I am so honored to have been chosen as a Featured Teacher on the wonderful website Teacher Goes Back To School. (Click the link to read the interview.) If you’ve ever wondered how this wild rebel got into the Yoga game, or what my classes are really like, this is the interview to read. Thank you to Tami Hackbarth for giving me the forum to speak my truth. Much love to you, sister and, if I may say so, word to YOUR mother!
When I was a kid in school, I was in special classes for “gifted” kids. I always have hated that term. Aren’t we all gifted? Anyway, in these courses, I was given the opportunity to do incredible things. I wrote two “books” before I was in Jr High School, attended court cases, took trips to botanical gardens, got out of regular classes to do hands on learning, and was able to meet some wonderful professionals. When I was in 7th grade, I had an experienced that changed my life. At the time, I had no idea how powerful it would be (who knows these things when they are 13?) but I have never forgotten it. One spring Saturday, my “gifted” group and the similar groups from other schools piled into the auditorium and listened to an author speak about the writing process. He spoke at length and answered questions and, honestly, I don’t remember very much except the one thing that has guided my life: “You must conquer the power of white.”
Before you go getting all steamed in your bloomers, this has nothing to do with race or color or anything other than writing. You have to remember, I’m older than dirt. When this event happened, people didn’t write on computers. Most folks wrote on a word processor or even, gasp, on paper with a pencil or pen! What the author was talking about was the terror, the complete and total block that comes when you sit down in front of a white sheet of paper and suddenly cannot think of a single word to write. The whiteness, the purity, the blank sheet is too overwhelming and everything that you might think about writing starts to seem wildly inane and insignificant, so you sit there drooling on yourself like an idiot and get nothing done. The white has won.
His suggestion? Get the paper dirty. Scribble on it. Spill something on it. Smudge it. Do anything – ANYTHING – to destroy the power of white. When it’s not so blank, things start to happen. It’s the same as waking up in the morning to a blanket of pure white thick fresh fallen snow. You want to go out and play in it (okay, I never do, but I hear that most people want to,) and yet you don’t want to ruin the perfectness of it. A perfectly frosted cake. A pristinely made bed. A perfectly wonderful life, a perfectly profound grief. They all can become all you see and the fear of changing it, even a tiny bit, is horrifying. Adding humanity to it, adding life to it, adding (or subtracting) ANYTHING to it risks fucking it up irreparably.
It’s been quite awhile since I have written and I couldn’t find out why I was struggling to get words onto the page. I stated something along those lines on my FB status and got some insightful responses. The one that struck me most profoundly, however, came in the form of a private message from a friend who suggested that maybe I am not sure what to write about now, how much of my own life to include in the story, is because I have been so very bold and open with my grief and my process and, now that it is taking on a different color, I’m feeling the need to protect it. My life now has it’s own power of white.
Last time I wrote, I mentioned that I am now in a relationship with a wonderful man. The feedback from that has been interesting, to say the least. Most people who say anything at all to me about it are INCREDIBLY supportive and excited. Many of my friends and family members have met him and it’s clear to them that this is a good thing. It’s very clear to us that this is a good thing. That said, there are several people out there (quite likely more than I know,) who are not so thrilled with this turn of events, who feel that it is disrespectful of Brian or of our marriage or whatever. I realize that, for a long time, I was more terrified of what other people would say or think than how I would feel. That, my dears, is utter bullshit. Their feelings are their story. My feelings are mine. I’m the one who gets to scribble on my page so I can overcome the fear of writing a new story. I took a breath, took a chance, and scribbled like mad and, guess what? My story has a new plot, a wonderful, exciting, sincere, honest, compassionate plot that doesn’t dismiss my story with Brian, but has added onto it. My story is still being written. Had I not taken the chance, had I not scribbled, I’d still be dying daily while sitting on my couch. I did that for months and months and months. Brian wouldn’t have wanted that. My kids didn’t want that. *I* didn’t want that, but it was happening. I messed up that perfectly blank sheet of grief and somehow, a story of life started to unfold. I stopped dying on the couch and started, slowly, to live again.
