Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bolognese AND Black Beans

Pulitzer prize winning author Annie Dillard said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

Of course! But what does that truly mean?

As I get closer to my half-century mark on this planet, I question how I live my life on a daily basis. Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here? I used to worry more about my legacy. What would I be remembered for? What actual products would there be to commemorate my life's work? The older I get, the more I realize that I'm not actually that important. I'm a mere spec on the earth, so what I do in the eyes of the world isn't that significant. It's knowing that I'm living as my truest, best self that feels important now.

My meditation teacher says that one of the reasons we meditate is to clear our minds in order to get closer to our intuition. "Intuition," she says, "is very patient. It will wait in the shadows until we are quiet. Then it will show up."

We've all had a clear moment of hearing our intuition. It's a deeper sense of knowing, a true clarity. Most of my decisions that have stuck, I now know were based on intuition. The decision to leave social work, for example, and open a yoga studio was completely spontaneous, ill-advised, and ultimately perfect. Other big life choices that have crumbled around me, I can see were based more on processing, contemplating, over-intellectualizing. Going to the best college I got into, for example, and studying a major that was familiar and comfortable, didn't actually pan out all that well for me.

In my 48th year, I've committed to becoming a student of intuition, to learn more about it, to work more from that place on a daily basis. The truth is, it's just easier. I get so tired of weighing pros and cons, talking to multiple people to get their perspectives, struggling to make big decisions to the point that I lose sleep, weight and hair!

So every day I start small. Last night I had the house to myself. Normally when I get that much space, I indulge in stupid television that no one else wants to watch. I've rationalized that this indulgence, though not actually that satisfying,  is well-deserved and I should take advantage.  Last night though, I tried to get to my intuition instead of my regular pattern. I listened. It was a slow process and many times I nearly defaulted to turning on the laptop and opening Netflix. What happened instead is I found myself in the car heading for the grocery where I bought ingredients for two meals (even though I was the only one at home).

I spent the evening making a huge vat of Bolognese and enough black beans to roll two hundred burritos. In the process I listened to the chanting music that normally gets poo-pooed in my house.
This morning, my intuition was simply to eat a pear before drinking coffee.

The waiting is the hard part. The stillness before the knowing can be a struggle for those of us who feel anchored by being in control. But the payoff is immense. There is a feeling of ease, of calm, that comes from trusting your gut, from listening to intuition. It feels right. It's definitely how I want to live my life.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seeing through the rain.

The rain gets me down. I've lived in Seattle for 27 of my 48 years and the rain still gets me down. This morning I went running and it was sunny. The Cascades were out. The Olympics were out. I saw Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. I was happy. Joyful.

After my run, I went to yoga and it was a great class. Frani had a tender, creative playlist and it was the usual delicious experience of doing yoga after a run. Hard and necessary. But when I left the studio, it was raining--again. My heart sank.

But why does the rain take my mood towards the bowels of despair? The beauty is still there. I can see so much of it as I sit typing this on my couch. Mount Baker is now hidden by clouds, but I can see the conifers and cherry blossoms down the hill to the lake. The lilacs in my front yard are about the pop and the magnolia tree next to my front door is in full bloom. Yet I pout.

What is it about the rain? I tell myself it's a state of mind, a pattern of thinking. But is it? I wonder sometimes if the mood I get in the presence of clouds and rain helps me to balance out my fast-paced, high-frequency energy. I spend so much time being up, spirited, positive. And I really do feel that when when I'm acting that way, but it's not sustainable. I'd collapse with exhaustion if I maintained that "up-state" of mind all the time.

I wonder if it's like one of my yoga teachers talks about the common cold. The common cold, he says, is there for a reason. It reminds us to slow down and heal. Maybe for a few days or a week we sit on the couch, read more, drink more tea, and in that time, we are giving our bodies a chance to fight the cold naturally, to build our immunity.

