Monday, November 3, 2008

Barack at the Helm?

Does he really want to drive this thing? Can he? Can anyone? This Government needs more than somebody new at the helm, it needs a new engine, new transmission, new fuel source, and new brakes.
Seems that so many are willing to climb aboard if Obama is driving. I mean, I like him. He's likeable. But let's be realistic.
There is no point in being ecstatic or depressed on Tuesday night, no matter what the returns. Barack Obama is brilliant but fallible, prone to greatness but capable of folly. As much as I want to believe in his integrity, he has also been bought, and the list of top donors to his campaign is remarkably similar to the list of those who contributed to McCain. As Naomi Klein remarked at the Rio Theatre a couple of weeks ago, Obama is a centrist. He will go where the center is. So if we wish to steer this ship ourselves, or to have any sway over where this country goes, we must "move the center." This requires caring about local issues as well as global ones, caring about those who agree with us and those who think we're heathens, and finding an audible forum in which to express ourselves. Preaching to the choir is useless; we need to engage in compassionate and conscientious conversation with those who disagree. No pre-conditions.
What does that look like? Well-- here's a small scale but very useful case-- Barb is an example of someone in Santa Cruz engaged enough to be publicizing her picks for the upcoming election (Santa Cruz local ballot.) Thank you, Barb Roettger!
Here's a list of who has endorsed what:

The site where I posted Barb's picks was developed by my dad (Happy Belated Bday!) He is an architect of hope and the inventor of a number of sites that he believes will give hope a seat at the table, and I love him very much for many, many reasons. One reason is that he is a dedicated activist, who believes that through the internet we will ultimately re-possess our own system of governance which has been taken over, it seems, by crony capitalism - thugs, warlords, and multi-national mafiosos. I pray that this new administration will be the change it professes to be, but I also know that change usually happens on a small scale, first. It doesn't trickle down, it rises up.
Speaking of unsung heroes- I was fortunate enough to be at a dinner with Eve Ensler last week. She's famous for The Vagina Monologues- but her dedication to ending violence against women has now taken her to the Congo. As you know, there is ongoing war in the DRC and much of the reason the war still rages is that transnational corporations are mining Coltane (in all of our cell phone batteries - and primarily found in the DRC.) Women and girls, and in many cases boys, are being brutally raped by the militia while this war rages on, year after year, largely ignored by the countries with the resources to do something. This is on the scale of ugliness of the holocaust, and while we are aghast that people stood by and let the holocaust happen, we scarcely realize what is happening today. Check out her site to learn more:
None of this is new. Violence and domination has been a pattern in our consciousness for a long time. It seems to be getting more intense, but I suspect this is only because our awareness is growing- we have the wherewithall to be disturbed by what was once taken as normal. What I believe is that we have to be simultaneously working towards our own awakening, and that of all beings (abhyasa) and trusting in the goodness that sprouts up right in front of us (vairagyam). We need to be organizing tirelessly (abhyasa) and dancing as if everything were already perfect (vairagyam). We are such a strange melange of peoples- some are lost inside their avatars, playing out their desires and hopes in an entirely different realm, and some are so viciously convinced of the veracity of this realm that they have become fanatical - and will crumble if things do not go their way. The place to stand is on the knife's edge, believing in our hopes and dreams, and yet knowing the emptiness at the center of everything. Beyond beliefs is the realm of pure possibility, where everything is possible, and change is inevitable, and we are already free.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dear Ones, (a letter, a rant, a commentary, a prayer)

