Falling into Grace*

Ajanta Caves, monk's cell

Central themes of India trip—releasing/falling—are showing up even in the paradoxical present as I wonder whether the desire to write about it has also vanished!

Will see by starting with the trip itself. A total last-minute Plan B, it could not have worked out better for my ailing shoulder and awareness practice. First of all, studying with two excellent, certified teachers in India, freed me from the "shoulds and musts" that are: study must be only in Mysore and only with Sharath.

Maybe I can relate this major oh-so-important to the mundane oh-so-important, the latter being concern about my hair, looks, eating certain things, and with having things be a certain way. But like the Plan B trip, or tumbling off a ledge, I had no choice but to relax and enjoy. So I simply stopped caring what my hair looked like or if I looked old, tired, or god forbid—uncool.

This was and is liberating. Travel in India (or any place that makes us more aware) can be like taking the fast track to pratyahara or samadhi, release of all attachments. (Not holding out for total freedom—I still really hate bucket baths in cool weather.)

As for the subtle, am seeing the many small, almost imperceptible ways on and off the yoga mat that  internal thought reactions to (judgements is another word) or about what is, leads away from harmony with truth and is restrictive/causes suffering.

Ajanta Caves

Letting myself be a tourist was also a good thing, and it was fun! The Ajanta and Ellora caves have a been a dream of mine since graduate school. They did not disappoint. Both places vibrated with sacred, spiritual, and ancient energy.

Started this post a few weeks ago before it disappeared with my IPad at the Mumbai airport. That event seems to fit with the theme of being forced to let goHowever, I shall not let go of the fine memories of the chill morning wind blowing my shawl as I walked along an open ditch alley to Louise Ellis’ Rishikesh shala. Once there, I was welcomed by the shala’s warm colors, the practice, and Louise’s teaching style. It felt gently yin after Andrew Hillam’s gently yang style in Gokarna, where the warm mornings were a predictor of the day’s heat.

two images in Louise Ellis' shala

Gratitude to both teachers who were of great support and help to my shoulder-hampered Ashtanga practice. Andrew provided a Bhanda epiphany, if there is such a thing—by putting our focus on breathing by expanding the chest only, resulting in an automatic contraction of the bhandas. This is big! It bypasses the (useless for me) obsession with trying to contract them.

Anyway I could go on—the chanting, yoga sutra study, the fun group, and Andrew’s dryly hilarious wit.  Louise’s additional twice weekly yin yoga classes, and the energetic tone she set with her supportive presence. Deep bow to Louise and Andrew!

Here's to letting go.

And grace.



*Falling into Grace— Wanted to use the word "fall" and I had originally used "truth" but grace seemed so much more lovely. Realized after putting the words together - it is also the name of one of Adyashanti's books.


Before, During but mostly AFTER THE FALL

Siva, Yogi, and Destroyer at Murudeshwara Temple, Karnataka, India
(may he destroy my and all illusions!)

Falling – physically, emotionally, spiritually, politically - is what I'm thinking about most lately in this amazing, edgy place called India. With eyes turned inward and outward, tonight I will observe the setting sun and rising so-called super moon from the deck of our homestay in Rishikesh. But right now it’s all about a fall – and that includes the season when leaves with exquisite grace and ease, descend to earth.

In Gokarna, I descended recently, from an open-aired bench that had an elegant downward slope to its side. As I slipped down the curve, amused, I thought of a child’s playground slide and was certain I could correct myself, but could not. I tumbled backwards and downwards a few feet (3 to 4) to earth where I intuitively righted my body with a chakrasana (backward somersault) finial.

What fascinates me is in those few seconds before landing, there was complete release into the fall and a kind of curiosity as to what the landing would be like. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change what was happening and that was oddly liberating.

In Seattle in the 80’s I witnessed the 5-story fall to death of a Sankai Juku Butoh dancer. This man uttered not a sound as he fell. Etched in my memory, it has always seemed tragic and horrifying. I think now that even though he knew he would surely die – he may have enjoyed the ride down. Perhaps like the story in the Buddhist sutras, instead of tasting a strawberry, he savored the view and sensations.  Here's the story (I never truly understood it in grad school):
A man, while out walking one day, is confronted by a ferocious, man-eating tiger. As he backs away from the animal, he realizes he is trapped at the edge of a high cliff just as the tiger snarls and pursues him.
His only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss by holding onto a vine that grows at its edge. As the man dangles from the cliff, two mice begin to gnaw on the vine he is clutching. If he climbs back up, the tiger will surely devour him; if he stays, there is the certain death of a fall onto the rocks. The vine begins to give way, and death is imminent. 
Just then the precariously suspended man notices a ripe wild strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. He plucks it, pops it into his mouth, and says,  “This lovely strawberry, how sweet it tastes.”
This story helps me put all things - Including this week's political train wreck-  in some perspective. And to quote another Buddhist sutra: 

gate gate paragate parasamgate, Bodhi svaha

Master Ashtangi, Andrew Hillam, put it this way: All is maya (illusion), you take practice and know truth!

