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May 31, 2016 my Grandma died. She was ready… In her nineties, living with dementia, alzheimer’s, heart failure. A pretty rough and scary exit. And she handled it with as much beauty as anyone could possibly do in her shoes.

gramsThree Generations.

She lived through some tough times. Serious tragedies and heavy losses. And even at the hardest of times she filled her life with love. She grew up on a farm outside Circle, Montana and rode a pony to and from school by herself every morning until her folks had to move into town. I wish I could remember that pony’s name. When she grew up she became a nurse and served as a caregiver for most of her life. She had three children, George, Margaret, and John. She outlived George. And her husband, Fred.

She didn’t get a drivers license until her kids were nearly grown. She would park her car outside of town and walk in to get her shopping done. She made the best cookies. She taught me to make them too. The white and blue ceramic container that lived on the credenza was always filled with ginger snaps (my favorite) or lemon iced molasses cookies (also a favorite). She didn’t mind us taking them when we thought she wasn’t looking. I loved watching her dance. Especially when grandpa would throw on a big band record and they would sway through the living room, giggling. After grandpa Fred died it was amazing watching her learn to be on her own after 60 plus years of marriage. Her personality blossomed. She kept busy with volunteer work at the hospital, playing bridge with her girlfriends and enjoying a pint of cold beer with a hot slice of pizza from the Cove in Polson.

She loved her roses. Grandpa’s roses. Flowers in general. Always wearing jewelry; earnings, necklaces, her watch, lipstick with a flattering top and some nice slacks. She loved to wear those sweatshirts that have paintings on the front. Loved them.

There was so much to know about her. To learn about her. Things that where either too painful to retell or her ability to recall was lost. By the time I became truly interested in her history it was already too late. I am sad about that. I’m sad I didn’t spend more time with her. That’s the hardest part about when someone dies. The moments that didn’t get to be.

When you’re making a movie you get the opportunity to “reset” the scene. Put all the props back to their starting position, go back to the bottom of the stairs, light a fresh cigarette, make that dramatic entrance, stage right, once – twice – three times…  but we only get one go at this life. She was the last of my grandparents and the last direct connection to that era of family history. What I have left of her are beautiful memories, letters she’s written to me over the years, and this crazy desire to bake cookies for people on any variety of occasions or events.

Grandma, Millie Mielke – 1925-2016

Six Minute Savasana

All I want to do is sleep. And then all I want to do is practice. To breathe, move — keep moving, develop strength, grow, find silence, balance, challenge in grace. Long days making movies, lots of running and moving things around is tough on this already “rickety ship” of a body I’m in. All I want to do it sleep, but I don’t. I make cool props and decorate sets and sweep up floors and dig up cactus…. and I practice. And I love it.

JoBackBench

Backbends. I NEED them. All day I need them. Desire the effect derived — spine ascends into the chest, breath in, shoulder blades broaden, support, legs rooted, length. UP, OVER, UP. Reach, lengthen, breathe. This — supporting my development  as a human wanting something better in her world. Supporting the creative, the life I’m living. As I work on this film, “I Am That“, I have to remember ever so clearly, that finding presence in each movement, each breath will allow me to do this thing to the best of my ability. Practice: ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga,  supports my world.

The exciting part about working with talented, creative people is learning new ways to look at things. To work out challenging situations, find solutions that not only work, but turn out pretty fucking awesome. My friend Joy Marzec has been writing stories and dreaming of making movies most of her life. As a long time friend and yoga pal, I am constantly inspired by her will to make this happen, this something collaborative, this something MAGIC.

 

Last Piece of Chocolate

There is a thing among ashtangis about chocolate and coffee. Many of us anyway. No coffee no prana. Dark chocolate for desert. Our love of it usually leaves us traveling with varying amounts of our favorite kind. Of course India has chocolate. Yes of course, but I brought two bars of the “super yum” stuff anyway.

India is amazing. The colors, variety of smells, the food, chai, the history, the grit, the kindness of the local people. Kovalam, Kerala holds a special place in me. It IS a special place. It has a special flavor. Festivals. It’s heart shines beautifully across the Arabian Sea. Sunsets over an intimate Boardwalk. The city on the sea, fishermen’s lights. Rickshaws. Restaurants bustle making parrotas, curries and veg biriani. Juice. Oh the goodness of fresh juice. Puppies cafe for coffee and lemon sorbet. Coconut cake at German bakery. Bananas tropical. The guy selling cashews. My beach guy. My tailor at work with his son trying to get me to buy “at least two more”. Jewelry, pashminas, miniature elephants. Beach dogs. The beach. The Arabian Sea, beautiful, warm and mesmerizing, serving as a backdrop to a four week investigation into Ashtanga yoga.

