The Accidental Pilgrim Part II


Sometimes, just before an epiphany, a feeling of discomfort, even torment occurs. Like birth, a deep realization can move slowly through its narrow canal until it is born into the light of one’s awareness. There are Eureka moments that splash into view occasionally, apparently out of nowhere. But in some deep bovine level of mind, that cud has been chewed until its bliss point ignites. Such was my mood as I grappled with BBQ Jesus in the blue room in Santa Fe, surrounded by icons of the Virgin Mary with my sacred soil from Chimayo on the table next to my bed. This room was unusually peaceful, with a cool breeze blowing through the window as I drifted into dreams while praying for help in understanding why the bloody image of Christ attracted people oppressed by Christian conquerors.

No dreams brought me an answer, at least none that I could remember. I awoke with a clear vision of Christ as a liberating force in the world. It wasn’t just the aspect of death and then resurrection; it was being in the trenches with the downtrodden and overthrowing tyranny. I can’t convey the unexpected force of this awakening. After years of steeping myself in the failure of Catholic and Protestant churches to truly minister the gospel of Jesus, grace found a way to open my heart. I do believe in the wholly (making whole) spirit, the comforter who has delivered me from various circles of hell, sometimes with a swift kick in the behind. I certainly did not expect to see Liberation theology playing in the theater of my mind. The next morning I talked with my friend Ralph about my new found realization – that by seeing and understanding crucifixion, we find a path to resurrection. He told me that his cousin (a nun who works with the poor in New Mexico) meditates and sleeps in the blue room when she visits Ralph and Danny in Santa Fe. I had been following the Nuns on the Bus tour, which gave me hope that there were good Catholic leaders willing to step forward on behalf of the poor. The nuns courted severe consequences from the church fathers, who felt they had become tainted by feminist ideologies, but they were determined to walk in faith. The nuns drew a line in the spiritual sand when they declared they were following the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

This spirit moves us to comfort the suffering, including the wounded savior. In Jungian terms, healing the wounded God (and thus ourselves) includes a growing exchange of energy between the ego (me) and the psyche or Self (I), aided by spirit as ally. For those interested in exploring this in depth I recommend Jeffrey Raff’s wonderful book Healing the Wounded God. As cells in the body of Christ, we share all the joy and suffering life offers together. This gift in which we are asked to grow beyond our assumptions, even of who and what we are, never stops giving. There are always moments in which we yearn for peace. Sometimes they come through grace and sometimes we must make the effort to find sanctuary. But this discomfort goads us to move and grow. It’s hard to believe the changes in my perception of the suffering Christ since I awoke in the blue room. The agony that life can bring when we see our neighbors suffering invites compassion, toward oneself and others. In each moment of pain we seek solace. Finding comfort, sharing compassion and healing brings a resurrection of spirit, of faith that we are loved. Since we began crying as babies, we learn to give and receive the comfort of love. I see the tears of Mary, the blood of Christ in the pain of the world, in every child, old person, victim and soldier. The choice to seek and to give comfort, to grow in compassion leads to resurrection in love. Love lifts us up with every glorious and tragic aspect of this crucifixion called life.

For those who wish to cultivate the presence of wholeness, of love, Christian contemplatives offer the Centering Prayer, a daily practice in which one opens to the indwelling presence of God. In the literature it is described as simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words and emotions.

Buddhist meditation goes beyond desire (including the desire for union with God) to cultivate detachment and objectivity, mindfulness – beyond the illusion of life into reality. Taming the mind by a mental focus of one-pointedness and following the natural in and out breath creates an inner calm, allowing one to withdraw the senses from the world. The awareness of three stages of being: impermanence, suffering and non-self arises as the practice takes one beyond the body and into the intuitional realm. Much preparation is done before deeper stages of meditation are taught.

All cultures have contemplative practices that help us center our focus inwardly. For those who have found themselves at the intersection of in and out, up and down, us and them, words do not explain. It becomes a way to anchor our restless mind as we stumble through the complexities of life, allowing humility to keep us on the path of love. Listen to your heartbeat, it’s synching with the pulse of the universe, or as Joseph Campbell would say, “Follow your bliss.”

