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There Are Beginnings At Every End

I  regularly  sit  on  the  yoga  mat  at  the  front  of  the  room  watching  over  a  room  full  of   people  in  corpse  pose.

After  all  the  beautiful  work  they  do  with  the  asana  portion  of   class,  I  ask  them  to  place  one  hand  on  their  heart  center,  and  to  accept  themselves   unconditionally.  I  hold  the  space  for  this  difficult  work.

What  does  that  mean?  What  did  it  take  to  get  me  to  this  yoga  mat  in  the  front  of  the   room?  The  short  answer  is  that  my  mom  died,  and  as  best  I  could,  I  helped  her  to  do   so.

Of  course  there  is  a  much  longer  answer.

I  have  meditated  and  practiced  yoga  for  ten  years.  I  have  watched  people  around  me   decide  to  go  through  teacher  training,  and  then  step  to  the  front  of  the  room.  Each   one  of  them  did  so  when  they  were  ready,  and  many  asked  me  why  I  hadn’t  done  the   same.  Even  though  I  knew  that  I  was  “good  at  yoga,”  and  was  even  “practicing  yoga   off  the  mat,”  I  believed  that  I  lacked  some  essential  wisdom  required  to  be  a  good   teacher.

It  was  in  October  2014  that  my  ideas  about  “yoga  off  the  mat”  and  “essential   wisdom”  began  to  coalesce.  My  mother  hid  her  symptoms  for  a  while,  but  it  was   then  that  she  began  showing  undeniable  signs  that  something  was  seriously  wrong.   She  was  diagnosed  with  brain  cancer,  an  aggressive  and  terminal  affair;   glioblastoma  multiforme.  I  wrote  about  the  emotional  roller  coaster  I  found  myself   on  in  those  early  days.

After  the  initial  shock  of  hearing  this  terrible  news,  eventually,  we  -­‐  my  mom  and   stepfather  and  I  -­‐  found  our  own  rhythm  over  the  course  of  mom’s  remaining   months,  days,  and  hours.  I  tried  to  spend  every  possible  moment  with  her,  despite   and  perhaps  also  because  of,  the  fact  that  we  hadn’t  had  the  smoothest  of   relationships  during  our  younger  years.  Everything  else  in  my  life,  including  the   documentary  film  I  had  been  working  on  for  the  three  years  prior,  took  the  back   burner.

The  activities  I  once  delighted  in,  and  even  the  old  hurts,  simply  ceased  to  matter,   and  because  my  mother  so  rarely  asked  for  anything;  I  did  what  ever  I  could  think  to   do.

For  her  I  massaged  kale,  picked  wineberries,  brought  lavender,  teas,  hair  tonics   and  lotions  meant  to  heal  the  wounds  inflicted  first  by  surgery,  and  then  by   treatment.  I  even  brought  her  sandalwood  oil  because  I  read  a  study  about  skin   smelling  it  and  healing  itself  (yes,  really!)–  I  did  any  thing  for  her  that  I  could  think   of.

I  lived  in  the  moment  by  doing.

There  is  no  prize  for  it,  but  I  was  there  to  put  away  her  summer  clothes.  I  was  there   to  help  her  find  new  clothes  when  she  gained  weight  from  the  steroids.  I  was  there   to  put  away  her  winter  clothes.  As  the  seasons  changed,  the  changes  she  went through  were  also  extreme,  not  just  physically,  but  mentally  as  well.  One  of  the  most   heart  wrenching  moments  I  experienced  with  my  mom,  was  watching  her  try  to  play   an  online  word  matching  game  through  Happy  Neuron,  something  that  I’d  read   about  too.  She  simply  could  no  longer  create  the  names  of  fruit.