To all my beloved students who have patiently withstood my comings and goings this last two months, you have my deepest gratitude. I've been a bit of a pilgrim this summer, traversing time zones with vim and vigor. When in the Bay Area, I have been attending many workshops and immersions myself, and thus, yoga is oozing out of my pores. This year marks my tenth year of teaching, and of course I feel like an infant all the time-- like a pup whose eyes are barely open... Thankfully, yoga continues to wake me up on a regular basis. My latest delight was to learn the true meaning of the Sanskrit word anugraha, which I've always known to mean 'grace'. I learned recently that the word actually means holding close (anu) and letting go (graha). Chris Wallace (Hareesh - a scholar who regularly teaches for Anusara trainings) explained to us that this makes a lot of sense, because the crux of the spiritual path is choice. We each have to choose, for ourselves, what we will hold close, and what we will let go. Each of us is constantly at choice. As Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we each must empower ourselves to create our worlds, we must take action. There is no safe harbor in relinquishing agency, for even non-action is action, with its own ramifications. This teaching seems particularly pertinent this fall, as we attempt to engage in the democratic process without creating more polarization in our nation. Humans have a strongly ingrained tendency to villify 'the other' - anyone not in one's tribe, one's own camp. Liberal Democrats against conservative republicans is just another version of us against them. It's easy for all of us to become so convinced of our own right-ness that we neglect to see the humanity of those with different viewpoints -- especially in times like these, when everyone has their grundies in a bundle around something- the endless war, the precarious economy, the reeling enviroment. It doesn't appear that this will be over soon, and everybody is scared. But if we behave as if the sky is falling, we are in trouble. We are incredibly vulnerably if we let fear determine our course; the current administration has been feeding on our fear for some time now. Without a populace in sheer terror, would we have a Patriot Act? Or a Paulson plan? We have to engage in this struggle without being fueled by anger or fear. Going inside for guidance seems the only recourse.
That's my rant for today. I hope to see you soon in class, so that I can rant more in person. I will be back this Friday and Sunday, and the Fall will find me more often home in the Bay Area, with fewer random traipsings. Last weekend I was gone as I taught a retreat at Mount Madonna Center with Laurie Broderick Burr. It was a beautiful opportunity for all of us to both sit quietly and to practice asana, and to sort out the inner conundrum as they arose. We re-booked for the Spring, and we'll continue to lead spring and fall retreats every year. Also, if you would like to retreat soon, before the holidays are upon us, consider attending the Thanksgiving retreat, upcoming, with myself, Samantha Shakti Brown, and Talya Lutzker. Retreat is an unparalleled way to ground and re-balance yourself, if perchance life has revealed to you its chaotic side. Even if not, taking a retreat is a phenomenal opportunity to self-reflect, to feel the strength of the practice, the strength of the body - spirit - mind convergence, and that of the kula - the community of practitioners. Perhaps most delightfully, someone makes all your food, and cleans up! It's really a good thing we've got going...
In deep gratitude for all of it,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


the alarm sounds.
we faintly hear crooning
a relic of a dream, perhaps? or a memory?
we are
still swimming
inside (inside, always and again inside)
this massive confusion
this watery globe

so we foist ourselves upon the day
we brush our grainy teeth
until they gleam
(this is America)
though still the sleep is stuck in the corners of the eyes
the sun,
this miracle? or tragedy? of fire
cuts into us, and cleaves us from the tuggings of somnolence
coaxes us into the web
(we breathe it in, out)
we coexist
with the raking of the past over us,
just as
with the swoon of music, mesmer, cloud, transparent wings.

we make toast.
we converse.
we conduct ourselves.
or so we believe.

Impending catastrophes aside --
(and though they lurk so heavy,
they evaporate as quickly as the flit of a tiny wing)
we are
still swimming
inside (always and again, inside)

and the crooning
still audible, wafts in

july 9, 08

Sunday, July 6, 2008


by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Karma, Samskara, and the Fourth Toe

