The Unbearable Lightness of MailChimp

mailchimp-buttonIs there anything more banal than work stress? There are, at any given moment, about a dozen better things to be hypervigilant about. And yet, there’s my mind, running on a constant hamster wheel of worry, a ticker tape parade of immanent disasters raining down, of balls I am about to drop, or worse, am already dropping but don’t realize it. To fall asleep composing an email and then wake up composing an email feels like the height of human absurdity, a complete divorce from the heart and soul of what it should mean to be human. Especially when you’re a mostly rational person who understands that the success or failure of said email corresponds to no matter of lasting importance. And more especially when one is self-employed, and one has no one to blame for one’s overwhelm but one’s self.

I made a decision recently that the only way beyond this stress was truly to go through it. So I decided that on one particular Monday I would sit down and essentially not get up until everything was done. Well, everything that could possibly be done in a day. I sat down in front of my computer at 7:30am, and with one break for a brisk walk in pouring rain, I didn’t get back up from it until 7pm. I realize there are those for whom that is a not-abnormal workday. My marathon days are usually spent giving massages and teaching yoga, so to spend a day exporting email lists and designing marketing materials was bizarre but not without it’s satisfactions and small victories.

Which is why it was especially heartbreaking the next morning, when I went to send a test-email of my newsletter to my own email address, and it arrived in my inbox with almost no content, just a series of barely visible ellipses that mysteriously contained the hidden content if one found them and clicked on them. Everything I had worked on for the bulk of the previous day was invisible. A wave of disappointment and failure broke over me and I burst into tears. This was the kind of wailing, hiccuping cry usually reserved for loss of a loved one. It was total nonsense, yet an utter relief. It was, in it’s keen pain, a satisfying moment, when the careening, animal terror of even the most banal human moments broke through and demanded acknowledgement.

You’ll be relieved to hear the newsletter got fixed, by one of my partners, who is much more patient than I. When it was time to send the message for real, MailChimp showed me a graphic of a sweating, shaking monkey arm about to push a button. Picture the paw above, but trembling, with blue drops of sweat rolling down. “This is it,” the text read. “Your moment of glory.” I laughed out loud. How did this program know me so well? Is this the universal human experience of newsletter sending? It would appear I am not alone in my foibles, in the incomprehensible things I waste my valuable life force on. I smiled, shook my head and hit “send.”

(If you are dying to read the fruits of my newsletter labors, click here. And for those of you interested in my classes, I announce availability there first, so sign up if you want first dibs!)

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Late For Now

“Now we begin the practice of Yoga.” – (Yoga Sutra 1.1)

I arrived at my first class in my new teaching space with 30 minutes of prep work to do and 15 minutes to do it in. The other 15 minutes had been spent at the breakfast bar in my kitchen repeatedly swiping a credit card through the reader I had just bought at Target that ultimately would never work. I would have to take my chances with manual card entry and nervous fingers. 

Body Advantage Prop Shelf

The blocks in question, shrinkwrapped for your protection.

My fresh cork blocks just delivered that day did make it out of the boxes and onto the shelves, but not out of their shrinkwrap. I forgot to erase the workout for the previous occupant of the room from the dry erase board. I ran about clearing items and cleaning and lighting candles in such a rush that by the time I slid open the pocket door to greet the first three students gathered there, I was a slightly sweaty mess. People kindly ignored that and remarked upon the coziness of the space, a sweet little room that feels like a secret vacation cabin, complete with fireplace. Somebody saw the workout outlined on the dry erase board and jokingly asked if we were doing burpees. Students good-naturedly peeled shrinkwrap off of blocks and agreed to wait until after class for me take my chances with my newly installed credit card app.

Finally, as has happened at the beginning of class hundreds (thousands?) of times over the last 11 years, students stepped onto their mats, lay down, and closed their eyes. I said a quick prayer that the skills I’d cultivated over those years and classes would still be accessible from my current location. 

