Saturday, August 27, 2016

Third...

Every one of Katie's friends, family and loved ones knows what this refers to by now.

It was the last words of her goodbye post before she succumbed to cancer last week. Some have taken it as a “rallying cry” to live audaciously, to love more, and in her own words, live “a big, bold, brave and beautiful life."

Her loving husband Andrew asked us to "fill in the blank" on what we think Katie might say to us personally if she had the chance. 

What would she say to me if I had made it in time to visit her before she died?  To be honest, the possibility haunts me.  

I'm sure the message would be filled with words I would not be completely ready to receive, like.. "love yourself more”, like.. “stop carrying the proverbial world on your shoulders”, like.. “give me a hug because this is goodbye”.

I don't pretend to be a life long friend of Katie. I am just a fellow “Cancer Ninja” (what Katie lovingly refers to our community) and we met 3 years ago at the Smith Center cancer support group for young adults. I was freshly diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and was days away from a bilateral mastectomy when I went to my first meeting. I remember sitting in a circle scared to death, surrounded by a motley crew of YACS, men and women, some in their early 20s, some who looked just as shell shocked as I felt. In the beginning Katie was just like everyone else, just a new supporting character in my own personal hell and I couldn't really fathom in those first weeks and months in "cancer land" how much she and others in that room, would, in the years to come, graduate from being strangers, to friends, to family.

See, us Cancer Ninjas, we are a sadistic bunch. We bond and fall in love with people that we know may some day die and break our hearts. But still we do it over and over again. 

One of my favorite pictures of Katie and I was taken in April 2014 at what I jokingly refer to as the Stupid Cancer “Final Destination” Happy Hour. So many of our friends that attended that event are no longer with us today and one must wonder how does the average person deal with constantly being reminded of their own mortality without the help of a lot of wine, bourbon, legal and illegal substances or all of the above.  
Unfortunately, it comes with the territory and If you are like Katie you would at least try and do it with courage, perseverance and a healthy dose of “this is some bullshit”.



I think our bond was cemented in February 2015 when I attended the funeral of our fellow comrade Michael with her and Andrew. Sharing tearful glances and tissues we comforted each other as we sat in the fourth aisle of the church watching our friend being laid to rest. Even then she had a steadier emotional hand than I did, so it doesn't surprise me now that the quiet girl with the beautiful blue eyes I met 3 years ago would find her voice and become an inspirational expert of sorts in how to navigate the pitfalls of "cancer land" with determination and grace.

This is why it hurts so damn much.

To have someone so brilliant in spirit and so universally loved to be taken away cements the idea that sometimes no matter how much you hope, no matter how much you pray, no matter how much you bargain with the universe..things will not turn out okay. 

So what happens to one's faith? And how do you pick up and move on from there?  

So..yeah. I don't have all the answers but I do know as sad and weary as I am today I have no choice but to begrudgingly join Katie's “Courage Club.” 

I have to keep on moving, dancing, celebrating and loving every moment I can for her and all the countless others for whom the bells continue to toll.


Katie, thank you for being a hope pusher, a truth teller and an inspiration to us all in the middle of this grenade filled battleground that we reside. Thank you for introducing me to First Descents and encouraging me to take that amazing trip. Because of that push, I am forever "Perch" to your "Crush" and I now have widen my circle with even more beautiful spirits.

I was really looking forward to getting my signed copy of your book so I could brag about my friend and her awesome accomplishments but I realize now that you have instead made an indelible mark on my heart and that is certainly priceless and worth praising. 

One day I hope to be able to forgive you for breaking my heart but for now, today, I will honor you and help lay you to rest with Andrew, your family and friends, our FD tribe and YAC community. We are sad and battle weary but we send you home with so much love and light.

Until we meet again...

"Third..."




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The struggle is real

On my first official day as a LYT we have a scheduled orientation where I meet the other 4 trainees that are also starting with me. We sit on the floor "indian-style" in our classroom in a semi-circle in front of Swami Arrivananda who leads the LYT program. She is dressed in her customary monastic garb of various shades of orange. She looks like a holy creamsicle. With her buzzed short hair and knowing eyes I can already tell that she doesn't suffer fools lightly...maybe with love..tough love.

