Master of What?

Of fine tuning

careful listening

slow, steady attunement to another being.

Of recalibrating what bliss means-

with once singing joints now rickety,

tired and aching from carrying a little one –

but redefining ecstasy to encompass new reference points.

No, I am not presently a master of Yoga or the Intellect,

only having plumbed the depths of my own soul.

Master of this:

The Inner realm that is also the Outer:

reflection of divine light

also known as Love,

reverberating in all my cells

and in my slow beating heart-

quiet master of my own loving, aching soul’s journey

through time and space

Nothing more, nothing less.

Just Here, simple, in love in the face of small things.

I am not a master of words.

My particular realization concerns itself with Presence,

that act of grace filling body

coming together to form spine and stomach

and eyes flashing only glimpses of Divine reality within.

Ushering forth new life,

A mother becomes master of

Chopping wood

Carrying water

doing laundry

dishes

carrying

holding

feeding

loving

nurturing-

Some say ‘mundane’

I say beating heart

full of love

resting in simple dance of Being.

Nothing more.  Nothing less,

still refining,

Like the great crucible of life that is

The Womb.

Follower of No Separation

Right now I am a follower of 

“No Separation” 

This nor that, 

Here nor there

I weave between traditions and practices

like a mendicant in search of a holy light, 

which is always

already

Here.

No separation: seamless living with what arises,

going with a flow, 

acknowledging grace of present moment,

being in a state of love –

and not just in mind or heart

but full body

extending into an ether of oneness. 

No separation: quiet gaze understanding

common heart of wisdom

swimming beneath all disputes and orthodoxies.

Soft wind blowing leaves,

reminder of cycle of life

which transcends words.

No separation: the space Beyond and Before.

The space steeped in silence

like hot cup of tea:

burns but delicious – 

a drink to be savored, 

a Holy Gift:

just like human life with all its complex flavors

unfurling into 

One 

Great

Expression 

(some call God).

When Greeting the Limits of Strength

For those of you who know me, you can attest that I am not a drama queen: which is why when I thought I was actually dying  a few weeks ago you know that it must have been serious. The past several months have had me dabbling in a complete physical breakdown, immune system and adrenal fatigue, and nervous system burnout. There was the cough, the flu, the stomach bug, the sinus infection, the strep throat, the month of antibiotics. Then there was the 4am wake up with rib pain and shortness of breath. Was this just a nervous breakdown or was motherhood actually killing me, I wondered (literally)? It turns out the rib pain was either stress induced (acupuncturist’s conjecture), or a pulled muscle (doctor’s conjecture). Whatever the cause, the culmination of so many repeated illnesses and physical rarities has shown me the absolute limits of my strength. A trip to the doctor was like a visit with a prophet. “No – I’m not worried at all,” she said, even after I listed the above maladies and she checked my ribs. “I see this type of immune system lapse and extreme stress all the time with mothers of three or more children…Some years are just harder than others.”

What!? This is “normal?” Apparently so, at least here in America. I pondered over and over again how I got to this place of ultimate burnout. I took it upon myself to conduct experiments about whether the 24 hour needs cycle of young children was really true. In 10 minute blocks I began tracking needs, requests and necessary interventions (i.e. for safety). The exercise helped to infuse some humor into the situation and indeed confirmed that burnout is perhaps a predictable response when you are responding on average to 5-9 needs and interventions in any 10 minute period. There is the crying for milk. There are the poopy diapers to be changed. “More nuts!” “Water!” “Help!” Then a head bonk with tears, then the toy yanked from a hand by older sibling, then a smack on the head from the toddler to said older sibling. Today I tracked four needs in less than a minute. It is usually about water, food, sleep, poop, pee, help up or down, comforting a fall or mitigating a conflict. And, it’s all day long.

So yes, some years are harder than others. And yes, this period of motherhood is showing me the limits of my strength. But what to do in the meantime? Beyond rounds of antibiotics, doctor visits and trips to the acupuncturist, how to cope? How to function and do what needs to be done without getting sick every other week? How to enjoy my life again? I’ve looked outwards to what supports I can put in place, but I’ve also recalled the importance of looking internally. Most importantly, I’ve remembered the essentials of practice. Here are a few insights that have emerged over the past few months as I’ve reckoned with my limitations.

