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Surrender in the New World

I woke up this morning early, slipping out of bed to make coffee, meditate and get ready for a new day. The robins wake me; their song permission to get out of bed. I tiptoe to the kitchen, turn the kettle on and stare at the pot, waiting for hot water. The cups and French press set out the night before, wait too.

I pull the cream from the fridge. Pouring the water, now hot. I smell the beans as I fill the press.

I love this time of day; the quiet, the darkness, the calm space between. The time when my mind is settled and clear, and my heart, warm and squishy, open to the whispers of Spirit. This is gentle time; those peaceful moments before the inevitable distractions of dawn.

The full moon illuminates a bird resting atop the suet house. Struck by his stillness, I realize I’m holding my breath.

I breathe in and reach for my headphones to meditate. I’m hungry for guidance and grounding. I find it in Oprah and Deepak’s latest 21-day Meditation gift, “Hope in Uncertain Times.”

Oprah begins by telling the story of her difficulties learning to swim. Being afraid, she’d always fought the water. It wasn’t until she let go, surrendering to the water’s flow, that she learned to swim. “Move with the flow,” she says, “don’t fight the current. Resist nothing, let life carry you- don’t try to carry it.”

I gaze into my backyard, letting the lesson sink in. I see the figure of a woman I’ve discovered in my Aspen tree.

I realize she’s another messenger.

“Surrender,” she coaxes, “Look at me. I need do nothing to be a tree. I just am.”

The bird, still miraculously perched on the feeder, chimes in, “Look at me. I need do nothing to be a bird. I just am.”

The sun, climbing slowly, also beckons.

“Look at me.” she says, “I rise every morning. I need no justification. I just shine.”

I feel their invitation and pull it inside. I feel my heart expand, then realize I’m holding my breath again.

I smile. The water offers buoyancy, yet I insist on sinking.  Flow is as foreign a concept as surrender.

A hummingbird by nature, I focus on doing, achieving, producing, not ‘being.’  Most comfortable whirling around at light speed, I reject the very stillness I crave. I am habitually fast and flitting.

“But,” I reason, “these are very different times.  The world is upside down!”

I can’t distract myself in the same ways; my flight pattern, along with the rest of the world, has been grounded. My anxiety about the present only surpassed by my anxiety about the future.

“How many people will die? What is our government really doing to help? Will my friends and family be okay? Will Herb and I be okay? How long will this go on? What will the world be like afterward? Why is this happening!”

Ah, the hummingbird, again.

She’s not undone by the uncertainty, but by the looming certainty of a larger lesson.

Things now do not differ from how they’ve always been.  Hummingbird’s obsessions a futile attempt to order a world beyond control.

In my ear, Oprah coos, “In the words of Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The New Earth, ‘There are three words that convey the secret to the art of living.’” (Now she has my attention.) “‘The secret of all success and happiness. Those three words are: Be one with life.’”

I sit still, determined to take it in.

“Be one with WHAT life?” I say out loud. “A global pandemic?  Financial risk? Death, disease, and unknowable suffering?  Are you freaking kidding?”

This is not what hummingbirds do! We don’t allow. We don’t flow. We don’t choose. We flutter!

I look back at the tree. I look at the yellow finch and the rising sun.

“Be one with life,” they say with a knowing smile.  “Just be.”

“Can’t I just be a hummingbird?,” I ask.

“You can,” they chorus, “Surrender. And be a hummingbird.”

Homecoming in Jersey

As the train pulled into the Hamilton, New Jersey, I suddenly felt ill. I looked at Herb, stricken.

“I think I’m gonna throw up!” I moaned, “I’m scared!”

Waiting to meet us at the station were my three half-siblings, Darlene, Lorie, and Tony. We’d discovered each other via ancestry.com

“Hi Tina, my name is Darlene de la Cruz,” the message titled ‘Cousins,” read. “I’ve been investigating my ancestry and your name came up as a close match. I would love to correspond if you are open to it. I live in Bordentown New Jersey. Be well. Darlene.”

With help from an adoption researcher, Darlene and I learned we were half-sisters. Our father, Manuel was married to her mother, Delores. Together they had three children, Darlene, Tony, and Lorie. Elated to know more of my birth history, we planned a visit later that Fall.

“If it doesn’t work out, get on a train and come to Long Island,” warned my friend Gloria. “You don’t know jack about these people. For all you know they’re grifters, creeps!”

“Hooligans!” I laughed. “Don’t worry Glo, I promise, I’ll be fine.”

“If they don’t get who you are- if they treat you bad, cut your trip short and come see me sooner!” I also planned to see Gloria on this trip.

My sons also advised caution. I understood their concerns but wasn’t worried about the visit, until now. Now, I just felt nauseated.

“You’re just excited,” Herb reassured me. “Try breathing.”

We stepped onto the train platform. I recognized Darlene from the bright shock of purple in her short hair. Lorie, my childhood lookalike, gaped in wide-eyed amazement. Brother Tony, sent to watch the other exit doors, walked up with a shy smile, open arms, offering bear hugs.

We stood there a few moments, smiling at each other, stunned by our surreal reunion. Bags flung into the trunk, we piled in the car for the short drive to Bordentown.

Proud of their hometown, we heard how Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Naples and Spain and brother to Napoleon I of France, established a residence in Bordentown. He entertained famous guests like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and the future 6th U.S. President, John Quincy Adams. History and home are important parts of our family fabric.

We drove to Tony’s house where we met more friends and extended family. We sat in the back yard in a circle of lawn chairs, making small talk.

