Monday, December 23, 2013

Good Guilt, Good Grief

If you've been reading my blog at all this year (and bless you if you're still here), you know that I learned about the death of my former friend/boyfriend in June. He passed away in January of 2009 under "suspicious circumstances." And when I found out - in June of 2013 - I lost my proverbial shit in more ways than one.

Because I was raised Catholic, or perhaps because I share so many neurological similarities to the alpaca, I spent a good portion of the summer wallowing in guilt. Whether or not anyone else knew, his death was clearly my fault. For one, I wasn't there. For two, most things that happen on Earth are my fault. It takes quite a lot of worry and effort to make the sun rise every morning, my darling friends.

I did some internet sleuthing, which offered little solace and less credible information. My unhealthy obsession with Florence + The Machine grew steadily less rational as I teetered on the brink of middle school level angst. Despite my intense meditation and wallowing, I could not remember the last time we spoke.

Because of my extensive list making and highly effective calendaring, I was able to determine that I was watching my hubbster perform in The Full Monty the night Jon died. I spent months in anguish about whether or not Jon was psychically calling to me for help while I was at the theatre.

Excessive Self Importance, see above.

One of my tremendous students happens to know a thing or two about Air Force legal matters and suggested that I file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about his death. Maybe nothing would turn up, but maybe I would get a hint or two.

Today was the day, my dear friends, when my guilt has transformed fully into grief. The FOIA informed me that his death was most certainly an accident and that he'd been out having a good time the night he died. He wasn't contemplating life and death and the great hereafter, he simply made a bad judgement in a place that was too cold.

It is terrible. Yes. A life that ended too soon. But he wasn't running from demons in flesh or mind. He died immediately after singing some karaoke. He drifted into the great dreamless sleep.

Tomorrow would have been his 33rd birthday, the day before Christmas. And as macabre as it sounds, this resolution is the best Christmas gift I've ever received.

This day has been an excellent lesson for me. Again, I constantly need reminding that I'm not responsible for the actions of everyone I've ever loved. I needn't be available around the clock to reach out over the ledge and pull friends out of the canyons by the ankles. My only job here is to grieve. To appreciate the life that graced mine, to mourn whatever futures I could have dreamed possible, and to move on.

Rest in Peace, dear Jon.

And happy birthday.

Yoga Sutras 2.16: heyam duhkhamanaagatam (The pain which has not yet come can be avoided)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Satya: For This I Am Thankful

I'm not so great at the Thankfulness month or the gratitude journal. Consistent, daily practice of gratitude is important, and while I'd like to think I keep Christmas in my heart, past, present and future, I'm still working on Thanksgiving.

So here, my dearest friends, are the things for which I am most thankful. They aren't in the order of the things I most appreciate, they're simply in the order in which they pour out of my fingers.

My body works.
Sometimes there are tiny aspects of my body that don't work so well. I have a bum knee right now, and I've managed to mangle my hand several times today alone. Tan is a place I'll never visit. But I can get to the places I need to go without worry or strife, and the trepidation I feel stepping out onto an ice rink for the first time in ten years or tying my bikini on in double knots are simply distractions from the truth: I've got it pretty good.

My family accepts my crazy.
While I haven't completed my MD or JD (or a doctorate in anything), I know that my family trusts in my process of finding my way in this world. I did not know this until after I had turned 30, but parents just want their children to be happy. They might pretend that they want their children to earn millions of dollars, have a variety of degrees or babies or sports cars, but the reality is that THE ONLY THING THEY WANT IS HAPPINESS. After telling students this for years, I finally heard myself say it and thought... well, maybe that's true for me, too.

My work is meaningful.
When I walked away from my corporate-ish job and into the world of self-employment I had a very hard time answering the question, "So what do you do?" without blubbering and trying to change the subject or causally dropping appetizers down my dress (true). When you come from a family of doctors (MD and PhD and in some cases both), "I teach yoga" sounds about as meaningful as, "I alphabetize spice cabinets for people." It would be untruthful to say I can now comfortably approach the people who attended college with me and tell them what I do, particularly if they are also doctors, lawyers, and professors (which they are). But that does not change the fact that people who work with me say thank you, and they don't have to. In fact, they don't even have to come back to my class, and yet they do, and they say thank you. They say, "That's just what I needed," or "no one else would answer this question" or "I am too embarrassed to ask my doctor."

My deep and lasting friendships.
Despite the fact that I was in a royally bad mood for about five years, I've managed to find some really good folks who are not afraid to tell me the truth, even when it is hard. My best friends are the people I admire the most: they believe in what they do and the want to have fun. Forget the American Dream (which eludes all of us) find happiness and people who answer when you call as often as they reach out to you.

My appetite for learning is insatiable.
While it has gotten me into a few binds, like no lunch hour during high school, an attempt at a triple major in college, and a resume that leads most potential employers to believe that I'm 20 years older than I am, I am grateful for this. I want to get the most out of the minutes I have here. I'm a bit Mulder... #thetruthisoutthere

The yogis say, "satyameva jayate," which means, "the truth is always the victor". It is, in fact, the truth that we are most grateful for. It is what we seek, the kernel of wisdom that remains once all of the false illusions fall away. When we practice gratitude, we are really practicing truth. Satya.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One Thing Is Enough

If you've met me, you know how much I LOVE efficiency. I have lists and processes, containers and labels, and more google calendars than there are colors for. I went to a top tier liberal arts school that teaches one class at a time because it was the only way to triple major and still play in the orchestra, dance, stage manage, and work four jobs.

In high school, I didn't have a lunch hour because I took advantage of all classes. For the entirety of my adult life, I've had more than one job, and I think if you saw my exhaustive resume, you'd understand why I was perpetually exhausted for 12 years. Every day I knelt before the altar of One More Thing.

