meeting the enemy

meeting the enemy

Ultimately, as I reflect, the greatest obstacles I have faced in life have molded me in to the person I am. Injuries have made me a clearer and safer teacher, times of financial hardship have given me insight into the value of money and empathy toward others who struggle with it, experience both first and second-hand with depression has gifted me with the ability to hold space for myself and others at their lowest. Moving to a new land where I do not speak the language or understand the cultural nuances gives me a small glimpse into what it feels like to be invisible or powerless. It has also given me a greater appreciation for the ways in which I am incredibly privileged. When I offer gratitude to my challenges, when I meet my "enemies" with thankfulness and compassion, it transforms me. Even if the person or situation is not changed at all, I am. How I see and feel and taste hardship changes. And, in my limited but real experience, it makes a profound difference. 

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disheartenment and maintaining our vision

disheartenment and maintaining our vision

All any of us can do is stay true to our convictions and pair those convictions with a willingness to stay curious and open hearted. Certainly there are times when we need to shift directions or accept defeat or decide that another way is a better way, but there are many other times when we must continue to face our fears and challenges and disappointments head-on. In those moments we must remind ourselves of our highest aspirations, lest disheartenment get the best of us and the world sadly miss out on our greatest gifts. 

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honest, kind expression. true, deep listening.

A recent foray into practice through deeper listening took me to the wall to open my spine while stabilizing my pelvis and SI joint. Deep listening is an implicit aspect of Right Speech.

As I mentioned in last week's post, I am spending these eight weeks on the Noble Eightfold Path as part of the ground for both my weekly teaching and as I prepare for the teacher immersion I am leading in September which has roots in this very same system. This week's focus is on Right Speech, which in sanskrit is Samyag Va, and is part of the Discipline group (Sila, in Sanskrit) of the eight steps. Right Intention, last week's step, is part of the Wisdom group (Prajna, in Sanskrit).

It feels like such a poignant time to contemplate Right Speech with the advent and rise of social media. At a time when our world feels so polarized, we are caught in the crossfire between unprecedented access to news and information and unprecedented amounts of tabloid, extreme or just plain false communication.

When we contemplate the way our voice and communication manifest, we can consider four aspects of Right Speech. The first is refraining from lying. The second and third, which I think work in tandem, are avoiding slanderous speech and harsh words. The final is avoiding gossip and idle speech. Another way to reframe this with a positive spin is to base our communication on honesty, to speak with kindness and compassion, and to speak only when it benefits others and ourselves.

The other half of this equation which is implicit but not explicitly mentioned is what I might call Deep Listening. When we speak we have a basic desire to be heard, and so the act of listening goes hand in hand with the way we speak to others, but also in the way we speak to ourselves. 

As I have grown older and my practice has shifted, most especially since I was pregnant, I have found so much benefit in the art of listening on the mat. I also have spent more time weeding out some of the negative, self-aggressive commentary that perhaps served some purpose at some point, but now that I have a daughter I do not wish to pass on such a torch. Removing aggressive messages and communication leaves more room for listening. More listening creates an environment where informed and honest action can be taken. This is true on and beyond the mat. 

May we all benefit and be of benefit to others through this attention to honest and empathetic communication and deep listening. 

Some ways to play with speaking and listening this week as we contemplate and practice: 

How can we cultivate our communication in person with thoughtfulness and care? Can we listen to our partner or our children more intently? Can we put down the phone or turn off the computer for an extra moment so we can hear what our loved ones wish to share? 

How can we cultivate our communication on social media with greater attention to kindness and honesty? In an age of intensely different opinions, and very serious life and death matters, can we maintain a steady even tone and refrain from slander?  Can we perpetuate a sense of striving to listen rather than a striving to be the loudest or the most incendiary? 

How can we cultivate our communication to and with our own self with more tenderness? Can we notice when we are being self-aggressive and could we reframe our internal dialogue in a sense of self-care instead? What does that look like on the mat or cushion? 



right intention: weekly theme

I have spent most of my writing time this week pondering the violence that has shown its face in the U.S. yet again, and per my last post, I ended up simply not sharing my thoughts because it all feels too raw and unclear - not a good recipe for starting dialogue about such a sensitive topic. 

I haven't forgotten that I have intended to share a weekly theme for classes and it is still my mission. My apologies for the delay on this week. Between a jet-lagged baby and my whirling mind post-travels, I hadn't been able to land on a topic. 

Finally while practicing today during my daughter's nap I decided to dive into the Noble eightfold path and share a piece of it each week I am teaching. This is leading up to my teaching immersion which is directly influenced by the very same structure. The Noble path has a lot in common with Patanjali's Ashtanga eight-limbed system so if you are more familiar with that, you may see some similarities.

The original order of the eightfold path begins with Right View, but I would actually like to start with Right Intention and END with Right View as the outcome of all seven other aspects of the path. While this may make sense in a linear way, I also recognize and hope to share that the path is circular, or perhaps more like a spiral. The Buddha might say we all already have Right View, we just have to uncover it through practice. But since we are in a learning environment let us turn that on its head and begin first with practice to arrive at Right View. 

My daughter is stirring from her nap so let me at least publish this! 

A few questions to ponder this week:

What is your intention/s for practice? For living your life? Are they different? 
How has it changed over the years and with different life experiences? 
When you set intentions are you also loading yourself with expectations? How can the former exist without the latter? 

