07/18/2014 § Leave a comment
I love grey sky mornings. I love blue sky mornings, too, but there’s something about grey mornings – at least during the Bay Area summer – that are especially nice. Wrapping my hands around a mug of coffee feels different on a grey sky morning. It feels comforting and somehow warms me more than it might on those days when the world is shimmering with clear light.
The pace of a grey sky morning is different, too. Life – the same frenetic full life that was bright and busy yesterday – rests easy through dawn and then breathes itself awake. Muted, soft and lazy yet full of hope and holding the promise of a blue sky afternoon.
On some mornings the shift from grey to blue goes by almost unnoticed. On other mornings the sun burns through the thick cloud fast and hot like a torch.
But that’s what change is like, isn’t it? Sometimes it hangs gently around us until we’re ready to notice. And at other times it’s unexpected. It’s speed and ferocity with which it hits is blinding.
The way things change has been on my mind this week. Especially today. We have traveled more than halfway through our journey around the sun and it seems that the first half of this year has been, for me, a constant teaching aboutaccepting change. Not the small moment-by-moment changes that each breath of life brings but the big rock em’ sock em’ changes.
I want to write that some of the changes in my life were exquisite and others filled with grief. But that’s what we do, isn’t it? We love to assign qualities to change: good, bad, sudden, unexpected. But with our need to name change we forget that names offer our mutable circumstances a potency that can direct our emotional state and determine how we look at what simply is and always will be the movement of our lives.
One of my instructors at Niroga Institute, where I’m enrolled in the yoga therapy teacher-training course, spoke of the simplicity of being neutral. Her words have stayed with me.
Change is here. Always. If we don’t notice change in this breath we might in the next or in the breath after that. Change is our one constant. And as it is we may as well sit in the middle of it free of judgment, fear and craving. Neutral. Only in that basic state will we see the purity of change. Only in that basic state will our instincts know if we’re waking a grey sky morning, a blue sky morning or a brand new morning.
06/21/2014 § Leave a comment
I arrived in the Bay Area a few days after Mount St. Helens erupted, in May of 1980. That first summer was a rough one and there were times I thought about returning to Nebraska, where I’d just graduated from Doane College with a degree in art and education. I thought about running back home to Pennsylvania, too, even though I knew there was nothing there for me.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I worked my way from a hostess at The Good Earth in Santa Clara to a teacher’s assistant at Lakewood Elementary School in Sunnyvale. For a time I directed an after-school extended day care program but I left that job when I began work as an artists’ model. That odd job – sitting still while a room full of painters or drawers or sculptors fashioned my likeness with paint or charcoal or clay – introduced me to a new way of being in the world. Until then I’d felt a bit lost and unsure of who I was and who I was meant to be. But my new friends, most of whom were fellow artists and models, had a way of shaking off any expectations the world held. They walked less certain paths in life. Paths littered with stumbling uncertainty and bold adventure.
One new friend, a fellow model, invited me to join her for a Friday morning yoga class at the only yoga studio in town, a little Iyengar studio on Cowper Avenue. That was sometime around 1985. I didn’t know it then but two decades later I would be the one teaching that very same Friday morning class.
But on Friday, June 27th I will teach my last Friday class at California Yoga Center. My class ends at 10:00 AM.
When the news first broke four months ago I held my own grief as well as the grief of my students. Change is difficult. Order in a chaotic life – knowing that at Friday’s from 9 to 10 AM I was teaching at CYC – was easy. But now what were we going to do?
I have three more classes to teach at CYC – this next week, a final Yin class on Monday evening at 7:30 and then my last two hatha classes on Tuesday and Friday at 9:00 in the morning. I will miss the studio very much. It is where I began my practice and where I began to consider teaching.
But change is inevitable and the truth is that we will move on. Some students will find new teachers and new studios. Others will find my new classes.
