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The Virtues of Romaine Lettuce (and embracing our place in the web of being)

This year, along with a mesclun mix, arugula, mache, and the tender green and red leaf lettuces, I planted several heads of romaine.  It is not my favorite lettuce for salad; I have become spoiled by having baby arugula, spinach, and assorted greens and lettuces.  As a replacement for bread, though, it is far and away the best lettuce.  It’s flavor is green enough, but unobtrusive.  It’s shape and sturdiness make it easy to use as an alternative for tortillas, pancakes (think mushu tofu), or pita or other flat bread.  Tonight, I picked several leaves of romaine, which I rolled around sprouts, avocado, and sweet and spicy tofu (saute onions until golden; crumble and saute firm, silken tofu; stir in until just hot and thickened, a bar-b-que-like sauce of tomato paste, molasses, apple cider vinegar, garlic, Bragg’s amino liquid or soy sauce, chili sauce–proportioned to taste).

Which lettuce works when depends on all the other elements of the meal.  One is not better than the other in the abstract, though you might have a taste for one more than another.  One type might be better for a particular meal.  So too, we each have our place in the web, and will be better aligned when we offer certain aspects of ourselves at particular places and times.  Part of the discrimination (viveka) we learn in yoga to serve us in this life is developing an understanding of how best we can serve and where and when.

Happy May Day (and radical affirmation)

It feels wonderfully auspicious to me that my Spring classes at Willow Street are starting on May Day.  It is Beltane–the true end of winter and the beginning of the effulgence of the time of growth and light.  It is May Day–the mark of a shift in power from the oppressors to the once oppressed, now freed (I’m not going to get into whether that really worked as planned).  It is a time of tradition at my alma mater; the sophomores wake the seniors with strawberries and champagne, enjoying celebration and revelry (dancing around May poles and the like) as they get ready to take their final exams.  Today is Kentucky Derby; I remember a party where the fact I had mint in my garden for the juleps started a fabulous passion.

The potential for delight, for freedom, for fullness is always with us.  For me, yoga helps me find it and recognize it.  The longer I practice, the more richness it offers.  This Spring session I will be focusing on radical affirmation of the potential in ourselves so that we can recognize and reveal it.  Much more on that to come; for now, I must head to the metro to go teach.

The Four Agreements

Several years ago, I was introduced to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements in a yoga book group.  I come back to them periodically.  I am not usually one for self-help books, but I think the agreements are a wonderful teaching.

I have them taped to the bottom of my computer monitor at the office because I find them especially useful in the office setting.  In particular, they are helpful in my relations with a co-worker senior to me in the chain of authority who tends to be very critical or speak in a strained or loud voice when anxious about work.  As it involves my projects (or we wouldn’t be talking in the first place), it is hard not to react and take it as personal criticism.  Today, I found myself in two different discussions about them.  First, I found myself reading them aloud to someone who called me to talk about a painful situation through which he is living.  The response was “thank you” and, in particular for Agreement 2, “amen.”  In the second situation, I was talking to two co-workers.  One was describing a work situation, and she said she had found it very helpful to come back to her desk and read “agreement number two.”

The Four Agreements are (I found them on the Facebook page for The Four Agreements, so I feel OK printing them in full here; you can also see them on the “inside flap” view on Amazon.com (I have honored copyright by buying the book long ago for the book club meeting):

Agreement 1:  Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Agreement 2:  Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Agreement 3:  Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Agreement 4:  Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I find Agreement 1 the most challenging.  When I am under stress, I tend to fall back into the ways in which I was raised and use “the word” to diss myself pretty fiercely, though I am getting better at not doing so persistently.  With Agreement 2, the tricky thing is simultaneously not to take things personally and keep perspective, but still to listen openly for ways in which one might still want to seek to grow and shift in response to what is said.

Are you familiar with The Four Agreements?  How have they assisted you in giving perspective in your relationships and life?

The Nyaya of the Cat and the Bunny

A nyaya is literally a recursion, something which leads back to an essential principle.  In my recent studies of meditation, we have been taught various nyayas that help to explicate the experience of meditation and the whys and benefits of steady practice.

At the place where we have been staying for our meditation and study retreats with Paul Muller-Ortega, there is a wonderful cat named Oberon.  I first met him last summer when I was walking the labyrinth just before dawn.  I’d heard a meow off in the distance.  Lonely for cat company since my Becky had so recently left her body, I called to the cat.  He came running to me and walked the labyrinth with me.  Each time I have visited, I have had some special moments with Oberon, who lives fully up to his name — Oberon being the King of the Faeries.

Oberon loves the meditation hall and often tries to get in.  He also brings offerings.  Last winter, he brought us a mostly dead bird.  As well intended as it might have been on Oberon’s part, it was not particularly welcomed in the meditation hall.  On the final night of our retreat this time, we were reveling in the good fortune of having fellow students (and my sometimes teachers and the creators of many CDs in my music collection) Heather and Benjy Wertheimer lead us in kirtan.  At one point, I left my place to go to the facilities.  A fellow student, stopped me, “Elizabeth, the cat has a really big mouse.”  I went to look.  Oberon did not have a mouse; he had a young bunny.  “It’s a bunny I said.”  The other students who were outside were horrified.

