Me, too.

CIMG2733The hashtag ‘me, too’ isn’t enough and I am not man-bashing. I’m asking the question, “when are boys taught that certain behaviors towards girls are all right and who does the teaching?”

As a girl I was taught to be either flattered, to shrug it off because ‘boys will be boys’ or to wonder what I did wrong. And now I’m asking the question, “when are girls taught that being objectified by a boy is something to aspire to and who does the teaching?”

I was taught by observing my mother and my older sister, their behavior with men and the behavior of the men they chose to have in their lives. But I was also taught by what I watched on television, by the books I read, and by the screaming silence.

How can we teach our children? By no longer being silent.

I’ve decided to share seven experiences that shaped my life.

  1. When I was a pre-teen my first step-father liked to wrestle with me. We wrestled on his and my mother’s bed. He always pulled on my training bra until it opened.
  2. When I was a teenager my second-step father told me I had nice breasts.
  3. Around that same time, a local boy told me he needed help with is homework and asked if I would come to his house. When I arrived he talked me into crawling through the hay bale tunnel he had built with a friend. The friend was waiting in the fort, trapping me in the middle. I managed to talk them out of whatever they planned to do, came home and took a bath.
  4. When I was a senior in high school, a member of the football team stopped me in the hallway to the gym and asked me to unbutton my blouse. I remember thinking how stupid his request was and called his bluff. He was disappointed I was wearing a bra.
  5. When I was a college freshman a plumber who was at my apartment to fix a radiator finished the job and then thought it was appropriate to hug me and grab my bottom.
  6. Several years ago I was in an psychologically abusive relationship. I was called ugly. I was called stupid and told I would amount to nothing. My words and opinions were laughed at. Why didn’t I leave? I was beginning to believe him and I was afraid of his reaction if I began to pack my bags.
  7. A few months ago I was in a local hardware store having a key made. A man working there thought it was all right for him to lean his body against my body and pull me uncomfortably close.

I know that it goes both ways. Women are capable of questionable behavior and sexual predation, too. But I can tell you that in my fifty-nine years I have never wrestled with a boy to feel him up. I’ve never told a man he has a nice package. I have never trapped a boy in a hay bale fort nor have I ever asked a boy to pull down his pants. I have never hugged a plumber so that I could grab his bottom. I’ve never frightened a man until he believed there was no hope. I have never leaned my body against a stranger in order to pull him close.

There are moments in my life when I made poor choices. So let’s teach our children about making choices. Let’s teach our children. Let’s not be silent anymore.


The Strike

pall-mall_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqzyQdcCpPOOS38rrQ0wuMX6qLSLVZhK3e2pU3liKIgNIIsn’t it funny how just when we are beginning to believe that our feelings or thoughts will remain the same forever, they change like the direction of the wind? How does that happen? Is it the food we eat? An unexpected smile from a stranger? A happy memory that floats to the surface or a dream that sweetens and soothes our subconscious? Maybe it’s the perfect yoga practice or a soothing few moments of quiet meditation.

All I know is that there has been a welcome shift. I have too many good things piled on my plate to spend time in the stinky muck of overcooked wallow.

I didn’t find it easy to write my last post’s pity fest. To be honest, I haven’t found writing easy at all. The world is overwhelmed and overwhelming. Stepping away from a writing practice was my way of holding space for others to tell more important stories.

But all stories are important. Even the small stories because they are the stories that bring us together. They are the stories we’ve all experienced.

When I was a girl – I may have still been in elementary school – my mother decided to go on strike. She set up camp on the orange Levitt Brothers sofa in our living room with our black and white television console, the afghan my great aunt had crocheted and the coffee table pulled close. My mother piled the coffee table high with supplies including several good novels, a few packs of Pall Malls, a ceramic ash tray and her ever-present plastic mug of black percolated coffee. She was never without that mug. It was white with a turquoise rim. The inside of the mug was stained dirty brown by endless cups of Maxwell House and so, from time to time, she would scrub it clean with Ajax.

My mother’s strike lasted at least a week and possibly two. During this time she refused to cook or clean.

