April in NYC

Imagine a new rendition of an old classic:

April in New York, magnolias in blossom,
Picnics beneath flowering cherry trees,
...April in New York, who can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?

When my husband and I moved to New York City back in 2014, it was the middle of November. Looking back, I don’t think I’d ever visited Manhattan during the warm months of the year. I’d never experienced Spring or Summer in the Big Apple.

A good friend of mine who lived here at the time told us, “Just wait. In Spring, you’ll truly fall in love with the city.”

She wasn’t kidding. And she was 100% correct.

One of several saucer magnolias we walk by every morning on our daily walks in Morningside Park, in upper Manhattan

I’m sure I’ve pointed out in previous posts just how green the city is. We learned once during a presentation with NYC Cares that the amount of green space throughout the five boroughs was enough to fill the entire area of Manhattan at least twice over! And among all that green space are a lot of flowering plants and trees. And I do mean a lot.

Pictured, from top to bottom, left to right: dogwood, daffodil, weeping cherry (pink), cherry and tulip, weeping cherry (white), forsythia, magnolia, cherry, and a hill of tulips!

We recently passed the year mark for the pandemic (and the “shelter-in-place” mandate of mid-March, 2020) and since that time last year, we’ve been taking a 3-mile walk every morning through at least two of the green spaces near our home, including Morningside Park, where most of the above pictures were taken. So, we’re now seeing our second Spring season on these walks, and every day, getting to see the flowers slowly opening, or fully blossoming, and the leaves following suit, is truly a meditative experience.

In fact, I wrote about meditating to the senses amidst all this Spring finery, not too long ago!

In addition to the gorgeous spaces we encounter daily, nearby, there are at least 4 distinct gardens throughout the five boroughs known as “botanical gardens,” (plus a “conservatory garden” in Central Park) that are dedicated to the beauty of nature and plants. And just last weekend, we got to visit the biggest one – the New York Botanical Garden.

And every so often the NYBG brings in an artist whose work is spread out not only inside the conservatories, but outside around the grounds as well, and this year, that artist is Yayoi Kusama.

My favorite image from our recent visit. This is Kusama’s “Dancing Pumpkin” (2020), just outside the Haupt Conservatory. Being an outdoor installation, it was accessible with the “Grounds Only” pass.

According to its site, the NYBG is the largest botanical garden in any U.S. city – over 250 acres – and it’s situated in Bronx Park, an idyllic spot chosen in the late 1800s by eminent botanists, Nathaniel Lord & Elizabeth Britton, after visiting the gardens of Kew, London. Now a National Historic Landmark, it boasts over 1 million plants, including an enormous Victorian-style glass conservatory, an award-winning rose garden, over 50 acres of forest, as well as areas dedicated to magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, maples, conifers, herbs and other edible plants, and so much more. It also has a very robust education side, as well, including adult education classes, workshops for children, an edible academy, and even a professional school of horticulture!

Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you must register tickets in advance, even for grounds-only access. The Kusama exhibits are extremely popular, so you’ll have to plan months in advance if you want to have access to the Conservatory or other indoor exhibits. But there’s plenty on the grounds to enjoy!

Kusama’s “I Want to Fly to the Universe” (2020) greets guests who arrive via the Main Entrance
Flowering “Weeping Cherries” grace the walk in front of the Haupt Conservatory. Who needs to go inside when so much beauty is just out front, with hundreds more acres to explore?
A walk along “Daffodil Hill,” where the Garden is planting 1,000,000 new daffodil bulbs in celebration of their 125th anniversary. And some of the existing plantings are from the 1920s!

Everywhere we turn, it seems, there are flowers, flowering trees, and plants just bursting with beautiful activity. Last weekend and this weekend a hidden garden on West 89th street, the Westside Community Garden, is hosting a Tulip Festival to celebrate its Spring blooms. Two blocks from where we live, on the campus of City College (past a striking magnolia), is a young peach tree that has just exploded with flowers. The 19th century catholic church down the block is flocked by Japanese Flowering Cherries, much like those lining the College Walk on Columbia University’s Morningside campus (see below). Tomorrow we plan to bike to Central Park and walk through the conservatory garden and hope to see the crabapples in bloom.

I hope you have time and the space to take in some of nature’s wonders, this season (and every season). May the blossoming of flowers and the growth of new life parallel the blossoming of new adventures and opportunities for you.

Japanese Flowering Cherry trees lining the College Walk of Columbia University’s Morningside Campus

And with that, here are even more pictures from our NYBG excursion. Most of them are from the perennial garden in front of the Conservatory, but you’ll notice the grove of magnolias from an area of the gardens dedicated to them (what you see is only a fraction!) and then another Kusama exhibit in the pond at the center of the Native Plant collection. Incidentally, the main photo of my blog is of the Native Plant collection, in the Fall! The Kusama piece, pictured here, is made up of dozens of free floating mirrored orbs that move with the water, bumping and squeaking against one another. It’s titled “Narcissus Garden,” and was first created and shown in 1966. I took a short video of the movement of the orbs, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out well!

