Having a Heart - A tip for compassionate living

When the weather changes from moderate to cold a mouses thoughts evidently turn to going indoors for the winter.  I know this because I have live trapped hundreds of the little critters in the last ten years, most in the  few weeks between Fall and Winter, when frost is first thick on the morning grass.

Frost on Grass fall autumn

     As you might imagine, in all this time I've learned a thing or two about catching mice and helping them to survive the experience.  Sometimes, though, I still screw up and inadvertently hurt one of my temporary guests.

     The biggest boon to their health and survival is something I realized last year. Since I have these small furry visitors so often I can sometimes be casual about releasing them.  For the program of live trapping to be effective, I have to take the mice miles from my home before letting them go and sometimes I have caught as many as 3 or 4 in a day.  To keep this from disrupting my life, I hold them captive here till I am going somewhere for some other reason, like work, shopping or visiting a friend.  Sometimes, especially on weekends that could be 36 hours or more after the mouse is caught.  They often enter a state of high anxiety and excitement because they are trapped.  This leads them to exert themselves trying to escape and waste a lot of energy and water.   Long time visitors were often listless when released.  A few have even died awaiting their freedom.

Have a heart trap

     That is ironic and sad.  Here I was going to so much trouble to keep from harming them and I ended up torturing the mice for long periods before releasing them in such a depleted condition that they had little chance for survival.  Then sometime last year I got a big idea.  To keep them both fed and hydrated while they are in my care, I slip apple slices into the cage.  This is an amazing aid to them.  They settle in and don't try to escape as much, so evidently the apple slices are somehow soothing.  Now, I can keep them for days if necessary since when given daily apple slices the mice are uniformly vigorous at their time of release. Every one leaves the trap in good spirits.

     This last part astounded me.  Living in the country for a long time I have caught all manner of animal.  Woodchucks, raccoons, squirrels, even a skunk once or twice and it is not surprising that these larger animals will be so flipped out when they are caught that they don't even eat the bait food that attracted them in the first place.  They go on a stress induced hunger strike.  Not so with mice.  Either apples are so intoxicating for mice that they universally cannot resist them, or they just have very sturdy appetites, but for whatever reason, I have never had a captive mouse who did not eat all the apple I cared to share with him.  Not one.

    This week I did make a costly mistake, though.  When I got home from working late on Wednesday night, there was a mouse in a trap in the kitchen.  Since I had been gone for 14 hours there is no telling how long he had been here and it would be another 10 hours till I left again, so I cut the rotten part off a couple of bruised apples and fed my little charge.  I also set out another trap.  This is key to eradicating the problem of an infestation.  Laying out traps till there are no comers for 3 or 4 days.  Mice are pack animals and follow each others trails.  Usually the first one or two caught will be the larger adults.  Ensuing captives are smaller.  I guess babies looking for Mom and Dad. 

    Sometime in the wee hours a baby entered the second trap and was caught.  I didn't find him till morning.  Knowing I'd be leaving in three or four hours I didn't bother giving him anything and that was my mistake.  Hours later when I released my two little friends the adult who had received apple and was with me for about 28 hours was in fine form, scampering away when released.  The baby who had only been with me at most 11 hours and most likely much less, was listless and disoriented, when I opened his trap.  He was so dispirited that he didn't run away at all, so I picked him up and carried him to what looked to me to be a good spot near water and shelter.  I feared for his survival.

     So now I have a new rule.  Everyone will get an apple slice or two while staying at Chateau Ray regardless of whether their release is imminent or far off.  I guess it is just good manners on my part to offer guests something, but now I realize it may actually save their lives!

I'd love to hear from you.  Please connect with me on the  Facebook Page and Instagram feed to get more Yoga wisdom, science, style, and fun everyday! And make sure to Subscribe to Everyday Yoga for more great posts like this one delivered to your inbox!

Warehouse Revery

This blog sprang out of sharing I've been doing at the bottom of my monthly sales flyer for my business Yoga Life Style Yoga Supply.  In this months edition I told about how, as the holidays approach, I start doing the post office run in the afternoon so my warehouse manager Ed can keep packing orders.  I actually like this.  It makes me a part of the process of fulfilling the orders.  I get to be one of Santas elves.  I know our Postmistress and I generally announce myself with a hearty "Ho, ho, ho!" when I arrive.  I have fun with it.