So, after the fall, as it were, with a thud - and getting real, I have been hoping I'm just politically paranoid. However, hearing about the Trumpster’s cabinet choices, his refusal to take a salary as president, his followers with all their 2nd amendment guns in hand, his role as commander in chief, his plan for rallies -  I'm filled with dread. It sounds like a perfect set up for positioning himself as dictator and with the help of the angry masses moving into a neo-Hitler state. Please let this be paranoia!

And sadly, I think the jokes I see on FB around all this are good, brilliant even, but I can't laugh.

Okay, enough of heaven and earth!  I am thrilled to be in India doing Ashtanga (more on this later) and I need to eat a strawberry.




Lake Junaluska: bridge closed, what to do?

So much floating in consciousness. It takes time and patience to find words. 

Guess first, I will stick with basics: that is, how Plan B was liberating and amazing.

Decided on Ashtanga in India at last minute and that my shoulder could handle it. Plan A was to warm up with Andrew Hillam, then go to Mysore to study with Sharath or Saraswatihi. Due to my own errors and various snafus at the Shala, the latter part was not possible this year. 

What to do?  Ke garne? (getting into the N. Indian lingo of things - oops that is Nepali!)

Such exciting prospects!  How about study with certified Ashtangi Louise Ellis in Rishikesh? How about a visit to Ellora and Ajanta, a dream of mine since grad school? How about some spare days that are wide open? All fabulous! 

And so Plan B became the best plan ever.

As for life here, there is no Plan B if Hillary does not win this election. There is a world-wide energy now, that I believe originates in the first chakra (issues of physical survival, safety and security fueled negatively by fear and insecurity.) It has a nasty crocodile-brain edge to it where action and words of violence, illusion, and hate have been awakened to varying degrees in almost all of us. I certainly will cop to it.

So much to say about all this. Briefly, it seems the opposite of the youth, left wing culture of the Sixties when the Red Guard in China and the hippie culture in the West held sway. Be that as it may, right now the situation is causing me great anxiety, dread. What happens if this mad man wins? 

image at Lake Junaluska
 my own (First Chakra) portrait of the other presidential candidate

I've been losing sleep over it, but have discovered a Plan B for insomnia (and perhaps even politics.) Usually after 2 to 5 hours of sleep, I awaken and—this is key—at some point give up trying/waiting to release again into slumber. I begin to observe my mind with curiosity, as if it belonged to someone else. At times, waves of universal love wash over and emanate from me (haha so far, only at night.)  One time, I did something that I always thought was so corny: I counted blessings, or said another way—acknowledged gratitude. 

And you know what? The last of many things I truly saw/felt filling me with joy and gratefulness—was my breath. 

metta metta metta


for the eyes, ears, and heart


photography as spiritual practice

A few times a week these days, I run or walk around Lake Junaluska, and most of the time, everything there seems unremarkable—trees, clouds, flowers, water, signs, paths, bridges, etc. the usual outdoor stuff.  I am focused on a sort of moving meditation, counting breaths, running at a certain pace, avoiding eye contact with others, and often, just getting around the lake quickly.

However, recently I grabbed my phone and car key; threw them in a little bag around my neck; took a deep breath; and walked—without naming and unconsciously dismissing what I saw. 

Observing surroundings without the presumptive lens of knowing, (with mu-mind) unlocks worlds, universes. In Encinitas last winter, it just happened, spontaneously and continuously. First, at the beach I noticed that every day, every minute was different. I began to take pictures of every magical (to me) object or phenomena—no matter how small, monumental, terrible or cosmic it was—from planets, clouds, water, a dead seal, seaweed, plastic, and rocks—to grains of sand. 

After I returned to North Carolina, the nonjudgemental, unflinching seer continued for a while; then faded as shoulder pain dominated just about everything. So, when last week I brought my phone-camera to the lake—I did not expect to see much of anything. 

I was wrong! That little three mile walk turned out to be full of wonder and realization: what is present at Encinitas and the lake is everywhere. All things change as much as the seashore, and are never ever the same. What is more, we don't have to go anywhere to be inspired by "beauty." It is here, even in the distasteful or "ugly"! It is present in the most ordinary most overlooked surroundings. Even inside the home or office—the spectacular is happening.

