On Time

“I’m not ready to go. I don’t want to leave any of you yet. I have a lot I still want to do.”

As I sit here beside you, listening to you breathe, right now I am overwhelmed with emotion. The tears well up every few moments when I remember all the times we sat together just like this, but on your sofa in your little Bellevue bungalow- the steam from the tea rising like your dog Hope’s belly, with every deep relaxing breath- and also when the uneasy awareness rises, again, in me, that you are dying. There truly is not enough time for us, for any of us who love you so.

We’ve only been close a few years- you always say I was your first yoga teacher- but that’s not how I think of you. You’re really the sister that I always wanted but never knew I needed. You arrived right on time.

After you beat cancer a second time, we went to Ojai- somewhere we’d known about and planned to visit as soon as you were ready. Those chilly mornings, the warm daytime hikes, the amazing meals, and all the coffee will always be just a sensory-memory jolt away. And every time I go there I know that I’ll be back in our special place again.

Just a little over a year after our trip, you were well underway with your big plans to buy some land, set up shop, and hold space for retreats- always giving away that which had healed you. Things were in motion- your house on the market, properties toured and negotiations begun- but the plans hit roadblocks. Inspections revealed insurmountable challenges. Loans fell through. Closing dates came and went. Something, you knew, was not right with this plan.

Soon after, you began to realize things were also not right with your body. Having been through it before you knew the signs. Tests confirmed tumors in your stomach and later, your liver. Cancer, a third time, before today, your fortieth birthday.

Now, we sit here, like before, but burdened with the weight of knowing the road ahead has an ending. We always knew it, but now it’s certain. We celebrate your birthday with as much physical comfort as we can, with tea, with peach popsicles, with Harry Potter, with snuggles- all the things busy lives disrupt. You sleep, and then sit awake, talking with me and with your family.

I hold your hand, stroke your hair, tell you I love you. We whisper. There are tears. And more tears. You’re in terrible pain. You’re afraid to die and afraid to live too. I feel powerless. I know I can’t help you. And I’m afraid to lose you- afraid I will forget you, your smell, your voice, your words. Will time take those away?

Then I remember you have a blog- I go there again and read a few entries. In your last entry, from December of 2017, you’re giving testimony that clearly shows you get it- it’s about fearlessness, bravery, tenacity, staying the course- but it’s also about acceptance, about slowing down, about feeling and sensing the preciousness of each moment, letting everything move in its own time. We can’t do everything, and there are times we can’t do anything. You know this, now, in your mind, but your heart moves in and out of acceptance. So, tears, trembling, and confusion. For both of us. Two fortysomething women, hanging onto each other, lost in our grief for things that will never come, still searching for faith.

It may stay this way, even after you’re gone. Only time will tell.

Note: I wrote this on October 18, your birthday, just five days before you died. I cannot say time has changed anything. But I know more and more what you meant to me, and the way to honor your memory is becoming clearer and clearer- it’s in how I spend my days, how I use my time. More will be revealed- this I know. Until then I will keep missing you, your sisterhood, your friendship and your tender, sweet soul.

Big Sister

Somehow at age 42 I've become a big sister. Kaity, at 37, is bravely moving her body and mind and spirit through ovarian cancer and has 33 days left on her chemo protocol. A complete hysterectomy last spring sent her body into early menopause. It's been a wild ride, but one I've been honored to tether to.

For once, in the face of potential loss I have moved in rather than away. It's interesting, because until now I never knew my "role" in her life-- not in any official way. And for a person like me, always wondering my role in everything, it's been nice to just listen, mostly; to speak when necessary, but mainly simply to be there when I can. 

Kaity has a yoga teacher, many doctors and nurses, a life coach, a sponsor, an acupuncturist, a reiki practitioner, an intuitive healer, and numerous friends and allies.

We're from similarly screwy homes rife with substance abuse and confusing family dynamics.

As we sip tea, she says that she likes me because I understand.

When she says she can't trust, I get it. When she says she only recently learned to put her own needs not first but anywhere on the list, I get it. When she tells me she struggles with her body and accepting it, unable to find anything that feels like home to her, I get it. I've been there, on all counts, sometimes for years at a time. 

I ask her, I know this isn't about me, but what role can I play-- what can I do for you? What am I to you, do you think?

She gazes at me and point blank without much hesitation, replies, well, I think of you as my big sister who gets it. I don't need to explain myself to you. You've been there. 

I think she means I've felt the disappointment when the parent doesn't get sober, when the needs don't get met, when nothing feels stable, really, ever, no matter what it looks like on the outside. I've felt that and I've been working, just as she has, to reach out to create the tribe I never had, and to reach in to find the jewel inside. And that now, with what’s left, I honor connection, consciousness, awareness, feeling. These things matter to me, a lot. More than anything else. 

I pause, feel the tears welling up. BIG SISTER. Me, who likes to isolate. Me, the supposedly spoiled only child. I could be a big sister. This floors me. I've never heard this before, never considered it. Not like this. It feels like someone pinned a medal on me.

We both cry, sitting there at the coffee shop: two grown women, for a moment each of us seeing our worth to the other, bald heads and crows feet and fucked up families and body image issues and inventions and re-inventions ad infinitum and all. Not just seeing our worth, but feeling it, knowing our worth, even for a moment. Sisters. 

Note: Back in mid-October of this past year I shared this again with Kaity, as she sat in the hospital battling cancer for a third time. I asked her if it was okay then to post it, and she said absolutely. It still didn’t feel right at the time, not knowing exactly what was coming and so I held back until today.

