On Discomfort (Part 3)

(Part 1 is here and Part 2, here.)

In the early days of recovery (though arguably I'm still in the early days- this is the long game I'm playing, after all), I admit I didn't know how to turn the skills I was teaching toward myself. I didn't understand how to be radically self-compassionate. But in the first six months of 12 step meetings, meeting brave people with powerful stories to tell- I think I cried at every one, even if I didn't know why. I know now that was the god of my understanding moving in my heart and opening me up so that I could hear what I needed to hear and to learn what I needed to learn. And that "quivering of the heart" in response to the struggles of another helped me connect with my own suffering, in a way that felt tender, and real.

This was a necessary step: To feel intense emotional challenge and choose to remain on the path of recovery. No alcohol, no drugs- I needed to trust in the process and stay. Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to have received this support and guidance and to have examples of what recovery looks like all around me. 

Then I remember that first I only needed to be willing to listen. Later I needed to admit the truth of my present moment circumstances. What was I doing (in the name of controlling outcomes, as it turned out- addiction is all about controlling outcomes) that was harmful? Insanity is often defined as "doing the same thing and expecting a different result." So I needed to believe that something (other than just my own willpower) could help me be restored to sanity, should I seek it. Finally, believing I deserved restoration, I had to make a conscious and intentional decision (the root of the word decision is from the Latin, to "cut off"- in this case, to cut away anything that stood in the way of divine love and protection). This came in the form of a prayer, of sorts- to let that something else take over the things I was trying to control, maybe forever, but maybe just for today. These were essentially the first three steps.

In yoga, when we arrive on the mat, we place our feet on the earth, or our seat on the cushion. What's present here, now, in the body? In the breath? In the mind? Is there resistance or a block to our sense of presence? How about our connection with spirit? These help us realize what is and especially is not working- what are those patterns that feel constricted or contracted or messy or even catastrophic- and to be humble and honest enough to admit it. Then we set our intention- we make a conscious commitment- something greater than what the ego wants- a sense of purpose, or a skill that will carry us through our practice or day- in short, assert that something bigger exists and I'm a part of it. Then, we commit to taking suggestions, guidance from a teacher or the teachings- what we've learned or are willing to learn. We trust the process and stay. The process of coming to yoga, like the 12 steps and the recovery process, is best approached with honesty, open mindedness and willingness. And we renew these every day through our commitment to the paths we have chosen. 

And now, the practice of yoga. 


On Discomfort (Part 2)

(Part 1 is here.)

In the process of becoming myself again- which, at least at the individual level, is what yoga really teaches us to do- it's been increasingly necessary for me to find the willingness to peel away the layers- habits, patterns, painful memories, stored trauma, unskillful and unhelpful beliefs- and have a clear and compassionate look at what's been going on. (Compassion: the quivering of the heart in response to suffering.) 

There's a saying in the 12 step world- in the form of a promise that comes to pass when we put in the work: "We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it." In other words, we remain present to ourselves, accepting all that has come without judgment, to the best of our ability.

This is a process of looking in. And it starts with an inquiry: What's present now? What are the blocks that I allow to remain right now that disturb my felt sense of connection and trust with the universe, which is "God as I understand God"? After all, even if the connection is there, being human, old patterns continue to create a clouding of the vision- and I can't see it anymore.  Any resistance that I indulge- by avoiding, ignoring, stuffing, denying, or shaming- simply results in that samskaric (root word of "scar") groove getting deeper and deeper. Since my desire to recover my felt sense of connection these days far outweighs my desire to indulge my unhelpful patterns- which can return, those grooves are deep!- I've got to use my tools, steadily, kindly, gently. 

Kind and gentle doesn't necessarily mean comfortable. 

It means I get to experience it all without blaming or shaming myself- and leaning into love (Erich Schiffman says that love is the willingness to see a person or thing exactly as he or she or it is) whenever I can. 

Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to practice the self-forgiveness meditation again. This was the third time I've practiced it with my teacher Rolf. In this particular meditation we are asked to envision ourselves at age 0-10, 10-20, 20-30, and so on- and to do so from the perspective we had then: what we knew, what we didn't know, what we were like at the time. What I noticed this time around is that the more I leaned in to the discomfort, the more clearly I could see myself at the age I was being prompted to do so- the more understanding I applied- the easier it was for me to do the next part: Forgive her for being imperfect. Forgive her for making mistakes. Forgive her for being a learner in this lifetime. (That last part was the easiest- I'm nothing these days if not a learner- highly recommend it.) Then, we send metta (loving kindness) to our younger selves: May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you find your freedom. May you know peace. May you walk through the world with ease. 

