Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Openness in Endings

In order for something new to occur, something else must often end and in those close, tense, grieving moments of change and loss there is also a flow, an opening. Ripe ideas, passions and moments alive in people burst forth into new terrain leaving their incubators behind. All too often we get attached to the incubator, try to bring it forward with us, unable to perhaps see how we can set out on our paths without the group, the person, the place to our greatest good, serve our highest purpose.

For the first time I'm finding openness in the endings, trusting the flow, trusting that yes, things will always change and I will always survive intact, better than before, more full with life-open ended.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yoga For EveryBody

Yoga for EveryBody is a donation based yoga studio on the shore of Lake Superior. Give yourself the gift of health and wellness this new year and join us in our Riverview Street studio for a class! All ages, all levels welcome.

Visit our new website!

Kiki Erspamer RYT200 and Ayurvedic Head Massage Practitioner

Jodi Christensen RYT500

Hilary Buckwalter RYT200

Ayurvedic Head Massage is available by appointment, please contact Kiki:

Mission: Our mission is to unravel common myths about yoga and to make yoga accessible to anyone regardless of age, body shape, practice level or ability to pay. We believe that yoga can be beneficial to anyone and that it provides for health, wholeness, and flexibility. Yoga for EveryBody is Yoga for YOU.

Description: Yoga classes will be held weekly and will incorporate the use of props to facilitate ease in postures and movements. Classes will focus on building strength through core stability and will also utilize relaxation and meditation techniques.

As a donation based studio there is no fixed fee for classes. There is a suggested $5 donation, however, no one will be turned away due to inability to pay. Yoga for EveryBody instructors also use the barter system, please inquire with your instructor to discuss appropriate options.

Organization Overview: We are a group of yoga teachers who have worked and studied together that have a desire to share the benefits of yoga with others.

Products:Yoga classes and Ayurvedic Head Massage

Class Schedule:
Tuesday's beginning January 18th- Gentle Yoga with Kiki 5:30-6:30P

Wednesday's begninng January 19th- Yoga for Relaxation and Flexibility with Hilary 5:30-6:30P

A tea social hour follows each class.

Class fee: $5 suggested donation or barter

Like us on Facebook!

Facing the World

Facing the world means that I am living my life fully, that everything is in perfect timing for my success; especially when it appears otherwise.

Facing the world means relinquishing control, trusting that life is unfolding and that other's lives are unfolding as they should.

Facing the world means letting go of addiction in whatever form it is showing up in; worry, thrill, sugar, alcohol, arguments.

Facing the world means settling into the stillness and recognizing it for what it is; exactly what I have been looking for, exactly what I have been missing because I have been too busy facing in all of the wrong directions seeking the right thing.

Be curious, ask yourself which direction you often find yourself facing; towards others? perhaps one particular person-thing-obsession? What would it look like if you faced the world?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Honoring Grief

I met with my grief counselor yesterday for the last time. She is retiring next month and I have a toolbox full of goodies and insight to spirit me on my way. I've been seeing her regularly now for the last seven months after some prompting from a friend, when I realized that I really wasn't sure how to navigate the waters of grief after my father's suicide in October 2009.

Grief is a tricky thing and it can send you into a tailspin of raw experience, confusion and turbulent emotion. A grieving person has had their life forever altered. A loved one is gone, perhaps suddenly, perhaps after a long battle with an illness. In any case, it can be debilitating and there is no determined length for the adjustment process; it can take years, if not a lifetime to integrate the loss, to spin your way around the grief cycle.

Our culture and society do not seem to allow room for grievers or for grief even though grief is a process that is experienced within a social context. There are no requisite number of days to wear black. There isn't much time to process before returning to life as usual. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last American president to wear a black arm band when his mother Sara passed away. In our culture today, aside from the funeral, most rituals of wailing, head shaving, and wearing certain clothing are gone.

How on earth then, is anyone supposed to know that we might need more time? Extra care and support? Understanding and empathy?

A person with a cast on their arm has an obvious injury that society allows for, as a person in the hospital with an illness has a physical manifestation of the fact that she may need more support and care. It is not so with grief.

Grief can be lonely and silent. When the tidal waves of emotion wash over you, it can leave you feeling rudderless and crazy, uncertain and fragile. The waves can come out of nowhere at any time, they don't care about appropriateness or timing, they have their own schedule.

Grief is a sensitive time. I can liken it to being turned inside out, like a fish that has come up from the depths of the deepest darkest ocean, too far and too fast. Resisting the pull, the tearing, the scream, only serves to prolong the process and make it worse. Surrender is the only option.

I am here to tell you that despite the pulling, tearing and screaming, there is hope. There is hope and creativity and insight. Hope can be found in accepting the process, in seeking a solid support system, in honoring your grief; for it is yours and yours alone and it cannot belong to anyone else. In fact, an important factor in the resolution of grief is social support from others. The bereaved need support, not only for the reality of the loss, but for the validity of their grief, and of themselves as legitimate grievers.

So how can we honor our own grief you might ask? By expressing it and accepting it without fear. By learning to understand our own way of processing the grief. By rooting ourselves in things that nourish and comfort our wounded souls. By not being afraid to cry and wail and shake. Perhaps even by wearing a physical symbol of grief to let the world know that you are going through something critical, important, valuable and sacred that will ultimately change who you are as a person, if you will allow it.

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Like a Rock Tumbler

It is amazing how one seemingly innocuous action can set into motion a myriad of intermingling inner experiences, all going off in succession like fire works.

We've all been there. Mistakes, errors, situations beyond our control (aren't they all?), ducking and covering until the storm passes only to stand up and dust ourselves off to find out that we were actually the one who pushed the red button.

This is difficult to admit; the choices we make and the responsibility we have for them-especially when things don't work out the way we would like, when we complain and gossip, suppress and refute, turning accountability outward.

Choice and consciousness. Cause and effect.

Choice and consciousness are the great rock tumbler of the Universe. When the Universe shakes out the stones that burden it, consciousness catches them and spins them, knocking them into each other; grating, breaking, polishing, shining, healing.

If we can be present to this process and admit our culpability, we then have the power to make a different choice, to cultivate inner awareness.

However, if we remain unconscious to this process, we keep getting tumbled, experiencing the same situations and results over and over and over again, ad infinitum.

Mistakes and awareness of choice are opportunities to become more competent at living this life.

What would you have to change if you told yourself the truth about your choices?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sit Your Tongue Down

My friend Kiki and I were sharing wine the other night and I was complaining about my jaw pain. I was telling her that I've been to chiropractors that tell me they cannot "fix" me (one even recommended I see someone about negative thinking), to massage therapists who try to work out the kinks and have also had a splint made to wear while I'm sleeping which has led me to fantasize about becoming a boxer or perhaps a Harbor City Roller Dame.

While all of these methods are helpful and even healing, they have not gotten to the root of the problem: that I am responsible for the thoughts and the tension that are lodged in my cells and muscles. As a yoga instructor I intellectually know this to be true, however, that does not mean that it is always easy for me to accept when I am in pain and want to be FIXED in the short term rather than take the longer road to healing my mind.

Well, thank god for Kiki.

As I explained my predicament, she said quite bluntly, "Sit your tongue down."

I looked at her perplexed, "What?"

"Sit your tongue down," she replied, "you know, relax it in your mouth, let it settle."

I tried what she suggested and at that precise moment, Cherubs and Seraphim began to sing as the ceiling at Zeitgeist Cafe opened and white light began to shine down on my smiling face.

I had not realized until that very moment that I often have tension in my tongue and press it on the roof of my mouth. I felt how this made my jaw tense and in turn, my neck and shoulders creating a menagerie of dysfunction.

All this time I had been seeking answers outside of myself. In fact, I had been convinced that if only I had my back adjusted regularly, wore my splint religiously and used massage as maintenance I would feel like a million bucks. Turns out, not so.

Turns out, sitting my tongue down consciously throughout the day has far outweighed any of the other things I have tried. Perhaps it is also because it brings me into awareness of the present moment and how I am sitting-lying-standing-breathing-holding my body-tongue-neck-shoulders.

That being said, try it. Go on, right now, just try it. Sit your tongue down.

Thank you Kiki, I am so happy you didn't get sucked down the toilet in India.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wielding the Sword of Self Responsibility

I am currently reading, "Strong and Fearless, The Quest for Personal Power," by Phil Nuernberger, Ph.D. I seem to always shift around in my seat uncomfortably a bit when the topic of self responsibility is on the table. I tell myself that I am self responsible and then end up confused when I confront feelings of insecurity or blame.

