Friday, December 16, 2011

How (not) to write a Christmas letter

I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to formulate a Christmas card for the season.  I usually spring for a nice picture with a simple message, but since we're low on cash this year, I thought I'd generate something off of my own computer.  My problem is that I can't figure out how to tell people what we've been up to without sounding like I'm bragging.

Ah, the brag letter.  I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.  When you get a double sided, single spaced letter in the mail posing as a Christmas card, and you think, "Did they really use size nine font?" Let me be honest -- I don't read it all.  I'm sorry.  I want to, I do.  I want to know how you're doing, how your health is, a highlight or two about your pets (or your kids....I guess...), and I want you to wish me a non-denominational salute to the season.  But when you start talking about your neighbor's friend and their kids and how their shopping trip to Wal-Mart went awry, I lose interest.

Now, many folks who can't detach from writing a brag letter have made their brag letters funny, which I appreciate.  My extended family in particular has a great sense of humor, and I have to give props for Christmas poems in which all of their kids are mentioned and rhymed with.  I don't know if I'm funny enough to pull that off -- if you haven't figured it by now, most of my humor is sarcastic and until people really get to know me, they usually walk away from my jokes with a confused look on their face.  The last thing I want to do in a Christmas letter is leave people confused and unsure.  They have Christmas shopping for that.

If I wrote a brag letter that tried to be funny, it might come off sounding like this:

  • We are healthy! The proof is that after 30, we still look good naked.
  • My pets are cuter than your kids.  That's just the way it is.
  • I completed school to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner!  Look it up.
  • My husband loves his job as an Assistant Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (Purely bragging there).
  • This year, my husband designed and built the "Sea phOx," and "SeaphEt." Look it up.
  • I became a certified YogaSlacker Teacher.  I teach yoga poses on a one inch piece of webbing strung between two points.  Yes, it's very awesome.
  • I painted an enchanted forest in my murphy bed closet.  Why?  So I can sleep in enchanted fairy land whenever I want.  Duh.
  • Stop asking me when I'm going to have a baby.
  • Stop asking my husband when I'm going to have a baby. 
  • Stop asking my parents when I'm going to have a baby.
  • I'm going to India for a month to study and travel.  Pray not for my safe return, but that I choose to return!
  • We'd love for you to join us in San Diego for a vacation so that you, too, can sleep in enchanted fairy land.
So, I have some drafts to work through....

But all kidding aside, what I want to express to people in a Christmas letter is that the JOY and PEACE we promote during this season must come from within.  It's a good time to learn how to lay down your prejudices and find the goodness in everyone around you --whether they are the same as you or not.  Learn to cultivate gratitude for the blessings that we have, that our biggest decision for the holidays is whether to buy an XBox or a Wii, not how to put food on the table.  Give to those in need.  Learn to cultivate peace within yourself and to stop arguing with family and friends.  Cherish the day, because we don't get that many.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Could we all just learn to love each other already?

I'm not one to follow the news and world events.  Unlike my father, I'm not the kind of person who wakes up early to check the stock market or who sits down to dinner with the 6 o'clock news.  In general, I don't trust the media.  Somehow, we seem to have arrived in a day and age where anyone with enough money can make completely outrageous claims without a lick of evidence and broadcast it all over television, internet and radio.  Why?  Because it's sexy: it promotes drama, or spreads fear, or encourages hate, or lifts one group up at the expense of another.  Finding a balanced media source is becoming harder and harder, and often times those who strive to produce researched and reviewed material are given the last row on the bookshelf because their material isn't sexy: it doesn't make sweeping statements about minorities or interest groups because, lets face it, life just isn't that simple; and because love and equality simply aren't sexy.  

So I've been looking to new sources of information -- you.  I've been reading blogs and peer reviewed articles and the UK's well researched view on the occupy movement and I'm moved by all the dissension happening in the nation, because I have been feeling it for a long time.  But the more I read about various subjects, the more I feel they have their root in once place -- the inability to love others, which stems from an inability to truly and unconditionally love ourselves.

We all want to feel good.  No, that's not quite right.  We all want to feel joy.  And not just in fleeting moments: we want to experience sustained joy.  In fact, you could say that sustained joy is the purpose of life.  Think about it, everything else we do, from religion to teeth brushing to surfing on a Sunday afternoon is because we hope it will give us more sustained joy.  But I think that we often are confusing the feeling of joy with the feeling of an ego boost, and in doing so are hurting others, spreading fear and propagating hate.

It's easy to see this lately as large religions have conflict after conflict, with lives lost.  Both sides are trying to spread their world view, their religion, their ideals and values.  Why?  Because, at the end of the day, both sides believe it will bring them more sustained joy (on this planet or in the afterlife).  Using violence, hate and fear to get what you want never brings joy -- it may bring a short boost in the self-esteem, one that is quickly lost when the battle is over.  The need to perpetuate violence and hate towards others stems from a lack of love for the self -- if you truly loved yourself, you wouldn't need to put anyone down, in the name of God or anything else.

Putting others down for the short ego boost that occurs happens every day in our communities, and it's easy to turn your head away.  I recently read a blog post by Dan Pearce entitled, "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay," which I think describes this phenomenon very accurately.  Basically, what he summates is that even though most of try to live our life according to a value system that includes some version of non-violence and love towards others, we fail when we reach a person or situation that makes us fearful.  His title explains the issue perfectly -- we strive for the joy that unconditional love towards our neighbors will bring us . . . until our neighbors are gay (or fat or Mexican or lazy).

I was born and raised in a moderate size town in northern Utah.  I have not lived there since I was 18, when I packed my bags and ran screaming into the night towards a place that exhibited more tolerance, acceptance and love.  I've lived out of Utah now for 12 years, and since I've lived in places with more tolerance towards those who are different, it's easy for me to forget how deep the pit of despair can be for someone of the wrong faith, color, size, shape, and especially sexual orientation.  The Mormon Church is conducting one of the biggest anti-gay campaigns in the world, and propogates its message with, among other things, slanderous books with no basis in real fact.  A look at this book, its message, and those it's hurting can be found on the blog, "unambiguous."  

The discrimination of gay and lesbian people in particular saddens me, and my heart withered with the agonizing accuracy and and honesty or Pearce's post.  In the post (which I suggest you read), he paints a picture of despair with a conversation he had with a gay friend of his.  

