Accessible Ayurveda: Autumnal Equinox

And just like that, it's nearly fall.  It certainly feels like autumn in Seattle.  Our season change arrived over the weekend, a few days ahead of schedule.  I bought one more half flat of berries at the farmers market on Sunday, since my calendar says it's summer until Friday.  But mother nature had other plans, and with an onslaught of rain and cool temps, eating blueberries feels a little silly.  Time to find a good muffin recipe.

Actually, bread is an ideal food for fall.  It falls into the sweet taste, which carries over from summer.  But unlike the season we're leaving, during which we pair sweet with bitter and astringent, the foods that keep us nurtured in autumn are sweet, sour, and salty.  And the way we approach sweet changes.  Instead of cooling the body with lots of berries, watermelon, and cucumber, we want to warm the body with breads, rice, dates, meat, and cooked apples.

We can bring in salty with foods like seaweed or cured meets.  Sour tastes belong with citrus, yogurt, cheese, and fermented foods.  Pickling is actually pretty quick and easy, and a great way to preserve much of the abundant produce coming out of the earth right now.  Cucumbers are probably the most familiar to us as pickles, but you can be really creative.  Beets, radishes, carrots, cauliflower, beans...go ahead and chop them up, stuff them in a jar, and add a vinegar mixture!  I tried a cold blend on Sunday, which was even easier than the usual stovetop water and vinegar concoction I usually use. 

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Pickled Cucumbers (modified from blessthismessplease.com)

3 cup water

1 cup rice wine vinegar

3 tsp salt

1/3 cup organic sugar

6 cups sliced cucumbers

Stuff cucumbers into a 1/2 gallon mason jar.  Stir water, sugar, vinegar and salt to blend.  Add to cucumbers to cover fully.  Cap your jar and store in the fridge.

The foods we eat are one of the most important ways to shift our approach to wellness throughout the year as seasons change.  I've written before about my favorite kitchari recipe, an ideal food to prepare while transitioning seasons. But there are other ayurvedic concepts beyond food that inform how best to nurture our bodies.  Generally speaking, we want to understand the qualities of the season we're in and find balance in our own bodies.  As we move from the heat of summer to the blustery, cool winds of autumn, we do well when we ground and stabilize our energy, slow down, keep warm, and follow a routine.  If you practice yoga, you can consider shifting your focus to slow flow, long savasanas, and balancing breathing work.

Want to learn more?  I regularly weave seasonal themes into my yoga classes and offer one-on-one wellness sessions.  If you're in the Seattle area tomorrow, join me at the Riveter Capitol Hill for Wellness Wednesday.  In my workshop Accessible Ayurveda - Summer to Fall, I'll be exploring this week's seasonal transition in more depth.  And finally, don't forget to celebrate the autumnal equinox this Friday!  

A Practice for Householders

I rush around a lot these days.  Motherhood elevates multi-tasking and what my entrepreneur brother calls "hustle" to an art form.  The pace is relentless and slowing down isn't really an option.  And I'm the queen of downshift and self care, or I was until September 2, 2015, the evening my son arrived.  

Life kicked up another notch recently, as I took on some additional projects and teaching.  Somehow I'd managed to re-introduce a brief time of morning yoga into my daily rhythm, thanks to early PNW spring sunrises as we move towards the solstice.  With these quiet mornings, I feel pretty grounded and less hurried, and was lulled into the sense that I had returned to my full practice of meditation and attention to nature's rhythms.  In reality, I'm still rushing here, there, and everywhere and not in tune with the moon's cycle, one of my favorite rituals.  

I spontaneously decided to use a lunar theme in the yoga class I taught Thursday evening at the Riveter.  I'd been wanting to bring in the concept to my classes there, syncing the feminine qualities of the moon with this beautiful female focused co-working and wellness space.  I quickly glanced at my calendar and saw "Supermoon" for Friday and assumed full moon.  I taught a practice focused on grounding during this phase.  While seasonally appropriate with the solstice approaching, I misled my students because I taught something I wasn't fully engaged in on my own.  I'd been spinning so fast, I'd shown up to class in-authentically, however well intentioned.  I continued on in my alternative facts bubble and based my personal meditation on Friday on the full moon Moon Angels card.