We've discussed a few of my secrets of efficiency, but I'll recap some favorites in case you'd like to add them to your collection:
- In the interest of healthy eating, I've resorted to pureeing everything into one unholy smoothie of gawd-awfulness. You can add spinach to a fruit smoothie, but if you also dose it up with protein powder, flax seeds, chia, seaweed, molasses, hemp, spirulina, probiotics, raw cacao and maca it starts to taste nearly exactly like shit.

- Reading with one-eye covered to preserve the vision for extended reading later. Like a pirate. You read for an hour with one eye covered, then take a break to do sixteen household chores (or pee) and then switch (it turns out this is not why one has two eyes).

- Planning a yoga class while taking a yoga class (this might seem rational but it is completely counterproductive).

My body retaliated against all of this supposed "efficiency" two years ago when I simultaneously had a sinus infection, ulcers, a mysterious bacterial infection that may have been Scarlett Fever, C. diff and chronic and debilitating exhaustion.


This was my body teaching me a very important lesson: two can play at this game.

It was not easy to stem my addiction to overdrive. Sometimes I still notice myself layering in more than might be considered humanly possible. During those times, it helps me to think about my mother's favorite saying regarding toddlers:

"Only give the baby as much juice as you'd like to clean off of the floor."

What you ask your body to juggle, your body will ask you to juggle. And you'd better be ready for all of it to fall on your head.

Turns out that (as of this writing) we only receive one body with which to navigate this one most precious life.

These bodies are not built to withstand constant multitasking. Our eyes point in the same direction. Our hearts have one function.

If you are compelled to do more than your body can manage, you will pay for it later. As tempting as it is to push to the breaking point, I urge you to push instead towards the point of comfort. Then add one new thing. If it becomes stressful, then stop. Remove one thing. Find the sweet spot of just enough challenge that life is interesting, but not so much that you're eating a sandwich in the shower or peanut butter straight from the jar.

If you need to practice, go to a yoga class. That's what it's for.

Atha yoga anushasanam. PYS I.1 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Stars, Hungry Ghosts, and The Cycle of Life

I've been riding a roller coaster for a year and a half right now, which is well-predicted by my BBT (if you're out in a field beyond fertility lingo, that's basal body temperature... it tells you which hormones are at play and whether you are ovulating, pregnant, or not). If I were to graph my emotional well-being and overlay it atop the BBT charts, you would see a striking resemblance, like a mountain range and its shadow. 

When my temperature goes up, so does my mood! My hope! I could be just nine months away from a bouncing baby human!

When my temperature goes down, my mood withers. I try to think of all of the consolation prizes like another trip to the hot springs without the fear of nuking a baby, at least one more month of binge-watching The West Wing while painting my toenails, or 30 more days of rock-hard abs (yes, I have two of them!).

In high school I spent some time acting. I thought I might go to Los Angeles and be the Next Big Thing, or possibly fetch coffee for the Next Big Thing, or at worst sell tickets to the movie staring the NBT. It is entirely possible that I was good, or that I had an "interesting look," or that someone was taking pity on me, but I was referred to a local agent who referred me to an agent in Hollywood. Holy smokes, I thought, this could be it.

My acting coach at the time (we'll call him "Bonkers" for the sake of this blog post) took me out for a cup of coffee and gave me his frank opinion: Hollywood will eat you alive. There is always someone taller, prettier, blonder, younger, or more willing to eat caterpillars than you are. You don't have the guts or the drive to make it all the way. They'll eat you up and spit you out. Plus, I'll tell you a secret: they're never happy anyway.

This was absurd, of course, as all teens raised in These United States can tell you the exact recipe for happiness: go to LA, get famous, enjoy.

Except we slightly older and more jaded folks know that this isn't true, otherwise the poor unfortunate famosas wouldn't be rehabbing over and over, or buying and selling rights to their organs, or insuring their buttocks. They've fallen victim to what the Buddhists call something like Hungry Ghost Syndrome. Hungry Ghosts are enormous, surrounded by delicious food, and have a pin-sized holes for mouths. Even when they eat constantly, they can never satisfy their appetites.

In my case (and perhaps in yours, too?) my mouth isn't the size of a pinhole, it is my focus. By gluing my eyeball to the end of a scope I've managed to tear the focus away from the wonderment that surrounds me in the world and keep my full attention on a distant target that is... well... distant.

It isn't our fault. Whether you're transfixed by the dream of singing with Billy Joel or the cure for cancer, if you're unaware of where you are, you're living your life through a pinhole. I'm not saying you should ignore your dreams (or seriously, if you're onto something cancer-wise, rock on with your bad self and we'll help you with teamwork or something). But take some breaks from star-gazing every once and awhile to live with your feet on the ground. Feel the sand in your toes.

Sometimes the sand is the fact that I'm going to be an auntie in a few quick months, or the wild bobkittens who live underneath my house, or the 353+ people who think I have something to teach.

Sometimes the sand is you, off somewhere in the dark, having a moment because I had a moment and said something about it.

And sometimes the sand is just sand. But that's not too shabby, either.

Monday, October 28, 2013

La Frontera: A Cultural Comparison of Boundaries (and bulls#it)

I attended an insightful presentation once at The Colorado College. It described the differences in perception of borders and boundaries based on linguistic criteria. To simplify, we talk about the geographical limits of countries as "borders" while in Spanish they refer to this as La Frontera or "the frontier."

One sure seems a lot friendlier than the other.

Or at least, that's what I used to think. I used to think that borders and boundaries were about keeping certain things IN and other things OUT and that the "frontier" was the undiscovered country. I got very ethno-un-centric and romanticized a culture that thinks that strangers are just friends they haven't met yet. But I'm not entirely certain that this is what is meant by the frontier. And I'm not so sure it is unromantic to define certain things as in and others as out.

Case in point: my first lesson in boundaries. When I was about three or four, my progressive if not hopelessly fearful parents decided to tell me about where and when it was appropriate to be touched and by whom. Bathing suit area: totally off limits to everyone, kisses limited to parents, grandparents, and siblings, and hugs only if I wanted to hug the person and never if I didn't.

