Happy Anniversary, Sanity!

pexels-photo.jpgThirteen years ago, I was locked up.

I was 24 years old in Austin, Texas. A bright, blossoming wounded made up girl-person flung far from the bleak overcast of depression or the jagged broken-record of anxiety. I was HIGH and flying ever higher. No one could stop me. I was a rainbow technicolor butterfly emerging from her chrysalis stupor. I was on fire, passionately delusional. I was all over town, dancing on tabletops. In and out of consciousnesses, enjoying nonstop religious experiences. I felt invincible and acted boldly. I was out of my mind. I was a puppet starlet drama queen going places: India, California, everywhere.

At the aptly named Flipnotics Coffeehouse on Barton Springs Road on April 16, 2005, the shit hit the fan. Long story short, I was taken away in handcuffs by the police to the psych ward, where they brought me back down to Earth with a thud and a plethora of prescriptions psychotropics, tranquilizers, chairs with straps and staff in white uniforms to do the strapping. Yet, in ten (long) days, I was released.

That was thirteen years ago.

These days, I am celebrating sanity, but more than that, I am celebrating life, freedom and yoga. I am grateful for all the people, places and lessons of those times in my tumultuous mid-twenties and since. I am welcoming everything, whatever may come, whether pleasure, success, tragedy or death.

I am celebrating my choice not to take the doctors’ orders and “just take two of these pills a day”. I am celebrating my choice to exit the box and settle well outside of it, surrounded by wildflowers, kittens, scattered toys, piles of books and notebooks, coffee trees, three volcanoes and a sparkling lake.

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Dedicating the Merit of our Practice

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(Read the original on elephant journal)

The other day, I stood alone in the temple in front of an altar full of a stunningly beautiful and potent mandala of crystals, Tibetan singing bowls, and Buddhas.

As I breathed with my palms together in prayer in front of my heart and wished that the journey my family and I are about to embark upon be safe, peaceful, and joyous, for one brief second my mind was clear and radiant.

I realized that this wish for myself and the two beings closest to me (my husband and daughter) was simultaneously a wish for all beings without exception. The pure and simple aspiration, “May the journey of all beings be safe, peaceful, healthy, and happy” welled up from that indescribable source that lies within each of us and is ever surrounding us all.

Dedicating the merit is fundamental to all meditation. It is absolutely essential and not to be overlooked. Here is an example of a dedication of merit you can recite at the end of your practice:

May the earth be wholesome everywhere
The world blessed with prosperity
May the poor and destitute find wealth
And the stooping animals be freed

May every being ailing with illness
Find relief at once from suffering
May all the sickness that afflict the living
Be instantly and permanently healed

May those who go in dread, have no more fear,
May captives be unchained and set free,
And may the weak now become strong,
May living beings help each other in kindness.

May travelers upon the road,
Find happiness no matter where they go,
And may they gain, without hardship,
The goals on which their hearts are set.

From the songs of birds and the sighing of trees,
From the shafts of light and from the sky itself,
May living beings, each and every one,
Perceive the constant sound of Dharma.

~ Shantideva

Earth Heart

I had just fallen asleep when the earth shook.

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake had hit the coastline of southern Mexico, and we felt it here at Lake Atitlan in Guatemalan highlands several hundred of kilometers away. My husband and I jumped out of bed, looked at each other, deer in headlights.

I always think they will pass and they always do. I have never been in the epicenter of an actual earthquake zone, only felt the shakes (temblores) on the periphery. Many times I have felt those, over the past eight years living in Guatemala. Prior, my weather fear in central Texas had been tornadoes. Austin was too far from the coast to get much damage from a hurricane, nowhere near as vulnerable as Houston, Corpus or Galveston.

This one lasted a longer time than most, but due to my half-asleep state, I didn’t register anxiety as much as curiosity. Why won’t it stop? Our daughter continued sleeping soundly, so we stayed in the bedroom of our tiny two-story cabin and moved with the earth. Finally, it did cease and no aftershocks came.

Now I wonder, what will it take for us, as humans who live on Earth, to care for our planet? I wonder if it is even possible to reverse the course we are already so far gone on?