The preciousness of the time we spent together in the fall will never leave me, has changed me forever. I’ve written about that also and will post it soon. DW

On Outrage

As a survivor of trauma, I (as so many men and women have shared in recent weeks) have been feeling every conceivable emotion (from anger, to sadness, to crushing anxiety) when confronted, again, with the alleged actions of misconduct by men in power. There is an intense, overwhelming sense of hopelessness that comes when I recognize that our society clearly, on the whole, does not equally care for, or actively oppresses, harms or seeks to render powerless its women, people of color, the poor, non-citizens, the young, the old, the differently abled, non-cis-gendered, and most other marginalized individuals. I believe what we are seeing at the level of politics and public discourse (if you can call it that) is a reaction to what happens when people in crisis repress anger and rage and allow these to fester until someone or something happens to validate it and give it power. And it happens in both directions- turned both inward and outward within those who oppress and those who are oppressed.

Addiction to power is insidious and always finds a way, in very much the same way addiction to substances will always find a way unless those under its power arrive at a deep desire to change. Emotions are energy, and when oppressive forces of power addiction are unchecked, those emotions can go inward, turning to rage and incapacitating pain. Resentments made flesh. I’ve experienced this. It is devastating.

I’ve deliberately tried to push through my mental blocks, blind spots, and cognitive dissonance around inequity and “isms”- as my spiritual practice demands that I do (or else it’s only another way to bypass human suffering- my own and that of others). Doing so requires a heartfelt commitment, steady effort, but especially putting myself in the company of others in similar inquiry- who wish to, in service of something greater than ourselves. In short, tapas, svadhyaya, and isvara-pranidhana. In sangha. The beloved community. From this, I feel a sense of empowerment, of possibility, even of hope. Those emotions can then move, shape-shift, and become a gift.

Here are some other, specific ways I’m choosing to engage that are helping my heart regain resilience in this moment of crisis- and many of these are inspired by the efforts of others like me:

  1. I’m writing a love letter to Dr. Ford for her testimony, her courage, and to let her know how I appreciate her willingness to speak truth to power at great personal cost.

    Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

    c/o Palo Alto University

    1791 Arastradero Rd.

    Palo Alto, CA 94304

  2. Because the same forces that oppress women are the ones that oppress people of color, I’m signing up for an Anti-Racism training. See “intersectional feminism.” https://www.racialequityinstitute.com

  3. Because I want better representation at the local and national level, I’m voting on November 6, 2018 and November 3, 2020. Here’s where to register to vote online- and the deadline to do so is October 15, 2018 for the upcoming midterms. https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/Registration/Eligibility

    You will need a Virginia ID and a Social Security number to use Virginia's online voter registration system. If you don't have a Virginia-issued ID, you can still register to vote by mail. You can register online until Monday, October 15.

  4. I will continue to educate others about trauma, the formation of memory following a trauma, and how yoga teachers and helping professionals can more effectively and compassionately meet the needs of those affected by trauma. I do this as part of the Y12SR Leadership training, and will continue to offer my own Trauma-Informed training modules. Message me if interested in hosting me for this!

  5. Whenever possible, and at whatever level is meaningful for me, I will contribute to organizations currently committed to fighting inequity, seeking justice, supporting reproductive rights, and increasing access to wellness for all:

    projectyogarichmond.org

    thebcj.org

    splcenter.org

    aclu.org

    plannedparenthood.org

    ctznwell.org

    offthematintotheworld.org

  6. I’m deepening my meditation and asana practice, committing more fully to my recovery community, and taking even better care of myself. This is the long game, and it takes all of me to play it well.

On another note, I’m always seeking like minded individuals (in person and virtually) to share with, learn from, vibe with, and just soak up the experience and wisdom of others. Message me if you’re into connecting in this way- in beloved community.

On Change

"I think you need to celebrate what you were able to do and grieve the things you couldn't."

~ the wondrous Jay Fields in a recent coaching session

This post has been a long time coming. How do I write about eight years, hundreds of people, and thousands of hours comprised of a spectrum of intimate (and huge) moments of connection and devastating lessons around listening, collaboration, shared vision, dignity, respect, and love? 

Project Yoga Richmond was born into my life at a time of great optimism. Having successfully worked on the 2008 Presidential campaign on behalf of Barack Obama, there was a groundswell of good feeling about the possibility of collaboration- all those phone calls, rallies, conversations, speeches, late night sign-making sessions, and rumination on what it means to be an American citizen- at this time, in this century- gave me a sense of place and purpose. My yoga practice had waxed and waned over the previous 15 or so years and I was in an "on" moment with asana.

I'd survived a traumatic brain injury in 2007 and rehabilitated myself in seclusion, away from group classes, since I could not practice in synch with the fast-paced cues offered by most teachers I'd met. My balance, language comprehension, memory, and mood had been severely impacted- though I'd tried to give the impression at work that they hadn't- and among the few bits of solace I'd had during the months following the initial recovery from the accident were these short audio classes I could put on my iPod and follow along, teetering and tottering all the way. 

I'd entered teacher training in 2008, completed 200 hours in 2009, and began my 300 hour training with Rolf Gates in 2010, finishing in June 2011. Looking back, I can't believe how fortunate I have been to come under Rolf's tutelage. At the time I was not sure I could trust my mind or body, since the injury had left me feeling foggy and confused and unsteady- but Rolf's clear, calm instruction, lessons about self-compassion and non-reaction and steadiness and ease all gave me a foundation I could truly grow from in my practice and teaching, and later, in my personal life. Rolf's transparency around addiction recovery gave me the first of many examples I'd need later- people who had what I wanted and was willing to go to any length to get, as we say in the rooms. 