Without thinking, I went to him, “Oberon, drop it!” I said, as if it were appropriate to speak to the King of the Faeries as if he were an obedient dog.  He listened though and dropped the bunny, which remained frozen.  I held Oberon by the scruff of the neck.  “Go bunny; bunny run,” I said, but the bunny did not move.  I then tapped the bunny on his back at the tail.  The bunny remained frozen, though it did not appear yet to be injured.  I let go of Oberon and went to get a towel or something to pick up the bunny.  Then Oberon tapped the bunny just where I had touched it.  Off ran the bunny through the shoes neatly piled outside the meditation hall.  I caught Oberon and picked him up.  The bunny again froze, looking back at us.  At this point I was completely oblivious to anything other than the cat and the bunny.  “Bunny run; go now.”  Oberon squirmed, but did not scratch me, letting me continue to hold him.  Finally, the bunny ran off into the scrub and disappeared.  I put down Oberon.  He sniffed the trail, but then came back to me for a petting when I called.  “Thank you for the offering Oberon; I know it was well intentioned, but we are not so keen on bringing dead baby animals into the meditation hall.”  He sniffed, lifted his regal head, and sat down to wash.

Leaving aside what my actions may have done to the fabric of the world order and the pondering I could do about the interrelationship between destiny and free will, I felt that I had been given a wonderful lesson about life and practice. Practice can bring us great freedom if we stay steady on the path.  Like the bunny, though, we can stay frozen in fear and old patterns, even when we are given a glimpse of the freedom of self we can get from practice.  As dire as things may be (or perhaps even when they are at their worst), we return to the familiar, regardless of whether we are unhappy with it, regardless of how old patterns are limiting our ability to grow.  Sometimes it is dissatisfaction with and pain from the old patterns themselves (revealed more clearly by practice already begun) that push us to go further, just as it took Oberon getting the bunny to run again for me to realize he was sufficiently healthy to be able to run off.  And just as I stayed with Oberon and the bunny until the bunny finally took his chance at freedom, the practice and the truths and freedom practice can reveal will always be there.  No matter how many times we forget or return to the stuck and the familiar, the opportunity for growth and freedom continues to await.

When I am feeling stuck, when I am finding myself returning to patterns that do not serve, I will think about my own personal nyaya of the cat and the bunny.  I hope it will serve to keep me moving forward, less stuck, less attached to the familiar that no longer serves.

May News (Web Version of E-Newsletter)

Dear  Friends,

What a glorious Spring we’re having! I’ve just returned from an expanding, nurturing, and deepening time of study in Sedona with meditation teacher Paul Muller-Ortega.  Later in May, I will join fellow certified Anusara yoga teachers in North Carolina to be with John Friend.  Making sure to continue to study and gather with fellow yogis provides ever increasing appreciation of the benefits of practice and enhanced delight for the community.

May Day (May 1) is the first day for my Spring Session classes at Willow Street:  Level 2 @ 8:30 am and Gentle/Therapeutics @ noon.  Both are in the Takoma Park studio.  While session registration is optimal, you are always welcome to drop in, whether you want to rock out in level 2 or get some healing and nurturing energy in Gentle/Therapeutics.

The William Penn House class continues to have the special $12 offering for public interest workers (broadly inclusive), students, seniors, and those in-between gigs ($15 for those who can afford it).  Come join this collegial group 6:30 pm every Tuesday evening.  A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the work of William Penn House.

Looking to strengthen your practice:  join me for Standing Steady in the Light: A Standing Balance Workshop, Sat May 8, 2:30-5pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $35.  Find a place of deeper steadiness and balance in your own light and worthiness.  Learn how to use the Anusara principles to enhance your ability to stand or your own two feet or on just one foot at a time.  After we playfully explore a progressively expansive array of standing poses, we’ll finish with a few upside-down restorative postures to let our legs and feet feel the bright light created by the practice.  Whether you find standing poses a challenge or revel in the dance, this workshop will illuminate your practice.  Everybody welcome.  To register, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.

As always, please take the time to enjoy and comment on the blog and if you haven’t already done so, friend me on Facebook for the latest news, photos, and quotes.

Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

Coming Home from Retreat (and Savasana)

How do you plan your return home from a retreat or vacation?  Do you come home at the very last minute, so that the travel is exhausting and the first day back at work is a struggle?  Or do you plan to have a day — or at least several hours — to unpack, make sure you have fresh food to eat, and have brought the feeling of vacation back into your home life before getting back to work?

When I was studying on retreat in Arizona, Paul Muller-Ortega took particular pains to emphasize the importance of doing savasana for at least a few minutes after sitting for meditation for a “slow re-entry.”  Without the resting time in between practicing/adventuring/celebrating/retreating and working, it is like eating a loaf of bread right out of the oven, rather than giving it at least 10-15 minutes to rest.  Right out of the oven, the is too hot and the texture is not right, and we cannot taste how good it is.  Give it a chance to rest, and it is exquisitely hot and fresh and perfect.

We need to rest, to reintegrate, to settle or we can feel like there is no point in going on vacation.  How many people do you know (perhaps you have said this yourself) who say there is no point in going on vacation because it just makes work harder on return?  When I take a shorter vacation/rest/retreat to account for reintegration time, and then fully reintegrate, the rejuvenating properties of getting away definitely last longer.

I returned very late Sunday night.  Yesterday I practiced at home, did my laundry, cleaned the yoga room, petted the cats, had a massage, did a little reading, cooked delicious food (homemade granola, kitcheree, greens from the garden), and went to sleep early.  Now I am off to work, seeking to bring what I learned into my day.