Don’t forget to plan your own NYBG visit, here. And if you don’t live in the city and want to plan a future trip, here, consider visiting during the Spring season. You’ll fall even more in love with the city, if you do. My friend and I are in complete agreement about that.

Bloom in The Catskills: Take a Day (Or Week) Away from NYC

If you’re from New York City, or have lived here for any amount of time, you might be familiar with that mythical land known as The Hudson Valley.

A view of Bear Mountain from the edge of Cold Spring, NY

For those without cars (which was us for the first five and a half years of living here in Manhattan) this magical place was only a short train ride away, watching the Hudson River landscape roll by as the train traveled north and stopped at wonderful places like Tarrytown, Cold Spring, or Beacon. The perfect day trip escapes!

Once in Cold Spring or Beacon, you might discover portions of what is known as the Hudson Highlands – Breakneck Ridge and Mount Beacon, near Beacon, and Mt. Taurus or “Bull Hill” in Cold Spring (and check out all the ruins). Further east, these hills lead into what are known as the Taconic Mountains, stretching into Connecticut and up into the Berkshires.

But across the Hudson, these hills blend into the Catskill Mountains, technically not a series of mountains, but a mature dissected plateau that stretches from the Hudson River west to the Appalachian Mountains, blending into the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania and the Shawagunk Ridge, or Gunks, to the Southwest.

Check out our route (we drove up to New Paltz from Manhattan) and this guide to the Northeast Appalachians (source unknown):

A couple weeks ago we decided to take a week off of work to venture north, barely two hours away from our home in the city, to nestle into an AirBnB near the Gunks and the Catskills. Base camp was a few miles west of Stone Ridge, NY – situated comfortably between two of our favorite Hudson Valley stops, Kingston and New Paltz!

(If you’re only interested in the shops and restaurants we visited on our trip… scroll all the way down and skip all the pictures!)

The areas west of the Hudson aren’t accessible by train or public transportation, so a car was essential. Here are some amazing things we learned and experienced!

On our first day of exploring, we decided to walk along the Ashokan Reservoir. This reservoir is the source of water from which we drink every single day, at home! It’s sent down to the city through an underground aqueduct, powered by gravity, and supplies the entire New York City area with water. Signs around the reservoir claim that the water so clean, naturally, that very little filtration and cleaning is needed before it reaches NYC!

And other signs point out that this area is a popular spot for bald eagles to nest. And not much longer after we read this, we actually watched a bald eagle leave a group of trees along the shore and fly out across the reservoir.

Easier to see in person, of course!

Our next adventure included a visit to the vibrant town of Woodstock (incidentally, not the site of the infamous Woodstock Festival of ’69, which happened about 50 miles away, but carrying a spiritual and “hippie” vibe all its own – though definitely related) and a hike up Overlook Mountain.

Check out the dates on these “signatures” in the rock!

Overlook Mountain comes complete with an abandoned hotel, the Overlook Mountain House (also, not Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel from The Shining – that honor belongs to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado… but I bet it’s still creepy at night!)

At the summit stands a fairly wobbly fire tower – which we only climbed halfway due to wind and sheer terror – from which we were able to get some incredible views (see if you can spot the abandoned hotel again in that last picture… and check out the frozen lake in the distance!). Amazing to still see so much snow and ice – and even having some trouble on the trails without microspikes or crampons. Meanwhile, the sun was so warm we had no need for our jackets!

One place I can heartily recommend for food if you visit the area is the Phoenicia Diner. I didn’t think to take pictures at the time, because we were so hungry and the food was so exceptional! We actually ate there for two of the three days we were out hiking, because we enjoyed it so much. Incredible food, and on a sunny day their outdoor dining area was the perfect spot to picnic, nestled between among the hills! (See below for full recommendations)

Our last adventure in the Catskills was a failed attempt to climb Slide Mountain – the tallest peak in the Catskills! Our guidebook did warn us about crossing a tributary after a big rainfall to reach the trail… and it had just rained the day before!

Sam contemplates how to cross the rapids… to no avail!

Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find another trail to explore. Just down the road was an incredibly popular hike up to a piece of Panther Mountain known as the “Giant Ledge.” While the trail up was mostly an icy stream, the final scrambling climb up steep rocky steps brought us to the a summit with rocky cliffs that granted us more spectacular views… and (oddly) cell service!

Our last evening we decided to dine in Kingston, where we don’t get to spend much evening time, since we’re usually there on a day trip, and have to get back to the dogs. We also gave ourselves time on the way back the next morning to go up and over the Hudson to walk around in Rhinebeck, which is another Hudson Valley town worth visiting (they’ve a wonderful bookstore – see below!)

Here are some of our recommendations from our trip – in a handy list!

West of the Hudson River

New Paltz

Water Street Market – Antique stores, good food, records, and more! LOTS of shops and food in a small space. Everything you need!