     This year the volume of orders has been overwhelming and Ed could not be expected to keep up with the flow, even with me going to the PO, so last week, I put in a couple of 3 to 4 hours shifts picking and packing orders after we closed.  This week I'm doing that on 4 nights and as much time as I can during the day as well.  This is a lot more than I usually do to help in the warehouse and I'm enjoying it for the most part.
     My favorite moment came during the day today when I picked up our hefty yellow box cutter and it was cold.  Somehow the coolness brought me out of thinking and into sensation.  I noticed the weight of the tool and marveled at how easily and smoothly it sliced through the tape I was cutting, careful not to cut too deep so as not to damage what was in the box.  From there my focus on what I was doing was acute.  I was 100% picking and packing with no distracting thoughts, I was in a world of texture, temperature, color and task at hand.  The past and future dropped away and I was simply experiencing what I was doing and doing it completely.  I made some lovely packages in a relaxed way.
     I realized what was happening and had to consciously decide not to think about it but to stay with first order sensation and after awhile I dropped back out and into thinking, "Wow, that was cool, I ought to blog about it," or "Damn, my arm hurts, I hope I'm going to be able to get through this." or some other mundane mental chatter.  I think today I may try the Buddhist practice of labeling but with only two labels, "awareness" and "thinking" and try to keep recalling my mind to awareness and drop the thinking as much as possible.  Big smile on my face, warmth in my cheeks and lips.  Opening mouth, rising chest on the inhalation, shoulders separating, "Ho, ho, ho!"  Vibration filling my mouth and flowing out....

Transcendence at 13

     When I think of my tweens and early teen years, there is little continuity to my memory.  I remember instants and episodes.  Special moments that meant something more than average, so they are stamped more indelibly on my brain than whatever came before or after them.  Vexingly, they are shuffled in my mind, so I am not sure in all cases what came before what.  Now, I'm trying to order them more or less chronologically based on clues contained in each memory.

     Here's what I know for sure.  My middle sister Bea introduced me to yoga when I was 10 or 11 and I liked it.  I don't remember how often we practiced or what we did.  We moved out of the house I grew up in when I was twelve and I have a very specific yoga memory from that home so it must have been when I was 11.

     Finding a comfortable place to practice was a problem.  We lived in a split level, so our den and my sister's bedrooms were on a concrete slab with linoleum tiling.  Those locations were not ideal for practice.  I preferred the upstairs living room which had wood floors covered with a thin rug.   The main problem there, was that it was the center of activity in the house so everyone could watch me practice and my Mom, in particular, could try to discourage me.  I know I tried to use the space when she was not around or busy in another room and I learned to be real quiet. 

      One day in particular stands out from that period.  It was after my father had moved out and Mom was openly dating Tony, the man who would become my stepfather.  He was a quiet guy who encouraged anything athletic that I would do.  One day, while Mom was upstairs putting her face on, I hung out with Tony in the living room.  At some point I told him I thought I could stand on my head for an hour.  He thought it was impossible.  So I set out to prove him wrong, right in the middle of the floor there.  When my Mom saw this, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes into my attempt she flipped.  She told me to come down right away saying that what I was doing was dangerous.  But I now had an ally and once he explained what we were up to, I was miraculously allowed to continue.   This was perhaps the first bonding experience I had with Tony.  His protection meant a lot to me.  My yoga now had a sponsor who could keep my Mom from stopping me.

     I'm not sure how much yoga I was doing between ages 11 and 13 but it was enough that I gravitated to a yoga class the first chance I got, when I was 13.  I know I was 13 because the memory includes my first girlfriend who I had in the eighth grade.

     Each summer from the time I was seven or eight years old, I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks which were a few hundred miles north of our home in lower Westchester County, NY.  It was a cool place run by teachers from the New York  City area and staffed by college students from around the country and the world.  There were lots of activities that were organized by bunk and also elective activities each day.  During these elective periods I worked on the camp newspaper, learned how to row, canoe and sail, got my junior and senior life saving certificates and became a fairly accurate archer.  When Sparrow Densmore began offering yoga at Camp Manitoba I was encouraged to develop my practice.