Phil says that it is our skill level that makes us feel powerless and ineffective, dissatisfied and cynical. Instead of responding to life with skill and confidence, we react and can then find ourselves playing the role of the victim; the place where everything is someone or something else's fault. "Self mastery means that we have the knowledge and skill to use all dimensions of our humanity-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-in a conscious and skillful way." (p.22)

He further says to look at self responsibility as two distinct concepts "response" and "ability," the capacity to respond rather than react. As I read this I began to think about my own ability to respond rather than act out of habit.

When I am feeling unhappy I am quick to blame something outside of myself rather than look inward at my own choices. This causes conflict in my relationships and in my environment, and that is never very fun.

Phil says that to take charge of our lives, we must take charge of ourselves.

It is both compelling and uncomfortable to look inward at how I create my own circumstances and situations. And it is precisely staying with that uncomfortable feeling that lead to new senses of awareness and personal growth, which in turn lead to more self mastery and the ability to make conscious choices.

Today I sit stewing in a pot of patience and discomfort. At least this time I have my sword.

For more on Dr. Phil Nuernberger, visit:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Pain, No Gain? or The Day My Ego Got Busted

My first day at teacher training at Yoga North went something like this...

Anne, one of the instructors asks me to do a downward facing dog in front of the training group. My ego smiles, I know I've got this. I move into the triangle like posture, palms on the ground, heels all the way to the ground behind me. I feel so good about "how far" I can go into this posture. I am a good Yogi.

Anne begins to point out to the class that I am not breathing. My neck is straining. My hips are not aligned. My knees are pushed back into a double jointed bracing position. My triangle looks more like a lumpy half circle and as I break into the awareness of my complete and utter lack of body awareness, my face begins to burn. I realize that I am actually not breathing. I realize that I am actually in pain. I realize that I am confused, aren't I supposed to be in pain? Even just a little bit?

The answer to that question dear friends, is no.


Turns out, I can't do triangle pose the way that it is often portrayed on the cover of Yoga Journal. Turns out, I can't do many of the yoga postures as portrayed on posters, in magazines and as demonstrated by other Yogi's. Turns out, postures are unique to the person doing them, depending on their level of core strength, flexibility and body awareness.

WHAT?! But this doesn't make sense Hilary! What about "No pain, no gain?!"

Straining and pushing our bodies into postures or positions that we are not ready for can create MORE tension, MORE tightness and MORE dysfunction in the body (and the mind). These are the very benefits one is supposed to glean from a yoga practice; less tension, less tightness and less musco-skeletal dysfunction.

It is my experience in my body that if I cannot breathe in a pose or if I exhibit any of the other symptoms of having an obsession with what the external body "looks like" vs. "feels like" - red face, straining tendons and ligaments, and pinched, crunched muscles- then I have probably fallen into the Pushing Through the Pain to Glory camp.

Pushing Through the Pain to Glory can be associated with the western view of exercise. Yoga often gets lumped into this category, as simply or only exercise and as exercise that one should push, strain, sweat and muscle through.

My experiences at Yoga North have led me to believe differently, that perhaps there is another way, a way beyond the ego's obsession with externalities, a way into more ease, spaciousness and functional movement in my body.

The fable of the Tortoise and the Hare really nails it; patience vs. ego. It is my experience that slow and steady really does win the race. Cultivating body awareness and pure movement in the joints of our body is slow and steady work. Learning to breathe into a posture or through a movement is slow and steady work. Learning to relax into a pose with stability is slow and steady work. The Tortoise vs. the Hare, homeostasis in the bodily systems vs. dysfunction and pain.

I invite you as I invite all students to find the places in your body and in your life where you can breathe comfortably, without strain or pain. I invite you to make room for spaciousness and ease in your joints, in your mind and in your yoga experiences. I invite you to experiment with the possibility of having less pain and tightness in your body. I invite you to experiment with having less pain and tightness in your life..

And take a lesson from me, who learned it the hard way and ask yourself, with the current state of your yoga practice or exercise regimen, what will your bodie's level of functioning be like when you are 70 or 80?

Happy exploring!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letters From Jamaica: Trespassing in Babylon

I tend to learn a lot from two things: traveling and retrospect. I stumbled across some old travel journals while cleaning and thought I would share. This entry is from my trip to Jamaica in March of 2010.


On a flight destined for Miami, I contemplate my privileged life. At the Minneapolis airport this morning, immigrants staffed the counter at Caribou Coffee, so gracious at 5am; ready with smiling faces and paper sacks to hold my turkey sandwich and fruit cup wrapped in plastic. They are serving coffee and I am about to leave for Jamaica, a land of extremes; tropical beaches, gang warfare, coconuts, resorts and poverty. I am the requisite Spring breaker in white linen pants toting sunglasses and an IPOD.

I observe my fellow Minnesotans as I wait for the flight attendant to begin the safety briefing. The man seated next to me is going to Haiti, probably to help out with the relief effort. Me, I'm going to a tropical "paradise" to recharge and relax; a sea of salt and pepper pin heads spanning the seats in front of me, bound for Florida.

Travelers Resort, Negril, Westmoreland, Jamaica:

It took nearly 24 hours to get here. Errol's, the place we were going to stay on the beach has fallen into ill repute. No one appears to be staying there and the restauraunt is not functioning. We are cajoled and serenaded anyway but decide that it may be too risky for a newly pregnant lady and head next door.

Corruption holds hands with poverty in this tiny island nation. Shanty towns, goats, Rastafarians, hustlers. We quickly realize that relaxation is not easily attained in this tropical paradise. The hustlers are relentless and we attract undo attention with our dreadlocks. Islanders dance jigs for vacationers trying to make a buck. Slavery is alive and well, a post-colonial hang over. It keeps our brains busy, too busy to relax.

The beach is beautiful, the sun is warm and the mangoes are to die for. We are handed joint after joint in this land of ganja and know that these "gifts" will come back to haunt us today on the beach. The hustlers have grafted exquisite tactics of manipulation including physically stuffing pot in your pockets, demanding payment and all the while regaling Bob Marley, singing "Roots, Rock, Reggae," playing on the ignorance of tourists whose only knowledge of Jamaica is in fact, Mr. Iron Lion Zion himself.

Trust has fallen by the wayside in this land of corrugated shanty huts and palacious homes in the hillsides. Gates, security, police officers, fat pink tourists; these things all guarantee that the circle will not end. "One Love" appears to be lost on all of us. Tourists buy cheap towels imprinted with these powerful words and have no idea that it is meant to be taken into the heart. Likewise for the folks selling them, trying to survive.

Later in a car riding through Sheffield, I meet my entitlement.

After witnessing a domestic dispute in the country in which a man and a woman chased another woman down a hill and smashed her head in with a bamboo pole and a three ring circus at a waterfall where a nine year old boy was put in charge of hustling us, I wanted two things and two things only: safety and security, topped with a dash of detachment and fuzzy denial. I wanted to reject my ability to see. I wanted to check out.

At the hotel afterwards, I promptly ate a cheeseburger and drank two beers. Ah, the good life. The right to participate as I "choose." The right to see when I feel like it. The right to ignore the reality of the place where I am half guest, half interloper. The right to purchase security guards, out of range of the hustle.

Fantasy vs. reality. Entitlement. Arrogance. Checking out. The precious jewels of wisdom hidden within. Short tennuous connections are easily broken by fear and greed, the strands of common humanness so fragile, nearly invisible in the tropical sun. It appears that we are all lost children of Zion, that spiritual point from which reality emerges culminating in unity, peace and freedom.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Staying Present in the Messes


Sometimes I remember why numbing myself used to be so much fun. Not fun in the really fulfilling sense of course, more so in that "I'm going to check out on reality for a while," sense.

In our Western lifestyles we seem to avoid pain and unpleasantness at all costs. I've got Ibuprofen, Ben and Jerry's and a nice bottle of red wine. It seems to be more the standard than the exception to self soothe with food, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and consumption. Why is this so?

Is it the smiling faces on sit coms, the lack of war coverage, the advertisements urging us to consume that enable us to bumble a long resisting the dual nature of our existance? Isn't it true that life is both ugly and beautiful, good and bad, painful and pleasurable?

Why is it so damn hard to just sit still in the unpleasantness?

The Yogis say that if we can accept the dual nature of reality that it will ease our suffering. In other words, if we can learn to not get too attached to the "good," and not get too used to resisting the "bad," we will naturally move into contentment, peace, ease and wholeness. Pain as it is, pleasure as it is.

