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There was a time in my life twenty years ago when I was driving a cab for a living.
It was a cowboy’s life, a gambler’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the cab.
What I didn’t count on when I took the job was that it was also a ministry.
Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity and tell me of their lives.
We were like strangers on a train, the passengers and I, hurtling through the night, revealing intimacies we would never have dreamed of sharing during the brighter light of day. I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled me, made me laugh and made me weep.
And none of those lives touched me more than that of a woman I picked up late on a warm August night.
I was responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or someone going off to an early shift at some factory for the industrial part of town.
When I arrived at the address, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground-floor window.
Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a short minute, then drive away. Too many bad possibilities awaited a driver who went up to a darkened building at 2:30 in the morning.
But I had seen too many people trapped in a life of poverty who depended on the cab as their only means of transportation.
Unless a situation had a real whiff of danger, I always went to the door to find the passenger. It might, I reasoned, be someone who needs my assistance. Would I not want a driver to do the same if my mother or father had called for a cab?
So I walked to the door and knocked.
“Just a minute,” answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear the sound of something being dragged across the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman somewhere in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like you might see in a costume shop or a Goodwill store or in a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.
The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. “I’d like a few moments alone. Then, if you could come back and help me? I’m not very strong.”
I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm, and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.
“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”
“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. Her praise and appreciation were almost embarrassing.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”
I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening.
“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I should go there. He says I don’t have very long.”
I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.
“What route would you like me to go?” I asked.
For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they had first been married. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she would have me slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”
We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. Without waiting for me, they opened the door and began assisting the woman. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her; perhaps she had phoned them right before we left.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase up to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You have to make a living,” she answered.
“There are other passengers,” I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly.
“You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”
There was nothing more to say.
I squeezed her hand once, then walked out into the dim morning light. Behind me, I could hear the door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.
I did not pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk.
What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and had refused to engage the woman in conversation?
How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?
We are so conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unawares.
When that woman hugged me and said that I had brought her a moment of joy, it was possible to believe that I had been placed on earth for the sole purpose of providing her with that last ride.
I do not think that I have ever done anything in my life that was any more important.
A few miles from California's cliff-hugging coastal Highway 1, past a tidal estuary and beyond a grove of towering eucalyptus trees, Gospel Flat Farm comes into view. Its roadside produce stand brims with lettuce, radishes, beets, and kale, and a cheerful sign announces, surprisingly, "Open 24 Hours." I'm here in the morning, under a bright and cloudless sky, but I'm tickled to imagine a midnight customer stocking up on salad greens at this tiny country outpost 30 miles north of San Francisco.Awesome all around. Read the whole thing.
I've made the trek today along with 14 other city dwellers to participate in a new take on local farm-to-table dining. At this event, and at others like it held on a growing number of small farms across the country, yoga will lend a soulful aspect to the rich experience of eating a meal in the place where its ingredients were grown and harvested. A natural complement to the locavore movement, yoga expands our awareness of the subtle energies around us, deepening our connection to all that a farm-based feast offers—delicious food, a sense of place, and a powerful feeling of gratitude.
"Cultivating the land, creating a meal for people, practicing yoga—all embody the same lessons with different paths," says organizer Ben Crosky, founder of Wildsoul, a Bay Area company dedicated to creating yoga events in inspiring locales. Each action, he explains, starts with a singular focus—a seed, a recipe, an intention for practice—that is tended and nourished until it grows into something else: a crop that will feed a community, a meal that will be enjoyed with others, an experience of inner peace that allows for greater union with the world around us.
"In a world in which we often only see part of the story—we eat in a restaurant, buy groceries in a store, practice yoga in a studio—we become disconnected," Crosky adds. "When we move in ways that create more connection and understanding, we can become more fully present in living."
Based on the idea that everyone has a secret, The Hush Hush Chronicles tells of the twisted stories that carve pathways deep within us. Set in the late 1920's at the height of Prohibition, this world premiere explores the undisclosed elements we lock away, and sometimes spill along the way. With an original score performed live by We Became Owls, the seven dancers who form The Anata Project bond together to create their own secret society of misfits. Also included in the evening performance are The Anata Project's 659 Days of Ruby and Mr. S (2011), and a new work by Summation Dance from New York City.
Choreographer Claudia Anata Hubiak founded The Anata Project in January 2011. Hubiak, who was raised with a Buddhist background, based her company on the concept of Anata, or "egolessNESS" in Sanskrit. The word Anata, used in reference to the spacious and ever changing quality of the mind, serves as the backbone and founding principle of Hubiak's dance company.
1. Just sit in the sun and be still. Feel it on your face. Congratulations, you're alive. It will all be ok.
2. Wear sunscreen. This isn't the same sun you knew in the City. You're gonna be leathery by June if you keep this up. Put on some SPF 30 already.