Beginning the week of June 30th I’ll be teaching all of my community classes at Samyama Yoga Center at 2995 Middlefield Road (next to the Winter Palace) in Midtown, Palo Alto. Here’s my new schedule:
Monday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio
Tuesday 7:00-8:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio
Wednesday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio
Friday 1:30-3:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio
Saturday 4:00-5:30 PM – Slow Flow in the main studio
One of my yin students left a note for me in my sign in notebook. He wrote,
06/02/2014 § 1 Comment
I’m inclined to play it all humble. To hide my light under a bushel, blushing and mumbling “What? Little ol’ me?” But why? How often am I going to win an award for writing? Yeah. You read that right. I won an award. For writing!
My essay, Memories are Made of This, was one among several essays presented First Place Awards from the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.
You can read the essay here.
04/19/2014 § 1 Comment
It the middle of March it rained for two days. In fact, both days were gully washers. But even with four feet of new snow in the mountains, it won’t be enough. We need another good few weeks of wet weather to make a difference in the drought conditions in Northern California. And so, despite this being our third dry winter, last month’s temporary need for umbrellas and galoshes will convince many to relax. That water conservation isn’t urgent. It rained, didn’t it? There is no need for worry.
Unfortunately, their complacency is misplaced.
Do you have any idea how many gallons of water per day your household uses? When my utility bill arrives I never look beyond the amount of money I owe. If I did I might learn a bit about my water habits.
I have a friend whose family of four uses ninety-nine gallons of water per day. This seemed an astronomical amount until I saw a copy of his water bill and read that his neighbors use, on average, one hundred and seventy-four gallons of water per day. But even that number is impressive. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average family of four can use up to FOUR HUNDRED gallons of water per day. And most of that water is used indoors.
Where does all that water go?
Conventional shower heads flow at five gallons per minute. That’s fifty gallons down the drain in one ten-minute shower. Install a low-flow shower head and cut your shower time in half and you’ll save twenty-five gallons of water.
Do you leave the water running while you brush your teeth? While you shave? Say goodbye to another two gallons. Turn the tap water off while you brush and install an aerator to save even more.
In the 1980’s we were fond of saying, “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow.” Toilet flushing was taboo – and for good reason. Each flush washes, on average, another five gallons down the drain.
Committing to a mindfulness practice of water conservation shouldn’t be limited to periods of drought. We should always be aware of how we use natural resources. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the lands we plow and cultivate are gifts. I think that we forget how precious these gifts are.
Even thinking of them as gifts is wrong. They are a part of us. When we abuse and misuse our resources, we are abusing and misusing our selves.
I asked friends if they had a favorite way of conserving water. The suggestions I received varied from the humorous (drink more beer) to the extreme (become a vegan). And then there were the suggestions that we all know. Some are simple. Others require more work. Some are practical. Others require us to create new habits and new ways of being in the world:
- Replace lawn with drought resistant plants
- Wait for full loads before doing laundry
- Fill the dish washer instead of washing by hand
- Collect grey water (from showers and dishwashing) to flush the toilet
- Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk
According to the Santa Clara County Water District, if we each saved twenty gallons of water per day we would save over thirteen billion gallons of water per year. Do we have it in us to be that mindful? To remain that aware?
I think we do.
If you want more water saving tips go to the SCWD website save20gallons.org.
04/17/2014 § Leave a comment
My second quarter at Sofia included a course called Ecopsychology. I wasn’t really certain what that meant when the course began. I’m coming to understand, however, how we’ve lost our connection to nature and through suffering that loss we’ve broken an important connection with our spirit and soul.
One of our assignments for the class was to design a small service project to take into the world. It didn’t have to be big or flashy or showy. Just something small to rebuild that lost connection.
I’d thought I’d share the first half of the assignment:
This class, Ecopsychology, got under my skin.
I’m certain it didn’t mean to, but it did. And now I have this whole new way of looking at the world around me.
It began innocently enough. I thought our readings and assignments were simply reminding me of those things I already knew. Things like the fact that somehow we’re all connected. Not just you and me. But all living things. We rely on one another. Our relationships are complex. Sometimes they are reciprocal, sometimes symbiotic. But that’s how the world rolls. We all give a little, take a little and somehow it all balances out. Or at least it should.
