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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Feb 14, 2018

The heart can think of no devotion, greater than being shore to the ocean

The heart can think of no devotion,
Greater than being shore to the ocean,
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.  ~~~Robert Frost

Like everyone else, I began my time on the planet rounded into the oceanic shoreline of my mother’s womb. The way the Yoga tradition teaches it, “I” was breathed into being from the greater Ocean of One Heart to the inner ocean of my mother’s womb. Fractals -  all the way down and all the way up.

In that interior ocean it was dark with a steady pulse of heartbeat and breath from my mother, the tides of her circulation ebbing and flowing around me.
Then whoosh, the ocean breathed out and I breathed in and found myself - a packet of ocean water - on dry land, in bright light and beginning the work it would take to be a land dweller, an individual, building my own unique shore to the ocean.

Because of the way things are, I regularly forget the Ocean in the hard work of being the shore. And – because of the way things are – I get a regular call from the Ocean to remember – to align with the tides and bring my individual life into greater harmony with universal good. Yoga has been the most powerful way that this ongoing call has gotten through to me, making sure the call keeps coming in until I pick up. And on the other end of the line is the Ocean Herself, calling me to remind me that there is much more that than just the inland fortress of my embodied, individuated life; calling me to visit my Mother, to stand at the Ocean's edge. Or – as the Tao Te Ching so beautifully puts it, to “Return to the Mother, to Source”.

I answer this call imperfectly. Sometimes I am “too busy” and ignore it altogether. But when I do answer, (by, for example, stopping my work life and spending time on my Yoga mat or meditation cushion or out in nature) I feel an incredible, whole-body relief. As Mary Oliver writes in her poem “At the Ocean’s Edge”, I know this sound, saith the body. At the Ocean’s edge I can remember that I am part of a greater whole, that I cannot do my embodied life on dry land alone, nor am I meant to do it alone.

It is strong practice to be a shoreline while also remembering the Ocean. (one of the terms for this type of practice is “Non-dual tantra"; or "Enlightened duality"). To be pulled by the tide to remember Source - that which is greater than my individual self - means I must make some necessary sacrifices, surrender some preferences and my comforts. But/ And… to be alive and embodied here on the dry land of planet earth, means I must HOLD to this life, including holding on to some life affirming preferences (which include comfort and pleasure). It’s not one thing or the other. It’s both. It’s a breathing. I continue to breathe in with a holding on to life and my piece of shoreline, to people and places I love. And I continue to breathe out. To surrender my individual breath to universal breath.
Finally and in the long run of this life of mine, I hope to become increasingly awake and intentionally vulnerable to those times when there is shifting sand under my feet, and rather than reinforce the shore line, to let it go – to return to the Mer and swim in the fluid freedom of the Ocean (while still keeping my eyes on the shore…. for now).

Mary Oliver sums it up – as she always does so well: 
“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go”

