On Ojai

Hitchin’ a ride down the PCH
I got some things I need to say
Callin’ out a friend of mine
I don’t know where the years have gone,
Just know I’m worse for hangin’ on
Maybe it’d be best if I just let things lie
— Ray LaMontagne, "Ojai"

I returned from Ojai on April 9, and haven't been able to write about it until now. Some things were stirred up in me- not a bad thing, mind you- but the trip got me thinking about the trajectory of my life in ways I hadn't considered before. I needed to sit with it a while. 

It didn't hurt I was in Ojai celebrating, in a way, the joyous recovery of my "sister" Kaity as she slayed ovarian cancer last year. (Putting "sister" in quotes feels weird, because I don't think of her as anything else- but it feels important to state we decided to be sisters. There's the family you get, and the family you make.) 

It's a trip we started planning last summer to take as soon as she felt up to it and it fit our calendars and finances. Kaity's a person I knew only marginally until last year, when her cancer and sobriety journey intersected with my own recovery in a number of ways. I remember feeling drawn to her and her message- she had things to say I needed to hear (and apparently the feeling was mutual). 

It turns out we travel well together. We like the same things: eating, drinking tea, reading, writing, practicing yoga, meditating, talking about spirit and recovery, and hiking. Neither of us gets particularly uptight about flight delays- good news, since our arrival out there was delayed something like 6 hours. I kept joking about being stuck in Detroit- I have nothing against Detroit, but it made for good conversation at the time, that if I had to write a review of Detroit I'd likely start it with... "Well, Detroit met all my expectations." See, I've always pictured it as cold, grey, and grumpy- and that's pretty much exactly the experience I had while there. I'll have to trek out there sometime to explore the wonderful things I'm sure it has to offer. 

Our sunset arrival in LA elicited squeals of delight as we drove our rental up the PCH, chasing the sun over the horizon and enjoying all of the scenery: Santa Monica, Malibu, Ventura... then turning inland a while into the magical town of Ojai. 

In Malibu, on the PCH, headed to Ojai

In Malibu, on the PCH, headed to Ojai

One of the coolest things that you notice about Ojai is what a non-entity it is- a little spot nestled in an east-west running valley (pretty rare, I am told, as most mountain ranges run north-south) with one main corridor and several outlying areas that are mostly residential. Oh, and the mountains. Ojai is easily seen from many vantage points up in the mountains which are protected land. In fact, the protected land is what makes Ojai such a non-entity: the residents vehemently oppose any major developments. There are no high rises- no apartment buildings even, and no short term rentals allowed in Ojai. There are no chain stores save for one Vons grocery store. The local council was reportedly trying to figure out how to limit tourism! 

Ojai is incredibly pet-friendly- many of the stores allow pets and dogs appear everywhere. This delighted me, of course. Whenever I travel I find myself fixating on local dogs because I always miss mine so much. It's a joke between Ben and me that every dog reminds us of ours and the further we get along in our trip, the more this is true. 

Upon our arrival, we went to the small Westridge market to pick up some food. We were starving. The clerk cheerily notified us that many celebrities live in Ojai (we didn't see any- or if we did, we didn't know it). I can see why- it's so different from anything I know about California living and certainly LA life. 

Our Air BNB rental was this adorable little two bedroom bungalow with a large meditation pergola out back- an unusual find, our friend Jay Fields let us know the next morning when she came by to pick us up for our hike. 

I got to meditate here each morning! 

I got to meditate here each morning! 

Hiking in Ojai is wonderful- and the weather while we were there was cooler than usual so we were comfortable all day, a little chilly at night. We roamed along dusty Shelf Road, skimming the Los Padres National Forest, sniffing the Pixie tangerine and orange groves. The scent of oranges in Ojai is nothing short of intoxicating. I can call that scent up now, even as I write about it. 

Me, Kaity, and Jay on our delightful hike along Shelf Road over Ojai

Me, Kaity, and Jay on our delightful hike along Shelf Road over Ojai

The scent of oranges was all over the place 

The scent of oranges was all over the place 

Due to the recent rains, Ojai was greener than usual and the local river was also running a little faster than in recent years- but I still found it to be a very dry place. My favorite places on Earth usually have more water- a lake, or an ocean nearby- but you can't fault Ojai for falling prey to the chronic drought all of California's been experiencing. 

