Monday, December 23, 2013

Thirty Wishes

Today I turn thirty. For many reasons, this day is special. For reasons far beyond what I had imagined for my 30th birthday, I am bathed in gratitude, awareness, contentment, and compassion.

I wanted to offer something today. Thirty somethings, really. As a symbol of my appreciation. Of my life and my joy in it. I planned several months ago to practice 30 sun salutations on my 30th birthday. Although I may still practice some, my health doesn't particularly allow for it today. Then I thought I'd list 30 gratitude. But that seems selfish. Plus, 30 slots are hardly enough for all the things I'm grateful for.

It's interesting this practice we have of people giving us gifts on our birthday. I want to give all of you gifts. After all, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. I wouldn't have survived these thirty years. Been taken care of, loved, nurtured, taught, supported, cherished, encouraged, comforted... So I thank you all. All the forces that have come together to make my being here at precisely this moment possible.

Yesterday, I heard a poem that sparked and inspired me. It is called On This Day by Ruth Forman. The things that she wishes there, I also wish for you. And I wish you much more as well.

I offer to you, thirty wishes. May they be so.

1. I wish you nights of wakefulness, while you drink in the pale light of the moon.
2. I wish you warm sand beneath your feet.
3. I wish you knowledge of the golden sun that rests in your ribcage.
4. I wish you coyote songs that wake you in the desert night.
5. I wish you the brilliance of sunlight on white snow in the winter.
6. I wish you the feeling of fingers between your fingers.
7. I wish you the juice of a mango dripping down your chin.
8. I wish you a body dancing in the throes of a really good beat.
9. I wish you the laughter of children, in your heart and your ears.
10. I wish you the smell of orange blossoms lining the streets.
11. I wish you the smell of juniper smoke lingering in your hair and on all your clothes.
12. I wish you a hot cup of hearty green tea.
13. I wish you the feeling of knowing you are loved.
14. I wish you the peace of accepting things as they are.
15. I wish you all the beauty in all the ways you can see it.
16. I wish you delight in your skin and bones.
17. I wish you a clear voice that dances you through.
18. I wish you little candles all around your room.
19. I wish you a tree whose leaves you watch go from green to bloom to turn to fall.
20. I wish you a fire, in the morning, with friends.
21. I wish you a story at night, which lulls you to sleep.
22. I wish you the courage to take fear's hand and walk beside it.
23. I wish you the joy that comes with letting go.
24. I wish you hours of quiet stillness.
25. I wish you a mirror that shows you what's beyond it.
26. I wish you the taste of contentment on your tongue.
27. I wish you freedom from suffering.
28. I wish you a thousand kisses on the crown of your head.
29. I wish you a lotus life, that blooms in the mud.
30. I wish you profound, brilliant, glory.

Love to you all. Today and every day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Tree that Teaches Trust

There is a tree- I don't actually know what kind- situated right beside the entrance to the 19th Street BART station. It stands in such a way, that as one ascends the stairs to exit the station, it looms above, taking up the majority of the square of open sky visible from underground.

I have looked up at that tree every time I've climbed those stairs. At all hours of the day- morning light, bright afternoon, and night dark- illuminated by street lights. And that sweet tree has turned from brilliant green, to bright and startling full yellow, to sparse yellow-turning-brown, to a handful of shriveled brown leaves hanging still to bare branches, and, just the other day, completely bare.

It may seem like this is the perfect example of impermanence and change and the turning of the year. And in many ways, it is. It is a beautiful and tender illustration of just how much things change. Of all the reminders that time passes, wind blows, the earth travels around the sun.

But more than that, to me, this is an example of steadiness and trust. If I trust anything, I trust that this tree will not appear to me the same way twice. That is something solid. Knowing that, I can rest in the beauty of each glimpse- always curious. The tree could fall over in a storm, be cut down, die and shrivel away. This time when I see it, will those bare branches host a bird? A reflection of sunlight? A fugitive plastic bag? I do not know, and that is a relief. I can rely on the freshness of this particular tree. That it will always greet me as it is, with no concern for how it once was, or how I'd like it to be, or even how it may be in the future. Rather, it just stands there, and is.

I take a lesson in this solidity. Can I, too, rest with such confidence in my being? Can I hold my branches up right whether they are weighed with bright green leaves or utterly bare? Can I accept the sun which bathes me as equally and gracefully as the dark night air?

It may seem odd to find such trust in something so seemingly unstable. But when I think of what it means to trust- I think of the phrase "to rest in." What can I rest in? I can rest in this solid essence of taking my seat, of inhabiting my experience fully. I can rest in the fact that that tree will be there or not, exactly in that particular experience. In the same way, I can trust myself to possess some core of being there- regardless of circumstance.

I can rest in meeting the moment. I can trust that I will get sick sometimes, or grow old, and eventually die. And in the mean time, perhaps I will be happy, or sad. Or fulfilled. Or confused. Or injured. Or in love. Or afraid. Or relieved. Perhaps I will wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Or I'll grow out my hair. Or I won't. And I'll sit in the sun. And I'll sit in the moonlight. And I'll be dead- whatever that will bring. And throughout all of this, whatever it is, I can be there. Just like that tree.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cake or Death?

Eddie Izzard has this hilarious skit where he's joking about the Church of England an the Spanish Inquisition- and how they would have offered the question "Cake or Death?" And who would choose death? [You can watch the clip here- it's at about 5.5 minutes.] And Eddie Izzard cracks me up. It's hilarious to think of the whole thing. Cake or death? It seems obvious. But guess what, you can have your cake, and eat it, but you are still going to die.

I am going to die. You are going to die. There is nothing more true than that.

And yet- it's the thing we are embarrassed about. It's the fact we'd like to ignore. It makes us so uncomfortable. That our skin will rot away. That our hearts will stop pumping blood. We will be burned up, or buried.

This is such a threat! What about me? I am so substantial! I have friends! I have this amazing pair of boots! I have this life of things that I do, ways that I am... and I go to the coffee shop every morning! They know me there!

Is the threat why we avoid it so much? The threat to our ego? Or the realization of impermanence? All these friendships, these people whom I love- they will fade just as my body will fade. All these forms that I think are solid. They will be gone, too.

