There is Life After the Thesis

After chronicling my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences throughout the thesis process on this blog (formerly entitled Rites of a Thesis), it seemed odd to me to simply let the blog go just because I had turned in my thesis and graduated. I don't want to merely "shelve" my thesis nor do I want all that I got from my time at Naropa to lie dormant. I want my thesis to continue to live and breathe and become, and I would like all the teachings and experiences I had during my time at Naropa to do the same. So I am keeping the blog (changing the title), and am commiting to myself to (w)rite on as I journey forward.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'd Like to Think I am Choosing the Road Less Taken

There are only two things you"have to" do in life. You "have to" die and you "have to" live until you die. You make up the rest.

~ Marilyn Grey

Last week I bought a new bike. I hadn't had a bike for the past few years and hadn't missed the activity too much until recently. A couple of my friends from work got bikes this past year and a guy I've been dating has one, and they all seemed really happy to be riding, and it started to inspire me to think about getting one too.

But what kind of bike should I get? New or used? A mountain bike? A cruiser? 10-Speed? Three-speed? No-speed? Foot brakes? Hand brakes? Lots of options.

So last week I got a bug up my butt to buy a bike. A new bike. Decision number one. Tempe Bicycles was advertising a sale so I decided to go there (decision number two). I had a mountain bike last time around - a Trek - which I loved! I bought it when I was living in Chicago, and when you are riding on Chicago roads you might as well be riding on mountain terrain...not because it's hilly, by any means, but because the streets are definitely craggy enough to simulate mountain trails. Hence: thicker, stronger tires are a good thing.

So there I was at Tempe Bicycles looking at all kinds of bikes - mountain bikes, racing bikes, cool-looking-I-don't-know-what kind of bikes, and cruisers. There were so many styles and so many colors and all of the bikes were so crammed together. But I had had a cruiser in mind when I first thought of getting a new bike (my girlfriends at work both have cruisers and I thought them super cute) and I think that idea was sticking with me. So I bee-lined right to the cruisers with all their different colors and styles.

Foot brakes or hand brakes? Three-speeds or no-speeds became my next criteria. I decided on foot brakes (I am not sure why, excatly, because I haven't had a foot-brake bike since I was in elementary school) and a three-speed (it seemed like a good idea with any kind of hill or graded road). Decisions numbers three and four were made.

Onto style and color...So many options! But it wasn't really hard, because once I saw it, I knew the exact bike I wanted: Robin's egg blue body (with a heart design on the bars), lime green inside the tires, and white fenders with a branch/leaf motif with Red Robins perched on it. A total girl bike! The fifth decision made.

Of course, I had to test ride the bike to see if it fit comfortably and rode well, which it did on both counts. And then, well - I had to accessorize! Wicker basket, helmet (which I loathe wearing, but know I'll have to when I take a long ride and have to ride in traffic), Kryptonite lock (and had the bike shop people put an extra safety chain on the seat to ward off potential bike seat thieves).

I love this bike! Just looking at it makes me happy. Riding it makes me happier. I've not had the chance to take it for a long ride yet, but I've taken some good short ones almost every day since I got it and it's such fun. It feels good to let the breeze blow on my face and through my hair. I love the feel of having to hunker down and pedal whenever there's a grade in the road or a small hill in the park, and then there's the joy of just coasting as the road dips or when I descend the hilly path.

I've had the opportunity to explore streets that I have never driven down or walked down before. I rode through areas of Papago Park where I hadn't yet been. And it dawned on me that having this bike has given me a new freedom and more options. It has provided me with a new mode of transportation, another activity to partake in, and has given me an alternative form of exercise. It has also offered me a new way to see places I haven't experienced and to make choices about where I want to go, what I want to do. Shall I turn down this road or that one? Do I want to cruise slowly or ride fast?

I'm sure that in reading all of this, and that in noting the title and reading the opening quote, you are getting that this post isn't really just about my new bike. The bike is super cool and I'm happy to talk it up but what I really wanted to take a closer look at was decisions: choices and options, and to remind myself that I have them, readily, at my disposal. I can make a choice and make another choice and, still again, make another choice. I am not stuck. And, though I know this, I forget this, because I get stuck on seeing things one way. My path seems to narrow and I lose my peripheral vision, and before I know it I forget I have "turning" capabilities.