     Sparrow showed us a lot of cool postures in the middle of a grassy field.  It accustomed me to practicing outside which I love to this day.  She also introduced this little group of young yogis to esoteric practices like pranayama, self massage and guided relaxations.  Here began my somewhat ambiguous relationship to yogic  metaphysical ideas.  One posture she showed us she assured us that her teacher had said, doing it for 1/2 an hour each day could replace 3 hours of sleep.  I wasn't sure I bought all of it, but I liked the class and the teacher and I was eager to try everything.   I learned a lot of headstand variations that I was proud to show off for Mom and Tony, over my Mom's objections, of course, when they came to visit on parents weekend.  There was much in the class that influenced my later practice as I was first developing my yoga repertoire.

     Perhaps the most significant thing that happened though was on the metaphysical side.  One beautiful sunny day a group of 5 or 6 of us were assembled in a circle on the grass.  Sparrow lead us in a self hug.  Crossing our arms in front of ourselves and reaching our right hands around our left sides and left hands around the right we were told to enjoy the warmth of self connection and nurturing with our eyes closed.  In the midst of this practice I was transported.  It was as if I was suddenly back home with Denise, my girlfriend, who I'd left behind for camp.  I felt very much like I was in her arms and kissing her in the woods near where we lived.  It was powerful, delightful and astonishing to me.  Many, many years later I began slowing down enough to reach such states on a regular basis, but this early experience showed me there was something more to yoga than just being bendy and it informed my desire to keep practicing.

     This was a delicious time that included the early shoots of my yoga practice, which I continued to nurture after that summer.  But there were other much darker things going on with me as well.  The next blog post in this story arc will detail my shadow life which eventually lead to me to a decision to quit yoga entirely.

The Trauma of My Tween Years

Before I get into this, I want you to know that I do not do this lightly.  For most of my life I have been a very private person.  No one, not even my therapist, my ex-wife or my current girlfriend, know much of what I am about to share.  So why now and why here?  Because I'm tired.  I'm tired of being ashamed of what I lived through, of where I'm from.  Because I need to own it and move on.  Yes, it has informed my emotional life and No, it does not define who I am.  Not by a long shot.

     And here's more good reasons for this uncharacteristic sharing.  I have experienced something phenomenal as I have revealed more and more of what is really going on with me.  I have been amazed at people's capacity to receive me and to accept me even when it has been hard for me to accept myself.  Today my expectation is the reverse of what it had been for most of my life.  Today I expect people to understand me and to treat me well if I can just be emotionally real with them.  I've seen it again and again and it has been very healing for me and for the people I have been involved with.  What better reason could I have for venting my spleen?

      So, I have compelling personal and altruistic rationales for conveying my story.  I also think my story will fill a gap.  I have found that the kind of sharing I hope to do is not seen a lot of in the yoga world.  Most really good teachers of yoga revert to a remote place to teach from.  It is a place of safe distance.  It is an impersonal place.  Great concepts can be shared and some of the best teacher's can help you get in touch with what is real inside you.  It is rare that teacher's share much of what is real inside them, however.  I always wonder if that teacher who overcame illness or injury through yoga also overcame anger at a random world, depression about their isolation, fear of their own fragility and so on?   I wonder why teachers who advocate looking completely at things and accepting what they find don't share fully about where a lot of the real work is done and obstacles encountered, the realm of emotions?

     This reserve displayed by yoga teachers leads to a common mis-impression.  Yoga leads to a cessation of the fluctuations of the emotional life.  I don't think this is what Patanjali meant when he wrote in his Yoga Sutras, "citta vritti narodhaha" or translated: through yoga  "perturbations of the mind cease."  Yogis do not become feeling-less automatons nor do they strive to.  I think what Patanjali meant was that we become identified with the witness state inside of us.  That more and more we have access to this calm place that watches everything we do, feel and say.  This person is us but it is not our personality.  It is not the place where we feel our pain, our desire or our joys.  But it is the place that watches all these things.  We still greet the world with reactivity.  We will always have ups and downs.  And as we gain greater access to the observer state we can feel safer giving full expression to our emotional life.  This is complex and ironic, like many of the most profound truths.

     Now that you know where I am coming from with this, let me tell you where and who I've been.

