Friday, November 20, 2015
Last night after dinner, we're walking by an antique store. There's a serene Buddha statue meditating in the window. The kid points excitedly and hollers: "BOOBA!!"
Close enough. Love this boy.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Lately the thing I look forward to most in teaching is actually that 2-minute silent meditation at the end of class. Thick humid air still pulsing with the sweat of people moving and breathing. The way you can hear the tick, tock of the clock while we sit motionless. The rush of the cars on the street; the rain coming down outside the window. The knowing it's happy hour and the rest of the prime-time world is buzzing around busily hoisting a martini glass just on the other side of that brick wall. The remarkable way strangers who might not otherwise be comfortable sitting in silence without checking their phones suddenly, easily, drop into heavy stillness, side by side.
A refuge of the breath in the midst of urbanity.
I f$#@in love it.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
We saw dear old yoga family. We had a great retreat at YogaToes in Point Reyes. And we were introduced to the wonders of Daniel Tiger whilst enduring a flight with a wriggly 20-month-old.
I'm so pleasantly surprised by the social-emotional intelligence I've witnessed in just a few episodes of this Fred Rogers-inspired PBS show. We only let Duke watch maybe one a week. But — sing it, brother:
"When you feel so mad, that you wanna ROAR, take a deep breath and...cou-ount to 4."
What?! They're teaching meditation! They're teaching kids how to choose to react! Incredible.
Anyway — wonderful trip. A much-needed dose of My People. Grateful.
We were home for Halloween and it was appropriately gusty and rainy and wet. We trick-or-treated at about 5 houses with our cute little Dalmatian boy, who mostly appreciated ringing the doorbells. "Butt! Butt!" (Meaning "button," of course.)
He is a hoot right now and we are digging the verbal stuff coming out of him willy-nilly. It's incredible to witness the young sponge-like mind making sense of the world.
Spent Halloween day steaming and stripping wallpaper from the powder room of my sister's new house. It's a beautiful and spacious and light home with great bones, and will be even moreso now that all the 1980s floral wallpaper has been stripped and replaced with quietly elegant painted walls. (The house was built in 1996 and yet somehow managed to have fabulously-awful flowers on so. many. walls. This powder room paper was actually the same pink design we had on our bathroom walls in South Dakota back in, like, 1983. Talk about a time warp. Wasn't sure if I was 6 or 36.)
It was a meditation, for sure. The boys were tucked in at home snoozing for naptime, so I dug in. It felt pretty great to go hours without looking at my phone. To have it safely tucked away in my bag upstairs. Liberating and strange. (A sad commentary on how chained-at-the-hip we are these days to our devices, especially those of us with small children.)
Anyway, it was monastically, well, fab. I loved just sitting there with the steamer holding it on the ugly-ass wallpaper until it was wet enough to peel away, leaving sticky glue and messy walls behind. This was old-ass wallpaper and it didn't want to go anywhere. And it took about 3 hours to get through that tiny powder room. But, damn, was it rewarding. So nice to just be in my body (and to sit in Malasana for a good few hours) breathing and watching and listening. Almost enough to make me want to get a part-time job building or decorating or painting or something.
The glue-high probably had something to do with that, too. (Hoping for the sake of my still-nursing toddler that the 1996 toxicity levels weren't through the roof.) I was decently buzzed for a few hours afterward.
Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield wrote a book called "After The Ecstasy, The Laundry: How The Heart Grows Wise On The Spiritual Path." I read a few chapters in the long lazy days right before Duke was born. And I actually threw it in the trunk the day we drove to the birth center, thinking for sure my contractions weren't real and we wouldn't end up having a baby that day. (I was wrong.)
In the time since, I've only been able to flip through it in bits and pieces. I keep meaning to dive in some night when I am not tired and have already practiced and met my writing deadlines and run the dishwasher and the little man is sleepily happily.
I love the idea — so Zen, of course — that some of the richest opportunities for awakening in fact lie right here in our daily manual labor. The washing the dishes. The painting the wall. The scrubbing the floor. That monastic ideal that employs the body to connect with the breath and yoke the chattering mind to our movements so as to quiet the incessant thinking and root down deeply into the body itself.
In other words.
(And hey, you get the laundry folded and the floor scrubbed at the same time. Bonus.)
I felt so quiet internally last Saturday after spending the afternoon stripping wallpaper. I felt grounded and peaceful. I wanted more. We need more of this in our lives.
There's an old vintage train that runs out beyond our house. It's very Mr. Rogers-esque, just three old charming refurbished cars, and it only runs 2-3 times a week. It's a total joy and revelation for my choo-choo-loving kid. And they've been working on refurbishing a 90-something-year-old red caboose for the last month or so, too.
At first when I saw they'd be doing that in sight of our window, I felt disappointed. Ugh. What an eyesore, right?
And then I realized what a magical opportunity it was. Everyday now we run to the window to see the workers' progress. Duke thrills at seeing them stand on top of the caboose, or strip the old walls, or put up plywood, or add shingles. I get emotional watching the workers out there in the rain. They remind me of my Dad, who loved doing shit like that. And they are so in their bodies. Not sitting at computers all day and only getting up to walk to the bathroom or to the office kitchen, where they microwave their frozen dinners and dutifully march back to their cubicles. These guys are alive.
And it makes me want the same thing for Duke, someday. That he might be intellectual and musical and compassionate and spiritual and yes, for sure, all of those things. But that he might also be embodied, willing to get his hands dirty and build and dig and take apart and realize the sacred labor that's involved in all of that kind of work. That he might not denigrate manual labor, or look down upon it, or judge it, or think himself better than that. That he might draw on the farmers' blood in his veins, learning to mow the lawn and change the oil and pull the weeds and be so fully in his body, too, that he can come home at the end of the day high on wallpaper glue, feeling quiet-minded and alive.
I read this article last night and it really slayed me: How Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult.
