Ecstasy: The Return

Wow. If this isn’t a classic case of the hero(ine)’s journey, I don’t know WHAT is!… Here I am, the lone little hobbit, descending back down the treacherous mountain, into the lush and innocent valley that is my home… worn, weather beaten, triumphant, and pulsing with inner strength. Yep, I’m back in the bay area, after my nine week and three day quest. And by the grace of my nature, here I am, trying to add it all up (and divide by ONE!)…

I’m actually surprised by how glad I am to be back in the Bay Area. Honestly, I thought I was like so over this chaotic, polluted, yet somehow sublime meca … Not so. Laurelwood was awesome and necessary. But it was also rugged in many ways. Sorta like backpacking for years in the wilderness. I didn’t realize how hard it was on me to spend so much time indoors. Or to do without my daily dose of “ecsta-ser-cise”. That’s a combination of “ecstasy” and “exercise” incase you didn’t gather that on your own. Because I have noticed that those two words are almost synonymous for me. I swear, I hit up my old lover, bikram yoga, the first chance I got, and as I formed my body into still and sacred shapes, breathed, poured tangy sweat, and felt wild unsayable things bursting and dancing inside me, I realized I was making love with myself.

Imbibe= to absorb or soak up, as water, light or heat.

Yes, I was imbibing embodied, transcendent ecstasy. Same thing in the pool this morning! Holy JESUS. I LOOOOVE temescal pool! Salt water. Outdoor. Sensually stroking through liquid bliss. Flying through a cool and shimmering slice of gentle, wet, sky. Love becomes nearly tangible as it shushes across my naked, singing skin.

After Laurelwood, EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER!!! (Except Ed. He always tastes better.) I went to ecstatic dance on sunday morning, and good lord, it was the first time in too many forevers, that I’d landed in that wild, frenetic, strain of heaven, and felt “at home”! (Over the last nine or so months, as I’ve been in this deeply transformative and vulnerable shedding process, my experience of ecstatic dance has mostly been one of landing in that sphere of high energy in motion and feeling overwhelmed and way too tender and eighty-sixing it outa there.) Now I’m squealing and shrieking with delight about how god it felt to be there.

I’ve been trippin’ on this whole notion of “spiritual” a lot lately. That over-stuffed word can be as much of a fuck, as religion itself. “I’m spiritual, he’s not.” “That’s spiritual, this isn’t.” Reminds me of that poem by Hafiz where he’s all sympathetic and tender towards us human folk, because we MUST be exhausted, spending all day “dividing God”. Yeah. Dividing God sure IS a full-time occupation. It’s so weird that we have SO far to go, considering we are already here!

But what I was driving at, is that it annoys me how people at Ananda sometimes display this elitist attitude… like “Over HERE, on THIS path, we’re so tra-la-la…” Us and them. Sigh. It’s a reflection of my own deluded consciousness. Who am I kidding… I am hella quick to draw lines in the sand and rank my nebulous dream of my “self” above and below “others”. Probably as soon as I knock it off, the “outside world” will realign with my refreshed inner reality.

But gracious me, I can’t seem to walk a straight line of thought for the life of me! I must be drunk! Drunk on ecsta-cer-cise. And spring time sunshine. And delicate cappuccino aftermath. And the passionate kiss that my Man just leaned over and shared with me. Yeah. Ed’s working on his [grown-up] biz right next to me. We’re at Pizzaiolo. The wood oven is blazing with sacred, translucent orange flames, glasses are filling the lusty spring morning with clink, and people are doing whatever it is that people do at hip urban cafes. Shrug. “Important stuff.”

Okay, lemme make the point I was trying to make three paragraphs ago, before I blurred into tangential, non-sequiturian ecstasy-induced blathering. I’m saying that from my galactic vantage point, I don’t recognize a true division between the spirituality expressed in a spiritual community, and the spirituality that innately oozes from the creative, conscious, connected, open-hearted friends at ecstatic dance. I believe it can be a “pitfall” on the spiritual path to start asserting who and what is “spiritual”, and who and what isn’t. I believe God is LOVE, and love is everywhere, mischievously smirking; just waiting to burst out and be revealed.

Seriously, this is the most profound and spiritual moment of my life. Right NOW.

Being at Ananda Laurelwood was a rough ride in many ways. Being indoors, being in perpetual rain and cold, being away from my delicious lover and best friend. (I missed you too, Mom… but it’s different…) Not getting enough exercise. Not getting enough animal flesh. Not touching or being touched enough. Being mostly surrounded by people who had a way lower threshold of authenticity, openness and willingness to reveal and be revealed in the most raw and rudimentary fashion….

And yet…. something happened while I was there. I was not just scrubbing toilets, I was scrubbing the dingy crannies of my soul. Not always a glamorous endeavor. But SO worthwhile. Do you know what I mean? Like sometimes the heart calls us forth on a journey that the conscious mind can NOT make sense of. But still, the heart quietly requests us to let go of what we “know”, and step out beyond the edge of the mystery. I am learning to say yes to the omniscient wisdom of my heart. It never leads me astray.

