Tag Archives: transformation

What are You Starting and Stopping?

28 Dec


This sign was placed at my regular trailhead recently. “How apropos for New Year’s,” I thought as I set out.


As my feet began the familiar climb I reflected on the fact that the word “START” was placed on a sign known for signaling “STOP”.


Then when I got to the first look out spot, I noticed the very familiar grafitti on this block of cement. Yes, God woke me up for a reason. What is it that I intend to do this upcoming year and during my life?

I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve very seriously. For me, it is a time to engage in serious reflection. As much as I can, I slow down and vacate the day-to-day rut of work and domestic life. I try to have very little agenda and a fair amount of solitude post all the holiday revelries. Whether it’s a hike or novels or Netflix, I try to just let myself be. In that process, I can think about the highs and lows of the year, let any residual “ick” float to the surface and release, and begin to imagine possibilities for 2018. And I often find myself pretty tired about now.

As is typical, I have a thousand projects brewing that all feel like they’re going to explode in the first few months of the year. For that reason, I resonate with both “START” and “STOP” for if we’re going to “START” some things, it might mean we have to “STOP” or at least “PAUSE” on other things. There has to be enough space in our lives for creation. And there has to be enough space in our lives to actually live.

It’s important to know when to start and when to stop because we can’t have the foot on the brake pedal and the gas at the same time.

It’s also important to simply look around while in motion. When I did this morning, I was greeted by this sweet friend.


Here’s to 2018 and a wonderful New Year’s!


Sobriety of Mind

6 Sep

It’s astonishing how obsessed we can become with our own thoughts. It’s an addiction not really discussed but we’re all susceptible to it. Our thoughts can take us down quite literally. I have seen in it myself and I have seen it in others. Sobriety of mind is a noble undertaking.


Ultimately, recovery is a process. We can never completely free ourselves of our thoughts. It’s the nature of the mind to look for trouble. To cling and grasp, catastrophize, and create drama.

We can gain some degree of sobriety though. We can learn to tame our minds. We can alter the way our perceptions tyrannize. And we can practice serenity.

I weary though of talking heads who say we create our reality and that everything external is a reflection of our internal perceptions. To a degree that is true but tell that to the woman diagnosed with cancer. You’re basically telling her that her diagnosis is all her fault. Tell that to the little boy sitting stunned in blood caught in the crossfire of war whose photo went viral. It’s a cop out to say something like that as it reduces life’s crap and evil to simplicity and allows us to abdicate any responsibility for helping others in situations far less fortunate than our own.

If I get hit by a bus, the reality is that it is going to hurt. I am going to have to deal with the aftermath of the accident. While I have some measure of control regarding how I deal with that reality, it’s still going to have to be dealt with. If my legs get broken, they’ll have to be fixed. Pain is a part of life. Our minds will react to circumstances and stimuli.

So where is the line between addiction and sobriety? When do our thoughts make us spin out of control into complete excess? And what do we do about it?

It’s not as simple as mind over matter or willing ourselves out of our feelings. Emotions are crucial because they give us information that something is wrong. As the brilliant Sufi poet, Hafiz wrote, “The Heart is right to cry even when the smallest drop of light, of love, is taken away.” Quite frankly, it’s not the tears that are an issue. That is just energy releasing that ultimately frees us. When we move the energy out we break long held karmic patterns of hurt the yogis refer to as samskaras. Instead it’s our thoughts that can keep us stuck, prisoners in our heads.

When we cling to what happened or what could happen and then dissect every angle of something completely beyond our control, we are simply grasping for control. And that is absurd.

We want perfection out of life. We want everyone to like us, for there never to be a mishap, and to micromanage ourselves and others. This will never be attainable yet the mind will keep questing for it. Why we build an alter to worship at it, I will never understand.

There is no constancy, as much as we long for it. There is our breath and this moment. That is it. The more we can move from one moment to the next without clinging or rejecting, then we achieve a degree of sobriety.