I have been picking up additional yoga classes as the other teachers at Yoga Sol are vacationing. Getting back into a more active teaching role has helped me scribble on my yoga page as well. After Brian died, everything I did was colored by my loss. It is absolutely impossible to avoid that. Fortunately, it worked well for me and it made my teaching more … profound? Intense? Real? I don’t know what to call it, but for a long time it was even more of an extension of me as it has always been. As I began to heal (and I’ll be healing for the rest of my life,) however, it started to feel like I was stuck. Again, the power of white was blocking me. I was too comfortable with the blanket of grief teaching and it became all I could see, even though it didn’t fit anymore. One day, I did something I hadn’t done since Brian died: I ended the class with the singing bowl and a chant. I scribbled on my class and, oh how the story started to pour out! I have been doing yoga for more than half of my life and I have taken just about every kind of class you can imagine, but it was suddenly like I was a beginner again. Beginner’s mind, yo. Everything was new and wonderful and exciting and vibrant. The grief hadn’t gone away, but suddenly there was the opportunity for much more than grief! I think the same thing applies to all yoga students. It might not be grief they are experiencing, it might just be complacency, or even incredible bliss, but if nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes. I have had the pleasure of having new students in my class recently. Yesterday, a lovely yogini arrived to my Flying Friday class and confessed that she had attempted to come the week prior, but got scared before she walked in and left without taking the class. White white white white white. Yesterday, she stayed, she took the class, scribbled al over her mat, and started to bloom into a million colors.
We can get blinded and paralyzed by extreme joy, extreme grief, extreme pain, extreme ambivalence. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks – it’s their story they are writing, not yours. Only you can write your story, but you have to write it. You have to take a chance, mess up the page, conquer the power of white, and get it out there. You never know how wonderful it will be unless you start letting it pour out onto your own page. Let it have colors. Let it have adventure. Let it have flavor and texture. Let it have music (I’m fond of the mandolin.) Let it be bold or timid, but let it be. Don’t hide behind the power of white, get out there and start scribbling and be amazed at your own brilliance!
I am always being told that there are no rules for this grief thing, that everyone does it their own way, in their own time, that whatever I’m going through is okay. I agree with them. It’s total anarchy over here. I’m sure that some of the choices I have made – or are contemplating making – cause folks to think I’ve lost my damn mind. I want to ask those people the following question: did I ever truly have it?
It’s no secret that I’m not your typical yogin. I like steak, I like to have a cocktail, I like motorcycles, tattoos, bearded men, bar room brawls, I can cuss like a sailor and make inappropriate jokes. I’m also the kind of yoga teacher that cares more about what an asana feels like rather than what it looks like. What feels better for me might not be what feels better for you. As long as you’re not going to hurt yourself (it’s my job to prevent you from doing that,) get in touch with your inner self and do what feels right. Break the rules. Rule yourself! Anarchy.
All of this came to a head a couple of weeks ago when I realized that there is no way I will please everyone all the time and there are times that I will please no one, so I might as well do what pleases me. I can’t care about what anyone else thinks as I’m grieving my husband. As long as it feels right to me, it’s the right thing to do. That might look like staying in bed all day. That might look like going out and meeting new friends. That might look like getting a new tattoo. That might look like riding down the highway on the back of someone’s Harley. That might look like any number of things, and here’s the thing: I get to make my own rules. The process is sort of Anarchy.
I’ve been watching Sons of Anarchy a lot recently. There’s some release in watching people act out the feelings I have deep inside that I can’t safely act upon. It’s cathartic. Whether that means watching people express feelings without fear of repercussion, loving fearlessly, or getting revenge for someone hurting your loved one, seeing it is better, for me, than acting upon it. The other great thing about SoA is that it has an amazing soundtrack. When everything started coming together, I made a playlist that was almost 100% of songs from SoA. The only exception is one song from Shooter Jennings and one from Frankie Miller. As it turned out, folks responded like gang busters to this playlist and, since I’ve been asked several times to share it, I am going to post it.
Fortunate Son — Bob Thiele, Jr. & Lyle Workman
He Got Away – Noah Gundersen and The Forest Rangers
John the Revelator – Curtis Stigers and The Forest Rangers
This Life (Instrumental) – Domink Hauser
Someday Never Comes – Billy Valentine and The Forest Rangers
Travelin’ Band – Curtis Stigers and The Forest Rangers
Girl From the North Country – The Lions
Gimme Shelter – Paul Brady and The Forest Rangers
15 Million Light Years Away – Shooter Jennings
Sympathy for the Devil – Jane’s Addiction
Higher Ground – Franky Perez and The Forest Rangers
Jealous Guy – Frankie Miller
Bird on a Wire – Katy Sagal and The Forest Rangers
What a Wonderful World – Allison Mosshart and The Forest Rangers
Forever Young – Audra Young and The Forest Rangers
Total Running Time: 1:00.23
Lawlessness never sounded so good!
