Sunday, July 26, 2015

....a ritual


A ritual is “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.”  I just returned from one.
This was my 27th summer of heading south to the Outer Banks with 7 other families for a week.  When you throw in the kids…… becomes quite a gang. 
Mind you, we stay in four separate houses, but the ritual includes us all.  And we each have a role. 

The trip always begins by meeting the family with whom we share our house at a fruit stand four hours into the drive, where at 10:30 in the morning we celebrate by cracking open a beer out of the back of the cars in the parking lot.  We only see each other once or twice a year but the bond grows stronger with age.

We all know what to do.  There is no need for words.  Men get the keys, while the women lotion the boys. Men claim space on the beach early each day, setting out several umbrellas and chairs spread wide enough to accommodate all 35 of us, while the women do the lunches.  Boys, now all young men, do the heavy lifting – meaning they carry all of the beer to the beach.  And no one wants to miss the infamous dance party, where a partner is definitely not required.

Beach bocce, which is not allowed to be played without beer in hand, reading, swimming, napping, fishing, catching each other up on our year and a great deal of laughing fill each day.  As the sun begins to set lower in the sky, beach chairs evolve into a large circle formation, the music is turned on and we pass around whatever snacks remain from the day.   We all know what to do.

When this began, most of these kids were merely a thought.  My boys have now spent a week with this group every year of their lives, not seeing them again until the following July.  But when we all crest the dune and see the group, it is as if not a moment has passed.  And this year, two of the “kids” were there with their new 3 week old baby.   She joined right in.  The ritual goes on.

I gravitate toward ritual.  My everyday life contains many……early morning run, followed by a walk through the garden and meditation.  Each night without fail I perform a self Reiki treatment as I drift off to  sleep.  Friday evenings for 7 years now have included yoga, dinner, dance and bath….always in that order.  This very writing has become its own ritual. 

Some would say life filled with ritual is too rigid or boring.  I find it provides the container in which I can just be.  Knowing what to do, without the need for words.  Letting life fill its form while also providing for the form of the rituals to shape shift as needed. 

As the beach day would wind down, my friend Donna and I would always head back to shower and get dinner started while the guys cleared the beach.  But a few years ago we added a new improved step to the sequence.  We now slip away and head back to the hot tub.  Upper deck under the sky, music playing and the switch is made to “real beer” as we call it (you may have noticed that beer, not wine, is one of the sacred objects).  Two nights we could still be found there at 8:30 pm.  Somehow dinner still made it to the table.

Each year  we all hug each other hello and then goodbye, knowing that in what will seem like a blink of an eye, we will once again be cresting that dune. Not missing a beat. And we all agree – young and old - that this ritual is sacred and we are blessed to be held in its grace. 

Om to that,

Sunday, July 19, 2015 happens

Life happens……….

On Wednesday I was going through my normal daily routine.  Beautiful day outside so I thought I would take Phoebe for a lunch time walk to get away from the computer screen and out into the summer air. 

I went into the kitchen to get a drink and opened the cabinet under the sink to grab a new sponge and…….wow!!!  There had to be a ¾ of an inch of thick dirty soapy film covering the entire bottom of the double cabinet!!  Oh my lord!  Where did that come from and how the heck was I going to get it out of there!

I don’t know about you, but I have lived in this house for 8 years now and I don’t think I have given that cabinet a good cleaning since moving in.  You know…the kind of cleaning where you take everything out and wipe it down?  it’s too darn scary in there.  God only knows what is hidden in the recesses under the drains and pipes.  Old oven cleaners, car wash concentrate and dirty rags.  And to make matters worse, I had lined the cabinet with tin foil which was now cemented into the wood with dried soap.

My first instinct was to just shut the door and walk away.   But I got the nerve to take a few things out.   Each cleaning product I removed had a hardened soap substance on its bottom.  And cardboard boxes like brillo…… you can only imagine.  Some items were unrecognizable.  Action was needed.   So for the next hour I was down on my hands and knees literally scraping the tin foil off with my fingers nails and scooping out piles of thick gooey soap.  Only when the cabinet was completely empty and two trash bags had been filled did I discover the source.  A hole in the bottle that holds the soap for the dispenser on the sink.  Who knows how long it had been leaking.  Now I know why we were going through so much dish soap!
Life happens……

Often it forces you to do something that would probably never get done without intervention.  The car finally won’t start one morning when you are late for an appointment after ignoring a noise for two weeks.  The doctor tells you should start blood pressure medication after you have been saying for over a year that you were going to learn to meditate for stress.  You have been extremely unhappy in your job for 6 months and have known you should be looking for a new one, when one day you walk in to find HR in your office.  The long dead tree in the yard falls on the garage. 

