Baby, I Can Drive My Car

This morning I noticed that the color of the woods are slowly turning as the leaves offer their first hint that season’s change is coming soon. A few days ago a new fawn joined the family of deer that enjoy an evening snack outside our door. And last week I drove to the Lowe’s in Waynesboro all by myself.

That’s a bigger deal than you think.

Like any sixteen-year-old growing up in rural Pennsylvania I loved the freedom that having my drivers license represented. But I don’t know that I ever loved driving. It was a skill I needed if I wanted to get from home to Becky’s house, or choir rehearsal, or to Bake Oven Knob. I was never afraid of driving but it was less of a joy and more of a necessary chore. It always made me a little nervous.

I didn’t become afraid of driving until four years ago when my black Honda CRV, with me behind the wheel, was rammed from behind at a red light and totaled on Oregon Expressway just a minute away from my former home in Palo Alto. After that accident, an accident in which I was not injured, being in a car left me hyper-vigilant, white knuckled and close to panic. It was almost tolerable when I was behind the wheel but deepened when I was a passenger. Behind the wheel I had some control. As a passenger all control was relinquished. 

This fear had a huge and controlling impact on my life. I missed art exhibits in San Francisco I was desperate to see. I turned down party invitations and gatherings with friends. I said ‘no’ to going to the movies. I avoided almost every event where driving was involved even when my heart wanted something different. But to go anywhere required time for me to prepare mentally. 

There were exceptions, of course. A two-hour drive with a friend to attend an art workshop was doable because I had time to talk myself down from the edge. I had support from my friend who commiserated with my fear and who assured me that the SUV she was driving was an indestructible tank. And then there was the drive Ben and I made up the Pacific coast to Sea Ranch. The deep anxiety I experienced navigating the twisty, fog shrouded road on the final leg of our journey there was the price I paid for an exceptionally beautiful weekend on the sunlit ocean’s edge.

But this was no way to live. I was determined to leave my fear behind in California. I was not going to allow my fear of driving to control my life in Virginia. 

About a month ago I made my first trip to the Harris Teeter Market two miles down Rockfish Gap from our new home. And even though when I leave Harris Teeter I have to make a left hand turn onto what can sometimes be a somewhat busy two-lane road, I survived. I’ve been going to Harris Teeter a few times a week ever since. Even when we don’t need anything. Just for the practice. 

My next challenge arrived ten days ago when Ben needed to catch the train to DC. He offered to Uber to the station but I insisted we take the car. I wanted the challenge of navigating my way home. I could do that. Or I could shake off a little fear. I chose the latter and set Waze for the nearest Whole Foods. And again, I survived. I also survived two days ago when his train arrived back in Charlottesville and I was there to meet him. I can’t remember the last time I was there to meet Ben after a business trip. I didn’t know how much I missed doing that.

Remember when you were sixteen and you passed your drivers test? That’s how going to Whole Foods, doing the food shopping and then driving the twenty minutes home felt to me. That’s how finding my way to the train station felt. That’s how going to Dollar General and then all the way to Waynesboro felt. Such simple, ordinary things. Still, it was as if someone was handing me the literal car key to my freedom. That someone was me.

I still have some ways to go. I haven’t driven to Charlottesville ‘proper’ or navigated finding parking near the Pedestrian Mall. But I know that I will. There are too many things I want to do. Too many experiences I no longer want to put on hold. 

Do you have a fear you’ve been trying to shake? What steps could you take to begin letting go of that fear?


Tell Your Joyful Story

Our experiences shape us. Define who we are. Our experiences influence our perspective on life. And the stories we keep of these experiences are important to share. Sharing stories from our life with others builds deep connections that otherwise may have never been made.

That’s what drew me to Guided Autobiography (GAB) and that’s why I lead 6-week Guided Autobiography workshops four times a year.

