The deep cold snap last week scrapped a 3 day camping trip.  I can do rugged…but a 40 degree high is not conducive to anything.  So I woke Monday morning  to an empty to-do list.  My current schedule is a pale shadow of what it used to be.  But nothing planned? Not so much.

I pulled out my trusty Osho deck and asked, “What do you have to tell me about this stillness?”  I drew Ordinariness, a woman gently moving  through an orchard, gathering fruit in her basket.  The accompanying narrative was, in a nut shell, a call to bring your attention and delight to the ordinary.  Chop wood, carry water.

I began moving uber-slowly, especially in the kitchen.  Oozing around molasses-like, returning ceramic dishes to familiar shelves, placing well-worn pans in messy drawers, caressing slender silverware, utensils I’ve eaten from thirty years.  The laundry turned into a celebration of clean creation.  Chopping vegetables a prayer.  Really, it’s such a short hop from ordinary to sacred.

On Sunday we danced this ordinary landscape.  Wanna move with ordinary right here?  Imagine a six foot line on your floor.  Stand all the way at one end, let your chest expand.  Imagine yourself pushing to be more.  More what?  More brilliant, more remarkable, more exceptional, more clever, more extraordinary.  Dazzle the world with your uniqueness.  Maybe it’s a stretch; it may feel totally familiar.  But notice the energy it takes to maintain this posture of perform, pretend, produce.

Shake it off, let go as you walk to the other end of the line.  On this far end, let shoulders collapse, rib cage cave.  Feel the flavor of not good enough, less than, hidden.  Comparing and forever coming up short.  Overwhelmed by accomplishments of others, wishing for more.  More what?  See above.

When you’ve inhabited both ends, let yourself wander this polarized strand a bit.  Or put on some music and dance betwixt too much and not enough.  Be curious.  How does the middle feel?  Nothing added.  Enough.  Unpack this for yourself. I delight in the sensibility evoked by this timeless phrase:

Just be yourself…everyone else is taken.

I adore teaching 5Rhythms, a practice of limitless possibility. Offering this exploration Sunday anchored me into the ordinary and the mysterious way it is woven with stillness.  This week on Wednesday night I want us to feel stillness throughout a wave, serenity at hand no matter what rhythm is sweeping through us in these crazy times.  Our ability to face a sink full of dirty dishes and just peacefully, methodically render them clean.  In the most ordinary way.

On the 5Rhythms horizon:

  • Sunday Halloween Sweat  Oct 31:  Put on a costume, dance with us in the garden.  First wave also available on Zoom 10:00-11:00.  In person?  We have a surprise ritual in store for you from 11:00-1:00.  Bring your lunch; we’ll stay after and break bread together.
  • Wednesday Waves in October 20 & 27:  We have a special “dance mask” for you at the door.  These KN94’s as comfy as a mask can be.  It is amazing to be on that Clara wood floor.
  • Wednesday Waves Nov/Dec5 classes for the remainder of 2021.  Majica and are going to serve up a tasty hybrid of what we love.  I’ll start us out at 6:30 with foam and ball rolling and release BEFORE we dance a wave.  AFTER we dance, Majica leads us in an art experience.  No experience necessary for participation in these three uniquely healing practices.  We are calling you in if you have NEVER danced with us.  Just print this ticket…your participation FREE for the very first class November 10.

Richard Linklater, an American film director, producer and screenwriter sums it up for me here:

As you get older, you want less from the world;
you just want to experience it.
Any barriers to feeling emotions get dismantled.
And ordinary things become beautifully poetic.

Yours in the poetry of it all…Bella

A body rests face down on my treatment table and my hands, butterfly wings, rest upon the flare of ribs.  I sense our breath in tandem gently pressing my way south—right, left, right, left.  One side gives, responsive to my touch, springing back as I release compression. Swedish translation for this flare of ribs? Heart basket.  Indeed, this one side gives way like the fibers of a basket.  The other side lives up to the English name: rib cage.  There is a dense unyielding quality, a jail bar rigid resistance.  The two sides are like night and day.