I realized my mistake when I finally did slow down.  Restorative yoga on a Sunday evening is about as quiet as one can get without going to bed.  I've been enjoying a class at Seattle Yoga Arts, where I have no connection as a teacher.  Perhaps this allowed me to show up completely as student.  For the first time in several years, a studio experience unexpectedly brought me fully and deeply into my body.  It was an equally intense and peaceful experience, focused on the throat chakra and a simple mantra "find my voice."  This 5th chakra, Vishuddha, is all about authenticity.  Once the practice as completed, I took my time leaving and walking the block home.  I lingered on the sidewalk and strolled another half block, looked up, and was shocked to see the crescent moon.  This little sliver was decidedly not the glowing orb I'd expected.  I felt the wind knocked out of me and had to sit down on the closest stoop to re-orient myself.  

Rebekah Erev Studio Moons2017 (available for download here)

Rebekah Erev Studio Moons2017 (available for download here)

The difference between new and full moon energetically is significant, hence my strong sense of disorientation.  The new moon is about beginnings, a chance to start over on a monthly basis.  It exudes qualities of calm, quiet, and groundedness.  It can border on lethargic.  Sometimes it's appropriate to give into these aspects, other times we need to counter this energy.  The full moon is exuberant, lively, expansive, tending on chaotic.  At one time, not so long ago, my life involved rituals surrounding these regular markers.  The lunar cycle remains deeply resonant in my life, even if I'm not closely tracking each new and full moon.  It's drifted from my regular offerings as a teacher, yet feels so appropriate in this current hyper-masculine, regressive, and heated political climate.  I'm craving the cool, creative, life-giving moon.  

Speaking of lunar ritual, my friend Emily (aka the Ritual Coach) has a beautiful new posting on her blog, offering an honest and heartfelt new weekly energy ritual.  Giving ourselves permission...to explore what's stirring deep within us.  Yes, more of that please.

So how do we give ourselves permission to practice in the midst of busy lives?  How especially do caregivers of young children practice? If retreats and 20-30 minute (really, even 10 minute) meditations aren't available, do we just give up?  Absolutely not.  The Yoga Sutras (the original text outlining the philosophy of yoga) acknowledge that not everyone chooses a monastic life, and there are seasons to a lifetime.  When we're in the midst of careers and raising family and taking care of aging parents, we still practice.  It just looks different.  

My favorite Sutra has always been 1.33 - the "Householders Sutra."  It's for those who live in the world, not apart from it.  This Sutra acknowledges the way we come to any situation with an agenda, with our desires and hopes for the universe to be a certain way.  Here we are, very much in the world, in the messy weeds, yet have a choice to shift perspective and live within the context of four simple concepts that help us to set aside our wants and be present with what's happening for someone else.

I had the privilege to study with the amazing Jo Leffingwell for a couple of years and explore the Sutras in depth.  I'm pulling from my notes taken in her studio to offer an interpretation of the sanskrit for Sutra 1.33 that resonates most with me.  Rather than merely reacting to or mirroring others, we can stop spinning stories in our own minds and really see another person and situation.  From that place of stillness, we respond:

  •  where we find happiness, we express goodwill and friendship
  • where we find pain, we express compassion
  • where we find virtue, we express joy
  • where we find non-virtue, we express neutrality

It's not an easy practice, but it is accessible in the midst of busy lives.  It doesn't require signing up for a class, getting out a mat, finding a studio, or clearing a space on the calendar.  Through these straightforward concepts we can give ourselves permission to include a personal practice in our lives, to show up more authentically for ourselves and others.

Mother's Day Lemons and Lemonade

My toddler didn't get the memo about being all sweetness and light on Mother's Day - quite the opposite.  He was sick, clingy, threw tantrums, refused to eat except when in my lap eating from my plate of food.  In my experience, this is generally how celebratory days go.  As in, they hardly ever end up feeling picture-perfect and often involve fights or disappointments or exhaustion or all of the above.  

