the in-between state

How many ways can you spell ‘transition’? Middle space. Gap. Moving through. Process. Link. Simmering, Passing. Birth. RE-birth. Death. Menopause (lol). Changing state. Present moment. The in-between state….

It seems to be where I am. It seems to be where I have felt I have been for years now, smile. It is what I was thinking and writing about as a college student. It has shaped the character of all my life choices. It is where all my joy lives. It is also where all my heartbreak lives. It appears to be a place that I just keep coming back to over and over again. And as if to accentuate the immediacy of the experience, recent conversations with colleagues and friends about the lack of ease / discomfort that can often be felt in this place is fresh in my heart and mind. Leading me to consider that the promise of getting to the other side of whatever may simply be a ruse to get me to dive into the next gap….

Part of the work of my yoga teacher training is to keep a journal of reflections of a home practice, taking note of what surfaces emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. It is an opportunity to notice patterns and where I ‘go’ when faced with a challenge in any one of these arenas. To this, I decide to practice by opening one of my books at random to a posture that I do not choose in this moment, but rather, is ‘chosen’ for me. The book opens to Chaturanga Dadansanasa, better known as the ‘four-limbed stick pose’.

It is an arm supported pose that has always been a tremendous challenge for me, something I actually believe I can’t do. Hmmmm. And so I take a deep breath and consider now how to literally reframe how to enter into the consciousness of this pose in a way that will allow me to feel how I CAN do it. I see in my minds’ eye the sequence of poses that will lead me into and out of this pose, moving into it from Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and moving out of it into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog). I feel the strong support of the earth as I yield into each of these framing poses, which only serves as contrast to what feels like the in-between quality of being in Chaturanga Dandansana, of how poignantly I must rely on the strength of my own core, hovering between earth and sky, to be truly supported in this pose. I feel the discomfort and even a flicker of fear emerge as I realize that supporting myself in this in-between place is not at all where I want to be, and more importantly, not at all where I think I should be! In this in-between place I forget how to yield. And the irony of course is that as I am having this ‘thought’, I am actually also having the experience of holding the pose, of staying here for the briefest of moments, and just long enough for an imprint to be made that will allow me to move into this space with more ease, and perhaps a more connected consciousness, next time….

I am reminded of Pema Chodron and her reflections on the ‘in-between state’ in her book The Places That Scare You. She says, “Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into the struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength…..Our practice is to stay with the uneasiness and not solidify into a view.”

So I am back to how transition = the in-between state, how moving into something new with ease = reframing a belief; how being strong = being tender….

asparagus scampi

I’m thinking too hard about dinner.  Probably because Ben asked the inevitable question the minute he came home from school, the ‘what’s for dinner’ question.  I have already planned to go to Whole Foods while he is at his class and decide to put it out of mind until I get there…

…my shopping cart is uncharacteristically empty except for a few random things.  Not like my usual sweep through when I have to restrain myself from so much that looks good.  Nothing appeals right now.  The range of winter fresh just seems so old at this point, which make the the asparagus and fiddleheads looking pretty good.  Since I don’t see our local Hadley crops being offered yet, I settle for a bunch of organic asparagus from somewhere else in the country.  And then grab a fresh baquette from one of the baskets displayed throughout the store, pure impulse, usually only something I buy when we are having guests.  The rest of the things in the basket now include some carrots, frozen peas, a leek, another bunch of kale, some chocolate soymilk that Ben has been asking for, really, not anything that is there with any focused intent for specific meal making.  I check out and head back to pick up Ben, and I realize I am thinking too hard again about what to make for dinner.  I have broken off the end of the baguette and am eating is as I drive.  Hmmmm, yum.  A whole loaf of bread, what could actually feature this bread in a meal, what ‘goes’ with bread?  Smile.  And then a clear image of sitting around the family table comes to me…around large pan of shrimp scampi hot out of the oven, everyone with piece of fresh bread in hand, dipping into the amazing sauce.   And then it is like the last tumbler falls into place, and I see pieces of wonderful fresh asparagus in the pan instead of the shrimp, perfect substitution as the asparagus needs hardly any time at all to cook, the same way as the shrimp.  And after all, scampi is all about the sauce…

It is so easy.  There are so many ways to make scampi, some with tomatoes, some with wine or lemon, all with copius amounts of butter!   I make a large mound of chopped garlic (about 7-8 cloves), clean and ‘scale’ the asparagus (cut each one into thirds), and lop off about 6 tablespoons of Kerrygold pure Irish butter (from grass fed cows) while the oven is heating to 475 degrees (and setting the rack at the top).

