crossing borders

IMG_2745

We have been packing boxes and giving away or selling household and personal belongings since September 2015. A 3-week visit to an island off the coast of Vancouver, B.C. last summer led us to having a big ‘Yes!’ to a big move, and this Big Move required thoughtful preparation. Once again, we would be crossing borders, changing latitude, longitude and our relation to sea level.

One week ago, we were in our final 24 hours in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Our 15 year-old son spent the day at his beloved Victoria Robbins School as a ‘guest’. My husband took a measured walk through El Charco, the botanical gardens that witnessed our engagement, our wedding, and countless walks alone and with friends and with the wild things. And I had a dental emergency~ of course.

Our home-exchangers arrived from Canada with their sweet dogs and we spent an hour orienting them to the town, to our favorite butcher and bakers but not the candlestick maker, because their location alongside the casket-makers felt a little macabre for a first visit.

A good night’s sleep had been elusive for weeks, at least for me, and my physical practices were non-existent except for the occasional hour on my treadmill. Moving a household of 3 people and 2 cats is challenging; figuring out what would go into the 2 suitcases we were each allowed, and what would stay behind, kept me up at night. Go on, try it. Let me know how it goes.

In our last weeks in San Miguel, new friendships appeared, some existing ones deepened measurably and a couple that had begun to feel tenuous at best were, simply, let go of. What struck me most profoundly in the leaving process was watching my son and his friends grow ever closer and more physically affectionate with one another. Oh, to be perpetually surrounded by hugging, loving teenagers.

Somewhere along the way I went from cooking 3 meals a day, more or less, to quitting the kitchen. I met up with friends for breakfasts at Lavanda Cafe, and pigged-out at the new Pork Belly (OMG). We also got to experience San Miguel exploding with tourists, in numbers we had never seen, during the extended holiday season. Restaurants ran out of food (ordered spinach on a pizza one night, and it arrived with one large leaf cut up over 8 slices), stores ran out of milk, and most surprising of all the ubiquitous taxis were impossible to hail. We did manage to move our 23 year-old son into his own apartment with ease, and he has assured me he will not starve.

Then Tuesday morning, departure day, arrived. Our doorbell began to ring at 7:00am with the first of our son’s friends. A dozen soon gathered and they all piled onto his bed, listening to their favorite sad songs. Strains of ‘Rivers and Roads’ by the Head and the Heart kept reaching my ears and soon I was sobbing, too.

  • Thank you, kiddos, for extending the invitation to cry, for giving me permission to feel into the loss and the leave-taking, and for allowing us to witness the depth of love and affection you have for each other.

The shuttle arrives.  Eight pieces of luggage, 2 cats in their carriers, 2 backpacks and 3 humans are loaded on board. We get through the Leon airport smoothly, the cats are great in-flight, and thanks to Global Entry Dallas immigration and customs are a breeze. No one checks the cats, let alone notices them. We are fine with this. Then the long flight to Vancouver, more tears, arriving in foggy rain and again breezing through the checkpoints.

A Dodge van has been left for us, and the hotel is a few minutes away. I only drive in the wrong lane once. Luckily, there was no oncoming traffic, just a few polite honks. The guys go out with their flashlights and a plastic spoon to get dirt for a makeshift litter box. This pleases the furry boys very much and they proceed to fling dirt all over the bathroom floor.

Wednesday we spend in a shopping frenzy before boarding the ferry that will take us from Vancouver to Victoria. It’s a massive, multi-leveled boat, with restaurants and cafes, and we eat at a table that affords us an expansive view of the water.

Oh, the water… It rained down, and it rolled under us. There is nothing like being on the water. I cried again as I sunk into the wide embrace of the rolling sea. Landing, driving, and one more ferry. Landing again, driving to a market, then… home. Home to the pungent scents of forest and sea and wood smoke. Home to the cries of gulls and ravens. Home, with my guys.