The Universe is always showing us the way with gentle nudges and hints, but are we listening.   If not, it finally gives us the old “hit on the head”.  I am not saying that keeping my cabinet clean is in the same league as these others, but it did give me an hour to notice.  It just made me wonder what other corners and recesses in my life might be calling for attention.   Can I address them before they are coated in soap scum?

My cabinet has never been so clean,

Sunday, July 12, 2015 the end she gave me a gift

I lost a very good friend this week.  On Tuesday evening my spunky neighbor, co-party planner, yellow beetle driver and beach lover, Karen died in her home surrounded by the family she adored.  She had been living these last 25 years with an uninvited visitor who came and went several times, arriving at the most unexpected times……cancer.  And she lived those years with incredible grace. 

One of the many things that yoga has led me to come face to face with is death.  The impermanence of our stay here on earth.  Every single one of us will die, some time or another, one way or another.   It is one of the only things that is guaranteed yet is also one of the things no one wants to talk about.  That somehow if we don’t dwell on it, perhaps it won’t pay us a visit. 

Not Karen. 
In the Buddhist tradition you honor death, meditate on it and practice for it.   In the Dalai Lama’s book “Advice on Dying” it begins by saying that until you completely accept death you are not truly living.   By releasing the fear of leaving this physical body you open to the fullness that this human existence offers.  When you make peace with death, what is left to be afraid of?

Watching Karen over this last year has been an amazing learning experience not only for me, but all of us that were fortunate enough to share it with her.  A gift.  Over and over neighbors and friends have expressed how inspired they have been.   While we typically hear about “fighting” an illness or “battling” cancer, it never felt like that was Karen’s approach.  She often told me that she didn’t try to look far into the future, but instead just woke each day and did what the doctor was recommending and what felt right to her.  She didn’t struggle against what was.  She lived in the now.  She “lived fully” with cancer.  And she did it beautifully.

Karen’s sense of humor did not discriminate and cancer was not free from her uncensored remarks.  She laughed about many of the changes she went through, looked adorable on her “no hair” days, and would point out that at least now she was thin.  When I went over at times expecting to console her, instead she made me laugh – because that is who she was – and an illness couldn’t dim her spark.  Several months ago she told me that one thing she wanted was to make it to her 70th birthday.  I assumed she wanted to enjoy her party, but no.  She wanted her obituary to say she was 70 because when people see 70 they say ‘oh she had a good life’ vs seeing 69 gets the ‘oh taken out in her prime’ response! 

She was a lover of greeting cards and would always send you the absolutely perfect one.  While under the care of hospice she received many and they were all lined up right next to her on a table.  But the ones she made her daughter read to me were of course the funny ones.  She loved them and their irreverence toward the disease she had come to know well.  Even the priest got a taste of her spunk.

Laughing about death.  But when you stop and think about it, what is the alternative?  Which will you choose?

No one knows why some of us become ill while others don’t.  Karen never took it personally.  Toward the end when I asked her how she was doing, she replied that she was doing as well as could expected.  She just needed a new body J  And she was right.  But although her body may have been sick and failing, she most certainly was not.  She is free now, yet on the other hand, to me she always was. 

I hope to live my own death as fully as Karen did. 

I will miss her physical presence immensely,

Sunday, July 5, 2015

....the barometric pressure of life

I find a vacation to be one of the best barometers of life……..
When we are in our day to day lives, we are usually so entwined that we just keep moving with its flow.  No time to step back.  No time to observe.  Very little ability to make tweaks.   Each activity leads to the next, and each day leads to the one after.  A continuous stream of “doing”.

But then we throw in a vacation.  A step away. 

A vacation is like the pause between breaths.  Our “normal” life stops.  We play, we relax, we eat, we sleep.  But knowing full well that just like the next inhale… will come flowing back in.  But should it be somehow different?  Are any adjustments needed?

The barometer comes into action during that last day of vacation and on the trip back home.  As we pack our bags we realize we are heading back into our lives as we left them.  We get this sudden view from afar of what our lives have become.  The barometer gives us a pretty accurate reading on how we are doing.

