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Extra Miles

Are you all recovered now?

Six days after I walked the Des Moines Half-Marathon with Seventeen, finishing in a respectable 3 hours 32 minutes and 16 seconds, I was still aware of feeling deep fatigue, the kind that finds me propped in bed with a movie at 8:30. He, of course, rebounded after a long nap. More surprising to me than my recovery time was the fact that I have zero desire to enter any more races. There’s a 5K or better just about every weekend until it’s too cold to exercise outside, many with chocolate at the finish line, but I don’t want any part of them. While I genuinely enjoy shared physical activity—I’m a yoga instructor, after all—and can’t imagine any better community than one devoted to fitness, the aspect of the race culture that doesn’t fit me came as a surprise: the noise. When the going gets tough, I thrive on quiet to recruit the strength I need to keep going.

On race day the noise from the start/finish line reached us several blocks away. By the time we got up close, the announcers and their roaring countdown couldn’t be ignored. They nattered about race times and the elite runners and sponsors and how we could all get back and have a beer. It was incessant. Out on the course I was grateful for the fog, a reminder to keep my attention on the task at hand and dismayed by the well-meaning people pounding pans with wooden spoons. It took a couple of miles for Seventeen and me to find our groove, but once we did we were in it and walked briskly in spite of sticky humidity and a slick course.

There were some joyful highlights. We felt famous when young women at a water station greeted us by name, until we realized that our first names were emblazoned on our race tags. Nonetheless, they provided just the right amount of cheer, water and thirds of banana we needed to boost us between miles 3 and 4.

At mile 7 Seventeen allowed as to he might actually be exercising. And we were both thrilled between miles 8 and 9 when the elite marathoners with their police escort ran by us. Shortly thereafter we were caught for some minutes in the noisy crosswinds of a self-appointed entertainer who surely meant well but was pitchy at best as she strummed and sang top 40 songs and the announcer who would call us in for bacon at their refreshment stop (Seventeen: “Even I don’t think bacon sounds good right now.”). The long hill up to the Capitol building followed and then it was north across the interstate and back south again, passing mile 11. The closer we got to the end, the more people stood on the sidelines cheering, playing, banging, yelling. For the last two miles I felt a little like the Grinch: It was all just noise, noise, noise, noise!

Seventeen took my hand and we crossed the finish line together. A smiling volunteer put a medal around my neck and Fourteen, who had been volunteering at the final water station, was standing there to greet us. Remembering that moment of triumph just now, it’s a tableau without a soundtrack, as though all the noise stopped for a few moments of sweet celebration with my peeps. And then it was back, louder than ever, as we threaded our way through to the food booths where Seventeen replenished all of the calories he had burned. A rock band played, the beer garden beckoned, and happy people with medals around their necks danced with their friends. I could barely move. And suddenly I realized all I wanted was the solace of quiet.

So my half-marathon completion party was just me, submerged in a tub full of warm water and Epsom salt until only my nose broke the surface.

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I’m proud of this medal!

When you’ve been striving for something with dedication—my training took over my summer and fall—it’s particularly interesting when it’s done, a different kind of quiet. Into the space spent thinking about hydration and training advancement, not to mention the time commitment for short and long walks every week, arrives an invitation, an opening. I was pondering just that after I dropped Fourteen at Nutcracker rehearsal, tooling over to get the torque on my recently rotated tires checked at Costco. Into the space walked a woman and man on a journey of their own that just for a few minutes intersected with mine.

I had parked when they approached and I could see they were both looking concerned. I wanted to set them at ease, “May I help you?”

The woman, tall, svelte, a little older than I am, looked relieved, “Yes, actually. We’ve locked our keys in the car and my phone is with them. If we could use your phone to call a cab I guess.”

“Of course.” I lit up my phone and dialed the number she reeled off from memory. As she waited for a dispatcher to answer, she was talking more to herself than to me: “I usually use Uber but the app is on my phone. They’re not answering. We only live about two miles from here.”

“Why don’t you let me drive you?”

If it seemed awkward at all to accept a ride from a stranger in the parking lot, she didn’t hesitate. She handed me my phone. “Really?” A big smile.

“My name’s Robin,” extending my hand.

“Mary,” she replied, shaking it. “And this is Charlie.”

Charlie declared he would go in and do their shopping, sending Mary with me. Truth be told he was looking a little askance at the convertible, even though it was a lovely fall day, bright sunshine and blue skies, a gentle breeze. Mary gamely climbed in, gave me directions, and we were off.