Melt the butter in a large skillet with about 2 tablespoons oil (olive or grapeseed), add garlic, and cook for a few minutes. Add juice from two fresh squeezed lemons, salt & pepper.  Then arrange the asparagus in a single layer in the pan and sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley.  Then broil for about 8-10 minutes until the asparagus is just fork soft.   While it is in the oven, I prepare a pan of sauteed tofu slices with tamari…

The scampi just out of the oven is gorgeous!   And since it is just me and Ben, I prepare two plates with lots of sauce and bread in each one…

It is a special meal in the end.  One that will undoubtably get made a few more times throughout this upcoming asparagus harvest, maybe next time with some homemade bread too, smile.  And wow, what a ritual for heralding in the first yield of the awakened earth!  It feels like a threshold has been crossed, like the hardened pattern of winter sustenance has finally given way to something altogether new and spring green…

here and there

It is a cold dark morning and the wind blows hard as I walk with Yankee. The sound in the tops of the trees is reminiscent of a different time and season, certainly not the late April day that it actually is. And the wind seems to be blowing smells around randomly too, as Yankee is going wild, and once I let him off the leash, runs in a scattered and zig zag pattern to seemingly follow these smells to places far from the norm of the typical garbage can & dumpster, smells over ‘there’ that are typically ‘here’. And what keeps coming to me is the feeling of ‘here and there’, late April as mid February, as early November, all one and the same… I think of the message from my mother yesterday asking if we had gotten all the snow the day before, she being only five hours away in the Finger Lakes of New York, not Siberia for goodness sakes! What weather they experience there is typically what we experience here, if a day later, so I can feel the snow, know what it is doing to the trees and the new spring growth, the danger to the grapes and the livelihood of that region.

As if to accentuate this very point I find a photo taken out my kitchen window during one of the few snowfalls we had this winter, early March…

There is something about the way the snow gathers on the beloved lilac bush outside the kitchen window that captures my attention this day, balls of snow nestled in the arms of the delicate branches, carrying the same energy as the delicate purple blossoms that appear there now….

…here and there…the feelings are interchangeable regardless of what is physically in front of my eyes.

And I realize that this isn’t just a metaphor anymore. This is what we are challenged to accept in our day to day realities with increasing frequency. I think of all my beloved friends and family members with whom I have significant daily communications with, through e-mail and skype and facebook and all the varied and diverse technologies that allow me to make a connection like this ‘spontaneously’ and then share it within the few strokes of a keyboard! And there are times when I feel the threat or stress of this seemingly fast paced potential as a hardship. But then quickly realize this potential as the side of hope that is inherent in presencing myself in ‘here and there’; as integration and truly ‘being one’ with all.

Of course, now I am smiling as I consider that is actually cold enough to build a fire this morning and wonder at my hesitation to actually make one. I am in the heart of being ‘here and there’ after all and I can feel the fire in the fireplace. And so the rubber hits the road and I need to choose. And in this moment I choose to honor ‘here’ by spending the rest of the morning in front of the fire I make, and in doing so, will be watching for what will appear ‘there’….

touch is food

I received a fabulous anatomy lesson yesterday focused on the skeletal system in our Embodyoga training weekend three.  Our guest lecturer Andrea Olsen led us in rounds of exploration that included and ended working with a partner and ‘feeling’ for the bones of the head, neck and shoulder girdle. And just as we were all set up and there was that pause and hush of waiting for the first instruction, she said ever so softly and clearly, “Touch is food.”  And I think, how perfectly this simple phrase describes the subtle and complex relationship between touch and nourishment, and between two people engaged in a simple exercise of giving and receiving…..