Jul 7, 2017

Full Moon of the True Teacher- Guru Purnima

On May 7, my dad died. He was 92 and had a long "struggle with an angel" - like the man 
who wrestled with the angel in Rilke's poem  - to get to his last breath. He was an amazing person...humble, humorous, holy. I am so unbelievably lucky to have such a father.
My siblings and I have been working together to clear out his home which he shared with my mom, his wife of 53 years, until she died in 2012. They were children of the depression and they were hoarders, like many others who grew up during that era under the constant anxiety that their parents would lose the farm/ the homestead / everything. Mom and Dad's house was JAMMED full of everything: bags and boxes of memorabilia, gadgets, scrap paper .... you name it. There were boxes full of bags and bags full of bags. As my sisters and brother and I worked to clear it out, we felt respect and tenderness. Clearly their life had become overwhelming.
And yet.....
Even in the middle of the three-centered and overwhelming mess of his aged body, mind and home, Dad continued to be a life-long devotee of the Divine Mother. He LOVED her. She was his Satguru, his True Teacher.  (Satguru is a sanskrit word meaning an enlightened saint whose purpose is to guide one to Love). And She was his ishta devata (another sanskrit word meaning "cherished deva / divinity).
Dad’s devotion continued to expand and grow brighter – like a waxing moon - even within the  clutter of the dogma of the church which claims that one should only worship Jesus, must not worship the Divine by any other name or face and so must not worship Mary but only honor her as a pointer to Jesus. (But even in the church different priests have different degrees of dogma-itis. For example, I recently heard a Jesuit priest address an opening prayer at a Gonzaga graduation event to "Mother God").
Well, regardless of whether church dogma condoned it or not, Dad worshiped Mary. Really nothing could have changed that. Towards the end I would sit with him, we would pray the rosary and he would gaze at her image hanging on his wall with such open-hearted longing and love. It blew me away. After he had his brain hemorrhage and was only days away from death, his mind was “off-line" but his fingers continued to move the beads of his rosary. Wow. The level of his devotion to his ishta devata was embroidered into his tissues.
Tomorrow - July 8 - is the celebration called Guru Purnima - the full moon of the guru. It is a day of devotion and gratitude for the existence of teachers of all kinds, including Sat Gurus – such as the Blessed Mother Mary was /is to Dad. The grace of the guru principle is said to be a thousand times more active on the day of Guru Purnima than on any other day.
Dad would not have been interested in Guru Purnima - except in so much as it was interesting to me. He had his own Guru Purnima holidays: Holy days devoted to Mary.
But for me this is a wonderful day of remembering my teachers and my Guru and my dad. I will be thinking of the big full moon light that is my dad and his devotion to the Divine Feminine in the form of Mary, a devotion that continued to expand and wax brightly even as his house and body and mind became incapacitated and overwhelmed.  Jai Guru!


Jan 31, 2017

The Great Gesture - Maha Mudra

The Great Gesture
Maha Mudra

One of my main meditation teachers, Paul Muller Ortega, likes to say: “Earth school is a hard school”. I agree! But what an honor to be granted admission to such a good school. This tells me I am not here because I flunked or failed, or because I am a problem to be solved but because I graduated into a very good school. I like thinking like this – whether it is “true” or not.  A similar way of thinking that I like to remember and have often heard voiced by others - especially post-election - is that “we are born for these times”.

Whether we are in an Ivy League Earth School – or are “born for these times” – or both - we are wonderfully well made for the work at hand. Our bodies are perfectly designed to make the “great gesture” – to keep saying “Yes,” to embrace whatever life brings us, with our awesome Yoga superpowers, the greatest of which is love.
Part of the price of admission to earth school is to be willing to remember and awaken to Source (or call it by your own name) which is ever-present, never-absent and is pouring into this world through each body, heart and mind.

Source energy moves in and through the sacred vessel of my body, whether I am awake to it or not.

An awake body is wise with the cyclic nature of existence, miraculously ebbing and flowing in lunar adoration. Bending and flexing and twisting. To do well in this earth School, I know I must continue to practice in such a way that I am awake in my body and in the present moment. In fact, I think everyone in a body is invited, urged even, to fulfill a sacred vow, to be an awake “body” for the Sacred to move and breathe in.

I think of this vow as a Great Gesture – a Maha Mudra. (maha mudra means about a billion different things in the Yoga and Buddhist tradition…I am using it here very simply as its translation – “a great gesture / vow / prayer”)
The following is a kind of sequence – or the dance steps - to this great gesture:
  1. Relax and Open to Gravity and Grace
  2. Pull yourself together. Stand (or sit) tall. Engage a kind of muscular or integrating energy to recover your perhaps scattered attention and place that attention in your body - (heart /solar plexus/hara) 
  3. Keeping attention rooted in body, expand organically into relationship with the world (sense breath, sense whole body, expand into “horizontal” relationship with others and with “life as it is” - 360 degrees around – willing to lean and flex and bend and twist and occasionally turn upside down.
  4. Relax and Open to Gravity and Grace in order that source energy can continue to pour into this world through your body, mind and heart.   
This is how Magic happens. Or more exactly - this is how I become aware of, and available to participate with, the magic that is always happening.

The 4 steps form a circle. That is good. Mind understands lines but Body understands circles. Magic happens inside of circles. Lines divide.

Circles unite!