Brian and I just got back from Costa Rica. It was the first time he left the country since he went to Canada on a fishing trip in 1999 and only the second time to have left the country at all. Somehow I always thought traveling the world together would look different. Somehow I thought he’d be alive when he landed in a new land.
The trip to Costa Rica was a gift from a very dear friend who also happens to be a student of mine. It was planned, booked, and paid for long before Brian died. It was very difficult for me to go, but some part of me knew it would be a crucial step in healing for me and I knew that Brian would be furious with me if I skipped it.
This post could be incredibly long if I let it get there, but I am still processing. There are things to which I still cannot put words. The yoga was so deep and powerful, both on and off the mat. If you have the chance, please please please study with Silvia Mordini. If you have the chance, please please please take a trip with Alchemy Tours. If you have the chance, please please please say YES!
I wear Brian’s ashes in a necklace. It is beautiful and elegant and made from sterling silver. I had planned to take it off when I swam in the ocean or did other things because the idea of losing it is traumatic. I know that’s irrational. I have pounds of his ashes and the necklace can be replaced and, if it fell off and spilled the ashes, it’s likely that would be Brian making that choice to stay there. Still, the idea of losing it… well, I’ve already lost so much.
The 2nd day in the jungle, our group took at 3.5 hour hike through the river to a couple of waterfalls. It was beautiful. It reminded me SO much of the countless days I spent with Brian hiking through creeks and the woods. Interestingly enough, rivers and creeks in CR look almost identical to the rivers and creeks in MO, only the trees on the banks are different. We came upon the first waterfall and there was a gorgeous swimming hole at the bottom. I swam across it and joined the group of people who were lining up at the top of the waterfall. They started diving into the pool. This terrified me. Lately everything terrifies me. While the jump was probably 10 or 12 feet, from above it looked like 25. When diving off a cliff (indulge me here,) you not only jump down, you have to jump OUT to clear the rocks at the bottom. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I did! I jumped and I survived and I laughed! I swam to the other side and sat there breathing. I put my hand on my chest to feel my heart and realized that I still had the necklace on. Brian had jumped with me! In that moment, I became a aware of a few things: 1) that necklace is very well made. 2) I am not afraid of dying – dying actually seems pretty okay most days, but I am afraid to LIVE! and 3) I had just crossed an item off Brian’s Bucket List. So I jumped off a few more times for good measure and then we hiked on to another, bigger waterfall. No real swimming there, but the view was amazing! On the way back, our guide was looking for our exit from the river back to The Sanctuary. I had been down there the day before and had noticed some very interesting plant growth at the mouth of the trail. It seriously was the only marker, but I remembered it and ended up being the one to find the path back. I used the skills Brian taught me. He was there in that moment.
Over the next week, I continued to cross Bucket List items off for both me and Brian. Swimming in the ocean, snorkeling Tortuga Island, talking to the wild monkeys, writing his name on the beach, diving through large waves in the ocean, zip lining through the jungle canopy. And for me, I achieved my aspirational yoga pose. Breakthroughs, each and every one, and he was with me the entire time. It got me to thinking that this whole saying YES thing and crossing off items from the list and living doesn’t have to stop at the jungle. It must not stop at the jungle. I must continue to do these things at home and everywhere I go. I have to say YES. I have to live. I have to because the difference between living and existing is enormous and he’d want me to live just like I want him to live on. We’ll do it together, this saying YES thing. We’ll cross off list item after list item until we’ve done it all.
Next up? Riding a mechanical bull.
Pura Vida, Brian. Pura Vida!
Saturday night was Date Night and my husband and I were, as usual, out entirely way too late being up to no good and we were walking along the streets and alleys of downtown CoMO when I spotted the graffiti pictured up there. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
We can get so caught up in the minutia of our lives that we forget that it really, truly is good to be here. We live in a world where nearly everything is possible. You are sitting here reading this right now on a computer or a phone or a tablet that is connecting us around the world by invisible connections in space. You are loved. You are alive. You can feel the air on your skin. You woke up on this side of the dirt this morning.
It’s good to be here, indeed.
