Risk delight

I love news.

Sometimes the news overwhelms.

I’ll pick up the newspaper casually as walking into the ocean to feel sand underfoot and sky overhead, to take in the sight of the horizon ahead, and then! A step off a sea shelf into depths where I suddenly have to paddle my arms and legs, a shiver of panic up the spine.

Walking to a student’s house. Good thinking time.

So I’ve hung onto a copy of Jack Gilbert’s “A Brief for the Defense,” sent to me by fellow poet Connie Gutowsky.

The poem begins,

Sorrow everywhere.

Halfway through it advises,

We must risk delight.

Near the end, it claims,

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

Click here to read the full poem, including its beautiful conclusion.

Adam Zagajewski’s Try to Praise the Mutilated World is another to keep nearby.



spring shadow

Walking on a late March morning, I could barely keep up with my shadow until I stopped it long enough to snap a photo.


The poem my mother recited when I was a child, “My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson, popped into my head.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, 
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
Is a shadow useful? Maybe so, maybe not. I love how Jane Hirshfield says that poetry is valuable precisely because it is not useful.
Richard Rosen talks about what a slow process the study of yoga is. Its benefits may not be apparent for years, if ever. More on that in this video interview with him.
Whenever I’m on a playground swing, I think of Stevenson, too. Swinging is a time to pick up momentum and go quietly fast, like a bird!

Being as process

Talking with a friend about odd experiences–sounds, sensations and sightings–that have occurred after a person or animal dies, I got to thinking of how a soul, as such, could be like a ghost net, that synthetic, abandoned fishing gear, drifting through some ether outside the time and space that we, in our boxes of five senses may not perceive, snagging the unsuspecting.

Or maybe it’s all in the mind, and perhaps thereby more wondrous, that a dab of grey matter holds infinite possibilities.

If this is the case, we ought especially to be scrupulous fishermen, leaving no harmful trace, practicing care with words, thoughts and actions.

Along with the friend’s conversation, Pankaj Mishra led me to these thoughts. He writes in An End to Suffering, one of my favorite books:

Personal experience and a habit of close analysis seem common to both the meditator and the artist in their discovery: they see that the human being is a process, a shifting web of relations among such changing aspects of his person as perceptions, desires and ideas, and that by presuming to possess a stable self he sinks deeper into ignorance and delusion.

Click here for a recent New York Times article on how meditation changes the brain.

Thank you, timer

Thursday, I packed the remaining odds and ends from my D.C. apartment–broom, jacket, lamp, shampoo, toothpaste etc.–and headed just a little bit West to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to set up camp.

A thrill shimmies up my spine when I drive across the Potomac and then the Shenandoah rivers, past the battlefield where the Union suffered a terrible defeat at the start of the Civil War and where I now walk my dog every evening meeting new neighbors and listening for ghosts, to arrive at the yellow rental with the red door in Bolivar (my town, literally a stone’s throw from better-known Harpers Ferry).

So, it’s okay to have another change, just shy of a year leaving Sacramento, a settlement at the confluence of two of my other favorite rivers, the American and the Sacramento, a vibrant valley city that for 10 years made a place for me, my poetry and yoga, and remains full of friends, teachers, colleagues and students I think on every day. Thank you.

It’s okay to have another change after being welcomed last April by the beautiful glass and brass doors of my D.C. apartment building perched like a mighty gryphon along Rock Creek’s Klingle Creek.

So many good things happened there in such a short time.

Most of them logged on this blog. Thank you, students. Thank you, friends. Thank you, readers.

During the transition from D.C. to West Virginia, this copper tea kettle was my anchor. That same kettle lived in a dozen homes throughout California before crossing the country last year. It sat in D.C. on this plain white range and heated water for countless cups of coffee and green tea.


The oven timer on the range has been my meditation buddy. It’s simple to use and provides a helpful one-minute warning.

Situated on my zafu I’d hear, “ding!” and refresh my posture, staying with it for 60 more seconds.

Prepping for a yoga class, I’d set the timer to provide a reminder to roll up the mat and hop the L2 bus, or speed up the stairs to the conference room for chair yoga, or hightail it up the hill to my students in Glover Park.


A memo slipped under my apartment door conveyed that building management is remodeling the apartment’s kitchen. This range is destined for the dump. Thank you, range, for granola, chocolate chip cookies, kale chips, savory mushrooms, roasted potatoes, sweet potato fries and cornbread.

Good-bye, timer. Thank you for watching the clock.

The kettle’s whistling on another range now.

Bye, Bye, Black

As the days offer more light, I’m bringing color back into my life, blouse by barrette, plate by pillow, gradually phasing out the long-relied-upon black and grey in my closet.

Life is change and, for me, this is a big one.

To try to figure out the full impetus, I ginned up an essay for My Little Bird.


MY FIRST GROWN-UP dress was a Ralph Lauren knee-length black jersey with ballerina neckline, long narrow sleeves and a wide belt to cinch the waist. When I wore it, I felt beautiful, a new sensation. I was 16 years old, growing up in D.C. and awakening to the peculiar power of youth and femininity.

That same year, my mother also gave me a string of good-quality pearls. When I learned that oils from skin help the gems retain their luster, I rarely took them off. This was the late eighties. We wore pearls against our crewneck volleyball uniforms or doubled the strands on our wrists to pile up with friendship bracelets woven from embroidery thread.

