Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sharing the Dreaming

I just finished watching an amazing film called Whaledreamers. The documentary follows the story of the Mirning people of Australia, a native tribe who, like many under the crushing heel of imperalism, lost their land, culture, and even lives. The Mirning's connections to the whales was part of their cultural and spiritual heritage, and during the course of the film, shamans and holy folk from various cultures throughout the world gather to help the Mirning reconnect to the whale spirit.

One of the documentary's central messages, of course, is that only by coming together and supporting one another's endeavors of peace and love can we and the world survive. Not a new message, but certainly one that clearly needs repeated reminding.

When we connect to the primal elements of our world - the fire, the water, the earth, the air, the song, the dance, the relationship between ourselves and the animal peoples of this world - we are revitalized and walk the paths of beauty and peace.

Who doesn't want that?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Goodnight, Tyli'a

This past week in D.C. a trans woman and her friend were stabbed in the middle of the afternoon. One of the women, Tyli'a "NaNa Boo" Mack, died from the attack; the other woman lived. A full report of all the current information can be found through the Washington Blade.

What the fuck, right?

In trying to wrangle with this crime, I turned to paths of yoga, yet again.

Patanjali was one of the great yogic sages, and in his famed Yoga Sutra, he writes, "When [the yogin] is grounded in [the virtue of] nonharming, enmity ceases in his presence" (translation by Georg Feuerstein), or "By abiding in nonviolence, one's presence creates an atmosphere in which hostility ceases" (translation by Mukunda Stiles).

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

When struck with this news, I was deeply saddened, which was shortly followed by rage. Rage led to the desire to do something about it - put prayers in motion that would bring "justice" down on the heads of those who perpetrated this attack, yet I realized that this anger serves no purpose; the divisive "fuck those shitheads" attitude only feeds the deep and longstanding energetic despair around issues of perceived differences between peoples. Wasn't it this grain of separation that grew into a choking vine of hatred, wrapping its way around the heart of the person(s) who committed this crime?

I do believe we are all one, that the undercurrent of the Multiverse unites us all and therefore makes separation maya (illusion). Run through a different lens, look at the Web of Life, the Cosmic Web of Grandmother Spider: if all things are made up of the energetic action of this Cosmic Web, then there is no separation between me and you, me and the victim of the murder, me and the murderer. Of course, we make choices, and those choices lead to the manifestations we currently embody, but past all that shit (both "good" and "bad"), the baseline remains the same.

And that sameness is Divine.

When we speak to one another we are speaking to God/dess. When we touch one another we touch God/dess. When we do acts of service for one another, we do acts of service for God/dess.

In my better moments, I'm able to recognize that and see people's divinity radiating from their hearts, and I know that I worship at the feet of God/dess whenever I interact with another being.

May those who killed Tyli'a "NaNa Boo" Mack and those who contribute to cycles of violence at all levels come to this realization and have the courage to shift into new ways of being.

And, of course, that goes for me, too.

(Photos from top to bottom: 1. An image of Patanjali, usually pictured with a snake behind him because he's believed to be an avatar of Ananta or Sesha the thousand-headed ruler of the seprent people that guards the treasures of the earth; the god Vishnu also reclines on the giant serpent, who acts as a kind of couch for the deity. 2. A beautiful spider shot. 3. Tibetan Monks from Drepung Gomang Monastery in Karnataka, India, visit a museum in Tallahassee, Fla., and create a sand mandala for world peace.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Finding the Flow

After a two-week break from asana, the physical practice of yoga, I returned to it in a really wonderful way. I visited Catoctin Mountain, which is half-an-hour north of me, past Frederick, Md.

The park hosts one of the state's highest waterfalls, which cascades over 78 feet of sloping rocks that are easily scaled. I went to a fairly flat spot and reconnected with the physical flow while the waters poured around me - so amazing. When practicing near or in water, I'm really able to hook into the sahaja (spontaneous, natural) aspect of the yogic arts - no special sequence, no orthodoxy, just the inspiration of the pranic river as my only guide.

The rocks of the park felt really old to me, and reading a plaque later, I saw that they were the products of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Catoctin Mountain is technically part of the Appalachian Mountains, which used to look like the Himalayas. The rocks seen at the park now are some of the oldest exposed rock formations in the world.

The Faery energy on that land is, of course, really bangin' and so delightful. The Fae have currency and legends from around the world in the oldest cultures of humanity (including India - they're even mentioned in Paramahansa Yogananda's seminal Autobiography of a Yogi).