Barner Books & Inquiring Minds – lovely new-&-used bookstores, across the street from one another

Stoneridge

Hash – Incredible breakfast stop on the way up to Kingston from Accord. Absolutely worth the stop if you’re in the area. They make their own sausage!

Accord

Bluebird Wine & Spirits – Found some incredible sparkling apple wine to enjoy at our AirBnB (pictured above)

Woodstock

Candlestock – I was OBSESSED with this store and made us visit it again before heading home

Oriole-9 – Delightful American fare featuring organic produce from the owner’s own farm!

Phoenicia

Phoenicia Diner – they even have their own cookbook (also available on Amazon… even Target!)

Kingston

Stockade District – a wonderful historic area to walk around; a delightful small-town downtown feel!

Kingston Consignments – a two-level antique store packed to the brim. Lots of fun finds, and we ALWAYS spend time here, ever visit.

Hoffman’s House – Great historic home tavern experience; some of the building dates to the 1600s.

Front Street Tavern – Solid American tavern and bistro fare. They have rooftop seating!

Stella’s – Delicious authentic Italian. Huge portions!

Stockade Tavern – Almost completely hidden gem, with a speakeasy vibe; Incredible cocktails!

Half Moon Books – Another used bookstore with more books then it could possibly sell, but a WONDERFULLY large religion and spirituality room in the back.

Rhino Records – Come for the incredible record collection, stay for the hidden gems hidden in the used books!

Rough Draft – Bookstore AND bar? Who doesn’t want that? Write now (haha) you get to take your drinks to go, but it’s worth a browse before you grab a drink.

East of the Hudson

Rhinebeck – Lovely Main Street and home to oldest hotel in America (The Beekman Arms)

Beekman Arms Antique Market – Another spacious and roomy antique barn full of incredible finds. Saw a handmade china cabinet from the early 1800s, here!

Oblong Books – one of the bigger Hudson Valley bookstores selling new books, only; they also stock records, games, and more!

Pete’s Famous Diner – Fun diner with warm and friendly staff. Delicious breakfast, especially if you’re starting a long day of walking!

Beacon – One loooong main street, but fun places to shop and eat at both ends

Bank Square Coffee Shop – If you’re entering Beacon from the train, stop here for a cup of caffeine to accompany you on the long walk up Main Street!

Utensil – Even if I don’t need anything for the kitchen, I always seem to find something to buy here!

The Pandorica – Doctor Who themed Cafe, perfect for all companions

Glazed Over Donuts – Donuts made to order… try the maple icing and bacon topping! (Voted “Best Donuts in the Hudson Valley – 2020”!)

Melzingah Ale House – Our go-to spot when we come to Beacon, especially after a hike. Sit at the bar and chat with Lucas, and sample from their extensive beer menu; Something for all tastes!

Solstad House – Purchases of select benefit the home for senior dogs (the store owners are passionate about dog rescue). We stock up on soup bowl coozies and handmade face masks.

Cold SpringLots of lovely boutiques and antique stores!

Hudson Hill’s – Lovely brunch spot in Cold Spring with a delicious and robust menu

Split Rock Books – One of my favorite bookstores in the Valley. Well-stocked, with generous and helpful staff!

The Pig Hill Inn – Whenever we’ve stayed overnight in Cold Spring, we always stay here. Jacuzzi tubs in many of the rooms, and woodstoves for the colder nights.

Poor George – Super fun boutique store with hip clothing, accessories, and even some houseplants and gifts for those with green thumbs!

Moo Moo’s – LOTS of fresh, homemade flavors, and it’s right next to the Hudson. Grab a cone and walk along the water during the warmer days!

Sheltered-in-Place: A Year at Home

How do you celebrate the anniversary of sheltering-in-place?

What moments stand out in your memory when you think back to a year ago, when cities – even whole states – suddenly shut down?

For us, it began the 12th of March. I remember standing in the kitchen, not feeling well, expressing my doubts about whether or not I was feeling up for seeing the show for which we had got discounted tickets that evening. It was The Inheritance, part 1 (we had tickets to part 2 on Saturday). My husband texted me back – “No theatre tonight.” I replied, well, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to wait to make a decision in case I started to feel better.

But he replied no, that it wasn’t up to us. There was no theatre that night. Or for the next few… weeks? Months? We didn’t know.

Times Square, Spring 2020

But I had tickets for us to see both parts of The Inheritance, as well as excellent mezzanine tickets to Six, which was to be opening that night (we planned to see it the following Tuesday). And suddenly, those plans were gone.

I had yoga teacher training sessions that weekend, and we all discussed what would happen if the studio had to shut down. “It will only be a few weeks.” “It’s just like the flu – we shouldn’t worry.” What did we know?

It was the last time I’d use public transportation for almost a year. I started working from home the middle of that week – it was a slow period for my job in events for an education non-profit (little did I know just how slow it would be) – but we didn’t expect that we’d be told to continue working from home, or how long it would take.