     For a couple of years say between the ages of 9 and 11, I witnessed a drawn out drama of escalating tensions and outright fighting that lead to my parents divorce.  There were tense dinners where the conflict was so palpable it was hard to keep chewing and swallowing.  There was a big fight that scared me and my sisters so much that we all huddled together in the little bathroom downstairs and hid and speculated about what might happen.  It was there that I first learned about the possibility of divorce.  Only that merciful ending did not come for some time.  Before then there were dramatic scenes where a big clunky old fashioned telephone was pulled out of the wall and flung across the room and another where a sink full of  dishes were broken, smashed on the floor.  It was so disturbing that my eldest sister Lisa, seven years my senior but still a teenager, moved out of our modest but comfortable suburban home and into a 3rd floor walk up, cold water flat, with her boyfriend, to escape the mayhem.

      There was no escape for me however, except to retreat inside myself.  My Mom told me not to pay attention to the quarrels.  She said they had nothing to do with me and that my job was to keep my chin up and to do well in school.  My Dad told me before he moved out that he would always love me even if he wasn't around.  So I determinedly focused on my schoolwork and I acted as if I was loved, though I did not feel it much.

      To do this, I basically cauterized my emotional life.  After a particularly horrendous scene, I had no one to cry to, no one to tell how I felt.  Having no ability to share it, I stifled my suffering by going numb.  I had a deep sense that no one cared about what was happening in my heart and I acted as if I did not mind.  Eventually, I more or less forgot how to speak about what was real for me.

     I was lucky in some ways, though.  I knew my Mom was concerned about me being well fed and wanted me to continue doing well in school which is more than many kids ever get.  There was breakfast every morning, a lunch to take to school and dinner every night. And I'm guessing that she was in so much pain herself that she could not have handled hearing about how I was suffering.  As a child I had been taught to have a fairly distrustful worldview and to keep things that happened in the home private.  My sisters had been trained similarly, so we really didn't know how to share, even with each other.  The result of all this was that I was left alone with a boatload of hurt, confusion, pain and anger.  For all this, yoga was a soothing balm.  The focus on physical sensation during asana practice, grounded as it was in the here and now, somehow eased my mind away from fears about the future and painful dwelling on recent past incidents and toward a joyful part of my interior life.

     There is a beautiful quote in the Bhagavad Gita about the 4 things someone might offer the Lord.  "He who offereth to Me with devotion a leaf,  a flower, a fruit, water, that I accept from the striving self, offered as it is with devotion."  I came to yoga without the slightest clue that I was doing what millions of seekers had done before me.  I was offering the dried out leaf of my stoicised self to the Lord for redemption.  It would take many, many years for me to moisten and soften to compost and then more time to fertilize the flower of an opening heart.  It would take longer still to bear the fruit of deep connection with myself and others.  I am clearly still in this process of becoming.  I doubt that I will ever be able to offer the clear purity of water beyond all yearning and nourish everything I touch, but it is a lovely goal, worthy of continued striving.  The first step for me was out of misery toward peace and I've continued in that direction with plenty of missteps along the way, ever since.


Tools for a Power Nap

About 4 years ago I injured my back so badly I could not walk.  There was radiating pain down my left leg.  The first night it felt like there was a swarm of angry hornets attacking my knee and lower leg for hours on end.  The pain persisted and was so bad that I did not go to work for two weeks.  When I finally felt OK enough to resume my job, after a few hours the pain would start to come back so I worked half days for awhile.  When I wanted to expand how much I was working, I found that taking a nap after lunch really helped me to extend the amount I could work in the afternoon.

Now, a few years later, my back health is very much improved.  I do things like moving furniture, carrying kids on my shoulders and filling in for my warehouse man when he is off, that most people with bad backs would shy away from.  I returned to seriously improved back health, by listening to my body and giving it what felt supportive.  One of those things is the after lunch nap.  I think being prone for half an hour in the afternoon is deeply restorative and makes the rest of the day go much better.
One recent day after napping, while lying there in a drowse, before returning to work, it occurred to me that these items I sell for support and comfort while practicing yoga are really great aids to my afternoon break. I personally use a mat, a round bolster and a Tadpole while napping and realized others might like the eye pillow, timer, CDs and blanket, so the package below was born.
Of all the items I find the round bolster under my knees the most important.  This wasn't always true but I went through a period where the nap was actually inflaming my back and when I started using the support to bend my legs, tilt my pelvis and flatten my spine it made a huge difference.  Now I often bend my knees when I'm lying on the floor and I always do when I nap in the office.
There is much more info on the the benefits of napping here on my website  Tools for a Power Nap
Plus on that page you can purchase any of the items you see below...