A lot of the training I have been undergoing recently has been about reclaiming connection with my Self; remembering that truly, the joy is within me. (Which naturally implies that THE JOY IS WITHIN YOU, TOO. Pause a moment, and let that sink in. I mean it. Close your eyes and say to yourself, “All the joy I could ever want is within me RIGHT NOW!”)

********PAUSE. BREATHE. OPEN. ALLOW.***********

I was so curious to see how this new version of me would experience its ISness, in “old familiar” settings, beyond the seventh day adventist boarding school turned ashram. And I am not so surprised, yet completely delighted to discover that I am the same as I have ever been… and yet completely new. More available to refract the vivacious rays of Infinity. More evidence as to why I ought to trust my exquisite heart for the rest of forever.

Om. Shri. Om.

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Keys to the Queendom of Heaven

Eeeee… Here we go! Off-roading in Athena Graceland. I feel extra pre-game jitters today, because I’m not quite sure where we’re going, and how we’re gonna get there. And if the route will be “scenic enough” for you… But actually, I have been known to consider that EVERY route is a scenic route, if you are looking through wakeful, artistic eyes… The path you’ve traversed ten thousand times is bursting at the “seems” with hidden wonders, aching to be revealed in your receptive, inquisitive gaze. Neighborhoods fashioned from industrial warehouses, cyclone fence-encased, abandoned parking lots with cracked pavement contain the whispering triumph of mother nature reaching up tenaciously from beneath, with her svelte, weedy fingers, and the graffiti on the walls are the cryptic longings of weary wandering souls. Open your eyes!!! Don’t miss this strangely shaded zoo of misinterpreted bliss.

It’s tempting. To race to the illusory, self-inflicted finish lines. Like me, counting the days: three weeks and two days… until I depart this enchanted forest valley… and fly back into Ed’s arms for a few all too fleeting moments… feeling into the shape of my freshly transformed self against the rajasic backdrop of the Bay Area… I’m looking forward to that. The way a warrior might inexplicably, subliminally salivate moments before stepping onto a battlefield laden with dancing, airborne arrows and casually strewn puddles of warm, steaming blood. That was dramatic, but fun to write. What I mean, for those of you who only speak “plain english”, is that I feel so sensitive these days. Like I’ve told you before, my urban calluses have worn down and I am a tender babe. But I’m eager to explore my new shape against a backdrop of jagged contrast, so that I can more deeply recognize who I am becoming. And then after that brave and brief brush with becoming, I shall kiss Ed goodbye once again, and run for the benevolent, woodsy refuge that is “The Momshram”. Another homecoming. Another backdrop against which to ascertain the flowers, fruits and foliage of this current alchemical transformation.

And then and then and then and then and…. So what? I watch myself erect all these future events to “look forward to”… And I believe in their implicit rewards, as a child believes in Santa Clause. “Some day”… It’s like that song… YOU GOTTA WATCH THIS!!!:

Seriously! That says it ALL. I just watched it, and realized NO FLIPPING WONDER that I turned out this way!!!! Hahahaha!!! If you only KNEW how REAL that exiled, tender-hearted princes archetype lives inside me!!!! Children are such preciously malleable little sponges… soaking up criminal thresholds of toxic bullshit in this plastic, corporate empire, otherwise known as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Someday Ed and I will be together. Someday I will be PREGNANT… and give birth to beautiful, luminous Alexandria. Someday I will publish my book(s). Someday I will be a spiritual leader… And THEN… Wink. Sigh… All I am racing toward, when I am in refusal to realize the grace and glory of this under-cover scenic route of a human life, is DEATH. And rebirth. And death and rebirth and death. And if you don’t believe in reincarnation… then fine, just stop the train at death, and that’s pathetic enough… (But when we brush elbows in the next life, you’ll scratch your head and wonder why there’s something disconcertingly familiar about this wild place called Athena Graceland!)

Hey, It’s a miracle! Because when I dropped anchor and set sail onto the dark, mysterious swells of philosophically charged language and thought this morning, I had just a faint notion that what I wanted to talk about was happiness… In fact and fallacy. But I quickly relinquished it, allowing myself to be swept away by a powerful wave of inspiration, into the journey… and suddenly we are here, and all there is to address is the meaning of life!… and I didn’t even break a sweat or grind a gear in order to land here! Something BIG and hella ALMIGHTY is clearly at play. Something still, and small and secret…

In my raja yoga class, Daiva passionately “throws down” the potent, rudimentary principals of life as we know it. He reminds us week after week that it is always happiness that we seek. No matter how we skin the dinosaur. And embarrassingly, even that assertion was a surprise to me at first. Like, REALLY? All I want is happiness? I have dressed it in SO many ostentatious and clever costumes…. But upon further reflection, I have come to recognize that this is true. Are you with me so far?

Good. Then take my hand, and let’s proceed to the next lilly pad of illumined revelation… We have put the cart before the horse, people!!! We are conditioned to believe that we must figure out WHAT will make us happy… and we all grope around in pitch dark, like selfish little baby monkeys, trying to get our greedy fingers and opposable thumbs around our heavily frosted, perfectly moist slice of unbirthday cake….

