Surrender and Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is

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I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring.

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But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch – two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest.

Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”. Continue reading

Where are you reaching FROM?

IMG_3415A few weeks ago, on August 20, I read the news that BKS Iyengar, the renowned Indian yoga teacher and founder of the Iyengar Yoga tradition, had died at age 95. Immediately I was brought back to the many memories I have as a result of his teachings. My first California yoga teachers were trained in the Iyengar tradition. In their classes I was exposed for the first time to silent meditation and chanting. I remember as a student just managing to tolerate these first few minutes of ritual as I waited for “the real yoga class” to begin. What could these Sanskrit sounds possibly have to do with my physical strength, flexibility, and fitness, which is why I did yoga (or so I thought)? Continue reading

Being Open to Outcomes

The view from Higgins Canyon Road

The view from Higgins Canyon Road

I packed water, an apple, and an orange, but no extra layers of clothing. This was Christmas Day. A leisure ride, nothing that was going to kill me. I knew the hill on Higgins Canyon Road from having come down it once by car. Winding and barely wide enough for one car and a bike to pass. Spectacular views of Sky Moon Ranch, the sheep and cattle grazing next to large water reservoirs on steep hillsides.

The route we had chosen would not, we decided in advance, include riding up that part of the road. We would turn off and make a loop back to town, way before that steep ascent. After all, this was Christmas Day. No need to kill ourselves.

The turnoff was, according to the map, just after Burleigh Murray Ranch and off to the right. All we passed were private roads with mailboxes and No Trespassing signs on the right. We kept riding because it was a gorgeous day and it was fun.

Next thing I knew, we were headed up the hill. Continue reading

Learning to Ride

It’s freezing. All I know is it’s 11 miles out and back. The description on the website had said, “Participants must be in good cardiovascular condition. No single track/technical work. Climbing for sure.

I should have known when I saw the fat tires on everyone else’s bikes.

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Oh, how we wish that learning would take place in the comfort of our familiar homes! A cozy blanket, a warm cup of tea, our favorite music playing, and the knowing that everything as we have chosen and arranged it now surrounds us.

Learning for me always looked like showing up in a classroom, or privately in front of a teacher, and demonstrating what I knew. I would then get feedback in the form of a critique, the next challenge chosen by the teacher, or a score on a test that told me how much what I thought I learned matched what I was expected to have learned.

What I learned on my first mountain bike ride this weekend is that learning – the fresh, raw experience of aha!wow! that’s new! – can be extremely uncomfortable. It can happen when we are placed (or we find ourselves) in a situation we did not know we chose (but we did) and that every fiber of our being is wanting to fix, alter, escape, or resist. But there we are. In my case, “there” was a guided 11-mile ride on a closed access trail. Turning back was not an option without taking the entire group with me.

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A map of the terrain, which can’t really tell us what it’s going to feel like.

Continue reading

E-Squared Book Club: Week 7

For the past seven Wednesdays, I have shown up at 10am at Quarry Park, and at 5:15pm on the phone, ready to explore the latest energy experiment from Pam Grout’s book, E-Squared, with the participants in E-Squared Book Club.

For six of the seven mornings we were blessed with warmth, sunshine, and perfect conditions for sitting outside to marvel at the goodness and beauty available to us at all times. On our final Wednesday, it was looking like we might need a “Plan B”. The first winter storm of the year had arrived and stayed the entire two days before. I sent out emails announcing an alternative indoor location. But on the morning of our scheduled meeting, it was clear. Not quite sunny, but definitely not raining.

We gathered at the usual spot, each wearing our rain gear, just in case.

Tammy brought her young sunflower sprouts (from Experiment #5) to plant in the clearing where we had gathered for our meetings.

Our plan was to hike about a mile up to a lookout above the labyrinth. As we began to plant the seedlings, it started to rain gently. I managed to get a few pictures before my iPad had to go back in my pack.

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Tammy tilling the soil.

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Shirley placing seedlings.

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They are arranged in a heart shape!

Continue reading

E-Squared Book Club: Week 6

At this week’s E-Squared Book Club we discussed the last two chapters. I was sad to get to the end of the book because it’s been so much fun to do these experiments and share what’s happening each week with the club and on the blog.

Once again, the weather at Quarry Park was spectacular – warm and sunshine-filled.

Bathed in sunshine.

Bathed in sunshine.

Oneness – We Are All Connected

Experiment #8, the 101 Dalmatians Principle, is about how we really are all connected. That every particle in the universe is in instantaneous communication with every other particle. Wow!

I happened to stumble upon the movie Cloud Atlas this past weekend (coincidence? Or synchronicity?), which addresses this principle in beautiful movie-making splendor.