This Is The Jouney, Not The Destination

     This weekend it was my intention to share about my family life during a rocky period in our collective experience.  As I worked on crafting the story my current situation changed in many ways.  I was flooded with reminiscences from that difficult time.  I started to write about them and I cried.  This is the first time in forty plus years since the incidents occurred that I was able to identify the pain, anxiety, loneliness and anger that I suffered during those hard years and to be able to see the hurt little boy and stay with his feelings and tell him it was natural for him to feel that way.  It was the first time I was able to soothe myself in ways I had never been soothed.  It brought up a profound sadness and a deep joy.  Self recognition is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and I was finally able to do it on some things that had previously been too hot for me to hold.

In this raw state I have really had to manage my shifts.  Going into very charged territory is slow sensitive work requiring receptivity and a willingness to be with whatever comes up.  Responsibilities don't slip away to make room for this work.  I've had to move from these monumental moments of self acceptance to my normal day to day, back and forth numerous times and though it hasn't been easy it has been working out.  One thing that  helped me was to not pressure myself to completely shift my affect.

I can be sad and still find the energy to make lunch.  I can be angry about my past and not yell at the people in front of me.  I don't have to erase all emotional traces of the self study work before I can move on to another activity as long as my observer is aware of all that is going on.  By not pushing hard feelings aside and letting them shift in their own time, I seem to have access to them later, when I want to slow down again and just be with them.

As I was moving through all this, I became very sensitive and I became aware of a big current fear.  My fear is that I may be creating pain for others in my family by sharing about what happened.  We have never talked openly about those hard times.  We have had some side conversations but nothing like a thorough airing has ever taken place.  It is a taboo area for some of the participants.  They don't want to dredge up the past.  I want to respect this and I have needs too.

My need for self acceptance is aided by the support of others.  I have found it very healing to be candid about how I am feeling about things and to share the stories of how I have arrived where I am.  I like to teach.  I feel grateful for the many gifts I have been given and I enjoy giving back.  This is a cycle of growth for me that makes personal work even more rewarding.

My impulse to share is very strong and my desire to maintain respect for my family is strong as well.   At first this troubled me and I was anxious and conflicted.  Then I realized there is no hurry.  No one is forcing me to do this, nor can anyone stop me if I really want to proceed.  There is no timetable.  What a relief.
I have given myself the gift of space around this, while I have continued my self exploration.  I have been writing and uncovering my personal truth without feeling like I have to publish or to do it in any specific time frame.  As this process has unfolded a plan has formed.

I will try to tell my story with full descriptions of my emotional reality and general descriptions of the triggering events.  If I need to fully revisit certain moments, I will allow myself to do so but for public sharing I will only give information that is absolutely necessary for understanding how I was affected.  Perhaps most importantly, I will give people mentioned in the story an opportunity to review what I have written before publication.  This will give them a chance to make suggestions, air any grievances and to be familiar with the material before it is available to the public.

I did not want this to disrupt our holiday celebrations which have been grand, so I'm waiting till everyone is back home to offer to email them their copies of the potentially difficult text.   If they do want to look it over I'll give them a few days to read and respond.  I'm guessing I'll be publishing it here by next weekend.  See you then.

The Moon Was in the Seventh House and Jupiter Aligned with Mars...

Yes things were set up just right for yours truly and his cohorts yesterday.  We participated in an event of historic proportions and then had dinner with my family and desert with my girlfriend's folks, travelling about 90 miles and still got home by 8:00 PM for the little one's bed time.  Peace, love and good cheer followed us throughout the day and everything I have to be thankful for was reinforced on this day of Thanksgiving.  I cried a bit, laughed a lot, got mad at traffic, made friends with strangers and embraced my family and my girl's family.  It was a very special day indeed.
     There are all sorts of ideas swirling in my happy little mind, but for now I want to leave my personal story behind and focus on the aforementioned "event of historic proportion" the parade I went to in New York City yesterday.

