Your (My) True Calling

I had so much success with last year’s projects prompted by Quest 2016, that I’ve decided to do it again. Join us at

Today’s prompt is from Krista Tippett (1). As the host of On Being, she challenges us regularly to consider the mysteries of human existence.

“What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?”

In 2009, when I started this blog, it was titled, “On The Quest: A Woman in Love with The World” (or something to that effect). But the world is a difficult thing to love. It is messy, and complicated, and prone to violence. People are even harder, especially in groups.

For a long time, I doubted. I wrote sideways, and obliquely, and worried that people would think I was daft, or naive, or merely uninformed. But I still have this deep pull in my heart toward what Charles Eisenstein calls, “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know Is Possible.”

I was, to be honest, in love with The Universe, in the abstract, more than the world in all its complexity. With cosmology, with physics, with philosophy. I love ideas. I love an elegant turn of phrase, and the challenge of grappling with a new worldview.


Yet I also came to know that people don’t experience the world in the abstract. We experience it subjectively, through bodies and minds that are entangled with the messiness, but trying to make sense of it at the same time. It is beauty and pattern, chaos and connection, tragedy and ecstasy, all at once. Sometimes, everything lines up, and sometimes it all comes crashing down around you.

And meanwhile, you still have to eat.

For the last couple of years, my subtitle has been, “Experiments in Living with Uncertainty.” I’ve adopted many many worldviews over the years, because to truly understand something (even if I ultimately reject it), I felt that I needed to see what the world looked like from inside this perspective.

I’ve been on an exploration of spiritual practices, while, in parallel, trying to figure out the question of Right Livelihood. This is an astonishingly difficult problem, this livelihood (especially in the light of spiritual practices). How do we make something of ourselves, maintain our ability to eat and stay warm, participate in our communities, flourish rather than merely survive, and do so in ways that don’t adversely impact the ability of others to access their own deep paths?

In the midst of this prompt, fearing that this blog post would take the rest of my week, I recorded this video:

I may not know you (yet), but I want your life to be amazing.

I want you to feel fulfilled, and connected, and loved. I want you to look in the mirror and see the beauty of creation. I want the trees in your yard to bear abundant fruit, the air in your community to be clean, and the water in your rivers to sparkle. I hope for your relationships to be replenishing, and your quest for meaning to be just challenging enough.

I want you to be whole.

I want to be whole. I want to live in a world full of people who are whole. I want to live in a Whole World. I want to do everything in my power to bring that about.


1. who happens to have the same last name as my paternal grandmother, and the great-grandmother after whom I was partially named, and therefore I wonder whether we are related


My Imaginary Life

We always held that books contain ideas, and ideas need air to survive.


I come from a long line of wandering tinker/librarians. We roamed from town to town in our horse-drawn wagons full of books, bringing the mysteries of life to all who needed them. It was a non-agrarian life, but we were well-versed in the ways of machinery, and each village we stopped in was delighted to see us. They brought their small appliances that needed repair, and we were also provided with ample food and drink, not only for our stays, but to tide us over on the road. In the evenings we put on shows and readings, and hosted great conversations on the meaning of life.

We operated our library on a one-in, one-out policy, so we had an ever-rotating supply of books, and people competed to tell the most compelling story about the book they had just contributed. We kept these stories on file to share with the next reader, and those files provided threads of connection all throughout the land. Sometimes when we stopped in a city we would pick up 20 copies of the same book, knowing it was wanted in many places. We tried not to leave too many copies in one place, so that neighbours would move the books around rather than leaving them to gather dust. We always held that books contain ideas, and ideas need air to survive.

The hardest part of growing up was having to leave. Our tribe had a strict policy of sending its young people into the world to explore and try other things before we were permitted to take up a permanent position in the tribe. (I realized later that this was partly to bring in new blood… there were remarkably many people in the broader world who were enchanted enough to marry into this way of life.)

I couldn’t quite bring myself to settle down, so I signed on with an ocean-going exploration as a kitchen assistant. When they discovered that I had the ability to “talk to” machines (really, I could just read mechanisms the same way I could read a book), I was quickly moved out of the kitchen and into the mechanics’ crew. It was grand, except for the fact that I became seasick one day in three, and the sleep schedule disagreed with me. Bu the end of three months, I was desperate to get back ashore, and since my “job” was to see-the-world, I allowed myself to be put ashore in a far-off sandy realm where I did not speak the language.

No matter; the laws of machines are unvarying even if their forms are diverse, and I could negotiate repairs-for-food (and housing!) even if I didn’t get a lot of choice in what I ate while starting out. My sojourn in the sandy lands was longer than I planned; by the time five years had passed, I found myself once again literate enough (in my new tongue) to be known as a writer of some repute… People took great pride in having their machines repaired by the author of, “Seven Weeks Lost, Ten Years Found.”

