Getting down to it

the closest door and window are my room

Service. Work as service.  Not working right now.  Somehow the universe is handing me more and more options for letting go of ideas of who I should be or what I should do. Somehow if I am able to move into a space of allowing what is to be, to be, life becomes more of an adventure and less of a chore.

I went to MMC to explore work as service. My thumb was hurt so I couldn’t do any work.  Still not allowed. Not that I can’t do a lot of things without using or bothering the thumb – but MMC is not letting me.  So one of the things that I did was take a retreat with Vanessa a few weekends ago.  Who is Vanessa, you ask?  Well, I asked the same thing.  Vanessa Stone, powerful beautiful loving woman, humanitarian, teacher, guide, model.  Wild and beautiful, inviting us into an experience both mystical and grounded.  She inspired me in a way I’ve not felt inspired in a long time.

When I was 23 I left NY and went west – all the way to the beaches of Hawaii.  I found god on those beaches.  Spirit, nature, the force, the animating source of all that is…whatever we can call it, however it can be described, or not described – I had an immediate experience of it while I lived there. Something in me woke up to the fiery ecstasy of being alive and I experienced freedom and love as never before. But, sadly – I lost that after I left, and for years I chased after lesser “gods” – ideas of who I should be, what I should do, what others might think.  When I quit my job in January, it was to explore a truer life for my heart and soul.  I made a conscious decision at that point that I’m going to live this life as if I’m dying next month.  And in that, I found myself again where I’d left off at 24, when I came back from the islands and began the slow, long process of healing that I apparently needed to go through.  I say apparently, because that’s what I spent the past 20 years doing.  So, I guess that’s what I needed.

And I’ve been feeling like I’ve found myself back on that path I was on when I left Hawaii.  A little older, less flexible, and more than a few wrinkles ’round my eyes…but ready to play the game of life.  And over the course of 36 hours with Vanessa in retreat, I found spirit again.  She seems to inspire (and live) in a mystical experience similar to the poetry of Rumi…and I love those Sufi mystics.

In addition, she does a lot of humanitarian service work with children, here and internationally (Africa, India).  I invited her to put me to work and she just might do – I’ll keep you posted. To check out her organization and its work, click here.  To check our more about her teachings click here.

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AT LAST – word from the mountain

Forest View House - My home for these first 3 months at Mount Madonna Center. I took this at 7 am the first morning we were here.

Well, yes, it’s true that my best intentions to blog regularly flew out the window.  Who knew that I’d be having so much fun and my life would be so full up here – and that not having internet in the building where I’m living would be such  deterrent.  Yet, it seems that these things have been true.  And, then, two weeks ago, after my left thumb had been hurting quite a bit for a week or two, I woke up one morning and it wouldn’t bend.  Seems I’ve got tendonosis and it’s not healing well.  Or maybe it is and it just takes time, I’m not sure – but either way, it’s out of commission. The good people of MMC want me to get better – so I’m on imposed work furlough.  I live here as though on retreat.  It is ironic – yes, very ironic – that I come to explore the entire concept of work as service and WHAM, I can’t do any work at all.  Frustrating? YES!  Somehow exactly what I need?  Well, YES, I guess so. Since that is what is happening, that is what the universe is offering me right now.

Okay, so that’s an overview.  Because of the thumb injury, I should not be typing much either.  But I really want to get something up on the blog, so here is something.  A few things to summarize my life here, and how I am doing…

1.  The view is still amazing.  It’s foggy and cool today, and about to rain AGAIN.  Crazy.  So much for the drought in California.

2. I didn’t hear about the oil gushing into the gulf until days after it happened.

3.  I play cards frequently at night – I’m learning the strategy behind hearts and loving it.

4.  The other 8 people in my group have turned out to be just fabulous.  I really connect with them, and we have lots of fun together.  The large community that lives here is a microcosm of the world, so there are all kinds of personalities.  I have mostly enjoyed getting to know them.  There are a few challenging moments, of course, but overall I’d say it’s going well.

5.  I’ve been here 6 weeks already.

6.  I’m leaving on July 4 because Jake’s wonderful foster mom, Gail, cannot take care of him for another 3 months.  If anyone is interested in fostering him for the next three months, from July 4 – the beginning of October, let me know.  He’s an easy guy these days, just needs love and walks and is pretty mellow other than that.  I’m also hoping someone could take him for even longer, as my life is an interesting unfoldment at this time and I may go to India in October for a while.  (more about that in another post soon).