Typically, when something feels good, I want more of it. And when something feels bad I want a pint of Chunky Monkey and re-runs of Northern Exposure. And if that doesn't work, an entire bag of peanut butter M & M's usually does the trick.

Our attachments, expectations and desires can be real assholes.

I have come to realize that trying to fix and control my pain sticks a nice little thorn in my side that constricts movement and flow, while worrying becomes a hamster on a wheel, it gives my mind something to do but there are no results. The real kicker is that we can't be any kinder to others than what we are feeling on the inside. This is where the messes happen because we end up releasing our demons out on to the general populace, and usually, those that are closest to us.

So it happens, a big fat mess. Now what??

Chunky Monkey or breathing? Frustration or tolerance? Tension or ease?

Perhaps it is enough to simply stay present to the experience, knowing that like all things the mess will change and morph and grow into something new, perhaps even something beautiful.

Perhaps the mess is merely an opportunity to come closer to our true nature, to clear out some clutter, to grow closer in intimacy. I have a sense that if we resist the mess, we run the risk of throwing more crap onto the pile. Embracing and staying present with it on the other hand, is trusting the journey...and in the end nurturing further self awareness and fulfillment.

In this way we are provided with insights and tools; patience, love, compassion, fortitude and discernment; flowers grown and fertilized in the mess. And let's be honest, those tools and insights stack up quite nicely against the endless barrels of Chunky Monkey and sit com re-runs.

I think that today, I'll choose the former.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Franti Fever

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:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Following the Reverse Current

Home from a pilgrimmage to a Dave Matthews show, I walked wearily to the Knife River this afternoon in search of solace and comfort. In the Fall like midday sun I meandered down the trail feeling the breeze on my face, smiling as the already fallen leaves crunched under the soles of my hiking shoes.

I inhaled and exhaled deeply, raising my arms up over my head in an arc over and over as I walked, trying to take in as much of the changing season into my being as I could; conjuring up thoughts of transition, change, settling, acceptance.

I made my way to a favorite rock, one I often do yoga on in the morning mist while the pups splash around chomping on sticks. I had the gift of solitude today, the dogs enjoying a day in town with my roommate, and so the stillness and quiet seemed new and lovely.

Flat on my back on a warm rock below a bright blue sky I breathed until I fell asleep. I fell asleep with a lake breeze rushing upstream over my body and water rushing downstream around me. Twenty or so minutes later, I woke myself up snoring with a start, and then a smile, followed by laughter.

I rolled over on to my belly, staring at the rushing water, still sleepy, feeling held and supported. I watched the water swirl in patterns. I watched the water rushing over stone. I watched the grass blowing in the wind. I watched the clouds passing across the sky; life in motion, always changing, circulating.

I watched my surroundings and became one with them, no longer separate, and wondered what I could learn from the stone, the flow, the quiet rushing. As I looked at the surface of the water I noticed movement below it and much to my delight two large trout came into focus, following the reverse current.

The Great Ones say that fish come swimming into our lives to remind us of the value of returning home to regenerate, swimming upstream through emotional waters to gain insight, understanding and wisdom.

I watched the two fish for some time, seemingly suspended in the current, enjoying the moment and admiring their perserverance.

In order to complete our own journeys, we must understand our own histories in order to see our path clearly. We can learn from fish to leap and jump with joy at the prospect of a new day and the challenges it may bring; knowing that wherever we are, we are always on our way home.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bringing Fragments into Wholeness

Concrete picnic table; lichen covered, splotches of gold and gray. Magical sunlight warms my skin as my ears absorb water splashing on rock.

I ponder self care.

I am learning that support people and care givers need care and support also. I am learning my thresholds and levels, my mechanisms; fear of change, fear of committment, a desire for safety; a journey of healing that is life long.

My study of trauma and its effects on the mind, body and spirit trifecta have led me to believe in my own felt sense. In order to heal we must trust the messages our bodies are giving to us; trusting in gratitude that the body is sending messages that healing needs to happen.

At times we busy ourselves with caring for others or with the tasks of daily living that at times seem never ending and we are less able to hear these messages. In this state, when healing needs to take place, we can also become easily overwhelmed.

On the other hand when the time is taken to heal, shifts happen.

I have found that by caring for myself and taking the space and time to listen to the messages I am receiving from my body that I feel calmer, less worried, less critical of myself and have a deeper sense of well being; fragments brought into wholeness.

When I am in this place of healing, expansion also happens. I become more open, loving, receptive, able to surrender. I have been told that expansion happens in so far as healing takes place; they dance in tandem, one unable to move without the other.

Allowing ourselves to have the healing we need and allowing ourselves to be in whatever stage of healing we are in is a gift we can give to ourselves. In the photo pictured I am in "Legs Up the Wall" pose, deep in surrender. Give it a try sometime and take some long deep breaths...see if there is anything your body is trying to tell you. Listen, and see what happens.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just a Little Patience

Patience: Patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.

Man, do I suck at this.

Antonyms for patience are hastiness and impetuousness. Impetuousness, now that's more my style. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm "hotheaded" which is a synonym for impetuous, but I do have a rash, impulsive streak that could use some tending to.

I often hear the word patience. I use the word patience. I try to cultivate this word in myself. Yet, I only recently realized that I have no internal concept of what the definition of patience means.

I never thought of it as a state of endurance under difficult circumstances without acting on anger/fear/annoyance, etc. I've more so treated patience as a jaw clenching means of bearing down and waiting with a furrowed brow...its been a holding on instead of a letting go.

Patience is allowing. Patience is presence. Patience is trust.

I have found recently that when I am at my emotional edge that patience is the first thing to go; there is no sense of steadfastness, merely uncertainty bound and gagged by fear. In that space I am easily pushed over the edge to disconnection, intolerance and impulsiveness.

On this sunny Sunday morning I am in gratitude that I looked up the definition of patience, wondering, what does this concept really mean? I am happy that I did. I've had one of those "ah ha!" moments in which a shift has occurred. I feel like I get it...time to put it into practice.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” -Arnold H. Glasglow

Touche, Arnold.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Knock, Knock. Its Time For Your Circumcision.

Ok, not really. I was just trying to get your attention because I am in the midst of planning a right of passage for a friend that involves moving from one stage of life to the next; letting go, stepping into and embracing the change...and I think that the meaning imbedded in these rituals is awesome, beautiful and relevant (and much like a circumcision, change can also be painful and terrifying).

Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events such as milestones within puberty, coming of age, marriage, birth and death. Initiation ceremonies such as baptism, confirmation and bar or bat Mitzvah are considered important rites of passage for persons of their respective religions as well.

These rituals serve a tri-fold purpose in which the person is separated from the old way of living and being in the world, spirited through a transition through ceremony and finally re-incorporation where the the person has completed the rite and assumed their new identity. Examples of this are getting a haircut in the military, black belt grading in martial arts, and going on a vision quest in the Native tradition.

These rituals are the embodiment of the circular symbol of birth, life and death that accompany each change, each small death, each stage of life we revolve through as human beings. They are the demarcation, the line that is crossed from one place to the next; birth to child, boy to man, girl to woman, woman to mother, man to father, maiden to crone, crone to death...waxing moon to waning moon, fall to winter to spring to summer, seed to plant to flower to seed, and so on and so forth.

Leaving one life stage and moving into the next once can be, as I mentioned, beautiful and yet terrifying and painful. In a culture like ours, the American Diaspora, we tend to avoid pain and resist the movement, the demarcation, between life stages. Birth can now be painless, death can be made-over, and aging can be halted, botoxed, dyed away and finally hidden in a filing cabinent for old folks before being preserved and buried.

What are the implications when the rights of passage in a society are either circumvented or otherwise removed by a culture of consumerism and the fear of the connection to the natural world and its processes?

One could posit that we are already seeing the implications in our society full of Peter Pan's that don't want to grow up and beauty queens that don't want to age, not to mention the way that we treat our elders and our environment. Wisdom is being pilfered and lost by generations of people that have outcast themselves from ritual, myth and deep symbolism rooted in nature. We remain stuck and drifting in adolescence only to have mid-life crises where we typically struggle alone to overcome the surge of instincts and emotions that drive us right to the door of change, much to the bewilderment of our family and friends.

Rites of passage and symbolic ritual held in community can be a calming, restorative and wonderful experience for the initiate even when pain and fear are present. Acknowledging and preparing for the change in life stages can bring awareness and a settling admist the uncertainty of what lies ahead. It can also work on a subconscious level which intuites and understands the language of symbol and images.