Please feel free to write in comments or questions. Much love.

Working With Fear, Difference, Other

Working With Fear, Difference, Other

Could our minds and our hearts be big enough just to hang out in that space where we're not entirely certain about who's right and who's wrong? Could we have no agenda when we walk into a room with another person, not know what to say, not make that person wrong or right? Could we see, hear, feel other people as they really are? It is powerful to practice this way, because we'll find ourselves continually rushing around to try to feel secure again - to make ourselves or them either right or wrong. But true communication can only happen in that open space. 

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Regard All Dharmas As Dreams

My Lojong Slogan for contemplation today:

“Regard all dharmas as dreams.”

I am reading from Chögyam Trungpa’s commentary: Training the Mind

This slogan has always surprised and awakened me when I have read it. There is something about it which touches upon the ethereal and fleeting quality of our experience and memory. Something about it which is magical and also reminds us that there are so many fluid dimensions to what may appear solid and concrete.

As I reached for another book about an hour after reading this slogan, it opened to this poem, which dances along the same dreamy nature of the slogan.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them––

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided––
and that one wears an orange blight––
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away––
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled––
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing––
that the light is everything––that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

-Mary Oliver

It is possible for us to discover our own innocence and childlike beauty. Discovering the innocent childlike quality in us does not mean being reduced to a child. Rather, we become fresh, inquisitive, sparkling. We want to know more about the world, more about life. When our preconceptions are stripped away, we begin to realize ourselves—it is like a second birth. We discover our innocence, our primordial quality, our eternal youth.

-Chögyam Trungpa

may you be protected and safe.

may you be light of heart.

may you be in tune with the rhythms of your own body, mind and path.

may you be naturally unfettered, unadorned, and at ease.  

….  my own interpretations on the cushion with lovingkindness (metta/maitri) meditation.  what words or phrases work for you? 

Restlessness is an expression of Buddha Nature

The idea of buddha mind is not purely a concept or a theoretical, metaphysical idea. It is something extremely real that we can experience ourselves. In fact, it is the ego that feels that we have an ego. It is ego that tells us, “My ego is bothering me. I feel very self-conscious about having to be me. I feel that I have a tremendous burden in me, and I wonder what the best way to get rid of it is.” Yet all those expressions of restlessness that keep coming out of us are the expression of buddha nature: the expression of our unborn, unobstructed, and nondwelling nature.

-Chogyam Trungpa


my heart is filled with tenderness
great sadness and still waters


these are the lions that inspire fearlessness
wealth of spirit
open hands

at first glance we see the sharp teeth
potential scars from retracted claws
remember old cuts now healed or still scabby

upon gazing
we may see the softness of fur
fierceness of clear eyes
wisdom and great strength

if we allow ourselves to sit near
we can sense the tremble of sinew beneath skin
heat of breath
lightness under each paw

when we reach out and feel
there is always the possibility of a sharp swipe returned
but also still possible the genuine softness that yields and purrs


the greatest tenderness of touching that which might slice open or surround me
or that which may simply lie in repose
leaves me open-handed and paused
waiting, feeling with each nerve ending the possibilities

and i am moved to be fearless
not shying from abundance
not running from emptiness
abiding in the great sadness
and the still waters of this very heart
seeping from eyes that can unclose


Pema Chodron on Shenpa, or How We Get Hooked

Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.

From The Shenpa Syndrome

dedicated to my teacher…

this weekend Breakti ® opens into Space….  a new directive outside of movement that addresses how we can approach our everyday challenges with concepts from Buddhism and Yoga, with inspiration from Hip Hop. 

this track will always remind me of him in the studio working out his footwork, drilling me, challenging me to push past my comfort zone. 

we all need that…  to move beyond comfort into the unknown.

here’s a link to the workshop, hope you might join!

Comment from last night's class...

First off I want to thank all students who come to me in a candid and honest manner.  It is dialogues such as these that spark real conversation and I am glad that students feel comfortable asking tough questions or calling me out on things I say.  


from anonymous:

i was in your class last night - yogaworks, thurs march 1 and thank you for your teaching and passion. my one gentle comment to you - is that the point you made about the interdependence project for “young” people. i know ethan and while he is “young”, i don’t think he created this organization to exclude anyone because of their age. ethan is young but his group is for everyone and anyone interested. thank you

—> Of course…  I should have chosen my words more carefully.  I in no way meant to imply that the organization is just for young people.  What I should have been more clear about is that there is, however, a certain vibe that I feel at IDP that exudes the qualities of a “youthful” organization (active as in activism, fresh, vibrant, somewhat edgy) that i do not feel as much at, say, the Shambhala Center.  I love both centers very much and go to both for specific reasons and I have seen people of all ages at both.  Let me also say that while IDP is a relatively younger organization it is ALSO NOT to imply it is not well established, well organized, and doing very important work.  That is all I meant.  Thanks for calling it to attention.  

We may say that the past is already dead, but ultimately the truth is deeper than that. The past is still here in the form of the present. We may think that there isn’t anything we can do about the past anymore, but there is.

Perhaps we have done negative things in the past that we regret. It’s a mistake to think that it is no longer possible to change the situation, that it is impossible to correct the past. We can correct the past. The past is here; and if we get deeply in touch with the present, we can touch the past as well, and transform it.

- Thich Nhat Hanh from “you are here”