GUILTY

Someone recently posted this blog post by Rumya Putcha at Namaste Nation on a yoga teacher Facebook group I am part of. It is a very eye opening read and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Rumya Putcha discussed the mis-appropriation of 'namaste' and cultural appropriation of upper class white women and yoga. Yoga is thought of and marketed as a white woman's domain. I have become hyper aware of the lack of diversity of people in yoga studio classes. I will be sitting on my mat, waiting for the class to begin and I'll look around the room. We all look alike and this makes me very uncomfortable. I don't tell you that to garnish some kind of sympathy or "Oh, no Cindy. You don't need to feel uncomfortable." I DO need to feel uncomfortable. This should make me feel out of place. 

“When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. … You’re conditioned this way. It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light. It’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however—and people just got to accommodate themselves to you.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

My first exposure to yoga was in a gym setting. In fact, I did not attend yoga classes in yoga studios until yoga teacher training. Yoga was/is a workout option. There was no talk of the spiritual side of yoga or stories of the Gods who inspired these poses. The teacher said 'namaste' at the end of every class and we just nodded our heads in response. I didn't know the meaning of that word. I just assumed it was some sort of goodbye/thank you/blessing. Like ending a prayer with 'amen'. I have a giant Ganesh tattoo on my back, not because I am Hindu, but because I like elephants and was attracted to this Hindu God because of his elephant head. I did do my research before having him permanently placed on my body and I love this tattoo. But I do question what right I have to put Ganesh on my body in such a way. It is hard to admit because no one wants to admit to being part of the problem, but I am part of the problem. 

I see my mistakes and I'm working on being part of the solution. My roommate in college was full blood Cherokee. She used to invite me to her home in Stilwell Oklahoma mostly because she didn't have a car and missed her family so much. She would say "Drive me home this weekend and we'll have Mom make Indian tacos and we'll go to a stomp dance." I always agreed because her family was so nice and I loved going to the stomp dances. The dances would run late into the night and into early morning and I watched for hours as Cherokee men and women danced in a circle. I would help my college roommate tie on her tortoise shell shakers that fit the length of her shin and was always surprised by the weight of them. The dances were beautiful and mesmerizing but I never participated unless my roommate specifically dragged me into the circle. I was very aware that I was an outsider and that I had no claim to this culture.  This is how I should also approach yoga. I do not lay any cultural rights on yoga. It is a gift that has been brought to our Western society, a gift that should be treated with more respect. 

I chose to teach yoga at the Y because I thought it would be the best way to bring the benefits of yoga to a more diverse group of people. I teach my students how to move safely into yoga poses and to challenge themselves physically. I teach my students to focus on their breath and how linking your breath with your movement aids in calming the mind. I encourage my students to find joy in their practice. I do not teach the spiritual side of yoga. We do not chant or "om". I still say 'namaste' at the end of class. I don't know if it is the right thing to do any more. I say it, fully meaning the sentiment behind the word: that which is beautiful in me salutes that which is beautiful in you. But my students don't know that this is the meaning of namaste. This is another mistake on my part. When you know the meaning and reverence of something, you are more likely to be more reverent with that something. You are less likely to toss around a sacred word like namaste.

This is true for all languages and cultures. 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS THAT DON'T MATTER

I don't know what it is about Costco, but just pulling into the parking lot makes me want to punch someone. I immediately fill up with rage. We always find ourselves pulling into the parking lot at the worst time of day to be inside Costco and getting from the car to inside the doors is like reenacting an episode of American Gladiators while pushing an oversized shopping cart. I must have missed the etiquette lesson that teaches you to stop just inside the doorway of places so that you block all others from entering a room. The other shoppers at Costco did not miss this lesson because they are masters of stepping just inside and then spreading out almost like they are getting ready to start a game of Red Rover. It is all I can do to not shove them with my cart. I am not there to browse. I am not there to gawk at all of the things. When I go into Costco, I go in with a plan and a list. I can not afford to do other wise. I want to get in and get out and the people inside Costco want to do everything they can to keep me from doing just that.  

Saturday, I had to play this game twice because we ended up at two different Costcos. The first Costco didn't have all of the things on the list. Michael called the other Costco to see if they had the missing item. They did and we ended up abandoning our cart and just walking out to head over to a different Costco where I had to run the gauntlet all over again. This time I got everything on our list and managed to push my cart right up to an empty check out lane. WHAT?! Turns out that no one pays attention to the check out lane at the very end. Our check out was timed perfectly with a torrential downpour. We walked to the doors where people and carts were lined up as if they had been herded into a pen. Michael ran to get the car and when he pulled up, I ran outside with our cart. He had managed to park right next to the downspout for a gutter. I stood in ankle deep rushing water while tossing all of our things into the back seat. Rain was pounding down on me and while I was tossing in a giant stack of Kleenex, I just yelled "IT DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER!"

I finally made into the car, my clothes soaked through, my hair plastered down on my head with water dripping into my eyes. Michael turned to me, handing me his handkerchief and asked "What did you yell while you were putting stuff into the car?" I blotted my face with the handkerchief and replied "It doesn't fucking matter." Then we both started laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Our next stop was the REI store and the rain had dampened to a medium sprinkle. People were still standing under the awning of the store though when Michael pulled up and let me out of the car. One woman looked at me as I walked up to the doors and the look on her face said "Oh, honey." I shrugged and said "We just came from Costco. It's way worse over there." and I brushed my wet hair off my forehead and walked right on in. 

