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. 

 

 

CAMERAS

We are getting ready for a family vacation that will start at Alabaster Caverns in Oklahoma. Then we will make our way to Clayton, New Mexico for a couple of nights, followed up with three nights in the Gunnison area of Colorado. Then we will make our way home through Dodge City. When we first talked about this trip, I was thinking of my childhood summers in Colorado and running around campgrounds with other kids. We were a wild pack of animals, climbing up sides of mountains and throwing rocks into streams and rivers. I was always dirty and pink from too much sun. I think the Cabbage will have those experiences in Oklahoma and New Mexico. It's when we get to Colorado that I am a little worried. We will be staying in a primitive campsite without electricity. No wifi. No YouTube videos. Maybe no other kids. She's going to have to entertain herself, something she's not used to doing around us. 

I thought maybe giving the Cabbage a camera for our trip might keep her a little bit occupied. Or help. Or I have no idea. I dug up my old Sony point-n-shoot and plugged the battery into a charger. It still had an SD card in it even though it has been years and years since I've used it. I had no idea what was even on that SD card. So I popped it into my card reader and had a look. The card is full of pictures from my very first trip to New York. I have a whole series of images with Hamburger Helper hanging out in New York and they are on this SD card. I was pretty excited about this because I thought those original images were lost. I tend to upload smaller version of original data. Those smaller versions do not print well and I've always thought the Hamburger Helper series would make great art for a kitchen. The Bagel Boyfriend picture is also on this card and it dawned on me that this was the camera that started it all. 

This tiny little, weigh nothing, eight mega pixel camera was the camera that made me want to start taking better pictures. Chris bought it for me after he'd spent days and days researching cameras. He eventually bought the same camera for himself. I still have it. It is sitting on my dresser, untouched because I do not want to go through the pictures on his SD card. The first year we (Chris, Amy, Brian, a couple we don't talk to anymore because they got cut from the team) all did the 365 day photo project, this was the camera I used. I must have upgraded cameras soon after that New York trip, but I don't remember doing so. I did notice a shift in the quality of images on the SD card. You can see the point where I start paying more attention to light and how to frame things in a shot. Suddenly I started looking at things around me from different angles. I started paying attention. Looking at that camera now, I get a little nostalgic. If I were a painter, this camera would be the equivalent of the first paintbrush I used to create my first decent piece of art. I, by no means, consider myself to be a great photographer now, but I do recognize that I am a better photographer. This practice and art has become my meditation. It has made me more mindful and my camera has become as important to me as my yoga mat.

I have no idea what to expect from the Cabbage, how she'll take to being handed a camera or if she will even use it. I hope that it sparks something in her. I want to look at the pictures she takes to see what she finds interesting, to see her perspective on this world. It would be nice to believe that I am passing some kind of torch on to a new generation. 

 

FROM THE OUTSIDE

I took the small square, slightly faded prints from the trip we took to Hawaii when I was six or seven. We must have made that trip soon after Janell had famously cut off all her hair because in the pictures, she sports a mop of close cropped jagged hair. All these years later and my mother will tell anyone who will listen how Janell had the most beautiful hair until she took a pair of scissors to it and ruined it. In the Hawaii pictures, the both of us are all arms and legs. At any given day of the trip, you will see one or the both of us wearing American Airlines T-shirts. There are blurry pictures of us standing in front of giant banyan trees or hamming it up on the beach. My swimsuit is the swimsuit my sister wore the summer before. I know this because I also have the small square print of the two of us playing in the rain. Janell is wearing that green swimsuit with the yellow ruffled top that I am wearing in the Hawaii pictures. 

We look happy. We look like we are having the best time. I remember having the best time. Vaguely. I remember in that foggy way that memories come back to you. There is one exception to our happiness. In every single picture that my mother appears in, she looks miserable. She doesn't even pretend to smile. Janell and I stand grinning with wide cheesy smiles while my mother stands just to the side with a look of pure annoyance on her face as if she'd rather be any where else but there. This is the first time I've come across pictures from that trip. In all the rounds of cleaning out the old house, I never looked through half of the rubber-made tubs of pictures. I didn't even realize pictures of that trip existed and now I almost wish that my foggy memories where the only mental photographs I had of that trip. 

