Thursday, October 17, 2013

Don't go back to sleep!

Last night I had the worst nightmare of my nearly four decades. When I woke up, a line from a Rumi poem began to echo in my mind, “Don’t go back to sleep!” 

And so I got up, grabbed the pink shawl my newest and most lovely guardian angel just sent me, and went downstairs. I wanted to cry. I wanted to call my dad. I wanted to find my kitties and hug them. It was a really bad dream and it left me buzzing with dread. I wondered if it was a bad omen for the trip I leave on today. I wondered if someone else I love had died. Then I closed my eyes and this is what I saw:

The world is a tragic and beautiful place. The Rumi quote knocked on my mind's door, “Don’t go back to sleep.” I was relieved that I had not gone back to sleep, that I had gotten up and come to sit in meditation and wade through the disturbing energy of a really bad dream. I felt steeped in the coziness and love of my beautiful pale-pink shawl. Then the knock came again - some of us recognize that sign from the Divine that we need to pay attention - my friend Sara gets a chill on her arms. Another friend hears a distinct buzz in his ears. I get a sharp pain in my right ovary - go figure. 

The sharp pain said, “Hey, don’t be so literal. We’re talking about Rumi here...” And I contemplated for a moment what Rumi meant when he said, “Don’t go back to sleep!” On one level, he is telling you not to sleep your life away - as in actually lying in your bed too long and missing a beautiful part of the day, losing minutes of life, and general sloth and hebetude. 

He also meant don’t fall back into old habits of thinking, old patterns of being, rutted out reactions, and limiting beliefs. Wake up to the divine spark, pulsation, energy inside of you and have a look at it! Peel your eyes open to see the God-ness inside of you. Don’t cover it up with disbelief and negative junk, and don’t go numb to the tragedy of life lest you miss its sincere and concurrent beauty. Be hard enough on yourself that you grow, grow, grow toward the light!

Incidentally, as we approach November 1 and my birthday (November 2), we approach the time of year when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is the thinnest; when all of our angels can most easily brush their radiant fingers across our cheeks. Sometimes this manifests as a really bad dream that gets you out of bed and into the appreciation of the blessings life constantly sends your way. 

May we all receive the gift and absolute joy of life with eyes wide open!

Here's Rumi's full poem:

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don't go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don't go back to sleep!”
- Rumi

Friday, April 5, 2013

Get Up and Try

When I was a kid in elementary school, I didn’t like to go to school. I was wicked smart, liked my friends and teachers, and didn’t have to ride the bus, I just preferred to stay home and read romance novels all day. As kids do, I practiced all my techniques for convincing my mom to let me stay home. Consequently, I was very good at pretending to be sick. 

As a side note, I have since learned that when a kid “pretends” to be sick, he really is not feeling good on some level. It might not truly be a stomach ache, head ache, or (as I liked to say) The Scarlet Fever, but it is something keeping him or her from wanting to be exposed to the big bad world. My mom found the most loving way to help me cope.

My mom, who will always be much smarter than me, began the bartering process with the statement, “Please get up and try.” She knew that getting my warm little body out of my cozy bed and into some purple pants would get me started. Then, when I walked as slowly as humanly possible down the stairs and into the kitchen, she would use the “get up and try” to convince me to eat toast. I stared at that toast in the longest, most dramatic way a child can possibly stare until I realized that I really did want to eat it. And while I ate it so very slowly and with the smallest bites known to humans, she would pack me a lunch. 

She would close the box and as she handed it to me, she would tell me there was a “surprise” in that box for me. And most of the time, that was enough to get me to school. The surprise, by the way, was not an extra cookie or a tiny toy, it was a love note from my mom. I still have one in her perfect handwriting cut from a tan notebook page. It says, “I love you. Mom” and it will permanently reside on my fridge in whatever home I occupy for the rest of my days as a reminder that My Mom is Great - and that I should always, always get up and try.

“Get Up and Try” works for more than just getting out of bed; it also works for tackling a new and challenging bouldering problem, for sitting down to a difficult conversation with a co-worker, for busting out work or reports before zoning out to “Weeds.” It works for steep and gnarly ski runs, hours of patience for kids (and the adults they bring with them), taking a hiatus from coffee, and pretty much anything that requires that extra bit of bravery that we can oftentimes disregard with the thought, "Oh, maybe I'll do that some other time..." Get Up and Try pretty much works for everything!