Suddenly Lorie asked, “Is there anything you’d like to know about our Father?”

“No,” I smiled, “I think I’ll just take all this in for a moment.”

There was a lot to take in.

Later, at the jazz brunch arranged in our honor, we met Tony’s wife, Melanie, Darlene’s wife, Sandy, Lorie’s children Ashley and Josh, assorted cousins and extended family which included my half-sibling’s half-siblings! Walt, a retired Camden, New Jersey cop, and Cheryl, who lives in Maryland, both drove in to join us. Lorie and her daughter Ashley came from Atlanta, and son Josh, in the military, traveled from his station in Hawaii.

“This really is a family reunion,” I laughed, humbled by the effort everyone made to attend.

Rosemary Schoelllkopf (aka Roe), Lorie’s plucky childhood friend also came. The next evening, after dinner and a few drinks at the local pub she warned me about writing anything unflattering about the De la Cruz family. I laughed it off, but she was serious. The message was clear: don’t mess with her people.

“How many nights do you want me to book the room?” Herb asked when we were planning our visit to Bordentown.

“Better make it one,” I replied, but when Darlene asked how long we could stay, I immediately replied, “two nights.”

Our short visit was filled with laughter, stories, food, football, and an impromptu trip to the Jersey shore.

I burst with pride when Darlene introduced me to her spin class, “This is my sister Tina who is visiting us from St Louis, Missouri!”

The class was full because she’d been talking about me for weeks. I met more cousins who immediately asked, “When are you coming back?”

Darlene and her wife Sandy have been together for over forty years. That’s not easy, especially when you’re a bi-racial, lesbian couple. Former educators, they now fill their days teaching and training at their health club. Sandy is spirited, funny and quick, the perfect balance to Darlene’s calm, gentle approach to life.

Lorie is the most like me; animated, outgoing and boisterous. During the Falcon-Eagles game, I watched amazed as she called every single play and player by name. Ashley, Roe, Darlene, and Sandy were all equally passionate and game savvy. I’d never seen women who loved and knew football like this group! I wondered aloud if this was a Jersey thing or an East Coast thing because it definitely was a thing.

I observed brother Tony quietly absorb every conversation, only occasionally choosing to comment. He is thoughtful and gentle and reminds both Herb and me of our son Cary.

In quieter moments, we talked about our careers, our children, our relationships and our struggles. We also talked about our Father. He’d divorced their mother when they were very young before they had a chance to know him. Each had a story about meeting him later in life, but none of those stories was very happy.

Our Father is Venezuelan and has eleven children. Darlene, Tony, and Lorie are from his first marriage; five more are from his second marriage. At least three more are like me, born out of wedlock. Let’s just say, our Father got around.

Each told a story of disappointment. Lorie traveled to Venezuela in her early twenties to discover her father had not told his second family about his first family.

“I’m sorry but that’s kind of F’d up,” I said when she told me.  “Did he know you were coming?”

“YES, Tina! He did!” Lorie said, shaking her head.

Tony, also went to Venezuela to meet our father when he was in his early twenties. He stayed longer hoping to connect on a deeper level, but after two months he returned home disappointed as well.

“I’m grateful that he gave me life,” Tony said on our drive to the Jersey shore, “but I don’t think he’s got the capacity to be fully present.”

“I agree,” said Darlene. Always the optimist, Darlene had a similar experience but didn’t share the details.

“That’s just so weird isn’t it?” I said. “Because the one thing we all have in common is him. And look at our hearts! They’re huge! We’re here loving each other and he’s missing out!”

Darlene said softly, “that’s true Tina.” Tony nodded quietly.

That night I wrote in my journal,
“Meeting my siblings is mind-blowing. We have an easy kinship and deep recognition I wasn’t expecting.  All of the angst, suffering, and displacement I’ve felt surrounding my adoption is dissipating. It’s like being able to take a full breath for the first time.” 

When Darlene and I confirmed we had the same birth father, I emailed him a picture along with a short introduction.  I left it up to him to respond if he chose to.  This was during a time of political and economic stress when communication in Venezuela was very difficult, so I’m not sure he ever got the email.  So far, he has not responded.

My birth father is now eighty-four years old and recently moved from Venezuela to California to be near one of his daughters. He lives there with his second wife who has dementia. I don’t feel the need to send him a second email.

As my biological father, Manuel Antonio De la Cruz responsible for my birth, but my adopted Father, Ehret Oscar Ramey, is responsible for my life.

My parents always told us we were lucky because we were ‘chosen.’ I never accepted that because I secretly believed I was damaged. Why I was given away? Why I was unwanted? I felt immense shame for being born.

Meeting my birth family has helped heal that wound. My siblings are loving, resilient, loyal, and optimistic. We love animals, being in nature, big hugs and laughter. We tell the truth, have faith in one another and God. We try to be kind and generous. We love to love others. This is my family; this is me.

It took me sixty years to understand that I was adopted, not abandoned. I was loved by parents who did choose us; parents who raised three amazing humans.

I feel every adoptee is entitled to know their birth story. In the state of Missouri that was not legal until 2018. Perhaps this was to protect birth and adopted parents, but the child is the one who pays the price. When you deny the child her story, she’s left wondering, longing to understand.

I still don’t know the details of my adoption, but finding my siblings has helped me understand more about my history.  This is more than an answered prayer; this is a miracle and a new beginning.

