Monday, November 26, 2012

A full moon in each eye...

Admit something.

Everyone you see, you say to them
"Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud:
Someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Tired of speaking sweetly...

Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

~ Hafiz

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On friendship... this is the training ground part 2...

In my last blog, This is the training ground, I wrote, "It is this place - between the running and the staying, the closing and the opening, the hardening and the softening - where we see precisely what we're made of.  This is where we can initiate meaningful and substantial change within ourselves.  This is where we become better people, more integrated, more open, more loving, more clear.  No one is exempt from fighting this battle within him or herself.  The only real choice you have is which side you fight for.  It is the choice you make - between the fear and the love - that becomes the story of your life.  Which side are you fighting for?  What story do you choose to tell?This is an internal dynamic as well as a dynamic we take into our relationships with others.  There has been lots of talk on the wind lately of friends having difficulties with other friends, questions about how to be a friend, how to stand in your own integrity when a friend is struggling in their own darkness, how to stay open instead of shutting down.  It has been at the forefront of my mind lately, tooOne thing I know for certain is that unless we each confront our own darkness, there is no way to have deep, meaningful friendships with anyone else in this world.  The good news is these difficulties are opportunities to become better people, no matter which side of the scenario you fall on.  As we head into the dark of the year, it is an ideal time to turn our focus to the internal work required of us to become the best people we are capable of becoming...
Meaningful relationships depend upon our individual, ongoing self-reflection.  It's crucial to know where our landmines are, our triggers, our hard edges that cast the darkest shadows. We need to be mindful of all the ways we escape, shut down, short cut, run away, numb out so we can be accountable when those things come up in our relationships.  I hold myself to high standards of integrity and accountability, and I likewise expect that from my friends.  We all fuck up sometimes, it's not only okay, it's to be expected.  This isn't about being infallible, it is about actively working on being the best we can be, and being accountable to ourselves and others for our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions when we fall short.   
 So what do we do when another person's shadow butts up against our own?  We are not alone out in the cold, there are tools we can use to bring clarity to our own internal dialog so we can bring clarity into our dialog with others.  If I see a friend trying to pound a nail into the wall with a sock, I go give him a hammer!  There is no judgement or blame here, none of us have these tools when we come into this world.  Some of us are very lucky to find them along our way, and many of us still need someone to give us a goddamn hammer!  Now if my friend keeps using a sock to pound the nail after I give him a hammer and show him how to use it, then there is not much I can do other than feel compassion for his folly as he becomes increasingly despondent at the failure of his method.  Afterall, we all have blind spots and stubbornness that obstructs our view at times.  It can be challenging and often futile to reason with someone who is already convinced of things being a certain way.  As a stubborn person myself, I know how frustrating it is for my friends to try to convince me of something I don't want to hear or think I already know.  But if we tune into the nuances of our own inner workings, our emotional reactions become a light that shines precisely on the places we ought to be looking.
Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them.  So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences... What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self- love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. ~Martha Nussbaum  
Feeling emotion deeply can be a gift when we are equipped with the tools to properly manage it.  When we don't have the tools or know how to use them properly, our emotions can be overwhelming and outright destructive to our lives and the relationships that are most important to us.  They can undermine and sabotage everything we desire and work so hard to create.  We end up living out our greatest fears.  But when we employ the proper tools, our feelings can be a great catalyst for transformation.  They can propel us toward our dreams.  They can be a bridge that connects us in the deepest and most meaningful ways to the people in our lives.  We have the choice, every day, to approach our emotions with interest and curiosity and to use them to initiate beneficial change in our lives and in our friendships.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom... The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.  ~Viktor Frankl 
Our thoughts generate our emotions.  If we change the way we think about something, the way we feel will likewise change.  When I am upset about something, I work to understand what is at the root of my discontent.  I inquire within myself about my own needs, motivations, judgements.  What is my role in this?  Oftentimes, creating just a little bit of space between the situation and the emotional reaction is necessary to have enough clarity to responsibly manage the habituated response which, more often than not, is counterproductive to our contentment and the wellbeing of our friendships.  How do we create that space when things are heavily charged with fear, hurt, pain, vulnerability?  We take a breath.  We breathe just enough space around our fear/hurt/pain so we take a moment to ask ourselves some important questions.  In my yoga practice, fear comes up in backbending almost every day and can induce something close to a panic attack.  This is a helpful place for me to practice creating that space between the situation and my immediate reaction, even if it's just pausing for one breath before I cave to the fear.  The next day might be two breaths, and my capacity to make that space continues to grow as I continue to practice.  Learning how to fall is also helpful, so when that fear comes up, you can ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen?  And you answer, I could fall.  Well, as silly as it sounds, it's quite helpful to test it out so you know you won't die if you fall, and it hardly ever hurts as much as you fear it will.  For me, yoga is a safe place to practice this, and there are also relationships in my life that are safe places to practice making space in my emotional reactions.  No matter how safe these places are though, it always feels risky.  That's okay so long as we are continually pushing our capacity to stay open.  The greatest things in life involve the greatest risk.
Gamble everything for love, 
if you’re a true human being. 