Had a fabulous weekend in Denver, at a workshop with John Friend, the illustrious, sparklingly awake, and wacky founder of Anusara Yoga, whom my mom called the Yoga Preacher. Here is a rather charming picture of him that Google images helped me to find, dancing a little jig in Scotland. This photo does not seem uncharacteristic, as John could have been a stand up comedian-- of the goofball variety, no dry wit to be found. This is a huge change for me, as I have studied diligently with Kofi Busia for 12 years or more, who does indeed have a sense of humor, but it absolutely arid, and often shrouded in such obscure references that it can't penetrate my yoga trance. Kofi is immensely thorough, sagacious, and scholarly. In fact, if you want to know a bit about BKS Iyengar, and wonder how Kofi would tell the tale, go to his website, and you'll find an amazingly detailed biography of him. Kofi is an amazing melange of a human: poetic, phenomenally erudite, deeply personal, and remarkably intuitive. With awe-inspiring ease, he simultaneously gives deft adjustments and regales his students with tales from the Vedas and teachings from the sutras, with an incredible knack for speaking about precisely what one needs to hear, and drawing one (well, me, at least) into deeper and deeper reflection upon the nature of karma and samkara, and how they are playing out in one's little life. Kofi can offer a little comedic relief, too- but with kind of a dry and slightly cynical edge, perchance absorbed from his fellow students at Oxford, where he studied for many years. John Friend, on the other hand, switches with great facility between his southern California voice and his frat boy voice and his Indian Guru voice, making a parody of all, as well as of himself. I found myself contented simply absorbing some of his silly glee, and not too worried about the details of my own life. So perhaps this is one of the great gifts of this particular Guru- he possesses the power to distract. Still, he is hugely inspiring, and particularly emphasizes the Tantric approach of using all challenges to grow stronger, fuller, and brighter within. The strongest trees, he reminded us, are the ones that have some obstacle in their way; the ones who have to work to survive. Yoga is the tool, the technology, that gives us the power to see through and beyond samskaras, our habituated tendencies, and grow into more skillful, powerful, and honest humans - for yoga gives us access to, or awareness of, grace, and an understanding of our true nature: Svatantrya, or infinite freedom.
In the midst of the inexhaustible stream of uplifting banter, John gives immensely precise alignment instructions. I am used to the loops and spirals by now, so I was somewhat more interested in his philosophical rants, but there were a few details about poses that I really liked– such as his extra-enthusiastic emphasis on the 4th toe. He insists that the spreading of the fourth toe is the key to Eka Pada Koundinyasana 2. Um, okay. I knew something was getting in my way. I myself have long been obsessed with the big toe, and particularly the big toe ball, as many of my students are well aware. This is Kofi's influence. Kofi convinced me that the big toe ball is the portal unto infinite freedoms, the passageway to the resolution of all our wordly troubles - the key to enlightenment, even. I have developed a special fondness for the baby toe, too... but the 4th toe had yet to really make it onto my A-list. Until now... Also, on the topic of toes and how to best enjoy them, John asked us to sit with our legs extended out in front, feet up so that legs were about at 45 degrees from the ground. And he asked us to point our big toes and flex our baby toes. Try this at home. This, he proclaimed cheekily, ought to keep you busy. He also stated unequivocally that this is the secret to bakasana. Many arm balances and backbends and 48 hours later, my quads, hamstrings and traps aching, I crawled out of the building, feeling an inner lightness which I'm sure was not obvious from my odd gait.
I'll be with him again in July, in San Diego– I look forward to another infusion of giddy grace! Meanwhile, I'm here in the Bay Area- preparing for the Mother's Day Benefit this weekend. Read on, below- we still have some space!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mother's Day Benefit for the Women and Water Conference

Mother's Day Benefit with Samantha Shakti-Brown and Kelly Blaser
May 11, 08 at the Shakti Yoga Shala in the Santa Cruz Mountains
All proceeds to benefit the Women's Earth Alliance. The Women's Earth Alliance supports Women in a variety of Programs, including: Women and Water, Women and Environmental Justice, Women and Sustainable Agriculture, and Women and Climate Change.
Proceeds from our event will directly support The Women and Water Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Summer '08.

Samantha Shakti-Brown and Kelly Blaser will offer yoga and meditation courses in the morning and afternoon. We will be served fabulous Ayurvedic Fare at lunchtime, and after lunch we'll delight in the gorgeous voices of the a capella trio of Heather Houston, Molly Hartwell, and Samantha Keller. The songstresses will also offer an hour of musical inspiration where we'll learn songs from around the world.

Join us for a magical day practicing, taking in the blessings of song, eating together, and relaxing on the mountain. In addition to all of the above listed offerings, you have the option of taking time to enjoy the land, to hike, journal, rest, etc.

To Register for this event, you may either register on line:
Or email Sam:
or call Linda:

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Gam Zu L'Tova" and the grokking of the unseen world... Easier at 3??