I still have those days when my bed is cozy, when it’s raining outside, when I have a long day ahead or have to do something hard at work or go somewhere I dread to go. I have days when I’m too tired, kind of spacey, not feeling sociable, and would just rather stay home and look out the window, nap with my cats, and read a really long, good book. But the truth of the matter is, whenever I actually do get up and try, I usually wish I had gotten up earlier. The slow walk down the stairs and the wait for the tea water to boil start to energize me from the soles of my feet right up to my much more resistant brain. I can still look out the window for a minute, pet the sweet kitties’ bellies, and read a short bit before packing my lunch, grabbing my goods, and blowing a kiss to the note on the fridge as I walk out the door.

Thanks, Mom, thanks for teaching me to Get up and Try!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ski Here Now

The other day I had a very palpable sense of what a waste of time it is not only to worry, but to think. I was driving to Montana in my new car (thanks mom & dad!) and thinking, thinking, thinking. I was thinking about things that happened, things that might happen, things that probably would happen, and things that will likely never happen. I was thinking about what to say, what to do, what not to do and say, and what others might do, say, or think. My head started spinning and I was reminded of Lloyd Dobler; the dude who didn't want to figure it all out in one night.

Then I saw a sparkle of sunlight zip across a river and a huge piece of trash blew across the road in front of me. It's interesting to note how one feels about trash in the road when driving their 1997 Subie with 267,000+ miles on it versus their brand-new-to-me Outback that still feels like mom and dad's even though it has a Grateful Dead sticker on the back. 

All of this brought my attention to the absolute present moment and I heard what I have heard a million times but in a new way: "There is only the present moment." I palpably felt the importance of my moment. Not because of the blowing trash or the glittering sun, but because I was alive to experience it. I saw it and felt it and experienced it - and then it was gone - only to be replaced by another unique and fascinating present moment. I saw that the worries about the past are useless, especially when the beauty of the now is tapping my cheeks. I saw that the worries about tomorrow are exceptionally useless as they are but creations that may, may not, and already have and have not happened in the continuum that is real and that contains no time or space.

It's not an easy concept to hold for very long, that of the present. There are so many interesting, terrifying, sad, exciting, magical, and different thoughts to create at any given moment! And many times, especially when the present is less than comfortable, those thoughts seem much more desirable. But I will tell you the dangers of not recognizing the present for what it is, which is, the only thing that matters.

On a physical level, when you are not present, you risk physical and/or emotional harm to yourself or others. You can say and do (or not say and do) things so quickly and irreversibly when you're not paying attention. 

When you are not present on an internal level, you can miss very important messages from your body about what is happening, what is important, what to do next, and what feelings and intuitions are trying to arise.

And on the secret level, when you are not paying attention, you miss a lot of magic. So many serendipitous, synchronous, and lovely signs blink and sparkle at each one of us every day to tell us that we are loved, we are protected, we are surrounded by and infused with the beauty of being alive. These whispers and whisps of light and love constantly tinkle in our ears, flit in front of our eyes, and nudge our hands to play. The gentle yet powerful and full cosmic humor stands nearby always, just barely containing its laughter at the wonder and delight of our experiences. 

It's time to turn away from work and worry and waiting for life to be different and turn toward that which is right there, smack in front of us, whether it be beautiful, tragic, ugly, devastating, delicious, sour, or bland. What is it? How does it feel? What is the experience of it just now? And like they say about the weather in Montana, if you don't like it, wait 5 minutes (or in the case of my mind, .3 seconds) and it will change ... Happy Present Presence to you!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Please Help Me

A teacher of mine once told me that when she was very sick and not finding relief from some very difficult and serious health issues, a friend recommended a specific doctor to her. This friend told her that when she saw the doctor, he might seem aloof, disinterested, and brief. What was important then, said the friend to my teacher, was that my teacher mentally or internally say to him, “Please help me, please help me.” The friend assured my teacher that no matter what actually happened in the appointment, the doctor would receive and act on this internal message. And so she did it. As it was, the doctor was brief and aloof. He did prescribe some herbs and breathing exercises, and she began to miraculously heal and now experiences very little effect from the original health issue. I always found this interesting. 