It’s okay to have pleasure. It’s okay to say, “F— it to worry and pain.” The pain and the worry will always be there because we are masters at it. We can ruin even the happiest of moments with obsessions but we don’t have to live with drama 24/7. For a bit, we can let go. We can enjoy ourselves.

The Beauty of Boredom

16 Aug

Boredom isn’t really in my repertoire. Raised an only child, I learned to entertain myself at an early age and never really felt bored. I came to appreciate that there is plenty to do in life.

Yet every now and then, particularly when I’m super pooped like I am right now, I have to spend a day doing almost nothing. I always find this somewhat frustrating. I mean what could be more boring than just sitting on the couch or lying in bed when it’s sweltering hot both inside and outside? Just being is not terribly exciting, thought provoking, stimulating, or pleasurable. Nonetheless, I sometimes work myself into such a frenzy of career demands that the exhaustion comes with the territory.

I dislike these days yet I know there is beauty in boredom. Watching the hours tick away, not even reading or watching t.v., I find myself in a weird free fall. Just sitting here on the couch in the last hour I have noticed the sky change from pink to violet and now I see the moon almost full. I have painted two pictures and emptied my mind of weeks of teaching and travel. I have felt spaced out and my head has buzzed with a weird tingling vibration.

And I know this is absolutely vital to my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

The other day I was so happy to be home I bought three bouquets of flowers for different rooms in my house. Today, I noticed each arrangement yield more to its blossoms. When we’re bored, we start to pay attention.


Tomorrow is another day. The to-do list never ending. The I-want-to-do-list even longer.

Yet today I had moments of boredom and in those pockets of empty space, I heard the still small voice that beckons me. As always, I doubt where it will lead me, yet know I must find the courage to follow it. Without the down time, I wouldn’t have paid attention to its presence.

Just Breathe Through It

18 Jul

Many of us have been in a yoga or exercise class where the teacher serenely says, “Just breathe through it,” while we’re swearing beneath our breath because they have us holding some ridiculous position or are asking us to do endless crunches that make our stomachs burn as if on fire. “I don’t want to breathe through it!” we often scream in our heads. “I just want this *&&^%$ pain to stop!” What do the teachers mean when they say, ‘Just breathe through it,’ like a bleeping mantra? What is the breath and why is it so powerful?

While breathing seems so simple, it’s actually something we resist when we are scared or in pain. For some reason, we’d rather not “breathe through it.” We’d prefer to avoid it – whatever that it is – and breathing makes us feel it.

The irony is that the feeling is there whether we surrender to it or not. If we hold our breath thinking we can by-pass pain, we’re actually deluding ourselves. It requires a considerable amount of energy to keep something down. In fact, pain magnifies when we suppress it. Like damning up a river, once the floodgates open, the feelings will flow forth in full force.

If we weren’t breathing, we’d be dead. Yet if we invite the breath in more consciously and more fully, we ease the process considerably.

Why is a woman in labor told to breathe, breathe, and breathe! Because she’s pushing new life into being. When she holds her breath, she makes things more difficult for herself and the baby. When she breathes, she can push more easily.

All of this sounds nice but when we’re going through excruciating times, we’re like the woman in labor who wants to tell everyone around her telling her to breathe to “f— off!” Transformation is brutal work and sometimes the labor is so long and tenuous it feels like we will die. When the healing needs are global how do we breathe through rape, violence, illness, betrayal and injustice? It’s hard to go all yoga-zen in these moments. How do we as humans endure?

On a practical level we need to actually breathe versus intellectually reflecting on it. We don’t have to engage in fancy complicated breathing exercises. We can simply imagine our breath coming in and out like an ocean wave – back and forth, back and forth. There is nothing to control, fix, stop or judge. There is nothing we have to “do.”

When we “breathe through it”, we can feel the breath’s power to cleanse, sustain and revitalize every aspect of our being. In fact, the words breath in Hebrew (ruach), in Greek (pneuma) and Sanskrit (prana) are synonymous with the words “spirit” or “wind.” This indicates a link between our breath, being, and the divine. Our breath is the life force that helps us fully embrace and enjoy the moment. It is also the conduit of transformation.


