Sunday, September 7, 2014

Swimming the raging river in Cambodia

As we step out of the car at the end of the red dirt road at the top of the mountain, I hear Ethan say, “Oh, my God!” I follow his pointing finger across muddy puddles to a river running fast and thick. Seven local children, four of them naked, one in ragged blue shorts, and two in underwear play at swimming across this flooded menace.

Their smiles are at odds with the danger of the river, this is a game. The boy in the blue shorts, no more than six years old, is halfway up the branchless tree trunk, the slick bark gripped by his muscular feet. He has tied a vine to the split branch above him, and in his sucess, pumps the air with his fist and grins over at me. Ethan and Bodhi run to the river to watch. It is September outside Siem Reap, Cambodia, height of the monsoon season, where the floodwaters rise and fall over ten meters as the earth strains to contain the deluge. 

My boys walk toward the bank, unsure if they are allowed to join, Ethan’s eyes shining with curiosity. “Ethan, Ethan, Don’t go in. Don’t get near the water. It’s dangerous.” I say, with as much authority as I can muster. The glee of the kids shouting for their friend, emerging dripping from a short float down the rapid which pounds in the center of the river does not do much to support my statement. The water can kill you.The first rule is, Don’t make another victim. 

“But go ahead and make friends,” I call after them, walking slower, wondering if I should stand down water of the group, knowing I am being silly, obviously these children can swim, this is their daily play, this monster of a flood their friend. 

The oldest boy, maybe 13, takes the end of the vine and throws himself into the raging brown churning water. My heart leaps as the boy jumps in, the Swift Water Rescue Certified American Wilderness First Responder and medical insurance carrier is appalled and scared. Don’t they know what flood waters can do? That this water is to be feared and avoided? Don’t they know that water, only six inches deep, moving at this speed, can sweep a strong man off his feet and cary him faster down stream than we could ever run on the banks? What would it do to this young boy? 

Ethan hoots on the bank at the boy, Bodhi stands shyly behind his brother, unsure. The boy floats at a ferry angle to the opposite bank, letting the vine become taught. He shouts to his friends, and they shout back, laughing. The youngest ones, naked and tanned dark brown laugh back at him, leaping around in their excitement, anxious to take their turn. 

The boy across the river faces upstream, holding the vine tight and lets the current swing him into the middle of the river, waves big enough to surf in a kayak slap him in the face. He swings his feet underneath him, propelling himself against something on the river’s bottom, and begins to swing toward the safety of our bank. I can not reconcile the laughing friends playing in the sunshine with what should look like a dramatic and dangerous rescue scenario of someone’s beloved son. 

The boy releases the vine and floats perfectly into the deep eddy below the tree, grinning in victory. Cheers raise from the bank, and the next child, squirming with excitement, dances with impatience for the vine to be hauled out of the river by the tree climber, and handed to him. The older boy climbs the bank, satisfied, and tired. The rest of the children run up and down, looking over the situation, deciding where to jump in, what line to take. They are waving and smiling and gesturing to Ethan, who looks over his shoulder at me. I look at the water. Ethan is a strong swimmer. But only 50 feet away the water turns white from bank to bank and goes sharply around a corner. In my mind’s eye, I can see his small feet, his brown knees flung into the air as my boy disappears from sight. I shake my head gently at him, but gesture for him to play on the bank. “We will swim at the waterfall, baby.” I say. He smiles, accepting. My heart relaxes a little in my chest. 

We spend the rest of the morning tromping around the river and the local shrines, our new friends in tow. Eventually, the girls join the boys, now that the boys are finished playing in the river, and produce two Lemurs out of a purple Dora the Explorer backpack. One thing ubiquitous in our journeys around South East Asia: all merchandise for children is branded, plastic, cheap and bright, everything from the non DOT approved motorcycle helmets to slippers, shirts, journals for drawing, shorts, everything. Angry Birds glare at us from the seas of incredibly cheap, bright clothing when we go to the supermarket to try to replace the boy’s underwear. Ethan shrugs and takes what’s available. Bodhi is offended. “It’s all for babies.” he says. 

The girl holds her hands out to Bodhi and he, afraid of the girl, because he is afraid of people he does not know in general, is charmed by the creature. Half monkey half ferret, its long nose snuffles him while its round eyes gaze up at his. He holds his hands out and the lemur scampers across and climbs up his shoulder, burrowing in his hair. The girl laughs and Bodhi laughs with her, feeling the tiny feet of the exotic creature and the silky fur. 

I look at the scene for a moment. None of the children have asked us for anything. They don’t have much, they are dirty and barefoot, and the clothes they’ve pulled on are dirty and torn. Why they aren’t begging is confusing me. We arrived by car, we are tourists, we have what they lack. 

After playing all morning with the kids, we climb in the car to go to Beng Malea, a temple falling down, unrestored, and being swallowed by the jungle. I ask our guide, Thom, if we can give our donuts to the kids. He looks at me. “Yes, but Kate, how do we give one donut to eight kids?” I look at him, unsure if he is trying to tell me politely not to encourage begging, if what I’ve asked is wrong or offensive. 

“You want to give?” he asks. I nod. The boys are in the car, their noses stuck in their kindles already, ready for the next drive. I am ashamed for a moment, but also glad we had this encounter. They boys are unaware of the level of poverty, they played with the kids like kids, walking, exploring, sharing. I’m caught again. How do I explain the disparity in lifestyle without making my boys feel nothing but guilt? How do I nurture gratitude and appreciation for what they have, and a desire to share their bounty? Bodhi is prone to paralyzing guilt, which helps no one, making him only retreat further into himself. 

He also appears not to see the difference between himself and other children, dirty or clean. He notices rich kids, in Aspen, where we live in the winter, and feels disparity between himself and them, but not kids of his own socio economic rank (which fluctuates with the seasons) and below. I want him to know that not everyone has the bounty he has, the same way the boys above him in privilege should not take their bounty for granted. Im stuck in my own predicament. 

Thom comes to my rescue. “Okay, Kate. I do it for you. When you share, share, but make sure you give some for all.” Thom, having become my teacher, takes the donuts and walks to the back of the car. He begins to tear pieces off of the donut, and each child reaches patiently for a piece. They do not fight, or argue, but receive the delicate treat with stoicism, laughing as the sugar hits their tongue. Thom saves a piece for himself and eats it, making the kids exclaim. 

“Thom!” I say, appalled. 

He grins at me. “What? No breakfast for me!” he laughs. We get back in the car. “When I eat with them they feel part of the group with me.” he says, more serious. 

At this point in our journey, I still don’t know that Thom grew up as the reign of the Khmer Ruge was fading, that food in his nine-person family was not always available, that he has walked to school every day, that his family sacrificed for a year to buy a bicycle so he could go to University where he studied history. At this point in our journey, I still think Khmer is a bad word, rather than a word that means “Cambodian” and that all Cambodian people are Khmer people. At this point in our journey, I know that I am ignorant, but I do not know just how incredibly ignorant I am. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Holding on While Letting Go: Watching 12 years old become 13

I'm watching it happen right in front of me. There is a boy, lanky and lean, like a set of sinews pinned together at key points, and he is moving through a shaft of early morning light, breathing in and raising his arms, stretching his long back, tipping his head back and looking up at the bamboo and grass roof far above his head.

The bugs and birds are singing, the jungle is waking up. The roosters are incessant, but the heat hasn't started yet. The wide teak floor is smooth and cool all around him, as bodies, at least twice his age, move silently all around him.

Oh holy hamstrings, its a good thing he's starting young. Dylan takes Ethan into the next three postures.

When he exhales and moves back, his pointy elbows jut up toward the ceiling like shark teeth and his body, too long for how much strength he has, flops in sections to the mat. 

There is an awkward grace to his entire Surya Namaskar A, but when he jumps forward, he is suddenly light, and free. He looks up as he lands and his bright, clear blue eyes are not twelve but sixteen. He looks like he is watching the horizon from the water, the intensity of those sea colored eyes matching only the happiness that he has discovered while being pushed forward on the wave. 