First, slow down the whole orientation. This is primarily an internal gesture and requires taking my time responding to everything. I’ve been practicing using less energy talking and moving in general. The degree of exhaustion I’ve encountered has actually been a gift in that each time I’ve been in process of recovering, I’ve been able to assess what personal habits contribute to wearing down my reserves. We as women reach our limits at different times in our lives. I’m learning for the first time what its like to live from a place of depletion, and how unsustainable it is. Slowing down our orientation helps shed light on what we can do with more ease. Where are we unnecessarily depleting our reserves? How can we move and speak in ways that reflect parenting from a calm, resourced center? For example, raising my voice depletes me (and actually when I slow down enough to pay attention to the subtlety of my experience, raising my voice actually hurts). So I’m making it a practice to find a quieter and slower way to parent.

Second, make nourishment a practice. This means drinking enough water, eating good foods, getting enough sleep. For me, it also means lighting a candle nightly, becoming best friends with a heating pad, and making time for yoga and walking. The key here is making time. We can make time for what is important – and as cliche as it sounds, self-care has to be up there. Since the moments of extended self-care and nourishment are scant with a newborn (and during other phases of parenthood at times!), the practice becomes the smaller gestures of nourishment. Relish drinking water. Make sure to drink enough of it. Relish the 2 minutes of lying down. Take time washing your face. Eat slowly…

Third, relinquish desires for anything beyond what is arising in the present moment. I’ve noticed that my suffering is greater when I’m pining for something other that what is. Since I’ve been so short on restfulness, I’ve been grasping for early bedtimes and longer naps. Rather than settling into the work and joys of the days, I’ve been reaching for what lies beyond the moments of parenthood when I can “finally get some peace of mind and time to myself.” Warning: this is a trap! In fact, this habit of assuming something more restful and desirable lies on the other side of the present moment is in fact what slowing erodes us. Instead, in order to be more present and fully surrendered into any given moment I have been practicing relinquishing all desires and ambitions for anything beyond what is arising. This means my personal agenda of what I’d love to do when the kids are sleeping has to be set aside. If I cling too tightly to the hope that I’ll get a moment to read, write, call a friend, finish any of the projects I’ve started, have time for “me” in general, I’m trapping myself into a passing of time that isn’t rooted in the present; I’m succumbing to grasping. So I notice that and come back again and again to just giving myself to the present moment. It doesn’t mean my desires for self care are invalidated. It doesn’t mean that my “ambitions ” to accomplish anything else beyond parenting are forgotten or made subordinate. It means that instead of holding on too tightly to a hope that I’ll get to do any of these things, I can instead just be open to what is constantly arising with my children and let that be enough. When another moment presents itself where my needs and desires can be tended to, I can embrace that too with a non-discriminatory acceptance. If we get stuck in thinking some ways of passing time are “better” or more desirable, this can yank us from settling into what is in front of us. So, I let my personal preferences be true and I absolutely do not forget what fills my cup of inspiration and nourishment – and I hold these preferences and desires in a way that doesn’t interfere with a full giving over of myself to the present moment with my children, with love. If I’m living with a “if only…then…” I suffer. I can’t settle in. And this subtle pattern fosters a restlessness that only serves to further wear me down.

Finally, don’t over-identify with any given emotion or feeling. Yes, some days, weeks, and years are harder than others. I keep remembering gratitude for past spiritual practice and teaching that sustains me always, but particularly during challenging times. Instead of becoming fully identified with any emotion related to challenge or difficulty, I find that resting in a loci of observer or witness reminds me that my Self is greater than any current emotion or experience. The practice of simply observing my breath and observing my thoughts and emotions serves to keep my perspective broad and rooted in possibility and freshness. Depression, sickness, stress, frustration, anxiety, and fear can all can be observed like the passing of slow clouds overhead. We don’t have to become only sick or tired or stressed. We can practice feeling and being these things in their truth – but also witnessing their sway from a part of ourselves that is beyond and before all of the drama of life.