The words go in deep.  Feeling my partner Joan’s hands on my head is like the proverbial manna from heaven, like the salty sweet taste of something perfectly delicious that leaves me simply wanting more.  I mean, is a massage or backrub, headrub, or footrub ever long enough???  And I am also aware that the typical roles of giver and receiver being reversed here as those of us on the mat are all being encouraged to explore the limits of our ability to actually yield to this touch, first to the feel of touch on clothing, then on skin, then in the muscle, and then of the bones underneath skin and muscle.  It is the inquiry of discovering or being aware of when and where I might actually stop feeling the touch….

Which then leads me to consider how I am typically in relationship to touch, that, like food, it is something that I usually search out (going for a massage), receive, and take in from an outside source.  Or conversely, in a gesture of love and affection or healing, I reach out and touch another.  For being nourished by actual food, I endeavor to be in right relationship with the Earth to be truly sustained by it.  So how am I actually nourished by touch then?  And the obvious answer comes, that it is no different that food, that as I endeavor to be in right relationship with others, then I might be able to be sustained by their touch…

And then…drum roll….I actually have the ability to ‘touch’ myself with my own hands!  I can stroke my own skin and scalp, massage my legs with sesame oil when I get out of the hot shower, and rub the arches of my own tired feet.  I think about the absentminded habit I have always had of rubbing my lips with my index finger, such an unconscious gesture that puts me ‘in touch’ with one of the softest and most vulnerable places on my body.  I think of my beloved bathtub and the hot soaking baths I take every day, gifting myself the touch of water and warmth on every inch of my body in a safe and contained place….

…and realize that touch in this form is another consistent way I say ‘I love you’ to myself each day and how important it is to honor it as such, as food for the skin, muscles, bones, blood, and heart of this embodied soul that just wants to love and feel love.

So….this lesson about bones certainly has gone a long way!  Joan is just about finished with her exploration of my bones and now it is my turn to both touch and receive from the other side of this relationship….

celebration of the spiritual

I am preparing for my upcoming yoga teacher training session this weekend and reading about the eight limbs and ten principles (yamas & niyamas) of traditional yoga practice.  I come to the last niyama, ‘ishvarapranidhana’ which translates as ‘celebration of the spiritual’, take in the essence of this niyama as honoring the touch of a grand design that is beyond my control and then, something stirs deep in me.  I have come to recognize this feeling as pleasure.  Pure pleasure, residing deep in my belly.  And I am startled and a little alarmed.  ‘Spiritual’ has always connoted this ‘something that is bigger than me’  that I endeavor to connect with.  And I practice yoga to deepen my inquiry into where this life force of something that is bigger than me moves in my body so as to learn to perceive clearly through it….so….here I am perceiving pleasure in a most primal way in relation to a perceived truth about the nature of things and…I realize that this IS my way of recognizing truth in every connection I see….

What comes to mind now is the conversation standing out on the driveway with neighbors Lily and Sarah last weekend.  It was already a warm morning and we were reveling in the signs and colors of spring everywhere, and they had just commented on the beautiful little display of purple (grape hyacinth) and red (tulips) in front of my porch.

I laughed and said I had absolutely no memory of planting tulips in this spot and that it is a complete mystery to me as to why or how they got there.  Neither one of them blinked an eye, and Sarah proceeded to say very calmly and clinically that it must have been a squirrel who dug up the bulbs and re-planted them in this location.  I burst out laughing thinking she was kidding.  But both she and Lily, with straight faces, said this is entirely a true fact.  And oh my, if this isn’t ever a great example of ishvarapranidhana!  I laughed again and felt the joy of recognizing just how delightful life can be when I can concede ‘the order of things’ to a squirrel….

So now I go over and get up close and personal with these particular flowers.  Now they have individual character and personality and create such a beautiful design together with their leaves and shadows and connection to the ground….

and in the process of taking this in, I notice another lone tulip nearby, rising up out of a brown pile of leaves and twigs leftover from the fall.  It is beautiful, this lone red blossom shining in the sea of muted brown….

Hmmm, and an odd place for a tulip, but now I am imagining that little squirrel, busily digging in this very spot to plant this surprise too.  And then I feel that ripple of, yes, pleasure, go through me, knowing that this beautiful flower right here is no coincidence.  As this is the exact resting place of my beloved Morgan who passed unexpectedly four years ago, a gorgeous male cat in his prime, only eight years old, a favorite, a blessed companion.  And then remnember that yes, I found his perfectly peaceful body on the ground where he passed in the very spot of the cluster of tulips above.  And not that the mystery is truly solved, it’s just that the threads to meaning now become multi-faceted in a way that truly brings the experience right back to where I am in this moment, because otherwise I would simply get lost in distracted.overwhelm with the infinite and ongoing associations….

