that we leave them empty for as long as possible so we could see what we really need and use.  Once we got the go-ahead to start bringing things back it, it has been a very slow dribble.  Yes, to the pink couch.  Yes to the little side table that Finn made.  Yes to the bookcase.  Not yet to the books.  The dining room table was a yes as is one chair (so far).

It's always the question, isn't it?  How much is enough?

Friday, May 06, 2016


(Sorry - not the Beyonce kind of lemonade.  No Becky's.  No nice hair.)

Studio Love, condensed version

After I lost my studio, I created a mini-studio in a cloth grocery bag that sits near to our dining room table.  I keep several sketch books, pens, ink, watercolors and some other supplies in it.  Now, when I "go to my studio", I simply pull the bag over and dip my hand in.  No pressure and no pre-set ideas about what I am supposed to be doing.  Oddly enough, I find these moments (rarely do I spend more than a half-hour or so drawing) have become as essential to my day as breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

The ritual of getting to a studio, shutting the door and making art has its place.  The ease and the no-big-deal-ness of pulling over a bag and simply getting to work also has its place.  Without a separate space devoted to art making, I am really enjoying this no muss, no fuss take on it.  

After I'm done, the sketch books get put away, the brushes washed, and the bag returned to its corner. Ready for tomorrow!

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Not my hair.
When things are not going so well (meaning, not going the way I want them to go), everything seems so complicated.  Yesterday, I was thinking about a couple of things that have not been going the way I want them to go and I got totally lost in the narrative about how I am correct and the hundred reasons why that is so.  There is a physical feeling to this state of being too - a tightness in my chest - and a kind of energy that is both thrilling (in a way) and exhausting.  It's hard work being so right all the time!  I had been in this state for a few days - my mind building and maintaining my case in preparation for its presentation to the Supreme Court.  Or, at least, the Supreme Court of My Own Head, which, lucky for me, had already decided in my favor.

I taught two yoga classes yesterday afternoon.  In the course of that, I was moving and breathing deeply.  Then I went to the Temple, where we were having a Fusatsu or Renewal of Vows ceremony.  It is a beautiful thing.  We atone for the ways that we have hurt ourselves and others, then the teacher gives a short talk about the precepts (the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha) and we chant the Four Vows of a Bodhisattva.  Like I said, it is a beautiful ceremony.  For the first time, I was the doan, or instrumentalist.  It is not difficult - not like playing the piano or something - and there is a book that lists the cues but still, I had to be on my toes so I wouldn't miss anything.

Somewhere in the middle of chinging and gonging, an image came to my mind.  The image was of how the back of one's head of hair can become a big, messy snarl or knot (do people still use the term "snarl"?  It seems kind of old fashioned.)  Suddenly I saw this snarl of hair as being just like my state when I am deep in my narrative that sets myself up as right and others as wrong.  Everything is tight and twisted and it hurts.  As I followed the ceremony through the instruments that I was playing, I thought: this practice, this moving and breathing and sitting still, is like the comb that takes all these hairs that are knotted up and untangles them.  It doesn't get rid of the hair.  It just kind of sorts it out into a less painful orientation.

When I mentioned this image to one of my teachers, she agreed but cautioned that forcing the comb would just makes the snarl even worse.  And then she said, "The knot isn't so bad either."

The knot isn't so bad either.

Snarl, 2016.  Ink on paper.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Earth Body

When my dead friend came to me, she said,
“This is the body that I always wanted!”

How foolish we are - scrambling around -
afraid for our lives.

Today was so beautiful -
The azaleas blooming
The lilacs offering their shy evening scent
That knocks you out once you get to know them.
And the green, green, green.
The quality of it.

Do you have the ability to see the tulips open in the warm morning sun?

What is that scratchy film that covers everything?
The annoying guy with a backpack on the subway.
The big project that I keep putting off.
My son, who won’t get a job.

The body that I always wanted to have is this body.
Living, breathing Earth body.
Soil and azalea and subway body
Tulip and unemployed son body.

This is the body I always wanted to have.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do As The Fish Do

Inverness, Cape Breton, NS.

Are you jealous of the ocean's generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?

Fish don't hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim in the huge, fluid freedom.

 - Rumi

Friday, April 08, 2016

Do You Know How To Make A Mistake?

May I direct your attention to Amanda Green?  She also is enrolled in the YATNA yoga therapy training.  I read her blog before that training started and, I fear, was a bit star struck in the dorkiest way imaginable when I first introduced myself.  Fortunately, she didn't hold it against me.  In her blog (which she writes/posts every Thursday so sign up and get the links emailed to you!), she often takes up one of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra-s and talks about it in a way that brings it out of the esoteric and makes it relatable to everyday life, all while being funny and honest.  It's no small feat!