7.  Baba Hari Das (Babaji) is quite an amazing being.  He comes here to the Center on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  He’s an old man now, but he used to work 2 of the 3 days.  He taught the men here how to build stone walls and stone fountains, and worked alongside them.  Now he sits and receives people, asks and answers questions by writing on a magic board because he has observed a vow of silence since the early 1950’s.  His two adopted daughters (late teens)  who live here come and sit with him in the late afternoons as well.  They grew up in the asram/orphanage in Haridwar, India that he started and that the community here supports.  I am hoping to visit there.  I love sitting with Babaji. I’ve talked to him some. I asked him if the name Uma is a good name for me. He said it is.  I really already knew that, I suppose. At any rate, I’m going back to it again.  If you call me Katie, I’ll still answer. But it’s really nice to be Uma.  To tell the truth, I am not sure WHO I am anymore. I’m not sure I’ve ever known.  Maybe a longer blog about that eventually.

8.  My back has been very challenging, even before the thumb thing started. I learned before I came up here that I have some degenerating disks in my spine – in particular between S1-L5.  A common location for disk trouble.  Mine is quite degenerated – which explains the chronic back pain I’ve had for many years.  Perhaps it all started with a bad fall I took when I was 3 years old (Jeff and Trish – remember that? I think Jeff rescued me).  Then the many tumbles off of horses during my adolescence and teen years, and mucking stalls and hauling hay bales could not have helped either.  At any rate, it’s something I’m working on here, still going to see the chiropractor once a week.  I’ve been skeptical of chiropractic in some ways for a long time – but really, it turns out that it seems to be helping a lot.  I have a lot of respect for the Dr. – I think he’s a good one.

Okay. PHEW.  I’m so glad that I wrote some.  It feels good.  it’s a newsy kind of post – to get everyone somewhat caught up.  If you are interested in having Jake in your home for three months or possibly longer, please send me a shout out (see #6 above if you skipped to the end w/o reading everything).

love you all!

Post lengths. Dog in a Tree.

I know the previous post is REALLY LONG – but I hope that it will flow easily and that you will be able to read it.  I will see about making future posts shorter. And adding pictures.

here’s a photo of my dog in a tree yesterday

Jake climbs into this tree after me. He loves it up here. At last, he's tall.

Yoga, Service and Community – Mt. Madonna Center and Me

The idea of service as a way of life, as work, and as a spiritual practice has attracted me for a long time.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and one thing that has become clear to me is that service is what I want my life to look like. I want to spend my time being of service.

Okay, that said…what is service, exactly?  We can take for granted that we know what service is, that we know what it means – but I’m not so sure that there is a clear-cut and universally agreed-upon definition.  You may think of service as volunteering. Or maybe it brings to mind the “service sector” – jobs in hospitality (restaurants, hotels, tourism) or housekeeping, dogwalking, carwashing, and so on.  Service might mean running a marathon to raise money for a charity – or donating to a charity.

All these are aspects of service – or manifestations of it.  But service as a way of being – this is what I’m thinking about these days.  Service as what I do – as working and living and playing and breathing.  In January, I quit my job.  (Note:  this is not such a surprising thing, as those of you who know me well will recognize. I am forever quitting jobs, moving to new homes and cycling throughout the cities of the Bay Area and, occasionally, beyond.)  I thought I was going to start a dog food business. But then I decided to just stop for a minute.  To really stop doing and be.  Just be for a moment  And one moment led to another, which led me to here…

So, what is service?  Or, what is it for me, now – and what is it that is calling me?  The answer is a work in progress.  This post is a compilation of musings on the topic, and is also about the 3-month program I’m starting next week that has service as its centerpiece.

Okay, so…first off, for me, the very word “service” brings to mind people like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.  I googled Mother Teresa and found this quote:

Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning.
Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.

That starts to get at it.  That starts to convey what is inspiring me, and driving me.  I don’t mean to sound like I’m accessing some great well of love or something mystical or esoteric.  It’s more feet-on-the-ground than that.  The love that I am able to experience – it wants to be expressed.  Recently a teacher I know (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) used “compassion” as a verb.  That it’s what we DO.  Not an emotion.  That stuck with me.

And the Dalai Lama:

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

He has such a great sense of humor. I love that about him.