So  I  stopped  doing,   because  it  wasn’t  helping. I  started  to  listen.  For  a  while  she  told  me  stories,  even  as  she  lost  her  words,  and  I   simply  listened.  She  told  me  mostly  about  her  regrets;  about  the  robbery  that  killed   her  dreams  of  creating  interactive  maps  not  long  after  she  had  gone  back  to  school   to  learn  the  skill,  details  about  her  struggles  around  the  life  and  death  of  my  brother   who  is  also  the  subject  of  my  documentary  film.  She  told  me  stories  about  her   friends  in  her  new  neighborhood,  about  her  dreams  for  the  garden,  shenanigans  she   and  her  kayaking  friends  got  into,  too.  But  there  was  no  more  time  for  her  to  create   any  more  stories,  and  so  I  simply  held  the  space  for  her  to  tell  me  the  ones  she   remembered,  with  any  words  she  found  to  tell  them.

I  cared  for  my  mom  and  loved  her  despite  and  through  all  of  the  changes,  doctors   appointments,  and  treatments,  while  somehow  maintaining  the  most  Zen-­‐like  state   I’ve  ever  existed  in.

I  found  balance  in  own  my  mind  and  body  where  grief  was  the   king  asana.

To  keep  myself  strong  enough  to  hold  space  for  my  mom  and  what  she  was   experiencing,  I  continued  to  practice  yoga,  but  lying  in  corpse  pose  at  the  end  of   class,  became  nearly  impossible  for  me.  There  was  an  abyss  looming  there  next  to   my  mat.  Instead  of  allowing  myself  to  slip  into  that  abyss,  I  became  a  triathlete.   When  I  wasn’t  with  my  mom,  or  working,  I’d  sneak  away  to  run,  or  bike,  or  kayak  for   about  an  hour,  and  I  eventually  did  all  of  these  things  in  one  day  –  a  grand  total  of  38   miles  combined  -­‐  the  Josh  Billings  Triathlon.  There  was  no  prize.

And  then,  my  mom  died.

The  final  decline  of  her  physical  form  from  the  brain   cancer,  first  caused  her  to  stop  eating  and  drinking,  and  eventually  she  also  stopped   breathing.  I  was  there,  holding  her  hand,  when  she  died.  The  devastation  I  felt   initially  still  seems  unfathomable,  and  yet  even  then,  I  knew  some  part  of  her  wasn’t   gone.

One  day  as  I  sifted  through  the  things  that  still  didn’t  really  matter  to  me,  bills  and   such,  I  found  a  paper  from  one  of  mom’s  cognition  tests  at  Johns  Hopkins  Hospital.   On  this  paper  were  the  words,  “close  your  eyes,”  written  by  the  nurse,  followed  by   mom’s  handwritten,  “lift  up  your  heart.”  Close  your  eyes,  and  lift  up  your  heart?!  All   that  was  missing  was  the  cue  to  have  my  hands  held  at  my  heart  center  in  anjali   mudra/prayer  hands.  A  catalog  containing  information  about  an  upcoming  yoga   training  was  also  in  this  pile  and  so  the  decision  was  clinched.  I’d  found  something   that  mattered.

When  I  arrived  at  Kripalu  for  my  yoga  training,  Rudy  Pierce  began  asking,  “what   does  your  heart  need  today?”  He  asked  nearly  every  day.  As  I  closed  my  eyes  to listen,  the  answer  was  terrifying.  I  had  to  face  the  abyss.

During  the  course  of  my   yoga  teacher  training,  I  allowed  myself  to  fully  examine  that  abyss,  and  it  was  much   deeper  than  I  had  imagined.

It  wasn’t  easy,  but  I  did  find  my  way  back  out  again.  And   slowly,  I  remembered  how  to  smile.  And  eventually  I  even  remembered  how  to  lift   up  my  heart.  Kripalu,  my  instructors  Rudy  &  Michelle,  their  support  team,  all  of  the   staff  there,  and  my  fellow  teacher  trainees  held  the  space  for  me  to  make  my  way   through  grief  and  to  make  the  transition  to  teacher.  Just  as  Swami  Kripalu’s  legacy  of   radical  self-­‐love  lives  on  through  this  Health  and  Wellness  Center,  so  too  does  my   mother’s  love  continue  through  me,  and  this  documentary  film  that  I  will  still  make.

