When our driver Suresh told us his wife’s family lived in Chidambaram, I had no idea of the significance of his understated comment. I did not guess that Cliff and I were about to be delightfully ushered through a portal into the heart of India.

At the time, I did not know that some temples we visited later would exclude us with spirit-crushing signs: “Non-Hindus not allowed past this point.” No doubt they’ve been plagued by disrespectful Western tourists trampling through with no sense of the sacred. Unfortunate.

So here we are, two Americans newly arrived in India, on a private pilgrimage to Chidambaram. We know that it’s Mahashivaratri, the holiest of holy days devoted to Shiva. The famous temple at Chidambaram is dedicated to Shiva Nataraj: Lord of the Universal Dance. I am excited to watch classical Indian dancing here, and don’t really know what else to expect.

Arriving at the temple grounds, Suresh leads us to the small stand where we deposit our sandals for a small fee – I reluctantly relinquish them to go barefoot in an unknown place.

As we approach the temple itself, I forget my feet, entranced by the ancient carvings of Shiva in hundreds of dance positions, covering the stone walls. So realistic and classical are these images, we see professional dancers in front of a wall, sculpting themselves into the graceful lines of Shiva’s poses.

Soon another young man bounds up, throws his arm over Suresh’s shoulder, and beaming an irresistible smile from his dark, handsome face, greets us warmly. This is a brother of Suresh’s wife, but the affection between the two of men is so evident and deep, Shiva Ram seems to be Suresh’s own brother. Soon we happily meet Shiva Ram’s father, a middle-aged man with deeply kind eyes and a large crooked smile. Even without a shared language, we feel a kinship with him.

Suresh now brings us into the temple itself, with its long rows of ancient stone columns. Every few paces we encounter a shrine to another aspect of the divine. In Hinduism, deity is one whole with myriad aspects. And each of the Hindu gods – all facets of one shining Divine – have their own names, faces, attributes and stories. I study each stone and metal image intently, always recognizing Shiva’s son, the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. I often correctly decipher which of the other deities I’m looking at. Suresh nods approvingly.

As evening advances on this Vigil Night of Shiva, so do the devotees. The temple fills with women of all ages draped in their beautiful saris, and men more drably attired, most in traditional wrap-around lungi’s for this sacred occasion. Children dazzle in bright finery and even brighter eyes.

The shrines become a bit difficult of approach through the throngs of devotees, each with their own manner of worshipping their favorite deities. Incense is burning, priests are chanting and occasionally offering sacred ash and bright red and orange paste for our foreheads. We are surrounded by nearly wall-to-wall currents of people.

Now Suresh’s father-in-law, that dear man with the gentle eyes, reappears with a priest wearing a sacred thread across his bare chest, who manages to convey to us – above the din and language barriers – that he needs our names. We shout them to him, and Suresh lets us know that we are being invited to a special ceremony.

Braving the crisscrossing tides of humanity, we slowly make our way up the stairs to the platform of the inner temple. I marvel at myself, someone who typically hates being in crowds and loud noise – I have often compared being in crowds at a rock concert to the closest experience I’ve had to hell on earth. Yet, here I am, undaunted among thousands of human beings…all of whom are sober, all of whom are simply present to honor what is holy to them.

Cliff is instructed to remove his shirt to be closer to God, and we are eventually pressed through the crowds of devotees into the temple’s inner sanctum. Numerous ceremonies are happening simultaneously. Our priest chants mantras while holding a sacred fire in a metal bowl, and he invites us all to receive the smoke as a veil-like blessing over our heads. He no doubt includes our names in his prayer, but his voice is drowned by the dozen other priests who are chanting, waving flames, and pouring milk or ghee over holy statues.

We emerge from the inner temple, a bit dazed. Cliff dons his shirt again. When we thank Suresh and ask him to give our appreciation to his father-in-law, Suresh says that even he has never been in the inner temple of Chidambaram before. That’s when I realize what a generous act of inclusion this family has extended towards us.

Now it’s time for dance performances in the temple courtyard. This display of Indian exuberance, with fabulously colored dance costumes, blazing footwork, dramatic eye and hand gestures….and horrible speakers at maximum volume, is truly an ear-splitting event. My poor eardrums and I jump at Suresh’s suggestion to leave the temple for a cup of tea. I actually can’t wait to get out of what I had thought would be the highlight of the evening. The dance performance simply pales in comparison to the family including us in their sacred ceremony.

Suresh and Shiva-Ram lead us through the temple grounds, straight past the shoe stand and out into the crowded, festive street. Cliff’s jaw drops in amazement as I follow the two young men into the city in my bare feet. This is not his scaredy-cat wife who took 40 years to decide to travel to India! I’m so enchanted by the whole occasion and so embraced by these people, I feel a certain invulnerability entering further into their world. I nevertheless exercise enough caution to get my cup of hot chai in a sanitary paper cup, rather than a glass that I’m not sure has been washed!

Suresh next heads for a stand selling Hindu souvenirs. As he buys his items, I try to hand him rupees, asking him to buy me one of the blue Ganesh key-chains that have caught my eye. Suresh turns to us with a shy smile and delivers his own purchases into our hands: the exact shiny blue Ganesh I had wanted, and a shiny red one for Cliff! “For you, a gift,” he says, evidently being a mind reader…but completely innocent of what a soulful gift this entire trip to Chidambaram Temple has already been for us.

Forty years is a long time to be apprehensive about something. Yeah, I’ve had a love/fear relationship with India for at least that long.

