Speaking of the Dead

soaring vultures

I was sitting in the back of the room with the other yoga nidra facilitators listening with half an ear to the teacher in the front. I can’t even tell you who it was. I don’t remember. In my distracted state, I cut my eyes toward the giant picture windows to my right – I do this often – and between the lush, old stately trees I could see the lake sparkling. A small hole between branches provided the perfect view of a cerulean blue sky and in that tiny hole a vulture soared.

Another one.

They are everywhere in Florida. They are everywhere, period. But they are in my awareness more than almost any other creature.

During this 10 day training I have entertained hoards. At one point, I was peacefully rocking myself back and forth on a swing, enjoying the breeze coming off the lake, lost in the lapping of the water against the shore; I leaned forward for some reason and when I looked up dozens of vultures were making their way across the sky above me. They were low enough for me to see the holes in their beaks and hear their wings flap as they gained purchase against the wind.

They kept coming. I was awestruck. I have never seen so many aloft at once.

I stood, as much as a salute to their humility and grace as to close the gap between us by another foot or two. I longed – long – for one to swoop down and sit beside me. They are clearly my animal totem and I simply adore them.

No matter when I looked up, during this ten-day training, they were there.

As I sat in the back of the room watching my friend soar effortlessly, I thought, “What are they trying to tell me?”

“Clean up your dead.” It was as if that single vulture had stopped, looked me in the eye with hands on hips and said, “Clean up your dead.”

The meaning simultaneously accompanied the words, yet I tried to analyze it, figure it out. It was an opportunity, in that moment, to simply say, “ok” and let it all go. But I needed to know more. I needed to figure out what my dead was. Which relationships, beliefs, habits was I supposed to let go of? How should I clean them out, how will I know if I have?

This gift that was handed to me became a light that revealed a pattern that doesn’t always serve me. Planting a thought in my brain then attaching a million other thoughts to it. Trying to figure things out.

Sometimes I just have to say ok. And so I did. Sort of.

I am using this command, ‘clean up your dead’ each time I find myself hooking into a thought pattern that isn’t serving me. I won’t catch them all and it will be a process of recognition and repetition until finally it’s not. But I’m committed.

And if I hold on a little too long to the dead weight, I have plenty of airborne friends around to remind me.

21 Day Challenge – Day 2 – Yoga a go go

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There is nothing quite like yoga to tell you what’s going on in your body. Even the gentlest class can reveal secret tight places and hidden tension.

Today I did a level I/II hatha class, it’s one of my favorites. The postures are familiar but not always easy and the pace is just right for my attention span.

However doing side plank the day after working out the back and arms – or back and bi’s as us gym rats call it – may not be so wise.  My arms felt like paint inside the mixer-upper thing at Home Depot. I found a muscle I didn’t know existed and still can’t seem to locate on any diagram. I believe it is an unchartered area of my tricep. It’s unhappy with its newly awakened state.

Although I own a yoga studio, have taught for over five years and have practiced longer than that, yoga and I still have some stuff to work out. I am in love with the philosophy and could talk spirituality all day, but the asana portion, the postures, they challenge me on so many levels.

There are eight limbs in yoga, only one of them, the third one, is about postures. The rest include a code of conduct in how to be in the world, breathwork, and a few on various forms of meditation. They are all necessary. Even the postures.

It’s not that they’re too difficult, although there are many I cannot do, it’s the pace, the holding. I like to move. I love to dance. I like to walk and swim and ride bikes. Standing still with my arms extended and one knee deeply bent for a few breaths has my mind wandering, chattering, disagreeing with the whole notion that this is necessary.

And it’s that reason alone, that it is. I have to become at peace with where I am. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Yoga does that. I can curse the teacher for making me hold a posture, making up stories about how it’s wrong, this particular posture should never be held this long, someone’s going to hurt themselves, and what’s with the breathing? Stop reminding me to breathe.

And then we’re done.