I just took a shower break a few minutes ago, and I laughed out loud in the dim stall, under the stream of deliciously warm water, as I continued to mull on this topic, and I thought of how long I have cried and lost sleep over the fact that I can’t seem to figure out WHAT COLOR MY CURSED PARACHUTE IS!!!!! Hahaha!!!! Listen~ it doesn’t MATTER what color it is!!!! That’s just another gimmick lodged in-between me, and the ever-present CHOICE to BE happy. Right now.

I know it can SEEM way more complicated that that. Because we are carrying the heavy burden of THE PAST along with us… which makes it hard to recognize WHAT WE ARE. You see, we don’t need to SEEK joy… because we ARE joy. That’s what it is to be made in God’s image. We are the joy, the love, the peace that we seek.

It is such fertile ground for learning here at Ananada Laurelwood. Because I can truly see that no matter whether I am scrubbing moldy shower stalls, or dressing massive cakes in painfully sweet frosting, or sponging tomato-stained grease off of a heaping mountain of lunch plates… It’s really all the same. It’s only my attitude, and willingness to surrender myself into the voluptuous grace of the moment, that governs how I experience IT. Every once in a while, at the end of a kitchen clean-up shift, I hear myself triumphantly utter something equivalent to, “We’re almost outa here!”… Then my words echo, as if through a massive canyon, flailing like bouncy balls, about the expanse of my awareness… and I ask myself where I imagine that I’m going, that’s going to be any better than where I am… and I realize that I am like TOTALLY deluded. It’s only the tension I’m holding in my body… that resistance to fully inhabiting the space of now, that makes me wish I was elsewhere. So I am practicing softening my belly and my shoulders and my thoughts; breathing all the way into and through each perfect and whole, lucidly gooey slice of Now Pie.

Do you hear what I am saying? I spent so many years suffering, because I couldn’t figure out what to DO with my life. Finally, I am coming to realize that that is NOT the issue. The issue is what barriers am I placing in the way of my moment to moment acceptance of what I AM? Like a shy bud emerging from the world’s longest winter, into the bright kindness of spring, I peek my head out into the rainbow-strewn, crystalline halls of eternal Truth. Sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow. Ya know… that in the face of this flawed and fleeting world, it is permissible to allow my heart to sing out in perpetual, prismatic shades of divine joy…. Do you GET IT?? Life is not about FINDING your passion. It is about BEING your passion.

Meditation is very helpful in this process of undoing from the chains of misunderstanding. Think about it. If happiness lies within, where must we GO to find it? Yep. Exactly.

There. Now you have the keys to queendom of heaven. What ever shall you do with them?

Om. Peace. Amen.

I’m Still Alive!!! And Then Some….

Hello from Athena Graceland! Ahhh… just writing those words… was like brushing fine silk across my tender cheek! I love it here!!! There truly is no place like home! Well, I have some fantastic news:

I finally mustered the courage to hurl the unicorns overboard!!!

Whaaaat is she talking about? Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might recall that I have written a couple of blogs over the distant months, (or maybe even YEARS) where I’ve whined about feeling stuck, stagnant, frozen. Which somehow inevitably jogged my wild mind to the Doors song, where Jim Morrison recites that poem about “when the still seas conspire in armor… true sailing is dead… and the first animal is jettisoned… legs furiously pumping…” and I learned that he was making reference to a time when sailors would be at sea, and the water would get dangerously still. No waves. And they’d essentially be motionless in the vast, gaping mouth of salty blue purgatory… so they’d throw their horses overboard, in hopes that their collective thrashing would stimulate enough motion to get them sailing again. God this human myth can be so gruesome and cruel.

But it was the perfect metaphor for the experience that I have struggled with from time to time along my path, creative, spiritual and otherwise (Wait… what else IS there besides creative and spiritual? I think any other categories of existence could easily be boiled down to one of those to words… and even those could be simmered down to ONE.) Ahem. And now to drive home the point!… I am in Oregon now. Remember, I was invited to the Ananda community, “Laurelwood”, here in the pacific northwest? I’ve been here for two and a half weeks… And already, entire casual sprays of spiral galaxies have burst and surged and smeared across the inner scapes of my being. Hallelujah! The unicorns have pumped me free!! How fitting that it came to pass at the threshold of the YEAR of the unicorn (“Horse”, for all of you squares out there!)…

The clock just struck five am. And I must exclaim that I am THRILLED to be here, opening up, tipping over, and pouring out like an ecstatic little tea pot! Surprise! I thought maybe I wasn’t a writer anymore. But no… my inner sea was just on holiday in the land of the dead. The neon OPEN sign has just buzzed and burst back on. I have undergone a transfusion of life and inspiration and freshness.

Why have I waited two and a half weeks to drop you a line from the perpetual happily-ever-afters (wink) of Athena Graceland? OMG, because I have been so freakin busy!! They make you WORK here!!! Well… not so much at first, thank Jahova! I’ve had time to ease into the flow here. But now I’m at a full throttle thirty-five hours a week of washing dishes, chopping vegetables, scrubbing ancient toilets, vacuuming endless flights of stairs, leading sadhanas, MAKING ART (My creative ignition deserves its OWN blog. Stay tuned!)… and then some!