I’m not sure when I first heard about India – was it when I studied the religions of the world in my Unitarian Church Sunday school class at about age 5? I recall seeing the OM symbol. Maybe I was even younger when my mother would encourage me to finish everything on my plate, to be grateful for the good food I had, unlike the starving children in India. At some later time in my childhood, Mom told me about the only truly unselfish person she had ever heard of: the Indian father of nonviolent revolution, Mahatma Gandhi. My dad took several trips to India to study yoga with Iyengar.

As a freshman in college I heard about a brilliant lecturer at UCSB who always wore red, orange or gold shirts and who always received a standing ovation. Once I took his class, I found that he was not only a true genius, he was from India. He inspired me to start on my spiritual life path and gave me even greater respect for Gandhi. While he taught from and interwove all of the world’s traditions, much of what I learned from him derived from his Indian homeland.

He was also responsible for bringing the Dalai Lama to Santa Barbara several years later, enabling me to personally meet His Holiness, and more importantly to become aware of the Dalai Lama’s exemplary life of returning love for hatred, living the vast majority of his life exiled by the Chinese from his native Tibet, finding safe harbor in…of course, Mother India.

I’ve spent much of my adult life reading and even producing plays of Indian mythology and the two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, filled with valorous princes and brave princesses, fantastic gods, demons, superheroes, and sumptuous palaces. I’ve enjoyed the immense sophistication of classical Indian dance, music and cuisine. We even gave all three of our children Indian names.

I’ve also read such books as The City of Joy about the desperately poor inhabitants of the slums of Calcutta, the kind of people Mother Teresa rescued from the edge of death or comforted through the end of their wretched lives – and yet from a certain perspective, they could be said to live in joy. Since I was born, India’s population has grown from less than half a billion people to over 1.3 billion people now. Many are crowded into teaming cities where disease is rampant, the gutters can reportedly flow with raw sewage, and children are sometimes deliberately maimed to make them more effectively pathetic beggars. Whew. Unreal.

And I’ve met the valiant Vandana Shiva from India, a tiger-like force of a woman who has almost single-handedly battled industrial giants like Monsanto, creating with the farmers seed banks of heritage seeds, crusading to make trademarking of seeds illegal, thwarting GMO’s from taking over India’s rich agricultural tradition, and fighting to save subsistence farmers from the ruination of Coca Cola stealing their irrigation water to make softdrinks. Imagine the stuff SHE is made of!

My closest shave with a trip to India myself was 9 years ago when our daughter travelled to the Thar desert of Rajasthan to do volunteer work with impoverished villagers. Cliff protectively accompanied her there, and I was supposed to go, too. But the chance of contracting a life-threatening disease and specter of facing thousands of crying street urchins was too much for me, and I got too sick to travel before I had even purchased my ticket. I preferred the idyllic ancient India of my story books to the harsh reality of India today.

What changed this year, I don’t know. After numerous invitations, I finally accepted an offer from our dear friend Jivatma to give us a tour of southern India – Tamil Nadu – where she grew up. So at age 61, I summoned my courage and embarked with Cliff on 3 week trip to that mysteriously alluring and alarmingly repelling land.

I’m out of writing space this month to tell you yet of our wonderful journey. Suffice it to say that by the end of our trip, I truly had trouble saying goodbye to the place, the ethos, the eyes, the saris, the smiles, and the people of India. I really wasn’t ready to leave. I woke up the first morning at home, not quite oriented and eager for the next day’s adventure: “Where are we going on pilgrimage today?” not even realizing I was back in my own bed!

So was all my fear for naught? I usually think of myself as a fairly brave person. Should I kick myself for not having made it to India earlier? I prefer not. Perhaps my apprehension protected me. Perhaps my first, seemingly-belated trip to India unfolded at precisely the right time in my life, with exactly the necessary ripeness to truly appreciate that magnificent land.

And maybe I wouldn’t have been so anxious if I’d thought the lady in the video below was going to be my flight attendant!

And you, dear reader?

Tell me about a decision that took you a long time to make. How did it turn out for you in the end?

Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center for teaching mindful movement arts from around the globe. She is inspired by the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and by the lifelong learning shared at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. She intends that Still & Moving Center always be filled with laughter and friendship!

 

Did I tell you I’m a teetotaler? Yeah, I’m really boring. Pretty much my whole life – just too much of a control freak to want the slightest mind-altering substance on board. Really, in excess it’s been very damaging to certain family members, and I’ve never seen it add to anyone’s edification. In my work and social life, my lack of interest in going out for a drink has lost me more than a few friends…

So Cliff and I are flying from New York recently and I strike up a conversation with our seatmate. Guess what his profession is…Bartender! Obviously this conversation will be going nowheresville.

Or will it? I could dive deeper into discussion, intrigued by a life I don’t have much real understanding of. In this case, my curiosity gets the better of my preconceptions.

“What’s the best part of your job? I venture to ask, wondering what could possibly redeem the job of helping people to get drunk. I really have no idea where this conversation might go.

“Well, the best part is the worst part,” he replies. “It’s the people.”

“How so?’

“Alcohol reveals people’s truths. They can’t cover it up. They finally get honest about themselves.”

Hmm, that’s something for me to ponder. There must be a reason just about every community in the world finds a way to loosen people’s normal ways of interrelating and perceiving.

He continues, “And on a good evening I get to conduct a fantastic party. Everybody opens up and gets along. Then of course there are the ugly times. That’s the worst part of my job. Not all our truths are that great.”