So many of us tell our stories in pictures now. We are all peeping at each other's lives through a different kind of window, but it is no different than before. We still only see the life the other wants you to see. I only show the good moments with the idea that you just know that every moment of every day doesn't all look like that. It is harder to tell the whole truth of the story about ourselves. No one thinks to pick up the camera when their day has just fallen to pieces. I see more of this truth in the picture I take every day for my 365 day project mostly because I don't have the energy to do otherwise. Maybe that's why mother made no effort to hide her unhappiness in those vacation photos. After keeping track of two young girls, carting all the things that mother's end up carrying around with them, and putting up a man she was so unhappy with she was just too tired to pretend to smile or look like she was enjoying herself.

I remember a time when I didn't have to pretend for a photo, when I didn't need all kinds of energy for smiling and grinning. 

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Yesterday, I was chatting with Amy and I asked her how everything was going. She told me about the things going on in her life and with her family and the struggles they are experiencing. She said that recent events have made her all too aware of our mortality. Her words hit me hard, like being hit with a rock. You would think that you would only need the lesson of our fragile lives one time in order to be fully aware of our mortality. You would think that your first loss would help prepare for the next one and the next one and the next one. In some ways it does at the very least make us aware of the inevitability of loss. 

I told my therapist once that I was really good at throwing away things. I told her how I'd thrown away a whole rats nest of cords only to discover later that one of those cords was the power supply to my external hard drive. The weekend everyone left my house after Chris died, I pulled all of his clothes from the drawers and closet, stuffed them into bags and took them to Goodwill. I did it partly because it gave me something to do, but also I knew that if I didn't do it right then, I may never do it. When I come into savasana and practice the act of saying goodbye, I have no problem saying farewell to all things. Farewell sun. Goodbye to this moment. Bye bye life as I once knew it. I should be really good at loss by now. Yet, I, like so many others, fall victim to complacency. I get caught up in the day to day chore side of living, cleaning up dog vomit and fixing microscopy problems. I let myself believe that loss is easy because of how well I can throw things away. I let myself forget that those abilities to say goodbye are on my terms. I'm the one in control and loss, true loss, is something out of our control. 

Of course, I have always known this. It is why every day is important. I am grateful for these lessons that make me stronger. I am thankful for these lessons that remind me how important it is to reach out to others in loving kindness. I am thankful for the reminder to make the most out each day. I am grateful that Amy and her family are safe and sound. Tell those you love that you love them. Put the phone down and turn off the TV and sort through a pile of old photos together. Practice saying goodbye to something you find impossible saying farewell to and allow for a loss of control. 

Be grateful.

YOGA AND SCIENCE

Yoga Journal recently ran an article on the safety of jumping back to plank or chaturanga. What I loved so much about this article is not just how it discusses the anatomy involved in performing jump backs, but how they visited an Applied Biomechanics lab to take actual scientific measurements of the impact on joints when jumping back to plank and chaturanga. Their data showed that there was no more force placed onto the joints than as if you were walking. The article goes on to say that hopping back is perfectly safe if you can hold plank properly without sagging in the belly. The same goes for hopping back to chaturanga. I stand with the quiet rule on this. If you can't hop back without making a sound, then you should work on your core strength and skip the hopping.As a research scientist, I want to see this experiment done with non-seasoned yogis because this is the side of yoga that I can totally relate too. What's the impact of hopping back if you don't have proper form? How can teach my students to stay safe in hope backs? 

Yoga has some stigmas and one of those is the whole hippy dippiness of it. I mean, Yoga Journal followed the anatomy article with an article on crystals and their healing powers. You guys know me and know how hard I rolled my eyes at this. The only time I was not fully engaged during my yoga teacher training was when we got to the not scientific lulu stuff like auras and energy bodies. I was all in on those lessons that focused on the anatomy of the human body because I could see it in action. I could place my hand on the body part that was working and feel the muscle working. I could also look at the scientific studies and publications about yoga. There are many many NIH funded research programs that involve studying the effects of yoga on health. There is published data that shows both the pros and cons of a daily yoga practice. For instance, studies have shown that yoga is a great exercise for relieving low back pain. Pranayama or breathing practices yoga was taught to relieve asthma when in fact there is no evidence that yoga improves asthma. Pro. Con. All scientifically based research.

The yoga we see today is not the original yoga. It has and continues to be modified to make poses safer and more accessible and even to fit trends. Yoga battles with preconceived ideas from non-yogis. There are people who believe yoga is a religion. There are many who think you have to be flexible to do yoga. There are people who think yoga is sitting in lotus with your eyes closed while chanting. Linking actual scientific research with yoga is a pretty powerful tool for battling those preconceived ideas. When I tell my students that chanting "Om" can be good for them I can point to a scientific study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care that shows that humming increases the production of nitric oxide in the nasal passages. You end up humming as you chant "Om". The extra nitric oxide helps you fight of sinus pain and infections. 