When I first got here, I felt like a spoiled princess who was horrified by the idea of breaking a nail, or missing her afternoon nap. Okay, honestly, I am still not that jazzed about forgoing nap time… But I am easing into a refreshing surrender to life here. Sometimes that includes the *luxury* of an afternoon nap, and sometimes NOT. Sometimes it means my “full eight hours”, and sometimes it means five and a half. But always, it means an opportunity to LET GO and let “good”. I am submerged in goodness here.

Miriam invited me into this potent, transformative, divine slice of God’s dream. She was Swami Kriyananda’s nurse… until he split the scene of this earthen crack-house (wink!) last april. And then she came here to be a powerful conduit of Divine Mother’s Love in a place that sorely needed it. One of the great mysteries of life: Miriam and I have a deep, pure and potent bond that far transcends the meager crumbs of time we have imbibed together in this life. We share a grace-full familiarity that is generous, loving and expansive, like sliding into a perfectly hot, rose petal laden bath. Being near her sublime light, burns through any piddly cloud-cover that may cross my inner landscape. It’s actually quite miraculous. If I were to count my blessings, I’d put this Goddess at the top, like a cherry on a hot fudgy sunday! (I know, Ma!… “Sundae is spelled with an E!!!… But don’t you love imagining the holiest day of the week, all inundated with rich, creamy, “tahitian” vanilla ice cream, bleeding slowly about everything, as it’s frozen sanctity is provoked by a sea of scandalously thick, hot, decadent fudge?! Right in the middle of Sunday Service! As you inevitably snooze through Jyotish’s inspired talk! Grin.)

ATHENA! Come back! Don’t be so frivolous with your words, when you have SO many worlds inside to reveal, and your readers can only endure about a thousand words, before their minds glaze over like fresh, hot donuts and they click back to the Facebook stream! Ha! But I’ll NEVER stop being frivolous… it brings me JOY. And at raja yoga class on tuesday night, Daiva reminded us that JOY is really at the heart of it all. EVERYTHING we do (yes that means YOU), is in pursuit of this essential nectar that eternally abides at the very center of our eternal ISness. But if it “eternally abides” within… WHY on earth do we chase after it in every fluttering shadow and seductive, distant mirage?? Indeed, a question worth pondering for at least a moment. But not for TOO long. Just long enough to inspire you to let go of the chase and OPEN to joy NOW. And now and now.

Yesterday was an intense day for me. Lots of powerful movement in my Relationship with “Eddie-word”, which I won’t even get into… Plus, running on five hours of sleep, PLUS a marathon day of serving in the kitchen, plumbing the depths of exhaustion, the slow, shy dawning of pms… blah, blah, blah… And it gave me a stellar opportunity to mine my present experience for concealed shards of joy. Because Daiva asserted that since joy is the essence of God, and we are MADE OF GOD, joy is imbued in *everything* and every moment. Lo and behold, I found it! Legs aching, mind grimacing as I begrudgingly sprayed oily, cheese crusted plates with an industrial kitchen hose… even then, I found a few nectarous drops of joy dribbling from the dark center of my self-imposed suffering!

It reminded me of the bushmen in africa, who must dig deeeeep into the parched earth for a root that contains three drops of water, which they skillfully squeeze into their calmly eager mouths and then proceed to be quenched for the rest of the day. A little joy goes a long way.

Good Lord! We’re already beyond the eleven-hundred word mark! God? What else do you bid me share with these luminous friends?

Well… there is sOMuch more… The people (kind, loving, hard-working, committed, quirky, mostly fun…), the place (a hundred year old, ex-seventh day adventist boarding school, snuggled in the middle of sparse, forested, “somewhere” of northern Oregon, the vivid, incessant dreams I’ve been having every night, the deep feeling of wholeness that is rising inside me like a brilliant, dripping, full super-moon, as I continue to surrender my grip on life as I knew it… The shaky, uncertain evolution of my Relationship with Ed, and my new-found willingness to release into the unknown, as I stand in my power and LOVE HIM unconditionally…

It’s all pure grace, really. My heart told me to come here. I listened. I am growing faster than a time-lapsed movie of a sprout. When I try to wrap my head around it all, I become dizzy! So I just keep scrubbing plates, meditating and singing to God, and loving the ones I’m with. It’s actually quite simple. Too simple. Life is not what I was conditioned to believe it to be… that’s for sure. And that’s a good thing. But still a little hard to accept in some moments.

“The Master says, ‘Open your heart to me, and I will enter and take charge of your life’…”

Well I did. And He did. And I’m glad.

Om. Peace. Amen.

Clumsy Integration

It’s amazing how much life can be crammed into the span of a single week, day or even an hour. Last time I offered my inner world to the page, I was still at Ananda, and pretty sure that Ed and I were in our not-so-grand finale. Today I am in Oakland, at good olde Pizzaiolo. It’s morning, the sky is soupy-gray and I’m contemplating putting a jacket on. Don’t tell anybody, but a huge rat just scampered across the worn, wooden floor. I can hear the feminine trill of distant opera, mingling with the sound of clinking glasses, the soft aum of a humming motor and the shhhh of water rushing from a faucet.

It feels good to tell you simple, grounding things, rather than leaping straight for the land beyond the moon. I want to be the white-haired couple who are settling in two tables away from me. They each have a news paper and a morning bun. The man just gave a little jar of homemade jam to a dude who works here. His face is bright and inviting. Gosh, I’m noticing that the grass sure looks greener beyond just about EVERY fence these days. Certainly this seasoned pair is every bit as human as I, but in this moment, they represent simplicity to me; non-striving. Presence and contentment.