I write this on Monday. I feel now like most of my pieces have arrived and I am ready to explore this island. I want to get on a ferry just because I can. I think I have found my writing spot, and Loki, the cat who adopted us in Mexico, thinks my lap makes a marvelous napping place. I have rolled out and used my yoga mat more this past week than I did in the prior 3 months.

What I notice this morning is an internal quivering. Something Big is here, in this place, and I haven’t wanted to touch it too soon. My husband has walked, every day, through the woods, towards the water, and come back rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed. I ventured to the edge of our porch, got on my knees and stuck my face into moss.

Temazcal #6

Temezcal~on my way

Wake up feeling irritable. Clock tells me I have one hour to decide if I’ll hook up with the hiking group, and two hours to decide if I’ll catch the van up to the botanical garden for a temazcal*. I opt for the one which will keep me out of the house the longest and start to fill my backpack with necessities. Turkish towel, fresh sliced pineapple, my journal. Oh, and boots. Saturday night’s heavy rain means the dam will be slippery as the excess water drains out of the presa.

We’re out of milk and I can’t find the kitchen counter under all the dishes. It is still overcast. I have to remember to drink extra water and to not eat.

***

My mantra for this temazcal is one word: ‘Open’. I don’t know the guide (but I do know the fatherly hombre del fuego who tends the stones), I am the only gringa, and I am pretty sure I am the oldest one participating. Federico gathers us and begins to spin a long introduction in Spanish. His voice is clear, and he is eloquent. I get the gist of what he is saying. We’re in good hands, especially the 6 younger Mexicans for whom this is a first.

Federico blesses each of us with copal smoke. I have removed my earrings and wrapped a simple cloth around my torso. Mexican women taught me to step wide and allow the copal smoke to bless every part of my naked body. Kneeling at the low entrance, I place my forehead at the threshold for a short prayer then crawl clockwise around the fire pit. My seat in the temezcal hut is in the northwest, which feels like an affirmation. Our next home may well be in British Columbia.

***

Eyes close once the first set of 6 stones~ the abuelitas~ are brought in one by one and placed in the fire pit. The fire tender drapes heavy blankets over the small door and not a sliver of light enters the sacred space. It is quiet but for the sizzle of the stones and our collective breath as we sink into what it means to open to the dark.

My brain is blessedly, uncharacteristically quiet. Lying down, knees bent, the crown of my head presses into the adobe wall, my feet feel contour of the fire pit’s rim and my back spreads into the support of reed mats and raked sand. I open the cloth I wear so my skin can ready for the coming heat.

Because I am who I am, this supine position invites me into a meditation guided by sensory input. I am becoming the ground, the heat that rises, the breath of all those ringing the pit. The glow of the stones sharpens the dark spaces between them, and so I become the stones and the space, the light and the dark, the heat and the cool. Golden chunks of dried tree sap~ copal~ melt on the abuelitas. Scented smoke rises and dissipates, making room for the sharper, more pungent and peppery oil of crushed pirul leaves.

***

Each of the four sections to a temazcal has a theme, but I lose track after the silence of the first ‘door’. At one point, Federico goes around the circle asking for our given name, and our cosmic name, one by one. In unison, we shout the names back to the bearer. When it is my turn, I am handed an armful of branches, dampened by water and warmed on the stones. They are redolent with scent and I hug them to my bare chest. I am so far gone into the realm of sensation I can only mouth silently the cosmic names surfacing from different places in my body: Cave. Ocean. Salt.

***

The temazcal ends, I re-wrap my cloth around my chest, the small wood doors open. Soft grey light and fresh air enter, gently commingling with the smoke and steam and our sweat. The fire man is now the water man, pouring buckets of herb-steeped water over each of us as we exit. Sweat and grit and bits of crushed pirul leaves are rinsed away.

Dry clothes come out as everyone towels off and changes. I pass around my sliced pineapple and bananas, cool, juicy, and sweet. My walk out of the temazcal area and back over the presa is tented by grey skies, and framed by a growing soundscape as I make my way back into town and through my front door.

