Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. "

~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart:
Heart Advice for Difficult Times

You should really get to know Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. She's got so many incredible things to say.

Check out this 2006 interview with Bill Moyers, from Faith & Reason. It offers an excellent informal conversational-style glimpse into some of Chodron's teachings, including heart-rending thoughts on concepts like dunzi, shenpa and groundlessness. Powerful stuff.

Bill Moyers interviews Pema Chodron (PBS)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Well, Christ on a cracker. Larabar's done it again.

A few things have changed since we first discovered Lara's deliciously unprocessed grub. It looks like our little Colorado-based raw/vegan start-up has been bought out by General Mills. They've also quietly stopped calling their products "raw." But it's cool. Because it appears like nothing has really changed in terms of the Larabar content, which remains unprocessed, vegan and best of all: gluten-free.

I've been off gluten entirely since January, and the whole-body effects have been remarkable. Just ask my Kapotasana. And while I've fairly painlessly said sayonara to pizza and bagels, I still miss the hell out of chocolate chip cookie dough, which had heretofore been one of my reasons for living. So yesterday afternoon, en route to work and exhausted after a long stretch of running-doing-going-lifting, body aching from four straight mornings with Rusty, I turned a corner at the little market on Sansome and found my eyes bugging out to see there before me in all its grandeur:

the new Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabar.

Sweet jesus. Not only gluten-free, but for the very most part vegan, as well. I bought that puppy faster than you can say "stuff yer face." And picked up a few of the new Carrot Cake and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip flavors, too. Those guys made for a damn happy night behind the bar. Sugar be damned; I've met your match, and he's cuter, and healthier, too.

Check out the website for all of the latest. Sad to see Pistachio's been retired; I'll miss him, but thankfully these new distractions should provide plenty of sustenance in his stead. Happy eating.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

My family moved to Nebraska from South Dakota in 1989. I was ten at the time, and one of the revelatory discoveries my sibs and I had that first summer in Lincoln was the thrilling realization that we were finally far enough south to have fireflies. Yes, fireflies, ooh!!!

So warm summer nights back then looked like Mason jars and lightning bugs and smelled like Off! bug repellent. (Even though I was kind of a weenie about catching the damn things myself - that's what older sisters are for, though, no?)

Tonight, after a lush, green, wind-tousled asana practice under the trees shadowing the back porch, I tucked my sweaty legs into half-lotus, turned the porch swing toward the West, and watched the sun go down one last time before the homestead changes hands next week. Instead of packing, and boxing, and labeling, and sorting, as I should've been doing, I sat, and I breathed in that fresh twilight air, and I rocked back and forth on that porch swing, and swatted mosquitoes, and watched the clear cool perfect blue prairie sky melt into a palette of pinks and purples and soft sunset oranges, and I remembered playing badminton with Bek on evenings like that, back in the day, the air still enough to let the birdie fly back and forth over our wobbly net until it was so dark we couldn't see it anymore. She'd whack it hard, driving it into the ground, and I'd lob it over her head, and we'd sweat, and talk, and breathe, barefoot, there in the grass. And my father might come in from the garden and my mother might be at the piano and my little sister might ride up on her banana-seat bike and my little brother might run outside wanting us to let him play with us, and we'd shoo him away and swat the mosquitoes and watch the fireflies light up, across and over and under that skinny cheap net, and they'd buzz, and we'd marvel that the wild prairie wind had actually calmed enough for the birdie to glide unaffected, and it would be just another summer evening.

So here's to the last summer evening I'll know in this house, in this year, in this particular moment of August, these 21 years later. I've had this stellar Tony Bennett/Kermit the Frog duet on my yoga playlist for a few months now, and it never fails to make people in class soften, and smile, and chuckle, and breathe, and lighten up a bit, and take themselves a little less seriously. And we could all use a little more of that in our lives, eh?

Cheers, Tony. Thanks, Kermie. And watch for the, um, "combustive" cameo from one Miss Piggy toward the end, there, too. Love.