Do I make you uncomfortable? Bear with me.

There is no teaching more important than the acceptance of death. It is the ultimate experience of life. It is the most true and dependable thing we know. And if we lean into the fear and unease of it now, then we set ourselves up for liberation.

Since we cannot escape death- ours or that of those we love, then let us work with it. Let us learn from it. Let us embrace our precious human life, knowing that it will end, and using our time here to cultivate compassion, wakefulness, wisdom, and bravery.

Given my recent encounters with my own human frailty, working with the truth of death has been an incredible solace and practice for me. What is it teaching me?

Life is precious. That I am fortunate enough to be born into a life where I have the time and means to work with my own mind, to cultivate compassion, to practice meditation, and to study the teachings of those who have come before me is not something I take lightly. I could die at any moment. That fact has slapped me across the face. Thus, there is no time to waste. There is no moment where I can just forget about the whole thing, indulge my selfishness, or choose ignorance over wisdom. Every single moment is precious, and if my life could end in the next one, I want to spend each moment doing good work. Touching in with compassion. Caring for others. Being of benefit.

Things are bigger than they seem. By this, I mean that it's easy to feel constricted and enveloped in our tiny worlds of problems and jobs and mothers-in-law. We forget that this vast experience is not isolated to our own selves. We are all here together in this world of suffering. We are all trying to deal with being human. We are all capable of love. We will all die. We are connected, now. What we do and how we are impacts other people. Our actions are bigger than just how they affect us. Our lives are bigger than just serving our own purpose. And on a more immense level, our existence is bigger than just our physical bodies. I got to taste that personally. My body is a tiny part of this thing I call me. Remembering that brings perspective.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even the things we really, really want to last forever. Not even the loving friendships that are sustaining me right now in life. Nothing. And that is itself a path to liberation. Then, I can let go of my attachment to these things. I can appreciate them all the more because I am not so constricted by my own clinging to what they are. Then, when they change and evolve and grow, I can experience and appreciate things freshly instead of resenting that they are not what they were. In the same way, I can relinquish attachment to material possessions. Stuff becomes futile when put in perspective.

Things are illusory. Just as we experience another reality in dreams, so we do in death. This reality is constructed of our concepts about things. Which is fine. We need those to function here. But know that they are concepts. Try to hold an emotion in your hand. Reach out and grab onto anger or loneliness or love. Tell me where the solid parts are- the part that is called love, that contains it, show me the lines where love ends and something else begins. The more we work with our minds the more we become aware of this quality of illusion. Waking life is no more real than dream life. And death is the same. So all we have is our own mind to rest in. Thus, we can cultivate a relationship to our minds. We can recognize how we experience things, and rest in that.

How can I help? The most potent quality of relating to death is the compassion that comes along with it. We can touch into our own fear about death. And remember that all beings suffer. We share this same fear. This same pain. We all get sick. We will get old. We will die. So how can we ease the way for others? Knowing what this feels like, and finding confidence in our own being and thus our own death, we can be steady and solid signposts for other beings who are ill or dying. We can reflect back at them the confidence of knowing where we stand, so that they can rest on us instead of in their own fear. We can practice gentleness, honesty, and bravery in light of all this suffering.

We can stand up and proclaim that it is okay to die. In fact, we can practice, and we can die well.
We can stop hiding from the truth of the matter. We can use the truth to live a better life. And to help each other. It's all very beautiful, after all. To have this experience together. To learn these things. To work with such diverse and intense human experiences.

Let us celebrate death. And the life of it.

Read more about death practices in Andrew Holececk's amazing book Preparing to Die.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Being Human Heals

Being human heals.

What does it even mean to be human? To me, it means to relax about who we are. It means to be willing to feel what we feel. To look each other in the eyes. To be present. To be authentic. To engage with each other with love and honesty. To be confident in our existence. In our experience.

The thing that helps and soothes me most during this time of recovery and healing space is the people surrounding me. There is this incredible community of people who genuinely care about me. They are always over visiting me, making me food, bringing me groceries, washing dishes, calling me, sending me letters, driving me to appointments, and reading to me.

These people look me in the eyes and hold my gaze. They want to know how I feel. They hold the space for me to feel whatever it is that I do feel. They don't try to change my experience, diagnose my problems, or talk about themselves constantly. They touch me. They hug me. The massage my arm when it goes numb. They rub my feet. They kiss my cheek. They sit with me and are comfortable being themselves. They inhabit their bodies. They speak with conviction and honesty. They cry if they feel like it. They laugh. They are curious. They are silent. And it is okay.

They bring me chocolates. Or flowers. Or their soft voices. Or the question, "what do you need?" And they don't bat an eye about extending themselves and helping. They jump in. Even when they are tired. Even when they are grumpy. Even if they don't really have time in their busy schedules. They gladly and cheerfully come. And help. And hug me. And smile. And look me in the eyes, and care about what they meet there.

This kind of love and support is profoundly precious. And it is so inspiring.

We can all be this for each other. It's so simple. It's a matter of being human. Of relaxing with ourselves. Having confidence in our own worthiness. Our own workability. Our own goodness. Looking each other in the eyes. Being. Feeling. Reaching out.

"Imagine what could happen if we all began to feel that we are good, and that society is good -- and to have confidence in ourselves that way." Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Friday, November 29, 2013

Healing and the Three Jewels

I am healing. (Aren't we all?) I am in this space of experiencing my body in an entirely different way, of relating to my world with new perspective. Though I have spent the past 7 or so years of my life as a student of yoga, holistic health, and meditation, learning about what it means to heal, the questions that arise for me after my recent stroke are closer to home. Dancing so closely with the sharp blade of impermanence- of my own mortality- has deepened my query into what it means to heal.

The first thing I contemplate is the space in which one heals- the specific tools or belief systems that one works with in order to facilitate healing. And at this point I'm feeling like "healing" is actually just "living" because we are all suffering and all working with that suffering. So perhaps I should say that the space I'm thinking about is the space in which one "lives" most usefully.

My own space is shaped by my relationship to the practice of Buddhism. In Buddhism, we talk about the Three Jewels. These are the things we look to for guidance. They are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Three Jewels are my foundation for how I relate to my life and my own healing process. Without these, I feel I would not be doing so well in the current circumstances.