The Birthday Lesson


I am in Vancouver, BC, traveling with two dear friends to celebrate my 60th birthday. This is the first of many celebrations commemorating not just my turning the big 6-0 but the culmination of the past few years of busyness and transition. Life’s directives demanded courage, and being the coward that I am, I fought hard and fruitlessly, of course because life always gets it’s way.

I’ve written about those events before so I’m not going into it now; let’s just say it was a remarkable time and I’m glad it’s over. 

I guess one of the benefits of living longer is learning you won’t spontaneously combust when life throws you a big ass curve ball, even when you’re certain it’s eminent.

Last evening, overlooking the sound from our Vancouver Island Air BnB, my dear friends Suba (52) and Gail (69), turned our discussion to birthdays, ours in particular, and all the ripe topics that aging conjures.

“Well, I guess it beats the alternative,” I joked, “My dad used to say, ‘No-one gets out of this alive.’”

“Aging definitely has its challenges,” replied Gail, “and I think as women we should be talking about it and helping one another. It’s hard nowadays because I actually have to think about getting out of my bathtub!”

I nodded, “I don’t know if I am getting more mature, or just more tired. I’m definitely more discerning about what I will spend my focus, energy and time on. It’s like yes, yes, no, no, oh, Hell no!”

“That’s so true. I think that is one of the many gifts of getting older,” leave it to Suba to point out the positive side.

As we watched the sun slip downward over West Vancouver on a Fourth of July evening, we volleyed the topic back and forth, lobbing a “greater wisdom” in response to a “can’t freaking sleep” until we’d developed a list of the hazards (cons) and benefits (pros) of aging.

Here is what we came up with: (and feel free to amend or add your thoughts)

The Hazards

  • Growing intolerant or impatient: ie. Grumpy old lady
  • Narrowing of interests and activities- resistance to change
  • Becoming a know it all
  • Self absorption
  • Lethargy – an unwillingness to make an effort
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Grief and loss of loved ones, friends, and sense of younger self

Then the physical realities:

    • Skin laxity, age spots and wrinkles
    • Toilet urgency
    • Insomnia
    • Fatigue
    • Reduced strength and stamina
    • Weight gain
    • Metabolism slows
    • Menopause
    • Takes longer to recover from set backs
    • Brain fog and memory issues
    • Medical emergencies

The Benefits

  • Wisdom, grace, and expanding consciousness
  • Greater Self acceptance and Self compassion
  • Greater capacity for forgiveness and compassion for others
  • Greater courage and confidence
  • Better sense of humor and patience
  • Mentorship, leadership, and volunteerism to nurture others
  • Greater resilience
  • Less concerned with what other people think of them
  • Less defined by material possessions and social status
  • Greater spiritual depth and connection
  • Greater freedom to pursue personal passions

 

Suba jumped in, “Hey! Don’t forget that we celebrate JOMO!” 

(The use of the pronoun ‘we’ did not escape me), “JOMO? What the hell is that?” I asked.

“It’s the opposite of FOMO- the fear of missing out. That’s what you have when you are younger. When you are in constant motion because you fear you’ll miss out on something. It’s the difference between reaction and creation.”

“Oh, I remember that,” I admitted.

“JOMO,” Suba continued, “is the opposite, it’s the JOY of Missing Out. Because you become more discerning with your time and the way you choose to spend it. You don’t care what you’re missing out on because you’re happy to be doing exactly what it is you’re doing.”

“Like being okay to curl up with a good book, your dog, or a few friends on a Friday night instead of going to the club, ” I confirmed.

“Lord, I’ll drink to that,” agreed Gail, raising her wine glass.

“Or maybe, we’re just apathetic ,” I mused.

“Well, then there’s that,” laughed Gail.

“No! No it’s not about that!” Suba insisted, “It’s about choice and shifting our value of time. It’s about realizing how precious our time really is. Therefore, the way we choose to spend it takes on a different value, too.”

“Oh, like my saying, Yes, Yes, No, No and HELL no?”

“Exactly,” smiled Suba.

“AND, maybe we’re ALSO tired,” chuckled Gail.

We all laughed because we’d just got done listing the physical challenges of aging, fatigue being one of them.

“It just gets harder to do things. You kind of have to push yourself,” said Gail. “I notice it’s harder to accomplish the same things that used to be rote. I can see how it would be easy to want to give into inertia.”

“And what about the big skin,” I offered, a term my friend Linda created to describe what happens to your skin as you age. “‘My body is pretty much the same size,’ she explained, ‘but my skin keeps stretching so it’s too big for my body.  It doesn’t fit anymore – it just sags.’”

Ah yes.  We went on to discuss our insomnia, chin hairs, expanding Meno-pots, (aka: post meno-pause belly fat), hot flashes, brittle bones, dry hair, dry skin and assorted ‘other’ dry parts.

The physical symptoms are an inevitable hazard of birthdays. But, we agreed, while inconvenient, they aren’t insurmountable. The decisions we make about what we eat, how much we move, the sleep we get, and the attitude we embrace towards aging all make a big difference.

We may not have a choice about aging, we agreed, but we do have a choice about how we age.

Just in case we had any doubts about this conclusion, God sent us as a timely reminder in the form of Elizabeth Robertson.

The following morning, exploring our Horse Shoe Bay neighborhood, Gail and I were delighted to discover a dirt trail.  Snaking elegantly through the woods, it was a welcome alternative to the narrow shouldered bike path we’d first encountered.

The trail was lovely, offering spectacular views, wild flowers, soft footing, and stunning quiet. We walked a long in peaceful reverence until we got to a fork.  Not sure of which direction to take, we asked an older woman who’d been walking in front of us about which way to continue.