I might be going back to the park this weekend - take your yoga off the mat!

Monday, August 10, 2009

When Cucumbers Attack

This summer, I've gotten an abundance of cucumbers from the lovely CSA through Dragonfly Farms, and although I find the crisp vegetables refreshing (especially a slice in water), up until the last month or so, I hadn't found them interesting on a culinary level.

In order to keep up with the influx I began making cucumber sandwiches (red onion, cucumber and mascarpone cheese) or little cucumber salads (sliced, with red onion again, olive oil, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper).

Well, after looking at another bunch of cucumbers, including a very strange variety that resembled a crook-necked squash with an unfortunate STD, I was completely uninspired. God love the cucumber sandwich, but I'd had it with that shit.

Luckily, yesterday I went to go see "Julie & Julia," which I absolutely loved, and there was a comment in there about braised cucumbers. After buying two bottles of red wine (Julia does drink throughout the entire film, after all), I rushed home and looked in Grandma Frances' copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Sure enough, there are a ton of cucumber recipes in there! I'd looked through damn near every book I had for some inspiration to no avail. ("Always go to Julia" is my new mantra.)

Today, I made Concombres a la Mornay - cucumbers with a jacked-up bechamel.

My husband, who loathes cucumbers, tartly remarked that if you butter and cheese the fuck out of anything, it would taste good, but this recipe was downright delicious!

First, I had to peel, seed, slice and salt the cucumbers and then allow them to drain for a couple of hours (which happened while I taught yoga at Sacred Space).

Then you bake them in a pan with butter for an hour. Meanwhile, I whipped up a bechamel, added gruyere and voila! Sauce Mornay!

Fold said cheesey-goodness into the cucumbers, top with a little bit more gruyere and broil briefly. It was downright revolutionary. The flavor combination was to die-for! I had it today alongside bruschetta topped with fontina, some lovely little tomatoes from the CSA and basil growing on the porch.

I still have Sauce Mornay left, so I might take the haricot verts and bake them in it.

After which, I'll commence lamenting the loss of my washboard abs.

C'est la vie!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Here She Comes!

I'm so ready for the "Julie & Julia" movie to come out!

Just this week I made ratatouille from Julia's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking - my grandma Frances' copy. What a treat!

I've been really busy this week with lots of yoga gigs and will write more when I'm able.

Until then, have some wine, make some good food, and enjoy these harvest days of summer!

(For me that means that tomorrow I'm making zucchini fritters with a side of haricot verts with a dijon vinaigrette - yay!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dance & Food - What Else Is There?

Although not exactly a "secret," I think Mamasita is one of the most incredible and underplayed spots in the Washington region. With bellydancing as the core of the studio's offerings, it has all kinds of physical arts from the African diaspora - everything from Afro-Cuban Orisha dancing to Samba. (The photo above is of a painting in the sitting area at Mamasita.)

While the instructors' knowledge is staggering, it's really all about the atmosphere they create. In bellydancing, it's never just about shaking the booty and making sure the hands are at a certain angle - the power of the dance as a healing and blessing to the world and the people around us is the foundation of the experience. Consequently, joy and love radiate from the very walls of that place, and every time I leave there, I feel settled more deeply into myself - yet not that small self wrapped up in the bullshit...more the transcendent self who knows that love, peace and ecstasy is what it's all about. Mamasita is a temple to all that's good in the human experience, and I'm so grateful to dance there.

This past weekend also saw some yummy treats in the kitchen. I cooked up some green peppers, onions and zucchini, folded it into some corn tortillas and topped it with a homemade salsa made of tomatillos, garlic, chili peppers and pumpkin seeds. I also sprinkled a mixture of corn, black beans and tomatoes over it and baked the whole thing. Really good stuff.

After that came another fig-walnut tart in a walnut crust. (Has anyone done a study to see if heroin is actually derived from figs? I suspect that smack and the fruit are somehow related.) Grandmother Bear helped with this one, as always. For more info on why this makes sense, go here.

The first photo is of the crust, which is blind baked in a deep-sided, fluted tart pan. The second is of the finished product, with the roasted figs inside - this time I added cardamom to the honey lemon glaze.

