Journeys

I’m leaving for India tomorrow.  Never in my wheelhouse, I’m a bit surprised. But life falls the way it wants to fall, no matter the plans you make. So here I am, one suitcase and a backpack in, waiting to fall asleep so that I can leave on a Monday and arrive in Bangalore on Wednesday. Everyone wonders if I plan to take a yoga class or indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. No. I have no plans to take a yoga class or to indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. I plan to experience art in Kochi, to visit Munnar, to spend a night on a houseboat and another night at the Coconut Lagoon. The advice I’ve been given by those who have been before is to “soak it all in.” I plan to be amazed and overwhelmed, inspired and humbled.

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Bruce knows something is up…

Bruce the Cat knows something is up. Not lacking in feline intelligence, he knows that when the big black boxes come out his humans are going away. He pretends to be traumatized but the truth is he will wrap his cat sitter around his de-clawed paw (not my doing – he came that way) and will almost certainly be enjoying a little kitty spa vacay while I’m gone.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen ten days in Kerala if not for my darling Ben, who left for a short business trip to Bangalore on Friday. Having lived there for four years, India is Ben’s heart-home.

Do you have a heart-home? Maybe your heart-home is the place where you feel your spirit soar. Or maybe it’s the place you feel most loved. Your heart-home could be a physical space or a state-of-being, and it might shift and change depending on the circumstances. Where is your heart-home?


Leave Behind a Residue Ash of Happiness

fullsizeoutput_3eAll this week I’ve been attempting to reclaim time lost. Yes, there have been some Maddow Moments. And, yes, some screen time spent on Solitaire. But overall I feel as if I’ve moved nearer to the woman I remember being sixteen months ago.

Of course, time cannot be reclaimed. I know that. The best we can do is move forward with the belief that our actions reflect our values; with the hope that we are contributing something positive not to the world – that would be too high a hope – but to our lives and to the lives of the people we meet while walking our path. We want to extend love to our biological family and our chosen family, kindness to the lip-pierced and leathered man looking for a seat on the train, patience to the young mother struggling to make ends meet as a cashier at the local CVS.

Yesterday I was walking the literal path I take to Samyama – dodging traffic while I jaywalk and leaning cold into the morning waiting for the improbably long traffic light to go green on Bryant. Somewhere on Colorado Avenue I began to ponder what it is about the world that tricks us into giving up our gifts.

This is what I mean: Along the way to being a responsible member of society we stumble into some other version of ourselves. We set aside our reckless enthusiasm for life and march forward convinced we’ll return to our unique interpretation of joy at the first opportunity. On the precipice of adulthood, we look out at the wonderful world but take too seriously the advice to “choose something practical.”

But what if the contribution we are meant to bring to the world is the joy we abandoned? How can we hope to leave a residue ash of happiness behind when we leave our body if we forget how to be happy while still in it?

I’m not suggesting that we do anything different except remember those things we did not before we knew better but when we knew better. Bring those things back into our lives. Touch base and honor that person, that old friend who played guitar and sang at the top of her lungs, splashed paint on raw canvas and walked for hours lost in the woods.


Breaking Bad

I’ve grown accustomed to avoiding what matters in order to remain dull by existing in a malaise of repetition. But habits can be broken.

Yesterday was the first day of the Build a Better Me project. I successfully avoided time sucking activities that kept me from moving toward the values and activities that are important to me. Most importantly, I didn’t lose three hours of my life obsessed by the MSNBC Chris, Rachel, Lawrence trifecta, thereby easing my obsession with the sorrow that is the current state of our government (part of the BBMP is staying true to and not hedging on my beliefs/opinions and communicating them honestly – but not offensively – when appropriate).

Of course – Monday was only one 24-hour period. There’s the whole rest of my life to consider. Baby steps, right? Yet according to statistics life expectancy in the US has dropped for the second year in a row. That means the whole ‘rest of my life’ amounts to two decades, give or take a few months. Which is the sort of realization I didn’t want to consider so early on a Tuesday morning. Then again, they say that daily contemplation of one’s death is the key to happiness.