The radical (meaning from the root) shifts I've experienced this year are astounding, and right on time, since 2016 was the most difficult year yet in my recovery. I'm holding myself more and more in compassion. Many of my relationships are clearer, freer, and more harmonious. There's a teaching of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron that says that until we free ourselves from "the hook" of habitual patterns of suffering and blame usually involving stimulus (or irritant) and conditioned response, we are more likely to put others on a hook too. 

Now that I've learned largely to let myself off that hook, as Rolf says, I'm out of the hook business. I don't want to put myself or anyone else on there again. And without the hooks, I feel more like myself. Whoever that is! 

Being in a community that supports my goals and aspirations is critical. I have to do this work myself, and yet I cannot do it alone. Now more than ever, I'm grateful for spaces that remind me how to do this work- and that I can do this work. That was the real message this past week at Kripalu: community is what I make of it when I'm doing the work. The support is there, if I reach for it. Turning inward, reaching outward. 


On Discomfort

"Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself." 

~ one translation of a line from the Bhagavad Gita

At this moment, I could not agree more. It's that, and then it's also more, and more. I'm here at the Kripalu Yoga, Meditation and Addiction Recovery Conference. Each year this community converges for a week of brave, compassionate fellowship and personal work. I'm honored not only to assist, but most definitely even more so to participate. 

I'm not a flowery writer. My style probably echoes how my mind works- in fits and starts, with sometimes just not the right word. And usually, there's a bit of a bite in there. It's just how I roll. So, I appreciate the starkness of the above quote- however uncomfortable it made me feel a few years ago when I first saw it. 

I've been thinking about the practice of turning inward and toward suffering a lot as I've been writing more, whether on a blog, or in a writing group, or in a journal- and feeling into my voice, learning to write about these things. It's been a great inquiry. When I was a kid, very sensitive, quite emotional, a young budding addict, my mother used to say, "You need to get a thicker skin." What I eventually learned that this really meant was that she was uncomfortable meeting me where I was and teaching me how to be resilient. How does a child gain emotional intelligence? But that was where she was, and so I've needed in adulthood to recover my sensitivity and develop compassion- not only for her, but for myself. And I think that sensitivity and compassion are skills that help me consider deeply what I write about- and how. But they came in time, through steady effort and a willingness to let go a little into creative flow. 

Pretty much across the board, when I listen at 12-step meetings, I hear people in recovery reporting feelings very early on of being "not quite right" inside or feeling "different." Though the specific circumstances vary, I can say that yes, that was my experience. I felt and saw and knew that the adults in my life were not well regulated. We had lots of joy in our household- I'd hate to make anyone think our family life was all bad- not at all. But somehow, even those moments of joy were punctuated by a sense that This is not real. This will end very soon. The other shoe will drop. 

Around the ages of 7-9, a series of personal and family traumas set our home dynamic on its end. My mother began her slow decline into her addiction and from about 1982 to 1999 her disease worsened and eventually took her life. My parents bounced off each other- unable to find the comfort with one another each desperately needed- until 1989 when my mother finally jumped ship. The years in between and even after the split were hard- for a lot of reasons that are too complicated for this post (that's a story for another day, or maybe my sponsor). 

It's not a very comfortable way to live- not for long, anyway. Just like wearing those itchy sweaters my 11-year-old niece hates, staying in an uncomfortable place- without tools- can make you feel that your skin is on fire. Welts break out, panic sets in, and you'd do anything- just about anything at all- to get out of that situation. 

I found alcohol pretty early- at the age of 13, I figured out how to sneak wine coolers to school in a thermos and skim liquor off the top of the bottles in my parents' cabinet. My mom never noticed the incremental amounts of wine that disappeared from the large grocery-store jug of white zinfandel (horrors!)- and so I got away with it. I'd sneak out, or go to a party under the auspices that the parents would be there only to return vomiting uncontrollably. My mother would later cover for me since she knew the rage that would follow once my dad found out- so then she had the dirt on me, and round and round we'd go. That was the psychological backdrop for my habit- but moreover, alcohol made me feel warm and relaxed in a way nothing else did. 

