cultivating the watcher

Once upon a time, I misidentified and
sowed into an entity
of another name
maybe we’ll call her the migrant stranger
or
the “dreamer”

the one
who labels
and partitions
she toils
in dusty clay
a sluggish and
sleepy pasture
the tares flourishing
all the while

easily damaged
by a stiff breeze
or errant plow
not known for stability or maturity
the remains imploring to be
fertilized
reconstructed

till the soil
near the iron ore
chain link!
now there’s a sturdy
framework
from which to hang
your worry
anger
and cowardice

But I live and reap in the field
of both weed and wheat

truth and pestilence

all is coming
without expectation of harvest

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How yoga got me a pink slip

And I am NOT sour grapes.

I needed to be pushed out of the nest.  I had grown really comfortable teaching in prison. Every Tuesday for over a year, I taught two meditation classes at a nearby medium security facility.  The men were always open, appreciative, honest and occasionally raw.  This combination made for a sacred circle that allowed for our most authentic selves to show up.

I am not really surprised that  my badge was pulled for practicing some yoga poses. After all, there is a very real resistance in the world that operates in opposition  to light.  Its energy is much stronger in prison environs.

The week before I had made a bold proclamation and shared about it on my blog:

“I arrive home every Tuesday at 1p.m.

Home away from home for me is a federal prison where I teach mindfulness meditation.

I always say a prayer as I enter. It’s not always the same, but it is often “Bless us that we might do your will” or “Thank you for using me to be your presence here today”.

Today I felt strongly that I should boldly proclaim how grateful I am for having the greatest job in the world. I do not say this lightly.  18 men gather to sit in stillness with intention, week after week.  On a few other occasions, I  have proclaimed that God loves them, forgives them and wants to draw their hearts closer. I express my confidence that mindfulness meditation creates a safe space for feelings to arise in order to heal past hurts done by and to them.


I call my practice my time with the Divine Therapist.

Today I looked these men in the eyes one by one and from my sincerest space within, I said, “My job is to have you see yourself as God sees you when you look at me.  It’s reciprocal too.  I see myself as God sees me when I look at you.”

 It’s a beautiful thing.”

I was choosing to spend more and more time behind the walls.  Why you ask?  Well, I am coming to realize that  I am my most authentic self there.  I pray to be of service and so I act with clarity of intention.  I have no one to impress. There are no ulterior motives. I am not hiding behind a persona. I have no history with these people.  I may never see them again after this class is completed and therefore there are no expectations of a future relationship.

I am driving over the Ben Franklin bridge the day I learn that I’ve been fired and the metaphor is not lost on me as I hear in my heart, “You have given us everything you had to give. We are ready. Go out into the world and shine your Light. You will be awesome!”.  The men seemed to be speaking somehow through my intuition that the next step in my journey would be powerful and again life-altering. Clarity around what the future holds feels exciting because I had made some declarations at a Jen Pastiloff manifestation retreat with 40 women in the Catskills two weeks earlier.

I had been serving without hopes of anything in return. And yet, I received everything.
It was  in a chapel behind barbed wire that  I experienced  incomparable beauty in a place deemed by much of the world  as ugly and forgotten.   It was there that I realize I am hiding from the world. I am hiding my talents and gifts behind those walls, in a cozy nest of my own creation.  I now know that “home” is where the heart is, is not just a quaint saying.  It’s profound truth fills me to overflowing.

rockstar roadie

Rockstar Roadie


Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down.”

– Kahlil Gibran
Yoga has this magical way of turning jealousy on it head. When I see someone doing something I admire, I now say to myself “Well look at me over there! I’m so clever, open-hearted and successful!”

Somehow while I was recently on a yoga retreat weekend at Kripalu, I stepped onto a treadmill set to full speed and it was days before I got up the courage to hop off.
Have you heard of these manifestation/ make shit happen workshops?  Forty or so women gather for less than 48 hours, strangers bonding into fast friends over trauma -sharing and vulnerability exercises. Most of us had seen the Brene Brown TED talk on the topic.

Jen Pastiloff is a gifted facilitator, listener, writer and intuitive. Through a well-orchestrated sequence of yoga to exhaust the physical body, followed by writing prompts, she dares us to dig deep and face self.  An interesting writing exercise that stands out to me was when Jen asked us to write down what other people say about us, what we say about ourselves and what is the TRUTH about us.  I wrote “I’m becoming” about myself and that basically matched the TRUTH about me which is that I am a beautiful child of God.  For me, this was extraordinarily powerful because in that moment I realized I no longer looked to the outside world for acceptance or affirmation (or so I thought, the Universe had other plans for this Buddhist-practicing Christian ). 
One by one the walls came down and women’s hearts were breaking open, allowing in love and light.  It was a beautiful and  inspirational experience.  So many women expressed deep healing that they were not even aware they needed.
I was no exception.  I am at a complete loss to explain why I wrote, then shared the things that I did. 