New Mexican dining simply enchanting

Decades have whizzed by since I last sauntered New Mexico. In the halcyon days of my youth, camping and hiking, I wasn’t thinking about what New Mexican cuisine had to offer. The mountains called to me, horny toads bounded at our feet and the air was crisp and clean. The only pictures I have from those trips are in my mind’s eye, as reliable as my new love of photography but harder to share. These days my sensibilities are more bourgeois, and I look forward to the comfort and elegant aesthetic of adobe haciendas and fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The bright energy of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains infuses inhabitants with both a spark and sangfroid that’s truly revitalizing. I was very fortunate to have hosts in Taos (Lucky and Becky Tomblin) with exquisite taste who introduced me to some wonderful, very diverse dining experiences. I arrived in Taos on Thursday, in time for Music on the Square which attracted both tourists and locals for free family fun. Already the light had captured my imagination. Perfect weather demands patio dining, which we found at Antonio’s, a charming garden restaurant filled with hollyhock flowers. It didn’t hurt that tame hummingbird moths flitted about, entirely comfortable with diners enjoying guacamole salad made fresh at the table and many more and less traditional Mexican inspired dishes. I ordered the Huitlacoche and mushroom enchiladas with a smooth, slightly spicy green mole sauce. They tasted a little like wilted kale or spinach enchiladas, a very pleasing and aesthetically sublime supper in the Taos twilight with nary a mosquito in sight. Fresh fruits and vegetables were as vibrant as the mountain air. Honestly, who can argue with a land in which apricot and pinon trees grow wild? Another stand out for happy hour and lunch was the KTAO solar radio station’s daily bar and food truck outdoor get together. While the lemonade and rice and mushroom cheeseburger with sweet potato fries satisfied my burger craving, the friendly service and multi-generational Gemütlichkeit at the foot of Wheeler Peak was memorable. Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, every dish I was served included fresh sauteed vegetables. The Saturday Farmer’s Market was a testament to the quality of locally farmed produce. Accompanied by mariachis, we gathered peaches, apricots, plums and fresh greens to compliment the pasture raised chicken eggs we enjoyed for breakfast. Quirky, tasteful with a discerning clientele, restaurants in Taos jostled for attention and did not lack for an appreciative audience. The Love Apple, a repurposed yet not quite renovated organic restaurant (see link), provides the perfect window to the Taos food ethos. It was monsoon season, which brought the rain daily around 3:00 to keep things green. The apricots and plums were smaller than we’re used to seeing in Tejas, but sweeter in handy single bite servings. I left Taos with a firm resolve to return soon and took the High Road to Santa Fe, with only one day to see my friends and the city. I stopped at the Rancho de Chimayo Restaurant and had a delicious lunch of shrimp pesto enchiladas with a refreshing sangria blanca to put me in the mood for El Sanctuario de Chimayo. I’ll cover that more in a follow up posting, but suffice to say that the side trip to Chimayo was worthwhile. Arriving in Santa Fe, I enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Poster Boyz of Santa Fe, my great friends Ralph Lopez and Daniel Link, both Austin ex-patriots. Danny’s pozole was a homemade delight so I only ate breakfast at one Santa Fe restaurant, the Plaza Cafe before heading back to Albuquerque. One of my favorite dishes on the trip was a short stack of blue corn pinon nut pancakes. Eggs cooked just right, homemade turkey sausage with fresh herbs and fresh fruit aside, don’t leave New Mexico without trying them. I will be looking forward to my return saunter to both Santa Fe and Taos, certainly something wonderful to explore in every season.

Vital Farms gets it eggxactly right

I love following my symbolic use of the egg in the Shell and Kernel post with the entirely somatic experience of Vital Farms, a kind of Elysian Fields for chickens. Humans flocked to the tour yesterday allowing us to mingle with pastured chickens and their protector humans and canines. Vital Farms uses moveable coops to ensure fresh fields for foraging and organic feed for optimum health and hen well-being. For those of us who remember the movie Chicken Run it’s confirmation that chickens really do win! For more information about Vital Farms and other organic and local foods initiatives visit their website and blog. Chicken and human flocks shown mingling below.

Wifebiz for your Lifebiz

Tis the season for errands galore but who has time to work, shop and cook?  Then there are the inevitable gift returns, holiday meals and care for children, pets and parents.  Calgon, take me away! I don’t know what happened to Calgon, but in its stead, let Wifebiz offer you the support you need during the holidays and beyond. “What can Wifebiz do for me?” you ask. These days, who has time to cook nutritional meals? By the time you finish making a shopping list, grocery shopping looms, wedged between small grabs at sanity like yoga or working out. What if someone could put it together for you?