Until I found myself desperately suffocating inside pain and grief. No longer was this story interesting, it was fascinating. And I did also find myself, on this same day, walking in the snow, sobbing out my eyeballs, looking to the trees, and asking for help.

Who was I talking to? I don’t know. When no one else is around, who are any of us talking to? I guess it was the trees who usually, to me, seem so loving, warm, joyful, and welcoming. That day they just looked tall, cold, impersonal, and disinterested. My personal pain seemed so insignificant compared to their own long history of trials, work, and suffering, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. And I remembered the doctor. So I asked them for help.

I don’t know what happened, but my tears did stop and everything seemed suddenly so very quiet. Then I felt embarrassed - what could those trees do anyway? What if someone heard me talking out loud in the forest? I walked away.

Leaving the forest, I did notice the sky was crisp and blue with no white clouds to be seen. I saw also, a lone dead tree, very tall and with many black branches up high against the blue sky. Then I saw movement. It was a bald eagle. I watched it closely. The eagle lifted his wings just slightly away from his body and shrugged them three times. Then he turned around and hopped down a branch, hidden from my view by the tree trunk. For some reason, my heart swelled. I walked away feeling quite awed.

Yes I have seen a lot of bald eagles in my life. Some of them have been simply beautiful, and some of them have made my heart stop. Some of them seem to have appeared randomly, and some of them have appeared just like this one, right after I have broken down inside and just asked for help.

Many of us have had our hearts broken badly at least once; most of us have had our hearts broken a number of times. I know my heart will break again no matter how hard I try to guard and protect it. I am learning to skillfully and compassionately nurture a broken heart. Amidst the pain and confusion and wishing it would all just go away, asking for help is sometimes all I can muster.

Most everyone I know does not like to ask for help. We all like to give help and offer ourselves to others, but receiving help and even love sometimes is not so easy. Directly asking for love or help can feel close to impossible. And that is why I love what my teacher’s friend suggested to her when she went to the doctor - just say it inside yourself. No one has to actually hear it to know it. You don’t even have to say it to a human being! Just keep it simple, ask bird or sidewalk or rosebush or cup of tea, “Please help me.” 

And then, after you ask for help, whether out loud or as a secret plea on the inside, watch for your answers, watch for your clues. Notice what the universe, or God, or your guardian angels or whoever you believe offers you divine help, unveils. And then trust and believe that those moments that soften your heart, give you a shiver, or make you pause in wonder - like seeing an eagle shrug its wings at you - really are signs that you are supported, you are protected, you are loved. Your broken heart is actually whole.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Yoga

I taught yoga last week at a meditation retreat with my meditation teacher, Sally Kempton. When Sally asked me to assist her by teaching yoga, I was absolutely elated and honored and immediately sent back a simple and direct email: “YES!” It was only after I hit “send” that I began to worry. What was I thinking? Was I really qualified and prepared to teach alongside my teacher? The insecurity started to get even worse when the only plane tickets that could get me from rural Idaho to sassy Big Sur cost close to $1000 - was this really meant to be?

Well, I forked out the cash, made all my connections, arrived at Esalen, and had a very direct conversation with myself. “Karen,” I said, “You are not the world’s greatest yoga teacher.” There was a long pause. “Also, Karen,” I continued, “You do not have the world’s best “let it slide” attitude, especially in the midst of a week of meditation and transformation.” I paused to allow these strikes against me to sink in. Just as my critical inner being was ready to continue, that other part of me that I greatly appreciate and always want by my side perked up. “The theme for this week is “Like Water Off a Duck’s Back.” Some utterly hilarious and creative people in middle school used to call me LaDuck so now was the time to live up to the name.

On the first night, I did not sleep. I had the anxiety-filled kind of night I have before running a big race or a long trail run. Just sitting in my bed, feeling tired and knowing that I was absolutely not going to fall asleep, thereby provided with numerous, uninterrupted hours in which to replay every step of every yoga class good, bad, and otherwise that I have ever taught, attended or heard about. The first day of teaching yoga went extremely well and, with the help of my new ultra soft pajamas my friend Sarah bought for me as a “Sursee” (surprise gift or love gift, in case you didn’t know), I slept like a dead rock. I mistakenly thought to myself that the first day would be indicative of the entire week. Not so.