Fast forward a few decades and I read a number of self-help books, most of which described how this same bathing suit rule applies in emotional circumstances: you get to decide who hurts you. This was novel. I sort of assumed that there were evil people out there, lurking, hoping to inflict emotional harm and sadness. And the suggestion that other people emotionally damaging me was somehow my fault? That didn't sit well.

The idea that I had any role in my own emotional suffering was infuriating. In part, because it was true. Those people who said they were my friends, but only came around when they needed something? They were just suffering, they weren't trying to hurt me. I was rescuing! Because I was a good girl, a good friend, and a HERO!

Or, possibly, I was just yelling across the frontera and into the abyss. I was casting ropes and launching search parties only to learn that those I was trying to save didn't want to be saved. They wanted to suffer, to stew, and to offload their pain onto me. But they had no intention of offering support in return because they couldn't. When you're on the bad side of life, you can be the best person in the world and yet you are utterly useless to others. You simply cannot rescue a drowning man when you are drowning yourself. That's the first lesson I learned in lifeguard training.

And so I have built walls around myself (don't worry, you're invited to the "inside" club)! The walls are short and easy to reach over. But if you continue to jump ship I cannot continue to reach for you. All I can do is send you my love. Whisper my blessings for your journey. Allow you the space to traverse the lesser-known places, the outside, the frontier.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

And I'm too old for shame.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Grudge: Fear and Grammy Baggage

Sometimes on quiet nights I think of my grandparents. This is partially inspired by my father's bulimic interest in genealogy: frantic searching and categorizing for a month, then nothing for years. Recipes and wine-soaked wonderings of the great beyond round out the pie chart of grandparentish inspirations, with one sliver left over: The Grudge.

If your inner cinephile is thinking of this:
Exquisite photo from Abby at Love Roots Photography

Take a moment and regroup, pocket that for later.

My grandmother was notorious for her intense, impenetrable grudges. As an example, despite the fact that my mother is a software engineer and could create things like the internet (in which I'm sure she had a part), she keeps her addresses on index cards just as my grandmother did. This is so that when she sends a Christmas card but does not receive one in return she can DESTROY the card and never think of that so-called friend ever again.

(Just in case my mother is reading this, I need to include full disclosure that she does not abide by the entire procedure... I can personally attest that it takes several years of no return card/email before she will strike you from the coveted card list).

In a similar and more striking vein, my most vivid memory of this grandmother was not her cookies or her spit-shined floors and ceilings, but the day she pulled me aside to dish out her secret recipe for The Facts of Life. No, I'm not scarred by the graphic or clinical description of birds and bees. Instead, I'm haunted (recall The Grudge?!) by this sentence which she burned into my hippocampus and the backsides of my eyelids with her laser vision:

"If you get pregnant before you turn 18, I'll kill you myself."

Amazing in color. Thanks, Love Roots Photography.

A retired ER nurse, my grandmother's sensibilities had been eroded by decades of teen mothers and the deplorable circumstances that beget teen mothers. Whether it was society, lack of parenting, abuse, ignorance, or the imbalance of power, teen parenthood pissed my grandmother right off. She didn't want that life for me, most especially she had not worked so hard in her life to protect me from those very circumstances.

I think of this grandmother alongside my own interpretation of the yogic niyama of isvara pranidhana. Most people translate this as "surrender" or something so complicated it doesn't make sense to me. I translate it as "surrender of the attachment to the outcomes of one's actions." Which perhaps is simply a complicated way of saying surrender, but I think it is rather different. For one, when I think of surrender I often think of defeat, retreat, and being boarded by pirates. Given my ancestry of severe grudge-holders, surrender is not something I do lightly. But I have found some solace in the idea that I can do something nice, with my best effort, and then walk away without recognition.

To me, isvara pranidhana means giving a gift because I think you need or deserve it, not because I want
a thank you card.

It means acknowledging the person serving my food because they are a person, not so my date will think of me as an ultra-nice, totally confident person.

It means visiting my grandmother's grave because I never got past the love-threat, but it's the best I can do.

It isn't a license to be careless, to throw your garbage into the sea, to shoot daggers across the internet. It is an acknowledgement that you've done the best you could do.

The Grudge is the enemy of surrender.

How long will you keep score?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Land of Disenchantment

I am both in love and in hate with the quote, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The universe knows this and keeps subtly dropping it in my path. I've been known to dole it out myself, especially when my neighbor yells at their dog.

(The yelling isn't working.)

Lately I've gotten into a Miss Fix-It routine with various things in my life: my unter-sink and the mystery smell thereunder, the Harry Potter Closet/Where Lightbulbs Go To Die, and most regrettably, some people in my life.

As much as I dislike rolling up my proverbial sleeves and scrubbing the muck from the plywood beneath my kitchen sink, I am somehow doing the same thing to some of those loose pieces in my life. The untied ends and not-quite-family members. Unfortunately, both contain some unsavory mildew that is resistant to elbow grease. Worst yet, I don't realize what I'm doing until the entire kitchen is in shambles or I'm venting to the internets at 0-dark-30 in the night time.

The yog-ers specifically warn against this type of behavior. Sure, you're supposed to find cleanliness, and I can't imagine any yoga teacher worth their salt discouraging my housekeeping endeavors. But nowhere have I found the directive, "Get out there and fix your inlaws, your various and sundry relationships, and your kitchen sink."

I'm no expert in Sanskrit, but everything I've read says effectively, "Stop complaining about others/everything and deal with your own $hit." Like, literally. The same sentiment crops up in every major and minor religion that is not solely fixated upon cheese, and yet the world seems to be filled with people complaining about the behavior of others (like former child stars turned twerkers, those entirely fixated on having a heterogeneous set of genitals in all relationships, and in my case, the rampant fertility of every human I know, including the characters in all of my favorite shows).

