Saturday, November 30, 2013

Finding your Invincible Summer

Thanksgiving: Finding your Invincible Summer

“In the depths of winter
I finally learned
There was in me
An invincible summer.”


Rock from The Giving Tree Gardens, Cape Cod, Mass. 

Thanksgiving is a day when we find gratitude for what we have. When we see the invincible summer in all of our winters.

I ask this, “Why is it so hard to do?”

Not so much on Thanksgiving per se. I do okay on Thanksgiving.

It is the rest of the time. I am so much better at seeing what isn’t enough, what is hard, and ruminating on my challenges. In fact, I am even good at getting down on myself for ruminating too much.

It is literally ironic. Essentially, for me and for most of us, all of our needs are met. In this way, we are gifted, lucky. There are so many countless blessings in our lives that we take completely for granted. No matter. It is what we do. In the midst of all we need, we struggle to see it. We miss it.

These days, I have increasingly more moments of presence and gratitude. I thank my yoga practice and the teachings of yoga. I am here today with my family and thank goodness, I am present and centered enough to feel very lucky.

The universe has helped. Earlier I saw a ladybug- the symbol of good fortune. That is not all. Hours after the ladybug, in a Cape Cod sculpture garden I saw this poem.

“In the depths of winter
I finally learned
There was in me
An invincible summer.”

I think they both (the ladybug and the poem) are saying the same thing. The universe is making sure that I get it. Catherine! You are so very lucky. Be grateful. You have everything you need. Pay attention! Do not miss it!

There is within each moment an invincible summer.

Zuri’s Story

On days like today, when I get it, when I get how lucky I am, I can’t help but think of Zuri and how much she doesn’t have. Still, she finds her summer. No matter how wintery it gets, she finds her summer. 

Thanksgiving is a hard day for her. Her mom always goes out the night before. In fact, Zuri can’t remember a Thanksgiving Eve when Sherece hasn’t gone out. Most years, Thanksgiving is a non-event. It does not happen. All Wednesday night, Zuri lays awake waiting for Eric (her older brother) and her mom to come home.

Making the best of it, this year Zuri cuddled up on the couch with Rashan (her little brother). They watched Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. It is one of Zuri’s favorites.  So tired, Rashan fell asleep before Yukon Cornelius and Rudolph even meet. Zuri, slid herself out from the cuddle and rested Rashan’s head on a little pillow. She covered him up with a blanket. Like always, she kissed him on the forehead.

With time to kill, Zuri pulled her box out of the closet and finds The Yoga Bag. She thought she’d read quietly while Rashan Slept. She found notes on a Thanksgiving Class I taught back in 2010. My notes were about gratitude and hope. I always write what I need to hear. I wonder what she must be thinking as she sits on the old, used couch waiting for her mom and her brother who may or may not come home.

 Zuri, a bright light, is able to see the summer in the winter. I see her smile. She pulls out a pen and starts to write a list.

I am thankful for:

My mom
Aunt Jasmine
Miss Klein
Miss Amanda

She writes this list of people. Her mom is at the top of the list. Thinking, she adds to the list reasons why she is thankful for each person.

I am thankful for:

My mom for teaching me patience and the importance of self-care and sobriety.
Rashan for his unconditional love.
Eric for teaching me courage.
Aunt Jasmine for teaching me commitment and showing me love.
Emily and her family for always being here for me.
Miss Klein for showing what it means to watch out for others.
Miss Amanda and The Yoga Bag for teaching me yoga and how to love myself.

She folded up her paper and put it in the back of her journal with the other stuff she absolutely can’t forget.

Her mom doesn’t get home until 5:00 AM. Eric doesn’t come home at all. It doesn’t look good for Thanksgiving. Aunt Jasmine is traveling and Zuri’s Dad is with his new girlfriend. Zuri has already checked the cupboards and the fridge. They don’t have any food.

When Sherece finally wakes up at 1:00 PM, she says not to worry. She says they can go to the food pantry at the church.

Zuri doesn’t want to go. She begs her mom not to go. Her mom said they have to. They don’t have any food and all of their money is gone (what she doesn’t tell Zuri is that she was at the casino last night and the money is really all gone). Her mom tells Zuri if they don’t go, they actually wont eat today. [See this link for a list of the food panties and kitchens in the Buffalo are. Lots of people doing great work. Lots of love.]