My sister and I were old enough to walk ourselves to the bus stop in the morning and to heat up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup at night and in all honesty our mother probably roused herself enough to make certain her children remained alive. It’s possible, too, that Margaret and I enjoyed the brief respite from rules and order.

What I remember most about my mother’s strike is coming home from school in the afternoon and seeing her stretched out on the couch watching Mike Douglas.

I also remember the cold silence that rose above the sound of the television and that made me walk through the house as though I was walking on shards of shattered ice.

As a girl I didn’t understand the anger between my parents or why my mother might want to teach us the lesson of what our lives might be like without her. But now, looking back, I think she believed there was no outlet for her unhappiness and no cure for her invisibility except for that orange Levitt Brothers sofa, her stack of books, a lukewarm cup of coffee to go along with her smoldering Pall Mall and Mike Douglas in the afternoon.

This is the point in the story where I am supposed to describe the lesson we all learned from my mother’s strike. The thing is, the strike ended and nobody noticed. I came home from school on a sticky afternoon and my mother was in the kitchen, once again resigned to standing over the stove with a spoon in one hand and cigarette in the other, exhaling a cloud of grey over the evening’s meal.

We didn’t know then what we know now. Maybe that is the lesson.

 

 


Satellites, Stars and the Stories We Tell

IMG_0451The last thing I remember is whale watching in May. And then it was September. That’s how quickly summer passed.

Ben and I were on a mission late last spring. We’d been working long hours and needed some time together. We needed an adventure. Until May I’d never been whale watching (don’t tell anyone but I’ve never been to Yosemite, either). We chose a 4-hour excursion with a company in Santa Cruz over an 8-hour journey out to the Farallon Islands.

Our morning began on a positive note with our first sighting just moments after leaving the dock. It was also our last sighting. I rode the waves for the next two hundred and twenty minutes with an ever-optimistic dramamine induced smile on my face while Ben tried his best to pretend he wasn’t miserable.

Back on dry land we warmed our chilly, wind-beaten bones with steaming clam chowder in a bread bowl and washed our dashed expectations down with beer.

And then, as I mentioned, it was September.

I learned a lesson that May morning about putting too much hope on circumstances well out of my control. That lesson stayed with me for one hundred and six days.

My excitement for August’s total solar eclipse began four years ago from the side of a road in Queensland, Australia about two seconds after totality signaled its end with a diamond flash of white light. Last year, after studying eclipse maps and weather patterns, Ben and I booked our hotel on the Nebraska plains and ordered our dark glasses. They were top of the line glasses. No cardboard frames for us.
But when fate intervened with an offer too good to be true we canceled our plans and chose to stay home. I was fine. Ben and I made the decision together and, besides, we’d share a partial eclipse from our little porch.

It’s true that when everyone I know headed to Oregon I began to feel the pang of regret.

But I was fine.

About ten days before the moon was due to pass in front of the sun Amazon sent me an urgent email. Our fancy glasses were worthless. That couldn’t be right. How could Amazon sell such a dangerously faulty product? Besides, I’d already worn them to look at the sun and didn’t go blind. But one test with my iPhone flashlight app proved them right. The glasses were tossed.

No problem. We’d build pinhole viewers. I was fine.

On the morning of the eclipse, it was cloudy in Palo Alto. The only image we managed to see was a multitude of fuzzy crescents through the holes of a kitchen colander.

I was inconsolable. Ridiculously inconsolable. Thinking about it now still makes me cry.

I learned a lesson that day about putting too much hope on circumstances well out of my control.

And then it was September.

I’ll admit it. Summer sort of sucked. I didn’t write. I didn’t see a whale breech. I didn’t get to share the spiritual high that totality invokes in the middle of a Nebraska wheat field with my beloved. And if my next sentence is all about how much worse the summer was for a whole bunch of other people in the world then I am completely invalidating my experience.

And where’s the lesson in that?

The lesson is here: life is not the story we write for ourselves in our head. Life is something else. Life is out there waiting. Life is out there being weird and unpredictable and funny and full of sorrow. Life is right now. This moment.

