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Monthly Archives: March 2016

That Fishy Learning Curve

Two and a half years ago, David and I began building a garden. This was a symbolic thing for us because we are beyond the stage where, as a newlywed couple, we’d start a family and bring new life (children) into the world. Mutual history and life experiences are what  plant deep roots in a couple’s history and over time, this vested interest makes it worthwhile to stay together when things aren’t perfect. The garden was our first unique creation as a team, and while the creativity of the project was fun, the planning, budgeting, and learning to work together and problem solving together was the real gift.

David broke ground to establish the basic design, determining that the primary focus of the garden was going to be a pond in the center. With the help of a bulldozer, he dug  a huge hole in the middle of our grassy stretch of lawn, and then he added a liner, rocks, plants, a waterfall and a hand engineered filter system. After a few months of letting the water rest and the plants get established, we invested 450 dollars (which felt like a fortune) on 7 hand picked, mature fish – one for each Chakra since our garden was going to be designed to celebrate the energetic body. I had a great time picking those fish out of hundreds on display, and when David got home from work that day, we sat outside pointing out the varied differences of each fish – both in color and personality. The fish adjusted well and lived happily – proof that we were on the right track and knew what we were doing.

Every morning, we took our coffee out into the garden to inspect how all our new, smallish plants were growing in to fill in each chakra area. We brainstormed ideas – arbors, or Chakra mosaic stones, to keep the garden evolving.  But no matter what new plantings we set out to inspect each day, we always began our  morning visit standing on the bridge that David made, feeding our koi. We loved how they would come to the surface to eat, showing off their brilliant color. A few short months after introducing our new fish to the pond, we noticed a few baby koi too. Now our fish acquisition exceeded the actual number of energy centers, but we considered these surprise fish to be the minor chakras since these fish were smaller anyway. We looked for the new fish each morning, marveling at how quickly they grew. Once in a great while, a heron would manage to spike a koi from the sidelines, and we’d find one of our beloved fish on the gravel next to the pond, dead. It was always frustrating since the fish were way too big for a bird to consume -the death was a waste, but that is the way of nature.

Koi are notoriously dirty fish, and as the months progressed, the pond got cloudier and dirty. David changed the design of his filter more than once. We hired someone to come and clean the pond last spring.  An expensive proposition, but a fair investment since we so love this pond and our symbolic fish. Even with a professional cleaning, the water never got as clean as it once was, and the koi became all but invisible to visitors – except us, who got to see them in that early morning time when they came to the surface to feed.

So, I began complaining. I wanted everyone to see and enjoy our huge, colorful fish. David tried changing the koi food, and tampering with the filters. He even started designing a unique and original koi pond cleaner that would run all the time, like a pool cleaner. He talked about  patenting the concept and design and manufacturing the product when and if he ever had a workable model.

As this spring approached, the dirty pond seemed all that much dirtier juxtapositioned next to the great blooms erupting everywhere. With filled yoga trainings, people are out there, enjoying the garden constantly,  so I amped up my complaints about the state of the pond water. It has been murky for over a year now, and I fully expect my brilliant, engineering husband to figure a way to get it back in balance.

So this week, David (always devoted to my happiness) decided to take some time to clean out that pond once and for all and to redesign the filter again to keep the pond clear.

He thought on the task awhile, then decided to siphon the water from the bottom where all the gunk is, and put new water on top, thus maintaining the level. This was similar to what the fellow did who specializes on cleaning koi ponds, only that guy took a full day to do the job. David considers himself far more economical with time and resources, so he figured a way to do the same work in only a few hours.

So he set up the system and went to Home depot to get some supplies for another job he had in mind to do. I was in the garden taking pictures and I noticed all the fish started hanging around the surface (pictures above). That looked “fishy” to me, so I called him and said that perhaps the koi were struggling to breathe, and he should reconsider his pond cleaning strategy. David insisted that things were fine, he was only doing what the pond specialist did, and he would be back in a little while to finish the job. Trusting that David usually has a grip on the science of any project, I went back to work on my computer and forgot about the fish.

Within two hours, David came home only to find all of our koi – 14 gorgeous, decorative fish (some two feet in length) floating belly up. Goners. David flipped out and quickly used a net to transfer the huge fish to another pond we have, where he hoped the natural balanced water might revive those fish who still were moving slightly. But this just meant they said goodbye to the world in a slightly bigger body of water, because in the morning they were all floating belly up on the surface, their brilliant color glistening in the sun.