A couple of weekends ago, Michael and I got caught in unexpected rain shower while we were on the scooters. We rode home in a heavy downpour. At one point, I got stuck at a light behind a car that was illegally parked outside a church. They had pulled up so that someone could usher some senior citizen into the car. I just sat there waiting patiently. Really, there was nothing more I could do. I couldn't go around the car and by the time I could go around, the light had turned red. I was thinking of this moment while I was stuck outside Costco, throwing bulk items of butter and kleenex into the backseat. At some point it really just doesn't matter. At some point, I just have to be in it. This is how it is; it is not something I can control. But I can control my reaction. Which is how I should approach being inside Costco or any situation I get stuck in that I can't control. Sometimes you need to get caught in the rain just to remind yourself that it really isn't that big of a deal to get caught in the rain. 

And that is just doesn't fucking matter. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

We are strangers. Mostly. Many of us have never met face to face. Yet, we feel like we know each other. Sort of. We support and encourage each other in our endeavors. We are generous and philanthropic. We are an online community of women, a community I have managed to wedge my big toe into. Really...I'm a nobody in the blog world. A small fish swimming in an ocean of big fish, but any time I've bumped into one of those big fish, they have been the kindest of fishes and truly genuine moments. This community has been an unexpected perk to blogging. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would meet these women, laugh with these women, cry with these women. 

It would not be until Chris got sick when I would realize just how important this community is to me. That's usually the way, right? Emergencies tend to put things into perspective and change the way we look at life in general. I know that I have never felt more scared then I did during those weeks when we were still trying to figure out what was going to happen to Chris. The roller coaster of emotions from that time was truly nauseating. There was so much that we didn't know, so much that we learned, and so much that didn't want to know. To say that the whole situation was overwhelming is an understatement. Nothing, not even J's death, prepared me for those days leading up to Chris's death. 

During those weeks, I would often receive emails, cards, notes, even gifts from this community of women. These virtual strangers. They sent their love and support during a time in my life when I knew if I stopped moving for a second, I'd curl into a ball unable to face the next decision. To this day, I am humbled and floored by the support they sent me. This, this is what the internet is for, for empowering and supporting each other, particularly in times of need. And I am so so grateful for all of it. A few weeks ago, Rebecca Woolf, a blogger and writer I follow and admire, announced that her husband had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Because I know all too well what they're going through, it was a no brainer for me to donate some money to their GoFundMe page. It is my way of showing my gratitude. I did it because I am grateful for the love and support that I have received from this community. I did it because the internet has taught me the true meaning of community. 

We love and support each other. We care for one another. It doesn't even matter that we are strangers. 

Fuck Cancer.

AUTOBOTS, ROLL OUT

One of our journaling prompts for that journaling workshop I attended a few weeks ago was "how are you transforming?" I stared at the page for a really long time. I am not currently transforming. This was the first thing I thought as I stared at my blank journal page. I suppose it all comes down to perspective, but really, I am not currently in a state of transformation. I am not searching to find myself or develop a better persona. I am not undertaking a new diet and/or workout routine. I have no desire to toss out all my clothes and reinvent my wardrobe nor do I have the money to do so.

I have transformed. In fact I've gone through many transformations in my life time, as we all do. We all change in some way. I have transformed myself from a person who only saw and ranted about the injustices of the world to a person who actively seeks out the rare and beautiful moments. I have done my best to be less of a complainer and more of a changer of the space around me so that I can't complain about it. I have transformed myself from just a mere scientists to a scientist with an artistic flair. Actually, I feel like I have transformed myself into a person with a well rounded life. I am living the interdisciplinary life my undergrad professors wanted for us. It goes with out saying that a shit ton of transformation occurred after Chris died. I had to remind myself that I was more than a duo. I had to rediscover my identity. I was still figuring this out when I met Michael. So now I was in this spot of rediscovery while learning to be in a new relationship. Often, I felt like I was not navigating any of it all that well. It was more like I was just letting myself be dragged along in some kind of current and then I'd get upset when that current left me someplace where I wasn't really comfortable. I started taking more responsibility for the direction I'm going. That means saying 'no' to some things and 'yes' to other things. Sometime during this year, I started to feel really settled into this skin. Part of that is from saying 'no' to things I really don't want to do. Part of that comes from teaching yoga again. I've stopped doing back flips to make those around me happy. I have let go of the idea that I could have the same kind of relationship I used to have and have found a way to live in the relationship I do have. And be happy with it.

I realized that I am constantly bombarded with advertisements and emails to transform myself in some shape or form. My favorite email that I have received this week by far has to be the one inviting me to a Global Summit on Shamanism and to attend workshops on becoming a shaman. I can't even think about 'connecting to a higher spirituality' and learning to 'guide others on their spiritual paths' without rolling my eyes. The act of guiding transformation is a big business and they all want to help you transform yourself into something spectacular. It doesn't matter that you are already spectacular. You can be even MORE spectacular. We all kind of suffer from Maddonaism with a need to reinvent ourselves every five years or so, but there has to be some parts in life where we are content with ourselves in that moment. I don't know what I ended up writing in my journal that day, but I feel like it was something not totally honest. The pressure was too great to fit in and feel like I was transforming myself just by being present at this particular workshop. I was already sitting outside my comfort zone. That's a transformation in itself of sorts. At one point, the hostess asked in regards to one of the prompts "And how does that make you feel?" I wanted to say "Lady, I barely tell my therapist how I feel and the stuff I do tell her has to be pulled out of me like a tooth." So I made something up. I drew on past experiences, but what I really wanted to write was that I am not transforming. 

I will never admit to being spectacular (I have just gotten used to accepting compliments), but I will admit to being content with where I am right now. I like being in between transformations. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Today, I am grateful for:

  • Picnics in the park with my circle of boys and how they always go out of their way to be festive. 
  • Water balloon fights
  • Watching fireworks and still being wowed by the display of colored explosions. 
  • Early in the morning the day after the fourth, before the heat of the day settles in, the city is covered with a sulphery haze from the firecracker wars of the night before. It makes everything look like a photo from the 70s.
  • Every memory that Facebook wanted me to share this week that I did not share. 
  • Hannah Gadsby's Nanette on Netflix. This is one of the smartest and most honest pieces of storytelling you could watch in this moment. Watch it. Listen to it. Don't wait. Do it now.

