Monthly Archives: February 2014

Starting a Good Book



Have you ever met someone with whom you felt instantly comfortable?  Like when you meet up with an old friend and even though you haven’t seen each other or hardly spoken for 10 years or so it is as if zero time has passed and you seamlessly pick up some decades old conversation where it left off when last you met.

That is what I experienced yesterday when I met a very nice gentleman for lunch at my favorite Indian restaurant in Richmond. We have so much in common, dancing, yoga, spiritual paths, writing, love for travel etc… the conversation just took off and nearly two hours whizzed by like fifteen minutes  leaving at least three unfinished threads dangling to be continued for another day.  It was like starting to read a  really good book and the first chapter is so enthralling you can hardly wait to read more.

Though I am unsure when the conversation will continue, I do hope it is soon because dangling threads and next chapters must be addressed before one explodes from anticipation.

Kicking the bucket: One good way to explore and celebrate the self


The sugar coated Mid-Atlantic whizzes by as I savor the last blueberry muffin I snatched for travel food from the Kripalu lunch buffet line yesterday afternoon.  It is the type of winter that people will talk about and compare to other severe winters for years to come – long, cold and snow covered – and I am observing its effects from Connecticut to Central Virginia from a slush streaked Amtrak passenger train window. Why would this warm weather loving Southerner venture to the frost-bitten North in mid-February of all times of year?  To fill my spirit with yoga and community while checking off a bucket list item-  TRY CROSS COUNTRY SKIING.

As my regular readers know I am experiencing a dating dry spell, admittedly, a tad self-imposed yet still a current state of affairs.  When I say, “self-imposed” I mean in the sense that I am avoiding the internet as a source for potential dates but certainly if someone popped up in life that interested me, I would be open to dating them.  At any rate…What should a single person who is in search of a soul-mate do when soul-mate material is out of immediate sight range?  My answer: Do stuff that fills your spirit and manifests love in ways other than romantically.

This past weekend I did just that- I went to Kripalu, (a big yoga and mindfulness retreat center near Lenox, Ma)  to participate in a workshop called: “Cross-Country Skiing and Yoga Retreat” which was hosted by the graceful and endlessly patient, Shrila Leslie Luppino and the vivacious yet zen, Evelyn Gonzalez. I went with my High School chum, Prudence (not her real name), who needs yoga to balance out her stressful Manhattan Investment Banker lifestyle. In many ways, Prudence and I  are polar opposites. Just sit in a car with us while we try to choose what music to listen to and you will understand- it’s Kenny G vs Foster the People. If we were characters in a Jane Austin novel it would be titled, “Cents and Sensuality”. Yet, against all odds, the mysterious synchronicity of our yin and yang personalities has created a friendship that has stood the test of time and when we are together hilarity ensues. There was also a collection of some really accomplished, smart, rowdy women with a few husbands in tow who were there to test themselves in ways they failed to previously imagine.

Due to snowstorm PAX ( a totally stupid name for a disruptive event like a snowstorm btw), I was a day late leaving Charlottesville so Candace met me at the train station in Stamford and we drove up to Lenox in the late afternoon.  We arrived at Kripalu just in time to partake in a lovely buffet dinner of organic yumminess that is a signature aspect of the Kripalu experience.  Once sated, we popped down to the opening session of our workshop to meet each other, practice some yoga and get oriented to the weekend schedule.  We were asked to share our favorite snow stories.  Oddly both of mine had to do with the first few flakes falling from the sky.  The next morning was similar.  Shrila divided us into groups according to ability beginners, intermediates and advanced cross country skiers.  Prudence is a downhill person.  She has skied in some of the best resorts in the world . This would be her fifth try at cross-country. I, on the other hand, have skied downhill only a handful of times on the soft low swells of mountains in Virginia. The closest I  had ever come to cross-country skiing was an abysmal attempt at exercise on a Nordic Trak which more closely resembled a puppy’s first attempt at walking on ice than required  gazelle-like movement.

During the morning Sivasana, the resting yoga position that  traditionally ends an asana practice, Evelyn asked us to let go of expectation and remember to be compassionately present for ourselves throughout the day. “Tell yourself, I will never ever leave you,” she said.