Am I  heading back with dread with a reading of stormy?  Of the job, of the house, of the routine, of an unresolved hurt?  Or am I anxious to get back and settle in.  Have I noticed that something coming up on the calendar is exactly what should be there, or does the needle point to change where I now see that it has to go?  Am I excited, sad or maybe a pressure of fair, resigned to what is ahead as just "how things are".  Did the vacation feel like an adventure where my life seems stuck in a rut?  Or do I yearn to return to the daily rituals that feed my soul.

I clearly remember some vacations when the boys were young.  Spending chunks of time with them.  Relaxed, no homework, no to dos.  And then driving home with a pit in my stomach knowing that the next day I would be heading back in rush hour to my 9 to 5 job and leaving them behind.  I would cry as I walked the beach alone the night before heading home.  It wasn’t that my life was bad, it was just that it stirred up the emotions of not being there with them during the day.  Rainy.   It would spur me to be more present when I was with them in the evenings and weekends.  The vacation would put what was important back into the spotlight.

The complete flip side is rushing through the vacation in order to get back home.  A sense of dread - not of going home, but of going on vacation.  Uncomfortable with a change of routine and that sense that the world back home will collapse without us.  Unsettled.  A little too attached.  Perhaps not wanting to have that pause to observe of what has become, for fear of what we may see. 

A vacation is similar to the third eye.  Detaching in order to observe what is real.  What is there.  Noticing what fits and what clearly doesn’t any longer. 

My drive home this weekend was filled with wanting to say hi to my plants and getting back to classes.  Right now I love my vacations, but I also love returning to my house.  I miss it when I am gone.  I miss my food, my practice and the smells and sounds out my window at night.  To me that says the barometer on life right now is reading “sunny” for me.

But who knows what reading my next vacation with reveal.  Fair?  Stormy?  I will watch and see if the needle has shifted……and will make changes if need be. 

Settling back in,

Sunday, June 28, 2015

......tuning in to now

You know how when you are trying to find a station on the radio with a dial and the slightest movement in one direction takes you right by it?  You carefully go the other way and fly right past.  A little too far and there is static. Not far enough and it sounds like a tunnel.  It takes that perfect focused turn to land right on it.  Suddenly when you hit on it though, you know.  The voice is crisp and strong and it is clear that you have landed. 

Communication with the Universe is no different……..and for the last couple of months my channel tuning was slightly off.  The messages felt blurred and distant.  It happens to all of us.  Sometimes we are in the flow and then we are not. 

I have been trying to figure out the formula.  What is the key to being connected.  The word that kept coming to me this week is…..NOW.
Now.  Another word for “the present moment” yet different.  Stop and notice now.  How long is now?? 

Certainly not a minute.  Have you watched a clock for a minute?  A minute is an eternity.  Is now a second?  One Mississippi.  No, I think it is much more fleeting than that.  Now is here, and in the blink of an eye another new now has arrived.  NOW. 

NOW has a powerful word structure.  It is a no nonsense word.  It rhymes with POW and WOW.  It puts a stake in the ground.  Later is unknown and before is only a running story trapped in the mind.  Now is right here and can’t be questioned or debated.  And Now is the only time you can Do something.  The only time in fact that you can do anything!  But how many Nows each day are we fully there for?  Where we are completely present and aware.  Typically only a handful. 

These last couple of days however I have been there for more than usual.  Sitting tucked in the brush along the river this wildflower caught my eye and as I took her picture I was in Now.  Only moments later an eagle flew by.  I closed my eyes and thanked the Universe only to reopen them to watch a snake slither by.
Early yesterday as I hurriedly picked my ripe wild raspberries to be sure that I got at least as many as the competing blue jay, something made me slow.   My hands were reaching deep into the bush for the plump ones in the center, the thorns brushing me lightly and my gaze suddenly catching the true beauty of the bush.  I was in NOW.  Moments later there were several coincidences of people coming back into my life.

It hit me in my seemingly eternal car ride Friday night.  NOW is that perfect spot on the dial where the voice is crisp and clear.  NOW is the channel. 

And no lie…..that very moment I passed a billboard on a barn that said in large red, white and blue lettering…….POW!! You are here now!

I burst out laughing.  It is so simple…..yet it isn’t, is it.  It takes a lot of practice. 

Noticing now,

Sunday, June 21, 2015

....goats and grief

This week in classes we moved very……very……very…..slowly.  Landing in a pose and being there.  Watching what comes up –reactions, physical pleasure, discomfort, busy mind, boredom or judgment.  Being with whatever is.  Turning on the inner gaze to see things exactly as they are without our usual associated story playing in the background. 