IN DEFENSE OF BOREDOM

I have noticed that there are two different (at least) species of fireflies in our backyard. One species is about half an inch long. It floats slowly through the air almost like a hot air balloon and has a long glowing blink. The other species is about half the size of the one just described. It is faster in movement and in blink. It also seems to stay close to the ground, while the larger kind can be seen all the way up in the tree tops. 

What kind of firefly are you? 

That question reminds me of that scene in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom where Sam asks Suzy "What kind of bird are you?" Everyone knows that Sam is really asking Suzy "What kind of person are you? Are you brave and daring? Are you the type that goes against the crowd? Or are you just like the others." Because it is Wes Anderson and every movie he makes drips with metaphors and the implied words between the words. So I ask. What kind of firefly are you? Well, I can tell you that I am the fat slow kind of firefly. 

Since Michael is off for the summer, he's been taking care of everything around the house. He cooks the meals, cleans the kitchen, runs the vacuum, cleans the bathroom, cleans off table clutter, does the laundry and the grocery shopping. His plan is for me to have mostly nothing to do on the weekends but go to yoga classes and scooter around the city. It's a nice plan and with the exception of the occasional round of dusting, his plan is mostly working. I have nothing do. I have oodles of time to do all the other projects that I've been wanting do or at least thinking about doing; the projects that get set aside because of the demands of daily living. This is the perfect opportunity for me to sit down and write, organize photos and get the creative juices flowing. 

I am doing none of those things. I just lay around like a lump. Mostly. I am going to yoga classes and we have been scootering around the city. We spent the whole day last Saturday scooting from place to place, even getting caught in a downpour. We came home, put on dry clothes and then I plopped myself back down on the couch. I was talking to Dr. Mary about all of this in our weekly session. I told her how I should be taking advantage of this extra time, but nothing I write sounds interesting. I delete everything. The scenery around me does not inspire me to pick up my camera. The pictures I take are forced. The pictures I take of myself for my 365 day project are uninspired and often do not include my face because every time I see my face through the camera lens, I'm like "ugh". I told Dr. Mary that I was bored with myself. 

Then Dr. Mary said that maybe I needed to be bored for a bit. 

I realized then that I have been thinking about this free time all wrong. Instead of focusing on doing all of the things, I should be relishing in this time to be still. Boredom is a privilege that is rarely allowed to us in adulthood. Boredom is for children and oh the things a kid can invent to escape their boredom. Fantastical games and magical worlds bloom from moments of boredom. Boredom is the time for recharging the creative batteries. So, I'm going to be bored. I'm going to be still. And then I'm going to hope that something blooms from all this stillness.  

THANKFUL FRIDAY

It has been almost a month since I've spoken to Dr. Mary. We have both been on vacations and this week was our first session together in weeks. We briefly talked about our trips and shared a couple of pictures before she asked me how I was doing. I told her about the workshop I had attended over the weekend and some other things that were on my mind. Dr. Mary asked me if I dream. I told her "not really." Which is kind of true. When I dream, they are usually discombobulated scenes that I rarely remember the next morning. I just wake up with a feeling that I did dream about something. I just don't know what that something is half of the time. 

I did tell her about a dream I had had recently that involved a couple Chris and I had been friends with in college. We had a horrible falling out with these two. The whole thing was blown out of proportion and ended sadly. The result was that we never had anything to do with those people again. It was her choice, not ours or even her other half's choice, but we respected her choice. Any way, it all happened years and years ago, so I found it odd that I would be dreaming about them now. Except now that I think about, maybe not so odd. I am constantly re-hashing old arguments in my head and pondering past grievances and what I should have done versus what I did do. I think about how I could have handled things in a more articulate and less volatile manner. I twist it around and around in my head. I do this for no good reason because in most of those incidences, I handled it the best that I could at the time. Also, it's done. We have all moved along with our lives. 

I think maybe for some of those past arguments and grievances, the reason it is so hard to let them go completely is because there wasn't any closure or attempts to mend fences. There was not a moment of "let's agree to disagree but let's also try be friends around that disagreement." No one apologized for bad behavior or hurtful words. They end up just being these little festering blights in your timeline. When asked if I have any regrets, I will tell you that I regret not doing more or being better in those situations. Today I am thankful for the reminder to be better, to listen more empathetically and to make more of an effort to find ways around differences. I am thankful for the reminder to let go of past arguments and grievances. 

This is something really hard to do, particularly in today's environment, but I think that if I try to be better, that's going to rub off on someone else and start a chain reaction of being better. 

 

THE OCCASIONAL PUNCH TO THE GUT

I came home from work to find the picture sitting on my home desk. Blurred and faded. Chris in the act of impersonating a jelly fish or reenacting a scene from the Simpsons. It could be either of those things. I recognize the room. It is the room where we all spent half our days hanging out, the student government office in Trout Hall. Is it even still called Trout Hall? For some reason I don't think so. I vaguely remember them moving the student government office too after we all graduated. God, this image is from a hazy lifetime ago, back when we were all so young and not so jaded by life's disappointments. That school was our Hogwarts. I don't think any of us even thought about what we'd do next, when we finally graduated and had to leave. 

I think we were all surprised and a little shell shocked when we realized that we would one day leave that place to stumble through to the next thing. Some times I wonder and dream about what it would have looked like to never leave. Not necessarily staying on as students, but moving into teaching. The only time teaching has ever crossed my mind was if I could teach there. I have no desire to do it otherwise. I wonder what we would look like, how the group of us would have changed if we had all stayed put. Would we just be older versions of our idyllic selves? Chris and Amy would have turned the UFO Independent Study into a yearly event. I would have taken over Dr. MaGrath's campus gardening project. Jen would be dragging a group of art students around to various places to sit and draw. Basically we would be the lost boys to Chris's Peter Pan. Never growing up.