He began crying.
“Every single person I’ve told has ditched me. They just disappear. They stop calling. They remove me on Facebook. They’re just gone,” he said. “They can’t handle knowing and being friends with a gay person.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything.
“You don’t know what it’s like, man. You don’t know what it’s like to live here and be gay. You don’t know what it’s like to have freaking nobody. You don’t know what it’s like to have your own parents hate you and try and cover up your existence. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want this. And I’m so tired of people hating me for it. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.”
I know that there are others who suffer like Dan's friend.  I know people personally who suffer from the discrimination and hate from others who fear them.  And so do you.  The person you know may not be gay -- they might be fat, homeless, Jewish, disabled, unemployed, elderly -- and they feel separated, singled out and alone.
When I was growing up in Utah, my family was of the wrong faith.  We were of no faith, and that was frightening and somehow threatening to those around us.  As young children, my sister and I were constantly invited to church on Sundays, youth church activities during the week and church outings.  And we went, occasionally.  Which wasn't good enough, of course, and we were bothered and hounded by church members and neighbors for the rest of our upbringing, which really made me feel inadequate.  I understand that this church's behavior was supposed to seem welcoming and encompassing, but it made me feel as though I were inadequate -- it showed me that I would never be accepted the way I was.  
When I was nine, one of my playmates told me about her church's belief in the second coming of Christ (which at that time, was supposed to happen in the year 2000, the year I graduated high school).  She told me that we would be partying for our graduation and then Christ would come and all the righteous would be lifted into heaven, the rest would be left to burn on the earth.  I asked her what would happen to me.  She told me she asked her mom, and that I would burn.
When I was a freshman in high school, a student in my class asked me when my seminary (released time from school to attend religious classes off campus) class period was.  I replied that I didn't take seminary, and he proceeded to tell me what a bad girl I was, and how bad girls go to hell.
When I was in high school, a boy prominent in school athletics asked me to a school dance.  He told his entire team that since I wasn't Mormon, I must not have morals.  He took advantage of me sexually and then stopped talking to me.
These experiences, and the hundreds of others I had, seem to me now to be the result of lack of self love on the part of the offender.  Because they feared loving themselves for who they were, they had to make me feel bad for being who I was.  Luckily for me, I was only the wrong religion -- not the wrong sexual orientation.  I wasn't taped up in a locker room, or hazed by the football team, and I didn't lose all of my friends.  I learned that being a good, honest, loving and compassionate friend isn't something that is taught in church -- if that were true, then all people with faith would love everybody else without reserve.  
Learning to have true compassion and love for others is a journey into your own heart, and the practice is not bound to those who claim a specific faith.  We are all after sustained joy; it's what makes the human experience worth living.  Without love for everyone, that joy will be always out of reach, smoke in the air, a smell you can't remember, a name on the tip of your tongue.  In order to have true compassion and love for others, you have to sit with yourself and ask yourself what you are so afraid of.  And if you can name those fears, what are they based on?  Are you afraid to love a gay person because your church/dad/friend/mentor/favorite author told you not to?  How would your world change by embracing someone with a different sexual orientation than you? How would you change? Just because I love elephants doesn't mean I become one, or that I can suddenly snort water though my nose with any proficiency.  It just means that I've opened up another space in my heart from which to experience and love the world.  We are all human.  We are all pursuing the same basic goals, and the more we can embrace each others' differences, the more that joy can become a reality for all of us as we ease the pain and suffering of those who once were different.  
This task starts at home, learning to love yourself.  Learning to love your mistakes, and your self criticisms, and your failures, and your fears.  Until we all can learn to love and tolerate ourselves and all our faults, we won't be able to love others who are different from us, and sustained joy will escape us all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cultivating Faith

This fall season is flying by, and my life has sped up with it.  I didn't mean to leave such a cliff hanger last post.  Most of you know that my brain scan came back clean, so there is nothing wrong with my brain after all.  Well, physically, at least  :)  But as the wind starts to blow and the vegetation becomes dry, I feel myself being drawn inward.   The question I have been dealing with lately is how to hear the voice of my soul.

There are many parts to the body and mind.  Classical Ayurveda and Yoga teach that the body/mind system has five sheaths, or koshas, which start at the most physical and move towards the most etherial.  You have the Annamaya kosha, or the food body first, then the Pranamaya kosha, or breath body.  Third comes the Manomaya kosha, or the mind (this is why we must use the breath as the bridge between the mind and body).  In Manomaya kosha, we're talking about the mind-stuff -- the part of the mind that's always moving and creating thoughts, but that we can direct and focus with practice.  This is also the part of the mind where we distinquish ourselves from others.  I like to think of this layer as the workers in a factory -- their job just to work, and their work is to create thoughts.  This is why sometimes our thoughts spin and spin with no real pattern, because the Manomaya kosha needs guidance.  Enter the  Vijnanamaya kosha, or the wisdom sheath.  This is the part of the mind that contains the intellect and processes information from our sense organs. This sheath can be thought of as the manager of the factory -- it takes in information, gives orders, and makes decisions based on information it receives.  The final sheath is known as the Anandamaya kosha, or the bliss sheath.  This is the boss of the factory; the person behind the curtain.  This is the our soul, and where our soul connects to the larger universe.  This sheath, along from the information processed through Vijnanamaya kosha, is what I want to hear.

The koshas tend to correspond fairly well with the chakras, if you aligned them from the bottom to the top -- the Annamaya kosha would be at the first chakra and the Anandamaya kosha would be at the seventh chakra.  I have more experience with chakras than koshas in my own practice, so I tend to focus on their energy more.  What I've noticed is that in times of relative peace in my life, I'm able to hear the voice of my higher chakras and koshas with more ease -- a simple meditation or yoga practice is all it takes for me to listen to my higher Self in these moments.  But when my life becomes turbulent, hearing my higher voice is challenging.

When survival and security are threatened, the first chakra tends to light up or enlarge in order to get more information.  When money is low, or life feels unstable, the second chakra will chime in as well.  And if these disruptions have lowered self-esteem at all, the third chakra might joint in.  These lower chakras are completely necessary in order to survive on the planet, but what I've noticed is that, when disrupted, they are so much louder than the upper chakras.  I think of the lower chakras as heavier, more physical, more in touch with the physical world because that's what they deal with.  The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh chakras handle some physical energy, but are more concerned with relaying cosmic and spiritual information to the mind and body.  This type of information is more ethereal, lighter and softer.