We exchanged information, but mostly Mary talked. They were just back, it turned out, from a celebration of life for the parents of longtime friends. But the real shadow in Mary’s life, it came out just before we arrived at her house, was that her own mother had died about ten days previously. “It’s no wonder,” I soothed, “that you locked your keys in your car. You’ve been through so much.”

Mary had clear social graces and did occasionally ask me a question, but mostly she talked and I encouraged her. It wasn’t long before we were back by her car, key in hand, and there was Charlie pushing out a cart full of wine. By way of thanks Mary said, “I wondered what I was going to do to enjoy this beautiful fall day. I guess it was ride in your convertible.”

“I’m so glad,” I said, and I was.

As I waved goodbye to Mary and Charlie, I felt grateful that there was enough silence when we happened upon one another in the parking lot that I could respond with the kindness they needed. I remembered just then that one of the elite runners, somewhere between miles 10 and 11, had gone tearing past Seventeen and me, no longer accompanied by motorcycle police or the other four runners. Was he running more just for the fun of it? Adding mileage for some Herculean running test ahead? Or was he running on for the joy and freedom he felt for having finished his task? When he zoomed down the street, his back splattered in dirt, his arms and legs moving in wide free form rather than the disciplined lockstep intensity we had seen earlier, all I could wonder is how he could have run a step beyond the finish. But after my ride in the sun with Mary I realized that we each have extra miles in us—they just don’t all look the same.

Wishing you joy-filled extra miles and the start of something big as we slide into the middle of fall under a new moon. xoR

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#RadiantOmYoga

#RadiantOmYoga

How do you know when it’s the end?

Kurt Vonnegut opined in his play Happy Birthday Wanda June that heaven is a giant shuffleboard game. I think of my father sending a disc gliding down the court and then leaning on his cue, sipping a heavenly cocktail, and gazing down at us periodically. He would be especially proud of his grandchildren, two Harvard men (my nephews), Fourteen, a budding novelist, and Seventeen, who shows every indication of moving toward finance but who has been writing front-page articles for his school newspaper since the first week of school (Grinnell’s newspaper is The Scarlet and Black).

Seventeen’s grandfather found his early writing roots in journalism. His father, Seventeen’s great grandfather, was a newspaperman. My brother is an editor for Field and Stream. My grandmother wrote children’s stories and women’s fiction before there was chicklit. Writing is in our blood. From his early journalism exposure, my father never finished a manuscript without centering at least one # at the end. I can still see his desk, which is now mine, covered with piles of thin bond, Xs crossing out the mistakes, his unmistakable handwriting annotating his drafts. Somehow, my father always knew when he was at the end. It must have been such a victory to type those pound/number/hashtag signs at the bottom of the page.

I mean to ask Seventeen if he submits his electronic stories replete with ### at the end or if there is a new convention now that submissions present in digital form. It was less conventional for my father to end his novels that way, but he never typed “the end.” For years I copied him, until one of my college professors circled the ### on the last page of my paper and swirled them away as unnecessary with a delete symbol. Curious, I do a little searching. According to the Internet, it was all the way back in 2007 when the # got repurposed by the tech world. It wasn’t on my radar in its hashtag capacity until much more recently, and while I’ve been known to “hashtag” a phrase or two, I’m enough of a traditionalist that I still think of it as the number or pound sign first.

“Punctuation,” I tell my writing mentee, “makes meaning.” I am incredibly fond of punctuation for this reason. Beyond knowing when and how to employ the squiggles and dots that pepper the keyboard, I marvel how in each unique application punctuation eases the workload for words, adding just the right finish to a polished sentence.

Period. The end. But how do you know?

To finish something, we have to anticipate the end. Early this year I met with my accountant: “I don’t think I’m going to renew the studio lease,” I told her. “After five years, this is going to be it.” And after five years of cheering me on, meeting with me at every turn, soothing and comforting me when obstacles threatened to derail my progress, my accountant simply agreed, “It’s time.”

Full of the promise of possibilities, eager to show my children that their mother could create something amazing, ready to give up the life of a road yogi teaching at as many as seven different places in a given week, it was six years ago when I started writing the chapter that would become Radiant Om Yoga. There were lots of firsts on the journey—from legal explorations like becoming the proud owner of an LLC and a trademark to learning QuickBooks and small-business banking to getting the key to my first leased commercial space. What I didn’t know when I started about running a business, in spite of being self-employed for much of my adult life, I learned to the best of my abilities, marveling at just how different each day could be.