Tony Bennett sings Firefly (YouTube)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Be still my heart, gorgeous Willa Cather, you:

The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its somber wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

~ O Pioneers! (1913)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we — I mean all human beings — are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

~ Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Speaking of polyamory....

How anyone could not lose herself wholly in Bertrand Russell is beyond me. Dude had some serious game. The mind really is the largest sex organ.
"I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex."

"Conformity means death. Only protest gives a hope of life."

"Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."

"To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it."

"It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly."

"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin -- more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."

"It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations."

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves."

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

One morning, two perspectives:

one, the NYT's vanilla take on conspicuous consumption (here's an idea: let's trot out a tired reference to Thorsten Veblen, shall we?) and the shocking! notion! that happiness might not come from satiating a bottomless hunger for the acquisition of material goods, that in fact money spent on experiences and erm, living well in the bodies we already have, might actually bring greater joy than perpetually feeding the hungry ghosts in our metaphorical bellies that crave status, things, superficialities, etc.;

and two, Adbusters' much more fabulously scandalous proposition that perhaps polyamory, a re-visioning of the traditional consumptive nuclear family unit, might be a revolutionary model for breaking through (and/or living outside of) the standard capitalistic consume-trash-consume model for contemporary Western life. An imagined "rupturing of the consumer myth through sexual liberation." Badass, no?

You choose. Mildly spicy, or muy caliente, baby.

But Will it Make You Happy? (NYT)
Is Polyamory Revolutionary? (Adbusters)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Because the Beats and brooding and Buddhism are all so very much in my mind these days,

and because this little beast of a 4-year-old MacBook, scrapped together with duct tape, keys covered with chocolate, continues to be my humble yet willing window to a world that offers up Fromm and Woolf and Rilke at my fingertips,

and because everyone's hauling around a sleek new iPad, eyes sparkling, distracted at the bar,

and because, well, it just made me smile,

I give you wild-man Gary Snyder's twee little ode.


Why I Take Good Care of My Macintosh

Because it broods under its hood like a perched falcon,

Because it jumps like a skittish horse and sometimes throws me,

Because it is poky when cold,

Because plastic is a sad, strong material that is charming to rodents,

Because it is flighty,

Because my mind flies into it through my fingers,

Because it leaps forward and backward, is an endless sniffer and searcher,

Because its keys click like hail on a boulder,

And it winks when it goes out,

And puts word-heaps in hoards for me, dozens of pockets of gold under boulders in streambeds, identical seedpods strong on a vine, or it stores bins of bolts;

And I lose them and find them,

Because whole worlds of writing can be boldly laid out and then highlighted and vanish in a flash at “delete,” so it teaches of impermanence and pain;

And because my computer and me are both brief in this world, both foolish, and we have earthly fates,

Because I have let it move in with me right inside the tent,

And it goes with me out every morning;

We fill up our baskets, get back home,

Feel rich, relax, I throw it a scrap and it hums.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

This is just so lovely. Take 4:35 and watch "How To Be Alone." Solitude is countercultural. It's the soil from which art springs. It's fundamental. It's nourishing. It makes relationship possible. It gives the soul room to breathe. It allows the mind to still. And it allows the heart to expand.

How To Be Alone (YouTube)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Fate: Essays and Lectures

Flesh-eating by humans is unnecessary, irrational, anatomically unsound, unhealthy, unhygienic, uneconomic, unaesthetic, unkind and unethical. May I elaborate?

~ Helen Nearing,
Simple Food for the Good Life

I'm on a big raw vegan kick. Can you tell?

August this year carries with it many Big Life Things, and when that happens, I'm always wont to turn straight back to that great source of prana - eating well - in an effort to abide the days, and to sit comfortably and compassionately with Shiva the Destroyer's barreling through the halls of my metaphorical home. So on the cusp of a busy few weeks, I headed to Whole Foods the other day and ran rampant through their raw foods section, stocking up on plums (plums! I forgot about plums!) and melons (obvs) and berries and pistachios (lurve) and kale chips and you name it. And then this morning at yoga I ran into my main man Briksha, he of the inspirational Cafe Gratitude raw chef-dom and the remarkable training with Gabriel Cousens and his ilk. And we talked ahimsa and yogic food ethics and the excitement of sharing our practice with people of equal passion. And we're going to write a book.