Why is it so easy to point at others? (Aside from the fact that the vast majority their behavior is asinine). It's because it is easier to see from a distance. That's why we're all so good at Jeopardy and professional sports when we sit on our couches. It is both dizzying and disorienting to look at our own behavior... it is like looking directly into the sun.

My husband reminds me of this on a daily basis. It is not my purpose in life to highlight everything that others do wrong, it is my purpose to see what I do that isn't working. Then to do it again. Then to realize I'm doing it again. Then to do something different.

Insanity is continuing to believe we have control over anything other than our own reactions. Anxiety is the belief that worry has a purpose. Anger is the realization that our anxiety wasn't strong or effective enough.

Fear is forgetting we're capable of doing it right.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Everything Worth Keeping is Worth Passing On

Today is Independence Day (no matter when you read this). In the US, we celebrate the people who took a stand against an oppressive power and said ENOUGH.

But it isn't what I think of when asserting independence.

I think of the time I crossed the street without holding anyone's hand, took the long way just to spite the short way, or turned my back on a clique who said I "had" to do something insane to be a part of the club. Sometimes this action was sidestepping oppression, and sometimes it was in gratitude to those who had brought me so far.

I also think of the yoga teachers I teach and the times they do the same to me. Step away, do something ornery or otherwise break the bond. They might say thanks, or storm off into the sunset, but either way our time together comes to an end. This is a good thing.

Independence is growing up, the realization that your greatest teacher resides within.

Love Roots Photography
With each interaction we have the opportunity to find something worth keeping. Maybe there are pearls and gems that easily snuggle into your treasure chest, and some probably need some polishing first. Others sit in the back of the closet until one day you realize they were actually worth a thing or two and tuck them safely into your pockets. Some are discarded.

Everything worth keeping is worth passing on.

Today, I honor my teachers. Each lesson learned has informed my practice, my teaching, and my life. Here are some of my (yogish) gems:

"Be where your butt is and breathe." ~ Anne Lamott

"The more you seek security, the more suffering. You can either be free or die trying to be safe." ~ Anand Mehotra

"What if you agreed to be on the same team as your body?" ~Kathryn Budig

"Before I tumble into fear, I think, 'Who is showing up wanting me to fail?'" ~ Gina Caputo

"You can't stay well without telling - and living - the truth." ~ Martha Beck

"You have all been a mother in another lifetime." ~ Katie Wise


"Ever since happiness heard your name it has been running through the streets trying to find you." ~ Hafiz

Thanks for going before me, for sharing, and for shaking me up.

Niralambaya Tejase
[Independent and filled with eternal grace]

Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm Always In this Twilight

This week has been the strangest week of my life.

My week starts on Monday (do you start your week on Sunday or Monday?), and this one brought a heat wave and a ton of anticipation. Wednesday was the one year anniversary of the day the Waldo Canyon Fire came down into the city and we evacuated, and Tuesday was the two week anniversary of the start of the Black Forest Fire. If you've ever lived in a town sandwiched between the memory of fire and the stench of smoke you can likely appreciate the stress we felt as a collective.

Added to this silliness, my perpetual fascination with getting pregnant was a recipe for a swampy mid-week of melancholy, and I knew I needed to prepare myself for the impending meltdowns. In my Monday Madness I said a flippant little prayer asking to be relieved of this complex neurotic burden of inner turmoil and outer, well, fire.

So Tuesday came with sweet dreams and devastation. News of Jon's death rekindled the grief and sadness of a relationship lost, called to question how and why our friendship had faded in recent years, and the sacred postmortem speculation (was it an accident - a conspiracy - a relief - could I have stopped it - can I solve the mystery now - If I had been there everything would have been different).

This is part of my mourning, I know.

I'm a fixer, but there's quite little I'm able to fix about death, despite my efficiency, my effective worry.

Tuesday I wept on a grave.
Thursday and Friday I saw two new babies come into the world.

I've always said my religion is physics, mixed with a touch of Buddhism, but in the last week I feel somehow less alone. Never have I been so close to someone who has passed on, and I think before this week I would have said that I believe the matter and energy that makes us up goes on to reincarnate as something... like a cactus, or an orca, or a tablet of penicillin. My sense of consciousness has always been that it survives so long as the memory of the person survives, and beyond that, maybe it becomes cosmic static or something. Stardust.

But I feel differently now.

Maybe I have to.

If you know me, you know I call my male BFF my "second husband" and my husband's BFF my "third husband." But you might also notice that I don't call my husband my "first husband." I've never thought of Jon as a husband, because we never even discussed the idea of marriage, but now I feel this loss that is so profound and intimate... there is no opportunity to grow up and share what I've learned, or apologize for the mistakes I made, or ask for forgiveness. Especially if consciousness breaks apart and scatters into the four winds.

I have to believe that something survives, and that it survives beyond our collective memory. Chains of coherence, drifting through the cosmic mist. Surfacing in dreams.

Reborn each time a cactus blooms, or a new baby is born.

"I took the stars from my eyes
and then I made a map,
And new somehow
I could find my way back."
~ Cosmic Love, Florence + The Machine

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What You Should Know

Jonathan Christopher Bayless was born on Christmas Eve to two parents who loved the beach. While I don't know much about his time in high school, I know he must have been smart and was a talented singer, as he received a recommendation to attend the Air Force Academy. I met him there in 2000 because he was part of the show choir, and friends with my boyfriend at the time. Not only did he have a voice, but an ear for music. While I can't say for sure, I'll bet his best memories were scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. He studied English at the USAFA, and joked that he had a BS in English (which is hilarious for two reasons). He was also a talented pilot, who made the cut for fighter pilot training.

After he graduated, we took a road trip across the country and he taught me how to camp, how to fish, to play gin rummy, and how to relax for a few weeks. He showed me his stomping grounds in New Jersey (the pretty part) near Princeton, where the heat of the summer was greeted with tradition and NJ personality. We watched the fire works on the 3rd of July and spent time on the beach. He took care of my sunburn.