On the fifth anniversary of the very first class I ever taught at Radiant Om Yoga, with the help of three women I am lucky to count as friends and supporters of my yoga journey, we picked up the floor, the last big task to closing the space. That night, Wednesday, I taught my first class in a new space, a yoga cooperative where my community kindly followed me, and the yoga that night reminded us that the practice allows us to adapt.

Thursday it took two car trips to load the tiles into my garage. I made a pile so high that, as Fourteen said, “The floor reaches the ceiling.” The rest of my garage looks very much like a jumble sale; somehow the contents of the studio will find new purpose in my house or move on to new homes.

With nothing left but the garbage cans and a couple of resin chairs I was leaving behind (they were there when I got there), the studio felt like a shell. For five years I was the self-appointed steward of the space. Sitting on the floor one last time, I could see vast improvement to the interior of the building in spite of how hard as it often was: how many times did I curse my leasing company (indeed, at one point when they were fully in breach of contract I was one chess move away from rolling up my mat and taking them to court); how often did I arrive to find leakage from the roof, pest infestations, freezing temps because the furnace was out, snow under the door, broken plumbing, or humidity buckling my flooring; how frequently did my heart sink because just as I struggled to keep the place afloat another yoga studio would announce their grand opening in town? But then again, how many times did I teach in that sanctuary and find ease and joy in my whole being?

Sitting on the cruddy subfloor, I lit the candle and some sage and thanked the building, out loud, for the many, many gifts. Beyond everything I learned about business, beyond all of the yoga delights and revelations, beyond all of the healing, beyond the professional approbations and the personal friendships, the space was my sanctuary too, my healing place as I made the transition out of married life, as I forged ahead into and then out of an intense romance, as friendships deepened and I became ever clearer about who I am and what’s important to me. To mark the end, I rang the tingsha, three times, blew out the candle and knew … it was time to go. For the last time ever, I locked the door, patted the building, and got into my car. So much of the good continues with me, but the chapter, the chapter is truly and really over.img_7361

 

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With a new moon, new beginnings. Looking forward to writing the next chapter, xoR

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The keeper of the keys no more … later today I’ll drop this pile at the leasing office. 

Hand-le This

Hand-le This

How are you?

The wise woman seated across from me, a friend, a confident, a compassionate advisor, a yogini, looks at me with distinct concern. “I have a new teacher.” She settles in to hear my story and I hold up my hand. “My knuckle on my first finger is stuck. I can curl it in, but I can’t open my hand all the way.”

Yes, I will respond to the logical next question, it hurts, some days more than others. But the real issue is loss of function. I cannot open my hand flat, nor can I put weight on it. Thus I cannot do any of a number of yoga poses (Asana), making both personal practice and teaching challenging in the most frustrating of ways. (Typing isn’t a breeze, either….)

This current issue may or may not be related to breaking this same finger when I was thirteen years old, rebelliously sliding down a banister sidesaddle at my junior high. I did it every day on the way out to lunch, but that day my foot caught the upright and I toppled off, skittering down several steps to the horror of my friends. When I landed at the bottom, my finger was already swelling. A block away in the medical practice of my neighbor, a specialist in surgery of the hand and upper extremity, he braced it for setting with a Bic pen.

Or it could be more directly related to cutting the mats for the yoga studio floor, a feat that involved holding a straightedge rock solid as I fit the mats into the negative spaces all around the outskirts of the room. For six hours.

Or, it could be arthritis—changes consistent with age, my all-time least favorite medical diagnosis.

Whatever it is, the fact that my finger sometimes caught and then released—a condition I saw a surgeon for a year ago when we decided it was behaving well enough after a cortisone shot—became a significant issue not quite three weeks ago when it caught and stuck. I had, in fact, been having fewer problems with it. Keeping it warm and watching what I eat both had pleasantly reduced the number of times per week I’d feel that all-too familiar catch. So it was a complete surprise when I picked up a folding table by its handle and felt a shift in my hand along with the shock of joint pain—a moment when I knew immediately something was wrong.

Another cortisone shot and the surgeon’s suggestion that we wait three weeks to see if it would resolve on its own sent me out to work around my injured hand. Yoga and typing aside, I can manage most things, albeit with some adjustments. Washing my hair and putting on lotion, clapping, and loading up my hands and then finding a working finger to open the refrigerator door all prove more difficult. I need to be careful, too, not to put too much weight in my hand, let alone on it. This week, rainy with shifting barometric pressures, my hand hurts doing just about anything. Most days basics like cooking and folding laundry are okay, if a little slower.