So when I find myself making big, tumultuous decisions in life, I find the the noise of my lower chakras tends to drown out that of my higher.  It's as if you can't hear the melody because the base is too loud.

What's the answer?  I think the answer is faith.  For me, making big decisions centers around the information I get from my higher Self, my higher chakras, my higher koshas.  When that information is processed by lower koshas and chakras and I realize what an upheaval it causes in my physical and emotional life, my chakras throw a tantrum.  They start questioning me in bursts so loud I can't hear myself think.  Balancing the first, second and third chakras is about trusting the process of life.  If I can trust that I will find the security, financial and emotional support I need, those centers of energy will go back to functioning at normal so that I can hear my soul again.  So I must learn to cultivate faith -- faith in the process of life, faith that the universe will provide for me as long as I follow the guidance of my soul, and faith that I am hearing my soul correctly.

So how do I cultivate faith?  By sitting quietly, and listening for the melody against the chorus of base until the base disappears and all that remains is the quiet singing of my soul.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Believing in duality has made my life so much easier.  There are many times when I've had two conflicting ideas, thoughts, or emotions about something and stayed awake into the wee hours of the night trying to rectify them.  Now, I can rest easy realizing that I can have my cake and eat it, too.

I was recently at the eye doctor's for a routine check up.  I payed extra for the special photo they take of the back or inside of my eye because I hadn't had it done for a couple years.  I was talking to my doctor about my desire for LASIK eye surgery, so that I wouldn't have to worry about contacts and glasses anymore and could actually SEE the stars when I'm camping.  But all that was lost when my doctor started rambling about something different with my pictures, fumbling around on the computer for pictures of "healthy eyes" to compare to mine, and keeping the whole conversation in this strange tone that felt like we might be discussing scrap-booking.

I finally realized what she was getting at when she said, "I'm going to refer you to a neurologist so you can rule out an intracranial mass."  Um, excuse me?  One minute we're chatting like it's a stitch-and-bitch, and the next you're telling me that I might have a brain tumor?  Before I could really stop to think about what that meant, she prattled on about something else, so I hid any fear as I tried on new, "fashionable" frames since the possibility of a mass in my brain was enough to put off LASIK dreams for a while.

The next day, I went to school and told my wonderful Ayurvedic teacher that I hadn't in fact done my homework, and instead had gone out to the pub for beer and dinner after receiving the news.  She looked at me and said, "Anna, that's a crappy situation and I hope that you can realize the duality that first, whatever it is, you're going to be fine.  And second, it's okay to be scared shitless."

Having that permission was like seeing doors of golden light open up around me.  I knew then that I could take the time to cry and be afraid and ask my husband to hold me at night.  But that I could also do everything in my power to strengthen my mental healing resolve, because after all, all disease begins in the mind.  So after my fits of fear and loathing, I wrote affirmations and taped them all around my house.  I also chanted and prayed, and acknowledged any fear-based thought with a new, positive affirmation about my ability to heal and be whole.

And then I started to observe my thoughts more closely.  It's amazing what you can begin to hear if you really pay attention.  I heard a thought that I realized had been playing in the background of my mind for years, but I'd never acknowledged the thought because of how selfish and morbid it is.  On a drive home one day, I heard myself think, "You know, if you had brain cancer, people would pay attention to you."  Whoa, WHAT??? I thought back to myself.  Where did that come from?  And then I remembered back to when I was a little girl, six or seven years old, and my poor little sister was diagnosed with leukemia.  It was awful for her -- chemo and spinal taps and the whole works, yet I was jealous because of how many stuffed animals she got, and flowers, and cards, and love and attention.  And I wanted that too.

I'm 29 years old and my six-year-old self is still trying to get her way by playing her thoughts in the back of my mind.  Now that's a duality for you: The "right now" me wants to be healthy and to gently live her life, but the six-year-old me wants to have some sort of disease so I can make up for the attention I failed to receive while my sister was ill.  (BTW, she's a healthy and happy 26 year old today!).

So, the moral of the story is that duality exists.  You can love your parents but want to kill them for screwing you up so bad.  You can love a company for how green and righteous it is, but think the person in charge is a douche bag.  You can have two conflicting things that don't reconcile themselves and still live a life of integrity.

I'm having my brain scanned tomorrow.  I'll keep you posted, but don't worry, I'm healthy, healed, and whole, and whatever happens, I'll be just fine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Part 3: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: Reflections of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

I arrived Saturday morning at the slacklines before most of the Slackers had rolled out of bed.  I liked the lines early in the morning -- it was quiet, it was still cool, the heat of the sun had not yet escalated.  I found the only chair in the area and sat down.  I was surprised to see my friend, C.M., up so early, but he was there, and he found me.  We talked about last night's concert at first, but it wasn't long before tears swelled my eyes and I admitted the pain I was in.  C.M. knows a bit about pain, but more than pain, he understands how frustrating it is when your body keeps you out of the fun.  Immediately, he pulled a huge phone from his pocket (how it fits in there is beyond me) and started texting.  "I have a friend here who can help you," he said.  But it's a festival, I told him, what if he doesn't want to work on me?  "I'll make sure he does," said C.M., and gave me a hug.

I am used to pain.  I am used to having my body take me out of the action before my mind is ready to leave.  I'm used to sitting on the sidelines, waiting patiently for everyone to finish with their fun so we can do something together, like eat ice cream or drink chocolate milk martinis.  But just because I'm used to to pain keeping me out of the physical fun doesn't mean I like it, and I admit a did my fair share of moping that morning.  Knowing that I couldn't teach slacklining with the right enthusiasm, and not knowing if C.M.'s friend would have time to see me, I went over the the body work tents and started looking for an appointment.  I couldn't afford it, not really.  But I was desperate.  I spoke to the man making appointments and told him who I was interested in seeing, but they were booked the whole day. So I left.  Next, I went to the Manduka tent where they were offering free henna tatoos.  I already had one, and I was hoping the woman would just start a sleeve down my arm  -- I figured I had all day.  She gave me a nice design, I thanked her and then I walked away.