We stayed for one night with his father, who took us to dinner at the local country club and then brought us home to watch Rosemary's Baby. Later that night, his dad got so drunk that he started toppling furniture throughout the house. Jon didn't bat an eye, he just tucked me in and told me to lock the door behind him as he went out to try to wrangle his father back to bed. I could hear his quiet voice, his caring, his heart breaking. I could also hear that he'd done this a thousand times before.

Jon went to pilot training in Enid, Oklahoma a Godforsaken place that feels like wind and smells like loneliness. He was doing well when his father passed away, suddenly, as a result of his alcoholism. I met Jon back in New Jersey and helped him sort through the belongings, the office, the legalities, the stuff. I stood next to him at his father's wake because he didn't think he could face these people alone. There must have been more than 600 visitors who told Jon how proud his father was of him, which is something I don't think he had ever heard directly from his father.

After his father's death, Jon realized that life is short and he didn't want to spend his flying fighter planes, he just wanted to read and write. Instead of pushing him into one of the six journalist-type positions available in the Air Force or Tops in Blue, the vocal ensemble, he was reassigned to missile duty and moved to California. I moved with him.

It wasn't the best year of my life, but I did learn a lot during that time. We lived in a tiny apartment in Santa Maria, which is to say, the armpit of California. We hiked and ran different trails every Sunday, saw shows in LA and movies in San Luis Obispo (including Garden State, which was totally crazy because Jon looked like Zach Braff, was from New Jersey, and had just dealt with his father's untimely death). He wrote for the base newspaper and sang in a small ensemble for ceremonies and funerals. He volunteered at Memory Walks with me. We trained to be disaster response volunteers with the Red Cross (because it was across from our apartment and seemed like a good way to spend some Friday nights). We went to Solvang, Pea Soup Anderson's, and Neverland. He was the best roommate ever.

Even though the Air Force had made his life difficult on numerous occasions, he made it to work every day. He ironed and starched his uniform every morning before work. He followed the rules.

He taught me the following things that year:
1. To run a 5K (which took me months and months of run/walking).
2. To drive a stick-shift (badly, without obeying traffic laws, on an Air Force base)
3. The nuances of all zombie movies that had been made to date.
4. That I do not look like Cillian Murphy, even if he swore I looked just like him.
5. How to drive a stick shift VW GTI through the Korean part of Los Angeles.
6. To love Trader Joe's.
7. To boldly drive where no one has gone before to find a new running trail, even if that meant Bakersfield, where we were shot at, or a forest of poison oak, or the Montana de Oro State Park, which is absolutely breathtaking.
8. To play the guitar (badly).
9. To play Dance, Dance Revolution, watch internet cartoons, and hockey games.
10. To stick to my resolutions and not cave in.

When it was time for him to move on from California, he had four choices. I told him I wouldn't go to Minot, and he chose Minot as his first choice.

Our relationship ended by default. We were amicable, and still exchanged gifts for a couple of years. The first year I lived with my husband, he hadn't gotten me anything for my birthday, but Jon sent an enormous basket of fruits, healthy snacks, and fun. So I guess you can say he taught my hubby the importance of remembering a birthday.

I guess there's a reason I don't write obituaries, because this is long and drawn out. But what I wanted to say, and what I wished the world would hear, was that Jon was a very kind person who had an enormous heart. He was and is loved and left footprints on the Earth. He was honest and kind, and died too soon.

You would have liked him. And he would have loved you.
May you be free of suffering,
May you be happy,
May you love and be loved,
May you find the healing that you seek,
May you be at peace.

Dear Jon

I woke up this morning from the nicest dream.

Usually I don't remember my dreams, and when I do they are usually about packing for a flight or wandering through an enormous house with lots of strange rooms. This morning my dream was of a former boyfriend, the first and only other man I've ever lived with, who popped into my dream, gave me the warmest hug, and said it was good to see me. I asked him what he was doing there, and he said he was going to ask me to marry him, to which I replied, "oh, that's nice, but I'm moving to Arizona tomorrow with Arnold Schwartzenegger." He said he understood, and repeated that it was good to see me. Then I woke up and had this warm, fuzzy feeling.

Our breakup was the most amicable of any breakup I've ever even heard of. We went our separate ways after he chose to move to the one place where I promised not to follow, but we stayed in touch until a few years ago with Christmas cards and occasional emails and phone calls. He friended me on Facebook once, but I told him that there were things in my life he probably didn't want to see (like my wedding) and didn't accept that friendship.

So this morning, just before I left to teach yoga, I looked for him again. Even though I've tried to reconnect on Facebook in the past, I haven't found him, but didn't find that unusual because of his super-top-secret job and (possibly) that he would have blocked me for the same reason I didn't accept his virtual friendship. So I tried LinkedIn, thinking that maybe there was a better opportunity to connect on a professional front. I found him easily, but his rank and location seemed out of date. Then I hit the Google.

When one googles a piece of history, one expects a number of alarming results, like new relationships, new sexuality, distressing photos that remind one of how unkind aging and sun damage can be. I felt prepared for long hair, a new sexual orientation, a family with six kids, a fundamentalist religion, or even an arrest warrant.

Instead, I found death.

Long time death.

The first ten links that popped up were describing someone who had died, and I quickly scrolled past them and looked on. Then a year caught my eye, then a location, then a rank, then a hometown.

I scrolled back up. And clicked.

The reports were brief, unhelpful, and uncaring. They described the mysterious death of someone who had never been loved, never belonged. Cold and calculated, like, "well, we found a body and we don't know how he died. We're awaiting autopsy results." No further news stories. Then a few crazy conspiracy theory articles, describing the five other officers who died of mysterious causes in the last few months. And nothing further.

This was in 2009.