David really expect them to survive by the move, but he couldn’t see a live creature struggle and do nothing. He couldn’t sleep all night, wrestling with guilt and wanting to kick himself for his mistake.  Of course, the fact that I called him with the warning and voiced concern made it worse. David also felt badly that he had brushed off my practical concerns. For me, the call just meant I was absolved of guilt and could shrug and say, “Well…. I told you it didn’t look right…”.

I told David that losing the fish was sad, but they are, after all, only fish and that I’ve done worse. I once cooked 58 baby chicks in an attempt to set up an incubator light to keep them cozy….(a chapter from my “new, soon to be released” book for anyone who wants the nitty gritty on this admirable moment in Ginny history). David pointed out that they may be just fish, but they were symbolic, expensive fish, and important to us.

But if there is one thing living 57 years and studying yoga has taught me, it’s that the only meaning anything has is the meaning we assign. I’m certainly sorry all our koi are dead. But at the same time, I have the opportunity to see the symbolism differently. I do not have to mourn or suffer the “what if” or “if only…” that tortures us when things don’t go our way. I don’t need to feed a personal drama or use this moment to tell my husband he should listen to me more. I can accept what has happened gracefully and apply what we’ve learned to my personal wisdom.

Yes, we loved our fish and each day the responsibility of feeding them gave David and I a joint activity that connected us to the garden and each other. But making mistakes is a part being a couple too, and accepting that rituals and daily habits come and go as life throws us curve balls is a sign that we adapt – and how nice it has been to see we don’t turn on each other with “I told ya so’s” or “you should’a’s”  when we are disappointed. As such, the death of the fish is almost as symbolic as their surviving had been. The fish don’t mater half as much as how we, as a couple, deal with their life, death, and impact on the story that makes up our history.

So what now? David is studying pond filters, and we have time to drain the pond and start over. And when we feel ready, we will start again with some new fish – economical smaller koi since I now know that they grow over a foot a year here. There can be meaning in how we revisit the problem this time around too if I look hard enough.

On the night the koi died, David opened a beer, signed and said (kiddingly), “I suppose my murdering the fish will be a nice chapter in your next book. The world will know how thick I am in regards to the fish learning curve…”

A chapter in my next memoir – hummmm – I doubt it,  but this fish tale certainly will make it into a blog. After all, death, mistakes, good intentions and the lessons we learn from daily life is the stuff worth examining- doing so is how we plants roots.

My Garden of Yoga


It’s that time of year when Heartwood is in bloom. Each day I marvel when I walk into the garden and see a swatch of color that wasn’t there the day before. While I was sleeping, one plant or another has reached that pivotal stage where it is ready to open and, suddenly, a flower is before me, revealing deep levels of beauty and a familiar design that, if I look closely enough, is unique from all others. I know witnessing this beauty is fleeting, so being in this time and place to see nature unfold humbles me and I am honored to have had the exposure to something so intimate and remarkable as this act of a single flower evolving to a state of grandeur .

I walk pass these flowers, smiling at their beauty-enjoying how pretty they are, and yet, even so, because I have a certain expectation about what I will find in the garden each spring day, I am never surprised by the arrival of blooms. Blooming is what flowers do this time of year, right? So, even in my state of gratitude, on some level, I still take the beauty for granted. I am enjoying flowers, yet missing the true depth of the miracle of seeing a flower bloom. In the picture above (which I took a few moments ago), there is a bee on the flower to the right. Looking at the image, did you notice this extra detail, or did you see only the expected, pretty spring flower?

Like flowers, yoga students bloom. They come to Heartwood to learn. I teach them all the elements of yoga that they are required to master to be certified by Yoga Alliance. I try to go deeper and add even more poignant elements in the training with hopes that a more expansive program will help the lessons of yoga infiltrate into their hearts and minds and embed deeply within. When this happens a subtle (or not so subtle) transformation occurs. Thanks to the universal science of cause and effect, the evolution of a yoga student inevitably means that the entire world shifts a little bit because this student will now go forth and interact with others in a more yogic way. Their life choices shift a bit, and the steps they take from this point on land somewhat off of the course they might have walked without the yoga experience affecting their gait. Everything – the entire world- is different after just one person embraces yoga in an authentic way because each and every one of us impacts every person, place and thing we encounter in life. And how we encounter others makes a difference. And this in turn affects how those individuals will encounter others and so on and so on…

I am a pretty good yoga teacher, or so I like to think. Therefore, this inevitable blooming of a student’s heart and mind never surprises me– like flowers in spring. Together, we have put in time and effort to explore yoga so, naturally, they are destined to evolve. I’m deeply honored to be a part of this process, but even so, to some extent, I take for granted that each of my students will transform and bloom, so I’m not particularly surprised by this  happening. As the yoga training course comes to an end, the students often profess that something profound has happened in their world, and I smile knowingly, as if to say, “Yea, that is how it goes….”