Was I his Wendy?

I remember how it felt like we were not grown ups. Not even when we moved on from graduate school and entered the so called 'real world'. We still seemed to be just playing at adulthood. Like it was a game or a theater production. We watched cartoons and collected toys. We had hand-me-down everything from cars to couches. We still scavenged home decor from thrift stores and garbage dumpsters. The idea of being able to buy a house was so far out there that we thought it would be easier to buy land on the moon. We bought scooters and lived with his mom. We were children right up until the day we moved to Kansas City. We moved in an actual moving van for the first time, not a horse trailer borrowed from a neighbor. We bought a lawnmower and we bought a house. Our couch was still a hand-me-down couch and our furniture was still an eclectic mix of thrift store and IKEA, but it was our house with a garage and a fenced-in backyard. 

We were better off never growing up. 

The Cabbage was the one to find that picture. It had been tucked inside a book and had fallen free when she pulled the book from the shelf. There is always an odd tug and pull that I feel whenever my current life runs into my past life. Michael and the Cabbage are always respectful of my past. They placed that picture on my desk instead of back in the book it fell out of because they thought I might want it. Which was nice and sweet. But it still feels odd for them to run across such a random and totally honest picture of Chris. Like a science fiction show when dimensions in timelines cross paths. For a moment my timeline gets twisted into a loop and the now meets up with the then ever so briefly. Just enough to feel the oddness of it before it flips back into place. Like a twisting rubber band. 

We are better off never growing up. 

 

 

I'M REALLY ATTRACTED TO CHEESE

I attended a meditation/journaling workshop this weekend that turned out to be more journaling than meditation. The workshop was taught by Elaina Cochran, a photographer and yoga teacher. She uses her photos to make meditation/journaling prompts and you can buy some of those at her website, Elated Earth. For this workshop, we used cards from her Reflect series. She chose different cards and then we all sat around writing about the prompt and image on the card and how it all made us feel. The workshop was a nice disciplined way to get me to be still and write in an unguarded or uncensored way. Which, as personal as this blog gets at times, it's still a censored version of reality. 

One thing I can tell you is that I am not an avid journal writer. I see images from other peoples journals and the handwriting is beautiful and they have colorful swirly art doodles in the margins and I think "I am going to do this!" Except every time I sit down to to do this, my journal ends up looking very much like the scientific notebook I keep for work. Look, I have always believed that I was not a creative person. It hasn't been until recently that I have come to recognize that my creativity manifests itself in other ways. I am good with this. Another thing about this workshop that I kind of struggled with was the part where I had to write about me. These prompts are meant for reflecting on your inner self. I use the prompts in my Fortune Cookie diary to write tiny short stories of fiction all the time. For this workshop, I found that I often had to remind myself that these reflection prompts are not to be turned into short stories of fiction. 

One of our journaling prompts was "what am I naturally attracted to and excited about?" I sat there, tapping my pen for a few minutes while considering an answer. Naturally, I attend to be attracted to intellect and knowledge. Some of my favorite parts of graduate school were our Friday evenings at Stonewall's, a big group of us sitting around with a couple of pitchers of beer discussing all things from politics to books to movies to religion. I am continually excited by the complexities of life on a microscopic level. The other day our group was having a discussion about messenger RNAs and it got so deep and detailed that a part of my brain exploded. All I could think about is how it is an absolute miraculous wonder that we are alive. Each day, I am excited about what discoveries I'll make and what I will learn from those discoveries.

Lately, I have noticed an attraction to abandoned things. Mostly buildings. There is something about the way the light hits an abandoned structure and the shadows they make that makes me want to lean in, place a hand on a wall, search for something hidden. There is a silence and stillness in these places that can be dissected into individual sounds and movement. It is a deception in a way. The buildings are abandoned, but only by humans. There were many of these places as we travelled to and from Colorado. Some times it was a forgotten business, often it was an abandoned farmstead. The old farms held the strongest attraction. I wanted to stop for each one and explore those shadows with my camera. I wanted to know the story of each farm. I am attracted to the stories.

I wrote all of this in my journal and then when Elaina said we'd spend just about a minute more on this prompt, I wrote "I am attracted to cheese." I wrote it because I thought it was funny, but then I thought about it and I really am attracted to cheese. I told Michael about it and so we we stopped by our new fancy Whole Foods and bought three different cheeses for a snack for later in the evening.

Maybe I should become a cheesemonger. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Yesterday, I went with my friend and coworker, Jeff to teach a group of fourth graders about microscopes. We took a basic light microscope and some samples. Jeff has done this before and has his presentation down pat. He's made a device that attaches a webcam to the eye piece on the microscope that he can then project the image on a screen. I was just there as a sort of assistant, helping out with samples and chiming in with bits of information here and there. I have more experience with bacteria and amoeba than Jeff does, so I was able to talk about those things with the kids. 

We had some really interesting samples to show them and discuss, but the best, most exciting sample was a dish of pond water. Jeff had collected a water bottle full of water from a pond near his house. We had a large petri dish that we poured the water into and placed on the microscope stage. Then we sat back and just watched as various larvae, microscopic water fleas and water mites, and other creatures swam into our field of view. It was at times thrilling and a little scary Occasionally something really large would swim by so quickly, it was unidentifiable. The whole room would erupt in shrieks and gasps. The kids and the adults in the room totally loved every minute of it. The previous year they had a guy from the local science museum come and talk. Apparently he was not that great and when we wrapped things up, someone said "they were WAY better than the guy from last year." 