I like have scientific evidence to back up some of the lulu sounding things I say.

WHAT'S GOIN' ON

I spent the weekend at my Mom's with my brother and sister-in-law. Our Mother's Day Weekend activities included a Tabouleh Festival in Bristow, where I was surprised to discover that there used to be a large Lebanese community. I was also surprised to find only one source of tabouleh and that one booth had a super long line. We left the the tabouleh festival without tabouleh, which was disappointing because we had planned to have tabouleh with dinner later that evening. So we left the Tabouleh Festival and headed over to a German festival. This was less festival and more 'pay us some money to enter our raffle so you can win this quilt covered in elephants'. We did have a beer and a pretzel. We did not win the raffle. At least I don't think any one of us did.

We left the German Festival and I said "now what?" Katrina, my sister-in-law, looked at her phone and said "there's a Latin Festival." This would have been almost perfect except we all decided that were all festivaled out and that maybe we should just go to the liquor store. That's what we did, but then we got distracted by plants on the way back to Mom's house. So now I have a hanging basket of pretty flowers that I don't know the name of. Then we spent the rest of the evening eating pizza, drinking gin and sorting through boxes of old photos. I came home with a pile of old pictures and a letter to Santa Claus my Dad had dictated to his mother in 1945. Dad had requested a bow and six arrows and a Buck Rogers gun. He also asked for some other things, but those were my favorites. 

I got home Sunday afternoon and then Josephine started puking her guts out. The two of us did very little sleeping Sunday night because of it. She puked in my bed. She puked in her bed. She had to go outside several times. She couldn't get comfortable. She was one sick puppy but not in a psycho kind of sick puppy way. I kept my cool and waited it out, but seriously was this close to panicking and rushing her to an emergency vet so I could spend half a million dollars for them to tell me that she just ate something bad. She's fine. I still have no idea what she got into except maybe all the grass she's been eating in the backyard. I stayed home with her on Monday so I could wash all the stuff she'd puked on and monitor her health. She was pretty mopey until I got the vacuum out. Then she mustered enough energy to attack the vacuum and I knew we were in the clear. 

Any way. I am home and things are returning back to some kind of normal. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

We used to always go to the Black-Eyed-Pea for Mother's Day. My sister and I would cheer from the backseat of the car when Dad would suggest skipping church service to get to the restaurant early. We'd all meet back at the car after Sunday school. [I can see Michael reading this and trying to understand the difference between church service and Sunday school and marveling at how we spent almost four hours in church on Sundays.] Randy, Katrina and J would meet us at the restaurant and I'd get a Shirley Temple. I always finished my meal quickly at this place because there was a bookstore right next door. My parents would let me go hang out there while they finished up. I read one whole book from the Chronicles of Narnia series once while waiting on them to come get me. 

Mother's Day was much simpler then. 

I find that age and time have added a complicated layer to Mother's Day. For me, the day feels slightly forced. I know that is my own resistance to the idea of being thrown into the so called role of motherhood. It still sits awkwardly because I don't feel very motherly when it comes to the Cabbage. As I was leaving Dr. Mary's Tuesday night, she called me back to her office. She said "I started to tell you to have a good Mother's Day, but I stopped myself because you're not a mother. But then I thought 'No! You are a mother'. So Happy Mother's Day." That same evening, the Cabbage gave me an art project she made just for me, covered with elephant stickers and Happy Mother's Day written across it. I knew she was up to something because she picked out all of her supplies when we went to the craft store over the weekend. I guess I was surprised that it was all her idea. No one prompted her. I am still trying to wrap my head around how it is that she sees me as some kind of mother figure.  

I am also keenly aware of just how difficult Mother's Day is for others. At times, this made up holiday seems a little cruel. You cannot avoid all of the marketing that goes out regarding the celebration of mothers. That has got to be hard for people who no longer have their mothers with them, but it also has to be difficult to be a mother and no longer have your children with you. Maybe part of the reason I resist being on the receiving end of Mother's Day is that I know that the statement that motherhood is hard is simplifying the actuality. I don't feel worthy of the title because I have not experienced the emotions that mothers experience. I have not experienced the joys and the struggles that come with being a mother. It is more like I occasionally dabble in motherhood and that's mostly by just making sure the Cabbage has clothes that fit her. And carrots to eat. But I guess this enitittles me to a moment of kindness and lots of elephant stickers.