To hold space for someone, to spirit them through the change and welcome them when they reach the other side with love, compassion and understanding is an honor and an amazing thing to be a part of. How would each of us feel if we were cared for in this way through our own changing life circumstances and stages? What would the implications of that be?

In a few short weeks time, my closest friend will walk the circle to motherhood; the ultimate hero's journey, a wonderful, creative reconstruction, a new beginning for both mother and adventure and the experience of the fully human life, replete with ritual and symbol to mark the passing. I look forward to observing the transformation; watching it expand in circles from the source.

And now, some words from JC.

"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where had thought to find and abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world." -Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Slow Can You Go?

The red squirrel nation was thick in the treetops today; squealing and sputtering, alerting me to my own loud presence, feet crunching on twigs and dried pine needles. I stopped in front of a white pine, the dogs sitting next to my legs, as we all looked up, watching as a squirrel ran up and down getting closer to us each time. I stared, laughing, as it ran down shrieking, tail twitching back and forth. It was seemingly as curious about us as we were about it. Either that or it was simply pissed off that we were standing so close to the tree.

As I stood there watching this tiny furry creature I started to think about slowing down and what it really means. How slow and simple does one have to be in order to have a healthy and balanced life without dis-ease? How much stimulus and stress can a human organism handle?

I contemplated this as I continued down the trail to one of the spawning areas on the river. Sitting near a waterfall while the pups patrolled for cougars I ate dried mango slices from Mexico and watched hundreds of dragonflies swarming in the air feasting on small gnat like insects; the food chain in flight against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. The dragonflies were the color of my moss green metallic water bottle and had transparent wings. I had never seen so many at once. I pondered that perhaps I have missed out on a lot in my previous fast paced life, and wondered even if perhaps it was still too fast (even though I'm not working and I sleep a lot and take naps and sit by rivers frequently).

This brought on more questions in my busy mind: Are humans only meant to focus on one task at a time? What are the consequences of constant over stimulation without adequate rest (for the mind & body)? Is Attention Deficit Disorder a by product of too much, too fast for an organism struggling to be in the present moment?

The day before I had procured a sandwich from Amazing Grace and spirited it away to Lester River. I had the pups with me and had planned on sharing half of it with them when we got settled somewhere on the river bank. I was most excited about the pickle. For me, the pickle makes the sandwich. Those sandwichs are awesome but they are more awesome with the pickle.

The dogs were playing in the water as I chomped on the sandwich; sun shining, cool breeze, East Duluth paradise on a river rock. I picked up the pickle with a twinkle in my eye, mouth already salivating. I was making a conscious choice to savor this pickle as I took the first bite when suddenly I noticed that Che had poop hanging out of his butt and was running around, scared because he didn't know what it was.

I began to chase him trying to pull the poop out with a big leaf, noticing that the long grass he likes to munch on was the culprit. I was laughing and he was running and I finally caught him and pulled it out (ah, kids!). Sighing, I returned to my sandwich looking for my pickle. I was ready to enjoy the rest of it!

But alas, there was no pickle. I was confused, where was my precious pickle? I could still taste the sour vinegar in my mouth and that was when I realized I had eaten it completely during the poop chase.

I missed out on my pickle!

I ate it unconsciously because I could only focus on one thing at a time. This revelation led me to a more solid belief that if I am multi-tasking I am probably missing out on something, perhaps something even as awesome as the perfect pickle.

That being said, let it be known that I, Hilary Danielle Buckwalter hereby question the value of multi-tasking, in the name of sanity, health, pickles and all that is holy.

So there you have it, more questions. How slow is slow enough?

How slow can YOU go?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Macro Meditation: One Day at a Time

Meditation: the dynamic discipline in which attention flows without breaking toward a single inspirational focus within the mind, until the mind becomes completely absorbed and all distracting thoughts disappear. -From "Conquest of Mind" by Eknath Easwaran

Training attention. This is what I was pondering yesterday on the trail with Che. Training attention not with grandiose hopes of a remarkable spiritual experience, simply training my mind to focus in service of mastering the thinking process.

Admittedly, I have been off of the meditation wagon for quite some time despite India, despite my longing for it, despite blogging about the untrained horses run amuck. I have also noticed the fruits of this lack of training and have watched my mind have a field day; reveling in emotional reactions, giving in to constant cravings (as of late its been Gobstoppers), identifying with "me & mine."

And even though I haven't been meditating as often, I've still been watching the circus, and man, I'm ready to get back to basics.

In his book, "Conquest of Mind," Eknath says that every moment, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed, is an opportunity for training the mind. He also says that training the mind is one of the most difficult tasks a human can undertake...

So why would I want to do this? And believe me, I was really mulling it over on the trail as the first cool breeze in weeks uplifted my senses.

Because the benefits far out way the task at hand; transforming the powerful currents of negative thinking that swirl deep in the unconscious mind. This in turn nourishes kindness, compassion, awareness which nurture deeper relationships and ways of being in the world. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

So why is it so hard?

We all carry deep conditioned tendencies to particular ways of thinking and acting, usually negative or self willed (so says Eknath), which have been dug in to the mind through many years of repeating the same thought over and over. When we meditate we come in to contact with these hidden parts of ourselves and it is here where we can learn to make our responses to life a matter of free choice.

The Buddha said, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought." Eknath says that what the Buddha is trying to tell us is that if our thinking is based on stimulus and response (rather than awareness and choice) then most of us live like puppets, moved by patterns of thinking built up over years of repetition.

But it is possible to cultivate that space of free choice, to recondition the nervous system, to rise above duality.

"Yoga," says the Bhagavad Gita, "is evenness of mind." This means that through good and bad, highs and lows, ups and downs, when you can accept all-even those you don't like that you have reached freedom.

I realized yesterday sitting next to the river watching Che bask in the present moment (that's the great thing about dogs, always Awake!) that I have tasted that place. I have tasted, touched, smelled, felt and intuited that place and I want more of it. So I decided I would start with a walking meditation, taking a slow pace back down the Superior Hiking Trail, watching my breath.

As I walked I noticed things I had missed, in particular how the mushrooms (with which I have a particular fascination) were popping up all over the trail in a vibrant display of pinks and yellows.

Breathing, I took out my camera and crouched down turning it to the macro setting; designed to capture a smaller perspective, perfect for focusing attention. And for the next two hours I was completely absorbed in the tiny bright world of fungi, my breath, the mushrooms and the click of the shutter registering as meditation; unifying consciousness, deepening concentration.

I left the forest with a deeper appreciation for the ability to focus and the sense that this is a process that takes its own time (much like Everything!).

The best we can do is to take it in digestible pieces; one day at a time with consistency in practice and compassion for ourselves.

I leave you with Buddha's Twin Verses, from the Dhammapada:

All that we are is a result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart follow the hooves of the bullock that draws it.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Second Breakfast

I am standing on a dirt road in front of a row of wild raspberry bushes, pregnant with fruit ripened in the Northern sun. I am smiling, happy that the berries managed to maintain their hold during the deluge of rain that drenched my garden and sent the river rising a few days ago.

This is the second day this week I have had a second breakfast on this road. I've gotten into a habit of taking the pups on a bike ride down the North Shore Scenic Drive in the morning to Stoney Point and by the time we get there, they need the cool water and dive right in. They run beside my bike and I keep them to the inside, unleashed, and they are blissfully happy; tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, paws pounding the pavement.

After our bike ride we stop on the Knife River hiking trail for a run, or on alternate days for a leisurely walk and a second breakfast. Alternating running and walking is healthy not only for my body and cortisol levels but ensures that the next batch of raspberries will be ripe, right on time.

These bursting, shining red little seed filled berries are a gift from nature that last for only a season and a moment. I stop and enjoy each handful, completely present to the experience; seeds crunching between my teeth, a small moan escaping my lips. I can't help it, it is a seductive party in my mouth and with each exploding berry, I am completely alive. It's like making love; no time, only a sweet passion between you and the other.

As I walk to the next bush, emptying a handful into my mouth and sighing with a smile I notice some berries hanging lower to the ground. I crouch down and am amazed by the amount of fruit that I had been unable to see from an eye level vantage point. I chuckle to myself as I begin to pull them from the bushes as this second breakfast is also replete with lessons, "One must come down from the proverbial mountain and into the valley to see an alternate perspective," "There is more than meets the eye, "Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life." All is available to us if we only have the patience to look.