The title caught my eye on Twitter (can we talk for a second about how much I love Twitter? So much content. So much less bullshit. So highly recommend) yesterday because I've been thinking a lot about A) housing choices, e.g. urban vs rural, and B) what it looks like to make adult friendships.
You know, how different it is to find Your People when you're a young family starting over in a new city, vs being a 20-something with endless time and space to get out and about to festivals and classes and lectures and the like.
The author, David Roberts, writes:
Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. "Land use," as it's rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built....
It's only been comparatively recently (about 10,000 years ago) that we developed agriculture and started living in semi-permanent communities, more recently still that were thrown into cities, crammed up against people we barely know, and more recently still that we bounced out of cities and into suburbs.
So everything about how we live now is "unnatural," at least in terms of our biology. Of course, that doesn't mean it's bad...but it should remind us that socially constructed living patterns have shallower roots than we might think from our parochial perspective.
Point being, each of us living in our own separate nuclear-family castles, with our own little faux-estate lawns, getting in a car to go anywhere, never seeing friends unless we make an effort to schedule it — there's nothing fated or inevitable about it.
Why should it require explicit scheduling to see a friend who lives "within striking distance"? Why shouldn't proximity do some of the work? That answer, for many Americans, is that anywhere beyond a few blocks away might as well be miles; it all requires a car. We do not encounter one another in cars. We grind along together anonymously, often in misery.
When we decided to move to Portland, after endlessly researching neighborhoods and suburbs, we consciously bought a house in the city proper, for a number of reasons. Both my husband and I have largely spent our adulthoods living in urbanity, he in NYC and SF, and me in SF. And we really value the aspects of urbanity that allow for walking everywhere: to the grocery store, to cafes and restaurants, to libraries and parks, to school, you name it. And we cherish the spontaneous opportunities to run into neighbors and community members that come of that. The guy who owns the Thai restaurant. That neighbor with the dog who poops everywhere. Even the lady who runs the flower shop up the street. You get my point.
We ended up buying a beautiful rowhouse — think NYC brownstone — with lots of green leaves and brick walks and the like. I love everything about it: the 3+ levels, the elegant urbanity, the fact that we share walls with neighbors who have ended up being super cool and smart and thoughtful and artistic. It makes me feel urban and connected and present and alive.
That "anonymous grind"? That's what we were looking to avert. And we've been thrilled to have landed in a place where we hardly use our cars. Feels incredible to only fill up the gas tank very rarely. Feels empowering to walk most places. Feels like a relief when my active toddler wants to run and walk and pick up leaves and climb trees and pretty much do anything other than sit strapped into a carseat.
But I had a few pangs the other day, wallpapering. My sister's new house is gorgeous, and spacious, and big, and bright, and it backs up to a bubbling creek, with tons of green space out the kitchen windows and a nature preserve with trails literally just outside their driveway. It's so great. And just a quick 15-minutes out from where we live.
I felt jealous. I questioned whether we'd done the right thing.
Robb and I both know that if we bought a house in the suburbs, I'd end up pulling a Sylvia Plath head-in-the-oven pretty quickly. Too lonely. Too isolated.
And yet, we have no yard. Duke needs to run along the sidewalks or go to the park. I can't just send him out to play in the backyard while I make dinner. He will have to learn to mow over at Mariah's house. (And, oh yes, trust me, he will.) So there's a sadness I feel in not having that kind of space. A regret that when we drum and sing we have to be conscious of making too much noise. You know. City stuff.
It was fascinating to watch my thoughts curl and tangle that day, wallpapering. A whole conversation, a dialogue between urban and suburban, was spinning in my mind. And it left me feeling alternately proud and ashamed and confused and grateful and disappointed and passionate and inadequate and self-knowing and self-righteous and rich and poor and ALL THE THINGS.
This is how our minds work, eh? This is why we meditate. Because our minds would have us run movies about our lives all day long if we let them. So we yoke our thoughts back to the breath, and we steam, or we peel, or we scrub, and we breathe, and we take a deep breath, and count to four.
(Thank you, Daniel Tiger.)
When I read David Roberts' article yesterday, it was so damn affirming. It reminded me that we did exactly the right thing for us. We planted ourselves in a place where Duke can grow up largely sans-cars and deeply, intimately involved in his little Mr. Rogers-like neighborhood, with the chickens and goats up the street, and the tattoo parlor down the block, and the coffee shop and the barre studio and the nail salon and the library and the cigar cart and the grocery store all within walking distance. So that he might have his own little beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood. So that we might count the blue VW vans every morning when we walk by them on the way to school, and say hi to Grandpa Larry every time, who would've loved those blue VWs like crazy. So that we might say hello to the pumpkins, counting them on every porch, noticing when they've shattered, or rotted, or been turned into pie. So that we might see the same scruffy neighbor parking his car every morning at 8:30am, and wave, and smile, and feel connected, even for a second.
Michael Stone describes enlightenment as intimacy. Yoga. Literally being one with everything. Yes.
Why do we form such strong friendships in college and form so few afterward?
I read a study many years ago that I have thought about many times since, though hours of effort have failed to track it down. The gist was this: The key ingredient for the formation of friendships is repeated spontaneous contact. That's why we make friends in college: because we are, by virtue of where we live and our daily activities, forced into regular contact with the same people. It is the natural soil out of which friendship grows....
Some of this natural social mixing follows us to post-collegiate life. We bond with people we work with every day and the people who share our rented homes and apartments.
But when we marry and start a family, we are pushed, by custom, policy, and expectation, to move into our own houses. And when we have kids, we find ourselves tied to those houses. Many if not most neighborhoods these days are not safe for unsupervised kid frolicking. In lower-income areas there are no sidewalks; in higher-income areas there are wide streets abutted by large garages. In both cases, the neighborhoods are made for cars, not kids. So kids stay inside playing Xbox, and families don't leave except to drive somewhere.