I don’t remember when I began conversing with bodies this way.  There are early memories of being behind someone, my hands an inquiry around shoulder blades, my thumbs in curious exploration where neck meets the head.  This unfolding wonder about finding the knots, their strange asymmetry, the pleasure response evoked with just the right amount of pressure, the palpable sense of tension releasing.  Eventually it became part of my work in the world.

I do remember the moment this hands on passion woke to new possibility.  It dawned when my own heart basket was the recipient of treatment. The therapist taught me how to follow up using the double-wrapped tennis balls and be my own best body worker. It was 1984, it blew my mind, it healed my woes, my focus took a left turn.  I realized the release that skilled hands can generate translates to what self-care tools can create.  Since that epic day my work became duel-fueled: hands-on investigation paired with my rapidly expanding self-care voyage.  Translating the provision of relief (often temporary when done TO you) into the power of deeply informed education.  Lasting changes happen when the right stress is applied to the right tissue on a steady basis.

My latest discovery tickles me to no end.  Calves.  Tight on anyone who is active.  The standard foam rolling technique—leaning back on hands with calves on roller—meh.  Never felt like it was doing much.  Catch this video if you want to really release calves.

We practice this calf release weekly in Essentials.  This week we’ll pull together foot and ankle, shins and calves, knees and thighs…plug the whole leg into the sensual curvy ball/socket of the hip.  90 minutes Friday morning is total luxury; 15-20 minutes on your mat most days is magic.  Maybe you’re intrigued.  Maybe you’re tired of feeling too tight or too weak to do what you love to do.  Maybe you feel the call to care for your one and only body.  Here’s the best way in.  Prepare for the journey with these tools.  Then dive into Essentials: the introduction, now in the Video Library.  After that there are three ways to show up for yourself: 1) purchase any session in the library   2) join us on-line Friday or  3) enroll for Friday and receive the most up-to-date recording that same day to do in your own time.  Easy to create 3-4 shorter sessions with each recording.

And I am right here for that in person one-on-one session that flows in this dance from the pleasure and relief of hands on table work to the joy and empowerment of mat education.  Zoom appointments you wonder?  I guide the self release that informs the resulting education.  Always we end with a video recording for home.

So is there a conversation you are currently engaged in with your body?  It speaks volumes in sensation and whispers in endless variations of breath.  Sometimes it clamors for our attention and other times it’s afraid to bother us.  Listen in.  I’m right here to be in that conversation with you.

❤️Bella

It’s our first act as we exit the womb.  An inhale.  New, fresh, born into possibility.  Arising.  And then there is our departing gesture: the exhale.  A dissolve, a let go into mini-death.  Passing away.  Arising and passing away.  So brief, that precious time we have allotted between birth and death.  Take a breath in and pause.  Feel that sweetness.  Rumi invites us to use that time wisely:

“There comes a time when nothing is meaningful
except surrendering to love.”

It is in this surrender we suffer the inevitable loss of what and who we love.  It is in this surrender that our hearts inevitably break.  It is in this surrender that the inseparability of love and loss become an anguished reality.  Maybe your heart is like mine.  In an effort to carry on, it is capable of feigning forgetfulness.  But below this surface deceit, my old wounds smolder.  And with this fresh loss they ignite into a renewal of this perspective. This time the love/loss bond feels urgently regenerated.

I have an old tattered bookmark with a quote from Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise.  A reminder, a hindrance to feigning forgetfulness:

“Grief is a way of loving what has slipped from view.
Love is a way of grieving that which has not yet done so.”

And Confucius say, “In each life there are two lives.  The second one begins when we realize we only have one.”  The moment that second life begins, the moment we heed the call to live in earnest, that moment comes for each and every one of us.  We can be so friggin’ denial adept that it comes quite late for many.  Too late for some.

Yesterday we danced in this territory and felt ourselves come alive.  It is one thing to sit here and read about loss and love as a concept.  Something quite different happens when you move with it.  I’m teaching Wednesday night again.  I don’t know what else to do but keep moving with this.  It’s how I’m built.  Maybe you can join us at Clara.  Maybe you’re not ready.  But we can all breathe.