Even though I now see some value in people opening the lid on their secrets, I challenge him about alcohol revealing truth. “Have you seen that alcohol allows people’s highest truths and spiritual insight to shine through?”

He doesn’t give me a straight answer, instead launching into a well-educated discourse on Plato’s Divided Line and the differences between reality and the illusions of reality. I invite my husband Cliff to join the discussion, which is on the verge of going over my head… I haven’t expected us to go into heavy-duty philosophy in a conversation about tending bar!

He then takes the line of thought into advanced mathematics and nanophysics…! I innocently ask what he might know about the fascinating 11 dimensions that I’ve heard about in String Theory. Our seatmate gives us a very cogent explanation of the theory until he no doubt realizes that the fuzzy look in my eyes means that he’s WAY out of my depth.

He now brings up Magical Realism in art, which happens to be a favorite topic of mine. And that leads us back to New York City and the arts, to the Broadway shows we’ve just seen and our backstage visit at the musical Hamilton. Whew! Back on solid ground again. And our seatmate is fully conversant in the realm of theater as well. Turns out I’m talking to quite the renaissance man…pretty well blasting my stereotype of a barkeep out of the water!

Back at home, I come across a blog blog on how to be a more interesting person: Be interested in OTHER people. Open our minds and hearts to others, even – and especially – to those whom we might not immediately recognize as sharing common ground.

And I realize that was quite the rollicking conversation between the teetotaller and the bartender. Maybe he really enjoyed the opportunity to bust through boxes other people have tried to put him into because of his job. I was just interested in him, and as a result I got to take him out of my mental box.

A bold half moon suddenly sliced through the night sky of my bedroom windowpane. The top edge of its half-circle paralleled the horizon line, while the bottom rim hung full-bellied, the entire hemi-sphere pouring out brightness and dashing me from my sleep. Like the body-less smile of Alice’s Cheshire cat, this moon demanded my attention, my consideration.

What do you want? I yawned, when it refused to be ignored. Its steady gleam silently persisted a few potent minutes without an answer. Then like a rounded cleaver of light, it dropped behind the distant ko’olau range, out of sight, with only a faint glint above the mountains marking its passage.

Statue by Harriet Frishmuth 1922

And what did this half moon come to remind me of?

Strike the balance. Cut straight to the living center

Sometimes I want things to be on either one side or the other. But no: Live with both, on the razor’s edge.

The two halves of the shell enfold the vital seed within. Cleave to the center, allowing paradox. The shell eventually opens and falls off, the sprout emerges.

How am I to live with my fellows? What is my kuleana, my dharma, my responsibility? The answer that emerged gave clarity: Yes, you are your brother’s keeper, your sister’s keeper. And you must also call for them to be lamps unto themselves.

A dear one who wants to slide into depression or victimization cannot be allowed to pull you into the black hole they may be gravitating toward. You encourage, you continue to shine your own light, and you call forth theirs. You may even fight to help them reverse that polarity and become self-shining again. In any case, be a polestar of reliable light.

Sometimes that’s all you can do, and you continue on your path through the sky.

Keep seeking your source within, following it steadfastly. Only in that way will you gain clarity of insight, with light to shed upon the earth. And whatever you have, shed it abundantly.

 

Claim your Magnificence,

 

 

Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center for teaching mindful movement arts from around the globe. She is inspired by the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and by the lifelong learning shared at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. She intends that Still & Moving Center always be filled with laughter and friendship!

Midnight meditation & waking joyfully – Vol 29, December 2015
Almost every night these days, my eyes open sometime between midnight and about 3 am. I sit up, ready to go to work. Even though we’ve already published the 2016 Still & Moving Center Almanac, my body and mind still wake up, primed to go collecting and arranging quotes.

About the time we were opening Still & Moving in 2011, my sleep pattern changed on its own. I frequently found myself unable to sleep through the night. I was tempted to fret over the change and label myself an insomniac. Instead, I decided, there must be some purpose to which I could devote my nighttime waking spells.
As a college student with a hunger for a spirituality that was universal and excluded no one, I had been highly inspired by the Aquarian Almanac. This remarkable yearly publication took quotes from thinkers and doers around the world and from every tradition and era, and organized their inspiring words of wisdom by weekly themes. I developed the habit of starting every single morning by reading that day’s uplifting thought. Even after the almanac went out of print in the late ’80’s, I couldn’t imagine living without one, and I continued to read daily from one of the old almanacs.

Now here I was, 20 years later, with time on my hands in the middle of the night. It didn’t feel right doing “work” work; the wee hours always feel like a sacred time to me. We were in the process of creating Still & Moving Center as a place where people could find regeneration for body, mind and spirit. Surely there would be folks who would appreciate a new almanac in the way the old almanac inspired me. Maybe I could come up with such a publication in my late night hours!

Using the old almanac as a starting point, I created spreadsheets of fixed and moving holidays from around the world: Christmas, World Environment Day, Hanukkah, and Diwali, adding Hawaiian holidays, such as King Kamehameha Day. On another sheet, I entered important historic events, such as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, and so on. Our programmer, who promised he could convert my spreadsheets into a printable book, added the astronomical information that I don’t know much about, but other people find useful in almanacs.