Weird And Uncomfortable Are Invitations…

11 Jul

“Weird and uncomfortable are invitations; pain is a signal,” my yoga teacher said one evening in class. We were lying on our backs with blocks positioned under our rib cages and necks. This left the heart cavity rather open and exposed. We moderns have a tendency to hold the exact opposite posture. Sitting at desks hunched over our computers we often collapse our chests into concave positions. Furthermore, many of us unconsciously guard our hearts by wrapping our arms around our bodies self-consciously.

When we do something new it often feels weird. We can interpret that strangeness as an error. Yet my teacher suggested something entirely different. While pain is always a signal that something is wrong (and that we should stop doing whatever is inflicting it), different or uncomfortable often leads to something better.

Remember that first time you took a sip of coffee or had a bite of avocado or sushi? They might have seemed a little “off.” Well, I can’t speak for you but I worship avocados and sushi and can’t wake up without my morning coffee.

Why then do we resist the weird and uncomfortable? When these could be portals to the unknown, leading to something affirmative and good, what are we afraid of?

When we break patterns we become disoriented. What was once engrained and regular gets deconstructed and then reintegrated into a new form. This is the essence of transformation. It demands that we break outdated modes of being.

Observe children having their first experiences in water outside the womb. Infants being given their first baths often wince in distress while babies at swim lessons cling to whomever is holding them. Yet within moments they’re splashing, laughing and smiling. Suddenly the creatures in plastic diapers are now fish.

My cats used to sit in front of the screen door meowing with longing. They were desperate to chase the birds. Yet whenever I scooped one of them up in my arms and took them outside, my little tigers became terrified of the big wide world.


All learning requires discombobulation. I remember a school teacher once saying, “Confusion is a sign of learning.” My little mind thought this was a complete contradiction. How could learning be confusing? It was supposed to be clarifying. But not always. On the road to mastery, we scramble our pre-existing knowledge base. We stretch our minds outside of their comfort zones. I once studied Greek and recall saying many times in frustration, “This is Greek to me!” Then suddenly Greek was Greek to me. I could read it. The hieroglyphics made sense.

Weird and uncomfortable are invitations. Pain is a signal.


Running Water Over Stones

25 Mar

As I watched a group of neighbors dressed in black walk to Maudy Thursday services at a nearby church, I looked down and realized that I too was dressed in black. My yoga pants were black and so was my sweater. Only the neigbhors entered the church and I walked into the funky and traditional yoga studio near my house. “I’m worshipping at a different altar tonight,” I thought. However, for me, it’s all the same altar. Prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, church fellowship, and worship are all fundamental resources that help me feel connected to God.


Although I have taken yoga classes for twenty years, it has only been in the last few that I have started to understand yoga and to realize why having a practice is vital for my emotional, physical and mental well being. Yoga teaches me not just about my body but about how I hold stress and negative thought patterns and how I can stop the constant gripping.

I went to class last night because it was a restorative one. Restorative yoga is different than active yoga. It is specifically designed to calm the nervous system. By using props (a bolster, blocks, blankets, and a strap), you put your body in resting, open postures and hold them for a good ten minutes, if not longer. As you relax into the poses, you can actually feel when the body begins to melt into the floor or the props; you start to notice when the body begins to surrender its never ending push for control and hyper-vigilance. You notice when it starts to release the defensive and protective armor that no longer serves.

“As humans, we are always pushed into stressful states yet the body cannot hold stress and relaxation simultaneously. If we train our bodies to relax, it is physiologically impossible to hold stress at the same time,” said the teacher.

“In growth and transformation, there is always a degree of discomfort. So when you hold new poses, you might initially feel uncomfortable.” I burst out laughing. Yeah, growth and transformation can make one a wee bit uncomfortable.

