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Life

The Story of a Virgin Burn

September 17, 2015
Temple through the dust

Going in to Burning Man earlier this month, I had no idea what was in store for me. I figured this was good, as everything I read said “don’t go in with any expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.” I did my fair share of article-reading and video-watching for tips to be prepared for a week without plumbing, electricity, cell phones or grocery stores. I panned through pictures of lights, art, people, and dust, everywhere. I read about managing relationships, hydration levels, nutrition, and above all: my sanity. Hours of preparation were put in, yet my notions of what was on the horizon were all blasted apart the moment we arrived on the playa.

Since I live on the East Coast, a trip to the Burn is not a common occurrence among my acquaintances. Once we were back, everyone wanted to know my opinion on the experience. I definitely had the feeling that most people who asked had a preconceived notion of what Burning Man is, and the type of people who attend. In these conversations, I found it very difficult to express my thoughts on the week I had spent in the desert. The summary of my time is so much more of an internal shifting than a chain of memories, and how do you explain that to someone?

I could definitely write extensively about what happened to me that week: the sights, sounds, and smells; the people I met, hugged, high-fived, and waved to; the art and technology I enjoyed and took part in; the wind-storms and intense sun I endured; and on and on and on. I’ll keep that rundown for my journal, and instead share what happened within me.

couple road

On the road, dust-free for now.


I have returned from the Burn with: a renewed sense of creativity and wonder

I did not even realize that I was missing art in my life. Teaching and practicing yoga is my main creative outlet in the ‘default world’. My creativity started to build prior to the week in Black Rock City in a few ways. Burning Man is a hotbed of self-expression, so I put in some hours brainstorming outfits that would bring out my personality. There was also time pondering possible gifts to share with old and new friends.

Once on the playa, the creative capacity of the human race was revealed to me on an enormous scale. I experienced art as an invitation for thought and introspection, as an outlet for pain, as a method of helping others to connect, and as an expression of love. Art is so much more than drawings, sculpture, and lights. It is a way of trying to explain the experiences and emotions that come from an often complicated and confusing life. I started to see the whole journey of life as a blank canvas, just waiting to be sketched, painted, crumpled up, and put back together in a new way.

Life does not have to be taken so seriously. You can play, experiment, make mistakes; it’s all beautiful, and it’s all art.

The Man, about to Burn

The Man, about to Burn

Click here to see fireworks and the big BANG on Burn night!!


I have returned from the Burn with: the desire to strengthen my connections with others, and form a community

The community created during the week of the Burn reminds me of a quote from Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief. This temporary city is a prime example of a group of “like-minded people who are working toward advancing human civilization by realizing that Survival of the Most Loving is the only ethic that will ensure not only a healthy personal life but also a healthy planet”.

Prior to Burning Man, I had been in denial about how closed off I had become to the outside world. My life was a revolving door of schoolwork, planning yoga classes, teaching yoga classes, and sitting at home with the husband. While I have a lot of love to share, I have been keeping it to myself. This has been going on for YEARS. I attribute the phenomena almost entirely to my discomfort in conversations (more on that later), and my desire to stay in my comfort zone.

The openness and welcoming I felt at Burning Man blew me away. There was not a single time (unless is was self-imposed) where I felt like I did not belong. The love between new friends, old friends, and strangers was exhilarating. This was a love not expecting anything in return. It was a love aimed at helping each other survive and thrive for a week. Living in the South, Northeast, and now by the nation’s capital, I have rarely witnessed this level of connection between a group of seemingly unconnected people. There is always some amount of tension or dissension. I now see what an amazing world we could create if we only learned to work together instead of competing to get to the top.