Now came the creative yet challenging part: choosing the themes for each week and quotes for each day. I found an old almanac that started on the same day of the year a2011, and I began with the weekly theme. If the old almanac’s theme for a particular week was ‘The Chidagnikunda’, a Sanskrit term, I might instead use ‘The Hidden Heart’ – a rough translation. I wanted to honor what had been shared with me in a way that was authentic to my understanding and ability to put into practice – however imperfectly. In Nia class, I cannot lead my students in a movement from someone else’s choreography that I haven’t learned to perform myself. Similarly, with the Still & Moving Center almanac, I needed to start from what I understand and share from that standpoint.

Some themes correspond to holidays occurring that week, so I move the themes around to adjust for holidays that migrate through the calendar, such as Buddha Purnima or the Islamic celebration of Ramadan. Sometimes I just choose a theme about movement, health and the body.

After determining the themes and quotes for the weeks, I move on to the quote for each day. I like to say we include everyone from Dolly Parton to the Dalai Lama! Some of the original quotes are immediately accessible to me, and sometimes I need to find more modern quotes or translations. This is where I always tread cautiously. How can I be relevant to my readership and not give them short shrift because of my own ignorance? What if I choose a simple quote from Oprah and I neglect to use an amazing passage from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s brilliant, complex poetry – a passage that someone else might have found deeply moving?

Maybe it’s for this reason that I work on the almanac at nights. For my intuition to be keen, I need my head uncluttered by the practical worldly concerns of the day. I collect sometimes a dozen or even twenty possible quotes for a week, then sound them out in my intuitive mindheart to hear which ring true.

Almanac work educates me. If Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday happens to fall in the week themed “The Mountain”, my research in Wikiquote might lead me to King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop!” from his last speech, in Memphis, Tennessee. I also pay attention when Google changes its look for a day, which often means they are celebrating a remarkable woman in history unknown to most of us, and frequently mentioning her quotes. While I’m searching for particular quotations I’m also squirreling away other wonderful quotes like precious acorns of wisdom for a future week or year.

Starting last year we included a few pages of Sustainability Tips, and the year before we added a reference guide to the many famous personages whose words grace our pages. It’s a project that definitely satisfies my creative muse!

As long as I keep plugging away steadily throughout the year, I’m ready for a small team of proofreaders to catch my many typos, and we manage to get an almanac together for each new year.

That first year’s culmination was rather dramatic. Were all these spreadsheets of data and quotes really going to turn into a readable book? I put my year’s work into the hands of the universe and my programmer, pushed the button to generate an almanac, and … after a few hiccups and corrections …voilà, there before my eyes appeared the text for our first 2011 Still & Moving Center Almanac. Magic!

Ever since then we’ve offered our lovely almanac as an aid to contemplation. It helps to create a connected consciousness at Still & Moving when many teachers start their classes with a focus like “Dancing through Life”. We talk about the quotes at our Sunday satsang/potluck and at staff meetings, seeing what relevance they might have to our daily lives. A few quotes each year revolutionize the way I look at and live in the world. I’m chewing on this one right now: “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction,” by Henry A. Ironside. I think living these words might hold the real key to transmuting an angry, unhappy heart.

This year we managed to get the 2016 Still & Moving Center Almanac into print in time for me to pack ten shiny, fresh-off-the-press copies into my suitcase for Thanksgiving with the family. Whew! BUT…my bodymind didn’t know we had completed our task for the year, so it kept trying to get me out of bed! I don’t mind that any more. Creating the almanac is really a meditative practice for me, and I always want to harness the inventiveness of that precious midnight time.

It’s still 2015, and I’m writing to you pre-dawn, just itching to start the 2017 edition!

Wishing each of you a season of peace and good cheer, while…

Resting in Stillness and moving in Joy with you,
Do you have a QUOTE that really moves you or explains life more clearly? Please email me to add it to my treasure chest of beloved quotations for use in a future almanac!

There’s a magical reservoir that holds all that we need at any moment. Hidden in darkness, in the stillness it quietly waits there for us. With trust, with patience, with a brief pause to take deep breath, we will find exactly what we need.
Cliff and I used to take a group of kids called Pathfinders on backpacking trips in the Sierra mountains.  One morning I woke at dawn and took myself on a little adventure before everyone else woke up. I came upon rock face that I decided to scramble up. Before I knew it, I was climbing something much more difficult than I had ever done before without a rope. There was no one within shouting distance and I was much higher up than I could safely jump down. I couldn’t see my way up or down. Panic was

just on the verge of welling up and swallowing me, when a little mantra came and took me by the hand. It said, “Trust the rock.” Just that. “Trust the rock.” I looked and reached up… and sure enough, there was a handhold I could pull myself up with. Thenmy feet found tiny resting points as well. Now from my new vantage point, and with “trust the rock” vibing through my awareness, I managed to find a new set of handholds that I previously couldn’t see, and then another and another. When I might have plummeted to a calamitous fall, my presence of mind -preserved by the gift of that little mantra – carried me to the top of the rock face.