I had a lot of down time since Kaity had chosen to work with two master Ayurvedic practitioners. I'd drop her off for her two or three hour session and explore, either on foot or by car checking out the area and ducking in the tiny shops along the main drag. (I also treated myself to an Ayurvedic treatment- so sublime- which I may write about in a separate post.)

Here are some favorite places where we shopped or ate in Ojai or nearby Meiners Oaks: 

Revel Kombucha 

Beacon Coffee


Bart's Books 

Hip Vegan

Farmer and the Cook

Food Harmonics

The people of Ojai are so friendly and accommodating. It seems like a very happy place to live. 

The best Kombucha I have ever had

The best Kombucha I have ever had

Our friend Jay lives in a shipping container tiny house- something like 250 square feet with space for a bed, office, kitchen, bathroom with a mini claw foot bathtub, her cat, Mae, and a small, sweet enclosed outdoor sitting area. Located by the river off a quiet valley road, it's truly a sanctuary.

Mae and Jay outside her shipping container home

Mae and Jay outside her shipping container home

Yes, it's possible and apparently wonderful to live in a 250-square-foot shipping container! 

Yes, it's possible and apparently wonderful to live in a 250-square-foot shipping container! 

It got me thinking about the choices we make and how we choose to live. I've been paring down a lot in recent days- simplifying the expectations I have for my days, getting rid of excess belongings, making time for the things that matter to me: friends, family, meditation and yoga practice, 12 step meetings, good food, nature, movement, writing, reading, travel. Really, with those things floating into and out of my week, I am happy. Life is a lot simpler these days, and I'm a lucky one. 

In my recovery world two people have died recently: one very kind, very quiet woman who passed following a medical procedure- and a local artist who had been apparently struggling for some time with his addiction. Both were in rooms I frequent on a weekly basis yet I didn't know them well. But we share so much in those rooms. We share our joys and sorrows, some details about the ways we suffer, the harm we've done and had done to us, the ways we forgive, and how we experience spirit. In general in the rooms it's deeper than the usual daily conversation- I'm grateful for that. At age 43 I keep thinking, maybe health, money, and relationship-wise this is as good as it gets. That's always possible though- we never know what's around the bend. 

At times in my life I've let things get very, very complicated- made up whole systems of rules and expectations for how I thought things should be. Acquired things and people and whole arenas I didn't need to run among them in. It's less and less like that these days. And seeing how other people have chosen to live, with only the essentials, and with great joy, reminds me I'm on a great path in that direction too- and it feels wonderful. 

Ojai helped me remember that what we value matters. Everything flows from our intention. People, animals, quality of life, nature, beauty, simplicity, kindness, health, appreciation- for me, these are essential. Nothing else is quite as important as the places where we find joy and meaning. 

Otherwise, it seems best to "just let things lie."

On Goals

The point of a goal is the person you become on the way to achieving it.”
~ Hot coal-walking, self-help guru Tony Robbins

Out of all the yamas and niyamas, the fundamental ethical principles of the yogic path, tapas (discipline, dedication, intensity, fire) has always been a weak spot for me- or rather, tapas directed toward inner awareness and development, that is. I'm always astonished at the dedication that addicts show to their disease. Daily life becomes a set of strategies to feed the habit and addicts will often let nothing stand in the way of their drug of choice. I was like that- no matter what kind of time I was having- good, bad, or indifferent- my drug of choice was there. And despite all my inner convictions to the contrary, all my best efforts- even days strung together without using- I always fell back to the thing that I now accept I'm hard wired to abuse to my own destruction. 

In my case, historically it was alcohol- my mother and grandmother, long deceased, and several living family members share this.

And it's important for me to say that no amount of green smoothies, yoga asana, meditation, or anything else offsets the negative consequences of untreated, active addiction. 

As we learn in the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR), the area my work is most focused on these days, many addictions have their roots in unhealed trauma- "the issues live in our tissues," as we say. We also apply a broad definition of addiction to mean that anything we do to avoid, deny, hide, or camouflage pain can become an addiction.

So, in that broad sense, 



power and control

sex and love


substances (both legal and illegal)







can all become addictive given the right conditions- especially the toxic combination of unhealed trauma and co-dependency- and a family history compounds the likelihood even more. (Check, check, check.) 