But this is not meant to be a drunk-a-log. We know what happens when people are substance abusers: relationships suffer, often-preventable accidents happen, health, employment status, and finances are ruined, and legal consequences ensue. I didn't have all of those yet, but enough had happened over my 25 year career of binge drinking (and later daily maintenance drinking) to finally give in. I surrendered on September 1, 2012 under a starry sky, calling out to the universe to please take this away from me. I can't say I've really looked back, ever- but I've had to look deeper and deeper to stay on this path. That's the way it works- once you commit to recovery it has to be complete (read: not perfect). Otherwise, as my teacher and mentor Nikki says, in the way only she can, "you may be dry, but you're still a miserable asshole." 

Over time I've learned to sit with more and more discomfort and with greater and greater ease. If it weren't for the principles of the 12 steps: rigorous honesty, open mindedness, willingness (or at least, the willingness to be willing), humility, surrender, trust, dedication, introspection, devotion, consistency and service; along with the practices of yoga (sitting in meditation, with a mind that is open and a heart that knows the way, embodying steadiness and ease, breathing in the present moment, self-study and compassion) there's a decent chance I wouldn't still be sober and those other "not yets" would begin to materialize.

To "tolerate the consequences" of being myself, I had to first be willing to look. I thank the god of my understanding every day for the teachers who came before me- and before my sobriety date- as well as those teachers who still guide me today, for showing me through their lives and through their wisdom how to hold myself in compassion so that I could take that first look, and then a second, and a third... 

(Part 2 coming... stay tuned.) 


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 y12sr.com


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. 

On Mondays

I'll admit it- I'm not usually a Monday person. I love what I do- and anyway, there is no real significance to Mondays in the life of a self-employed yoga teacher- so it's a completely irrational dis-like. 

On any day or with any occasion though, it really only takes a few things to make a "bad" time more pleasant. Often it's a shift in attitude, or meditation, or some nutrition to boost mood, or exercise, or journaling or something like that. 

Today was sort of an "all of the above" morning. It was a day for

  • lemon water
  • meditation (just 10 minutes today)
  • coffee 
  • a long run with a dear friend
  • good tunes on the way home
  • a delicious protein and nutrition-packed smoothie, so pretty I had to take a fancy photo of it (recipe below) 
  • some time writing

Often any one of these is enough to shift me from energy-draining inaction and negative thinking to increased focus, purpose and whole-heartedness. Today I was lucky enough to start the week on a light note and able to do them all. It sure ain't always that way! 

The aforementioned smoothie: 

1/2 frozen banana 

3/4 cup filtered water

1/4 cup raw almonds

3 large organic strawberries

big scoop Vega protein powder, chocolate

2 tbsp chia seeds (I've written before about my love for them

Blend all of the above til a smooth puree, pour into a pretty glass and top with raw cacao nibs and coconut flakes. Vegan, protein packed and super delicious. 


On Wholeness

"Yoga is a system of practices and attitudes that ground us in our inherent wholeness."


At age 21-22 and reeling from my own unhealed childhood trauma, not to mention living under the oppressive regime of addiction, I could not have fully understood the power that yoga would eventually have in my life. But I eventually learned. 

In those early days- my first class was sometime in 1994, when I was in my sophomore or junior year at VCU- I remember sensing something very potent but very foreign to me. I looked around- as newcomers often do- and saw a lot of people who seemed to know just what to do. I, on the other hand, did not. In fact, I left my first vinyasa class crying because I felt something very wrong inside me, very out of step with something everyone else seemed to know. That experience stuck with me. But I'm so grateful I went back.

A while later I sat in my Zen Buddhism class and we studied the concept of touching the earth. This would come up over a decade later in my study with Rolf Gates who frequently tells the "touch the earth" story as a message of awakening now, here, in the moment- the only moment we have. It's always the perfect time and place to awaken. (The above link sends you to a free podcast during which Rolf discusses this subject.) 

For many of us drawn to study self-improvement (though I prefer the term self-acceptance), the body, life, the circumstances we find ourselves in have been something to be endured. Life is something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed and the journey of self-improvement or self-acceptance is despite all of that. This was the case for me. "Resting in the felt experience of the now" is not always easy or even possible when you're nine years old and drinks are getting hurled across the room and doors are getting slammed. 

But I digress. 

Self-acceptance for me has been a journey of subtraction- rather than add what I think I need to be right with the world I usually need to subtract anything that stands in the way of trusting that I'm already there. The practice of meditation has helped me find the frequency where that subtraction can happen. When I'm not practicing presence, I'm prone to seek all sorts of approval or fulfillment from something that I probably don't need- and by the way, probably already have, without the thing I'm seeking. 

