by Renée Tillotson
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.
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,
We maintain a long-distance relationship. We have for years.
In the early days we were so close we could hug each other daily. Time went on and the circumstances of life carried us in different directions, till now we only talk on the phone every few weeks.
What happened? Our little daughter Sandhya grew up and became a delightful young woman, self-directing in all sorts of wonderful ways.
We knew when we went searching for colleges together that this girl was set on going places in her life. The University of California Santa Barbara, a couple miles from where we had brought her up, didn’t even get an application from Sandhya, and she only checked out a couple colleges in the whole state of California. Hawaii – where Cliff and I were mostly residing at the time – got only a glance of half-hearted interest. Instead Sandhya and I traveled together throughout New England, to Ohio, Washington and Oregon checking out schools. The campus that ended up stealing her heart was Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Like thousands of island parents, we sent our daughter thousands of miles away for college, our heartstrings taut and stinging with her departure. Off she went to Colorado for her freshman year with a full scholarship that she had earned on merit, brimming with zest to protect the earth as an Environmental Science major. We were happy for her, we had to be, even while knowing how much we would miss her. Every parent who raises their child to be self-sufficient suffers from the success of their efforts.
Along the way of her education, Sandhya spent a summer in Costa Rica working at a sea turtle reserve (yes, she loves honu, too) counting turtle eggs and encountering a jaguar in hunt for the turtles. YES, she is intrepid! In her Junior year, Cliff delivered her to a non-profit organization in northern India with which she had worked out an internship. There for a semester, she helped villagers on the Thar desert of Rajasthan to create water conservation tanks, and taught children sanitation techniques.
To the girls and women of this impoverished area, Sandhya served as a living example of a strong, intelligent woman who had gotten herself an education and gained the independence to travel without her family in a distant land. She met with the women in the village councils and gave speeches when the non-profit organization when on marches to promote water conservation. No one had ever seen a fair-skinned, blue-eyed girl with the Indian name Sandhya – they hung on her every word.
Meanwhile, we shared emails back and forth with a few phone calls scattered in.
Not surprisingly, Sandhya fell in love with a place thousands of miles away from home, and also with a fine man who loved living in Colorado. Honestly, I never expected this adventurous girl to move back home after she left Santa Barbara, and meanwhile Cliff and I had definatively moved the other direction, buying a house in Kaneohe, Hawaii. The physical separation between us became more lastingly established.
Once I started Still & Moving Center, time got exceedingly tight on my end. We were leading parallel lives with Sandhya embarking on her new career as an environmentalist and me embarked on my new career as owner of an international movement studio. We each cheered each other on from afar.
Yet we missed each other more than we knew.
Finally, this Christmas vacation we did something we hadn’t done for years: we made time to hang out. Here on island we spent lots of family time, and she took me for brunch one morning to the Halekulani – deluxe! We even made a trip together to Kauai where we adventured for 3 days. We faced rain that was driving sideways, hiked muddy trails, chased colorful chickens to take portrait shots of them, and discovered a hidden beach. It was glorious just spending mom-and-daughter girl time together. Realizing how much we had been longing for each other’s company, we are planning a road trip from Santa Barbara, CA to Durango, CO in May, and my mom is joining us: triple girl time together!
Sandhya has always said she admires me for being my own person, for creating my vision of a wonderful place with Still & Moving Center. The reality factor is that Sandhya’s mom [that would be me!] spends most of her waking moments and some of her sleeping time focused on her work. If I was Sandhya It would have been an adjustment not to be the center of my mother’s world anymore. Even though Sandhya is busy leading her own life, she probably feels as if she has to share her mom’s attention with a lot of other people who are in daily contact with her. And vice-versa.
I am realizing how even the strongest, most loving long-distance relationships benefit from sharing the intimate details of everyday life, spending time in each other’s spaces. I love and miss my daughter – you all probably know the feeling with someone in YOUR life. Together in the same house or car or path, she and I can laugh at the same things we are experiencing together, eat each other’s food, and give each other a hug whenever we feel like it.
By Renée Tillotson
I was in love with every person in the room. I felt absolutely thrilled and inspired. The air seemed to crackle with newness and I was amazed at life.
How did I come to feel this way? Not even half an hour ago I had been dashing through a shower after Nia class to get to the concert in time. I could sense my shoulders clenching with tension as I drove to a place I had never been before, then nervously walked alone through the parking garage. My internal clock was ticking loudly as I searched in the building for the concert hall.
The concert had already started when I arrived. As I sat down and began to relax, I realized that the audience was rapt, and that beautiful flute and piano notes were tumbling from the stage out into the room. I felt almost instantly transported by the musical field that had been created in the room – as if I’d been picked up by a wave of music.
On stage, two musicians from very different traditions were improvising together. Peter Kater masterfully made his way up and down the keys of the grand piano, apparently trained in the classical tradition, pulling out original melodies as if by magic. R. Carlos Nakai played an array of Native American flutes, wafting haunting or mysterious songs through the air, sometimes chanting in a native tongue. As they swapped leads, one man giving way for the other to pick up a promising succession of notes, my excitement built.
What was going on?!? I was experiencing what we call ‘Universal Joy’ in Nia, which I often get when I teach or take a good class, coming out sweaty and exhilarated. Now here I was just sitting on a chair in the back of a concert hall, high as a kite!
What is this energy I was feeling? How is it shared? Where does it come from?
The pianist, Peter Kater says that their improvisation happens “through the grace of being present, listening and responding wholeheartedly from within the void…the womb of all creativity.” These two musicians were wide-open, and the flow they turned on had carried me with them.
Evidently, this feeling doesn’t even require music for me to get it. Once as I was walking through a quiet museum I came upon an original Van Gogh painting, uncovered by glass. As I gazed at it, I was struck by the energy that poured out of that canvas. It was as if Van Gogh had chiseled a hole through a wall in the universe with his paintbrush, like a window allowing the light to stream through…and it was still streaming through more than a hundred years later. I felt bathed in fresh light.
How does someone make it possible for the energy of creative inspiration to pour through?
Discipline seems to be one of the key requisites for good art to happen. People who truly master their craft are able to turn on the juice. Without years cranking away on his piano scales in minor and major keys, Peter would not have the musical dexterity to adapt to the fluid, sliding flute tones that Carlos was playing. I could imagine Peter’s musical calisthenics at home that enabled him to play the piano so athletically. His music pumped in ripples and waves through the piano out to me in the audience.
Creative energy doesn’t just pop into the human world by itself – in fact, sometimes it has to be wrestled out. The inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison, made about 10,000 different attempts before finding the right filament for his bulb. According to Edison, genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.
There’s a ballet dancer I admire, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defected from the Soviet Union to America to pursue his dance career. Baryshnikov is as famous for his grueling self-training regimen as he is for his soaring leaps and spins. You can watch his jump practice below.
All that sweat-equity behind Baryshnikov’s dancing allows his driving passion to transport us, his audience, with his thrilling stage performances. The force of his artistry has carved a deep channel of inspiration into the dance world. Another video below shows some of his ballet highlights and how his work has impacted dancers and audiences worldwide.
In the third video below, watch the power galloping through Mikhail dancing from deep in his guts against soviet injustice. The angst shooting through his dance taps into a universal emotion we can all relate to, but few have developed their talents to express it so eloquently.
When a creative genius breaks through into something wonderful – like digging tunnel out of the darkness into daylight – they make it available not only to themselves but to the rest of the world. It’s almost as if the light is traveling through such a person, seeking expression. Whatever our strength and passion is, through wholehearted exercise of it, we can chisel our own windows in the wall to let the light shine through.
As students of various moving arts at Still & Moving Center, we apply ourselves, increase our skill levels and share experiences with other students, teachers, international trainers and performers, until we too tune into that universal energy. I can’t say exactly how it works, I just know that it flows through here frequently!
About the Author
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 support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
From the time they were old enough to sit up in a highchair near the counter and hold a spoon, my kids always cooked with me. Cooking was really one of the most important activities that the children and I shared together.
I must have learned that from my mom, since my little brother Dan says his first toys were the pots, pans and cooking utensils in the bottom drawers that he used to play with while our mom was in the kitchen cooking meals.
Our elder son, Shankar, reminisces, “I remember standing on chairs when I was really little, stirring big pots of noodles. When I got a bit older, I used to be the one to cook the fried food because you would say, ‘You’re good with the heat and you take the veggie burgers off in time.’ You always used to have me cook the garlic bread, ’cause you said you always seem to burn it, just like Nana does. I learned to make coffee from Dad and eggs and toast from you.”Shankar got so confident with his cooking skills that while he was in kindergarten, he used to surprise Cliff and me with breakfast in bed. Shankar has always believed that if a little is good, a lot is better! Once, when he made us eggs, he oiled the pan well – I mean really well! Here he comes into our bedroom carrying a plate of fried eggs, swimming in oil: “I made you some….” WHOOPS!!! “…….uh, eggs.” And there we were with sunnyside-ups in our laps. Truly breakfast IN bed.
Shankar continued cooking with me, when all of a sudden one day, he got a notion that maybe this cooking stuff wasn’t manly. “Mom, cooking is for girls, isn’t it?” “Oh no!” I was able to explain truthfully. I told Shankar about his dad visiting Alfredo’s restaurant in Italy, where the male chef invented the dish that still bears his name today. I told Shankar about the eggplant parmesan and sprouted whole wheat bread that his dad used to make in college, reminding Shankar of his Grandpa Ray’s great Chinese cooking and his Grandpa Bob’s delicious baked goods. Satisfied that he wasn’t being a sissy, Shankar happily continued to cook with me.
I certainly remember preparing meals with my mom. We were both such high-energy people, I don’t ever recall us just sitting around talking. When we were cooking, though, we got to spend time together chit-chatting while our hands kept busy. We’d invite guests over almost every weekend and try new recipes from Sunset magazine. I was a young teen by that time, with more than a decade of cooking experience, and Mom would always lament about my maverick approach, “Can’t you just follow the recipe the way it’s written the first time you make it?” But since she’d taught me the cooking basics, I felt perfectly comfortable substituting peaches for apples or coriander for cinnamon.
One of my favorite things to make with Mom was blackberry pies. We’d all ramble through the hills of Oakland, California in the summer looking for good berry patches, getting our arms and fingers scratched and pricked by the thorns, then put together one of her famous pies. The eating was well worth the pain that went into making those pies. To this day, Mom still picks and freezes a zip-lock bag of local blackberries in the summer to make my brother Todd his favorite birthday treat in March. To Todd, it just wouldn’t feel like a family birthday celebration without Mom’s berry pie. (Yes! I’ve included her recipe below!)
Like many firefighters, our older son Shankar now cooks for the whole fire crew. “At the firehouse we usually team up on making meals. We do most things as a team, and cooking is one of them. We’re always helping each other out. It makes it go a little quicker and it’s more fun.”
Shankar tells me, “I remember barbecuing peppers and onions and zucchini on the grill at home for our veggie tacos. Now, cooking at the firehouse, most of my best recipes have blackened veggies off the barbeque, such as my pork chile verde and my chicken fajitas. You always used that expression, ‘Stay out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat.’ Now that I’m a firefighter, I guess you really could say I’m pretty good at taking the heat…!” View the video at the bottom to see what’s cooking in the firehouse!
My kids still vividly remember making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking them down to the big fig tree in Santa Barbara to offer to the homeless folks there. Now when I watch kumu Malia cooking in the Still & Moving kitchen with her three keiki on Tuesday afternoons to distribute to the homeless with Street Angels at Ala Moana park, it reminds me of how important cooking together can be to creating a strong sense of family and community.
Moving in Stillness and resting in Joy with you,
I never believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus or the stork bringing babies, even at the youngest age. On a different front, stories of an arc full of animals and of dead people coming back to life also seemed impossible and illogical to me. My parents made no effort to encourage my belief in these things or to dissuade me in my demands for ‘truth’.
Facts and logic were paramount in my thought-processes. When my mom asked 3 or 4-year-old me one day what I was digging for so hard in my sandbox, I answered: “Dead Indians.” Why did I think I would find such a thing in our backyard? “Well, you said Indians used to live here, so they must have died here; if they died here, they must have been buried here, so I’m going to find ’em.”
As a young child I attended Sunday school at the Unitarian Church in Fresno, California, which my father and mother had helped to build. There I learned that people all over the world followed different religions, and that they were all part of my human family – even if they believed in things that made no sense to me. I was very curious about the Egyptians and why they would take so much care preparing for their after-death state. Why would they need all that stuff after they died?
In highschool, I couldn’t buy into the rah-rah hype of the popular kids’ Young Life bible study group, which denied much of the science that I loved, such as dinosaur bones dated over 100,000 years old. I longed to become part of my friends’ Jewish community, but the Chosen People doctrine prevented me from doing so. I WANTED to find something spiritual; I was simply unwilling to abandon my reasoning faculties to do so.
Finally, in college, Cliff passed on to me an unfinished essay called “The Religion of Solidarity” by the utopian novelist Edward Bellamy when he was about 23 years old. Bellamy felt that he never in his lifetime exceeded the insights he captured in that early writing, and he asked for it to be read at his deathbed.
I remember my awe of recognition when I got to this uplifting bit of Bellamy’s poetic prose:
There are few of an introspective habit who are not haunted with a certain very definite sense of a second soul, an inner serene and passionless ego, which regards the experiences of the individual with a superior curiosity, as it were, a half pity. It is especially in moments of the deepest anguish or of the maddest gaiety, that is, in the intensest strain of the individuality, that we are conscious of the dual soul as of a presence serenely regarding from another plane of being the agitated personality….Often does it happen in scenes of revelry or woe that we are thus suddenly translated, looking down calmly upon our passion-wrung selves…At such times we say we have been out of ourselves; but in reality we have been into ourselves; we have only just realized the greater half of our being. We have momentarily lived in the infinite part of our being, a region ever open and waiting for us. (read full text here)
Bellamy’s words at last struck a chord in me. Yes, I DID have that sense of being an impartial witness of my own thoughts and emotions. There was a real me, ever-present, surveying my dreams while I slept and waiting for me whenever I woke up. It watched my thoughts and moods, and I knew it to perceive every instance of my waking and sleeping life.
About that same time in college, my brother one day carried me over his shoulder, with me literally kicking and screaming, into his pre-med anatomy dissection lab and plopped me in front of a dead body. Un-animated, it was utterly different from a live human body. It didn’t even really freak me out, as I had dreaded. It was like seeing a wax figure. What had animated this form not long ago when she was a living person, and where did that something go?
I thought of a candle, first lit with fire and then dark after the flame had gone out. The logic of science is that energy cannot be lost or gained; it can only be transformed. The spark that brought light to the candlewick cannot leave the universe; it is ready to be relit somewhere else. It made sense to me then that the light that had left the eyes and the laughter that had left the mouth of the human being at death was simply latent, ready to spring back to life. I put that logic together with my recognition through Bellamy’s words of an inner, serene and infinite being.
This realization dawned on me: I am energy, not matter. I am a SELF that is not bound by this body, mind or world. And everyone else must be, too.
This event made a profound impact on my life view, without violating my standards of logic.
Yesterday, my mother-in-love Sue shared with me a Bellamy-type experience in the nursing home in California where she is living with and dying from bone cancer. She told me over the phone that she felt completely disoriented, as if the caregivers had moved her bed, leaving her clueless as to where she was.
When I asked her to hand the phone to a nurse, I was assured that Sue was in exactly the same room where I had visited her a couple weeks ago. Back on the phone herself, Sue further confided that she was so ashamed of herself for having yelled at her husband and at an aid a couple hours earlier, only to be told by the nurses that nobody was in the room with her, and that she couldn’t be making all that noise. It was utterly an uncharacteristic event and Sue was mortified. And now she spoke as the witness, reporting to me all these strange goings on in her head. Together, we determined that her new pain medication was the probable culprit and she decided to go for a day without taking it.
As I write, Sue is clear as a bell again today and remembers all of her confusion from yesterday. No matter what is going on with her disintegrating body or occasionally drug-entangled brain, that shining Self is present, and still reporting in. And when she stops reporting, and when there is no light in those dear eyes, I will trust that the flame has simply disappeared from view, and can never be really be lost. That makes scientific sense to me.
Resting in Stillness and moving in Joy with you,