Not  long  after  I  returned  home  from  Kripalu,  my  home  was  broken  into  and  I  was   also  robbed.  Much  like  my  mother’s  mapping  dream,  my  documentary  seemingly   disappeared  into  the  abyss,  but  because  she  shared  her  story  with  me,  I  will  not   allow  my  dream  to  die  in  the  same  fashion.  I  still  have  time.

It  has  not  yet  been  a  year  since  my  mother  died.  Grief  still  often  crashes  into  my   world,  but  I  now  know  I  can  breathe  through  it  just  as  I  can  through  the  most   challenging  yoga  asana.

I’m  no  longer  afraid  of  the  abyss.

Dare  I  say,  I’m  no  longer   afraid  of  death  or  loss.  And  now,  as  an  instructor,  I  can  channel  it.  Grief  and  loss,  and   Love  and  acceptance.  ALL  of  it.

I  am  able  to  offer  up  wisdom  now  too,  and  it  seems  to  bubble  up  from  an  unending   well  spring  within  me.  The  foundation  has  been  created  and  I  am  a  life  long  learner,   so  I  continue  to  read  and  share  what  I  learn.  The  words  spill  out  of  my  throat  mostly   with  ease:

“…  listen  to  the  most  distant  sound  you  can  hear  without  naming  it…   slowly  bring  your  attention  closer  and  closer…  into  the  inner  atmosphere  of  your   inner  world…  consider  all  of  the  magnificent  things  going  on  in  your  body  right  now   that  support  you  without  your  asking  them  to.  Imagine  that  you  are  simply  the  sum   of  all  of  these  miracles.  And  if  that  is  so,  what  is  it  that  makes  you,  you?  It  is  not  one   thing,  or  another,  but  a  constellation  of  things.  Are  you  still  you,  if  one  of  these   things  experience  a  difficulty,  or  even  ceases  to  function,  or  even  exist?”

Breathe,  relax,  feel,  watch,  and  allow.

The  year  I  spent  watching  my  mother  die,  and  yes,  holding  the  space  for  her  to  find   her  way  to  her  last  breath,  taught  me  truth  and  Kripalu  reinforced  it.  That  year  was   simultaneously  the  hardest  and  most  bittersweet  year  of  my  life.

I  know  in  every   fiber  of  my  being  that  the  light  of  Love  is  as  strong  as  the  abyss.

My  mother  took  care   of  me  on  my  way  in,  and  I  took  care  of  her  on  her  way  out.

I  am  now  a  yoga  teacher   and  that  is  a  part  of  her  legacy.  Her  story  continues  through  me.  And  now,  through   yoga,  I’m  teaching  my  students  they  can  live  through  anything  that  life  throws  at   them,  too.

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Rosewood. In the news. Again.

Image captured by the author of this blog post, Amy Genevieve Kozak

Image captured by the author of this blog post

Rosewood is in the news again, and it hits me again, a strong wave of nausea. In addition to the human right’s abuses that included “reports of rape, abuse, neglect, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions” that were summarily exposed during its closure in 2009,* this most recent Slate article** exposes even more horrors of human nature associated with the place. This revived news story highlighted a scandal that was essentially human trafficking; imagine powerful members of society working together to transfer individuals from the institution into positions of servitude. The author goes on to point out that the scandal wasn’t reported out of care or concern for the more than 150 individuals this effected but because of concerns around any offspring that resulted as well, aka eugenics.

I then watched my friends post this newest article on facebook, and in response people brag that they’ve snuck onto the property and seen “a gymnasium filled with wheelchairs and lobotomy reports scattered on the floor.” Others wonder if they can see the place too.

Why? Why would you want to go there? I was already baffled and offended when Rosewood was offhandedly added to a publication’s “guide to some of our city’s scariest sites” in honor of Halloween. Why is there a seeming lack of empathy for the fact that real human beings lived such horrors?