I am standing still, lost in sensation in my body, swimming blissfully in the energy just released from holding that godforsaken posture.

I am open, my mind is quiet (temporarily, but still) and I am at ease. Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind. It is quieting the mental chatter by giving the body a little tension – in the best possible way – and moving the thoughts out of the head into the muscles, then out all together.

It just works.

Even though I know this, even though I will be back the next day or two, or on my mat at home, I will suffer the same process.

And in the end I will be grateful for it. Again and again.

[Photo credit: Allison L. Andersen. Taken in Daman, India. She’s facing the Arabian Sea as she does her variation of saluting the sun.]

 

Just Do You. That is the Work.

 

17 Camel IMG_4050Daily Prompt: If money were out of the equation, would you still work? If yes, why, and how much? If not, why would you do with your free time?

I was asked this question a million years ago. And I have since turned this question on others. It’s a good one.

About 8 years ago I decided to put it to the test. I quit my job – one in a succession of failed career starts – and decided to become a holistic health coach. That lasted just a few years. But what it did for me was show me that I could do what I wanted and the money would come in. Or as Joseph Campbell said, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Sounds magical and all together impractical.

At the risk of sounding woo-woo, I now allow myself to be guided by – dare I say it? – the Universe. I have come to see all situations as teachable moments and guidance in one direction or another. I have never lacked food, housing, or transportation. In fact, I own my home, shop at Whole Foods (not every time, let’s be realistic) and drive a nice little Honda.

When I was younger I wanted certain things, specific markers of success: To live in New York City. Or maybe California. To travel the world, especially Paris. And have several homes. One definitely on the beach. All these things required a healthy salary, a particular status. I had to WORK for them, EARN them.

Then 8 years ago I decided to take my passion for natural health to the next level. I attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York. I went just for me, but came away with an optional new career and possibly a whole new life.

I became a holistic health coach. As a health coach many of my clients inquired if I taught yoga when I suggested they try it. I did not. But that changed. I now saw the next step on my path.

When I began to study yoga, the philosophy in particular, I felt I had finally found the belief system that contained within it all that I had cobbled together for myself from various religions and philosophies. Now it had a name. And I was home.

In its teachings I learned to  lean back. I have learned to trust the process of life. I have cultivated compassion and I am free to look at the world through the lens of enchantment and wonder.

Now, when I reframe all those markers of success, I see that I have achieved them all.

– While attending IIN in New York City I had to be there 12 weekends over 16 months. I rented an apartment with a friend for just those weekends. We shopped for food, ate in the apartment, went out to dinner, wandered the streets. I lived in New York City.

– My brother has lived in southern California for over 10 years. I visit him a few times each year. I drive his car. I pick up groceries. I take my niece to the park. We go to the beach. I have made friends there. I have lived in California.

– During all this yoga stuff, the guru I was studying with (and still am) was taking a group of people to India. It was never on my list of places to go, but suddenly I had to go. He was 80 and I didn’t know if I’d have another chance. I went for 3 weeks. Then I went back the year after with a different swami, and on the way played in London for three days. Then this past July a friend flew me on a private jet to the Bahamas where we played on the beach. I have begun to travel the world.

– I have several friends with houses on the beach and I am free to stay in them whenever they’re not occupied. I have a friend with a cabin in the mountains, same thing. I have several homes.

When I let go of the need to work for these things and just leaned back, everything that was to be materialized. Everything I had asked for showed up. Just not as I expected it. I could have missed it completely.

Today I own a yoga studio – another gift – and I write and I take pictures and when I have free time, you know, between 3:15 – 4:45 AM, I make some jewelry. My life is truly enchanted.

I haven’t worked a day in the past 8 years. I do what I love – all of it – and I am taken care of.

 

21 Day Body Love Challenge – Hairs the Difference

hair

I always wanted great hair. In high school there was a whole subset of girls who had this thick, luscious hair. Every time they’d tilt their heads or turn around, it was in slow motion. Boys would stop whatever they were doing, drop their jaws, then drop their algebra book down in front of their jeans.