The metaphor of a stuck joint isn’t lost on me. In the mind-body dance arts practice Nia®, the first finger is the finger of desire. I have been conversing with this knuckle about the ways I feel stuck, still sad over the man who left me in December, still wrestling with a full plate that doesn’t seem to ease, still mostly ignoring a house and garden that need more attention and money than I can give them, still uncertain about my long-range plans.

Then, just this morning, for five seconds there was a tiny pop and the finger straightened. No warning, no pain, my hand was

In this case, the right hand both knows what the left hand is doing and should be doing. That index finger toward the left side of the picture--that's as straight as it'll go.

In this case, the right hand both knows what the left hand is doing and should be doing. That index finger toward the left side of the picture–that’s as straight as it’ll go.

wide open. My brain, too—the fog lifted for that moment. I felt whole and free. As fast as it came, the moment was over and the knuckle stuck again. The pain radiated in my arm and has remained, sinking me back into what I realize now has been a mental haze, draped over me during this entire chapter.

Just like my finger, I’m not 100% stuck. It was a little over a week or so ago someone brightly asked me—your studio, your book, are you living the dream? I laughed the chagrinned laugh of someone who sees both the truth and the lunacy of a question like that. Then I smiled at her, knowing she was asking kindly, and said, “Sure, let’s go with that.”

The May full moon, appropriately named the flower moon, has waxed and begun to wane, but everything goes a little slower with one and a half hands. Blog postings too. Thank you, as ever, for going on this journey with me. xoR

Sit-n-Reach

Have you always been so flexible?

In yoga practice we fold forward, standing feet together or wide in a straddle to reach toward the floor, seated to reach toward our toes, drawing legs and torso toward each other in a seated balance pose that is frequently featured as a cover photo for Yoga Journal, a smiling, nimble yoga model making a difficult pose look easy, and even rolling over onto our backs, drawing the legs over our heads toward the floor. Energetically, forward folds invite the practitioner to go within, to cool a heated body or calm a flustered mind. Not everyone is a fan.

Forward folds tax tight hamstrings and hips. For people with low back pain, a forward fold may be appealing but it could be counter-indicated before, at least, the person is fully warmed up and has done a series of back extensions. Nonetheless, forward folds are such a standard measure of “flexibility” that they are included in the twice-yearly presidential physical fitness tests run in our public schools. In conversation with people who are telling me why they think they want to practice yoga, I often hear, “I’m not flexible; I can’t even touch my toes.”

At the studio I’ll encourage a class to take the first few forward folds of a practice with knees bent to avoid over stretching the hamstrings. If we lengthen and release from the bottoms of the feet along the entire back body and all the way to the crown of the head, we move from a dedicated hamstring stretch (and potential injury) to a full body experience that recognizes the connected nature of all of our parts.

That said, touching one’s toes is both an admirable goal and a reasonable expectation to arrive with on the mat. It is not, however, so accurately a measure of flexibility as range of motion.

I have in most of my joints noteworthy range of motion. Even following childbirth, it only took a few yoga classes after Twelve was born for me to give up arm-lengthening blocks and place my hand directly on the floor in poses like Triangle and Lateral Angle. When I talk about compression—the point at which a joint can move no further because of the way it’s built—in class, I invariably hear a gasp if I use my own wrist or even ankle to demonstrate. And when the inevitable question arrives, about whether I’ve been flexible my whole life, I smile and quip that I wouldn’t be a good advertisement for yoga if I weren’t flexible.

As ever, yoga offers me the metaphors that I need. When I first started practicing regularly in 1998, I believed I was flexible. I have never not been able to touch the floor. In just a few classes I found I could fold my body in half, laying the length of my torso along my legs. I can interlace my fingers behind me and drawing my hands over my head in a standing straddle, bring my arms parallel to the ground. What I have, naturally, are joints with significant range of motion. Yoga keeps my soft tissues limber, preventing tension that can constrict a joint. But like anyone, my joints stop moving where bone finds bone, what Paul Grilley calls “compression.” Compression doesn’t hurt, when you reach that point with all tension gone. But most of us find muscular tension restricting mobility before we reach joint compression. Still, range of motion isn’t the same thing as flexibility—one is physical, the other is much more about how we adjust.