Practitioners from all over the world travel to Kovalam, India to study yoga. Those of us who come to study with David Garrigues get a little something extra special… A taste of his enthusiasm for practice. In these four weeks David pours his entire self into working with each individual as much as possible to help them grow and deepen their understanding of what this yoga can reveal. He works to show us ways of practicing with devotion, with fire and intelligence no matter our circumstances. He pushes us to our edge, brings us to face our fears, lights the fire of tapas and at the same time teaches us to soften, to nourish and enrich these experiences we encounter on the mat through compassion and empathy. An enormous offering.

After packing my things and organizing myself for the next round of happenings, I sat waiting for my friend to take me to the airport. Somehow I still had one piece of delicious dark chocolate left from my little stash from Scotland. While waiting, enjoying this last little bit, looking around the now empty house I had occupied for the last month, practiced in, chanted in, enjoyed tea with friends in, rested in… I contemplated the enormity of the last four weeks. The people, the experiences… this years intensive will occupy my thoughts for some time to come. A sensory overload; an amazing in-depth teachers intensive, assisting my teacher, practicing with and meeting students from around the world, reconnecting with old friends. Another year of adventure in yoga and connections — my love India — has come to a close. Now to integrate what I’ve learned and continue forward.

Series of Moments

Embarking on yet another new year, thinking about new beginnings and change and all that… I specifically recall one of a few distinctly significant moments in my timeline. I was relaxing at the bar where I worked, my day off, imbibing in an afternoon beverage (as I often did) where I found myself feeling disconnected, heavy and sad. Sitting there next to the dart board, munching on popcorn, I remember thinking… intensely, “something has to change.

IMG_2796It wasn’t the first time I recall these words permeating my being in a full and complete way. I had been working on change. I was back in school and getting my feet on the ground after four years in an ugly situation involving addiction and isolation. But, I knew how to get out of that situation. It wasn’t easy but I knew what to do… leave and start over. This time, however, it had to be more, it had to be deeper, I had to develop something new within myself.

A friend of mine had recommended I try yoga. I told her, “yeah, that sounds nice, but no way I’ll ever be doing that.” Two days later I found a flyer advertising a local yoga studio welcoming beginners. Finding this flyer after telling my friend no way was interesting, yet my full interest wasn’t solidified until after randomly finding two more flyers in the coming days. I decided to take that as a sign and just go.

I showed up to my first ever class extremely self-conscious, unhappy and terrified. I will never forget it… that class changed the course of my life. For the first time, I connected with my body through movement and breath in a way that left me feeling light. I hadn’t felt light my entire life. It was one of the most physically challenging and emotionally rewarding days of my life. The next day I bought a mat and a class pass. Those early experiences were incredibly influential. Yet it all took time to resonate, to lead to deeper and more inspiring experiences. (The evolution of that is still happening.) Some things happened faster than others, positive and challenging things, but the truly important part was discovering the will to follow a path toward real change.

Now, twelve years later, I take a moment to reflect on what it took to begin and where that has taken me. Two years after my initial class I found my teacher, whom I’ve had the opportunity to grow with over the last ten years. I now teach and travel and continue to study. All of the experiences leading up to now have been instrumental in my growth and development. It all started with a desire for change and that one class. It’s difficult to express my appreciation to all of those who have been part of that but I hope you know who you are. Today, from a place of gratitude, I take a moment to envision the road ahead and count my blessings.

Mosquitos

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I forget that pain does not have to be the center of my attention. That the life I’m living is one abundant with JOY and BLISS. That when I trust, really trust, magical things happen. Impossible things. That I choose to live the way I do and I actually enjoy it. I forget the amount of love, support, inspiration and freedom that is gifted me everyday. Everyday. In immeasurable ways.

I forget that I can choose to discontinue unnecessary suffering, guilt and shame. Enough suffering. That I have the power to embrace the beauty of this life I’ve created. Beauty. The life in which I continue to investigate, nourish, be inspired by, and above all… enjoy.

