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.