A few Thursdays ago I was driving east, early in the day. Grateful I don’t normally have to flow with the rush hour traffic downtown, I figured out where I needed to be, parked, and thought to put money in the meter even though enforcement doesn’t begin until 8. The quarter jammed. I hopped into my car and maneuvered one space over. This meter swallowed my coins but gave me the appropriate time in return. I bounded up the stairs, not really late but arriving just overneath the wire as so often happens. The appointment, passports for Twelve and Fifteen, went smoothly and we were back in the car and heading to school just a little later. I’d already called in my daughter’s late arrival, so we dropped Fifteen first. On the way from his high school to her middle school, I mused that I would take my editing (due later that afternoon) out for breakfast, and then I head to my entrepreneurial buddy’s house for the morning. Twelve said, “That sounds like a nice day,” as she collected her belongings and stepped out of the car. I watched her to the door.

On my way to breakfast I realized that I only had with me the first four pages of a twelve-page newsletter, so I switched lanes and navigated toward home. I got out a pan to make my own breakfast and checked my phone—a message from my entrepreneurial friend revealed she was ill and in bed. I finished making my plate and told my mother, “I’m going to take my breakfast back to bed.” It’s one of my favorite treats and I had a book I was almost finished reading.

A half-hour later I got up for the second time and decided that since my day had shifted, I now had time to change my bed and put my laundry away before diving into the editing. It felt good to leave my room tidier than I found it. Downstairs I filled my water bottle and spread my editing out on my desk when an email arrived from a woman with whom I’d been corresponding—could we meet at the yoga studio at 11:35? I fired back that I’d see her there and in no time at all I was back on the road. The studio meeting and a few work items attended to, I decided to go over to the coffee shop, where I greeted my friend who telecommutes and sat down to attend to the editing pressing hard against the deadline as morning had become afternoon.

It was almost time to pick up Twelve when a mother and son hailed me as I was getting into my car—did I know the way to a specific address? I started to show them on my phone and when they looked concerned, like they couldn’t possibly find it on their own, I invited them to follow me and lead them to where they were going. They honked happily as I waved, tore back to collect my daughter, and we drove home to fax in my work, start homework and dinner, and regroup for a private session and a class. I couldn’t help but think about how differently my day had gone from the way I said it was going when I dropped her off. Not bad, just different.

Indeed, every day is interesting—a blend of different types of work, parenting, and socializing. Like so many, I move from one to another, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in fits and starts, often derailed by a fire to put out or a phone call to answer. Am I flexible? Sometimes. When I can decide en route to change my plan and decide to change again in response to a request or someone in need, that feels like flexibility to me. When I cope with my car breaking or my mother’s computer having a sticky q key, that, too, feels like flexibility. When I feel overwhelmed trying to get everyone fed and my son announces that he needs to be at school early in the morning for a guest speaker, in comes the tension. When I know there’s something big that needs to be attended to, it can feel impossible, in a way that makes me feel paralyzed and powerless. My mind whirls and often creates a block against any action, like a computer screen frozen mid-sentence or a stiff, swollen joint that doesn’t move through its full design.

paschi

Hinge forward, feet flexed, extend torso along legs. Interlace or bind the fingers around the feet to close the energy circuits. Breathe.

That’s the physical; yoga definitely keeps my physical tensions at a minimum. So, yes, I don’t often get tight or sore or lose much in the way of full range of motion. On a good day, it is quite a different muscle, my brain, that yoga is tasked with keeping flexible. Some days are more successful than others.

A post catching me up to the full moon, the spring temperatures, and the greening and budding and nest building that are happening all around us. Happy spring & thank you, as ever, for being a part of my journey. Namaste & big love, Rxo

New Directions

New Directions

Have you ever heard of “resistant starch?”

July was a month of mini-breaks: a long weekend in Omaha, two nights on the road delivering my peeps to camp, a working weekend at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and a much-anticipated return to very near the boundary waters in Minnesota after I collected my camping peeps. As I nearly always do, for each of the trips I packed a work bag—overdue editing, financial papers I’ve been wanting to scrutinize, letters to write, my computer with its infinite access to concepts and things to read, two books because I might finish one.

On the second of these trips, the one where I was determined to have a “sort it all out” big picture meeting with myself, I couldn’t face spreading out all of the list snippets and partially formed goals on my hotel bed as I had envisioned spending the afternoon. It was past six when I arrived at the historic and lovely St. James Hotel in Redwing, MN, after a stormy day of driving and an emotional hour of settling my peeps into camp, Twelve away from home for the first time. I told myself I’d do it in the morning and took my legal pad to the hotel bar where I wrote a journal entry, most of a blog post and started a birthday letter to my pen pal of thirty years. That, for me, is sitting still.