I vividly remember the few times I visited my brother David at Rosewood. Even though David was only temporarily there, and it has been years since it was closed, I still can’t shake the memory of what I witnessed there. I’m sick and tired of Rosewood sitting there, looming, and blighting the brightness of today – both in my mind, and in reality! It was a horrific place and I believe that it is my job to at least attempt to help others understand the legacy of Rosewood from my perspective.

And so I don’t mind telling you that a couple of years ago I tried to capture images of the place for a piece of a documentary I’m working on, I found “no trespassing” signs and security carefully patrolling the property (that must cost a pretty penny!). I tried to find my way through the bureaucracy in order to film there legally and couldn’t. We, the public, are not allowed on the property, even if our intent is honorable. And so it simply sits there.

Soon afterwards, I took another step, and met with Jon Sarbanes in September of 2012. I learned that the land was offered to Stevenson University, but apparently there are elements found in the soil that may be environmentally hazardous. Dana Stein never responded. To date, Stevenson University has brushed off my attempts to learn more about their intent. Just today, I received an email about soil remediation and ferns, dated Sunday March 30th. Ferns? Let’s do that already! Rosewood has been sitting there, crumbling, and looming for FIVE years! As far as I’m concerned this hold up has gone on too long.

We can do better, I have to believe that, and I’d like to find others who feel as strongly as I do (this blog post isn’t the last step I’ll take). For those of us who had family members living at Rosewood, I believe our relatives still deserve better, even if they are no longer here with us in this life. The experiences of those who lived there even longer ago, as explored in that Slate article, shouldn’t be forgotten either. The horrors of human behavior must be acknowledged so that they are not repeated.  Even if Stevenson University students do someday walk the grounds, they need to know the history of where they are.

While Seattle, Washington grows the first food forest; Baltimore, Maryland lets a significant amount of land just sit. Would it first take remediation for something similar to happen here? If that dream is too big, or simply not possible, perhaps we could have a small memorial grove of trees planted on an acre of the property? Can’t we at least raze the buildings, so they are no longer targets for arsonists? But not if that means the history of the place is covered up and forgotten. I want us to do something, and I’m tired of waiting for the leaders of our community to act; in honor of my brother David, and in honor of every vulnerable person who lived an experience on that ground, I think we owe it to them to do something.

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2008-08-20/news/0808190282_1_rosewood-department-will-investigate-investigate-the-state

** http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/03/baltimore_s_rosewood_scandal_wealthy_families_sprang_asylum_inmates_to_be.html

This blog post has become a petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/stevenson-university-include-a-permanent-tribute-to-the-former-residents-of-rosewood-in-plans-for-the-future-of-the-property?recruiter=1410974&utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition

 

Cancer is Like a Rollercoaster

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I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster for more than two months now. What the brain surgeon said in the din of the hospital’s florescent lighting matched the black and white online entry, exactly: best possible scenario, we only have two years. Though you may try, like I did, there is no manual that will help you fully intellectualize how to deal with your mother’s brain cancer diagnosis and impending demise. Not even rereading Elizabeth KüblerRoss’ five stages of grief can stave off the reality of being thrust on an emotionally messy rollercoaster. I’d like to say that my eight-year love affair with yoga saved me, but I had to fight my way back from the edge, warrior style.

On my yoga mat, right after “the diagnosis,” I remember thinking how odd it was that there was no discomfort whatsoever in either of my hips as I lounged lazily in pigeon pose thinking, “oh, I’ve got this handled.”  Meanwhile, out in the world, I couldn’t seem to shake myself awake. I will never forget how I sat dazed during a twelve-hour train ride to a speaking engagement in Rochester barely able to concentrate on what I’d say. Still, somehow during this initial phase of denial, I landed the engagement with poise, grace and dignity.