Thus, seeing friends, even friends within "striking distance," requires planning. "We should really get together!" We say it, but we know it means calls and emails, finding an evening free of work, possibly babysitters. We know it would be fun, but it's so much easier just to settle in for a little TV.
Those of you who are married with kids: When was the last time you ran into a friend or "dropped by" a friend's house without planning it? When was the last time you had a spontaneous encounter with anyone who was not a clerk or a barista, someone serving you?
Where would it happen? What public spaces are there in which you mix and mingle freely with people on a regular basis? The mall? Walmart? How about noncommercial spaces? Can you think of one?(I've been moved witnessing the noncommerical mixing and mingling that my sister and brother-in-law and their family have experienced via their church community. Even though they've just moved here, they've been welcomed with eager hands for painting and drilling and stripping wallpaper and watching the kids while they unpack. Their church community has shown up in the most open-hearted, kind, loving of ways. I am struck and touched and inspired by what I see.)
Roberts goes on:
Say you're a family with children and you don't regularly attend church (as is increasingly common). There are basically two ways to have regular, spontaneous encounters with people. Both are rare in America.
One is living in a real place, with shared public spaces, around which one can move relatively safely. It seems like a simple thing, but such places are rare even in the cities where they exist.
A robust walkshed is an area in which a community of people regularly mingles doing errands, walking their dogs, playing in the parks, going to school and work, etc. Ideally, cities would be composed of clusters of such walksheds, connected by good public transit.He goes on to discuss "refusing to accept the status quo of default isolation."
I FUCKING LOVE THIS.
Both these alternatives — walkable communities and co-housing — likely sound exotic to American ears. Thanks to shifting baselines, most Americans only know single-family dwellings and auto-dependent land use. They cannot even articulate what they are missing and often misidentify the solution as more or different private consumption.
But I do not think we should just accept that when we marry and start families, we atomize, and our friendships, like our taste in music, freeze where they were in college. We shouldn't just accept a way of living that makes interactions with neighbors and friends a burden that requires special planning.
We should recognize that by shrinking our network of strong social ties to our immediate families, we lose something important to our health and social identities, with the predictable result that we are ridden with anxiety and loneliness. We are meant to have tribes, to be among people who know us and care about us.
To some extent, economic and employment trends have made us rootless. We move around much more and remain in jobs for less time (or work in the "gig economy"). We don't stay in one place the way our parents and grandparents did. Those trends, which have brought good along with bad, are likely irreversible.
But we can do something about the places where we live. We can make them more conducive to community and spontaneous social mixing. We know how to do it — it's just a matter of agreeing that we need it and changing policy accordingly.Amen.
And now, for making it through all that sociology-nerd sludge, some gratuitous pics.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
|Photo by Carrie Holbo Photography|
It's been two months since I last bloggedy-blogged. So much has gone down since then.
We've been here in Portland since August 15th. The weeks preceding the move were a whirlwind, and the weeks following have been pleasantly tranquil. We are settling in and getting used to a little grey (and a little rain — which feels, if I may say, absolutely like a balm after so many years of drought in Northern California).
I've thought here and there about sitting down to say hey, but always find myself pushing it off to "another time." I'm not sure why that is. In some ways, it feels like there's not much to say. We're really happy. We love our new home. We adore our new neighborhood. We even kind of, well, love our mortgage. And Duke has started up at a darling little Waldorf nursery school a few blocks away, which means four whopping hours of morning quiet time for this solitaire to get some writing done and unroll the yoga mat.
It's all pretty gravy. I do have pangs now and then of missing SF, especially of late. I miss my people. We were in Seattle for a hot minute last month for our dear old friend Heidi's baby shower, and being downtown reminded me so much of the Financial District that my heart ached for old places and old times. There is a melancholy to leaving behind something that you've loved so much, and for so long. Twelve years is no short time.
But we came home to find Paul and Mariah and Adah and Junia here after their epic car-ride from Wisconsin. The cousins have officially landed and Duke is in heaven. He looks at them with idolizing eyes and a perpetual half-smile. He copies everything they do, a half-step and a beat behind them. He's gone from being terrified of baby dolls ("Eyes! Eyes!") to kissing them bye-bye. It's an utter delight.
|Photo by Carrie Holbo Photography|
Not much more to say. And so much more to say.
I can't quite.
The kid has been napping so well since we moved here that I've been squeezing in a good 60-75 minute asana practice nearly every day. This feels like heaven. The old familiar Chaturanga knots in my shoulder blades have returned, and I couldn't be happier about that. [Sidenote: rolling on a tennis ball for self-massage in knotted-up spots is seriously salvific. Try it. You will die. So good.]
It's grey and quiet outside here today and I will admit, I'm loving it. The introvert in me who loved San Francisco's constant romantic wind and fog feels the same way about the cool and grey. Makes me just wanna curl up and read.
Teaching regularly again and it feels so good to be back in the studio. I spent the first month or so here speed-dating yoga studios. It was like my own live-action Goldilocks experience: too cold, too woo-woo, too stagnant, too small, not enough music, not enough Sanskrit, not enough realness. It's tough to start over after having grown deep decade-old roots in the SF yoga community. So when I stepped into Alex's class at YoYoYogi and he busted out the drum and started chanting and talking about the Bhagavad Gita and then proceeded to kick our butts in time with some great beats and I left dripping in sweat and happily wrung out....I knew I was home. Alex and Terri, who own YoYoYogi, have both practiced with many of the teachers and colleagues dearest to me: folks like Rusty Wells, and Andrea Maltzer, and MC Yogi and Amanda Giacomini. I loved that they already knew and loved the same people I did. I love being in the Pearl District and feeling the twinkly buzz of urbanity as I head to teach in the evenings. And the students at YoYo are awesome: so hungry for a strong practice, and ready to breathe, and sing, and laugh, and take another vinyasa.
I am grateful.
