life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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Tadasana–Foundation, Foundation, Foundation

This morning, I found myself with a group of women, sitting in a circle on a beautiful rug atop a cold, stone floor. In the center of the rug was a mat with a large, round, black bowl in the center. Different sized small bottles were laid around the bowl. Smaller bowls were placed side by side to one side of the large bowl. A wooden brush with bristles on one side and small, rounded bumps on the other was laid on the opposite side.

Together, we breathed in through our nose and exhaled deeply through our mouths.

Tones and vibration filled the air. Ommmmmmmm.

We repeated words in Sanksrit as we heard them from our teacher, and I was instantly transported to another time in my life, now equally foreign.

I could see myself seated on a bench, chanting Hebrew words in tandem with the people around me. A man stood at the front of the room at a podium with a large scroll. I heard melancholy, minor notes echo in the minor notes flowing from my lips in this circle in the desert.

Why was I chanting Sanskrit when I had been avoiding chanting the words of my ancestors all of these years?

What would my Jewish relatives think if they could see me sitting here?

Would they call me a heretic? Would they think I was wasting my time on a lost language and a strange, cultish practice?

Or would they understand my search for meaning from within? There is a long history of questioning and a search for knowledge among those who bow to the Jewish faith.

At a young age, I felt inhibited by this faith and have moved far from any kind of religious practice ever since.

My religion has been found in the smell of the Black Cottonwood trees in spring, the silent flight of a barred owl overhead in the forest at dusk.

My spirit seeks calm and quiet in the midst of a reality hell bent on entropy, a way to cope with the carpets I cannot keep free of cat litter, the softening curve of my stomach, the tired circles beneath my eyes, the tightness in my chest.

I stood on a mat this afternoon, my feet firmly anchored to the earth. I looked down at my toes, straightened my knees beneath my hips, and placed my fingertips on solid wood.

“It all comes back to Tadasana, foundation, foundation, foundation,” my teacher told us. “Your feet and your hands. What connects you to the earth.”

With my feet beneath me, I was supporting my entire being and present my self to the world.

And in that moment, I felt thousands of years of feet on the ground before me, standing silently, affirming their own way through their own chaos to a place of calm and understanding within.

Yogi Arwen

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Can you hear it ticking?

It has been sometime since my baby homo sapiens clock slowed to a whisper, and no amount of time spent with young children has caused those hormones to kick back into overdrive, as they functioned for several years.

It was such an enormous relief to be freed from the perpetual ticking of the block, and this recent stirring has taken me a little by surprise. I felt free to envision and create an identity and life for my partner and me that involved our own passion and desire.

However, my hormones have recently taken me by surprise. In recent weeks, I have been experiencing something hormonally new to me, a condition I am referring to as the “Canine Clock.”

I have always had a propensity for the maternal. As a child, I tried to adopt every creature in need of a home. My parents were generally quite supportive of this need to nurture.

I did not change very much as a young adult. I adopted a pigeon with a broken wing and tried to raise baby mice whose parents had been killed in traps set around the pseudo-renovated barn my partner at the time and I lived in.

I just assumed I would have children because of this maternal tendency and because that is “what you do.” It was a shift for me to realize that I did not have to have children, that I could give myself permission to serve a different purpose for the bulk of my time on this planet. I was not a failure if I did not procreate. I was not being selfish wanting to love and be loved solely by my intimate partner.

Of course, in the years of extreme ticking of the biological clock, I managed to adopt 2 dogs, 4 cats, a lost pigeon, and 25 chickens. The hormonal force was strong with me.

While I am thankful I did not procreate, it has been an emotionally difficult process of simplifying to get to the point where I had only 2 cats left of my previous menagerie. I lived along in a city, a place where dogs and chickens were not a realistic addition to my life. Save the previous haunting from animals long gone from my life, I was comfortable. My life with other creatures was manageable.

A few months ago, I moved out of my urban abode and out to the Arizona desert to live with my partner. In this move, I gained two homo sapiens companions, 2 more cats, and a dog. One of these cats, a nervous Maine Coon named Puck, I previously owned. He was far too sensitive to travel, so when I moved from Alaska to Massachusetts, he made a long-term pit stop in Arizona.

Animals are a lot of work, even cats. They need attention and have their own set of idiosyncrasies and neuroses.