On the second day, I mixed up left and right while giving instructions, which resulted in about 20 seconds of chaos. 20 seconds of chaos is a Really Long Time, by the way, when you are the one supposed to be teaching and your beloved teacher is amongst the folks spread out on yoga mats trying to figure out if they should really be trying to get that hand to that leg or if the other, much easier option is what the crazy teacher is talking about. The next day, I tried to eat dinner alone and my teacher sat down right next to me. I didn't have the wherewithal to explain to her how low blood sugar and fatigue make it hard for me to make sentences, make sense, and initiate conversation. I said something very dull and lame. Then I went to bed. It didn't end there, the next day, a cute, bubbly little 20-something-year-old girl came up and told me that she is a yoga teacher who teaches 6 classes a week in North Carolina and that she would be happy to “screen” my yoga classes for the following days since the previous days had been just, well, um, like simple.

It is amazing what happens when one becomes so full of information, effort, fatigue, and desire to do a great job in the face of her own beloved teacher. Falling apart was just not an option. Holding it together and letting all seemingly negative responses and mistakes slide away became my way. The day I fully decided to do that, one woman randomly walked up to me and said in that slow and highly articulated way only someone 4 days into a meditation retreat can say, “I appreciate you.” My massage therapist held my hand after she worked on me and had tears in her glitter-encrusted eyes as she thanked me for the opportunity to be in my presence. My roommate professed her undying love to me loudly on the deck of the cafeteria. Two longtime meditators offered a friendly, “Thank you, yoga finally felt accessible!”  And, not once did a creepy naked guy hit on me or stare too long at me in the clothing optional hot springs. Boo-yah!

On the last day of the retreat, our teacher did what all good teachers do; she reviewed the week. As she spoke of the things we did, I remembered them all, but the linear form of time was not accessible. All things felt to have happened simultaneously within a big golden bubble of clarity. Even sleep and wake, night and day, bathing and walking did not have clear beginning and ending points. The snafus that I did not put any energy into were so distant that they were laughable and insignificant. Sure, some people did not love my teaching. But you know what? My teacher did. And she invited me to do it again despite my droll dinnertime conversational abilities and my need to play a Jerry song each morning before teaching yoga. 

Looking back at my week, my biggest lesson learned was to Let Go. This is not something that comes easily for me, but something that yielded great returns in the end. Try it and see how letting go of small stuff makes the big stuff that much sweeter!

Sunday, August 12, 2012


An earwig landed on my baking stone today while I was making cookies. I was making the cookies for my friends up at Targhee who have been working their tails off all weekend to make the Bluegrass Festival unforgettable. Great job, guys! I have no idea where the earwig came from - maybe the spatula? Maybe the pot holder? Maybe my hair! But seeing him writhe around on a burning hot baking stone immediately triggered my empathic self which eventually led me to one of my favorite Buddhist sayings of all times, “May we know the equality of all that lives.”

All the creation stories I’ve heard vary greatly in their details and are absolutely consistent in their source: all things were created out of pure love. The world as we know it (and Lord knows it’s different through each and every one of our eyes) was created from Love. What we choose to do with ourselves and the things we perceive after our initial separation from that Great Love is largely up to us; and the one and only thing that Love actually wants us to do, actually craves and pines and breathlessly waits for us to do, is to see ourselves as we truly are: Gorgeous, Full, and Perfect expressions of Love.

This is why I love Jerry García so much. This is also why I cry at the Olympics, the Bob Marley movie, and when I see people smash ants and spiders. It’s also why I’ll chase a runaway coffee bean around my kitchen floor, rinse it off, dry it, and then turn it into a delicious cup of Joe - because inherent in that coffee bean is a delicious treat that makes some of us remember and recognize Love on the physical level. Each and every thing out there has a purpose and I would like to do whatever I can to facilitate its highest, fullest, most scintillating expression. And so it is with coffee. 