The first pose we did was called something like “running water over stones.” At least this is the imagery the teacher talked about. Lying on our backs with bolsters and blankets propped to put our spines in their natural curvatures, our bodies were akin to stones that stay  solid and stationary as water runs over them. That water, that ever pulsating movement of life can wear down the stones, yet if we are solid and stationary, the water doesn’t have to push us around. We can be in harmony with the flow of life.


There are some restorative yoga poses where the props are meant to be intrusive, pushing the body to open and stretch more actively; others that are designed for the body to simply melt and surrender.

There is also the inhalation, the exhalation, and the space between the next breath. That space is vital; it’s where the next beat of life and creativity spring from. That is the space I am most interested in harnessing, yet it is the whole flow of breath that keeps one moving through transformation and growth.

“Relax, relax!” the Saturday teacher always says to me when taking the hatha yoga class. “You’re making it too hard.” If he only knew. If he only knew how often I can make things too hard or how hard I can be on myself. It’s good to take a look in the mirror sometimes. Yet he also says like a kind grandfather (and with a twinkle in his eye), “That’s beautiful. You’re holding the pose beautifully.” It’s also good to note our progress.

Litany of Lies

24 Jun

“Could it be SATAN?” Dana Carvey used to ask as Church Lady on “Church Chat”, the hilarious SNL skit that ran in the late 80’s. Satan was attributed to every evil conceivable and Carvey played the kind of Christian that pointed fingers at anyone and everyone committing sins.

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Yet when it comes to the litany of lies we tell about ourselves, others, and the world at large, evil really does have its day. When we distort the truth and buy into negativity, the havoc wrecked is far from Godly.

“I’m not good enough.” “I’ll never find love.” “There will never be enough.” “I fucked up. I always fuck things up.” “I’m fat.” “I’m stupid.” “Why try? It never works out anyway.” “There are no jobs.” The economy is terrible.” “This field is dead.” “The world isn’t safe.” “There will never be peace.” “There will never be change.” “Why bother?” And the chorus goes on and on. I’ve heard these phrases from people all around me, and I recognize some of the statements coming from my own mouth. We all have different scripts but whatever ones are ours, they are hard to re-write.

Many of us have a litany of lies as firmly ensconced as the weekly liturgy. Indeed, many of us recite these untruths with the zombie like quality of someone doing religion by rote.

This doctrine, if not rooted in Satan, stems from thought distortions, which are in essence evil. These usually arise from traumas, causing us to formulate specific beliefs about ourselves and the world based on what has happened to us and what we’ve observed in life. Sadly, distorted thoughts often cause history to repeat itself over and over again.

Thought forms carry energy, which makes them even more complicated and powerful.

Yes, many of us were initially victims in our lives, but if we buy into the lies formed at the time of horrific events, we victimize ourselves. We keep ourselves stuck. We buy into the same damn stories and contribute to them over and over again.

One of the hardest things in the world is to look in the mirror and see how we’re involved in our own narratives. While we don’t have control over people, places, or things, we certainly have control over what we do, what we believe, and our attitudes. This can be extremely sobering.

How then do we change these limiting belief systems?

Very carefully.

It’s hard to create something new because we often can’t envision a different outcome. If we’ve only known disappointment in a given area, why expect anything different? It’s simply easier to cling to the old beliefs because to hope for new outcomes is just too scary, right? Yes, it might work out differently, but if it doesn’t, it will hurt like hell. AGAIN. So why be an idiot and hope for anything more? It’s easier just to give up on having any dreams for a more positive future and life. And if we do cling to any sort of hope, we’ll have to feel the loneliness and pain of desires that might not ever be fulfilled. So wouldn’t it be easier to just eat a bag of potato chips, turn on a video, and shut out the world? And wouldn’t it be easier to just surrender in the face of injustice and never speak up, never vote, never defend others, never write editorials, or lay down our lives for others?

Could this be SATAN? YES! That is Satan.

It’s so easy to recognize the litany of lies when we hear it coming from the mouths of others. It’s harder to recognize it when heresy comes from our own mouths. Yet when we start to recognize crap thinking for what it is, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to “catch it, check it, change it.” Sometimes change feels impossible.

