Monday, June 27, 2016

Until Next Time, Nashville!

There's more than one way to say good-bye!
One more module to go before we become certified yoga therapists!  Things are getting real.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Body is Willing

It is hot in Nashville.  The temperature has been hovering the mid-90s since we arrived for the fifth of six modules of our yoga therapy training.  The training itself is heating up - we are past the halfway mark and the long days build towards a kind of energy that both sustains and exhausts.

At this point, we are spending a lot of time meeting with clients who volunteer to allow us to work with them, referred by the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt University.  We receive a very short description of the person - two or three sentences about who they are, their age and what their problem(s) are.  There has been a fair bit of debate about whether this information is helpful or gets in the way or totally useless.  Each day, three of us meet with our client while being observed by a faculty member and a group of about 6-8 other trainees.  It is a pretty unnatural situation but there really isn't any way around it as it is so useful to get the feedback that everyone offers and, as an observer, to be able to see the many ways that issues can be addressed.  There has been incredible synchronicity between the seemingly random assignment of client with student therapist - somehow most of us have been matched with people who are just right for us.

Yesterday was my day to meet my client for the first time.  It was an amazing experience and a challenging one.  If I had allowed myself to have any kind of expectations beforehand, I quickly tossed them out the window.  I had to be present with the person in front of me and all the theories about this or that tool or practice pretty much went out the window with the expectations.  But we had the most important thing - a real and immediate connection.  The whole experience was beautiful and I can only express deep gratitude to my client for coming in and sharing their story and life and letting me enter it, just a little.  We will meet again on Saturday for a follow-up.

After the client left and we debriefed as a small group and then with the whole group, I could feel a pain begin to rise in my left eyelid.  It is almost comical!  In the moment, I was (mostly) not stressed since my job was (relatively) clear.  Or so I thought.  After the fact, it is also clear that the added piece of being observed and having everyone in the group hear about and analyze my performance (hard to call it anything else) caused me more stress than I thought.

This morning, as my eyelid was about double its normal size, one of the faculty was discussing the role of breathing in our practice and our tradition.  She said that the body might be willing but the breath won't lie.  Meaning that we can force our bodies to do things that take it a little too far or override our sense of what is best for it but that pushing or overriding will always show up in the breath immediately.  It is a true barometer of what is really happening in our system.

I might add a little caveat that the body is willing - for a time - but the chickens will come home to roost eventually.  Perhaps, like many of the clients we have been seeing, the pushing and overriding has been happening so long and has been pushed so hard that the chickens are coming home in a big way that can no longer be ignored.  Or, perhaps like me, they show up immediately.  A little reminder that just because you can't see it or feel it in the moment, things are happening on subtle levels.  Indeed, it is this very fact that gives yoga therapy its power.  We don't know everything of what will happen or even exactly why.  It is lovely that scientists and researchers are starting to confirm what yoga has known for millennia but even with all that, there is still some mystery to it all.

And I say, thank goodness for that.  Swollen eyelid and all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Everthing is Waiting For You

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  -- David Whyte

     ©2003 Many Rivers Press

Friday, June 17, 2016

Personally Speaking

A few months ago, I was telling my Zen teacher about how the new cat at the Monastery ran towards me and practically leapt into my arms.  He said, "Yeah, you almost want to take it personally."

Ouch!  Man, talk about hitting a girl where it hurts the most.

This is Tika, the Temple cat.  She sometimes leaps into my arms too.  So there!

I was recounting this story to a friend a couple of days ago, who also happens to be a Zen monk, and he said, "It's true.  We take everything so personally.  Like it's all about us!  Nothing is personal.  Not even our breath is personal!"

Not even our breath is personal.  Double ouch!

I know what he said is correct because I actually started to cry a little when he said it.  Still....

Not even our breath is personal.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Every Now and Then, Practice Works

Things have been winding up and settling down.

There have been many sleepless nights as I worried about some of the choices my two teenagers have been making.  Trying to find the balance between guidance and support and the teenage equivalent of shouting angrily - STOP! - when your toddler appears to be about to run out into the street.  When the toddler is 19, one must take another tact - more subtle and yet still as startling and forceful.  No one said it would be easy.