At the time, in Richmond at least, many if not most yoga experiences were happening in gyms- we only had a tiny handful of studios in the area- and my teaching had prepared me to teach safe classes in a larger setting, with a focus on meditative presence, thanks to Rolf. In my experience though, people wanted a "workout." With time as a precious commodity, people wanted their asana with sweat, speed, and intensity. I understand this- it seems a continuance of our culture. We do what works and often, how we are on our mat is how we are in life and vice versa. (It's just the human condition. I'm clear around non-judgment about this.) Further, as a teacher, I noticed that most people who came to yoga looked like me: young-ish, white, female, slender, and, based on the clothing they wore, most likely affluent. Where was everyone else?

What I had glimpsed in the early stages of my own healing was the possibility that slowing down yielded greater awareness, less injury, and more translatable skills off the mat. This was not always easier at all! And by grace, my primary teachers were African American. Their perspective broadened my own, and this was a very good thing. 

Around this time, in early 2010, I became good friends with Jonathan Miles who had started this tiny Facebook page: Project Yoga Richmond, just a notion back then. A few of us decided to energize that page, come up with a vision and aim for yoga to be accessible, affordable, and focused on the possibility that individuals and communities could heal and be empowered. I only needed to look in the mirror to see the changes that were starting to happen for me, and at the faces of the other founders to see the compassion and dedication to the deeper aims of this practice as a way to create interpersonal connection, if not divine union. We were five: four female; one male; three white; two African American. This, to me, boded well. 

We opened our doors officially in November 2010 to huge crowds of people. I could not believe my eyes. I saw diversity of bodies, ages, gender expression, races, abilities- it was magnificent. People were hungry for community connection, common purpose, and embodied practices. I had found my tribe, in a way. 

Of course, nobody hands you a manual when you embark on a venture like this. What followed was often a comedy of errors, and a roller coaster reaching simultaneous highs and lows: dedicated partnerships, inspiring vision sessions, stunning miscommunications, unexpected successes like The Amazing Raise, gut-wrenching losses, time-intensive planning and ever-evolving interpretations of our shared vision, leading sometimes to creative collaboration, other times to a parting of ways. I made a lot of mistakes. (A lot.) And I was uncomfortable, often, with the amount of introspection I needed to do to be effective as a leader. 

But through it all, the mission and vision did persist. Our community grew, and with it our ability to sustain ourselves and my sense of hope that perhaps, when people unite around shared values, with a focus on selfless service and a lifelong commitment to the practices of yoga- all eight limbs, so to speak- we just might be able to start a movement that would last. Our practice would truly have power. And it does. 


Over the years PYR has meant a lot of things to a lot of people- a place to teach, volunteer, or serve on a Board; be a student, or an employee; engage in partnership or donate financial or in-kind support. I'm grateful to all of the founders: Jonathan Miles, Michelle Martello, Pam Cline, and Wendy Warren. I am so indebted to Natalie Gianninoto; to Stacy Abbott; to Sue Agee; to all of the Board members past and present; to Amanda Kennedy and Rebekah Holbrook; to Sandi Grivat and Jillian Jones; to Minima Designs and McAbbott Photography; to Susan Milne of Epiphany Studio, to Kevin Daley, to Stephanie Quinby of RVA Massage and Wellness, and to Ken and Kelly Kostecki of Om On Yoga; to lululemon Short Pump's Here To Be program; to DJ Mikemetic and Bhakti House Band and Mighty Joshua and Lobo Marino, and to NO BS! Brass; to all of the PYR donors, students, and volunteers, and supporters; and to our teachers Rolf Gates and Nora Pozzi and especially to the late Arlene Bjork, who brought the original founders together. 

I'm full of gratitude to all of the teachers who, as current and past Ambassadors, have advanced the mission of PYR to make yoga accessible and affordable. I can't possibly name them all- but they're out there, teaching and leading this community in the many yoga spaces that now exist- not only at PYR but in parks; at studios, both shiny and new and time-tested favorites; in senior centers and area schools; in recovery spaces and correctional facilities; and even in breweries and other gathering spaces around town. These are the heroes and she-roes of Project Yoga Richmond. 

I'm especially thankful to instructors and organizations who have traveled to PYR once or many times to share their work with the Richmond yoga community: Y12SR, Street Yoga, Connection Coalition, Sacred Root, Bending Towards Justice, Leslie Lytle of Nurture RVA, Mateo Daniel, Melissa Smith, Hari-Kirtana Das, Jay Fields, Rolf Gates, Nikki Myers, Dr. Melody Moore, Bernadette Birney, Faith Hunter, Hawah Kasat, Leanne Carey, Ariele Foster, Jacoby Ballard, Kate Johnson, Amber Karnes... and the list continues, with many more contributors to PYR I am surely omitting here. 

I'm indebted to the Yoga Service Council for their annual conference at Omega, which over the past five years has helped PYR tap into a global movement of yoga service that is rooted in self-inquiry, conscious relationship, and deepened personal practices; to Off The Mat, Into The World and CTZNWELL for their continued commitment to education, to justice, to challenging the yoga community to examine trauma, inequity, violence, and poverty as systemic forces that we as yoga practitioners should not ignore but rather turn toward. Thank you to Rob Schware of Give Back Yoga; to Michelle Cassandra Johnson, author of Skill In Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World; to rev. angel Kyodo williams, co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation; to Seane Corn, to Suzanne Sterling, and to Hala Khouri and all the faculty of Off The Mat; to Kerri Kelly of CTZN Podcast for her work, which challenges me, disrupts the comfort of privilege, and inspires me to take my next steps on this path.

