Sunday, July 17, 2011

Moving Through Doorways

Sometimes during the course of our journey, we find that it is time to let go (again!), that something that has served us deeply has ultimately achieved it's purpose. In that uncertain space between a beginning and an ending, when doorways are opened and closed--there is limitless possibility.

I wanted to take a year off to rest in the bliss of country life, and I did. As the months passed and I settled into a quiet, introspective life I was achieving my purpose, almost without realizing it. As with most things, I couldn't envision it ending, couldn't imagine leaving Knife River, the garden, the woods, the community.

Even as I began to feel an inner pull to send my energy in new directions, I resisted, unable to fathom a different life until that resistance began to fall away on it's own. It was hard for me to see that I had arrived in a more settled and healed place within myself but as I became aware, something changed within me, spiriting me ever onward.

I felt like a dragonfly on the verge of bursting out of the larval stage, water to air to flight, the whole world before me. It was then that I realized that Knife River, like many other places before it, had been a great incubator for me and that door was slowly closing.

How to leave it? How to move on? How to trust that all was unfolding as it should? These were questions that I pondered as I began to turn my energy in the new directions that beckoned me and as I did so, the floodgates of the Universe opened, rushing to fill the vacuum I was to leave behind.

This seems to be a re-occurring theme, this idea that if we can remain flexible in times of uncertainty, trusting in grace, if we can stay with out breath, grounded in our bodies, we are certain to move through doorways of change, unfolding like the petals of wildflowers in the Spring--pleasantly surprised by our own fortitude and beauty.

It is here back on Park Point, that I sit pleasantly surprised by the turn of events, grateful for the gifts I received in Knife River, peering through new doorways of limitless possibility.

Twin Ports Bridge Festival

Friday, June 10, 2011

Franti Fever

This blog was orignanlly posted in September of 2010. Michael Franti will be playing at Bayfront in Duluth at the Twin Ports Bridge Festival on July 9th, 2011. Don't miss this opportunity! To get tickets visit:

I have been following musician and activist Michael Franti for a few years now and remain in awe of his journey, his talent and his committment to grassroots peace activism.

I recently saw him perform with his band "Spearhead" at the State Theater in Minneapolis and am still reverberating from the experience. Once outspoken about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Michael has found a new route down that path...singing about love and humanity.

His journey parallels my own in that I used to get so much satisfaction from sticking it to "The Man." I used to attend rallies and protests, write angry, verbose editorials and loved to argue about politics, international affairs and the tyranny of the US government.

At that time Michael went to Iraq and Palestine while I traveled to Afghanistan, desperate to see the war unfolding with my own eyes. I returned heart broken, aloof and despondent and began to let go of politics all together. I was in search of something deeper and more meaningful, something that would help me make sense out of the world in which I found myself.

That something ended up being yoga. Michael ironically also found yoga and began to practice with his teachers David Life and Sharon Gannon in San Francisco. I watched his music and his message change as the music in my own life was forever altered. The cracks and fissures once blown open by witnessing 9-11 and attending George Bush's second inauguration were filled in with quietude, calm and a settledness that flowed through the cracks down into my bones. My angry voice became a sweet, chanting voice. My writing became more curious rather than authoritative.

A year or two later I found myself standing in front of a set of massive speakers watching Michael sing about the common threads that bind us all together. I watched the room sway in unison as if we are at some kind of fundamentalist revival. No one sat down for the entire show and I was beaming, elated, on fire with the power of the undercurrent that ripples beneath all of our lives. He has turned madness into joy and he feeds it back to his fans spoonful by loving spoonful in uplifting lyrics and reggae beats.

He has stumbled upon something more powerful than hate, more powerful than bombs, more powerful than raging against something be it a system, mindframe or political party...he has tapped into that which makes us all human and it is undeniable. He leads by example and proves that all of us are capable of making that leap to love.

For more information on Michael Franti, his music and his connections to the yoga community visit:

Friday, May 27, 2011

What Yoga Means to Me

This is an excerpt of something I wrote as a part of my 500hr. teacher training program.

Yoga for me has become a life style. Yoga is a state of being. Yoga is union; of breath, body, mind, heart and subsequently, intention, thought, words and action.