It would be months before I went back to my office to get anything I left behind.

But, that first week, before the shut-down mandate, two things happened.

Firstly, my husband celebrated his 39th birthday, and our plans to gather with friends were cancelled as we began to grapple with the reality of what might be happening to our city.

Secondly, once the news hit that NYC would be entering a shutdown, I recorded and broadcast my first guided meditation.

(You can watch it here)

This week, both of those things come full circle, and I get to step back and consider where I am – where we are – in this moment in time.

I remember writing “Happy Birthday, Sam!!!” on the blackboard wall we painted in our kitchen. I was so excited for everything we’d planned – for his birthday, then, and for the rest of the year. Travel, celebrations, performances, family.

I left those words on the wall of our kitchen for an entire year. At first, I did it because I was sure the celebration was just on pause, and we’d be gathering with friends and picking up where we left off, soon enough.

But soon, it was clear that we wouldn’t be “in the clear” for months, at least. So I left it as a reminder for us to look forward to coming through to the other side of the pandemic. There would be things to look forward to!

But also, I left it there to remind me of what I had, and what I was lucky and privileged to have. Someone with whom to share this experience.

This is an image I shared soon after the decision to shut down NYC – I saw a lot of panic and frustration and anxiety… and probably felt all of those things, too, myself. I scribbled it quickly on a sheet in my journal and took a picture. And then, on the 20th of March, I put out a guided meditation… a meditation that I would end up sharing now every Friday evening as part of a regular guided meditation session I’ve been leading since this past December. (The Loving-Kindness meditation, which I wrote about here!)

There have been ups and downs, but this Friday I get to lead that same meditation again, and yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday – family members calling in on our new Alexa devices – and I gave him a damp rag and let him wipe the blackboard clean.

Time to look forward to what’s next. Spring, and the Equinox, are arriving at such a perfect time.

Daffodils last week in Morningside Park

And now, the important questions…

How have you been this past year? Have you found ways that helped you cope during the pandemic? What has helped you? I’d love to hear about it!

Also, click here to join me for my ongoing guided meditations!

I have quite a few photos of the past year, and might dedicate another post just to some of the things I discovered while working from home during the pandemic! Stay tuned!

The Senses Declare an Outrageous World!

If someone stopped you on the street and asked you, “How many senses does a human being have?” you might wonder why they stopped you on the street for such a silly question… because of course you’d probably answer with the number most of us grew up learning: “5.”

Thanks to Aristotle, we’ve grasped that there are 5 basic senses: Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste, and Touch.

But what if I told you the human had 21 senses? And that these included such subtle senses as Pain, Motion, Balance, Temperature, Joint-Awareness, and even Breath (oxygen levels – the sense that we need to breathe), or Hunger (blood sugar levels – the sense that we need food). Check out a chart here with lists of these 21 different senses.

But what if that person asked you a second question… “What’s your favorite sense?” Would that strike you as a bit… odd?

In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient yoga manual for meditating through direct lived experience, the Sanskrit word used for “the senses” is Indriya, which loosely translates as “companions to Indra” (king of the gods), or “companions of the divine.”

The senses are divine!

The Radiance Sutras is Dr. Lorin Roche’s poetic translation of the Vijanana Bhairava Tantra, and speaks beautifully to the divinity of the senses. Formatted as a conversation between Bhairava, or Shiva, the Supreme Consciousness, and his lover/consort Shakti, the energetic Embodiment of Creation, the text is comprised of several verses, or “sutras,” and each one is a way to dive into meditative awareness; and, as opposed to other meditative philosophies that speak of shutting out or denying the senses, The Radiance Sutras is all about the senses.

Consider the opening lines to sutra 9:

The senses declare an outrageous world –
Sounds and scents, ravishing colors and shapes,
Ever-changing skies, iridescent reflections –
All these beautiful surfaces
Decorating vibrant emptiness.
The god of love is courting you,
Light as a feather.

The Radiance Sutras (2014), Sutra 9

By allowing ourselves to encounter the world through the senses, and to enjoy what we encounter, we’re able to mindfully connect more with ourselves and with the world around us. For those who are more spiritually minded, this is a connection to the divine within!

But just listening that opening line, about the “outrageous world,” brings to mind all the taboos against sensuality. What are we allowed to “enjoy”? What are we not allowing ourselves? What if something feels too “worldly”? Too “sexual”? Too “sinful”? Think of all the messages we tell ourselves about the senses. “Guilty pleasures,” we sometimes call them. What message are we sending ourselves when we can’t even enjoy full sensory experience?