Okay, so I could go on and on, right?  The point is, recognizing this quality of pleasure to the spontaneity of making a connection, to the celebration of the spiritual, is big.  I now see it is a concrete way for me to take my yoga off the mat in a way that might serve.  And, as if to confirm, I am then led to have an amazing experience with my left knee this morning that has the quality of something I have been waiting for all my life. There is a huge story here, but the gist of it is that I have sustained repeated sprains to my left ankle and ongoing restriction and pain in my left knee for at least twenty years.  My entire yoga practice has been conditioned by this, even sitting in meditation is a challenge.  And then this morning it all changed.  I slip into a supported sitting posture and put the pillow prop under my knee as usual.  And as I slow and focus my breath, my attention goes immediately to my left knee, where I can literally feel an unwinding happening.  It feels as if strands of something have woken up and become alive, undulating and re-arranging inside my knee.  It is thrilling.  When it stops, I notice the absence of pain and that I actually have the same feeling in my left leg that I do in my right.  Wow.

I gently remove the pillow and here I am, sitting in the pure pleasure of rest and awe at what has just transpired….

the last bite

Ben and I sleep late and wake up hungry in this hour closer to brunch than breakfast.  We decide to make some big eggs, full of stuff.  I have a large portobello mushroom cap, a half red pepper, some organic broccoli florets, scallions, and cheddar cheese.  The mushroom and pepper are chopped into small pieces and put in the skillet to saute in some olive oil.  When they begin to soften, add the chopped scallions and chopped broccoli, a little water, and cover.  Whisk four eggs until frothy.  When the vegetables are just done and still firm to bite, turn up the heat to medium high, add a little more oil to the bottom of the pan, and pour in the eggs.  I use a spatula to flip the mixture a few times until the eggs are almost done, not worrying about it staying all in one piece, then adding the shredded cheese on top, a tad of water for steam, turn heat down, and cook until the cheese is just melted.  Fire off.  Sit for a minute with cover on.

I split the pan in half and load up our plates and add toast as Ben adds a large dose of ketchup to his….

We sit down and begin to eat and I am immediately aware of how we are each approaching this yummy meal.  I have already dug in and am eating much faster than Ben, which is different, since he is usually the one who digs in with gusto and doesn’t stop until it is all done.  I am feeling something strangely familiar now, that feeling of needing to slow down to really enjoy every bite, to stretch it out, as if I am in some sort of weird competition with Ben around who will have ‘the last bite’.  And then it comes to me!  All the hours of sitting in the backseat with my brother during family road trips.  We would get ice cream cones, and he would challenge me to see who could make it last the longest, the two of us literally stretching out the experience until there was just a drop of ice cream left in the last tiny tip of the cone.  This was a serious business!  And Rob usually won.  He had great discipline, and could really make things last.  Or our parents would give us each some money to get what we want at a rest stop, candy of course, each of us carefully selecting things that would last longer than the other, fire balls and lifesavers and jaw breakers and sugar daddy’s and such.  And Rob would usually be the winner there too, being able to hold a lifesaver on his tongue until the very last sliver of sugar was dissolved, while I would have long since bitten mine.  Smile  I can feel myself sitting in that back seat with him now, loving every minute of this activity no matter what the outcome, not understanding at the time what a wonderful practice in ‘staying present’ this activity became for us, and how rich I was for the experience of coming up against the edge of my impatience even then in such a safe place…

So now the rubber hits the road for me and Ben.  Certainly, it is not a conscious competition as I would engage in with my brother, but I can see the integrity of each of our choices to thoroughly enjoy this meal displayed prominently on each of our plates…

Ben has continued to eat around the edges of his meal, keeping the look and feel of it intact, while I have broken mine down into ‘bites’ that can be forked in various combinations to create the ‘perfectly delicious bite’.  Smile.  So different in approach but each aimed at being present with our food…

I am now feeling grateful for all those times with my brother engaged in easy happy competition for who could sustain being with their pleasure the longest.  What a great ride down memory lane!  And what a great time following this thread back to today to my enjoyment of the very last bite….!

all in a day

I wake up this Patriots Day morning in the lovely setting of the Walker Center in Auburndale MA, just on the edge of the city of Boston and within a short walk of the Boston Marathon route that is our destination later this morning.  I wake with the clear words going through me of ‘all in a day’ and smiling at the serendipity and magic of our previous day….