Here are a few things I think are valuable when trying to change distorted belief systems:

Be patient with yourself; Beliefs that have been ensconced for years may take some time to change

Grieve – Feel the pain behind the narrative for there is always a wound beneath it

Pray – Ask God to remove the blocks and to help co-create the new narrative

Seek support from others. People can hold hope as a ray of light when you don’t have a candle or a match while in the dark.

Forgive – yourself and others. We are all a work in process. Progress not perfection.

Imagine – this is a huge element in creating change. Then act. Imagination + action = new creation.

Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. Start saying, “might”, “may”, and “could” instead.

Try new experiences. They help eradicate and/or integrate the previous ones.

Read stories of people who have overcome similar obstacles.

Seek expertise in the area in which you feel challenged. Educate yourself about that subject matter whether it be in love, relationships, health, finance, fashion, etc. Take a class on it, read books about it, join groups on it.

Realize no dreams are realized overnight. Luck doesn’t just happen. It occurs after much groundwork has been laid.

Pools of Forgiveness

10 Jun

Ever since I was a little girl and visited Yellowstone National Park with my father, I have been fascinated by hot springs. I remember looking at the strange colors and spewings of the Morning Glory Geyser intrigued. I also recall my first experiences sitting in hot springs. I was a kid, soaking in the hot water in my tiny bikini while looking at all the adults around me also bathing. Some were naked while some wore bathing suits.


Naked is an interesting way to perceive the experience of sitting in hot, natural spring water that is dense in minerals. When we sit under the stars, soaking in sulfur and other minerals, we start to peel away layers of toxins sitting underneath our skin. We also start to loosen the debris lodged deep in our hearts. Heat and water and minerals create a unique form of purification.

In a way, we become psychologically and energetically naked.

When I think about forgiveness, these hot springs come to mind. We don’t forgive without first feeling anger, which is its own form of hot water. Anger is a sign of self-protection, heightened vulnerability, a need to set boundaries, and a reflection of how deeply we cared about the situation or person that caused us such enormous pain. Anger is not fun to feel but if channeled effectively, over time, it produces its own type of potent healing minerals.

The person who says we need to immediately forgive a profound blow to the heart is a fool. Forgiveness is impossible without first feeling the hurt of the transgression.

Anger creates an interesting dynamic between human beings. I’ve known people who have insisted that anger is essential, yet when expressing this emotion, they were actually emotionally abusive. I’ve also known people who have insisted that anger is the opposite of kindness and therefore should be avoided. Yet these same proponents of “kindness”, were also capable of saying and doing cruel things, all while speaking in a gentle tone of voice. That is the opposite of kindness.

Sometimes a dose of righteous anger, even if delivered in a loud tone, can actually be an act of kindness for ourselves, the relationship, and the other person.

What I find interesting about hot springs is that from heat, they generate healing properties. This is such a perfect analogy for transformation. In order to transform our anger and hurt into forgiveness, we must first heat up our internal lives. As uncomfortable as this process might initially be, it’s what allows us to move through rage.

When my father was dying of pancreatic cancer, I never expressed my anger at him for exploiting and abandoning me. Toyed with as an object of his affection, I was eventually discarded. For fourteen years, he didn’t call me, write me, or reach out to me. This rejection came when I was eighteen and went to college. It came as a shock because for the first eighteen years of my life he told me that he loved me more than anything in the world and would never do anything in the world to hurt me. When I walked into his hospital room after this fourteen year hiatus, he casually said hello and then asked me what type of car I drove. He didn’t ask if I was married, whether or not I had kids, nor what I did for a living. He didn’t tell me how wonderful it was to see me or that he missed me all these years. He didn’t tell me I looked wonderful, nor did he apologize. Ever the good girl, I swallowed any anger, if I was even in touch with it. Instead I felt sorry for him. He looked like a shrunken, shriveled old man who was in pain and was suffering. I showed him nothing but kindness and compassion. I played the role I always played. I forgave him.