I knew it was coming. And it's not all the way here, but its creeping in. There are glimmers and glimpses of this big hearted man living in the skin of my giraffe like son. And there are glimmers of the cat that lives inside of him slowly edging out the giraffe. 

It used to be that we would play balance games, but the fun of the game was pretending you were falling down. Yesterday, Ethan took a surfing lesson on the beach in Kuta, Bali. And his instructors, who struggled so valiantly to help Bodhi find himself last summer, looked at me with big eyes and said, "He's really good at this. Ethan should come back. He can take this seriously if he wants to."

And I thought to myself, okay, reign it in, Kate. As excited as I am about that thought, it only matters if Ethan loves it. And one lesson does not show the whole experience. So I walked away and pretended not to care, and thought, Ethan will tell me if he likes it. And Ethan came out of the water smiling and ecstatic and said, "Hey mom, I know what the Gecko meant." 

In Bali, everything is an omen. Bugs that fly near you are spirits, devas, that bring what you need and take what you don't. Geckos are protectors and bearers of good luck, they rarely climb onto a person, but when they do, their thin golden shield spreads around you, blessing you. 

That morning, on the motorbike on the way to breakfast, a young gecko, probably about Ethan's age in gecko years, had appeared, resting on his ankle. He stayed there for the entire ride, Ethan glancing down in wonder at this creature, happily suckered onto his leg. 

Ethan finding his bliss in Bali

"I think I know what the gecko meant, mom. It was about surfing. I'm not sure how, if it meant I would get to go surfing, or find my sport, or realize I was good at surfing or what, but the Gecko was my blessing for surfing."
"So, us, do you want to come tomorrow?" I toss it out there, casually, like whatever. My heart is hoping for him that he has found this. To love a sport like surfing from such a young age... that would mean freedom when he was a big kid. 

He turned, tired and sunburnt and looked at me, surprised. "Could I?"

"Yes, it would mean that you have to get a ride from one of the instructors that lives here and go by yourself to Kuta with him. You'd be by yourself most of the day, because I have to work this week. Would you want to do that?"

He was nodding before I finished talking.

Now I'm sitting in the back of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center in Bali, which is my very favorite place to practice yoga in the world, because it is my birthplace at the strict hands of Rhada and the gentle smile of Prem, watching Ethan move into Sun Salutation B. My great friend Dylan has become Ethan's first teacher, and it is my job to let that practice be his own. 

I can feel myself hoping he is working hard for his teacher, I can feel myself wanting to want him to take it seriously, because I know what a gift it can become for him, a through line of gentle strength. A community. A base for his physical self and a respite for his mind when he's working a problem in the robotics lab. A haven from his girlfriend and a place to meet one. Because I am not practicing today, I am trying not to watch Ethan as he does or does not do what Dylan is telling him to do.  This is his second class. I am looking down the line too far. Let him be, let him be, let him be. 

Suddenly, Ethan is my young boy again. Does he know what it means to take something seriously? To pay attention? He did this one on his own as well. He came to the shala with me and watched one day, and he thought about it, and then he asked Dylan if he would teach him. 

And he's doing it. I can see his hamstrings, like tight, angry chords, keeping him from reaching the floor, and I can see him not giving up, trying again, and not being that attached at the same time. He's just in there doing yoga, and that's the right way. Whatever way it is, its between Ethan and Dylan, and I have nothing to do with it. They made a pact, and the agreement was a serious one. 

Half Giraffe, Half Cat, all Ethan.

Ethan is taking up the practice of becoming a man. And taking up the Ashtanga practice, well, that is something that many grownups struggle with. When you take up this practice, you take up a daily commitment to this, it becomes a part of your becoming, it becomes as obvious as eating, sleeping, and brushing your teeth. But it never ever becomes easy. 

So Ethan and Dylan had a chat after lunch, and Ethan took up the practice. He took up the practice of doing his homework, of brushing his teeth, of going to sleep when it is sleeping time, of putting down his book, he took up the practice of being responsible for his own things, he took up the practice of being on time, he took up the practice of becoming his own man, he took up the practice of Ashtanga. He signed the contract with Dylan and he is in there working hard and wondering, I am sure, why he signed up. 

And today after class he will realize again just why. After his first day he said, "I don't know why but I feel so good after class! I feel light and free and happy. It was hard, it made the skin on my hands hurt, but I love it."

And after surfing for the first time, "You know I think yoga and surfing go really well together. You press up into up dog, and then you jump up into something from a sun salutation on your board, it feels just like yoga. I think the yoga helps, you know?" I do know. 

And with all of this becoming of a man, at the end of the day, we go to the Ombak Bali film festival to watch the surf movies free on the beach with cold Bintang in our hands (teh botol for the boys), and glinting around Ethan's neck is a heavy silver curl from Drifter Surf Shop in Seminyak, the sign of safe passage over water. We celebrated after our long day with apple pie and coffee. 

I'm sitting there on my hard plastic chair, looking at him, lanky and sun bronzed and confident, a little gnarly sand rash on his bony hip, and wondering, did I miss my chance? Is all the cuddling over? Is he suddenly and irrevocably past a certain point? Did I just watch it happen?

And then he goes running down the beach and throws a toy into the air, and I hear his old silly laugh and I see him trip over a dog, gangly still... I may have a few more months. I don't think I missed it. But I love meeting him as he begins to see who he can be. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The most frightening lesson I've ever not wanted to learn. Part 1.

Last night, I was more frightened than I have almost ever been in my life. This morning, I was so scared that I went into total avoidance and denial.

There have certainly been times when things outside of my control have scared me, and those kinds of fears are different.

But this one, this was one of those fears, like standing on the top of something huge you have climbed up and looking down and saying, okay, ski this ridiculously steep thing. Or looking at a cliff face covered in powder and saying, okay, jump off of that.

Last night, I stared at this moment and thought, oh shit. I do not think this is one I can overcome. I may have finally met my match. This is not worth it. Not worth facing, not worth trying, not worth experiencing. Every single person in the room is expected to do it, and I, just thinking about it, want to cry and hide, lie, say I did it, leave, unworthy. I am terrified, and we haven't even begun. I am afraid of a plastic bottle that is capable of holding exactly 1.2 liters of salt water.

Fear, embodied.

Even now, writing this, the bottle is sitting in the small refrigerator next to me, and I can hear it, naming my fear, right through the door.

I expected when I came to Teacher Training in Koh Samui, Thailand, that I would find my lesson.  So far, the one consistent thing about life seems to be that lessons show up. Over the years, I've stop chasing the lessons (as in, I am going on a retreat to FIND myself, to BE TRANSFORMED) and started just following my path, knowing that at some point, the lesson will show up. Like Doby the House Elf, POP! Suddenly and unexpectedly there, right next to me, tugging on my shirt, trying to get me to bend down and listen while he whispers something very important in my ear.

Because of this perspective, traveling to new places and trying new things has become a bit of an interesting adventure of a different kind. Seeing something new and unusual became feeling something new and unusual became finding the experience that made me see something in a way I hand't before, which became seeing myself in a way I hadn't before, which became an arrow pointing at some sort of possibility for change.

The arrow points to a door, inside that door, should you choose to open it, is a chamber, hidden, in which sits one small folded piece of paper, on which is written a riddle, usually a simple one. Unfold that paper, look at that riddle and, most of the time say, "Duh. I know that." But of course, you don't. You don't really know anything.

But if you forget about Duh, and have some curiosity about this little koan on a piece of paper, if you sit down inside yourself, devoid of other distractions, and wonder why that particular riddle was given to you, or why it kept showing up, its meaning might change. Your understanding might change.

Once that happens, the words transforming themselves from what you thought you knew into what you see you must understand differently, you can put the paper down, and practice in that room, you can walk up onto the ceiling and look from that perspective, you can have a lie down on the wall and look at it from that perspective, you can sit in the corner, you can rest, you can bang on the wall and want to be let out, you can meditate, weep, laugh, wrap yourself into a pretzel, lie and take rest, pull your mind out of your head and turn it over into your hands, throw the contents of your body into the flowing water by the wall, watch them go down the drain, pace, levitate, fly, and vibrate.