Someone bought milk, someone else showed up for dish-duty and still I am quiet on the inside.

Temezcal~after

(* A temazcal is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word tem?zcalli (“house of heat”), or possibly from the Aztec teme (to bathe) and calli (house).)

Bushwhacking in the ‘alto plano’ of central Mexico (part 2)

Acorns2

First one at the fence carefully places his thick soled boot onto a lower wire, pressing down. Another person uses two hands to lift the barbed wires above. Tall, short, limber or stiff, we pass through one by one with a minimum of snags. A nearby grove of Mexican oak trees offers the perfect rest spot. The biggest acorns I have ever seen litter the ground beneath our feet.

One man calls our attention, pointing up, and motions us to listen. Ears tune in to the sound of dense, waxy oak leaves rasping against one another. This sound is different from other tree sounds we have heard this summer. I wonder aloud if anyone has ever catalogued leaf chatter. I would listen to that.

The bushwhacking begins in earnest after our stop for a snack. Grasses beyond the oak trees are thigh-high , prompting an occasional stumble on unseen rocks. Wildflowers show their faces at scattered intervals, like buttons that have popped off partygoers jackets, and we’re all aware that recent rains might have coaxed snakes out of their burrows. This hike is starting to get interesting.

Closer to the canyon’s edge, animal trails and tight switchbacks are sketched into the walls across the canyon; the assumption is we’ll find the same on our side. An unfortunate cow has gotten stuck on a narrow ledge, her companions noticeably anxious about her fate. When we do begin to follow a fairly clear trail, it is slow going. Lots of loose gravel underfoot. Small trees that might offer handholds are riddled with spines or have come untethered from the hillside, offering no purchase whatsoever. My youngest son, attentive, pauses until I can catch up to him and begins to offer confident assists.

We all~ except that cow~ make it into the canyon and across a narrow bit of stream and back up the other side. Bloody scratches tattoo our arms and a multitude of burrs have stitched themselves into our pants. Frustration and exhilaration are voiced at having moved through this physically challenging hike successfully; finding a cooler of cold beers at the ‘Almost There’ marker would have been exquisite.

Here on flat, open land, half the group elects to walk the dirt road back to the cars. The other half opts for the ‘scenic route’, a packed footpath that will bring us back to a section of the stream, sided by milpas and tiny stone structures. Horses and burros, tied by rough rope to trees or stepping nimbly around and over prickly plants, whinny and bray to us and one another.

Nearing an elbow in the stream and the last leg of our outing, two varieties of big yellow and black butterflies appear. Dancing in the background are smaller ones, too: creamy pale yellow, soft blue, and black with orange gum drops at the bottom of each wing. These fluttering lepodoptera negotiate for mating rights and resting spots along a small sand bar, away from the pull of running water.

The sunlight dappled, the shade was cool, and even though standing still meant all our sore muscles would start hollering, stand very still we did. Reverential absorption in the face of Nature’s creatures just going about their business. Sometimes you got to get out into it in order to let it get into you.

 

Bushwhacking in the ‘alto plano’ of central Mexico (part 1)

#roadnottaken

Our morning began quietly enough. Fill the water bottles, pack up snacks, throw something hot and caffeinated down the gullet, hustle by taxi to the Pemex station. Divvy up into groups (based on destination), climb into awaiting cars, and arrive at the trailhead. Here in central Mexico, a trailhead could be a dirt soccer pitch (with or without players on it), the edge of a muddy field (with or without burros, cows or bulls in it) or a road flanked by abandoned chapels and stone walls enclosing only ghosts and untended corn.

We had elected to walk in the Cañada de le Virgen region, just outside of San Miguel de Allende. There are any number of good walks here and plentiful rains had contributed some lush visual poetry to our view~ soft, woolly fog wrapping the shoulders of the Picachos and mottled greens lying like so many yards of velvet across their hips and thighs.