With Jerry García, it’s the same thing. I never met Jerry or saw him on the Earth. I do know that he experienced real connection and re-connection to his source through music and psychadellics until the two became quite intermeshed. The point I offer is not that everyone should necessarily love The Grateful Dead or have pure love experiences while listening to Jerry play or experiment with psychadellics, but rather to recognize the effect of one person’s ability to connect to love on the greater whole. It’s not just “the music” (because we all know it just ain’t the same when Bobby sings a Jerry song), it’s the beam of connection. Pure love coming through Jerry into the world and touching me.

And then the projection happens. That hit of connectedness, whether our own or a vicarious experience through someone else’s music, art, or dance; whether through nature or drugs or physical effort; that hit gets us hooked. So often the framework for how and why and where the connection came from is distorted so that an addiction is born! When I ponder why so many folks experience so much mental torture and the various ramifications thereof, what I discern is this: All any of us truly want is connection. We want to love and be loved. Touching the source either through the creation of beauty or the experience of someone else’s created beauty gives us that sense of complete fullness - the lack we felt in our everyday grind disappears and we feel Real.

And then, when the song is over or the vacation done, we walk back into our dusty and dirty daily lives and there the chasm between us and that ultimate connection reappears. Addiction comes in trying, trying, and wanting to get back to that place of Real-ness. Sometimes we’ll visit the same spot in nature. We’ll listen to the song over and over and over again. We'll take drugs, eat too much sugar, oversleep, try to control our diet, yell, numb our minds with hours of TV. We’ll shirk our human duties to ski powder, surf waves, climb rock and mountains, or run for hours and miles, not sure if we’re trying to make one thing go away or begging the other to come back. It gets very confusing and tailspinning. 

And this is the self-inquiry I would like to suggest: When did you feel most truly connected? Where did you feel it in your body? What ways do you try to recreate that feeling? Can you recreate that feeling in this moment? When you do, dissolve the person, place, or thing associated with it and just feel the feeling in your body. Close your eyes if you want and breathe into the places in your body that most fully feel it. 

People ask me all the time to teach them to meditate simply. Well, this is it. Re-experience any kind of love you've ever felt, dissolve the grippy mental attachments to who or what or where seemingly inspired it, and just feel the love. Close your eyes and softly breathe into it and, like a breeze on a small spark, it will glow and grow. 

If you've never experienced true love or connectedness, then close your eyes right now. Invisibly hovering over top your head is a portal that looks like a beautiful flower. The center of the flower is an opening where all the grace, beauty, and unconditional love you could ever imagine constantly flows. Imagine the limitless quality of love bubbling up out of the flower center and flowing over all its petals, gathering the extra sweetness that lies on a flower petal, then raining gently down all over you from its place above your head. It's a shower full of love always waiting for you. Some also call if Life Prana. Soak it up and know that it available at all times. 

And then, so that we truly can recognize the equality of all that lives, flow that Life Prana to all. Flow it to the cats catching birds and the birds that are caught, to the earwigs on your counters, the bossy lady at the grocery store, the screaming kid on the bus, the guy kicking his dog and the sweet, sweet dog, the hippies dancing, the rainbows shining, the bill in the mailbox, the thistle growing upward toward the sun. We are all yearning, looking, and waiting for that one thing that will change our world. That one thing, my friends, is Love. It’s looking for you.

“Nothing left to do but smile, smile smile.”

a P.S. about the earwig - I took him outside and put him in some cool dirt with a small piece of grass. I gave him a blessing and stood quietly for a moment. I bowed to him as I left. I don't know if he is alive or not. I used to think those kinds of actions were insane (saving single coffee beans and blessing earwigs) until I had the courage to do the things that spontaneously came out of my heart. Most of the time, no one knows what I'm doing or that I did it anyway (unless, of course, I post it on an internet blog). And that is a great way to start. Do the things your true heart asks of you in secret if you must at first. Do it even just in your imagination if the actual actions are too scary at first. When your confidence in the truth that your heart holds grows, you will be able to shout at the top of your lungs that you bless earwigs. Or not. Either way, follow your heart.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Go To Your Class Reunion

Everyone should go to their class reunions. And everyone should get a nametag so you know who is who at your class reunion. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking past someone who wants to be noticed. The looking past, in my case anyway, would be a combination of bad eyesight, an even worse memory, and a general sense of discomfort of being with people I haven't seen in a long, long time.