I did get to spend some solo time in the kitchen while my son napped, which gave me the opportunity to take the two lemons we grew over the past 16 months (in Seattle during our two rainiest, coldest winters in recent memory!) and make lemonade (along with lemon zest biscotti).  I prepped most of the ingredients and, after nap time, we had family kitchen time.  

I want Dean to understand the entire food system, so even though we live in a 1940s town-house style condo with a small back patio, we grow food.  We have pots of herbs, kale, lettuces, and strawberries.  Yesterday we went out back together to snip some mint.  Back inside we juiced our two Meyer lemons, steeped raw honey and mint in hot water, and voila - local lemonade!  Next up - mixing ingredients for biscotti.  We experimented with buckwheat flour and eggs from our farmers market (except we forgot to add them into the dough, there they still sit on the counter), raw honey from our co-op, and our own lemon zest.  The results were delicious and I felt no qualms about sharing afternoon sweets with my little boy.

Motherhood is plenty full of lemons, but with a little patience and creativity, it's not too hard to make lemonade.  For a few moments yesterday, in between tears and snot, destruction and frustration, we sat together in a brief moment of afternoon sun and shared an illusive, instagram-worthy moment of pure contentment, beauty, and joy.  

Buckwheat Lemon Zest Biscotti                                                                                               (adapted from the nytimes.com well blog recipes)

  • 125 grams buckwheat flour
  • 120 grams almond flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 small/medium eggs (optional)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
  • 3 tsp lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium bowl, mix together the buckwheat flour, almond flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and honey for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater with a rubber spatula and add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat together for 1 to 2 minutes, until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed until well blended. Stir in almonds.

Divide the dough and shape 2 wide, flat logs, about 10 inches long by 3 inches wide by 3/4 inch high. Make sure they are at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake 40 to 50 minutes, until dry, beginning to crack in the middle, and firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.

Place the logs on a cutting board and carefully cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place on two parchment-covered baking sheets and bake one sheet at a time in the middle of the oven until the slices are dry, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Honey-Mint Lemonade                                                                                                             (adapted from superhealthykids.com)

  • quart mason jar
  • 2 Meyer Lemons
  • 2 stems fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 3 cups hot water

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Rinse the mint and juice lemons to make 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add boiling water to mason jar and stir in raw honey. Add mint leaf stems.  Steep for 5-10 minutes covered. Add lemon juice to jar. Serve at room temperature or pour over ice cubes to chill. 

 

 

Lunar New Year Intentions

For several years now, I've been experimenting with an extended New Year awareness.  I don't set a January 1st resolution (full disclosure - I haven't been up at midnight for several years now, but that has more to do with motherhood).   I've tied many of my daily rhythms to lunar cycle awareness, which includes celebrating the lunar new year.  Between Jan 1 and the next new moon I sit with ideas for intentions and let them percolate.  By the lunar new year, I’m ready to commit to a few ideas for shaking up my daily life.

It's taken me longer to settle on intentions this year.  But yesterday things clicked and I chose three lunar new year resolutions based on the theme of conscious living.

Pay Attention   I used to regularly set aside time to be tech free - nightly before bed and a weekly ritual silence for a few hours of family time with devices shut off.  As I slip further into motherhood, I've neglected this practice, spinning my wheels faster and faster to try and keep up and keep moving.  I try my best to say off computer and phone when my son is around, but am more hooked than ever in the time I have without him - eating breakfast alone, walking to and from appointments or meetings, sitting on the couch with my husband after our boy has gone to bed.  I'm equally disappointed with myself and addicted.  New year intention number one - conscious eating and walking.  I (re) commit, starting today, to just walk when I am walking and just eat when I am eating.  I will (try and) resist the urge to pick up my phone at the table alone and walking to and fro.  I commit to connecting with myself and the city around me. 