Take a deep breath in.  Feel whatever is arising, feel born into possibility.  Hold that breath: cherish the time you have been allocated and remember what and who you love.  Let the breath go.  Feel it all passing away.  Yourself included.

Surrendering to love…bella

The hula hoop craze seared its way into my seven year old memory.  Everyone had one and when I wasn’t roller skating that plastic was circling my hips endlessly.  I played with this toy on and off through the years and as an adult, cursed/blessed with a more analytical mind, I became intrigued with clockwise vs. counter-clockwise.  I found that everyone has a strong preference for directionality when it comes to circling the hips.
And  it somehow felt therapeutic to work at coordinating moves in the more challenging direction.

This weekend my grandson proudly showed me his new found ability.  First time I’d played with one in maybe five years.  Still could do!  After we each showed off our moves, I asked him to try circling the other direction.  He had to place his feet wider apart, put out way more effort and, after a few valiant circumnavigations, the hoop circled on down to the ground.  He tried again.  Same.  It looked like my own prior experiences.  With a lot of effort and a substantial deficit in coordination I used to be able to keep it aloft for maybe a minute.

So I was totally surprised when it was my turn to go the hard way and it was totally easy.  Fluid, effortless, simple.  Obviously something had shifted in this body.  And here’s what I know for sure.  In the fall of 2015, after a painful bout of left hip pain, I became serious about addressing the asymmetrical deficits at my core.  Up until then I trusted training symmetrically despite increasing evidence that my body was not symmetrical.

Exactly three years later, in the fall of 2018 I moved with uterine cancer and a full hysterectomy.  This loss served to deepen my relationship with this asymmetry and gave me access to feeling sensation at an even more subtle level.  I continued to refine this subtle core toning, working centrally, unilaterally and on the diagonal.  The time necessary for this was surprisingly small—5 to 10 minutes, but the consistency was everything—3 to 4 times a week.

Now it is fall again and another three years have passed.  I find myself bounding up the long flight of stairs that lead up from the beach where we are camped.  Balancing on the roller with total ease (pictured above) while gazing at Mama Ocean.  And I can hula hoop to the right or the left.  I feel the best I have felt in many years…maybe ever.  And I know the physical is just a part of the whole.  But it is the physical that supports me in continuing to open my heart, quiet my mind, find full expression for my soul and touch into spirit in all ways possible.  And sharing this route to self-care is what Essentials is about.

Maybe you’re curious and have yet to dive in.  This Saturday at 10:00am, for the first time on line, I’m offering Essentials: the introduction.  If this time does not work for you, pre-enroll to receive the recording.  In two gentle hours learn all the basics of release via foam rolling and double tennis balls; above mentioned subtle core toning—symmetrical and asymmetrical; stretching spine, rib cage, arms and legs.  Want a visual sense of that?

Not only will you feel great by noon, this prepares you to take any Friday morning class Pre-enroll for October or drop in. Or take any class available in the growing Video Library.

So that’s what’s Essential in October where we continue our journey from the feet up.  If you missed the first two foot-focused classes, especially if your tootsies are giving you grief, both those classes are in the library now.  When we start again on October 8 we’ll move up from the shins and slide into the knees.  These sessions are 90 minutes and I hear from many of you that they so easily break into segments of 20-30 minutes, allowing you to create shorter sessions from a single recording.

Circling and circling…so much love coming your way…❤️Bella

Remember spring 2020?  We entered this strange chapter at the Equinox, realities of life as we knew temporarily ending at the same time that signs of life renewing itself were blooming all around us.  Now it is Equinox again.  Six seasons have come and gone.  And the “temporary” feels utterly perpetual.  Somehow the Sunday New York Times helps me mark the passage of week after week and the cover article of their flashy magazine grabbed my attention:

When We Could Be Together All We Wanted To Do Was Dance

The author recalled the hopeful doorway we moved through Equinox 2021.  Remember?  The vaccination thing was working.  We cast off our masks and gingerly, or not so gingerly, began to be with each other.  Faces revealed.  Embraces relished.  The joy of gathering in public spaces.   Fear put to simmer on the back burner.  What did the author, Carina Del Valle Schorske, do in that short window of time?  In every conceivable NYC setting, including a 5Rhythms class given by a teacher I know, she danced.  And danced.  And danced some more.  And then she wrote of her experience and quoted French historian Phillipe de Felice:

“Eras of greatest material and moral distress
seem to be those during which people dance most.”