Of course I am thankful for my own mother. She held my house together while my life was falling apart. And I am thankful for the tribe of women my mother relied on to help raise me. I am thankful for the lessons they taught me and I am thankful my mother had that support. I read a lot blogs written by women who are mothers, not because they are moms, but because they are amazing writers. I am thankful for those women for sharing their words and craft. I am thankful for the example they lead and how they encourage each other. I am thankful for all of the women bloggers I read, mothers or not because of the way they encourage each other. I follow a good crowd of women. It makes me want to be a better person.

It gives me hope. 

 

MOON ZAP

My period started today, so I'm thinking about what to do in my yoga practice this week. I used to never think about this. Back in the days when I had yet to establish a daily practice on my own, I went to yoga classes at the gym and did it all. I didn't even think about it. It was only later that I discovered there are views about menstruation and your yoga practice. Some teachers are adamant about NO YOGA during this time. I sort of regarded this view as dumb. I threw it on the ridiculous pile of things women have been told not to do while on their periods, like swimming in the ocean because you will attract sharks or hiking because you will attract bears. I am amazed that our species has survived with all of us women attracting predators all the time. The raging feminist yogini in me wants to shout "you can't tell me what I can and can't do!" Women have been fighting the stigma of menstruation since the dawn of time. 

Though in the defense of yoga, the reasons some teachers believe that you should not do yoga during your period is not because you are considered to be 'unclean' or you will attract wild animals to the studio. That time of the month is considered to be a time of cleansing and renewal and you should just take it easy. That's a nice thought and my kapha side tells my pitta side that this is exactly what we should do. Except my pitta side is a jerk and I end up trying to do all of the things on my yoga mat because I feel better when I get off my mat. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health of sixty four women found that practicing breathing exercises, cat-cow, down dog, cobra, plank and child's pose reduced the effects of premenstrual stress. Of course this is a small study that took place in Taiwan, but the data is sound. [A different rant is the complete lack of research in reducing PMS, at all] 

There are many yoga poses that are beneficial to relieving cramping and bloating. Twists and supported fish pose are great. Bow pose is good for belly bloat. There are also poses that I just won't do during that time. I avoid certain inversions like headstand and shoulder stand, but there's no definitive scientific evidence that inversions cause problems if performed during menstruation. Really it just comes down to how you choose to interpret the word yoga. Yoga means 'to yoke'. I hear 'yoke' and I think of two large oxen yoked together and pulling a plow. One ox is your brain and the other ox is your body. They are forced to work together. The brain listens to the body and the body respects the brain's choices. Sometimes my body does not want to take the stairs, but my brain says "Come on! It's good for us!" and I take the stairs. Sometimes when my brain is saying that, my body goes "no, really. My knee hurts." I take the elevator. Practicing yoga doesn't just take place on your mat.

That time of the month is a good time to remember that lesson and really listen to what our bodies are telling us to do or not do. You know how on some days during your period, you feel just fine and other days you feel like a truck is rolling back and forth over your fat bloated body? On the days you feel just fine, have a regular asana practice, but on those other days when you feel achy and gross, take care of yourself. Choose a restorative practice with cushions and blankets. Sometimes I do a little bit of both by mixing in an asana practice at the beginning and finishing up with restorative poses like supported supta baddha konasana and supported twists. Sometimes, I just don't do anything but rest in final relaxation. I will it admit that it has taken me years of practice in order to be okay with doing less, but this is true self care.  

Namaste. 

BIRD SEASON

I was up at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning. The sounds of a bird in distress makes a pretty good alarm clock. I don't know if it is a skill I should be proud of, but by now I can tell the difference between bird and rabbit distress calls. I don't know about squirrels. They never make it into the house alive. The rarely make it into the house with their heads still attached. On this particular morning, I opened my bedroom door and then followed the trail of feathers to the kitchen where the cat had the bird cornered between the back door and the refrigerator. I told the animals to scram, dropped a dishtowel onto the bird and then scooped him up. I carried him to the front yard and I could feel his wings trying to flap. I just relaxed my grip and he flew off and up into a tree branch in the neighbor's yard. Then immediately after he landed, another bird tackled him and they both fell to the ground. I have no idea what happened to him or if he was the same bird I "rescued" at 4:30 this morning. 

I'm sure the bird from this morning didn't make it.