In these hard days this is where I rest: slowly witnessing, still loving, remembering that this too shall pass – but not wishing for it to pass. Instead, this is the present moment life that merits full embrace…

 

What is Most Important?

A yoga practice in April led me to the following answers to the above question. My future sister-in-law led the practice and invited us to answer the question “what is most important?” The first glimpse of an answer that emerged was spiritual practice. Why? Because this is how I pay homage to Life. This is how I stay rooted in living my most revered state. Without practice I drain an essential life force. I have less to give. It is a foundation from which to move.

Which leads to Embodiment. As I move into a standing yoga asana I feel how the busy week and overwhelming experience of responsibility without enough nourishment not only depletes, it also makes living from a place of feeling, intention and love more difficult. My hands feel farther away. My legs feel more foreign. This contrasts with an experience of integration and flow: where hands and feet are expressions of intention and grace, gentleness and care.

Which leads me to Love. What fills the body/mind in my most revered state? What is practiced? Love. 

So what is most important? A spiritual, day to day, moment to moment practice of embodied (full-bodied) love.

What is most important? The expression of and practice of full-bodied love, even when meeting life’s difficult and sometimes depleting moments. Being love when the rubber hits the road and we are stretched to our limits. Being love when we are at the end of our proverbial ropes. What is most important? Filling our cups of nourishment and practice so that we can draw on vast reservoirs of love that will sustain us in times of need and serve as the primary offering that we give outwards to our families and the world…

Dynamic Juggling, Disorientation & the Present Moment

Taking stock of the transitions of my life over the past two years, a part of me feels utterly untethered and disoriented.  There is a certain chaos of living a new pace that has not been my own – meaning, the pace of motherhood and the pace of my little toddler.  All the rhythms of my days are new.  The pace at which I move is new.  Everything is different now and my task is to find ‘home’ in this new place.  I find the familiar ballast through Yoga, applying my will towards placing my body in positions I trust, not knowing what I need or even what I am looking for – just knowing I need to open something and shift.   All the while, my immediate family showers blessings upon me even in my experience of being astray.

I find my old self through delicate encounters of quietness throughout the day – a quiet moment before sleep, pause in eating, slow steps overlooking Lake Dillon as clouds part.  The existential drama of life is the backdrop of my days – constant gaze at mountains looking for the Sublime, the artful, the spirit-filled, which is ultimately everywhere.  I simply venture into and with it in a new way now that I walk a different tempo with my son.  Now the key is to join gaze and heart with the divine awareness of the Sacred, even when I feel disoriented, moving at mock speed.

When the pace of life moves quickly, how quickly gifts pass with my just barely noticing.  I bury my head in the newspaper as the canyon drifts by (quiet moment in car while Rowan sleeps), aspen leaves resplendent in golden light.  I take for granted that their splendor will remain another day for me to cherish, and now after a heavy rain they are gone – so quickly and so cliche, just like life.  Sometimes the beauty of life’s moments is too much to bear.  Not only the gorgeous colors of a transient Fall, but the astounding preciousness of Rowan’s skips and kisses and smiles.  If we open ourselves to truly honoring the small gifts given in a day’s time, all barriers to living into life’s preciousness can dissolve with a little hand’s touch.  So quickly these moments pass, leaving an imprint like soft pressure of wet leaves on the sidewalk – those temporary yet colorful patterned marks visible for only a short time.

The lesson is this:  rest now, not wanting for anything other than what is.  Drop into whatever pace and rhythm arises, as nothing will look or feel this way again even in a few moments.  It’s all to be cherished, mindfully – feelings of disorientation notwithstanding.  Everywhere the triggers to snap out of stupor lie – and yet, so too a thick blanket of resistance manifested in the likes of heavy eyes too tired for the bidding of seeing anew.  Instead, as parents (and human beings in general) we can resist this trend and choose to live our days with even fuller participation.  We can land into a refined, brighter, more dynamic participation in the Here and Now (especially since we as parents are even more capable than before of juggling multiple hats).  Motherhood invites us into a sacred sphere where we can choose to juggle all that is required of us with dynamic, focused attention to detail, all the while aware of life’s sublime invitations into the splendor of small luminosities of the present moment.  With sharper seeing and a more quickly attuned response time, there is no somnolence here, unless we turn our heart away from the loud claps of wakefulness that chasing a little one beckons.  Awake, juggling, not letting precious moments slip into busy blurred vision minus clarity.  With this clear seeing, may we all walk into our days.