Yoga teaches us compassion through self love and nurturing.  Humans, particularly those of us who live in the Western cultures,  have a tendency to become overly self critical. As adults, we want to be perfect at something from the first try whether it is on a first date, the first time we recite a monolog (Shout out to Evelyn) or our first time on skis. We forget that half the fun of life is the journey from the first step onward- the growth that is most rewarding and really, when you think about it, perfection is the moment when we let go of  judging, comparing, criticism and expectation and simply experience the flow of something, accepting it for what it is and being in the moment.

Easier said….., right?

Learning to cross-country ski is a fantastic medium for applying these yogic principles. Naturally, I thought I was destined for a challenge free day when I clicked into my skis with ease and made a few practice glides across a small, flat training course on the Kripalu property during the morning section of the class. But humility would find me in the afternoon as I fell eight to ten times (with my entire class watching) as I attempted to ski down a tiny hill on a nearby golf course turned cross-country ski track.  At mid- point, after fall number 5 or so, I just broke down into belly laughs so hard I could barely get back to my feet where my left ski promptly slid out from under me and I hit the soft snow again. “This really sucks,” I thought, ” but I am going to get down this hill one way or another.” Later, I learned the problems with my technique and the stickiness of the snow that caused my awkward decent, giving me some gleam of hope that I might become competent at this sport at some point.

All that afternoon, it seemed that just as I found the sweet spot, the place where I was looking ahead, heart open to the world, remembering to glide and toss my hands to the correct level I would loose it and make some ugly, jerking move to keep from falling.  Shrila, who instructed the beginner group, skied with me for a few minutes.  I was so jealous of her balletic smooth movements and incredible level of fitness so more to sooth bruised ego rather than satisfy any actual curiosity I asked her how long she had been Nordic skiing.  “Over twenty years,” she replied. “Good,” I said, “I have been doing this for only a couple of hours.” At that moment I realized I needed to stop comparing my beginner self to experts just like people who are new to yoga in my yoga classes who compare themselves to intermediate or advanced yogis and get frustrated.  We are each on our own path so judging and comparing are a waste of precious energy.

Cross-country is a very aerobic, athletic sport and after two rounds of the course both Prudence and I were done for the day.  My clothing, wet on the outside from falling so many times down the snow covered hill and sweat soaked from the inside from sweating, made a visit to the warm dry tavern  for a glass of red wine a welcome change from the 29 degree snowy outdoors. Several women from the workshop soon joined us and the sisterhood of the Rowdy Yoginis began. Each woman was there to grow in the knowledge of yoga or skiing or both.

I find “seekers” to be the most interesting people.  They always have inspirational stories of travel, their work or their personal lives that teach me something. One woman was a surgeon, one a world traveler who had recently returned from Burma, a small group were celebrating their 50th Birthdays (as were me and Prudence) while another was celebrating her 26 plus year marriage with her husband.

Yummy Stretchy yoga with Evelyn in the evening was much appreciated. I was too tired to attend the screening of a cross-country ski film that night.  I went to bed around 8:30pm where my body began to engage in a war between exhaustion and sore muscles that kept me tossing for an hour until I took a holistic sleeping aid to knock me out. Prudence summed things up when she said, “I am having the realization that I am not twenty any more.” Yup. We have exchanged youth for wisdom and wisdom apparently uses different muscles than cross-country.

We started with yoga in the morning to help us center and prepare our mind/bodies for the day.  I was a little intimidated because we would be out on an actual cross-country trail at Notchview and the image of my embarrassing previous day hill experience was still resonating.  Both Eveylyn and Shrila reminded us to let go of those emotions that were not serving us.  “Set an intention then release expectation,” is what Guru Valma would say.

Notchview is a gorgeous preserved area for all types of Nordic skiing and snowshoeing about 45 minutes from Kripalu.  We took a big yellow school bus there.  Prudence bumped up to the intermediate group which was helpful in curbing my competitive nature.  The beginners spent the first part of the day learning how to go down hills- I only fell once post proper instruction btw. But one woman in our group fell almost constantly.  It seemed she spent as much time not he ground as standing but she had a terrific attitude. She would just pop up with a smile a keep going.  My new idol! This is the attitude I must adapt for dating.

Another indomitable spirit was the assistant to the beginner group, Beth.  Beth is in her 70’s or 80’s and could out energize the Bunny on the battery commercial.  But the best part about Beth is how her inner light beams out of her like rays of warm comforting sunshine.  She is alive. She exudes joy for life like a toddle full of wonder at a first snowfall.