The room inside of me. A slow stream of water runs along the back wall. In my mind, the room is all the color of the floor. It is not an unfriendly place. There are no electrical outlets in my room, but this image is pretty close.
And once you let go of all of that, and it's just the words, and whatever of you is left, raw and receptive and ready to learn, you can mere, assimilate whatever part of it you are capable of assimilating. And then when some small portion of understanding has shifted, entered you, merged with you, the door on the other side will open, and out you can walk, into the sunshine, and continue on your way.

While that process can be frustrating, and frightening, the sensation of emerging, changed, and more grounded is so freeing, that I eventually began to diligently have my ear to the ground, hoping for a sign, maybe THIS is the lesson, or THAT is the lesson. Perhaps I should dive deep into everything that seems like a sign.

Over the years, I found that this kind of behavior, addiction to growth, this hyper vigilance, an over willingness, a chasing of bliss through self flagellation with the truth in a continuous unrelenting path was exhausting. There was no time for reflection and no ability to see myself as a whole, I was too ready to mutate. Perhaps because I was very broken as a person, the disparate elements of myself scattered far, the pieces confusing to fit back together. I realized as I grew that this stemmed from a lack of my own compass, a strong yearning for that internal compass, a sense of self that was based on truth and not striving to be the me that someone else wanted me to be. It led to a tendency toward fracturing of my attention, myself, rather than a deepening.

This, ironically, became the lesson for a while... requiring a teacher (who showed up, of course, unexpectedly...) It required patience, and grace toward who I was, and the process of who I was becoming. That process began around when I started writing this blog.

Aubrey Wallace, you transformed my transformational process, making a knotty path curvy. Thank you.
Now, eight years later... I'm headed to Teacher Training for yoga. I know that immersion brings fatigue, and fatigue, mental, emotional or spiritual, exposes weaknesses in the fabric of self (where ego seems to bridge, like a band-aid, the holes in the fabric of our true selves), and, with willingness, the work can begin. I signed up for this, knowing it could be a possibility, but not with the purpose of scratching off the scab. If Teacher Training could be accomplished with lessons learned, buy maybe "Lesson Lite" internally right now, I would welcome the break. It's been a good year, but a year with its challenges.

Last Monday, my forever friend and adventure partner Kurt and I climbed up to the top of Mace peak and skied in deep powder for what felt like miles and miles. That climb had its own set of lessons, tacks along the mindfulness path, deepening questions in the vein of risk as I balanced precariously on hard packed snow in the middle of an intense snow storm on a ridge line, consequence in the extreme dropping away from me on the right, and on the left.

This is Geissler peak a few years ago... It was snowing too hard for photos on Monday!
On Tuesday, I held my boys close and smelled their hair and listened to their laughter and knew I would miss them so intensely, I folded my clothes and put my yoga mat in a backpack, went to an evening practice, and wondered how bad the long flight to Bangkok would be. This day had its own set of challenges, why do I leave them to follow my needs, what will this do to them in the long run, am I there enough, should I not go without them, should I only go if I can bring them, am I as balanced as I feel about this, is it selfish to want to take them out of school so they can experience the world with me, or am I only indulging my own needs and making excuses for why that's okay to do? I'm not sure I'll have answers to these questions along the way, I let go of needing to know if its right or wrong, and do the best I can for all of us, trying to find balance.

On Wednesday, I got up early, and Tom and Bodhi drove Kurt and I to the airport, and off we went. I put my injured, healing, heavy, happy body on the plane, and did not feel anxious or nervous about the road ahead. My only expectation was that I would go through a training, emerging at the end if successful, with the ability to teach a basic class, and with a deeper understanding of the yogic practices in general. My other expectation was that at some point during that month long immersion, Doby the House Elf would... POP! Show up next to me, tugging on my shirt, because he had something important I needed to learn.

"Sir, Sir?" "Not NOW, Doby!"
I think that the trick in noticing when Doby is there may be to listen. Sometimes, my kids will come and stand next to me, and say "Mom, mom, mom..." and sometimes, I don't listen right away. I think that's because kids don't have the ability to differentiate between important things to tell you and unimportant things to tell you. Because everything is given equal importance, I often don't differentiate in what I'm hearing, waiting to turn my attention to them until I'm ready to turn my attention to them. I assume it's probably not important, because I don't hear urgency. Or if I do hear urgency, it is as often followed with "Watch this!" as "Bodhi fell through the ice into the pond again!"

I think I had some idea that my lesson would likely come in the form of looking at grief as my body became strong, but tired during this intensive. It has been a tough year, so many people have died. My friends and family, through illness, suicide, drug overdose and avalanche, and friends of those close to me through BASE jumping accidents, avalanche, cancer and person-meets-tree impact. It has been another year riddled with sudden stops. So much so that there is a numbness associated now with death, that it is a part of life, that it happens. The grief and grieving seems to be short circuited almost.

I arrived in Koh Samui on a Saturday, after avoiding Wat Po and the Royal palace in Bangkok due to political unrest. The reclining Buddha is becoming elusive to me, Bodhi and I tried to see him last summer and were also unable to gaze on his beautiful feet due to full trains and poor planning. Instead we took a motorcycle taxi through the clogged and dangerous Bangkok traffic to a Thai massage spa, and had two tiny Thai women wring the 36 hours of travel out of our bodies. Heading back through the smoggy heat, we ate congee for 30 bhat at a food stall outside the train station and spent the night rocking gently, rolling south through the jungle, past limestone cliffs and candle-lit lean-tos full of hanging laundry and squatting people to the ferry port, where we would catch the boat to Koh Samui.

Boarding the train to Koh Samui
I stood in the door of the train, wondering in a loose way about what Samahita retreat would look like, how authentic it would feel, would it seem like Thailand or just like rich white people complaining about needing to be better at Assana, and was I one of those people or could I trust my practice, each aspect of it, to have some sort of importance that could possibly bridge the gap between light skinned privilege and the realities of the people who live in the land where I was going to learn.

I watched the palms roll by in the night and thought of Bodhi, of our grand adventure last year, and missed him with a deep longing, which felt like grief. I thought of Ethan, and how this was meant to be our summer together, our time to grow close and tight, I thought of my selfish desire to watch how he would travel, what his lessons would be, what he would love, and want and try, and feel. I know he made a good choice to go to Space Camp this summer, he has wanted to be there since he was four. And I know we will travel together one day. But I miss the potential of what we almost had.

Fresh off the train from Patna to Bangalore, Bodhi and I in India last fall.
There are families here, children, brown like nuts, playing in the pool and walking in the sand with a snorkel in their mouth even out of the water, the novelty of breathing through a tube too fascinating to let go of even as the sun dries the water on their sticky legs. I miss my boys, I miss my boys, I miss my boys.

We rented a scooter straight off the ferry, and I was myself again, but again, there was Bodhi, not on the back of the bike, as we went ripping along the roads toward Samahita, Kurt in the taxi with the backpacks ahead of us, me, almost free, missing the chickens, ducks, and dogs of Bali, but so happy to feel the familiar heat and humidity soak through me again.

The training has started slowly, masterfully. Ellone, the senior teacher, has a consistency of person, gently, like flowing water that neither rises nor falls, just runs along the river bank at a pace just fast enough. She is inviting because of that. Occasionally, she laughs and lets us in a little further, this reminds me of moments in Montana, paddling the canoe, gliding and coming under the huge canopy of trees and seeing all the sunlight filter through, some leaves you can see through, the sunlight playing games across your face and arms feels surprisingly silly, catches you off guard, lightens you. Ellone has a melodious voice when she chants in sanskrit, it is a surprise to hear this sound emerge from her consistent, diligent, disciplined person. Her lightness is a relief in the intensity of her gentle, but insistent consistency, a small gift. If my goofiness when I'm teaching is a big Hershy bar, Ellone is a small bite out of a carefully crafted truffle. Just the right mix of crack and sweet, the flavor unexpected, savored, and then gone.