We are a little under the weather this week. Poor Duke has his first double ear infection. This is a first for us, period; we've been lucky to avoid much of any illness (knock on wood). Props to the Internetz for natural home remedies out the wazoo. We are full-on in the hot rice sock compress and garlic oil in the ears and all of it. Love feeling so self-sufficient. And love having a pediatrician who sends me to New Seasons for kids' herbal garlic oil instead of scribbling out a prescription for antibiotics right away. Duke is chirpy and playful and on the mend.
And I resisted. Which got me, of course, absolutely nowhere.
But he learned. And things changed. As they always do, of course. And now little man will sleep by himself, not needing that permanent body heat, that perpetual skin-on-skin connection that reminds him that he's safe and cared for and won't get eaten by a tiger or some other deep evolutionary mammalian fear.
So the times we curl up and snooze are sweet. And fleeting. And, as the yogis say, of course, they are my great teacher. Teaching me to appreciate what is while it still is. Teaching me to actually slow down, to drop the agenda, to taste this brief season of my life before it passes. Before he's a deep-voiced 6-foot giant wearing basketball shoes who doesn't want to hug his mother goodbye.
Looking forward to seeing many of you California-types for our Point Reyes retreat on the 24th. We still have space left in the studio if you want to jump in for a day of hiking, farmers markets, and yoga. Love to squeeze you in the few minutes while we're in the 415.
Much love from the Pacific Northwest.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Monday, October 5, 2015
Peeps! I'll be back in the Bay Area for a hot minute later this month, and am stoked to share the afternoon with you.
For our Yoga + Hiking Retreat Version 3.0, we'll hike Bear Valley (a nice, flat, tree-lined stroll, perfect for catching autumn colors) and then we'll head back to YogaToes Studio (MC Yogi and Amanda Giacomini's home studio) for a 2-hour yoga practice. Beforehand, come on up to savor one of the final West Marin farmer's markets of the season. And after? Linger together at one of the many fab local restaurants for vino and oysters and serious comfort food.
What: Day-long Point Reyes Yoga + Hiking Retreat, Version 3.0
When: Saturday, October 24th, 12-5:30pm
Where: Toby's Feed Barn, located at 112150 California Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station, CA. (About an hour northwest of SF and Oakland.) Drive up anytime Saturday morning to enjoy the farmer's market between 9am-12pm. Make your way to the big Buddha mural behind the yoga studio between 12-12:15pm for check-in and brief hellos. We'll gather for a couple of minutes and then head out to hike Bear Valley Trail, part of Point Reyes National Seashore. We'll trek for about 2 hours, take a quick break, then head back to the studio for a classic Rachel yoga and meditation practice from 3:30-5:30pm.
What To Bring: yoga mat, water bottle, solid hiking shoes, rain gear (if it's wet), comfortable clothes, and cash for the farmer's market (if you want). Wear layers, as temps can drop when the fog rolls in.
Registration: $50 covers a 2-hr hike and a 2-hr yoga/meditation class. Link is below! (Studio space is limited to 35, so it will definitely fill up.)
Questions: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Can't wait to catch up with y'all and get our autumn on.
Friday, October 2, 2015
It's official: I've found a new yoga home here in Portland. Thanks to the wonderful folks at YoYoYogi for welcoming me into the family.
Starting tomorrow, I'll be teaching 3 permanent classes:
Mondays at 715pmI look forward to seeing you on the mat.
Wednesdays at 545pm
Saturdays at 8am
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Here's my latest article, HomeBody: Movement Meets Buddha Nature, featuring three things I love: Buddhism, dance, and The Anata Project. Thanks to Dancers' Group for publishing.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
We just flew back from a sweet family gathering in Washington, DC. Got home late Monday night.
(Pre-emptive apologies to all the rad college friends I didn't get to see even though we were just hours away from one another for a few rare days. It was a wild 'n woolly family-filled weekend. Of the best kind. Including family pictures. Which I generally resist and which as a parent I have totally failed to properly take as of yet. Until now. So, in spite of the humidity, and how weird it felt to put on non-leggings for a few minutes, it was worth it, since my cute kid has now been enshrined in his bald little sweater-vested glory for all eternity.)
The dry air here in California feels so good. Cool. No humidity. I spent four years living just up the coast from DC in Delaware. I remember the muggy, malarial Mid-Atlantic summers. But I am no longer strong enough to push through them. Northern California has made me a weenie.
It is so nice to be back home. For a week or so.
Our new Portland house is officially ours, as of last week, all papers having been signed and all bank accounts having been pillaged. This makes everything feel real. I have just three classes left to teach. Most everything is packed, including the bed frames, including the frying pans, including the nice towels and sheets. Robb drove one of our cars up already this week. I'm sitting on the bedroom floor tapping on my laptop with one eye on my sleeping kid and a yoga mat under my feet. It feels minimalist and monastic and awesomely spare.
Moving Day will be here before we know it.
The East Coast flights went fairly well, considering they were 5-hour trips with a time bomb of an energetic toddler on our laps. Little man slept for a good 3-hour chunk of the first flight. (Bless him.) Virgin wins big for in-seat screens and hip lighting and the excellent fact of being headquartered in Terminal 2 at SFO. We got lucky and scored an empty back row on the way home Monday night, so Duke got to ramble and scramble and crawl and push buttons and lift the tray up and down and up and down and do all of those things that inquisitive 17-month-olds like to do. We were vastly relieved to get wheels down at SFO and to have survived two long flights without having to resort to administering Benadryl, which is what other parents in the know seem to recommend for such long stretches. Nothing wrong with drugging your kid to survive a few hours in close quarters, um, right? Um.
Speaking of close quarters...
Tuesday morning we slept til 6:15 (jet lag be damned!) and were super stoked to have the babe totally not be affected by the 3-hour time difference. I was in the kitchen making coffee when I looked over at the sink and, to my surprise, saw a middling brown spider under Duke's plastic blue sippy cup.
Surprised because, well, I'd trapped that damn thing under said sippy cup a full week before.