3. The stereotypes about people from Marin are (mostly) true. Love them anyway.
4. Life can be full and eclectic and vibrant wherever you are. At first I mourned the thought of leaving behind all of the cultural highlights of life in the City: walking up and over Nob Hill past the Mark Hopkins to have a cocktail at a speakeasy in the Financial District, hopping on the bus to the DeYoung, rolling down Larkin to the Asian Art Museum. But I've realized: you don't have to have the opera house down the street, or Grace Cathedral just up the hill, to find grace and art and inspiration. Those things are all still right there if I want them. Sometimes the richness just shifts, and it looks more like time to read an actual book again, or a killer hike to the beach just a few minutes' drive away, or the horses that serenade you every morning with an unexpected whinny, or the artist who lives down the street and teaches ceramics classes, or the old dude sitting next to you at the dive bar downtown whose family bought this land back in the 1920s.
5. You really don't need to answer that email right away. Unless you're Barack Obama, it can wait.
6. Scent matters. Living on the edge of the Tenderloin for all those years, I got, uh, real good at not noticing the inevitable smells of the City: human waste on the sidewalks, frat-boy vomit along Polk Street, rotting garbage in back alleys. It's cool; you figure it's just one trade-off for the benefits of living in urbanity. But, I tell ya what: there is nothing like the scent of stepping out of my car on a cool Monday evening after driving home from Oakland and taking in the heady whiff of so much lushness. Everywhere I turn, there are lilacs and jasmine and wild roses and eucalyptus. My scent experience has flipped 180 degrees. Where there was displeasure there is now sweetness. Cannot begin to express the grounding power of this alone. And a little manure along the way now and then, too.
7. Quinoa is a wonder food. Especially when you no longer have a Thai place up the street that's open til 2am. And there are only three restaurants within 20 minutes' drive, and they all shutter at 8.
8. Gluten-free quinoa pasta is a double-wonder food. Especially when you throw some local mushrooms, a little garlic marinara, and some melty Cowgirl Creamery action on top of it.
9. Your environment can affect your energy. I wish I had a dollar for every person who's told me, "Your energy is different. You're calmer, you're more grounded, you're more present." And it's true. My fiery Type-A pitta self has chilled out. My freneticism level has been dialed down 10 degrees. I sleep better. I move more slowly, more deliberately. And I listen more. The fast pace and callous anonymity of urbanity can seep into your bones. The stress of fighting for parking leaves you irritable and bitter. Even the experience of pounding the cement pavement versus walking on twisted, tangled dirt paths shifts you, let alone the sound of the crickets at night or an owl hooting in the distance. Much preferable to the sound of my neighbor clipping his toenails — or worse — in the bathroom on the other side of my thin apartment wall. Ahem.
10. You can take the girl out of the prairie, but you can't take the prairie outta the girl. After 17+ years living on the East Coast, in Europe, and then in San Francisco, I've come full circle. No wonder this place feels so right. It's all big sky and spaciousness and silence. Prairie, anyone? Right at home, even down to the cows. But where's the corn?
11. Never speed by the Nicasio reservoir. There will be cops sitting right there waiting for you. Trust. They have nothing else to do. This, upon reflection, is a good thing.
12. Practice. Alone. As a yoga teacher, I've always had a decent home practice, though I have long been attached to my sweat and my sangha. Perhaps the biggest shift for me in leaving the City was leaving my regular (daily) practice at the studios(s) I called home. At first, dude — I cracked. I missed my people, I missed my regular hit of 95 degree sweat, I missed the fact that I could walk in and check my mind at the door. Now practicing with my peeps means an hour's drive on both ends, and either getting up waaaay early or driving home waaaay late. So I listened. I shifted. I started practicing at home, really practicing at home. Made a fire in the stove, got my Primary Series on, moved from an externally-driven practice to an internally-driven one. I learned to kick my own butt. I wore ratty old black leggings with holes in them and tank tops that hadn't seen light in 10 years. My arms got a lot stronger, my mind a lot quieter, and I got a lot better at listening, and sequencing, and getting lost in the practice. The result being that I felt a whole lot more self-sufficient, more present, less distracted, and much more empowered. And I am now in the throes of a full-on Mysore-style Ashtanga crush. Which reminds me how easy it is to get comfortable in our routines, settled into the familiar, and how sweet it is to be pushed (forced) into learning a new way of being. And what a gift it can be to be thrown out of the nest.
13. Petaluma is adorable. 'Nuff said.
14. Your most dreaded experiences can offer the sweetest gifts. I'd spent 9 proud years sans car. I walked everywhere, I felt like a self-sufficient badass every time I willingly ignored gas prices and hustled down the street instead. I was so afraid of the new commute; dreaded spending unaccustomed hours in my car, joining the thousands of other minions driving up and down 101 every morning and evening. And, as I mentioned a few months ago, that commute ended up offering me such a beautiful gift. It has created (and continues to offer) an ongoing opportunity for study in a way that I never expected. I've learned to love the silence, the solitude, the buffer of alone-time between teaching and home. And I'm in full-on podcast nerd mode. Learning endless bits of information in the 20 or 30 or 50 minute interviews with writers and teachers and scholars and farmers. Introduced to the wisdom of folks like Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott and Noah Levine and Michael Stone and Richard Freeman and Lodro Rinzler and Elizabeth Gilbert and I could go on and on and on. Let's just say: never doubt the possibility that the most-dreaded change in your life could actually offer up the sweetest benefits, the most intelligent, informative windows into a new way of being. There is grace all around, if we have the eyes to see it.