Ellone teaching Asana Study class in the afternoon at Samahita Retreat.
When we arrived at Samahita, I felt a bit like my body was here, but all my stuff, my emotional body, as it were, was lagging behind. I felt dispassionate, but also disconnected. I wasn't nervous, or excited, I was just going to the next thing at the appointed time. This was concerning a bit to me, I wanted to feel like I was diving in, looking forward to the training. I felt, kind of, nothing.

This had become a theme this winter, beginning to feel nothing as things became more intense. What could it mean? Our first practice was gentle. Our reading was light. The next day, practice was a bit more intense, anatomy class began, Asana Study began, but still, we were moving slowly, and I was glad for it. I saw Tracy, one of the wellness practitioners here, and spent an hour laying under her skillful hands. I found my grief floating above me, saw it, recognized it, but didn't reach for it. I have finally learned not to grab and stuff, but to observe and acknowledge. This piece will integrate on its own. I don't know what will bring it closer. I'm not in a hurry to find out. Just knowing that made me feel more present and connected, like a thin, tenuous golden string from inside of me to my grief, floating above, like an ashy balloon.

On the third day, I woke up early, before the sun, and went out to the water. I swam out slowly, mindful of my shoulder, out past the reef break and floated on my back in the salty water and watched the sun come up.

I thought, as I floated there, feeling a gentle burn in my shoulder, that perhaps my lesson was again going to be about healing an injury, patience with injury, or something along those lines. But I'm not really that bothered about being injured.

Dawn floating meditation.
I'm modifying my practice, I'm still learning a lot, my twists are where my physical discipline is going right now rather than my upper body integrity, because this is not the time to work on that. I tore my biceps tendon skiing in Utah, and it's just not done healing, and that's fine.

There are plenty of other places to work. I thought, as I laid there, that this might be a boring lesson to learn if this is the lesson. I thought, perhaps I'll have a relatively uneventful trip, like a rest day, a break from facing fears and lessons and I'll just get to look at asana and pranayama and read, and sit, and learn with out having to actually crack the egg open this time.

Oh my god was I wrong.

There are some other kids standing around pulling on my shirt, and one of those kids is my shoulder. It's young, and easily soothed, I know to listen to it when it talks, and I pacify it, but try to wean it at the same time.

My old broken ribs are also talking that Thai massage in Bangkok, and something about the way the woman worked misaligned me again, and since then I've been having trouble twisting on that side and breathing. And, like my shoulder, it requires some patience, and some listening. Moving makes it better, I saw a fellow teacher training student who is a chiropractor, and that made it better. It's healing, I'm letting it. So I don't think that's my Doby.

Thai massage, like having yoga done to you. 
Sitting all day on the floor for hours and hours, a rite of passage through which all yogis in training go through, is proving, with this rib, to be challenging. After six hours of sitting cross-legged on the hard floor, the pain waiving through my back makes me nauseous, my nerves begin to tingle all over my body. By the end of the fourth day, my nervous system was beginning to freak out. Moving feels good, practicing feels very very good, sweating feels good, sitting still is making me feel nauseous, nervy, and, actually, almost exactly like I used to feel when I was having a particularly bad attack of Fibromyalgia.

What is this? It's not the practice, when I move, I feel relieved of the symptoms. Is this my lesson, is this Doby, or just another distracting kid, pulling at my shirt? I turn my attention to it, turn it over in my hands. How do I address this without being victim of it, how do I make sure I balance without running over it, bull headed enough to keep working even though I'm in pain. I reach for a compassionate balance, laying down when I need to, sitting up and coaxing my hips open when I'm not laying down.

I feel fluish, feverish almost, my fascia is throbbing through my body, waves of nausea are crashing over me while I work to keep my spine straight and my hips opening. Finally I give in, put a bolster on the floor, and listen to the lecture with my spine draped and cracking over this little pillow. I worry about being disrespectful, learning lying down, I know I should sit up and work through the pain, but the pain is so great that I can not listen, which is also not the point.

I struggle for balance between teaching my back to be strong enough to sit, teaching my hips to be open enough to sit, and giving my body the rest it needs. My nerves want to crawl out of my body and slink off across the beach and float on their back in the deep ocean and watch the sun come up. I am afraid to tell the teachers about this condition, I am afraid they will tell me it is the asana and I am overloading my nervous system and to back off. But I think that is a misunderstanding. Moving makes it go away. I don't feel like I'm over working, or over "training". I am intimately familiar with that feeling. This one echoes that one, but it is brought on by inaction. Sitting makes it worse. It is like a fire that spreads the longer I sit, and I am trying, through all of these practices, to learn to sit.
Anatomy class. Asana Study class. Pranayama class. Sitting class. 
Pita out of balance, Prem would say.

I think about food, maybe there is something more, or else, that I can do? Maybe I am in the lesson and I don't know? I feel comfortable trying to solve this problem, I've dealt with fibro before, but the cause was clear. Whiplash. I don't want to complain, or draw the teacher's attention, or make this training all about me when there are 38 other people also going through their own growth, pain and issue. I don't feel drama around the pain, it is a problem to be solved, and I'll work through it as intelligently as I can, from body intelligence to mind intelligence, to mindful intelligence. The support for working through things is certainly here, this place is so much more than it seems when you walk through the front door.

I get a massage, I quadruple my fluids, I offer to be the model whenever we have the opportunity and no one is taking it so that I can move when we are sitting. I move to the back of the room and try not to be distracting as I fold forward and traction my spine, instant relief. I look with longing at the screw in the ceiling, if we could hang the swing up, I'd get in there and hang upside down for the whole entire lecture.

I know that the problem is showing up when I'm sitting still, but I'm not sure that's the cause. I know that moving is good, and that moving through this will allow me to sit still. I haven't eaten sugar in a week, and I don't miss it, so that's not it. I'm not hungry, I feel light (because colon hydrotherapy is a yogis favorite pastime and I have drunk the kook-aid and agreed to do what we are asked to do, and therefore I've been scrubbed inside as well as out.) And yes, it works, I feel better, lighter, cleaner, my food is moving through me correctly.

The food here is vegetarian, lots of raw and roughage. I'm less hungry and more energized. So I'm on the path of some sort to solving this problem. Rest. Today is a rest day, and I know that's helpful, too. But I won't spend it sitting down, I'll go for easy walks to move the fascia and hopefully that will help healing whatever is going on.

My lesson has showed up. I don't want to learn it so badly that every single other thing in my body is talking as loud as possible to help me avoid it.

Until last night. When I was suddenly, fully confronted with the most terrifying thing that I could possibly face. It is a practice called Vamana Kria. A kria is a cleansing practice. We are meant to do this one every day for the next five days. Then every other day for a week, and then once a week, and then as needed.

Here, for the uninitiated, is an explanation:

Kunjal (Vamana) Kriya - Stomach Washing

Yogi Shakti Das

This practice is used in the cleansing of the oesophagus and stomach.
Start by quickly drinking approximately one litre of isotonic salt water, performing nauli kriya(optional), then forcefully evacuating the stomach utilizing a vomiting reflex (apply uddiyana bandha after having taken a big inhalation followed by a complete exhalation and external kumbhaka). If the vomiting reflex is not triggered naturally through this process, use a finger to tickle the upper part of the throat, as far back as is necessary to induce vomiting. To be effective, the vomiting wave action should be very forceful moving from the bottom of the stomach upward so that all the contents including any old solid matter at the bottom of the stomach are pushed up and out. Don't worry if not all the liquid is evacuated, it will pass later naturally through the stool and urine.
Kunjal kriya is best done at dawn or first thing in the morning, after evacuating the bladder and bowels. With a little practice the entire litre will come out in a forceful stream, one or two waves, taking with it any old mucous or debris. However, most of us will require a series of three or more wavelike contractions to eliminate.

Today, I started by filling the container with regular water, and staring at it. I then put it back in the fridge and went to breakfast.

Part of this practice is meant to disassociate the strong connections we have in the mind with illness, eating disorders, feeling sick, and so on.

I have an extreme aversion to throwing up. I know most of us don't like throwing up in general. When I throw up, I often pass out. I, as we all do, have an extreme neurological reaction to throwing up, and this morning, as I was placing my still full bottle of water back in the fridge, could hear my more valorous building mates wrenching the contents of their salty stomachaches into the shower drain and then "taking shavassana" on the floor.