Since I was up at six on Saturday, I went ahead and got showered and dressed. Then I cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the stove because a bird had pooped on it. I gathered my grocery bags, the list, my journal, my purse and my glasses, locked the door and stepped out of the house. With out keys. I stood there for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do. I banged on the front door a few times knowing that there was no way Micheal was going to hear me from his cave in the basement. I stepped around to the Cabbage's window and started banging. She pulled the curtain back with squinted eyes and I asked to her to go open the front door. She had a moment of panic when she didn't think she could get the door open, but I talked her down and said that all she had to do was turn the lock. I opened the door and told her to go back to bed. Later on, Michael went into her room and she said "Why did you lock Cindy out of the house?!" He didn't know I'd locked myself out or what the Cabbage was talking about.

That's probably the first time I've ever locked myself out of that house.

The rest of the weekend went just fine and dandy. My massage therapist removed a giant knot from my right thigh. I pulled up old dead plants and planted new vibrant living plants. I made the kind of guacamole that you never want to stop eating because it's laced with crack (not really, but I make some delicious guacamole). I spent time reading while swaying gently in my hammock. It was real nice. Some time between Saturday and today, I dreamed that Albus dragged a goose into the house. The house was a wreck with goose poop and feathers. It was like we'd used our living room for rituals. After that dream, I really studied the dog door. Could Albus even fit a goose through that door? Maybe. Yet my thoughts keep drifting back to the Saturday morning bird. He was a living breathing metaphor. I saved that bird from the clutches of a gruesome death only to release him into a different kind of gruesome death. It's like all those videos people post of releasing the trapped mouse into a field and then watching as a hawk swoops down and carries it off for it's dinner. 

It's really true. There are some things that are just out of your control. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

This is one of those weeks where I am actually really grateful that it is Friday. I don't like to admit this. I used to work with a guy who did not like his job. Every morning, he would come into the office and say "Is it Friday yet?" or he'd count down the week until Friday. "Just two more days until Friday!" I always tried to nod my head along in agreement to show solidarity, but mostly I just felt bad that he was so obviously unhappy and he was just suffering through to make it to the weekend. I know what it is like to not like your job. I understand completely the toll it takes on the mind and spirit. Eventually he left to start his own business. The business is going well and he's super happy. I am really happy for him, but I can't help but think of him when I have a week where at the end of it, I think "TGIF!"

This has not been a bad week. Actually, it's been a fairly productive week. I got all of the camper blankets washed and dried. Images from the DSLR got uploaded to my computer for future editing. I made some changes to the blog and my 'About Me' page. I've had some really satisfying moments on my yoga mat. This week has been good and that is partly why I am grateful that today is Friday. Friday is the cherry on top of this week's sundae. This is the day I get to sit back and take a breath and a moment to appreciate the things I have accomplished. I can sigh with relief that nothing blew up or died or got taken away by tornadoes. Sometimes it is just good practice to be thankful you not only had a successful week, but a successful week, free of disasters. So yeah...TGIF! 

Now I get to reap the rewards of the weekend with sleeping in and meeting my massage therapist. I'm also going to dig in the dirt and plant some thing to make the house look pretty. I'm going to put Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae on repeat and swing in a hammock. I might even have a margarita in celebration of Cinco De Mayo. Except I don't care for tequila. A Ginarita? Is that a thing? 

BODY CONFIDENCE AND YOGA

I skimmed through an article the other day about how yoga fosters body confidence. I say 'skimmed' because the article wasn't giving me any new information. Nothing profound jumped off the page. Yoga teaches you to let go of perfection and to focus on your inner self. Ideally...this is what yoga teaches, but letting go of the idea of perfection in yoga is not so easy to see visually. Not until recently, like in maybe in the last two years, has yoga magazines like Yoga Journal graced their covers with models who are not super thin and wirey with muscles. Iyengar and Brikram yoga practices put an emphasis on alignment and perfection in poses and I have heard stories of serious Ashtanga teachers sending students away until they have mastered a pose in the ashtanga sequence. 

It is not just the yoga media and some forms of practices that seem counter intuitive to promoting body confidence though. There have been many times when I have walked into a yoga studio, looked around me and thought "I do not belong here." I have looked at the other students, I have met the teacher and I have immediately started listing all the ways I am not enough for this class. I am not fit enough, strong enough, young enough, skinny enough, enlightened enough. All of those not enoughs dissipate once I am moving on my mat, but to someone new to yoga, that whole experience can be very intimidating. Though Yoga Journal has gotten a lot better at showing a more diverse group of yogis throughout their pages, many yoga studios feel a little less diverse. It can be difficult to cultivate body confidence in that sort of environment. 