Giraffes

Friends and Family


I have returned from the Burn with: a new comfort in myself

While I tried not to have expectations for the week, I did have some hopes. One wish was to find a way to finally allow myself to be me around everyone I meet (basically the premise behind Atman Unleashed). A few months ago, after I started meditating again, I spent some time looking back at my behavior in social situations. I realized that I tend to spend a lot of time observing other people interacting. I analyze the interactions people have with each other or within a group, and then mold my subsequent interactions with them in a way that I think will be most ‘pleasing’ (i.e. what will make them like me?). This requires subtle changes in my personality and energy, and quickly eats away at my vitality. Because of the effort required, I would often just stay in observation mode and avoid the bother of deciding who I needed to be. I had accepted the futility of this mode of action, but had not yet found a way to step away from shape-shifting attempts and embrace authenticity.

I am (incredibly) happy to say, I have arrived. Stepping completely out of my normal world and coming ‘home’ was just what I needed. No due dates, class plans, emails, or blog posts. Just good ole communion with self, others, and nature. The transition was far from instantaneous. There were rough periods sprinkled throughout the week. While I pretty much immediately felt comfortable going out on my bike on my own, and relished in the freedom, I could not bring myself to enter any camps for the first couple of days. I was still holding on to my fear. I broke down a few days into the week, and spent 20 hours inside our yurt; no food, no water, no trips to the bathroom. I would wake up off and on, and find myself still crying, unable to find any will to walk outside. Alonzo finally managed to get me up from hibernation, and we watched the sunrise near an abandoned art installation on the playa.

I was numb. I couldn’t even tell you what I was thinking, or what was causing the low. Looking back now, I think it was the realization that I was still holding back in a place where literally ANYTHING goes; you can be anyone you want, and you will still be loved. If I still maintained stringent control here, where was the hope that I could let go back in society?

Finally, I agreed to cheer up; and I just did it. I took a breath, slapped a smile on my face (artificial at first), and went on a walk to get coffee, collecting MOOP along the way. The nagging melancholy slowly started to disintegrate. I stopped being concerned with perceptions, and started viewing the world as it was. Living in the present, not in the past or future. This is something I preach daily to Alonzo and to students in my yoga classes, and I finally managed to follow my own advice.

My smile became real again, and I shared it with everyone I saw. I laughed, I loved, I bathed, and I weathered a few more storms (internal and external). The challenge of facing such an extreme physical environment, coupled with being so far outside the comfort zone of my living room, drew me out of my shell. I realized I had spent the first half of the week letting fear get in the way of my experience; just as I had let fear dominate the last decade of my life. Finally, I was over it. By the end of the week, while I still found myself on the outside looking in from time to time, I discovered that now it was done out of an enjoyment of watching others connect, rather than in an attempt to choose my own next steps or statements.


It sounds crazy, it sounds unreal. At times I still don’t even believe it myself. But I am changed. Something false in me burned away that week, while my truest self started to bloom. I know challenges will continue to arise in life, and there is plenty left for me to work on, but I have access to a level of peace now that was previously deeply buried.

To everyone who ventured out to the playa with me, I have infinite love for you. To anyone struggling to embrace life instead of hiding away: I feel you, I see you, and I swear the fight is worth it. For me it took a week of burning sun, whipping wind, intense isolation, and deep communion. I sank to one of my lowest points, unsure if I would ever escape. In the end, I rose higher than every before, and I’m liking the view from up here. :)  

Sunrise Through Giraffe Eyes

Sunrise Through Giraffe Eyes

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Resting Week

August 14, 2015
Colorado Buffalo

I’ve decided to decrease the frequency of Animal Photo Friday, because I am slowly running out of pictures! I am moving it back to every other week for now until I build up my stock again. I wanted to share one picture this week though, courtesy of my photography queen mother. Here are a couple of baby buffalo running with a herd near my parent’s home in rural Colorado. Since they have such a large area to roam, you rarely see these guys around.

In other life news, I finished up my last two finals for the trimester this Tuesday. Even with the extra hours to work on posts after closing out the trimester, I still managed to dodge working on the blog…avoidance in action. I did manage to get a few half-posts prepared, so be on the lookout for another veggie burger recipe review and my favorite meditation: the body scan. Now I have two weeks of free time before Alonzo and I travel to the desert of Nevada for Burning Man to spend a week outside of the luxuries and confines of modern day living.