 

A commentator to Practically Twisted shared this prescription for working Ayurvedically with habits. I’ve known people for whom going ‘cold turkey’ was the only route to success – my mother quit her heavy dependence on alcohol cold turkey. But for most of us, the calculated but gentle transition Ayurveda suggests may be the more compassionate approach.

After all, when we set the goal of running a marathon we don’t begin our training with a 26.2 mile run. We begin slowly and build our endurance. Yesterday was good but I know I can expect some days where I might feel energetically depleted and temporarily fall back into the stupefied somnambulance that has been my life for the past sixteen months. That’s ok. The benefits of living according to my values for the next two decades will be all the impetus I need to brush off any setback. This is a spiritual marathon, not a jog around the block.


A Place Called Home

January 19:

CIMG2014I suppose there is always the chance that something catastrophic will happen.  The seller might change her mind.  Or maybe the numbers wont add up. But those possibilities are, at this point, remote at best.  It looks like escrow really is going to close in seven days.

Ive never owned a home before and until I signed the first sheet of paper that initiated the home buying process I didnt know it was something I wanted.  But my signature on that piece of paper delivered a powerful and unexpected wave of energy that was at once euphoric and grounded.  Some might feel that home ownership ties you to an impossible commitment.  I had the opposite reaction.  For the first time, I felt free.

Of course, that sense of autonomous freedom is tempered by the heavy burden of borrowing enough money to purchase a four-bedroom home in Des Moines, Iowa.  But the Below Market Rate program exists so that individuals like me have an opportunity to stay in the overpriced Bay Area.  Even if instead of a four-bedroom home what Ive found is a perfectly located one-bedroom condo to call my own.

But the burden that follows debt is not the only weight I have to process. As I fill boxes to move and boxes to donate to charity, I am struggling with the weight of accumulation.  Im asking myself if the gathering and release of too many belongings is indicative of a lost yoga practice.  How do I reconcile my yoga life and my worldly life?  Are the boundaries blurred or hard-edged?  Where do they overlap?  Or are these two lives really the same?

January 23rd:

Last week, I made an unsettling decision.  I set the intention to rid myself of ghosts.  Five years ago my move into this small studio apartment was an act of self-preservation.  Personal difficulties offered no alternative. I brought what little furniture I had and gathered what else I needed from gracious and generous friends.

But the pieces of furniture that I brought with me then now hold ghosts from that past.  I cant bring those ghosts with me.  Its time for a new beginning. And so the desk, the book cases, the chair and the fold-up-futon are being sent away to neighbors and strangers who wont notice the memories tucked into the back of a drawer or molded into the crease of a seat cushion.

But I wonder if the willful release of these very functional pieces of furniture demonstrates a lack of fiscal responsibility and an all-consuming selfishness?  As a yogi should it not be part of my practice to mindfully detach from the troubling memories and emotional scars? What surrounds me is little more than an assemblage of particle board and veneers of inexpensive birch.  How can a desk hold the imprint of trauma? How can wood hold memory?  Yet the very glue that binds these pieces together also binds me tight against the energy of events that unfolded years ago.

January 24th:

It doesnt matter if you move across an ocean, to another state or down the block.  Moving creates CIMG1757chaos.  It stirs up dust.  Surrounded by the boxes I began to pack when finding home was still only a hope, Im reminded of the promise I made to myself to live simply.  I ask myself if, after everything that has happened since my return from Ireland, I deserve the happiness Ive enjoyed over this past year.  The answer is easy.  Yes.  Of course I do.  We all deserve happiness and we all deserve a place to call home.  Even me.

And so, for now, this is my practice.  I will remain in the happiness of the present moment.  I will humbly remain mindful of the truth we call change.  With each breath I will be grateful that I am loved and that, as of January 26th, 2015, I have a place on this astounding planet that I can call my home.