     I was shocked to learn that the estimated attendance at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was between 3 and 3.5 million people.
Dragon Floats Macy's Parade

 If you don't want to be alone at the holiday, here's a place you can be sure to have company!  The number of spectators is truly staggering.

It is about the same number of people that make the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca each year.  It is as large a crowd as the biggest antiwar protest ever held.  There are some single day religious or funereal gatherings that dwarf this event but c'mon this has to be the most fun 3 million people can have at once.

Watching the surreal spectacle of giant cartoon characters and odd objects floating down what is normally one of the busiest streets in one of the world's great city's is a rare joy.  It brings out a throng of kid's, people entertaining kid's and kid's at heart.

Macy's Thanksgiving Pink Float

 We were treated to marching bands from throughout the U.S. and elaborate floats of all manner of theme.  Oh, my!

Macy's Thanksgiving Tom Turkey Float Parade

I know the the holiday has a real history, very different from the myth we've been taught and tend to perpetuate, but today I am choosing to celebrate with the celebrants in the spirit of the the original pagan harvest festival from which Thanksgiving has sprung.  I hope this short photo essay brings you a little of the warmth and fun I enjoyed yesterday.  Have a great weekend.  Oh by the way, I haven't forgotten the promised entry about the "trauma of my tweens" but I'm letting current events drive the blog for a bit before returning to the main narrative....

Savory Vegan Barley Stuffing for Christians and Pagans and others

Tonite I made a Savory Vegan Barley Stuffing for Thanksgiving.  It is my own variation on the Barley Casserole in the CookBook for People Who Love Animals available on my Website.

 I started in on making it around 6:30 and by 8:00 it was in the oven baking.  Cooking the barley takes 45 minutes and if you time it right I guess you can have the sauteing done by the time the barley is ready but I didn't so I think it took longer than it needed to.  It tastes great, is very filling and I enjoy the multiple steps in preparing it, which you will see in the recipe below.
There has been a welcome evolution in my family around my veganism.  At first it was more or less ignored and I mostly had to fend for myself at group meals, hoping we'd go to a place where there was stuff I would be happy eating, or there was food in the home I was visiting that was on my diet.  This made me really uncomfortable.  I ended up eating a lot of salad and french fries and while I like each of them, as a meal,  after two or three days in a row, they start to suck.  So, I stopped visiting my family at the holidays.  I may have been a vegan yogi but that didn't stop me from being passive/aggressive too.  I just dropped out of family events without explanation.

I do love my family and I was hurt that they wouldn't make an effort to include me.  Of course I wasn't giving them any chance to address my problem, since I wasn't letting them know I had one.  Then, even though it was hard for me, I did let on what had happened.  I forget who I told or how but eventually I let both my sisters and my Mom know why I didn't want to visit with them at the holidays anymore.  I probably told my sister Bea first, since she is vegetarian at times too and is the most sympatico family member in general.  I think she encouraged me to make an effort to let Mom and Lisa know.  They responded by taking care of me around the food issue.  My sister Lisa in particular made a special effort to pick restaurants I would like and make sure there were things in the house I would enjoy for home meals.  It felt wonderful to be embraced in that way.

Today, things are even better, Lisa's daughter Samantha and her brother Alex are making the Thanksgiving dinner and they planned to make sure there was plenty of vegetarian food from the outset, including some vegan things.  I didn't have to say a word except thank you.  They just let me know their plans and I offered to make something and they were delighted.  Here it is:

Savory Vegan Barley Stuffing

2 cups Barley
6 cups water

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Medium Onions sliced and halved
5 Garlic Cloves Sliced

5 Medium Carrots grated
4 Stalks Celery halved and sliced
1 cup Mushrooms sliced
1 cup Walnuts halved and crushed a bit

5 Tablespoons Tamari
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme

3/4 cup tahini dressing
3/4 cup tahini dressing

Preheat oven to 350.  Bring water to a boil in a 3 quart or larger pot.  Add barley and lower heat to low.  Simmer covered for 45 minutes, till all water is absorbed and barley is as soft as it gets.