They walk in and Zuri keeps her head low. She is afraid people will see her. She looks up and there is Jayla. Ugh! Jayla, the girl who bullies her practically everyday. Their eyes meet. Jayla is with her grandma, just the two of them. At first neither of them smile, not Zuri, not Jayla-- they just stare at each other.

Zuri wanted something else. She was tired of the ways things always have been. Today, with her mom at the highest levels of hung-over and broke, Zuri needed something good. She needed something to be better. Zuri wanted Jayla to know she wouldn’t say anything. Neither of them wanted to be needing this help. Neither of them had it good. She knew all of the stuff that she had heard about Jayla’s mom. She knew how Jayla must be feeling today. Zuri looked right at Jayla and she thought this thought hard, “Jayla, I am not going to tell anyone. Jayla, I know you have it hard at home.”

Jayla smiled the smallest of smiles back. Then, it happened. Jayla walked right up to Zuri and said, “Hi.”

Zuri said, “Hey” (the coolest form of ‘hi’).

They got their dinners and then they sat next to each other. They started talking. Zuri told Jayla about the yoga classes at school and Miss Amanda, the yoga teacher. She told Jayla how Miss Amanda loves all of the kids just like they were her own. Jayla admitted to Zuri that she was afraid to go to yoga because she didn’t know how to do any yoga at all.

After dinner, Zuri and Jayla went to the open area in the church basement. Zuri showed Jayla Warrior I and Warrior II. She showed her crow pose. They practiced crow and tried not to land on their faces. Against the wall, they practiced handstands. Jayla held a handstand for a count of 20 with Zuri's help. Every time they fell, they laughed.

Zuri's mom sat and talked to Jayla’s grandma. They seemed to like each other. Zuri kept checking and Sherece seemed okay. Ah, Zuri could relax and have fun. It was then that Zuri realized that what she thought would be the worst-dinner-ever was turning out to be okay. Right then she decided to add, “I am thankful for getting to know Jayla” to her list. Its funny how things can turn out if you keep your mind and your heart open.

It funny how in the midst of the difficult, there is always something good.

The Process

“In the depths of winter
I finally learned
There was in me
An invincible summer.”
There is always winter in our lives. Sometimes it is all consuming and winter is a big part of what is going on. In those times, it seems like it is all dark and cold. Other times winter is barely present. During these times, nearly everything seems new, or growing, even summery. It works in cycles- spring, summer, fall, and winter- renewal, growth, bounty, and quiet. It all works in cycles. For example, it might be the winter of our hope about someone changing, growing, or healing. Or it might be the winter of our youth or a project. It might be the winter of what was an amazing and love-filled relationship. All things run their seasons and come to winter.

This is important. It is not all happening in the same cycle. You see, where there is one winter there is another summer. Where there is one spring there is another fall. Like August in Buffalo (summer) and Africa (winter), every winter has its summer. Every spring its fall. It is all there, all of the time.

When I saw the poem above, it was 30 degrees outside. It was winter. I was walking in a sculpture garden with my husband. I had taken my Mom to the garden for a nice trip out to Cape Cod. With her illness, she was happy for the drive out to the Cape, but she could not walk the trail. My Mother and Father insisted that we walk the garden path without them and went back to the car to wait for us.

We walked. I saw art, trees, and quotes. Knowing. I saw all of this knowing my English-teacher Mom would love this…. if only she could see it.

It felt wintery.

I paused when I saw the quote. It was printed on paper and taped to a rock. “In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was within me an invincible summer.” To me, summer is the time of abundance and warmth. It is a season of right here right now.

With the ladybug and then this message on the rock, I felt as if the universe was asking me to stay in the season of presence and warmth right in the midst of the winter of things.

I felt the universe was asking this of Zuri too. Here she was at the free Thanksgiving dinner at the church. Things were wintery and empty. The leaves were off the trees and there was no hope for spring, renewal. Right there, she sees Jayla. Jayla, the girl that used to tease Zuri, seemed like she might be a new friend.

In the midst of this winter, there was a bit of summer.

Summer shows up. It shows up when you open your eyes and your heart to what the universe is offering you. It is then that you find it —compassion and presence—the warmth of summer, an invincible summer-- right in the middle of a winter.