If not, leave this gathering.  
 Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.   

You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping 
for long periods at meanspirited roadhouses.  


So how do we make space in our reactions to a friend?  Well, we embark on a process of self-inquiry.  For instance, if a situation arises where I do not get what I need from someone, I look to see... Did I ask for what I need?  (When I ask myself this question, the answer is almost always a resounding no!  And I'm always shocked!  Shocked!  I mean... but... how... uhhh... what... but.... if... damnit!  Why can't you read my mind?!  (Note to self: Be fearless in asking for what you need.))  If you don't ask, the answer to your question is always no.  And as the guy who picked me up hitchhiking one time many years ago said, "If you've got the balls to ask, the only answer is yes!"  I've realized this is a profound insight into the inner workings of the universe.  Regardless of whether or not I asked for what I need, was I open to receive what was given to me?  Was I open to recognize what I need in unexpected forms or from unexpected sources?  Did I express gratitude for the kindnesses extended to me?  Did I give freely to others what was needed of me?   
If I judge someone else as having fallen short, say, by being unkind.... I ask myself, "In what ways have I been unkind?"  If I already know the person to be a good person based on our shared experiences and history, then I am inclined to give a more generous interpretation for their actions.  I ask myself if there are other factors at work: Are they under duress?  Do they have the proper (physical/emotional/spiritual) tools to deal with the situation properly?  Are they doing the best they can under the conditions?  Are they willing to acknowledge where they fell short?  Are they actively working to be better?  And then I turn every single one of those questions on myself. 
Hopefully that line of inquiry turns up a new, more positive perspective on the situation and my friend and I can start working things out from there.  But if it doesn't, I consider if I could be mistaken in this assessment of my friend.  Is there a more fair and generous interpretation?  Am I projecting my own fears/biases/beliefs/pain/anger onto this person?  How is this triggering my own pain/fear/darkness?  Did this person unknowingly step on one of my landmines and go explodey all over both of us and now I don't know which way is up?  What is at stake if I act on a potentially inaccurate or incomplete understanding?  Is this friend important enough to me to do the work required of me to gain greater clarity?  Do my feelings about the situation or attachments to my defense mechanisms outweigh the care and regard I have for my friend?  Is my friend willing to help clarify the situation, their motivations, their feelings?  Am I willing and courageous enough to stay present and open even though it's uncomfortable/scary/confusing/triggering me? 
Don't turn away.  Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That's where the light enters you.  ~Rumi 

What is at stake is not just the friendship.  By running away or shutting down or closing myself off, I am reinforcing my own negative patterns, defenses, and fears.  What part of me does this serve?  Does this serve my deeper desire for connection and intimacy?  No!  Does this serve the love and care I have for my friend?  No!  How do these defenses obstruct my ability to have meaningful and substantial relationships with myself and the people I care about?  And most importantly, how do I serve the higher parts of myself, the desire for connection, the love I have for my friend?  