And then there’s Athena Grace, working so hard. Working so hard to integrate this being human. To heal my mind, my perception of the past… To dream not just MY future, but OUR future. The future of my human family. Fatigued and determined, I climb my own self-imposed walls in hopes of scaling them and discovering a panoramic view of Truth and Love and Infinity. Who will hold me while I break down and sob?… but not for TOO long. Just enough to cleanse and polish the mirror of my soul… and then I’ll carry on. Carry on with this alchemical mission of Awakening. I promise to give away everything that is revealed to me. What’s mine is yours.

Oh stark contrast! I left the pristine gentleness of the Momshram on sunday. My Ma drove me to Emeryville, where the archangels, Jennille and Marty are now hosting me in the guest room of their thirtieth floor penthouse apartment. As Ma and I rode the elevator up, up, up to the foothills of Heaven, we made conversation with a fellow passenger, over the elevator’s sudden, inexplicable inundation of the scent fried chicken. When he exited the shiny chamber, I cheerily called after him, “Enjoy yourself!”

“I’m sure I won’t,” he replied as the door slid shut. Stupified and tickled I looked at my Ma and giggled, “I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And thus began my decent back into this limping, glamorous urban world.

From an ashram to a penthouse. Now I have an epic view of a bay of liquid silver, veiled in thick, white mist and bleeding, electric sunsets through grimy floor to ceiling windows. Like all poetry at it’s finest, it comes swaddled in thick paradox. Thirty floors below, flows an incessant river of traffic: the 80 freeway. From purring crickets and dark, pristine skies pierced with starlight, to growling semi-trucks and endless, rolling scapes of city lights. My nervous system is recalibrating. It doesn’t feel graceful, but more like riding down a mile-long sandpaper slide.

Yes, I’m being dramatic. But I’m also about to start my period, and I feel sensitive and raw. And let’s factor in that the morning after my descent back into this epicentric urban madness, I began a week-long tantra yoga immersion. Just when I felt spiritually grounded… I had to go and rip up the floorboards; peel off the scab.

Pedro, my teacher keeps affirming that tantra and classical yoga are grossly disparate. While classical yogis give their all to denying/renouncing/transcending physical reality, tantrics EMBRACE this physical plane and recognize it ALL as divine. I can see the value in BOTH. I want to transcend it all as I fully, gracefully inhabit it. I guess that’s more tantric than classical… if you must slice it all apart with a scalpel. Well… it stings my heart every time Pedro scoffs at Patanjali and classical yoga.

From my “partial perception”, (as Pedro refers to each person’s unique, galactic vantage point) the practitioners of classical yoga, as illuminated by the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, are all very grounded and embodied in this earthly reality, living lives of harmony, devotion and service. I don’t see negation of life… only a grounded embrace. And yet, personally I don’t want to dress modestly and diminish my sexuality. I want to dance naked and glorious in the sloshy tides of warm, salty, semi-figurative, tropical dawns.

I guess what I’m driving at, is that I am feeling clumsy as I integrate all that I have lived and learned, to form a coherent and empowering view of reality. And when it gets to complicated, I find solace in the remembrance that I mostly want to be a kind, loving, honest and inspiring human being. I want to live by example; take care of all of my Brothers and Sisters, (yep, that means YOU, beloved child of God) and this magnificent planet on which we dance. I want to be happy and free and at peace. That is more than enough.

Amen.

Living In My New Skin

Have you ever gone through a deeply transformational experience, only to get spit out on the other side and find that you are just the same as you’ve always been? That’s how I feel on this first morning, post Ananda yoga teacher training. I now hover upon the page… wondering how to begin to put my experience into words… wondering if and how I have changed, grown, purified. And this wondering feels so familiar… it’s the very same wonderer who has always greeted this open, glowing space, and always will. Perhaps because I AM the open, glowing space.

But I shall remind myself now, as I oft must, that there is a time and place for spiraling philosophicality… and now is not it. Trying to say the most perfect thing is giving me the symptoms of writer’s block. And I’m here to WRITE, not feel stuck and frustrated because I’m not perfect. So instead of finding the absolute RIGHT thing to say, I’ll just pretend I’m writing a letter to my grandma, sharing some broad brush strokes of my recent life experience.

Or maybe I’ll tell you about how mesmerizing it is to watch the three tiered fountain spill slowly into itself. The water moves slow, as though it is drooling. Perhaps I’ll tell you that the air is thick with smoke because a distant forest is currently being engulfed in flames… and sitting outside is giving me a headache and I feel like I might be doing harm to myself by sitting at this picnic bench, groping about inside myself for the ultimate meaning du jour… but I went inside the market and the ambiance felt wrong. So I came back out to my perch in the poisonous morning.