I must take care, least I miss noticing that small something special that is happening under the obvious, because, just like my flowers, witnessing a yoga student unfolding in beauty and understanding is an exquisite work of nature worthy of deeper attention. If I take for granted that every student is simply going to be more yogic, I don’t notice the remarkable detail that might be right in front of my eyes – the unique and individual new yogic identity that has suddenly manifested and is unlike all others. I don’t want to just see a beautiful flower, and I certainly don’t want to see it through the eyes of a gardener taking credit for his or her green thumb – I rather look closely enough to notice the bee on the flower and ponder the miracle that the act of a blooming truly is.

Each student’s time at Heartwood is fleeting, and after we have enjoyed our time learning together, it is appropriate they move on to other places where students of their own await their influence. I always feel a little let down when my students graduate, for I miss what they add to the place while they are here, just as I miss the flowers when the seasons change. I am a gardener, and without me and all my hard work, I guess I could boast that there would be no flowers on our property, and yet, I can’t really take credit for the beauty of these flowers. Each plant has a life, a color and something special to add to the environment – and though I get all sweaty nurturing, feeding, pruning and exposing my plants to sun and water- they really bloom only when and if nature determines they should.  I can’t take credit for that. So I endeavor to do the one thing I can – witness, marvel and truly celebrate the miraculous process of a flower – or a student-  coming into their own. To watch things bloom is amazing, and just knowing you play a small part in the process is very special indeed.

Here is what I saw blooming today at Heartwood.

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Bloom in Grace

Many months ago, perusing garden supplies on some website, I came across copper words that are meant to be attached to a post or wall. They offered a large selection , but only a few seemed to fit our garden theme, so I bought the words “Bloom” , “In” and “Grace”.

When they arrived I enthusiastically showed them to David and told him I didn’t know if I should hang them to read “Bloom in Grace” or “Grace in Bloom.” Considering the fact that a Chakra Meditation Garden is designed to promote deeper reflection and a more enriching inner experience, both sentences would be appropriate.

David smiled and told me he had an idea so I wouldn’t have to choose. The words were stacked on the kitchen counter for a few weeks, getting in the way of our cooking, so I moved them outside to the porch where an ever growing stack of “to do” projects seemed to land. Eventually, I tucked them away in a box and one day, while cleaning the porch, they ended up being carted to the barn to be stored with all the other artsy things I plan to get to when I have time. I promptly forgot those garden décor pieces because life just got busy and something as lovely as playfully decorating the garden just doesn’t rise to the surface of my consciousness when the real life chores of weeding, mulching, pruning and making a living to support the garden is pulling at my brain.

But yesterday, David was cleaning the barn and organizing things and he must have stumbled upon those words, because at the end of the day, he invited  me to the garden to “see something he did for me…”

He recently made a  new arch to enhance one of the meditation benches that I felt seemed a bit plain and needing inspiration. I planted a beautiful orange trumpet vine at the two bases which is just now making its way up and towards the top. I suspect soon the vine covered  arch will be a gorgeous frame for this meditation spot. And there from the center point was a mobile he’d crafted with the words hanging from a piece of wood that rotates with the wind. The words are attached with rotating fixtures that allow them to twirl in place even while rotating as well.

IMG_0655IMG_0658Now, the words float in the wind and they read “Bloom in Grace” Or “Grace in Bloom”, depending on which way the wind is blowing . Sometimes the words are backwards or twirling too, which is a metaphor for how we find those moments of peace (fleeting even when we are present) too. You have to be patient and wait if you want to read the message lined up in a certain order.