One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram right now is Colin Bedell, aka @QueerCosmos, and a good friend of mine highlighted one of his posts to me recently, about desire. Talking about the recent Mars transition into Gemini, he quotes Esther Perel, psychotherapist and best-selling author, who defines desire as the “owning of the wanting.” What “wants” do we have that we’re afraid to “own”? Colin asks, “Are there particular wantings in my life that I need to own with more self-acceptance and authenticity?” Recognizing that we need to make space to acknowledge ways in which policing and surveillance have taught us not to act on certain desires we wish we could express, he takes the astrological opportunity for us to give voice to desires by asking ourselves, “Who do I want to be? To do what I want to do? And to have the results I want to have expressed?”

Colin’s point applies brilliantly to much more than the subtle world of the human sensory experience, but I felt the connection! There is joy and freedom in encountering the world through the senses and allowing ourselves to give in to that “outrageous world” that we might otherwise shy away from, shutting off some of our own potential and growth. How does my experience with and interaction with the world of the senses reflect who I want to be? What I want to do? The results I want to have expressed?

So… What’s your favorite sense? What’s your favorite sensory memory? What senses do you love that others might find “outrageous”? What have you been calling a “guilty pleasure”?

Allow it! Close your eyes and breathe it in. Marinate in it. Find that brief meditative experience through your encounter with “an outrageous world.”

Give yourself permission to luxuriate in all the senses this week!

#SpringIsComing

Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shell be well again, I know.

Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.

~ "Julian of Norwich," a song by Sydney Carter (based on the writings of Julian Norwich)

One of the benefits of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband and I now take walks every day, instead of scrambling to get on a crowded subway – and we get to engage with the natural world much more intimately. I’m grateful to have been able now to have witnessed all four seasons, up close.

And as we walked through Morningside Park earlier this week, my husband pointed out the green tips of the park’s army of daffodils starting to push through the surface of the earth – a signal that the world is waking up from its cold slumber.

And then, just as we left the park, I happened to glance through the iron fence, and saw this marvel:

Morningside Park, NYC – January 25, 2021

“It’s confused,” my husband said. We laughed, but still we were still in awe. After all, this was the very first Spring flower we had seen, appearing naturally in the cold earth. I’m sure its blossoms didn’t survive the winter mix we had the very next day, or would survive the snow we’re supposed to get later this weekend. But still… it was a sign!

If you’re not familiar with the pagan/Celtic calendar, next Monday, the 1st of February, is celebrated as Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days that exist between the solstices and equinoxes (it’s also celebrated as Brigid’s Day, St. Brigit’s Day, and Candelmas).

Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice behind us and the Spring Equinox before us. Imbolc, from a word which could mean anything from “ewe’s milk,” to “in the belly” (referencing pregnancy in animals) to “ritual cleansing,” is when we celebrate our seeing the natural signs of Spring approaching. Ewes start to give milk, reassuring farmers with another supply of food after a long winter, and signaling the start of the reproductive cycle of nature. It’s the perfect time to get a jump on Spring Cleaning!

And, what else happens around this time? The very first Spring Flowers begin to appear.

This little daffodil, this brave, mighty symbol of the slow approach of warmer weather, reminded me of the sacred connection many have with another beautiful flower that blooms in what we’d argue are less-than-ideal circumstances.

For anyone who may frequent, or even occasionally visit, yoga studios, you might be familiar with the story of the lotus flower. Lotuses are everywhere in Yoga and Buddhist imagery, and feature in lots of meditations, mudras, and even chakra imagery.

What’s so special about the lotus? Check out this Zen proverb:

“May we exist like the lotus,
At home in muddy water.
Thus, we bow to life as it is.”

Zen Proverb – Source Unknown

You see, the lotus seed roots itself in the mud and scum of the river bottom, or the bottoms of ponds or flood-plains, rising up through the murky water to blossom above the water, in the open air. These beautiful, full, multi-petaled flowers are in contrast to the dark and unpleasant conditions that might exist beneath the surface. Thus, to be “like the lotus” is to allow ourselves to grow through the murkiness of our own lives and blossom in spite of the mud, in spite of the supposed darkness.

How is the daffodil like the lotus?

Like the lotus, the daffodil is struggling up through ground that symbolically appears almost inhospitable – the dark, murkiness of the pond, and the cold, hard Winter ground.

Like the lotus, the daffodil symbolizes the ongoing cycle of nature, regardless of the circumstances. Both the lotus and the daffodil “bow to life as it is,” and blossom, anyway. Even, like the daffodil, when there is the threat of weather that might destroy that blossom.

Like the lotus, the daffodil shows us what is to come. We don’t see the lotus growing in the muck until we see the flower appear above the water. We don’t see the work of the daffodil growing in the Winter ground until it starts to grow and bloom above the surface.

So, going into the next few weeks of winter, keep your eye out for those first flowers of Spring as they appear in the ground. I encourage you to take walks and keep looking for them, and celebrate when you find them. In the spirit of Imbolc, instead of seeing only the mud, the “final weeks of Winter,” know that the flowers are doing the work, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we see the hard work turn into the cornucopia of Spring!

St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, NYC – April 2015

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Happy New [Moon]!

2020 was something, wasn’t it?