All So Ridiculous

Heartbreakingly in love with the experience of this life. Through thoughts of love and those of pain, how intricately woven together… so heavenly heartbreaking. Blessed to be cursed by romanticism — a suspension of mind and body in the clutches of vast emotion and emotionlessness.

How clarifying the experience of death could be, leave the world behind to writhe in it’s own beautiful illnesses. I would die to relieve these pains of existence from the world. Our world. My world. Relieve the pain and guilt derived from desire and craving. Change perspective.

Fear of enjoyment, of participation, of self-discovery, of discovery of Self, of being discovered. Fear of loss, fear of gain. The intricately woven aspects of love and pain, joy and sorrow.

It’s all so ridiculous. It’s all so ridiculous.

Anniversary

A year’s gone by since the trajectory of what I like to call “my plans”, changed dramatically. A busted ankle/leg/muscular damage was enough to instill some serious limitations, such as the ability to walk. Believing everything I had worked for was no longer within my grasp and spinning out under the weight of unattended and unattainable responsibilities, I made the choice to seek shelter and began the process of healing.

After three months of diligently modifying my daily practice, regularly preforming prescribed physical therapy exercises, and working through some fairly major emotional upheaval, I was shocked to realize it wasn’t over. Not even close. Even now, at a year, residual effects continue to make their presence known. The need to remind myself of the progress I’ve made in recovery while cultivating compassion towards limitations is still alive. I mean really, it could have been so much worse, yet for me and my world it was pretty bad and I could have decided to quit, but I didn’t.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
— Confucius

Things will not be the same. This is not a negative but rather a positive. It serves as a reminder… the time for assessing and clarifying a plan of action is imperative. Identifying what fears are blocking a chance at progress and taking the right kind of risks toward that desired progression have become a game of self-understanding or rather a will to understand the Self. My Self.

Am I trying to be someone I’m not? Or am I not trying hard enough to be the person I’m meant to be?

Creating a place for myself within the world of teaching ashtanga yoga and supporting that devotional passion through work as a freelance graphic designer is no easy task. Each require their own level of focus and dedication. Each, easily full-time explorations as individual prospects, bring not only a means of survival but a level of personal fulfillment in their own unique and beautiful ways.

I’m fortunate enough to spend my mornings practicing, studying and teaching those interested in developing inspiration through devotion in ashtanga yoga, hatha yoga; afternoons designing, creating and cultivating relationships with clients and rockin’ creative individuals who understand what it means to have something to be devoted to. My vision is to be able to do this in places that both inspire me to grow and instill a sense of contentment. Does this happen in one location? In multiple locations? In either case, this is what I believe to be the means by which an enjoyment of, contribution to and involvement with the development of a conscious society can become a reality. Blam.

In the midst of these revolutions within myself I pack a few things and begin the long journey to India. The third pilgrimage. An investigation of presence and cultivation of timeless space. Feeling blessed to be studying with my teacher, immersed in an incredible culture and further developing ideas about my place in the world.

OM!

A Glimpse of Light

IMG_2684Is it desire that clouds the clarity of heart or the heart that clouds the clarity of truest sight? To see through to the truest Self? Purpose. Integrity.

What message is intended through this? Through pain, through darkness?

A glimpse of light.

A nasty trick. To be lead along and onward into a deceivingly welcome sitting room only to find there is no fire indeed.

Despair ignites a longing for the knowledge that sits inside to disappear, to end the need to attest to the truth of it.

The ease of ignorance. Nothing more than a lie and less comforting than sitting in a cold, dark room with no heart at all.

Travel on and into your own house. Stoke your own fire. Follow your desire for desirelessness, your truth and knowledge to the edge of all that is dark. For the light will grow stronger still.

An unbreakable force.

Rainbow Connection

July:

Last four weeks at The Yoga Fitness Center in Missoula, MT, teaching people ashtanga. Hatha. Watching people grow. Grace. Cultivate space in their lives for their own practice. Patience and persistence. I surrounded myself with nature. Swam in the Flathead, Kootenai, and Blackfoot rivers. Drove through parts of MT I had never been. Mountains. Nothing like the smell of those pines. Family. Coffee on the back porch. Practice. Self-study. Quiet.

August:

See you later. Say goodbye to Missoula, family, friends. See you later. Say goodbye to Spokane, family, friends. Travel back to Durham, NC. Hello, Durham family, friends. Practice, teach, sleep, plan. Dream of MT. Dream of India. Give up dairy. Thank God I gave up dairy. Nutrition studies. Self-study. Not as quiet. Pranayama. Cuddles with Skeet and Littles.