"Gam Zu L'Tova" and the grokking of the unseen world... Easier at 3??
One of my students recently recounted a story to me about her nephew, who, for his 3 years on the planet, has a suprisingly enlightened reaction to spilling milk. When things go awry - like thomas the tank engine gets smashed by his sister, or his sucker falls in the dirt, her responds with the refrain: Gam Zu L'Tova. It's a Hebrew saying, meaning, "This is also for the good." As a therapist, I spend a lot of time hearing about the wounds of the world. In most cases it is not particularly helpful for me to remind people to look on the bright side, for fresh pain only needs commiseration and empathy. Yet, personally, I am getting a lot of mileage out of my newly aquired phrase. Reminds me of the infinite wisdom of Rumi, the Sufi mystic poet, who eternally reminds us to be awake to the unseen realms. He writes:
Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it.
Whoever has polished it more sees more - more unseen forms become manifest to him.
(As quoted in The Sufi Path of Love : The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi (1983) by William C. Chittick, p. 162)
Rumi is from Afghanistan, and was the #1 best selling poet in the US a few years back. The paradox of that is, I'm sure, obvious, while we are seemingly unable to get along with Rumi's present day countrymen. Anyhow, I take the 3 year old as the messiah of the day - as evidence of the fact that despite the fact that sometimes things appear to be going to hell in a handbasket the world over, there is a spirit in the little creatures that could be powerful enough to balance out all of the recklessness. It's contrary to reason, but reason is conditioned and constructed. The conditioned mind finds itself quite clever, but is really a very shaky guide. All it seeks is defense, impunity, and an easier world, a quest which leads to ruin. The heart, more ambiguous at times, is much more reliable. We have no idea what is coming. Unshield, let down the armor, allow befuddlement. Gam Zu L'Tova.
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

blog tome: conditioning, therapy, shiva, celebration

blog tome: conditioning, therapy, shiva, celebration
Most of you have at least a cursory familiarity with Patanjali, the great sage from the 2nd century BCE, who wrote down, or 'codified' the practice of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Sutra means thread. These teachings were considered to be the threads that held together a human, through dictating one's moral and ethical guidelines. One of the most oft-quoted sutras reads: "yogas chitta vritti nirodhah". This means:
"Yoga is the control of the vrittis (or thought waves) of the mind". The vrittis are waves or modifications such as thoughts, memories, and emotions. The idea within Classical Yoga is that the vrittis keep one from seeing one's true self. Patanjali goes on to say, "When the vrittis are controlled, the seer abides in his own true nature." So, you see, a world was set up which placed a deep divide between the 'true nature' of a yogi and his or her immediate experience, which includes, usually, an impressive amount of fluctuation of the mind. For most of us, in fact, the mind just doesn't stop much. In order for the 'untrained' mind to just stop, we have to be fixated on some extreme phenomenon, whose intensity trumps the usual meanderings of the mind. Think: Sex (the good kind), a tornado, kayaking a class 5 rapid, having your appendix burst, etc. All riveting sorts of affairs which demand full attention. And the discursive mind stops. Or seems to, anyway. Maybe for even, like, 20 seconds!
For Patanjali, this is really sad and tragic. Because, entrapped in conditioning, we will never perceive the true nature of spirit (Purush). The average Yogi of Patanjali's era, convinced that the universe was strictly structured by a division between spirit and matter, or self and divine, focused intently upon self-control. The underlying emphasis was that the energies of this world, this realm, were base and unconscious, and were guided by a perverse ego-obsession that perpetuated suffering. The divine realm was undifferentiated, the place of the pure light of consciousness. Thus, a strict division was created between the divine realm, or Purusha, and the realm of the material, physical world in which humans create toil and trouble, Prakriti.
The only goal of human existence was to ascend, following strict yogic guidelines, to Samadhi, the final stage of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Thus, the yogi finds total release from the wretched suffering of the cycles of birth and death. Tra-la-la!!
The stages that culminate in Samadhi were put forth in the sutras, Chapter 2, sutra 29, in what is known as the 8-limbs of yoga. Asana is only one of thses limbs.
The guidelines are strict. I myself, coming of age whilst trying to emulate my fantasy of the yogic lifestyle, made a serious effort to purify all of my actions and behavior and even thoughts and feelings, in order to sculpt myself into my projected image of what the ideal yogi was. This was comforting for a time. Discipline was good for me. My crazy mind seemed a little easier to co-exist with. But still, it was a lot of rigidity. I was beholden to a very rigidly defined system. Straying from the path was not an option. And despite the fact that one knows, intellectually, that one is to apply the 'laws' of the eightfold path only to oneself- never trying to foist them upon others - I found at times it was difficult to deal with the other humans- especially in relationship. So imperfect! Such beasts!!

This made becoming a therapist a little tricky. People tell therapists all the gnarliest things they have ever seen in human nature, either in others, or in themselves. Fortunately, concurrent with starting my internship at the East Bay Community Recovery Project, I also got awakened to splendor of Shaivism. A big dose of freedom came into my reality. Here are a few "bullet points" of what Shaivism has taught me and what it's meant for me as a fledgling therapist.