Ahem. Dear Grandma Grace, yesterday I completed a month long yoga teacher training program at the Momshram. Although I have been studying yoga for thirteen years now (plus God knows how many prior lifetimes), including a regular daily practice for much of that time, two immersions, three prior teacher trainings, plus occasional workshops and retreats, this is the first time in my life that I feel certain that I want to and am ready to teach! I didn’t know when I set out on this most recent leg of my journey that this clarity and deeply rooted conviction would be the outcome. Not even close. All I knew was that the life I was inhabiting was rejecting me like the body rejects a splinter. Nothing felt right from the inside… though from the outside it “seemed” good enough. Like a snake shedding her skin, my once beautiful, nourishing life became inexplicably dry and lifeless…yet it concealed the vivid, tender, unborn life, still taking shape beneath the surface.

Am I in my new skin yet? I must be. But I have not yet come to recognize myself within these new sleek patterns of sacred expression… and this is why I am perching in puzzlement, upon the picnic bench wondering what I have to say for myself on this thick, smoke-strewn morning.

Oh, but Grandma Grace, please rap my elegant knuckles with your antique ruler, because I have begun to levitate again, and I must be brought back down to the rudimentary telling of this most recent chapter of my endless becoming.

Ananda yoga is different than any other asana practice I have ever encountered. It has facilitated a deep experience of my innermost self. All of the other yoga classes I’ve attended in my thirteen years of exploration have moved unceasingly from one pose to the next… until finally we arrive in savasana, the corpse pose, where we lay for five or ten minutes, before sitting up, joining our voices in the sonic resonance of OM, rolling up our mats, and forging back out into the urban storm.

Ananda yoga is about internalizing awareness; cultivating energy in the body, and then drawing it up the spine, to the point between the eyebrows, which is said to be the seat of superconsciousness. The place where one’s consciousness is merged with All That Is. And if that’s too woo-woo for you, this point is also the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for producing the experience of happiness, peace, calmness, and other such savory textures of human beingness. In Ananda yoga, rather than moving from one sacred shape to the next, like a fluttering flip book, we do a pose and then return to a neutral stance, close our eyes, absorb and EXPERIENCE the energy that has been aroused within. We draw the energy IN and UP. Letting it become fuel for higher awareness.

No wonder I never felt moved to teach before now. For better and for worse, I am not one of those people who can make myself DO things just for the sake of doing. I can only access self-discipline when compelled from the depths of my soul. I was never compelled from the depths of my soul to teach a spiritually persuaded exercise class. Shrug. Not enough gravitational pull. To guide people to the profound, powerful truth that abides within the silent center of each of us… Now THAT’S something I can get behind!!!

I am amazed at how simple this yoga is, Grandma Grace! And yet how deep it brings me, when I offer myself fully to the process. I find myself wondering why it is not more widely practiced. I mean, doesn’t EVERYONE want to cultivate their inner garden of peace and unconditional, ever-new joy? I would assert that we DO… but most of us are going about it all wrong. We are incessantly grasping and striving for external circumstances to bring us peace and fulfillment… and unnecessarily suffering for this. We co-create a matrix of unnecessary complexity as we dream up new, bigger, better schemes which we unconsciously hope will finally deliver the contentment we seek.

A couple days before the training began, I went to the Yuba River with two of my best girlfriends. I remember telling them that I desired simplicity in my life… for the first time EVER. Up until recently, I thought simplicity equated to boredom. But something has blossomed within me. I no longer require the intense stimulation I once did, in order to know that I am alive. I can feel so much fulfillment, listening to the fountain’s gentle, gay, splash song; take delight in the sensuous language of wind upon my skin. I am called to reverent stillness, beholding the majesty of trees.

I am pretty sure this return to my Self is a result of regular meditation practice. Simply remembering how to inhabit my silent center. This is the aim of Ananda yoga (of which meditation is an essential component!). Yoga is not just a set of glorified shapes to twist your body into. It is a science. A tried and true method that will lead every sincere and devoted seeker to the experience of Self as Totality.

Wow, that letter to grandma trick sure got me on track! Mere moments ago, I was almost convinced I had writer’s block… And now I am a passionate font of spiritual revelation!!! I could gush for another millennia about this intelligently crafted system of Self-mastery. But the practice speaks for itself. And this is why I am delighted to serve as an ambassador of these ancient teachings.

Wow, I just proofread this, and it seemed to piss on the slippers of other systems of hatha yoga. Which was NOT my intention. I appreciate all of the teachers and practices that have been stepping stones on my path. Essentially, I am saying that it just makes sense to pause and go inside between poses to feel the power I am awakening, and channel it intentionally to raise my consciousness. And it makes sense to let the asana practice be an access point to deep meditation. And this potent and simple practice is something I am madly jazzed to share!!

OM. Peace. Amen.

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Bowing To My Twenties

Epiphanies at six am?  Unthinkable?  That’s what YOU thought.  But think again, because I just had one!  Clambering around in the kitchen, putting on water for tea and I realized that I have been zealously telling this story called, “I HATED MY TWENTIES!” as though it was the gospel truth.  But guess what?  It’s actually not.  Sure, my twenties were not a drunken collegiate joy ride down a ten year long slip and slide… They were arduous and confusing as fuck.  But… This morning I was appreciating how blessed I was to have studied yoga all through my twenties.  And not just asana, but many facets of yoga.  Philosophy, ayurveda and nutrition, meditation, karma yoga (selfless service)… I love that now I can roll out my mat anywhere and guide myself through a deep, nourishing practice any day of the rainbow, any place under the sky.  I spent so much quality time sucking up spiritual sustenance through an impressively wide straw in my twenties.

