Archive for June, 2013

Summer solstice sunrise

June 22, 2013

Today I head out at dawn, buoyed by a stronger-than-usual cup of Altura coffee. Honey is so delirious with pent-up energy from missing a walk last night that at first I can’t stop to write.

I love that I can step out into nature unkempt, unbathed, wearing the same old soft clothes that I slept in, old beach thongs on my feet, wrapped in a wool cape that I bought at Kindred Spirit many moons ago. It’s just starting to get light out, the air is refreshingly cold, a light breeze flows from the direction of Matilija Canyon, and all is quiet . . . no forceful winds like the storm I walked into the other night.

I’m so aware of the wonderful freedom I have at this time of my life. Sometimes I flash on all the years I lingered in bed with a man . . . but now daybreak is the time for heading out the door. My mind flits in all directions. My two black dogs run way ahead—the other morning Nubio chased a coyote off the property that was probably eying one of the cats. Poor Chico; I dare not unleash him. Each time I stop to write he has to wait . . .

Last night I had dinner with two of my lifelong women friends. It took us three months to find a date when we could all get together. I’ve known them since the seventies, from way back in the hippie-married-child-raising-homeschooling-organic-gardening-commune days. It seems both strange and normal that we are now in our sixties. We are like those women in Fried Green Tomatoes who tell each other everything; I was laughing my head off before I even walked in the door.

We weren’t that hungry yet, so the early Thanksgiving nut loaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, and arugula salad sat waiting in the kitchen while we sat around and sipped champagne that turned pink when we dropped in frozen organic raspberries.

At some point in the conversation I heard myself say, “I would not trade this stage of life,” or maybe I said “this present state of mind,” “for all the youth in the world.” And then I launched into the romantic escapades of some of the midlife and younger women in my life—women that I run into who’ve read my dating memoir and consequently feel free to tell me just about anything. I told the story of one woman who flew to Texas to meet up with a man she had been friends with for many years. This woman had confided to me that after he picked her up at the airport, on the way to his home, he stopped to buy a brand-new bed! She described how they stopped at another store and together picked out beautiful new sheets, pillows, and covers, because, as he told her, he wanted her to sleep in a bed that no other woman had ever slept in before.

When I told my two friends this story last night, I knew they would laugh along with me when I commented, “Where did I go wrong? Back in my youth the men I met lived in cob houses and we slept on the floor . . .”

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oAll this and more I write in my journal this morning, while Chico pulls on the leash and Honey and Nubio run back and forth on the dirt path, until finally Honey collapses exhausted at my feet.

As I write, the landscape grows brighter, the sky grows ever more illuminated. The air is still crisp; the sun has not yet risen, but already her powerful rays are bathing the mountains behind me in light. I walk and wait . . . it’s been too many days since I’ve been out here before sunrise. Soon the sky above the mountains is dazzingly bright, and now the majestic fiery ball of the sun rises above the mountains in all her full glory. The light is blinding. The landscape is all lit up—every blade, every leaf, shimmers and sparkles brand-new.

It feels safe now to unleash Chico, and we all run home. Time to do our dharma.

A light unto oneself

June 20, 2013

It’s a wild, whirling, windy, summer solstice night! There are pockets here in the river bottom where the wind blows from the direction of Matilija Canyon with such fury that I feel like I’m walking into a powerful storm—a wonderful, cleansing, ecstatic cosmic storm. I don’t resist the power of the wind—just reach for my earlobes to make sure my earrings don’t blow away.

I turn my face toward the sky so I can feel the wind on my skin like a thousand kisses . . . I stretch my arms wide in all directions, breathe deep, spread my rib cage (the wings of the body), and open my chest to the full force of the wind.

When I turn around, I feel the force of the wind on my back and she pushes me home. Then I look up, and there is the feminine face of the Moon Goddess, the Mother of the Universe, smiling down on me. We might be tiny little human beings in a vast infinite universe, but women, through all the stages of life, are forever connected to the cycles of the moon.