I'm clear that each of us is a spiritual being having a human experience- so I honor both the science and the spirituality that underlies yogic practice. This perspective lets me invite in the lessons of all experiences- everything has a purpose, and nothing is ever wasted. I'm also clear that both the spiritual and the ground-level, human-being work that we have to do is not done- not even close. And that energizes me. 


When PYR started, I was certain about yoga, my place in the world, and where we were headed as a culture. Boy, has that shifted. The one thing I have come to learn for sure about yoga is it sensitizes us to the possibility of change- if we are paying proper attention. The world is changing- all the time- it's always been so. We are standing on a rock spinning in space, as Nikki Myers says. When I cling, which for me shows up as getting too comfortable, assuming, isolating, judging anything or anyone as good or bad- living in a binary, right/wrong framework, it's my experience that suffering is inevitable. And the ethics of my practice today make it unsustainable for me to actively participate in perpetuating suffering. It's much more sustainable to stay curious, engaged, and awake (and, on occasion, to take naps)! 

Yoga, and especially working within PYR as a person practicing yoga, has taught me, among so many other things, to trust in the process- which includes a willingness, when challenged, to engage in inquiry, become more adept at listening, and to integrate lessons, neither coercing nor abandoning any part of my experience, welcoming the next lesson. I live much more in a "both/and" orientation, most of the time. That's where the real work of yoga happens- so I'm more comfortable with uncertainty. This is more valuable than gold to me, truly. 

I'm excited at the possibility to continue to support PYR Ambassadors and others in very specific ways around community engagement, peer-to-peer mentorship, training, and self-inquiry and radical self-healing. What that looks like is becoming clearer- but at the same time, leaving the Board now, at a time of great uncertainty about the world and the society in which we find ourselves, I'll admit, is a little uncomfortable. What's true though, is that every time I have faced discomfort on this path, my practice has carried me forward. I trust it completely.

I also trust the individuals carrying the vision forward: our wonderful staff, Nadia Gooray, Holly Zajur, Stacy Abbott, and Natalie Rainer; our amazing Board of Directors which includes local teachers and change makers; former Board members offering their continued support and wisdom; and individuals and organizations in our extended PYR family that help us find the most valuable, effective role in the era we're in. Turning toward relationship, toward challenge, toward inequity- not away from it- and doing so in collaboration with each other and celebration of every perspective. That's where I see us now. And so, the horizon is bright. 

Rolf Gates writes at the end of his first book, Meditations From The Mat: "We show up, burn brightly in the moment, live passionately, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go." 

Amen and Hell Yes.  

For me, time on the mat starts and ends, but the practice continues, on and on, in every moment. I'm letting go of these eight years of service through PYR- my term is soon over- and I'm experiencing a return to optimism that this work will continue for a long time to come. So really, there might be nothing to grieve after all. 

In celebration and love (and with a few messy weepy tears), 

DW

Your Project Yoga Richmond Board of Directors: Carver, Ashley, Rebecca, Nitika, Anj, [me], Barb, Rebecca, Meghan, Natasha, and Dan. 

Your Project Yoga Richmond Board of Directors: Carver, Ashley, Rebecca, Nitika, Anj, [me], Barb, Rebecca, Meghan, Natasha, and Dan. 

On Recovery

I've been in what I sometimes call "listening mode"- meaning, taking in lots and putting out less. Some of my reasoning is simple energy management- with increasing responsibilities and a finite amount of physical, emotional and mental bandwidth, it's been necessary for me to scale down my output in other ways. This is a skill I learned in recovery that has served me well- the practice of discernment and boundary-setting. 

What has resulted, though, is a backlog of information and learning I haven't been able to express publicly in a consistent way, over the past seven months. This is a long time for me. But I needed time to process it - and I still am, in many ways, integrating it all. 

About a month ago I put the following sticky on my computer: 

 

A "gentle nudge" to myself. 

A "gentle nudge" to myself. 

However, when I sat to write, nothing came out! I simply could not connect insight to language to fingertips. (This is a critical connection for me in order to write.) The concepts felt too intricate to put into words- and so, I simply held back. I had to go on trust that when the time was right, I'd be able to write again. Now is that time. 


I'm at Kripalu again assisting the Yoga, Meditation and Addiction Recovery Conference held each year by my teachers, Rolf Gates, Nikki Myers, Tommy Rosen, and Dr. Melody Moore. 

(Last year, after the conference, I wrote a series of blog posts which start here.)

It feels necessary to talk about recovery in very basic terms. It seems important for me to define what that actually is, and the best definition I can come up with is a process by which anything that is not-me is removed so that me, my self, can be revealed (which I assert is a manifestation of The Self- the divine- but that is a post for another time.) In a way, then, you might say that those of us who practice yoga with any depth are engaging in a process of recovery.

It's helpful for me to normalize this word recovery and bridge understanding of what that is, because for the time I've been open about being on this path, I can't count the times I've had the opportunity to talk to people out there, in the world, about what recovery means to me. Those conversations usually happen with friends, often those who practice yoga, who have come to me because they are trying sobriety from substances, or attempting to heal relationship challenges, or are stuck in some pattern loop that is causing harm to them or to the people they love. These things have created guilt, shame, remorse, resentments toward self and other and they are suffering more and more from their habits- and feel unable to fully integrate their yoga practice into this "shadow" dimension of their lives. Something feels interrupted, or blocked. (Tommy even dropped a bomb this week by defining addiction, in one way, as "the attempt to stop our own evolution.") 