Below is an image of the lovely Lady Lakshmi taken at Mamasita. One of Her roles in India and throughout the world is as a provider of abundance. May She always grace our lives with an abundance of love and deep joy! (Oh, yes, and figs - let's not forget the figs.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer's Bounty

For the next few posts, I imagine I'll be writing a lot about food. My CSA is really ramping up with all sorts of exciting goodies, so cooking time is what my free moments are all about.

This week, I created a peach and blueberry tart with a polenta crust. The peaches were sliced, drizzled with honey and then sprinkled with lavender blossoms. Such goodness.

Also, this week, at the suggestion of a good friend, I made a beet risotto, adding onion, goat cheese, and lemon zest to round out the flavors. Just divine.

Eat seasonally, locally, and organic, if possible.

Most importantly, cook and eat with love, because that's what it's really all about.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Full Embodiment

Last weekend I had an incredible time at Kripalu, attending one of Shiva Rea's teaching modules, Mandala of Asanas. I love this style of yoga's focus on embodiment - fully coming to explore our physical form as an expression of the radiance we carry deep within us. When that power comes to the surface and we consciously infuse our every cell with expressions of love and divinity, then our entire being becomes an integrated resonating instrument of Mystery. So incredible!

Above is a photo of the very large Shiva Nataraj statue that's in the main hall where we practiced. At the end of the post is a photo of the labyrinth entrance on the grounds of Kripalu - far above is a waning moon still visible in the early morning hours. The labyrinth's "walls" were made of wild flowers, stones and sculpted juniper. It was a beautiful and powerful place to walk in the morning and sing the Gayatri Mantra as the sun shone through the trees. Maha gratitude to all beings who helped to get me there and guided me through the practices - humans (living and not), Fae, Mysterious Ones, Animal peeps, etc.

I'm shortly (as in about 10 minutes) leaving to help co-lead a retreat at Seven Oaks Pathwork center in Virignia.

More on that to come...and remember, our bodies are the spell.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Sunday Feast

Although I've been a bit busy of late and will soon be heading off to Kripalu for a weekend training with the amazing Shiva Rea, I still have time to cook a yummy dinner (well, that and the fact that the food from the CSA keeps coming regardless of my obligations).

Vegetarians beware: gruesome, demented meat-eating details ahead.

The main dish was chicken, rubbed with cumin, salt and pepper, and then roasted alongside peaches and leeks that were tossed with a bit of brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. It's one of our favorite dishes, and since I didn't get to make it last year, this season it was especially delicious.

The side dish was wilted collard and beet greens sauteed with garlic and onion and then served over polenta. This could totally work as a main course dish, and I'll definitely be enjoying it for lunch during the week ahead.

All of this was pretty fab, and then, I went insane and made two desserts. (So, what?! This is America, god damn it! Go big or stay home!)

One was for Philip - a blueberry cake (seen in the final photo of the post), which he loved. I'd tell you how much of it he ate, but I want to live through the night.

The other dessert was all mine. A walnut crust was baked in a deep, fluted tart pan, and then inside were roasted figs, topped with a honey-lemon glaze and more walnuts. Let's just say my waist is now a distant memory. If the Tantrikas are right in that Samsara equals Nirvana, then I plan to reach compassionate radiance by gorging myself on fig desserts.

I hope everyone's Sunday was full of such gustatory delights!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Life is Precious

So said the Lady Dane, my sister, during her cabaret act at Stars last night. And she's so right, especially in light of the horrible crash in D.C.'s Metro system, which left nine dead and over 70 injured.

Maha gratitude to all the Mysterious Ones and Ancestors for looking out for me. Uncharacterstically for a Monday, I decided to take the Metro to get to my 5:15 class at MamaSita, but I fortuntately left later than I would have liked. If I had left at my paranoid early time, I might have been in the accident area right around that time. Thank you to Grandmother Spider, et. al, for watching the strings of time.

Yet, again, I'm reminded of how we just don't know what's coming around that corner, and that, truly, right here and right now is all that we can know as tangibly real and actualized.

I finally made it into the city and ended up talking to a stranger in Dupont park about spirituality and the things that are truly important in life. The June breezes were blowing sweetly, the golden light of the summer sun set the treetops alight, and the grass felt soft on my legs.

Next, I went to the cabaret of Lady Dane, who TORE IT UP, as always. Calling out to ancestors, sending healing to the people, and spreading love in the world. I am so grateful for her in my life.

Nothing like death to keep it real - life's very fragility is a potent reminder of the limitless potential for spending our given moments in love and peace.