Which is confirmed weekly by our dance closing circle comments and my own experience.  The bigger question is why. One more quote from this article:  “Historical accounts leave little doubt that the boom in public dancing had something to do with the proximity of death.”  And that still leaves us wondering why.  Why dance when death is looming on the transom?  Could it be that we all have a boogie lurking inside us and the realization that this impulse may never find expression breaks us free?  A now or never thing?  The specter of our own mortality unearthing our god given body joy, the yum of beat responsiveness, our longing to feel and be with other breathing bodies, sense the common pulse of humanity in motion.

I just know what is true for me.  I’ve had intervals of loss and moral distress sprinkled with regularity throughout my life.  From the get-go.  Maybe that’s why the dancing force is so strong in me.  Lately it seems like god has renewed my subscription with grief.  And I feel the impact of six seasons of beating the drum, improvising ways for us to vibrate together.  No matter if I’m out moving with you or dancing behind the desk …it has proved to be an anchor for me.  Blessed be my family, friends and my home.  The sky, the trees, the ground.  And there is no doubt that moving in the garden on Sunday and Clara on Wednesday also keeps me from floating off the face of planet earth.  In this era of great distress dancing is a saving grace.

Not to make light of our time on the mat together.  When I realized how far we journeyed in these six seasons I knew it was time for an introduction to the landscape.  Something I used to do periodically in person.  Live.  Remember?  But since on line is working for Friday morning Essentials, an introduction on line just makes sense.  This two hour practice is all you need to know to be in class on Friday mornings and/or avail yourself of the slowly developing Video Library.  The first class on feet just landed in the Hip, Knee, Foot section.

This video gives you a quick overview of what we will cover during two hours Saturday October 2 10:00-noon.  Can’t make that time slot?  Guess what?  Enroll anyway and receive the recording.

Alrighty then.  All the way from death and dancing to the pleasure of rolling.  All over the board today.  May the balance of light and dark in this seasonal moment inspire the balance we need as we cruise together toward the winter solstice in these rocky times.

Love through it all….❤️Bella

Can you feel your precious feet on the floor?  The weight falling into heels.  Sensitive to the empty space in the dome of the arch.  Plump nesting ball of foot.  Each teeny earth contact point of ten toe pads. Being grounded in these trying times…so many ways to practice.  But you might start with your feet.  What do you feel right there, right now?

Our bodies speak to us in sensation.  Sometimes, in some body parts these sensations begin to inscribe sentences. Over time some of these sentences develop into chapters.  An entire story can become written in a particular region.  If you are human, most likely this experience has been yours.

I still remember my body composing a chapter in early 2007.  The sensation began so faintly, my foot gently aching from time to time.  You might know this one.  How a random ache develops into that first step out of bed being exquisitely painful.  Sensation that haunts every move, captivates your full attention.  When you begin to inquire, plantar fasciitis will be the most common response to “what is this?”  On the “how to get rid of it” front, many practitioners will focus on where the sensation is arising: the pain at foot bottom.  Seems logical enough.

I limped along with this developing story for a good long while, using my hands to massage the plantar fascia at foot bottom, meds, various supports, rest.  Finally went to a physical therapist specializing in foot treatment.  Did he treat the painful bottom of my foot?  No.  Instead he dug into my inner shin, breaking up some gnarly fascial binding.  I had no idea this lower leg tightness was causing the foot pain.

I followed up with my own posterior tibialis digging, a muscle that sends its tendons to foot bottom.  Plantar fascia is the surface cover over an extremely dense tendon region down there.  And those tendons originate from muscles in lower leg.  My recovery chapter began with releasing what had tightened.  Lately I’ve been calling the release self-care I teach the “gateway drug” because it temporarily relieves the pain.  For full healing, after establishing loose, the healing practice of long and strong are ready to move front and center.  Not only did I learn how to consistently loosen up tight tissue, I learned how to stretch it accurately and strengthen it as well.  This chapter had a happy ending.