Rolf taught that we must live into the higher intentions or aspirational vows (sankalpa) that we have for ourselves and our lives. This has been true for me- and those intentions and vows have changed throughout the years as my recovery has deepened- by that I mean my understanding of myself, and my ability to be in a deep and trusting relationship with myself, has increased. 

Of course, it wasn't always that way. When I got sober, which, by the way, was the easy part- I still could not conceive of a life where I did not drink alcohol, even though I was already there. In September that year I could not imagine Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year's Eve, without alcohol. I thought I could probably avoid daily drinking but could not imagine the big moments of my life without it. This, too, is alcoholism. 

But in the 12 step rooms where I learned how to live a sober life, I was told I didn't need to worry about that. In September my goal needed to be not drinking today. In October my goal needed to be not drinking today. In November my goal needed to be not drinking today. And it all needed to happen one day at a time. So that was how it went- daily commitment to the practice of not drinking, accompanied by nearly-daily meetings with a community of people who supported me in my recovery. I worked the steps of recovery with a trusted friend who had been there too, clearing the wreckage of the past and opening a door to the present. This, coupled with my yoga and meditation practice, gave me stability and contentment upon which a "happy, joyous, and free" life could be built. 


I arrived at the same conference at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California in early November 2012. I was 62 days sober and was not entirely sure what I was doing there- but soon I knew I was in the right place. My teachers were there to support me and that was wonderful- but it was the "walk and talks" between the sessions that really made the difference. I remember Suzy, from Southern California, with her boots and straw cowgirl hat, freckled face and turquoise jewelry and years of sobriety, walking with me on the way to lunch one day. I said to her, "I don't know how I'm going to do this 12 step meeting thing- how do I find time for it, with every wonderful thing I have going on?" At the time, Project Yoga Richmond was just two years old- extremely green for a new non-profit- my home life and teaching schedule were both overwhelming to me and I could not see making 12 step recovery a priority. Suzy looked at me and very casually but pointedly, replied, "Well, Dana, anything you put in front of your recovery you'll eventually lose anyway."

Suzy appealed to my fear of losing the precious two months of my sobriety I had accrued, the momentum for healing I had attained, and possibly with it any hope of ever being free of my addiction to alcohol, which terrified me, having watched my own mother succumb to this disease at only 50.

So I made it a priority. Now, going on six years sober, I have created with the help of my higher power (which is undefinable, unexplainable, and incomprehensible to me, even now) a life I would not want to trade for a single glass of wine. I teach as much as I like, have daily embodied and meditative practices, a community of friends on a recovery path, access to incredible teachings and wisdom through continued relationships with my teachers- all of whom are in long-term recovery. I have a felt connection to Source that holds me in every moment. My relationships are deeper, more authentic, and more easeful. Everything has gotten better, because I have recovered myself

Best of all, perhaps- I get to share yoga and recovery through Y12SR, The Yoga of 12 Step Recovery, which was designed by Nikki Myers to support anyone on a recovery path with somatic and cognitive practices, including step study, trauma-informed yoga and yoga philosophy. I'm thrilled to work with teachers, counselors, social workers, family members, or those affected directly by addiction to connect the dots that for so long felt separate for me. I'm amazed that this is the life I get to live today. 

My life is not without difficulty- even pain and suffering, sometimes- but my resilience has grown exponentially. I now "comprehend the word serenity" and I "know peace"- most of the time. 

Last year I saw Tommy at a retreat and I told him, smiling ear to ear, "Tommy, I don't feel like myself anymore- in fact I am nearly unrecognizable to the person I was five years ago." He looked at me and said, "Dana, your consciousness is expanding. What a story to tell." 

This is a story that needs to be told. Whether it takes a sticky note or the knowledge that the friends I've met this week at Kripalu are now watching this space for me to share what we call in 12 step recovery "experience, strength, and hope"- I'm committed, today, to telling that story. It's not just about my relationship to alcohol- it's about how my personal ethos relates to social responsibility, re-writing patterns and exploring what it means to be a citizen in the world walking a recovery path. More dots are being connected- as more is revealed to me. Listening mode continues, but the transmission resumes, just in time. 


I'll be teaching the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery Leadership Training at PYR June 15-17, 2018. Registration is open now. This will be a full circle moment for me- back in 2011, Nikki brought me into the Y12SR family and in doing so, opened the door to the possibility of my own healing. I'll never be able to properly thank Nikki or Rolf for what they gave me- examples of what yoga and recovery look like and a belief that I could have that, too. If you are moved to join me, please do so. If you have questions about Y12SR or recovery, please contact me

Rolf, Nikki, Melody, Tommy- my family.  

Rolf, Nikki, Melody, Tommy- my family. 

On Food (again)

Rarely do I actually post a recipe I've concocted while eating it- but if ever there was a reason to jump online and shout from the virtual rooftops- this is it. 

I've been experimenting with different grain and vegetable combos, with lentils and beans and varying flavors and spices and have been having a lot of fun with it. And feeling great- lots of energy, fire in the belly so to speak, and full without feeling bloated or stuffed. Yay! 