Moon Angels I love staying in tune with the lunar cycle through daily inspiration from Ryan Rebekah Erev's Moon Angels.  These cards provide thought provoking art and guiding descriptions for each day of the cycle from waxing to waning moon.  I've drifted from including these in my morning practice and have missed the ritual.  Today they are back and not a moment too soon.  Many of the systems in our country - political, corporate to name a couple - are dominated by a deeply ingrained patriarchy.  In itself, this solar powered energy we often associate with masculine qualities is not wrong.  But over centuries this way of living and governing has taken root to the exclusion of other ways of functioning and our systems are out of balance, serving only a few rather than all.  Lunar energy is linked to the feminine, to qualities of creativity, calm, and intuition.  Power is expressed in a very different way than we've come to know in our culture.  When we who live in a society dominated by the masculine/sun energy start to pay attention to the feminine/moon energy, we invite a shift towards balancing these two opposites.

Activism  Eight years ago I was inspired, like many, to go into public service following the election of Barack Obama.  I pursued a job with a councilmember at Seattle City Hall.  Two years later I left to pursue a Masters Degree in Sustainable Food Systems and, disillusioned with shortcomings, bureaucracy, and lack of creativity in government, never returned.  I stopped following local politics and grew complacent about (and took for granted) a national progressive agenda.  Eight years later I feel despair and anger at the election results and the decisions currently being made in Washington DC by mostly white, male political leaders.  I am inspired to activism, to an awake and conscious life that comes out of being and living according to a feminine, creative, compassionate rhythm.  

Conscious living - that's my motto for 2017.  Perhaps you'd like to join me?

Eating Together for Better Health

An article titled Simple Rules for Healthy Eating caught my eye earlier this fall.  I find it particularly relevant as we move through the holiday season and then set resolutions, often diet related, for a new year. I appreciated all of the tips, but number 7 resonated with me the most:

Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits even outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will most likely make you eat more slowly. It will also make you happy.

I'd add to this - eat sitting down.  Why?  Sitting down can help facilitate a slower meal and bring some awareness to the food in a way that standing around an appetizer buffet discourages.  When we eat together, food becomes about much more than fuel.  Tied to the ritual of gathering around a table, it offers an opportunity to disconnect from digital life and connect with each other in the flesh.  The very act of sitting encourages grounding, an important element to incorporate in daily routines during autumn (see my previous post on staying healthy throughout the fall season).    

You'll likely read plenty in the next few weeks about navigating holiday parties without gaining 10 lbs, which steps to follow to guarantee a healthier you in the new year (gluten-free? plant-based? protein-focused?), whether to cleanse or not, and on and on.  What if you keep it simple and sit down to eat, mostly in the company of others, without a screen? Without changing the contents of your plate, would you feel happier and healthier?  I'd argue yes, but don't take my word for it.  Try it for yourself.

 

 

Begin (again).

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction. — Cynthia Occelli

An apt description of my postpartum yoga journey.  15 months since the birth of my son, my practice has been completely upended, my body reshaped, and my mental state fluctuates wildly. I can feel a shadow of myself one day, and then the next I find I've more energy, creativity, and strength than ever before.  Throughout I've found it helpful to approach my postnatal practice with a beginners mind and I'm bringing this idea to my students as well.  Rather than overwhelm a room full of new mamas with a zillion options, in an effort to keep longtime practitioners engaged while simultaneously offering a safe space for beginners, what if postnatal yoga was really a space for everyone to explore an intro level practice? 

As a yoga teacher with pre and postnatal credentials, I have the added experience of exploring yoga in my own body through pregnancy and after birth.  My teaching is now informed from both training and personal understanding.  What I've found is the unique challenge of approaching yoga with the curiosity I had the first time I rolled out my mat, while allowing space for muscle memory and accumulated knowledge from years of practice.  Life becomes instantly more complicated with the birth of a baby, and there's relief in straightforward physical postures. Discovering yoga after pregnancy is a wonderful time to learn or relearn the basics of asana, pranayama and meditation.  I try to offer my students a space to approach their practice in this same way.  For those returning to yoga after giving birth, there is an incredible opportunity to begin again.  The postpartum body invites mothers to approach familiar poses with wonder, patience, and compassion. 