So I ask you, what is there for you to see in the midst of your winter? What summer might be there? What might you see if you shifted from counting your worries and your problems and just noticed what is right there in front of you (your Jayla or time with your Mom)?

I am going to stay in my practice of letting go of worries and stresses and counting my blessings. I am going to stay in my practice of seeing what I have rather than fearing what I might lose.

This too-- I hope that when I slip, I catch myself. And if I don’t see it when it is happening, I hope the universe is kind enough to keep sending me ladybugs and messages on rocks.

In the midst of the winter, find your summer. It is there.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

10 Things that the Chip Wilson lululemon Dilemma can Teach us (this week…) Cook-Cottone

10 Things that the Chip Wilson lululemon Dilemma can Teach us
(this week…)

Catherine Cook-Cottone, PhD, RYT

Before I get started I want to cover three things: (1) a thumb nail of the issue, (2) a bit about who I am (i.e., the context from which I speak), and (3) my intention.


First, the current issue in brief (if you want to know more- Google- tons of reading for you). From what I can gather via the popular media and news outlets, over the years, Chip Wilson, the founder of lululemon, has made some controversial statements. According to reports (and as you can watch on YouTube), these have included his latest statements relating the fabric problems to the shape of women’s bodies. Specifically, he spoke about fabric issues being more of an issue with the way women’s thighs rub, than the fabric (in so many words).

Notably, thighs being highlighted in this statement is particularly challenging as our beautiful, strong, and powerful thighs seem to be the self-loathing target de jour. If you haven’t heard, a lot of women have been convinced that there is a such thing as a “thighs-touching” problem. 

Second, I am a lululemon Ambassador among other things. I am also a tenured, associate professor, a licensed psychologist, and a certified yoga teacher. I research the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, self-regulation, and yoga. I have written two books and have over 50 publications (see my faculty page here-- I serve as an editor for scientific journals and have an active private practice treating individuals with eating disorders. I teach yoga three times a week. Two more things that really matter: I am the mom of two teenage daughters whom I love very much and I am recovered from an eating disorder.

Third, my intention for this post is one of learning and growing and NOT one of judgment. I have found (as I will address below) that judgment isn’t a creative or growth-oriented process. It doesn’t inspire. Conversely, all things can be our teachers. I see learning as a creative, inspiring, and generative process. This is the intention from which I write.

The 10 Lessons

When things happen in the world, with people and events, I work to see what the universe is teaching us/me. I work to find the lesson. These are the lessons I have found in this experience (so far, I am sure there will be more).

1.    No one and no thing is perfect.

I have to very, very clear here. I am not talking about the kind of perfect that I see when I look at the old maple tree in my backyard. It is knotted, both broken and healed by weather, and over 100 years old. I am not talking about that kind of perfect.

I am talking about the no-mistakes, no-missteps, no-weathering, no-knots, plastic perfect. I am talking about the the toxic, idealistic sense of perfection that holds many people hostage and in judgment. So that you know, this type of perfection is an illusion, an airbrushed, constructed image. I have seen people pursue this type of idealistic, toxic perfect all the way to the hospital. There is no room for struggle, effort, regret, or hope in that kind of perfect.

Instead of perfect, it serves us to look for other things. Ideas? How about peace, love, balance, healing, integration, and collaboration? Even the men and women we have held as role models have been in their imperfection. I was inspired when I read Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita. He spoke of a time when he became very frustrated with school boys. He yelled at them and was harsh with his words. He was in regret and set an intention to be, to do, better. Yeah, no one and no thing is perfect. Not luon, not Chip Wilson, not me, and not you—not even Gandhi (I think he was getting there- like my maple).

2.    Slips and missteps are part of the process.

      Walking any path can be a challenge. But creating a new path is very, very challenging. There is no guidebook. There is no well worn foot path. lululemon has been a different company. Yes, they have made money, a lot of money. But they have embraced yoga, the community, and given back. If you Google Chip Wilson, he is described as a founder and philanthropist.

      The company does have manifesto that promotes good things. I believe this to be their intention. I don’t go to the meetings at the top, so I can’t speak to their intention or drives at that level. What I have experienced is this. At the lululemon Buffalo store, the employees are what and who they say they are. They are the healthiest, happiest, most positive group of beings around. They have been in action about the Buffalo community coming together. They have been about each of us being of power and accomplishing our goals. For example, Candice Cinquino, one of the employees, put on a Yoga Jam and raised thousands of dollars to send me and a group of seven other researchers to Nairobi, Africa to research the Africa Yoga Project (not even my university or the NIH did that).