Blessings to those who died and were injured in the accident and to their beloveds.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.

(Photo of Dane was at our wedding three years ago. Taken by the amazing Danny Haag.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Inspired Reading

So, I'm almost finished reading the Ramayana, one of the major epics of Indian literature, and I have to say, I can barely put it down.

Nothing is ever simple in Indian cosmology (have you SEEN the depictions of their deities?), and neither are the philosophical-spiritual points of the Ramayana. There are a number of times when the warrior prince Rama goes to kill some human-flesh-devouring, holy-man-terrorizing demon motherfucker, and the creature is actually grateful to be destroyed by this incarnation of Vishnu. Or, the monster is transformed into someone good, because they were under a curse. Much more complex than the standard good-guy-destroys-creepy-bastard storyline.

I was talking to a friend the other day who said that someone was "rotten to the core," and I thought, "Really?" On that deep, deep, fundamental level, I don't think this is the case. That core energy, which is truly hooked-up to the fabric of the Multiverse, is part of the overarching powerful love energy that runs through all of us. No, I don't think that deep part of each being is corruptable.

I do believe we do sucky, horrible, cruel things that twist and derrange our outer expressions, but someday when our deaths come for us, hopefully we can bump it up a notch on the reincarnation ladder and get more opportunities the next time around to practice, to open to love and compassion and then extend that some love out to others.

That's what I'm shooting for at any rate.

If you're interested in a great Ramayana, check out the modern translation and re-telling done by Ramesh Menon.

(Pictured above is the lovely Rama, which I found here.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Queer Juju

This past weekend, I helped officiate a lovely wedding between a straight couple at the same home where my hubby and I got married three years ago this week. I was sharing the ritual role with my dear beloved, Donald Engstrom-Reese.

Both Donald and I identify as queer and work regularly with Queer Mystery, which can mean various things to various people. For myself, one of its greatest powers is that of living outside of a binary construct of reality. There is no "this or that" type of existence - living in rigid polarity is revealed as complete illusion, thereby allowing for a greater expression of authenticity and freedom, on personal and collective levels.

In times past, Queer Priestesses, Shamans, Witches, etc., had vitally important roles to fill in society, and one was blessing the union of couples. Standing outside the full conventions of that binary world, I could really feel the limitless possibility this weekend, as I held the space for a union of love to take place. Truly, there is a special brand of spirit power that queer people have access to, and I see it reflected everywhere from officiating a marriage to working through an asana practice.

I long for more research and information on some of the ways that people worked this juju in the past, yet I'm not so sure there's tons out there. (Patriarchy be damned!) I wonder if queer spirit folk just need to step up and start writing the story anew; with the information we do have as a stepping stone, we can get out there and reactivate our scared roles in our communities and cultures.

It was a beautiful experience this weekend, and I'm deeply grateful to the couple for allowing me to be a part of their special day.

(The first photo is of the Hijra, a group of third-gendered queer priestesses of India. While reviled by some, the Hijra are also honored as having great spiritual power, including the power of blessing children for a good life.

The photo below is of Philip and me last summer during our honey moon trip to Hawai'i. Happy Anniversary, sweet thing!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hot in the Kitchen

Last night, I finally used two giant bags of spinach from the CSA in crespelle, the Italian version of a crepe.

I cooked down the spinach, then sauteed it with onion and mushrooms (also from the CSA) and mixed it all together with some freshly grated romano cheese and a bechamel sauce.

The crespelle were filled with the spinach mixe, laid in a baking pan, drizzled with more bechamel, sprinkled with more cheese (yay!), and then baked.

They were amazing, and Philip giggled at me as I moaned, savoring each bite.

They were great today, too, as a delightful lunch!

(And yes, that apron says "La Cucina Italiana;" I got it as a gift when I subscribed to one of the best magazines ever.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dances of Life

This past weekend I attended BOCA Fest, the annual Memorial Day bellydance expo put on by Dr. Sunyatta Amen and the Bellydancers of Color Association. Teachers and dancers from all over the country and the world come in for it, and the weekend is amazing and so very healing.

I took classes in prop use (danced with a sword on my hand - VERY cool), zils (the fab little finger symbols), gypsy choreography (who doesn't want to fling a skirt around like Carmen?), isolations, and shimmies. I ended up taking three classes from Kaeshi Chai, an amazing dancer who embodied a wonderfully peaceful and sacred presence. You can learn more about her here.