But there’s a problem with Guided Autobiography. The themes we are presented with more often than not lead us to explore in 800 words or less moments that are sad or heartbreaking. And while sharing our heartbreak helps us to process the event that caused our heartbreak, for our September session of Guided Autobiography I’ve decided we’re going to take a different approach.

We’re going to process our moments of joy. Because those moments, too, shape our perspective on life. Our next GAB workshop will offer themes that encourage us to recall experiences that made us happy. That brought us joy. Experiences that surprised us with a positive outcome.

There are a few spaces left in our Guided Autobiography: Lean into Joy workshop. The workshop begins on Thursday, September 15th from 2-3:30 PM PT/5-6:30 PM ET. Registration is as simple as an email. Tuition is on a sliding scale between $60-$120. Once I receive payment via check or PayPal you’ll receive GAB’s Zoom link.

Our past is filled with profound experiences that shaped us into the people we are today. Isn’t it time to remember the joyful ones?

A short video we more details about Guided Autobiography plus one of my essays written for GAB.

Finding Awe

There’s a wooded area across the street from our kitchen door. I like to stand on the patio while the coffee brews in the morning, or in the evening after dinner, to see if the deer have arrived. They like to eat the grass and weeds that surround a small pond and I love to watch. I hope I never stop being delighted when I see them.

Annular Eclipse, Pyramid Lake, Nevada 2012

One evening last week when I stepped outside to look for the mother deer and her fawn, the sound of cicadas and croaking frogs was so loud I called Ben to listen with me. It sounded like a symphony of bugs and amphibians tuning their instruments before a concert. I hope I never grow accustomed to their music.

There are bats where we live. On our first week here we saw dozens over our house. They were dining on flying insects and then dancing through the sky to find their next juicy mortal. We haven’t seen that many at once since, but now and again I’ll see one or two grabbing a snack. It surprises me every time. I hope seeing a bat in the sky above my house never stops surprising me.

These experiences create a sense of wonderment and awe in me. And for that I’m grateful because sometimes it feels like we’ve lost our ability to be awed. Sometimes it feels like we’re too distracted by the noise of the world or too jaded by the onslaught of constant information to find time for quiet moments of awe.

But these moments of awe are beneficial to our well being. The sense of awe we feel when we’re gazing at a star filled sky, for instance, or witnessing an eclipse, creates in us a sense of ‘small self’ and deepens our sense of connection with others.

What experiences elicit awe in you?


What Better Time is There to Practice?

What would happen if you gave yourself this gift of stillness? What would happen if you let the world take care of itself while you take care of yourself for these few, brief moments?

It’s out of character for me to ask questions during those last ten minutes of class, when we assume our final pose for the day, savasana, and prepare for guided relaxation. But at the end of a recent class, and even though my guided relaxation style leans more toward a body-scan sort of script, that’s what I did. I was hoping the questions might open everyone’s heart toward the idea of it being all right to rest without judgement of what’s happening in the body or with the breath.

Some might disagree but I’ve always believed that those final moments in our asana practice are the most important and the most difficult. We are asking ourselves to balance stillness with presence. We are letting go of the expectations we place upon ourselves. We are doing our best to not think about what we’re having for lunch.

But when we feel agitated and when we know we have a long list of projects waiting for us after that final namaste’, assuming savasana and resting in present-moment stillness is challenging. Yet what better time is there to practice? 

When we are in a brick and mortar studio the idea of a practice feels somehow more available. There are few distractions and the quiet, intentional atmosphere of the studio offers a focus not always available to us when we are rolling our mat out on the living room floor and sharing a virtual class with fifteen others. And while we count the dust bunnies under the bookcase from downward dog and find cobwebs between the paddles of the ceiling fan our mind wanders and our ability to hold our attention on the sensations in our body and the movement of our breath wavers. 

And so I ask again: what better time is there to remain present in and with our practice?

By the way, I understand this challenge because it’s my challenge, too.

There’s a level of loneliness to the online class that doesn’t exist when we’re together in a studio. That’s why I believe it is important to treat our virtual yoga space with the same reverence that we treat the studio yoga space. To remember that we are sharing our practice with others and that while we apart physically we are united energetically.

