The Anniversary Tree

The Anniversary Tree

The Anniversary Tree

Last Sunday my husband, Jim, and I celebrated our twenty-ninth anniversary. We had married the end of April as I had wanted a spring date, thinking it the perfect time to start something new.

On the day of our wedding, my brother-in-law and family brought us a young weeping cherry tree and planted it in our back yard. Each year since, we eagerly have awaited the knots of delicate pink blooms as if they were our anniversary gift.

But over the years the tree has waned, the blossoms fewer and the number of barren branches growing. We consulted an arborist and fed the tree to improve its vigor. We had years when we thought it looked hardier, and some when we were certain it was in its last season.

After the cold winter last year, the tree failed to blossom at all, the buds tight before turning to leaves. My mind is good at wandering to seek meaning or read a sign into such events. So you can imagine the fears raised by our anniversary tree’s absence of blooms.

Not knowing what to expect of the tree his year, we were full of hope for its rebirth as pink buds covered the branches. Our hopes were met with a number of knots of pink blossoms, even more lovely as goldfinches sat among them, waiting a turn for sunflower seeds. Even so, most buds remain tightly closed and many branches barren. Much will go when we prune the dead wood.

Sometimes we have things in our lives we cling to as they represent something important, something deeply significant and dear. We become so attached that to let go feels almost like a betrayal. In the case of our anniversary tree, as it blossomed it reminded us of our pledge to one another, our relationship. To see the tree age and fade reminded us not only of our own mortality, but also of the fragility of relationship.

I know we will miss our tree when we finally take it down. As with so many things now gone, we will still talk about it, perhaps frame a picture. But there comes a time to let go, to make room for something new.

Already we talk about replacing our wedding tree with something strong and hardy. Perhaps a red bud. And we don’t need to have a big tree, thinking we may not have the years it might take to grow it full and large. As I told Jim, instead we will plant with faith in something new to come. And, also hold in memory the starting point of something lovely, beloved.


Elizabeth at labyrinth

Last Sunday my daughter and I brunched at the Chocolate Maven where we enjoyed a quiche of green chilies and the best mochas I have ever had. I swear Santa Fe must be the only place on earth where you can find green chilie quiche. And, the pleasure in eating it was only enhanced by having had three days with my daughter.

Monday morning when we had to say good-bye so she could return to Los Angeles and her many responsibilities of children, husband, and work, my whole body felt the loss of the intimacy of our weekend. In the space between her departure and the arrival of my husband, I walked.

Often, when feeling troubled or sad, I want to feel close to the earth. On this day, in Santa Fe, I wanted to take in the Sangre de Cristo mountains whose peaks were whitened by Sunday’s storm, the deep blue of the cloudless sky, the brilliant yellow of a tree flanking the white stone of the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial. But I did have a destination in mind.

Walking San Francisco Street, I passed homeless people, tourists, and just ordinary folks. Ahead lay my destination – Saint Francis Cathedral, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as its backdrop. I climbed the stairs as visitors milled and photographed the church and one another. Rather than entering, I turned to the left and crossed the portico to the labyrinth. The only person nearby was a man reading as he sat on a nearby bench.
Here it was quiet.

Only the day before, Katherine and I had walked the labyrinth on Museum Hill. And, only a week earlier, Jim, my friend Leslie, and I had walked the labyrinth at the Benedictine Grange near Redding, Connecticut.

I had explained to Katherine my sense of the labyrinth, and how you had to place your attention on each step you took, how the exactitude of the narrow path required attention as it led closer to the center, and then wound away. Sometimes it was only a few steps until the path curved back in the direction from which you had come, while other times you were lead with many steps before the path curved, and you had to slow just to stay on the path.

A plaque beside the labyrinth explained that they had been used since at least 2000 BC and were found everywhere in the world. In medieval times labyrinths were built into the floor of churches where pilgrims came to walk them. The one at Saint Francis in Santa Fe was built on the pattern of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.

I had told Katherine that I felt walking the labyrinth was like life. It reminded us that sometimes things went smoothly, then, suddenly there would be twists. Sometimes twist after twist required slowing and quick adjustments. Sometimes we approached the center, which for me is a closeness to a Higher Source, and we find joy. Other times our path changes suddenly and we may feel alone, abandoned.