The high fog and easy incline allow for a cool start. We walk in duos and trios, in genial clusters and meandering lines. Those with a longer gait set a faster pace, those preferring a more solitary experience drop back or wing out to the sides.

My eyes are soon skimming the ground for rocks. One of my sons hands me ever more intriguing specimens of agate and chalcedony. As the light sharpens shy geodes appear, small shimmers in the crooks of cracked open rocks. It requires restraint to load only a few into my backpack.

The first part of our hike keeps us above the canyon. Eventually my gaze is coaxed from the ground to watch the play of light and shadows across open fields and over wooded areas. Music from a distant radio wavers incongruously in and out, conversations ebb and flow. Property is marked by stone walls, scraggly trees and rusty barbed wire. Tan colored grasses are high and pink-tipped in the morning light, waving languidly like so many graceful arms. Slowing myself to the pace of this grass dance, I wonder aloud to a fellow straggler how I might bring these fields into my home and have eternal access to the feelings I am having right now.

His chuckled reply is perfect: ‘You can’t. You have to go into Nature and get it there’. He is so right, and that getting out in order to access it within is precisely the theme revealing itself in all of this summer’s adventures.

HikeHoney

(to be continued, as I haven’t gotten to the bushwhacking yet…)

‘What I Did On My Summer Vacation’

tree spiral

Back in May, 2015, before I even packed a suitcase or planned much of an itinerary beyond purchasing plane tickets, I made a fairly significant decision.

I quit identifying as a ‘Yoga Teacher’. I hollered my frustration at my office walls, and I hollered my grief into the spacious sky above my desert walking ground.

I told my husband, quietly and evenly, that I was done. I quit, I quit, I quit.

It was L I B E R A T I N G.

I quit because after almost 13 years of teaching yoga, I no longer recognized myself in this social media-driven thing that the business of ‘modern’ yoga  has become. I like to work with people~ live and in front of me. People I can smell, and watch breathe and lay instructive hands upon.

When did it get decided that yoga is about the fabric covering your ass, the amount of ‘Likes’ and page views and followers and a whole bunch of stuff that~ frankly~ borders on being bullshit?

At the end of June, I packed my ‘I quits’ into a teeming sack of disgruntlement, and went into the woods and lakes and streams and shorelines of coastal British Columbia. I walked and walked and walked. The more I walked, the more vast my sense of not-belonging to the world I had known became. It was never scary or even depressing, but there seemed to be a whole lot of ‘I don’t know…’ for me to contemplate in the great Out There.

Then came the Day of the Tea, psilocybin mushroom tea. An armful of blankets, a walk to a favorite spot overlooking a busy strait. Old, old arbutus trees, and cedar and oak. Trampled grasses for cushiony comfort, and small boulders that created a wall for back support and privacy. Four hours flowed by, and suffice it to say the mushrooms simply and elegantly guided me towards that which I already know.

Back at my home in central Mexico, back at my familiar desk and rapidly aging computer, I recall what I was grappling with 3 months ago. The challenges of feeling ever more invisible as a woman in her mid-50’s. The disconnect between all I wish to share, and what feels like a shrinking audience for what I have to offer. The sense that this place I have called ‘home’ for 4 years is done with me~ and I with it.

I often feel buried in and bowled over by the electronically-delivered cacophony that has become the visual and aural score of 21st century life. This summer, walking amongst ancient trees and delighting in the off-shore antics of river otters ameliorated the jangle in my nerves and healed a breaking heart. The big questions about livelihood remain, but I am done hollering ‘I quit’. There are retreats to plan and clients to see and the ongoing invitation offered by my unrolled mat.

Swimming My Sea

IMG_1963

imagesloose: to set free from fastening or attachment (nautical)

Preparing material for yoga classes is a fairly solitary process. I tend to do a lot of circling my mat and shuffling papers before I can loose my mind and free dive into soft tissue and fluid body systems. Once there an inner world opens up and I can stay down quite long without feeling the need to surface. These explorations seem to fulfill a childhood wish to grow gills.