What would that take to make that shift? 


I Like the Idea of Poetry

I’ll be honest. I like the idea of poetry. I like to think I have the intellectual capacity to enjoy poetry. Years ago, when Kay Ryan was Poet Laureate of our country I listened to an interview with her on All Things Considered where she read some of her work. There was something about her writing – maybe the subtle humor or the economy of words. As soon as Ryan’s interview was over I ordered her book Say Uncle. And because I ordered the book online rather than driving to my local bookstore (which should have been my first choice) I never gave myself the chance to change my mind. The slim volume arrived in days as expected. I opened it once and then, for years, it sat on my shelf. A visual reminder that I like the idea of poetry. 

A few days ago I received a package in the mail from one of my best friends in high school. Back then she was the person I wanted to be. Intelligent. I mean – Merit Scholar intelligent. Funny. Funny in that subtle sort of way that sneaks up and then the next thing you know cafeteria milk is spewing from your nose. Supportive and kind. I know that memories shift and change – but all these decades later I still remember how, in high school, in her own quiet way, she made me feel that I could do anything. I didn’t believe her, of course, but it felt wonderful to have someone in my life who saw the light in me. The thing is, she didn’t know she was doing this for me. It was just who she was. Who she is. 

We lost touch in the 1980’s and 90’s but reconnected around the time that I returned from Ireland. When my sister died alone and estranged from my mother and me, it was this dear friend who opened the door to her home and helped me find Margaret’s grave. 

And so it was no surprise and it put a smile on my face when I picked up the package from my doorstep and saw it was from her. My first thought after ripping open the padded manila envelope was, ‘Geez – that’s a big book of poetry!’. But the card accompanying the gift explained that the poet was local and was one of her favorites. In the past she had sent me books by Annie Dillard and Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids – books that I loved. I knew she wouldn’t send me anything I couldn’t handle. Plus the poet had written this inside the front cover for me:

Mimm! I hope these mad moments in verse hold a song for you. Welcome home!

What was I to do? Given that I like the idea of poetry I had no option but to sit down, open the book, and read.

The book is Voodoo Libretto: New & Selected Poems by Tim Seibles, who happens to be a past Poet Laureate of Virginia.

And now, each morning when my brain is fresh (I tried the evening but by then my brain can no longer absorb nuance, cadence and beauty) I open Voodoo Libretto to a random page and read a poem. Seibles’ autobiographical writing is sexy and funny, surprising and relevant. Heartbreaking. On the printed page the words have a jazz cool visual rhythm and when I begin to read my eyes carry me and I can’t seem to stop. 

Curious? Maybe start with his Alison Wolff. And maybe, in a few weeks of mornings I’ll need to diversify a bit and open that slim little book by Kay Ryan. Or Basho if I’m in the mood for three lines of Haiku. Or Ferlinghetti.

Because I like the idea of poetry.

And I’m so happy that my high school friend, who I looked up to with awe in 1974 and still do now, knows that about me.


Being Strong. Being Gentle.

This morning I’m thinking about what it means to be strong. How do we balance owning our strength – our physical and our emotional strength – with keeping a gentle, nurturing heart? It seems easier somehow to be strong for others, doesn’t it? To care for others. How do we care for ourselves? Are we strong advocates for ourselves when we need to be? Are we gentle with ourselves when gentleness is required? Can we say ‘no’? Can we ask for help?

Sometimes, when I’m facilitating a yoga class, I get into my head. I begin to think I’m not doing enough. That I’m not challenging students with more difficult asana or sequences. That everyone is thinking, ‘not this again’. When I fall far enough into my head I like to tell myself I’m a fraud.

Is there something in your life that triggers similar negative self-talk?