Very little grows on jagged rock,
Be ground, be crumbled,
So wild flowers will come up where you are.
You've been stony for too many years
Try something different


Our defenses are thorny weeds, the more we indulge them, the more strongly they take root.  So long as we submit to the spurious whims of our shadow, we will remain complicit in our own suffering.  We are making a choice, whether we realize it or not, every time we run.  But there is another choice we can make.  We can ventilate those claustrophobic places, we can uproot those thorny weeds.  We can choose to stay present in those moments we want to run, we can choose to stay open instead of closing ourselves off, we can choose to feel the depth of our emotions instead of numbing ourselves out.  Choosing this course of action chisels away at our defenses and opens up greater possibilities in our inner landscape.  It also brings us into greater integrity within ourselves and our friendships.  Standing in integrity means our thoughts, words, and actions are in alignment and turned toward the Good.  Breaking down our reactionary defenses and integrating the shadow part of ourselves is necessary if we are to live contented lives and enjoy meaningful relationships.  
We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.  ~C.G Jung
It's worthwhile to look around your life every so often and take inventory of things.  It's helpful information to know if you've surrounded yourself with people who serve the lowest parts of you or the highest.  Take a good look around to see what kind of people populate your life and bear their influence upon your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.  And ask these questions of yourself, as well, to see what kind of friend you are to others.  Does s/he hold herself and her friends to high standards of integrity and accountability?  Does s/he manage her emotions responsibly?  Does s/he call me on my negative patterns?  Does s/he refuse to coddle my weaknesses?  Does s/he challenge me to look at the dark places within myself?  Does s/he encourage me and support me in becoming a better person?  Does s/he celebrate my successes?  Does s/he see the best in me even when I fall short?  Is the care and regard for our friendship mutually reciprocated?  Do I feel lighter/clearer/more energized after spending time with him/her?  Am I a better person for knowing her/him?  
If we are earnest in our inquiry, it is likely we've turned up some unsavory aspects of ourselves and our friends that may cause alarm.  Fear not!  This is to be welcomed and expected as the natural result of sincere self-reflection.  Afterall, I do not know a single soul who is as good as they'd like to be.  And the very best ones are often filled with the most doubt and fear and questioning.  So long as we are moving toward our goodness, that thing perpetually on the horizon ever out of reach, we are headed in the right direction.  When we fall short or do wrong, know that it is possible to repair the infraction.  First, acknowledge your short-falling at the very first opportunity you have to do so.  The more time that passes without acknowledgment, the more damage is potentially done to both you and your friend.  Then, account for the short-falling.  Explain to your friend what was going on in your heart and mind that caused you to behave the way you did.  Show your friend where you have clarity and where you are still struggling, and ask them to show you the same in return.  Listen to your friend's side of the story, and be open to really hear what they say so you can both better understand how to support each other and more gracefully navigate any difficulties moving forward.  Next, make amends by making the situation right in whatever ways you can and committing to yourself and your friend to actively work on becoming better.  Finally, forgive your friend for their short-fallings, and ask for forgiveness for your own.  Now hug it out, you two!

Life, and love, is short.  The forgetting, and regretting, is so very long.  Be fearless.  Be the first one to pick up the phone.  Say I'm sorry.  Extend a hand.  Ask for help.  Ask for clarity.  Ask for forgiveness.  Be forgiving.  Cry together.  Express gratitude.  Laugh at yourselves.  Celebrate the little things.  Friendship must be tended to, cultivated.  It takes continual, sustained effort over time.  It takes devotion.  It takes practice.  It takes showing up even when it's not convenient or pleasurable or easy.  It takes good days and bad days and falling down and getting back up.  It takes fighting for what and who is important to you.  It takes courage and a willingness to go far outside what's comfortable.  It takes vulnerability and sacrifice.  It takes looking your fears in the face.  It takes staying instead of running.  It takes being seen by another, shadows and scars and all.  It takes bearing witness to another person's pain and darkness and loving them still, even more.  It takes a goddamned impeccable, unshakable sense of humor.  It takes risking everything for the chance of love.   