Truth be told, the pain I can handle.  What's more difficult are the psychological games that pain has with the mind.  First in my mind was "What caused this?" And even after all I've learned, and all that I've written in this blog, part of me still wants to think, "I must have just over-done it physically."  But really, it's never as simple as that when it comes to my body.  Instead, I know I must also turn my attention to what's been happening emotionally and spiritually in my life.  Well, "Duh," I thought.  "A lot".  I've been going through mountains of emotional upheaval.  "Okay, tight muscles, fair enough," I thought.  Second on my mind was "What can I learn from this?"  This question was trickier because I've realized that you have to tease out the analytical mind and learn to listen with your third eye to what the body has to say.  I can do it, but it's not the easiest thing to do, especially with thousands of other people around.  The third thing on my mind was, "Now that I'm injured, what good am I to the Slackers? What can I possibly do to be useful?  Will they still love me?"  Which is absurd, and even as I write the words, I understand how absurd they sound.  Nonetheless, they were still on my mind.

I found my way back to the slacklines and to the other Slackers, who were doing more teaching than slacking at the time.  I sighed, rolled out my yoga mat, and tried to do some of my stretches.  Ouch.  Immediately, I noticed that this was something different than I was used to; the game had changed, so to speak.  Usually, my muscles spasm in a specific pattern that I can untangle using a system of stretching and visualization, but not today.  Today was different.  So instead, I moved my mat into the miniscule bit of shade near the lines, pulled the YogaSlackers Teacher Training manual out my backpack, and began editing.  At least that was one job I had for the Slackers that I could do lying down, so I still felt useful.  I was also told that I could help out in the Prana tent as well, selling clothes.

Around noon, C.M's friend, Healer, came to see me and offer me some body work.  He immediately got down to business, asking me what was going on with my back, then jumping right into my physical history, injury history, and what I've been doing to heal myself.  We found a quiet place inside to set up some mats for body work, and I watched as Healer set the space and prepared himself for work.  I laid down on my belly, and Healer started working on my lower back muscles.  They were almost completely locked up, he said, in complete spasm.  As he dug into the muscles that were holding on so tight, he said, "So, back injuries are usually due to feeling unsupported.  Tell me how you've been feeling unsupported.  What's going on?"

I didn't hold back.  I told this new friend everything that I'd been going through the past few months, the past couple years.  How circumstances had come together that had left me feeling unsupported -- not only from my partner, but also from myself.  I told him how I felt that I'd been flailing like a fish out of water, desperately trying to align my heart with Truth and feeling isolated in the process and scared of what Truth would mean for me.  Healer was so kind.  When I acknowledged a weakness, he filled my ears with affirmation.  When I admitted despair, he gave me words of hope.  When I admitted feeling isolated, he said, "I can't tell you how many women I've treated who are in your same predicament, and how their bodies were requiring that they make scary changes.  You CAN do what your body and your soul need.  You are strong enough."  And when I acknowledged my deepest fear, that I wouldn't in fact ever get better, he looked me in the eye and said, "Of course you will.  I've seen people far worse than you, with half the intuition that you have, and they've recovered perfectly.  You will heal."  All the while, Healer gently coaxed my muscles to unlock and relax.

When we were finished, he would take nothing more from me than a hug and a thank you, and I am eternally grateful for the physical and emotional aid he gifted me.  I had gained another piece to the puzzle, found another ally in my spiritual revolution.  And while my back didn't relax immediately, it healed very quickly, a product no doubt of Healer's amazing abilities coupled with my body's love for massage and a space held for true mind/body healing.

I rejoined my friends at the slacklines, careful to not try and keep up physically with them, but taking Healer's words to heart.  "You are supported," he had said.  "You have people here who love you, regardless of what your body can do."  I smiled to myself as I edited away and guided new students to the lines with someone else to give instruction.

Wanderlust finished on a bittersweet note for me.  I learned so much about myself in such a short period of time that it was disorienting, except that I had such great friends to hold me firmly to the earth.  I was sad to leave the festival, afraid of what growth would come next when I wasn't around so many healers.  But I was also happy to have had the experience of feeling loved, connected, learning more about myself in a heart-centered environment.  I just hope that my spiritual saga is less dramatic, urgent, and painful next year, when I return for mountains and forests again for the sweet nectar of Wanderlust.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Part 2: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: Reflections of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

As our traveling trio arrived Wednesday at Wanderlust, the welcoming by our Slacker family was nothing less than I expected -- hugs filled with so much excitement and love that they were almost violent, knocking us into an instant Slacker Stack (aka: dog pile).  The fun and love that radiated from the little grassy knoll, filled with slacklines, was almost hypnotic as it drew us into the folds.  Ah, we were home.

We got to work immediately, spelling those who had been teaching in the hot sun for the past several days without rest.  The "work" was so fun that it was hard to call it work.  Our energy drew people in as we played and experimented on the line, cheering each other on, marveling at how our skills had increased.  As the lines filled with interested beginners, we found there were enough of us to teach now that some of us could sit in the shade until the next rotation.  Sitting there in the shade with my friend, TigerEye, we dug into each others personal life in a conversation so deep and urgent that it was almost as if we had agreed to meet there, in the shade of a ski-ticket building, to have an important meeting.  The rest of the festival faded into the background for me as we connected over similarities and differences in our separate-yet-so-similar internal processes over the past few months.

Now, for those of you who know me, you know that I in no way resemble the energy of a butterfly -- a person who can flit about from different groups of friends, touching lots of lives lightly and having connections with lots and lots of people.  I don't do it well, and to be honest, I'm just not interested in living that way.  My personality requires deep connections with others, and so, naturally, I don't have as many friends, but those I do have know me and vice versa.  It's taken me a while to realize how intense I must feel to others.  I recently asked three of my friends if they find me intense.  Two of them laughed, as if they were amazed I hadn't yet realized it, and the other said, "Yes, but that's okay.  I'm used to it now."

So it was nice that TigerEye didn't seem to have a problem relating on this level.  To be honest, I felt that if I didn't keep talking, keep processing, keep working with all these things coming up for me, I might internally combust.  On the forefront of my mind were: do I have let go of my relationship completely in order to heal my body, or can I just let go of the parts that aren't working anymore; what are the logistical ramifications of the former; I've heard what my back is saying, but does my heart have to say?