So this "practicing presence"- what does it look like? 

1. Notice you're not present. This takes practice. In fact it all takes practice. 

2. Notice what it felt like to be not present. 

3. Get a sense of your feet on the ground/seat on the cushion/back on the chair. (Touch the earth.)

4. Listen externally for sounds, look around at the room and the place you're in, to just get a sense of what's here in the moment. 

5. With eyes either open or closed, get a sense of your center. What feels like your center right now? It might be your belly, it might be your heart, or your forehead... connect to that center and feel for a moment what it's like to breathe into your center and breathe out of your center. Breath going in, breath going out. Breath going in, breath going out. 

6. Wait a while until the "not present" feeling passes. Feel what you feel now. Feel the temperature of the air, the dryness or dampness of your palms, the texture of the clothing you're wearing, the feeling of your body breathing, a sense of heaviness or buoyancy. This is YOU in the present moment. Just you. 

7. Repeat these practices often enough that you are able to do them with as little effort as possible (meaning, they come naturally, as you are talking to someone, or preparing a meal, or writing a speech). And practice them especially when things are good, when it's easy, so you have the skills to use when things are not so easy. I do it daily as part of my meditation practice.

Wholeness is a practice. It's not pushing away experiences or striving for them. It's being there, with the body and the breath, seeking only present moment awareness. 

Try it! 

For me, most of the time, when I practice presence I find myself needing to do, be, or accomplish less in order to feel successful and fulfilled. The simpler answer comes. Usually it's characterized by kindness, non-violence, generosity, and honesty. That feels good- and it tends to grow. Most good things in my life, in fact, come from practicing presence. This feels something like wholeness. And it's already there, waiting for you. 


On Grief

I listened to the recent npr.org interview with comedian Patton Oswalt, whose wife passed away unexpectedly on April 21, 2016. I've chosen to share a few key points about his experience that I can stand behind 100% in thinking about my own: 

  • "You don't know the kind of pain and loss other people may have gone through, even close friends and acquaintances ... (Losing someone) is like seeing the world for what it really is ... You can only sympathize so far until it directly happens to you."
  • To completely shut down vulnerability in the face of grief is to do a disservice to the person who opened you up in the first place.  
  • Talking about grief is a way of moving it out of the muscles. 
  • "When you lose someone you tend to eat Wheat Thins for breakfast and re-watch The Princess Bride about 80 times and not sleep all that well, so... I don't know when the pushups are going to show up in my grieving process."
  • "You may be through with the past, but the past is not through with you. Grief will let you know when it's done."

As for my own grief, I've found that writing and talking about it does help enormously. It's a fine line, though, between expressing grief and wallowing in it. I can tell the difference in my own body by the way it feels- though I probably can't explain it.

It's been nearly 18 years since I lost my sweet, complicated, loving, troubled, amazing mother to the disease of alcoholism at at age 50, when I was 25- and every year around springtime, the grief wells up in me again. Fortunately, my practices, creative outlets, and supportive communities make it not only manageable but provide a way of staying in touch with the tender part of myself, the heart that opens willingly in the face of grief. The Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies wrote, "An open heart never grows bitter. Or if it does, it cannot remain so." 

Here's the piece I wrote about the last days with my mother and what it was like. Thank you, Valley Haggard, for publishing it on your site. (Her writing classes are life changing.) 

And lastly, from Patton: 

"Does this bum you out? Go walk for a half an hour... it'll flood you with endorphins." 

On Women

I recently became obsessed with two series: "The People vs OJ Simpson," the dramatized series centered on the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in June of 1994 and the subsequent trial and acquittal of Nicole's ex-husband, OJ Simpson; and "OJ: Made In America," the Academy Award-winning five part ESPN documentary focusing on not only the criminal trial, but also race, sports, fame, money, power, and the context of these in which those involved found themselves. 

The dramatized series is just so-so; the documentary is amazing and makes a great point that how we define ourselves is important in determining not only, obviously, our identity, but also our place, our in-groups, and how we experience success and failure. OJ from very early on was very pointed in his remarks about his identity, saying he wanted to be known as OJ and for his accomplishments as an athlete. He rarely spoke out on behalf of issues of race or gender or income, focusing almost solely on his abilities. He had found tremendous success and likability among white society, and was heralded for the success that he had rightfully earned. Of course, as we know, that was not the end of the story. 