Heat oil in a large wide pot, 5 quarts or more, over medium high heat.  Add onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes until tender.  Add the carrots, celery, mushrooms, nuts, tamari, sea salt, basil, oregano, garlic powder and thyme.  Mix well and saute for another 5 minutes.  Add the barley and cook for 3 minutes to mixing well.

Prepare Tahini Dressing
1/2 cup Tahini
3/4 cup Water
2 tablespoons tamari
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp basil
1/8 tsp oregano
1/4 small onion diced

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for 3 minutes till liquified.  This makes 1.5 cups, you will use 3/4's in the recipe and have 3/4s left as a gravy to be applied as people like when serving.

Transfer half of the bulgur mixture to an 8"x12" baking dish or equivalent, about 4 quarts.  Add a layer of tahini dressing using half the portion reserved for the recipe.  Add the second layer of bulgur and tahini dressing.  Bake in 350 oven for 35 minutes uncovered.

Serve with extra dressing on the side. 
vegan barley stuffing

That is it.  It is hearty, flavorful and in the season.  It is fairly thick and I'm guessing would make a good dressing for a bird too, but I hope I never find out. 

Here is a song I love about the complexities of holiday dinners.  Long before I cried easily, this funny song by Dar Williams consistently brought tears to my eyes and I love crying with it as much today as the first time I heard it.

May you find peace and love where ever you find yourself this Thanksgiving!

Being Known and Understood

Ok, so I claim that yoga helped me to go from being a guy who couldn't find his interior life with a roadmap to becoming someone who is sensitive enough that others feel safe asking him for help in clarifying their own difficult feelings and who finds that sharing about his full range of emotional responses has made his life much more fulfilling.  What is more, I think that my story is not unique.  I sense that millions of people have deepened their connection to self and the world through yoga.  I am hoping that guys, in particular, who find themselves blocked at the place of intimate connection and anyone who has experienced obstacles to feeling safe in sharing their own essential experiences will gain from hearing my story.  I accept that being known and  understood are important building block needs. One can not be known without revealing one's self and one cannot reveal one's self unless one is in touch with themselves.  All this must precede a sense of deep connection with the world.  For those that feel the lack of this connection, I'm hoping my story will be instructive.

Whoa, that is a mouthful and it is very ambitious.  It also makes me nervous.  This kind of personal revelation is something I've only started doing, even with friends, in the last few years.  Reaching out to the world with my story is an edge for me.  As with most new, anxiety producing activities, I suspect this one will feel more comfortable in time.  For now, I will acknowledge the excited burny, tingly feeling in my gut, let myself know that I understand how I could feel this way and keep writing.  Even just sharing that I am edgy makes my discomfort lessen.  What an amazing process!

As a yoga teacher I have shared just a small portion of the things that have helped me to come into a closer relationship with myself.  Only some of the yoga pieces and little bits of other types of practices and ideas have been transmitted in my weekly classes.  But here I hope to share more of the things that have helped me to approach my idea of who I'd like to be.  I still have a long way to go and don't want to pretend I have all the answers.  I don't.  What I have is my personal truth and my story and a hope that they might be useful to others.

So here goes.

My first connection to yoga came when I was 11 years old.  It was in the best tradition of direct transmission that has kept yoga alive for thousands of years.  My sister Bea had a friend Kathy Frankfurter whose Mom would show the girls yoga when Bea was visiting.  She would then come home and show me what she had learned and train me.  I don't remember exactly what we did or for how long, but I do remember really liking it.  It was something I could do right away and it felt good.  It was a place I could meet my sister, who is five years older than me, and feel like a peer.  And it was something I could practice on my own in my alone time, which I had plenty of.  Years later when I learned how important lineage is in yoga, I realized that when I began I was in the lineage of Kathy Frankfurter's mother.  I couldn't have had a better start.  Thanks Mrs. Frankfurter.

So why did I like yoga?   What attracted me to this twisting and bending and controlled breathing?  I couldn't have told you at the time.  I just liked it.  However, in retrospect I've got some ideas.  To know about this I think it is important to know who I was and what my life was like at the time.  Something that I will affectionately entitle "The Trauma of My Tween Years".  It will be my most difficult piece of self revelation yet and it will be the topic of my next blog in a week or so.  Wish me luck.