Over the ensuing years I’ve treated many of your feet.  I love this work and through working with you one-on-one, general principles have emerged that apply to all of our feet. Maybe your foot hurts right now, maybe you’re AOK but this pesky foot thing periodically crops up, maybe you’re just curious about how to prevent this challenging and universal problem.

To that end, this Friday September 17 Essentials begins its new chapter—Foot, Knee, Hip.  The first two classes of this series will focus on our incredible feet and uber-connected lower leg.   Come get educated and inspired by yoga infused with self-care physical therapy sensibility. Those tootsies will love you for it.

Love, Bella

Do you know confused?  This tizzy of frustrating paralysis?  Have you ever watched yourself generate flimsy excuses about why you’re feeling stuck?  I know this place and last week, muddled to the max, I turned to my Osho deck for inquiry.  “What can you tell me about this confusion?”  And I drew the Compromise card, which made no sense at first. Compromise? Lately my being and doing feel like a total matchup.  See last newsletter.  But the following paragraph just kept rattling me:

“Compromise may be just a repression of your confusion. Never repress anything, be clear-cut about your situation.  If you are confused, remember that you are confused.  This will be the first clear-cut thing about you: that you are confused.  You have started on the journey.” 
Osho

When words land in your lap and create recognition and then go on to serve as illumination, maybe even mandate action…well, that’s a library angel.  Not to be ignored. Not only did Osho name my old friend confusion, he went on to ask me to be clear-cut about it.  What an invitation.

Because as soon as I probed what was squished underneath that confusion…well things fell into place.  Just like I said: recognition, illumination, mandated action. There are those who know me well, have witnessed and moved with me through befuddlement default zones.  Lucky me, friends who call me out when I dig myself in deeper, stubbornly mired in confusion, claiming a futile victim-hood.

The particulars are less consequential than this insight.  There may be jewels under the rock of confusion. Who would have thought?  Maybe you know this place, too. And, given a little time, the particulars slowly dawned as I looked under the rock of my current teaching path.  I’m holding space a lot.  For many students and patients.  Called with a vital energy by this pandemic chapter to be in service…with a great deal of passion.  Lately, when I slow down and listen, here’s what I feel: a burgeoning somatic wisdom coupled to the relentless passage of time.  A natural age-mandated season is dawning, a time for holding less space. In fact I’m keenly aware of the longing to be held in practice myself, the desire to show up for my own devoted experience.

The cover up confusion emerged when I faced adding one more commitment: the re-start of that precious mid-week 5Rhythms class.  A space I have held whole-heartedly for so long.  My heart was not in it.  So I check in with my partner Majica who, lucky for me, knows me, understands my need to be in integrity and recognizes truth when she hears it. She instantly got it: my wish to show up only as a student on Wednesday night.  Just for the month of September.  And, just like that,  so it will be.  I can’t wait and I hope to be moving out there with some of you on that precious floor this month of September.

The language of the body is sensation.  Over the course of a couple days I experience the shift.  Confusion feels so dense tense, frozen trapped, compromised.  Deer in the headlights.  With the rock lifted, with light shining in, there is movement and change.  In my body the sensation is one of resting ease, effortless breath, simple grace…fluid alignment.

So I hope I’ve touched those who know confusion.  Together we can practice being clear-cut about this state.  Lift the rock and be curious about what  yearns to be uncovered.  Moments like this are exactly what happen when we are on the dance floor, on the mat and on the treatment table.  Together.

❤️Bella

 

The picture up top?  For seven days, my reality.  And now I’m back.  There is smoke.  There is Covid.  There is drought.  There is Afghanistan.  There are hurricanes.  There is loss upon loss upon loss.  My first day back felt disastrous, overwhelming.  I wondered if the time away was worth the onslaught of return. And I wonder how we continue to move through each day with a modicum of grace.

This morning it feels possible once more.  For now.  It comforts me lately to reflect on a vision of some great power in charge of The Big Plan. Holding the infant that I was in 1950 and saying, “This one. This one I am preparing for 2020.”  Because lately it feels as if the ensuing decades, regularly dosed as they were with ample suffering, were perfectly crafted to deliver me to be with these times.