Third eye center.  Our inner gaze.
Three years ago I spent a week in an intensive with Susun Weed.  It was that week that birthed this blog as I had so much to share.  In my first post,, I tried to provide a small glimpse into her passion and teachings….many of which centered around her goats.  They determined the rhythm of our day.

This past Saturday one of her apprentices did the final milking and headed off to bed.  She did not check, as she had been reminded, to be sure the candle was blown out.   She didn’t look back from afar to see if the barn was dark, and did not ask herself in bed if she had done everything needed in her job.  That night the barn went up in flames and the eight goats and 5 rabbits perished. 

Last night an email was sent out to all of Susun’s followers with a heartfelt note from Susun about the ceremony they will hold, and a raw, seemingly naked note from the apprentice.  As I read her words, so many memories flooded back of how unwavering Susun is in her teachings on mindfulness.  That we must be here, present and awake to see what we are doing….or not.  Every moment.  Floating through life in a haze is not tolerated at Laughing Rock.  

I can’t imagine how hard it was for this young woman to write to us all.  It shows inner courage.  The easy way would be to say how sorry she was and flee.  Sorry was a word that Susun demanded we remove in our conversations with her.  A cop out, she felt.  Not ownership.  Not true change.  Don’t be sorry she would yell…….do differently. 

The apprentice shared that she is watching to see when guilt, blame and shame creep in and then sweeping them to the side as they are emotions of the mind that get in the way of what is real.  What is right here.  Remorse and grief.  Letting herself be “hurled around” by grief.  But at the same time, moving forward by creating a GoFundMe to raise money to help rebuild.  Taking steps toward healing herself and those affected with compassion. 

I am inspired by her ability to put herself out there.  But even more deeply moved by her ability to look inside and face what is there in order to ….do differently.  My heart goes out to her.

Seeing what is real,

Sunday, June 14, 2015

....doing the best that we can

Sunday afternoon.  Car packed, fresh picked herbs in a vase in the cup holder next to me and everything arranged at home so I can attend a 3 day yoga teacher training/retreat in VA Beach!  Yes!

One hour later as I head down I95 with the sunroof open,  breeze blowing my hair, my car suddenly lurches, pulls right and warning lights come on….all at 65 mph.  I pull off to read the manual which tells me to turn off the car and restart.  I do and venture forward.  Three more times this happens and each time my heart lurches right along with the car.  This is not good. 

I make it and immediately schedule a drop off at the dealer 15 miles away.  They have it for the full 3 days that I am there, while I have their loaner.  I get the “it’s ready” call just as the retreat ends.  All is good!  Not…….....

One hour into my homeward bound trip it happens again.  
 So here I am with 3 more hours to go. 

I can sense that I have to drive gently.  My hands are gripping the wheel so I am prepared for the unexpected shift.  I am going 60 on a 70mph highway. All I want to do is get home safely.   So what do you think happens? 

People fly up on my back, ride my tail and finally whip around me.  Many of these people happen to be driving 18 wheelers.  Or worse, they flash their high beams (even though I am in the slow lane and going 60), lay on the horn or give me the look.  I so wished I had a sign I could slap on my back window that shared “Car trouble – please be patient”.  But no such sign exists and I felt flashers would cause even more distraction.   I had 3 hours to watch this – and you know what I learned?

Life is no different.  Every day our lives interweave with people who we have absolutely no idea what is happening for them.  We come up from behind.  They too do not have a sign.  Our coworker, neighbor or the gentleman from India we speak with to repair our pc.  Perhaps they just experienced the joy of a new found friend, or maybe they learned only yesterday that they have cancer.  We don’t know.  The woman at the checkout who seems grouchy may not be able to make her tax bill this year.  The person in front of us in line with so many questions while the rest of us wait may feel unheard at home.  The teenager who gets your sandwich order wrong could be struggling over their very sense of worth.   We just don’t know.

So let’s give everyone a break.  Aware enough to notice if they need our help, but then just smoothly sailing by without giving them the finger.  Everyone….everyone……everyone…. is doing the best they can at this moment with where they are.   We cannot know where they are so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  We are all doing the best that we can.

With only a half hour to go in my drive I knew I would make it home one way or another.  Dusk was settling in and as I looked to my left in a wide clearing, there was the biggest, most perfect, most beautiful round ball of orange fire slowly setting on the horizon.  It was magical.  It took my breath away.  And I realized that all of us driving up 95 right then, no matter where we were in our lives, were sharing that moment. 

My car is now back in the shop……

I see you,