Thank goodness for friends, for books, for meditation - for the willingness to realize that I have made my vision very small and can re-open to space - to bring me back to reality. To the reality that I have choices about what actions I am going to take and what kind of responses I want to make.

A friend of mine reminded me the other day that "ignorance is bliss," and that that's why being smart and being creative can sometimes feel very overwhelming and difficult. And I remember my professor Richard Brown explaining that "Fantasy is nice, but reality is so much richer." Most people remain ignorant, it's easier. And most all of us, at one time or another, turn to fantasy as an escape (and sometimes, we all have to take a breather and dream). So the question is do I want to live in a fantasy world of what I think I want or live in the real world and work with what I'm given? Do I want to play this game of life passively and play the victim or do I want to meet life on life's terms and make decisions about what I do with what I get? Do I want to be ignorant or do I want to be awake? While it can be challenging, even painful, and though it requires a lot more courage, I'm choosing reality. It may mean pedaling uphill at times, but I can adjust my three-speed accordingly.
By the way, my new bike came with a really cool bell (see above photo). So, look out world: you (and I) never know what street I might turn down Make way! Ring, ring!!

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
Took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

There was a 1973 film directed by Alan Pakula by the same title that I have "borrowed" for this post. My post has nothing to do with the movie, but the title seems appropriate. In the past two weeks I have experienced the gamut of joy and sorrow, ups and downs, love and pain, and everything in between - and that's just with and amongst my students and the school community where I teach. This morning, as I lay in bed, I was struck by the amount of gratitude I had for all of life - for each moment, for all that I have experienced - for all the gifts that come with happy exuberance, deep grief, or simple contentment. Two weeks ago I attended one of my students' (from last year) Bat Mitzvah - a right of passage for Jewish thirteen year-old girls as they take responsibilty for their personal practice of Judaism and the upholding of Jewish traditions. Though there is a solemnity to this rite of passage, it is thought of as a true celebration and, typically (as with Jamie's) there is a party that follows the ceremony at the synogogue with singing, dancing, mirth and merriment. Yesterday, I participated in another rite of passage: a memorial service. This was for another student of mine, who died last Wednesday. A seventeen year-old girl who died after spending half of her life dealing with Valley Fever and an immune deficiency that made it difficult for her body to fight the fungal infection. I only had a brief opportunity to get to know Rachel, as I have only had her class (11th grade) this semester and Rachel has been out of school for most of it. However, I knew her enough to know that she was a fighter. That she had a thirst for learning and doing her best. And that she was kind. Through her classmates I learned that she was funny, sarcastic, talented, and a true, loyal friend, with an amzing spirit. At the service yesterday, which was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I sat bewteen a parent of one of my 12th grade students and one of my senior students. The parent, who sat on my right, has a younger daughter who has severe cerebral palsy, and daily this mother has to deal with not only "what if" but "when" her daughter is going to die. The student, who sat to my left, just started attending AA meetings last week, and has been dealing with depression and calling out for help for quite some time. He had recently experienced the death of one of his cousins, which had hit him extremely hard. Sitting between this student and parent, I realized how much sorrow there is - how much pain each one of us goes through in different ways. And yet there is so much joy there too. A parent who cherishes every moment she has with her daughter and finds bright spots within that and in the knowledge that she also has a wonderful and healthy son. A young man who struggles with drug addiction and depression, and yet is excited to have "made it" through six days clean and sober, with a 24-hour chip in his pocket, a "home group," and an AA sponsor. Hope, faith, connection. I held both their hands at different points in the service. I felt blessed. I felt alive. There was a lot of love in both ceremonies I attended. There was also joy in each of them as well. Though the memorial service was incredibly sad and there was much grief in the room, there were also moments of joy. Joy in the life that had been lived, the lives that had been touched, and the spirit of a young woman who will live on as an inspiration to so many. In my classroom, we begin each class period with a ringing of a mindfulness bell and a bow. I call out the name of the first student on the attendance roster and that student then calls the next, and so on until the last student calls out, "Here!" Thursday's roll call in Rachel's section was incredibly difficult. On Friday I asked the students what they would like to do for the remainder of the semester: take Rachel's name off the list or continue to include her in our attendance ritual. Unanimously, the students said that they wanted to continue to include Rachel. So we will. On Friday, each of the 11th grade sections devoted their drama periods to designing prayer flags for Rachel and her family. I had pre-cut card stock and punched holes in the top and the students used pens and markers and wrote prayers, bible verses, quotes, letters, and some drew pictures to Rachel. We strung yarn through the holes of the cards and hung them on the trees in the courtyard. I was introduced to prayer flags at Naropa University a few years ago. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. (Wikipedia) I tweaked the idea of the prayer flags a bit for our purposes. It was my hope that the students could cultivate a bit of healing for themselves, for the school community, for Rachel and her family by creating the flags and then sending their messages out into the "wind" - and into the rain as was the case on Friday night and all day Saturday. Rain is cleansing and clearing and I learned that Rachel loved the rain. It was appropriate then that it rained on the afternoon of her passing and, again, on the day of her memorial. It seemed right that the rain should fall on the prayer flags as well(I took a photo - below - of them today, Sunday, post rain).