Maybe the rain is like that for me. It invites me to shut down a little bit more, to go inside, to settle into the "low" feelings that for me are generally more buried. When I think of it this way, it's a comfort. The rain makes me quiet. It's like a blanket wrapping me up, keeping me warm and calm so I can build up my strength to be who I am when the sun comes out again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A State of Grace


One of my favorite things to do after a long day is walk on Lake Washington and listen to podcasts. My favorite podcast is OnBeing. Krista Tippett, the host, interviews different theologians, artists, philosophers and scientists about the meaning of life as they see it through their personal existence. Especially now, when the news media is so overblown that it is either undigestibly frightening or absurd, it is refreshing to chisel down the information source to one person's perspective. I always glean at least a few kernels of wisdom from these podcasts.

Yesterday, Richard Rohr was the guest. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and a revered spiritual teacher.
In his interview with Krista Tippett, Rohr talked about a metaphor he uses to teach his students about getting to a state of grace. He suggests using three boxes- Order, Disorder, and Reorder. Rohr goes on to talk about using these boxes, or stages as a path to transformation.

As I listened to Rohr describe these concepts, I thought about my own tendency towards safety. My nickname is "safety patrol." I like to pack healthy snacks for trips (in case there's nothing good at the airport or on the road). I always pack extra undies (you never know if there will be a washer). I struggle with change of any kind. In other words, I crave familiarity. I am a major order junkie.

So much goodness though, comes through disorder. I wouldn't have found my current career had I not entered a minor crisis of identity in my last profession. I wouldn't have fallen madly in love if my heart hadn't been broken. I wouldn't have a wonderful daughter if I hadn't gone through all of the scary contemplations of what it means to raise a child in this world and pass through the ongoing myriad of challenges that exist with everyday parenting.

And what has come from the wreckage, the disorder is transformation, the reordering of priorities, of values that make me who I am, that make my life what it is today. Disorder is part of the deal. It's not predictable, it's not negotiable. It's the path.

This idea, this metaphor of Order, Disorder and Reorder is useful to me in every part of my life. The SweatBox, for example, went through a period of transition where we stepped off the pure Bikram train. That was scary. So new, so different, and at times chaotic. But now! Now, we have such a beautiful bouquet of creativity and energy and vibrancy. I am grateful for all of the disordered times in my life. They've brought me to this place, this state of grace,  and I love it here.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Saved by Gratitude

This morning as I drove up the greenbelt that leads to Yesler Way, I had a moment of intense anxiety.  I'm very familiar with anxiety, and for as long as I can remember, I've run "panicky."  I get hit with periodic, unexpected pangs. Usually they are related to an upcoming event, but often I have non-specified panic.

My anxiety this time was related to the demolition and construction that is going to start on The SweatBox tomorrow. Contractors are going to rip out the garage door and build a permanent wall. It's a good thing. We'll have better insulation, new windows, and greater soundproofing from the street noise. In the passenger seat beside me, Lucia, in her adorable 12-year-old voice, was chirping on about her day. I faintly heard her at the same time that my mind wandered towards the impending construction. I felt my chest tensing, my focus blurring, my breath quickening. I remember the moment because the beauty of the tree canopy was so striking as we climbed the hill. Despite my panic, I was still aware of the grandeur of the trees, grateful for their beauty.

Maybe it was the beauty that interrupted my anxiety. Maybe it was something Lucia said. I can't pinpoint exactly the moment, but all of the sudden I had a revelation. "I am having so much anxiety right now," I recall thinking. "But I'm only one person of billions in the world. There's no way my anxiety can be THAT huge." And just like that, I started breathing normally and I was able to hear and see clearly again.

Over the years I've developed lots of tools for managing my anxiety. Of course yoga is my everyday go to. Mindless TV can help. Running, playing scrabble, shopping, all take my mind off of my current anxiety fixation. My thought today-- that I'm just not important enough in the scheme of the world to have that much anxiety-- was one of my first successful attempts to rationalize myself out of an anxious state.

