To be where you are

Last month, I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the Evergreen Yoga Retreat at the beautiful Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, MD.

Bon Secours Footbridge photo by Shannon Mayhew

Footbridge at Bon Secours

Many of the women attending had participated in this retreat for over 20 years.  Some have traveled through India and studied with prominent gurus.  Many of these women have been practicing yoga for as long as or longer than I have.  I have to admit that when I was preparing my sessions that I was to lead, I asked myself, “Who am I to be leading them?”

But as we gathered in the Peace Garden for my first session, I saw nothing but supportive, welcoming faces.  I heard my inner voice say “It’s OK to be where you are.”

Bon Secours Mary Silhouette photo by Shannon Mayhew

After a sunrise meditation

And I taught from there.  Where I am, where my heart is… where the yoga comes through.

Peace Garden Treasure photo by Shannon Mayhew

I found this treasure someone made at the Peace Garden

At the end of the retreat, I was given wonderful feedback about my yoga nidra session, along with several requests to record and share it, and to write up and share my teachings on meditation and samskaras. (I’ll post the recording and write-up here next week in case you want to give the meditation a try.)

This experience, along with being a deeply nourishing retreat, was an affirmation for me that perfection, or even, feeling fully confident, is not where I need to be — but that acceptance, authenticity, and presence (being where I am), are surely gateways for my best self to emerge.

Bon Secours Sunlight photo by Shannon Mayhew

I sat here after a meditation in the Peace Garden to write the poem below

Peace Garden Meditation

Stones and pebbles, Peace Garden Altar photo by Shannon Mayhew
smooth, angled,
some stacked into stupas,

slightly askew

Surrounded by trees,
stately, gracefully
offering their cooling shade

And the birds!
They are calling to each other,
sing-song exclamations,
weaving through the silence, Peace Garden Stupa photo by Shannon Mayhew
structuring the spaces,

sounds and rhythms

that settle into my ears,
and I translate:
“Now!” “Joy!” “Awake!”

And I sit in the center,
still and open.
by this symphony
of sweet belonging.

Bon Secours Reflecting Pool photo by Shannon Mayhew



The “recess ladies,” as my girls call them, reign over the school playground, scowling and yelling, trying to stifle the release of pent up energy, due to several hours of sitting in class,  focusing and keeping quiet.

“No playing tag!” (No playing tag?!!)

“No mingling with the kids in the other grades!” (Some 5th graders were trying help a tearful Kindergartner find a friend to play with).

“You!  Stay away from the fence.”  (My daughter was on her way to enjoy the honeysuckle blossoms).

I want to fix this for my girls, and for the other kids at the school.  This doesn’t feel right.  I am upset because the kids need to run. They should not be made to feel badly about running and exploring and connecting in ways that are meaningful for children.

Top of her world photo by shannon mayhew

So I ask my daughter about it.  How does it feel when they yell?

“They are SO mean,” she answers.  (My internal chatter – I have to make this better for her somehow…)  She continues, “But they make life more interesting.”

I tilt my head and wait to see where this is going.

book on porch small“I think your life is like a story.  A good story has great things and bad things, and it’s interesting.  You want to see what happens next.  I think to be happy, you look back on your life with love.  It’s your story and you love the story.  You don’t want it to be boring.”

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  I just didn’t realize my teacher would be ten years old.

Just as I am uncomfortable bringing conflict into my stories, I also wish I could avoid conflict in life.  I want peace and happiness and ease, always.  But in stories with no conflict, those characters don’t really grow, do they?  Without their challenges, they wouldn’t come to know their strength, fullness of being, and their deeper capacities for love.

As I let Kaiya’s beautiful wisdom sink in, my fix-it mode quiets, and I am once again reminded that I don’t have to over-feather the nest for my girls.

I am also reminded of a Buddhist story that I heard from a lecture by Pema Chodron.  She tells us about a man who is walking barefoot over a field that is covered in thorns.  He thinks, “This is too painful!  I am going to cover the whole ground in leather so that it won’t hurt me anymore.”  But he can’t cover the whole field with leather.  It’s not practical or even possible.  What he can do is wrap leather around his feet (shoes).

With shoes, you could walk across thorns, hot sand, cut glass, anything in your path, and it wouldn’t hurt you.  And the teaching is that, instead of wanting to change and control your outside world, work with your own mind.  That is where the power of true protection, and the power to ease suffering, comes from.

For Kaiya, her love of books and stories has given her a potent analogy to work with.  (In another conversation, she has told me that, to stop worrying before bed, she thinks of the worries as words in a book, and “you can always put the book down.”)

What are some other ways we can “work with our mind?”  You already know I am going to say yoga, meditation and mindfulness (presence).  I will just gently remind…

Yoga helps us to feel better in our bodies.  We release tension, feel stronger, sense our own inner power, and, with regular practice, we end up making choices in our lives that come from a stable and healthy place.  Our mind can calm down.

Meditation helps us to deeply regenerate, and to stop identifying with our running thoughts and vacillating emotions.  We learn to control the mind, rather than letting our thoughts and emotions take us down an unwanted path.

And, using presence, we can stop the running chatter in our head, in the moment, by tuning into our senses — feeling the sensations in our hands and whole body, while we look around us and listen.  The “story” falls away for that time, as we tune into clarity and aliveness.

It’s like shoes, for the mind… no that metaphor doesn’t really work, does it?  Let’s try this:  It’s like realizing that you are the one holding the book.  And you get to choose how to read your story.

Nose in a book photo by shannon mayhew