In the morning I brought breakfast from downstairs up to bed and spread open the newspaper I had discovered outside my door. I skimmed through the news, read the funnies, and got thoroughly engrossed in an article about resilience training.

Referencing the work of The Chemistry of Joy author Henry Emmons, MD, the article explained resilience training helps people live through difficult times by attending to the needs of body, mind and spirit. It sounded to me a lot like yoga and to be sure, the article mentioned mind-body connecting practices like yoga and meditation as helpful in boosting our resilience.

The idea dovetailed with a physical concept I’d been thinking about since the first trip nine days before, resistant starch. I read the term “resistant starch” in a food column I was proofreading early one morning and thought, I’ve never heard of that before. Garbanzo beans, one of my all-time favorite foods, contain resistant starch, starch that I learned essentially resists digestion until it reaches the intestinal system where it helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Cold cooked potatoes have resistant starch, hot potatoes do not. Cashews, another favorite, are loaded with resistant starch. Naturally, once I started looking on the Internet, there was a ton of information about this trendy topic and plenty of lists of foods to try.

On the drive home from Redwing, I started to see resilient and resistant as a pair, and they bumped around together in my brain. I wanted to pull over and look up their origins to see if they were from a common root. They are not, although they both trace back to Latin. Resistant is from the Latin re- “against” plus sistere “take a stand, stand firm.” Resilient stems from re- “back” plus salire “to jump, leap.”

In much more recent usage, resilience adds the sense of having the power of recovery. Thus, if we’re not able to resist and we get dragged through something awful, our resilience comes to the fore and we bounce back. Or at least that’s how I decided it should all work if I’m practicing regularly and eating well.

These two concepts were frontiers for me—new ways to examine what I eat and what I do and how such behaviors interact and bolster me. In one way they confirm what I already know; in another way they clarify, expand and even challenge my thinking. As the miles rolled by and the work in my bag stayed frustratingly unfinished, my brain got to riff between the ideas, blending them and pondering and wondering.

And it is then I stumbled upon the next understanding. My expectations are foolish; there’s no extra time when I travel. In some ways there’s less time because nothing is routine. Particularly as a parent, I find my awareness and attention absorbed by when and where and what to eat, how to sleep, and finding our destinations. Time is allotted to going the distance. But precisely because traveling energies are different, maybe more basic to survival, there is also more room in the brain to absorb and engineer new ideas, to refurbish old thinking. I can travel in my thoughts, reaching my own frontiers and adding concepts, not just bookmarking them for later. On the road, I think them through. Such mental discoveries, I decided looking at the summer greens of Minnesota, are one of the tremendous benefits of travel, even when getting things crossed off the list doesn’t happen.

The new moon rose a couple of days ago—the last moon cycle presiding over this summer’s fun. Hope you’re enjoying whatever you are doing. As ever, thanks for coming along on my journey with me, Rxo 

Fifteen and Twelve jumping off the dock into the welcoming waters of Lake Vermillion.

Fifteen and Twelve jumping off the dock into the welcoming waters of Lake Vermillion.

The Door to Everywhere

The Door to Everywhere

Shall I make you a list?

One day in November of 2011, I suddenly became very concerned that I would lock my keys inside somewhere and myself out. Or in. Or something. My mother had recently given up driving and there wasn’t another adult who who could come to my rescue in the event that my keys and I became separated. The often frantic Where-Are-My-Keys dance that I routinely do, made all the more frenetic in direct proportion to how late I am leaving, took on new urgency.

For a week or more, I was fried by the problem. With a keypad for the garage, it logically should be possible for me to get into the house. But what if I was at the studio? What if arriving at the studio I set my keys down, as I have done, gathered an armload from the front seat, and flung the car door closed, the keys within? I would be standing with studio laundry or a bale of paper towels or new yoga props, no keys, no purse, no cell phone, outside a locked studio door. I could see the whole thing play out in my mind and the more I noodled the issue, the more the problem loomed.

Ultimately the answer wasn’t very hard. I calmed down and set about collecting several complete sets of keys. There’s one set that never leaves my house and another, including a key that miraculously bypasses the electronic features of the car, stored with a dear friend who would rescue me in a heartbeat. I divided out the other keys and carry only the ones that I need. Upon arriving home, I stash the keys on a hook near the door to the garage or in the key drawer; out in the world I endeavor to put them in the same pocket in my purse whenever I get out of the car. These systems in place, I felt much better. For a while.

Shortly after I found my key solution, an old friend, now a beading artist, sent me this beauty.

Shortly after I found my key solution, an old friend, now a beading artist, sent me this beauty.