Not to disappoint, I ended the year with a round of coronavirus. I started feeling ill and had a low fever on the 29th of December, accompanied by aches and waves of fatigue. The fever went away, and I wasn’t sure even that it was COVID, until everything came back with a vengeance the following Sunday, just after the start of the New Year, and I went to get tested. The test came back positive.

I’m one of the lucky ones, to be sure. I only had a mild case, with nothing affecting my lungs. Still, the fatigue, and the unrelenting achiness, and the massive headache – even a mild case is something I would not wish on anyone. Sadly, I have lost friends to much more severe cases, and many others who have family that have succumbed, as well. To those who lost family or friends to this virus, my hearts are with you. Let’s all continue to be safe! The end is in sight!

But I’d had a whole “Yule + New Year” themed post planned for that week, with musings on the transition brought on by the Solstice and how the newly extending light of the Sun impacts (for me) the intentions I like to set for the New Year…

But, here we are!

And, the importance of shifts, of changes, of growth… it’s all still happening!!

Tonight is the first new moon of the New Year, and it’s a New Moon in Capricorn! If you don’t know what that means, this is the PERFECT time to take stock of our intentions for the new year. New Moons are all about rebirth, and Capricorn is a practical sign, a determined sign, so now is the best time to approach our to-do lists [and our hopes & dreams for 2021] in a rational, responsible way!

Take a thought to how things may be changing or shifting around you. What do you want to get done this week? Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off, or a project you can’t wait to start. Maybe there have been internal shifts, meaning you need to pause and sit with yourself, and see where you’re growing, and where you may need to do some weeding! 

I invite you to take the time you need to show yourself some loving-kindness and compassion (not that you need anyone’s permission but your own). Listen to what is changing or shifting, and let go of what is no longer serving you. We got this! … or, we will!

***

I’m starting back into my guided meditations this week – just dipping my toe back in – and welcome you to join me!

See my schedule here!

And thank you to all who joined me on this journey and donated to my cause – we raised $150 for the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses, and motivated others to donate to other charities of their choice, or reach out to those they knew who were struggling. However we could pay it forward, we ended the year doing a lot of good!

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Loving-Kindness Meditation + Reiki

Hello, friends!

I want to invite you all to a special meditation tomorrow evening (Friday, December 18), in collaboration with Reiki master Autumn Mirassou, of Autumn Reiki.

I’ll be leading the “loving-kindness” (or “metta”) meditation tomorrow at 5:30 PM (EST), and Autumn will be directing Reiki energy to all of us on the call. (Questions about Reiki? See below or leave me a comment and I can connect you with Autumn!)

Hope to see you there!

Click here to go to my sign-up page, and use “8912” to sign up!


I’m accepting donations, but while they aren’t necessary, everything given to me this month is being donated to the American Nurse’s Foundation’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, in honor of our frontline workers – my sister being one of them!


What is Reiki?

Many refer to Reiki energy as Universal Life Force Energy, and the practice of Reiki healing is Japanese in origin, first brought to our awareness by Mikao Usui in the 1920s. Healers transmit this life force energy into their clients, most often through the hands – but Reiki operates outside the confines of time and space. In fact, I received Reiki from Autumn virtually during the pandemic, and it was just as thrilling an experience as meeting her in person!

You’ll actually find Reiki healers at many hospitals employed to help induce relaxation and reduce stress, with an end goal of helping to heal the body, mind, or spirit. Studies are continually providing evidence of Reiki’s effects on the human body and psyche.

I hope you’ll consider joining us on this journey, and perhaps joining me for future meditations. I’ll start providing a schedule of them, here!

Stay well, everyone – and Blessed Yule!

What the World Needs Now… is Loving-Kindness

I’ve recently begun leading group meditations.

It began after a weekend meditation module of my 300 hour yoga teacher training recently, at Sonic Yoga, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the class in meditation. I chose one of my favorites, a variation of the Buddhist “Metta” or “Loving-Kindness” meditation, as it had been taught to me by Lauren Hanna.

My teacher, Sarah Ireland, encouraged me to continue this practice, and share this with more people. We agreed it was so important right now.

With people going back to periods of isolation, a time of shutting down and shutting in during a time when most families want to be together – a time when, statistically, people already struggle emotionally – a meditation of compassion would be so important. And I’d shared it before, during a similar time.

When NYC first announced that it would be shutting everything down, back in March… back when people were beginning to be sent home to work remotely, businesses, gyms, restaurants, all were closing, I shared this exact message in a video I sent to YouTube.

The variation I learned starts out like this:

May I be filled with Loving-Kindness.       
May I be Well.       
May I be Peaceful, and at Ease.       
May I be Happy. 

Other iterations are shorter. Pema Chödrön , in Comfortable with Uncertainty, and The Places That Scare You, puts it simply:

"May I enjoy happiness and the root of all happiness."

Repeating this phrase, or these phrases, over and over, you bring that feeling of comfort into your self, showing yourself compassion, wishing yourself well. It’s often a very difficult practice on its own, but it doesn’t stop there.