After a bit of wallowing I remember that I am not the only yoga teacher in the world and yet an amazing group of individuals continue to show up for my classes. And then I remember how long I’ve been teaching and how much I’ve studied and how those years have created a specific approach and a specific philosophy that I embrace. My gentle heart catches me and I remember how strong I am.

Wouldn’t it be great if we always felt strong? If our gentle heart always caught us before we trip and fall?

In my practice this week, on and off the mat, my intention is to do less but to feel more. I want to notice when I’m moving through life from a place of owning my strength but I also want to notice when I need to treat myself with gentleness. In other words, I want to pay attention.

How will you pay attention this week?


Touching Life: Change Takes Patience

Bruce the Cat is living his best life.

I can’t say the same for his favorite human companion. It’s been a wonderful and an exhausting month but I won’t feel at home until my brain can shift its thinking from ‘I moved to Virginia’ towards ‘I live in Virginia’. My body is here but my energy is somewhere over a cornfield in Iowa and until the two can meet this sense of being unmoored will stay with me. It’s as if there’s a glitch and my spirit is biding its time somewhere in the air between California and Crozet, like a little spinning rainbow waiting for the new software update to download. But that’s what a move is like, isn’t it? The body and the spirit need space to forge their alignment. Until then, balance and equilibrium is off kilter. Just ask my Vrksasana.

Change takes time. We know that. It might be a cross country move, a bad habit we’re trying to break or a new perspective we’re trying to find. Change takes time. And if we don’t see change for what it is – an opportunity to practice patience – then the disappointment we feel when the new conditions we’re expecting don’t arrive fast enough can mess with our head. It has definitely messed with mine. This past month – in between the excitement and moments of joy – I’ve been irritable and frustrated. I’ve lost focus. I’ve had trouble sleeping. To be clear, I haven’t once questioned our decision to relocate but the firm grip I had on the vision for my life and the purpose I knew was mine has slipped away. I don’t yet know who I am in this new home. And my brain won’t be able to transition to ‘I live in Virginia’ until all the things I can’t seem to find – including me – are found.

Change has its own rhythm. It’s own schedule. 

I need to take to heart the words I write. Change is an opportunity to practice patience.

Which means I need to stop worrying about the damaged refrigerator sitting like a monolith in the middle of my kitchen and take joy in the truth that there’s a new, undamaged refrigerator in its place. By next week it the broken monolith will be gone. By next week shelves for the garage will arrive and trying to find the car won’t require navigating a maze of cardboard. After that the boxes still unpacked will be open. And after that we’ll have a few chairs for the patio and will be able to enjoy hot tea in the cool mornings as the sun rises. I’ll begin to learn how I fit in this new place, this new world.

Until then I will continue to repeat the mantra ‘Change is an opportunity to practice patience’. And the first place I will practice patience is with myself.


Touching Life: Notes from the New Homestead

On Saturday our red CRV was filled with flattened cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, assorted other papers and questionable plastics. After an eighteen mile drive we had arrived at the McIntire Recycling Center, where Ben and I met a man named John.

John knew everything about recycling and was eager to show us what from our bounty of trash we could distribute among his many large green crushing machines and what would be coming home with us, destined for landfill. He taught us, for example, about what plastics are useful to the composite deck making industry: ‘if it stretches and doesn’t stick to itself they can use it..’. So our bubble wrap and bread bags were a ‘go’ but the mountains of cling film the movers wrapped our furniture in were, unfortunately, a ‘no’

This was a very hands on, prepare to do the hard work, old school recycling experience that forced Ben and I to consider how much we consume and to reflect on the environmental cost of our move across the country. It was hot and sticky work that was eye opening and, with all that we learned, sorta fun in that ‘I can’t wait to get home to take a shower’ sorta way. 