Thursday on the mountain was hot and sunny, and we started getting people on the lines as early as eight in the morning.  Again, I just can't iterate enough how amazing it felt to be surrounded by such happy, healthy people who had their hearts open to love (thank you, Anusara) -- both the students who tried the line, and again, my Slacker family.  I realized that another great yogini friend of mine, Calm, was also at the event, working a separate booth, and I was looking forward to reconnect with her.  As fate would have it, we both showed up to take Sean Corn's "Detox Flow" class Thursday afternoon, and practiced together.

I hadn't yet had the opportunity to work with Sean Corn, and I'm so glad that I chose her class that afternoon.  I went into it with the intention of uncovering more my own answers, specifically what it was my heart wanted.  Sean's class was focused around detoxing the body from all the toxins we are exposed to everyday, taking root in our tissues when we don't take the time or care to cleanse our bodies and minds.  The environmental message of her class resonated strongly with me (M.S. Environmental Science; past life at the University of Montana), but the message that went along side of it was what coaxed information out of my heart.  Sean spoke without apology about Truth: that we spirits having a human experience, and that we are are children of Spirit, whatever Spirit means to you (God, Goddess, Nature, etc).  She said that when we don't align our spirits with Truth, or God, or the Universe, then we're creating more toxins in our bodies by denying our soul the only thing it craves -- connection with Spirit.

According to Ayurveda, all disease occurs because we forget this truth.  Disease occurs because we forget that our true nature is spirit, and that our spirit is connected to higher Spirit.  When we forget this truth, we are subject to the dramas that our senses create for us.  The spirit is vital, and it will always crave connection, but if we only listening to the needs of our senses, then they will find something else in which to fill the void -- things like sugar, alcohol, sex, drugs, violence, habits or even over-exercising.  These things may not seem bad at first, and they do their job -- filling the void and numbing the cry of the soul.  The problem is that they can start to drown out the cry of the soul altogether as we become stuck in patterns, lifestyles or relationships that draw us further from our Truth, until one day we wake up with a master's degree in environmental science and say, "Why am I still unhappy after all that I've 'achieved'?"  Simple.  Because that wasn't what my soul wanted.  It's what my rational brain told me I should have.

So as we sweated and twisted ourselves clean in Sean's class (me modifying poses too advanced for my sensitive back), she asked us to look inside at our Truth -- at what our spirit needed, and to look at where we might be stuck in achieving that.  I immediately noticed a stuck energy between my third and fourth chakras, where I was currently processing my relationship and what to do about it.  Sean then said something like, "Can you be brave enough to live in Truth and let fall away those things that don't support it, because those things will act as toxins in your body."  This relationship energy lit up inside me like a torch, and I immediately started crying.  It was clear that my heart also felt the need to let go of some part of my relationship, but I wasn't sure how large that part was, and I was afraid to look any deeper.

After the practice, Calm looked over at me and said, "I wanted so badly to put my hand on your back!" as she had noticed the energy moving there.  Later, when we talked more deeply about the internal connections, she admitted to having channeled my relationship info while practicing next to me.  What a beautiful and evolved spirit she is!

Friday was more of the same: being loved, sharing love, slacklining, sun bathing, meeting new friends and spending time with TigerEye.  Michael Franti played that night, and a group of us went to the concert together.  I love Franti, and as he sang "Hey World (Don't Give Up Version)," I was sure he was singing to me.  I was tired from the long day, from my emotional processes, and hadn't payed much attention to my back throughout the day.  Near the end of the concert, I started to realize that my back muscles were becoming very tight.  Too tight.  As I got in the car to drive home, I could barely sit for the pain.  I eased myself into my tent and onto my very bumpy outdoor bed, and curled my knees toward my chest.  My back muscles spasmed with every movement.  Each time I moved in the night, the pain woke me up.  Saturday morning, still in pain, I thought, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no.  I just got healed enough to enjoy being in my physical body again.  This can't happy now!"  And then, more gently, "I'm sorry body, I'm sorry for not listening.  I'll fix this, I promise."

So I prepared for Saturday like any other day at the Festival.  Although I knew, and so did my body, that it would be different.  Somehow, I didn't find any comfort in that thought.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part 1: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: A Reflection of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

For the last week of July, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley, California, as part of the teaching crew for YogaSlackers.  I was excited to reconnect with my YogaSlacker family, attend yoga classes taught by world renown teachers, spread the joy of slacklining to others, and be away from hustle and bustle of southern California and back into the soul-feeding mountains and forests.

Let me preface this story with some background information on where I'm currently at emotionally, physically, and spiritually so that what follows forms a complete picture (or as close as is possible or now).  For the last couple years, and more urgently in the past few months, I've been really working to re-define my values, my actions, and if my actions are in line with my values.  I've also been working internally to try to understand a back injury that has kept me away from many physical activities for the past year.  I've recently felt an urgency to take another look at all my major commitments and relationships, and to evaluate whether or not they are helping or hindering my spiritual path.

Three years ago, I was interested in my spiritual development, but not to the extent where I would talk openly with others about it, or share it with my significant other, or make decisions based on it.  During the same time period, I've been coaxed to slow down, to look inside, to work on my spirit as much as my body.  Unfortunately, I was addicted to the physical world in a way that gave me no patience for the slow, sometimes slogging and turmultuous path of spiritual soul-seeking or healing.  Luckily for me, my spirit is smarter than my concious mind, and in April 2010, after many attempts too subtle to be effective, it created an injury in my physical body severe enough to force me to slow down and take a good look at my life -- including who I am and what I need to live a life of sustained joy.

The core group of YogaSlackers, who have been my dear friends for years now, are most well known for their practice of yoga on a slackline, a practice full of both grace and power -- a true balance of strength and softness.  It's often the "shock and awe" of watching these amazing beings on a slackline that draws the onlooker forward to the line themselves.  For this brave soul, the reward is not just learning the practice of the line, but spending time with the people who make up the YogaSlackers.  Here is where real change can happen. What the YogaSlackers are less known for is often more profound and has a longer lasting effect: they have the uncanny and possibly unconcious ability to encourage you to question your life -- both the decisions that you've made as well as the assumptions behind those decisions.  The result is often a shift in the very value system, the foundation, for your entire life.  The first day, and nearly every encounter since, that I met the two men who eventually founded the YogaSlackers, I've felt the need to question what I value, how that's made me who I am, and how that affects my spirit and my relationships with others.  