As the days ticked by, however, things changed drastically. I noticed people pulling away even though I was attempting to keep my social life intact while also helping to care for my mother. One dark and terrifying night I looked into the dazzlingly beautiful abyss of the night sky, and I disassociated completely from a party happening just steps away as grief-stricken tears streamed silently down my face. That same night, things sped up again, and I watched myself become uncontrollably angry and lash out at another with a still somewhat detached amazement, “who is this beast I’ve become?” The word “cancer” does scare people away, but I was also making it worse through perfectly normal phases of grief.

The rollercoaster outlined by KüblerRoss had completely taken over and the lack of control I felt ultimately forced me back into my beginners mind. In other words, it wasn’t until I admitted, “I don’t have this” and “I’d better get it together” before I lose the focus I need to love and care for my mother in her final days without completely alienating myself even further from those around me that aren’t afraid of the word “cancer,” that things could stop spiraling out of control. If people need to go, let them go.

Now, I’m back on my yoga mat and more present than ever before, and I’ve found that my inner world is stabilizing along with the world around me. My mother will die. This has not changed. However, I’ve realized and accepted: This is our new normal. All we have is today. All we have is this breath. All I need to do is breathe.

I’ve forgiven myself for being a messy human being during this time of transition, with any luck those around me will as well. And if they don’t, I’ll let them go. As I look back on the past two months, I find great comfort in realizing:

“My dear, In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm… In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”~ Albert Camus

Killer Bees

When I was a kid, I remember seeing at least part of a movie about a swarm of killer bees attacking children on a school bus, and I also remember some evening news story about slowly migrating ‘African Killer Bees’ being of concern. Turns out the first story was fiction, and the later hyped. Today, the issue is reversed and Monsanto is the dark force afoot and the danger to us all is quite real. Have you heard much buzz about this in the mainstream media? Do you wonder why? For those who don’t already know, this corporation has its hands in both the production of pesticides and food, which once upon a time may have made sense to someone. However, the truth has been known for quite some time and finally entire nations are putting a stop to Monsanto’s insane duel practices. Many are even burning entire fields of the company’s “food,” or as it is more commonly known, their genetically modified organisms or GMOs. We need more Americans to become aware of this issue. First, please stop falling for the company’s propaganda. We can produce enough food naturally to feed ourselves, but we’ll need our beloved bee pollinators to help us out, and we need Monsanto’s pesticides to stop killing them. I recently participated in a protest of Monsanto which included a ‘bee die in’ and while this may seem cute to some and trite to others, it is a serious statement about what we want. At the very least we want labels on Monsanto’s cancer causing GMOs so that we as consumers can avoid them at the store. It makes me wonder why they wouldn’t agree to that, if they really weren’t up to no good.

Peep this awesome kid breaking it down: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Id9caYw-Y&feature=youtu.be

Here are a few links to more information about this issue:

http://topinfopost.com/2013/05/28/russia-warns-obama-monsanto

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27540.cfm

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/congress-dont-pass-a.fb28?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=2164439

http://planetsave.com/2011/07/21/hungary-destroys-all-monsanto-gmo-maize-fields/

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/protesters-march-vs-monsanto-250-cities

Iandry Randriamandroso

I don’t recall ever having met anyone from Madagascar until Iandry knocked on my door. He quickly charmed his way into becoming my housemate, introduced me to his model gorgeous and brilliant girlfriend (who he met while living in New York), and over time shared his experiences in the Community Arts program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Iandry also taught me that French and Malagasy are the official languages in Madagascar, but honestly I struggled with simply spelling his last name. [Sorry buddy, it’s still true!] Since his graduation from MICA, Iandry has created countless public art projects across the country. Waverly is lucky enough to have his work on display at the moment as evidenced by the images also posted here. I was happy to help document his work because of our continued friendship, because I wholeheartedly agree with the message of his work, and because I want to see Waverly thrive. Another good friend of mine has written about this space before, so I’ll let Julie Scharper enlighten you at this point:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-text-it-20120728,0,5024499.story

And here is a video that shows a bit of the process behind the creation of the project:

Doc U (RMP goes to SXSW)

For some, SXSW is a giant party. For me, it was also an opportunity to see films in some of the finest theaters in downtown Austin, and attend a veritable Documentary University. In other words, I filled my weeklong schedule with workshops, panel discussions, mentoring sessions with successful producers, screenings followed by Q&As with filmmakers and documentary subjects, and an array of seemingly random (but also powerful!) conversations in lines and on shuttle buses – I believe that all of these activities are part and parcel to a path leading towards success. For a documentary filmmaker success means getting a project in front of as many eyes as possible, opening a slew of them to something new, and maybe even changing a few hearts and minds.