Our yoga practice asks us to be mindful. Teaches us to be present. When it’s September 2017 and I’m already making plans for the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse in Syracuse, New York it’s obvious that I’m missing something.

I’m missing the lessons yoga teaches. I’m missing life.


A Day of Rest

fullsizeoutput_3d4What does a day of rest look like? Close your eyes. Imagine it. But be practical. Given everything you have around you right now – the blessings, the responsibilities, the attachments, the gifts – what does your day of rest look like? Is it something you can create right here and now?

My day of rest begins alone with the dawn for an hour’s walk at Shoreline. It’s my meditation, these walks. My day of rest ends with Ben and I together, sharing a glass of wine on our little porch.

What happens in between?

If it is Sunday we go to the Farmer’s Market just a block away. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been there in the three years I’ve lived on this street. The truth is I have an aversion to meandering. I can’t stroll. And that seems to be what people do at farmers’ markets. People meander, stroll and stop to compare prices of broccoli between two identical looking organic stalls before waving to friends half a block away who are sampling some juicy white fleshed peaches.

But it’s my day of rest and I’m happy to ‘fake it ‘till I make it’. I slow my natural gallop to an easy trot. Pretty soon I’m learning everything there is to know about raw brined olives in a lecture delivered by a stranger from Half Moon Bay while Ben decides between the oils the stall owner has poured into tiny paper communion cups.
An hour later we have two canvas bags filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to last us the week and 12 ounces of expensive extra virgin with which to dress the heirloom tomatoes.

And I have learned how to meander and stroll.

On my day of rest, which is Ben’s day of rest, too, we walk home to put our bounty away and then head out again for a late brunch. We find a place within walking distance where we can sit outside bathed in sunlight and surrounded by the joy of children running circles around their parents’ legs and the bright colors of summer. We linger over the meal and soak in the sounds of life – sounds so different from the ones to which we are accustomed. Layers of happy conversation, the bossy ‘cawk’ of a crow, the yip of a curly-haired doodle dog, the occasional cry of an infant. The sounds of life. A different sort of music.

On our day of rest we return from brunch and settle with a cup of tea. We read for leisure the books we started months ago. Books with pages made of paper that we turn one by one. Or we walk to the movie theater not twenty minutes away and take in an early matinee with all the other people who don’t like to stay out too late on a Sunday. Or we nap. It’s our day of rest. We can do anything we want.

Towards the end of our day of rest, Ben and I open that bottle of Pinot that’s been waiting for a moment like this. We sit on our little porch and talk to one another like two people deeply in love and separated for too long by work and commitments to other things. We talk to one another with real words that float up from our hearts and linger in the air around us. The sky changes from bright blue to dusky pink and pale orange.

What does your day of rest look like?


Self-care in the Time of Anger

IMG_3426I’ve been out from under the long winter of discontent I wrote about two weeks ago for a few months now and each day I feel more present. I’m standing, strong and solid. I feel familiar to myself again. What characterized my depression was the disconnect I experienced. I listened to what I was saying in conversations and was shocked by the harsh words coming from my mouth. I observed the choices I made and often asked “why?” I felt the connections with friends and family fraying no matter how hard I tried to hold on. But when that little white pill began to work it’s magic on my brain I was able to reintroduce myself to the woman I knew before I took a walk on the dark side. And I like her.

Chemistry, in the form of that pill, opened the door and let the light back in. But what now? How do I keep that light shining?

Self-care.

We live in curious times. There is anger in the air and in the constant stream of information hitting us via the news we stream, the Facebook posts we read and the Twitter streams we follow. It’s confusing. Frustrating. Exhausting. It’s hurting our health.

And that’s why self-care is a practice that is important for everyone to remember. Especially in this stressful time. Because the better we can take care of ourselves the better we will be able to take care of one another.