Body Advantage Altar

A new space requires a new altar.

Before I said a word, I paused, and I took a breath, and I looked. And here’s what I saw: everyone was smiling. It is possible I am exaggerating, but that is exactly what it looked like. Faces were lit up in a way I hadn’t exactly experienced (or noticed?) before. Each of these people, so dear to my heart, looked simply happy to be there, and to be with me. And I felt happy to be with them, too. 

Ready or not, now had begun.

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Fresh Starts


This Friday, Fed Ex will deliver the two largest boxes ever to my front porch. In one will be ten dark blue yoga bolsters, and in the other 20 fresh cork blocks. I am busily outfitting my new yoga space, and I’ve got a breathless sense of back to school anticipation.

You could also call it anxiety. Will people like the new place? Will they be able to find it? In what unforeseen way will I disappoint them?

For the first time in ten years, I am transitioning where I teach. During that decade, It’s All Yoga was my sacred nest – the place that nurtured my teaching and my life. Each person that walked in the door altered my chemistry for the better, and I hope I altered theirs beneficially, too. 

I’m hopping out of that nest now, trusting that, if I don’t fly, exactly, a new branch might appear partway down. I am joining a group of wellness practitioners that include yoga, massage, chiropractic and personal training, and I’m excited to be part of such a complementary and collaborative approach. 

Should you want to hang out on this branch with me, here’s the September schedule:


Special two week workshop, $60

Sat, September 12th & 19th, 1:30-3:30pm

For those entirely new to yoga, or just in need of a brush up. Longer class time will allow us to dive deeper into the foundations of the poses. Students will receive handouts for home practice. 


Tuesdays: 5:30pm 

Thursdays: 4:30pm 

Mixed level: fundamental enough for beginners, but deep and subtle enough for experienced practitioners. Offered as ongoing series that start at the beginning of each month. Next start dates:

Tues, September 8th – 4 wks, $60 – FULL! (ask re: waitlist)

Thurs, September 10th, 3 wks, $45



1754 36th Street, Sacramento


Phone: 916.290.2693


Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Abandoning Hope and Beginning Again

(***AUTHOR’S NOTE:*** There are three and a half years between this post and the one that follows it. I took a little break from writing. Just a heads up so you know all this is well behind me now, and I’m doing just fine. Well, depending on the day. 😉


Last Wednesday, while preparing to step into the bath, I took a quick glance in the mirror. Then I took a second glance. A vein that I had never noticed before had sprung up dark blue on the left side of my face, around the jaw. It threaded its way alongside the jugular towards my chest, where it spread out like rivers on a map, moving down my left breast and across my left shoulder. I looked away and looked back quite a few times, unsure of what I was seeing. I became aware of a marked tingling sensation over the area. I called my spouse, Joy, who told me she was leaving work to take me to the doctor. I cried the hopeless tears of someone who doesn’t want to go to the doctor, but understands they will probably have to go anyway. When the doctor mentioned the possibility of a blood clot, I cried again, one of those embarrassing hiccup sobs that drown out words, and made the nurse practitioner put a reassuring arm around me, while the doctor, apparently genetically unable to stop smiling, continued to talk. I had that thought, for a few moments: “Ah, this is the appointment you don’t come home from. Almost everyone has one, and this is yours.” I did come home. It was, thank goodness, not a clot. However, unfortunately, it is still not entirely clear what it is. In the meantime, it has been suggested that I move my left arm as little as possible, and not engage in contact pressure, which pretty much describes the sum total of what I do for a living. Until I see a vascular surgeon, and possibly afterwards, I am in a limbo, uncertain what I can safely do. I am a cataclysmically cranky patient. For the next few days, I curled myself into a dense ball of toxicity and frustration. My poor spouse, Joy, scrambled to care for me and cheer me up, making me meals, taking me for a sunny drive down the Delta. I stared out at the sparkling river and grew angrier and angrier. Its beauty was an affront to my self-pity, and it offended me. I pictured the unknowable space inside my left armpit, under my collarbone, dense, darkening, growing fractal, poisonous blockages that would swallow me entirely. It took me fully until Saturday morning to be willing to allow someone to tell me to knock it off.  Here’s the paragraph I turned to in Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: “In Tibetan there’s an interesting word: ye tang che…(it) means “totally tired out.” We might say “totally fed up.” It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope – that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be – we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” Ye tang che might as well have been tattooed across my chest in blue at that moment. The first part of my suffering was this unknown condition cutting off circulation to a crucial part of me. But the second part, the more torturous part, was the wondering and hoping: when will I be able to return to work? When will I do a down dog again? Who will I be if I can no longer do those things? In one of Joy’s many valiant attempts to cheer me up, she told me to think about football players. They become profoundly, consistently injured, and they deal with it, and they move on. Mostly, they find a way to play again. Sometimes, they don’t. All of them, it would seem, have made a decision that the game is worth the risk. At a certain level, they have to give up the hope that they can remain completely uninjured while playing professional football. Their bodies, which at some point will get used up anyways, become acceptable currency for the exhilarating ride of the sport. At some point, my body will be used up, and I will have to step off the yoga mat, away from the massage table. Dear reader, I sincerely hope that day is a long ways off. My prayer today is to find a way to be grateful now for this opportunity to practice letting go. A moment in which I can let myself get totally tired out, totally fed up, and begin the beginning again.