There have been many psychological studies on the effects yoga has women's body confidence. A study released in the September 2016 issue of Body Image handed out questionnaires to a hundred and something yoga practitioners and a hundred and something non-yoga practitioners and found that people who practice yoga scored higher on body confidence than those who do not practice yoga. They also found that the people who practice yoga scored lower on self-objectification. A study released in Psychology of Sports and Exercise in March of this year focused on the effects of mirrors on yoga students in a yoga practice and found that women in yoga classes with mirrors had greater body image anxiety. It is clear that yoga is good for us, but it is also clear that it has it's own set of complicated pros and cons.

One reason I choose to teach at the Y is because it is a way to expose people who normally would not go to a studio to yoga. My classes at the Y are a diversity of age, size, color and fitness and it is beautiful. I try every week to put an emphasis on safety over so called perfection. I purposefully set my class up in a way that they are facing away from the mirrors. I tell them to find the joy in their practice and I have started to see my students grow in their own confidence. These lessons are all well and good and something any yoga teacher worth their salt teaches. Something I feel I could do better as a teacher is pushing my students to create their own personal practice. Because this is where true self confidence blooms into the sweetest flower. Those times I practice on my own are moments when I feel the most beautiful. 

I know that cultivating a personal yoga practice hard. There are days I unroll my mat and think "I don't want to do anything." but I do something. It may be simply sitting back in child's pose and counting my breaths to ten, but it is something. There are no hard set rules of how long you should be on your mat or what you even need to be doing. That's the joy of making it your own. If you are a teacher, I encourage you to impress the importance of a yoga practice outside of a class. If you are a student, I challenge you to spend just five minutes every day this week on your mat, on your own.

Namaste. 

WANTS

I have started to slowly clean up this space and make some minor changes. I've added some new pictures and removed some broken links. Some stuff had just become outdated, like my Life List. I pulled that from the blog and stored the content someplace safe, but slightly forgotten. I haven't looked at that list in ages. The list still contains things I had planned to do with Chris and it makes me sad to read through it. I start seeing how we never made it to Paradise Falls in South America and wondering just how many helium balloons it would take to lift this house. Then I have to scroll through old pictures to remind myself of the things we did do together to get the bitter taste of loss out of mouth. I decided it was time to officially let the Life List go.

Way back when we all sat down to write our Life Lists, I had a hard time separating things I should do from things I wanted to do. I might as well have written "take out the garbage" as one of those items. I was really bad about coming up with things I wanted. I read other's life lists and would see things like "swim in bioluminescent pools" or "eat a 100 different kinds of cakes" and I would think "oooh....I want to do those things too!" Except I didn't. Not really. Sure I'd love to go swim in a bioluminescent pool of algae, but the whole science girl part of me says "gross." Also, I can't help but think that there's something harmful to the algae and ecosystem by us swimming around with them. Cake used to be one of my main food groups. Sometimes I would have cake for breakfast. If I went to a buffet, I'd get a small plate of salad and two large plates of every single dessert, mostly cake. I cannot tell you the last time I had a piece of cake. Things changed. I changed. 

I have changed.

I have learned that a lot of the things I should do are the things I want to do. I want to take out the garbage and I want to declutter. Cleaning is an enjoyable past time for me. The things that ended up getting crossed off my list were things I really wanted to do. Some of those things that got crossed off are things that I want to do again. Like the water balloon fight. That should be an annual event. But I noticed as I was taking the list down, that there are things on the list that I do not want to do any more. I don't care to know how to make tofu or learn acupuncture. My yoga practice is so rounded and balanced now. I don't want to learn ashtanga because I already know the basics of that practice. But that's the thing about the list. It is meant to change with you. I did not go in an edit that list according to my life changes. Instead it became a time capsule of a different life. 

If making the Life List has taught me anything, it has taught me to recognize and own the things that I want in this life. I want to learn how to make macarons. I want to eat so many different and exotic cheeses that I don't poop for a week. I want to spend more time in a hammock and less time thinking about my fat belly. I want to go dancing, like club dancing where I end up with glitter on my face. I want to go roller skating and I want to go jump around on trampolines. I want to collect more National Park stamps. I want to take the risks that come available to me at unexpected times. This might mean saying "yes" even if I am not sure I should be saying "yes". I want to say "no" to the things I do not want to do and not feel the need to apologize for it or feel guilty for it. 

And I no longer need a list to keep track of the things I want.