I am about to head out to do some pet sitting, then teach an hour of yoga inspired by the Power Yoga tradition. In honor of that, here is one of my favorite quotes from Baron Baptiste’s book Journey Into Power:

We don’t really have experiences in life. What we have are reactions to experiences. Things don’t happen to us. Things happen in and of themselves, and what we do is react to them.

Yoga has done a lot to help me connect more deeply with my mind through the focus on my body and breath. It allows me to take a step back and become aware of the way I react to situations and thoughts that come up in stressful and mundane environments. While my initial reaction is still not always the best, I become better every day at noticing when I can decrease the stress and increase the peace by allowing what is instead of fighting it. More on that later! Peace out friends. :)

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 8/7/2015

August 7, 2015
Fawn

This fawn is one half of a set of twins born in my parents backyard last year. While mom’s away, baby will play, and this one decided to check out the front porch. It looks like it’s only a few days old. Check out those big ears, thick fur, and angelic face.

Friendly Dogs

Friendly Dogs

Another sidewalk friendship is formed. Perhaps they were bonding over matching leashes or being similarly shaped? The pair reminded me of the scene in 101 Dalmations where all the puppies cover themselves in soot  to look like black labs in an effort to hide from Cruella Deville.

Bag O' Boops

Bag O’ Boops

The cats love when we go grocery shopping, and they can hardly wait for us to unload before they hop into the empty bags. Jilly Boo will fall asleep curled inside for hours. I like to carry her around the apartment and present her to Alonzo as a gift.

Shiny Squirrel

Shiny Squirrel

This healthy-looking squirrel is diligently nibbling through a peanut. He must be getting a fair amount of healthy fats based on the shininess of his coat.

'Yellow Bear' Tiger Moth

‘Yellow Bear’ Tiger Moth

Another amazing insect courtesy of my mom. I believe this is a Virginia Tiger Moth, but it is even more beautiful than the pictures I found online. This particular species rarely sits with wings open, so my mom must have patiently waited to get this snap. So beautiful.


As a final note, I came across an article about a software that shows how animals see the world. It includes the UV spectrum and adjusts absorption and reflection of colors. It’s free to download too.

If you want to submit a photo, head over to the contact page. 😀

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 7/31/2015

July 31, 2015

We’ve got some bugs, pups, and a bird this week! Remember, if you want to see a photo of your own, head over to the contact page and you can submit your favorite animal.

1. My dedicated husband braved the sun and scorching heat to get the perfect picture of this HUGE bumble bee last weekend. There is something about bumbles that make me wish I could give them a hug.

2. Avita lives in a home with three other exuberant pups, but maintains a sweet and calm demeanor (this is of course my perspective; things might be different when guests aren’t around!). She is the most timid of the brood, but oh-so-photogenic.

3. I swear I don’t have an obsession with beetles, but I found this little guy walking home yesterday! This species is found mainly along with eastern coast of the United States, and has a reputation for being quite a pest. They eat a variety of fruit and can cause damage to lawns by rooting underground.

4. Here is a turtle dove, spotted by my husband at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He has some potential to become a wildlife photographer ;). We actually have a lot of these birds that hang out right outside the window of our apartment. Wikipedia describes their mating call as a “plaintive cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo”, and I can confirm the accuracy from experience. I also learned that this species is one of the biggest game birds in the U.S., with over 20 million killed annually, and up to 70 million in some years (sadface). They are able to keep their numbers up because each pair of adult birds can raise up to 6 broods yearly! I guess that’s why we hear their mating call so often. Once they find a mate, they are monogamous and raise each brood together.

5. This photo is blurry, but these dogs were too cute to not share!! They were both so excited to run into each other on the street, and bounced around in joy. I immediately wondered what our world would look like if we as humans were this excited to meet each other! It would probably be pretty exhausting, but fun.

Food, Life

Mindful Eating – Taking a Mindful Bite

July 28, 2015
bite

How can you start to eat mindfully when you often don’t even notice you are eating mindlessly? It’s as easy as observing your experience for even one bite. Try using this acronym as an easy way to tune into the moment.