This week, her post is about her two daughters taking piano lessons.  I won't say too much because I want you to go read it for yourself but the gist of it is "Do it well.  Do it with a good attitude.  Do it for a long time.  And you will become it."  This is her paraphrasing of YS I.17.  She illustrates it with how her daughters are taking up their piano studies in different ways and then brings it back onto herself, examining her yoga studies (and life in general).  It's good stuff!

For me, her post points to something that I have been thinking a lot about lately - namely, making mistakes.  When we are learning something new, we make a lot of mistakes.  I think this is where "do it with a good attitude" comes in.  If I am getting frustrated and angry with myself about making mistakes, then chances are that I won't get to the next step, "do it for a long time".  Sometimes that is fine - we don't have to be experts in everything.  But sometimes we miss opportunities to just enjoy our experiences when we are caught up in "I can't do it!" or "I should be better at this!"  

I have been both teacher and student a lot recently.  Watching others learn - and watching myself learn - is what got me thinking about how we react to our mistakes.  When I begin to learn something new, it is as if there is a grey, wooly fuzz all over everything.  I can't see clearly; things are vague and I am bumping up against them unexpectedly i.e. making lots of mistakes.  For pretty much my whole life, I have hated this part of learning new things.  I couldn't wait for the fuzz to clear and the shapes to sharpen so that I could be able to see through it all with technicolor clarity.  I would work, work, work to get to that place as quickly as possible.  And I have refused to try new things because of not wanting to experience that grey, fuzzy place.

As I think about it more, I realize that there is something quite beautiful about that grey, fuzzy place.  Because I have no idea what I am doing, I am paying attention like crazy.  It is actually a pretty wonderful state to be in.  I have started to think that maybe I should savor that state, or at least, appreciate it just a little more before rushing towards mastering my skill.  

Ok, so maybe if you are George W. Bush and you are sending soldiers into Iraq, you don't get to savor your mistakes.  But for most of us, what's a lousy drawing?  A sloppy yoga asana?  Missing the cue to ring a bell in the zendo?  Or even a poorly worded reply to our children or loved one?  My experience has been that, if I can be sincerely trying without trying (through gritted teeth) other people can accept our mistakes more light-heartedly too.  After all, we all make'em!  Of course, there is also sincerely apologizing when our mistakes hurt someone.

It's so useful to make mistakes.  It's so useful to make mistakes so it would be good to have a way of making them that allows us to hold them loosely and lightly (while still paying attention like crazy).  Then, we get that ananda (see Amanda's post) sooner rather than later.  The grey fuzz will clear eventually too.  But the joy of it is always there for us, no matter if we are buried under grey fuzz or floating through life with razor-sharp clarity.  The joy of it is always there, even in the mistakes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Earth is Calling

The Earth is Calling and She Wants You Back

How the Earth created you in the first place:
Maybe there was some wine -
Grapes harvested, pressed, fermented with billions of bacteria.  Drunk!
Protein and hormones and enzymes, nourished by blood.
Truly born of this Earth.
It can’t be otherwise.

Now I squat over the ground
Watching blood drip, drip, drip
onto fallen leaves
The Earth drinks it up eagerly
How much longer?

When I rest my cheek on the cool, damp loam
Or shoot my arms through the ocean waves,
I remember how the next time might be as ashes.
The water lapping me back up -
Taking back what is rightfully her’s.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Equinox

I want to talk to you about power.
What I mean is:
That first robin to sing just before dawn.
A spring breeze across your cheek.
The crocus opening the day before a snowstorm.

You want to talk about tsunami-s?
Let me tell you about how every blade of grass
Is a full-on party of blade of grassness.
How the cricket sings among the leaves every evening –
Being 100% cricket.
No audience required.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, raging oceans?
How about the dark side of the moon
That has never once wondered
How you are doing.

Welcome, sweet lover.

Please – make yourself at home.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Layer Upon Layer

What the heck?
After losing my studio to gentrification in Long Island City, I developed the brilliant scheme to buy a fixer-upper in Ulster or Greene County, NY, as a studio.  On a very limited budget, I would buy a house that would serve as a live/work space that I could use three or four days/week.  It would offer me a place where I could get solid time in my studio and still be able to continue to teach yoga in the city.  It would be reasonably near the Monastery so I could organize my time around getting there once/week and it would cost less than what I was paying for my space in LIC.  Even the guy who is my financial planner thought it was a good idea, and hey - it isn't often that my ideas get the thumbs up from anyone with any financial know-how.  I have been trolling Trulia and Zillow ever since.

Let's just say that, within my budget range, one encounters a fair bit of squalor.  I have made two excursions upstate to look at places and it is clear that a good deal of sweat equity will be required.  I don't mind that - at all really - but looming large over this whole endeavor is the question - can I really own three houses?  It's absurd!