The Buddha is the awakened one. By awake we mean fully realized- fully understanding of the nature of mind, of the truth of that nature. The Buddha of course refers to the historical Buddha of 2500 years ago, the teacher who presented to us the path to awakenment. The Buddha is also our own awakened nature. Each person possesses this nature already. Awakenment or enlightenment is not some place we must arrive at in the future. It is not a destination out of our reach. Rather, it is the already present state of our being. All we have to do is touch it. The path, in that light, teaches us how. But just knowing that we possess inherent wisdom, inherent wakefulness, basic goodness, fundamental worthiness, and primordial potential changes things. It allows us to cultivate confidence and compassion.

I am fundamentally okay. 
There is nothing wrong. There is nothing bad or lacking in my experience. Illness is not an intruder that one should fight away. Illness is a natural part of having a human body. Just like old age and death. Bodies get sick; they get old; they die. And that's okay. We can relax about that because fighting it won't make it go away. We can experience these things as part of our whole human life. And beneath all of that, we possess a primordial worthiness and potency as humans. This ability to connect and create and relate and love is ours, and it is beyond any imposed idea of being bad or somehow sinful by our very nature. We are so very okay.

The Dharma is the body of teachings offered by the Buddha. It is the path to enlightenment. It is the framework for how we come to the place of being able to understand our own nature. How do we work with suffering? How do we find equanimity? How do we cultivate compassion? These teachings are rich and relevant, and allow us to relax in our world in order to experience the nature of things as they are. The potency of the path is that it can clarify confusion so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.

It's okay not to know.
Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. We want so badly to pin things down- to have reasons and explanations and to-do lists and sets of rules with predetermined outcomes. But let's be real- nothing is certain. We can do everything in our power to make something specific happen, but there's still no guarantee. There could be a tornado, or we could die, or the BART could stop running, or our car could not start. So when we relax about trying to control our outcomes, we can find peace in things as they are. We just experience what is happening now without trying to push that experience into a box. During my hospital stay, it was so amusing to see how different people reacted to what was happening with me. There were basically two approaches. Some of my friends would come in or call and say things like "How are you doing?" "How do you feel?" and then just hang out there with me in whatever was happening- noticing the quality of it and appreciating it. The other group would come in or call and immediately diagnose me "Oh, it's got to be because you are vegan. I read this article about vegans getting more strokes, so you're going to have to change your diet." Or "It's because you meditate and blood clots get formed in your legs" or it was because I do yoga, or don't do the right exercise, or am not on this or that diet, or I live in California- or, well, you get the idea. Then they would immediately fill the space with going down every single possible avenue for future action. This is exhausting! And it would stir up so much fear (in both of us). And while it's certainly necessary to think about the future, it's ridiculous to have this fear-based relationship to it. Guess what? There is no way I'll ever know just precisely what were the causes and conditions of my stroke. There are far too many subtleties in my body- in my life- to ever be able to pin it down like that. The doctors are only making educated guesses themselves. And as far as the future is concerned- I can't predict it. I'm okay with that. It's okay to not know. It's liberating, actually.

Lean into discomfort.
 This is about resistance, too. Our suffering is brought about more by our resistance to an experience than by the experience itself.  Whether it's fear or physical pain, pushing it away only makes it worse. I've been working with lots of both. The pain and discomfort and weird sensations in my body are very uncomfortable these days. But the less I fight, the more my experience changes. When I am in pain, I breathe into the place where it hurts. I meet the pain. I notice its qualities, how it moves, what it invites in my mind. And the more I am present with it, the more I notice that it is not a solid thing at all. It is a series of sensations and concepts- a twinge here, a tingling there, something dull that ebbs and flows, or something sharp that eventually releases. This kind of curiosity about our experiences can allow a lot of space for being okay. Same thing with fear. We can't obsess over the stories that the fear is telling us: "Ah, I'm going to have to have open heart surgery!" (They are all just stories, anyway.) Instead, we can examine the nature of fear. What does it feel like? Where is it in my body? Is there something underneath it? Sadness? Anger? What am I actually afraid of? The more curious I am with fear, the more it becomes less solid as well. It's not this sturdy thing called fear. It's a fluid set of sensations, thoughts, and concepts that changes all the time. Releasing ourselves from the sticky constructs of ideas allows so much freedom to feel what we feel. That's the other thing- it's okay to feel whatever we feel. We don't have to not feel it just because we are supposed to be peaceful or brave or some other way. In fact, willingness to feel how we feel is the most brave thing we can do. And it cultivates the most peace.

Every moment is an opportunity to practice.
We can approach the peaks and valleys of life as precious opportunities. Whether we are experiencing the bliss of falling in love or the pain of loss of a loved one, we can learn from our experience. We can be curious. We can pay attention to the experience. We can let go of the multitudes of stories we tell ourselves so that we can actually be present. "This will last forever," "This person is causing me to suffer," "It will take so long for me to get better," or any other number of sticky concepts can rob us of the present moment. The best times and the worst times are incredible teachers. Our bliss and our suffering can help us to open up to our world, to learn about ourselves and our own minds, to cultivate compassion for others, and to find equanimity in ourselves.  Seeming disaster is often a blessing, after all. We actually are proverbially stronger after the things that don't kill us (but I'd argue we're also stronger after those things too).  Every moment is precious, and we don't have to fall into the mania or despair of life's unfolding.

The Sangha is the community of practitioners who are on the path to awakenment. The body of monks, nuns, laypeople, and human beings who study the teachings of the Buddha and are committed to working with themselves, supporting each other, and continuing along the path.

How can I help?
Whatever happens, how can I help? How can I use my experience to benefit others? How can what I am going through be transformed into something that will uplift and nurture my fellow human beings? If we step outside of ourselves, we find that there is this big beautiful world filled with people who are also suffering. Just like us, others are experiencing pain and fear and doubt and love and passion and loss and anger and delight and confusion and confidence and sadness. We are neither alone nor disconnected. Our existence is fundamentally dependent on the existence of others. And when we look into someone else's eyes, we can see ourselves reflected back. My pain is your pain. Your joy is also mine. So when we think of our lives as opportunities to help, we become bigger. It's easier to rest in spaciousness rather than constrict around our own suffering. It's okay. If my suffering can help other people, then I suffer willingly! If what I can learn from my own experience is of benefit to other people, then may I have all the experience I need to be of the most benefit. Instead of getting mired in the throes of whatever is happening, can we transform it into something useful? We can. We can in so many ways.  Can we care enough to help each other?