Here are ten changes, listed in no particular order, that I’ve put into my own self-care practice. Maybe my ideas will be a springboard for your own vision of what self-care means.
1. Exercise more. It was difficult. I didn’t want to do it. But the thing is, each day I rode my bike to the studio and every time I walked – it became easier. I’ve made it a part of my life (and don’t tell anyone but this morning I actually started jogging).
2. Sleep more. This was difficult, too. There’s always one more item to cross off the to-do list, one more email to write, one more check of social media. But good sleep hygiene – setting a regular bed time and wake-up time – keeps my mind clear and my energy levels high.
3. Play more. I am not the most spontaneous woman in the world. But I’m trying. I’m trying to be less rigid with my schedule and more open to last minute adventures like movies and walks with friends.
4. Eat more. What I mean, of course, is choosing healthy foods and eating more of them. I’ve begun spending more time in the kitchen again (the proof is here). This is a great time of year to be creative with the bright, fresh produce available at the local farmer’s market.
5. Back away from the news. This year has been nerve rattling and I spent the first few months watching the evening news every evening for hours. During the day I would check my phone for breaking headlines at every opportunity. And if I wasn’t looking at the news I was looking at Facebook. To be honest I still do spend a bit of time each day reading posts (self-care is a practice – I’m doing my best). But sometime around March I realized how much of my own life I was missing out on by watching every one else’s.
6. Choose your battles. After November 8th I tried to take it all on. I wanted to march in every march, write a dozen post cards every week, call my representatives every day. I didn’t know why I was fighting, only that I had to. It wasn’t long before battle fatigue defeated me. And now I have one or two pet issues that I focus on. Collectively, we’ll get there, but I have to choose one or two battles at a time.
7. Remember that home is where your heart is, not your office. The truth? Home is where my office is, too. Ben and I both have a little space carved out in our 600 square foot condo. Because where we live is so compact, our office spaces were an ever present reminder. What that meant is that when we at home we were in our brains working and not in our hearts living. A few months ago I pushed some furniture around, ordered some beautiful rattan screens and now when we’re at home we can keep work out of sight (and out of mind).
8. Indulge more. How do I indulge? Sometimes it’s a little piece of English Toffee from Molly Stone’s bulk bins. Sometimes it’s a mani/pedi. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extravagant, it’s a Thai massage. And sometimes it’s a simple as spending an extra hour in bed on a Sunday morning.
9. Touch more. I’m not much of a hugger, but I’m learning. When I was in high school I read an article about the power of touch and how, as our society was becoming more automated, we were losing contact with one another.
10. Love more – your work, your friends, your cat, your self.

 

 


Feeling True Again

CIMG1075Yoga has been my ‘centering place’ for thirty years – the one true place to which I turn when my soul needs to celebrate or my heart needs mending. I can stretch the blues away with a few flying dragons or settle unbridled joy by closing my eyes to breathe.

Or at least I could.

Even though I’m now on the other side of the depressive episode that turned my otherwise colorful world black and white, I struggle to find the words to describe the guilt I feel for having fallen ill and the remorse that stains my recovery.

I am a yoga teacher. Today’s ‘californicated’ version of the simple practice I embraced in 1984 promises, with a fixed smile and soft focused gaze, that with the right intention, a few appropriately placed crystals and the strike of a gong all chugged down with a bottle of organic kombucha we can keep the demons from our door and hold close our health and wellness.

I believe this. Or at least most of it. I believe in the power of yoga. I believe in a mind/body connection and that what we think affects what we feel. I have experienced the healing vibration of bells, gongs, tuning forks and even, sometimes, pretty rocks. While I don’t always choose wisely, for the most part my diet is vegetable based and, on occasion, includes the weird tasting fermented fungus otherwise known as kombucha. It’s true. I believe all these things help to sustain our health and wellness. If we’re already pretty much healthy and well.

But last year I wasn’t healthy and well. I needed an allopathic intervention of therapy and pharmaceuticals to change the course of the path I was on.

I’ve experienced three episodes of depression in the past decade. It’s possible I fought my way through the first two but more likely all three are part of the same fluctuating persistent depressive disorder. The last dip, triggered about two years ago, was the most severe and included increased anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Still, I resisted seeking help because I believed, as a yoga teacher, I had the tools to lift myself out of the dark pit I had fallen into. I thought if I could just think the right thoughts, practice enough gratitude and eat good food a bit of light would once again fill my heart. I didn’t want to admit that what was happening to me was more than a bad mood or the blues. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to heal on my own. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t yoga my way to better mental health.