My BFF Kathleen helped me do a little additional recon, as she's an amateur geneologist with access to helpful tools, like where she helped me to locate his mother, his obituary, and a few other tidbits, like the fact that he's buried a few miles from my house.

Then I went to hold a baby who has the same name and a similar look. A miracle baby who was born early and just came home after a few months in the hospital.

I shelfed my baggage (sort of), moved on to do some real work for a few hours, and drove home.

I kept thinking of the dream.

So instead of calling his mother or returning to the bowels of the Google yet again, I drove to the Air Force Academy cemetery. The gate guard asked for my driver's license and asked where I was headed, and then told me to have a good day (yes, for real... "heading to the cemetery? Have a good day!").

I think I needed something more real than headlines, cold stories, and an absence on Facebook for me to feel like this was real.

The USAFA cemetery is quiet. Surrounded by trees, blue skies, and memorial plaques. There is a flag flying at half staff. I found his site in the Memorial section, reserved for those who died in the line of duty and sat there for a long time. I've visited my grandparents' graves before, but I was also present at their burials and know they lived long, happy, fulfilled lives. Their deaths were from old age and sun damage.

I was the only person there for a long time, until an older gentleman jogged quietly through and saluted me. I didn't find much to say, and what I did say came out in a choked whisper, through streams of tears. I told him I was wearing his watch, which I was, because he loved watches and gave me one that I haven't worn much but started to wear a few weeks ago. The rest, I think, is private.

When the cemetery closed for visitors, I drove on to teach yoga teacher training. The heart chakra. I stopped at Whole Foods for some therapeutic dark chocolate and kombucha and on my way out I was cut off by an older man driving a lime green VW GTI. No one drives this car (seriously, look for one) except Jon. He loved that car.

I taught teacher training, and started off my crying my eyes out and telling the whole story, as I've just told you. We talked about the heart, and I remembered the difference between healthy and unhealthy grief. Healthy grieving is protecting an open wound as it heals, and in time reflecting back on the scar that it left. Scars are our tributes to the stories we have lived. They remind us of what we have lived through. Unhealthy grieving is not allowing the wound to heal, but creating an environment where it will fester and grow worse in time.

I have a lot of healing to do.

So because it is nowhere else on the internet, because all that is there is sterile and unfeeling, I share with you what the world should have known about Jon.

And a follow up.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Season of Fire

Another tremendous fire is raging through my homeland, burning homes and singeing nerves still raw from last summer. This time, the sacred, secret place of fairy dreams and folk festivals is the scene of the crime. So many people liken Black Forest to The Black Forest... the ancestral homeland of Western wizardry and magical thinking.

The people who chose to live in this place are an unusual bunch. Many are introverted, prefering to surround themselves with the protective whispers of tall, dark trees and insulate themselves from so much modern convenience. They live with animals and make their own soap. Children easily believe that Hansel and Gretel live just over the hill. Magic is one step closer in this forest.

I will not pretend to understand why this is happening, nor can I rationalize this nightmare as it quickly changes.

Every day I see the scars left from last year's blaze. When I joke that we bought our home because of the view, which no one could ever take from us, I'm reminded that it was taken from us. The view we see is no longer rolling green hills but black, patchy bald spots with legions of skeletons propped up in the wind. It will take years to regrow, and it will never look the same to me.

It saddens me to think that this could be the experience of my friends in the forest, human and otherwise. The protective layer of magic is blowing north at 45 miles per hour.

The forest will regrow in time. Mother Earth will move on and forget these spirits. If matter cannot truly be made or destroyed, then I suppose the magic hasn't left the forest. It is the forest that has left the magic.

Perhaps this is the message for us? To take sacred spaces with us, to be the magic for one another.

To remember what it felt like and become the forest of the future, nurturing those gentle spirits between us.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How You Do Everything

I work all the time.

Like right now. I'm working at 11:49pm on a Friday night, in my bed, with my laptop. If you were here right now, I'd tell you that it isn't my fault. My neurotic parakeets are... responding to the sprinklers outside. I can't tell if they're terrified of them or hoping to mate. Maybe they're describing their terrible living conditions in extraordinary detail (that happens to sound like a car alarm).

But the truth is, I am working because I don't know what else to do. I work all the time.

Last night, when I was working at the yoga studio I took a class with a wonderful Baptiste instructor visiting from Denver, Dave Farmar. Instead of enjoying the class, like any normal, rational being, I thought of the following things:

1. "I should take pictures of this class in progress with my iPad for marketing/archival purposes." 2. "Does Dave have enough water?" 3. "The new guy who accidentally wandered into this 90 minute heated class... is he dead? ... is he a lawyer?" 4. "How many of the instructors are planning to kill me after this class, once they've rehydrated and I've showered, so they can recognize me?" 5. "I'm melting. Like, literally. I'm becoming a liquid, and all of my liquids are coming out. What will be left???" 6. "I should probably go and get towels for everyone because they are maaaaad drippy and we're creating a lake." 7. "When I teach next week, I'm borrowing this sequence." 8. "I think my iPad is floating in a pool of sweat/weakness." 9. "I miss just doing yoga." 10. "I work all the time." This might surprise you, because I'm fairly good with boundaries. When I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation. My problem, is when I'm not on vacation, I'm working.

At the start of class, Dave asked us to explore the opposite of a negative perception in our lives. My negative was (get this): working all the time. The positive? Connection. You see, when I'm working, the relationships are easily defined. I'm working for you, you're working for me, I know why I'm here and what we should be talking about. I have objectives. Outcomes. Billable hours. Rather than connecting, I fall back on these easily defined roles. When I'm working, I'm in charge.

And right in the middle of all of this, Dave said something that really pissed me off, "How you do anything is how you do everything."


There I was, taking a yoga class, not responsible for a darned thing for 90 full minutes and THERE I WAS, trying to be in charge of everything and work through it. Instead of practicing yoga, I was working. Atha yoga, idiot.