My point in bringing this up is that I realized while watching it that I have never really thought of myself as a woman. Oh, I've always identified as female- but truth be told, I never put a lot of energy or thought into being female.  And as a friend said today, on International Women's Day, "I realized I had spent most of my life learning how to succeed among men." Our identity is often contextualized by the dominant part of society. "Girl power" was always something for tweens and teens to get some confidence, so they could kick ass in a man's world. I can only imagine that it's a similar experience for many if the word "sex" is replaced by "race" or "class" or "gender identity" or "ability." It's something to sit back and realize that this is the case- I think at some level I always conceptualized identity as a unique, distinct thing- but this notion is naive at best.  

Over the past year or so, I've come to identify more and more as a woman and to understand what that really means. I probably can't articulate it all here, but it definitely involves the expression of female-ness in every day life and in the places where I derive most satisfaction- from caring for others, from providing food and nourishment and affection to my dogs, giving a listening ear to my friends, offering partnership and a welcoming home for and with my husband, and building opportunities and support to those in my community. There is a strength that comes in actively forming vital connections characterized by mutual support and respect. These are aspects of embracing femininity- even if I don't identify them as such as often as I should. And motherhood expresses itself in many ways. Of course many men express these same traits and have these needs as expression of their own inborn femininity- a good thing! But as a very fearful young woman, much of my energy was put in to self-preservation in a very volatile world and thus these very nurturing qualities were often put away. I had to put away much of what it meant for me to be female in a male-dominated world. I replaced that with other, inauthentic forms of that similar need- taking care of unavailable men, taking on the pain of others, and masking my own pain with food and alcohol and especially when I was younger, drugs. 

My own mother was also a nurturer, and a loving, sensitive, creative soul- she made it easy to like her. On her best days I felt so lucky to be her daughter. On other days I was so afraid that I'd lose her. And on the worst days, I was afraid of her. And most of the time I think she was afraid of her greatness. She shined so bright, loved so hard, put herself out there, took so many risks, made things so complicated, and was so hard on herself when others didn't fully appreciate her efforts. She receded to a very dark place. She didn't have "the capacity to be honest" about this and succumbed to the inevitable deterioration that comes when we don't find our way to the light. 

I sat down recently to write a little about her death. It's been almost 18 years since she died from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by chronic alcohol abuse and dependence, at the age of only 50, when I was 25. (I'll be publishing that story soon and will be sure to post a link here when that happens.) That painful chapter hung a very heavy shroud over me for something like 13 years, until I realized I needed to step out into the light and live my own "woman's story." And thanks to the living example of women making a different choice about their own disease, I feel I am just beginning to touch what it means to truly live the life of a woman.  And it's an amazing thing. 

I'm not an accomplished feminist- I don't even know all the lingo- but what I do understand is that as we liberate ourselves, our capacity to liberate others grows. I wrote in an earlier post about how as I found recovery my own buried value system began to recover too. What was left was a deep need, as my teacher Rolf often says, to live "with an open heart and an open mind, seeking only to know what is true." 

These days I'm leaning in- taking in as much information as I can about what it means to be marginalized, to be in a place in society where your very real human experience is denied, minimized, trivialized, tokenized, or silenced.

“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”


I saw the above on a sign (it's actually a spirited oldie-but-goodie article) at the Women's March on Washington on January 21. Yes, I actually put a pink knitted cap on my head and walked with the thousands upon thousands of others, men, women, trans, old, young, white, people of color- walking and smiling and shouting and speaking out on behalf of the environment, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, reproductive rights, income equality- all of which are women's rights too. It was amazing. I felt more like a woman that day than ever.

There's a lot more to say about this, of course. But mainly here I want to say out loud that I stand with you- whatever your struggle or challenge or identity might be. I'm a woman, dammit, I nurture and support and love and I know the strength that comes from knowing someone has your back. I know I was born to live a life that "gives voice to the great heart within." I recently wrote that for so long it was the addict's heart that beat inside my chest- but that heart is growing fainter and fainter and is now being summarily ousted by a deeper heart that knows and trusts and seeks the truth, always. There's a steadiness and strength that was always there- though I lost the ability to access it for a long time- it's back for good. I wish that for every person, female-identified or not. Will it be messy? Will I screw it up? Undoubtedly. But I will not forget that my place is with you, speaking from that "great heart within," aiming for a world that respects and honors every one of us. May it be so.