This year my visualization practice brought me to a door, one that opens in or out. It leads into home, into the studio, and swinging either direction also into the world. The door to everywhere is the icon I now draw on the shower glass each morning. In meditation and visualization, twenty-thirteen presented itself as the year doors would open for me. In contrast, the very real doors in my life started to act up.

Here’s the list:

  • The door latch between the garage and the house became stripped and stopped closing.
  • The screen door that I painstakingly rescreened myself tore right out, the spline staying
    put but the screen ripping
  • The lock in the studio door handle mysteriously began locking itself at random moments
  • The garage door keypad malfunctioned for the last time rendering the garage door
    operable only with an actual opener
  • The freezer door developed the new unfortunate habit of not easily sliding all the way closed, warming the contents within
  • The driver’s side door on my brand new car started to discolor, turning into an unripe tangerine in contrast to the rich color of the rest of the car

On the same car, the new car I’ve been driving less than three months, the rear left tire started getting squishy. New cars tell you, among other things, the air pressure in the tires. Four times the warning light came on urging me to add air to the rear left tire. After the car sat for five days in the garage, the pressure was down to just over half. I put air in it for the fifth time since I’ve owned the car and called the dealer.

Just like malfunctioning doors, that’s not the only squishy tire in my fleet. All three tires on my recumbent trike, the front tires on the lawn tractor, and a mis-installed new tire on the convertible have been flat or low during the last six months. I can’t make a move without checking tire pressure and adding air.

I love metaphors, live by them and the meanings they impart. And so I ask another question: new and old, why are the doors and tires—the openings and the ability to move—so flawed in my world?

Taking a page from dream interpretation, squishy tires are easy—they represent something going wrong when the dreamer is trying to make progress. True enough. Even if it’s simply taking time to pump up the tires before using the vehicle, it slows progress to add air. It’s an extra step that can be ignored only if one is willing to risk the lasting working order of the equipment. Late again? The car tire needs air before you can go.

A door in a dream is the road to opportunity. A broken door is more complicated—it isn’t exactly impassable, most of the time, and there isn’t anything preventing you from fixing the door or having it fixed. But if you have to stop and consider the door, perhaps use it more carefully or turn to close it gently behind you, it’s one more step you must take before moving to the next level. You might understand that there’s an opportunity through that door you’re keen to pursue, but you might not be able to make it there because too many obstacles get in the way. The broken door is a gatekeeper, a sign you may have to wait before you can explore the new opportunity.

Dream doors and tires can be dusted away along with sleep when the alarm goes off. My door and tire issues are all too real—and so in waking hours I attend to them, taking my car to the dealership for first one repair, then the other. As it turned out there was a nail in the tire of the Dart, and it’s repaired, holding pressure beautifully. The mechanic worked it in on a hot and busy Tuesday, fixing it for free, and I was driving safely again by the end of the day. Teased apart from the other things on my to do list, it got done. The discolored door has been a longer process, but the car has an appointment to be repainted, courtesy of the manufacturer, in August. All in good time. Divine right time, actually.

As it is with most things, I need to learn the lesson again. There’s a moment when the universe presents opportunity. If we don’t take it, the opportunity will come back in a bigger, better and often more challenging way. So too, opportunity may appear to be out there, behind door number one, but the path may slow us down. Those are signs I need to look for and learn to trust—trust that my attention is needed locally, on the individual details close at hand. If the opportunity I thought I was looking through the door toward goes away, it wasn’t the right one. If it’s meant to be, I’ll get there.

Happy Full Thunder Moon! Eleven, Fourteen and I are going to head out for a few days early next month, so I’ll skip celebrating the new moon with you here in August—but like always, we’ll be under the very same moon. The peeps and I are headed for Northern California—maybe we’ll go look at the redwoods, a place where it’s good to see both the forest and the trees. Namaste, with my love & thanks for reading, Rxo 

Tea, Tree & Me

What can you do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life?

Usually, I navigate my way toward answers in prose, and often poses, but this question is both asked and answered by the talented and brilliant Jonathan Haidt in his book, in which I have been dwelling for nearly three months, The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt explains: …happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait.

Haidt’s selling, and I’m buying. Here’s why.

My mother, Eighty-eight, is an irrepressible gift-giver. Do something nice for her, she’ll send you a present. Christmas is in ten months? She’s starting to consider her gift list now. My children’s birthdays approach? What’s her shopping budget? Giving the right gift makes her very happy, and she thinks long and hard about presents and their recipients.