It is spring and the garden is on the brink of exploding with flowers and new growth. Everything seems fresh, young and eager to emerge. I suppose soon I’ll be complaining about the heat and the dry conditions and the way certain plants threaten to take over my garden as they grow out of proportion and in whatever direction they wish. But now, everything seems to have just woken from a long sleep, and the plants are just stretching and yawning and waving good morning. I love the way the garden is never the same on any given day. Anything alive is destined to change, grow and someday fade – ourselves included. It’s important we all remember that and pause to appreciate how things are now – and even if our attempts to get in perfect alignment seems like aiming for a fleeting, moving target – to “ bloom in grace” – is always a possibility if we are patient and let the wind blow us where it will.

Creating the Labyrinth

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This week, David and I finally finished creating a labyrinth at Heartwood. We’ve been talking about building one ever since we bought this 7 ½ acre property two and a half years ago. We originally thought we’d make the path out of some kind of affordable landscaping, but after our wedding venue adventure collapsed and we dismantled our event tent, we found ourselves with a beautiful large slab just begging to be used for something special. I doubt we’d ever allocate so much in the way of resources to making a permanent labyrinth this size on such a beautiful surface were it not for the unexpected shift in our business plans, but somehow, this project was meant to be. A labyrinth is a metaphor for life with all the turns and unexpected shifts of direction you take on your path to get to your center – so the very creation of this project is an example of what the labyrinth is here to teach us. In our case, we built a retreat center with one expectation, then responded to innocent requests from a few students that somehow lead us to hosting weddings (a different expectation), and less than a year later, another twist demands we go a different direction yet again. Life is unpredictable and all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow your life’s path trusting you will eventually be lead to the core of your existence.

I first got a hankering for a labyrinth from an image I saw on a monthly e-mail from a center for journal therapy that I very much admire. I was impressed by the picture and the attached message about the power of the labyrinth for personal awakening as an artist and writer. I thought, “Well, if that is what a labyrinth does, I gotta have one!” I sent the e-mail to David, and a two year discussion about how one might make such a thing began.

David and I started to read and research labyrinths – their history, use, and deeper purposes. We were not in a hurry to create one, but we hoped one day we’d get a chance to make some kind of labyrinth. Once we decided to act on this whimsical dream, serious planning was required. A labyrinth is complex, created through the use of “sacred geometry” and the design must be exact for the correct impact.

We looked at hundreds of different labyrinths and in the end decided to go with the most classic design – the 11 circuit famed “Chartres Labyrinth,’ built in the 13th century which is at Chartres Cathedral in France. Our labyrinth is just a few feet shy of the original, but the path has been painstakingly laid out to keep the integrity of the design intact in respect of the history and heritage of this renowned and beloved symbol of spiritual awakening. The perimeter is designed to hold 114 candles for inspirational evening walks, making the experience quite magnificent.  But choosing the design was the easy part. We had to figure out how to get the dang thing actually onto the slab in a way that keep the integrity of the design intact and would hold up to use.

David thought about how to go about things a long while and did some research to learn how others accomplished the task. Laying down a labyrinth without a kit or instructions was a complex project, but one he insisted he could handle. On the day he planned to begin marking the slab, I spied him on the back porch, just staring at a piece of paper for the longest time. His engineering mind was rolling over the challenge, coming up with the best way to go about recreating the intricate pattern. In the end, he established the exact center of the slab and used string and stencils made from plywood to get the labyrinth set. He plowed through a dozen magic markers, all quickly torn up on the concrete, to establish the outline. He spent so many hours hunched over that he could barely walk for two days. Then, Soraya (my yoga teaching assistant) and I spent days painting the design. We too were so sore we could barely move. We laughed about how people will no doubt see our labyrinth and think, “Ah, all they did was paint a design on a slab. No biggie…” But man, it’s been quite an undertaking to manifest this thing.

We still have to clean and then seal the slab, and we have plans to add bamboo landscaping, build entrances and exits, add lighting, and other detail to create an amazing sacred space that will feel inspirational to visitors, but the full spectrum will take time and money that we don’t have now. What we do have is a walk-able labyrinth and I am thrilled.