Years later, when I was laboring with each of our three children in natural childbirth, a different image came to carry me through the excruciating pain of the labor. As the firstborn, Shankar’s labor was by far at the craziest pain level. While I was facing

 increasingly longer, vice-grip contractions, the image of a large, serene white bird came to me. My body and my body consciousness never stopped sensing the grinding torque of labor,  then the explosive pain at the end when it took forceps and the doctor’s hand to pull the baby out safely. All the while though, my higher consciousness floated above on the wings of that white bird gliding smoothly through the heavens, with the sea of pain crashing far below.
One way I find that magical reservoir of possibility in Nia with to play with ‘the pause’. We’ve heard of a “pregnant pause” – a moment in someone’s speech that puts us on the edge of our seat waiting to hear what’s about to tumble out next. An article called “In Praise of the Humble Comma” by Pico Iyer contrasts the comma to the period, the “full stop”. It’s the humble comma, the brief pause in the sentence, that holds the mystery.
The pause is something we can easily find in any movement transition. For example, when I swing my body upwards, there’s a fleeting moment’s pause before the body begins coming back down again. That tiny micro pause is a moment of stillness, just as a blink of our eyes, is a tiny moment of darkness in the midst of our lighted vision.
Last week in my Nia classes we played with pause, we stretched the pause, and we noticed how much movement can find in one tiny pause. It was if each segment of music was filled with an infinity of tiny silences between beats, and each of our movement sequences was punctuated with infinitesimal still points. When we came to musical pause, I would sometimes invite the students to give a hand slap. The next time we came to that pause, I asked them to give two slaps, and then 3, 4 and even 5 such punctuations at increasingly fast speeds. All of a sudden, that tiny transition moment seemed to stretch longer and longer – like time seeming to go slow speed during a car accident – only this was a GOOD slo-mo! We were finding the infinity of motion within the millisecond of pause.
Nia teachers generally lead complex, choreographed routines that take me months to memorize. Last week, I pulled out an old set of songs, including a tune that I hadn’t danced in years. As the song started to play, my mind groped for clues to the choreography.  There I was with all my students waiting, in a stretching, yawning pause, waiting intently for my memorized movement to come back to me.  None of the choreography came back to my memory. Nada!
I could have frozen up. Instead, I stayed RAW – Relaxed, Alert and Waiting: the body still, the emotions at peace, the mind at rest, and the Spirit open. In the pause of blanking out on the choreography, I let myself ease into the darkness of the unknown. Sure enough, my feet began following the song’s rhythmic pattern in a way they hadn’t done before, and my hands found new ways of moving to the melody. The music changed, and another dance pattern emerged. There in the pregnant pause, a whole dance – never done before – was waiting for me to let it out into the light…just as my babies had emerged from the darkness of the womb.
The infinite pool of creative potential is always there waiting for us, deep within. That’s the place I go to when I don’t have a clue how to get through what’s next in life. In fact, it was by going there that I just wrote this letter to you!
 Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

What does it mean these days to “be a man”? It’s different from when I was a kid. I never saw my father cry and he never attended a single teacher conference for me – not that he didn’t care, it was simply my mom’s role to do so. Dad taught me how to be brave facing big waves in the ocean. I saw Mom’s tears fall and mix with the water she sprinkled on the clothes she was ironing as she watched the news coverage of President Kennedy’s funeral. None of the men I saw on TV in those sad those days cried in public.
Today when male and female roles and attitudes are making tectonic shifts, it’s not always easy to understand differences across the generations. In today’s world, a man tearing up over a tragic incident is interpreted as a sign of his humanitarian nature.

One of my students came to class one day quite distressed about her home life.  When we spoke after class, I learned that her husband had herniated a spinal disc and was in acute and unrelenting pain. To make matters worse, her father, who was newly living with them since the loss of his wife, was acting as if absolutely nothing was wrong. He never asked his son-in-law how he was doing, never showed the least sign of sympathy. How could her father be so callous, his daughter and her husband wondered and worried.
My student and her husband are both Japanese American. I began to  imagine this stoic old man who was her father, and I asked her whether he was old-school Japanese, which she assured me he was. All the samurai stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen began crowding in on me – scenes of stern-faced men in armor or kimonos enduring dire pain without grimacing. They even committed seppuku, taking their own lives rather than living with indignity.
I imagined her father-in-law steeped in that a man-of-steel culture, learning that to be a true man was to be able to bear his suffering silently and without complaint. There was none of today’s appreciation for a man showing his softer side.What would such a Japanese man want for his son-in-law? He would want him to be able to live up that grim, suck-it-up-without-complaint standard. Of COURSE he wouldn’t ask his son-in-law a question – such as “How are you feeling today?” – that would lead the younger man to give voice to his obvious pain. Why would he encourage such an indignity? By ignoring the younger man’s condition, he was giving his son-in-law the chance to do the same, in honorable, old-school Japanese style. My student and I concluded that from his own point of view, her father was probably giving his own form of support to her husband.
The distant, emotionally reserved father figure seems to be a thing of the past. My 50 something year old friend from Singapore remembers her father actually gazing at her as a child sitting at the dinner table and asking her mother, “Who is that?” Unbelievable, right? This year as I’ve done a bit of traveling in Asia, and watched Asian foreigners visiting Honolulu, I’ve seen a very different behavior within families. In nearly every young Japanese family I see, the father is either holding the baby, carrying the baby in a cuddle pack, or pushing the toddler in the stroller.
I also see American husbands of today’s generation being far more actively involved in the everyday workings of the home – there seems to be an expected balance of responsibilities. Our twenty-seven year old son Govi does the majority of the cooking for their family. I’ve never heard of any young wife these days ironing for her husband! My mom used to hand-tailor suits for my dad. It’s a new day, isn’t it?My dad has always been a very manly man. He always let my mom do a lot of the parenting stuff, as well as the typical (à la 1950’s) things at home. She did the inside stuff – cleaning house and doing homework and art projects with us kids, he did the outside stuff – like tree pruning and coaching Little League. She did 99% of the cooking in the kitchen; he barbecued. It was interesting to watch some of my dad’s behaviors change after he and my mom divorced – oh, when I was about 25. Once he had a home on his own, my dad turned into a great cook. He decorated his house beautifully and cleaned fastidiously. It was fun to watch him cultivate his more domestic side. Meanwhile, my mom began changing her own flat tires and tackling major gardening projects.