She’s also not good at waiting, once the gift is in hand. Thus, I got my Christmas present, purchased in early October, a few weeks later when I was skidding on a rough patch and she felt I needed cheering up. She wasn’t wrong and I loved wearing the garnet necklace right up to and on Christmas.

Christmas Eve 2012 will be remembered in my family as the year Eighty-eight was in the hospital. She had been in the cardiac unit at the hospital for nearly a week, she was rounding the bend toward recovery, but the doctors still weren’t satisfied with her numbers, so we learned she wouldn’t be released until after Christmas. Ten, Thirteen and I took Christmas to her: a tiny tree, a lit sign that reads “joy,” a stocking hastily assembled at Walgreens. Under her direction, I also wrapped and ferried over all of the gifts she had for our extended family.

Scribbling my instructions on a scrap of paper, I looked up surprised when she said, “And don’t forget yours—I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now—it’s around the corner in my closet. It’s already wrapped.”

“Um, Mom, you gave me my Christmas present.” I fingered the garnets at my throat, “Remember?”

She smiled. “Yes, I remember. Don’t forget to bring the bag from my closet. I’m sorry it’s so heavy.”

Like a kid on Christmas does only an adequate job of describing how I felt when I peeked around the corner in her closet and saw a large shopping bag from Williams-Sonoma. It took me a while to work out that she had gone there in November with my brother. I tried very hard not to think about what could be inside.

In my mind, a perfect Christmas present is something you would never purchase for yourself, is a little bit lavish, and when it comes right down to it you can’t understand how you ever lived without it. When I tore the paper off the box in my lap at the hospital, my mother had scored on my behalf the most essential, lavish purpose-based tool I have ever owned. It brews tea—just that—the perfect cup of tea every single time.

Now, every morning, I fill the magnetically propelled basket with organic Darjeeling. I add 1000 ml of water and set the pot on its electric base. Black tea, 212-degree water, 3.5 minutes brewing time. The machine takes tea seriously. Two months out from Christmas, it’s still a delight when I push the shiny silver button labeled “tea.” Boiling time plus 3.5 minutes later, Eighty-eight, Thirteen and I enjoy perfectly brewed tea.

I think about this machine as I work my healing shoulder back into handstand. Adho Mukha Vrksasana, downward facing tree pose, is never easy for me. The first time I stood on my hands without assistance was in my basement, January 2007. I had been practicing yoga for eight years. I was so excited that I did it again. But ever after it’s a pose that takes determination and preparation—it takes the right conditions. If I’m too tired, it’s not going to happen. If I’m being watched, it’s questionable. If I weigh more than I do right now, it’s too hard to kick up. If my shoulder is injured, I don’t risk it.

So it was with some surprise a week or so ago that I found myself in my favorite handstand spot in my basement, fingertips four inches from the wall, lifting my hips into downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Getting ready for handstand I spend a lot of time measuring—the distance between my hands, the distance from my head to the wall, the sense of lift as I come off of my knees and into dog. Walk forward—one leg long and ready to swing, one leg drawn in close and coiled, ready to spring. I adjust my hands and focus on breathing—a deep inhale and an exhale that will help with the lift. Adjust the hands, press into the first finger mounds, check the distance from head to wall again. The first hop is another measure—how’s my kick today? Does it have any umph? The second comes directly after, more force and I try to connect my heel to the wall above my head. Now I’m closing in on ready, more breath, more adjusting of hands, more coiling and lifting, then—sometimes—conditions are right and I lift off and stick the pose.

And it makes me so happy.

I never have any doubt when I’m upside down—headstand, handstand, elbow balance—that our bodies are designed to invert. Working through the

Upside-down and all is right with the world

Upside-down and all is right with the world

preparation for handstand, and my own particular shifting, breathing, and kicking ritual, I feel the rightness of it all. Our bodies are purpose-built tools, like the most incredible tea-maker that glistens on the kitchen counter, and yoga poses create purpose. When we find our purpose—be it pose, vocation, avocation, parenthood, creative milieu—and pursue the conditions that maximize our abilities, and strive to get better at what we do, we kick and lift off. We soar.

Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, Haidt writes, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

I know what he means: Cradled in purpose and meaning, we find our way to happy.

The full February moon—the appropriately named Snow Moon—is in Virgo. Someone who knows astrology tells me that this moon, for me with a double Virgo in my chart, creates particularly large energy centered around releasing, letting go, and balancing in order to move forward. Sounds like a handstand to me. May the light shine on you and yours, Rxo

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