So it's not surprising that after the YogaSlackers inagural teacher training in May, where I spent 10 days with these inspiring folks, that the internal, soul-searching work that I was already doing became more urgent and huge shifts started happening in my life.  Just a few of things that happened between the training and Wanderlust were: giving over half of my closet to charity; bringing my spiritual life and beliefs "out of the closet" and into the forefront of my life, without apology; asking for what I really need in my relationships with others; questioning my marriage; and asking myself honestly what I need in order to fulfill my spiritual dharma on earth.  What I didn't realize was how the teacher training acted as a catalyst of change for many of my friends as well.  Here I was, feeling isolated and alone in the spiritual growth and turmoil I felt, when many of my new close friends were experiencing similar change in their life.

I was very excited to be a part of the YogaSlacker teachers who were representing at Wanderlust, partly because I love to teach slacklining and I love the energy of big yoga festivals, and partly to see my Slacker family and feel the comfort of being accepted for exactly who I am and loved as part of a group. I rode from San Diego to Long Beach with a lovely friend (we'll call him Panther) who I hadn't connected with in a long time.  We spent the night at our other friend's house (let's call him Giver), then awoke on Tuesday morning, fueled up with fresh veggies from the garden, and drove up the 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras until we reached South Lake Tahoe.  The drive was fun; full of rest-stop-handstands and arm balances.  The energy of excitement was palpable and radiated from each of us, feeding each other, as we took pictures of our feats of gravity at each rest stop and posted them on Facebook saying, "Here we come!  We can't wait to see you!"

We spent the night with Giver's sister, just south of the lake.  In the morning, Panther and I had the time to lake a leisurely stroll next to the river, to talk and connect.  We were blessed by a tiny green frog, a mother duck with about ten tiny ducklings, and rainbow trout swimming upstream.  As we eased into our heartfelt conversation, Panther helped me make the connection between my back injury and the need for my spirit to move forward.  As I mentioned above, I used to connect to the planet with physical exercise -- trail running, mountain biking, climbing, etc. -- which are all worthy connections, however, they weren't the type of connections my spirit was craving.  I would marvel at nature's miracles as a sped by on my machine made of aluminum and rubber, and the forest would scream, "Slow down!  You're missing it!" And I would always reply, "Next time, another day," never truly stopping.  At this time, I attracted a partner who found connection in a similar way, and we connected to each other through these physical, heart pumping and endorphin releasing activities.  As healthy as they are, they were like drugs to us -- drugs to make us feel better, faster, stronger and under the influence of this natural high, we fell in love.

When injury overtook me, and forced me to slow, I was no longer able to have the same level endorphins that had pumped so regularly through my system.  I wasn't able to speed through the forest, and my aluminum and rubber machine sat lonely in the garage.  Most of all, I wasn't able to connect to my love anymore.  In the beginning, I was resistant to this change, because during the times when I would have be out riding or running and connecting to my partner, I was forced to sit with myself, and as I did, I began to listen and pay attention to what I'd been too busy to notice before.  Not only was the forest eager for me to slow down, my spirit was craving for me to pay attention.  "This is IMPORTANT!" it said.  And it took me a long time to realize that.  But as I've worked with my spirit's guidance, I've realized that I can connect to nature, to Spirit, to others, in a way that's different and deeper than ever before.  Unfortunately, my partner is still satisfied to connect through physical means, as he hasn't had the opportunity or desire for the type of internal growth I've done.  Through my injury, he's offered little in the way of support for the internal work I've done, because he's not sure how to connect to me on that level, and in fact, I'm not sure he understood the connection between the emotional/spiritual and the physical.  He kept asking me to heal my back so that "we could go back to the way things were."  But I fear that I simply can't go back -- those old ways of connecting hold no power over me anymore and I realize how they detracted from the deeper connection I feel now.

So that morning, at the river, Panther listened to my story and offered, "Maybe your back stays injured because, if it were to heal completely, you'd have no excuse to move forward spiritually; no excuse for NOT going back to the way things were.  Maybe your back stays injured to remind you that you MUST move forward." And as the words fell on my ears, it was as if my spirit said turned to Panther and hugged him with vigor, because it had been trying to tell me the same thing, unsuccessfully, for months.

I knew, at that moment, that Wanderlust wasn't going to be all handstands and unicorns for me.  It would also include more of the deep, internal work that my spirit craves yet that throws my emotional and physical bodies into turmoil.  I think I heard my body sigh, "Here we go again. . ."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Life after cleansing and the new recipes that make it great!

I finished up Purva Karma almost two weeks ago, and I'm still reflecting on all I learned from the experience.  One of the coolest things that happened to me was not physical -- it was the great expansion in my creativity.  For the last few months, I've felt stuck creatively, which rarely used to happen, but is understandable since I'm in such a rigorous school program.  After Purva Karma, I was able to quickly identify projects I wanted to work on, and further, I had the motivation and stamina to see them through to their finish.  It was fantastic!  I got right to work on my sewing machine, picking up fabric I'd bought a year  ago, and quickly had a new skirt and shirt hanging in my closet.  My creativity also returned in the kitchen, which is what I'll share with you.  First, some details about how I'm eating at home and why.

My husband and I made some big changes for Purva Karma, and for him, out of complete necessity.  He's been dealing with severe allergic reactions for several years, with no known cause.  He had been to see every type of doctor and specialist who could possible help him, but to no avail.  I truly believed that Ayurveda could help him with a few diet and lifestyle changes and a regimen of herbs to help his bodily systems heal.  Just before Purva Karma started, he was ready for me to help him and to make the simple, yet not easy, changes necessary to heal.  This included cutting out caffeine, alcohol, and all major food allergens, among other things.  Since our cleanse, he's been off all allergy medications and has had no allergic reactions in over two weeks!  To keep the ball rolling, we're keeping our diet clean and simple and gradually adding back new ingredients, so the recipes that follow are simple but yummy!