I've got a thing with spiders lately, see. We have a lot of them (something about the drought and the heat, says my friend Cassie). But I can't just squish them anymore. Ahimsa, you know. Non-suffering.
There's this Buddhist teaching that at some point in time every living being was once your mother. So that spider was once my mama. That cicada once held you close to her breast. (Do cicadas have breasts?) That chicken once tucked you under her feathers. That geeky dude with the bad goatee who sits in the cubicle one over slurping his ramen once cuddled you close at night.
Once you start to see the world as full of sentient beings who were once your loving, tender, compassionate mother, it's really hard to squish them. To kill them. To smush them. To suck them up with a vacuum while they skitter up the wall and over the window frame (not that I would know anything about that very particular example involving a very particularly LARGE and certainly-poisonous spider).
Whether it's a beloved lion or the pig that some people call lunch — they were both once your mother. So how can you ever even consider killing them?!?
Back to the spider on my kitchen counter. It had turned up a week or so ago while I was in the kitchen making lunch for Duke. I couldn't kill it. I couldn't manage to shoo it out the window. But I also couldn't just leave it there knowing full well it might scurry into one of our coffee cups or the coconut oil or a Tupperware full of French lentils.
So I did what any well-intentioned weenie does and grabbed the closest cup and hastily plopped it on top of it. Spidey-Mama was fine, still breathing, and no longer a threat to me and mine. He walked around in his new terrarium, checking out the walls, climbing them, crossing to the other side, climbing the other, trying to find a way out.
I felt like it was the least-offensive way to resolve the situation. He'd eventually starve to death or suffocate, right? (Ok, maybe not so inoffensive, then.) But at least then I wouldn't have to squish him.
Fast-forward to Tuesday morning. 6:30am, making coffee, happy to be home in our child-proofed kitchen. I look up. And there's that poor Spidey-Mama, still making the rounds, still climbing the walls, searching for a way out, liberation taunting him from just outside the blue plastic walls.
He'd spent the last week searching, thinking he could get out, thinking there was hope, if he could just find the right window, the right crawlspace. He didn't realize that his time was limited, that eventually he'd run out of air, fuel, wouldn't be able to continue.
It was striking. I saw that little guy fighting, searching, seeking, not giving up. And it left me inspired and depressed all at once. I thought: is this what Samsara looks like? That endless cycle of suffering and rebirth? That fruitless search for ease, freedom from suffering, liberation, fresh air?
Are we all just doomed spiders searching hopelessly for the way out of our suffocating blue terrariums?
Monday night, about halfway through the flight, I puked. I knew it was coming in that weird quiet creeping way you always know a puke is coming. Whether or not it had to do with the fact that I was watching Kim Kardashian on I Am Cait is another question. But I knew it was coming.
Duke was passed out on my chest, having exhausted all the scrambling and the buttons and the climbing. I made urgent eye contact with Robb, held the crinkly puke bag up to my mouth, and managed to transfer Duke just in time to empty the contents of my belly into the vomit sack.
There was a lot of chocolate.
Thanks to the fact that we were in the back corner of the plane, I don't think anyone heard me. I grabbed my purse, pulled out the Ziploc bag of baby wipes that I always carry with me, and quietly wiped off my mouth and blew my nose. I rang the bell and passed the bag to the (unfortunate) flight attendant and that was that. Felt much better.
Duke slept through the whole thing.
Not sure if it was the airport food we ate at DCA or the claustrophobic lack of air in the back of the plane or the large quantities of chocolate I ate to numb the anxiety of flying with a toddler. It came and went and was over with, and we were all fine.
But then in the car on the way home, Duke looked uncomfortable. His face turned red and he started smacking his lips. He started pointing toward his belly. I had a foreboding sense that something wasn't going to go well.
Sure enough, just before we hit San Rafael, little buddy puked. Out came the milk. The strawberries. The peas. All of it.
I wiped him off, snuggled him close, as one can best snuggle a kid strapped in a shitty-ass carseat. He clasped my fingers, relieved, two in each hand, and nodded off, heavy eyelashes drooping. I thought that was the worst of it.
I was wrong.
We hustled home, eager to get the little guy out of his wet clothes, leaving the luggage in the car. I carried him into his room, laid him gently on the changing table, and he looked up at me, fear in his eyes, smacking his lips, and yakked again, three times. I made it to the sink for the last round.
Poor blessed little buddy. Broke my heart to see him sick.
But minutes after the whole episode had come and gone, Duke perked up. He was his vibrant, jolly little self, thrilled to be home, running around the house in his jammies, bouncing happily on the bed, dragging books over to read together. It was such a relief.
We changed our clothes, fell into bed and watched him closely that night, making sure he didn't yak anymore. He was fine. We were all fine, and woke up healthy and happy and hungry.
I am always struck by the lightness most of us feel after we puke. The clarity and quietude, the emptiness, all of which are really, well, kind of nice. I felt it in myself and I certainly saw it in Duke.
The moments of suffering had passed. In the midst of them, there in the back of the airplane waiting for the vomit to come, knowing it was coming, they'd been forboding. Then again in the backseat of the car, headed home, watching Duke puke and not being able to pull him close to my chest to comfort him, the moments stretched, long and awful.
But they passed. And we were fine, and light, and maybe somehow strangely a little better for the clearing-out of whatever poison had momentarily made its home inside us.
And the Spidey-Mama is still circling the plastic blue sippy cup, trying to find his way out, searching, optimistic, that maybe, maybe if he just finds that one right little exit, he'll be able to escape, and start fresh, and head outside, brand new.
Maybe we are all stuck in our own little airless terrariums, with just enough light and air and view to think we've got hope. Maybe the view is enough to keep us from getting mired in the fact that we are all, yes, all of us, due to suffer and age and wither and die. I am grateful for the moments of lightness and clarity that come after the suffering, just enough to keep us going, to help us turn the corner, to remind us of the gift of simple things, like a settled stomach and a bouncy kid and the ability to fly thousands of miles above the earth in the midst of clouds and sky, traveling the length of a continent in a single afternoon.