I think the message here is that each of us must experiment with different types of diets and foods and figure out what is optimal for the system- our own and the ecological system that we all share. I don't believe in dogmatic nutritional systems- I do believe in paying close attention to what we eat- our input- and the impact it has on our output, and ultimately the quality of our lives. Play is key! I had to play a lot to find out what worked. And as I age and my body and brain needs change, I imagine this will be a long-term exploration. That's where I am now. And I think that's probably my "resolution" for the year if I had one- play and explore

So here you go! This one tickles the senses and fills you up nicely on a cold day. Plus, it's vegan and gluten-free, full of protein and fiber and vitamins. I imagine if you eat meat that chicken might be nice in this- but I'll never know! ;) 

 

Lentil-Farro Curry 

Prep time: Probably about 30 minutes give or take, assuming the farro is already cooked. I actually like to cook a big batch of grains of some sort (quinoa, farro, barley, brown or forbidden rice) along with a big batch of legumes (usually lentils, which when eaten with a good-quality grain create a more complete protein profile for those who are vegan) early in the week and then mix and match with other veggies and fats and spices. 

Makes 5-6 small (side) or 3-4 large (main) portions. 

Ingredients: 

One cup yellow lentils, rinsed and drained 

One container Imagine Foods No-Chicken Broth (you will use most or all of it)- low sodium is        okay if you're looking out for salt intake

One half small yellow onion 

One can full-fat coconut milk 

One cup cooked farro 

Two cups diced cooked sweet potatoes (I prefer the really flavorful garnet yam instead)

Spices: (you will use in balance, to taste)

Sriracha sauce (could also use cayenne- I think sriracha is more fun) 

Fresh lime juice

Maple or coconut sugar (this is optional and you will probably not need very much at all) 

Green or yellow curry paste 

Ground turmeric powder

Kosher salt 

Garnish: 

Handful chopped fresh cilantro

Teaspoon unsweetened dried coconut 

Directions: 

In one large pot: 

Cook the lentils. Use one cup per two cups liquid. 

(Cook the farro, if not already done, and add to the pot.)

Add to the cooking lentils: onions, remaining broth, coconut milk, and sweet potatoes. 

(For a little thicker stew, stick with this. For a thinner soup you could add a cup or two of water.) 

Let all of this simmer, and while it does, add the spices and flavorings- a little of each at first then adding a bit more of this and that until the flavors taste balanced- not too spicy, not too sweet, not too tangy, not too salty. 

To serve, top with cilantro and coconut. 

Yum.  

Yum. 

 

 

 

On Food

I haven't posted in quite a while- not since October- but given that much of this year's work was a running narrative on inner work and life had begun to spin a bit out of orbit- I decided in the last part of the year to, well, actually live life and take a break from writing about it. 

I'm not big on resolutions. Just deepening my own continuing work seemed to be the calling for 2017 (that, and making connections, I guess: both inwardly, and outwardly, in relationships). The obligatory post on intention setting is coming soon, though. 

Until then, I just have to share this recipe from 101 Cookbooks (Heidi, you're a magician!)- it's so good. The mixture of mildly spicy/savory and sweet makes it a sensory treat and it's filling without being too rich (even despite the full-fat coconut milk). 

Vegan Samosa Shepherd's Pie

Note: I made just a few edits. I decided to make this last- minute for our New Year's Eve dinner and had no mushrooms, but the cooked quinoa I had on hand stood in just fine, especially when mixed with some thickened-in-the-fridge green split-pea soup I'd made a day or two before as the main filling for the pie. So, quinoa and split pea mush instead of mushrooms and cooked lentils worked just fine. I used frozen green peas, which also worked well. 

Lastly, I had no fancy micro-greens but toasted some raw pumpkin seeds instead for the top. 

1 1/2 pounds potatoes or sweet potatoes
2/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
fine grain sea salt, to taste

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 cups cooked yellow or green split peas
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)

To serve: a drizzle of melted coconut oil with chopped serrano chiles, micro greens, scallions


Preheat oven to 375F with a rack in the center.

Place the potatoes/sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water, salt as you would pasta water, and bring to a boil for about ten minutes, or until tender. Drain, and return to saucepan over heat for a minute or so to dry out a bit. Add the coconut milk, and the salt, and mash together. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the coconut oil with the onion and garlic, and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté for a few minutes, until onions are translucent, and then turn the heat up and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until the mushrooms release their water, and start to brown. Add the tomatoes and spices. Stir well, then add the cooked split peas and peas. Cook for another minute or two, taste, and adjust with more garam masala or salt if needed.

Transfer the mushroom mixture to a 8-inch baking dish (or equivalent), spreading it across in a somewhat even layer. Dollop the potatoes across the top, and gently push them around until they cover the entire top of the casserole, run the tines of a fork across the top if you like a bit of texture.

Bake for 25 minutes, and finish under a broiler to add a bit of extra color and texture to the top. Serve as-is, or sprinkled with any (or all) of the suggested toppings.

Serves 6.
PREP TIME: 15 MIN - COOK TIME: 30 MIN

 

I really wish this blog had smell-a-vision. Pictured in the background is my version of Hoppin' John- black eyed peas, celery, tomatoes, a little butter, and a pinch of allspice. 

I really wish this blog had smell-a-vision. Pictured in the background is my version of Hoppin' John- black eyed peas, celery, tomatoes, a little butter, and a pinch of allspice. 

On Yoga

Or more specifically, on asana.

The ubiquitous  bakasana  (which autocorrect tried to change to  bananas )

The ubiquitous bakasana (which autocorrect tried to change to bananas)

I totally let it slip that last month was National Yoga Month. Honestly I was focused more on National Recovery Month since I celebrated five years free from alcohol on September 2. 