I really shy away from doing things like this, mostly because I feel queasy when I'm on any kind of stage. I have to say though that I had a lot of fun yesterday. I have forgotten how fun it is to really look at something like pond water, to see all the life swimming around. It is the whole reason I am where I am today. The first time I looked at bacteria through the eyepiece of a basic light microscope, I was hooked. It's all I ever wanted to do. So, I am super grateful that I went and helped out with career day yesterday. It was a good reminder of how it is I ended up where I am today. It was a good reminder of how fascinating the world is around us. There are more bacteria living on this planet then there are people, something like five million trillion trillion. Some of them live in the most extreme environments like Antarctica and inside Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Some of them live in and our bodies, helping us out by providing protection against infections or with digestion. To me, this is mind boggling amazing. 

I am thankful to be working in a field that constantly amazes me. 

CHATTER

My head space has been really crowded with chatter lately. There are fifty different thoughts and conversation happening loudly all at once in there. The other day it was so bad that I almost stepped off my yoga mat five minutes into my practice, but I stayed put and did my best to make the yoga teacher voice the loudest. There have been moments during my practice while holding a pose for an extended period of time, it has felt as if my brain would explode from the vibration of noise in there. There is a screaming voice yelling at me to get up, move, stop being still. 

Buddha said that the human mind is full of drunken monkeys. What an amazingly accurate description and such a visual one. I can easily see a wild pack of monkeys in various states of drunkenness with all the drunk personalities represented. It's like the party scene from Breakfast at Tiffany's except all the actors are played by monkeys. There's even one laughing hysterically one minute at it's reflection and then sobbing the next minute. Buddha taught that you should not try to fight these monkeys (because monkeys can bite), but instead learn to tame them by sitting quietly in daily meditation. The Yoga Sutras refer to these monkeys as chitta vritti. Sutra 1.2, "yoga chitta vritti nirodha" translates to "yoga is the silencing of the modifications of the mind." For years and years and years, yoga has been taught as a way to prepare the body for meditation and can even be a moving meditation in of itself. 

There are loads of scientific papers that validate the importance of meditation. It reduces anxiety. It lowers blood pressure. It down regulates inflammatory genes and up regulates immune system genes. Researchers even believe that meditation could aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. So I really should be meditating. My meditation practice fell apart years ago though and every attempt I've made to revive that practice has failed. I have settled into the idea that my meditation practice is a moving meditation practice. It happens when I am flowing through rounds of sun salutations and when I take my walks. Yet, I recognize that I really need to practice the art of stillness. Those evenings around the campfire when I sat and journaled our day and then drew cartoons in the margins were the closest to stillness that I have come in a long time. That is why I have signed up for a meditation and journaling workshop on Sunday at Sunshine Studio. We all need a little nudge and I am hoping to gain some momentum from this workshop rebuild my meditation practice.

Because those drunk monkeys are starting to look like an out of control Frat party. 

ROAD BLOCKED

I have deleted everything I have written in the past two days. Most of it has been about the current immigration situation. Every time I start writing about the horrific acts of this administration, the post turns into a Hydra with so many snapping, snarly jawed heads. I don't know which head to chop off first. The topic of illegal immigration is complex and messy. There are so many misconceptions of where these migrants are coming from and why they can't just leave their children behind. That last statement, in itself, is such a heartless, thoughtless way of thinking. It is statement made by someone who lacks empathy and any understanding of what it means to have circumstances so bad that they would have to leave their country. 

Many of the families currently trying to enter the US are migrant workers who are fleeing a their country for many reasons. Political unrest, persecution, the need for a job in order to feed their children. Some of these families being torn apart are those who are seeking asylum and have gone through the legal means to do so and they were still separated. 

"Fearing death in the Congo, plaintiff “Ms. L” escaped with her daughter, eventually arriving at a port of entry near San Diego. The mom was given a screening interview with an asylum officer, who determined that her fear of persecution in her home country was credible and that she had a significant possibility of receiving full asylum following immigration proceedings.

Despite that determination, she has been locked away in the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego, while her daughter was sent halfway across the country to a facility in Chicago. When the officers separated them, “Ms. L” could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother."

I mentioned on Facebook that it costs around $30,000/year to house and care for an inmate. This does not include the cost of housing and caring for a child. I said that compassion is free. A guy I do not know named Shawn responded to my comment with "No, it's not free. We always pay a price." Shawn is wrong. It costs me nothing to be compassionate. It is easier for me to be compassionate for those less fortunate, those who are struggling, those who are wronged. But I am trying really hard to have compassion for Shawn. I don't know him. I don't know his struggles, but I think if he was treated with kindness he would be more inclined to be kind to others.

This is what I am working on today, having compassion for those who make it difficult. I am also calling my representatives. We, as a nation, are better than this. 

CONTRACTS

It was Memorial Day weekend and Michael and I met Terry and the boys at the Union Station Memorial Day celebration. I found myself in a conversation regarding sex which is not surprising considering the company. At some point in the conversation, one young man turned to me and asked "Are you good at blow jobs?" I opened my mouth to respond with something positive about my abilities, but paused. I looked at the guy who asked me the question and said "I used to be really good at it, but now? I don't know." I shrugged and said "The penis is different." The young man tilted his head to an angle, looking at me with total confusion and Terry then went on to explain my tale of two dicks. 

The empty spaces that came from Chris's departure filled up with doubts and a tendency to lean towards hypochondriac. For example, it's bug bite season and I know that the bites on my body are from mosquitoes or maybe a flea from the cat. I've not seen any fleas, but that means nothing because my crazy brain has already decided that the bites are from bed bugs. Michael keeps walking into my bedroom whenever I'm in the middle of searching the mattress for signs of bed bugs and every time he shakes his head as he says "We do not have bed bugs. Stop looking for them." There is a rational spot on my brain that knows this is true. We do not have bed bugs. But what if we do? I'm going to have burn the house down. Sometimes I think about burning the house down just to start over with a clean slate. I should probably not be left alone with matches or a lighter. 