This is the yoga of friendship, and it is one of the most beautiful and worthwhile things in the entire world.

Street art by Swoon

Lovers gather and give each other shade,
relief from the direct sun.
Stay closeby that community.
Be shade with them,
until you yourself are full of light
like the moon, then like the sun.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This is the training ground...

Ok, yeah, so I haven't written a blog since I was in India.  I figure I should at least say hi and let y'all know I'm alive and well in Austin.  Ahhhh, to update you in a nutshell on the last several months... My rib injury healed and my practice has been going well.  It took me about two months to be able to catch the bind on my own in Marichyasana D after the injury. Now that I'm back to full steam, things have been progressing nicely overall.  I've been pushing the edges of my strength and am growing stronger and leaner every week.  I've also been sweating like crazy during practice, it feels like I'm condensating more than sweating.  Beads of water just drip drip drip off me out of every pore.  It was a long summer in Texas, and now slowly turning into fall, and I'm working hard in practice, so the sweat feels good.  It ushers in that post-practice lightness and clarity, like cleaning the soot off an oil lamp.  In the last month or so, I've moved into second series, so my practice is quite long now.... all of primary and second up to laghu vajrasana.  Kapotasana coming soon! 

Coming home from India was a tougher transition than I expected.  I came home all filled up with this amazing experience that words cannot adequately express, and I felt like a lot of people just didn't care or have interest or know how to relate to me.  I got asked questions like, "How was your vacation?" as if I'd been sitting on a beach drinking fancy drinks out of pineapples without a care in the world.  I quickly slipped back into my reclusive tendencies and rhythms of life, for better and worse, here in Austin.  I'm very comfortable here, too comfortable in many ways.  There is little sense of urgency, and I find I become too complacent with life if I'm not careful.  I started fantasizing about selling my house, buying a little airstream, packing up my dog and cats, a few essential things, and hitting the road indefinitely.  I daydreamed about all the places I would go, being free as the wind, spending months in places I love, finally going places I've always wanted to see.  I was escaping my present reality and getting lost in a fantasy.  And then... 

A month after I got home, my beloved dog, Amallah, died suddenly and so very unexpectedly.  I loved that dog more than I've loved any human.  The heartbreak of her death and the big gaping hole she left in my heart and my home have been a daily struggle and tremendous source of sorrow.  I slipped into what was probably the worst depression of my life.  Most days it was all I could do to show up to practice.  And I decided that if all I do is my yoga practice, then that's enough.  Everything else falls away as irrelevant and arbitrary.  Practice is an anchor, a lifeline, and I truly believe it's kept me alive during some of the darkest times of my life.  Some days, tears come with the very first ekam inhale; some days not until savasana.  Some days, something resembling joy seeps back in, and all I know is that I need this practice like I need the very next breath.  It is perhaps the greatest act of love and devotion that I know, and this becomes especially apparent when there is nothing but darkness, like a fever you can't shake, all around and inside you.