Methodist sign, Lake Junaluska

I am NOT at all a photographer, though smiling as I write—but I do know what good art does—it expands consciousness, first artist's and then, viewer's. Hmmmm, so which comes first, greater awareness or the camera? Maybe Elin Slavick* knows. The many photos she shares on FB and elsewhere  are great examples of "seeing."

Joshua Tree, CA

sound as spiritual practice

Last Friday I attended a performance by a group called Battle Trance at the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center. These four saxophone players, true to the traditions of Black Mountain College and John Cage, provided another transport to consciousness for those of us in attendance, (those who did not walk out.) 

This sound art is not for everyone, and is not conventional music in any way. It pushed me right to the edge! At several points in the performance, and I cannot say why—I wanted to cry, to sob. The only experience I can liken it to is the intensity of the MRI that I had a while ago ( mu-moon-MRI ), because basically, in a far more wonderful way, it emptied my brain! 

And the breath. These guys are pranayama masters! They blew Blade of Love all 3 parts of it for about 45 minutes without a break, and at some points - they merely breathed into their instruments or whistled. 

Of course, live performance is very different from a recording, but here's a link, if one cares/dares to listen: blade-of-love, part 1


art as spiritual practice

Here is something I wrote in response to a radio conversation between my teacher and an artist: 
Creativity and spirituality are the same. 
Creativity comes from emptiness. It is accessible and present in everyone. Being present in the moment is part of it. 
I believe Truth can only be expressed and grasped through what we might call “art." However, art as it is a culturally defined, is a limited outlet because not only is art present in the traditionally accepted suspects —painting, sculpture, music, theater, dance, poetry etc., but whenever we are aware and present - we are making art/living creatively in truth. 
On a non-verbal  level this conversation fueled my trust in creativity/spirituality and in the ability to accept  all things. I yield gratefully to this energy.

Asheville, my house

yoga as spiritual practice

Now let's get real—my shoulder! This injury has been a VERY *difficult* and enlightening adventure. I have connected with some wonderful people who have provided support and information— an Ashtangi MD, Orthopedist, Physical Therapist Eileen Reihman, Ashtangis Karen Cairns, Larry Hobbs, and Lewis Rothlein, to name a few. Oh, and an MD in Asheville named Groh with some answers and a plan (other than shoulder surgery and giving up yoga—NOPE and NOPE!!) 

Am also connecting with doctors at Emory if all else fails, to see if ligament replacement (transplant) or stem cell (my own) therapy might be an option.

So issues relating to ego, pain (what is it? just very strong sensation?), aging, attachment, adapting, acceptance, perseverance and just about everything else have come up. Glory be! What's true on the mat is true off the mat.

 And if, after trying everything, I have to give up (Ashtanga) asanas, I will become a runner yogi, a breathing yogi, a meditating yogi, a healing yogi, a laughing yogi, a bad yogi, a silly yogi, a nothing-yogi and/or a WHAT —EVAH YOGI.


everything as spiritual practice


my brother died august 4





soldier shoulder : stage 4

"Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that a wrathful deity is but the other face of a benevolent and peaceful deity, and that the message of each is
"Do not be afraid. Nothing is happening." -from Open Space Forum

Don’t get so attached to the asana thing… Your body will change but your state of mind shouldn’t change. Become wiser in your thoughts… I used to be able to catch the backs of my knees. Now I can’t. So what?… Asana practice is just physical at first, until you develop wisdom… The yoga is what happens inside you – that should be alive all the time. - Sharath Jois 

Today I pushed up from floor into backbend and did a headstand!

So what's the big deal about that? Well, I'm elated, for one. It feels like I'm starting Ashtanga all over again: hey, I just nailed a new pose! True, neither was pretty, but getting into a solid backbend (other than ustrasana) felt magnificent.

For months intense shoulder pain has said, "No!" and "Stop!" The MRI results showed "effusion" (fluid) in the joint area, tendonitis, a spur, and—"stage 4 chondromalacia." Without a clue about most of the language, went to internet where I found this:

Stage 4, the most severe grade, indicates exposure of the bone with a significant portion of cartilage deteriorated. Bone exposure means bone-to-bone rubbing is likely occurring...
Yikes, no wonder I've been in pain. So, I got the dreaded steroid shot. And the needle experience which had me quaking in fear, was not a problem.

Currently not pain-free, but so much improved, that I'm smiling. (Nice also, to lose subtle, background depression.)  Will definitely get another shot if pain increases again, and I will also have arthoscopic shoulder surgery, if needed. (They can clean out the junk in there.) No more playing around with this.