 

 


Embrace Change

I arrived in the Bay Area a few days after Mount St. Helens erupted, in May of 1980. That first summer was a rough one and there were times I thought about returning to Nebraska, where I’d just graduated from Doane College with a degree in art and education. I thought about running back home to Pennsylvania, too, even though I knew there was nothing there for me.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I worked my way from a hostess at The Good Earth in Santa Clara to a teacher’s assistant at Lakewood Elementary School in Sunnyvale. For a time I directed an after-school extended day care program but I left that job when I began work as an artists’ model. That odd job – sitting still while a room full of painters or drawers or sculptors fashioned my likeness with paint or charcoal or clay – introduced me to a new way of being in the world. Until then I’d felt a bit lost and unsure of who I was and who I was meant to be. But my new friends, most of whom were fellow artists and models, had a way of shaking off any expectations the world held. They walked less certain paths in life. Paths littered with stumbling uncertainty and bold adventure.

One new friend, a fellow model, invited me to join her for a Friday morning yoga class at the only yoga studio in town, a little Iyengar studio on Cowper Avenue. That was sometime around 1985. I didn’t know it then but two decades later I would be the one teaching that very same Friday morning class.

But on Friday, June 27th I will teach my last Friday class at California Yoga Center. My class ends at 10:00 AM.

IMG_3300At 10:01 California Yoga Center, after forty incredible years, will close its Palo Alto studio. A team of volunteers will come in to take away the bolsters and the blankets, the blocks and the belts.

When the news first broke four months ago I held my own grief as well as the grief of my students. Change is difficult. Order in a chaotic life – knowing that at Friday’s from 9 to 10 AM I was teaching at CYC – was easy. But now what were we going to do?

I have three more classes to teach at CYC – this next week, a final Yin class on Monday evening at 7:30 and then my last two hatha classes on Tuesday and Friday at 9:00 in the morning. I will miss the studio very much. It is where I began my practice and where I began to consider teaching.

But change is inevitable and the truth is that we will move on.   Some students will find new teachers and new studios. Others will find my new classes.

Beginning the week of June 30th I’ll be teaching all of my community classes at Samyama Yoga Center at 2995 Middlefield Road (next to the Winter Palace) in Midtown, Palo Alto. Here’s my new schedule:

 

Monday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Tuesday 7:00-8:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Wednesday 8:15-9:15 AM – Shakti Reset: Slow Flow in the main studio

Friday 1:30-3:15 PM – Pure Yin in the main studio

Saturday 4:00-5:30 PM – Slow Flow in the main studio

 

One of my yin students left a note for me in my sign in notebook. He wrote,

Embrace change.

 


It’s True. I am Practically Twisted.

Photo 188I left home for five days at the last week of January to attend a closing seminar that celebrated the end of my first year in the master’s program at ITP/Sofia and the beginning of my second.  I left home believing in one version of me, and returned embracing another.

One of the irritations of being a student of ITP/Sofia is having friends not affiliated with the school ask you (in some cases, repeatedly) So, Mimm, what is it exactly you’ll be able to do with this when you’re done?

How should I know?  The school, after all, is decidedly left-of-center.  Physically little more than two industrial sized single-story buildings in a doublewide parking lot, in truth the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) is filled with individuals who have chosen to study the spiritual heart of the psyche.  I’ve met young PhD candidates leaning toward a career in research and Pagans in the master’s program destined for academia.  I know graduates who a decade later continue to quietly counsel clients struggling to make sense of their lives and shiny new students walking a path deeply entrenched in the search for a higher consciousness.  Somehow they’ve found ITP/Sofia but even here, they stand out in their choice to initiate a journey leading them further from the mainstream.

When I enrolled, my only intention was to find a course of study that would deepen my practice.  And when I chose my second-year specialization, Transformation Life Coaching, I wanted a practical translation of my deepening practice that I could take out into the world.  I wanted to choose a reasonable course.  A safe journey. Something that might lead to a comfortable retirement plan.