Once again, third gendered experience came to the foreground for me. I was one of two bio-boys taking classes (the other being my fabulous sister Dane Figueroa Edidi), and while it was clear to many of the women there that we were "men" taking these classes, my perception was, of course, different.

I don't subscribe to a rigid gender expression, and in line with beliefs dating back to antiquity in cultures around the world, I see myself as both man and woman. The biological evidence of my body is only one part of my gender experience. While some people see this as simply "Oh, yes, we all have man and woman in us," it goes beyond that in profound and sometimes inexplicable ways.

I would love to see more queer people learning sacred dance forms that allow us to fully unveil and stand in our power - Bellydance, Tarantella, Orisha Dances, Hula, Dances of the First Nations. I think that our dancing of these holy steps will truly help heal the world.

For people in the area interested in taking classes, head over to Mamasita, the studio where I've taken classes for two years. It's an amazing, sacred, and deeply joyful place to be!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'Tis the Season

Oh, yes, baby. Pound it! More oil! More nuts! Put it all together! Pound it harder!!! Yes! Yes! YES!

That's right, dear readers. It's pesto time.

I'm a freak about a good pesto, and after reading Sophia Loren's cookbook years ago, I realized the only way to make the perfect pesto is with a mortar and pestle. Luckily, we got a gorgeous one for our wedding three years ago, and it works beautifully, giving the pesto a body that clings nicely to pasta and createss a divine texture in the mouth.

Plus, there's something delightfully sensual/sexual about that mortar and pestle, and sometimes, I add a little energetic bump to the process. Who can't use a little more healthy sexual delight, right?

Since the basil is still growing away on the balcony, yesterday's concoction was a mint variety - mint, pine nuts, a little bit of garlic, lemon juice, and some grated romano. I plan to use it as a sandwich spread for lunch today.

Lunch yesterday was a creative-license Nicoise salad. I had Boston Lettuce from the CSA, so I blanched asparagus and peas in the pod. Potatoes were cooked up and put in the center, surrounded by the blanched veggies, oil-cured black olives and salt-packed capers. It was topped with pole-caught tuna (the most sustainable variety according to Seafood Watch), a hard-boiled egg, and a garlic dijon vinaigrette.

On a side note, the great yogi Pattabhi Jois died earlier this week. He's the founder of the Ashtanga school of asana practice, which is one of the roots of all modern yoga practices. Do a few sun salutations in honor of him this week, and may his next journey be one of peace and love. Jai, Jai, Guruji!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Very Good Italian Day

So, it's been a long time since I've written, because the last few months have been full of wonderful blossomings and delights - mostly through a really sweet reception from people and the Multiverse about my being a yoga teacher. I continue to be profoundly grateful for the resonances and gifts present in my life around all of this. (Big shout-out to Kali, Elavin, and the other Mysterious Ones and Ancestors supporting this!!!)

Now that things have settled a bit, I plan to be back here regularly. And, of course, what better way to start than with food and Italianate delights!

I went to Baltimore's Little Italy today to visit some purveyors of Italian goods and to descend upon Vaccaro's, the best Italian bakery I've ever encountered. Consequently, today's lunch was composed of cookies - amaretti (divine), almond cookies (equally lovely), and the confectioner's famed pignoli cookies (downright orgasmic - less messy than dick and equally satisfying!). I topped all that off with a San Pellegrino Aranciata (that's Guido for "orange soda," but happily it's devoid of corn syrup and other weird shit).

Next, I visited Isabella's, where the cheeses and meats are to die-for, and apparently, the men are even more exquisite. What could be better than asking for a pound of Italian sausage and having it served up by a really cute Italian guy in tight jeans and a tank top? I got some Fontina cheese, plus a cheese I've never had before - Prima Donna (no snickering, please). I'm anxious to try it.

Tonight, I made a dish from one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana. I used the grain farro, which has graced Italian kitchens since the Bronze Age. It's wonderfully textured and has a heartiness to it that provided a great base for seared scallops and asparagus atop a saffron cream sauce. While saffron might surprise people unfamiliar with Italian history, remember that Southern Italy and its islands of Sicily and Sardinia were crossroads (through benevolence or force) of many, many cultures.

Dinner was downright amazing and served with a blessedly light, but not wimpy, 1995 French Chardonnay given to me by a friend.