And we might even say, since we’re aiming to balance the male and female (sun and moon) aspects of ourselves, that men, too, are attuned to the cycles of the moon.

All the while that I’m teaching my yoga classes, usually laughing as I encourage students to face the layers of hidden pain and stiffness buried in the body, I also try to convey that Hatha Yoga is not just physical Yoga. The Sanskrit word “ha” stands for the sun, and “tha” stands for the moon. . . The moon being the reflected light of the sun, consciousness (tha) is the reflected light of the soul. Knowing and realizing this for oneself is Hatha Yoga.

On this cosmic, windy night, that to me is the meaning of being a light unto oneself.


Every creature loves its life as much as we do

June 18, 2013

467405_10150743640074703_301792493_oCommunion with nature . . . that’s when you’re walking in the boonies and you feel the veil of worldly worries lift, and you slip underneath and step into the twilight realm where all of creation is smiling back at you. That’s when your eyes open to the landscape infused with the gold light of the setting sun and the bright moon directly overhead. That’s when you can face the futility and still feel the wonder of it all . . .

We walk, savoring this evening off. In the quiet distance you can hear the faint laughter and happy screaming of children playing. New beings at the beginning of life. For a moment it’s as if you’ve already stepped off the Earth plane, and you’re hearing those sounds from far, far away.

After a while I stand still. I stand in the center, communing with the strong, steady, darkening mountains, watching lights in distant houses go on. I feel the layers of night silence descend. The last sounds of the day fade away, and now comes the cricket chorus of night.

As I lean into the boulder near my house and scribble what I feel, I think of the dogs at the pound, cheated of their last day on Earth, cheated even of a last loving embrace, betrayed by man. Man who has the genius to fly to the moon but who can’t stop the habitual killing machine.

As my heart bursts, what suddenly comes to mind is that wonderful Beatrice Wood quote: “When the bowl that was my heart was broken . . . out came laughter.” Beato, who in truth loved dogs more than pots, chocolate, and young men—and who taught that every creature loves its life as much as we do.

If it were not for Honey

June 18, 2013

If it were not for Honey insisting we go for a walk every evening, I might get sucked into a vortex of earthly concerns. I might not be out here now at sunset, leaning against a warm boulder, and watching the gold light descend on the landscape. But here I am, writing in my new journal on top of a boulder desk.

There’s no room here for Honey, so she sits alone on a nearby rock, scanning the riverbed below like the wild animal she is. I keep one eye on little Chico, wandering nearby, sniffing the brush. I must remember to put some kind of deterrent around his neck, so I don’t have this constant background worry that a coyote will eat him. When he strays too far, I put him on a leash.

Day after day, the current of life sucks me in. These are the days of elder care for my parents, squeezed in between animal care, teaching yoga, and all the daily life chores one does to keep one’s ship afloat.

At the end of the day Honey lets me know that she’s had enough of waiting. There’s no escaping her begging and pleading. It’s no use resisting her psychic pull. I can hear her telepathically, saying, “Come on, Suza. The sun is setting. Let’s go!”

Honey’s life force is a thousand times stronger than mine. She’s the ultimate unrelenting personal trainer. She carries the exuberance of youth, and she demands her dose of freedom. Yet every day I resist. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have her. I just want to write, do yoga, clean house, or socialize, uninterrupted. But with rare exceptions, she always wears my resistance down. Thanks to Honey, I abandon everything . . . And that’s why it says in my journal: “There’s nothing you have to do that is so earth shaking that you should miss the last rays of sunlight . . .”

After we wander the riverbed, I bring Honey and Chico back to the house and leave, guilt-free, to check on my parents.

IMG_2635My mom is alone in the front yard without her walker. She’s making her way by hanging on to the front porch railing and then bracing herself against an outdoor chair. I can see that she’s wondering why part of the yard is dug up and why there’s a new stack of bricks near by.