And yes, this is what happens when one has all the time in the world; bushes talk to you and berries sing and pirouette in the breeze, a dance unfolds between being and slowing down, existance slows to a crawl and there is always time for a second breakfast.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

From my perch in the writing room I can hear the gulls on the island out in the lake. They amass there every morning and evening with the cormorants, from a distance the small isolated land mass appears to be white rather than simply covered in living, screaming sea birds.

Che, Stella and I were down at the beach last night as the sun went down and the almost full moon hovered over the bay, lighting the ripples on the water, turning the waves from the passing boats into slivers of liquid silver. The gulls were loud then to and I closed my eyes, grounded in the pebbles on the shore, to listen.

Before the beach the pups and I had hit the Superior Hiking Trail for the second time that day for a post dinner walk. I had eaten an entire frozen pizza to myself, comfort food for a tired and blissed out body, and was not quite ready for a food coma. I was breathing in and out deeply as we walked the trail, feeling the full expansion of my abdomen and its cargo, remembering why I usually take better care not to stuff myself to over flowing.

Food baby or not, I was alive and the sun was setting over the tree tops. I could hear the water rushing over rock; the pups meandering on ahead, Stella stopping periodically to turn and make sure that I was still upright and following behind. It was a beautiful evening.

I found myself over flowing with gratitude on that trail, on the beach, on the road as I passed neighbors who waved and called to the dogs and this morning, when I woke up, the gratitude was present again.

The sky was overcast and a cool breeze was blowing in my window. Che and Stella were asleep on my legs not yet aware that I was stirring. There was a smell in the air, something between a rustic cabin and freshly laundered sheets that had been hung outside to dry and I inhaled one deep breath and then another.

Later as I put the kettle on for tea, I smiled as I stood in the warm embrace of the kitchen knowing that before too long there would be plentiful fires in the woodstove and flannel shirts, socks and hats.

I love this simple life. This simple life where there is an abundance of time and space to simply walk or simply listen. There is time to tinker with projects around the house, time to garden, time to be...time to be in which there is no time.

This morning I find myself feeling grateful that I often don't know the date or what day it is. I don't have to rise to an alarm clock but rather allow the birds or the dogs to rouse me from my slumber; the schedule I keep is by choice rather than something that is imposed on me from the outside, it has its own gentle rhythm.

I am settling into the patterns, bobbing in the waves, breathing in the lake breeze, surrendering to the process in the quiet, lovely, natural surroundings of the country; blissed out, full, expanding.

"Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have!" ~Don A. Dillman

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
-Melody Beattie

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death and Taxes or Why I Carry a Pocket Knife

Benjamin Franklin once said that there were two certainties: death and taxes. However, Death remains the lone contender on our carbon based, water covered planet when it comes to ecology and renewal. Surely, taxation is a certainty on this primate ship called Earth, but it will last only as long as our systems of order and control.

I was inspired to write about Death in India where it is something that is unhidden and natural. There is no hiding it, bodies are burned on the riverbanks, bodies are thrown into the river and dead dogs lay on the side of the road. Death, decay and putrification are everywhere. It smells, it assaults the senses and if you are not used to it, it can be terrifying and gross. The beautiful thing though, is that in India they understand something very deeply that we have forgotten; without Death, there is no Life.

When you are born you start on your journey to Death and in Eastern philosophy, when you die, you are on your way to being born; the big circle of being. Native philosophy also supports this idea, the Medicine Wheel used in ceremony and ritual is a physical manifestation of the circle of life that we all walk from cradle to grave; it is a journey that none can escape. It is a journey that not many pay attention to or have a relationship with, rendering Death unpalatable and spearheading a multi-billion dollar "scary" movie industry and a lone holiday where Death has become a commodity; a kitsch plastic skeleton sold at Wal-Mart for $1.

I came to know Death intimately over the last year and I now consider her an old friend. Preceding my father's death I spent a considerable amount of time connecting the dots between Death and fertility, Death and goddess worship, Death and the cycles of the biological world. Even during my under grad I studied genocide and at that time hoped to follow in the footsteps of Clea Koff, The Bone Woman, who worked on the mass graves in Kosovo and Rawanda as a forensic anthropologist.

I also have a secret inner science geek that loves fungus and mushrooms. Out of death comes life and as such my fascination and relationship with Death is two fold, it feeds my inner anthro science nerd and creates fertile soil for my sense of spirituality.

This is why I started carrying a pocket knife, you never know what little treasure you are going to stumble upon out in the great wide world.

Which brings me to the photo of Bree and I in woodland drag.

About a year ago we were in the process of fastidiously making those ostentatious costumes. I am also an avid fan of symbolic ritual; bringing something from the inside into the outside world or bringing something from the outside into the inner world. The costumes in question were meant to represent our understanding of and appreciation for the power of Death; most importantly it's symbolic ties to the changing seasons, the sacred feminine, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, life and subsequent decomposition...all things squashed, burned at the stake or relegated to the sanitary napkin aisle by the great European patriarchal boot stomp.

The costumes were meant to not only capture those larger meanings or larger "Deaths", but also infinite smaller ones; changes in jobs, relationships, families, changes in perspective, changes in habits or patterns...for all we all go through many mini-deaths throughout our days, weeks and years and how we recognize and celebrate those is often how we interpret and live out the BIG ones. Much of the symbolic rituals have died out in our culture a long with rights of passage and solstice and equinox ceremonies; leaving us drifting rudderless and unconnected from the world and the cyclical fleshy bodies that support us.

These particular costumes were a call to come back to life in ritual, a celebration of friendship and the variety of mini-deaths we had shared and in that there was tremendous meaning. There was also meaning in how the costumes were made, each piece painstakingly collected or extracted from nature or given by a friend over the course of a year; all animal skin, beach glass, feathers and bones.

I don't use the word "extracted" loosely. I made several elated phone calls from the end of the point to Bree happily telling her what kind of corpse I had stumbled upon, noting bone size and length as well as possible costume placement. After finding something, the options were to either bury it and wait or break out the ol' Swiss Army and take the parts I wanted and boil them at home.

Hey, its simply the time saving option when you need to remove fur and flesh from bone. I also now know why witches got such a bad rap; it is certainly fucking freaky if it is outside of your paradigm to be comfortable boiling a dead thing (other than meat that comes neatly wrapped in plastic and foam, of course).

I once got a phone call from a friend while boiling a skull on the stove top. He asked, "What are you up to?" I replied, " I'm not sure you really want to know."

And isn't it just that way with Death?

But look on the bright side, and yes, I believe there is a bright side to Death; make her a third party to your life and live in the present. Grieve the endings, accept the losses and use it all to fertilize the garden of your inner being. Learn what you will from her and live, truly live, and if you must boil a skull on your stove top be thankful that they no longer subject people to water boarding for engaging in nature related rituals, at least for now they save that for terrorists.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Country Roads Take Me Home To The Place I Belong

It took six hours to drive 203 kilometers from Haridwar to Indira Gandhi Airport in Dehli. I didn't even mind, as the car we were in had AC and it was sweet, sweet, bliss. Kiki and I had made the decision to head home, feeling that three weeks of an Indian summer, dysentery and a myriad of small awakenings were enough for this particular trip. I was relieved, happy, full, sad, and hot when we finally climbed into the taxi outside of the ashram and bid adieu to those that had become like family to us; waving out the back window of the car, smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.

Through the horse carts, rickshaws, pot holes, buses, trucks, cows and pedestrians we sped down the country roads at a fast paced, lurching 40 kilometers per hour; horns ablazing.

We are dropped at off at the upper level of the airport sans our guide who picked us up and as we were to soon discover, sans his knowledge of the inner workings of Indian airports.

With our overloaded backpacks on a cart we head for Gate 2. We are told that we need a ticket to get into the gate; meaning into the AC and out of the chaos of summers dusty streets. My Western mind does not compute this information, don't we go into the airport to get a ticket??

"No ma'am, get ticket, then go in, then gate, isn't it?" We ask where to go. Upstairs, downstairs, across the street, down a hallway to a locked door, back upstairs, in the lift, out of the lift, back and forth with our heavy cargo and our heavy hearts.

We ask again, "Where is the American Airlines office?"

"Back that way ma'am," says one, "No back that way ma'am," says another. "Sorry ma'am, up the lift," says yet another.

I look at Kiki, with red flaring in my eyes, WE JUST CAME FROM THE F'ING LIFT! She heads in the direction of the elevator, I proceed to ask her if she is aware that it is polite in this culture to always say yes. I DON'T WANNA go back in the elevator. I want a beer. I want my mommy.