I walked to breakfast wondering if I can chose to go through this process or not, knowing that facing my fear will show me what I am afraid of. I have met my match. Today, a 1.2 liter bottle of water is the victor, and, my tailbone tucked between my legs, I'm drinking coffee and enjoying my day off.

When I finish my first cup, I find my friend Mark, who has twisted his mustache into two small handlebars, reminding me of my beloved teacher, Dylan. He smiles at me, and asks how things are going with the Neti (which we are supposed to do by flossing a plastic tube through our nose and then dumping a pot of water through on both sides in three directions), and the Vamana.

I smile. "I'm doing research. I wanted to hear a bit how it was going for you guys first." I've had a brief conversation with a teacher already, Paul, this morning, who assured me that I have plenty of time to "man up" and give it a go. I talked with Sharon, she is also checking out how others feel about it before taking the plunge. Or the purge. Or whatever.

While I chat with Mark, he explains what it felt like to throw up 1.2 liters of salt water on purpose. He tells me that he cried, his nose was running, and then he stood under the water and felt clean, better, light. I ask him if he had that horrible flush that comes right before you vomit, and I begin to describe, and hear the words I am saying, "You know that feeling you have, when you are sick and you are going to vomit, where you know that you are going to die if the feeling intensifies? And your whole body gets hot, and you black out, and your whole body violently contracts? Did you feel that?" I realize that I have begun to tear up as I ask him this.

I will jump out of a plane before I will do this. I will have a child without drugs before I will do this.  I will tell a man that I love him when I know he can not love me back before I will do this. I will speak the truth to someone who does not want to hear it before I will do this. I will confess my mistakes to the ones I admire the most, I will stand in front of a million people and tell my past, forgive my abusers, embrace my enemies before I will sit in my shower and drink salt water.

But I have three weeks to think about it. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

I haven't done enough. But I have done the hardest part. I started.

What was healed is hurt, what was light was heavy, what was deep flowing breath is shallow, breathy and undisciplined. Welcome back to Ashtanga... It is always fascinating to me to watch my mind want to walk around in that same circle of judgement.

I've been injured enough and healed enough injuries in the yoga studio to know that this, really, for me, is what yoga is. It's not the "getting good" or "getting strong" or the healing, or the fixing, but it is a powerful medicine that brings what is out of balance into balance.

Today, I felt like this. Again. I'm a bit body dismorphic, I know rationally that it's not actually how I look. But the power of judgement makes it almost real. The reality is that I'm ten pounds heavier than I was last summer. That's all. Just ten. And that's normal when you don't train and you drink wine with dinner. And its fixable, at that. By training, just a little. And smiling. And knowing that if I practice, all is coming.
I step onto my mat and feel the thoughts... why did I let my stomach get like this? How did I let myself get so heavy? Why would I do that to my practice? I feel the pressing inertia of those thoughts, like an evil other, it wants me to fail. It is so powerful, the judgement that we all have. I hate the way I look in my yoga pants, the fact that I have to wear a flowy top not to feel self conscious about my belly, and the flowy top brings to mind the fact that I'm thinking of, and judging my body.

My strong, beautiful body.

Which can be stronger, and more in balance than it currently is. Which becomes strong and in balance by doing exactly what I am doing. Standing still at the front of my mat, I am already winning the battle. Just standing still.

My mind begins to relax, and it begins to come into balance way before the body does. It will take a month for me to recognize myself again. But I'm on the path, just breathing on my mat. From a bit of a distance, without attachment, I see the spiral of judgement, I watch myself try to point out all of my flaws. And then I breathe in, and raise my arms over my head, in my own living room, just my cat sitting there, staring at me, and the sound of my roommate clicking away at his computer at the kitchen table.

There is dirty laundry in the basket in front of me. My kids ski boots are laying on the floor behind me. A pile of clothes to wash and fold and prepare for Replay for next season is on the boy's dresser (which they've drug out of their room) next to me.

As I fold in half and exhale, all of the noise fades into the back ground. The noise about me looking at my middle, the judgement about the cleanliness of my house or my ability to practice regularly for the last five months.

None of it matters. Not really. Because the antidote to all of that noise? Its right here. Exhale. Flat back, in hale, exhale, fold. Gratitude, letting go.

My tyrannical diligence in pointing out my flaws flows out with my breath and suddenly there is only the practice.

Chattaranga (the push up position posture where you lower slowly) is challenging, I've injured my left shoulder and I don't know how it is going to heal. The only thing that healed it last time was months and months of daily Ashtanga practice.

My worried mind, my monkey mind turns back on. "You should have been practicing. Then you'd be more healed and more ready for Teacher Training in 22 days."

I answer calmly, like I'm talking to Bodhi when he's losing his shit and thinking life isn't fair. "But I wasn't practicing. And I can't undo that. And here we are now. And the fact that this hurts is a good indication that we are doing the right thing."

"But, But, But..." my mind tries to argue back, begins to want to tell me that I'm heavier than I should be and that's why its too hard on my shoulder. It's my fault, its your fault, you are to blame! Shouts my cruel mind.

I remember feeling like this, just this fall. I like it when my body is strong and lean and light. It makes it easier to float, to run, to laugh, to sleep, to take my clothes off. A truth about me is that I flux through this. I don't always feel like this. I feel like this about a third of the time. And when I make the compassionate choice, that goes up. The result of being in balance is a healthier body. Which also looks good naked. I know I can't chase the physical form for its beauty. I have to chase it for its function, and let the byproduct be beauty.
I remember telling my Cert 2 candidates this year, "Its really hard to concentrate when someone is yelling at you. And if you hang out with someone who yells at you all day, eventually you either become numb, or you begin to believe them. If the person who is yelling at you all day is you, tell yourself that you'll get back to them when you are finished working hard to get better."

I exhale. I don't answer, I just modify as much as I can, reminding myself that appropriate modifications are a sign of a good, evolved practice, it means I'm capable of listening to my body and finding my place of benefit. My cat winds around my legs and nuzzles my face, tickles me with her whiskers. She's happy I'm playing on the floor. And suddenly, I am. And I'm so glad.

I'm glad because now I feel like this. Beginner's mind lacks judgement, and a child's beginner's mind is full of play, gratitude and fun. I identify more with this image than either of the two above. This feels like a picture of purpose, and the result of purpose leans in either direction on the scale of lean and strong to fat and heavy. But the physical result is a continuum. I have choice about the inner story, the inner drive. I chose this.
I don't make it to Navassana (boat) today, because eventually the chatarangas are too painful. I sit on my mat, wondering how I will find Mula Bundah (the root lock) or Udiana Bundah (the fly-up or abdominal lock) again if I can't work on my vinyassa (flow portion between assana or posture).

I remember my teacher Dylan helping me with just this issue last summer, and I am rueful because I've been here before, I worked through this problem once before. I have two emotional choices in this moment, I can be angry at being back at the beginning, or I can remember how it was I solved the problem in the past and get back to work.

I break out of the regular practice and spend ten minutes struggling through an abdominal sequence. I still haven't done enough. I get up smiling. I practiced on my own. For an hour. Plus abs. I know where my shoulder is now, and what I need to do. I resolve to go to Bikram this afternoon for the work out (Bikram has no upper body supporting postures, so it won't bother my shoulder), and for the yoga buzz, and for the community.

I haven't done enough, but what I have done was the hardest part. I started.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Empty Space on the Mountain

Today I drove by the Highlands, and I watched the little dots of people coming down. I have friends up on that mountain today, skiing in the sunshine, some are struggling, some are training, some are playing, some are teaching, some are dragging pads and people all over the mountain. There's Barry, working hard to keep the MGR running, and Meesh cracking the whip at line up.

I haven't been on skis in a couple of days, because there is someone missing from that mountain today. His name was Jordan, and he was a bright light.