When I finally got horizontal yesterday, I was both following my inspiration and succumbing to the heat of an April afternoon in Mexico. A few minutes down, breathing, and I was in my aquatic element, surrounded by the warm, fluid, familiarity of my body. First task was to quiet my shoulder girdle, which allowed me access to sensation pathways rippling from belly to feet. From there, I worked on mapping some simple exercises that awakened connection to and sensation within the pelvic bowl, and then I surfaced to make some notes.

Wading in again, and setting course for the deep bowl of my belly, part of my attention was drawn to hover around my arms and upper back. As I circle my arms through a range of movements one might find in a ‘typical’ yoga class, I find a particular angle that invites a response in my pelvic floor. I think this is an anomaly, so I retrace my arm sweeps. That tug shows up again. And yet again, so deeper in I go and from the shoreline of my bones, my aquatic explorer maps something I have never ‘felt’ or noticed before. I have to repeat the movement enough times that I can find it again, and then I open my eyes, sit up, and try to describe my discovery in words. There is often quite a distance to traverse from the sensations of first connection, to the teaching language that will allow me to take others to those places within their own bodies.

It’s a fairly solitary occupation, this body mapping, and I don’t get out much when I am in ‘Explorer Mode’.

I heard my teaching method received a little ribbing the other evening at a social event. Seems that when one person put their hands on another person’s body and instructed them to ‘breathe into’ those spaces (far removed from any actual lung tissue) there was some chuckling (maybe it was an outright guffaw, and my friend was just being nice…).

I guess I say things like ‘breathe into your <insert body part here>…’ a lot. It’s an instruction that brings awareness, loosening, and expansion into places where I might be observing tension, compression, lack of tone and disengagement, and it works.

It has been my observation that most people attending yoga classes are going to stay up in their minds when they are given movement instructions that include the names of specific muscles, as well as lots of ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’. You can see all the internal scrolling they have to do in order to reach a certain ‘feeling state’ as they try to recall exactly which muscle it is I am referring to.

My feeling is that the longer-lasting pathways to a certain end result are more easily arrived at~ and remembered~ when our tissue is given a few lines of poetry. Something primal wakes up, some inner animal that feeds on curiosity and the desire to be wildly alive.

Emptying Nests and Opening Spaces

In August of 2013, I was almost 2 years into an arc of transition. This post from that time spoke to an evolving sense of ‘spaciousness’ that took a long while to feel comfortable inhabiting.

***

Lately, I am met most every morning with the sense of my life having very wide, expansive horizons. I am not comfortable with this landscape, not yet. With one son still in the nest and three sons off living their lives, the actions that defined my days for so many years are… well, I hesitate to say useless or outdated, but there are many moments in every week where I find myself standing in the kitchen, or some other room, having finished some chore or another in near record time, with all this SPACE around me. Physical space. Time space. Heart space.

What is a mother to do?

Much like those early days of motherhood, then yogini-hood, it’s all about trial and error, curiosity and dedication, balance, and more. My husband observed and named my current state of transition and loss long before I could, during this particularly challenging time in our family’s lives marked by unexpected travels and long separations. Without babies or boys or my husband or even our cats into which to mold my body or shape my days, I have been experiencing a whole new realm of loss.

This transition, this ‘loss’, was written at my sons’ births. I knew they would eventually grow up, move out and forge paths of their own. Yet even with that knowledge, being in this place is still really hard. Staying present to slow change, I have invited all parts of myself to present themselves at the table. The grieving, the joyous, the confused, the lonely, the unsure; many are here and more are expected.

The familiar contours of my yoga mat helped me stay present to the challenges of active parenting. It would seem I need my practice more than ever, to both guide me through this sense of loss and into places where new possibilities await. It’s a big one, this question of when parenting’s no longer one of my full-time jobs, who am I?