Dip Into Realm of Calling

The strange thing today:  all of the sudden the first year of Rowan’s life has passed – and slowly he moves away from me in that absolutely normal process of growing up.  I remember the days when I couldn’t even take a shower because I couldn’t put him down. And now, suddenly: space again – even if just a little – to connect and reconnect, to dip into realm of calling, to wonder at what’s next and to take stock in what is.

I make it a practice to find space in the week to ask myself:  “What wants to emerge?” What images arise in the short spaces between daily tasks?  It is almost always in glimpses that callings and a deeper sense of inner direction surface in my awareness.  For me this week what arises are images of pilgrimage, Ireland, the Earth-based sacred sites of my ancestors, the need to write down my experience, visions of creative projects, a pull to get crafty, draw to home-schooling (!?), desire to create seasonal festivals for family, homemade clothes and tablecloths, wool festivals, Irish dance, yoga asana practice and a soaking in of Summer and paying attention to the slow shift towards Fall.

Something about this phase of motherhood harkens me back to the crafts and wanderings of my ancestors.  I feel more acutely my place in the lineage of humanity’s long line and my responsibility to pass on a heritage, culture, tradition, careful daily routines that have meaning and history.  Much of this I have to re-create, and some days this daunts me, while others I step into this as if certainly stepping into a Calling – a calling from those who’ve been before me to bring forth a next generation with care and attention to detail:  not randomness and the havoc of clogged airwaves and media waves and endless hobbies and comings and goings that mark the dominant way of being of my American culture.

No, instead we can follow the thread of quiet mothering rooted in millions of years of simple but profound gestures.  Really, there is little that is more important.  Embedded in this vision is invitation to slow down and use my hands, learn something of the old arts of cooking and crafting… I write this with a wry smile, feeling how the hormones of motherhood have shifted my attention to encompass the age old vestiges of ‘tradition’ – a pulling longing for place in a line of great Women who know the collective power of small acts of creativity and intention enacted in the canvas of Home.

Do not misunderstand:  This too is calling, inspiration, creative expression channeled into raising another human being.  It is not that other expressions of my calling or creativity or work in the world are less important or less present;  It is just the unfolding understanding that there are few better ways to lend my realization and passion than manifested in the service of daily acts of caregiving.   This is also yoga:  that fine art of applying one’s will to the placement of the body as a gesture of love, openness, service, beauty.  In the same way that I carefully place my hands and feet with loving attention to detail – I can also carefully create Home and Family.  This too is sacred ground – the bleeding of spiritual practice and creative energies into manifesting the sanest, most grounded manifestation of what it means to be human – while also bringing another into the profound light of this experience.

The Beauty of Being Tired

The beauty of being tired is that I don’t even know who I am anymore – like a boat being cut loose in a marsh, I strut around the house with a humor fueled by delerium. I am such a mess and I for the first time in my life feel my mess as a gesture of liberation rather than self-demise.

“The wires in my brain aren’t functioning properly,” I tell Chris, all along thinking I am “losing it” and thinking this is a “bad” thing.  Instead, No.  During a recent yoga practice my teacher asked “feel what part of you is the most open” and like a flash of lightening understanding I answered “the most exhausted part…”

Yes, with certainty, I can now feel that the most tired parts of myself are also the most open and available to transformation.  The differentiating factor:  having no resistance to the tiredness.  The differentiating factor:  letting go into the flow of exhaustion as if it were the finest gift of silk.  “Losing it” is actually what all spiritual masters have been instructing their pupils in for thousands of years.  Losing it equals losing your mind (aha!), losing attachments to egoic structures and habits (aha!) and maybe even losing social personality traits that are like tire skids or fingernails on a chalkboard in their ability to keep you stuck in restless habits that don’t move you where you most want to be.

Exhaustion presents an opportunity to lose the perfectionism and simply abide in what is – albeit even it is only because you’re too tired to do otherwise.  Exhaustion invites loosening of long-held karmic holdings in the body – simply by (literally, physically) wearing them out.