And the unabashed joy of an urban splash park on a sultry summer day in DC, with your fearless 3- and 5-year-old nieces, who'll soon be your neighbors in Portland.
We have just a few afternoons left here. I got cranky today, in the August heat and the boredom of having already gone to the library and walked to the park and played outside and done all the usual toddler energy-burning kinds of things you do. I forgot. I took it for granted. The afternoon passed. I wished for bedtime to be here so I'd have some quiet and space to tidy the house and do yoga and catch up on work.
Don't let the average Wednesday afternoon become a mundane nothing. Let it be a marvel. Let it be rich. Let it be ripe.
The days pass too quickly.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Here's my latest newsletter with details on the move to Portland, final classes, and more. If you are not yet a subscriber and would like to be, just click on the "Subscribe" button in the upper left corner.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
We had such a great time the first time around that we've gotta do it again. And I'd love one last vinyasa with y'all before my family and I move to Portland the following week.
This time we'll start with a yoga & meditation practice again at YogaToes Studio in Point Reyes Station, and from there we'll head out to Limantour Beach to hike the Coast Trail.
(Have no fear: the Coast Trail runs a good 17 miles, but we won't be doing the whole thing. We'll hike for a solid hour or two and then head back to Point Reyes in time to stuff our faces and soak up some wine.)
The day's agenda is above. It'll be an ideal little summertime escape.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
After over a decade in California, we're joining the mass exodus northward.
(Can you believe it?)
It's rare these days not to run into someone who knows someone who just moved to Portland or Seattle, or who is thinking about moving to Portland or Seattle, or who just put an offer on a house in Portland or Seattle.
We are some of those someones.
It's been coming for awhile now, really. About three days after Duke was born, overwhelmed and exhausted and feeling quite alone, I turned to my husband and said, "Maybe we need to move to Nebraska." And buddy, trust me: those are words I never, EVER expected to say.
Yoga philosopher Michael Stone posits that the idea that the nuclear family is sufficient for raising small children is actually a social fallacy. I so agree. There is such great truth in the cliché that it takes a village to raise a child. We learned that quickly, living there in stunningly-beautiful but oh-so-isolated Inverness. It was a hard and lonely first few months. Right away we turned our attention to landing somewhere long-term where the public schools were excellent and we could buy a nice house (not for $900k) and where we'd have family nearby.
That thought kind of simmered on the back burner until we heard from my Madison, Wisconsin-based sister Mariah that she and her husband Paul were considering a job offer in Portland. Robb works in Portland regularly, so we've always imagined that it might be a clever spot to land. And the prospect of living just minutes from my sis and bro-in-law and their two adorable daughters was exciting. So exciting.
So when Paul got the job, we got serious.
We'd looked at buying a few homes here in the North Bay, all of which were, well, let's be honest: shitholes. $400k shitholes, to be exact. 130-year-old houses needing to be gutted or torn down. Hoarders' paradises. Located in school districts that wouldn't even muster an "average" rating.
It was disheartening, to say the least.
The great news is we've bought a beautiful home in a hot Southeast Portland neighborhood full of hip cafes and cute coffee shops and libraries and parks and yoga studios (yep, yoga studios) and a sweet-ass Whole Foods-style market where I'm sure we'll spend all our money on raw brownies and organic vegetables. It feels like urbanity sans pretension, totally fast-paced and walkable, but also utterly idyllic and safe: a win-win in every regard. It's not far from Reed College, with its campus of lush green avenues, and within walking distance of a top-notch public elementary school that's not unlike something out of a Harry Potter book.
I do so deeply believe in public schools. As a proud product of South Dakota and Nebraska public schools, I have great gratitude for the populist Great Plains institutions that taught me how to value diversity and work hard and not take my economic privilege for granted. My mother was a long-time music teacher for Lincoln Public Schools, too, so it's really in our bones, you see?
But you can't send your kids to the public schools around here. They're horribly underfunded. (Don't even think about arts or music programs.) And the private schools here are outrageously expensive and competitive. (Paying the equivalent of a semester in college for kindergarten, just to be surrounded by a bunch of rich white kids and their helicopter parents? No thanks.)
Enter smart cousins who'll be like older sisters.
Enter green. Not brown, not dry, not on the precipice of drought-addled disaster. But green.
The move will happen sooner than we expected. Mid-August. (Yep, I know.) We're already halfway packed, thanks to my uber-motivated, uber-organized husband, who's filled the garage with carefully-labeled boxes and run through countless rolls of packing tape. I'll teach my regular classes through August 11th, and then we'll close things up here, the movers will pack the truck, and we'll head northward to settle into our new home before the autumn grey sets in.
So we are looking at a little over a month left here in the Bay.
It is oh-so-emotional, of course. I moved here in August 2003 (on the 11th, actually, funnily enough), chugging up California Street in my 5-speed Ford Festiva packed with all my worldly belongings. Right away I sensed that if I ever ended up having kids, this'd be the place where I'd want them to grow up. Ethnic and religious diversity, progressive politics, stellar weather, fantastic arts and music opportunities, breathtaking natural beauty; you name it.
And I will be incredibly sad to leave all those things behind. Not to mention the wonderful family and friends we've found here over the years. So bittersweet.
At the same time, the Bay Area is a very different place from the post-Dot-Com-bust San Francisco I encountered in 2003. The moneyed elitism that has come with the recent influx of tech wealth has changed it so much. The gritty Polk Street I lived next to for almost 10 years has become a tech bro's paradise of sleek bars and boxing gyms and health food stores. I don't know that I recognize the foggy, romantic, pretty little city I loved so much and for so long.