“Well, you can go right and take it all the way the Whyte Lake if you want,” as she gave us a slow once over, “It’s about 3.9 kilometers to the turn off and another 2.5 up to the lake,” hands on hips, waiting for our decision.

“Thanks,”  I replied, eyeing her worn gray t-shirt and high water walking pants.

“Or,” she offered, seeing we weren’t making a decision, “you can go left and the trail goes up to the street above.  And there’s another trail just up the way that takes you down to the street below.  That’s my street.  My house is just down there,” she pointed. “I walk this trail every day..”

“Which way are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going towards the lake,” and as if to settle it, “ I’ll walk with you.”  

Elizabeth Robertson was a talker. And she seemed to know everyone else on that trail, including us.

We learned a lot from Elizabeth on that walk.

We learned that the blackberries growing wild on the trail would soon be soon ripe enough harvest.  That she’d return wearing a bucket around her neck to pick the first and best berries. We also learned that it didn’t snow in Horse Shoe Bay because it’s so close to the ocean, that it had been unseasonably dry of late and that she hoped they’d have enough moisture to ski up at Cypress Ski area this Winter. (Apparently it did snow at slightly higher elevations).

“Is this a bike trail, too?” asked Gail.

No, it’s just for people. And dogs,” she harrumphed, “A couple of weeks ago four dogs were off leash, just running wild, and they jumped on an elderly woman,” accentuating the word elderly to imply ‘present company excluded’.

“Poor thing was just standing there, and just got bowled over, flat out, by those crazy jumping dogs. And then here come the owners, a few minutes later, absolutely clueless. Idiots. I think she may have even broken bones!”

Clearly Elizabeth, who we’d learned was 84, did not consider herself vulnerable to the same fate.

“I walk this trail every day.  You get out, you to see everybody and except for the dogs, it’s pretty safe,” as she picked up her step, “And it keeps me in shape. Did I tell you I was eighty-four?  Look at these!, “ she said proudly pulling up her ankle length pantaloons to reveal her calves of steel.

“Wow, impressive,” we both agreed.

Elizabeth continued, “I went up to Cypress last Winter with a friend to do some downhill (skiing). It had been some time since I’d had that opportunity because my husband was ill and I couldn’t leave him alone like that. But after he passed, I just called up a girlfriend and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“And do you know what happened?,”  Elizabeth’s tenor and pace picked up as she snickered, her arms flailed about nearly hitting me in the chest, “I got about half way down that mountain and my quads just seized up on me and I went ‘Argh,’ before I just fell down.  I couldn’t get up. The ski patrol had to come and put me on a sled and take me on down.”

“Oh no!  That wasn’t fun,” commented Gail

“It was just fine because that ski patrol guy was very good looking, “  she said without hesitation.  “And now I know to do my 90 degree wall squats to be in better shape next year.  I’ve been skiing since I was three years old so I guess I just took it for granted!”

Elizabeth went onto tell us she’d been living in the area most of her life.  Originally from the Eastern side of Canada, her father was a physician who was relocated from Newfoundland to Vancouver after the war.

She herself had worked as a nurse, then as a nursing teacher before becoming the director of nursing at the University of Vancouver, BC.

“That must have been interesting,” I offered.

“Well, it was,” Elizabeth said, but explained that nursing students and teachers, unlike other college departments, worked during the Summer break doing internships at the hospital.

“I didn’t like it that I had to work while the rest of the teachers were playing ping pong so I complained about it and eventually we got it worked out.  Then I got a group of us together to take that three months off to go to Kathmandu but my superior blew a gasket and said we couldn’t all be gone at once.”

“ ‘You can’t do that, You cannot do that!’ he kept saying to me, over and over, and I just sat there listening.”

“Did you end up going?” I asked,

“Well, I went home that night and wrote him my letter of resignation.  I put it on his desk the next morning, booked my trip to Khatmandu and packed my bags.”

“Did your colleagues go, too?”

“Well, no. It’s hard to get people to take three months off, but I did and I’ve never regretted it.  I took a lot of treks like that all around the world, adventure truck trips, biking trips, in Africa and Asia and all over Europe. ”

“That’s amazing. How did you decide to go to Kathmandu?,” we asked.

“Well there was a travel department at the University and I went in there and looked at a pamphlet about Kathmandu and that was just it. I went, but you can still book those kinds of trips online!  Look it up!  You can go!”

She said this with the enthusiasm and authority of any good teacher and I made a mental note of the web address she’d suggested.  Her energy was catching. 

I looked at her then, a little more closely.  Her face was soft, lined, with the faintest hint mustache over the lip. She wore her gray hair short, unceremoniously fashioned like a helmet. Her arms with covered with age spots and her busy hands were uneven and overly knuckled.  I marveled at her upright posture, brisk walking pace, and ability to tell a story without pausing; she was quick, astute and funny. 

At 84, Elizabeth Robertson may have looked old, but she behaved agelessly. She was clever and energetic and completely full of herself. 

When we told her we were tourists who were going “forest bathing” the next day, she snorted, “Forest bathing? What’s that?”

“Well,” we explained. “its when you commune with the energy of nature by walking and meditating in the forest.  It’s pretty amazing.”

She looked blankly at us before retorting, rather sarcastically, “Well, you’re in a forest now! There’s a tree- go hug it,” and she guffawed. Then she continued to talked our ears off.  I don’t think either Gail or I said more than two words the entire walk.  But that was okay because Elizabeth’s presence reminded us the many benefits of aging we’d included on our list.