We finally find the airline office back in the direction of where we had already been down a dark hallway. My patience has worn thin and all yogic principles are fast disappearing even though I know intellectually that this type of experience is par for the course for traveling abroad. I just want to go home.

I stayed outside with the bags and Kiki went inside. She comes out and says that they can't find her name. I sigh and say, "IMPOSSIBLE." She goes back in. She comes back out and says that they are saying that we missed our flight. I say, "WHAT?!" She tells me to come in but I can't leave our bags, pregnant with trinkets and gifts on the cart.

A deep feeling of dread begins to settle into the pit of my stomach. She comes out, flustered, with four or five AA employess chattering in Indian Enlgish. They begin to talk about "stand by" and no guarantees and another 250 dollar fee. My head is spinning and we both have tears in our eyes. Oh fuck, I whisper, as I realize that our flight was for 12:15am on June 25th. It is June 25th and its 7pm. Our flight left while we were sleeping the night before! It never occurred to us that we would have to leave the ashram on the 24th!!

How could we be so dumb? We look at each other, the agent is still talking. Monkey shit! Robotically I hand over my passport, Keeks is on the verge of losing her marbles. They hand us a piece of paper. I hear the words, "Counter...reroute...may not get on leave every 24 hours."

They direct us back to Gate 2 only we can't enter the airport until 8pm. Dejected, forlorn, and angry we head back to the concrete shelter across from the airport terminal. Here you can sit outside in the sweltering heat and try to jockey for position for one of the 10 seats with the rest of the crowd or you can pay 80 rupees to enter the air conditioned guest lounge. I had no more rupees after paying our driver, I had only imagined getting on the flight and had not prepared for any other outcome. Foolish!

Its hot. We snap at each other. We accidentally go the wrong way back to the waiting area and Kiki rolls over her flip flop with our prego cart. Implosion is imminent. We decide to try the gate just for shits, feeling we have nothing left to lose. The guard is less than enthused by our presence and tells us that we now cannot enter the gate until 9pm! Its no use arguing, all is lost in translation. The guard directs us back across the street just as a hired mosquito killer walks down both sides of the streets spraying toxic rancid white smoke out something that I can only compare to a weed wacker. This is the seventh circle of hell and we stand, bristling, clutching Kiki's scarf to our ragged faces.

So we sit and we wait and we make a video about our plight, our despondency and the cosmic giggle of it all as we sip a coke and sweat in the heat. We still can't believe that we missed our flight and we crack up over and over again. It is all that we have left, our wilted senses of humor.

At 8pm we make a run for the gate running on pure adrenaline and gut busting laughter. We hit up the second guard, he frowns but lets us in. We go to the AA desk and the same man from the dark hallway office is there. He says this phrase and this phrase only, "The flight is full and overbooked. Come back at 10:30."

I start to get the feeling that we are about to spend this and subsequent nights in the airport. I desire access to a cell phone or a laptop. It is no use arguing or pleading with the staff as we are at their mercy. There is also no point in alerting the troops as we ourselves do not know our fate. Shitty shitty shit.

I begin to imagine the worst case scenario as Keeks wipes tears from her eyes, her and I waiting in the airport for days waiting for yes to really mean yes. After trying to go home early from our adventure, the final ironic cosmic joke at our expense.

I start to think about re-entering Delhi but the thought makes my stomach churn; the traffic, the chaos-then again a bed/shower/internet connection could be valuable. I smell like sweat, dust and urine; the stains on the bottom of my pants signifying my lack of adeptness at the squat toilets we had freqented during the day. I feel sad and despondent. I am tired and I am hungry; a human animal on the verge of collapse.

I watch the clock tick, 90 minutes remain for the Gods to decide our destiny. There is nothing to do but sit. There is nothing to do but be, and suddenly the lessons of ashram life come to fruition, self reliance and illusion all make sense and from somewhere inside, I recognize that I am the captain of this ship called life.

I take off my mala from around my neck and close my eyes. I surrender to the unseen. I begin the mantra. I feel a breeze, a child cries, there is a voice on the loudspeaker. I hear a squeaky wheel on a cart wind past, I sense the brush of a leg, Kiki shifts in her seat. I chant. All of this happens simultaneously. I let go. I am completely present. I am not angry. I am not thirsty. I am not there.

Suddenly I know in the deepest realm of my being that we are getting on the plane, tonight. I quiet myself further, listen more intently, feel the sensations up and down my body and I am convinced, all signs point to yes. We are getting on the plane.

I know Kiki is fretting next to me. I want to reassure her. I do a few more rounds with the beads and open my eyes. I turn to her and say, "We are getting on the plane." She says, "We are?" I repeat myself, "We are getting on the plane." I tell her that I can feel it. She says ok and begins to pray.

I am tired and weary but calm. I am at peace. All stress has evaporated. 10:30 arrives and we head back to the counter. The attendant from the office walks by and says, "Ah, you are here. There have been some missed connections, it is looking good. I will let you know." Its now almost 11pm and our flight leaves at 12:15 and we have no tickets and have not cleared customs. I still know we are getting on the plane.

We commence waiting. I smile and tell Kiki that when the time comes I need her to hold it together because we are going to have to run. I tell her that they are already going to be boarding the plane by the time we get through. She nods.

11:45pm rolls around and we have tickets and are being interrogated before we leave. We are grinning and high fiving and dancing little jigs and the customs officer asks us if we are so happy to leave his India. We say oh no, India is beautiful we are just happy to be going home, and then we run.

And we run down the corridor to the waiting plane and I bring my palm to my lips as we pass a window and blow India a big wet smacking kiss goodbye right before I break into a feeble rendition of "Proud to be an American.." and ya'll know how desperate I must have been to do THAT.

And then we are seated and up in the air and the wine is delivered and I am sobbing. I am sobbing for the experience, I am sobbing in gratitude, I am sobbing in relief, I am sobbing in happiness for what awaits at home and I am sobbing, sobbing, sobbing.

I wake up over the North Pole and Kiki says, "Hey, its going to be Saturday when we arrive." I am still tipsy and confused, thinking to, we get home Friday. I have plans. I have a date. People are expecting me. She says again, "No really we get home Saturday. We left a day late since missed our flight." And it is then that we realize that are a day late and have had no contact with home..which means that Kiki's husband had already drive to the airport in MSP to pick us up once and find us not there. We laugh and cry and beller..yelling, REALLY? Nobody even knows where are! And we are above the frozen snow covered North Pole and their isn't anything we can do except surrender.

"Ha ha Universe," I whisper, bring it on but PLEASE BE GENTLE WITH ME FOR AWHILE as I drift back into unconsciousness; head to airline pillow to window.


Mother India,

I love you, I hate you. You pulled me thin, stretched me taut. You filled me and extinguished me. You sucked the marrow from my limbs and drowned me in the rivers of your love. You caressed the grief from my muscles and cleaned me out with your violent bacteria. You taught me to give, you taught me to trust my intution, you have catapulted me into living unabashedly and without shame. I know I can only sense and see a fraction of your gifts..I will never forget the water, the heat, the flow from stagnation to stillness to surrender. You are in my blood, you are in my flesh and you are in my bones. Thank you from the bottom of the well where the little seed of me resides reaching for the light. Namaste, Hari Om, Dhanyawad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Holy Poopcrapshit, isn't it?

If you have ever traveled to India, the above expression will touch a place in you that conjours a knowing head wiggle and possibly, deep belly laughter. If you have not, I will do my best to explain without completely ruining the punch line.

The colloquial expression, "Isn't it," is added to many sentences here, for example: "Hari Om! You will find yourself tomorrow flying to the far away distances, isn't it? Challo!" or "I am telling this to your very good face with the sweating, isn't it?" This is Indian English; a delightful mix of Hindi and English with remants of the old world British accent.

And in India, the only thing there is more of than the phrase, "Isn't it," is poopcrapshit.

Allow me to elaborate.

At the end of my last blog I wrote the words, "Holy crap," without really thinking about it. It later struck me that perhaps this phrase actually orignated here in India. After all, crap is very and natural and unhidden here (much like death) and is indeed, very holy.

The morning that we arrived here (and every subsequent morning), cowpies were burning in the duni fire symbolizing purification and next to the fire was a pile of cowpies full of handprints, waiting their turn in the embers. Crap from the sacred Hindu cows is not only used for fuel and purification but also for fertilization. It is a vital, necessary and circular element of life here that is wedded to spiritual beliefs and born out of the natural cycles of the earth (birth, life, death = change). It is literally HOLY crap.