      This is a new way of being as a company. And maybe sometimes, on this new path, they misstep and act and speak out of intention. I will be forever grateful for lululemon Buffalo and Candice for their help. Thank you, Chip Wilson, for forging a path that helped people like Candice be in their power and not just another young lady behind a cash register.

3.    Own your sh#%. Cause when you don't, it gets dicey.

If you don’t take responsibility, things get dicey. Own what is yours. It is not our thighs. It is the fabric. It pills when it rubs. I have seen it. I have experienced it. It needs work. Trust me, I love the clothes overall. But there have been iterations of the fabric that have not been so great. I get it, you are working on it. Still, don’t put it on us or our thighs. Make a kick a#$ fabric. Make a fabric that allows our thighs to be glorious, powerful, and for goodness sake, let our thighs touch the way the universe intended them to. And own that.  

We all need to own what is ours. It isn’t easy and sometimes we need feedback to see when we might have a blindside (see communication below).  Owning your mistakes and taking responsibility is a form of yoga, Satya. It is one way of living in your truth. In truth, there is power.

4.    Integrating ideals in a company, a government, and even the self can be hard.

     One way that lululemon is different is the integration of what some people conceptualize as competing goals: (a) being a for-profit company and, (b) being of values and service. This is not easily done. Some say it can’t be done. Others say it must be done. In history, there are models in industry and farming that demonstrate all levels of integration of various aspects of business. For example, integration of ownership and work force, as well as the integration of values and profit. Striking the right balance, as history and lululemon has shown us, is an art.

      One of the reasons I have loved being an Ambassador is the integration of profit and values. Pre-lululemon I was buying pricey yoga clothes anyway (judge me if you must). I love yoga and I love yoga tops, pants, scarves, hoodies -- all things yoga clothes. I don’t even buy clothes for my university work on a yearly basis. My indulgence is yoga clothes. The old clothes are donated so that these clothes have many lives. Some of my old clothes are in Africa right now (I hope they are doing some awesome yoga or something else super fun).  lululemon created a place where I could buy my gorgeous yoga clothes and support and inspire others in the pursuit healthy and good things.

      Thing is-- with all of the manifesto and giving back action-- they have placed themselves in another category. We aren’t quite as shocked when other founders and CEOs say triggering, hurtful things about our bodies. It makes sense. Their words read just like their store fronts read and are entirely consistent with the message they send out to the world in their media packages. At lululemon, we expect a higher discourse. Not because we put you there, but because you put you there.

5.    Profit isn't the enemy of good and good isn't the enemy of profit.

      Yeah, this current misstep is no fun and I am frustrated with the statements of Chip Wilson. I am glad he apologized to his employees. He needed to. It would also be great if he recorded and published other apologies- maybe one to our thighs.

      Still, I want to be sure I cover this. lululemon isn’t bad from the start just because they have made money. I am in the field of human service. There is often a perception that if you choose a career that helps others, you are required to take a vow of poverty. I hope for a shift. I hope that we can teach the world to value physical and mental health, yoga, holistic healing, and other embodied practices. I hope that people in our field can more easily make a living, maybe even do better than that.

      lululemon has shown that there is money in yoga. A lot of it. Good. They have created a business that has allowed people to have full-on careers that are embedded in yoga. Good. It is all about the integration. Why not have profit and do good too? Why not be creative and structured too? Profit is good. Art is good. Yoga is good. Business is good. It can all be good and maybe even really good, together.

6.    Know your power.

      Someone I love very much once told me that she didn’t tell me she was proud of me that often because she didn’t think it mattered. In fact, she said that she didn’t think she mattered. She said, “Who am I to say what you are doing is great. Of course it is. Why would you care what I think? It is only me.”

      That person is my Mom. No matter what her career path, successes, etc. (which is all really, pretty neat), she is my Mom. She didn’t get that it might be super, maybe even critically, important for me to know that she saw me. We spoke more and talked about how nearly every kid from two to fifty years old thinks their moms and dads are the most powerful people in the universe (I am smiling here), especially when it comes to our self-concept. And yes, I want to hear that you are proud of me and yes that matters, you matter.