Elizabeth was without guile, unabashedly herself, unencumbered by fear, doubt or apology.  She chose to stay active and engaged, never hesitating to offer her experience through a creative and entertaining stream of consciousness narrative; stories she just assumed others were dying to hear.

She was not timid. She was not shy and she definitely did not use her age as an excuse to withdraw or grow narrow.

“When I get home,” Elizabeth announced, “it will be 4 o’clock.  At 4 o’clock I watch the BBC British Kennel Dog show.  I watch it every day after my walk.  I love it.”

I smiled to myself. There was no FOMO for Elizabeth Robertson.  She was clearly  enjoying her JOMO years.

As we hugged her goodbye, I felt inspired as well as a little tired.  She was, I had to admit, a tad bit exhausting. 

But then I thought, I am getting older.

Everything Changes

I know change is inevitable and yet, I still resist and deny it when it arrives. I’m not sure why I insist on giving change such a bad rap because, in truth, change has been my life long friend.

Change helped me find the courage to leave an abusive man with no real home and two small children.  Change insisted I exit a toxic workplace, even when I didn’t have another job.  Change has alternately encouraged, discouraged, pushed and pounded me.  But what caused me the greatest pain wasn’t change, but the resisting of it.

Change’s constant presence still reminds me there is an opportunity in every letting go.

 

I’ve spent most of my adult life helping people- specifically in the area of health. My goal is threefold:  first, to help people desire to be healthy; second, to accept that it’s within their ability to do so; and third, and most importantly, believe that they’re worth the effort required.

Convincing someone to consider one of these tenants can be a stretch, getting them to embrace all three is just a plain, hard sell.  Why?  Because it involves change.

We’re so focused on what we think we’re giving up, we overlook the possibilities and opportunity within the same change.

 

 

Next month we will move Pilates 1901 to a new location. I am excited about this next chapter but also admittedly sad about leaving the home we’ve shared for eleven years. The new studio is just 28 blocks away, a beautiful new space that is as light and fun and as welcoming as always.

We’ll be providing the same great service with the same love and integrity that has always defined Pilates 1901. It really is silly to get my panties in a wad, but I do and I will, and I expect some others may, too.

It’s part of the deal. I get it.

 

I’ll still be teaching and preaching Pilates, health, empowerment, and faith to anyone who will listen.

But as I turn sixty, I feel also change demanding more of my attention and more of my grace.  I’m looking forward to less distraction and more presence; less thinking and more being; more teaching, and healing and learning.

One morning, many years ago, I was greeted with a note from my youngest son.  He’d left it for me on the desk where I spent the bulk of my time when I was at home.  It was a picture of Joan of Arc; beneath it, he’d neatly printed these words:  “For general peace and well-being, please resign from being General Manager of the Universe.”   Leave it to Spirit to deliver such a powerful message via a ten-year-old.  I’m sorry, Sean that it took me so long to hear.

The Buddah said, “the only thing constant in life is change.”  I am learning that is true. 

I’m just going to let go, trust and ride this new incredible wave.  I hope to see you at the shore.

 

 

21 Days in New Zealand

I’m lucky. I know it.  The word is literally tattooed on my body.  As someone who never traveled until she was in her mid-forties, I’ve been making up for lost time, especially in the past few years since I met my husband.  The rate of that travel has accelerated recently  because last year life acutely reminded us of our limited time here.  The Universe, in its wisdom, said, “you’d better go if you’re going” so we prioritized our bucket list and went… to New Zealand. 

I remember when I was telling people about the trip, those who had been there immediately lit up with joy, “Oh my God!  You’re going to love it!  You won’t come back!”  Even in the San Francisco airport, as we perused our New Zealand travel book and guides, a young man walking by said, “You’re going to New Zealand? I’m so jealous! You’re going to love it!  It’s so beautiful!”

And it was. Perhaps indescribably so.

 

 

Herb and I rented a camper van for our three-week adventure, a first for both of us.  We’d been told this was the best way to experience the landscape of the country and afford us the greatest freedom.   As it turned out, this was true.  Three weeks together in a camper is an adventure all its own, but that’s another blog.

The seasons are flipped in New Zealand, so it was early Spring when we arrived.  The weather, cool, rainy and unpredictable, proved to be a factor in the trajectory of our trip. It rained that first evening, navigating the “wrong side” of the narrow two-lane highway, our lumbering camper struggled to maintain contact with the road.

We found our way to the first of many “holiday parks,” quickly establishing a ritual of campground set up and nesting.  This was at Waihi beach; a couple hours’ drive south of Auckland in the north island. It was so rainy we couldn’t even see what was around us, but Mike the friendly Kiwi Park host put us in a “primo spot” near the beach and gave us a hiking guide in good faith.  

We spent our first night negotiating the camper “bed,” probably the biggest challenge of our three week trip. Neither of us is a generous sleeper and we sorely missed our king-sized bed.  After meeting a German couple, Bodo and Claudia, both in their late 70’s and happily traveling in a camper smaller than ours, we felt less inclined to complain.  The bed didn’t get better- we did.

That first morning, we woke up before the sun, still adjusting to the 19-hour time change.  Having coffee, we ventured out to the beach to watch the sun rise.  The rain was gone, and the beauty of the morning was astounding.  Absolutely stunning.  It was the beginning of what I can only describe as an intense and total immersion into nature’s art.