I live at a lake, a beautiful lake which absolutely should be a World Heritage Site, should be protected, a national park, a trash-free zone, something. Anything.

This lake appears to be gorgeous and healthy, from a distance. There are three mammoth volcanoes looming over its southern shore. I am on the north side, with a view of these three beauties every day, though partially obscured by trees, I can see the lake and volcanoes from the balcony where I write.

I have, especially over the past two years, come to live a much more earth-loving, “eco-friendly” life. I no longer have a car. I no longer use electricity, only solar power. I no longer have a flush-toilet, only a dry compost toilet. (Yes, I still use cars, electricity and flush toilets when I’m not a home. But I’m usually at home.) In fact, I have not left this lake basin, except for a brief weekend at the beach in February, in eleven months, since returning from my last trip to the States (and Canada).

Now, British Columbia is on fire. Washington and Oregon are on fire. Southeast Texas is underwater. Florida is underwater. Bangladesh is underwater. So many more places around the world experiencing floods, forest fires, rising temperatures, extreme weather. Climate change.

From the outside, the lake looks pristine. Its clarity is better than in the recent past, especially those times over the past decade that have brought major algae blooms, a thick film of greenish yellow cyanobacteria that eventually turned blue and purple and brown, stinking as it decayed.

The lake looks clean, but it is not. It is suffering from a lack of oxygen. This is a lake that was formed by a volcanic crater many millions of years ago, and has no rivers going out to the ocean. The rivers feeding into the lake contain chemical runoff from the farms now mono-cropping corn instead of growing diverse vegetables, grains and fruits as they used to. And untreated or poorly treated sewage from the dozens of villages around the lake basin. And many tons of trash: plastic, styrofoam, rubber, more plastic.

Hence, unless drastic action is taken by the communities and individuals around the lake, as well as the Guatemalan government to outlaw both littering and contamination of the lake at the corporate level, this beautiful gem of nature has a death sentence. No one knows for sure. Maybe 7 years. Maybe twenty?

Isn’t the same the true of the entire planet Earth? She appears to be okay, if you’re not in an area ravaged by natural disaster or an “underdeveloped” nation with trash lining even its most remote rural trails. Some people can even deny the reality of climate change still, because they haven’t witnessed firsthand a heatwave or the rising ocean reducing the shoreline. How long does the Earth have to live, unless we change our ways?

I don’t have the answer, and I feel so helpless when I learn about the vast, greedy corporate/government misuse of funds and desecration of the environment. I can only change my own behavior and try to influence those around me.

When are we going to wake up? It’s seriously now or never.

I stumbled upon this infographic the other day. This has cemented my decision to have only one child. My daughter is perfect and she’s not going to have any biological siblings. I want to pass a healthy, glorious, wonderful earth onto my grandchildren, onto all future dwellers of this plentiful planet.

This has also renewed my commitment to vegetarianism. A plant-based diet. This is not to say I will never ever eat meat, but I plan not to be lax about it, even when visiting Texas over the next couple months. Delicious, nutritious vegetarian options are always available. It is a choice. Mindful eating: plant-based, smaller quantities, slow eating, appreciation of the food, its ingredients, cook, server.

I feel good about not having a car. I drove one from age 16 to 29 in the USA, then for another few years here in Guatemala. It is a luxury and a freedom, a vehicle. I enjoy driving, going places, road trips. However, not having one is, according to this study, one of the best ways to positively impact Earth. Walking. Biking. Taking public transportation (and fewer transatlantic flights).

May we wake up and start caring more for ourselves, our fellow humans and our mother Earth. May our daily actions and practices serve to benefit all beings and our precious planet!

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I Speak for the Lake

“One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” Pema Chodron

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Health is the most important thing. Health as in balance, vitality, proper use of energy. Right action. Wisdom. Our health, in the larger sense of where we are, is in our families and homes—in the water and the soil.

The most important thing is to stop polluting the planet. To cease contamination, to halt habits that are destroying not only our precious, sacred Lake Atitlán, but all bodies of water—including our own human bodies, which are 78 percent water.