15. Fashion is overrated. Fuck style. Wear the same stretchy pants you've been wearing for the last two weeks. Put on a stretchy skirt instead when you go out to dinner. Be comfortable. You can't buy personality, anyway, and style is what you make of it. And it's easier to carry the firewood in when your bangles don't get in the way.
16. Let your body mirror the rhythms of nature. In the city, I'd drag myself out of bed in the dark of 5am, stumble down the street to a 6am class, wring myself out, spend the day teaching and then shake martinis til the wee hours, not stopping until I flung my tired bones into bed at 1am. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was a state of perpetual highly-caffeinated exhaustion. Moving north meant a lot of things, but most of all, it meant sleep. I quit my lucrative-but-energy-sucking bartending gig because I no longer needed the money to pay for an overpriced teeny-weeny flat in the City. I started going to bed at normal-people hours, and sleeping til the sun came up in the bedroom window. Now, when I feel tired, rather than pushing through and chugging another iced coffee, I sit down and take a nap with birdsong as accompaniment. I wake up 'cause I want to, not because I have 16 commitments before noon and need to build in an extra 45 minutes for riding the bus on the way. I've lost weight, inadvertently, really, just from eating well and sleeping well and living more in a grounded, listening kind of way, and not pushing my body to function 18 hours a day.
17. Put your damn phone away. You don't need to be plugged in all the time. Thanks to Sprint for the spotty cell service that's made that abundantly clear.
18. Sun and sky can go a long way in helping you forget the City. Especially when it's 80 and sunny here, and 63 and foggy there.
19. Good Earth in Fairfax is the Marin version of heaven. Go early, go often. And don't miss the deli. But do miss the dudes trying to get your signature on umpteen petitions outside.
20. Just because it's quiet (remote, private) doesn't mean you're going to get any more creative work done. The silence helps the muses, for sure. But wherever you go, there you are — along with all your psychological "stuff." Don't rely on the stillness to do your work for you. The practice continues, daily. So get off your duff and into your art. That trumpet isn't gonna play itself.
In meditation, it is not helpful to be mad at yourself for the inability to be peaceful. Start where you are. Start with sorrow. Start with rage. Start with boredom/anxiety. Start with high hopes. Start with disappointment. Start with your very own body, breath, and mind. Your experience IS the practice. There is nowhere else to go. Within your own experience, the entire path can be found. Please give it a try anyway and see for yourself. I will try too.I fucking love that.
Sound said to me, "I want to be holy." And I replied, "Dear, what is the problem? You already are."
Then sound quipped back, "What do you mean?"
"Well, the wind speaks, does it not? And what about the refrain of geese? And what of the moo and the baa and the rooster at dawn,
and the chorus from the sea and the rain, and the thunder? Is not all a part of God, thus sacred?
I think God has surrounded us; we better give up, or God might bring out the heavy
artillery . . . like just outright lifting His skirt everywhere. Think of all the sweet madness that would cause."
"This isn’t your grandmother’s book on meditation. It’s about integrating that 'spiritual practice' thing into a life that includes beer, sex, and a boss who doesn’t understand you. It’s about making a difference in yourself and making a difference in your world—whether you’ve got everything figured out yet or not. Lodro Rinzler is a bright and funny young teacher with a knack for showing how the Buddhist teachings can have a positive impact on every little nook and cranny of your life—whether you’re interested in being a Buddhist or not."Yes, please.
Remember that day?
Remember how you were at The Grove with Sarah and your phone rang and you knew deep in your gut without even answering it?
And the house was full of flowers and the fridge stocked with fancy cheese for the cocktail party that was to be and then wasn't, and the flowers rotted, and the cheese went uneaten?
He was too young. He won't be at my wedding. He'll never meet his grandchildren.
What would he be planting in the garden right about now?
|The Mister and me, not in yoga clothes, at the memorial last night|
* * *
"We would not concentrate so much today on looks/beauty, pay so much, die so much, seeing our 'beauty power' coming and going, never owned, never ours, if our look, our sense of self were owned....
The sadness on the streets speaks of how much we miss the look of people who looked at peace with themselves, meaning that we could relax with them and not try so hard, there being no competition."
— Nancy Friday, The Power Of Beauty
"The truth is, the world is starved for people who are at ease in their skins....
Beauty has become what our lives are about, not the clothes and the seasonal fashions, but the rage, grief, a terrible sense of isolation that we get when we don't get back any good feeling from the money and time we invest in appearance. Appearance is everything, appearance is empty.
People are Empty Packages, hollow souls desperate for expensive clothes, labels, jewelry, or fancy cars that draw attention."
— Nancy Friday
Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.
Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely.
Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.
The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears. Time does not heal all wounds, closure is a fiction, and so too is the notion that God never asks of us more than we can bear. Enduring the unbearable is sometimes exactly what life asks of us.
"Too nipply.""The Martians have landed.""That's what you wear to the Emmys.""Hello, Charlie's Angels.""Looks like a big doily."