As we drove through the magical landscape, ever changing and miraculous, an explosion for the eyes and senses, we both agreed that New Zealand immediately had us by the balls.  It reaches out to grab you without permission or apology- a supernatural assault of spiritual beauty.  

As we traversed lush jungles, rainforests, and mountains, driving though vast valleys, lakes and streams, pastures dotted with sheep, we’d gasp in surprise at the ocean as we drove around the corner. There was nothing predictable or staid in this landscape; just an abundance of energy, animate and pulsing alive in every moment.

 

 

The landscape in New Zealand was formed by the Pacific and Australian plates (huge, slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust) colliding and pushing up mountains.  Erosion caused by rainfall and ocean waves carved out lakes and streams, and volcanic eruptions and glaciers formed deep valleys and fiords. The result is truly jaw dropping.

Herb and I began trying to think of new words besides “Wow” as we drove through the scenery.  Some of these words were: Surreal, Extraordinary, Phenomenal, Spectacular, Amazing, Wondrous, Awe-Inspiring, … you get the picture.

 

 

Unyielding in its beauty, New Zealand demanded our full attention and presence. The sheer force of nature was a summons to simply BE- Breathe, Live, and Enjoy.  

The magnificent order and unpredictability of life combined in a way I can only describe as sacred.  

Perhaps it’s that proximity of nature that makes the people in New Zealand so unhurried, polite and happy.  For as many tourists as they host each year, they are remarkably generous and caring.

They care about food, (the food was so wholesome and natural I swear it was the reason I didn’t gain an ounce while eating and drinking with abandon); they care about each other (the murder rate in the United States 333 times that of NZ); and they care about the environment (despite heavy traffic, New Zealand’s national parks look amazingly untouched.)  Perhaps that’s because they realize we are not separate from nature- but merely part of it.  They live respectfully.

I could provide more details of our day to day traverse from Auckland on the North Island to Milford Sound on the south, (and if you have a trip planned to NZ, I am happy to share our trip notes), but I thought it better to simply show you some of the best moments of our trip in pictures.   Don’t worry, unlike your Uncle Harry, this slide show isn’t two hours long.  Enjoy. And if you don’t have a trip planned to NZ, please, plan one.

Nature is a teacher and a healer. This trip allowed me the time to immerse myself in her beauty and peace.

I made a conscious decision to follow her example and let myself “be” and simply enjoy.  Coming home has been different because that feeling has taken hold in my cells.  My mind and body are literally different- there’s so much more space for joy when you realize that life isn’t as complicated we like to make it.

Last night, a dear friend reminded me of the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.  I hadn’t thought of it in a while, but it perfectly captures my experience…

Here’s an excerpt…

“I don’t know what a prayer is.

I don’t know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, all too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Why Donald Trump is my Spiritual Teacher

At this stage of my life, I’m looking inward more.  When I was younger, I was focused on raising a family, building a business, managing relationships.  Now I am less interested in the busy-ness of the life and more focused on quieting the noise and distractions. Mostly I just want to be peaceful.

It’s not easy in this political climate.

My co-worker Cara, a young Mother of two sons, is an activist. Concerned about the alarming number of homicides in our city, Cara ran 40 miles on her 40th birthday to support Mothers In Charge, a victims advocacy group.  Obviously, a strong woman who lives her convictions through positive action and even Cara gets frayed by the continuing chaos.

Recently I met another young woman, a therapist, who shared that she was hosting a workshop specifically to address the stress being caused by the daily news and politics.  Apparently, we now need support groups for this!

It’s hard not to react.  

When Donald Trump recently lectured his critics and the media for inciting violence and dissension, I posted this on my FB page.

 

It seemed ironic given Mr. Trump’s political rhetoric, but also not surprising given his apparent inability to think before he speaks or accept responsibility for the power of his words and actions.  

An ensuing commentary escalated between people on my page.  I watched in amazement as people I knew well, and others I did not, wage war over our President’s leadership, political party, citing issues and evidence to prove their point.

It got nasty.  

So nasty in fact that one of the people private messaged me and asked me to block one of the commenters because he was so rude.  I’ll admit, that had occurred to me, but I thought better of it.  If anything, that angry, divisive, partisan response showed me just how much we need to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree.  

The division in our country has been likened to a civil war (more like an “uncivil” war), because of the way it’s dividing families, co-workers, and communities.   It’s not just about Republicans vs Democrats, our division rages over sexism (Acess Hollywood, Stormy Danials, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh) gun rights, (There have been 287 mass shootings in this country so far in 2018) and immigration (“President Trump is doubling down on his closing hard-line immigration pitch to voters,  sending up to 15,000 troops to the border — twice the number the Pentagon has already activated. “Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in.’ “).

It truly IS crazy making. 

That’s why I’ve decided to take a larger view of Mr. Trump and the outcome of his leadership.  He is our President.  He won the election, so bottom line- he is country’s choice for leadership.   That’s the hard part, but it’s also the message. 

Perhaps Donald Trump is our Spiritual Teacher.  A spiritual teacher’s role is unique in that the goal is not to transmit knowledge or understanding as much as it is to somehow bring about a recognition in the student of the student’s own pre-existing nature. Can Donald Trump truly be what we value in a leader? Or is this a wake-up call to re-examine our values, how we got to this place and how to move forward?

Life and humans are pretty simple.  We react on a gut level to things like fear, and anger, manipulation and ego. 

That’s Mr. Trump’s genius.  He plays to our lower emotions and the result is the reality we have now. 