Posted in Death and Dying, Letting Go | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

How Being Human Can Wreck Your Body

The yoga championships came to town yesterday.

I will leave the evaluation of the evolution of these competitions to the yoga historians, although I don’t have to be Georg Feuerstein or Mark Singleton to have some pretty serious doubts that they are a “longstanding tradition in India that spans thousands of years” – to quote their promotional materials. They also explain that while “the majority of points earned are for physical ability, there are points awarded to reflect the character (emotional, mental and spiritual) of the competitor as a whole.”  I wish that I could have gone just to determine how one is judged on their spiritual character, but I was at the studio teaching my Saturday morning class.

This yoga circus comes fast on the heels a recent New York Times article entitled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad. This expose on the dangers of yoga suggests that most of us would be wise to quit yoga before we succumb to a debilitating injury or a stroke.

While the subject matter was thought-provoking, I believed the tone of it was needlessly alarmist. As a yoga teacher, though, I felt a little too biased towards the benefits of the practice to comment neutrally on such a piece. Luckily for me, my students felt no such restrictions. “Did you see the New York Times article?” one asked me.  “What utter bullshit. I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t even know what those poses were they were supposedly doing.”

She made a good point. The illustrations accompanying the article were photographs of dancers demonstrating ill-conceived versions of shoulderstand and plow, both poses that have a high risk of injury if performed carelessly. Considering that the article essentially painted these poses as a stroke waiting to happen, it seems unconscionable that they endangered these poor dancers careers by asking them to hold the poses for the camera, and hold them so very wrongly.

I teach shoulderstand infrequently, but when I do I teach it carefully, step by step, and with I hope adequate explanation of its risks and benefits. In one such class, I had a student bent on insubordination. Any time I mentioned something I didn’t want the class to do, she seemed to choose to do just that. As we performed various stages of shoulderstand at the wall, I asked that once students were in any version of the pose, not to turn their heads to the side, but stay centered. (If you’ll notice, that is exactly what the poor, put upon NYT models are doing. Ouch.) Immediately, this woman popped up into shoulderstand, turned her head strongly, and smiled at me. I made a beeline to stand at her side and ask her to bring her head back to neutral. She just gave a little giggle. In a voice I had never before and have never since used in my teaching career, I said: “I need you to come out of this pose. NOW.”