Yoga is a sign post that points curiously in the direction of that which can only be explained through rudamentary words--our connection to the Universe, our higher Self. Yoga is awareness of this Self. Yoga is knowing that you are never alone. Yoga is mystery, trust and cosmic belly laughs. Yoga re-frames existence on Earth. Yoga untangles the ego, invites space, and facilitates understanding. Yoga is letting go. Yoga is the acceptance of what is. Yoga unfolds. Yoga changes. Beyond the words, the fear, the grasping, the intellect-yoga is all there is.

On my journey this time around I have peered narrowly, poked at, ran and hidden from yoga. Once I even wrapped my legs and arms around the sign post and held on for dear life, convinced that I had found the Answer to all of life's conundrums. I held on so tightly I was not able to see what the sign was pointing to. Until I did.

My practice, life, inquiry and teaching have all changed and evolved as my relationship with that sign post has changed and evolved; becoming something fluid and expansive rather than something based on false certainty, intellectual and physical prowess and a fundamentalist approach to food, sex and clothing (even though those first yoga experiences all served me perfectly in their own way.)

I experience yoga as a practice but I now see that it is not the practice, it is what the practice allows for. I teach yoga as a practice to others, allowing them to be curious about their own journey, their own body-if that should be the place they start. I feel that the best thing that I can do for myself and for students is to continue to arouse a sense of curiosity, to facilitate creating ease and stability in the body, and to lead by example using my experiences (good and bad) via stories and blogging.

In that sense, living this life has become both an inquiry and a practice. What I grip in my body is what I grip in my life. Where there is ease in my body, there is ease in my existence. As within, so without, as above, so below. The living, the inquiry, the practice and the teaching are not separate but connected and organic; on this journey I have also surrendered, wept, and stilled myself in that very union.

At this place on my path I feel propelled forward by something that I cannot explain and as I let go more and more into that flow, amazing things happen and I am able to see more clearly the entanglements that cloud, condemn, judge and suffer. One leads to another, leads to the next, ad infinitum. I remain curious about this as well, and can only imagine where it will go.

There is a definitive line drawn down the last few years of my life; the time before I knew yoga, and now-the place where yoga is everything and nothing all at once. Living and practicing the inquiry has changed my life, my relationships, my family, the way I interact with and experience my world. I remain committed to sharing this with others and I remain committed to looking beyond the sign post with an open heart.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Aparigraha: What We Possess, Possesses Us

The nature of all things is change. One could even say that the only constant in this life is change. And yet there always seems to be the impetus towards attachment and clinging.

I have had many exhilarating experiences-such as listening to the Dalai Lama speak in person, long hikes into the wilderness, dancing around drum circles, heartfelt conversations with friends and sitting next to a campfire on a starry night. I have savored glasses of deep red wine, floated in the surf on tropical beaches, collected a variety of oddities at thrift stores and experienced a variety of different relationships.

What makes all of these experiences similar is that they ended, shifted, or morphed in some way. The oddities began to take up too much space. Friends moved away. The drums stopped. I moved far away from my favorite hiking trail. The campfire went out. The starry night became covered by clouds. The wine bottle emptied. Relationships ended.

At times I was able to let go and move on to the next moment, the next new experience. Other times I became fixated, hoping, wishing, and longing to repeat the same experience again. And in this holding pattern, I became trapped, holding on to something that had passed, unwittingly closing myself off to the flow of life. I would wager that this is relatively normal for many of us.

Aparigraha, which means non-possessiveness, is a call to come alive in the moment, to move on, to change, to become present to the natural unfolding of our lives by not clinging.

In the "Yamas and Niyamas," Deborah describes Aparigraha this way, "Just like the breath gives us nourishment, so does life in the form of homes, work, relationships, routines that bring us ease, beliefs, stances, and images of ourselves. There is nourishment until we get attached to these things, often unconsciously, and then disturb ourselves with expectations, opinions, criticisms, disappointments, all because we forget to trust life, exhale and let go. Like the breath when it is held too long, the things that nourish us can become toxic." (p.92)

This lovely May morning, I sit trusting the uncertainty of life, experiencing the difference between enjoyment and attachment, exhaling and letting go. Aparigraha is the emobodiment of a beautiful practice in living life fully, free from disappointment and boredom.