Whether you are new to both yoga and motherhood, returning to the practice in a new body, or moving through post birth experiences for a second or third (or more) time, you might find comfort in how effective the simplest of poses can be.  Revel in the simplicity - how the most basic of poses can provide challenge.  Feel the pose as if for the first time, and refine it.  Return to poses you had to forgo during pregnancy (twists!).  Rebuild your abdominal muscles from scratch, and perhaps discover them stronger than ever.  I used to avoid abdominals at all costs, I mentally disliked the work.  Then it became necessary for daily life - to ease low back pain, to feel good in my jeans again, to be able to pick up my son day after day as he grows.  It's taken much longer than I every dreamed, but starting from scratch and working diligently has produced a deep core strength I've never had before.

All that said, postnatal yoga classes are more then a place to awaken and tone stretched-out and saggy abdominals.  It takes tremendous courage to start (or start over) a practice.  For many mothers, it is an enormous effort just to leave the privacy and comfort of home and enter into the public realm with baby.  Crying might be viewed as disruptive, diaper changes could turn messy and chaotic, unspoken assumptions about exposed breasts hang in the air.  My biggest priority when I show up to teach and hold babies is to offer a safe space for vulnerable bodies and spirits, a place for you to find support and affirmation for your own journey through motherhood.  Come as you are and begin (again).

(Join me Tuesdays 1:30-2:45pm at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill)

Experts and Intuition

To live in our current culture is to be surrounded by experts.  It can feel comforting to outsource decisions about my health, my parenting, my emotional state, my career path...  I'm constantly overtired and short on time.  Can someone just tell me what to do?  On the face of it, turning to an expert seems terribly efficient and there's a certain element of checking out that I can do. 

[side note...As I privately mull over experts vs personal intuition, we're regularly digging into this tension over at Bricoleur Collective.  It dominated our most recent discussion, which I summarized in this blog post. Then I found I had more to say, especially in the context of motherhood and yoga and so...]

Following my intuition is a huge time commitment.  I need space in my day to be quiet and listen, to get in touch with Ajna Chakra (Third Eye). As I feel my way along, my path might not look consistent or concrete the way it might if I follow prescribed steps laid out by a professional. I'm making decisions based on what's best in real time, and that often adds up to a whole lot of messiness that sometimes seems like "failure."  My head starts spinning with "if only I had done it the way so and so said, this situation would be neat and tidy right now."  I fret, I try and clear some space again to make friends with my inner voice, and that space inevitably gets co-opted by the cries of a toddler. Did I mention I'm exhausted?  

The thing is, I'm also growing weary of all the experts. Especially regarding motherhood. I've read a good number of parenting blogs and books.  Money has been spent on a sleep training plan, with mixed success. I've had a pediatrician tell me it's time to wean and I've had another congratulate me on still breastfeeding my 13 month old son.  What works today may not be helpful tomorrow. Even with all the outside opinions taken into account, I'm still tinkering with this method and that idea.  My son is a real person, living in real time, surrounded by parents living real lives. The advice I get seems made for a baby in a bubble. Seeking outside advice actually doesn't seem to be saving me time.

Here's an ongoing example. A good night's sleep is illusive in our household.  Despite what he's "supposed" to be doing at his age, my son continues to wake around 5am to nurse before sleeping for a couple more hours.  About once a week he wakes up before that and lately will not be consoled unless I hold him. It happened two nights ago. He awoke at 1:30am, screaming, SCREAMING. I knew he wouldn't go back to sleep if I simply forced him onto his back in the crib and walked out.  And I can't sleep through his cries, I'm in the next room.  Wary of physical contact leading to breastfeeding when I've sworn it off before 5am, I picked him up and brought him to bed. He didn't ask to nurse. In fact, he fell right to sleep in between mama and dada. Two hours later he did wake up and start poking my chest. But he was calm. We put him back in his crib and after a little cry, he went back to sleep for another two hours. It wasn't the best night of sleep, but it could have been a whole lot worse had I never picked him up.  

I'd read Our Sleeping Training Nightmare on the New York Times site just the day before and it stuck with me. "Could every professional be wrong," asks the author/mother. "My instincts say yes, but I've never really been on speaking terms with my instincts." She gets on speaking terms and ultimately concludes that "this is parenting, then: trying and failing and reaching and missing and sometimes getting it right, and always loving." 