When we step onto the yoga mat, we are truly captains of our own ship. It’s not generally a contact sport like football, where someone is going to tackle us and throw our bodies somewhere we didn’t choose to go. Our practice reflects our own habits, our predilections and prejudices, our decisions. Of course you can hurt yourself in yoga practice. It would be silly and naïve to assert otherwise. But might this be evidence not of the pitfalls of any particular physical practice, but a tendency inherent to human beings?  Any discipline can either refine and restrain our more unfortunate and reckless habits, or reinforce them in a ritualized ego stroke. Yoga is not immune.

The article takes as its primary subject the schools of yoga that are extremely physically vigorous  – the power flow and the hot yoga you are likely to find down the street at the Yoga Championships. This is a very visible aspect of the yoga population. But my instinct tells me that, just as in religion or politics, a vocal minority can often drown out a  quiet majority.

I believe yoga culture is already changing in America, with very little fanfare. People, some injured, some not, are emigrating from gym workouts and vigorous flow classes to more inclusive, less dogmatic studios. They are curious about the origins of yoga, and what it really means to their lives, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

On the day of the championships, I taught Eagle Pose in class. I noticed as I wandered the room that many of the students had their eyes closed, and almost all of the rest had a very soft look about the eyes. I mused aloud about how surprising that seemed, since we generally refer to “Eagle Eyes” as the sharp gaze of a predator.

Responses flowed out of the students:

“Maybe the efficiency of the predator’s gaze comes more from his ability to relax within himself.”

“Maybe his prey is within, not without.”

“The eagle is wrapped within himself, he’s resting.”

“He’s roosting!”

A conversation like this doesn’t make as sensational an article as a yoga induced emergency room visit, but I believe they are happening, noticed or not, at little studios across the country. Students and teachers, one by one, deciding for themselves that the risks of practicing yoga are far outweighed by the risks of not practicing at all.

Posted in Self Study, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Chakras – the Chocolate of Yoga

Chakras have always seemed to me the candy of yoga. In a practice that sometimes seems in danger of becoming chronically virtuous, turning my attention to the chakras always feels like it’s time for dessert.

Not to say that the study of chakras is always pleasant. The messages they offer and the meditations they encourage can be unwelcome, or address areas of our lives and bodies that we would prefer to ignore. But, rather than introducing these subjects in an abstract way, they bring them up in a way that I find easily grasped, held, played with.

Chakras are the organs of our energy body. In Hatha Yoga, it is suggested that we are composed not just of a physical (gross) body, but also an energetic (subtle) one. These two bodies are intricately connected, and influence one another, but are not the same.

The chakras are energetic centers of the subtle body that bridge this gap – where the energetic body can most clearly be “seen” to be influencing the physical, and vice versa. In most current, mainstream chakra theories, there are considered to be seven main ones, aligned along the spinal column from the tailbone to the crown of the head.

If this is where you’re starting to feel like chakras might be too hopelessly woo-woo to be of interest to you, let me tell you something else I like about them: the study of them still works even if you don’t believe in them. You can approach the study of chakras organically – accepting that there are colorful, spinning wheels of light within your energy body, and then exploring what they might mean in your life – or – you can approach the study of them logically – using them as an elegant organizational system to better understand experiences that make up a human life. Even if these are ideas pulled out of thin air, they can still function as mirrors that sharpen what you do in fact believe to be true about yourself.

For an example, let’s start at the base.The first chakra, Muladhara, or “root” is said to be located at the tailbone, or the pelvic floor. Of all the chakras, it is considered the “densest,” or most physical. It extends down into the earth, shining like a flashlight into the cellar underneath us. The parts of life that it might be said to govern are basic issues like safety, money, your right to be in the world and take up space. The areas of the physical body associated with Muladhara include the legs and feet, the very low back.