I’ve always intended to return to the tribe of my youth, but the warm, dry land agrees with me, and I haven’t yet steeled myself against the months of illness. Perhaps I shall send them a contribution for their libraries by merchant ship. And one of these cunning machines as a gift…

This is an exercise from Barbara Sher’s year-long club for Scanners. I liked the outcome so much I decided to share it. Any resemblance etc.

What’s all this Yoga For, Then?

“Yoga is Self-Illuminating”  – me, feelin’ right proud of meself. Ironically.

I have lost track of the number of times I have heard a sentence that started with the word, “What yoga is really about is… ”

Of course, each of those sentences ended with something different. Also, (as I suspected), the more I study, the more I realize that there isn’t a correct way to end the sentence.

Saying, “Yoga is about…” is kind of like saying, “Western medicine is about… ” or, “Philosophy is about… ” (1) The word “yoga” points to an enormous world of practices, thought, philosophy, and ethics – many of which are internally inconsistent. Also, what has been brought into the mainstream tends to draw from only a small portion of this world, often superficially, and then say, “This is what it’s all about!”

I have over here (next to my left hand), a book titled, “How to Know God,” which is a translation and illumination of the Patnajali Sutras. These are a poetic summary of teachings that date back to ~ 400 CE. I also just finished reading The Science of Yoga, Hell-Bent, and a book simply called, Hatha Yoga in the same week. The first takes a look at the physical challenges and outright dangers of the practice of bending one’s body into extreme positions, as well as benefits that have been replicated in scientific studies. The second includes the words, “competitive yoga” in the sub-title, and takes place almost entirely inside the Bikram school. (It made me very glad that I didn’t fall into the hot yoga… um… soup?) It was a compelling and terrifying story in equal measure. And the third took a look at the origins of Hatha, while choosing in the end to focus on the less-controversial forms of asana (what most modern students consider “yoga”),

That is to say, my title is misleading.

Yoga is neither “for” nor “about” something. Yoga is… well, I use the words, “self-illuminating.” By which I mean, “The practices reveal their own purpose. That is, you have to do it to get it.” (2)

It is a vast and contested space.

So the only thing I can do is tell you, “This is the current state of my own yoga practice, this is why I do it this way, and these are the things I have been taught that have turned out to make a difference for me.”


Most North American yoga classes are focused almost entirely on posture. Maybe a bit of breathing. We shall do a sequence of poses, bend this way and that, get some exercise, and call it yoga. Is it?

Arguably, no. (Other people argue yes. [citation needed])

But it’s still useful, and I would argue, a good idea. Maybe. If you do it right. (You can really hurt yourself if you do it wrong.)

At its most basic, the difference between asana and calisthenics is how much attention you pay to them. “Bend down and touch your toes.” or “Bend forward from the hips (not the waist), stretch through the crown and, if you can do so without curving through the lower back, place your hands upon the floor… ” “… here are some ways that you can find the maximum extension without over-straining.” “Go only as far as is appropriate for your body today. If that’s different than it was yesterday, just take note. Be gentle with yourself.”

I don’t teach “flow” yoga. Before I taught yoga, I taught physics. In my mind, I can see force diagrams where other people see… well. I don’t know what other people see, because I learned to draw force diagrams when I was a teenager, and I don’t remember not being able to see that.

As a result, I can see things going wrong in flow yoga, over and over. I see people whose joints are misaligned then trying to bear weight on those joints, roll through an unfamiliar range of motion repeatedly, and I don’t know how to stop them from doing that. So I won’t teach flow practices, even though I enjoy them from time to time. (Maybe after a few more years of sun salutations?)

What I do teach is one pose at a time. One joint, stacked on another. Pay attention to the right hand without losing track of the left. Where is your foot? Have you forgotten that you have a forehead? Are you breathing? Is it comfortable? Are you holding tension where you don’t need to?

My goal is that you use your time on the mat to become aware of these intelligent edges so that when you are in the middle of picking up a box when somebody calls to you from the next room, your awareness stays where it belongs (in your body) and you don’t overtwist, overbend, or drop the box on your foot. Attention must be paid! (I know, I know. Completely out of context. But, still.)


Now, asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. I’m not even going to start down the other seven limbs… hey! Yoga is an octopus! (3)

OK. Setting aside the yoga octopus and the inevitable demise of my career… if yoga is really “about” anything, it is in the second verse of the Patanjali Sutras: yogash chitta vritti nirodhah “Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind.” (From the translation I mentioned earlier.)

As one of my asana instructors put it, you get into the mind to get into the body to get into the mind.

But the key here is that the body isn’t the point. It’s the tool. There’s so much more to be gained, here… but you should probably come to one of my classes to find that out!

hatha yoga print

  1. I’m having a bit of trouble with this analogy… got any suggestions that encompass, “A broad and disputed field of both study and practice that incorporates a range of different ontological positions and concomitant technologies”?
  2. Also, I now note, it illuminates the Self, which is a happy poetical moment. (I love those.)
  3. I’m so getting disbarred. Or excommunicated. Or whatever it is that yoga does to you.