On April 6, I start a 3 month program at Mt. Madonna Center (MMC) called Yoga, Service and Community (YSC1 – the 1 denotes the first 3 month session – it’s possible to continue in YSC2 and YSC Leadership, additional 3 month stints).  MMC is a retreat center in the Santa Cruz Mountains about 45 minutes from where I live.  Which is convenient. (Some people are coming from far off lands like PENNSYLVANIA.)  MMC was founded in the late 70s.  It is a beautiful place up on the summit of the mountains, overlooking the Pajaro Valley and Monterey Bay.  The views are CRAZILY stunning (some not-so-stunning pictures here – I promise I’ll take more and post them here eventually).

The place is inspired by the teachings of Baba Hari Dass. I’m not particularly drawn directly to his teachings, from the little I know of them. (Neither am I repelled by them.)  But I am very drawn to the fact that the center is based on service.  At MMC, “service” is understood as a very specific spiritual practice  known as “karma yoga.”  Yoga is usually misunderstood in the western world as the physical practice of putting your leg behind your head.  However, that is only one branch of yoga (“hatha yoga”).

Yoga is actually a highly developed system of spiritual practices that address all aspects of the human being.  Of being human.  “Karma” roughly translates as “work” or “action.”  (Most of us know the word karma as related to ideas like “what goes around comes around” or good deeds beget good ends, or heaven and hell, etc. – but maybe that can be a topic for another post someday – it’s a bit different than most of us think.)

A quote from the MMC website:

Karma Yoga translates literally as “yoga of action”, which aims to reduce our self interest to the minimum by working as a self-dedicated duty without attachment to the fruits of our labor. It is often translated as selfless service.

Here, you can see the way that most yoga traditions (e.g., “hinduism”) from India perceive karma yoga – as a way to eradicate the self.  However – my path is not one of self-eradication.  (More on that in another post, probably.)  So, for me – we shall see what comes up while I’m there.

Practical details:  The program has 9 participants.  We live in one large building called Forest View House, each with a private bedroom, and we share a bathroom with one other person. We work at the Center 24 hours a week, and participate in at least 2 yoga classes and  a couple of meetings each week.  We are fed amazing vegetarian food from their fantastic kitchen.  We learn about the Center’s activities, which include among other things a K-12 college prep day school on the property as well as an orphanage in India.  I’m looking forward to finding out about these, as teaching and kids are high on my interest list.  MMC is very modern: well-made woodframe buildings, paved roads, internet, etc.   We will go into town at least weekly to do laundry (in this arid Mediterranean climate, the land is supporting 100 residents, the retreat center and school on well water) and get into whatever other mischief we desire.

I hope that during this time, the path of my life will become clear – or begin to become clear. Even if only the faint outline of a life emerges in these three months, that will be enough for me.  I am living on a shoestring of money saved and small bits of money earned at odd jobs.  I know that I don’t want to be a botanist again.

When I left New York so many years ago, and came to Hawaii, and then California, I was on a path. There was a life I was going to live.  It was exciting and world-wide and fun, and also inspirational.  It turned out that I had other things to tend to.  A broken heart to break some more and then to mend.  Deceptions of mind that caused me to think I was bad, unworthy, unable to accomplish.  I had to dive in deep, and work below the surface, in murky depths of my own being, which is also the being of us all.  And recently I burst to the surface.  Whole beyond imagining.  More aware of that wholeness all the time.  And knowing that we are one leads me naturally to service.

What that’s gonna look like…this is what the next bit of time is going to let me know.  I’ll keep you all posted.  Signing off from the west coast, under an almost full moon.  Happy and safe travels to you all.

Hello world!

I like this title of my first post, provided by WordPress…Hello World!

Welcome to my first blog.  What will I say here? – well, probably so many things. I plan to share about the life I’m embarking on, the adventures to come and the decisions that will be made.  So, it’s going to be a good way to keep up with what is happening with me.

Also, I may write about things I find interesting, from movies and books to food, technology, environmental issues, and more.  I will probably write about spiritual growth from perspectives both personal and theoretical.  I may share poems and even longer writings – and this site may serve as a place to develop writings.

I welcome you here, and welcome your feedback.  Conversations make things so much more interesting.

Well, that’s all for now.  But stay tuned, because there’s lots more to come soon.

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again, in the silent water.