Breathe: I’m a huge proponent of checking in with your breath in all moments of life. You can use your breath as a mode of increasing mindfulness of eating in a couple of ways. First, try breathing while you are chewing! Not only will you be more likely to chew your food for longer, you might also notice slight changes in the taste of the food. There are pathways that connect your mouth to your nose, so you can actually smell the food that is in your mouth! Nerves in the nose can detect chemicals in your food and send signals to your brain about what is present. This makes your sense of smell a huge factor in detecting different flavors. Secondly, try to take a breath between each bite. This will help you slow down the speed of your meal and bring you back into the moment if you have been drifting towards mindless eating.

Investigate: Use your senses to observe the dish in front of you. Notice the different colors and shapes, the subtle or vibrant aroma coming from the plate, bowl, or glass. Listen to the sounds of your chewing. Feel the temperature and texture on your tongue and how it changes with each bite.

Taste: The last of the traditional 5 senses, this is the one we most associate with eating. Notice the balance of tastes present in your meal: is the food sweet, salty, sour, or spicy? Is there an element of earthiness? Can you note a shift in taste as you chew the food? Enzymes in your saliva start to break down carbohydrates, so take special note when you are eating foods like bread or grains.

Experience: Enjoy not only the taste of the food, but the full experience of eating! How does the food affect your thoughts, body, and mood? Do you already feel energized after the very first bite, or does the food make you sleepy? Do you find yourself rushing through or savoring the food you enjoy?

Try it out and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading :)

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 7/24/2015

July 23, 2015

1. Thanks to Marco for this photo. I call it Shadow Dog: a San Francisco art noir moment.

2. Say hello to Maxine! She is the sweetest little one-eyed cat you will ever meet (0ver the internet). I am fortunate enough to get to cat-sit for her every once in a while. Her favorite activities include being pet, purring, and looking out the window (shown here).

3.Watermelon Beetle (a.k.a. Ten-Lined June Beetle): Thanks again to my mom for finding another cool bug! Apparently this particular species resides in the western U.S. and Canada. If touched or otherwise frightened, they make a hissing noise that can sound like a bat! The sounds comes from the forceful closing of their wings. In case you want to hear for yourself, click here.

4. How cute are these two?? This goat and dog are from Sunset Rock Farm, a goat dairy farm in New Hampshire. The farm is run by the family of one of my husband’s coworkers. You can see more adorable goat pictures on the website.

5. Why not include another bottle-baby? This sweet thing was one of SEVEN little tykes I helped to bottle-feed back in 2011 when I worked as a vet assistant at Nova Cat Clinic. While the bottle-feeding phase was time-consuming (since they want to eat every 2 hours), once they started eating solid foods it was even crazier! They literally swam in their food when eating, so they each needed a bath and a blow dry afterwards. It’s a good thing they were so ridiculously cute.

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 7/17/2015

July 17, 2015

Alright, I’ll get right down to business.

1. Boops! Here she is perched on the bar, looking mighty cute.

2. How cute is this pug? He was spotted looking forlorn on the streets of San Francisco. I want to pick him up and squeeze him until he is happy.

3. Here is another member of the ecosystem of our friend Renee’s home. This garter snake has been living in her front garden for the past few weeks, and is about 1.5 feet long now! He tends to mind his own business, but her cat has learned to stay away from the front yard.

4. There is a small pond at the front of my parent’s neighborhood in Colorado. Every summer, a few Canadian geese fly in and make their nesting grounds here. They must have a good hiding spot, because they seem to always avoid the fox and mountain lion that are most assuredly prowling the area (if only I could get a picture of those). Here is this years batch of goslings, all grown up.

5. I was working at home when I spotted this lil’ fella outside our window. We don’t exactly live in a forested area, so he was definitely lost. He glanced around long enough for my to grab my phone as he ran towards some bushes.

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 7/10/2015

July 10, 2015

I’m on time this week!!!!