Something felt soothing and healing on the morning I walked the labyrinth at Saint Francis. It did remind me of the twists in life we all face. But, in the space of time in which I walked the labyrinth, I moved from sadness to gratitude. I realized that in feeling such a connection with my daughter, I had reached a center – at least for a time.


Choosing Peace

Finding Peace blog image

Each one has to find peace within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.”
      – Mahatma Gandhi

As I prepared for teaching my Wise Women class, I came across a short article, “An Inner Choice,” I had printed out in 2010 from the online site the “Daily OM.” The first line was in large type and immediately brought me up short: “There cannot be peace in the world until we have it in our own hearts and minds, our own families and neighborhoods.” It grabbed my attention because I, as I know many others, had been struggling with the news of war and violence, the images of children dying, the anguished voices of loss and hopelessness. If you are attentive to all this, it is hard to feel peaceful inside, and easy to feel powerless.

This article, however, was a realistic reminder that how we live our own lives – whether it is with anxiety or calm – has an influence beyond just ourselves. Because this is a choice we can make, we are not powerless. When we feel the turmoil of the world’s chaos and conflict, we need to look within ourselves. We need to ask ourselves: What is our own sense of peacefulness?

We all experience busy minds and conflicting emotions. It is in our nature as humans. The difference between those who experience peace and those who do not has to do with how we invest our energy, not who we are. As the article explained, those people who feel at peace do not invest their energy in disturbing and disquieting thoughts and feelings. Instead, they allow the thoughts and feelings to “rise and fall like the waves of the ocean without disturbing the deeper waters of peacefulness within.”

The Yoga Sutra defines yoga as the ability to stop the mind’s busyness and distraction so it can be still or silent. In yoga we have tools, such as postures, breathing techniques, chant, gestures, meditation, to help us calm the mind and emotions by creating space.

As we begin to create space in our bodies, minds and emotions, we also can pay attention to those things in our lives that create obstacles to feeling at peace. How is our diet? Do we get enough rest? Do we have too many commitments or commitments that feel burdensome? Do we have habits that create uneasiness or agitation? This self-observation or svadhyaya can bring awareness to these obstacles so we can seek positive change, giving us more space in our lives.

With a feeling of space, the turmoil of our minds and emotions can recede, and, in its place we can glimpse, if not connect to, the peace within ourselves. This peace is available to all of us. It is within us already. Even if we are distracted by the ruffled waters at the surface of our lives and in the world, we can set an intention to work toward getting in touch with our own peaceful center. This is the real power we have.

Finding a Path through Grief

Yoga and Grief book cover

I wanted to share a new yoga resource with you. Gloria Drayer, a wonderful yoga teacher and friend, has co-written a book entitled, Yoga and Grief, a compassionate journey toward healing. This book is an insightful guide, explaining different yoga techniques and how they can support you as you experience and move through loss.

One of the first things I noticed about the book was the gentle, comforting language used. Nowhere do we hear what we must do to assuage our grief. Everywhere we are encouraged to use what works for us, to respect our own needs, to allow ourselves what time we need to heal, despite outside pressure to move on.

Most likely, the writers’ own experience and wisdom has guided their supportive tone. Both Gloria and Kathleen came to write this book out of their own experiences of loss: Gloria as she cared for her mother in her last year of life and Kathleen as she faced a major health crisis in her own life. Both talk about using the techniques of yoga described in this book to help them through their own journeys.

The writers explain that the suffering of loss unbalances our entire system. By using techniques of yoga we can rebalance the energy of our bodies and minds to find, over time, a sense of calm and peace.

This book is remarkable in its breadth, clarity, and accessibility. Strategies offered include breathing techniques, gentle yoga postures, meditation, chant, and the use of ritual. For each of these techniques, several options are offered for their use. For example, in the chapter on yoga postures, there is a practice that can be done in a chair, another done standing, another on the floor, a longer practice, as well as suggestions for rest, so that anyone can find something appropriate.

In each chapter, the writers explain the benefits of each technique and offer easy to follow instructions to perform it. To help follow instructions for yoga postures and breathing practices, clear black and white photos supplement the instructions, which are written accurately and simply. To support learning of the chant and meditation, Gloria has recordings of the chants and guided meditations given in the book on her two websites.