I consider it a sign of progress I don't notice things like National Yoga Month these days unless someone points it out. I know when I say Yoga most people think of asana or postures of the practice. I still do, too, sometimes. But asana, for me, doesn't hold the cache it probably did when I first encountered it, about 23 years ago. 

I busted out this one (pictured) the other day just to see if I could still do it- but the past few years my physical practice has whittled down to targeted movement when I need it, myofascial release and restorative postures that counteract other things I am doing to myself (like sitting here now, and writing this). I like to challenge myself physically in other ways- asana is more of a moving prayer for me. 

I don't teach group asana much anymore- except in training settings- mostly because it doesn't speak to what I feel I have to offer these days. I was told to teach what you know, what's in your practice and what is relevant to your life- if you feel it meets the needs of the group. I still follow that, even in Y12SR trainings when those present are a mix of people in recovery, therapists, yoga teachers and simply curious individuals.

I think Yoga is a magnificent way to embody the principles of the 12 steps, and I've written about some of that intersection before. 

Some of the other, specific ways asana is quite powerful for me are: 

  • feeling my feet (or whatever body part!) on the ground- I'm here, now
  • feeling whatever power is in my body- this is my time
  • feeling a sense of spaciousness in the tissues that hold me together- I'm open to possibility
  • feeling a sense of structure in my form- I won't fall apart
  • feeling the movement of my breath in my throat, chest and belly- I'm alive and filled with spirit

Note the common word, feeling. This is a big deal. 

In trauma our body and brain are often disconnected. This is a survival mechanism- in order to escape the danger our bodies need to simply act. But this very necessary mechanism is often stuck, like a needle on a record and our bodies and minds can't get that groove back. 

In recovery I'm getting my groove back. I know who I am, I know what my body needs, I can choose what to do for myself and can feel supported by a loving universe. 

Thanks, Yoga. 

On Perspective

May we see clearly, abide calmly, and act with wisdom and compassion.
— Rolf Gates

Though not necessarily in that order. 

In my life and recovery it's been necessary to take the calm abiding that Yoga and meditation have afforded me, and apply compassion as a daily practice (sometimes moment to moment- don't we need constant reminders that yes that person too deserves compassion; yes this situation too requires a compassionate heart.) Wisdom and perspective have been gifts I've only been able to receive through time, and not usually in my time at all. 

In the rooms of recovery where we share our stories, a common theme is that many of us have scenarios in our past or present that represent something along the lines of stop here, go no further. In other words, I can forgive everyone but not that person. Or, that situation can never be resolved

As I've written before, most, if not all, addictions have some basis in unhealed trauma- whose most primary and destructive psychological effect is to rob us of basic safety and security. And the effects of unhealed trauma, according to Ayurveda, yoga's "sister science", most often include energetic, emotional, even physical blocks within the system. Something holds us, and especially holds us back, until we are so accustomed to being blocked that we cannot see what we don't see. The blockage seems a part of who we are. It clouds our vision and leads to many forms of suffering, the root of which is what Yoga calls avidya- a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, incorrect knowledge. It's the opposite of clear seeing. 

For me, this loss of perspective had its root in the pain I carried, or rather that carried or held me, around the death of my mother- but not only her death- her life as well. I only saw a woman whose alcoholism rendered her unable to be present for me, to behave in a consistent way, to protect me from what would later harm me, and then to take effective action so that I could feel supported and heal. In my mother, I learned a model for living that necessarily included self-medicating, and the evidence for this was either very obvious or very subtle. It was often so subtle, this need to medicate, that it became very easy for me to fall prey to it in very subtle ways, such as with food, or shopping, then alcohol, then later, social media. (In a future post I'll talk about why I left Facebook this year.) 

This "go no further" relationship with my mother persisted for the first few years in recovery. I would "forgive" her in name only, but not completely. I knew it was wrong (by wrong, I mean harmful) to hold onto the pain of a relationship that for all intents and purposes had ended in 1999 with her death. But I did not know what to do with the grief, and I could not see how this "hook" I had put her on affected every other relationship I had too. There was this shadow of my mother, on a hook, covering everything I did and everything I accomplished or could achieve. The pain led me to self-medicate until I reached a turning point, nearly five years ago. 

During that time and in the process of working the steps of recovery I was afforded the opportunity to look at this relationship (which, make no mistake- continued despite her death- the energy of that resentment and later loss was very much alive in my life) and so many others. 

In October of 2014, my father retired to Florida following a serious illness that had spanned the previous year. I felt such an intense loss. I felt so much pain about this that looking back now, I can't believe how much it affected me, even over two years into recovery. But the pain I allowed myself to feel and experience opened a door for me to begin the process of forgiveness, even in that "go no further" relationship with my mother. 

My dad and I spent Christmas 2014 together in Florida. We went to see the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, which is based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. In the story Strayed explores the wilderness- literally- as she navigates her own grief and loss and addiction surrounding the death of her mother. This film impacted me so strongly. I had something of a mini-breakdown- an emotional reaction sitting there in the theater- and I realized how much of that grief I had not processed. I was still angry, still hurt. So, being where I was in recovery- two years in and having recovered a sense of trust in the universe- highly necessary for working especially the "action" steps- I knew I could work with these feelings I was having. 