And JUST like that, I learned (again) that I work too much. I try to hard. "Stop trying, do yoga, stop trying, do yoga" I willed myself. Just about as effective as, "I am stronger than E. coli I will not throw up... I am stronger than E. coli, I will not throw up."

At the end of the 90 (110) minute class my mantra had shifted to, "keep breathing, do not black out... keep breathing, do not black out." Which turns out to be pretty effective. As we all snuggled into the swampy thickness of the lowest 12 inches of the room, Dave started playing a song that spoke to me (and many others). At the time, I thought surely it was simply the sweet relief of savasana, not any particular beauty of the words or melody. Sort of like when you go for a long hike and then eat a PB&J sandwich and think, "This is the BEST sandwich on EARTH!"

"I've decided to be kinder, I've decided to be glad..."

How you do anything is how you do everything, and you have the ability to put a positive spin on it.

I work all the time. But I do what I love, and I help people. And more often than not, it's fun.

I just needed to change my inflection.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is Paradise

I've spent the last few days on an island yoga retreat. Not the kind where you try to look crazy sexy sweating between sauna, sand, and asana, and then refreshing with a tropical drink, but the kind that reminds you what yoga is. Who you are. Who I am.

Now, to be fair, I have seen dolphins, rays, manatees, sharks, fishes, flounders, frat boys, naked babies building sandcastles, and old couples walking hand in hand on the beach. Each one a thing of beauty (except perhaps the frat boys), but none remarkable enough to write home about (except to say they're not worth writing about). The night before last, I saw the place where the land ends. The sky ends. The world ends.

I stepped out onto the beach sometime past ten o'clock and dug my toes into the white sand. The ocean was so black that it melted into the sky. I think I could have reached out and touched the blackness and it would have absorbed me like a black hole. Instead I tried to focus on where the white sand faded into the blackness of the sea, but I couldn't find the edge of the ocean. It was simply magnificent and impossible to recreate or even describe.

I traveled here on a whim, with a bunch of people I don't know very well. I had no intention of meeting or befriending them, just being polite and then skulking off on my own to write or ruminate or nap. Instead, I had some great meals and conversations. Great yoga and stargazing. And just today the group told me they thought I was funny. Talented. Unique. I know some of these things, but even now in my liberated days where I don't get too hung up on negative comments or other peoples' baggage, it was refreshing.

Any time someone says the word "retreat" I automatically think of falling away in battle, not escaping the nine to five. I imagine sinking into the blackness or hiding out until the tide returns. When I come home, I hope I will remember this lesson: paradise is more than sinking your toes into the sand. Paradise is being seen for who you are: dissolving the line between who you are and who you pretend to be.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Not a Lemon

If you know me at all in my life beyond the internet, you probably know I'm a bit of a judger. In fact, had I not been in fifth grade when Judge Judy was cast, I'm certain I would have been selected for the role of Most Critical and Outspoken Female Waif in the under 5'4" category. It isn't that I was tall at ten, it's all the legal aspects of actually being a judge. Details, details.

Instead, I've always cast a longish finger in my own direction, usually while peering into a brightly lit magnifying mirror. Case in point: every time I've ever been evaluated for work performance, I've always started by cutting of my evaluator with, "I know exactly what you're going to say..." and then listing my seventeen most prominent faults, like excessive use of toilet paper, or alphabetizing artificial sweetener packets.

Self criticism is nearly impossible to stop. If there were a secret camera into my kitchen, you would see me tell my husband, "I'm leaving these dishes for you to unload..." while I unload them from the dishwasher, dry them, put them away, and refill the dishwasher. When he returns to the kitchen five minutes later and asks me what I meant by "leaving the dishes for me" or God forbid starts unloading the dirty dishes because I just told him that I was leaving the dishes for him to unload, we end up in a cycle of blaming, finger pointing, and usually tears (and I'm just talking about me, myself, and I, because my husband will happily wander away either feeling lucky or perhaps just slightly hard of hearing).

If I had previously thought that it was impossible to amplify my critical tendencies to new heights, I learned quickly that I was wrong once I started to barely consider having a baby. All it took was the sage advice of Dr. Google, or a wonky breast exam, or an ill-timed trip to crank up the self-destruct-o-meter to new and unparalleled heights. Internet research proves that I should be avoiding salt, sugar, dairy, wheat, soy, caffeine, hormone-laden meat and eggs, alcohol, fun, and late night movie marathons to improve my chances of conception. Faithfully avoiding anything remotely close to fun and drinking my weight in kale juice and pea protein powder while getting enough exercise, sunshine, meditation has yielded me nothing but greater frustration.

But it hasn't stopped the inner critic.

Nope. One funky breast exam and I immediately turned on my body.

"It's YOU! You're SABOTAGING ME!" I exclaimed at my right breast, "You're the reason none of this is working out correctly! You're rotten and you're trying to TAKE ME DOWN WITH YOU!"

This, as you may have guessed, is not very yogic.

Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say, "Whip and beat your body into submission. Stop caring for yourself. Consult Google at every strange turn for possible solutions/diagnoses/recommendations." In the Yoga Sutras, it clearly suggests that the yogi must experience her own nature... the difference between herself and false identities.

It is easy to say you should watch for these subtle changes, but the reality is that the subtle changes aren't apparent unless we are really, totally present. This is what Patanjali said. Step one: right now, you should be breathing. Step two, did you turn off the TV? Step three, are you sitting with yourself or some false sense of who you are?

I'm paraphrasing, of course.

I've been stuck on step three for a long time now, I'm afraid. Listening to and believing a life's worth of lies about my body: wrong shape, wrong functionality, too old, too tired, etc. Those lies are not me. And I finally heard someone speak the truth. It finally chiseled through the mind trap.

"Your body is not a lemon." ~Ina May Gaskin

Oh. Right.