      The moral of that story… I think that sometimes we don’t realize our power. I think that Chip Wilson forgets that there are many people listening. I think he forgets that he is powerful and his words matter.

      When you remember your power, you are much more careful with what you say and don’t say. WARNING! When you are this powerful (maybe you are a mom or a dad, maybe you are the founder of one of the biggest companies in Canada), be impeccable with your words.

      Share love, pride, and gratitude, and don’t criticize our thighs.

7.    Consider staying or getting in the game.

Some people have chosen to get out of the game and I honor that choice. You have to know when to hold them and when to fold them (a line from an old country song).

I tend to stay in the game so long as I believe that I can be of change. I have worked within complex systems and organizations my whole life. These systems have ranged from non-profits to for-profits, from small agencies to my current university. These organizations are made of people, for people. The way that change happens is that people change things. I have been able to do very powerful things from the inside-- one meeting and one person at a time. I am- Be The Change. My university is, in part, what is because of who I am. My yoga studio is, in part, what it is because of who I am. Lululemon, is in part, what it is because of who I am (and yes [see the next point] I have voiced my feelings and thoughts on both the fabric and the words).

8.     Communicate- use your voice (Vushuddha).

People need feedback. Feel your feelings. Yes. Then, sculpt your words. Speak in effectiveness, intention, and purpose. I wrote a letter about a recent lululemon purchase. The fabric was below lululemon standards. I took photos (easy), wrote a note (easy), embedded the photos in my letter (easy), and mailed it (easy). I am in communication with a representative at lululemon about Chip Wilson's statements. In fact, all ambassadors that want to talk about this can have these same conversations. The response: lululemon is interested and wants to hear how this is affecting us and our clients. Speak.

9.    Practice Media Literacy

Media Literacy- know the message, source, and intention of the media you consume. Yes speak and give feedback to lululemon.

But don't stop here. Start here!

Have you seen Barbie and other fashion dolls (of note, at Barbie's height and weight she would be inpatient or dead)? Are you mad about that? Boy’s action figures? Video game images of men and women? Are you mad? We are exposed to thousands of images everyday that extol overly-thin body ideals that are unattainable and unhealthy.

Chip Wilson wasn't speaking in a vacuum. Perhaps he's been numbed, as have most of us, by the nonstop harassment purposefully embedded in  media messages saying that the pathway to happiness is through thinness.

FYI. It's not. I can tell you from a point of expertise and experience. Not one person has found happiness, bliss, connection, or peace of mind in the land of being clinically underweight. In fact, research suggests that you become rigid in your thinking, obsessive- especially about food and body, struggle with anxiety and mood dysregulation, experience poor sleep, withdraw from those you love etc., etc., etc.

So, NO, we don’t need anyone telling us that there is something wrong with us if our thighs touch. There are some whose thighs don’t touch. Maybe your thighs don’t touch and that is healthy for you because that is exactly how you are genetically inclined to be when you are at a healthy weight. However, for most of us, when we are at a healthy weight, the odds are, our thighs will touch and maybe even rub when we are—doing yoga, or running, or otherwise being healthy. If we got thin enough for them not to touch, we would be in that too-thin spot I described above-- which is not physiologically or emotionally healthy.

Please note, this is a behavioral request—that is, this is a request for Chip Wilson to not speak in judgment about women’s bodies. It is a request for behavior change and not a judgment of a person.

10. Judgment isn't a healing or inspiring act

      Judgment is not a healing or inspiring act. It is not an effective way to inspire behavioral change in another person. If I judge you, you are very likely to move into defense, explanation, rationalization, etc. I may even have the effect of helping you to dig your heels in deeper.

      To be effective, use a respectful voice, describe what works, voice your experience, and request what you would like.

It might look like this:

·      “For many years, I have loved lululemon clothes, the company, and the people that work with lululemon. I am excited about the possibilities for your company. I believe there are great things to come because I have both seen and experienced great things from your company.”

·      Please know, I feel angry and hurt when you blame the performance of your fabric on the natural shape of a woman’s body.”
·      “As a woman, I find those words hurtful and sexist.”

·      “I request that you do not disparage the female form in this way again.”