I was convinced that if what I knew about yoga and complementary therapies after working in the industry for twenty-five years wasn’t enough to restore me – that if I had to resort to pharmaceutical intervention – then my practice and my teaching was based on a lie. I was a fraud. If I was a fraud, then what did my life mean?
That’s how ill I was.

I’m not alone.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, in 2014 almost 16 million adults over the age of eighteen or older had experienced at least one depressive episode in the previous twelve months. You may be one of the 40 million adults in America who suffer from debilitating anxiety. Most individuals who have anxiety are also depressed.

At the same time, we read reports about the over-prescribing of antidepressants. But if I’d not been given the prescription I’ve been taking since the beginning of winter, this summer would be looking very, very different.

When I finally let go of the idea I’ve heard so many yoga teachers express to their students – that the magical cure for what ails us can’t be found in an orange bottle of little white pills – that’s when the downhill slide I was on began to level. I filled the prescription my doctor offered and within four weeks began to smile in the morning. A few weeks later I could feel my soul warm and now, nine months on the journey, I’m writing again. I’m walking and riding my bike again. Most of all I’m laughing and loving again. I feel better than I have in many years. My yoga practice is strong and my love of teaching has blossomed.

That little white pill may have saved my life. Even if it didn’t, even if I would have finally been all right without it, this little morning pill has given me the strength to open my heart once again to all the self-care tools that have kept me strong in the past – before depression and anxiety had their way with me.

My message? If you are struggling and you think that a deeper asana practice is the cure, or that all the other tools in your self-care plan will bring you back to yourself – maybe they will. But if you suspect, or if someone suggests to you, that you may be seriously depressed, please find a doctor you trust and let them help you.
Besides loving Ben, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I feel true again.


New Year, New Practice

IMG_0168
What sort of teacher will I be this year?  What can I promise my students? What intentions should I set?

2017 marks my twenty-fourth year of teaching.  To the best of my recollection the first yoga class I taught was on behalf of Mountain View Adult Education.  Or maybe it was the Parks and Recreation department.  In any case, my ‘studio’ was a carpeted classroom filled with desks.  Every Saturday morning I arrived early to push aside them aside in order to create space for all five (on a good day) of my students.  We didn’t have mats.  Instead we rolled out towels or worked on the carpet.  We wore tee shirts and shorts and had no props or music.  This was well before yoga teachers doubled as mix masters; before the Yoga Industrial Complex entered the stratosphere .

I taught the class as I had been taught:  demonstrate, practice, refine, demonstrate and then move to the next asana.  There may have been vinyasa classes happening somewhere but not in my cloistered Iyengar yoga community.

Two and a half decades has seen tremendous change.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a twinge of nostalgia for the way things used to be.  I miss teaching for the love of teaching. Sometimes these days it feels as though there’s a competition to see who’ll be featured at the next Wonderlust gig or land the cover of Yoga Journal.

Back in the late 20th century we were so earnest. There was something so pure about it all.  There was never any hope of my surviving and thriving as a yoga teacher and that was fine. In fact, unless you were that rare breed – a studio owner (and when I began teaching the Iyengar Yoga Center was the only studio in town; Yoga Source wouldn’t open until 1994) you had no choice but to keep the day job.  Of course, back then I was a starving artist and a fledgling yoga teacher. What was I thinking? No wonder I packed it in and headed for Ireland!

But that was then and this is now.  For a time I tried to keep up with it all. I completed my 200-hour training and then a few more trainings after that. I joined Yoga Alliance.  As recently as last year I upgraded my YA designations and became a Continuing Education Provider but now I’m wondering ‘why‘?

The answer is so that I can find my place in this 21st  century iteration of yoga.  And there is a place for me – the older teacher.  I’m happy to hand off much of what modern yoga is to the more ambitious.  Knowing that I can me brings a bittersweet strength and liberation.

So. What sort of teacher will I be this year? I know I’ll continue to teach my truth.  And for what it’s worth, that is my intention and my promise.