The fortune in my Fortune Cookie Diary on Saturday said something like "talk to the person who is most on your mind." I wrote a semi-autobiographical story about not talking to the person most on my mind. I wrote about all the doubts I have in what I am doing and even doubts in who I am as an individual person. The things I used to be good at, I am no longer sure I'm good at any more. I struggle to answer a question because I don't know if I'm going to answer incorrectly, when there's no right or wrong answer to the question. I just hesitate like a deer in the headlights because I want to answer in a way that will make all parties happy. I am so caught up in thinking of the otherness of the other that I forget to think of myself. My happiness is not as important as the happiness of others. 

"What if this is all the love you ever get."

I have been working really hard this year to stop doubting myself. For one thing, the dead can not reassure me that I am doing things right. And really, what is right? That's my choice. I decide what is right for me. I answer to myself. Most days, it seems to be working.

Most days. 

When I came home from work last week, Michael said "let's go to Bella Napoli's and then get some groceries." He'd dropped the Cabbage off at her Mimi and Nona's earlier, so it was just the two of us. We were seated at a table fairly quickly, which isn't normal on half price pizza day there. It's usually busy but we had managed to get there before the rush. As we waited for our server, Michael mentioned that we had to be close to the date when we met there for the first time. We are both bad at remembering dates. I looked it up and we were a day off. It has been exactly five years. You know, I almost bolted? I was sitting on a bench, waiting for him to show. Chad and I were texting back and forth and I suddenly had the strongest urge to just get up and walk away. Except just as I stood up, Michael walked up to me. So, I went through with the date and then I thought I was ordering a glass of wine, but really ended up ordering a whole bottle. 

Michael has stopped talking about marriage. Instead, he has decided that we'll just renew a verbal contract every five years. This works for me. I've never been big on legal marriages. I've only said that I would do it if it really meant that much to him. I said the same thing to Chris. Chris thought it was important that we get married. It was not my idea, but there are big parts of my life that were not my idea.

And those parts turned out okay. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

We came home to lightening bugs boiling up out of the ground. Green fluorescent bubbles blinking up from the ground all the way up high into the trees. They mesmerize me every summer. As I stood looking out into the backyard last evening, I was floored by the sheer number of them blinking away in our yard. It dawned on me that we did not see any lightening bugs while we were on our camping trip. We saw all kinds of them last year when we travelled through the forests of Kentucky and into the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Turns out, there's not a species of firefly in the United States that lives west of Kansas.

Things I take for granted:

  • the vastness and diversity of this country
  • clean water
  • my own bed
  • fireflies
  • my childhood

I have been struggling with writing this post for days now. Not because I don't have anything to be grateful for this week, but because I have SO much to be grateful for. There were moments when the beauty of our surroundings would hit Michael so hard and he would say "I can't believe how beautiful this is." Every time, I would agree and say this was how I spent every other summer as a child. My childhood was good. At times, my gratitude is overwhelming. I feel almost shameful when I think of my simple blessings of just good food and clean water. Safety. I live in a safe environment. I recognize that I am fortunate. I see families giving up everything in an attempt to make a better, safer life for themselves only to be ripped apart. I couldn't even imagine fleeing my country with nothing but my child and a jug of water only to reach a place I thought was safe and have that child taken from me. The way we treat other humans is inhuman. If I truly believed in a Christian God, I would believe that he has abandoned us for our heartlessness. 

Because I am grateful for the freedom I had to be a child, to have a life a privilege really, I am donating to the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. There are many ways to help. There's Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Program. Both of these groups provide services and aid to immigrant families. Maybe your gratitude for the blessings you have in your life will spill over with the need to help someone less fortunate.

MEMORY TATTOOS

We needed a way to break up our drive time into five hour driving increments. Five or so hours to Alabaster Caverns for two nights. Five or so hours to Clayton NM for two nights. Five or so hours to Gunnison CO for three nights. This was our plan. All of our planned locations for this trip were places Michael had never been. Chris, Traci, her Chris and I used camp at Alabaster Caverns all the time. My gaze drifted down to the tent camping area often during our stay on this trip. Traci, remember that time you ended up throwing away your tent as we packed up to leave? We were still friends with James. He was there that weekend and it rained so much that we ended up trapped in our tents for a few hours. We borrowed a mop when the rain storm was over and mopped out our tents. That evening, a tarantula walked up and joined us around the campfire. It seemed like we were always there when a group of scouts were. We'd laugh at the sounds of the boys whooping and hollering as they stood under the cold outside shower, washing the layers of mud from their clothes from crawling through all the caves. Then there was the time Mom lost her cat there and we spent the day combing the area searching for it. We had permission to go all over the cave, off the main path. I found a whole skeleton of a horse tucked behind a large flat rock in one of the larger rooms.

There are three different ways to drive to Colorado. Two of those take you across Kansas. One takes you through the Oklahoma panhandle and into New Mexico before you turn north for Trinadad. As a kid and a young adult, I have travelled on all of these roads. My Dad's favorite path though, was the one that took us across the panhandle and into New Mexico. If you peeled away a layer of skin on my arm, you will find this map embedded there. Dad would drive the camper straight through the panhandle and stop in Capulin, NM for the night. At the time, or at least from what I remember from the last time we made that trip in 2006, the actual town of Capulin consisted of one campground and two rundown, abandoned buildings. The only reason the campground exists is because it is right across the street from the entrance to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. My Dad liked to stop here because he knew the guy who owned the campground. They had worked together once at American Airlines. Dad new a guy everywhere. The tradition was to spend the night in Capulin, get up early the next morning and hike the rim of the volcano before loading back up into the truck and heading on out to Colorado.