I was not one of this subset. Oh, how I longed to be.

I tried. I had a shag in fourth grade, the Dorothy Hamill wedge in 7th, a perm in 11th so that I could look just like Julie Christie in Heaven Can Wait. I spent entire summers marinating in Sun-In to lighten the mousey blondish brown my hair had become. I frosted it – remember that? – pulling strands through little holes in an attractive plastic cap. If there was a way to process my hair, I did it.

In my late 20s my hair began to turn gray – I was expecting it, DNA being what it is, but I wasn’t ready for it. I dyed my hair red, brown, almost black, blond, platinum blond, golden blond. Keeping up with it was messy and expensive. But it felt necessary.

Then one day, in my late thirties, I stopped. My mother, who had held onto her youth with various shades of red from Miss Clairol, had decided to stop dying her hair. What came in what pure white. It was beautiful. So naturally I was curious what my hair was up to under the layers of golden blond.

I decided to let it go, see what nature had in store for me. My hair was shoulder length. I could see the new color coming in at the roots if I pressed my hair down, separating my part. I did this periodically over the next two years and several haircuts until I realized what I was looking at was my hair, just the way it was supposed to be. Somehow I missed the whole growing out thing, the dye that was in my hair simply had nothing left to hang onto and so it all faded seamlessly.

The number one question new acquaintances sheepishly ask me? Is that your natural hair color? My own hairdresser told me to tell everyone she did it. It’s this great color of white that works well with my fair skin and blue eyes.

But it was more than a great color, an easy transition; it was a release.

I remember when I decided to stop painting my nails. It was equal parts laziness and wanting to be more natural. Not too long after that I let go of eye shadow, then came the hair, then I stopped wearing so much jewelry. I have been slowly stripping away adornment and camouflage over the past decade or so. I’ve come out. As myself. I feel clear and seen and understood.

I remember a friend in college who swore no one would ever see her without her make-up and hair done. NO ONE. And I just thought, “How exhausting.”

The realization that I could just be who I was came slowly and I’m still working on it. This challenge has shown me where I still have some work to do. And by work I mean letting go. There’s no need to add anything, I’ve been doing that my whole life. This is about revealing, allowing bits of light to break through. Taking it back to basics. We all start out pretty perfect, the rest is just window dressing.

“I used to have straw-colored hair. Horses loved it.” – Jarod Kintz

21 Day Body Love Challenge – Belly Laugh

belly

I love my belly.

This is a relatively recent development. I would like it to be smaller, flatter, but I do not love it less because it is not.

My belly button has always been a point of pride, shaped like the entrance to a cave, it seems to mark the intersection where my belly stops and my waist begins. I have a whole belly, butt, hip combo area, as if I put on granny panties and just stuffed them full.

This area is soft but strong, it’s where I store my secrets and insecurities until I’m ready to look at them. It keeps me grounded no matter how many stories my mind makes up. It grows a little for support when I’m going through a transition, allowing me to maintain my emotional footing and mental grace. When I reach the other side, my body naturally discards this life preserver.

When I behave nutritionally my belly rewards me with less real estate, it flattens out a bit – at least when I’m lying on my back, but it will never be smooth. It has seen too much in its lifetime.

There are iridescent lightning bolts that indicate where my belly surrendered to the life growing within me, branding me as a member of the maternal tribe. Just above the entrance to the cave are two tiny lightning bolts that shot through moments before new life was released from my body, yielding to the last bit of pressure. I especially love these. There is a single thin line, a barely perceptible crease that runs horizontally from hip to hip where the base of my belly rested at its fullest. An indelible reminder of my capacity.