Later, when my little half-sister  came along – I was 40 years old by then and had a different mom from her – our father had half-time custody of tiny Melanie. I saw Dad heating up baby bottles, changing diapers and reading picture books to her. These were not
things he might not have been accustomed to doing, and yet I often saw how he delighted he was with his daddy role, enjoying the antics of my funny little sister.

Female roles are changing, too. My little sis has shown quite a strident independent streak as she’s grown up. Going through my sister’s teen-age years as a single father with a 66 year age gap hasn’t been a walk down Easy Street! Should he be tough? Should she listen obediently? Should he be understanding? Should she stand her ground? How can our dad be a man, as he understands it, while my sister becomes a woman, as she understands it?

I wonder how my student’s old-school Japanese father is doing these days. He’s living by himself now, back home where he used to live with his wife. He must be cooking and cleaning for himself. Now that he doesn’t have his wife’s yin energy to counter his yang energy, I wonder whether he has learned to incorporate more of both sides within himself. I wonder whether he would be more inclined these days to sympathize with his injured son-in-law….

In a world where Malala is heroically speaking out on behalf of girls being educated in the Middle East, where most industrialized nations have had women presidents and prime ministers, where fewer men than women are getting college degrees in the USA, and where baby changing tables are being built into some of the men’s bathrooms, what does it mean to be a man? To be a woman? I’m not sure, but I see more balance of roles between men and women. And when our roles are more balanced, we have more freedom to cultivate both the yin and yang sides of our nature. We can be more whole as human beings.

 Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

The only thing Made and I really have in common is stories. As Cliff and I travel along the roads of Bali with Made – our driver, translator and cultural liaison – we encounter one statue after another from various Hindu myths and epics, and we tell each other those hero tales. So I’m wondering: Are shared stories the basis of many relationships? Perhaps they are for me.

Last week in Nia class, we were using our chairs as dance partners; it’s a great way to
practice lifting and working with weighted objects safely. As we were playing with our

chairs, I noticed one of my students really

“Wilson!!!” – a scene from Castaway
exercising her imagination. She held her folded chair in a close embrace, she stood triumphantly atop her chair seat, then she reached from the floor with outstretched arms towards her standing chair. After class, my student – an actor, as it turns out – was struggling to explain how she was feeling towards her chair.  Completing her thought, I reached one hand out with an anguished cry, “Wilson…..!”

She laughed and said, “Exactly!” That single name and gesture signified a poignant moment in an entire storyline of Tom Hanks’ movie “Castaway”, in which his only companion was a Wilson brand volleyball he had talked to for four years, and which was now floating away on the vast sea. Referencing that movie, my student and I recognized our mutual understanding of the power of human imagination to bring objects to life. How many times during our interactions with others, I wonder, do we relate through shared stories?

Here in Hawaii, people of all ages seem to find connections by “talking story”. An encounter with a new person usually begins by asking what high school the other person comes from and then goes on to explore any other possible connections the two people have. Inevitably, living on an island, people discover a shared third cousin with a funny lisp, a bowling alley where they both managed to get free bowling shoes from the guy, or a little league coach who tormented one person’s brother and the other one’s uncle. We seek avenues with new acquaintances for telling stories about our common experiences that somehow align our world views.

Visiting a sacred site with Made

So there we were in Bali last summer, conversing with our driver, Made, groping to find common ground amid our different races, languages, and life-experiences.  All of a sudden things opened up when I asked about the giant statue in the middle of the intersection. “Oh, that’s the prince Bhima, ma’am, killing the dragon in ocean.”  Me: “You mean Arjuna’s strong brother Bhima in the Mahabharata story? I LOVE the Mahabharata! Tell me how Bhima slayed a sea serpent!” And thus the storytelling began between us.

Bali is filled with the Indian epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. And those epics are something I’ve steeped myself in, even more deeply, perhaps, than the Shakespeare plays that I love. The Indian epics are so deep in my psyche that I reference them without even realizing it.  When Cliff’s work took him to Hawaii, after we had long expected to spend the rest of our lives in Santa Barbara, California, I never questioned that it was the right thing to follow him to the islands, just as Sita never questioned whether she should follow her husband Rama into the forest when he was exiled.
 Arjuna doing battle – at a highway intersection in Bali
Vedic heroes from these epics are always in the background of my consciousness, each with his struggle over the question of his dharma – his life’s calling, mission, duty arising from the very essence of his being. I relive again and again Arjuna’s quest to find his dharma, and it helps me find my own path…to create Still & Moving Center, for example.
Sharing the stories of such thoughtful heros with Made, who is even more steeped in them than Cliff and I, having heard them since his birth, creates indeed a strong bond amongst us. We were excited to arrive again in Bali last month with Made as our driver. Cliff even gave Made and me pop quizzes about details of the different characters in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

We also met several new friends, including a delightful Japanese/Balinese couple who own a wood-working studio. They invited us for dinner and we made small talk to find common ground, then arranged to meet them the next day to look at their wood carvings.

The next morning as we drove to their studio, Made happened to tell us the story of Arjuna approaching Lord Shiva to ask for the divine weapons he needed to defeat Karna – a small part of the enormous Mahabharata epic we had never heard before. We arrived at the studio and selected several beautiful pieces of wood to be carved into doors and tables.