Rest in the cradle of loving-kindness.
Can we allow others to take care of us? Can we ask for and receive help? I am so used to being the person who takes care of others. Both my nature and my work invite me to spend lots of my time taking care of other people, and gladly so. I love taking care of people. I love understanding what they need, sharing their experience, offering myself to them. So when it comes time for me to be taken care of... well, when is the last time that happened? I can't think of a time in my adult life before having this stroke that I fully allowed others to care for me. And then when this happened, I had to fall back into the arms of my community. I couldn't care for myself on my own. I needed help (still need help). And I ask for it. And the way that the cradle of support has nurtured me is phenomenal and powerful. We have to surrender sometimes- allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable. Trust others. Let go of our sense of control. That I am fortunate enough to have a community of loving kindness waiting there to catch me is purely the magic of being part of a sangha. A community of practitioners who walk with each other on the path of wakefulness. Never have I known community like this. Love and support in this space are boundless. The human potential for coming together to care for one another is magical beyond belief.

Turning to the Three Jewels, we can work with all aspects of suffering and illness.  These gems are of great benefit to me in my life, and they structure this journey for me.

There is such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that we have as human beings. We can all find something that speaks to us, helps us connect with our own sense of love and worthiness, and helps us have a better understanding of ourselves and our brothers and sisters. What are the foundations of the space in which you live and heal? What are the tools that help you in times of need?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Soft Dark Corners of Days and Weeks

The gray of Wednesday morning
is almost a benediction
on my skin

A place to curl into
and feel

the spots where all
the needles were

the fear that nested
in my shoulders

and still
the morning
on this egg of me

cool, wet, inviting
me to hatch

to sit up straight
in my aching body
to remember
my head and shoulders

to be radiant
even while I rest
to know
there is no difference

to peel away the broken shell
of the stories that happened to me
and arise here
in the gray dawn
of healing

to see how I can be tired
and still full of vigor
dizzy but that much closer
to bardo
to cracking all that

I'm learning how to curl
up in the soft dark corners
of days and weeks

to curl up without collapsing
to curl up and shine

golden sun in my heart

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Feeding the Ghosts

There is a teaching in Tibetan Buddhism about "feeding the ghosts." One can think of this as the forces which cause harm- illness, misfortune, etc. In Tibetan, these are called döns. The idea is that these things come along in order to wake us up. 

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche explains, "Whenever any difficult situation comes along, you begin to feel grateful. At this point, you regard anything that can wake you up as best. You regard anything that provides you with the opportunity for mindfulness or awareness, anything that shocks you, as best, rather than always trying to ward off any problems."

This is the same idea as regarding obstacles as path. We use all of these seeming upheavals as opportunities for practice- to hone our awareness, to look more closely at our mind, to work with ourselves. This a very rich and fertile ground for transformation. 

We can let go of the idea so ingrained in Western culture, that things ought to be smooth and lifeless. We as a society somehow aspire to float seamlessly through life, and then die in our sleep. But the utter truth of the matter is that very few of us have such an easy time of it. And it is in trying so hard to arrive at some smooth existence, struggling so hard against calamity, that we amplify our own suffering. We think something is wrong- that we should fix it! That if we were better people or had better jobs or were more attractive or meditated more, that then we could enjoy some easy sailing. And we are running around like mad trying to get there. Attain that. 

Even enlightenment isn't about attaining something. There really is no place to go. We refer to enlightened beings as realized beings. This manner of speaking invokes the relaxation that is required- to realize something implies that it has been there all along, and one has finally noticed it. It is not acquired. The word realize is itself derived from the root real or actual. It is what actually is. Beneath it all. One need only to relax around all that resistance.

We can relax around our idea of obstacles too. Around the döns that arise. In fact, we can embrace these fluxes of life as the richest opportunities for us to learn about relaxing.  It's like the cliché: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'd even go so far as to say that death is the ultimate learning opportunity, but that's an entirely different discussion.

Once we get used to the idea of obstacles actually helping us along the path to clarity and awareness and our relationship with our own mind, we can even begin to invite obstacles into our life. We know that we want to do all the work we can in this life of strengthening the mind, understanding ourselves, and ultimately using this to benefit all beings. So we ask for it. We invite it. We say, "I am here, and I want to do as much work as I can with my own mind and my own being so that I can benefit as many beings as possible in the best ways that I can." We stop thinking about ourselves- about our comfort or discomfort, or about what is inconvenient to our cozy little lives. Instead we think, if this is what it takes for me to wake up, then I accept it wholeheartedly and with great joy. We cultivate incredible gratitude for those things that knock us upside the head. We see how liberating they are. We see how we can use them.

In the same light- we surrender to the idea that whatever is most beneficial be what occurs. We can rest in that. Perhaps the most beneficial thing is smooth sailing. We don't write that off. We just don't assume that one is always necessarily better than the other.

The three lines of encouragement sum it up best:

Grant your blessing if it is
better for me to be sick
Grant your blessing if it is
better for me to survive
Grant your blessing if it is
better for me to be dead 

And then, we trust. 
May whatever is of the most benefit to all beings, be what happens. I joyfully accept that.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Unconditional Health

"He was saying that if I could leap beyond my convoluted thinking process, I would find that worthy feeling. At a psychophysical level, it is the notion of complete healthiness."- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche describing a conversation with his father Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the book The Shambhala Principle

Isn't all of life a dance with death? If there is anything we can be certain of, it is that our existence in this human body will one day come to an end. This knowledge infuses every moment of being alive- whether through the suffering we can see all around us, or the turning and falling of leaves in autumn. Things die. Change. End. And being alive is dancing with this natural movement.

When we leap into the profound ravines of impermanence, we can cultivate great joy. Each moment can be fully felt and experienced in the certainty that it will end. Thus, our delight expands.