I highly recommend Yoga and Grief, a compassionate journey toward healing, whether you are dealing with grief right now or not. We all experience losses in our lives, be it the loss of a loved one, the death of a pet, the loss of health, the loss of a relationship, or a job or home, and most of us help others close to us with their losses. To understand the techniques of yoga and how they can support us can be invaluable when we need help. Gloria and Kathleen have created a remarkable resource. It is a gift to those needing a path through grief.

Visit or to learn how to order the printed book or e-book edition of Yoga and Grief, a compassionate journey toward healing.

On Patience


“How lucky,” we thought. Our plane had arrived early in Baltimore after our 4 ½ hour flight from Las Vegas. Our luggage tumbled onto the carousel with no wait. We called the nearby hotel where we had left our car a week earlier, and the receptionist assured us it would only be a short wait for the van to pick us up.

Our journey visiting children and grandchildren had taken us to the sun and warmth of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. As we stepped into the Baltimore late afternoon, I was glad I had chosen my ‘smart wool’ socks and shoes to wear home, rather than sandals.

Perhaps 15 or 20 minutes passed before the white Ramada Inn van pulled up to the curb of Number 1 Area, and a smiling driver hopped out. As he opened the back of the van and lifted one bag, and then the other inside, we felt close to end of our journey.

We were ready to slip into the warm van as the driver walked to the passenger side door to open it for us. But the door was locked. The driver walked around the van to his door, and even before he said a word I knew. Locked. Back door. Locked. And, the van was running with the keys safely locked inside.

The driver assured us this had never happened to him before, and you could tell he was really upset. I tried to comfort him by telling him the story of how my husband had done the same thing one time. Except the car was a rental car, and it was parked at a Target in Los Angeles, running. Things had worked out there.

But things weren’t working out here. The hotel desk told the driver that no one was available to bring another set of keys to the airport. My husband and driver stood around a little longer, talking, until my husband decided to call the hotel desk. Using what can best be described as his stern Marine sergeant voice, he told the receptionist that they had to get someone to bring the keys. And about that time, a family with 2 kids showed up, luggage in tow, also needing a ride to the Ramada Inn where their car was parked. They were in sandals, and it was getting chillier.

“Someone’s bringing the keys,” the driver finally announced, and he suggested we go inside the terminal, where it was warm, and come back out in about 15 minutes. Of course, all of us took him up on his suggestion. But when we came back out, the keys had not yet arrived. So we waited some more.

When an Inn employee pulled up to Area 1 and handed keys to our driver, we thought ourselves delivered. But when our driver tried the key, it was clearly not to our van. Our driver, now as frustrated as we were, slipped into the black SUV with the Inn staff person and returned to the hotel to find the correct set of keys.

I consider myself a pretty patient person, but annoyance had started to flicker inside me. After our driver disappeared into the early evening airport traffic, I went back into the terminal, sat down, and began to think about patience. Patience just doesn’t happen, I thought. What allows us to feel patience?

Obviously, we make a choice. For I could stand outside in the cold my hands in my pockets, cussing the incompetence of the driver, the van, the Inn and the entire hotel industry. Or I could sit in the terminal, where I was warm, pick up some crackers, fruit and water at a nearby kiosk, and read my book until the driver returned.
What made the difference was my decision to accept the situation and make myself comfortable as I waited rather than expend my mental and emotional energy on something I could not fix. And, I was lucky. There was a place to be comfortable as we waited.

In the end the driver returned, opened the van, and safely chauffeured us back to our cars, so we could begin the final leg of our journey home.

For me this experience was a lesson on the nature of patience. Cultivating patience requires accepting the reality of a situation for what it is, especially if it is not what we would choose. Acceptance allows us to decide a course of action based upon the circumstances that exist. And, that means our course of action is more likely to have positive results, and our bodies, minds and emotions less stress and greater calm.

Yoga, Wellness and Aging Gracefully

Yoga Aging Gracefully

When I taught Yoga I and Exercise and Stress Management at HACC, we talked about the concept of “wellness” rather than “health.” “Health” is often viewed as the absence of disease – chronic or otherwise. “Wellness,” a concept adopted by the World Health Organization, is a holistic view of human beings. The concept of wellness refers not only to physical wellness, but also to intellectual, emotional, social, environmental, and spiritual wellness and recognizes their interdependence in the well-being of a person. Moreover, our wellness depends not on our genetic inheritance, which is a given, but rather on the choices we make in our life.