So, let’s say you have a physical issue like sciatica, what I would call a pretty classic first chakra imbalance. (If you’re continuing to wince at the woo-woo of such a statement, stay with me a moment longer…) The organic, or “from the ground up” perspective might take the inquiry to the mat. We might notice in yoga asana that our timidness or low self-esteem causes us to tuck the tailbone, curling the area of muladhara chakra underneath us in an attempt not to be noticed (the right to be here and take up space) which causes energy to get stuck here instead of flowing freely. The logical, or more “top down” perspective might instead point out that sciatica would be a natural side effect from working, say, three jobs that are hard on the body (the right to financial security).

Whether you think these are entities or simply ideas, they are still helpful jumping off points for reflections on where your life is functioning optimally, and where it’s not.

If your curiosity is piqued by these energy centers, I’m offering my fifth annual chakra workshop on Saturday, January 28th, 2-4:30. This year’s theme is “Chakra 101” – an introduction to all seven major centers of the body. We’ll do some yoga together, and explore ways, logical (meditation, journaling) and lighthearted (belly dancing, karaoke) to address and balance these areas, both on and off the mat. It will be a swirl of color and sound and movement, a real yoga lollipop. Hope to see you there!

Sign up at or email me for more information:

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New Year’s Revelations

Massage therapists, we worry about burning out our hands. In school, we are greeted with a barrage of horror stories: tendonitis, carpal tunnel, ganglian cysts. And sure enough, the first six months I was in practice, I had tingling from my elbows all the way down to my wrists and a sense of dread – now that I had found a job I loved with all my heart and soul, would I be able to keep at it?

The tingling subsided once I got some strength in my arms, my body, my hands. But it took a while for me to really learn how to avoid tiring my hands and forearms out. In my continuing education, at the San Francisco School of Massage, I had the immense privilege of studying deep tissue with the superlative master Art Riggs, someone who wrote the book on deep tissue. Literally.

Here’s what Art taught me to do with my hands: Sink in – and wait. That’s it. That simple instruction has changed everything about the way I work. And it’s beginning to influence the way I’d like to live.

Usually, in massage school, you learn a lot of strokes: patterns you are supposed to move your hands in, shapes you are trying to make in the body. Art didn’t teach many of these. Instead, he suggested that by sinking, gently but decisively into tissue with no agenda, and simply waiting, the tissues will tell you which way they need to go.

This way, a massage session is not something I’m telling the body, but a question I am asking, over and over.

This method can occasionally be scary. At least once, at the beginning of each massage, as I sink in, I have a little butterfly flutter of worry: what if this time, my hands get no answer, and they just don’t know where to go? What if I get stuck in silence with no plan?

It hasn’t happened yet. I’m not saying I hear voices, or have visions, or could even tell you why my hands are moving in the direction that they are, but somehow they always start moving, and so far, this technique seems to be working out just fine.

Yesterday was the last day of 2011. To celebrate the transition, I moved into a new massage office. I have been working in the same space for exactly eight years. It’s been a cozy (read: tiny) space, but it has served me well. It’s been a place of refuge, for both myself and my clients. It’s where we go when we need a quiet cave. Within this cave, the massage table itself seems to be something of a tunnel – it leads somewhere.  I have had reports from clients that they go traveling a bit, or have visits, or visions. Sometimes, of course, they just go to sleep.

That portal will move with me. I’m ready for more space – a little more room to move and breathe. My new office has room for real chairs to sit and relax in, for example, room to do a yoga pose or two.

So yesterday, as twilight gathered, I finished vacuuming my empty old space until it looked as anonymous as it did on January 1st, 2004. I lay down smack dab in the middle of the room in corpse pose.  I thought about how days are long, but eight years can seem very quick. Massage still seems new to me, although now I have been doing it (and teaching yoga) longer than I have done any other sort of job. But when you let go of what you think you know, and you let every day be a question, the job always feels new, it always seems fresh and unexpected.