 I'm sitting at the far end of the semi-circle in the company of this wise woman and 4 very enthusiastic students. I turn into observation mode. "The others" seem to have already bonded. I saw them earlier in the day eating breakfast together and chatting as if they were old friends. My mind immediately felt out of place. They are clearly 10-20+ years older than me which is fine except that it makes me feel like  I should be studying at the kiddie table.
Corky thinks wearing white makes her enlightened
Robin always out OMs everyone

Pat is sweet until you make her miss her Tea time

Larry is the best dishwasher in Yogaville
Like "real life", I tend to gravitate towards people that are a little to alot younger than I am and I have demonstrated that by the seasoned LYTS and other ashram staff I have been keeping company with thus far. On the flip side I don't always feel completely at ease with those that are in their early 30's or younger. They typically have a laissez faire beat about them that my 42 year old feet cant dance to for any long period of time. Feeling at home with everyone and no one is typically my MO.

We start the class like most activities on the ashram, we "OM in". Breath in, Breath out, deep breath in and on the exhale let out an "OM" for the whole breath. We repeat then chant and settle into our orientation. We each describe ourselves and the reason we came. There is a retired yoga teacher, a woman who has done the LYT program before, a truth seeker, a citizen of the world and me.

We are introduced to more detail about the ashram, Swami Satchidananda himself, the philosophy of integral yoga and yoga in general. We go over the requirements again. A typical day looks something like this...

5am 1+ hour long meditation
6:20 am 1+hour long Hatha yoga session
8 am breakfast
8:30 am-11:45am "Karma" yoga (selfless acts of service)
Noon - meditation
12:45pm - lunch
1:30-5:00 - Karma yoga
5pm - Hatha yoga
6pm - evening meditation
6:30pm - supper
7pm - Karma yoga
7:30pm - Spiritual studies
10pm - Silence/lights out

Yep. it's intense.

The first week I felt I was in a fog. I nearly broke in between trying to deal with my insomnia, detox off of TV, alcohol, meat and sugar, be of service, perform yoga postures with my achy bones, and study with dementia all while doing so with a loving attitude.

I questioned why I was even here. Was this going to make any real difference in my life? The glutton for punishment shtick I was doing was no longer cute and I really needed to hunker down and go within to see if all this discomfort and pain was worth it. My answer would not come immediately. In fact, it would get worse before it would get better. The eight limbs of yoga were outstretched and kicking every bit of my Yogi wanna-be ass.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Praise Jam

It's the end of the "Welcome Weekend". The excitement has officially worn off. I'm wimpy so 2 days of getting up before dawn, being severely de-decaffeinated and sober and being forced to sleep in a hot box of a room with two strangers is taking its toll. I know this feeling. It's depression and its found me in Yogaville.

I was feeling pretty lonely  at this point but the universe knew exactly what I needed in the form of an invitation to a "Praise Jam" by one of the Ashram Yogis. Initially I wasn't extremely interested. I was raised Catholic and we tend to be a bit more reserved in our worship so unless praise jam was some awesome new spread to put on my whole wheat toast I wouldn't necessarily be so inclined to participate.

        



I decided to accept the invitation and went some of the other LYTs and Yogis in Training to a house off the quad but walking distance. There I find a dog that looks like Lassie and a sage of a cat in the home of a bearded man that hugs everyone as they walk in. He starts to give instructions: Pick up a book on the table, find a passage that "speaks" to you and read it. "Shyness will ruin the jam" he warns. We each rummage through the options. Rumi..Hafiz...Whyte and many more. We started with a harmony of "OMs" until the universe found its way into the music. Guitars, drums, harmonicas played as we swayed and read our individual passages...














More people arrived as we packed the living room. Real Yogis, soon to be Yogis, and me. I am not sure who I am at this moment except an observer falling in love with David Whyte, falling in love with these people in this room, falling in love with God and realizing where there is a OM there is a way.

.
















Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Welcome Weekend

To become a LYT you have to at least visit Yogaville for a Welcome Weekend. Most LYT's have visited for the weekend, enjoyed the stay so much that they decided to come back and fully immerse themselves for a month or longer. Before deciding to become a LYT I had never been to Yogaville. I heard of it from several friends in the DC Cancer Community and they all had great things to say about the experience. I decided to jump right in sight unseen not really knowing what to expect. 

Every weekend in Yogaville is "Welcome Weekend" where visitors can get better acquainted with the grounds and the "Integral Yoga way of life". I spent my first weekend here like most visitors excited about this new peace seeking adventure. Even getting up for 6:20 am meditation was exciting and cute. Look at me! I'm a zen master! Even though I fidgeted and basically nodded off through most of it, I thought it was pretty awesome. I got to tour the LOTUS temple (which I will discuss later) and hear the history of Swami Satchidananda and Yogaville in general.