I know. I’m making this sound all too simple and Neil De Grasse Tyson could explain with far more eloquence but the truth is – the point I am trying to make – is that we are all in this together. And by ‘we’ I mean my best friend, my family, the plant on the top shelf of my bookcase, the tree outside my window, the blue sky above the tree, the squirrel dashing across the road (and narrowly missing the FedEx truck), the FedEx driver and Rigby. Rigby is the 9-month-old Portuguese Water Dog that I sometimes take care of. Even Rigby and his loveable puppy brain.
It’s just that the tree and the plant and the sky don’t know they’re part of this. The squirrel doesn’t know it, either. He’s too busy storing nuts for the winter. And Rigby? With his puppy brain? Clueless.
But those of us possessing what we would like to believe is higher cognitive function should know. We should know that we’re all in this together and that the ‘this’ I am writing about is in deep shit trouble.
And that’s what I mean when I say ‘this class got under my skin’.
It reminded me of things I already know, and then it reminded me that we have a responsibility to try to do something about it (at this point, if Rigby had a better command of the English language would cock his head to one side and whine, “Really?”)
Yes, Rigby. We do. And the ‘something’ we choose to do has to be more than hugging a few trees.
I’ll admit it. At first my service project was going to be just big enough to meet the requirement, but small enough to not occupy too much of my time. And, no, I’m not proud but I still believed my idea – to write a blog post about water conservation – was reasonable in light of my state’s severe drought conditions.
But given that my blog’s readership can be counted on two hands and a foot the idea of posting five hundred words on how to conserve water didn’t really seem to be an effective way to connect with my role as a human caregiver to the planet. Besides, writing a blog post wasn’t the interactive experience I was beginning to crave.
I wanted a service project that would last longer than the time it takes to post a blog. What could I do?
The answer came to me in the shower. (A very short shower with a water conserving showerhead.) My project would have three components:
1) A blog post about water conservation that can be read at Practically Twisted.
2) A concerted effort to walk my talk by using grey water from showering and dish washing to flush my toilet.
3) A second concerted effort to not just walk but to peddle my talk. By the beginning of next month I’ll be using a bicycle as my primary means of local transportation. (Truth-be-told I have an ulterior motive. Exercise! I’ve discovered there’s a direct link between the amount a person studies and an ever-widening backside. It’s time for an ass intervention!)
Like I said, this class got under my skin. In a very positive way. I’m already using grey water and the blog post will be up within a day or two. And I can’t wait to start riding a bike again.
This class and this project has taught me to take the time to consider my actions. I notice myself making different choices. I notice myself stepping back to breathe and to witness. And it feels good. It affirms not just my life but all life.
04/11/2014 § 2 Comments
I’ve been taught there is a Buddhist principle called ‘sadjoy’. I’m not a Buddhist and so I don’t know if it’s right for me to find meaning in it. But it’s that time, I think, when life cares for both qualities; it holds space for sorrow and elation. Of course we could say that life is always like that – a balance of the good and the bad, the happy and the miserable. But I believe there’s something special about sadjoy. I want to believe it holds qualities that lift the human experience from the mundane to the mystical.
And so my life this year has been filled with sadjoy.
The studio where I attended my first yoga class in 1984 and where I’ve taught since my return from Ireland almost ten years ago is shutting its doors at the end of June. That the studio is closing was not a shock; how I was left to hold the worry and grief of my students was. But we moved through it, together, and we found solutions and alternatives and change happens. It will be all right.
A beloved platonic friendship found a new way to exist. We loosened the binds that had protected us from the world for so long and made other plans. At first I floundered in the space where that friendship had been but change happens. It will be all right.
I thought I knew what this year would be. It would be an introvert’s dream: comfort in the isolation of work and school. And because I could see the road ahead so clearly I filled each day with work and school. Work and school. That’s all I planned on. All I anticipated.
But things change.
And I need some time and some space to consider these changes.
The sadness that arrived at the start of the year has mellowed like a long, deep sigh. It’s been replaced by a joy that is so bright and so wonderful I don’t want to miss a moment of it.
Because things change.
And so, I’m taking a little hiatus. It’s time for me to have some fun.