Post lunch which consisted of sandwiches we had packed in the morning, the newbies hit the trail again and did some actual skiing.  Conditions were perfect.  Sunny cloudless skies, 19 degree temps, plenty of snow on professionally groomed trails. The woods looked like a backdrop for a Currier and Ives card with globs of snow topping evergreen branches gently bending them in homage to the season.  Crisp air and the scent of pine needles kissed the senses. Breath became synonymous with movement. The meditation began. Swish, swish, swish, swish in time to inhale, exhale, head up, hands back, stride and glide.

About 3/4’s of the way through my muscles were in such pain I thought I might not make it. But I did. Screaming quads and all.

Yummy stretchy yoga with extended Sivasana saved me from even more discomfort than I can imagine. Then after a sumptuous Kripalu dinner which included wonderful conversation with Evelyn, Shrila , Prudence, in a flash of typical celebratory brilliance, booked down to the local grocery and purchased the best bottle of sparkling wine she could find to toast our birthdays and ski triumphs.  Since ice is unavailable at Kripalu (alcohol consumption is discouraged. Ooops.) and bubbles should be chilled, a trash can was emptied of its plastic bag and filled with snow to fashion an ice bucket.  We crowded onto one of the twin beds in the room, sipped sparkling wine and watched episode 8 of Downton Abbey thoughtfully downloaded from iTunes days before – the perfect apres ski for two middle aged women. During the opening credits, Candace raised her glass, “To the Rowdy Yoginis!” I added, “I hold the vision they have many more enlightening adventures together- or better!”

The next day the group shared about their experiences.  I was so grateful for how supportive everyone had been, cheering me on when I hit the snow, congratulating me when I hit a good stride. Sharing insights, stories and water on the trail. Love was everywhere.

Take aways from the weekend:

1. I checked something off my bucket list. YIPPY!

2. It is important to show compassion for yourself especially when trying something for the first time.

3. It is OK for me to be me and go at my own pace despite what other people do or think.

4. Everyone is our teacher and we are theirs.

5. I made some new Rowdy Yogini friends.

I am in Virginia now.  The 15 inches of snow that fell a few days ago has shrunk to about three and there are many grassy patches now.  The temperature in Charlottesville is predicted to be in the upper 50’s tomorrow.  Winter might be over for us at this point but maybe, if I’m lucky, I can give this new to me sport one more try before the season is over in my geographic area. But even if my new found love for  cross-country skiing has to wait to be expressed until next winter, I can exercise the other love lessons I learned on the trails.

The Mystery of the Coffee Grinds by Brant Huddleston


A Facebook Friend, Brant Huddleston, sent me this essay he wrote about his dating experiences.  I liked it so well and felt it resonated so much with what this blog is about, that I asked him for permission to post it on this blog.


Yesterday I spilled coffee grinds and took it as a sign to publish the following short essay I wrote some time ago. I hope it blesses you my friends.

The Mystery of the Coffee Grinds

“My name is Shari, but it’s pronounced Sherry,” she said over coffee.

“Really?” I said. “I hope you’ll forgive me if I slip up occasionally and call you Shari. My former father-in-law’s eighth wife, and still a good friend of mine, is named ‘Shari’ and pronounced ‘Shari’.”

“Are you serious?! Eight wives?” she said.

And so it begins. Again. I am single. Again. We are on a first date, making small talk, and beginning to explore the mystery of each other that can never be known. I am 57, a grandfather with three daughters and a lifetime of highs and lows, hits and misses, curves and straightaways, loves and love’s lost. I have too many stories to tell, like the one about spilled coffee grinds.

But that story will have to wait, for now it’s introductions and getting the phonetics of one’s name right, and for noting those all-important yellow flags, that could become red flags, that ensure there will not be a second date.

Hmmm, I think. She is wearing sensible shoes. Does that mean she is in denial of her sexuality and will want to fall asleep every night in front of the TV? That might not work for me.

Hmmm, she thinks. He didn’t ask once about my children, but just keeps talking about himself. Does that mean he is another self absorbed narcissist in whose shadow I will become invisible? That won’t work for me.

And so it goes.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of renowned aviator Charles Lindbergh, was a woman who knew something about living in the shadows. In the 1930’s, her husband was perhaps the most well-known person in the world ~ truly one of the first media superstars. But in time Ms. Morrow Lindbergh found her own voice, as a feminist and author, and upon her famous husband’s death had this to say of him: “Only when a tree has fallen can you take a measure of it. It is the same with a man.”