Added to the layers of possibilities is the fact that my nest is emptying and soon I will have total freedom to decide where I want to live.  That might happen as early as this fall.  My long-awaited dream of  living in Newfoundland could become reality.   But if that is so, why buy upstate?  And what about the Monastery?  Or the Temple in Brooklyn, for that matter.  Can I do yoga therapy in Newfoundland, or rather, would anyone pay me to do yoga therapy there?  And what about the boy friend?  (The what???)

So many questions.

Meanwhile, I started some new work that I can manage while I don't have a studio space.  It involves locks of Lucy's hair from when she was a toddler and old blankets.  It might be hard to understand but I am very excited about this new turn of events.  In the midst of all this coming and going, it feels like the perfect antidote.  As my friend Patti just said to me when I was blathering on and on about all the possible ways the future could play out, all will become the stillness, the answer will come.  I believe this wholeheartedly because I lived it, over and over again.  I have faith in it so much so that I don't actually worry (too much) about it.  My job is to create the stillness.  Likewise, I have faith in that little rush of adrenaline that I get when I start a new art project that promises to be Something Big.  Yes, right now it just looks like a pony tail and an old blanket, but please believe me when I tell you, there's something very exciting going on there.

One house?  Three houses?  Upstate?  Newfoundland?  Hair?  Blankets? Maybe I should just become a monk and ditch it all!  Or maybe I could spend my time looking at cute cat pictures on the internet, like this one:

Not conducive to stillness.

The possibilities are endless!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Loosen Up Already

Recently, I started working with Elizabeth Cunningham-Bossart, who is the Ayurvedic doctor who lead our third module of yoga therapy training.  Around the time that Senjin was actively dying and I was cracking teeth from the stress of it all, I thought that maybe I needed a little extra help.  She spent about two-hours asking me a lot personal questions (Ayurveda is very interested in your poop!) and then she gave me some recommendations for lifestyle changes, things to eat, things not to eat and a few other things like herbs, etc..

Some of what she suggested was easily added to my daily routine and some was a little more challenging.  For one, she wasn't too keen on coffee drinking.  Personally, I subscribe to what Pattabhi Jois is supposed to have said, "No coffee, no prāna."  In fact, I especially love a nice cup of coffee after I finish my Ashtanga mysore practice.  She wasn't so keen on my Ashtanga mysore practice either.  Both the coffee and the Ashtanga are vāta aggravating, which knocks my pitta out of balance.  Got that?

The long and short of it seemed to be that movement is good for my kapha (I am almost tri-dośic, meaning having almost equal amounts of all three of the main dośa-s but that annoying pitta wants to be in charge, as any good pitta worth its salt would!) but she wanted it to include some unstructured dance.  Apparently my leaning towards Ashtanga and ballet further revealed my pitta nature's need to control.  Hey, I like a few rules so that my vāta nature can break them.  (Are you getting all this?)  And this is how I came to be in a room yesterday evening with about 50 other people for my first experience of 5Rhythms.

I gave myself permission to do some things (jeez, more pitta) so that the possibility of having a good experience would increase.  I allowed myself to: 1. suspend judgement.  I knew there would be a fair amount of writhing and whatnot that normally would have me cringing and running in the opposite direction.  So - suspend judgement.  2.  Allow myself to have thoughts about looking good or bad  (possibly related to suspending judgement).   I thought that I had to allow myself to just have those thoughts - not necessarily get caught up in them -  but also not scold myself for having them.  And 3. I told myself that it would be okay to keep my eyes lowered.  I thought that I might find it too hard to maintain #1 if I spent much time watching other people in the room.

Was there writhing?  You betcha.  Did I think, "I am the greatest 5Rhythms dancer ever!" and "this is horrible, get me the hell out of here pronto!"?  Yes and yes.  Did I occasionally regret looking up?  Oh yes.  Let's face it, 5Rhythms is pretty high on the list (or should be) of Things White People Do and it is like shooting fish in a barrel, if one were of the inclination to mock it.  But you know what?  For all its being whoo-whoo and kind of pseudo-spiritual, it was fun.  I did find a kind of freedom and release in just moving around without any rules and without having to be doing anything specific or engaging with anyone else.  It turns out that dancing in a roomful of strangers for two hours is pretty liberating.  And did I mention that it is fun?  My vāta, pitta and kapha also approved.

Sometimes it is ok - or even more than ok - to do things that might make you cringe.  I mean, so what if we all looked totally absurd?  Looking absurd and having fun sounds a lot better than standing stiffly on the sidelines making snarky remarks.  And I say this as a world class expert at standing stiffly on the sidelines making really excellent snarky remarks.


Friday, March 04, 2016

Here We Are

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

 Excerpted from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)