Driving up a beautiful tree-lined road with my healthy, happy daughter by my side, on my way to a job and community I love, it just didn't make sense that I would let a construction project highjack my mental health.  The truth of the matter is that I am unbelievably blessed. As part of a year-long meditation class I'm taking this year, I write ten gratitudes each day to two of my classmates. I think the daily reminder of how much I have to be grateful for played into this shift with my anxiety today. Gratitude gives perspective. No matter what's coming, what stressors (known or unknown) might be in front of you, regardless of the daily conflicts or discomforts in life, if we can find people, things, experiences to be grateful for, that other stuff comes more realistically into focus.  Tomorrow it's a construction project. In two years, it's sending my baby off to high school. In ten years, it's making sure my parents are well cared for. It's always something. The good news is, for every one of those possible stressors, there are at least ten things to be grateful for.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Turns out I'm not a purist anymore


For almost sixteen years, The SweatBox has been the single constant in my life. It's my rock, my respite, the place where I land everyday and can feel grounded and comforted. Periodically I change the schedule at The SweatBox. I make these changes sparingly and I spent months contemplating this round of changes--- talking to teachers and students, to my family and friends. Finally I landed on something I hope will benefit and serve The SweatBox community.

In doing my research for the new schedule, I had an ah-ha moment, the recognition of an internal shift in myself that explains the changing path of The SweatBox. I realized that I'm no longer a purist. For years I took pride in being a purist-- a Bikram Yogini.  Webster's Dictionary defines "purist" as "a person who adheres strictly and often excessively to a tradition."

I stepped onto my yoga path in my early twenties. I had a new graduate degree, an unknown future, a confusing romantic and social life. In that era of my life,  I needed that purity of my yoga practice to ground me, to feel legitimate and safe. As I grew older and my life evolved, my practice grew and my yoga path exposed forks in the road. I dipped my toes into the idea of other traditions, into unknown territory.

After years of purity, I felt strong enough, grounded enough to float a little bit, to not be so defined by a single tradition. This non-purity has been liberating and balancing at the same time. When people ask why I'm alternating the 6am class with Bikram and Vinyasa for example, I can tell them with complete certainty that I believe there is balance in diversifying one's practice-- both physically and mentally.

Some people might still feel safer in a single tradition. I get it. I know exactly how that feels. That commitment to purity is not wrong or bad or less. It's just where they are, maybe where you are.

In my Yin class yesterday, I encouraged students to listen for the "unknown" in themselves, to try and be open to things in their bodies that they don't know instead of the familiar feelings, voices, sensations, that they do know. Stepping into the unknown is a very personal experience. You are in charge of making the choice as to how and when you might do that.  My departure from purity has been surprisingly fulfilling. I have abandoned none of my passion my original practice. Stepping into the unknown has only given me more fulfillment in other areas. It's like a beautiful bouquet instead of a single perfect stem.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Finding the afterglow.

Last weekend my daughter Lucia had her first soccer game with a new team she joined for the spring season. She's only had one practice with the team and she wouldn't recognize the coach if he sat next to her on the bus. Lucia is a solid left mid. That's her jam. She's left-footed, likes to score, and has been in that position for years.

During this first game with her new team, midway through the game she got subbed out and I noticed her on the sidelines putting on bright orange jersey (her team was wearing green). "She can't be playing goalie", I said out loud. Her team was losing by a point and Lucia hadn't played goalie since the early days of rotating goalie on her old rec team. She didn't even have goalie gloves!

I watched as Lucia ran downfield towards the goal, switching spots with her team mate. There were another fifteen minutes left in the game, plenty of time for the other team to score, especially on a completely unexperienced goalie.

So many things were racing through my mind. What was Lucia feeling? How would it feel to be a brand new player on a brand new team being in a position of such responsibility? I had a moment of extreme gratitude for all goalies in the world.