But we are getting there.  When I see Finn gently and eagerly care for Lucy's pet rat (yes, she has one!  She is named Violet), I feel hopeful that this sweet, gentle side of him is the underpinning that props up the rest, even the less than sweet parts.  And when Lucy points out some aspect of how I am deluding myself, this time with clarity and directness but also compassion (versus when she just sticks it to me like a dagger in the back), I marvel at her innate wisdom and try to trust that when she tells me that her summer plans are to go live on a commune in rural Tennessee.

Neither of my two are taking the traditional post-high school graduation route.  I see and hear other parents talking about university and scholarships and accomplishments and it gives me pause.  Did I do something horribly wrong?  Then a friend said to me, somewhat impatiently at my dimness, "What did you expect?!  You raised them to think for themselves and now they are!"


Still, as a parent, I want some sense of security, some sense that they will be, not just alright, but good - really good and happy - in the world.  Of course, I want the impossible.  Maybe in six months time they will have found a direction that will guide them for the coming years and it will feel more settled, but it's never really settled.  It's never settled.

The only thing that can be settled is our mind.  The slings and arrows will just keep coming - this is guaranteed.  Are you running around in a panic, trying to avoid them, dashing this way and that?  Or are you calmly watching them land, stepping aside as needed?  Maybe getting hit as needed too.  It is becoming more and more painfully obvious to me that the only way we can approach reaching that second state of mind (the calm one not the dashing around one) is with practice.  By this I don't even mean yoga practice or Zen practice but I do mean some kind of regular, daily practice of engaging with discomfort.

I am talking about a practice that challenges us to face up to the little things that might send us racing about - a momentary itch in our nose when we are trying to sit still or the frustration of trying and missing an attempt to do an āsana (posture) that we do every single day.  Small and unimportant things.  And that's exactly it!  So small and so unimportant that we can practice them and the consequences of not meeting their challenge (I hesitate to say fail) are equally small and unimportant.  Ok, I scratched my nose during meditation.  Or I fell out of parivritti trikonāsana again.  Again!  These small experiences are the drip of water that creates the hole in the rock over time.  Day by day, they are not a big deal but check back in a few years, or a few decades.  These small practices matter.

A few years ago, I went to an Ashtanga primary series class led by Sharath Jois (Pattabhi Jois's grandson and heir to his school and role as "guru").  It was early in the morning and very crowded with people who all seemed to know each other and all seemed to be very fabulous and all seemed to have very advanced practices.  I totally freaked out - I felt surrounded by a thick air of competition and was overwhelmed by feelings of being inadequate.  It thoroughly infected me and my response was to make my practice so aggressive that, by the time I finished, I was completely depleted.  I honestly thought that I would not be able to walk to the subway without collapsing.  I remember being really scared about how I would get home.  It was something of a wake-up call.

Sharath is in town again now.  After that horrifying practice a few years ago, I vowed never to do that again.  Yet, for some reason, I signed up for three of the six days of practice that he is offering.  This morning was the first one.  The crowd was even larger this time - 350 people!  We filled the gymnasium at a local college, with our mats just inches apart.  Normally that alone would make me very anxious as a long-limbed person who needs a fair bit of space but this time all I could feel was a kind of awe that we were all there practicing together.  It felt beautiful, not anxious.  I actually had the best, most relaxed practice in months.

My working myself to exhaustion last time was not about Sharath or the bevy of gorgeous 25 year-olds (male and female) in their Lululemon outfits who could float through the practice barely touching the ground.  All that crazy was my crazy.  Like the water dripping on a rock, several years later I am pleased to see that I am a little less crazy.  No worries - there is plenty of room for improvement but, as one of the monks at the Monastery likes to say, "practice works!"

Finn and Lucy are launching themselves out into this horrible, cruel, beautiful world in ways that I never imagined.  There will be trouble ahead.  There will be moments of poetry.  Those are certainties.  The rest is up to me to create.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

How To Be Satisfied

Satisfied, 2014.  Porcelain and wash, 5" x 12"

Coreopsis, 2016.  Organic matter, size varies.

Graduate (Lucy and Wendy), 2016.  Fills the universe.

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