But I hadn’t. My rage had never really been expressed.

You can’t really forgive or let go until you feel the rage. Only then, in the heat of it all, can you soak in the pools of forgiveness. Only then can you emerge, shimmering in the light, with beads of water and a smile on your face.




Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

5 Jun

When I was ten, I wrote these words in my diary:


Growing up in a home with alcoholism, I became the consummate observer. I learned how to track the behaviors and moods of others because my survival depended on it. Has she been drinking? Is she slurring her words? What level is the vodka in the bottle at? I learned how to mind everyone else’s business but my own.

Despite all my best intentions, I couldn’t get my mom to stop drinking. I couldn’t prevent her from going to jail for five felony DUIs related to driving while under the influence and I couldn’t convince her to pursue recovery. While I never stopped loving her, I learned that focusing on myself was the only chance I had at serenity.

Focusing on myself is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life and it is a daily practice. Whenever I have put the focus too much on others, I take a trip to hell and back while sucking the breathing space out of my primary relationships and my relationship with myself.

Watch any pack of siblings fighting and you’ll hear mom or dad say, “Focus on yourself!” when Sally or John whines, “Mom, he’s doing a, b, c ….” or “Dad, she’s doing x, y, z….” We’re taught this lesson early on in childhood but society also tries to drill it out of us. If I put the focus on myself, I’m often perceived as selfish and self-centered because we are taught to care for and serve others. Yet often, the best way to care for others is to put the focus on ME. Focusing on myself is minding my side of the street and taking responsibility for my thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Anything else quickly turns into meddling, blaming, controlling, nagging, and manipulating. Period.

Focusing on others can bring an enormous amount of suffering, particularly when people don’t behave the way we desire. We can express our disappointment and state what we need but beyond that, we have no control. We can’t make others love us, commit to us, or change for us. Nor can we make people be something that they’re not, unless they themselves want to change.

Each day, I try to place my focus on myself and God. I ask myself, “What do I need to do today? What is my work for the moment? How am I feeling? And what do I need to do to take care of myself? (because no one is going to do that job for me).” Obsessing over what others are doing, or why my life isn’t a certain way because of what others are or aren’t doing, is the height of dis-ease. It’s best to mind my own circus and my own monkeys because that is all I have jurisdiction over and quite frankly, it’s all I can handle. Each of us, even in union with others, has to live our own lives and are responsible for our happiness.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference….




Surprising New Life

30 May


Walking through the streets of D.C. last night with friends, I stopped in front of a church to examine a cluster of paper butterflies strung along the side exterior. I found this extraordinary. There was something so beautiful and fitting about this image. Moving in the direction of the church spire, the butterflies were on a mission to heaven.


The irony of the moment did not escape me. Butterflies are notorious symbols of transformation. They start as eggs, transition to caterpillars, and then morph into cocoons. From that chrysalis  state, they eventually emerge as butterflies. It is not an easy metamorphosis. To the outside eye, the cocoons look ugly. They look like nothing. They look dead. All color and life force drains temporarily from them.


The butterfly’s transition is one of nature’s miracles. It is a glaring reminder that profound change requires a stage of withdrawal and contraction, yet nothing in our society supports this truth. We’re supposed to get over pain quickly, immerse ourselves in external activities, and fake it ’til we make it. This completely contradicts the natural evolution process.

As I went through a painful period in my life this year, I became that chrysalis. Other than somehow finding the energy to work, I contracted. I rarely went out socially, I cried day after day for months, and spent considerable time alone except in the company of a few select friends who didn’t judge my process. Meanwhile the world screamed its bad advice, as I withdrew.

I spun my web blocking out the noise as best I could because the caterpillar undergoes transformation alone. She does not take a lover into the cocoon or host a dinner party in it.

It’s an arduous process breaking out of that lonely shell, but when you do burst out of the cocoon, you are no longer the same. You become a whole new being and yes, you fly in the direction of heaven, flying on the wings of faith. You dazzle the world with your bright colors because you are now beautiful, transformed, and free.