That tiny room has seen all sorts of suffering, both my client’s and my own. I’m pretty sure 2011 is a year a lot of us are grateful to put to bed. This time, the beginning of a new year, feeds our hunger for a fresh start, even though it’s not particularly any more fresh than any day, any moment.

Human beings, we worry about burning out our hearts.  When faced with suffering off the table, my own or others, my first instinct is to jump in and massage it, make it a known pattern, an understandable shape. Like my poor hands those first few months, the heart can buckle a bit under the load.

What if I could apply these lessons of the hands to the instincts of my heart? Rather than jumping in with a plan to fix, could I let my heart sink into the moment, and wait? Stop trying to have all the answers, and, as Rilke suggests, learn to “love the questions themselves?” I honestly don’t know, as I’ve yet to take this approach to one difficult moment of my life. But let this be the year, let this be the day, let it be now.

Posted in Kindness, Letting Go | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Yoga for Holiday Stress

I’m not sure when I fell out of love with the holidays, but if I had to pin it down, I’d say it was the year of the collage magnets. I was in my mid-twenties, living with friends in Seattle, and in spite of the fact I don’t have a crafty bone in my body, I became enamored of the idea that I would craft presents for all my friends and family that year. At that time, I worked at Archie McPhee, a toy store run amok that also sold odds and ends from various suppliers, so we had a lot of wide magnetic strips. Since we also had lots of colorful, glittery things, I thought I would glue all these together into some sort of spectacular collage magnet, with content tailored to the interests of each individual recipient.

I’m not sure if I finished even one. I do know that, by the time my house hosted our holiday party, the week before Christmas, I had given up on the project completely, and felt so deflated I could barely make an appearance. I spent most of the evening in my room, and I’m pretty sure I spent some of it in the closet, although in retrospect that was less out of necessity and more out of drama. I was just looking to be found. And to have my message heard: I was done with Christmas.

The first thing to go was presents. For anyone. Then, I dropped the Christmas card list. Christmas lights, which I used to love so much I used them year round, went next. And on and on, until Christmas day was just a day where I didn’t work and I got to eat whatever I want and relax.

That seemed to work for a while, until I realized I wasn’t actually relaxed. Even though I was opting out of the activities that I thought were the problem, I still wasn’t enjoying myself very much.

I completely excused myself from the whole rigamarole for years. Doing so only left a vacuum and didn’t leave me satisfied, It was time to make a decision – what were the things I wanted to put back in? And, more importantly, what new things did I want to incorporate that would feed my soul instead of making my heart ache?

I like Christmas lights. I like biking home from teaching at night in the dark and watching more of them go up every night, illuminating my ride. They are up on our house again, the old-school painted bulb kind, glowing around my door when I get home. I like gingerbread lattes. I like day-after-Christmas dinners at Indian restaurants with friends, giving those who do spend the holidays with family an opportunity to do some hilarious re-gifting.

One thing I really like is yoga. And so, “Yoga for Holiday Stress” was born. (We teach what we need to learn the most.)

In this workshop, we realize we are not alone in our holiday ambivalence. We stretch, we breathe, we reflect and support one another as we each decide what to let go of, and what to usher in instead. Last year, we wrote ourselves holiday cards to remind us what really matters, and I sent them off to each student right when things would be the craziest.

I heard recently from a student who attended last year that she found that card in her holiday decorations as she was getting them out this year. Reading it reminded her, right at the outset, what was important to her, and was already altering how she approached the season. Messages like that are the best Christmas gift I could ever hope for.

There are only a few spots left, but if you sense that one of them is for you, go here:

May you have peace.

Posted in Letting Go, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments


When I was little, I made sure to sit next to my Uncle Jim at every holiday dinner. That way, we could play “Foot.” I can’t imagine any adult having the patience for such a game, but somehow he did. “Foot” consisted of me quietly sneaking my foot onto his knee at the table. Then I would wait, fairly bursting with the hilarity of this, for him to notice. “What?” he would cry, in feigned outrage. “What is this? Foot? Oh, god, not this again. I thought I had gotten rid of foot. Oh, foot. What am I going to do now? What will I do about this foot?” When I was satisfied with his reaction, I would slowly retract foot, only to repeat the game in about five minutes. This went on through the whole meal, and not once did he say: “Madeleine, I’m trying to have a conversation with the adults here. Can foot wait?