The people we meet along the way

http://whatwillyoureveal.com/

During my between-colleges waitressing days, I met a man named Roger. He was a bear of a man, who handled the tools of his forge and the thick ceramic coffee mugs at the diner with equal poise. Roger introduced me to Japanese architecture with a book titled ‘The Elegant Japanese House’. I pulled that book out this morning, and when my husband walked by he chuckled, ‘No matter where we move, you’re taking that book with you aren’t you, even if you have to smuggle it in the cat carrier’. Yes, I said. This one will always go with me.

I opened ‘The Elegant Japanese House’ after watching the short video, Minka. It had been featured on the front page of the NYTimes online the past few days. ‘Minka’ (which means ‘people’s house’ in Japanese) is the story of the lifetimes of a house, and of relationship, and of time. I thought I was going to be watching house porn. Instead, I ended up with tears in my eyes at the tenderness and beauty of the story, and the restored Japanese farmhouse that forms its vessel.

minka
The narrator of ‘Minka’ spoke with reverence about the moment he first saw the great curved beams of the condemned farmhouse. The interior was very dark, and the old beams revealed themselves only gradually as his eyes adjusted to the low light. Years later, he was inspired to become an architect, and to rescue and refurbish minkas for new owners. Towards the end of the movie, there is a wide shot of a thick stand of tall trees rising above the building that houses the minkas awaiting reassembly at new sites. At the foot of the hill, horizontal stacks of the no longer usable beams and bones of ancient homes lie quietly decomposing under a blanket of melting snow and steady rain.

I feel~ in the beams of my bones~ deep urges to uproot and reconfigure once again. There is enough structural integrity and raw material to perhaps divide in two, building something to the East, and something to the West. Satisfying the desire to re-enter the embrace of family and friends, and honoring the wanderer who wants to traipse amongst trees and paddle new seas and taste the air of Other.

The rigor of curiosity and the necessity of chaos

PokharaBoats

The Vernal Equinox was yesterday. It was a good day here at my modest home in central Mexico. Being a Friday, my calendar was wide open. I had a strong morning yogasana practice on my roof, and it was warm enough for shorts. I asked my husband to document the fact that I was wearing said shorts, because this has been a profound shift for me into acceptance~ and delight!~ as I slide my 54 year old legs into snug shorts designed for yoga practitioners. What that picture also reveals is that my Svarga Dvidasana (‘Bird of Paradise’ pose) needs some work.

My writing needs some focused time and attention, too, as do a number of creative projects lying about my office. When I settled into my chair at 6:00am to edit a piece I wrote for another blog site, my first click was to open Facebook (doesn’t EVERYONE go to Facebook for inspiration?) A friend of mine is in Nepal right now and she had just posted a photograph of boats scattered by the shore of Lake Pokhara. I was struck and inspired by that image… because as I was sneaking over to the ol’ FB, I was chewing on the phrase ‘the rigor of creativity’. Seeing the jumble of boats the phrase ‘the necessity of chaos’ leapt to mind. And therein lay my ‘Aha!’ moment.

As much as I crave structure and experience joy when I have met a self-imposed deadline, I am a devotee of Serendipity and her glorious attendants. As much as I rely on creating space in my life for her fortuitous visits, I love just as much to show up to tasks with dedication and focus. I derive a sense of accomplishment from tracking my progress, be it my 120th blog post, a finished piece of embroidery, or rising up strong and tall on my yoga mat in some pose that has been eluding me.

In honor of all that, I have made myself a modest challenge. To show up, for seven days straight, to three areas of my life that sustain me and give them the nourishment of my attention, devotion and care on a daily basis:

  • Mind: One piece of writing + one hour of reading
  • Body: One yogasana practice + food, glorious food, lovingly prepared vegetarian paleo (sheesh, that takes a LOT of forethought!)
  • Soul: One hour of handwork (currently on an embroidery fixation) + one solid hour outdoors (just being in it)

SvargaDvidasana