Sudiana & Cliff talking story in front of a carving of Arjuna receiving divine weapons from Shiva

The husband, Sudiana, then graciously invited us to the temple and home of his father, who is a priest. Sudiana introduced us to this revered elderly gentleman, who told us how he sometimes is visited by dreamlike inspirations, and pointed to a stone carving he had asked to be made, based on one of these visions. We looked at the carving, and there was a picture of Arjuna, kneeling before Shiva as he received the weapons he needed to win the battle with Karna. Really. This one tiny part of the huge, 18 volume story, a part we had never heard before, we heard twice in the same morning! Cliff and Sudiana became like soul brothers as that story opened up their conversation.

Curious how shared stories can interweave lives….

Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

We often call our elder son Shankar ‘an animal’. Not exactly a flattering description, when I think about it.

Why do we say that? We mean he has the toughness of a bear…the fierceness of a wolf in the face of danger…the dauntless determination of a loyal dog. Basically, you just can’t stop this guy.

From the moment he was born, this kid has been overcoming adversity. Cliff describes the delivery room that day as a battlefield operating theater with blood everywhere. Let’s just say Shankar fought his way through a not-so-easy entrance into the world!

When I finally got to hold him, he felt like a bundle of live wires, he was so energy-charged.  Later, when we’d open the door into a room where little toddler Shankar was sleeping, we felt a temperature warmer than the rest of the house, just from the body heat he radiated.

At age five, Shankar stopped breathing with his throat swollen closed and the doctor had to yank out his tonsils. The next year, he broke his leg due to a rare bone tumor. It wouldn’t heal, so the surgeon replaced most of Shankar’s fibula with bone from the growth plate of his hip.  Through all that, no physical pain could raise a word of complaint from this tough little guy.

As soon as bone grew back, Shankar flung himself into Little League, basketball and soccer. Whatever he lacked in finesse, he made up for in gusto! At Junior Lifeguards, he won almost every race over sand or through water. In surfing, the bigger the wave, the better.

Shankar’s years from teens through college freshman were no walk in the park. I think he was determined to make his parents as tough as he was, taking us through many a harrowing experience. Talk to me if you ever despair of your child surviving into adulthood.

Out of high school, Shankar seriously considered the military. I told him that although we had brought him up with the Gandhian principles of nonviolence, if he truly believed that he was born to be a warrior, we would support that endeavor. However, I counseled, I was less concerned about the possibility of him being killed than I was about him having to live with the memory of taking someone else’s life. Shankar has always had a good heart – in that way he’s certainly NOT a beast.

Cliff and I suggested that instead of fighting people, he might look into fighting fires. That suggestion evidently resonated, and he tried a few fire science courses at a community college, but his ‘devil may care’ attitude prevented any progress. When his choices became irresponsible, we cut off financial support, and he found himself solely responsible for keeping himself alive, in every sense.

Once Shankar decided to apply his daredevil nature to something worthwhile, he emerged from his dark period. He set his sights high, passed fitness tests with off-the-chart scores, and earned a spot on the elite federal firefighting team, the Hot Shots. For the next 5 summers, he fought wildfires across the country.

During the winter months he came to Hawaii and worked hard drilling into rock faces for our construction company. He continued his exercise regimen, running his first Honolulu Marathon in just 3 hours, unaware that his shoes were soaked with blood. Typical.

When he tried out for the ultra-elite federal smokejumping team, our Beast discovered that physical willpower alone was not sufficient to accomplish his goals. On the first day of training, his stress-induce lack of sleep and extreme over-exertion caused his kidneys to pump dangerous levels of toxins into his bloodstream, landing him into the hospital for 5 days and out of the program.

He paused, he reconsidered. As someone hoping to have a family himself someday, he realized that spending 5 months a year in the backwoods isn’t an ideal line of work.  For the first time in half a decade, he spent a summer doing construction instead of fighting fire, and wondered whether he should shift into steady year-round work in the family business.

The longer he stayed away from firefighting, the more distressed he became about losing his path.  Much as our son loved working with his family, he missed those walls of flame, and the bigger they were, the happier he was. Lolo, dis kid, yeah?

He kept losing sleep at night and had no way of quieting his mind. I told him about a friend of ours, Tony Bonnici, a life coach who teaches Zen meditation. Shankar was desperate enough to try it, and with his usual zeal he applied himself to deep belly breathing and rigorous self-study.  He became calmer and clearer.

His dream job, he realized, would be to live at home year-round, working for an urban fire department near Santa Barbara, California, where he grew up watching firefighters rescue people at the beach.  He also realized he needed a lot more training and experience to achieve his goal.

Shankar the uber-athlete became Shankar the dedicated student. He plowed through his remaining college courses to complete his fire science degree. Then he earned his EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) license. Becoming a paramedic required even more serious study. During all his book-worming, he never quit his normal workouts, such as hiking 5 miles uphill with a backpack carrying over 100 pounds of water. But what amazed us was how hard he was hitting the books!

Fast forward a couple years, through an ambulance job as a paramedic, and a small town fire-fighting job, to 2015 when Shankar was chosen from a field of 5,000 applicants to enter a grueling fire-fighting academy.  On May 22nd he graduated, achieving his life ambition of joining the Santa Barbara Fire Department.

So how do we feel about this ‘animal’ of ours? Powerful as a bear, fierce as a wolf and doggedly determined, Firefighter Tillotson is bravely serving his home community…and we are proud as punch!