“Where’s your walker?” I ask.

“It walked away,” she says, laughing. And then she orders me to move the rake and other tools because, “someone might trip and fall.”

I escort her up the steps and into the house. As usual, my dad is dozing in his easy chair. He’s not hungry, but he wants to make sure my mom has her dinner. My mom insists she has no appetite either, but I know that if I get her to sit down with me she’ll eat if I’m eating.

I warm up the dinner my youngest sister made earlier in the day. Potatoes, carrots, peas, sauteed onions, all mixed together with a pat of organic butter, the Dutch way. Sure enough, Mom eats a hearty bowl full.

During every visit, and usually while we eat, my mom asks me the same thing as if for the first time. “How much do you weigh?”

“Too much,” I always reply. And each time we find this terribly funny!

Tonight, looking across the room at my dad, she asks, “Who is that man over there?”

“I don’t know,” I joke, “Who do you think it is?”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” she replies, catching this momentary lapse in memory.

While we eat, my mom and I dig deep into our memory banks. I can remember every detail of childhood happiness—mostly centered around food. She likes it when I describe how well I remember the delicious things she fed me in Holland. I would be in my soft flannel nightgown or pajamas, and she would bring my middle sister and me, each a bowl containing a “Holland Rusk,” a unique round, crunchy toast-like biscuit. The Holland Rusk would be submerged in hot milk, to which would be added a pat of butter, melting in the hot milk, and a sprinkling of brown sugar. The hot milk would soften the crisp biscuit so that you could slowly savor the warm buttery sweetness and then slurp it all down.

This was our special Dutch childhood treat, usually served after supper, before we went to bed.

My mom and I find it hilarious to speak only in Dutch, exaggerating all the unique Dutch pronunciations. Tonight I asked her to tell me again the story of when I was born. At first she looked at me, very amused. “Oh, that was so long ago, I can’t remember. How old are you now?” But then somehow it all comes back and she remembers being in labor, making her way down a flight of stairs, catching a taxi, spreading her raincoat on the seat of the taxi so it wouldn’t get it wet, and arriving at the hospital, where she was told to wait to push, to hold me back till they could get her into the delivery room . . . It’s uncanny how she remembers almost everything from long ago.

But she can’t remember things from moment to moment. Yesterday I noticed her partial was missing again. We looked everywhere, and she couldn’t remember what we were looking for, let alone where she’d left her top teeth. I swear we went through every purse, pocket, dresser drawer, medicine cabinet, windowsill, under the bed, in the fridge, trash, cereal boxes. . . Later in the day, after I gave up, my youngest sister told me that she prayed and then found them safe inside a small purse.

After dinner it’s time for a foot bath. This takes place in the kitchen, where it’s easy to fill the plastic tub with warm water. I take off my mom’s shoes, and for the thousandth time tell her she must go barefoot–she must air out her feet and expose them to the sunlight. My barefoot Indonesian dad agrees and echoes my sentiments. While Mom soaks her feet, I wash her shoes.

While I dry her feet, she reminds me for the thousandth time not to waste water. “Pour the water in a bucket, and save it to flush the toilet.” Whenever she goes on about not wasting water, I remember how, as a teenager, if I was in the shower too long she would simply turn the hot water heater dial to “Off” so that a blast of cold water would flush me out of the bathroom. . .

And now I’m back in my writing hut, happy to be in my own sweet home.

Forty years ago I stood in the Gateway bookstore in the Ojai Arcade . . .

June 13, 2013

suz10Forty years ago I stood in the Gateway bookstore in the Ojai Arcade reading a bulletin board notice announcing a nine-month Yoga Teacher Education program in San Francisco. (By the time I graduated, the nine months had evolved into a four-year program.) I had fallen into teaching yoga at the Gables, the Woman’s Club, and the Art Center, and, until that moment, hadn’t realized I needed to go to yoga school. But, reading the program flyer, it dawned on me that it might be good to learn some anatomy and take some kind of training.