I feel fortunate to be invested in my clients, to make deep relationships with them, to be invited into their lives, to share their triumphs and their failures. I have been fortunate enough to work not only for SkiCo in this capacity, but also at the Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale for recovering addicts, and in hospice doing massage therapy and providing compassionate touch and care for those who are at the end of their lives.

I am used to losing people, as used to it as a person gets, I suppose, because in all these lines of work, and in life in general, people die. They die of old age, of accident, of trauma, of avalanche, of mechanical failure of impact and of drugs.

Sometimes they die inside but they are still right there in front of you.

I got word a few days ago that Jordan had died. This was a kid who I worked with, who I wasn't particularly close to, no closer than any other individual I've worked with. He was a good kid, from a good family. He had a heroin addiction.

When we skied together, Jordan's smile was bright, his enthusiasm for the mountain was huge, and his affection for his sister was beautiful. His parents lost him to his addiction in the end of January.

I didn't ski with Jordan this year, I was busy and our schedules didn't mesh. I had a pending reminder to shoot him an email and see how he was doing.

For the last two weeks, I've been looking forward to getting out and skiing with my friends on Tuesday. We've all been working, and Tuesday was going to be the day. We had some national team members in town who I haven't seen in years, Kurt had the day off, so did Cindy, and we were going to make a rippin' posse of it.

Tuesday morning, almost as I walked out the door of the locker room, I learned about Jordan's death. Everything slowed down. I felt prickly all over my skin, I felt nauseous, I felt like I was floating. And then I felt normal. After all, this happens.

We headed over to the Highlands, and there was Cindy, smiling and ready to go. Hafer and Jeb Boyd were there, stoked to ski in Aspen, excited to catch up. We loaded up the lift, and Jonathan, our training manager, looked at me and said, "What's up, Kate?'

I blinked. "I had a rough morning." I answered. Even though I wasn't sure that was true, I had a surprising morning. But I felt decidedly unlike myself, a bit detached, floating. I couldn't hear what people were saying. I was happy to be with my friends, but there was this time-delay, I felt like I was about 45 seconds behind everyone.

We loaded the lift and took off, a group of happy, reunited friends freeskiing together. All I could think was that I wanted to go home and go to bed, I wanted to be under the covers, wrapped up in warmth, wrapped in arms. I wanted desperately to hug my kids. We poured down Mushroom in 9" of fresh snow and I couldn't muster the energy to make my legs bend.

I was skiing in a detached state, my feet lagging, the trees coming closer than I wanted them. I looked at each as I passed it and thought, I hope this one doesn't take my life. Suddenly, my goggles were fogging, I wasn't weeping, but I couldn't stop crying. I looked at Cindy. "I"m going to take a coffee break." I said.

She smiled at me, told me it was a good idea. I loaded the lift, and was shocked to feel a tidal wave of grief break over me, stealing all of my hope, making me feel hollow, lost, unsure and so very sad.

I don't know why it was that the loss of Jordan had such a huge impact on me. Maybe that will be some of the gift of his loss. His beautiful smile, his exuberance, his irreverence, his transparency his beautiful heart and his heroin addiction.

I spent yesterday trying to come back into balance, I stayed out of bed, walked around in the sunshine, found a way to laugh and to smile, and missed him still, tried to make sense of my feeling that I had let him and his family down.

I felt my sister in my heart, I went and looked at Sopris in the sun.

Today I feel more in my body, still shocked from the loss, but ready to move again. No one should ever outlive their child. I have far too many friends who have done just that. I do not know how they survive and thrive, but they do.

Today my project is to connect to those who I come across, hug my kids, and feel the breath going into and out of me. To send love and compassion to the parents and sister of this beautiful boy who we lost, and to thank the mountain for all that it gave us. Thank you to Ben for teaching me to be gentle with myself with loss like this. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Skiing the Failed Mountain

The team trying out for the team.  2012 Snowbird. 
(note: Several people have commented that they don't like the name of this post... and I have to agree. But every time I try to title it, I can't really come up with something better. I think of failure not as a bad thing, but as a diagnostic tool. I did fail here in the overall picture, I didn't make the team. But along the way, there were so many successes... not the least of which was coming back and loving this place even more now. So I suppose "failed" in this instance would be with a wink and a nod.)

I'm in Utah right now, skiing in Snowbird. It wasn't until I stood in the tram and watched the terrain rolling away below me that I realized I haven't been here since tryouts two years ago. As the tram rocked and swayed, I couldn't help but think of all of the memories I have made at this place, and all of the wonderful people I have skied with on this mountain. All the times I've tried really hard, booted out, crashed, got stuck...

I remember Bobby teaching me how to retract in the monkey snot one year, and Nick throwing us down the rasta chutes... I remember meeting Megan here and Andy as well, and getting hounded to move to Aspen.

The tram, of course, brought up all of the Academies I've been lucky enough to attend, all those times of barely scraping enough cash together to get my ass to Snowbird, pulling up at the Cliff Lodge with my shitty beat up Bronco, telling the Valet he'll have to climb in from the passenger side and slide across...

All the late nights, the early mornings, the incredible coaching, sitting on the floor eating sandwiches at lunch... the deep friendships, the trust, how happy it was for all of us to be together, sharing our singular psychosis for ski teaching.

Today, we dropped off the cat track onto Regulator Johnson. This was one of the first places I skied in the tryout. I looked at the pitch on my right as I skied down, and I could see the line of people waiting on the knuckle at the bottom, Robin Barnes and Mike Rogan in a huge group of people. I remember seeing Ballou mess up on his run, and know he had skied balls to the wall anyway, before and after the mistake. I also knew, as I pulled up to the group after my turn, that I had just cut myself from the team. And that my job right then was to just keep bringing my skiing up if I could, so that I knew I had shown my best.

I remember standing there in that group thinking, shit. Its over. Its over and I just started. I remember Michael being so incredibly encouraging, and Hafer smiling at me, and Kurt reserving judgement. And I remember rolling, bitterly disappointed, back down to the chair, and Megan skating up to me and riding up with me and saying, "Kate. Well, at least you showed up. It's good just to be here." Nail in the coffin. And I remember feeling strangely fueled by that.

Not "I'll show them" but "I have more to show." I wanted Megan to know that even with the weight of the terrible run I had just had, I could find my skiing in there somewhere and bring it to the surface. It might take me all three days. But since there was no ski cut anymore before the last day, I had an opportunity. I was part of the group, part of something important and special.

I stood on the hill today, and looked around at the place I had failed, and I was filled with so much gratitude. I felt Weems and Squatty teasing me and helping me when I was on the road to my full cert, I felt acutely that we can not do this alone. I looked down the line at all the people who were trying out, all the "competition", and I all I could see was our community. Each person trying to bring their best, each person being willing to show up with kindness for those they were skiing against.

I have never been so privileged to stand in a group of my peers, and I realized that the journey to the tryout was as much or more about learning acutely that it can not be about making the team. It has always been about the journey, and it is the people of this sport who help to make that journey incredible.

Today as I skied down, I found all the places where I had made decisions during the tryouts, the places where I failed, the places where I succeeded, the places where I was scared, the places where I was thrilled. The mountain today was a memory chamber of what it is to be alive, spanning the full spectrum, and I was privileged to ski through it, feeling my whole life broken down in to stations, feeling my connections to the people I had trained so hard with and dreamed so fiercely with at each way point on the mountain.

Its odd to be at Snowbird by myself, just me and a client, no one around who I know, but its wonderful to realize that those hundreds of people I've always shared this mountain with are right here with me, every turn I make.

Andy, Schanzy, Kurt, Megan, Cindy, Michael and Robin, I am so grateful for you. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Back in the USA, lost and fractured, but oddly found.

We are back in the US. Entry was bumpy, but it always is. The wide open streets, the lack of people, how clean everything was, the lack of cows, chickens, geckos, goats, oxcarts, rickshaws, and sound left a hole that both Bodhi and I felt profoundly. We stepped off the plane in Chicago, and while we were both happy to see Ethan and Tom, we both realized that our journey, our incredible long adventure, was over.