Home for Ben, Bruce the Cat and me is now a pre-planned suburbia, the end townhome in a short row of townhomes that wiggle uphill like caterpillars enjoying a juicy nasturtium leaf toward our ever blooming ‘town center’. And if you’re old enough to remember ‘little boxes made of ticky tacky’ then you get the idea. But we love where we are. We are surrounded by mountains and wooded trails. The view from our kitchen deck looks toward a thick forest that is bound on one side by bright single family homes and a crisp white cement walkway. The difference between the two conditions – one put in order by man and the other by nature – is a constant reminder of our impact on the earth. And somehow it is teaching Ben and I to be better caretakers.

A few evenings ago, just before dusk, I was looking out from my kitchen toward the shadowed woods and saw a slim, young deer enjoying a meal of wild weeds and flowers as she made her way down the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the forest. I called Ben over and as we watched we saw the deer’s fawn – not more than a few days old, all spots and gangly legs – run to catch up to its mother. We watched as they made their way around the pond to disappear back into the thick brush. Another reminder that Ben and I are temporary stake holders. Interlopers.

When we first arrived at our new home we noticed that we had some tenants already living in a vent on the back patio. Two Eastern bluebirds had built a nest and were nurturing their newly hatched brood. A few days after our furniture arrived the bluebirds lost one of their young when it fell from the nest. The next day they lost another. But the parents continued to fly back and forth, feeding what children remained a constant stream of grubs and grasshoppers.

Until Saturday. 

I found Bruce the Cat staring through the glass door in a state of high excitement and agitation. I was happy that Bruce had something to entertain him until I realized what was happening. On the patio was a disaster of Hitchcockian proportions. Two dozen sparrows perched on our railing, harassing the bluebirds. Their last two fledglings had been pulled from the nest and were now writhing on the patio floor. At this point they had feathers but I don’t think they knew how to fly. Their suffering and distress was horrifying. In a panic, one fledgling ran and fell off the patio and down a full story to the earth below. The parents continue to fight off the attacking sparrows to protect their last remaining baby while the sparrow spectators watched in what I imagined was bloodthirsty glee.

When it became obvious that there was nothing more to see the sparrows disappeared. But the parents were still in distress and the young bird was still suffering. Ben and I did not know what to do. Put it out of its misery? Wait for the inevitable? What we decided to do was to cut a hole in the end of a shoe box to create a shelter for the baby bird. We covered the shoebox with a plastic bag and built a sort of dam in front of the box with a rolled towel in order to keep out the rain.

What happened next was astounding. Within an hour the parents were feeding their last offspring an endless meal of grubs and grasshoppers again. Ben and I feel privileged that we were able to witness this remarkable process of feeding, healing and protection for two days. 

Today the box looked undisturbed but there was no sign of the fledgling’s parents. When an hour went by and there was still no activity I ventured out and looked in the box. 

It was empty.

I need to begin this week believing that we saved that young bluebird’s life and that at dawn, with encouragement from its parents, the fledgling spread its wings and took flight. That might not be true but it’s what I need to believe.

I have one more story to share.

On Sunday afternoon Ben and I thought dinner at the Thai restaurant just a five minute walk away would be nice. Delicious food. Friendly service. A mojito that will knock your socks off. What could go wrong?

An hour earlier it had rained. As we enjoyed our drunken noodles and tum yum soup the sky was still grey but there were slices of sunshine. It was only after we paid our bill that the clouds turned black and ominous. We began our short walk home in faltering sunlight. A block later we stayed just two steps ahead of the thick plops of water that began to follow us down the sidewalk. It was less like rain and more like a slow leak in an old ceiling. We were still confident we would make it home. Besides, we had umbrellas. As if they were going beat back the onslaught about to happen.

Just past the roundabout the skies ripped open. And I mean ripped opened. We ran, we screamed, we laughed, we submitted to the inevitable. Ben’s flat cap blew from his head at the same time that our umbrella turned inside out. We ran back to catch the hat before it was lost to the deluge. By the time we reached our doorstep there was not one square inch that wasn’t soaked. It was magical.

I can’t remember having so much fun in the rain.

Over this past week I’ve touched life in ways I never have never touched life before.


Love and Home

I’ve been thinking about love and what makes a home.