Puck has spent the bulk of his life hiding under the bed, coming out periodically to communicate his sensibilities by spraying various pieces of furniture and carpet corners. Not the most pleasant personality trait.

Smokey, an inherited feline, likes to pee on bathmats and doormats.

Arwen is quite vocal with a leaning toward more whiney communications. She likes to kneed one’s appendages, is obsessed with eating (perhaps from her life beginnings living around gas stations), and purrs quite loudly.

Fin is a general terror and also obsessed with food.

These are the traits of my feline companions. I will not go into details for other beings more adept at reading and surfing the Internet than the former.

Inheriting a Siberian Husky named Blue gave me a taste of canine companionship that had been long absent from my life. I had a hiking partner and a friend with whom to sing and howl. His sudden passing two months ago left a lump in my throat and a void in my heart. When I found a blue heeler wandering along the highway near our home, I thought that the universe had decided a canine should be a part of my life. It was not to be in that instance, however. I was not meant to be “mom” but rather a conduit for helping that particular being to find a better home. At least, this was how I reassured my aching heart in the days that followed my almost adoption.

My partner has informed me that I do not “live by halves.” I move through this life at full aortal tilt, my heart wide open to the world. It is not always an easy way to operate. When I feel things, I feel them deeply in a very raw and unfiltered fashion.

My rational mind is there, constantly explaining the reasons why my heart’s desires may be whimsical and capricious. My partner is there, offering his own rationale for patience and acceptance.

But I am ruled by heart. I am all heart, in fact.

And so, the canine clock continues to tick.

Can you hear it?

Granite Dells


There is a reason you are here now

I have identified myself in many ways over the years: pianist, runner, naturalist, park ranger, interpreter, educator, birder, crazy birder, wanderer, nomad, gypsy, doctor, musician, songwriter, writer, entrepreneur, collector.

I have never described myself as a yogi. And after spending only one hour with fellow women who are embarking upon a yoga teacher-training journey, I still would not go so far as to bestow this title upon myself.

These past few years, something has shifted inside of me. In beginning to pursue a path toward a more sustainable existence, I have grown acutely aware of how few defenses and coping mechanisms I possess for restoring balance to my very sensitive system when the universe sends troubling energy my way. No, drinking wine or whiskey and popping a panic pill does not count because it is a temporary remedy that is built on transience rather than spiritual intention.

In reading about Buddhism, meditation, and yoga, I am realizing that in this realm I may find my soul’s salvation. I do not wish to become jaded and hardened to the world, seeing people as potential enemies that I should distrust nor do I wish for a quick fix (i.e., wine or whiskey above).

What I seek is a sustainable practice for maintaining my sanity while keeping my heart wide open and vulnerable to an unpredictable world.

So, after some reflection and much capriciousness and whim, I have enrolled in a 200 hour yoga teacher training. If you are thinking anything near to the thoughts that have been running through my mind, I may have some inkling as to your response.

But, I thought you wanted to be a songwriter?

Yes, it is true. I do want to be a songwriter. While my music and business partner has informed me that I should be practicing 4 hours a day in order to become the best possible musician that I can be, I am still the same version of myself who gave up on pursuing a career as a classical pianist because I also wanted to learn French and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

I thrive most when I set challenges and goals that will keep me learning and growing in mind, body, and spirit.

I joined the cross-country team because I wanted to be able to run 15 miles.

I learned to speak fluent French in spite of everyone around me telling me to learn Spanish. “It’s just more practical,” I hear more times than I cared to count.

I studied in West Africa the winter after 9-11 despite concerns from my parents and friends that it a bad idea to live in a Muslim country.

I packed my car and drove to the Cascade Mountains of Washington for a 2-month internship, again in spite of expressions of uncertainty from the aforementioned community.

I married a passionate birder.

I started a PhD program.

I met a librarian.

I moved to Alaska.

I left a passionate birder.

I moved to Massachusetts.

I started my own business.

I left a permanent job with the government.

I moved in with a librarian.

These are but a few of the “path less traveled” choices I have made in my life. I sometimes feel fear and trepidation at the start, but there is generally a voice deep down urging me to follow my heart.

It is this same voice that speaks to me now, quietly and calmly assuaging my fears.