Being a Regular Guy

One thing I really used to be was a regular guy. My friend Mark put it this way when I would complain to him that I had trouble even feeling my feelings. He'd say, "That's because you are a guy." Doh.

But here is my problem. There was a sensitive person inside me who really wanted to come out. I yearned for love. I desired connection. I needed to be known and accepted. I longed to be open to others and to really be able to take them in and appreciate them for who they were. I couldn't have told anyone any of this. My emotional life was completely foreign to me. Talking about it was even more remote. All I knew was that I was dissatisfied a lot. I had a business that did OK, loyal employees, steady friends and intact family connections but I was pissed off much of the time. I was frustrated regularly. And even these difficult feelings I suppressed, ignored and had another cigarette to help stuff down. I was a hard case.

Luckily, I did manage to get girls. Keeping my anger in check and leading with my adventurous spirit and sense of humor I attracted the ladies. Unfortunately, the relationships typically lasted between 1 and 3 months. My marriage was a notable exception. It lasted 5 years and I was with my ex all told for 7. When it ended I had perhaps a dozen relationships of the shorter variety before I really started wondering what was wrong with me. I was blessed by hearing a common complaint from the women I had gotten closest to, though I did not know it was a blessing at the time. I was told that I didn't talk about my feelings. These gals felt like they didn't know me.

I protested. I would say, "I like Yankee Baseball and the color blue and hate deer who dart out into traffic and cilantro. Now you know that about me! Isn't that talking about my feelings?" I was told I didn't have a clue. This was really frustrating for me. I'd decide that this woman who was my latest complainant wouldn't know a feeling if it bit her in the leg. I'd get pissed off that our relationship wasn't working and that my girlfriend didn't really like me. So, I would move on and try again with the next willing victim.

Eventually, hearing the same thing from enough women and feeling frustrated by my inability to stay in a relationship, I sought help to find out what the heck they were talking about.  It took years but with determination, the gentle guidance of a counselor and the focus of a yogi I learned how numb I was and little by little how rich my interior life is if I just give it a little attention.

Today I'm the kind of guy who cries when he hears sad songs on the radio or bad news from friends, who savors his own and other peoples accomplishments and revels in intimate connections, who is in touch with a broad range of rich and full emotions and who likes very much to share about them and to hear from others about theirs. I feel much more connected with myself and really known by family and friends. Right now I'm in the sixth month of a relationship where me and my girl can share deeply and also just have fun. It took a long time to find a woman who could really meet me at a place where both our feelings are expressed and important. No one complains about me not sharing about my feelings anymore. Sometimes I think they wish I'd stop. And this genie is having too much fun to go back in the bottle.

Jokingly I tell people that I used to be "macho-psychotic". Now I've learned to be a girl. But the truth is I'm just much happier as a more fully conscious entity than I ever was when I was shutting so much stuff out. This is the fruit of my lifetime as a yogi and it is delicious. Go know.

Learning Happiness

I've been practicing yoga on and off for over 40 years. Now, my occupation is selling yoga supplies. In the late sixties, when I started doing yoga, it was not popular. No one in the U.S. made a living selling yoga stuff back then. For a tween boy it was the opposite of popular, it was scorned. After a few times being laughed at by my "friends" based on this passtime, I started keeping it to myself. So, while boys my own age were lifting weights in their garages, I was on my exercise mat in the basement, putting my legs behind the same head I had been standing on earlier. If I tried to show my Mom what I was up to she would get upset and tell me I might hurt myself and to stop it. So I did. I stopped showing her.

This was the beginning of hiding things from my Mom. Later I learned to hide almost everything from her. Yoga may have been the first thing that was mine that I held on to in the face of opposition. It was something I needed privacy around if I didn't want to be mocked or chastised.

Now, of course, doing, teaching and selling yoga is something that makes me cool. Even my Mom grudgingly accepts it. I met my ex-wife in a yoga class I was taking and my current girlfriend in a class I was teaching. It has been a long strange trip from dabbling with the physical postures to making self study a big part of my life. Along the way I've been a lot of people and done a lot of things. Some of it I'm proud of and some I wish I'd skipped but I've learned from all of it and I am much happier today because of this journey. Hopefully, I can share some of this happiness with you.