·      “I would be open to an apology.”

·      “ I ask that if you are truly in the business making amazing yoga clothes for women, that you honor our natural shape in the process.”

·      “I ask that you continue to work toward creating a highly effective fabric that will facilitate our embodied practices and a healthy earth.”

·      “Thank you for all you have done. I see it and am grateful. Now, do even better because I want this for you!”


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag: Cook-Cottone at

Friday, November 22, 2013

When A Moment Changes it All: Appreciating What You Have—Right Now

When A Moment Changes it All:
Appreciating What You Have—Right Now

There are times, actually-- it seems like it is probably most times-- when we don’t realize that-- what we have right NOW, right here, in this moment-- is pretty darn good. For some reason, we never seem to get it-- until things change.

It takes a second, just a second, for the floor to shift underneath our feet.

Maybe its test results, a phone call, a news report, a missed stop sign, a distraction…

In a second,  it.  can.  all.  change.

Then, suddenly: (1) the life that we were just complaining about, and (2) the new reality, (3) run right into each other, (4) head on.

That collision provides a sharp, painful contrast.

At that moment, in the glare of the juxtaposition, we are given great clarity. We can see that we were taking it all for granted.

I have been struck by the history of it all. They say that 50 years ago today we lost our innocence. I say we were reminded, in the harshest of ways, how fragile and beautiful life is and how tragic it is when we lose. We saw how the collision of before and after can make it all so starkly clear. 

On November 21, 1963, the President of the United States was assassinated. In one moment, at 12:30 PM, everything changed. I am sure, like today, there were many critics and debaters, words not said, and moments of presence and gratitude missed.

This audio from NPR captured the moment the audience at the Boston Symphony Orchestra learns of President Kennedy's death. The audio has captured that moment when before meets after. The audio has captured that collision. To hear this moment and the beautiful eulogy, listen by way of this link below. One of the most moving documents to emerge from the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is a radio broadcast. It's WGBH's audio of what was supposed to be just another Friday afternoon concert given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra — which turned into an eloquent eulogy for JFK.
AP Notice, 1963

These moments, collisions, come to each us. Some things happen to us all at once like the Kennedy Assignation or 911. And sometimes, a tragedy hits a family. And sometimes, you are alone.

I remember the moment I learned that my mom was very ill. I knew she had a cough. My sister and I had nailed it down to anxiety and thought if she just relaxed, her nervous cough would go away. I remember my Father’s phone call, a few months back, “Cath, this thing, this cough, well I guess its pretty serious. They say we need to get her assessed for a lung transplant. They say she’s in the window.”

I thought, “What window? Window of what? Lung transplant? She has a cough. That is all. Pulmonary Fibrosis? What is that?” 

What I said was something like, “Okay. Love you, Dad.” 

My before, hit my after. They crashed. 

After some talk, I hung up the phone and cried. My life was different now.

Zuri’s Story

“Hey Zuri, sweetheart, it’s Aunt Jasmine. I want to take you out for some hot chocolate. Can I come pick you up after your school yoga class?”

“Yeah, Auntie J. That would be awesome. It will make it a perfect day. I love my yoga class and then you.  And—its perfect cause I love you even more than yoga. Hahaha!”

Jasmine drives to Zuri’s school with a heavy heart. She knows she is Zuri’s lifeline. She has tried for years to handle Sherece (Zuri’s mom and Jasmine’s sister). She has tried to get Sherece to stop drinking, using, and gambling. Sherece is stuck. Jasmine knows that. She still prays everyday and, Lord knows, she loves that child, Zuri. How was she going to tell her that she, Zuri’s Auntie J, has breast cancer? The kid has nothing. She is essentially raising her two brothers and now this.

Zuri’s after was heading straight for her before.

I see them sitting in the café. Zuri said, “yes” to whip cream and “yes” to chocolate drizzle, and “yes” to candy cane sprinkles. Her hot chocolate looks absolutely fabulous. Her face has all of the signs of before. She leans in to smell the hot chocolate and gets whip cream on her nose. Jasmine wipes it off and Zuri laughs.

They catch up on this and that. Zuri says her mom is okay, “You know, okay.” Jasmine complains about work at the hospital, the hours. She talks about the grateful patients and the challenging patients.