It is my hope to follow in the footsteps of those who screened this year by adhering the advice I gleaned, understanding the challenges ahead, and possibly even collaborating with those I met in Austin. In the meantime, I’d like to recommend several of the documentary films that I believe have major potential in terms of social impact. See these as soon as you can:

TINY: A Story About Living Small – This duo decides to make a movie while they build a very small house, and they are novices at both. And yet, they do both quite well. Talk about a couple of overachievers setting the bar quite high for anyone else! I promise you’ll be impressed; watch the trailer and sign up to learn about future screenings, here: tiny-themovie.com

Fall and Winter – While this film is gorgeous to watch, the first 3/4 of the movie cover environmental calamity and you will want to slit your wrists. However, to the folks walked out of the film especially; things did lighten up and the focus did shift to positive actionable steps that everyone should take. Now that I’ve seen this film, I want to read all the books they reference, and learn some of the skills covered in the film. This one is definitely for the choir and anyone who is ready to wake up from the Bling Era bs: fallwintermovie.com

The Network – While I did find a trailer and IMDb page for this film about Tolo, a television network in Afghanistan, I couldn’t seem to find a website. Then again, maybe that is why Eva Orner seems to crank out projects at such a high-speed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNtE5tozmBs

The Act of Killing – This movie is highly disturbing, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully process what I witnessed or what it says about human nature. I knew I was signing on to see War Lords excited to reenact their most famous torture techniques and story of bloodshed, but the Bollywood nature of it all is beyond bizarre. Most of the crew didn’t even want to have their names associated with the project as evidenced by the longest list of “anonymous” I’ve ever seen. I was too stunned to even attempt taking a picture.This one is only for the very brave of heart: theactofkilling.com

I saw more than 15 docs during SXSW and my opinion doesn’t always match what gets reported in the press or what gets voted as the best by audiences, so I’m always happy to have the opportunity to see films that may never be distributed or played on a screen near us.

On another note, I’d also like to recommend 512’s Pecan Porter – a damn fine local beer – which I drank nearly every day once I discovered it! Luckily my two favorite theaters, The Alamo Ritz and the Violet Crown, both served this beer.

Also, here is a video from my time at SXSW: http://vimeo.com/rovingmedia/sxsw

My first documentary is forthcoming, but a bit further out. Stay tuned!

Gallery

Common Threat Level

“Forward on Climate. Stop Keystone. Stop the frack attack. Mountain justice. Cut carbon.” The diversity in slogans hardly matters any more. We’ve finally found a common threat level. Today was a frigid day, and yet a vast and colorful crowd gathered in our Nation’s Capitol. Folks travelled from great distances, even brought their children, and I love them for it. I hope that our numbers are high enough to warrant the attention of those we’ve elected, and those who’ve not yet become active. I’m optimistic. Those signs are all around us too. Wind and solar are becoming more and more popular at the state level. Folks want to know their food more intimately again. Biking is catching on across the country. Activists are even using data to infiltrate known pockets of climate deniers. For anyone who still isn’t paying attention, I ask just one question: How long can we live without drinking water? Yes, it is that serious. So please stop calling me a hippy and take notice of how business operates in the world around you. The time is now: educate yourselves and your neighbors, become even more politically active and encourage others. Together we must demand climate justice for all!

More on this:

http://tinyurl.com/b7agmbe

http://tinyurl.com/a9t5ney

http://tinyurl.com/aybulms

http://tinyurl.com/b27p95w