I sat in a circle of women on a wooden floor. Thin curtains billowed in the evening breeze. Engines revved on a nearby road.

We closed our eyes and held our hands to our hearts.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Three times chanting the word “om” on exhale. I could feel a powerful vibration in my lips and chest as I let the sound and breath leave my lips.

And then the words from our teacher, “there is a reason you are here now.”

Her words brought me back to a small classroom on a college campus just blocks from where I was currently sitting, where a teacher had shared those same words to a classroom of anxious, wide-eyed doctoral students many years ago.

“There is a reason you are here. It was no accident that we accepted you into this program.”

Those words brought home and a tiny flicker of confidence into my heart. I felt a sense of belonging.

Perhaps, this is part of what I am searching for now, a renewed sense of belonging, and a chance to grow. The more aware of my own Self and the better I am able to take care of this Self, the more open and available I will be for other people and beings in need.


little, beautiful things

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I want to believe in people

“When we infuse one routine activity with mindfulness, then another, we are waking up to the mystery of each moment, unknowable until it arrives. As things come forward, we are ready to receive and respond.” (p. 30)

Instead of being fearful of what stressful event might befall me next, I can think of these moments as opportunities to choose how I wish to respond: with anxiety and frustration or with mindful presence and patience.

Part of what I find myself struggling with in particular these past few years is an ever-increasing sensitivity to behaviors from others that seem especially nasty and even premeditated. I feel hurt and heartbroken by the things people do and can somehow justify as their entitlement. It may something simple and surgical or run deeper. Either way, in my practice to become more self-aware, I have broken down my defenses and find myself even more vulnerable than I was before.

Not that anyone enjoys being hurt by others unless they have are gluttons for punishment. I am just discovering that as I delve deeper into my own inner scale, I am finding mean behaviors more and more disturbing and sad.

So, how can I protect myself without becoming hardened to the world around me? I do not wish to respond in kind when people project their unhappiness or entitlement onto me, though this is often my first inclination.

I want to scream at them:

How can you sleep at night? Are you for real? What is wrong with you?

I want to ring their necks until I can shake some sense into them. But then I realize that each person is simply vying for their own survival, and I imagine it is easy to talk oneself into believing they are justified in doing harm to another in the pursuit of their own self-interest.

Over the past few years, I have been attempting a kind of energy Tai Chi practice. I do not wish to respond in kind to negative behavior, nor do I wish to take it on, so I try to let it drop between me and the other person.

To protect myself most recently, I have been reading, writing, swimming, walking, and reflecting on Buddhism, mindfulness, yoga practice, and awareness. I have also been practicing patience with the universe, for I have found that the universe provides opportunities for healing in packages that I do not always recognize at first glance. It is a slow process, but I have the feeling that it will be most beneficial in the longterm.

“Mindfulness helps stabilize the heart and mind so they are not so badly tossed around by the unexpected things that arrive in our life” (Jan Chozen Bays, 2014, p. 21).

As Will Duncan shared at this talk on 3 years of silent meditation, “I would rather be gullible and see the best in people than the alternative.”

I have been known to look at the ceiling when told the word “gullible” has been written there, and I choose to continue to hope.

mind on the horizon

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My mind could use a holiday

It has been an interesting week. I love the way travel can provide an opportunity to “get away from it all.” Foreign sights, sounds, smells, and flavors create a reality so different from home that home can somehow fade into the distance.

Of course, with access to the internet, woes from home have a way of sneaking up on you for a surprise attack.

“Ha!” They shriek as they jump from around a dark corner and land firmly on two feet. “Gotcha! You thought you could hide and have a bit of a holiday. Well, we don’t think so.”

And so my mind has continued on its anxiety-riddled tirade. As we cruise along in a panga boat, watching Blue-footed Booby perched atop guano-laden, rocky ridges, I am worrying about my finances, wondering if my house will sell or if I will be able to find a new renter, how I fell for paypal fraud and lost $150, and whether I will be able to survive on a part-time, minimum wage job.

“Stop!” I yell at all of these worries spinning around madly.

I bring myself back to the present and focus on the water, the smell of brine, the feel of the sun warming my face.

It does not take long for my mind to catch up with my sensory self.

Why can I not just relax and be where I am?