I feel like I've lived most of my life in true connection with this dance. Easily able to feel the profound appreciation for my world- never denying its transience.

But those ravines can deepen and deepen more. When the dance becomes a little more edgy, the music intensified, the movement spread out like fan blades, sharp against space, fire in the heels of your moving feet.

I had a stroke. I am 29, and in very good health. I do all the "right" things for my body. I exercise and move so much in so many ways. I eat a plant based diet free from processed foots, animal fats, all of those things they say not to eat. I practice meditation. I have a healthy relationship with my mind and body. I don't do drugs or smoke. I am (was) not on any medications. It took the doctors 4 days of testing to figure out what happened.

It all comes down to the small fact that I was born with a hole in my heart, and it took 29 years for it to be noticed. And why did I have a blood clot? Our bodies have clots all the time, but they break them apart quickly and easily. Except my body didn't have time because of the hole- the clot just bypassed all the mechanisms for breakdown.

It was so fascinating to watch this all happen. My mind was clear on the one hand, but I could not translate that clarity into action. I knew exactly what was happening, where I was, what I should do, but when I'd try to move or talk it wouldn't come out quite right. What an amazing thing to see that connection we take so for granted fail! I couldn't communicate via any of the conventional means we have for communicating. I couldn't rely on the body that I'd relied on without fail for 29 years. You can imagine how shaky this feels.

And though I now have almost entirely regained function and feeling in my right arm and I only have minor difficulties with language, I still feel the shakiness of not being able to rely on my own sense of my self. The right word won't come out of my mouth, sometimes. Or I won't be able to say what I'm reading out loud. I forget what things are called. And my body feels weak- my feet wobbly, my strength not something I can count on. This may or may not be temporary. Regardless I am re-establishing how I think of my own self.

We take so much for granted, assuming that because we are healthy, we always will be, or because we do x, y, or z that a or b will never happen to us. So one day I am a young girl on no medications with seemingly no concerns and the next day I am on pills every day for the rest of my life, and have to consider things like not going on long car rides, and not knowing when I can drive again, and what to do if something should happen again.

This all seems scary- and believe me I've spent a lot of time feeling scared. But on the other hand, it's incredibly liberating. It frees up all the confines of cause and effect. It invites so much more spaciousness into my experience. I am not x, y, or z. An experience of a does not presume an experience of b. I am not just the sum of my parts. Suddenly the entire world cracks open even more. I am moving about in the space of not knowing. Of having no control on whether or not my fingers will be able to grasp around the object I intend to pick up. Of not being able to guarantee that the word I'm thinking of will be the one I say. This morning I sprinkled raw quinoa on my oats instead of flax seed. I have liberated myself from even the mundane routine of breakfast. ;)

This experience is teaching me so much about curiosity. About meeting each moment with the open-ness of not knowing on so many more levels than before. How much can I stop assuming about the way of things? How beautiful is that? Then everything is fresh and new!

I have had so many thoughts of the implications of all this. Now I'm the girl who had a stroke, who messes up her words, who can't drive, etc. etc. But what I know far deeper than the chittering hopes and fears of my mind, is that none of things things are me. Nor do they mean much at all about my experience of the world or myself.

If anything, being with this is allowing me to have an even greater confidence in my own being. To feel the fullness of heartmind amidst the injections, IVs, machines, pills, diagnoses, etc- to feel the innate brilliance of life, to never once doubt the fundamental goodness of myself or of humanity- and so what if I have to stop in the middle of a step to regain composure- that itself is beautiful. That I go slower is nothing but a gift in my experience. That I have this incredible opportunity to relate to the wonders of my brain, to work with the nuances of language, to experience my body free from assumptions.

I experience my body healing. So magically. Without seeming effort. I felt my body protecting me from invasion and intrusion. I can hear and feel what my body is asking for.

All of this, and I still experience that I am not separate from my body. Or from you. That we are all pulsing here in this or that or not-this or not-that. That nothing is fixed. There is so much room. For absolutely everything. So much tenderness. So much beauty.

And knowing that a diagnosis- a hole in my heart- a condition, whatever it may be does not imply unhealthiness. We are all whole. We are all unconditionally healthy. We need only relax enough to touch it.

"Even when things seem incurably bad, we can remain incurably good."- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Magic is Allowing

Do you believe in magic?

The other day, I had a pretty heated discussion with a five year old about the nature of magic and whether or not it exists. She took the stance that magic is not real- that there are no faeries, that mountains are just mountains (ah, wise one), and that she'd admit if one was holding the horn of a black and white unicorn, one might have some chance of experiencing magic, but that was about the extent of it.

I spend plenty of time thinking about what is considered magic in our culture- our collective expectation of what qualifies as magic. There are of course those things called forth in faery tales- witches and scrying stones, golden feathers, magic beans, and the kisses of certain princes. Then there are illusions- tricks of the mind- a disappearing rabbit and a beautiful woman sawed in half.

As a child, I always found magic in nature. The glistening dew drop, the dancing boughs, the feeling in my spine nestled against a tree trunk, or the moon (ah, the moon). I recall the sadness of realizing that not every one was having the same experience of the world. I also recall trying to ignore it in order to "be an adult." Or turning it into something entirely spiritual, so that it felt separate from every day life. But ultimately, the best possible realization was allowing myself to exist in that magic, and have it be both sacred and mundane. It didn't have to mean anything, in particular. In fact, it was nothing special. That magic was world as it is.

This became a very simple practice. In nowness, the nature of things shines. One can experience that is-ness immediately and profoundly. In the present moment, we perceive the richness of a flower, or the smell of rotting food on the sidewalk. That presence is deeply connected, unadulterated (for a moment) by our expectations or impositions.

The more one cultivates this practice, the more one can approach the world with freshness. And magic becomes every day life. When we find we are not hovering over our experience, poking and prodding, craving and resisting, then things have space to unfold as they will.

Have you ever tried so hard to make something happen that your very trying prevented it? Life is like that. We have to take a step back. Let go of how we think things should be. Pay attention to how things actually are. Allow ourselves to experience that.