The second or third day after our cleanse, we were definitely ready for something besides rice and beans.  But we really couldn't branch out more than rice and beans, so we had to get creative in our presentation of them.  Luckily, the most amazing veggie burger recipe had passed my way not too long ago, and this was the perfect time to try it.  This recipe for Black Bean Almond Burgers has become a fast favorite in our house; we've already eaten it for four meals in the last week and a half!  I can't take credit for this amazing creation, however; my dearest friend, Kathryn*, sent me this recipe as one of her favorites, and I finally pulled it out.  I've already talked these up so much that I've requests for the recipe; without further ado, here it is, along with Anna's Special Additions:

Black Bean Almond Burgers
2, 14 oz cans black beans (or the equivalent dried, soaked, and cooked)
1 cup sweet potato, shredded
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup black olives, chopped (can also use kalamata)
1/4 cup flour (we used gluten free)
3 Tbsp Braggs or tamari
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp ginger, grated

Drain the beans. In a bowl, mash 1/2 of the beans (so some are left whole).  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir together.  Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil or ghee and turn to medium heat.  Once hot, form patties with the mixture and add to pan.  Cover and cook for 7 - 10 minutes on each side.  They should get a nice, crispy crust on the outside and be warm in the center.

Anna's Special Additions:
Since we're currently gluten-free, we ate these burgers between leaves of butter leaf lettuce, which was amazing and perfect since the burgers are so filling.  I topped them with:

Honey Mustard Sauce:
For two burgers, mix together 2 tsp honey, 2 tsp mustard, and 2 Tbsp mayo or yogurt.  Drizzle on top of burgers. You can adjust the amounts to get the taste you want.

And just to add some more fun to the meal, we finished it off with Organic Salted Kettle Chips.  Y.U.M.
Try these burgers next time you need something quick and tasty for dinner -- you won't be disappointed!  Join me next time as I explain how to make healthy coconut almond treats**!

*Kathryn - an awe-inspiring, spit-fire of a woman who's currently at Georgia State University, where she's been granted the authority to make undergraduates talk about tough issues like sexual equality and human rights -- she rocks.
**Maybe this should have been a food blog :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Purva Karma

For the past week, my husband and I have been on type of Ayurvedic cleanse called Purva Karma.  Traditionally, Purva Karma is a preparation for main Ayurvedic cleansing actions, called Pancha Karma.  While Pancha Karma often requires stay in a retreat setting and daily care from Ayurvedic practitioners, Purva Karma is fairly simple to do at home under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Ayurveda believes that there is a force in our body that helps us in the digestion of food.  This digestive force is made of the fire element, and is called jataragni, or simply, agni.  You can think of agni like any other fire -- it needs fuel to burn.  If the fire has just enough fuel, it will burn through all of it and leave nothing behind.  If the fuel load is too much for the strength of the fire, there will some fuel that is left unburned.  The same theory is true of our digestion -- if our agni is working properly, all of our food will be digested and we will remain healthy.  However, if our agni is weakened and/or we take in too much food for the strength of our agni, some food will remain undigested and turn into a "toxic sludge" in our bodies.  Ayurveda calls this toxin ama.

The goal of Purva Karma is to liquify the ama that is stuck throughout the tissues of our bodies and move it back into the digestive system where it can be more easily removed from the body.  This is done through internal and external oleation, or application of oils, and through a light mono-diet to allow the digestive system to rest.  For internal oleation, I took one teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) in a glass of hot water on day one.  On day two, I took two teaspoons, on day three, three, and so on.  Additionally, each day I performed self oil massage -- rubbing warm, organic oils onto my skin and then rinsing in a warm shower.  For meals, I enjoyed the classical Ayurvedic food of kitcheri, a dish of rice and split mung beans (similar to lentils) cooked with vegetables and spices.

I thought I would get really bored with a mono-diet, but I actually enjoyed not having to think about what food I was eating.  This allowed my brain more freedom to think of other things.  During Purva karma, I felt more tired than normal and my body felt sluggish.  I also felt like my brain was very foggy.  I started getting little headaches and lightning pains in my back near my injury, which were fleeting.  One morning, I literally had to pull myself out of bed I was so tired, even though I'd slept for nine hours -- my body felt so heavy and almost like I was hungover.  At the end of that day I developed a migraine that lasted into the night and through the first part the morning.  However, at about 9:30 am it went away, and took the mental fog with it.  After that, my thoughts became very clear and I was able to work through the problems plaguing my brain without difficulty.

As the week proceeded, my body still felt weaker than normal from the light eating, but I was able to stay fairly active, slacklining, going for walks and light bike rides, and teaching yoga. I tried to avoid TV, especially the news, to allow the ama to release from my mind and head.  Interesting things came out of just about every body orifice, so I won't get into that here, but I didn't experience anything that was unpleasant.  In fact, this week has taught me a lot about what kinds of things my body was hanging on to.

Today is the last day of my Purva Karma; we finish with some purgative herbs to cleanse out the digestive tract.  For the next few days, we'll continue to eat lightly, eating rice gruel and kitcheri with lots of digestive spices to help us rekindle our digestive fire, which is largely lost during Purva Karma.  Then we'll slowly add other foods back into our diet.

Purva Karma is a safe and gentle cleanse appropriate for most individuals.  However, I am not here to give medical advice and would always recommend speaking to your doctor or Ayurvedic practitioner first.  But eating a light meal of kitcheri for a day or a meal is something anyone can do!  Kitcheri is oh-so-yummy and is designed to be as highly digestible as possible, so it's a great choice if you want to give your digestion a break for a day without feeling hungry.  Here's my favorite recipe; always feel free to change the seasonings according to your dosha or your tastes!

Kitcheri for 2 people:
2 Tbsp ghee or olive oil
1/2 tsp each: fennel, cumin, and coriander seeds
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 or 2 cups fresh, seasonal veggies, cut up
1/3 cup basmati rise, rinsed until water runs clear
1/3 cup slit mung beans (aka split mung dhal)
1 1/2 cups water (for a pilaf-like consistency; 2 cups for a softer kitcheri)

Melt ghee in a pot over medium heat; add fennel, cumin, coriander and ginger and saute for a couple minutes, until seeds are hot and popping.  Add vegetables and saute for a few minutes, until softened.  Add basmati rice, mung beans and turmeric and saute for 30 seconds or so.  Add the cinnamon stick and water.  Bring to a boil, then turn to low heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.  Serve warm and season with Braggs.  Optional seasonings include: roasted sunflower seeds, yoghurt, lemon or lime, and fresh herbs.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Lovely Liver (Juice recipe included!)