According to this principle, every thought we have alters the entire universe forever. Imagine that! The other big idea is: Your thoughts about other people change YOU. How you see others is how you will see yourself. This makes forgiveness and kindness and compassion make sense at the level of the universe. It’s not about doing the “right” thing according to a rulebook or moral code. It’s about observing and choosing what you create in your own reality each time you think a thought about someone else. Continue reading

E-Squared Book Club: Week 5

This week we discussed Experiments #6 (The Superhero Principle) and #7 (The Jenny Craig Principle). Both principles relate to the ability of our thoughts to impact physical matter in the material world.

First we discussed the results of the seed experiment. As you may recall, Tammy gifted us with sunflower seeds from her studio garden, along with a little bag of soil. It was such a beautiful gift! I went home and planted my seeds that night.

As I tossed them into the soil playfully, I said, “Isn’t it AMAZING that this one row of seeds is already growing faster than the other row?? I’m AMAZED!”. At that point, of course, they were “just” dry seeds going into soil, sitting on my kitchen table. Nothing had happened yet. Except my thought and feeling of ALREADY being amazed at their growth.

Two days later, I was truly amazed to see sprouts beginning to show. I literally thought nothing about these seeds other than the feeling of amazement that they were already growing faster.

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Tiny sprouts visible to the camera.

Continue reading

E-Squared Book Club: Week 4

Shirley plays with magic wands as Tammy witnesses.

Shirley plays with magic wands as Tammy witnesses.

It was a foggy, misty morning, but just before 10 o’clock, the sun began to shine.

We gathered to discuss Experiment #5 – the Dear Abby Principle. This states that we each have unlimited access to a constant source of inner guidance from the FP.

Pam talks mostly about the distinction between our conscious mind (logical, rational brain) and inner guidance. Too often we get the two confused, and we use our conscious thoughts as guidance. Oops!

The conscious mind has these important functions:

  • identifying problems
  • formulating goals
  • making judgments
  • comparing current experience to past experience
  • interpreting results and building models

However, it’s not the source of guidance when you “don’t know” what to do, or when you want to take a step toward a vision you want to create.

I’m curious: what forms has YOUR inner guidance come in? Continue reading

Falling Down To Earth…Lessons from “Gravity”

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I saw Gravity this weekend. It was date night. Since we normally watch movies on Netflix in the luxury of our own living room, with the sunset and ocean behind our backs and the fire roaring in the fireplace, the trip through traffic and the ordeal of finding a parking space in a shopping mall made me expect a lot from this one.

We decided to splurge on the 3-D version. We got a big bag of popcorn, and settled into the theater, which we had mostly to ourselves.

I was already filled with gratitude for my life on the coast after we set foot inside the neon shopping mall that contained the movie theater. At that moment, seeing the names of the food court vendors – none of which were familiar to me, feeling the fluorescence of everything, squinting at the brightness of the SALE signs in every store window, hearing the echoes and reverberation of the cavernous container of the space, I realized how long it had been since I’d shopped in a mall. When had that shifted? I recalled a time in my childhood when the only place to shop for clothes and shoes was the mall. It was also one of the main “hangouts” for kids who went out after school (of which I was not one).

I won’t talk too much about plot points here, but I want to list several of the “messages from the universe” that I feel are embedded in the movie. I’ll scramble them up so as not to have to give too much of a spoiler alert. But if you must see the movie first, I’ll warn you that I refer to some scenes in the text below. Continue reading

Why everyone should poop in the woods…at least once

I firmly believe everyone should have the experience – at least once in their life – of pooping in the wilderness. Of digging a hole at least six inches deep, dropping trou, and watching their own poop land in the hole. Then filling it with soil, packing it down, and returning the surrounding earth to its original state.

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What we’d rather imagine than pooping in holes.

I believe this not just because pooping in holes has become second nature since I started backpacking, but because I experienced real compost in my friend Lydia’s yard yesterday. From start to mulch. When you see one too many potted plants or cut flower arrangements in your life, you forget where it all really comes from. Not just the postcard pictures of a farm with a guy in overalls posed casually leaning on a fence that you see from the side of the road. Not the beautiful bins of colorful, washed produce (definitely not GMO and definitely organic) at the farmers’ market.

No, I’m talking about what dirt really is. How our bodies – the stuff of our skin and bones – are ultimately the same stuff as dirt. How the plants growing prettily or wildly in the ground are also the same stuff as dirt. How if you have the chance to take a shovel and pull up some plants, move them to the compost heap, then come back a few months later, you might see something that looks nothing like the original plant but a lot like dirt. Continue reading