1. My sister is so great. While in San Diego, we visited some friends of my parents who have a pond in the there backyard. They have three turtles their children had saved from the road years ago, and my sister plucked one out for a little love. This turtle’s name was Botts’ dot, named after those raised dots in the middle of the highway.

2. My sweet baby Ginger. She was my birthday gift when I turned 13, but has been living with my parents since I went to college. She has a fantastic life out in Colorado, barking at deer, fox, and bears, and wandering through my mom’s beautiful garden.

3. Here’s a good-looking dog my husband met this week. I don’t know his name, but he seems like a good catch.

4. This little squirrel had a shiny coat, and was nibbling on a nut when I snuck up on him. I love how he is sitting up so properly, rotating his snack in his tiny rodent hands.

5. Benedict Cumbercat! This is a picture of Benedict sitting on my lap back when he was a little wee. He was always a dirty little thing, the price of living with lots of other kitties and no momma to clean them up! If you can believe it, he has a Facebook fan page with over 1800 likes!!! You can check up on his antics here.

Life, Yoga

San Diego: Yoga and Family Fun

July 10, 2015

What happened to the last two weeks?!?! I can’t believe I’ve been back from San Diego for a week and a half. It seems like just yesterday that I was floating on a paddle board and walking along the shore. The trip started out as the annual yoga conference my mom and I take together, and slowly morphed into a full-on family vacation (minus my busy husband). In the end, my mom, dad, sister, sister’s boyfriend and I all converged on San Diego from Colorado, Texas, Cabo, and Virginia. After a bit of discussion, we realized this was our first family trip in almost 10 years! Here are some highlights of the trip:

Yoga with my Mama

Much of my time was spent on Coronado Island at the Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego Conference.The conference was located in the beautiful Coronado Hotel. We waited too long to take advantage of the discounted rates, so stayed about a block away because that place is expensive! We got to spend plenty of time wandering the halls between classes, and wandering through the entire hallway of upscale shopping in the basement. The weekend of yoga started off with a bang. I spent a full day at a workshop with the amazing Tiffany Cruikshank delving deeply into the anatomy of the hip joint (fodder for a future post!). My mom and I took a blissed-out class with Eoin Finn, and shared our very first paddle board yoga experience together the next day! I rounded out the weekend with a fun and light-hearted hamstring-focused class with Kathryn Budig (MC’d by DJ Drez), a heart-pounding immersion into backbends with Annie Carpenter, and a slow and steady hip-opening flow from Jason Crandell. It was a nice balance between the physical and intellectual sides of yoga. Next conference? Maybe San Francisco in January 2016?

La Jolla Kayak Experience

Monday was the only full day with no yoga plans, so my mom found a kayaking expedition out of nearby La Jolla. We walked over to the beach where our kayaks were waiting. There, we got a short tutorial on how to row together and tips for getting beyond the waves to the calmer ocean water.  I was in a double kayak with my sister, and all started out well. We thought we were home free until…a huge wave started forming up ahead!! We were paddling ferociously, but the wave rose way above our heads and came crashing down upon us! We still kept paddling, but eventually it took us down and almost all the way back to shore. Unfortunately for my parents in a kayak behind us, we took them out too. Thankfully we all recovered (and the water wasn’t too frigid) with only one bruise between the four of us. The second attempt was a success, and I’m glad we kept on going. We kayaked over towards some cliffs, pausing occasionally for the tour guides to give tidbits of history on the surroundings. At the cliffs, we were greeted by the barking of sea lions and spent some time watching them spiral through the water together. A bit further down, a flock of Brandt’s Cormorants rested on the cliff slope. Apparently they are an aquatic bird that can dive over 100 feet below water to find food! One by one, our tour guide led us into a cave under the cliffs to view the incredible geology of the place. The journey back to land was a lot of fun! We caught a few waves and skirted the shore back to safety and solid land.