It all began with an e-mail from my cousin Bill back in September, sharing his happy news of qualifying for the Boston Marathon and the realization of a significant dream for him.  At sixty-one years old this is an exciting accomplishment and without blinking, I wrote back saying I would be there to support him.  All these years living in Massachusetts and celebrating ‘Patriots Day’, I have never had a reason to venture into the crowded city of Boston on this day to witness the annual historic event of this marathon.  And the fact is, I typically dread huge crowds and the degree of unknown and unpredictability that goes with them.  And then it is Boston!  After living there for five years, I know all too well how easy it is to get lost and not be able to easily find one’s way.  I limit my visits ‘into the city’ for this very reason.  And so, I put the whole affair out of my mind until I receive the e-mail from Bill two weeks ago inquiring of my plans.  Smile.  Hmmm, plans to have no plans is what went through my mind!!  And then realize I need to pay attention in some way here to make this happen.  I make a phone call to a friend who lives near the marathon route and might be able to offer us (me and Ben) a bed for the night.  And though this is not an option this year, he does recommend a wonderful hidden gem of a retreat center offering bed and breakfast rooms not far away.  And wouldn’t you know, at this late date, there is a space for us.  Check.  Okay.  The ball has begun rolling.  I have committed now to being in Boston two whole days for the sole purpose of finding some spot along the marathon route to cheer Bill on and so far, this is the only plan I have….

And wow, what an unfolding it has been since that moment, with fun and exciting activities literally presenting themselves to us for the picking, like pieces of perfectly ripe fruit!  And even in this, every moment of this first day of connecting with Bill and family, and then later with dear friends Lily and Jay, has contained significant elements of unknown.  Just driving to so many new places in Boston alone would typically be enough to undo me.   But it’s as if a river has been flowing underneath and carrying us confidently to each next place, and as long as I don’t fight it, and ask for help when needed, we get there.  Beginning with arrival at the historic Lexington green to meet Bill & family for the famous trolley tour at just the right moment to get the last seats of the 10:00 tour, then a wonderful impromptu picnic lunch and time catching up, finding our way to the lovely Walker Center for a relaxing afternoon nap, visiting with extended family some more in Weston, then driving back into Boston for rocking to the music of Jay’s band, Barefoot Truth, in what turns out to be a tavern style music hall typically frequented by a twenty something crowd, well, it is all in a day, flowing serendipity, and simply wouldn’t have been possible without ‘the river’..

So it is now race day, and true to the flow of the day before, we face a similar set of challenges and unknowns.  Add this to the unseasonably warm temperatures and well, I had no idea how it would all go, and of course, it was again a magical day.  The joy of finally seeing Bill confidently run past with ease, and his jump up into the air like a happy kid at hearing his name being yelled out was worth every moment of getting there, of intently watching each runner pass,  and of being so engaged with energy of the race.   I feel gratitude for every thought I have of our visit, for the lovely tour guide whose brilliant storytelling, and lively re-enactments, kept everything about ‘Patriots Day’ alive,

for the special time spent with family,

for all the generous guiding voices on the other end of the phone as I would call each new destination for directions just moments before arriving, for the gracious executive director Carolyn of the Walker Center who made us feel so welcome, for the brilliant music of Barefoot Truth and being able to share that experience with dear friends of ‘all ages’,

for every moment of enjoying every moment, and not insignificantly, for Ben’s companionship through it all, his tireless and unquestioning engagement with all we do.

I never do get a picture of the actual marathon or of Bill running!  Instead, what I have as a memory is the rich diversity of flowing experiences encountered in the process of getting to that ‘snapshot’ of seeing him run past.   I am so grateful for being able to share this experience with him in this way.   Congratulations Bill!   May you run many more marathons and in doing so, initiate for many others the experience of the flow….