Dessert? Ah, well, there's no photo yet, because I have yet to assemble it, but there are strawberries lightly heated with sugar and balsamic vinegar (a favorite Italian treat) spooned over homemade lemon pastry cream, all nestled into a tart crust.

The strawberries and asparagus come from the CSA that I joined, which started last Saturday. It's so exciting and a wonderful way to stay deeply connected with the rhythms of the world around us.

May everyone's upcoming week be one of integration, where the maya of sacred vs. profane is dissolved and every act - from cooking dinner to practicing yoga to casting spells to walking to the subway - is one of divine love.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Poetic Break

Things have been very full over the last 10 days. I'm finishing my yoga teacher training program this Sunday, and I also open a stage production of Dante's Inferno with Synetic Theater in one week. I play the amazing queer poet Virgil, who leads Dante through the bowels of hell. Cheery, right?

Here's a wonderful poem I came across in the New Yorker by Robert Pinksy. Incidentally, his translation of the Inferno has long been my favorite.

I'll write more soon!

Last Robot Song

It was a little newborn god
That made the first instrument:
Sweet vibration of
Mind, mind, mind
Enclosed in its orbit.

He scooped out a turtle's shell
And strung it with a rabbit's guts.
O what a stroke to invent
Music from an empty case
Strung with bloody filaments-

The wiry rabbitflesh
Plucked or strummed,
Pulled taut across the gutted
Resonant hull of the turtle:
Music from strings that
Tremble over a hollow-
Sweet conception, sweet
Instrument of

Mind, mind, mind:
Itself a capable vibration
Thrumming from here to there
In the cloven brainflesh
Contained in its helmet of bone-
Like an electronic boxful
Of channels and filaments
Bundled inside its case,
A little musical robot

Dreamed up by the mind
Embedded in the brain
With its blood-warm channels
And its humming network
Of neurons, engendering

The newborn baby god-
As clever and violent
As his own instrument
Of sweet, all-consuming
Imagination, held
By its own vibration,

Mind, mind, mind pulled
Taut in its bony shell,
Dreaming up Heaven and Hell.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ecstasy for Obama

Last night, I attended Chant 4 Change, a large event where internationally known Kirtan artists came together at D.C.'s Church of the Holy City, and we sang, danced like devotees of love, and added lots of good juju to the power of this incredible day. I'm still flying high from the five-hour experience that capped a day of yoga workshops about change with the wonderful Shiva Rea.

The energy of the city is remarkable. I've never seen the town so full of hope, laughter, tears of joy, and kindness as I have over the last few days. Locals are going out of their way to be helpful to out-of-towners; visitors have added a sweetness and poignancy to our communities; conversations on buses, Metros, and grocery stores are of a celebratory and hopeful nature.

Hope has returned to this country.

We all know Obama is just a human and humans make choices, some right, some wrong, but today, America has made great strides for itself to right the wrongs of division. Most amazing!

Have a wonderful inauguration day everyone!

(The image above is the one used as the Chant4Change logo.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Those Everyday Moments

In reading Stephen Cope's "The Wisdom of Yoga," I came across an incredible quote of Franz Kafka's:

You don't need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Don't even listen, simply wait. Don't even wait. Be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

In a culture where being "connected" all the time to people through Internet, iPhones, texting, blue tooth-technology, etc., sometimes it can be hard to unhook and rediscover the deep joy found in each moment.

Here's a short list of some of my favorite of those moments:

Watching birds eat seed on my balcony as the sun streams in.
A cup of chai.
Kissing trees.
Walking along Seneca Creek, emptying my mind as I go.
Looking out the window while riding the bus.

What are some of yours?

(The photo above was taken by John Fischer and is of sunrise over Haleakala, the dormant volcano on Maui. I was browsing google images and was struck by this picture - then I realized, with a smile, that it's from Hawaii. Good news on the photo front for this blog - I finally got my own digital camera from my parents for my birthday, so very soon, I'll be able to put up my own pictures here. Yay!)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Can I get a side of Santosha with that?

Partly because of a post over at So This Is Wonderland and partly because of an e-mail sent from the main yoga studio where I practice, this morning I'm really thinking about the ideas of wealth and abundance.

I listen to NPR every morning (perhaps foolishly), and as usual, there were the usual reports today:

"President-elect Barack Obama met with Congressional leaders to urge them to pass his economic stimulus plan which could run into the trillion-dollar mark."