And this is parenting: holding space for ourselves, our children, and our families. Parenting is an opportunity for continual mindfulness practice. It's never giving up on that time to myself I try and carve out every morning after the 5am feed, but really only happens twice a week. It's creating some spaciousness in my body and mind through Tonglen Meditation. It's giving my son room to roam while keeping focused on him as boredom creeps in and I reach for my phone and then stop (and reach and stop and reach and stop) and go back to holding a safe space for him to keep exploring and expanding his world.

 

 

Right and Wrong (more on the middle way)

It's been a long month.  I started this post in mid-May, just before our in-city move.  I put off final edits and now it's June.  This is my life at the moment.  Disorganized, distracted, dazed.  My daily routine involves chasing a crawling, climbing 9 month old through the box maze that is our new home.  Rather than procrastinate any longer, or start over, I'm ready to just post my thoughts from several weeks ago....

(May 12) My son finally "did his nights," as the french say, for the first time last night at 8 months and 10 days old.  He took longer than the other babies we know around the same age.  But he beat his dad by a few weeks.  We'd gotten to a manageable place at 7 months, then hit 8 months and it all went to hell.  Screaming, unable to console even when brought to bed with us, many night wakings, still nursing twice, impossible to put to sleep, short naps again... I planned to wait it out until our move Saturday, but by last weekend I had had enough and saw a window of opportunity to implement "cry and console."  Parents will probably know what I mean.  If you aren't a parent, it's pretty simple (but oh so controversial).  My own partner has resisted it.  Let the baby cry for increasing intervals and only console for 1-2 minutes between each, without picking baby up.  Sunday night...we went rounds for over an hour before he fell into an exhausted slumber.  Monday night...30 minutes.  Back to two night wakings to feed.  Tuesday night...12 minutes with, surprise, one night waking!  I was pretty happy.  Then last night he went to sleep by himself in 3 minutes...until 6am.  

Of course I woke up feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I had doubts about this strategy, especially going it alone.  But so far it's working.  Better than expected.  My husband is surprised.  I feel good about being right.  

Of course Pema has something to say about this.  I'm taking it slowly through her book, When Things Fall Apart.  This morning I re-read chapter 13 for about the fifth time.  It's easy for me to get caught up in feeling bad about being wrong - I spend a lot of energy there.  Yet parenting has me on the flip side - feeling good about being right.  It's so easy to get cozy with that superiority.  Pema reminds me to live in the middle - without attachment to right or wrong.  It's hard to move away from that black and white world.  Yet compassion can be found in the space you create in between extremes; a compassion necessary for leaving suffering behind.

 

The Middle Way

I got a little sidetracked from Pema Chodren last week.  It was good to return over the weekend during my morning practice.  I'm trying something new, in an effort to let go of my attachment to completion and order.  So many habits have formed in my life around these desires- I rush through much of my life in order to be done and check something else off my list.  Books are just one example.  It feels so good to finish; I love that sense of satisfaction when the chapter is read, the book is done, and I can take it off the "to read" pile and put it neatly in its place on the shelf.   So I've begun to placing my bookmark at the end of a chapter, rather than the beginning, to encourage myself to sit with what I'm reading a bit longer.  

This morning I found myself, still, at the end of chapter nine - Six Kinds of Loneliness.  

The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.  We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern.  It's the human pattern we project onto a world, a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution... We not only seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution.  We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that.  We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.
Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness... The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things ok... Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are.  Loneliness is not a problem.  Loneliness is nothing to be solved.
Another aspect of cool loneliness is not seeking security from one's discursive thoughts...  We don't seek the companionship of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it isn't, whether it is or whether it isn't, whether it should be or whether it shouldn't, whether it can or whether it can't...  We can gradually drop our ideals about who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be.  We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are.

I love this, especially the last part.  I spend so much energy in my life analyzing what I think others' expectations of my life are.  Stories within stories within stories until I'm exhausted and very far from a calm appreciation of who I am.  I want things to be this way, to be that way, to be just a little bit different from how they are, how I am.  I've missed a lot of my life while I run back and forth between what could have been and what should be.  Maybe it's time to spend some time in the middle.  Loneliness gets a bad rap, but it can be a very rich space, as the ancient Persian poet, Hafiz , well knew.  