Getting ready for my first Satsang

The view of LOTUS from Nataraja shrine

Nataraja shrine on the Hill

First LOTUS pics at Night


totally planned my outfit to match LOTUS


The grounds are amazing. It's surrounded by 650 acres, bordering the James River on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's not hard to see the draw as far as being surrounded by beautiful environment. Even in the barren winter it's lovely. The whole goal of Yogaville from their own words... "Here at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, you will have the opportunity to connect with like-minded people seeking to live easeful, peaceful, useful lives. Our mission at the Ashram is to practice, live, and impart the Integral Yoga teaching of Sri Swami Satchidananda. Our goal is to experience supreme peace and joy and to share that peace and joy with one and all."


View of the James River

Me..blocking the view of the James River

The Welcome Weekend allowed me to not be completely blindsided by the LYT program. I even had the opportunity to meet some visiting DC yogis. I instantly bonded with some folks and happily exchanged information so that when I returned we could connect.

Inside LOTUS..family love


By Sunday afternoon I was pretty tired. All of the "Weekend" folks were packing up and heading out, including my new buddies from DC. There was a huge part of me that wanted to hitch a ride back. My mind was telling me that they were lucky. They were going to be able to go back to their cozy little places in the city, maybe grab a burger on the way home and sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine. Me? I looked down to realize that my real work was just about to begin as my bowl of kale laughed at me.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Welcome to Yogaville


I left Union Station at 11am on Friday, January 29th. Meds, toiletries, 2 suitcases. How does one pack for a month in an ashram anyways? Hiking boots, snow boots, coat, vest, sweaters,shirts, jeans and lots and lots of yoga pants..I'm all set I've decided.  The train ride was uneventful.

On the train..ego intact :)

 I arrived in Charlottesville on time and waited for the driver Jayan to find me. Alice, an older woman from Potomac, Maryland was already in the car as he had picked her up previously from the bus station. She was coming to Yogaville just for the weekend but she was not new to ashram life. Alice and Jayan talked the whole ride about ashram life and Yogaville in general. I sat in the back staring out the window as big town turned into small towns with two lane roads that wined and curved into mountain views with treetops that had longed ago shed its leaves. By time I noticed I was being severely anti-social an hour had came and gone. As we passed the "Welcome to Yogaville" sign I went to do my usual "check-in" on Facebook  but alas, no cell service. My heart skipped a beat. Yikes!!! Yogi life has officially begun.
Welcome to Yogaville!

We pull up to the "Quad" to go to registration. I see shiny, happy people dressed in white everywhere.They welcome me and give me a yellow rubber wrist band reminiscent of the "LiveStrong" bands but this one says "LYT" for Living Yoga Training. Ahhh..I'm a "light", I get it. I like it. I want to immediately shake the hand of the person who thought of that. From this day forward at the ashram I am a LIGHT and everyone treats me as such.
They look happy..I want to be like them
I am the LIGHT of the world..or so they say.

I get to my room and my two roommates are not there. I am relieved because that  gives me a chance to unpack and settle in without the immediate responsibility of pretending I know what the hell I am doing. Insecurity starts to set in as I notice they both have just one suitcase. I feel guilty for my two large, too bright turquoise bags. I think of Erykah Badu's song "Bag Lady"  and believe I have just failed the first yogi rule (in my head) to not overpack. I'm starting to feel like Eva Gabor in Green Acres with my collection of scarves and too many clothes. Where do I think I'm going to wear all this Jewelry anyways. "At least I didn't bring any heels" I tell myself. I secretly smile and pat myself on the back with that justification and continue unpacking.
I don't think I have enough scarves

This is my home for the next 30+ days

All the Yogi essentials


But the truth is, even if your suitcases are beautifully colored, its still "baggage". You can bring it along if you want to but you are the one that has to carry them up and down 3 flights of ashram stairs. Was it worth it?  We will see......

Om Shanti

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dusting off the ole' blog

Just a quick little post to knock the cobwebs of this old blog. I think its time. It's only been 2 years since I posted. Not that I haven't had tons to write about. To catch up on my health drama you can check out my other blog on Mylifeline.org. I've written alot..too much really about cancer and needed a space to rediscover my creative side. Let's hope I can keep it going. Stay tuned....... :) Love and Light.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 22


#Surprise! A empty drawer. I finally got the courage to clean out all my pre-mastectomy bras. Ready to get some cute lacy numbers for the new me. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 21


Being able to stay home from work because of snow? #this_rules! Now I just need someone to shovel it :/ 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Music Mondays - Nature Boy

Nat King Cole's " Nature Boy"





There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he


And then one day, a magic day
He passed my way, and while we spoke
Of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me


"The greatest thing you'll ever learn

Is just to love and be loved in return"


"The greatest thing you'll ever learn

Is just to love and be loved in return"




Day 20


Sometimes my best #peace of mind is found at the bottom of my tea cup.