I read an article in the paper this morning about a St. Louis daycare center being sued because the teachers were caught on camera encouraging pre-schoolers to fight and hit another.  One teacher could “be seen excitedly jumping up and down” as the toddler fight club ensued.  It appears the only one who tried to break up the fight was one of the kids.  What in the world?

Surely it’s time to raise our vibration, as a country, and as individuals. When we remember at the core we’re all alike; that we all really want the same things, (to be safe, loved, and valued, for example), our similarities and not our differences are revealed.  Compassion, love, respect, and learning to work together is something most of us learned as children.  What has caused us to forget? Stress, fear, distraction, apathy?

This cannot be our world; we must have hope.

Cara mentioned an event that gave her hope. She and more than 1,500 mourners gathered last Monday in Overland Park, Ks to honor the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting that left 11 dead. That interfaith vigil, held at Kehilath Israel Synagogue, attracted a standing-room-only crowd of worshippers, clergy, city leaders, and politicians from a variety of backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities.  

“Tonight, we are all Jews,” Akhtar Chaudry of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council told the gathering, “We are united in grief but strengthened in our resolve to fight hatred.” 

That says it all.  “We stand united in grief but strengthened in our resolve to fight hatred.”

The mid-term elections are predicted to have the highest voter turn out in decades. I hope this is because we’re more awake to the fact that our right to vote is not only a privilege but our duty.

Vote. Take a stand and make your voice heard.

Whatever your party, please vote for unity.  Please vote for love.  It sounds trite but is also true: together we really can accomplish so much more.  Just look at what we’re creating in disparity.

Thank you, President Trump, for showing us the way.  Your example is one to heed if not respect.  Your teachings are profound.

 

February Morning

Morning, quiet, dark, solitary has been my favorite time of day since I had kids.  

Sometimes it would be just me and my baby, nursing, quietly in a chair, my eyes focused on this miracle at my breast, so tiny and vulnerable and my heart would clinch tight and an immeasurable sadness would grip my heart.  Why, I’d think to myself, did I feel so sad?  Why didn’t I feel joy?

And I can only say because the moment was so damn full of love that, being who I am and how I entered this world, the same emotion touched a deep and unhealed void; some immeasurable loss and longing inescapably linked to great love.

As my children grew and my business took more of my time, I got up earlier and earlier.  

Sometimes it was because I needed to go to work early, other times it was because it was the only calm time in the day.  Mostly it was because it was quiet and solitary and I could hear myself think.  Sometimes it was just because my anxiety would not let me sleep.

Raising children is not an easy feat, and I must admit I failed them time and time again.  I was too young and too scared and simply too reactionary to be a great Mom, despite my love and intention for their wholeness. I was not whole myself.

I guess I can be grateful that two out of three of them have forgiven me and despite their childhood wounds, want to share my life and know me as I am today.

One does not, and because he was the first and it was so completely crazy, and he felt (and was) unprotected from his Father and my chaos, he has every right to be angry.

What breaks my heart is that he is so angry that he cannot feel his fear and move through it.  Some pain is just too early, and too deep.  The irony is that we share the same pain and are separated by it.

As I write this cold winter morning, before the sun is up and there is only dark silence, I am grateful for this time- the peace and the solitude.

It is now that I practice compassion for myself and for this day and for the people and situations that I will encounter.  It is here that I give thanks for all that is good in my life and all that I am learning and have to learn.  It is here that I remember that every breath is a gift and time is fleeting and today is the only day I have.

It’s humbling, this immense joy and I need to let myself open to receive it.

Breath in, Breath out, Breath out. Let go.

The Price of Fear

 

Preparing this blog in honor of the full moon reminded me of another retreat, in Belize. We didn’t have a full moon that week, in fact, there was just a sliver, so the stars showed bright and clear. After dinner, I often walked down the beach to explore nearby docks and enjoy looking up.

There were a few docks available, but the one I was drawn to was narrow, old and rickety. In the darkness, you couldn’t see the end of the dock, so it looked like you were simply walking out into the vast, endless ocean. It was scary.

One night, my friend Tricia and I walked that dock together clasping hands. We were both facing demons that trip, demons that were safe nowhere else, and so we walked into the abyss together and marveled our fear and also the magic of the stars.

The closer we got to what looked like the end of the dock, the point at which we would simply glide into the deep, we slowed to a stop, struck silent by the beauty and terror of the illusion before us.

We both knew it was no accident we were there together in that moment. We knew the fear and pain in each other’s hearts. We both worried about how we’d each move on, around or over our current challenges. Who better to hold hands with and face the unknown darkness. We stood there a long time treasuring a moment that lasts a lifetime.

Like that long walk down the dock, we’ve traversed some treacherous terrain since that night; some of it together and much of it alone. We’ve had time to face ourselves unmasked, afraid, and it was hard.

What is the price of fear? What is it your fear and what is it costing you?

Change, even when it’s necessary; even when it’s time, is rarely welcome and almost never alone. Fear is inevitably part of the package. But like any bully, fear can’t stand up to scrutiny. Confront your fear and fear backs down. Fear is co-dependent; it ’s only power is the power you grant it.

I’ve lived with fear for a very long time, but age has made me realize it’s time for it to go.   I’m just too damn tired to give fear my finite energy. Instead, I’m investing in another F-word- FAITH.

Some folks might think that’s naive or make-believe.  “Hope is not a strategy,” is what they would say.  But I don’t agree. If choosing faith over fear is choosing one illusion over another, I choose faith.