Then magic becomes more than our connectedness to moments and things- it becomes space. The space in which things can arise, and be as they are. In life this manifests as auspiciousness. We think "I would like a new belt." And then a few days later, in a package our mother has mailed us, we receive a new belt. And this happens on so many levels- tiny things like speaking of someone you've not spoken to in a long time, and right then they call you, or wanting an amazing place to live and it falling in your lap. When we are not so fixed in our ideas of how things should unfold, and when we are not exerting ourselves to the point of manipulation, then we allow the flow of experience to move along with us. We ourselves are unfolded, and able to accommodate so much. Then that muchness accommodates us.

This is not to say we stop putting effort into things in our lives. But we do stop trying so hard to manipulate and control outcomes. We put energy and intention into things, but we also step back and let go of the hope of fruition. I think of it as setting up parameters, or creating a container. We can extend our energy into setting up the space in which things will arise. We nurture and help create the conditions, but we are not creating the experience itself.

This is much like the teaching of precision vs heart. We must do the preparations- have our finances in order, create a strong resume, take care of our health, pay our bills, clean the dishes, study the texts, prepare our notes, practice our skill, but we also must be willing to let go of those things. To discern when it is time to abandon the syllabus, flow with an unexpected turn, walk through a door we hadn't realized existed, act on a feeling that may not have logic fully behind it, etc.

Flexibility, accommodation, workability, surrender, flow, space.

Magic is allowing space for things to arise. In that regard, golden feathers and scrying stones don't seem so far-fetched. :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013


photo from Kidding Around Yoga

Monday, May 20, 2013


Home is not a place. It is a state of mind.

It was just three weeks ago, that, driving to work, I had the sudden overwhelming sensation that I was home. I was a little shocked to find that this was the word quietly enveloping my experience. And then I was curious. What was it, exactly, that I was feeling?

My heart was full, swelling with love for the intricacies of my life here. A fondness for the particular crack in the sidewalk on a particular street corner. For the faces that shone through my daily life. For the clear horizon, and the view out my kitchen window, which is different each day according to season, time, and weather. I was feeling a profound fondness for the world that I touched up against each day.

But that is the result of something else. I was experiencing gratitude for having allowed myself to touch up against it. Even deeper- having relaxed enough in my being to be capable of extending that touch.

And that's what I was holding: an ease. I had, by letting go of so much resistance, quite sunk into my existence. I saw how naturally I could relate with the people and places I was surrounded by. I had been cultivating this without knowing what it would lead to. But by accepting things as they are, and relaxing into each experience, I had made my way to a space in which I was entirely at ease. And this, I realized, is home. It's not that I'm particularly attached to the house I'm living in, or the city. It's just that there's nothing to fight. I'm here, luxuriating in being- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This quite fascinates me. I have moved and traveled so very much, always seeking and searching for a place I could call home. And so everywhere I was, I was there only half-heartedly: thinking soon I'd leave and find where I really wanted to be.

And then I stopped. Decided to put both feet on the ground. I practiced staying (it was difficult). But I stayed. And somehow relaxed into the staying. And now I feel what I had been searching for.

Home is wherever you relax into being.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Creating Enlightened Society

I am awash in the afterglow of something. Something I imagine is impossible to fully describe, but which leaves me feeling a great joy in my own human-ness, a profound connection to the lineage of human beings that lived before me, and a fluid communion with my fellow humans of the now.

I spent the past three days in Richmond, CA, at an event called Creating Enlightened Society. Hosted by the Shambhala Buddhist community, this weekend featured voices from many wisdom traditions and faiths. The point was an inquiry- how can we create good human society?

As I attempt to somehow capture the immensity of this question, and the space in which it was held and honored, words appear in my mind, glowing: embodiment, vulnerability, extension, transformation, space, heart, touching, humanity, profundity, universal potency, worthiness, power, curiosity, relaxation, strength, dignity, manifestation, wonder, unity, yearning, creation, and okay-ness.

There were resounding commonalities between all of the teachings presented:

You are okay.

The ability to engage with others begins with yourself. To feel and allow for your own human-ness cultivates a space of curiosity and presence. We must come back to ourselves. We must accept that we do not have all the answers, and commit to showing up anyway. We must EMBODY our being. Inhabit our skin, our world, our space, our community. The inherent confidence of being human is recognized here- that spark and brilliance that we all possess- worthiness. We must address the human heart.

We are not divided.

We are all human. We are all having these experiences- suffering, doubt, longing, inspiration, aches, unions, learning, forgetting, trying, committing. It is not you vs. everyone else. We must go beyond personal, spiritual, and religious barriers between one another. We must “cast away the imaginations of division.” “Our humanity not just unites us all, it IS us all.”

We don't have to reinvent the wheel.

We exist within the “fabric of interconnectedness.” There is a universal goodness or potency that is underneath everything. Think of those moments when you are sparked by a sense of wonder and curiosity. That is the space of potential. There is a long lineage of other people who have experienced this same profundity. There are groups of people all over the world who are already creating a good human society. Let us ask how we can tap into what already exists. We don't need to start from scratch.

We must extend ourselves.

“Meditation is essential, but it is not sufficient.” We must engage in contemplative practices in order to accept our humanity, yes. But it doesn't end there. We must find the courage, the radicalness, the strength and dignity to press against our world, and allow it to press against us. We must travel “through the valley of the personal and into the societal,” the communal. In relating to one another, things begin to unfold. But it won't happen if we don't show up. A willingness to step out of belonging, out of boundary, and out of comfort is absolutely required.

So I ask you, what does it mean to create enlightened society? Good human society? Are you willing to engage in this inquiry with me?

“The dream is as you dream it.”- Jyoti
“Enlightenment is the ability to realize you are in a very powerful position.”- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

For more details about the weekend, check out
the website for the schedule and speakers:
my live reports from the event:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inhabiting Your Being

The past several days have synchronized in a way that brings many truths to the surface. I ask this question, "What does it mean to inhabit your being?"

I once heard (or read, I can't recall which) about the way most people do not take up their own space. The physical body fills a certain amount of the space in which we exist. The idea is that people shrink, trying not to take up all of that space. Rather they want to shrivel up and remain unseen, unheard, not noticed. Why?

To actually walk down the street taking up all the space in which your body exists changes things. Suddenly we are worthy. We have something to offer. We are affirming our life.

And how about taking up an even bigger space? This is brilliance. Radiance. Confidence.