So, what is a labyrinth, exactly? Unlike a maze, which offers choices, decisions and challenges that engage the active mind, A Labyrinth is designed in a pattern which curves and slowly leads a visitor into the quiet center. There is only one path out of the labyrinth as well, offering a visitor time to reflect on life, see parables with existence, and to forge inner stillness and peace. Walking the exacting path of the labyrinth invites a visitor to turn off the intellect to quiet the mind as they experience the path as a metaphor of the winding path of our lives and the twisting journey we take to find our spiritual center. It represents our journey from birth to death. Each person experiences the labyrinth differently, carrying away individual insight, awareness and inspiration. Whether you walk the labyrinth to quiet the active mind, to unleash your creativity, or to reflect and better understand your life, you need only step on the path with an open heart and mind (and no judgement) to have an experience.

I’ve walked our new labyrinth about a dozen times already. Each time, I have brought a different question or focused on a different area of my life as I walk.   And dang, if I haven’t felt moved and been afforded new insight about my ongoing life journey. I can’t wait to incorporate our labyrinth into writing classes, trainings and retreats. But for now, I am delighted to have it here for me. Something very special seems to be happening at Heartwood in a slow, steady way, and I feel deeply honored with the right-purpose of my work here. With all the stress, disappointment and loss we’ve faced in regards to the wedding fiasco, this labyrinth represents our faith in the future of Heartwood and a reestablishment of our true purpose here.

No doubt, our labyrinth, which looks rather simple now, will evolve and become more beautiful, like the Chakra garden and all of the other special areas of Heartwood. But what is important is that something that wasn’t here a week ago now exists – ready to be cared for and embellished. This new meditative outlet will become a part of the grander scheme over time, and will offer solitude and personal growth to many people. Knowing others will benefit made the work of creating this labyrinth meaningful, rather than cumbersome.

I am never surprised, but always fascinated, with the synchronicity of events as they unfold in my life. On the very week we decided to build this labyrinth, that very same writing center that set the seed of the idea years ago sent me a solicitation for their first convention for therapeutic journaling and memoir writing at a retreat center in Ashville GA. Just about every author of every book on journaling and memoir that I have here in our library and that I use when teaching, is a featured guest speaker. I signed up immediately, deeply thrilled to have the opportunity to study this kind of writing with these kinds of teachers – and because I was an early registrant, I was given the opportunity to get first pick of what sessions to attend. And guess what the first seminar (limited to only a few lucky enrollees) will be. WALKING THE LABYRINTH! So, I’ll witness how they introduce the subject and learn even more about this process, and I’ll bring home that knowledge to share with others.

Like walking the labyrinth, I just keep following the path as a writer, teacher, and retreat center director. In the process, the direction I’m going often shifts and changes, sending me outward and then inward, then outward again, in a constant motion I don’t fully understand, until eventually I find I’ve moved ever closer to the core of my purpose. Reaching the center only demands that I keep on moving -trusting in the process, and finishing what I begin.

When others walk the labyrinth, perhaps they will see the value in this approach to life as well.






Dead Ends

Today, I was sent the back cover of my new book to approve. I’m always a little delighted and thrilled to see the manifestation of my art and how an editor envisions this project, so I couldn’t wait to see what the back of the book would look like.

When I opened the file, all alone at my desk, I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help but find their interpretation funny. Kinda awful . . .  but funny.

The front of the book features a hand drawn image – the first half of a donkey…. and I approved this and loved it. But the back of the book features the back half of said donkey with his feet in the air as if he was dead. Now, I get it. The book ends with a death of sorts – the death of a marriage and dreams etc…. and I certainly am guilty of using the donkey as a metaphor for our entire story. That is, after all, the point of the title and how the book was designed from the beginning. Nevertheless, seeing this silly image of a donkey’s feet in the air was so horrible it made me laugh. I wish the book was more of a comedy, because there is a certain wit to this choice. But I really don’t feel it will work for my back cover. Frankly, the humor sends the wrong message….. and in all good conscientiousness, I can’t kill off my beloved donkey, even to get a smile out of a reader.

So I am back at the drawing board, coming up with suggestions as I gracefully point out that this image isn’t the best representative of the story. Perhaps the back half of the donkey (right side up) is enough. An ass should be metaphor enough. Or perhaps I should pick another image from the story. Then again, maybe the upside down donkey’s back end will grow on me and I’ll keep it.  It’s an attention getter for sure!

Still, I love this first draft just for the fact that it makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. If there is one thing I believe, it’s that you really can’t take your self too seriously as an artist or you lose the best part of art’s great purpose….. writing (or any kind of art) exists as an honest reflection of  humanity and life. I’ve always recognized that life has a great sense of humor. Why not embrace that.