When asked what I wanted breakthrough on, I said something like “I don’t know why, but I think I could do what you do”.  It was kind of like an out of body experience:

Me talking, locking eyes with  this raven-haired, bad-ass of a woman  and verbalizing such boldness. Some might even call me cocky. But let me explain: Jen is hard of hearing and thus, she crouches down inches from your face and without saying a word, her energy emanates the message “SPEAK YOUR TRUTH, WOMAN!”  That, combined with the fierce honesty of the 40 ‘unapologetically awesomes(one woman dubbed our group with this title!), somehow draws out language from a far-away and previously silent hidden place .
Listen, I teach yoga and meditation in prisons. I am familiar with a certain level of boldness and fearlessness. However, this is my calling and I have a certain  ease around it.  I can’t imagine NOT teaching mindfulness to the incarcerated.  It’s a similar environment to a Jen Pastiloff experience : unlike the real world, there is an honesty and vulnerability in the room that leaves space for… YUP!  you guessed it…
GOD
To wrap up, Jen had everyone ask the Universe, or their boss, or their husband for what they really need.  She wanted us to leave the weekend empowered and emboldened.  Yes, we are all talented, unique, intelligent women and the world needs us to shine forth sharing our gifts.  You probably won’t believe what I wrote down.  Who do I think I am anyhoo??  It didn’t matter, she wasn’t going to call on me- I told myself as she appeared to be winding to a close. BUT then, something shifted in her and she decided she would ask all 40 of us to share what we wanted from LIFE. She reminded us we should NEVER EVER be afraid to ask for what we want.
Then there she was- piercing hazel eyes, flowing shiny hair, dazzling bright smile inches from my face asking me to share with the entire group what I’d written: “What do you,  Anita Brown,  want to  ask for? “
I hesitated for a split second and then decide- she did ask for honesty, boldness and my personal TRUTH. Who am I to deny her this request..out with it already!!
“Jen, could I assist you on one of your upcoming retreats?” I calmly query.
What the What??  Who does this kind of thing…putting a woman on the spot who’s motto in life is “When you’re at the end of  your life and you are asked- what have you done?  I want to respond, I have done LOVE!
Why the heck did I ask her this?  My mind is racing… I begin explaining “I don’t know what that would look like”.   She calmly replies, “I’m sorry I hesitated.  Yes, of course. I always need assistance for one thing or another”.  She’s gracious and authentic and willing. Special…
But me?I’m just a regular, middle-aged mom/poet who  practices  self-observation and contemplative exploration that I will call inquiry.  I am learning to live in the relaxed condition  of simply “being” without interference from feelings of inadequacy, drivenness toward goals, and struggling to figure things out.. BLAH BLAH BLAH…But here I am five  days later, having lost my center, worried more about “doing” than “being“; completely and utterly looking to the outside world for my next step. And then I remember Pema Chodron’s words  from When Things Fall Apart:    “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”  

The woman is a genius.  

You might ask how do I know when I’ve regained my center.  It’s mostly when I stop believing the hype– and that goes for swings in either direction.  It feels like equanimity.

My stomach is in knots and my monkey mind is on auto-pilot as:
– I worry what gifts I have to share with  women who go on manifestation/make shit happen retreats in faraway, exotic locales.
-I worry that Jen and the 40 ‘unapologetically awesomes’  think I want something for nothing.
 I worry that my integrity is in question and that she is angry I put her on the spot and she wishes she could have politely said “no thanks”.
Then, I notice I am subtly or not so subtly (in my own head) competing and comparing myself with this wizard of a woman…cray cray, I know.  I certainly did not plan to be this bold…
I’m blaming God and maybe Pema Chodron….
post script:  this manifestation/make shit happen stuff actually works.  In our first session at Kripalu last week I wrote this on a sticky note: “Success around publishing my poetry/get invited to a spoken word event in NYC”.  A random woman chose it to send me good energy as part of Jen’s magic formula.  I’ll bet you can guess what I was invited to 3 days later…
post post script:  I am no longer in a place of worry because as Jen reminded us at least one dozen times, “If you knew Who walked beside you at all times on this path which you have chosen, you would never experience neither fear nor doubT”.  

My bold, straightforward statement to the men behind the walls

I arrive home every Tuesday at 1p.m.

Home away from home for me is a federal prison where I teach mindfulness meditation.

I always say a prayer as I enter. It’s not always the same, but it is often “Bless us that we might do your will” or “Thank you for using me to be your presence here today”.

Today I felt strongly that I should boldly proclaim how grateful I am for having the greatest job in the world. I do not say this lightly.  18 men gather to sit in stillness with intention, week after week for over a year now.  On a few other occasions, I  have proclaimed that God loves them, forgives them and wants to draw their hearts closer. I express my confidence that mindfulness meditation creates a safe space for feelings to arise in order to heal past hurts done by and to them.

I call my practice my time with the Divine Therapist.

Today I looked these men in the eyes one by one and from my sincerest space within, I said, “My job is to have you see yourself as God sees you when you look at me.  It’s reciprocal too.  I see myself as God sees me when I look at you.”

 It’s a beautiful thing.