I have never had a completely flat belly, alas, my DNA chose another path. My mom calls hers a pooch. She has been thin as a rail most of my life but she still has this little pooch. Her mom’s shape more closely resembled my own and she too had “the pooch.” As a teenager on the drill team, or worse, the swim team, it was my shame and needed to be hidden behind towels or crossed arms. Even as an adult I would inhale deeply, sucking in my abdomen in an effort to minimize its existence. To this day I have to consciously relax the muscles of my mid-section when I exhale – holding in my stomach became as natural as breathing itself.

When I was very young my favorite place to be when I was sleepy or scared or sick, was laying with my head on my mom’s or grandma’s laps. They were soft and reassuring, nurturing. Now I have this gift that I currently share with four little furry friends and sometimes my husband. It’s a soft landing place in a world with so many sharp objects and hard edges.

I will never make it into Shape magazine because of my abs, unless it’s just a lot of “before” pictures. The oceans of the world will probably never see me in a bikini again, but protected by clothing and covered in puppies, and having housed a little human, it knows its worth. It’s priceless.

I love my belly.

“I want to be a big, fleshy, voluptuous woman with curves. I want a big bum, but I don’t have one.” – Cameron Diaz

 

21 Day Body Love Challenge – Baby Got Back

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“Cultivate your curves – they may be dangerous but they won’t be avoided.” – Mae West

Today I celebrate my hips. And their abutment. Yes. A pun.

Butt, ass, rear-end, tail, hind-quarters, buttocks, junk in the trunk, badonkadonk and my grandmother’s favorite; boombacity. I’m quite sure she made that up, because when I searched it, even Google was stumped.

Hips and their two rounded friends provide a valuable service to all of humanity. As a key player in the mating dance they beckon would-be suitors, emitting a sonar meant only for a certain few. They work the middle ground, grinding, gyrating, providing cushion and handles during the process of procreation. On a woman they separate, hold steady, expand and contract to allow new life to emerge; then provide a perch for that very life through its first few years.

They are strong, forming the shared pedestal for the torso, for the reproductive organs, the heart.

Not only that, they’re fun. They swivel, sway and sashay. They jiggle and shimmy.

I have enjoyed my robust hips and their friends most of my life, they grow and contract with me, maintaining my curves, never losing my curves.  They have enjoyed all the dancing and walking and hijinx the rest of my lower body has been party to, but they have also softened, opened and relented more than the lower joints. They have succumbed to yoga, been enticed by the breath. They have let go when I thought I could surrender no more room.

They remind me I am strong. I am flexible. They let me know I still have the capacity to open even more.

 

Super, Black and New

vulture IMG_3966Tonight is a new moon. A super moon. A black moon. Evidently this is a really powerful thing. Sounds impressive. Each new moon is a time to create. As the moon is reinventing itself you have the opportunity to do the same.

Whenever I remember this I think consciously directed thoughts toward the future I hope to create. Sometimes I write them down.

As is often the case, the new moon, the super black moon, caught me by surprise. But I had unknowingly set myself up pretty well. I had planned today to hand over responsibilities that had begun to drain my life force. At the same time I had a meeting scheduled later in the day that was in alignment with a new direction I am choosing to take.

Auspicious indeed.

Then it occurred to me; I should do this everyday. Let go of one soul-sucking, life-force depleting activity, person or situation and replace it with the opposite. Once the heavy hitters are dispensed I can get to work on letting the little negativities go and bring in the small but powerful positivities.

This way it won’t matter where, how big or what color the moon is.

Moon Dance

Half moon IMG_2188There’s just something about the moon. That round luminescent orb in the sky that defies gravity.

So much poetry and lore has made the moon its center; romantic, ominous and mystical. One giant piece of rock has garnered a lot of attention for just sitting there.

For me it’s the cycles that are most mystifying. The moon continues to guide farmers and gardeners in their planting. It determines when the tides go in and out. It is nature’s night light, the keeper of secrets and the granter of wishes. It is a powerful force.

A new moon – absent from view – represents a time of creation. The moon is beginning to create itself anew. The seemingly empty space left by our lunar companion calls out for ideas and creativity to fill the void. While the full moon symbolizes the need to let go, to create space, the new moon asks for our freshly hatched plans.