I needed $500, a small fortune at the time. As a single mom with a five-year-old son, I did not have that kind of cash lying around. So I placed a small ad in the Ojai Valley News right by my weekly health column (the editor, Fred Volz, allowed this appeal), stating that if someone would lend me $500 for teacher training I would come back to Ojai to teach. Miraculously, a reader of my weekly health column called the paper and delivered a check.

When I got to the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education, (via hitching a ride in the back of a friend’s camper) I asked the director if I could skip Asana I and II and go directly to Asana III because I had been teaching a year or two (out of Richard Hittleman and Lilias Folan books). More important, I could afford to stay only for one semester. She laughed at my naive assumptions and insisted I had to start at the beginning like everyone else.

I thought I was flexible, but my memory of that first Iyengar asana class is that, when it came time for seated forward bends, the teacher had me sit on a stack of books or some primitive hard wood block (professional yoga blocks had not yet been invented), put a strap around my feet, and instructed me to feel if my vertebrae were poking out. It was all overwhelming, classes were three hours long, and when they finally laid us to rest in Savasana, for reasons beyond my understanding silent tears flowed like a river down my cheeks.

By the end of the first semester I knew enough to realize I needed more training and for the next five years I found ways to make trips back and forth to the Bay Area until I had enough credits to graduate from the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. Those early, basic, step-by-step beginning-yoga classes gave me a strong foundation and planted the seed of yoga deep in my core.

Last night, as I hung upside down to decompress my spine and replenish my energy reserves, I felt so lucky all over again to have this great holistic health resource in my life.


The marsh is dry now

June 3, 2013

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oThe marsh is dry now; the creek bed and all the secret trickles of water are no more. It was hard to extricate myself—I felt sad and guilty—but I cancelled the last lesson. I felt so tired, I had to come here to replenish myself. I had to sit still on the warm ground and stare at the waving stalks—still green, but the front row already turning yellow. I had to come here and listen to the twilight symphony.

As I sat, a flock of birds flew overhead. They swooped and darted like bats—dozens of dancing black silhouettes etched against the twilight sky. I had to come here and see the sweet yellow mustard once more, for myself, before it all dries up.

It’s Sunday night, it’s June, and here I am with Honey, Nubio, and Chico. After I let them run wild they sit still, close by. I feel their animal consciousness. I watch their heads turn side to side, ears alert. I see their eyes staring . . . whatever it is, I want to see it, too. And all the while the sky grows darker and the clouds, the mist, rolls in.

The river of life has washed me ashore here. Life is not done with me yet, and I’m not done with life. But without my nature refuge the fatigue is overwhelming. I feel ready for the long sleep. I want to be a hermit. I want to hole up and write and clear my head, but I had a wake-up call. The doctor was going to open up my young niece’s crooked spine and fuse her vertebrae. It gave me a jolt and pushed me back into the teaching game. The commercial world is pulling yoga apart. I want to hide till this phase passes, but humans need to know their bodies from the inside out. So I’ll keep teaching, even if insurance doesn’t pay for it.

Now the wind is blowing. The night is falling so sweetly. The dry marsh is full of birds—more and more birds gathering for the night. Their symphony is enchanting. As the ears open you hear them calling back and forth. We are so quiet; as the land grows still, we grow even more still. We are so silent I half expect a coyote or bear to emerge from the marsh, but the very presence of my pack keeps them at bay.

Nature is releasing her secrets. The beauty is so intense it’s a tonic for all the horrors I learned of this week. My heart is still recovering from the story of the little girl who didn’t survive her “wedding night” to the tribal chief. And the harsh truths I just learned about horse racing. Man’s cruelty and perversion knows no bounds.

On this night I stayed till all the daylight was gone. It was like death—a good death. I stayed till the night grew cold, till cold winds blew over the dark landscape and pushed me back to my nice warm nest.


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