And the truth is, it's a different season of life. I'm leaving closer to age 40 than age 20, with a really beautiful husband and a really beautiful son, two unexpected gifts that San Francisco has bequeathed to me. We'll start a new chapter, and, perhaps most importantly, be near family as we age.
Last week, Paul lost his father to a heartbreakingly sudden bout with brain cancer. It has been a sobering and shattering reminder that we never know how long we have with one another. Death is this strange and unwelcome guest with no regard for our own schedules and expectations.
In April 2005, I flew back to Nebraska to say goodbye to my own father. We knew the cancer would take him soon. My siblings and my mother and I gathered around his hospice bed in the family room one last time. In that shimmering instant — I can still picture it so clearly — I realized: family is the only thing that matters. At the end of the day, when your body gives out, when your mind is too tired to go on, your house, your car, your job, your awards; none of them matter.
Family is it. Nothing else.
And you only get one shot to do it right.
So you take a leap. You leave your established life behind and begin anew, knowing there's nothing you can really count on in terms of time.
Mariah and I have a long-term vision for opening our own yoga/dance/wellness center. She's a fantastic dance therapist and modern dancer, and with my yoga and mindfulness work, we have the potential and the passion to create something really special. We're excited. That will birth itself in time.
In the meantime, please make your way to a class or two before I head out. I'd love to see you and sing with you and sweat with you. I'll be teaching my full schedule at Flying Studios until August 11th (away a couple of dates traveling — just keep an eye on the calendar for that info). I'll also be subbing a couple of Monday nights (the 13th and 20th, to be exact). And I'm planning to lead one final yoga/hiking retreat in Point Reyes, too, on August 8th. Stay tuned for details to come.
Lots of love to you all. We've built relationships here that will be dear to me for the rest of my days. (You know who you are.)
I am so grateful you're in my life. Onward.
Saturday, July 4, 2015
I've long been a fan of the NPR podcast series On Being.
Krista Tippett facilitates regular interviews with a diverse array of fascinating folks who are at once spiritual and grounded, artistic and wise, and always with a nod toward meaning. Those podcasts accompanied me lovingly through many long commutes and meandering hikes when we were living in West Marin. I still often listen to them on my way to and from teaching in Oakland.
So I am thrilled to have a new essay published in the On Being with Krista Tippett blog. "What Masculinity Looks Like" is a love letter of sorts to my husband, to my son, and to the great butt-kicking, heart-cracking yoga teacher that is parenthood.
Here's a quick screengrab. The link to the full piece is here.
I hope you'll enjoy it.
In other yoga news, I've been really quietly impressed by the quality of the work coming out of Yoga International of late, both in regard to philosophy and asana. They don't dumb things down, and they're willing to have risky conversations. Check out this smart piece exploring the concept of God according to yoga. No splashy product placement going on here.
Give them a follow on Twitter or FB and keep up with some of the intelligent stuff they're putting out. They've upped the ante in graphic design, too. This piece on Pigeon pose and this one on making the most of your Plank pose are both particularly good.
I know I've talked shit about Yoga Journal in the past, but I still skim their newsletters now and then for interesting material. They're being proactive about bringing some new content into the mix and asking some harder questions; I'll give them that. And I've been on a big core kick as of the last six months or so.
(Can you say Navasana?!? Love.)
Anyway: this little article on the best yoga poses for a strong core is pretty great. I taught several of these poses in class yesterday and did them in my own practice Saturday night — and they are FUN. Check out this fab variation on a Twisted Navasana above right.
Finally, as a bonus prize for making it this far, here are a few early-morning partner yoga photos from the long holiday weekend.
They are so dear.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
The other day, lovestruck, I dashed off a quick FB post before running out the door:
The plum tree in our backyard is Going. Off.
Yesterday we gave brimming bowlfuls to our fairy godmother nanny and our friend Chris. I ate 3 for breakfast. This morning around 7 my kid and I went out to collect more (so many had ripened overnight!) and he was in plum heaven, looking up at the leaves shouting "Balls! Balls! Balls!" with wild disbelief. We'll take another bowlful to a birthday gathering this afternoon.
They're tart and lush, and I can't get over how abundant I feel standing out there picking them under the sun. That I didn't do anything to earn this bounty. How time seems to freeze, and I could easily be my grandmother, or hers, in that moment. And how thrilled my kid is to just run around the house with a plum in each sticky hand. All morning. Til the juice leaks out into his hair and his eyebrows.
I can't remember the last time something so mundane gave me so much joy.
Nearly two weeks later, the tree's still going bazooka. We've got plums up to our ears. And they're better than ever. In spite of the drought. In spite of the fact that I'd long ignored that tree until the day it decided to overwhelm us with ripe fruit.
Grace. The grace of those ripe plums falling off the tree and landing heavily, gushingly, on the ground. More quickly than I can pluck them.
Grace. The fact that some anonymous someone, once, one unremarkable day, planted a tree that he or she would never see produce fruit.
Grace. The ability to see the little blessings in our lives that are so often so easy to overlook.
Duke has been sick now for a good two weeks. What started as a runny nose caught at the children's museum a few Saturdays ago turned steadily into an oozing green monster clogging up his nose and glomming up his little eyes with crusty monster gloms.
He's been up, feverish, restless, every night, hardly sleeping. Chattering through the fever dreams with words and sentences I'd never known he was capable of speaking.
Then it moved into his chest and now our sweet little 16-month-old wonder has been hacking up mucus for days like a 19th-century tuberculosis patient.
It breaks my heart.
He is chirpy as ever. Happy-go-lucky. A little more cuddly, certainly, with zero appetite, but essentially himself.
It breaks my heart.
I mean, your kid suffering? It's pretty much the worst goddamn thing you could ever witness. I don't know how any parent bears suffering of a greater depth than the common sinus infection. I can't even think about the fact that he's due to suffer down the line because he's been born into a human body that will age and break and love and hurt and lose and grieve. It's too much. I want to take it all on right now, so he doesn't have to, ever.