Tonight we are fortunate to be entering the New Moon phase. As you gaze into the night sky and see nothing but stars or pervading darkness know that this space is your chalk board. You can write, erase and rewrite your heart. Share your deepest desires. Whisper your wishes. Set your intentions. The vast empty night sky is ready to hold each and every thought you cast toward creating your future. Be mindful. Remember, every thought is a prayer, a request.

Take time to visualize and imagine your highest self. Get into that heart space. Feel what it’s like to be your future self. Be there in the present moment. This is no time to play small, this is a gift of powerful energy at your disposal.

What do you want for yourself? Who is your bigger self? Let go of all the excuses and reasons that pop up as you begin to manifest. In the void there is always enough time, always enough money and the conditions are always perfect. So let that go. Now, what is it the Universe can co-create with you? For you?

See yourself. Let go of the process you think it will take to get you from where you are now to that big you. That’s not your job. It’s none of your business. See the big you. The vibrancy, energy and joy. See the ease with which you move through space. See the abundance and prosperity that surround you. See specifics. Don’t judge, don’t calculate. Just feel.

There is a force beyond you than is waiting, waiting, waiting for you to nod in its direction that you’re ready. It’s time.

Take the leap. Trust, believe and let go.

 

21 Day Challenge – Day 14 – Focus

Shiny IMG_1958

I can’t do it all. There I’ve said it. My to-do list on a daily basis would make a Marine quake in her boots. Probably not, but she would surely see that even getting up at 4:00 AM would not help me accomplish the ridiculous tasks I have set for myself.

In truth my list is ongoing, it’s sort of a weekly list, spill into next week, sometimes never get done list. Focus. That magic word has eluded me so much of my Gemini existence. I want to do, see, be so much and believe I can, really believe it. If I focus too intently on one thing, I might miss other awesome things.

My ability to jump from this to that and back again has been a source of frustration to me most of my adult life. Shiny Thing Syndrome. Right now I am actually supposed to be looking for clip art, but I saw the blank page and jumped on it. Hopeless. Others find this to be a somewhat attractive quality.  While I may find the single-pointed focus person admirable and believe I could be that way if I wanted, they may find my ability to let go of the balloon in order to pet the puppy impossible.

My laptop and I have a lot in common. At any given moment there are 5 or 6 programs open, with at least as many tabs and/or pages open within them. No less than 90 files cover the beautiful photos rotating as my screensaver. The more that is open the slower it runs. Hmmm.

I throw a bunch of balls up in the air with the best of intentions only to either become overwhelmed and duck and cover or lose interest all together and wander off. The balls drop, some roll away, the ones that are left will get tossed up again.

It is with age and perspective – possibly an iota of wisdom  – that I have learned to appreciate my way of being. It has its challenges, but I am aware of them now. I have smoothed some of the edges and refined some of the processes. When I get caught up in the list and the lack of check marks I can just shrug a little, promising to do better next time.

Whatever better is.

I know I’m in danger when the list has become the priority rather than its contents. When I let go of a physical list there is always a mental one.

Focus. Let go. Focus. It’s a distillation process.

When I was in India I remember watching an elderly man in the country side from my bus window. He was some sort of shepherd. He had a handful of goats and he seemed to be walking them from here to there. I remember thinking, but what does he do? What I was really thinking was how does he measure his success? Then it hit me. He doesn’t. It doesn’t matter. He is being, not doing. It was such a revelation for me, that someone could be content just by being content.

He has no list, no schedule, no time card. For all I know he doesn’t even have a birthday or a permanent address. What he does have is peace.

I have no goats, but I can have peace, I just have to see through the mirage shiny things. The yoga helps, the writing gets it out and photography brings me present. These are the doing practices that help me be with the rest of it.

Focus. Let go. Focus. Be. Repeat.

[Photo: Catching the morning light making shiny things out of nature. Just add water.]