"A bird cannot grasp it's perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free." -Deborah Adele

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another Opportunity For Forgiveness Lost?

This blog was adapted for MPR and published on May 4, 2011.

The killing of Osama bin Laden marks a turning point in a foreign-policy nightmare that has lasted more than a decade. This nightmare has included massive civilian casualties, the deaths of thousands of soldiers, an illegal invasion of one country and the occupation of another. But what gets to me more than anything, as a former New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 attacks and has traveled to Afghanistan, is the continued display of bravado and hate by my countrymen and women.

Have we learned nothing from 9/11 and its aftermath?

I certainly remember what it was like to wake up in a war zone, to watch helplessly from my roof in Brooklyn as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, to see the pain and anguish on the faces of the people of New York City, to feel the pain of attending memorial services for firefighters from my neighborhood. I also remember the anguish on the faces of people I met in Afghanistan who had lost family members in U.S. airstrikes. I remember the legless children orphaned by war, pulling themselves around the streets of Kabul with flip-flops taped to their knees. I remember the bombed out buildings of Afghanistan just as I remember watching the first tower of the World Trade Center crumble. The smell of both places burning is seared into my psyche with the dust.

As I watch U.S. citizens celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden with fist pumps and flag waving, I wonder how these same citizens felt when images of some Middle Eastern people celebrating 9/11 flashed across our television screens days after the attacks. I wonder why we are unable to make the correlation that when we celebrate killing, we are no different from those we abhor for doing the same.

It stupefies me when God is dragged into the process as a justifying afterthought. Both sides of the conflict have done this. Both are guilty of fundamentalism without thought or compassion. The true teachings of Islam and of Christ are peaceful. When Christ hung dying on the cross he did not call for retaliation. He did not call for revenge. He did not become hateful. He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and that statement still rings true today. How many deaths will it take? It has already taken hundreds of thousands on the way to finding and killing one man — an act that his supporters say martyred him, thereby infusing his ideology with more strength. Bin Laden may be dead, but his way of viewing the Western world lives on in others who grow more and more disillusioned with the way we handle ourselves.

As long as we remain blind to our common humanity and hate one another, the cycle of violence will continue. As long as we deny our responsibility as a global superpower and continue to perpetuate violence, violence is what will come back to us.

When will it stop? What will it take for us to find forgiveness in our hearts and say to each other that enough is enough?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bramacharya: Knowing What's Enough or Non-Excess

I always think of food first when I think of Bramacharya, or non-excess. In the Yama's and Niyamas, Deborah states, "I know firsthand the misery of a too full stomach..As I sit in the heaviness of excess, I find myself once again in disbelief that I have done this to myself...All I can do is suffer and watch how overindulgance has imposed itself on the joy of the moment." (p.76)

We've all been there. I know I have. In fact, I often struggle with eating too much and it is a brilliant metaphor for not knowing when enough is enough in life. I love to eat. I love food. I consider myself to be a "Foodie," whatever that means-perhaps that I am a bit of a food snob or maybe that I like to enjoy well prepared, whole foods. I consider myself a healthy eater, even though I am not currently practicing vegetarianism, canabalism (threw that it for fun to see if you were paying attention!) or any other "ism" for that matter.

So, I am here to admit that there is shadow side to this "Foodie" business for me and it's wrapped in the bloated packaging of excess: cookie dough. Well actually, cookie dough, cookies, cake, and candy (particularly toffee). Distilled a bit more and it really boils down to one thing: SUGAR.

I significantly over eat when it comes to sugar. And cheese. Really sharp cheese. And crusty bread. Alright, I digress, mostly anything that tastes good I have a tendency to over eat!

But hey, we live in a "super-size me" country with super-sized portions and super-sized cars and super-sized closets and super-sized houses. We shop in super-sized warehouses and we, the people, are even becoming super-sized. So what's the BIG deal, you might ask?