Hooray for the shoulder soldier! (Tibetan wrathful deity! See above image.)

Have a great physical therapist
*, also. Just happened to mention that my brother has been in hospice for over a year (15 months), and she noted I am carrying a lot on my shoulders. Although I know about body pain relating to life issues, and am aware of being a "fixer," it had never occurred this idea might apply to me. Felt lighter and freer since that session.

I do rejoice in getting back some poses, but I also hear Sharath's words:

"Don't get so attached to the asana thing...yoga is what happens inside you." 
Deep bow to you, wise guru. One of the many things that has happened inside me is increased clarity, compassion, and a slowness to respond in conditioned ways. There are so many troubling things going on in the world today—from national politics to acts of individual and terrorist violence. It often feels overwhelming. However, I do not have to shoulder the weight of the world, I can contribute by being aware, showing kindness to ALL (ha! even Trump supporters), and doing my best in small or even large ways. And small is powerful, like the 360 Project where it all comes together. (And where, sadly we have had to add new origami cranes for Nice, Orlando, Brussels, among other distressed sites.)

Gratitude in sharing here in the ethernet—where words and ideas can hang waiting to be picked as needed or drop into the vast emptiness. Either way—


Spiritual awakening is a remembering. It is not becoming something that we are not. It is not about transforming ourselves. It is not about changing ourselves. It is a remembering of what we are, as if we'd known it long ago and had simply forgotten. At the moment of this remembering, if the remembering is authentic, it's not viewed as a personal thing...But in a true awakening, it is realized very clearly that even the awakening itself is not personal. It is universal Spirit or universal consciousness that wakes up to itself. Rather than the 'me' waking up, what we are wakes up from the 'me.' What we are wakes up from the seeker. What we are wakes up from the seeking.
~ Adyashanti

 360 Project

*Physical Therapist, Eileen Reihman



MU (often translated as emptiness or void)
Eikaku Hakuin, 1686 - 1768 

Today is special. It is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and on this shortest night there is a full moon! It will be over 20 years before this event occurs again. So I am celebrating with a moonlight walk around the lake and here, images from my favorite Zen artist, Hakuin. These paintings express better than any words what I—and I believe we all—experience.  

A few days ago I had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) done for my shoulder. Tied down to a  table to prevent movement, given puny ear plugs, and gripping a panic button, I was electronically moved into a small tube. There I experienced sound vibrations so aggressive, loud, and threatening that all thought was forced from my mind. 


I walked out to the car, ears ringing, dazed, and zapped into a stupor of happiness. Had I experienced a rare form of torture or a very confrontational form of meditation?  A vibrational version of electroshock therapy?


And my shoulder? I have now tried everything. Finally gave in to a week's course of steroid tabs—certain, after reading the side effects—they were going to land me in the ER. Hasn't happened. With some pain relief, I am surprised how much that ever present drain of energy (pain) in the background and/or foreground affected me. Am getting glimpses of a fully restored (cautiously) yoga practice. 



I know, death (and a lot of things) are not pleasant. Even Hakuin's kanji above has an ominous and vaguely violent look. But there are many kinds of deaths. Death of illusion. Death of desire, frustration, hurt—suffering and ego. Seeing what is causing suffering and letting it go is a beautiful type of death.  But you have to see it and allow it to be, first. Not easy.

Not easy. Yesterday I recalled something as a result of a discussion in Ashtanga circles about sexual assault in Mysore. Something unpleasant happened my first time at the shala in India. My second day ever in class, a Conference day, after a week of being in bed with the flu, I ended up scrunched behind a huge man who was probably close to double my weight of 107 lbs. and about a foot taller. I felt weak, miserably uncomfortable, and squirmy on the crowded floor. When we all got up to leave, this man, angered by my squirms, elbowed me hard. I was shoved back several steps and fell. I could not believe this had happened inside the shala. (Apparently, no one else could either, because no one said a word to him or me.) Outside, this man confronted me angrily, and whether it was fear or good sense, I did not/could not respond. I could only gaze deeply, uncomprehendingly into his eyes. He turned away and moved on. Whew! I felt shaky and sick again.

Realizing, that I, like many victims, feel/felt shame, guilt, and later, anger over this incident is liberating. 

Like sunlight on vampires, these emotions are turning to dust. 


So on this beautiful longest day of the year, I honor crossing bridges, death, form, yes-no, oneness, and emptiness.

one hand clapping
One question I want you to hold is 'Can I be only aware right now?' I don't mean exclusively, that nothing else intrudes upon your awareness, but 'Can I be aware without judgment, without an opinion, without a description, without any story?' 
~ Adyashanti 
The Way of Liberating Insight