September:

Fly to Florida. Cousin Rachel gets married, dream wedding. Beautiful. Family. Ocean love. Fly back and immediately drive to Outerbanks, NC for DG 2014. Yoga, asana, pranayama, practice, study. Intense. Beach time/rain time/coffee time with friends. Back to Durham. Mini workshops. Am I going to be a workshop teacher? Littleman calendar shoot. Photos, yoga and community. Clean house. More cuddles with Skeet and Littles.

October:

Turned 35. My nephew died. My brother Jake’s life turned upside down. Fly to New Mexico. Hold my family. Hold myself together. Grace. Support and light. Heartbroken, our family moves through a horrific and tragic loss. My nephew loses his brother and my brother and his wife lose their son. Self-study. Practice. Pranayama. Let the connection of breath and movement hold and support me. The month disappears. Empty. Confusion around the state of this world, my existence, the business of being alive… multiplies. Nothing is promised. Time to face that part of myself. Again. How do I feel about all this? Unidentifiable. Back to Durham. It hits me. Reality can be so overwhelming. Drive to Philly for Primary intensive with David at Ashtanga Yoga School Philadelphia. That hits me. What is happening here? How do I fit in all this? What’s real, what’s not? The scheme of things. So. Fucked. Up. … Simplify. Morning light. Keep warm, stay connected. Breath finding rhythm, rhythm supporting awareness, awareness developing consciousness. Cuddle with Skeeter.

November:

At the start of it now and beginning to pull it back together. Have tickets for India, tickets for Christmas visit to Albuquerque, a new pair of winter boots. Will see Atlanta, GA for the first time. Get to assist my teacher in DC. Thankful to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with Suzanne and Nikos and the AYCD community of yogis. Cuddle with Skeeter and Littleman.

The Rainbow Connection:

One of Harrison’s favorite songs was “The Rainbow Connection” as sung by Kermit the Frog. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics that was shared with friends, family and community who came to support each other through this tragic time.

“… Who said that every wish
would be heard and answered
when wished on the morningstar?
Somebody thought of that
and someone believed it.

Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing and
what do we think we might see?

Someday we’ll find it,
the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me. …”

The Rainbow Connection, Kermit the Frog 

The hard stuff.

IMG_2370The other morning an interesting question came up, about giving more focus to the things that work well than those that don’t in an asana practice. My answer, “well, that depends.”

If a person was to mainly focus on the aspects of their practice that already work well, those things will continue to stay the same, or perhaps get stronger. If the aspects that are more difficult to work with, lets say… ummm…. chaturanga, never receive the same level of focus, they will likely get more difficult as time goes on and potentially start to cause problems. It also introduces the idea of the “artful dodger”, as David says.

Something like Uddiyana and Mula bandhas, the center of your body, the “core” OR – the use of the legs is vital. It’s so underestimated, that use! The lower abdominal muscles and the legs… they do so much work and rarely get the focus and diligence they need to stay strong and vigilant. So the shoulders and lower back tend to take the brunt of it.

There are smart ways to work on things and not so smart ways to work on things. If you’re not creating an action because you have an injury, well, that’s probably smart but do it in a purposeful way. This practice has the capacity to inspire some serious critical thinking. Harness that, and use it to your advantage. “What can I do that will help me rehabilitate my body?” And, leave me at the other end of it with a greater knowledge of how to move with awareness and dynamism.

And hopefully, it will truly be inspiring!

The hard stuff will pay off in the end. It’s true. Maybe just a little but none-the-less enough to initiate a sense of gratification. It’s so simple and applicable to so many aspects of existence, and at the same time can prove to be difficult. No one really wants to work on the hard stuff. But if you don’t, it never gets easier and you lose the opportunity of tapping into your true potential.

Rehabilitation of a damaged part of the body is a serious challenge. Both mentally and physically. The trick for me, was to remain aware of all parts working together to create stability. To look at the aspects I was unable to work with in the usual way and developing new ways to achieve a similar result. By diligently approaching practice like this, I have come to better know my body, my limits, strengths and received inspiration in surpassing limitations. Relearning how to engage my foot with the earth, rediscovering the muscles in a severely atrophied limb, finding the ability to walk… challenging. Now, it’s all coming back alive.

IMG_2750

 

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