The yoga classes I taught at HACC met twice a week for fifteen weeks. In that time students grew in their awareness of their behavior and reported seeing areas of their lives where their choices were not supporting their wellness. Many students started to make changes as a result – stopping smoking, choosing healthier foods, letting go of depleting relationships, and making changes in how they responded to others.

Once they came to realize that wellness was attainable, not because of their genetic luck, but rather because of their choices, many felt empowered to make change.

In the January, 2014 issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, the writer looked at a concept – salutogenesis – which means “the origin of health.” He goes on to suggest that this idea is critical when we look at “healthy aging.” “It shifts attention to what supports health and well-being – what creates “health” – rather than what causes disease. This concept of “health” is very much like that of “wellness.”

Our perception of our own health is very subjective. This article mentions studies in which older adults are asked to assess whether they have “aged successfully.” “One study of 205 older adults with physical illnesses or disabilities found that most considered themselves to be aging successfully.” In another study of 1,900 women over 60, most rated themselves as aging successfully even though physically they would not meet “objective standards for having good physical health.”

Many of us see members of our family or our friends experiencing serious illnesses, and many of us have lost people close to us. Some of us are dealing with a chronic condition or illness right now in our own lives. This can lead us to have negative expectations as to what we will experience as we grow older, perhaps even leading to a sense of helplessness.

But I believe most of us hope to age gracefully. Embracing the concept of “wellness” and an appropriate practice of yoga can help us live with grace. As a holistic practice, yoga can support physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellness. The awareness it brings to our behaviors and relationships with other beings and the earth can support social and environmental wellness. Yoga teaches us awareness so we can live the only life we have, which is in this present moment. Focusing on the concept of wellness, despite what ailments or chronic conditions we may face, can help us to have a more balanced perspective on our lives. It helps us to see we can make choices that support us, whether we are 18 or 80, and that is empowering.


A Symptom of Inner Peace

Peaceful Purple Sunset

“A loss of the ability to worry” is a serious symptom of inner peace, according to one writer’s reflections on inner peace I found stuffed away in a poetry folder. I smiled as I read this because I believe we all might agree that worry and inner peace do not co-exist in our bodies or minds.

Have you noticed how you are conscious of the present moment when you feel a sense of peace? Worry, on the other hand, takes you out of the present. The mind becomes occupied with what might happen in the future or the ramifications of something from the past.

My parents were great worriers, and so I grew up with worry as an unconscious habit. Focusing on the worst case scenario of a choice, behavior, or event, I would make decisions as a way of “protecting” myself from the disastrous outcomes that I imagined. The great irony of this is that I was not protecting myself, as I really did not have control over the outcome of things worrying me; rather I was creating a negative and unhealthy environment for my body, mind, and emotions.

Worry is about fear. We fear something bad will happen. Often what we dread is a loss. It might be a loss of a person, pet, reputation, success, power, possessions, health, or life. Fear engages the stress response, our body’s natural physiological response to a threat or danger. When this response is activated a flood of chemicals in our system raises blood pressure, increases respiration and heartbeat, and creates tension in our muscles, all preparing us to respond to the threat of danger we believe is immanent.

Worry, and especially chronic worry, has negative health effects, and it does not even protect us from the bad things we fear will happen. Worry keeps us from living the only life we have – this present moment.

In yogic terms, worry is avidya or lack of awareness or knowledge. We are caught in illusions that we have power over events when we don’t, or that things must never change when it is their nature to change, or that we have knowledge of what will happen in the future when we cannot know what will happen. Avidya inevitably leads to duhkha or suffering. When we worry, we suffer.

Yoga can help us with avidya and worry through practice (abhyasa) and discrimination (viveka). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra gives us the eight limbs of yoga – ethical practices, behaviors toward ourselves, postures, breathing practices, and the inner limbs of yoga, all leading to purification of the body, mind and heart. Through diligent practice of the limbs of yoga, purification leads to greater clarity. We begin to see our ourselves and our behaviors; we see what we what we can change and what we must let go of. We have strategies in our practice to take the mind to a more peaceful place when habits of worry return. As the mind becomes clearer, we develop discrimination, the ability to see what is helpful and what is harmful and to base our decisions on that knowledge.

While banishing worry from our minds forever may not be attainable for most of us, discrimination that comes out of a consistent and sincere yoga practice can help “weaken” our tendency to worry. And, as worry diminishes, inner peace can take root and grow.