Most everything about this trip was so familiar. The roads traveled. The landscape. I knew exactly when to start looking for antelope. I knew which mounds of dirt to look at to see prairie dogs. I was unsurprised to see the roadrunners running down the fence line. I knew what time in the evening to start watching for bats to start flying around. The hot, dry, desert like air used to be the only kind of summer I knew. Baked earth. Baked skin. The way the inside of my nose always felt stuffy and on fire. Yet, there were new things too, things I'd never seen or experienced. I had never been inside Alabaster Caverns when there was so much water, enough to have a small water fall and pools of standing water with frogs and tiger striped salamanders. Even though I had been through Clayton, NM, I'd never stopped there. I had no idea that there were dinosaur tracks around Clayton lake or that they kept that lake stocked with trout. When we stopped to visit the Capulin Volcano, the National Park Visitor center was open. It didn't even exist the last time we were there. And of all the times we travelled across Hwy 160, we had never made the detour up to see the Great Sand Dunes.

This was the first time I'd been to Colorado and not caught a fish. Not a one. I left my Dad's ashes in Taylor River near our campground, part of me offering them as an appeasement to the Fish Gods. Instead the Fish Gods responded with "Oh...this guy. We remember this guy. He fished your limit a lifetime ago." Which is all true. If the limit was four fish per person and you only caught one fish, he caught the other three and said they were your's. He caught my limit of fish a lifetime ago. 

 

WHAT DAY IS IT?

We're back and I have vacation hangover in that confusing discombobulated (spelled that right on the first try) way where you don't know where you are or what day it is or what the hell am I supposed to be doing right now. We traveled in total, somewhere around 1,743 miles over 10 days. Is that right? Yeah...I think that's right. During most of that time, we had very sketchy cell service. While we were in the mountains, we had zero cell service. I spent part of this morning skimming through emails because I had just as many unread emails in my inbox as miles we travelled. That did not include my inbox for work emails. 

Sorry...I just fell asleep for about ten minutes.

Any way. I have thoughts and stories to tell from our trip. I just need some time to organize it all. I can tell you that being without electricity and cell service for three days was the best part of our trip. I actually spent time journalling and drawing pictures to illustrate our daily activities. I did a lot of practicing the art of being still. There was a nice family from Edmond, OK in our campground with kids near the Cabbage's age. We handed her a walkie-talkie and set her free. At one point, she was actually playing in the dirt, scooping it up into a mound and decorating it with sticks and stones. We sat around the only campfire we were allowed to have during the whole trip because of fire bans. We gazed at stars. And the whole time, I had no idea what was happening in the world outside of our campground. Sometimes, a little oblivion is blissful.

The world came back to us when we came down the mountain and into Pueblo, CO. Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room. Harvey Weinstein pleaded 'not guilty' to sexual assault charges. Becky DeVos said that the Federal Commission on School Safety would not focus on the role guns play in school violence. A dead whale was found to be full of 18 pounds of plastic. Donald Trump continued to use Twitter to show how gross and ignorant he really is. Same old, same old. Of all the news, it is the death of Anthony Bourdain that hit us the hardest. He made me want to visit and explore places that I would have never even thought to visit and explore. His show educated us about our connections to cultures and each other through food. His voice and his way of telling stories will be missed. 

I have stories to write down. Some are tinted with sadness. Some are laced with joy. But they need some time to brew before they make it here. 

KEEPING HOUSE

We leave Friday morning for our grand camping adventure. Today is Wednesday. Sometime between now and Friday, I need to have my things packed, help make sure the others have their things packed, and the dog needs a bath. These are things that need to be done along with my regular daily things like work (I have a stack of papers to read) and teaching yoga. I probably should do a load of laundry as well just to be sure I have enough underwear. Oh...and clean the blood off the rug where the cat murdered a rabbit last night. The things that I need to do are pulling me away from keeping up with my regular scheduled programming. 

Today I should be telling you about something yoga related. I recently made a purchase that I should have made years ago. I finally broke down and bought a travel yoga mat. I have resisted doing this for years for a number of reasons. First of all, I love love love my Manduka eKO yoga mat. The top layer is firm and I have never had a problem with slipping while on this mat. The bottom layer is squishy and provides a nice cushiony support. Some of you may have looked at the price tag for this yoga mat and gulped. Trust me. I did the same thing the first time I bought this mat. I am now on my second eKO. The first one lasted me almost eight years and is still actually a good mat. It has one spot where the top layer started separating from the bottom layer and I decided that I just needed a new mat. That first mat saw me through yoga teacher training, teaching six hours of yoga a week, a daily personal practice and the death of a husband. I still have this mat. Michael uses it. 

Another reason why I have resisted the purchase of a travel mat is because I am cheap. I see no need to purchase something else when I already have something that performs and works well for me. Except, and this took me some time to figure this out, my eKO mat does not work well for me when traveling. It is big, bulky and heavy. It does not fit in a suitcase, or it does, but it takes up too much space in the suitcase. It barely fits in some overhead compartments. As a result, I end up leaving my yoga mat at home and then I don't do yoga while I'm traveling. Yes, I know I just did a post about not needing your own mat to do yoga, but this is a skill I have only recently acquired. When I saw that I could get a Manduka eKO Light on sale at REI, I snatched it up. I thought "You know Cindy? You have been practice yoga for twenty years. It's time you treated yourself." and this is what I did. The eKO light is basically just the top layer of the eKO. It rolls up skinny and is already shoved under the dinette in the camper. I can't wait roll it out during this camping trip. 