I was so moved by this message sent by an anonymous sage that I used it as the theme for my next three yoga classes. If you’ve ever wanted to take one of my classes but couldn’t make it, here’s your chance to experience a tiny bit. Press your palms together (Anjali Mudra) and then bring your hands to Anahata (press your thumbs to your sternum.) As you breathe deeply, inhale and feel your heart chakra lift up and press into your thumbs, exhale and feel your back body grounding. Visualize a ball of light forming right inside you, right behind your thumbs. Breathe in and see that ball begin to glow and expand like fire does when fanned with oxygen. Breathe out and see the glow grow to encompass your whole body. As it glows, begin to ad a little movement. Inhale your arms over head, palms pressed together. Exhale and draw your arms out in a circle around you until they come back to heart. Reverse the process: inhale arms out and up the exhale hands to heart. Repeat 5 more times. Visualize the light encompassing you, circling you. Then imagine it reaching beyond you to encompass your neighbor. Then the town. Then your state. Then the country. Then the entire world. This light is your light, your life, your passion, your grace, your joy, your uniqueness, your Prana. No matter where you go or what you do, that light is within you. That light is you. That light is who you are. That light is WHERE you are. Always.
It’s good to be here.
It’s Good to be here.
IT’S GOOD TO BE HERE.
I’m in kind of a strange place. I’m feeling extremely sad and scared, but at the same time I’m feeling delighted, excited, and alive. It’s difficult to feel so many contradictory feelings at once. This damn yoga – it makes me actually feel my feelings and that’s not alway easy. In fact, some days it’s really fucking hard.
Someone I love is very sick. She has been sick for a long time. For years, she wasn’t exactly sure what was going on and life was a strung out lesson in the agony of the unknown. Now she has a diagnosis and a treatment plan, but no cure. Certain aspects are improving, others aren’t changing, and some, sadly, are worsening. It doesn’t look good… to my eyes. If you ask her, though, she’ll tell you that things look amazing! She’ll tell you that she was so much sicker a year ago than she is now. She’ll tell you that she’s going to be just fine. She’ll tell you that she’s happy. She’ll tell you not to worry. She’ll tell you it’s okay. She’ll tell you that she knows things now and that knowledge is everything! She’s not delusional. She’s not in denial. She’s not lying. She’s slowly dying. “And so are you,” she will say.
We are all dying. We start dying the minute we are born. Every day we reduce the number of breaths we will take in our entire lifetime. Each day the number of cells we will regenerate in our lives is cut. Each day our hearts grow a little older, our skin gets a little thinner, our bodies and our lives a little … a little … a little more precious. Yes. More precious. At least it seems that way. The fact of the matter is that we just never know when we will take our last breath. We could be happy and healthy and safe and something – anything – could come and take that away. It could be something as simple as an allergic reaction or something as horrible as a chronic disease or as random as a car accident. There are no guarantees. This life comes with no warranty.
My friend gets really excited about little tiny things these days: laundry, salt, kid noise, rice, wool, snails. It’s kind of infectious! After a talk with her the other day, I had a very difficult time sleeping. My mind kept wanting to take me to the gloom and doom and grief associated with illness, but somewhere along the lines, my mind jumped tracks and I started thinking about – get this – scrambled eggs. You should know that I make the best scrambled eggs in the world when I make them the way I like them (with kale and cheese and chili peppers and hot sauce.) They are amazing and someday I will win an award for them, I am sure. I eat them a couple of times a week, but my conversation with my friend made me realize that I eat them, I love them, but I don’t often take the time to appreciate them. Each tiny bite has not only flavor, but color, texture, temperature, and aroma. Quite a lot for breakfast, eh?
I woke up the next morning and made the eggs. I took the time to appreciate all the fine details about those eggs the same way those hideously pretentious wine people appreciate fermented grapes. I noticed that, if I looked really closely, my coffee had a very groovy looking oil slick like pattern on the top. I saw that my dog Audrey has a little blueish dot in each of her brown eyes. I found a new freckle on my arm. Under the smell of dogs and boys and yoga mats, my van has a faint vanilla smell. I counted the funny white hairs that are randomly growing on the left side of my husband’s beard. I woke up. I opened my eyes. I decided that even though I am dying (as we all are,) I am going to live! I’m going to notice things. I’m going to be aware and appreciative. I’m going to Love This Life (click that or the picture below to read the Manifesto I recite in class often. My friend is the one who introduced me to it, by the way.)
Someday we are going to have to say, “goodbye.” I think it would be a damn shame if we did it without saying, “hello” first.