When you walk down the roads here (I'm speaking mainly of Haridwar), poopcrapshit is everywhere. Its on the jungle path, its on the sidewalk, its on your feet and its on your shoes. Human, elephant, horse, dog, cow; poopcrapshit. It is a slip sliding musco-skeletal moving side stepping adventure, and no one bats an eye. As within so without, what goes in must come out!

In fact, its not at all uncommon to see not only cows pooping on your path, but humans as well. I have seen more bare butts on this journey than any other this lifetime. In their loose and free clothing, men and women alike cop a squat and go whenever the call comes, wherever they are. The idea of "holding it" is anathema to most rural Indians and that also goes for burps, farts, boogers and loogies ( in fact, to burp three times after a meal means your full and signifies gratitude).

In the West of course we would rather hold it and wait to find a bathroom, more comfortable politely poisoning our bodies with a painful grin on our face rather than blow the lid off of our purity by exhibiting and releasing normal body functions (I think that our desire to hide these things is directly correlated to our obtuse fear of death and the cycles of nature, but thats a different blog all together).

One of my favorite phrases is actually, "There is a bathroom everywhere," and being here has given it a whole new meaning-they really live it, I just like to say it while I'm hiking before I find a bush or tree to dive behind to hide my butt.

Before I left for India, my neigbor informed me that my cat, Darth Vader, was poopcrapshitting in her flowerbeds. I told her that I didn't really know what to do about it as he is an outside cat but that I was open to her suggestions. She replied, "Well, no one really owns a cat.." and then mentioned that her BB gun was oiled and ready. Needless to say, when I left for India, I left it in the hands of the Gods. If Darth was going to die poopcrapshitting in his idea of a perfect potting soil toilet, so be it. Being in India, surrounded by the normalcy of copius amounts of poop, only reinforced this for me. So imagine my surprise when I received word via email that my neighbor had been retaliating against Darth's bowel movements by picking them up and placing them on my bedroom window sill.

I could not help but laugh and imagine her in India, spending all day and all night carting poopcrapshit back to its rightful owners. Ah, I digress, I know, it's the same old story: one persons freedom fighter is another persons terrorist and one person's holy necessity is another person's righteous pet peeve.

Either way, poopcrapshit ensures one thing: that you can't take yourself too seriously. I mean, after poop, I poop, everybody poops, isn't it?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All You Need is Love

So, the Beatles weren't kidding when they wrote that song. I have stepped into a profound sense via Mataji's grace that giving is really where LOVE is at.

In the West we often say, "It is better to give than to receive," especially around holidays where it is expected that you will "get" something (a funny Western paradox wrapped in a fat red suit). In the West we expect, we demand, we want something for nothing, we make feeble attempts at security only to end up suffering; suffering in life, suffering in love.

Mataji also noted that in the West we work only for reward and mostly, monetary reward. If we are not finished with our work and our shift ends at 5pm, we leave. After all, we are only getting paid for what we produce, what we "do." And in the end that is all we "get." If you get sick your boss does not bring bananas to your door, he only wants your work.

In the West, we treat love this way, like a contract full of red tape and demands.

Mataji's purpose as a Guru is to model externally that which lives inside all of us; unconditional love. Her purpose is to be a mirror and being Self realized, she is able to love us all without expectation, without reward, without getting anything in return.

This paradox took some time for me to wrap my head around. I couldn't figure out why she was being so kind to me; making me special potatoes, lemon water, encouraging me with endless patience and laughter, and she didn't want anything for it..only to model my internal Self for me.

Amazing! Outrageous by Western standards and so freaking beautiful and profound that it brings tears to my eyes!

I have surrendered to accepting her unconditional love for me and in so doing a door has been opened for me to accept myself; the receiving is in the giving. This is the point of selfless service. Real love, true love, is subtle, kind, open, expansive...with such energy you can only pass it on. What good does it do to horde it for yourself only to keep demanding more, stifling it and finally killing its essence with the illusion of security (the fear of losing it)?

Love is giving, not getting. Love moves, encircles, surrounds and flows through...and when you accept yourself and know automatically flows through you.

Holy crap!

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
-The Beatles

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wild Horses

Suddenly, Kiki and I are the only two students at the ashram; I become too visible and my ego balks. Mataji's (Mother of the Universe) warm smile guides me back to center. She is so ordinary and yet so amazing, always checking to make sure that I have eaten something, handing me two mangoes instead of one.

I know she has watched me struggle. She has seen my mind dragging me around the ashram, wilting in the heat yet remaining defiant.

When I tried to isolate myself she arrived at my door with bananas. When I tried to skip the afternoon course she cajoled me with lemon water, switched the fan to on and told me I could lie down if I wanted to. Oh, my whiny ego and its resistance. Thankfully she has had more patience with me than I have had with myself.

The horses in my mind (they go by Poncho and Herb) have been running unattended for months now and I have sat back happily in my seat watching the reigns drag on the ground with a smirk, knowing full well they would run, run, run and have their way.

Through the trotting and the periods of sprinting, something else was also present, an internal force full of the same patience that Mataji possesses kindly waiting for India with a knowing smile.

In the walls of an ashram there is nowhere for horses to run. It is here where they are tamed and driven to the service of the greater good; selfless service, right speech, right action, right thought and loving kindness. This does not mean however, that horses don't try to jump over the walls, and so they did.

Herb, Poncho and I got stuck, teetering on the edge between the pull of the external world in the form of lively Rishikesh and the stillness of the inner world of ashram life. I sat paralyzed on the wall, foot entangled in the reigns I had dropped, screaming, "Fucking shit! Poncho! Herb! Do Something!" We stayed there together for some time, sweating and suffering, giving surrender the bird as I begged and pleaded with them to make a decision. I humbly realized that by dropping the reigns of my life, I had given them too much control (I still blame Poncho for the whimsical purchase of the 74' VW van).

I thought back to the flight here, Herb and Poncho and their bulky horse bodies in the seats behind me, Poncho smacking me upside the head with his hoof intermittently while neighing and laughing in that way only horses can do; much to Herb's chagrin.

The mind is like that, with no checks and balances in place it will do as it wishes, do as it has always done. And it was there on the fence with Poncho and Herb that I decided I wasn't going out like that, something my higher Self and Mataji already knew, my ego was just a little slow on the uptake.

And so Mataji, the Western woman who came to the Ganga over 40 years ago to tame her own horses walked me through the process with this advice, "The world is what you THINK. Whatyou put into your stomach and your mind, you must also digest. You are the master of your life, pick up the reigns. Make a friend out of that which disturbs your inner peace, everything in this world is love."

I look over at Poncho and tears are streaming out of his brown eyes. He catches my glance and with a deep sigh places the reigns back into my hands; Herb smiles with relief. Mataji then place a mala around my neck and gives my back a resounding slap, perhaps to knock some more of the Maya (illusion) out of me. She smiles and finishes by giving me detailed instructions on how to apply the natural horse sedative; meditation with a mala.

I smile and tell her that I am tired of fighting with my mind. She laughs and nods, one lone dread lock that has escaped the pile atop her head swaying in agreement. I know there is nothing more to be said, her faith and love automatically do the teaching.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spiritual Disneyland

I went back to Rishikesh a couple of days ago,walked where the Beatles walked and toured the ruins of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram; the Babas, Sadus, and monkeys are the only current tenants.

The sun was high and hot beating down on the meditation pods and our heads. It really is like being in a sauna with your clothes on, perpetually sticky and wet inside of a cotton cocoon.

It is amazing to think of the ripple effect that the Beatles music has had. There was graffiti from all over the globe at the ashram. Through the exploration of their own inner worlds the Beatles were able to touch the seed of consciousness in others, very powerful. I have a new appreciation for some of their music and I thought I couldn't love them more than I already do.

It was blistering hot when we left the ashram (after paying the "Forest Service" guard 50 rupees for our adventure) so we ducked into a small air conditioned cafe called "Green Italian Food." This, ladies and gentlemen, was heaven on earth. We practically scrambled for the menus, eyes already bulging, parched throats yearning for a bottle of Fanta. We couldn't help but smile as this lovely establishment with a small handicrafts market in the back room and a Bollywood movie on the tv, served PIZZA.

I laughed as I read the description for "Peperoni Pizza," tomato sauce, green peppers and cheese, for in this holy city there is no meat to speak of. It is typical in India for things to be not quite as they seem or as a traveler thinks they "should" be. Food is prepared from scratch and the ingredients sometimes travel from great distances (while you wait) or are not available at all. We were curious about the pizza, would it fulfill our desires or would it be a cracker with a tomato on it?