1.3 tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam

Monday, May 6, 2013

I Have So Much to Lose Here

You can easily determine my age by my Sarah Mclachlan reference, can't you? My earworm tonight is FEAR by Ms. M. I have to admit, I'm a little scared about tomorrow. I'm scared about the next day, and the next, and what might happen after that, too.

I remember last year, on a plane to NYC following a biopsy and ready for the s*it to hit the fan. It crossed my mind that I could legitimately get hit by a bus (and I was much more likely to be in NYC than in Colorado Springs). I was less afraid than I've ever been to get hit by a bus, because I thought that if I got hit by the bus, I'd never have to get that scary phone call.

It's stupid, I know.

I'm no stranger to fear. Anxiety is my de facto way of life. My spirit animal is an alpaca, the only animal that will up and die of a heart attack just because it saw a shadow.

These are my people.

I learned a lot last time. I wasn't afraid to cheat traffic like a local, or offend someone by taking two free samples of SO delicious ice cream bars, or say what I meant. I had confidence and gusto and wandered the streets wearing a giant derby-style sun hat with NO SHAME. I was an alpaca in wolf's clothing (or more accurately: derby gear).

Fear is thinking you have something, because once you think you have it, then you know you can lose it. The yogis remind us that we have nothing, that we're had by nothing. And therefore, we cannot be lost to others or to ourselves. We have nothing to fear, because we have nothing.

I wonder what I will learn tomorrow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Will You Still Call Me Superman?

There's a lot of crazy loose in the world today. It's easy to get pulled under, into the tiny crevices of our homes where the chocolate lives and the news can't reach. It is equally easy to plug in to the master grid of intravenous information as we long to connect and offer our time and bandwidth to the fray.

When did this start? Is this the other side of the internet coin, that we're so easily swayed by the tide of tragedy that sweeps across the world and the nation? Perhaps it is simply the instinct hiding out in our reptilian brain, or the part of us that remembers being a fish and schooling left and right, moving the herd away from the shark and into protective waters.

From my home, several thousand miles but only bytes away from today's senseless tragedy, it is hard to feel anything but helpless. Useless. Like Clark Kent was on assignment somewhere on the other side of the world. But that doesn't excuse non-action.

Whenever something bad happens, it reminds me that I have the capacity to do good, now. Even if it is just this moment, for just one other being.

You can, too. Breathe. Meditate. Make a casserole. Hug a friend (or a tree). Recycle something. Cultivate good soil within yourself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Great Expectations

As luck would have it, the year of the water snake is not the year of the meteorologist. In the past several months, national and local forecasters have been either on vacation or stuck in a time warp. They say blizzard, we see nothing. Again, and again, and again.

Elan Photographie
There is a rousing discontent for these poor folks all about the interwebs. From harmless memes on FB to my own disappointment about the fabled snow, there is a lot of bad juju headed towards these unlucky fellows.

Which doesn't seem fair, does it? Remember in the 80's (and all the times before) when we looked out the window, took a sweater, dressed in layers, and relished the wild, unpredictable gift of snow or rain or balmy days in December? One of my favorite things about the weather in Colorado is that it has personality. It is adolescent: rash, extreme, and impulsive.

Remember when we lived in the moment rather than wasting our time trying to predict the future?

This is the lesson I'm learning this year: plan for the worst, hope for the best, and appreciate whatever happens.
(and keep galoshes in the car)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Well, 31, It's Been Swell

I know, you've had it to the gills with New Year's Crap. Me too. The blessing and curse of Capricorn is the intimate ownership you have over the calendar. Your year is wrapped up in The year (or perhaps vice versa).

My year ends tonight.

I started this year, this 31, in the most unusual place. I made a rash decision in November that if I was going to be a yoga teacher then I must start with professional development and start tacking things onto my resume. So I enrolled in a little prenatal teacher training, thinking that surely I would never actually teach prenatal yoga, I would just learn about it. Who would ever want to study prenatal yoga with me?! I have no babies (unless you count the birds, which I do not).

The wise instructor (pun intended, for those of you on the inside) started the training by saying, "You've all been a mother in another lifetime."

I think it stopped my heart.

Mama and baby gorilla

Now, I'm pretty impervious to the fru fru yoga speak, because I'm a very Type A linear thinker. I can organize you into (and out of) a brown paper bag. Probably one-handed, in the dark, while listing all of the helping verbs. No yoga teacher teacher is going to mush me up and let me think for one second about my past lives.

Except that I totally bought it. It was an epiphany in the most resounding way. If I were writing a religious text now instead of a blog, I would say that God appeared in the middle of a field, and then all of the tall grass parted and showed a clearly outlined seven-lane freeway with signs "THIS WAY, IDIOT."

(I'll stick with blogs, I get it).

I tapped into my incredible birth-knowledge-trust-fund that I'd set aside in college and started dealing out prenatal yoga and birth-bits like it was the newest fad. Which, when you're 31, it actually is.

All the while, as I was building my little business and following my North Star and all that, I sort of let it slip that I wanted to be a mother. It wasn't the pheromones of my dear clientele, but the same arcane sense that the teacher spoke of in her welcoming speech. 

You've all been a mother in another lifetime.

YES, my body said. THAT's it.

My body whispered to my mind, which made a very clear and efficient list:
- no soul-crushing job
- husband gainfully employed
- husband bringing in benefits
- extensive knowledge of all birth things
- afternoon naps - home ownership
- pet ownership
- lady parts

These seem like logical prerequisites, don't they? Well according to all of the romcoms I've ever seen, (and my mother) this is The List.

Just. One. Problem.

Lists, as it turns out, don't make babies.

So far, my exhaustive research into the scientific literature coupled with the fertility patterns of my friends and frenemies on Facebook do not point to a specific cause except to say that my list was waaaaay off (aside from the lady parts... that does appear to be a requirement).

So tonight, at the fringe of 31 I come back to the words of my instructor: you have all been a mother in another lifetime.

When I'm 32, I'll try to remember what it was like.