There are people who have had a profound impact on my life just by being. The way they are in the world exudes gentleness, strength, joy, curiosity, confidence, grace, and precision. To be in their presence is profound. To be in their presence reminds me of how big I can be. It reminds me of my own worthiness, my own gifts, my own spark.

So how do we cultivate this way of being?

We have to embrace our own light. Our own gift. What is your gift to the world? What do you have to offer? We have to trust in our own worthiness. Our own workability. Our ability to shine!

How do you do that? How do you make friends with yourself? Dhyana. You sit with yourself.

From there, it's organic. Once you embrace these things, others will see and feel how you exist.

A friend this week told me of a culture in which it is law for citizens to identify and help cultivate one another's gifts. How wonderful is this! Let us tell each other what we see, how we see each other shine. Let us all water each other's seeds. Let us all shine!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gratitude Sunday

Today I'm joining Taryn at Wooly Moss Roots for 

 G r a t i t u d e  *  S u n d a y
{Sunday's heartfelt tradition. A time to slow down, to reflect, to be grateful. A list of gratitudes.} 

This week I have been grateful for:
- A gray morning that pushed the vibrancy of the blossoming trees to an extreme beauty.

- Help. From loved ones and strangers alike. I am floored by the generosity of others. (Read about what I'm doing here.)

- A reminder that it's not about what we get, but about what we give. 

- The beauty of community. People coming together to shine and radiate and connect and uplift.

- Produce fresh from the farm. Our household joined a Farm Fresh program that delivers produce from local farms each week, which is perfect for my too busy schedule.

- The courage and will of a man who fled Tibet and brought such profound teachings to the West. This week was 26 years since the death of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, lineage holder of my tradition. 

- Seeing the magic in the mundane. I am lucky there are so many children in my life to help me with this.

- Feeling anger. This seems bizarre, but I am grateful to be fully human, to be aware of my emotions, to meet situations as they are, without having to gloss them over. I am especially grateful for the ability to give that anger the space it needs to not have to act based on it. 

- Health. I am finally feeling better after over 2 weeks of being sick. I haven't been that sick possibly ever. It's a nice reminder of impermanence, and I'm so grateful to be feeling well again.

What are you grateful for?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Art of Sitting, The Practice of Staying, and A Request for Your Help

Some of the most profound teachings are also the simplest: Sit, Stay, Be. We are always trying to escape from and avoid reality. Silence scares us. A day with nothing in the planner gives us great anxiety. So we make lists, stay busy, think we are doing really important things. But we never just stop.

Sitting still is a practice. And not necessarily an easy one. Staying present with our experience is too. When things get uncomfortable we want to leave, physically or mentally.

My meditation practice, which has now been a daily thing for almost 2 years, has taught me so very much about staying and stopping and paying attention. This has opened up for me a heart full of compassion and awareness.

There is a practice called Dathün, which is one month of intensive meditation. You can read all about it here. It's a way to connect and engage in a very deep way, focusing on being present in every activity.

Here's the thing- I'm going to go this summer. It both terrifies and thrills me. I know it will not be easy to sit with myself so much for so long. But I also know what smaller periods of sitting practice have opened up for me, and that's what thrills me. I want to be awake. I want to cultivate awareness and compassion in all I do.

I want to stress that this isn't solely for my own personal benefit. It is my belief that the more I practice, the more I have to offer. I bring these teachings to all the children and families I work with. I offer everything I know and have and experience. I serve to help others have the opportunity to touch awakenment. And I will continue to do this, expanding and offering wherever I can. Imagine, if everyone practiced awareness and compassion, how different our society would be.

This is where you come in: I can't pay for the program on my own. So I'm asking you to help me out. Even $5 or well-wishes make a HUGE difference. If you can help me, I would be profoundly grateful.

Here's the link where you can donate, and there's also more information about me and what exactly I'm doing. If you have questions about it all, please feel free to contact me.

With so much love and gratitude,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Truths of Paths

Since being in California (which has been just under a year), I have had these incredible and wondrous opportunities to study religion and spiritual systems first hand. Although I've always been fascinated by the study of these things, my fascination was always rooted in books and texts. Here, I am engaging in very full and authentic ways with people and teachers who are active practitioners of various paths.

I read God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero, and I really appreciated his distinctions. Of course we have this gooey feeling sometimes that all paths are one, and that people are just using different names or words. When I look closer at that gooey feeling, I find that it has more to do with the interconnectedness of human experience than the fact that all our paths are so similar. But interestingly enough, I have found a few truths that remain true across the spectrum of these practices. I have specifically been most intimately involved with Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and yogic philosophy as put forth by Patanjali.

These are the truths I see manifest across the board:

1. Practitioners make an active effort to cultivate genuineness and authenticity.

2. Practitioners have a deep rooted sense of compassion and non-harming toward other beings.

3. Practitioners are very aware of the motivations of ego and self, and attempt to avoid acting out of pure egoical or self-interested intentions.

4. Practitioners have a very strong idea of what is ethical, and intentionally live their lives according to certain standards (some common ones include food restrictions: either meat-free or humane slaughter, honesty, sexual integrity, non-harm: physically and with intentions, and awareness or self-study).

5. Practitioners are concerned with what is real and what is not real, in whatever capacity that may occur. There is this idea that we can fool ourselves about what is really happening, and we must make an effort to cultivate discernment, wisdom, and awareness.

6. Practitioners use certain rituals and practices as a framework for cultivating the qualities I've explore above.

7. It feels good to be around people who are fully committed to these paths.

There are, of course, many many differences within the specific belief systems, but I find the similarities to be much more interesting. Obviously, I can't speak for all people of these paths, but the ones I have gotten a chance to love and know are truly kind, giving, genuine, loving people. I mean really truly uplifting others and cultivating these qualities of awareness, compassion, and wisdom.
I wonder what sort of role commitment and conviction play in what I'm noticing? And what about the self discipline inherent in commitment? Can we cultivate such things as these without a specific path? Without a framework? 

I know my own experience: I can go much deeper in the context of my vows and my path. Is this true for others?