And also to be with you and hold space for you in these times. The clarity I am blessed with around this calling startles me in its spontaneous arising, its unbroken feeling of connectedness.  This deep well of resonant responsive reciprocity.  And so offerings that invite us to stay present continue to unfold.  It is what I know how to do.  And some days it is the only thing I am clear about.

ESSENTIALS

I want to welcome you to this world if you have yet to dive in.  Twenty minutes on your mat to breathe, roll, tone and stretch can create huge change.  And ninety minutes weekly supports you in that personal practice.  You can do that on Friday mornings at 10:00 or you can dive into the evolving  Video Library.  Calendar Saturday October 2 10:00-noon for a slow moving  introduction to the basics.

I am also holding small, outdoor in person classes for the vaccinated. Frequent pivoting required—stay tuned! If that is of interest to you and/or you have an outdoor space that would support a small class, please drop me a line in reply.

5RHYTHMS:

For many of us, the medicine we receive from dancing is vital and potent.  Majica Alba and I continue to wind our way through the morass of how to safely and effectively offer.  If this territory is unfamiliar, you may take a peek here.

We dance every Sunday from 10:00-noon, on-line AND in person (vaccinated). This also has required frequent pivoting; stay tuned. Please reply if you wish to receive Saturday updates regarding the in person offering—weather sometimes calls the shots on this beautiful two acres.

For the month of September we return to Clara on Wednesday nights 6:30-8:30.  Ready for the crazy details? All east doors open, masked, vaccinated only, limited participation for optimal physical distancing.  This tells you how much we love our dance medicine!

PHYSICAL THERAPY

It is so good to be with you again up in my studio.  And I will continue to see you on Zoom if you are not in this geography or for any reason unable to safely be seen in person.  Our time together is dedicated to those specific unique-to-you body challenges.  You know.  That achey back, troublesome shoulder, ever present hip, undependable knee, persistent foot, tense neck.  You get the drift.  If you are willing to spend twenty minutes on your mat most days, I’m your practitioner.  Our collaboration moves from assessment to hands on treatment to home self care instruction, supported by our video creation.

The Big Plan is relentless…and so is this unbroken feeling of connectedness.  Feeling you out there….❤️Bella

 

The view is unchanged.  Thirty years, same coastal location.  And, though the world is chaotically strange outside our front door, off the back deck things are persistently unchanged.  Dusky low tide sand, the jutting land spit holding Santa Cruz, diving pelicans and surfacing seals.  The low reverberation of wave upon wave upon wave.

Last week I wrote of suffering. A way to breath-transform the distress that surrounds us into prayer.  And here, nestled in this comfort cocoon for a week, I catch myself grinning for no apparent reason.  The suffering at the front door exists, but I remain by the back door where a pervasive sense of peace settles over this small part of the world.

Pema Chodron’s voice wiggles and squirms it’s way into my consciousness. Something she said about lightening up.  Something about seriousness being the world’s greatest killjoy.  And I wonder about joy in the face of all this pain.  Is there an embodied way to uncover joy, let it breathe, encourage it to rise to the surface?  Not in denial of the suffering, but in spite of it.

I have a long history of dancing with this particular deck view. So I put on some music and move with this question.  Right away I greet the propensity to gloom I feel in my bones.  I was born to get caught up about everything all the time.  But what about these feet?  They move to this beat in the most relaxed and ordinary way.  No big deal.  I play with miserable knees, worried hips and then flip the switch to legs that have a sense of humor.  It’s a practice.  It’s possible.

The beat intensifies, the pulse of it lands in my belly brain. I pay attention from the bowl of my pelvis instead of my judgmental eyes. I sense my heartbeat, look out the window, take an interest in the world out there.  Fishermen, sandpipers, sunbeams on water, surfers.

The tempo gets crazy. I release my head, drop all sniveling complaints about myself, about others, about the state of the world.  Hang in the delicate sensitive space of this moment. And this one.  And this one.  Giggle at our collective illusion that there is solid ground to stand on.  That our preference for security and certainty hold any weight in the world.