I still feel a little hollow, I wonder what it means, after all the deep connections we made, the incredible friends, the incredible love, the intense experiences, is it true that we will be able to return? I am an eternal optomist, I have strong intention and desire. Tom is on board. The kids want to give it a try. The reality of being able to raise and save about $25,000 to relocate us and pay for school is daunting to say the least.

But in Bali, my body doesn't hurt. I slowly became stronger, stronger in a way I had been fighting for here in Aspen. Because of the climate, because of my teachers, Prem, Dylan Bernstien, because of daily Ashtanga, because of being outside, because of choosing NOT to go surfing, but to walk on the beach while Bodhi surfed, I healed. My frostbitten toes came back to life. My shoulder, partially atrophied since my car accident, with limited range of motion, began to open up and get strong, strong in a way that I didn't think was going to be possible for me.

And then I tripped on the stairs and got a hairline fracture in my tibia and stopped practicing, about six weeks before we left for India.

I didn't screw my courage up to go hug Prem good bye and tell him how grateful I am for opening the door for me, and how sorry I was for the loss of his incredible daughter. I dug into denial that we had to leave, I pulled Edi's son Gede into my arms and kissed his sweet cheek, and watched the sun go down over the rice fields at my friend Lisa's house, where she had let us live for the last month.

And still my body didn't hurt. I have a tremmor and weakness in my left hand, especially in my thumb, that won't go away, but other than that, my body hurt much much less than it does every day in the cold.

But eventually, its time to go. And here I am, back in Aspen. We came home to the incredible crisp scent of the mountains, it hit me hard in the heart, how could I have forgotten how much I love and crave this place? The clean high mountain air, the scent of the pine trees, the sound of the cold creek flowing by our house, the canada geese, the mass of Pyramid Peak stretching toward the impossibly blue sky.

The smell of it was from my childhood, the crisp sharp air catching in my throat. Bodhi began to cry in the back seat, he hadn't realized how much he missed it, either. I stared at the wide, perfect pavement, and I missed the cows and ducks and roosters. The chaos, the motorcycles driving the wrong way. And at the same time, I didn't miss it, I saw in front of my my home, our tiny cabin tucked into the shadow of Aspen Highlands, that incredible place where so much hard work happens, where I trained for so many days, where Cindy fixed my bump skiing, where Weems's smiling face is, where I tried and failed to keep up with Megan, where I competed in the powder 8's, where my kids skied their first double black, completed their first hike.

It snowed the next day, about six inches, and the yellow and orange leaves, so incredibly riotous on our return, began to fall, the bushes and trees bending under the early season snowfall.

Everything I know about how to be in Aspen, how to be in skiing, is challenged momentarily by seven months in flip flops with my child by my side. How do I put up a slack line? Who do I slackline with?

The one thing that seemed to make sense to me was the inevitable pull of the yoga studio. I didn't know, for some reason, how to take myself on a walk, how to hike up Buttermillk, how to go up Smuggler, how to ride up to the bells. How to slackline in my back yard. These things all seemed tied to a before that I was not ready to navigate again. I sat in the living room and celebrated my birthday by looking at photos of Bali and India with my family. I struggled, with Bodhi, through intense Jetlag, and the intensely confusing feeling of being so happy to be home, and at the same time, missing home intensely, because Bali had become home.

How can we be so happy to see Ethan and Tom and still feel so empty?

I thought about the hot room, I would go tomorrow. I needed to go to Denver anyway.

It stayed with me, I rolled up my mat and put my towel nearby. Somehow part of Aspen is the dogged, grinding, unending, relentless routine of stepping into the hot room. No matter how tired, sore, happy, sad, present or fractured I feel. I have healed so many aches and pains in that room, in this place of shock, the only thing repeating itself, sounding with conviction and ringing true for me was the Arjuna Yoga Studio.

I went to Denver. I took my mat. I didn't use it. After all, I haven't practiced in two months, my belly has come back a bit, I've been at sea level, I haven't done the Bikram series in 8 months, I am not used to the heat.

(Those, by the way, are all the reasons to go.)

I came back and found myself checking the schedule again. But I should be stronger after practicing so hard in Bali. I should be in better shape. I will be judged by my friends, by my yoga community. They will expect me to be stronger.

(And going makes you stronger, and leaner, and happier...)

I packed my bag. I was literally shaking with fear in my kitchen, filling my water bottle with ice, trying to remember how to do this. Trying to remember how incredible I feel for the rest of the day after sweating everything onto my mat.

I pulled up at the studio, and walked inside, like I've done a hundred times before. In the distance, Aspen Mountain, covered in a spectacular show of orange, yellow and green, rose invitingly. The gondolas, like candy strung up the mountainside, glinting in the fall sunlight. It still felt strange to look at them, to reconcile who I am now with who I was when I left, to know ultimately, I am the same, that it will take a while to find myself back in space here in Aspen.

I walked into the studio, watching my legs carry me. I missed my sister, my yoga partner, intensely.  I wondered who would be in class. I wondered why I had sold all my bikes, I had nothing to ride now that I was home.

I walked in, the studio has changed. It is painted a beautiful soft blue, Caroline has changed, she is softer, too. She smiled at me when I walked in, and suddenly, I felt a collision of my worlds, stepping into her embrace, I knew I was home. Back to the room where I healed my broken neck and my broken heart. Back to the mother, the womb, the heat, the routine, the discipline.

I rolled out my mat, and found myself standing amongst the bodies, each imperfect, each perfect, and took my first breath in eight months. Fifteen minutes later, drenched in sweat, with a huge grin on my face, I was brought to my knees by the altitude and the heat. I sipped my water, let the blood flow equalized, listened to the buzzing in my ears, and felt the energy all around me.

I get to be a beginner again, I get to find my feet again.

When I left the studio, I recognized this place, some strange high that only Bikram does to me. As strange and weird and wild and disappointing as he is, his series is a lifeline to sanity for me. I walked into the sunshine with my bag over my shoulder and knew, no matter how incongruous my two worlds have become, I love them both. I am looking forward to putting my boots on and plugging back into PSIA, and skiing and training. And in my heart, the sun is sinking over the sawah and Gede's bright smile is glinting in the last of the evening light, and I know I will see it again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In which we attempt to sneak across the Nepali border...

I came to India knowing that many legends of tourist travels are told through a certain lens, and I wanted to be wary of that. I respect the problem of having constant inappropriate contact and fear. But I also have not really encountered that problem here in India. I do have a male Indian guide who I am with a lot of the time, but not all of the time. From my perspective, I have been more harassed, grabbed and manhandled in the locker room at every ski resort I have worked in and at every Ice rink where Hockey players were in residence than I have driving across all of India. But hey, skiers and hockey players are my bretheren, so I guess I feel at home there. 

Granted, we have been robbed, I am out about $800, and Bodhi has contracted lice, but I haven't gotten sick yet, and I ‘m eating at the roadside all the time. (knock wood). 

We have visited seven of the eight holy sites on the Buddhist pilgramage, the last of which is the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal. I am really, really excited about this one. 

We drove all the way to the Nepali boarder, got out to fill out the forms, and the Immigration man said, “You are leaving for your country from Nepal?” 

“No, we come back to India tomorrow.” I answered, itching to get across. Six days and over 3500km we have traveled. We are ready for some yak butter tea.

He looked at me. “You can not, this is a single entry visa.”

All the way through this trip I have been so grateful to finally see India, and so happy to be going back to Nepal. I have always wanted to return, I have always wanted to go back to the Thengboche monastery and shave my head and live there for a while. But I have kids, and it’s not really possible for me to live the life of a nun right now. 

As we got closer and closer to the border, something inside me was welling up, I felt a little bit like I was going home, something about me changed while I was in Nepal the first time, something significant. That was the beginning for me, the beginning of me learning that I could become whoever I was, and that I could take lifetimes to do it, and that I did not have to appologize for who I had been or who I wanted to be. I found permission, and freedom, and a lot of fear in Nepal on that first journey. 

I face different questions about myself and my journey this time around, and I was excited to cross the border and see who I was on that side. We stood there staring at the sign and listened to the Indian Immigration officer say no. 