Jan Chozen Bays (2014) has written, “ordinarily our mind does not rest. Even at night it is active, generating dreams from a mix of anxieties and the events of our lives. We know that our body cannot function well without rest, so we give it at least a few hours to lie down and relax each night. We forget, though, that our mind needs rest too” (p. 17).

My mind does need rest. My body as well, which suffers from the biological repercussions of anxiety: tight neck and shoulder muscles, knots in my arms, pain in my jaw and cheekbones.

Plus, I can rationally understand that I am wasting so much energy worrying about a dozen possible future paths that may never come to fruition.

“A mind filled with anxiety is likely to create what it most fears,” Bays stated (p. 13). I am reminded of the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Energy and intention are powerful. I have no desire for any of these realities, so I must state my intention is for all things to pass. Hopefully, the statue of Saint Joseph that my previous renters kindly buried in the yard of my Alaska home will finally come through, my current renter will be a distant memory, and my songwriting business will gain some momentum.

I have much to be thankful for and much joy and beauty that I intend to bring into the world. To succeed, I will need all of the energy my mind and body can spare. I suppose if my mind insists on being busy, I will simply have to give it more positive tasks to focus on.



And your days go by

“Much of our dissatisfaction with life will disappear,

and many simple joys will emerge, if we can learn to be present with things just as they are.”

(Jan Chozen Bays, 2014, p. 8)

Let me begin by stating unequivocally that I am in no way dissatisfied with life. As I sit drinking my morning coffee, a little weak but just fine, a grackle is singing it’s strange song and a man is singing along to morning music in a very sweet, if not beautiful, voice.

It is easy to smile and laugh at this scene. I can imagine the man with eyes closed, singing along to his favorite lines. The music here is not my favorite. I was thinking the other day that anywhere I were to live in the world, it would be important to like the music. I suppose I could simply make my own. I already dance to my own tune, as they say. But there is something simple and endearing about hearing a person sing from their soul. It does not matter how beautiful or awful their voice. What matters is that they sing at all.

For me, patience and acceptance are two of the most difficult traits. I like things to be a certain way, as if a clean floor is my way of demonstrating some small iota of control in an otherwise unpredictable life.

But just like I cannot control the length of time I see a Jaeger flying by a panga boat on Kino Bay, I have very little that I control in my daily existence, save how I choose to respond to life’s salsa moves. I can try to do the running man or I can try to learn to salsa.

With dancing, as with singing, I firmly believe that it makes no difference how well you do the moves. What is important is that you try. For me, there is such great joy in letting go and allowing myself to just feel and respond.

I am finding that it is similar with life. It makes no difference how much control you have, how nice your clothing is, or if you have a shiny, new car and big house. What is important is that you live. If you were to talk with David Byrne, he might suggest something similar.

“What is that beautiful house? Where does that highway go to? That’s not my beautiful house. That’s not my beautiful car.”

And your days go by.

And my days go by.

I will be a year older in July.

I seem to grow more sensitive with each passing year. There is more pain in seeing tragedy and deeper gratitude and love for the beauty beside it.

Perhaps, the love is felt that much for acutely when it come at such a cost. Here, the beauty is literally on top of the tragedy. It is all mixed together. Bony dogs lying in the street, just barely alive with red, raw skin on their legs. Boys walking the streets with slingshots, cocked and ready.

Women walking by with babes in strollers, smiling broadly at my timid smile and shy wave.

Collared doves coo and then screech. Their calls echo the tiny maelstrom building inside of me.

My heart is filled with so many emotions I feel I might drown. It is all part of this world. Much of it, I wish I did not know, but it is there in front of me, breathing in and out just the same. And it will be here long after I have gone.

I, too, am part of this world. My beauty and tragedy all wrapped up in one small being. I am so very alive. I should take the time to recognize this life more often.

Thank you for the reminder, Mexico.


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Fear and swimming in Kino Bay

In this modern world of internet, smooth hybrid vehicles, antibiotics, and smartphones, there is a sense of being safe and protected all the time. Having long ago outgrown my fear of the dark, I find that there are few instances when I experience fear.

I scare relatively easily, so surprises from friends jumping out from behind a book stack or a well-timed scream while watching a movie will elicit a shriek followed by a giggle, but these are fairly mundane instances of an enjoyable kind of fear.

I can count the times I have been truly afraid on one hand. In the past decade, there has been only one instance where I have been overcome by fear.