The music lightens up, a quirky jazz piece, my feet prance, hands chime in with some wacky off-beat gesticulations, patterns I’ve never experienced quite like this.  A practice of doing something different, something extraordinary.  A sense of wonder, a curtain of awe settles upon me.

My breath slows down with the music.  There is this released sense of struggle ceasing, a softening into surrender.  Fertile ground in which to plant seeds of joy.   Seeds that need cultivating in this suffering world.  Seeds that deserve sunlight and water and air in order to thrive.  Seeds that I cast from this deck in the hopes they find root in the sand.  Another form of prayer.

💞Bella

P.S.  I know you will love this addendum.  Yesterday three construction vans pulled up to the condominium next door.  Since then our peaceful universe is intermittently interrupted by the whine of saws and hammers pounding.  The landlord apologizes and lets us know it will continue all week.  What’s a seeker to do? a) laugh at the absurdity  b) take each jolting sound as a reminder to breathe  c) be grateful for the incredible abundance and comfort surrounding us  d) all of the above.

Most Sunday mornings, I head out to dance in the garden. I cruise through mid-town, cross the American river and turn left on Northgate.  Right there, beneath the overpass, week after week, I pale at the jumble of broken down tents, piles of rubbish, scattered outhouses littering the landscape of the river’s edge.  The people living here are lean and dark, downcast eyes, shoulders to match.  I look.  I breathe.  I let in.  My Sunday practice for more than a year now.

It would be so much easier to put on my trusty blinders and speed through in my red car, deep in much more important thoughts.  Why would I let in this horrifying specter?  More evidence of all the suffering on this planet.  It is so deeply ingrained to turn away.  How else can we make it through each day?  Each week, in this same location, I surrender to another way.

Buddhism 101 encourages us to use breath as prayer.   Invites us to begin by actually inhaling the suffering into our bodies. Thich Nhat Hahn puts it so well:

“We need to understand the goodness of suffering.
It is the compost that helps the roses grow.
It is the mud from which magnificent lotuses emerge.”

Tonglen is a simple practice that offers us an on-the-spot choice in the face of suffering. We have opportunities aplenty: our own misery for starters.  The challenges arising in the lives of our loved ones.  When the tonglen muscle is strong we can use it whenever we are present with hardship. Try it for a moment right here in the ease of your seat.  If you have the front page of the newspaper handy…suffering is there.  But any heartbreak memory will suffice.  Empty of your breath and then sip in a few inhales specific to this suffering.  Let it in.

Aaah, you have felt the catch. Tonglen isn’t effective unless we fully let in the hurt.  Darn it.  It is so culturally entrenched to resist, to turn away.  But if you find yourself able to let some in, consider this: your magnificent body knows what to do with that world of hurt. Your body actually knows how to compost.  Your body is not afraid of mud.  Your body actually thrives in it.  Your body can washing machine churn and be a cleanser of suffering.

And once your body does that, your exhale emerges as prayer.  For what?  You choose.  A prayer for healing, for transformation, for an end to suffering.  Out there on Northgate my exhale prayer becomes a plea for all beings to be safe, for each person living there to have enough to eat.

This poem by Gregory Orr has always touched me:

Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.

Because we all have that shattered place deep inside, that tear tinier than a pearl or a thorn.  And when we are ready, we can breathe it to life and find out what beauty is ready to come from this loss.  These bodies know how.  There are lotuses just waiting to emerge from the mud.  There was a time twenty years ago when I absolutely got that I was not one of the “some say you’re lucky” ones.  And I got to work in the mud.

These last few weeks I have been deep in it. There is never an end to it.  If there was, I would cease to understand poems and songs.  In this moment, I am feeling lucky indeed.  Lucky to have lived a life liberally sprinkled with suffering. When loss is on my doorstep, I eventually open the door wide and breathe it in.  It is so often the birthplace of the beloved.

I long to practice with you.  We can meet on the mat or the dance floor or up in my studio one-on-one. Until then…breathe it in, compost it, let fly your prayers on the out breath.
Love, Bella