The ball stayed on her end of the field, and I watched as she watched. Shot on goal. Boom. She saved it.  Her team tried to move it upfield without success and again, shot on goal. A big jump and a swat batted the ball right out of the goal. This can't go on, I thought to myself, but it did. One more big shot on goal. Lucia blocked it.

Lucia did it. She played goalie, but only because her coach asked her to. She stepped into a place where she had no interest in going. I know it was scary and intimidating and stressful for Lucia to take this step, but she did it. The fact that she was able to prevent the other team from scoring was great, but it wasn't really the point. The afterglow of taking on an experience like that is part of what grows us as humans, what makes us feel alive and enriched, capable and competent.

Kids, because the don't have much control over their lives, are constantly put into positions where they have to feel scared, intimidated, stressed. They have opportunities to experience those glorious moments of doing something they were sure they could not do. As adults, we generally take comfort in the fact that we are in charge, that we don't have to do things we don't want to do. But what if we did? What if we made ourselves try a different sport? Travel to a country where we couldn't read or speak the language?  Try a different style of yoga maybe (wink wink)?  We'd get the same kind of afterglow, that feeling of doing something we were sure we could not do.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Resting in paradise.

Last month Nancy and I went to Panama for an island vacation. We took three planes, two different car rides, and a boat to get to a 600 acre island on the southwest corner of Panama. There were five cottages on this island, no stores, no TVs, no restaurants, no buildings other than the ones people stayed in. We were the only guests there for most of the time, so it was the two of us, lots of howler monkeys and iguanas and a few very helpful staff.

On the plane over, we both noticed that we were getting sort of sniffly. Before we left, Lucia had a cold and we had been worried we'd catch it. By the time we arrived at our island destination, we were both full blown sick. Nancy showed symptoms about one day in front of me, so the intensity of our colds staggered-- she was bad one day, and the next day I followed suit.

The result was that we each had to rest and isolate at different times. On the first day, Nancy rested in our room alone while I took a hike in the jungle and explored the tide pools and the next day, I hunkered down to rest while she felt well enough to do a lagoon hike.

We laughed a lot. Every morning we had to ask housekeeping for extra kleenex. Having no way to replenish our stock of medicines, we rationed our cough drops like lost campers with their last Clif bar.

But we were sick in paradise and it was wonderful. Bernie Clark, one of my teachers, told us that colds are important. Getting the common cold and sitting through it, letting it work through our systems, is a way of strengthening our immunity. It's not unlike the slow build of core strength that happens over the hundreds of times we hold plank or the eventual opening of our shoulders when we do day after day of Bikram Pranayama. The strengthening of our immune system takes time. Getting a cold and following the natural course helps.

So it was a blessing in disguise that we were sick in paradise with no amenities. We did exactly as we should have done. We rested. We sat with our symptoms and let them run through us. If we'd been back in Seattle, Nancy would would have been running around trying to make it to Saturday morning spin class, squeeze in a tennis game, and have long days at work. I would have been driving Lucia all over the county for soccer, doing as much yoga as possible, and trying to finish taxes.

But we had none of those pulls there. And our sickness took us to a even more quiet place. We just rested in paradise. In Chinese medicine, they don't use the terminology, "catch a cold." They say that your body is out of harmony, that it needs to get back in balance. I believe that. Too much running around, too much of anything, even good things, can take the body out of harmony. Our Panamanian Paradise was the balance shifter. We both needed quiet, rest, and recovery. I felt so grateful, lying in bed with kleenex floating around the sheets and floor, to look out the window and see the Pacific Ocean, watch the geckos scamper across the ceiling, and listen to the howler monkeys and variant birds creating music outside.

When we returned, we were both on the tail ends of the cold. "What a bummer!" our friends and family exclaimed when then heard we'd spent our vacation sick. But neither of us felt that way. We both loved our vacation resting in paradise.