At first, I struggle to hold on to what I think I am in the midst of profound disorientation and frustration…And this is where motherhood busts beyond that holding pattern of “I am tired and I am just going to make all my bad habits worse because of it.”  Motherhood’s exhaustion is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back so to speak – It crumbles you into a million pieces of oblivion where up and down, 2am or 6pm don’t matter – and where Love is the only force of reality that can truly sustain any semblance of sanity.  So when Rowan is wanting milk every 45 minutes at 3am and I jump out of bed screaming “feeding hours are over!” and storm out of the room, rather than trip into a heap on the floor, I can instead take a breath and tap into love that anchors me back to bed.  Yes, a chosen practice, but also a background of grace that somehow dissolves my most irrational behaviors.

The gift of all this is that I can’t spin into self-absorption or even extended self-criticism or doubt.  After all, there’s no time for habits such as these.  Sleep, and the baby, calls.

Regard all Dharmas as Dreams – and, Don’t Wait in Ambush

Easy come, easy go.  Let teachings pass through you as clouds pass through sky.  Let yourself transform softly, slowly, without holding on.  Just like dreams, dharmas are not to be grasped or held.  Integrate what comes.  Let the rest go.

Meanwhile, take charge of new life and grab the bull by its horns!  In these moments of profound change, take responsibility for generating structure when needed.  Don’t waste a moment.  Over and over again recognize the preciousness of life’s moments, even those tended to be called ‘mundane.’  All of this too shall pass and death will take us to another form perhaps before we are ready – so what to wait for?  Taking nothing for granted.  Love your life exactly as it is.

First, Train in the Preliminaries

Go within and shatter the old structure of habits that don’t serve your greatest expression of love and freedom.  Shatter habits of restlessness and resistance (subtle longing for something other than the exact perfection of Now).

What exactly are the preliminaries in life right now?

  • What is, is perfect.
  • Longing is a lesson in what to move towards.
  • Connect deeply with those around you.
  • Actively listen, even with my son who can’t yet ‘talk.’
  • Be, not ‘do.’
  • Limit multi-tasking for the sake of sanity.
  • Always, slow down.

Hence, I am invited to slow down as a means to mindfulness, to trust myself and accept that I am enough as I am and to treat my moment of longing for something “other” as a lesson in what to move towards, with intention.  I am invited to keep alive the heart of devotional practice, reverence, embodied love through wide open bodily receptive listening and presence – how I submit myself to divine awareness.

The ‘preliminaries’ call me to radically embrace what IS so whole-heartedly that the penetrating force of love of the present moment exactly as it is transforms what is also called to move – not on my terms, but on Grace’s.

Fatigue Fueled by the Power of Love


While every year brings its changes, this one is perhaps the most radical.  Age 33, pregnancy, new home, walking miles and miles with Rowan in those first months after birth, transformation, physical discomfort, bliss, exhaustion – a fatigue also fueled by the power of love: by that I mean fatigue softened by the bond of parenthood.

I didn’t feel like “myself” for much of this year (reflecting now on my birthday which just passed) – for my sense of ‘self’ was challenged in profound ways:  changed body and new expressions of myself in the face of my limits of patience, exasperated with the overwhelming acceleration of change and the feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

I have discovered a new realm of Love through my son.  I’ve been given a jewel that I carry and care for every day and night – a jeweled reminder of embodying all of life’s lessons and the heart of my spiritual practice in every moment, even when I am at the limit of what I feel possible.  I encountered edges this year I never knew in myself previously – unexpected frustration and wanting to ‘crash out’ or fuzz out of the sustained physical asana that breastfeeding and carrying and soothing a little one is.  Each time I met my edge I did find the heart of my practice.  I did return to Love – and thus I am infinitely grateful for the moments of recognition of practice alive and at work when the rubber of life’s challenges truly hit the road.

Parenthood is a spiritual odyssey like none other.  In many ways, Rowan has become the crux of my practice.  He is a spiritual companion, a reminder of constant beauty and vulnerability – an ache of preciousness, the potential of Loss, all in an ordinary moment every day.