I should have known better.  Right or wrong, I’ve never considered a comfortable retirement plan a high priority even though the thought of not having one can, from time to time, induce a pulse quickening panic attack.

It was Day Three of the seminar when I stood in line for a cup of green tea and felt it coming on.  There was a quivering around my heart. Change is something I like to ease into.  I prefer a slow graceful curve to a hairpin turn.  What I was beginning to feel in my heart was neither slow nor graceful. I took my mug into the assembly room and sat by John.  John has been a long distance anchor and older brother to me this past year.  John, I said, I chose the wrong specialization.  And I already bought all the textbooks.

John didn’t hesitate.

Mimm, he shrugged and said, everyone needs more books.

It was as simple as that.  Spending a little extra money (even money that I don’t have) on a few more books is better than being tied to a specialization that was chosen simply so that I could answer the question everyone but me needed an answer to:  What is it you’ll be able to do when all this is done?

We’re heard it before.  That we’re to follow our bliss and let our heart sing.  It sounds so sweet, doesn’t it?  So easy.  But of course anyone who has committed to a life melody based on the song in their heart knows that, in truth, this journey, like all journeys, has moments of difficulty.  Along the way we’re going to hit a few bum notes.

The difficulties we face, however, on a journey that begins from the heart, seem easier somehow.  They feel less like psychic tsunamis and more like rogue waves.  The difficulties we face on journeys begun from the heart are more easily navigated.

It was not my intention to be a full-time student at fifty-five.  But here I am.  And it feels good.  I know I’m not alone on this road and I know I haven’t made the most practical choice.  But I’m all right with that.  My new specialization is Spiritual Psychology.

You’re probably wondering, what will she be able to do with that when she’s done?

Watch this space.


Remarkable Life

October, 1966 detail

October, 1966 detail

In the next few weeks I’ll be completing my first year in Sofia University’s masters in transpersonal psychology program. There were times over these last twelve months when I considered leaving.

I chose the Global Program so I could continue to work. The Global Program allows me to study at my pace according to my schedule. Prior to Sofia my educational experience had been enjoyed from the comfort of a wooden desk, listening to real-time lectures and taking notes from points scrawled on a blackboard. Now I’m learning from the comfort of my cushy green chair (or bed), reading articles from my laptop and participating in online discussions. The learning curve has been steep, at times very uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.

When I began at Sofia caring friends asked, “But what will you do with this?” Why would I choose to put myself into debt for a degree that, even on paper, appears to be on the fringe side of academia? While I appreciated their concern I couldn’t help but feel irritated. Of course I was irritated. I knew I couldn’t answer their question and if I couldn’t answer the question wasn’t I proving their point?

But I stuck with it. Something told me I was on the right path.

And now, a year into the program, it’s clear I chose wisely. The work that I’ve completed this year has been transformative on a personal and professional level.

As my fellow cohorts and I begin the transition into our second year the program becomes more focused. We’ll begin to connect our academic and experiential studies at Sofia to our life path. That, for me, means the work that I do as a teacher of yoga. More specifically, it means the work I do with populations who have yet to experience the new dimension and healing potential a yoga practice can add to their life.

During our second year at Sofia we choose electives as part of our course work load. I chose to apply to Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program. Niroga is in Berkeley, founded and led by the inspiring BK Bose.

Last week I was accepted into the Niroga program, which begins in February. Yes, I’ll be taking my courses at Sofia while studying at Niroga.

Next year is going to be one heck of a year. Thinking about it makes me feel like this girl.

But I’m not a girl. Next week I turn an age where many women begin to welcome grandchildren. That has most certainly not been my path this time around. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that I didn’t enjoy the life I imagined for myself when I was younger. You know what I mean. The house. The husband and kids. A career trajectory that guarantees a comfy retirement. But then I realize that the life I have – as small as it is – is remarkable.

My birthday wish and Thanksgiving hope is that you take a moment to really see – no matter the trajectory – how truly remarkable your life is.