Once you feel saturated with loving-kindness, it’s time to turn that feeling outward. This outward focus is exactly why I felt the meditation was so useful for these uncertain times. The mantra (as it was taught me) then becomes as follows:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.

Pema Chödrön  similarly replaces the “I” of the phrase with “you,” or with the name of a specific person… because there’s a process!!

  1. Direct the meditation toward yourself
  2. Direct the meditation toward a loved one
  3. Direct the meditation toward friends and/or acquaintances
  4. Direct the meditation toward strangers, or people to whom you feel indifferent
  5. Direct the meditation toward someone with whom you are in conflict
  6. Direct the meditation to all of the above
  7. Direct the meditation out to “All Beings”

It sounds like a long process, and it can be, especially when often you feel you can’t get past #1. And that’s 100% okay. There is no rule that says you need to feel so full of loving-kindness all the time that you can always send it out to other people. We must take care of ourselves, first and foremost.

Which brings me back to why I feel it is so important for this time.

We need to show this loving-kindness to our Self. I capitalize Self because I equate it with the Soul – the spark of the divine in each of us (spoiler: it’s the same spark… but that’s for another post). We need to be able to show love and comfort to our Self, and allow our Self to be happy.

And then we need to share that message – to practice empathy. To understand how we’re all connected.

Like the song says, “What the World needs now is Love, sweet Love.”

I think I know what she means.

To you who are reading this right now,

May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.

If you’d like to be receive weekly emails with my group meditation info, vist the “Contact” page on this site, and drop me a line with your address!

With Thanksgiving comes Great Responsibility

I suppose people have seen some of the memes floating around about COVID and the roots of Thanksgiving.

Oddly enough, the tragedy of 2020 has given us a perspective on this holiday that many have not before considered. And I think it’s time we do!

Thanksgiving as a holiday is rife with complications for our relationship with indigenous people. How many know that the first time “Thanksgiving Day” became a recognized holiday (for the Massachusetts colony) in the 1600s, it was to celebrate the previous day’s massacre of indigenous people?

And how many of us consider that what we brought to the indigenous people as “settlers” was not recipes for turkey and stuffing, but guns and smallpox? The COVID parallel is an opportunity, I think, to examine our relationships with thankfulness and responsibility.

“… Great Responsibility”

I’ve long felt that thankfulness, and gratitude, require a large amount of responsibility, especially for those in places of power and privilege.

I’m sure you’ve heard.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

(If you’re from a certain generation, you probably heard it from Spiderman.)

But I think today we should rewrite it:

“With thankfulness comes great responsibility.”

For example, we’re thankful for our family, and our friends, and so we know we have a responsibility to keep them safe and healthy by not traveling and meeting in large groups… because of COVID.

The Indigenous Solidarity Network, which grew partly out of the group Standing Up for Racial Justice, recently put out a “Rethinking ‘Thanksgiving’ Toolkit” with resources to help us understand the responsibility we have not only to ourselves, but to those on whose land our opportunities were built – something we can’t allow ourselves to forget. They put it very well in the toolkit (which you can access here):

There are many different experiences we will have over Thanksgiving – some of us will have lots of food, some of us will struggle to have enough. Some will be surrounded by people and some will be alone or with just one other person. For many, it’s an important time of coming together with family. This day also gives us a chance to look at and change stories we have about our families and ourselves. Thanksgiving is based on myths that hide and erase the genocide that the United States is founded upon. What would it mean to tell a different story; an honest story?

“Rethinking ‘Thanksgiving’ Toolkit, Indigenous Solidarity Network

Being thankful means being mindful – being aware – in this instance, of the truth behind Thanksgiving. Being grateful means acknowledging those who came before who paved the way (or were literally killed) for what we now call our home, our food, our lives… and understanding how to do the work and give back. How to show empathy.

For some, Thanksgiving Day is a Day of Mourning – mourning the loss of their ancestors, and continuing to mourn the loss indigenous people still face, with threats of climate change, with the continuous retaking of land, and other threats to their culture and ways of life. And we have a responsibility to acknowledge that, to be aware of it, and to respect that this celebration originally comes from a dark place. By doing the work, learning our history, and acknowledging the lived experiences of those different from us, our practice of thankfulness becomes a practice of empathy – and that’s how we heal the world, and ourselves.

If you’d like more information about the Indigenous Solidarity Network, the work that still needs to be done, and to stay informed, you can join their listserv, by clicking here.

Starting with Mindfulness

In my last post, I started writing about mindfulness – of being aware of what is going on around you. While that does include the history of the people and traditions around you, it still applies to the here and now.

When I stumbled across a tiny book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Be Free Where You Are, at Full Circle Bookstore, back when I lived in Oklahoma City, I immediately sat down and devoured it in less than an hour… and still bought it. I knew it held wise words, even for being so small. Every year, around Thanksgiving, I go fishing for the section on mindful eating, to read what in the Buddhist tradition are called the 5 Contemplations. I think these are a wonderful way to remind ourselves to be mindful while we eat our Thanksgiving meals – or any meal!