The most important thing is the health of both individual and community. Both family and globe. However, global thinking is a bit like magical thinking—too conceptual, unfathomable, oversimplified. Local, present-moment, current, heart-centered thinking is what’s needed.

We are all (to some extent) guilty of being ostriches, and we need to pull our heads out of the sand. Pachamama, Mother Earth, is crying softly—but, before long, she’s going to start screaming. Sometimes she shrieks in silence, and only some of us are awake enough to hear—alert enough to listen.

We must speak for the lake, for the forest, and all the species. Write, and talk, and make documentaries, and raise awareness, and inspire action in ourselves and others.

Instead, most of us, myself included, are increasingly distracted by busyness and by using technology as a toy, rather than a tool too much of the time.

What is the most important thing? Earth. Breath. Air. Oxygen. The lake is suffocating. We need to give her her lungs back, to let her breathe, let her keep inspiring and feeding everyone who comes into her aura, her basin.

Earth is the most important thing. This grain of sand, this blade of grass, this flower petal, this cloud formation, this ocean wave, this full moon, this universe.

If planet Earth goes, we all go. Pay attention to the cries of Mother Earth, of “Grandmother Atitlan.” Pay attention to what you are putting into your body, mind, and heart. Pay attention to how you sit and stand, move and behave in the world, in our home.

The time is now.

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Collected Writings 2010-2017

51hV0yux+mLMoving abroad eight years ago was a rebirth for me.

The choice to uproot from my home country, the United States of America, and plant new seeds in my host country, Guatemala, suddenly changed my whole life and lifestyle.

I was bestowed with the best gift of all: time. I used my newfound abundance of this magical time and mental space to focus on my personal yoga and meditation practice—and to hone my writing skills. I started this very blog on WordPress in early 2010. In October of that year, I crossed my fingers and submitted my very first article for publication on Elephant Journal. (I’m so grateful that they accepted it and hundreds more since!)

Over the years, I’ve maintained my passion for yoga and writing, though of course both practices have fluctuated over time and with the influence of life, work, partnership, parenthood and all the little moments that make up our days.

I’m delighted to present my latest e-book offering: The Best of Yoga Freedom. These collected blog posts and essays from the past seven years deal with everything from developing and deepening spiritual practice to stories of shame and sexual healing to heart advice on long-term partnerships and healthy, simple lifestyle choices. If you’re new to this site, this is an ideal place to begin.

The book is available on Amazon/Kindle. If you would be interested in reading and writing a review, please connect with me and I will gladly send you a free copy.

Thank you for reading!

{Get your copy of The Best of Yoga Freedom}

Love is a Field.

I open the door.

I see a sauna, empty space, hot air. Steam.

I step inside. I am going on a trip within.

I sit. I am alone and not alone.

The aromas of lavender, white sage, and eucalyptus spiral around me in wisps of smoke.

Sweat pours from my pores. I am here. There is nowhere else to go.

I wonder about going on a dark retreat for a few days. What would happen?

What would I see in the pitch black?

What voices, what wind chimes would I hear?

I drink the tea. I eat the mushroom.

My consciousness expands and contracts, beating like my heart, filling and emptying like my lungs.

Whirling in wondrous ways.

I am not sweating anymore, I am flying. I can go anywhere.

I open the door to the treehouse. Here lies the meditation shrine room. Inside, a great thangka sparkles from the wall. White Tara smiles down upon us. There are 10 Tibetan bowls of various sizes. Huge crystals beam their clear light at my heart–center. There are Buddhas and more Buddhas. There is Jesus and Ganesh. There are my parents, grandparents, ancestors, my brothers and sisters, and friends. There are my kitties and dogs and even beloved childhood hamsters.

There is my partner. There is our daughter, and her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter. There are gorgeous bouquets of tropical flowers, growing impossibly out of the stones on the ground. There is music—all my favorite songs.

There is love in the room. Love, patience, peace, and presence. There is gratitude for every person, animal, thing, and feeling in the space.

Love is a field, not a form.

The doorway to love is never closed. The master key is within our heart.