Indeed we are like trees. Our roots go deep and are hidden. Our branches spread wide to the heavens and sway and grow, never the same today as they were yesterday. Who can perceive the whole of us? Every leaf is a story that makes us who we are.

My date does not want to hear all my stories. She has her own to tell, and they are all important. When was the last time she cried, and why? That leaf is found there. What makes her heart truly come alive? That leaf would be found over here. What happened in the marriage? Why didn’t it last? That root is buried and must be uncovered very carefully. Do you believe in God? Climb out to the furthest, highest reaches of my limbs, if you dare, where tender young leaves open to the sun and we will learn together. One can spend a lifetime exploring and still never know it all ~ “to take the full measure of it” ~ as the wise woman said.

What then of coffee grinds?

In 1992, my older brother, a gay man, was given a double death sentence: AIDS and Hepatitis C. In those days there were no miracle cures, and we all knew it. I visited John in the hospital one morning, only to find that during the night, in his fevered throes, he had pulled out his IV. Dried blood was spattered across the walls, floor, and curtains. It looked just like spilled coffee grinds ~ black and crumbly. To this day, when I see them, I think of that moment.

I called for the nurse. “Please clean this up before my mother comes.” 48 hours later my brother was dead. He was just 39 years old.That story ~ that leaf ~ is a complicated one. I was an evangelical Christian in those days, with strong beliefs about heaven and hell. Where would my brother spend eternity? Had I done enough to let him know I loved him? What did I really believe about homosexuality? Independent of what I was being taught by my Christian imams, what was my true, authentic self telling me? Where was my heart in this story?

I have made my peace with these questions, and I have chosen a path of bliss that is not what my teachers wanted, but that is truly my own. I have learned it is far better to know and love one’s truth, one’s authentic self, and to let that person flower with ebullience and impunity, than it is to live a lie that pleases others. Make no apologies for what some might call eccentric or wrong. Make no apologies for who you are, for your eating, for your breathing. Make no apologies for what is right in your own soul, for everything about you is just as it should be.

As for my tree, I am still standing, and I hope, still growing. It will take many more dates with Shari, or Sherry, to explore all her roots, leaves, and branches, and she mine. It will take time, and curiosity, and love. One day my tree will fall onto, and eventually into, the ground, and those who care to can take a full measure of me. But if you have read this far, fellow explorer, then you have already shown me love, for you have made the effort to see coffee grinds the same way I see them. And for that love I thank you and wish you peace.


first shadows: a week of remembrances



It has been a long while since I have been motivated to write.  Mostly because my dating life is nonexistent and work has taken over the hours of  life formerly used to muse about relationships. But this week a string of odd occurrences of firsts or triggers of recollection of firsts was so strange that blowing the dust off this blog space seemed appropriate.

All of you astrologists and numerologists may find it interesting that the events centered around the sixth of February – whatever that is worth- and  much of it has to do with addiction.

Here is what transpired…My mother called me on the 6th to tell me that a childhood friend had died the previous day.  Though, sadly as my life moves through its fat middle, this is not the first friend that has passed on to the next incarnation but some odd coincidences surround it….

My first close friend to leave this life for the next was Lynn Dozier.  I tear up even now remembering him and his tragic life.  He was a smart, good looking boy from a wealthy, loving family who in an effort to escape a pain I will never understand since he seemed to have everything going for him, got into drugs as a teenager, starting with pot (of course) and ending after a few attempts at rehab at age 23 with an overdose of cocaine and god knows what else.  His Birthday, February 6th, remains ingrained in my mind because for many years we celebrated our Birthday’s (mine being February 1st) by going to The Club (The Country Club of Virginia if you live outside of insular Richmond, VA) for a dinner of prime rib then off to the Circus which somehow came to town around that time every year.

Smith, the man my about whom my mother called, was my playmate as a young child.  He was my constant companion from ages 3 to 7, an instigator of mischievous play, co-builder of forts, fellow honey suckle taster and the boy to whom I gave my first kiss at age 4 at the coaxing of his older brothers. I ran into him in my mid-twenties and alcohol and drugs had him in their powerful grip.  I spent one evening with him which I cut short after he insisted on getting high and never saw him again.  Although I have no idea how he spent his days for the last 25 years, I can only surmise by the early timing of his death, that he lost the battle to the substances he abused (hopefully, I am wrong). The sadness that has crept over me is twofold.  First the thought that another friend is too soon gone due to some horrible pain from which they desired easy escape through synthetic mind alteration and secondly the obliteration of a piece of my own childhood. Sometimes knowing the beginning and end of one’s story is depressing. Once my mother asked Smith what he wanted to be when he grew up and his answer was, “Well, all I have is a Superman suite.”  The finality of the end  of that Super Hero potential has had me breaking down into periodic sobs over the last 36 hours.