I couldn’t help it, tears welled up, it had been a long a stressful journey, Bodhi had been talking about Sidhartha’s kingdom, the pleasure palaces, the town from which he first witnessed suffering, age, dying, sickness and birth, and we were excited to journey together to this country which is dearer to my heart than I knew.

I had asked Raju “How far is it to Kathmandu?” just thinking, just wondering... if I didn’t have to be back in Denver on September 30, I would stay in India for a month, and wander across to Nepal for a month or so, and then take Bodhi into Tibet for a while, and then head home when we were needed for work. We are here. And it is so fucking hard to get here. And it is so compelling to be here. 

So I am sitting in this tiny dusty office, and now I am just crying openly. Fuck it, there is nothing I can do about it. I wanted to see where he was born, I wanted to touch the place where he began to wonder, I wanted to share Nepal, the place where I woke up, with Bodhi, I wanted to ...

“Is there nothing that can be done?” I asked, thinking, well, in Indonesia when you have a visa problem, you pay the woman sitting at the cafe about 100 USD, and she goes to the immigration officer that she is sleeping with and gets your visa fixed. They put a new one in and stamp the old one and you are good to go. We are on a shoe string, especially after getting robbed, but I would have paid to go to Nepal. 

“Madame, are you weeping?” asked the officer, taking me into his office. 

I wasn’t sure what to make of this question, I had snot running out of my nose and I couldn’t stop the flood of tears. It had already been an emotional day. I fell asleep in a pit of loss that I think may be a permanent wound for me, one I will cary with me for a long long time, and try to learn from, and woke up holding the same feeling. I made what was a compassionate choice along the way, a difficult choice, and the depth of sorrow that choice brings with it feels unbearable. My task right now is acceptance. 

“Yes, I am, I’m sorry.” 

“Are you Buddhist?” he asked. 

“Yes” I answered. He stared at me. I don’t really know what people think of me here, I have blonde hair and a long haired son, no husband; and a huge tattoo of a pre-hindu balinese goddess on my arm. But I’m just me, and I follow the teachings of the Buddha the best I can not matter what I look like on the outside. 

“And are you on a pilgrimage?” he asked. 

I nodded. Bodhi sat in the chair and looked at me. “Don’t cry, mom, he will figure it out.” he said. 

The officer looked at him. The dust from the enormous line of trucks waiting to crawl across the border was thick and choking. Flies buzzed in the office, the one shitty fan oscillated ineffectively, having no effect other than to cause the flies to take off in annoyance and land again once the breeze had passed. 

We had driven about three hours on an elevated highway which was falling completely apart. More than once we had to back the car up and navigate our way around enormous pieces of broken concrete and sink holes. All this damage was caused by the flood we had avoided. The water stood in puddles still all around the bridge, trash ringing the edges. We crawled onward, people on bicycles, huge trucks, and ox carts all picking their way along. I was holding my breath just waiting for the bridge itself to come tumbling down. 

“Well, madame, I can close my eyes, and you can pass. An dthen when you come back across the border, you show your face to me, and it is a beautiful face, and I will again close my eyes and not see you pass. Many people pass this way, I have heard. Of course, I don’t know about it. But it is possible.”

My heart began to lighten we were oging to go, it was only a matter of price. How much could he possibly want? India is less expensive than Indonesia, maybe $100 USD total? 

“But it is very risky. I do not know what happens if they stop you on the Nepali side.”

I nodded my head, I was waiting for the part where he would just fix our Indian visa with a paper or a new stamp and we’d pay for it and get on our way. 

Raju came in. “Kate, a moment?” he asked. 

I went out. “We can do this if you like, but it is very risky. Risky for your son, risky for me. If they catch you in Nepal, you will be fined a huge amount of money, more than you have, and I will go to jail. Which is no problem for me, free place to sleep, the food is free, and my boss will come get me, but they will torture you for money.”

My heart sank. I can’t do this. Of course he is right. If it was just me, I would have gone in a heart beat. But was I really considering sneaking my 9 year old across the border? Yes. I was. But the answer was no.

Raju said, “Let me see if he can do something on paper.” 

We waited in the greasy seating area as a tour manager for a group of monks from Myanmar filled out the paperwork. I considered again shaving my head. And Bodhis. Maybe then we’d get through. What the fuck, Bodhi has lice anyway, might as well buzz it. 

Raju called me into the office. The Immigration man looked at me. “You are a single mother of poor economic condition and a Buddhist, right?” I nodded, hope alive again. 

“How much did you pay for your driver?”

Oh shit. He thinks I’m rich. We spent a lot on this tour. It cost about $1200 at the base price to gave the car and driver and reliable hotels. This is the last of our money. But after everything people had said to me about traveling in India, especially with Bodhi, I felt we had to do it. I sold my motorcycle to come on this trip. 

“Um, for the driver or the tour or what?” I asked, looking at Raju. He shook his head, that funny sideways shake that means “I disagree but go ahead and do what you are doing.”  He took over and started talking in rapid Hindi that I didn’t understand. 

Then he walked out.
The immigration man looked at me.

“Madame, are you in a position to give me one thousand US dollars?”

“What?” I asked. His eyes were still full of kind sadness, but he had taken in the gold ring I have on my finger, fine Balinese metalwork, and three big stones. They aren’t diamonds. But it is a pretty ring. He had looked at my blonde son and my driver and car, and decided I was full of shit.  “US Dollars? A thousand?” I asked, shocked.

“Yes.” he nodded with a smile.

I laughed. “No way, that’s more than I have in my bank account, I couldn’t give you that much if I wanted to. If you want say 100 US dollars, that is a different story, but a thousand? That is so much money. That is way more money than I have.”
He looked at me dead straight. “Then it will be risky for you to cross, but I will close my eyes.” He handed me back my passport. “Cease your weeping, madame, it is the will of God that you do not go to Nepal right now. You will come another time when it is right that you should take that journey. For now, find joy in your heart, and continue on your way in a new direction.”

I stuffed my passports back in my bag. A thousand fucking dollars. I was pissed. I felt robbed. I had paid the right amount. I had gone to Denpasar with Edi no less than four times to get the paperwork right. We had gone through an Indonesian bureaucracy to make it through an Indian Bureaucracy and we had won, I had thought. 

We left the office and crossed the sandy street, avoiding a bull, several goats, and a crush of people. We got back into our air conditioned suv. I pouted amongst the want at my own desire not being fulfilled. Outside, people were making samosa and wrapping them in newspaper for 5 rupees each, about 3 cents. 

“It is good that we didn’t go.” Said Raju, “This one, without a payment ahead of time, he would have let us cross, and then called someone on the other side to catch us, so he could get more money. We can not go across unless he makes a change by paper.”

I sighed and settled back into my seat. Of course he was right. “You need some tea, I think.” Raju said, with new purpose. 

“Yes. Tea.” We headed out, horn blaring, weaving our way through motorcycles and bicycles and water buffalo being led by kids. A handcart, a bicycle with hand pedals, full of apples bumped along in front of us. On the back, a couple of kids had hopped on to catch a ride. The driver had his shrunken legs tucked up and wrapped in cloth, on the top, he was strong and hearty. 

“Madame Kate, I am so sorry that you could not go to the Nepal today.” Raju said, as we pressed relentlessly on, the horn blasting, over the pothole filled road through traffic so thick we should be at a standstill not moving at 40km an hour. 

A few minutes later, we crouched under a tarp on the side of the road, brushing flies off of our chai. Bodhi elected to stay in the car. “I have an idea about how you can go.” said Raj, all smiles.

I looked up at him, “Yes?” I asked.

“We will dress you like an Indian woman. You can die your hair black, and put vermillion in your part, and pull the sari down over your face, and cast your eyes down. And DON”T SPEAK. And in this manner, you can pass the border, no problem!” he said, laughter filling his eyes. 

I smiled back. He was doing a good job cheering me up, and the Masala tea was very tasty. “We can sew Bodhi into a rice bag, but you have to carry him on your head, my neck isn’t strong enough.” I replied. 

At this, Raju broke out into the first genuine belly laugh I had heard from him, and we smiled at each other. Nepal would have to wait for another time.