Well, Bramacharya has a few things to say about all that. Namely that the mind is capable of turning a simple desire into an emotional attachment which can lead to addiction. When we associate food or drink or shopping with an emotional feeling, our mind can trick us into thinking we "need" to do something or eat something. I experience this everytime I watch a movie on Netflix. I associate the experience with eating popcorn and not just any popcorn, but popcorm smothered in real butter. Yummy!

And that is exactly what I have been watching out for these last few weeks, where I feel like I "need" to do something or eat something in excess. I have found that I am more disposed to slip into a place of excess when I am tired, disconnected, emotional or just plain unconscious, i.e. not awake in the present moment.

Bramacharya asks us to experiment with the principle of "when is enough, enough?" It asks us to look at our lives and how we deaden ourselves through excess. It asks us to experiment with temperance and to ask ourselves how it feels to stop at enough.

This is a beautiful pratice for me, someone who, like a lot of women, turns to food for comfort. I certainly do feel more alive, energized and connected when I allow Bramacharya to flow into my life. Only thing is, the Knife River Candy Store opened today after being closed for a really, really, long, cold, dark winter.

Damn the gods!

"When we get the real nourishment that divine mystery gives, the pretend nourishment of excess becomes less and less interesting to us." -Deborah Adele

Monday, April 4, 2011

Asteya or Non-Stealing: Living with Integrity and Reciprocity

Asteya or non-stealing is the third Yama in yoga's ethical code. Each of us steal in many ways, every day-from each other, the earth, ourselves and from the future. This can show up looking like arrogance, one upmanship, by not being present when listening to others, jealousy, and excessive consumption of resources from the earth, to name a few.

My assignment over the last couple of weeks has been to notice when I am stealing from the earth and the future. The question for exploration was, "Where are you taking without returning something of equal value?"

Deborah makes a good point on page 62 of The Yamas and Niyamas when she says, "You wouldn't go to a friend's house for dinner, complain about the food, leave your trash lying around and walk off with the candlesticks because you wanted them. And yet, this is so often how we treat our world."

I began pondering this question on the heels of the Tsunami and earthquake in Japan when our fragility as human beings dependent on the earth was violently and tragically showcased. I have been sitting with the idea that what may really be taking place is a magnanimous imbalance within the earth's ecosystems and within ourselves. Calling it a "natural disaster" is a limiting concept that fails to include a holistic approach to engaging with and understanding our world.

The earth is a living organism that each of us are intrinsically connected to. We depend on her resources and we depend on her to be the very foundation we survive upon. Many cultures, both past and present, have known this and honored it. As within, so without, as it were.

Using only what is needed and giving back to the earth are anathema to many people raised to believe that they can have whatever they want, as much as they want, whenever they want, without regard for consequence. I too, was raised an American on consumer culture-super size portions, plastic bags, cheap clothes made in China and all of the petrol one's car could guzzle.

I still struggle with feeling entitled to consume with wild abandon even though my life has been scaled down to a simple country existence with minimal possessions and a garden.

And as I really began to look at where I was taking something without giving something back- whoa Nelly! I was a little bit shocked by how much my engagement with the earth still lacks reciprocity.

Even looking at one simple example like food leads to a conundrum of epic proportions for someone, like me, who is used to having every single type of fruit and vegetable available year round. To even begin to ponder the ridiculousness of buying a tomato from Chile, not to mention the enormous load of resources required to get that tomato from one continent to another-makes me a little bit crazy.

But there is hope.

There is hope in the seedlings that are coming up in my front windows. There is hope in the compost pile in the back yard. There is hope in the renewing season of spring. There is hope in all of the sustainable energy and agriculture movements that are popping up all over the US. There is hope in local food. There is hope in re-using old materials creatively. There is hope in local trade and bartering. There is hope in the possibility that each one of us may begin to wake up to our connection to that which we are dependent on for survival.

Asteya asks each of us to begin with ourselves and I am itching here in KR at the beginning of April to get outside and get my hands in the dirt, to re-affirm my relationship with the life giving soil, to plant and watch more hope grow throughout the summer, to tend to becoming more reciprocal.

"The earth is what we all have in common." -Wendell Barry