Before long our table was loaded up with pop bottles, cappucino cups, masala french fries with sweet pepper sauce, a nutella crepe, two perfect pizzas and copius rounds of burps and giggles. We briefly discussed moving into the restaurant wondering if they would just let us sleep under the tables.

After lingering over more lemon and mint sodas, we headed back out into the heat to the bookshop across the street. As I entered the small stuffy closet like space with one fan blowing, I saw two bodies on the floor in front of it. The proprietors are sound asleep. We looked at each other and shrugged and began to step around them to reach the shelves that are packed with books on yoga, mediation and ayruveda. This to is India in all of her perfection, why wouldn't you take a nap during the hottest part of the afternoon?

Our next stop was Lakshman Jhula, up the river. We hiked up a steep roadway sidestepping cows, dogs, poop piles, burning garbage, sadus and vendors. During the walk the sky clouded over and thunder began to boom. The blessed Monsoon arriving to save us all from the Indian summer inferno. The wind began to blow and the dust began to swirl as the clouds opened up and released their precious cargo. I was happy to get wet and eve happier when the temp dropped to a cooling 70 degrees when it was over; allowing us a beautiful evening sitting at a German cafe drinking lemonade over looking the Ganga bridge, watching the monkeys and their tiny babies ply mangoes from the hands of passing pilgrims.

After the cafe we meandered buying trinkets and I was given the special "Ahimsa" price by two coy young men who ask me why I don't like long hair. They also ask if Ahimsa is my name since I have it tattooed on my arm, and they are not the first. I reply that it is a yogic principle, non-violence, not my name but after this exchange I briefly ponder changing it: Ahimsa Buckwalter. I think thats too much to live up to and it sounds pretty ridiculous, which is probably why I like it.

As evening fell it was time to return to the ashram. We took another motorized rickshaw as flickering lights begin to dot the foothills of the Himalayas. It was beautiful. I smiled as our driver aggressively skirted around sari clad pedestrians, ox carts, bicycles, motorcycles and cows and a cool breeze comes through the car. As we drove we passed countless ensembles of drummng and chanting; the end of another day ceremoniously extinguished in the kaleidoscope of ashrams a long the river. Horns honking, incense burning, feet pedaling, legs squatting, hands roasting corn and praying and I was completely alive inhaling deep dusty smoke tinged breaths.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hari Om

That is the standard greeting used where I am staying. I have spent the last couple of days out in the thick of it with the people; eating street food and drinking Fanta (which is the nectar of the Gods as far as I'm concerned). My feet are dirty, I'm covered and dust and filled to the brim with the beauty and tragedy of India.

Ashram life is great, but there's something so blissful about surrounding yourself with the culture. I was out walking the streets last night until after 10pm, dipping into shops, talking to vendors, buying trinkets; the colors, sights and sounds settling into my being with the dust. There are no words to describe the experience accurately, I feel like anything I say would fall short so I will save that for the slide show when I get home.

Today I am off to Rishikesh again via motorized rickshaw. We are planning on finding the ashram where the Beatles wrote the White Album, this is pretty much the cat's ass to me. I also plan on spending the hot part of the day sitting in a bamboo covered cafe drinking delightful lemon and mint cold drinks while over looking the Ganga and writing poetry; I'm on fire with love for this place.

Within you, Without You by the Beatles:

We were talking-about the space between us all
And the people-who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth-then it's far too late-when they pass away.
We were talking-about the love we all could share-when we find it
To try our best to hold it there-with our love
With our love-we could save the world-if they only knew.
Try to realize it's all within yourself
No-one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small,
And life flows ON within you and without you.
We were talking-about the love that's gone so cold and the people,
Who gain the world and lose their soul-
They don't know-they can't see-are you one of them?
When you've seen beyond yourself-then you may find, peace of mind,
Is waiting there-
And the time will come when you see
we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ashram Living

I decided that posting something about what actually transpires here on daily basis besides intestinal problems and sweating would be a good idea, especially since I have recovered and have adjusted to a normal sleep schedule.

The ashram is a quiet, restful place in the middle of the chaos of Mother India. This country is seemingly rife with contradictions and my orderly Western mind has trouble wrapping itself around them; the colors, sounds, noises, assault and delight the senses.

A conch shell is blown each morning around 4am and shortly thereafter a chorus of bells from the temple next door begin to ring. If you have ever seen the movie Baraka, you will know what I mean. The bells in the morning are currently my favorite part about being here. A fire ceremony is done in the morning called aarti. After that we have tea and watch the sun rise. Asana practice starts at 7am and last from 1-3 hours depending on who is leading it. I feel energy differently here and have had to recline back on my mat and get my bearings a few times during asana.

After asana we have more tea and sometimes fresh homemade bread, bananas or biscuits. Lunch is at 11am, which we eat silently. We also sing before we get our food to honor the person who cooked it and to bless the food since we cannot know what state of mind the cook was in.

After lunch there is a long break during the hottest part of the day, until class at 4pm. I usually take a nap at this time or read. I have finished three books this week already. It has been challenging for me to sit still in the afternoon, that darn stillness keeps coming up.

After the class, which currently is on Vedanta philosophy, is dinner which is again eaten silently. I have not yet attended a dinner. I seem to be only able to eat one meal a day since my arrival; it is far too hot to be full or even to eat.

After dinner is another ceremony which lasts for about one hour, then its off to bed.

I have been having many crazy dreams, a lot of them about death and still more about snakes, transformation keeps showing up as well.

I miss my pups and Darth. Thankfully there are two dogs here which patrol the ashram and demand to be taken down to the Ganga for a swim each morning after tea.

On Sunday we are traveling into Hardiwar to do some shopping. I hear there is a restaurant that serves pizza. We shall see!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Down the Toilet

Morning comes and I am peeing out of my butt. There is also blood in the toilet, thankfully it is just my period and not the Ebola virus. Kiki was up all night, sick as well. We are three or four days in and still adjusting as are our immune systems and innards. My muscles ache, I have the chills and I want my mommy.

I am continuing to try to surrender to this experience as there is no way of knowing what has made me sick. The water? The mango I pulled from its skin with my teeth? The whole milk straight from the cow?

Damn the western world and its over zealous cleanliness that has left my immune system weak and vulnerable!

Kiki moans from across the room,"I hate this! What retreat? This was a bad idea. No one will really know what we went through here, they will call us whiners. I have been sitting on the toilet sweating my ass off, pissing out of my butt and puking up yellow stuff at the same time, while smelling cow shit..I'm sicker than a dog..and earlier I felt like I was just going to get sucked down the toilet and die!"

Kiki's right. You don't know what to do first; puke, shit or cry.

Amidst the crying, shitting and puking we have retained our sense of humor. We are laughing and waxing philosophical poetics about our lives at home; how rich and full they are, and how free of violent bacteria.

We are unable to get out of bed. I don't know what day it is and I am fighting with my mind about how long I need to continue to lie there. Its daylight, I have questions, I feel like I am in prison and I don't want to miss anything. I share this with Kiki and she says in a serious tone, "I see you fighting with your mind, this is all in the hands of the Gods now. If we lay here for four weeks, that will be our experience." I lose it laughing and say, "This from the woman who almost got sucked down the toilet!" She laughs then to and says, "And in a half and hour when I change my mind I will need you to reassure me!" And here is a perfect illustration of why we are traveling together.

And then, in the middle of the hottest part of the day, in our darkest hour, the electricity went out and with it, our fan. We became completely immobilized, beads of sweat forming on our bodies. What karma had we incurred to suffer such pain? We were suffering so much we could only drool and murmur to each other between bouts of losing consciousness, and in between the murmuring, we laughed. We laughed at our predicament and at the fragile skin sacks we were seemingly trapped in.

At some point in the delirium, I awaken to footsteps and screaming. Kiki asks, "What is going on out there?" I peel back the curtain but see no one, only a banana peel on the ground. We would later find out that one of our fellow Yogi's had come to check on with us with bananas in hand only to be chased by a monkey who ended up stealing the fruit right out of her arms.

This strange day ended with Kiki getting a shot of antibiotics in the butt. I escaped with some German painkillers, total cost $5 and the Doctor even came to our room.

Mother India is having her way, that is all I can really say about it. There was no where to go, nothing to do, except be with myself. It was one of the hardest days of my life and I am only beginning to understand the lessons.