Zuri starts to get a sense that it all feels like small talk. The more she does yoga, the more she has a sense of her belly. The more she does yoga, the less she can ignore the messages from her intuitive self that tell her when things don’t feel quite right.

“Aunt Jasmine, what is wrong?” Zuri asks.

“Ah, Zuri, you are such a smart girl. I have something to tell you.”

Zuri is in the last of the moments of the before. She catches it and holds tight.

“Aunt Jasmine. I love you so much. I love when we have coffee shop talks." She is stalling now, "I love you. I love right now." She sees Jasmine's eyes and feels desperate, "Don’t say anything more. Please don’t say anything more.”

As she spoke, before-time shifted. She couldn’t stop it. Time does that. You try to squeeze it and hold it and it falls through your fingers. God, the more you cling the faster it slips. Zuri starts to cry as she talks. She feels it slipping away. She can’t stop it.

The collision…

“ Zuri, I have cancer. Breast cancer. We caught it early and things look good. I have this sweetie. I promise, I have this.”

Before crashes right into after. It is a direct hit.

Zuri stared straight ahead. It was like she left her body. She saw herself, little, really little at the playground swinging on a swing. She was laughing. Her Auntie J pushing the swing. Auntie Jasmine was young and so wild and happy. She made Zuri feel so safe. Zuri stayed there at the swing. Her aunt, in the café seemed far, far away. The collision had left a cloud. Zuri had the sense that her aunt was still talking. Through the haze, she saw Auntie J’s mouth moving. She saw Auntie J pull Kleenex from her purse and wipe her eyes. Zuri saw all this and I see Zuri.

It was now just after.

“Aunt Jasmine, you will be fine. I can help, no problem. I am good at this. Jeez, I practically run my whole house.” She laughed, a nervous fake, empty laugh. There were no more tears. She was emotionally vacant and fine.

It wouldn’t be until later that Zuri would fall apart.

The alone-time in after-time. The crying-timeZuri’s life was different now.

And after the crying, she would learn to use these times to process and rally. She had felt herself leave when her Aunt Jasmine really needed her to stay. She didn’t want to do that. She had wanted to be there. Zuri set her mind to work toward presence. If she had been able to stay, she could have shared her fear and love with her Aunt. She might have hugged her Aunt. She might have sobbed and her Aunt could have held her. Zuri would have really loved that. Zuri thinks Jasmine would have loved that too.

The Process

In my masters program, I was fortunate enough to take class with Dr. Eugene Perticone (see link for his book below). He is brilliant and knowledgeable. He taught a class called Patterns of Emotional Adjustment. I learned more in that one semester than I have since to learn from any class.

We learned about the domains of coping, stress, and the role of emotions in our lives. As students, we actually felt that he could read our minds or see into our souls (or should I say we feared he could).

I learned about dissociation for the first time. I learned about trauma and coping and all of the games our minds play to hold us together. I learned that sometimes, we can’t quite handle what is happening and we check out. We wait. Maybe we don’t know we are waiting, maybe we think, “I have this.” But truth is, we are not here and our emotional selves are waiting for the time to feel. Waiting for a safe time to feel.  

Zuri will feel this in waves, like I feel mom’s diagnosis. It hits you when you hear an orchestra play Beethoven’s funeral march through a 50 year old recording (if you didn't listen to the audio above, do it now). It hits you when you are driving home from a yoga class, heart open and car doors closed.

It hits hard, like an undeniable wave, and you cry.

And then you think about how maybe you were not quite present enough in the before-time. I am lucky in some ways. I still have now-time with my mom.

What I hope for Zuri, and me, is that we stay here, in the now. Because the truth is that we are always in some kind of before-time. It is my prayer that it won’t take a collision, the floor shifting beneath us to be grateful for what we have.

I feel like I keep learning it over an over again. The time to be grateful is now. There is this thing, you see. The thing is, in order to be here, now, you must feel. And in that presence, gratitude is so easy. It needs no collision. It just is.

Promise me, Zuri-- and the rest of you-- that you take your before-time in FULLY and be of presence and gratitude. And if you want extra credit, use your voice.

It would go like this, “Mom, I love you. I am so glad we are all here together. You mean so much to me. Oh, and you have whipped cream on your nose.”

Showing gratitude
is one of the simplest
 yet most powerful things
humans can do for each other.”

Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture