yoga as right relationship

This afternoon, as I settled into space on my mat, I read this from Meditations from the Mat:

The yamas and niyamas bring us into right relationship with ourselves, others, and the spirit of the universe.

For the next 60 minutes, as I flowed through 108 delicious salutations on this winter solstice, my mind chewed on that intention and my heart lingered in that prayer: right relationship.

Yoga creates the space for right relationship…first on the mat, then like the aroma of fresh-baked bread, it permeates beyond the mat into my daily life, nourishing all the hard postures that this messy life demands. IMG_1193

Yoga creates a right relationship with God. On my mat, thank you’s flow as freely from my lips as sweat. When I bow low into forward fold, and then lower into child’s pose, I am taking my rightful place before God: prostrate and humble. As I stand solid in tree pose, leg tucked up, poised between the push and pull, I honor the rightful space of being rooted in God’s faithful foundation, a small but glorious part of Creation. I grow my branches in worship.

IMG_1186Yoga creates a right relationship with my body. On my mat, I feel the heaviness of hurtful choices; I am weighed down by my weak will. And I twist, turn, small and insignificant, towards health and self-care. And then I twist, turn again. Ever twisting, turning, I rightfully see myself as worthy…worthy of breath, worthy of boundaries, worthy of stillness, worthy of sweat, worthy of fruits and vegetables and water, worthy of the sweetest life without sugar, worthy of saying the immediate no for the eternal yes. I stand strong in Virabhadrasana, a warrior of my blood and beauty.

IMG_1197Yoga creates a right relationship with those around me. On my mat, I send my liquid-energy and breath-prayers to those around me, who need it. On my mat, with my hands at heart center, I see that we all need it. We are a part of a collective yogi-body, aching and breaking and faking and shaking and making shallow paths through dark forests of pain and error. So I squat low in horse, pulling strength into my hidden self, then offering it up for those around me–those on mats or in memories.

Yoga creates a right relationship with righteousness. In the mental space of nothingness, where breath meets and greets breath, I learn my wrongs: my disproportions dragging my heart to the ground in balancing stick. So I pull my shoulders down and shine my heart towards the Divine Sky, where Light pours in and changes me, so that I can say sorry and see glory and not the gashes of a wounded life.

Right relationship. I sit with this. I bend with this. I live with this. Thank you yoga.

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A story of fighting fear and finding humanity along the way

Teaching from the heart. For the heart.

Practicing Presence

Paper-clipped piles of papers sit to the left of me reminding me that grades are due soon. As we near the end of the semester, however, these are not at the forefront of my mind. Today something pretty incredible happened in my room, E121. And this isn’t a story about grades. It’s about a mute student in a speech class and 23 of his peers.

Meet Nate*. Nate does not speak in school. He is selectively mute. At home, he talks so much, his cousin calls him annoying. The first day of speech class this year, I asked the students to all participate in sharing something out. We got to Nate and it was silent. I waited allowing the awkward silence to ensue. Finally, a student piped up, “Ms. Peterson, he doesn’t talk.” I was confused, didn’t believe her at first. Nate nodded, and I finally understood. We moved on.

A mute student…

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death of the mind

Today would have been my Dad’s 79th birthday, but Alzheimer’s took him away from us four years ago. To expose the devastating thievery of the disease, I wrote this paper while getting my Master’s in 2008.


Allow me to pose a heart breaking question: what would it be like to die before one actually dies?  I speak of a death of the mind, a death of the soul, a death of the personality.  It does not matter that the heart still beats, the lungs still draw breath, the arteries and capillaries still circulate life blood.  A person dies before they die, because what matters most is stolen, lost forever to a vicious villain called Alzheimer’s.  Such a disease is monstrous, not just for the victim, but for those surrounding him or her.  What’s even more terrifying than the monstrosity of the disease is the rampant occurrence.  According to research done by the Alzheimer’s Association (2007), 1 in 8 seniors over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s.  The same research indicates that currently every 72 seconds, a senior is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, though by mid-century, that rate will raise to every 33 seconds.  Clearly with such likelihood that the author, or the reader, or at least someone they know will develop the disease, it is crucial to experience it first hand.  I did just that with John David.

John is a 75 year old Alzheimer’s patient.  He has been diagnosed with the disease since 2001, though his symptoms started to show several years before that.  He has deteriorated quickly within the last couple years.  He barely remembers his children’s names; when he does he confuses them with each other.  His strongest memories are those from early in his life: his grandmother who took care of him, his time in the army serving in Germany, the early years of his marriage.  He has an obsession with playing with his feces, cannot sleep through the night without soiling his bed, and has lost any sense of table manners.  He in essence is a big child…though I’m sad to say with less dignity.  Why is it when children are ignorant and make mistakes, society coddles them?  But when it is a senior, whom nature is reverting back to a child, who makes innocent mistakes, society is frustrated or embarrassed by them?  This was one of the most devastating lessons learned during my experience with respite…how heartless our society is towards those older than us.

Aletha is the devoted wife of John David.  They have shared over 40 years of marriage together, years filled with laughter and sorrow, joy and pain.  Sad to say, it is mostly sorrow and pain now.  Aletha is John’s caretaker, along with her eldest daughter Nova who lives at home.  Together, they make his meals and ensure he doesn’t choke while eating, take him for walks or drives, open his door when it’s nap time and lock it when it’s over, and mourn.  They mourn for the husband lost, the father misplaced.

Their life has been degraded to an oxymoronic form of baby sitting, “senior sitting.”  They receive no payment, no thank you’s, for both those only spring forth from people who know what they are getting, and John does not have the mental capacity to know such things any longer.  Gone are the dreams Aletha had to travel the States with her husband, tucked in a RV.  Now, questions form the landscape of Aletha and Nova’s lives.  Incessant questions annoyingly repeated over and over from John: “When can I lay down?  Why aren’t you at work?  Will you unlock my door?  Where’s Boomer?” Their days and nights are haunted by a lingering question: “When we will need to put him in a home?”

For 5 or so hours, I relieve them.  I decide to take John David to the movies, so they can go and drown out the white noise of their living hell with the ca-chings of the casino.  There, they do not have to worry about his meals, his naps, his slipping out and getting lost on a random bus to which the police officer berates them for “letting him out.”  (Perhaps what’s worst than not giving a senior the dignity of a child is giving them the status of a dog.)  There they can lose themselves and their worries in the loud monotony of pulling down the slot machine lever, the slow habitual spinning of 7’s and cherries and stars.

I arrive to find John in the bathroom with the door slightly ajar.  I know it is him in there, because I hear this chortling giggle and wiggle of a belly.  When asked about it, Aletha tells me he always laughs at himself in the mirror and slaps his belly.  Perhaps he is so surprised at who is looking back at him in the reflection.  “Surely that is not me,” he must be thinking, startled by the old man with rotted teeth, disheveled hair, and a hairy gut.  What must it be like, to look in the mirror, only to have it invaded by a madman stranger?

After much coercion out of the bathroom, out of the house, and into the van, we are on our way to the movies.  We decide to see a family friendly movie, the safest bet I figure for a man turned child.  Amazingly, the one thing he does remember and worries about is the cost of the movie.  I cannot even imagine one day going to the movies for a quarter, and the next finding it to cost ten dollars…which is how he must have perceived it.   John has lost all sense of social skills, and as we sit in the quiet movie theater, he frequently asks me questions during the movie that I know those in the back row can lucidly hear.  I am embarrassed.  Even more, I am embarrassed at my embarrassment.

After the movie, as we’re walking back to the van, I ask John what he thought of the movie.  A foggy haze passes over his eye, and he mumbles some “it was…”.  It does not matter what adjective he fills in that sentence with, I know he doesn’t even remember what he has spent the last few hours doing.  Wow, this calls for some ice cream, and so to Oberweiss we head.  There he gets a Chocolate Malt, which I’m sure is a priceless commodity: a comforting memory of the times he lives in inside his head.  While enjoying our ice cream and the dripping mess it is making down his shirt, we play Checkers.  We attempt to, as he does not remember how.  We pretend to play Checkers, which is fine by me.  I’m good at pretending.  The best part of the whole trip was in the car, when John, unprompted begins to hum at first—and then sing—to the Christmas music playing on the radio.  I turn it up, we both sing, and it is a moment to savor.

Though this was only one moment of respite for Aletha and Nova, and John as well, it is a small part of the life I share with John David.  You see, he is my dad.  I am one of those children he barely remembers.  On good days, he remembers me as the Mary from high school, and he asks “Boy, you’ve put on some weight, haven’t you?”  On the bad days, he stares blankly at me.  Since my family lives far away, every time I go home I provide respite.  My mom and sister can get away to the casino.  My dad can laugh at my silly jokes, even if he doesn’t get them.  In my presence, all of them can escape from the undeniable pain of being the one who is taken care of, and the ones who must do the care taking.  This is one story of one of the many diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 72 seconds.  What will the stories be like when the number increases to every 33 seconds?  And who will provide respite then?

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the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

Mom’s famous balls

Peanut butter balls, that is. (Yes, she’d get a kick of that title…she’d probably tell the story of the time we saw the cock rock…but alas, that’s another post.)

For as long as I can remember, Mom made her famous peanut butter balls (along with fudge) every holiday season. She’d store them on the back porch…where the winter air would chill them so they popped ever so perfectly when you put them in your mouth. They were a holiday staple in our home.

I don’t want to lose that. Making peanut butter balls–from the mixing to the rolling to the coating–is a way that I can still see my Mom’s rough hands cupping and forming…a sugared prayer of love.

So, this year, Dave and I bought the pounds of butter and sugar and chocolate affection.

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After the butter camped out all day on the counter and softened in the unusually warm Colorado winter air, I kneaded it into silk, like Mom’s stories on a porch.

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Just like I did as a little girl.

232323232-fp83232-uqcshlukaxroqdfv4-4-=ot-235;=84-=948=XROQDF-2-5-8989--23-ot1lsiThen the hard part came…the part Mom openly admitted she hated…the endless rolling into balls, like wheels and waves of memories being shaped in our hearts’ palms.

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IMG_3948We tried hard, but no one can master Mom’s tried and true technique.

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After the rolling came the dipping. After we tasted it, I realized I used the wrong kind of chocolate. Sorry Mom–stay tuned for next year’s modifications!

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We used a double broiler…but Mom always kept her chocolate warm over a low flame. The tilt of the pot (not shown here) was her signature, like a nod to the peanut butter ball gods.

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Ours did not look near as adept as hers…but she had many years on us. Hopefully, she’ll grace us with a dusting of powdered sugar technique from heaven. However, there were lots of goodhearted laughs and reminiscing from Dave and I as we realized where we were failing her recipe. I’d like to think we got this hearty laughter from her, seeing as not so many years ago Mom and I were deep-throating peanut butter ball snowmen.

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Don’t worry, we posed for a proper date photo first.

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Because our family is not together this year, Mom’s delicious peanut butter balls (at least our attempt at them) will be traveling in the sleighs of mail. (To her protests that I can still hear, she’s disappointed that we chose the USPS: “Remember that year I mailed you a card and it didn’t come for months… no [pronounced newwwwwwwww with an accented head shaking and smack of the mouth], can’t trust them anymore.”)

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But, without fail, the sleighs have delivered. And Mom’s sweet love continues to spread throughout our family.

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