As I perused the web looking for wifely material, I discovered that nutrition has come a long way from the 70’s. Give babyboomers props for surviving:

The Gallery of Regrettable Food
and from the Institute of Official Cheer we are reminded of some of the more psychologically compromising effects of interior design, correctly identified as Interior Desecration in this lovely site. I just can’t stop myself now, how about making a fashion statement? See what you missed? Is it any wonder we turned to drugs?

Wifebiz consultants offer value pack errand services but are not offering fashion consulting or interior decorating tips at this time. Take a moment and “like” Wifebiz on Facebook. And consider giving yourself or a loved one the gift with no calories, a gift that makes everyone’s life a little easier: Call or email Paloma or Amy at: 512-222-WIFE (9433) mail@wifebiz.com. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday Stroll and the Farmer’s Market at Community Renaissance Market

Braving the heat, I stayed on the South side of the hike and bike trail Sunday for my midday stroll. Courting the shade has its advantages, but it was still a little daft to wander out at noon. In need of refreshment, I stopped at the Sunday Farmer’s Market at my neighborhood Community Renaissance Market and visited with Don Morrow, the chef of Tomorrow’s Meals Today and food distributor for the farmers’ produce. They have a nice collaboration going with Native Nom Nom Cafe, profiled earlier, and great deals on food boxes, local olive oil and bakery products and mixes. Natural meats and prepared meals are now also being offered.

Inside, I lucked into Roz’s Red Hot Tamales. Roz is a third generation tamale maker and has preservative, gluten and lard free tamales, both savory and sweet. I tried the spinach and feta, the black bean and corn and the chicken tomatillo tamales. Bueno! She had already sold out of the pumpkin and sweet potato so I’ll get there a little earlier next time. Speaking of sweet, check out the key lime mini cheesecakes and the cupcakes from the Sugar Tooth Bakery and Sugar Pops. You will want to stop by sometime and sample the cafe and food table delights, both natural and home grown. This community space is rocking South Austin!

Native Nom Nom Cafe

The Community Renaissance Market at Westgate Dr. and William Cannon in South Austin is home to the natural, buy local Native Nom Nom Cafe.

Native Nom Nom is a chef-driven progressive natural food cafe offering awesome hand-crafted dishes. Breakfast: Tacos, sandwiches – Lunch/Dinner: Fried rice, spinach risotto, salads, specialty pizza pies. All made with local/native farm fresh ingredients!

The menu features pizza, breakfast tacos, sandwiches, soup and salads. So far I’ve sampled the pizza, which was fair, the breakfast tacos (featuring pastured raised Vital Farms eggs) which were really good and several excellent salads. Owner, Chris Rios is committed to serving healthy food, plenty of vegetarian options and a place for the community to gather, providing movies, music, poetry and art events in support of local artists and fans. The business model at the Community Renaissance Market is incubating a number of South Austin originals for locals of all ages. Opportunities for discounts with the contribution of foodstuffs to the Capital Area Food Bank are coming. A drop off station for recycled shoes and clothing is already in place by the front door.

I fondly refer to this younger generation of naturally minded foodies as granola hipsters and I couldn’t be happier they are finding a good home in South Austin.
The Native Salad Trio features the Thai Green Papya Salad, the Quinoa and Toasted Barley Salad and the the House Garden Salad, garnished with a very nice, light vinaigrette. I look forward to sampling the Kale salad and am glad to have unique taco options so close to home.

Savasana

Savasana

Into the spiral shell
I ascend, the sound of ocean
waves lapping through my blood
The sea within
ebbing and swelling
With my breath

Still, serene, floating on the water
Into the horizon, nerves flickering
Like lightening bugs in a soft field
Of energy flowing through my body

This refuge, the hub
Suspended above and below
My thoughts
Namaste, peace
One and all

Yoga with LeeAnn – Teachers

In 2002, about 10 years after my first yoga experience, I decided I wanted to go into yoga teacher training. A lot had changed in my yoga practice over the last 10 years. I was aware of so many transformations in my life that I decided I wanted to share these teachings and these tools with others so they could make choices to help them heal, physically or otherwise. This was not an easy decision for me. I wasn’t sure I was really ready to be a teacher. But I was sure I wanted to at least go through the training, if I was meant to teach, it would happen.