I remained open to the grief, talked about it whenever I could, especially in meetings, with close friends, and in writing class. I felt it in my asana practice as tension in my hip, shoulders, neck, or back- there one day, gone the next depending on how present I'd been and how kind I'd been to my body. I began running more and experienced a freedom in my runs- the stuck, heavy energy moving and shifting. I added strength work and developed a sense of vitality and purpose that had eluded me before. During this time I could not see what was changing- I had limited perspective. My teacher Nikki says that we cannot clearly see the picture of ourselves when we're still in the frame. I could not agree more. It's only through time and expanding our perspective that our relationships to ourselves and others change. So sharing about that relationship- and even more so, listening to the guidance of others who have had similar experiences- gave me some new thoughts about my mother, and some new ideas about why she was who she was and how that affected our relationship. 

This past Mother's Day I tried something new. I visited my mother's grave, which I've done many times, never knowing what to do or say once I got there. This time, I took my journal. I set my timer for 10 minutes and meditated- doing so in the form of a letter to her. I won't share the contents of that letter, but the essence of it was to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her, that I understood her suffering, that I forgave her for her part in what we went through together while she was alive. I also made a commitment to keep this forgiveness alive- and not to forget it. 

Following this experience I felt such a shift in my being, I can't really accurately describe it. In a very short period of time, I noticed that the way I felt about her had changed dramatically. I saw her as a dear, lovely person, with great pain, lost to me forever. I longed for her memory. A tenderness took over that relationship which continues to this day- even in this moment as I write it, there's a pang of emotion in my throat and heart. I miss her and I'm sad she's gone. But there is no anger. I don't see her as a person who let me down. I just love her and am grateful I had her while I did. 

Once this shift happened, the dominoes began to fall, so to speak. I have begun to see all of my relationships in this way. Why would I willingly, knowingly, choose to hold on to pain? Why would I choose to suffer if I could make another choice? A first step is to ask what's really going on here? Then, what am I missing? What's my part? What are the gifts this person brings to my life? And can I see that those gifts are more valuable than the pain I'm holding onto? I can still set healthy boundaries- what I will and won't allow into my life- to keep myself strong and in integrity with myself.  But I can always look closely at the situation and use discernment to find the right perspective. 


I understand now, on a deep level that is hard to communicate in words, the value of the people in my life. All of the people in my life. They often come in as agents working for my Higher Power. In Yoga-speak, they are my gurus- the ones who lead me from shadow to light. The change in my perspective is extraordinary. And it is, indeed, addictive- in the best possible way. And those forms of suffering, rooted in ignorance? The ego, the aversion, the desire, the fear- those too are lessened. 

A while ago, a dear friend in recovery shared the following prayer: "God/Spirit/Higher Power/Universe, please help me to see this differently." In other words, I'm suffering and I need your guidance to help me see things in a new way, with new eyes. It's become my go-to.

Try it. It works. 

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. ~Alcoholics Anonymous

On Grief (Part 2)

(Part 1 is here.)

I'm not going to try to talk around it- I'm suffering right now. Yesterday we put our sweet 16 year old apricot poodle, Fritz, to sleep after many months of deterioration. I know it was the right decision- he was in terrible pain and we could not bear to watch him get worse. And having gone through this last August with our Maltese, Lila, also 16- I knew what it would be like and that I could get through it, just like I did last year. But I'm suffering all the same, and yet there's something else going on. 

It's a profound thing to be with a beloved animal when it dies, be it canine or human or otherwise. Next to birth, I can't imagine anything more impactful to experience. We had our hands on him as he relaxed under anesthesia, then as his heart slowed and stopped. As tears rolled down we told him over and over again, I love you. I love you. I love you. Good boy. 

And he was a good boy. As a younger dog (we rescued him at age 5) he was always feisty. He wore a doggie diaper because his previous owner never house-trained him. He was definitely not a crate dog: Once while crated in the early days, he managed to wiggle the crate to the top of the stairs at our then- condo and then stair-surfed in the crate to the ground floor! We never figured out how he pulled that off as a 12 pound dog. At times Fritz got very territorial with toys and bones and was known to snap when provoked. 

Me and my boy, Fritz, the night before his death. 

Me and my boy, Fritz, the night before his death. 

But he was such a lover boy too. He was steadfastly loyal to me and followed me around the house. In his old age he became more and more into snuggling- getting into bed with me every night and staying in bed until I got up in the morning (though recently, he'd stay in bed until 1 pm or later). And in the past year he could no longer navigate stairs- mostly blind and also deaf- so we had to carry him outside and back in. 

We've been lucky to have some great dogs into their old age- Lillie, Barkley, Lila, Fritz, and now Olive (who is still with us, as is 4-year-old Carly)- and I can't say the loss gets easier. Every dog is unique. 

Our dogs are the closest thing we'll ever know to having kids- and I know it's not the same thing, not nearly- and yet the loss feels less like something we had and no longer have and more like an end to a great privilege: to care for these sweet creatures and show kindness and devotion to something that can only love you in return. What a gift to have an animal in our lives and to know that love. And we get to do it over and over again. 

I've been writing and thinking a lot about discomfort- the kind of discomfort that comes with facing painful and difficult times as a part of who I am- not despite who I am. This is something I had to be taught- it doesn't come naturally. I'd really rather avoid pain, like most people, probably. The thing I can't avoid coming back to, though, is that how I choose to regard pain- to open to it, to work with it, to talk about it, to allow it to move, transforms the pain into something else entirely: a gift, a treasure, an opportunity for connection with myself, with compassion for self and other, and with reverence for that which is divine and allows that shift to happen in the first place. To move from the pain of discomfort as the "small wave, who has forgotten it's part of the ocean" to the ocean itself.

Thy will, not mine.