Relaxing on the Water

While most of my days were filled with yoga, we traveled around a fair bit during the evenings and final day (with the help of our tour guide, my sister’s boyfriend). We walked along Mission Beach and Mission Bay, strolled the pier at Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach, and spent some time relaxing at Sunset Cliffs. After dropping my parents at the airport at the end of the trip, I had a few extra hours to kill. My delightful sister and her boyfriend took me to another marina (can’t remember where now) that was supremely peaceful and still. Standing on dock at the water’s edge, we spotted a baby and adult dolphin approaching us. At one point, the adult dolphin’s fin stopped popping above the surface, and the tiny baby fin was the only one rhythmically appearing. It was so quiet out that we could hear each breath when the baby rose out of the water, and it swam by just a few feet in front of where we were standing. We walked along the dock, keeping pace until the dock ended. The adult had swum ahead and was waiting a bit beyond the edge of the dock, and the two swam off into the sunset together. It was a beautiful final memory to add to the trip.

In review: First time in San Diego, not too shabby. I look forward to our next family vacation now :)

 

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Saturday – 7/4/2015

July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth of July! I may be a day late, but I have some cute animals to share! I was in San Diego for the Yoga Journal Conference this past week, so that’s the excuse I will use for the delay.

1.There’s nothing like getting into Savasana at the end of a long yoga practice. Jilly Boo likes to ‘help’ me out pretty often during yoga, but she definitely prefers this final resting pose over all others.

2. I love seeing the different variety of seabirds whenever I am around water. Based on internet research, I believe this is a variety of Herring Gull. They were greatly outnumbered by the typical white gull, but I got a nice shot of this one hanging out on a pier.

3. This photo is thanks to our dear friend and nature enthusiast, Renee. If anyone can save the world, it is her and her other naturalist friends. Check out the amazing color and pattern on this caterpillar. Insects creeped me out when I was young, but I can only marvel at the incredible variance and adaptation they show.

4. Labradoodle out in the park! Don’t you wish you could reach out and pet that fluffy fur?

5. Penny and the Pink Piñata: Chapter One. There’s an idea for my first children’s book! I had a piñata for my 25th birthday a few years back, and kept it around as company for our cats for a while after that.

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 6/26/2015

June 26, 2015

Ahh, I’m posting from San Diego today. It’s a long flight out here, but I have no complaints. I have 4 more days to enjoy this blissful weather before heading back to Virginia. Here are some cute critters to brighten up your day.

1. Look at that face! This is an action shot of a wee pup prancing down the NYC streets a few weeks ago.

2. It’s my sister’s cat Bitsy again! Here she is peering in at me through the window a few years back. She was very confused as to why she couldn’t get through the screen to join me in her bedroom.

3. The Smithsonian Zoo has some nice animals, and we were lucky to catch this aquatic turtle just before he went back into his watery home! Based on some research I did on the Smithosonian website, I think this is a Florida Softshell turtle. Look at that crazy nose!

4. I don’t know this dog’s name. Alonzo met him at The Brew Gentlemen Brewery when he went to visit a month ago. He’s got character though, and look at that shiny coat. I need to get in touch with his hairstylist to see what product he uses. 😉

5. Sweet Princess Penny Polly Pocket. It’s amazing how much disdain her face can show. I know I’m projecting my feelings on to her face, but you’ve got to agree with me. She’s just too good.

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 6/19/2015

June 19, 2015

Every Friday I am shocked that the week is coming to a close. Are we in a time warp?

1. This is Chewbacca! We met him last year during a sand volleyball game. After the game, he had a fantastic time nosing around in the sand.

2. This sloth bear is another animal from the National Zoo. They feed primarily on insects, but will supplement with plants. Just like Winnie the Pooh, they also love honey!! How cool is that?

3. My husband and I went to Costa Rica a few years ago and stayed at a place with a natural hot spring nearby. This pool was fed by the stream, so it was nice and warm. Apparently this duck appreciated it as much as we did! From my brief research, I believe this is a Muscovy duck.

4. Another Costa Rica picture, this time of a couple of horses. I used to be able to discern the differences between horse breeds, but I have lost that skill with lack of use. They seem nice though!

5. Classic kitten photo from my years at the cat clinic. How sweet are those tiny, dirty faces.