This morning, as I sat in bed with my cup of coffee and my journal, I wrote a gratitude list - which I try to do every day any way, but today, it felt different. I was struck by the fact that I can so easily forget what is important (even though I practice focusing on that daily). That I can so easily take for granted each moment. I thought about how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to teach - and learn from - both Jamie and Rachel and all my other students. I thought how fortunate I am to lie in bed for just awhile longer on this Sunday morning, and stretch my body under warm covers and see the sunshine streaming through my window. How grateful I am for my family, my friends, my beautiful dog, for my health, for laughter and a sense of a humor, for my life. Dan Millman, athlete, coach, and professor said, "There are no ordinary moments." And Einstein explained, "There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." Today, I chose to look at everything as extraordinary, as a miracle. Once out of bed I ate breakfast mindfully (I adapted this from my experience at Deerpark Monastery last summer, and while I had planned on eating a mindful meal once a week upon my return, I honestly, only do so about once a month). I read a mindful eating meditation and then proceeded to chew my food slowly, tasting every bite, noticing each flavor and texture, and thinking about how this food actually came to be and then came to be on my plate. Then I took my dog, Love, for a long walk. It was a beautiful day: sunny, with blue sky, and a slight breezy chill in the air. While I was writing my thesis I always took an "Awareness Walk" with Love in the mornings - making sure to notice as much as I could and doing my best to observe Love and how she "noticed" the world, doing my best to stay completely present. Leaving my phone at home, I set out to enjoy an Awareness Walk this morning. It was wonderful! Again, I felt blessed to get to see and enjoy the little yellow flowers on a tree, to inhale the air, to feel the wind on my cheeks, to hear the click-clack of Love's nails on the pavement, and to take interest in whatever Love seemed so incredibly curious about under this tree or that rock. To not be anywhere but where I was at that moment. I cried today too. I cried over loss, over fears, over a quote I read. I also laughed. I laughed really hard when I couldn't catch an onion I had taken off the shelf before it landed smack-dab into my coffee cup (probably doesn't sound funny, but in the moment it was pretty hilarious). Each of those moments passed. But I had them. I noticed them. I felt them. Laughter, tears, contentment - Love and pain and the whole damn thing. For all of it, I am grateful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mindfulness: Understanding and Acceptance

That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment.
~ Pema Chödrön
Last night I attended a performance at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts: The Mystical Arts of Tibet: Sacred Music and Sacred Dance for World Healing. The performance was given by a group of monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery (currently in exile in Karnataka State, in south India).
The monks who performed have been in residence in Scottsdale all week. They created a sand mandala (below) over the course of five days as a way to transmit positive energy to the environment and healing for the world. Today, the monks will perform a ceremony to disassemble the mandala and sweep the millions of grains of sand into flowing water so that the healing blessings of the mandala can continue into the greater world.

The mandala ceremonies also represent impermanence, and how we can honor that in ourselves and in the world.