There is joy here and sorrow, and everything is alright—even when it’s not.

“Let’s not commit to a future together.

The future is so unknown, and we are so fluid, and tired of pretending 

that we know.

Our thoughts and feelings are ever-changing, uncontrollable, like a wild ocean of love.

~ Jeff Foster

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Smiling Meditation & Homemade Toothpaste

Last week, the planets aligned, and a long-awaited dream came true: I learned how to make natural toothpaste.

I had long since learned the dangers of fluoride and other substances and additives in “mainstream” toothpaste brands such as Crest and Colgate.

For years, I’ve been buying supposedly natural, “organic” toothpastes from the store. However, where I live in Guatemala, these are imported and prohibitively expensive. Plus, they all have some questionable chemical foaming agent. We are conditioned to believe that toothpaste needs to foam in order to make our mouths clean.

I’d heard how easy it was to make a natural toothpaste at home, yet I never took the crucial next step of learning how. So last week, I took a workshop on aromatherapy, in which we learned the basics about essential oils and also made a few products to take home, including deodorant, insect repellent, and toothpaste.

The toothpaste is made from coconut oil, which is liquefied and mixed with bentonite clay and drops of peppermint, clove, cinnamon, and ginger essential oils. We also added stevia powder as a natural sweetener.

However, having a fresh, clean mouth and lovely teeth is only half the battle. Our smiles must also be real.

Here are instructions for practicing smiling meditation, as taught by the amazing Thich Nhat Hanh in his classic book, Being Peace.

“During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment

I know this is the only moment.

‘Breathing in, I calm body and mind.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water—you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.

You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile. ‘Dwelling in the present moment.’ While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here and I know where I am. This is very important.

We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my Ph. D. degree, and then I will be really alive.’ When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I get a job, in order to be *really* alive.’

And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive in our entire life.

Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment. ‘I know this is the only moment.’ This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most important task. ‘Calming. Smiling, Present moment, Only moment.’ I hope you will try it.”

I vow to smile. I vow to try it. I vow to be grateful—to see the beauty on the path—right here, right now.

The Forest Cure

Why I’m Anti Antidepressants

Many years ago, I sat on the couch of a stern psychiatrist who informed me that I needed to take prescription psychotropic pills every day for the rest of my life.

That didn’t sit well with me.

But, I was 21, and facing the moment-to-moment reality of horrible depression during every waking moment of my “real” adult life.

I learned that depression is anger turned inward. Self-blame exacerbates a mentality in despair. For me, depression was like endless fields of gray. I only wanted to sleep or die. I was unable to hope and had zero desire to do anything but lie in bed. It was like being stuck in a huge, ugly glob of what’s-the-point! 

Life was drained of all color, fun, and love.

I chose to take the pills. I was told they would take a couple of weeks to kick in, and they did—like clockwork. My ability to function in the world was restored. Once I felt better, I’d stop taking the meds. Then, of course, I’d feel bad again, dragged down into the quicksand of darkness.

So, I’d start back up again with my prescription refills and they’d take longer to take effect, since my brain was building up a resistance. This carried on for about four years, until one day, all the fireworks exploded in my mind and I was catapulted from the lows of cyclical depression to the rapid fire “high-high-high” of mania.

That’s when I was committed for 10 days to the state psychiatric hospital and was prescribed lithium for life.

Teaching yoga at a fitness center the following year, I struck up a conversation with a woman after class about mental health and prescription drugs. She urged me to read up on lithium and its detrimental effects, and gave me a book on the topic. My mom and brother had both been diagnosed with bipolar prior to me, at age 40 and 14, respectively. I was 24 when my manic side emerged, although, in retrospect, it was more like popping topless out of a cake than a gradual emergence of symptoms.

There is the reality that everyone’s brain chemistry is different and influenced by genetic factors outside of our control, and yet our brain chemistry is also affected by our lifestyle and behavior choices. After a few years of taking lithium religiously, I felt ready to phase it out of my system and did so under the care of a qualified psychiatrist—a doctor not much older than me—also named Michelle. She helped me phase it out, and it’s been eight years now with no relapses.

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