I remembered that dress when I recently watched the classic film “Funny Face” (1957) in which Kay Thompson plays the editor of a fashion magazine. Tired of drab wardrobes, she declares “Banish the black,” and demands a remake of her next issue.

“Now hear this,” her character Ms. Prescott orders over the office intercom, as she assembles her staff for a meeting. Wearing a black suit and white blouse, she pronounces the planned fashion spread dreary and demands: “Everything goes pink!”

She speaks my language.

Continue reading here.



Hydrangea thoughts

Hydrangeas seem to be the metaphysicians of the plant world.

Front yard shrub, D.C.
Front yard shrub in D.C.

Last year’s dried blossom evokes what’s happened as new growth sprouts what’s next from behind this flowerhead’s ear.

Past and promise converge in the present.

It’s like that tiny pause of nowness in the everything and nothing at the bottom of a smooth exhalation.

Listen to the rattle of the dried flowerhead and sigh along with the wind.

Take a drink from your water bottle and pour an offering to your favorite shrub. Hydrangea derives from the Greek for “water vessel.”

For more on hydrangeas, seeing, feeling and moon shadows.

Susan Jensen: How to move into spring

When Susan Jensen sent this missive from France where she’s on sabbatical for a year, I asked her if I could share it with you, Yoga Stanza readers. Susan practices traditional acupuncture and is a wise person. She’s one of the first people I met in D.C. last spring after driving across the country in an old truck. She welcomed me to the city and unkinked me on her massage table.
Dear All,
We are well into spring now, Chinese New Year being a month ago.  As most of us have talked about lots of times, spring is the rising energy to create a new life, season, cycle of life.  It’s not usually smooth.  There can be struggle.  There can be a lot of back and forth in the transition from winter (yin) to summer (yang).  Spring can be biting cold wind one day and sunny warm promise the next.  Getting anything “off the ground” or “up and running” has its “ups and downs”.  But those little plants coming up have a relentless force behind them like the blade of grass that finds its way through the crack in the sidewalk.  It’s what puts new leaves and growth on trees.

That’s the energy of spring.  Unstoppable.

For most of us there is an impatience about spring.  “Let’s get going!  Enough with all this yin indoor stuff!”  Let’s get out of the house and DO something…be it gardening, projects, sports, traveling, etc.

It’s important to marshall that energy and use it wisely. 
The whole lower 48 doesn’t need to get cleared and replanted in a weekend.  The entire garage doesn’t need to get completely emptied, sorted, and done the first nice Saturday.

We don’t have to reorganize all our life in one day.

Planning and strategizing are part of this energy…looking to what we want in life and how to go about doing that.  The big overall picture as well as the little details.

The energy of spring can be in spurts, explosive and/or a never-going-away push.

Anger, vision and creativity are associated with this energy. 

Anger can show up in all those ways, as can any kind of creativity.  There can be a flash of anger, a crankiness, a long term commitment to righting an injustice.  Planning well how to accomplish our goals comes from good use of this energy.

If we’ve had a “good winter” (lots of rest, quiet, nurturing good warming foods, restoration, etc.) we can bend with new possibilities, be flexible with what life brings us, and plan accordingly. 

If our winter has been exhausting and full of overdoing-ness we may not have the energy to rise up or we might be unbending and brittle…snapping easily.  Just like trees bending in the wind….or not…depending on how healthy they are after the winter.

Now is the time to start putting new plans and projects into action, with patience and some easing…warming up to all of it.

Sending love and best thoughts for a great spring,
Susan Jensen, MAc, LicAc, DiplAc NCCAOM

sky-dancing & being

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology, whose magical on-line cabinet of resources is a treasure trove for bird lovers.

Take a beauty moment for a kind of visual meditation to watch this golden eagle “sky-dancing.”


Some believe every-thing continually practices yoga, as we soar and dive breath-by-breath through time, extending and contracting, unifying and fracturing and unifying again.

It’s not so much a process of becoming, which has overtones of  goal-oriented betterment, but of simply being.

Asana practice on the mat is just a matter of embodying the world.

All that philosophizing aside, if you missed this article with comments from The Birdist’s Nick Lund, it’s worth a few minutes to peek into the mind of a dedicated bird watcher.

Visual meditation: pond

This week, we read the poem “Three Meditations,” by Jeanine Stevens, a professor of anthropology and psychology. Jeanine’s also an accomplished practitioner of Tai Chi and a compassionate and effective writing workshop facilitator. She’s drawn some haunting poems from my heart that I’m still revising.

Here she shares the process she uses with students to lead them in a visual meditation to that space of awareness where clarity can occur, as in her pond reflection. Try it yourself!

For the pond meditation, I have students put all books, etc. away.
Both feet on floor like they used to tell us in grammar school.
Then, I have them imagine sitting on the bottom of a still pond,
and try to bring up sensory details, colors, fragrance.
Then, of course, unwanted
thoughts will begin to intrude. So simply make them into a bubble,
and watch them gradually rise and disappear on the surface,
keep doing this until the active mind gets tired, no thoughts
come and by then they may be meditating.

Did you clear your mind? Discover a poem? Find some peace? Or not?

As we say in yoga: it’s all information.

As Dogen says, “Study the self to forget the self.”