Super(new)moon

The moon is once again signaling a new beginning.  I love this about the lunar cycle.  We don't have to wait for another January 1 or another birthday or another season.  Every month we are invited to join the lady moon for a fresh start.  She signals us quietly and calmly, just a sliver of cool light.  She whispers to us, "join the creativity happening all around you.  play and dance and make something.  let go of your quest for the alluring, yet ever illusive, linear (upward) trajectory through life and surrender to the cyclical rhythm of nature." 

Within this fresh start offered each month is the paradox that we continue on with our life.  We keep moving and breathing.  We start again and continue on.  I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's delightful book Big Magic.  She concludes with a reminder about life's paradoxes. 

Creativity is sacred, and its not sacred.  What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all.  We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.  We are terrified, and we are brave.  Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.  Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.  Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise -- you can make anything.  So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?  The treasures hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.

I love that she asks us to be playful and at the same time, nudges us to settle down and just do what we were made to do.  It reminds me of the dual nature of the moon celebrated in the yoga asana pattern Chandra Namaskar (moon salutes).  They are wonderfully alive, while intensely calming. The moon herself can invite heightened or grounded energy depending on whether she's new or full. 

So what will I do today, Day 1 (in the fourth month of the year, in the 36th year of my life)?  Rather than move on to the next book in my stack, I think I'll start this one again.  See what I might have missed the first time.  Allow the encouragement and inspiration to sink in a little deeper.  Start the same journey and see how it becomes its own, different from the last.

 

Good Enough Practice

"Good enough" is popping up all around me.  6 months ago I entered motherhood and now good enough parenting catches my eye.  I'm nearly finished with Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Big Magic, and themes of mundane and persistence stand out - a sort of gentle nudge to just do it every day, even if your writing is total crap and you don't feel at all creative.  I even tried to write this blog weeks ago, the words came out just right, and then as I went to publish I accidentally deleted it.  My second attempt will have to be good enough, because the ideal first version is long gone.

Good enough is normally unacceptable.  I have high standards, my family's are even higher.  I'm genetically predisposed to perfectionism.  But I'm tired to my bones.  I don't know when I'll really sleep.  And so "good enough" isn't such a stretch.  My yoga practice is a shadow of what it once was.  My work is adequate.  My cooking lacks creativity, but is edible.  I dress merely to be clothed, not to make any fashion statement. 

Good enough feels like failure.  I suffer greatly in my attachment to perfectionism.  I like to believe I'm in total control of my life and when it's merely a fraction of what I believe I'm capable of, I think I am to blame. I wrestle constantly with hope, which seems so virtuous but always lets me down.  My instinct is to run from hopelessness, but I can't shake it.  So here I am, muddling through, suffering greatly, and then my friend brings Pema Chodren back into my life.  She's got everything and more to say about my particular suffering.  This week I'm re-reading this passage from When Thing Fall Apart as if my life depends on it.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience up or liven it down or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keeping looking for alternatives.

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape? We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.

It's funny, this passage.  It gives me a new perspective on the moon cards I read every morning.  Earlier this week, before reading chapter 7 in Pema, I picked up my card for Day 19 of the lunar cycle. 

 

I usually hate drawing this card.  I want to skip over Day 19, pretend it doesn't exist.  Except this time through the deck I'm confronted with shit head on.  Flying shit.  My son sneeks a dirty diaper into our afternoon.  I go to change him, expecting just another wet cloth.  I fling the the diaper open and there goes poop.  I can't see it, but I can smell it.  I'm forced to let eyesight play second fiddle to my sense of smell and let my nose seek it out.  I find a nice little stinky clump sitting on the pretty cream crib bumper.  I shake my head, hold my breath, then go ahead and grab that little piece of poop and toss it out.  There's a tiny mark left behind, but really, no one else would know.  I could undo all those nice little ties and do yet another load of laundry.  Instead, I just leave it.  It's clean enough.  And time to let good enough be good enough.