"Job losses have reached a record high as people try to cope with a struggling economy."

"Investors on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange have taken to rocking in corners and sucking their thumbs."

"Financial analysts say we're all fucked and should begin foraging for acorns."

Ad nauseum (literally).

So, honestly what the hell are we supposed to do? I can't say I'm not freaked, because I left a corporate job at the end of July to puruse my passion for yoga and sacred movement, hoping to parlay that into something financial sustainable.

Right now, I'm working part-time at a great store called Lululemon; I'm still writing freelance articles for the Washington Blade; and I'll be performing a stage-adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy with the Synetic Theater Company - all for some cash-ola.

Yet, despite downsizing an apartment, cutting some bills, dropping the cell phone entirely (which I'm notorious for losing, breaking, throwing in fits of pique, etc.), I still get into the, "Oh-my-God, I'm fucking broke. What about the future? What about savings? I don't want to eat cat food!"

Okay, first of all, let's remember the power of ujayi breath - one of the sacred yogic breaths that sounds like the ocean.

Right. Brain waves slowing down - good.

Secondly, as I sit here typing while baking some dried figs stuffed with walnuts in wine and honey, I realize that things are good.

I stare out the window as the sun pours through the blinds and watch the bluejays, tufted tit mice, and finches fly onto the porch and eat the birdseed I put out for them yesterday.

And all of this reminds me of Santosha - the yogic principle of contentment. Appearing in the yogic sage Patanjali's famed Yoga Sutra as one of the "niyamas" (which are suggestions as to how we treat ourselves - the "yamas" being how we interact with the world around us), santosha is about being content with where we are right now, this instant.

This means even in the face of difficulty and challenge (traffic, financial hardship, relationship woes, disease, etc.), we learn to pause, breathe, and sink in, recognizing that we are here.

And while "wealth" is great and all, like anything else it ebbs and flows. So, too, does santosha (at least for me). But unlike monetary accumulation, I don't have to put in eight hours, sell my soul, become a corporate automaton to get some santosha in my life.

Inhale. Exhale.

Voila. Santosha.

May all of you find a little santosha today and every day.

(The first image is of the lovely and wonderful Potomac River. These are the waterfalls of the Potomac, one of the fastest moving rivers in the country, and these falls are very close to the Washington area. The second image is of a bluejay, who love unshelled peanuts. It's a stock image from Flickr. The final image can be found here.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mille grazie, La Befana!

Tonight is the night when the Italian Old Lady makes her way through the skies on her broom. Shrouded in a black shawl and covered with soot from chimneys, she enters people's houses and leaves gifts of honey, dates, figs, and other fruits for all the good little children - coal for the naughty ones (or "carbone" today, a type of black, Italian sugar candy).

Where does La Befana come from? Some legends have it that the three Magi, on their way to find the baby Jesus, stop in her village and stay at her home. They ask her to join them, but she stays home because of all the housework she has to do. After the Magi leave, she feels regrets and sets out in search of the child, rewarding children along her journey.

Another version has it that she was a woman who lost her own son, and she went mad with grief. Upon hearing of this other boy being born, she goes to find him, convinced that it is her own child. She presents him with gifts, and in his love, Jesus blesses her as being the mother of all the children in Italy. From that time onward, on the eve of the Christian feast of Epiphany, she gives gifts to all children.

In some regions, people burn puppets of the old woman as a way of letting go of the old year and welcoming the new, and some research suggests that she is a holdover from an older pre-Christian feast for the goddess Strenia, a Mysterious One of strength and endurance.

My hubby doesn't know it yet, but I do have a gift for him, and although I'm not able to tonight, tomorrow, in honor of La Befana, I plan on stuffing figs with walnuts and baking them in some wine and honey. Luckily, I still have some figgy pudding leftover from New Year's that I can leave out on the porch for the wonderful Old Lady.

Some people have commented on La Befana as being a way to connect the power of our ancestors with the younger generations, creating a throughline from the gifts of the Old Ones to the boundless energy and possibility of the Young Ones. As I look up at the photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents that hang in my kitchen, I realize for the hundredth time how important this connection is.

Tante grazie, La Befana!

(The copyright for the first image is on the actual photo. Sometimes, La Befana is pictured or seen riding a donkey, suggesting she is mistress of the animals, as well as being a mistress of magick. Every year in various towns in Italy, La Befana rides into the square, handing out sweets to the children. The second image is an illustration found at