The moving van arrived four days after we did. Our townhome has a ground floor garage and spare room (the ‘Mimm Cave’), a first floor open plan living room and kitchen, and a second floor primary bedroom and two smaller bedrooms – an office for Ben and our ‘yoga studio’. Boxes were easy to carry to their designated room. I’d packed over one hundred and sixty and all but a few were small enough and light enough for this sixty-three year old post-menopausal woman to lift. Maneuvering the furniture, however, proved an issue for our intrepid moving team.

Navigating the tight corners and two flights of stairs was an impossible task. After some discussion, the quartet – by now soaked in sweat – drove the truck further into our short driveway and parked at an angle. Two stood on the roof of the truck, which sagged under their weight. One stood on the small deck off our kitchen and the forth ran between the back of the truck, up one flight of stairs and back down again as together they hoisted furniture over the deck’s railing. Three hours later the truck was empty and the house was full.

Four days later Ben and I, along with our brave feline companion Bruce are adjusting to our new life. And I’m left thinking about love and what makes a home.

As I write it is 7:00 AM on a cloudy Sunday in Virginia. The house is quiet. Ben is still sleeping upstairs and Bruce is enjoying breakfast. I’m sitting in my living room, which is filled with soft morning light. Everything that I can see – the chairs, the sofa, the painting on the wall, the tea chest, the brass lamp and baskets – are gifts from someone else. So even though I am alone right now I’m surrounded by the energetic imprint left behind by the friends who offered these objects to me. I can feel the joy and spirt of generosity generated by giving. 

But I’ve been given unseen things, too, which have their own sweet vibration, like the way bright fuchsia and searing red bounce against one another when they are side by side.

All these energies, from the seen and the unseen, have infused our new home with love. And for the first time in a long time, I have space in my heart to feel it. 

So thank you. I feel blessed. Not only for this love-filled home, but for you.


Last Time Land

Last Sunday Ben turned left onto Fruitvale Avenue and I began to cry. The afternoon had turned from hot and humid to bright and breezy. We spent it enjoying cold pizza from Terun and chilled ice tea in Pat and Bob’s garden while their eight-month old Golden Doodle ran in playful circles around us. A few hours later we stood at their door not wanting to leave but knowing it was time. I wanted to hug them both – a simple gesture of love and affection – but Pat is immunocompromised and we were not willing to risk COVID. The best I could do to let these dear friends know how my life changed from knowing them was to say,

“I’m hugging you in my heart.”

Pat replied, “I know.”

The day that we move to Virginia is two weeks away. And now we can’t help but say, ‘that’s the last time we’ll grab coffee at Printer’s Cafe’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll be up in the City’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll sit in their garden with a glass of summer wine’. In other words, sadness and excitement have locked horns. We’re living in Last Time Land.

Last Time Land is an odd place. It’s full of sun bright joy – like the joy felt a few Tuesdays ago. That was the clear blue sky morning when a few dozen friends who have been gathering with me to practice yoga on Zoom gathered instead in Susan’s garden. It was less a ‘going away’ party and more a celebration saturated with love and appreciation for one another. I’m so happy that morning happened. It was an experience I didn’t know I needed.

It’s difficult to describe the other side of Last Time Land. It’s like a deep sigh more than anything. It’s not sad or melancholy. It’s a letting go.

Like the letting go of a good job with good people and where I learned so much. But I’m not sad to be leaving my work at the pain clinic because the space I once occupied there is now occupied by someone else. Nothing has ended, only grown.

It’s the true endings that make this side of Last Time Land difficult to navigate. I had a true ending this week. The experience that came to an end this week was one that created so much possibility for me and over the past ten years influenced so much of who I am as a human and how I walk through the world. I feel a deep sense of loss in this true ending.

A true ending creates a void and an unknowing that leaves us with an imbalance that can’t be made right until we sit in that void and grieve. But in time the void closes, grief softens, balance is regained and surety in the journey forward is found.