How do you know you're addicted? We say that if you engage in the behavior when you really do not want to- or when you know it's wrong or harmful- it's possible you are addicted to that substance, habit or process. My friend Tommy Rosen says that addiction is "any behavior you continue to engage in despite the fact that it brings negative consequences to your life." So, if your relationships suffer- or your health is affected- or your legal or parental or work or financial status suffers- it's worth looking at. But the thing is, sometimes, even with consequences we can't always see how we (or others affected by our addiction) are suffering- and even if we can see it, the characteristics of addiction itself often render us unable to admit it. This is the nature of the disease of addiction- the disease itself tells us we do not have a disease.

Addiction affects the master controller of the nervous system- the structures of the brain itself- and the entire nervous, digestive, and endocrine systems become wired around the addiction. But there is hope and the promise of recovery for those who "have the capacity to be honest." I cannot properly convey the gratitude that I have for my teachers who showed me the way to this recovery path that I am on. Their honesty saved my life. 

After some time on this path (and surrendering, surrendering, surrendering- recovery is a process of subtraction) I've been able to identify my motivation- that's a critical piece for me. In Y12SR we work with the koshas- the multi-dimensional layers of being, which concern our physical bodies, our energy, our thoughts and psychology, our character, and our heart- our deepest layer, which touches the divine. These layers are inter-dependent and all-pervasive- meaning everything we do and experience manifests in the koshas OR our koshas are constantly shifting- what you do to one affects the other. 

Intention happens somewhere at the intersection of the character and the heart. It's said that any intention if it comes from the heart is already a part of you- your character is a reflection of your deepest desires, and your value system. Of course it's possible to act without intention- people do it all the time! I've thought (and written) a lot about ethics lately- and suggested that our actions must be grounded in ethics to be sustainable and effective. It's true for me- and in order to know my own heart's desires I've got to be willing to sit for some time each day and touch that divine place. This helps me know when an action is coming from external motivation or inner guidance. (It's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, to act from external motivation- but I assert that even taking an action that comes from the outside-in, paying your taxes for example- comes with it an inherent connection to something from the inside-out: in this case, not wanting to pay fees and go to court and suffer those financial, legal, and ethical consequences and everything that might flow from that. Or, paying taxes might come from a desire to give to your community and support services that help people in need, and provide schools, libraries, first responders, roads, clean rivers, and things like that.) 

Back in December I made the commitment to practice daily silent meditation. The time I practice varies- but often I start with a little pranayama, especially alternate nostril breathing, then an additional length of time sitting and breathing in, breathing out. Often the meditation follows asana practice, but not always- I've done it in airport terminals or on airplanes, in my car in the driveway of a student's house before a session, riding in a car on a trip... you name it. I've even done it while hiking trails. What I experience during my meditation is very personal, and very powerful in ways I can't articulate right now, and so I think I'll stop short of explaining what it's like. 

It's been 145 days now since I set that goal, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to see and feel and trust daily the path I'm being called to follow. There is a grounded quality to my days- a thru line- so that whether I'm running, or practicing asana, or sitting, or teaching, or eating, or going to the bank, or writing an email- I can feel the presence of my heart's intention. It burns bright in me now- and that's what I think is meant by tapas. If I want to feel stronger, more steady, more present- I've got to feel it at every level- every kosha must experience that strength and steadiness. So I must engage in physical, energetic, mental, ethical, and spiritual ways that move me in that direction, the direction of my own heart.

In my last entry on activism I wrote that I try to act with kindness, generosity, non-violence, and honesty. I may unpack these a little in a future entry. These ethics, as I was taught, become a compass by which I can set my bearing each day. I will certainly fall short- progress, not perfection- but I can always check in with my intention and see who I am "becoming" on the way toward my goals.

The steps we must take each day are unique to the lives we live- where we build our worlds. This is the "what" we do. More important to me these days, is the "how" we do it. 