But before we get to that: run your tongue over and around those two quotes above. They're harder than I usually go for, edgier, more brusque, more abrasive, so cautious am I usually to avoid offending/alienating the beloved meat eaters in my life.

But, really. It's quite clear. And now and again, in the right moment, when the stars align, the revelation of the radical and righteous work done by people like John Robbins, Carol J. Adams and Mr. Cousens himself will hit me smack in the face and remind me how pleasant, how perfect, how pristine that choice to live lightly on the earth is, to extend your yoga practice off the mat and reaffirm it every time you choose (or don't choose) to practice less suffering in the way you consume, in the very food you put in your mouth, in the decision to either increase or decrease your prana with every bite.

With compassion as the guiding force, eating well really becomes quite easy. Compassion for your own healthy, living, breathing body, that craves only nourishment and good sattvic food; compassion for the planet, which benefits so from you living lightly upon it; and compassion for the other living beings around you, whose prana we often value far too little.

It's really very simple. But everything good is, no?

Vegetarianism preserves lives, health, peace, the ecology, creates a more equitable distribution of resources, helps to feed the hungry, encourages nonviolence for the animal and human members of the planet, and is a powerful aid for the spiritual transformation of the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.

~ Gabriel Cousens, Conscious Eating

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

I'm craving yin the way a plant craves light.

Last night, coming home on the down slope of Nob Hill, the fog fingers curled their ghastly talons up and over, spilling and whirling, teasing of sanctuary: the noir kind of sanctuary, that dark delicious refuge that reeks of wearing cloches and all-black and drinking martinis and reading the New Yorker and brewing muddy coffee in the early morning quiet and writing thick social theory and playing 30s ballads on the piano and swearing.

A lot of swearing.

So very much yang of late, you see. Coming on the heels of last week's early morning trek through the foothills up to Wanderlust and the ensuing several days of non-stop going and doing and stretching and talking and catching-up hurtling into a rushed drive home toward the Pacific in time to shake a few martinis in time to squeeze in a quick yoga session in time to meet the ever-lovely Molly and Zoe coming from the airport for a packed few days of San Francisco from the point of view of a 2 1/2 year old. Yang that looks like searing Tahoe sunshine and urban hikes and carousels and gelato and the SF MoMA and fountains and swings and the buzzing hubbub of beloveds at Urban Flow last night, and a last-minute cable car ride up and over Nob Hill once more this morning to deliver the traveling twosome at the Bart station just in time to make the next train to SFO and thence on the way back home to Charm City.

Yang up the wazoo. Yang in the best of ways.

But yang in the most exhausting of ways, too; the kind of talking-buzzing-going yang that fires up the extroverts in the room and depletes the introverts hovering contentedly, watching, listening, along the walls. The kind of yang that reminds me how imperative, how fundamental, that quiet still small voice is, that echoing tumbleweed-strewn expanse of mental geography that we work so consciously to cultivate, the letting-go, the emptying-out, the kenosis of sorts that Buddhists and yogis and Taoists and other Eastern religious practitioners seek. The "Big Sky mind" that comes of silence and stillness and early morning dark and twilight pause and savasana, ever, ever, savasana. The yin. The drawing in. The darkening. The softening. The refueling. The relinquishing.

Yes, craving it, all. Not surprising, this.

The Taoists were so right in naming that ancient inherent harmony of the universe, the fundamental balance, the intrinsic complement: the yin to the yang, the light to the dark, the fluid to the static, the chaotic to the calm, the vital to the dormant. Sure, the binaries are fundamentally problematic, limiting, suffocating, as many would agree - especially your queer theorists, who point out with such great legitimacy the fact that most of life, much of catalytic change, actually relies upon some measure of a destabilizing triad, a holy trinity, a wildly thrillingly off-balance guest star, an outlier, something to upset the false stability presented by a binary. And I agree with this, completely, yes, and relish being a bit of an outlier myself, peripheral, destabilizing, yes, and know that the vision of two dual complements is so often incomplete, inefficient, oversimplified.