I love my body. 

I didn't always.  I used to pinch and poke at it and call it bad names when it wasn't the size I wanted it to be.  But I got over that, and except for those few days of water retention that kick off my moon cycle, I'm comfortable the way I am.  And I have a new favorite body part:  my liver.

The human liver is amazing.  Not just for its ability to leave us unscathed after a night of heavy drinking through most of our 20's, but for the mass amounts of tasks in completes each day with finesse.  Now, before I went to school for Ayurveda, I didn't think much about my liver.  I knew that it processed alcohol, that jaundice was somehow related, and that it was an organ that could be transplanted but was hard to come by (thank you, Grey's Anatomy).  And I thought it was probably about the size of a steak.

Your liver is huge.  It's shaped like a large, right-angle triangle in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen, with the ninety degree angle at about your right nipple, the long point across your chest at your left nipple, and the third point just below the bottom of your right rib cage.  Not only is your liver responsible for the daily filtering of toxins from 100 gallons of blood, everyday it produces a quart of bile (stored and secreted in the gallbladder), manufactures 13,000 chemicals, stores glycogen and iron, stores vitamins, produces fat for storage, forms blood coagulants, and synthesizes amino acids and cholesterol.  To name a few things.  It does more.

So basically, your liver is amazing.  And I realize that mine is a little run down right now because of the breakout of pimples on my face, and the minor skin rash on my shin.  Ayurveda has taught me that the skin is one place the liver dumps things when it becomes over-taxed.  (Have you ever looked at the skin of an alcoholic?  Red, veiny, weathered and old-looking, right?).  Luckily, I know a few very basic things to do to love my liver.

Since the liver takes up 20% of our body's energy, I need to give it some rest.  The liver, like most of the body, does the majority of its work repairing itself between 10 pm and 2 am -- the time when we're not (hopefully) putting food in our mouths.  The easiest way to love your liver is to eat a light dinner, skip your night snack (and/or night cap) and get to bed by 10 p.m.  The liver is responsible for creating the enzymes needed to breakdown fats, so downing a bunch of ice cream right before bed keeps your poor liver up all night.  And, since alcohol is processed in the body like fat, the liver is also responsible for the digestion of that bedtime beer.

In Ayurveda, the liver is a Pitta organ.  Pitta is the dosha comprised mostly of the fire element, and summer is the Pitta time of year (cause it's hot, y'all!).  To keep yourself and your liver cool this summer, try this refreshing green drink.  On a hot day, there's nothing better than sitting in the shade with this elixir. I call it Green Lemonade:

In your juicer, juice the following:
1/2 a head kale, chard, spinach or other bitter green
2 apples
1 lemon

Here's to your liver!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Here we go . . .

I've started a new blog.  Why, you may ask, when I wasn't consistent with the blog at Passionate Life Yoga?  Because although the argument could be made that things like redefining values, simplifying life, and mindfully working towards health and healing are all things that fall under the "yoga" umbrella, I felt pressured in my yoga blog to always tie my lessons back to the mat.  Not that it couldn't be done, but I didn't like the pressure.  And, as I just mentioned, I'm trying to simplify life and work towards health, so extra stress and boundaries are out.

The word svastha is Sankrit for "perfect health."  More specifically, it means, "a person who is established in the self and the Self."  The "self" is defined as the ego, or the "I-maker" part of us; that which allows us individual identity by defining us as separate from everyone and everything else.  The "Self" is defined as the higher part of our being; the part of us that can distinguish truth from illusion and the part that connects us to each other as well as to the Universe.

The "self" is an important part of who we are, and for some, it's the only part of our being we're aware of.  The "self," or ego, often gets a bad reputation -- those with too much ego are often regarded as shallow and naive.  In yoga, we're usually told to "let go of our ego."  And while it's vital that we learn to see past the ego and all of the trouble it can get us into, it's also important that we learn to harness a healthy ego.  Healthy here doesn't mean a boosted ego, as in, "That guy flexing his muscles sure has a healthy ego!"  A healthy ego means self-esteem without arrogance, courage without fool-heartedness, and enough self worth to give love unconditionally.  Fostering a healthy ego is learning the skills necessary to be successful in the world while keeping integrity. 

Finding a healthy "Self" may be more difficult.  The higher Self has a voice within us, but it is not as loud as the voice of the ego.  While the ego may blatantly direct our senses toward things it wants in order to feel validated -- like a new dress to feel pretty, ice cream to feel content, or sex to feel loved -- your Self speaks in softer voice.  It is the voice heard during the times when the senses are not overloaded; the quite times of meditation, the quite space just before falling to sleep, and the times that you go (gasp!) without distraction of phone, Facebook or TV.  We must do the difficult work of introspection and meditation, for to harness a healthy Self is to realize that our true nature is not the undulations of our ego -- our true nature is spirit.

I'm not sure if "perfect health" exists, or if it does, what it looks like.  The word "perfect" triggers all sorts of daddy issues for me, and so I'd rather look at svastha as a journey toward a place where my body is healthy and I'm so happy I feel like a fairy-goddess atop a mountain singing to the world, and where my soul is at peace in my body because it is recognized and honored.  Above all, I want to create a life for myself where I feel that I am living my life to its fullest, with integrity, a healthy body, loving relationships and honest communication.  I want this for myself, but also because my dharma is to heal others, and in order to do that with integrity I must first create a my own life of svastha.

My intuition tells me this journey won't be easy all of the time.  It may not be pretty all of the time, either.  But knowing me, there will be plenty of moments of comic relief, lots of slackline breaks, hot baths, and ice cream.  I think it may also be lonely.  I hope at least a few times to find myself surrounded by friends when there is laughter, and wrapped in supportive arms for some of my tears.  There is a lot to cover when it comes to finding svastha, so topics may be as lighthearted as how to make homemade ice cream to feed a crowd, or brutally honest, or the wanderings of a vata-vitiated mind -- I'm just not sure yet what the road will bring.  Today, I learned that magic still exists because I sat in a tree house with a goddess, sipping tea and surrounded by fairies.  Then, the goddess taught me to make raw chocolate while we listened to two sprites play live music and a group of healers discuss crystals.  Real, natural healing is happening in the world and I am part of the community who not only believes but makes it happen.  That is magic.  And in my book, creating real magic is one step to cultivating svastha.