This week also marked another sorrowful first- listening to the first friend to discover that their child is abusing and dealing drugs. The middle of life has shifted me to the other side of this issue.  I am no longer the untried teenager trying to understand a peer’s fascination with drugs and watching their parent’s futile efforts to change the situation.  I am now on the adult side listening to the desperation of a scared, confused father who lacks the support of other important parties. Adding to my heartbreak, I fear that this person, who has rolled eyes and mocked those in search of emotional and spiritual enlightenment, is completely unready to take this opportunity to grow as an individual and a family. I also know that dedication to emotional and spiritual growth is the only path that affords a snowball’s chance in hell of turning the child’s life around. It will take work.  Hard soul- searching, time-consuming, behavior-changing, faith-building, walk-through-the-fires-of- your-deepest-fears-and-learn-to-let-go- of -deep-rooted- elements-of-self-that-no-longer-serve kind of work that most people in our culture simply don’t want to bother with. In this situation, as in all situations, I could only offer to help when they are ready and drop the topic.

So what does this have to do with act of finding a mate?

These situations usher in the opportunity for self exploration.

It is interesting to examine how substance abusers have played important roles throughout my life.  Two alcoholic husbands, many dear friends- most of them amazingly talented artists or ridiculously wealthy and some close family members. I am grateful that my own spiritual path has provided the tools to recognize these people and maintain a loving detachment which best serves both parties.  Detachment from expectation is also a good tool when dealing with substance abusers or meeting potential mates.

My dear friend who will be called “Pat” for the purpose of anonymity, has just started dating again after the end of a 23 year marriage.  She is gleefully embracing meeting lots of new men via an online dating site in her new home town (she just made a cross-country move to fulfill a lifelong personal wish). I, of course, have trepidations about meeting people online (for those of you who are just starting this blog there are some doozies about my online dating escapades which make my feelings understandable – click here for first post, date 1, date 2, date 3 pt 1 and date 3 pt 2.) but my friend’s open attitude rather shames me.  She says, “I am just meeting people with no expectations and am having a blast doing it.” There’s the rub.  The expectations thing.  Perhaps online dating didn’t work for me because I had expectations or hopes that I would meet someone with whom I could have a long term relationship instead of just meeting people. Maybe when I pursued that avenue I was too raw, too needy or something.  Perhaps I was unready to just be me and release the pressure of finding “the right guy”.


There are two more firsts in this premier week of the year of the Horse:

I ran into the first man to ever  to fill my ears with the words, “My wife just doesn’t understand me.”  Those words, if you have yet to read my posts about married men and the pursuit of other women, are commonly used to introduce the concept of an extramarital sexual tryst. My reaction at the time of first hearing was one of verbal sympathy and no other action and  to his credit, the man did not pursue a physical relationship after that. But it was the beginning of a decades long trend of hearing that line from the lips of cowards who may or may not actually feel alienated from their spouses but are moved to see how far they can get with the woman in front of them.  Those words  have been so oft repeated by such a variety of married men that  the mere utterance of them ignites an inner amusement. I now understand the translation to be  “Since I am misunderstood at home, perhaps you could make me feel better by having sex with me,” and I am able to laugh at the commonality and simply offer up the name of a good psychotherapist.  During our conversation the other day, I noted the gold band still in place on Mr. Misumderstood’s  left finger.  “Well, she must understand something about him because they are still married 20 years later,” I though, happy to have dodged that bullet of certain misery so many years ago.

The last first is a pleasant one.  For the first time I noticed, with some prodding from a good friend, a handsome, single man with whom I have lots in common.  We have been Facebook friends for many years and yet, I was unconscious of him. I guess I just wasn’t ready to notice. Like the person who walks through a park every day for years and fails to see a beautiful tree  until the day they trip over its roots while messaging on their smartphone. Then, suddenly, a as they stare up at said tree from the viewpoint of the of  the ground underneath it, the magnificence of the tree is revealed for the first time.

We have scheduled a time to meet for tea and while I am excited to meet a kindred spirit, I am being careful to curb expectations of romance.  My feeling is that with so much in common I can,  at minimum, be assured of at  gaining a good friend- which is a  welcomed prospect.