My 20-year class reunion was last weekend. Most everyone I saw and recognized (thank you, Facebook) was sweet, friendly, receptive, and sometimes even overjoyed. My friend Andi picked me up off the ground twice - what a way to feel loved! 

One guy I saw many times, made eye contact most of those times, and - nothing. This is not someone with whom I was close, it was actually someone that stirred the fear of teenage insecurities inside of me on a regular basis in high school. I was very unimpressed to feel those same emotions as the strong, confident, secure, and happy almost-40-year-old I perceive myself to be. 

About the 10th time I came into range with this guy, I just walked up to him and said, “That is an awesome shirt!” The distant, cool look instantly left his eye, he put his arm around me, side hugged me, and kissed me on the head. We had a short and meaningless conversation because we still do not have much in common and really had no mutual memories over which to chortle 20 years later, but the moment was cathartic. I approached him, he responded, and years of confusion, trepidation, and the unknown dissolved in that short, insignificant moment. Now we’re friends who don't really know each other. We still have little in common and I doubt I’ll fly out to Tucson anytime soon, but the tendrils of teenage angst are gone. What a relief!

The other cathartic moment I had during the reunion was seeing a picture of myself somewhere between the ages of 15 and 17. My memories of myself in high school involve lots of fear, anger, tears, lack of understanding and feeling understood, and a general grip of  mental chaos and negativity. This picture said something utterly different. There I was, all young and cute, wearing a jean jacket with buttons all over it, big hair and an even bigger smile. Aha! I was happy sometimes as a teenager. I did have fun and smile and laugh and make others smile and laugh. I did feel connected and it was not all angst, anger, and rejection. Know what my inner guidance said to me at that very moment? “Get over yourself.”

And that is what I did. I hugged everyone, I smiled at everyone, I truly missed the ones who did not show up whether I loved them in high school or not. I saw the common ground in all of us who did show up: a big mass of successes, failures, travels, hot spouses (you know who you are!), divorces, amazing children, careers, hopes, dreams, ideas all smashed together and mixed up and spit back out 20 years later. 

Certainly there are still people I connect more strongly with than others, people with whom I chose to spend more time than others, and those who seemed a little worse for the wear or more sparkly than others. But here’s what I think about it all - we all have collective and individual karma. The class reunion strongly brings into focus your collective karma with a group of people you could not choose (by the way, if you did choose them, think of the many important lessons you never would have learned!) and puts you back with them in a situation to continue to learn. 

Approaching this group who taught you lessons in love, friendship, hardship, character, and your own personal karma with the kindness of a grandmother (who will put up with a lot and then smack you when you go too far) worked best for me. Holding on to past injuries, identities, and angers will only cultivate more of that ugly stuff. I root for the beauty of it all - get on out there and hug those buggers - they’re the only class you’ve got! Life in high school was hard for Everyone (smart, ugly, thin, funny, stupid, popular, athletic, fat, boring, plain and any combination thereof) - why do you think The Breakfast Club is such a popular movie? We can all identify with at least one, if not all, of those characters. 

And on another note, and one in which we all have much more conscious control than our karmas, entering any relationship whether romantic, friendship, grocery store conversation or large gathering and expecting someone else to be a certain way (e.g. nicer, less egotistical, more understanding, etc) is in error. If you leave feeling injured, that's your problem. We are only in charge of ourselves and our reactions. As my very astute little brother said to me the other day, “People expect too much of each other. You have to make your own self happy. Nobody else can do it for you.” 

My personal addition is that unconditional love comes only from within. If you’re looking outside of yourself for acceptance, you’ll always be disappointed. If you’re looking for the jerk in people, you’re likely to find it. Conversely, and much more fun and surprising, if you’re looking to connect -even just about a nice shirt - you’re much more likely to experience that. Your preconceptions basically create your perceived reality - why not make it something worth experiencing!?

So thanks, Park High Class of ’92 - I continue to learn from you.

Much love and blessings to you all!!