The biggest transformation in my practice happened when I was studying in France in 2000. Every student had a family they stayed with while studying abroad. I believe I was placed in a household that uniquely fit my personality and life. My first hours there weren’t so great, as I cried because I was stuck at the train station after every person had been picked up and my family had apparently forgotten me. When my French mother arrived, she spoke no English and I understood about every 20th word. I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” All of a sudden I understood the word yoga! HAHA! I know that word. I do yoga. “Je fais de yoga!” I shouted. She smiled at me with this look of all is going to be OK. We couldn’t understand one another yet, but we had yoga in common.

When we arrived at the house, there it was – a yoga studio. Beatrice was a yoga teacher. I smiled. I was taken to my room, which was uncluttered with just a bed. a wardrobe and a desk. Beatrice said something about yoga in the morning. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what she said.

In the days that followed I figured out she was doing yoga in the studio every morning. I was still practicing in my room. I felt I wasn’t suited to join her in her yoga studio. I mean seriously, she was a teacher. I had been doing yoga on and off for many years, but she was a teacher. She must be brilliant and what would she think of my practice?

I would come and go from the house when I needed to and I would notice there were classes going on from time to time. Eventually she spoke to me about my practice. It was a slow conversation as we were trying hard, but the French I knew was so limited. I’m sure she felt like she was talking to a toddler. But we got through the conversation which led me to believe she wanted me to join her in the morning I got up and made my way down to the studio the next morning, unaware of what she was expecting. Was I supposed to do my own practice or what? She was already moving. I noticed her moving in a way I had not seen with other yoga teachers. She moved in rhythm with her breath reminding me a bit of a sheet fluffing when the air catches under it and moves it to lie on the bed in the perfect position. I watched and noticed positions that looked familiar yet slightly varied from what I had been taught in my classes.

When Beatrice finished moving she sat in stillness, breathing in way that felt to me like she was taking one breath per minute for about 1/2 hour. I wondered why I had never been told about all this breathing stuff. I mean really, here it was about 8 years of yoga classes and not once had a teacher spoken to me about the breath or how to breathe.  It’s part of life. Right? I breathe everyday or I wouldn’t be walking around. I have asthma, but for the most part, I breathe like everyone else. Beatrice spent several mornings showing me how to move through asanas (postures) with my breath. Connect!

This was completely new to me. It was if I never took yoga before. I could move the way she wanted my body to move. I had body awareness. But she had this way of taking the postures and bringing more to it. There was movement within the asana and then there was stillness, which never meant not moving because the breath was always moving me. Why had I not noticed this breath stuff before?

So after some time, I developed my morning practice, moving through some asanas that prepared my body to sit and breathe! It was amazing to me how this awareness of breath seemed to make me really tune in. I could follow my breath through my body. I could notice areas where I lacked awareness of breath movement. I was able to breath freely! My breath wasn’t constricted to my chest, it moved all through my body.

Beatrice had shared these tools with me. And although yoga is sacred, it is not a secret. I was and am so fortunate that someone was willing to share her knowledge with me.
When I returned to Austin, I looked for a teacher who moved me in the same way. I needed to find a teacher who talked about breath and knew that asanas were only a tool if they worked to help support the breath and the body that I was living in. I kept practicing what Beatrice shared with me. It was limited since our time together was limited, but it was a good base to build from. The foundation was laid; I just need the right architect.

I went from class to class, teacher to teacher, never connecting to anyone until I went into my teacher training. The second weekend we had a class on Pranayama. Pranayama is breath control. I was excited about this class. Heather Kier walked in and once again, I found a teacher! Heather moved in similar ways to Beatrice and talked about the breath as if it were the most important part of the yoga practice. I was hooked. I spent the next few years going to her classes and taking private lessons.

Heather had trained for 6 years with Gary Kraftsow and Mirka Kraftsow at the American Viniyoga Institute. The more she shared with me, the less I felt I knew about yoga. (And I must admit I still feel this way today.) For me, since my first lessons with Beatrice, I noticed that I wasn’t having asthma attacks and I wasn’t having panic attacks anymore. Life seemed like it was less threatening and frightening. It was becoming more beautiful and a bit easier. Not easy, just easier. And people were asking me “How do you stay so calm?” and “I don’t know how you do it, but you should teach me how to let go.” “Could I teach them how to let go?” I wondered. I wasn’t sure I could, but a lot of this led me to step up and try.