But. That being said....

By god, if there isn't some great truth to this Taoist understanding of a complementary universe; that the sun finds its harmony in the moon, the left in the right, the morning in the night, and so on and so forth. I can see the truth of it here, now, resting in the echoing silence of my little urban garden, looking out at the apricots greening, listening to the planes overhead, more aware of the power of the silence here than I've been in some time. After such a week of non-stop yang, so much vitality and movement and dynamism and interaction, it's no surprise that all I want, after so very many big days of going and talking and moving and dancing and laughing and eating and drinking and doing, is to just be. Just breathe. Just read. Write. Be dark. Be noir. Be silent. Listen. Watch. Move quietly. Wear black. Zip up. Fold in. Curl inward. Play piano. Drink martinis. Quietly. Alone. At a bar. Wearing red lipstick.

(And did I mention the swearing?)

Old friend Molly - dear old friend in the way that means we've known one another for more than half the time we've been alive, since we were 15, since we were young and naive and singing and hopeful and smart and absolutely searching, and whose paths have crossed and meandered and crossed again in so many serendipitous ways over the years since - hauled herself and her beautiful daughter Zoe up from Half Moon Bay Sunday morning after sending Tim back home to do more doctoring in Baltimore. And we had a little San Francisco reunion.

So we played. And explored. And wandered down to Aquatic Park, and climbed to Huntington Park at the top of Nob Hill, and scoped out crabs, and slept, and visited Rich at Nob Hill Grille, and read books, and ate pancakes on the floor, with blueberries, and 100% pure maple syrup. [I knew those blow-up flamingos from Stern Grove would come in handy.] And Zoe met Rusty last night at the studio, and we sang, and colored, and wore sunglasses, while Mama had a chance to spend a precious 90 minutes alone on a mat moving her body to the music in the presence of other fabulous people moving their bodies to the music. And we came home to fog and Thai take-out and peanut sauce and a sleepy little girl who had to keep her bright voice quieter than she should've, because of the city and the thin floors and the creaky building built in 1920, not made for strong fiery little girl feet, and enthusiastic high voices, and morning sing-alongs.

And it was enough.

("True affluence is not needing anything," wrote santosha ninja Gary Snyder.)

Santosha. Contentment. Enough.

Buddhist scholar David Loy, one of my favorite writers on religion, culture and capitalism, argues that a pervasive sense of Lack is what most haunts American consumers. The kind who seek sustenance, meaning, joy, fulfillment in the shopping mall, the car lot, the McMansion, the football game. How radical it is to assert that we have enough, here, already, now. To give in to a wild sense of affluence, the outlaw certainty of having, being, abandoning that source of suffering that is the desire for more, bigger, better.

And I think that's the practice here, the lesson today, now, always, of course, but especially now.

I had so many santosha moments at Wanderlust, this overwhelmingly rich yoga-music-nature festival offering so very much, so much more than one person could ever take in over the course of just a few days, and in the midst of Baron and Shiva and Squaw and Giselle and all of it, I couldn't help but just look at the sky now and then, that crazy big cerulean blue sky, so much closer there than I'm used to it being here in SF, so much more searing in the sun's heat, so much more daunting in its scope, and yet comforting in its own vast prairie-expanse-like way, a reminder of my youth, the summer wind and sun and heat bearing down on my all-too-human, all-too-fragile, all-too-sunburnable shoulders, and I couldn't help but just repeat to myself, over and over: It is enough. It is enough. It is enough to be here in the mountains in the summertime moving and breathing and revisiting a dear old friend I've not seen in six months thanks to 3,000 miles, and sweating and listening and soaking it all up. It is enough to live just 3 hours from this little taste of paradise up overlooking Lake Tahoe. It is enough to drive 200 miles and crank through 3 killer, ancient, fabulous playlists, and sing Sondheim at the top of my lungs and jam out to Santana and Rob Thomas wailing me around the twisting turns and bang my head to ridiculous classic rock because, goddammit, jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine, and

joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
joy to you and me

Santosha. It's a practice, this.