Then Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
I was talking with on of my oldest dearest friends today. He and I have been closer than close for nearly 18 years now, having met over a cloud of cigarette smoke and cheap beer in our college dorm in January 1995. In close to two decades of friendship, we have talked about just about everything you can imagine. We have shared nearly every experience people can share. We talk in code that I’m sure drives everyone around us insane. We have yet to find a single life experience that cannot be explained by quoting Steel Magnolias, he gives me shit for being older than him, I give him shit because I’m aging better, and I am responsible for introducing him to the Beergarita and thus the subsequent demise of his liver (sorry.) We shared an apartment together for a while and we made 3am calls to our mothers to tell them that we loved them and tequila, we once shared custody of a psychotic cat, and we have enough dirt on each other to bury several generations of shame, but there is one thing on which we will never ever ever see eye to eye. Each and every day we have nearly come to blows over this very important topic and, frankly, it doesn’t seem like either of us will ever budge. It’s vicious and vile, petitions have written, flow charts created, and campaigns waged on both sides to prove definitively who is in the right (duh, ME!,) but still, the war wages on. Today, that old tired battlefield saw action yet again and I am going to state my position right here and right now for the entire world to see:
Chef Boyardee is disgusting.
There. It’s out there and I’m pretty sure, since my readers are brilliant beautiful people, that you’ll agree with me. After all, it is the only way to see things. It is the only truth there is.
Or is it?
The older I get, the more I’m becoming aware that there is more than one way to skin a cat. (Side note: who the hell thought of that disturbing idiom? I mean … wow. Okay, moving on… ) There are multiple ways of seeing things and they can all be right (except that biohazard in a can.) The thing that matters is if it’s right and true to you! (except for Jason and his beyond unforgivable food choices.) It doesn’t so much matter what you believe as long as you truly believe it. It doesn’t so much matter if someone judges what you like as long as you are okay with what you like. It doesn’t so much matter who you are as long as you are truly who you are.
I grew up calling the lowest of the low “Scumbags.” If they were disgusting and undesirable and causing trouble, they were Scumbags and I would avoid the holy hell out of them (until I was in my late teens and early 20s and then I’d date them. Oh hell, who am I kidding? If I was single, I’d still be dating them.) Anyway, Scumbag was always icky. You didn’t want to be called a scumbag. However, just like a fungus, certain truths start to grow on you. Suddenly, the term “Scumbag” doesn’t seem so bad to me at all. I might even call myself one – but it’s like that whole deal with mama. I can talk about my mama, but don’t you dare talk about my mama.Don’t you dare call me a Scumbag or I’ll make you eat a can of Chef Boyardee (a fate worse that standing in hellfire.) There’s even a song that espouses the glories of being a scumbag! The thing is this: if it’s your truth and you’re okay with it, it’s not so bad!
One of the 8 limbs of yoga is Satya: being truthful. Being truthful doesn’t just mean not lying. It means being exactly who you are, not hiding your true self from anyone, most especially not yourself. We MUST be honest about who we are. Lying about who we are, hiding who we are, portraying ourselves as anything other than what we are is not only dishonest, it’s un-yogic and it’s wildly unfair to yourself and to those around you. First of all, no one is that good of a liar. People will know you’re not being true. It’s in the way you carry yourself, the way you defend yourself when no one is attacking you, it’s in your eyes. And while folks hate being lied to, the biggest truth is that no one will respect someone who lies to herself. Just be who you are. Just be who you are. Just be who you are. Be a queen, a king, a sad sack, a sick soul, a scumbag, a sentient being, a lover, a healer, a hell-bound whiskey drinker, but be it honestly. TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE! I’ve tried with all my might to make this blog about my truth, my scroll of Satya, if you will. I have laid it all out here honestly and, while it hasn’t always been easy nor been openly accepted, I am better off for having done it and continuing to do it. I spent years hiding who I was. As a child, I hid my opinions. As a youth, I hid my disbelief in my family’s teachings. As a young adult, I hid my own self worth. As an adult, I started to hide the fact that I am not either a “Scumbag” OR a “Sadhana Mama,” I am BOTH / AND. It is my Satya and I am so much better for living it openly. It is my truth. It is who I am and I am more than okay with that.
Jason will continue to eat that swill in a can and I will continue to see it as dog food in a dish, but that’s okay because we’re both speaking our truth. The fact that my truth is the correct truth is of little consequence. What matters is that we have our truths, we believe them, and we’re living them. That’s what is important. That’s the Satya. That’s the yoga of it all.
Whatever your truth is, STAND IN THE LIGHT OF YOUR TRUTH. Don’t hide. Don’t cheat yourself or the world of who and what you are. So Hum. I am That. I am That. I am That. I am That I am That I am That I am That I am.