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

~Mary Oliver 

One of my dearest friends helped me tremendously through that very tough time after my dog died.  I don't think I have ever known heartbreak like that.  My friend kept saying, "Use this pain, let it galvanize you!  Let it transform you!  It is a gift."  Of course the instinct is to close yourself off to that kind of pain, to turn away from it.  It is overwhelming, to say the least.  And it takes a kind of deep, sustained courage I did not know I even possessed.  But if you make the choice to stay, tap into your deepest well of courage and lean into the pain, let it burn down all the defenses you've built against it, let it move through you, let it come in and uproot the darkest places within yourself, sweep out the debris, it will change you in the profoundest of ways.  Shantideva tells us, we are like a blind man who finds a jewel in a heap of garbage.  Right there in all that you'd rather throw away is your treasure.  If you throw away the garbage, you throw away the treasure too.  Instead of running away & thereby reinforcing old patterns of suffering, be loyal to this experience irregardless of good/bad, pleasure/pain.  Staying, no matter how uncomfortable, is where the treasure is.  In fact, the harder it is to stay, the bigger the treasure.  When it hurts like hell and pushes at all your edges and you're full of doubt and fear and every impulse in your heart and mind tells you to run, that's how you know you're onto something wholly worthwhile.  As an ayurvedic healer in India told me, laughing, "Pain is noooo problem.  Pain is very good sign, indeed.  Pain means happiness coming soon."  Oh, how those words have rooted themselves in me and make me laugh at my own suffering, no matter the cause.  Those simple words continue to ring true in the deepest of ways, so very, very true...

Showing up to practice is one thing; showing up to life can be a whole other battle.  If you practice even when distracted/distressed/hurt/upset/in pain, then you are training well.  This is the training ground, afterall.  So let us train wholeheartedly.  It's easy to show up to practice, to work, to relationships, to life, when things are flowing effortlessly.  But how do we respond to our pain, our fear, our hurt, our anger, our distress, our wounds?  How do we respond to others who are battling their own darkness?  Do we run, do we close ourselves off, shut people out, fortify our defenses, harden our heart, become apathetic, numb, uncaring?  Or do we stay present even though it hurts like hell and scares the holy shit out of us?  Do we stay open even though it makes us vulnerable, even though others can see our darkness, our doubt, our fear?  Do we take a sledgehammer to our hardened defenses and open up our view to greater possibilities?  Are we able to sink deeper into the sources of love, compassion, and equanimity?  It is this place - between the running and the staying, the closing and the opening, the hardening and the softening - where we see precisely what we're made of.  This is where we can initiate meaningful and substantial change within ourselves.  This is where we become better people, more integrated, more open, more loving, more clear.  No one is exempt from fighting this battle within him or herself.  The only real choice you have is which side you fight for.  It is the choice you make - between the fear and the love - that becomes the story of your life.  Which side are you fighting for?  What story do you choose to tell?

If you bring forth what is within you, 

what you bring forth will save you. 

If you do not bring forth what is within you, 

what you do not bring forth will destroy you. 

~Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas

The last few months, I've had a lot more sunshine and clarity seep in.  I'm working hard, staying just the right amount of busy, enjoying my relationships - even the difficult ones, and I'm excited about the projects I'm working on in all areas of my life.  I recently launched a new line of wearable art called Soul Azul, much of it directly inspired by my trip to India and the photos I took there.  I'm also working on some spoken word film projects that have been a long time in the making, so stay tuned for those in the coming weeks.  I love this time of year, the fall always feels like spring bursting forth in my own creative cycle.  So much comes flooding in all at once.  The days are shortening, the leaves are turning, the wind is stirring up delightfully unexpected little treasures, the weather in Austin is divine.  A breath of fresh air.  And I've been having epic adventures in my dreams... realizations about how much India felt like a home coming... and learning how to come home to myself no matter where I am or what the circumstances of my life may look like... And seeing so clearly how, in each others' light, we become better people... and how much work there still is to be done... and how far we've already come...

Read On friendship, this is the training ground part 2...

P.S.  I am so very grateful to everyone who reads my posts here, takes interest, comments and emails... I am really so very humbled and blown away at the response from people all over the world who can relate to my experiences (and are trying my recipes!)  It means a lot.  I am energized by your remarks and your willingness to share your experiences, too.  While I juggle many projects, I feel this is one of the most worthwhile ones, and although I may come and go at odd intervals, I do intend to keep up with things more regularly here... so check back every so often, and please do stay in touch... I love hearing from y'all!  Om shanti...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Even the gods speak of God...

Self Portrait

It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you. 
If you can look back with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. 
I want to know if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward the center of your longing. 
I want to know if you are willing to live, 
day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, 
even the gods speak of God.

~David Whyte