How are you taking each step? 

p.s. If you're interested in exploring Y12SR or taking a training, visit


On Activism (part IV)

I was heartened after the 2016 Presidential election to see that so many of my friends donated to the ACLU and NRDC and other extremely worthy organizations- I did too. I follow these organizations on Instagram and try to stay abreast of the positive anti-Trump administration work they are all doing. Our people and our planet depend on it. What good is a "Great" America if basic human rights for all are destroyed in the process? And what good are "jobs" and "borders" if our planet as we know it is not around for future generations? 

I'm grateful for the new breed of activism that has arisen (under the threat of very ancient racism and insidious greed that's been given a new face in this administration). And yet, there's a sense that this same new breed of activism has the potential to be counter-productive if we don't know our own motives and commit to fully examining and grounding the roots of our activism in ethical practices.  

For example, in my case, as a white person I attempt to remain extremely aware of how my comments and actions might be heard and experienced by people of color. I thus make the effort to speak and to act with intention. I recently saw the hilarious (yet scarily real) film "Get Out" and I was not at all surprised at the conversations that film has started around so-called well-meaning liberalism. Are we passively liberal just to make ourselves feel better and maintain the status quo (keeping folks of color in "the sunken place")? Or are we truly allies doing meaningful, grounded work to level the playing field and ultimately elevate consciousness and empowerment for all? 

(In this post, I really just want to weigh in on where I sit at this moment amidst an ongoing exploration of activism.) 

I've been exploring justice work for some time now- and have learned and grown a bit already. Just a few years back I found myself challenged a lot by the new ways I was being asked to think and consider the "-ist" (sex-, race- age- able- etc...) structures of our society many of us have come to accept as business as usual. I'm forever grateful to the Yoga Service Council (Project Yoga Richmond is a member organization) for helping ground my practice and teaching in the context of justice. After spending even just a little time in that world, I'm beginning to feel my horizons widening, and the expanding opportunities to play a meaningful, albeit small, part in true liberation for all. 

To that end, Up Dog Yoga, LLC is now a member of the Business Coalition for Justice, a coalition of businesses working together to raise awareness of and combat the structural causes of racial inequity in the U.S. I'm honored to serve on the steering committee for BCJ.

I also joined SURJ-RVA, the local chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice. "Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) believes in collective liberation -- and that none of us can be free until we end white supremacy." I especially appreciate SURJ's accountability to people of color as a core tenet of the organization's primary action initiatives. 

I've written in the past about how any action I take toward awareness and strength within myself ultimately strengthens my connection to those around me and increases my need for justice- my own liberation is making it more and more important for me to work for the liberation of all. If that transformation truly happens on every level within me, that seems an inevitable result. Shame blocks us from taking action because it makes us hide our authentic selves. We play small. Or, we overcompensate. Or I think worst of all, we just play along in a system that is harmful for many, many people, often the most vulnerable. None of this is especially good, from an actual or a karmic standpoint. 

I've said before that as my own recovery unfolded and layers of shame lifted, I ultimately uncovered my own deeply held dormant value system. I'm grateful to have had teachers very open about how their recovery has led to the birth of ethics- as my teacher Rolf Gates says, "We maintain our freedom through healthy self-boundaries." The most effective ethical systems are grounded in self-compassion. How will I suffer the effects of treating someone in less than a kind manner? A moment of resentment or meanness on my part often results in hours of personal pain and guilt. This is because I suffer when I cause suffering and I desire not to create pain and suffering- for myself or others. This, for me, is ahimsa in its deepest expression. I have more freedom, more peace, more space in my life and in my relationships because of the effort I take to do no harm.

These days I try my utmost to act with kindness, honesty, non-violence and generosity. It generally makes most of my decisions on what actions to take much easier. Often this means I need to remain silent-- that, too, is an action. Can we sit in the presence of suffering and not try to fix it? This is a critical question- another teacher, Matthew Sanford, says that if we try to fix another person's suffering we unintentionally dis-empower them. 

I may never fully understand what forces had to come together for me that both of my primary teachers, Rolf Gates and Nikki Myers, would end up being very vocal, awakened people of color (unlike me) and in recovery from addiction (like me). I consider myself very fortunate to attempt to follow their lead in recovery and in activism. Nikki often quotes her teacher, saying, "How you do anything is how you do everything." In 12 Step programs we say "practice these principles in all our affairs" and "stick with the winners" and that we have to be "willing to go to any length" for our recovery. 

I say we need to be willing to go to any depth as well.