Because of Beatrice, I wanted better teachers and I was led to Heather. Heather’s teaching led me to Gary and Mirka Kraftsow. Going to workshops with Gary changed every idea I had about yoga and what it was about.

I do not believe it was an accident that these people were placed in my life when they were. They came when I was ready to receive what they had to offer and I am grateful. Each of these teachers is present in my life and my teaching even though I do not have them by my side every day in the physical sense. Their words resonate in my head and lead me to accept each opportunity that comes my way. They lead me through my practice each morning and guide me through the classes I teach.

Sat Nam
LeeAnn Mateson

Yoga with LeeAnn – Introduction

LeeAnn Matson-Thomason is a certified Hatha Level 2 teacher, completing an intensive study of asana, pranayama, and meditation designed for experienced teachers and students. Her teachers, Mark Uridel Sadani and Heather Kier encouraged her to further refine her personal practice and her teaching.

LeeAnn’s Hatha classes are inspired by Viniyoga and the teachings of Gary Kraftsow.  She has had the wonderful opportunity to study with Gary and Mirka Kraftsow, Leslie Kaminoff, Donna Farhi, and Srivatsa Ramaswami, among others. She incorporates pranayama and variations of the traditional asanas into her classes to allow students to create different physical and meditative experiences for themselves.

LeeAnn‘s yoga story

Who I am now and who I was when I first began my yoga practice (while ultimately the same underlying person) is very different.  I might describe myself today as a mother and wife who has a wonderful opportunity to share the teachings of yoga as I was taught, in the Vini Yoga tradition.  And yes, I do teach yoga classes – but I do not consider myself by any means a yoga master.  The more I learn about yoga, the less I feel I really know.  I share what I have learned with others so they may experience yoga as a practice leading to the elimination of suffering.

Let me tell you about my first yoga experience.  I was living in Monterrey, Ca. studying dance and theatre at the Monterrey Peninsula College in 1992.  I had an amazing jazz teacher, Debbie, who told us one day “In our next class I am going to share some yoga with you.  So dress in layers of clothes because your body temperature will change according to what we are doing.”  I left class wondering what she was talking about.  I asked a fellow dancer, “What is yoga?”  Meredith’s response was something like “Uh, it’s just a relaxing way to stretch.  No biggie.”

So I came to the next class in layers of clothes, full of wonder about what to expect.  I was taken through a sequence of postures and poses that stretched my body in such a wonderful and gentle way. I felt as Meredith said, relaxed.  In fact, I was so relaxed I felt like I could just stay in the last pose she called corpse pose, forever…funny name and how I felt I could stay in that state forever, right?

And so I experienced my first yoga class.  Relaxed, refreshed and back to life I went.  I left and really didn’t give it another thought.  About once a month Debbie would share another nice way to stretch with us.  And every time I felt so relaxed and yet ready to go in the same breath. Not ready to leave, but ready to move and do and take care of things.  But I didn’t connect the feeling with yoga quite yet.  I just knew I was doing some gentle stretching of the body, which for a dancer was great.

It is nearly 19 years from my first yoga experience and I’m still learning and taking it in, trying to not only practice these poses on the mat, but carrying the focus into my daily life to bring some balance and understanding to whatever life might throw in my direction.

I wanted to share this, not only to let you know that we all have our first experience with yoga, but also to remind myself that where I began and where I am now is so different.  As a teacher, it is important to remember when someone starts classes, that sitting still, focusing and learning how to breath properly is not easy and not even on most people’s mind.  We all come with different expectations, or without expectations, wondering what yoga is about.  I had a teacher once tell me that there are two ways that yoga happens for people – those who find the physical practice easy to begin with, then yoga becomes more challenging as time goes by and those who find the physical practice difficult and find that yoga gets easier as time goes by.  I think you can guess that I fall into the first category. Physically I could do anything my teachers asked but going deeper inside myself was a challenge.

I can’t wait to share with you how this practice has changed for me through the years and why I stuck with it and began to share these teachings.  It has changed my life in so many ways, ultimately allowing me to discover some of the real me, not just the words that tell you I am a mother, wife and teacher.

Sat Nam
~LeeAnn Matson~