And while I’m at it, I might as well tell you of my enchanted yoga mat.  Someone gave it to me (used) back in ’02 or ’03.  It’s particularly long and light blue, stained brown where my dirty bare feet have over eight years impressed all the dirt they wandered through.  My mat has traveled with me all over this earth.  It saved my life in Cuba.  I remember doing asana amidst billowing laundry hanging to dry in the warm breath of evening on the concrete in the back yard of the modest casa where Eric and I stayed for a few days.  A tiny home that contained FOUR generations of women, from age 9 to age eighty-something.  (Never in my life had I experienced tight knit family like that!)  The mother (as opposed to the grandma or the great grandma) was very curious as she watched me practice… so I showed her some things and when we left their home, we offered her the sivananda yoga book we had been traveling with.  She was delighted.  I wonder if she is practicing now…

My yoga mat has made love with much playa dust on the Nevada desert floor at Burning Man over the years.  (I was mostly the dorky anomaly who went to bed early and woke up early, zealously threading my way to center camp before sunrise to drink coffee, write and then dive into a long, slow, nourishing asana practice.  My yoga mat, which come to think of it, is more like a magic carpet, has flown me to the beloved city of lights, Paris, twice!  I have ritualistically unwound myself in the green grass beneath the Eiffel Tour many times.  And in the south of France, I have rolled it out along the wide sidewalks stretching on, parallel to the turquoise sea, as well as next to ornate, gushing fountains in elaborate jardins.  (Yoga is not a very common place phenomenon in France.  At least it wasn’t when I was there in ’05 and ’06… So mostly I got strange looks and inquisitive queries as I practiced.)  Throughout all my travels, yoga was my portable home.  A resting place that returns me to the infinite space inside where I ever belong.

My yoga mat has been my sanity on otherwise stressful visits with the ex-in-laws in New York and Colorado.  My yoga mat went to Taos, New Mexico to study with Natalie Goldberg once upon a blessed time.  Camping at Lake Tahoe and Mount Shasta.  Not to mention all the times it’s been rolled out and stepped on in mundane old San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.  Even last night in my “Temple”, (my sacred, beautiful massage and yoga and meditation room) I rolled out my mat and drank deep, sweet sips of a practice that delivered me back safely on the doorstep of the mansion of All Pervading Peace!  Yoga saved my life last night, as my “house” (my life, my sense of self) was burning down.  It still is… but when I come back to yoga, I don’t even mind.  Let me burn!  Purify me once and for all, you Holy All Pervading Fire Breather!!!

Also in my twenties, I spent five beautiful years with Eric.  Yes, it’s true, I was pacing my cage and stringing my days into a longer than sin garland of existential crisis… but still… Eric and I shared so much joy.  SO MUCH LAUGHTER.  We played like blissed out, dissolved children and lived like Life yearns for all Her children to live.  Try to make the world black or white and you will miss all the twisty, prismatic refractions playfully slapping your face and pulling your tangly mane.

In my twenties I immersed myself in the culture of transformational courses.  I did inner work.  I witnessed others bounce between the walls of cultish dogma and true revelation.  (Grin.)  I circled with women, searching thirstily for the woman buried inside of me.  Learning and drinking from so many sacred wells.  I forged friendships that I imagine will stretch on for the rest of this life and beyond (backwards and forward).

My twenties were certainly an uphill climb.  But that’s par for the course for a quadruple Capricorn.  (Sun, moon, rising and mercury… at least according to western astrology…)  I will be climbing mountains for the rest of my God given life.  I’m pretty sure of that.  But just because climbing mountains is strenuous, doesn’t mean you oughtn’t keep trudging upward with your eyes on the prize~ that feeling of expansive mastery, of weighty accomplishment as you let the expansive, lucid view inundate you, your chest heaving and suckling on precious sips of decadent breath.  People climb mountains just for fun all the time.

So did I “hate” my twenties?  No, that is impossible, because hatred is in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder has abolished hatred from her sacred mansion.  This beholder is cleansing her memories with the holy water of gratitude and peace.

Amen.

The Empress’s New Bikini

It’s startlingly quiet here in the walnut orchard.  I mean relative to cafes teeming with urban sounds.  I see a large hawk standing on the ground, stretching his rusty brown wings on the other end of the orchard.  Oh, it just took flight, sailing gracefully low, along the grassy, earthen floor.  No, I’m not being fictional.  I am on a yoga retreat at Full Belly Organic farm in Guinda, California.  And actually, it’s not quiet at all.  The birds are doing some serious vocal celebration.  In stereo.  It’s pretty cliché for writers to seek out quiet places, retreats if you will, to go pound out their latest literary masterpieces… but I find being in this strange, down-tempo quietude a bit daunting.  I am so used to bushwhacking my way through urban chaos to find my voice and my inspiration… When I first sat down in the grass with my back against the sturdy walnut trunk, I felt a wave of panic.  What can I possibly think of to say amidst this pristine, leafy grove of peace?  But now that I have put my fingers to the familiar silver keys of my trusty laptop (whose name, by the way is Hanuman), the spell is broken and I am just as much a writer on Full Belly Farm as I was back at Pizzaiolo in Oakland.  Phew.