And yet, of course, that's not life-giving, nor is it at all edifying for him, in the long run.
Fifteen years ago, I discovered Joanna Macy's work in a dusty corner of the University of Delaware Morris Library, and her words have followed me ever since. She's an ecofeminist Buddhist scholar who draws the most beautiful threads between ostensibly unrelated bits of our lives. She writes:
The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large.
Trust it. Keep breathing.
This sentence has been the living-and-breathing, thumping, rushing heart of my practice and my teaching and my writing ever since. It speaks so much truth. Reminds me of the universality of suffering, big and small. And having a child certainly makes me realize that the way my heart breaks when he suffers offers me the vastness of the entire universe in one breath.
In one plum.
The cherries are ripening, too. I didn't even realize we HAD a cherry tree until I took Duke out one morning to harvest the ever-zooming plums and turned around to see cherries on the tree across the yard. We went out this morning and tasted them. They're soft and fruity and not tart at all. I've got a recipe buried somewhere for an old cherry bundt cake. I think it called for scary cherry-flavored gelatin or something else gross. We will adapt it. But there will definitely be plum and cherry crisps coming out of this oven as soon as I can get a few minutes alone with my paring knife in the kitchen.
It's been a nerdy pleasure to wash and dry and pack and share the plums over the past two weeks. Seeing the delight on students' faces when they bite into one out of the bowl after class. We took a bowlful into the pediatrician's office last Friday and the nurses lit up.
It's such a selfish thing. I'm embarrassed to admit how good it makes me feel to give them away. So much better than it makes me feel to eat them.
And yes, it's a cheesy-ass yoga cliche to talk about how one tiny action can ripple out to affect others. The whole butterfly effect idea, you know? That whole "as within, as without" idea. That we start small by creating peace and joy and tranquility on the micro level, on our mats, in our own minds, and then, sure enough, that stillness ripples out until it creates peace and joy and tranquility on the macro level.
Sounds dreamy and totally unrealistic, eh.
But. Hot damn.
It might just be right.
(Of course it's right.)
I can't stop thinking about how some anonymous person planted those trees decades ago; what, 20 or 30 years, maybe? I don't know fruit trees very well. But they planted them, and maybe watered them a few times, and then left, with no expectation of return on their investment. And look at the joy, the magnified joy, that has come of that simple little action!! Incredible.
The little things matter.
And maybe they aren't so little.
The other day while Duke slept, I read this article from the NYT. In "Mow The Lawn," Roger Cohen writes:
I’ve grown suspicious of the inspirational. It’s overrated. I suspect duty — that half-forgotten word — may be more related to happiness than we think. Want to be happy? Mow the lawn. Collect the dead leaves. Paint the room. Do the dishes. Get a job. Labor until fatigue is in your very bones. Persist day after day. Be stoical. Never whine. Think less about the why of what you do than getting it done.I love this. And not just because it's labor-friendly. Or embodied. Or populist. But because it's so very Zen.
I remember the excitement of being about 10 years old and learning how to mow the lawn. We lived on a good quarter-acre lot and it required a fair amount of mowing. My dad always had a fleet of half-working John Deere riding lawn mowers, and one day he taught me how to drive.
It was thrilling.
I was driving! A moving vehicle! By myself! Under the sun!
I remember telling my preteen self: "Don't ever forget how exciting this is. Don't ever take this freedom for granted. This ability to drive a lawn mower all by yourself. Don't ever forget."
Well, of course I did.
And after a few years of mowing the lawn singing Rodgers & Hammerstein showtunes at the top of my lungs under that prairie sky, I graduated to a shitty little Dodge Omni. And I experienced that same moment of incredible liberation, of revelation, the joy of getting behind a wheel and going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, by myself.
And again I told myself: "Don't you ever take this for granted. Don't you ever forget the rush of being alone in a car going wherever you want like a grown-up. Don't ever forget how in this moment there's nothing else in the world you could imagine would ever make you so happy again."
And, of course I did.
And the wild joy passed.
And what was once thrilling (mowing the lawn! driving a shitty hatchback!) became mundane, run-of-the-mill, not enough.
I grew sick of getting bruises on my knees when the riding mower's front wheel lurched into unseen gopher holes, barreling my body forward.
I grew jealous of my high school friends who drove fancy new 1996 Honda Accords.
The world kept turning. Buddhism calls this the universal experience of lack, of dukkha (suffering, or restlessness) that comes of desire; the kind that leaves you craving and wanting more. The kind that makes you think there's always something bigger, better, more fulfilling, more exciting,
I've been thinking about this of late. I think about it in the mornings when I wake up and wish I were gazing at the Mediterranean in some sparkling Greek resort instead of stumbling into the kitchen to make coffee. I think of it when I'm wiping sunflower butter and brown rice off the floor and feeling like a janitor. I think of it when I wake for the 10th time that night to a crying restless feverish little man who wants only to be nursed and held and loved, and I'm so very tired, and my reserves are empty, and I wonder if we will ever feel rested again.
But there are always moments — moments like the ones under the plum tree — wherein I pull back and really see it all with clear eyes and it's all Vishnu, it's all God, it's simplicity, it's the quiet daily holiness that reminds me how sacred this ordinary existence really is. Vishnu the Preserver, he in Hindu mythology who governs our unsexy day-to-day grinds, the God of small things, the Zen-like quality of mundane sacrality that comes in the peeling of the potatoes and the picking of the plums and the mowing of the lawn.
Our plum tree has a few days left, max. The ground beneath is covered now with rotting fruit. Maybe we'll see a few through til the weekend, if we're lucky. The cherries will be done soon, too, and then, other than a middling fig tree, that'll be it til next June.
So you love it while you've got it, knowing it will always, all, pass.
And you remind yourself: Don't you ever take this for granted. Don't you ever forget how in this moment there's nothing else in the world you could imagine would ever make you so happy again.
And you know you'll forget.
But you do it anyway.