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gratitude Sunday

Good morning! I'm joining Taryn, over at Wooly Moss Roots for 

G r a t i t u d e  *  S u n d a y
{Sunday's heartfelt tradition. A time to slow down, to reflect, to be grateful. A list of gratitudes.} 
This week I have been grateful for:
- A chance to meet up with a friend I haven't seen since August 2010. That was incredibly wonderful.

- Finally feeling like I have a group of friends (not just acquaintances) out here. Amazing how long it takes to find that when you move to a new place!

- The wisdom that comes with age. I am particularly grateful that people are willing to share with me what their 60 something years has taught them.

- Over the past two or three days, I have had food and tea prepared for me with such love by several people. This is such a healing thing for me, to be served delicious nourishing food. It feels like I've been preparing all my meals for so long, and I forgot how wonderful it is to be able to eat a meal without having done all the prep work (granted, I like doing it). To be able to accept this kind of loving gesture is also a big deal for me.

- Friday morning, the gnarly silhouette of a beautiful tree against the backdrop of the stormy sky pierced my being.

- The opportunity to spend an afternoon with my favorite 7 year old- just us (much needed time). We went to this beautiful coffee shop, shopping at several bookstores, and to the park. What a blessing to have him in my life. 

- Today I am especially grateful that I have no plans. It feels like I've been running and running. Now, I rest.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Loving the Question Mark

Ever since I began my juicy love affair with Rainer Maria Rilke, I have loved his advice about seeking answers.

He wrote, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." 

I had an affinity for these words long before I understood exactly how one could love the questions and let go of the answers. That process has been a very rich and continuous journey for me. As with many valuable lessons, I seem to have learned them most vividly during the times that seemed most difficult. To be able to hold a question in its own space without constricting around the answers is a beautiful thing.

Can you taste the question? Feel its texture? Find where it resides in your body? Can you breathe the question? Can you open up to it. Can you do all these things without searching for the answer? Without expecting the answer?  

I'd like to add to Rilke's words, actually. Maybe you will not live along into the answer. Maybe the answer will never come. I think this is very important to consider. It takes away from our experience when we are waiting for a particular result. It's like a yoga class during which the teacher is constantly saying, for every posture, "If you keep doing this, eventually, one day, your nose will be touching your toes, your spine will be perfect, you'll be able to wrap your elbows around your shoulders while standing on your head...." So is that really going to help you be in the posture, where you are, now? Now when your nose is more like at your belly button and the prospect of it touching the floor is pretty daunting. Answers can be daunting too. And distracting. 

To try and experience the question as a question is amazing. To hold it there and relax around it is liberating. Suddenly, it's okay to not know. It is. It is totally okay to not know. Who says we have to know? And how much knowing is just to fill up the space? How much knowing lacks a genuine quality?

So this weekend, I attended a program entitled "Who Are You?". Isn't this sort of the ultimate question? Our teacher gave the analogy of how we walk around as exclamation points all the time. I am a writer! I am a woman! I am an American! I am a Buddhist! I am... whatever. Why don't we walk around as question marks? So the teachings revolved around opening up to that question mark. 

Over the past six months, I have felt a greater opening of my own sense of self in many ways. Mostly sparked by losses on many levels, I found my own idea of who I was becoming even more shaky. And I found myself actually being grateful for that. How liberating not to have to maintain some particular identity. How liberating to invite a curiosity into my own sense of who I am. 

I stumbled upon this quote the other night, from Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:
"You do not constantly have to manage yourself. You must disown rather than attempt to maintain control, trust yourself rather than check yourself. The more you try to check yourself, the greater the possibility of interrupting the natural play and growth of the situation." 

Don't our labels and identities for ourselves turn into a way of managing and monitoring? Am I acting like the yogi that I claim to be? If I am a professional, I can't do this. As a woman, I should be conducting myself in this way. Rather than trusting in our experience and our transience, we fixate on some mode of being or doing. And so, can we let go? I dance, but I don't have to identify as a dancer in every moment. I am a woman, but that doesn't matter on some levels. 

So who are you? Can you open up into the question?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grattidue Sunday

Joining Taryn, over at Wooly Moss Roots, for Gratitude Sunday. 
And, it's good to be back.

G r a t i t u d e  *  S u n d a y
{Sunday's heartfelt tradition. A time to slow down, to reflect, to be grateful. A list of gratitudes.} 

This week I have been grateful for: 

- A home, and it really feels like one, for the first time in a long while.

- A hearth- our heat hasn't been working, so we've been keeping warm by the fire in the evenings. What a wonderful blessing.

- Health. I was down with a cold much of this week, but am on the mend. I am grateful that it wasn't one of the flu bugs that so many of my friends have.

- Silence. Being home sick this week gave me plenty of alone time, space, and silence. That really feeds my ability to be curious and open to my own experience. 

- Companionship. People to share meals with, to talk to around a fire, to meditate with. I am grateful that we can share this human life.

- Bringing my lunch to the Baylands, which is just across the street, for some fresh air and sunlight one of the days I was sick. It rejuvenated my spirit. And I got to see some wonderful birds.   

- My family, who has been so supportive of me in all my recent transitions. Not just my blood family, but all of my family.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Time, Space, and Newness

New things often nudge you into the time and space around them. This new year and all the new things in it have done just that.

Our Hearth
I spent the last seven days of 2012 doing a meditation intensive here in town (and one day in the middle of that I had to spend moving into my new place). What a way to open up to the newness of things. Each moment comes with a curiosity and a freedom to experience it just as it is.

I did plenty of reflection, as I usually do, about the past year and setting my intentions for the coming year. I am pleased with all that I have learned, experienced, and loved. I learned some insanely valuable lessons last year. May I continue to do so.

Amidst the seeming chaos of being displaced, getting a car (so grateful), transitioning into a new home, getting very little sleep, celebrating my 29th birthday, enjoying some meaningful times with friends, and delving into some untouched emotional spaces, I feel like I am just now coming up for air. For those of you who may have been expecting gifts from me for the holidays, they will come at some more peaceful time. Now, I am several days into a cold which has me lacking energy but forced to rest. Amazing how the body will get its rest no matter how. I spent a month ignoring it.


Blessings to all of you this new year. May you go forth with abundance, peace, gratitude, and courage. I'm very thankful to be sharing this life with you.