And if you’re not sure where to start in your practice of responsible thankfulness, this is a great place to dive in.

Here they are:

This food is a gift of the whole universe, the Earth, and much hard work.
May we eat in such a way as to be worthy to receive it.
May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation.
May we take only food that nourishes us and prevents illness.
We accept this food in order to realize the path of understanding and love.

Be Free Where You Are, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I love being reminded of the “much hard work” that goes into the food I so often take for granted, and to be mindful and aware of what I put into my body.

Since I bought that book, the 5 Contemplations have been updated. In fact, the updated contemplations seem very much to parallel what I wrote earlier, about being mindful of one’s history and one’s place in the world, and goes hand in hand with the indigenous people’s concerns about climate change (concerns that many of us already share, or should).

Take a look at the updated 5 Contemplations, from the blog of Plum Village, which is coincidentally the first Western monastery founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Perhaps these contemplations will become a prayer of sorts for you, as they are for me, when you sit and are determined to eat mindfully, while understanding and being mindful of the journey it takes your food to reach you.

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

“New Contemplations Before Eating” PlumVillage .org,

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who practice it. And may justice and peace be done for those who mourn.

“A Change… would do you good”

Why does a “change of scenery” often do us good?

My husband rearranges the apartment furniture every six to nine months. Sometimes, in the past (pre-COVID), if he were working from home a particular day, when I wasn’t, or if I had a yoga class or teacher training one weekend, I might come home to a completely different living room or bedroom set-up. (I often joked that the only place we haven’t moved our bedroom is in the kitchen or the bathroom, and I’m waiting for the day I come home to one of those scenarios).

But why we often do that to our living spaces, or to our lives (our hair, our faces, etc)?

“I got restless”; “I got bored”;
“I got tired of seeing it the same way for so long”

That last one… that one hits home to me in many ways.

We recently sat down and watched a movie – typical comedy with a poignant message (no, it wasn’t on Hallmark) where one leading character is being told by their friends to “wake up,” start being honest with themselves and appreciate what they have, and we all see it coming… the tragedy that snaps them “back to reality.”

“Maybe that needed to happen”;
“I’ve learned not to take life for granted”;
“I’ll treasure what I have from now on”

Roll credits.

Sound familiar?

But as we were watching this play out, I realize that way too often a tragedy is what snaps us back to reality. We can be going along, living our lives, thinking we’re living to our fullest… then a family member dies. Or we lose a furry friend. Or we get sick, or an accident of some magnitude befalls us.

And we suddenly think “Oh, yeah. I need to pay more attention to what I have.”

I don’t want to harp on the old adage of “We never know what we had until we’ve lost it,” although I’m sure that’s mostly true.

I remember the next morning, on our daily walk, telling my husband that I want to make sure that we give our senior dogs more focused attention – I don’t want to feel, when they pass away, that I didn’t spend enough time with them, or took them for granted.

But it’s not all about tragedy. Because I wonder if that sense of wanting to “be aware” of what we have is why we sometimes make changes, too. We feel stuck, we can’t “see” where we are, or don’t feel present or awake in our own lives. So we change something.

Come to think of it, I was feeling stuck about our apartment recently, myself. Not the furniture, just the sense of having a home and making sure I appreciated it. The walls we painted, the beautiful 12-foot pre-war tin ceiling in our living room. And so, I was thinking the exact same way about our apartment lately, and we decided to decorate early for the holidays. And you know what? Suddenly our apartment feels new again. I feel like I can really pay better attention to it – and it feels refreshing!

I’m curious about how we can have that feeling, that alertness, that “being awake” to what we have feeling, without tragedy striking, or without having to make a massive overhaul of our lives – those can be necessary, but shouldn’t be the only way we feel alive!

I think this is what “mindfulness” is all about.

Being mindful is all about being as present as possible – being aware of what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you are sensing – at all times. Feeling your feet on the ground beneath you. Your eyes as they take in this information (the weight of your glasses on the bridge of your nose and on your ears – if you wear them). The weight of your arms on your lap or on your desk or table – the feel of the mouse under your hand or fingers. The light overhead. The light outside the window. The tree you pass on your daily walk. The warmth of the sun. The warmth of your coffee.

What are you doing right now? How do you feel? Where do you feel expansion when you inhale? Where do you sense your exhale the most? The chest? The belly? The nostrils?

What color are your walls? Your floor? Are you sitting comfortably? If not, where do you feel discomfort? What are you doing today to interact with your home, or to move your body?

Sometimes change is the easiest way to recognize what we’ve had all along. Sometimes it’s negative change… sometimes it’s not. But maybe we can work toward keeping ourselves awake to what we have, and to the present moment, more often. Maybe then, we won’t carry so many regrets with us if tragedy ever does strike.