And it’s a bloody good thing, because I want to share with you some of the relentlessly spilling beauty that I have been bathing in since I got here yesterday afternoon.  My tiny tent (which collapses on me while I sleep due to a broken, crucial pole) is pitched right on the bank of Cache Creek.  Cache Creek looks much more like a full on river, than a creek to me.  It is so wide and majestic.  Its current is strong, but you wouldn’t know, because it moves almost soundlessly, as though it is stalking something in the distance, taking great care not to be noticed.  When I just sit and watch it, it looks like an ever shifty mirror, reflecting the blue, cloud smeared sky and the distant, rolling golden hills, dappled with gnarled oak trees (which look more like miniature broccoli forests under the optical spell cast by distance).  The creek is a transfixing liquid mirror, more luminous than life its self, whispering subtle prophecies only to those with enough quiet space inside to receive Her covert though incessant whispers.

I’ve always considered myself a wimp when it comes to submerging in cold water.  I think I learned that from my mom.  As a kid, I have a collection of images of my mom in various bathing suits, standing sheepishly at the edges of rivers, lakes, oceans and pools, dipping a toe or three in and shuddering.  As I recall, she was mostly always content to stand at the water’s edge and wet her feet.  Now don’t go making any vaster metaphors about my mom’s character out of that slew of snapshots.  I would not say that that is how she lived her life as a whole… (would you, Mom?)  But I had a breakthrough in this area a few years ago.  I used to always be that girl standing at the edge and WISHING I was the courageous type, who just threw her little some’m to that Greater Some’m and dove on in.  I would see others partaking in such unbounded behavior and feel that part of me aching to be liberated.  So one day upon a time, I had the idea to endow my submersion with inspired meaning.  I made it into a prayer.  Since I am such a spiritually ambitious creature, not to mention competitive, this got me wet real fast.

What did I pray for?  Oh, probably to release soul pain and be a more purified and full expression of my divine self… honestly, what else IS there to pray for?  Global peace and healing?  I would argue that beyond the semantics, it’s really the same thing… What’s inside is outside and what’s outside is inside.

Today after breakfast was my first chance to plunge into the healing current of watery prayer.  I stood naked* on the bank, contemplating what to pray for and feeling much like those childhood images of my mother on the shore.  I stepped in and startling, sensuous shocks raced through the souls of my feet, up my spine.  Eeeek.  I stood, calf-deep in the frigid water, searching my interior for the prayer that would compel me to break through the stifling density of my comfort zone.  It felt elusive and slippery, so I just stood there timidly as the water swept effortlessly around my legs.  Something was crystallizing in the space that is both of my heart and mind.  God… God… God… Serving God.  Serving the Highest. Gahhh-ahhhh-ahhh-d. Something beckoned my gaze, and I looked skyward.  A balled eagle gracefully swept the vast blue.  It must have been pretty high up because it looked tiny, but I could clearly make out its white fan of a tail, its white head and nearly black body.

In the medicine cards, eagle represents spirit.  I had just been extending my mind in the direction of All Pervading Awesomeness, and LO!  Without haste, a messenger hath cometh!!!  Inside, I melted into a puddle of elated revelation and then my prayer became a simple, concise mantra, THY WILL BE DONE.  Thy will be done.  Thy will be done, I chanted inwardly as I unabashedly dove into the subtle, strong current.  And then it was all shooting stars and bucking unicorns inside me!  WOW, was it cold and beautiful!  Everything I am tingled and sang with immediacy!  Thy will be done.

*Then I got out and dried off, and soon all the other retreatees flocked to the shore in bikinis and made their way into the brisk, holy waters.  Bikinis?!?!  Kimber instructed us to bring bathing suits, but come ON… Who wantsta wear a dumb old bathing suit in a cool, sacred creek slicing taoishly through an organic farm?  I didn’t bring one.  But because everyone else did, I began to feel awkward being naked and free.  I hate that.  Maybe I’ll play The Empress’s New Bikini, and pretend that I’m wearing one made of such regal, expensive fabrics that you can’t even see it!  OMG, that old story, The Emperor’s New Clothes is a HOOT!  I mean come ON… imagine if George W. commissioned some really posh tailor to make him a hella fancy suit to wear as he made an important speech to the nation… and he showed up like a naked fool!  We woulda loved that!  At least I would have.  It wouldn’t be quite as amusing if Obama did it… But still worth a chuckle, I guess.

The birds are still chirping away, full throttle.  All the walnut trees are standing so still, windlessly silent and sturdy.  Yesterday during her yoga class (we practiced here in the orchard), Kimber reached up and took a fist full of smooth, bright green, almond shaped leaves in her hand, letting them slide through her fingers so lovingly, as though the tree were her own child.  It was a quick moment that rose and fell in the space of a single exhale… but the deep, rich, love in her heart stained my mind.  She loves this farm so dearly.  She has been coming here for over ten years and yesterday she told us this is her Hawaii.  I liked that… since I want to go to Hawaii.  Little did I know that I was already here.  In Kimber’s Hawaii.

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