Why Eating Clean Isn’t Enough Anymore

I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for nearly forty years which either means I am very old or very wise; (I am very old.)

During that time I have survived the low fat, high carb craze, the long slow distance theory of fat loss, and countless wasted hours planted on a spin bike, stair climber, treadmill, all in the pursuit of a better, leaner, healthier body. The rub? I was taking a huge detour, but, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Going Paleo changed my life and my body.

Nine years ago I discovered a better approach to exercise, (variety), and changed my eating habits (Paleo) which finally helped put my body back in balance, helping me lose those last 10 lbs. At 50, I looked and felt better than I had in my 30’s! (I’d still just as soon be 30, with my life experience now, but we don’t always get what we want, right?)

Just as my slightly older friends had warned me, with age comes change; that not so subtle metabolic ‘clunk’ that signals another shift in your body composition, energy, and mobility.

You’d think after three hip replacements I might have a clue, but my persistently positive attitude always makes me susceptible to naivety.

Denial notwithstanding, recently, the reality of time’s passing has shown up in my ability to, well, MAINTAIN.

And I am certainly someone you might call pro-active! I eat clean, workout regularly, meditate and try to be kind to others. I practice gratitude, dammit! But all of those things still added up to this:  my back hurt,  I felt shitty, fat, stiff and old. Furthermore, I just noticed dimples on my biceps! WTF????

Of course, I am aware of the source: inflammation.

That’s essentially what aging is. As we get older, we “rust out,” sooner than later if we don’t watch our sugar intake, alcohol consumption, or choose to stop moving. Other things play a role too, like sleep, attitude, staying connected and engaged, and having a faith of purpose.

What I didn’t understand until very recently was also how much our environment plays a role. To be specific, I’m referring to the (literally) thousands of toxic chemicals we are exposed to daily.


The minute we step out of bed in the morning, the Toxic Party begins.

We wash our hair with them, brush them on our teeth, slather them on our bodies and apply them to our eyes, lips, and cheeks. Toxic irritants are present in most commercial shampoos, toothpaste, deodorants, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies.

Our food, air, and water supplies are also loaded with chemicals; chemicals largely sanctioned as “acceptable” by our governmental agencies; the same organizations that were designed to protect us.

In a 2003 study performed by The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, researchers found an average of 91 industrial chemicals, heavy metals, or other significant toxins in test subjects. These chemicals included PCBs, commonly used insecticides, dioxin, mercury, cadmium, and benzene. At least 53 of these are known to suppress our immune system.

In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing a much bigger sample of 2,500 people, detected an average 116 chemicals in subjects and finally, in 2005 a third study found traces of 287 chemicals in test subjects. These toxic chemicals create inflammation and disruption of our T cells, often setting us up for inflammatory disease and/or triggering an autoimmune response.

Autoimmune dysfunction is when the body gets triggered somehow to turn our own immune systems to “fight” and resist us.  This can affect one organ or multiple organs which causes a myriad of diseases.

The Bottom line? We feel bloated, stressed, wired and tired. That’s not the quality of life we aspire to.

So what can we do? Thankfully, there’s a lot. Here’s what I’m doing:

Eating clean. This means taking a closer look at what I have been eating and getting real about my protein sources and selections. I still avoid dairy, grains, glutens, sugar and processed foods, but have been a bit lax of late with my travels and eating desserts and drinking way too much. That’s gone, NOW. My belly is my reminder: Booze = Bloat and I ain’t digging it. I’ve also taken a look at my medications and supplement list and with the help of my Naturopathic doc, Alicia Johnson, I am taking only what I need and flushing the rest (more on this in another blog).

 

Moving More.  Truthfully my back has been a big hindrance to this. I know what you are thinking- how does a freaking Pilates instructor wind up with a herniated disc? I know! It’s bullshit. But it’s real and it’s cramped my style for several weeks. Thankfully most injuries of this kind tend to take care of themselves in time and that is the case with me. I have been able to return to teaching Pilates and Inversion Therapy, maintain my walking but need to add in some more 20-minute resistance training via weights and the reformer. All of these things I call “supportive” exercises as they provide variety and support instead of breaking me down.

 

Making Sleep a Priority. This has never been my strong suit but lack of sleep is a huge detriment to our health. Skimping on sleep not only affects our energy and the way we feel, it affects us on a cellular level. Sleep scientists say sleep deficiency is associated with problems with concentration, memory and the immune system — as well as with shorter lifespans. Caffeine, alcohol, stress and sleeping pills all undermine the quality and quantity of our sleep and therefore, our health.  I am not quite Benjamin Franklin, but I did ask Herb the other night if it was bad that we were in bed before the sun went down. His answer? “Nope.”

 

Toning down the toxins. This has been eye opening and truthfully, I never gave it much thought until recently. I’d been so focused on my diet and exercise that I must have thought I was somehow immune to the toxins I was ingesting and slathering on every day. I was wrong. Why would I go to all those lengths to detox my body and then simply ignore the toxins in my food, home, and makeup? This, after having to remediate my home for mold last year when Herb got sick with not one but two autoimmune diseases.  His sickness from mold toxicity triggered Lyme’s disease which had previously been latent.

 

All I can say is denial is a powerful thing.

Today we are installing a new whole house water filter to decrease the toxins in our water; getting a small freezer so we can purchase grass-fed beef and afford it; replacing our soaps, shampoos, deodorants, detergents and other cleaning supplies with chemical free options; and buying organic ALL the time instead of MOST of the time- especially those fruits and veggies on the “Dirty Dozen” pesticide list.