People frequently ask me about yoga mats. How much money they should spend? Who makes the best mat? If you are the kind of person who only steps onto a yoga mat two to three times a week while you are at the gym, then one of those $20 Gaiam mats are perfect. These mats are easy to clean. I used to just throw mine in with towels in the washer and then hang it on the clothes line to dry. These mats, when clean, also grip well and provide some cushion from the hard floor. The more you use a mat, of course, the more you see wear and tear. When you find yourself wearing out the $20 mat more frequently than usual, then you should consider upgrading. I don't know who makes the best mat. Like I said, I really love my Manduka, but I read a lot of reviews before I purchased that mat. Just do your research. If you spend $100 on a mat, you want to be sure that it is going to be durable and last you. I found reading reviews helped me choose a mat that is all of the above. 

There's my unsolicited advice on yoga mats and I am not being paid by Manduka or Gaiam to write this entry. We will be on the road Friday, so I'm just going to say. I am thankful for the reminder to treat myself. I am thankful for new adventures. And I am thankful for you. 

See ya in a week or so. 

 

NUMBNESS

I didn't stand. I was high and a little tipsy and not really sure if I had heard the speaker right. Earlier in the evening I had used the quarter teaspoon to scoop out some pot-laced honey. I am still guessing at dosage for this little jar that was gifted to me by a friend. There is no label. No dosage recommendations. The whole jar is 250 mgs. The first time I ate some, I ate too much and had one of those panic moments where I thought I was overdosing on marijuana. Which is not a thing. This time I got the dosage just about right. By the time we were settled in on Terry's blanket in front of Union Station, I was pleasantly numb. By the time the Memorial Program got to the memorial part, I was one gin and tonic and two glasses of wine in and buzzy.

So whatever the man on stage said was unclear. It was only when I saw some people standing that it started to sink in. These are people who had someone who died while in service to this country. Then it registered somewhere deep inside my brain. I am a person who had someone who died while in service to this country. I reached for the nearest body, which happened to be Luke. Michael was somewhere standing in a line for the bathroom. I grabbed ahold of Luke just in time for them to start the gun salute. Luke was drunk enough to not really know what was happening other than we were just being lovey dovey. That's normal enough for us. I clung to him as I felt each fucking bullet and didn't let go until after the last note played from the trumpet in Taps. I let go and then settled down into my guilt. I was Peter waiting for the rooster to crow. 

The kind of attention that comes from losing someone to something like a car bomb has never really fit me comfortably. It's like wearing a wet wool sweater that is too small. It's smelly and itches. It is a different kind of grief and experience then what I go through with Chris. I have never been able to hear "thank you for your sacrifice" without visibly wincing or clenching my fists and imaging putting that fist into the face of the person thanking me. 

Sacrifice: an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.

That's the definition I think of when I hear the word 'sacrifice' and I have to repress the urge to respond with "I didn't sacrifice anything." I never willingly surrendered J as an offering to any God. I want to scream that. None of us willing surrendered. 

I had a sinus infection and took too much cold medicine before J's funeral and maybe even one of Chris's pain pills left over from a surgery he had had. Numbing myself seems to be the way I handle this kind of grief. Military deaths are too bright and loud with colored flags and booming guns. Harsh. It prickles the skin with it's sharpness. I can wallow in my grief over losing Chris for days like a pig wallowing in the mud, but the grief over J is like rolling in glass. I have to remind myself of the very good lessons I learned from his death and how it prepared me for the next. I have to do my best to ignore the total destruction J's death caused our family and how each one of us had to learn in our own way how to behave in way that best honors J.

I recently read a book where one of the characters suffers a severe stroke in her thirties and she has to learn how to do everything all over again. Talking. Walking. Basic functions like buttoning a shirt or tying shoe laces. She's a cartoonist and has to learn how to hold a pencil and make sketches. She has to learn how to be the closest thing she can be to the person she was before the stroke. That's what grief is like. It's a stroke. After J, we all had to learn how to be the closest thing we could be to the people we were before. Some days, Hell...even most days, I feel like I came back from that stroke a better version of the person I was before. 

Just not every day. 

 

ATTACHMENT AND THANKFUL FRIDAY

It seems lazy of me to turn a yoga post into a Thankful Friday post, but sometimes those two things are so easily linked together. Monday morning, I was rushed to get out the door and I was halfway to work before I realized that I left my yoga mat behind. There used to be a time that if I didn't have my mat handy, I'd just shrug my shoulders and say "Guess I'm not doing yoga today." Now the idea of not doing my practice just because I don't have my mat seems really silly. There are plenty of mats in the gym for me to grab up, unroll and hop onto. Which is exactly what I did. 

This was a gentle reminder of how attachments can cause suffering, but also how attachments can be used as an excuse to not do the things that serve us best. Attachment comes in so many different ways. I tend to be not as attached to things as I am attached to specific actions or inactions. In this case, I am more attached to my yoga practice than I am to the props required for my practice. The other day I was taking a yoga class. We were using straps and the woman next to me did not have one, so I just handed over mine. I did it without thinking even though I kind of needed the strap for the pose we were working on. I grabbed my towel and improvised, but the action of giving my strap away was an easy thing to do. When do we decide to release a specific attachment? At what point is the attachment itself the thing that is causing the suffering, instead of just the loss of the object of our attachment? These questions have become important questions that I ask myself daily. Are my attachments serving any kind of purpose? 

I have an attachment to always trying to do the right thing, say the right thing. Sometimes this attachment is so strong that it cripples me. I end up doing nothing. I have an attachment to guilt. I can make my stomach turn upside with guilt that usually centers around not being enough or doing enough. My attachment to my pride is something I need to let go of.  This week I found myself telling the story of me and Chris to two different people, at completely different times. I did not start either of these conversations and both times I ended up crying as I finished the story. Both times I felt shameful and embarrassed for crying. Both times I ended up berating myself for those feelings because I truly believe that living my life the way I live it, openly and honestly, is one of the best things I can do to honor those I have lost. 

I am thankful for the reminder to let go of attachments that do not serve me.