People here in SF looove to bitch about the weather. It's cold, it's wet, it's foggy, it's not sunny enough, whatever. This never fails to make me grin, and wince, all at once. Because it's so fucking ridiculous, really. Here we are in the bliss-full heart of the Bay Area, not an air conditioner in sight, not a cricket or locust to be found, not a touch of humidity to taunt us, and people are complaining about the weather?? That they have to wear a sweater, that it's cold, that it's wet? Really?

After enduring summers in so many other parts of the country, each miserable in its own way - the Great Plains and Tornado Alley's thick muggy bug-filled severe thunderstorms rolling across the prairie, and the Mid-Atlantic's unbearable malaria-scented July humidity, and Central Florida's gator-strewn heat, the kind that keeps you inside shivering in artificial cold and escaping to godawful fluorescently-lit malls just to escape the burn - there's no way I'd ever complain about this August, this cool, this blessedly, blissfully perfect weather. The morning fog, ideal for early reading and a burbling coffee maker and legwarmers and a blanket; the few precious hours between noon and 4 when it burns off, just enough to tease you with weak sunshine and false warmth when you're walking on the sunny side of the street; and then of course the old reliable fog, the yin, the dark, the cool, rolling in over the Golden Gate like clockwork, blowing you right on down the hill, giving you good reason to always carry a cloche, a scarf, a coat, even though, yes, it's August, and in New York they're sweating, and in Lincoln they're flooding, and in New Mexico they're slapping on sunscreen.

So - I'll take it.


I'll take any good reason to pull that cloche lower over my eyes, to zip that jacket up to my chin, to wrap that pashmina closer and roll down the hill to the opera or the curl up in a chair with a heavy tome and a snifter of bourbon, or to warm up with that glass of red after too many cold evenings bring the chill to the bones.

Why do we complain? We choose, right? For the most part, notwithstanding unavoidable circumstances, the kind out of our control, we choose; we choose. I chose seven years ago to load up a little Ford Festiva and haul ass across I-80 to start a new life on the West Coast. I didn't know, but I knew. And that day I crossed the Bay Bridge and rolled over the down slope of Nob Hill was also the last day I ever wore shorts in August in California. Because I learned quickly that August here means hats and legwarmers and maybe a little bit of chill. And definitely. not. shorts.

But that's ok. Because the chill balances out the heat, and the light comes 'round noon every day to burn off that blanket of fog, and Tahoe's just a few hours away, and we've always got the choice to stay, or go, or to complain, or to crave, or to wish, or to wonder, or to just goddamned

let it be enough.

And I'm so damn glad to let this be enough. Molly and Zoe are happily East Coast-bound once again, and I sit here sweaty from two hours of ardha chandrasana and ustrasana and a few delicious minutes of yoga nidrasana, and the evening promises darkness and shaken martinis and serious grown-up conversations and jazz and wind and cold and that old reliable fog rolling in at half-past five, and gin, and yin.

And I exhale at the beauty, the grace, of that wild santosha.

Rusty busted out the kd lang a few weeks ago for savasana, and he's been turning to it regularly since. It's fantastic, perfect, obvious for savasana; and that first morning, in the wake of a brief love affair with kd lang's stuff a decade or so ago, and a perpetual appreciation of her stellar duet with Tony Bennett on that chestnut standard "Moonglow," I recognized her voice immediately, its maple syrupy goodness and its lingeringly delicious phrasing, in spite of the exhaustion and the paschimottanasana and the undoing. And I fell back into this song, and lost myself in it, and listened to the words in a way I've not done in some time, and realized what a perfect little snapshot of santosha can be found in this most lovely, most lilting, most mellow, most yin of melodies.

So queue it up, sit back, close your eyes, breathe deeply into that perfect belly of yours, and let it be enough, here, now, today, this moment, this August, this summer, whether you're cold with fog or sticky with humidity or somewhere in between. It's enough.

But you already knew that.

All I Need is the Air That I Breathe ~ kd lang (YouTube)