I am currently taking a class online entitled Awakening Joy, led by James Baraz (one of the founders of Spirit Rock meditation center in Northern California). The class is a ten-month course with another month of wrap-up and follows Baraz's book of the same title. This month's focus is Mindfulness. In his letter of the month, Baraz explains that one of the four properties of Mindfulness is that "as we pay attention, we begin to see for ourselves that the present moment is constantly changing...we can learn to enjoy the roller coaster ride of life, rather than think we will arrive at some fixed destination."

I always find it auspicious when the Universe places people, words, ideas, and such together for me to see (and hopefully, understand) which direction I would most benefit from placing my focus.

Letting go of expectations - of myself, other people, places and things - is another way of practicing Mindfulness, and accepting impermanence. This morning I was scheduled to attend my sangha meditation group. It only meets once a month on Sunday mornings for three hours. It is not a big commitment, yet I have been so over-committed, that when I got up late this morning and after walking my dog, I just didn't have the energy to go. I want to have the energy. I want to be Super Woman. I think I used to be. But I just can't do it any more.

The expectations I place on myself to do everything are too high. Where I used to be able to say "yes" to everything and jump to, I am no longer able, and maybe, I really don't want to. I am realizing with my packed schedule that I need to have a day where I don't do, I simply be. As I sat in bed this morning practicing an Appreciation-in-the-Moment exercise from my online class, I realized that I need to accept what is about myself. Though I feel guilty for not attending the sangha meeting this morning (as attending is not just for my benefit but for others), I came to the conclusion that I need to accept who I am and where I am, and that that means I need to re-think how I do. I decided next month, I will not schedule anything for the Saturday evening prior to my sangha meeting. That way, I can wake up without feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

As the serenity prayer says (and as Baraz reminded in his letter): "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

*The photo of the sand mandala above was taken last night at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. If you would like more information on Tibetan Healing Mandalas please go to:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Run, Walk, Hiccough - Just Move (or Twitch): It's the Mudivator!

Universe, forgive me, for I have no wind...It has been 75 days since my last blog post...

Do you see this photo? That's me, being eaten alive by the Mudivator.

Have you heard of the Mudivator? The Mudivator is the antithesis of the Motivator. It doesn't propel or encourage you, it eats you alive, sucking away any desire you have to support your own creativity. It's a slimy, sludgy thing. It does things like cause you to sit on the couch and watch five straight hours of repeats of the first season of Sister Wives, all the while eating Twizzlers and Junior Mints - candy that you don't even like. But it's there! And you must indulge - in both the t.v. and the confections. And do you know why? Because the Mudivator has you in its grasp, the dirty scoundrel! It wants to keep you from doing anything that might be healthy for your body, mind, or soul.
You might be thinking thoughts like, "It's New Year's day. I'm going to start fresh: eat right, meditate, indulge my creativity." But it doesn't matter once the Mudivator pulls you down and pulls you in. Even if you had a great first half of the day - you walked, you had time with friends, you ate relatively healthy, read an article on spirituality - you are not immune.
The first step is the hardest: admit you are powerless over the Mudivator. Once it touches you, you're gone, sistah!
You have to believe there is a power greater than yourself who can restore you to creativity. It might be a simple phone call with a friend who casually says, "I see you haven't written on your blog in awhile."
Next, you have to become willing to sit down at your computer and just write...ANYTHING! No editing. Uh, uh. Just type!
So here I am. Just typing.
Now, my dear friend Jill Badonsky created a muse called Lull. Lull is a muse who is there to help inspire by letting us rest and relax. She is not a big "do-er" - and we all know, us creative go-go-go'ers need down time to rev up and to rejuice. And I have definitely needed some Lull. But the thing is, I have been creating the past few months for others. Well, for me too - yes. But I haven't taken the time to tap into my own creative well, just for me. I need a Lull from creating for others, but I need a Marge (another muse - the "Okidokee, let's get started then" muse) to help me create for me.
I use the excuse of "comfort" - but when it's an excuse, that is when my vulnerability factor (a.k.a. laziness, which is different than Lull) sets in and I make room for the MUDIVATOR! So I find myself languishing on a couch, unmotivated and UNcomfortable.
Thanks to the phone call and the willingness to JUST WRITE! I am starting to feel motivated and, in the process, feeling the freedom of the Mudivator's grasp.
"I'm gonna wash that Mud right out of my hair..." - I'm feeeling more creative already!