In Shaivism, the absolute is Shiva: and Shiva is ultimately simply love. We can therefore take the attitude that Love is the essential nature of all beings. Even in the midst of suffering, all clients who enter the therapy room have love at their essential core. All beings have only goodness in their deepest being. Love is the healing force, and everything that we employ to do our work; be it intellectual knowledge, the power of analysis or differentiation, the ability to connect and join, or acute intuition, we rely up on love.

There is much confusion that covers over that essence of love. This is due to ignorance, identification with the separate self, and because of the accumulation of karmas. Karmas get accumulated when the center of the self gets misplaced. In other words, when one becomes aligned with a part of oneself that is not the divine, when one believes wholeheartedly in their separateness, or gets caught in a conditioned identity, and takes an action based on that misunderstanding, karma gets accumulated.

Much of what causes pain is the attachment to identity. Affronts, offenses, and losses are often caused by or at least exacerbated by attachment to a rigid, small sense of self.

The first part of healing is to recognize that the center of each human being is the divine, the universal, the wholeness, the ground of being. That essence is love. The first tool is that of discernment, and what we need to discern is the depth of love that gives rise to all that is.

We are here to recognize that our individuated state is not a problem as long as we recognize ourselves as a manifestation of the divine. As long as we are able to do so, life can become a celebration.

Celebration of life becomes possible when we are able to create a bridge between the heart of the divine and this world of form.

However, the path is not always easy: we will continue to suffer, intermittently, as we build the bridge from the confused orientation with separateness to the freedom of being identified with the freedom of the divine. We can therefore hold the possibility of freedom from suffering, while we simultaneously refuse to be afraid of suffering. As Cheri Huber once said: "Suffering is optional. Pain is inevitable." Yes, and, in the moments when we find ourselves suffering, we are most free when we get curious about that process, rather than beating ourselves up for having been foolish enough to chose suffering again.

All of this, again, occurs by drawing a bigger circle of acceptance around us. And allowing everyone and everything in.

And, continuing to differentiate. For celebration of life is not the same as attachment to life as we know it.

We have to walk a tightrope between materialism (believing that 'maya' is all there is, and nihilism, not believing in anything in this world of forms.) We are here to celebrate our existence, but if we are celebrating so enthusiastically our experience on this physical plane that we buy into it fully, forgetting that this world of form is maya, or illusion, characterized primarily by impermanence, we will suffer intensely when this physical world deteriorates or when our needs within it are not met.
Fearlessness and Devotion must be evoked in order to face the pain of burning away the veils of illusion. One of the manifestations of Siva is Bhairava: Bhairava is the embodiment of fear, and it is said that those who meet him must confront the source of their own fears. We have to lay ourselves bare to the divine, even whilst frightened.

In Ancient India, Bhakti is easily accessed, through going into the heart center. Even in the midst of loss, and pain, one keeps the heart glistening with grief.

"Because You love the Burning -ground, I have made a Burning-ground of my heart - That You, Dark One, hunter of the Burning-ground, May dance Your eternal dance."
~ Bengali Hymn~

Therapy is the process of trusting in the client's essence as love, their ultimate wholeness, their fearlessness, and their capacity to integrate all the schisms of the conditioned reality. Therapy is taking on the seat of the witness, to model for the client their own inner capacity, until they innately step into that seat by themselves.

Until the jiva (soul) is free, it is ruled by spanda, which is the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence. Spanda is the fluctuation between expansion and contraction. Spanda is the building up and tearing down that is always at work in nature. When we are 'identified' we cannot very well relax into the modes of destruction, but from the wisdom of the heart even the destruction mode can be accepted. The heart is the essence of loving and then grieving, attaching and then releasing. According to Shaivism, the expansion and contraction happen simultaneously.

The body is the clearest representation of spanda that we have. The earth, as well, but the body is the central element of our experience - it gives us almost all of our information about how we feel, what we want, when we're safe and when we're not. The body rules.
The body is the receptacle of all experience. If we cannot tolerate the stress placed up on us, the body takes the brunt of it, accumulating stress and grief.

Moral of this seemingly endless rant?
Do your practice. Open up the body. Breathe. Not because you're going to save yourself from disintegration. Not because you think you should. Not because it makes you a better person (you're already perfect!) And not because you're hoping to have a good-looking corpse. But because love and clarity of mind rely up on it.