I was standing at the edge of the water, the crumbling, red brick of an old fort on the most remote island of the Florida Keys creating shadows in the afternoon light behind me.

3-2-1. Go.

3-2-1. Go.

I had imagined that I would just run into the water like I had thousands of times before in my life, but it seemed that I needed a countdown to increase my courage.

I grew up swimming. My parents ensured I had lessons from a young age; I swam with the high school swim team when I was in middle school, and I took life saving classes.

I considered myself to be part fish, yet here I stood on the edge of ocean water with the most inviting, lagoon-like hues, and I was paralyzed by fear. Terror, to be more accurate.

I could not walk into the water. Something seemingly so simple had become inaccessible to me.

3-2-1. Go.

3-2-1. Go.

Nothing. I stood stationary at the very edge, so close yet so far away from an experience I wanted to have.

“I can’t do it,” I turned and called back to my partner at the time. He was standing on the cement walkway that encircled the fort.

“Yes you can!” he called back reassuringly.

But I couldn’t. What was wrong with me?

A friend who was traveling with us took pity on me and went in first. I followed suit a few minutes after he went, desperately trying to catch up so that I would be safe in the water.

Once in, I felt better. All of the creatures I had feared were simply beings in a shared environment. I stayed close to the shore but even went through the old pilings and by a barracuda, who floated nearby with deep, barren eyes.

Safe on shore, I remember feeling rejuvenated and proud. I had overcome by fear!


Now, here I am in Mexico with a similar, though less paralyzing fear of the water. I suppose I have grown a little since my visit to the Dry Tortugas.

We arrived at Kino Bay on a Saturday afternoon. After settling in, we wandered around chatting with the instructors, students, and research fellows. When I inquired about swimming in the bay, they all shared a similar version of how to proceed.

Instruction: First, you want to do the stingray shuffle.

Mind of marieke: Eh?

Instruction: Walk slowly into the water, moving your feet gently through the sand. Do not just walk into the water. If there are stingrays, the shuffle gives them a gentle warning, and they will move out of the way.

Mind of marieke: Ok. That is reassuring. Not!

Instruction: Once you are in the water, be careful of jellies.

Mind of marieke: Dear lord, help me.

I am pretty sure I asked everyone I met for a detailed account of how to go swimming and a reminder of how to do the stingray shuffle.

All that was left was to go for it.

So I did. I walked cautiously through the sand while my partner sat guard on the beach.

Periodically, I looked back.

“Will I be a loser if I swim really close to shore?” I called back to him.

“You might want to go a little bit of a way out,” came the response.

Damnit. Not that I cared if people thought I was a wuss.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle shuffle.

There were little holes in the surface of the sand. Were those from stingrays? Memory made me think they might be little shellfish, but I could not be certain. This was foreign territory and I had been spoiled from swimming in the freshwater of Walden Pond.

I put my goggles on and poked my face under the water to have a look around.

Looked ok, so I went in and started moving.

Waves moved me back and forth as I tried to swim alongside the shore. I tried to find a way to look all around me for jellyfish, but it was difficult with the rocking motion from the water.

Soon, it became difficult to see. I started to panic, realizing that my goggles were getting cloudy because I had forgotten the age old trick of spitting in them before putting them on. How would I be able to fix them while continuing to swim without stepping onto the sand so as to avoid startling a stingray and also keeping an eye out for jellyfish.

I tread water and looked to the shore for help. My partner was sitting calmly reading. It looked like I was in charge of my own destiny.

Continuing to tread water, I reached up with one free hand and took my goggles off.

Spit spit. Rub Rub. Goggles went back on just as my arm began to tire.

Plunk. I put my head back into the water and began swimming in the other direction, retracing my glides. Each time I saw a jellyfish, I was filled terror and moved away as quickly as possible.

I swam past my partner on the shore in the opposite direction and then turned around once more. Finally, I headed for shore.

Then, it hit me. How was I to get back onto dry land? What did a stingray shuffle entail in reverse?

Gingerly, ever so gently, I placed one foot into the sand. Then another.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

And I was back on shore.

And I was alive!

The very next day, I did a cannon ball into the Sea of Cortez and swam with young sea lion without any fear save for some timidity surrounding the cool water temp.

Vive le bon courage!


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