Will Shankar sit back now and rest on his laurels? I doubt it. We’re just waiting to hear the next target the Beast sets his beady eyes upon!

Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

OK, so I believe everything is alive. Really everything. If I angrily slam a door, all the innocent life-atoms that make up the door and the walls and floor around it are all negatively affected – I’m slowing their evolutionary progress. I believe every speck of the universe is part of a grand journey towards a higher level of consciousness, from the mineral to plant to animal to human stages and beyond.

Human beings have a powerful consciousness. I make a significant impact on the life atoms around me because as a human being, my actions come from a place of self-awareness and deliberate choice. When I chew and digest a carrot in a in a cheerful or peaceful frame of mind, its atoms are furthered on their evolutionary path. [Be sure to catch the final video for visual confirmation of the influence of human consciousness on water molecules]

We have a family friend, Robert, who washes his car almost as vigilantly as he would bathe a child. He never lets it stay dusty and he keeps the interior and engine immaculate.

If I were still a life atom passing through the mineral realm (instead of the human realm that I presently occupy), I certainly would benefit from being part of Robert’s car for a while!

It’s not always easy to figure out how to live by the principle that everything is alive. I’m currently struggling a bit over how to deal with a the big Ganesh statue we shipped back from Bali for the house we’re rebuilding.

When I first saw this red stone carving of one of my favorite Hindu deities, I felt a strong pull of attraction. Many months later, Ganesh made it to Hawaii, then spent more months in his shipping crate.

We have recently encountered a number of snags in our construction process. Since Ganesh is considered the remover of the obstacles, Cliff expedited getting our stone statue into his position at the new house site. We didn’t even have our walls or a roof in place, but never mind, it was time to install Ganesh.

Transporting our heavy Ganesh down the steep, winding driveway and over a concrete
bridge to his new home was no easy feat. He almost tipped over the beefy forklift Cliff was using to transport him, and we had to counter-weight him with a few guys. Did I tell you this Ganesh weighs over a ton? The forklift wasn’t enough, We finally had to resort to using a boom truck to lift Genesh into his place of honor. 

Now Cliff thinks we should have a welcoming ceremony for Ganesh. Hmmm…I’m chewing my lip a bit over this idea. It’s one thing to honor and wish to elevate all the life-atoms that surround us. It’s quite a different thing in my book to go around worshipping idols or trying to buy favors from the gods.

You may be wondering at this point, “Why DO you have all those religious symbols and statues around your house and Still & Moving Center?” Good question to ask someone raised to be a religious sceptic.

To me, symbols from the world’s spiritual traditions are potent reminders. The lovely wooden Kwan Yin in the Still & Moving Center entryway reminds me to have compassion and mercy. At our reception desk the Saint Francis statue holding a little bird evokes love for all creatures. In the Sun & Moon room, the copper Star of David with its upward pointing triangle suggests to me that we should always strive to lift ourselves up, while the interlocking downward triangle tells me to focus and bring down to earth the light from above.

Ganesh represents that aspect of the universe that places obstacles in our way for our own good – kind of like the song, “Thank God for unanswered prayers”. Ganesh also symbolizes the removal obstacles from our path when we are ready to proceed forward. Seeing a beautiful image of Ganesh – like this very serene, grounded statue – helps me to calm down when I don’t get exactly what I want, when I want it. Sometimes I have wait years before I can look back and recognize the good in losing something I loved or in failing to achieve something I wanted. That’s an “Ah-ha!” moment when I realize the Ganesh principle has been at work.

Now back to my dilemma about a ceremony. What shall we do? In India or Bali there would be no question: they’ve got ceremonies down pat.

I was once at a puja, a religious ceremony, at a Hindu temple in California, with a very wise Indian man. When everyone else was offering coconuts, marigolds and ghee to the deity being honored by puja, he offered a half-eaten bag of Dorito chips. Of course! Why not? If all the life atoms of the cosmos are on a grand pilgrimage to becoming more and more conscious, shouldn’t we honor everything in the universe as sacred? Why not Dorito chips? And at the same time, the humor of his action showed me that he really didn’t take the outward ritual of the ceremony too seriously. He certainly wasn’t begging any favors of the deity with that bag of chips!

Thinking of our stone Ganesh and of Robert’s car, I wonder: Is there something different about the fact that the mineral atoms of stone were made into a statue representing a deity rather than the mineral atoms of metal being made into an automobile? Hmmm….I don’t know.

When Robert cleans his car, he doesn’t seem to be praying for any divine concessions from his car – other than the normal hope that it will continue to take him from point A to B. It’s just Robert’s way to care for things. In India there’s a day of the year when the drivers say mantras and honor the rickshaws that they pull for a living. What if Robert views his car as being sacred? Robert takes great care of everything he owns, from his plastic toothbrush to his leather shoes.

Curious, I called Robert this morning and asked, “What are you thinking about, what are you feeling, when you clean your car?”

Robert replied, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m just thanking my car for getting me around safely. And when I clean my shoes, I just thank them for protecting my feet and keeping them warm.”

Gratitude. It’s not an asking for favors. It’s a recognition and appreciation for what we are given. Just gratitude for the things themselves, beyond even the human beings who crafted them. Robert gave me the key to treating every ‘thing’ as being alive.

So whatever sort of welcoming ceremony we may have for our Ganesh statue, I trust that it will be an expression of gratitude. At any moment in time, we can offer thanks to even seemingly inanimate things, appreciating all the little lives that make up the universe around us.
Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,


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