I wish we could have found a photo of him smiling for his missing poster.

On Monday, October 24th, my Uncle Jim set out from Las Vegas, NV, to visit my Mother in Vancouver, WA. On Wednesday, October 26th, he called her twice: once at ten in the morning, and once at noon. Both times he was calling from a pay phone, as he doesn’t have a cel. He said that he was lost, but he believed himself to be in the area of my Mom’s condo, and he would arrive there shortly.

But then he didn’t. When he didn’t turn up by Thursday, his sisters, my Mom and my Aunt Janet and my Aunt Ann, started notifying authorities. I didn’t hear a thing about it until Friday, after teaching my morning yoga class, when I had a text from my Cousin. I paced the circumference of the studio, making flustered calls to friends and family. I learned that Jim had been exhibiting signs of forgetfulness, and it amazed me that we had allowed him to make this journey. He doesn’t sleep in hotels, either, preferring to pull over to the side of the road and sleep at rest stops.

Those days of consistent family holidays are long gone. We are scattered now, to different states, to different problems. We forget to tell each other things. We also sometimes forget to take care of each other.

By Friday night, we were in full tilt search on the Internet. We also discovered that missing persons detectives don’t work weekends. So on Saturday, my spouse Joy and I decided to hit the road. Sunday found us flyering rest stops, talking to people, gazing out the window for a dark grey Honda off Interstate 5.

Through the sickened nauseous haze of those days, I became aware that something quite wonderful was happening. People were stepping in and picking up this burden with me. On Facebook, not just my friends, but friends of friends, and then their friends, posted the information, offered condolences and suggestions, and kept checking back for further news.

My spouse asked for an indefinite amount of time off from her job to help find him, with no real idea how much that might impact her being employed upon her return.

My family pulled together, too. I communicated more with my cousins those five days than I have in all the family holidays put together. We all found our strengths and shared them with each other, falling into natural rhythms and roles. For once, we really took care of each other.

I found out that more people have had a loved one go missing than you might think. People started writing to me with their stories. Most of these did not end well. A woman I didn’t know wrote to tell me her Brother-in-law was missing for three weeks before a helicopter spotted his car, with his body inside, off the side of a road. When Joy and I were on our search, a waitress asked where we were headed. When I told her, she put her hand on her heart and sank into a chair. Her Grandpa had gone missing while hunting. They had searched for him for 14 days, before another hunter found his body, curled up in a tree, one day before the snows would have buried him completely. “My heart breaks for you,” she said. “I’ll pray for you and for Jim.”

These sad stories, somehow, didn’t make me sadder. They reminded me that I was not the first person to have a loved one go missing, and I wouldn’t be the last. That night, in the motel, I finally had the courage to open my dog-eared copy of Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” and the chapter it naturally opened to was about the practice of Tonglen. I usually think of it as a formal meditation practice, but she was speaking of it more as a way of moving through the world. In Tonglen, we reverse our tendency to push away suffering. Instead, we breathe it in, with the sincere wish that all others sharing this same pain could be free of it. When we breathe out, we offer space, ease, freedom for everyone in the same circumstances. I’ve read this chapter many times, but it’s never had the same immediacy. “When we don’t close off, and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.”

So I closed my eyes and I let my heart break. I quietly cried and cried. I wasn’t just crying for Jim, but for Halee’s Grandpa, and Yvonne’s Brother-in -law, and the many faces on the other posters at the rest stops. Sometimes, people set out to get somewhere, and they just don’t arrive.

Then, I rolled off the bed onto the floor and took a knee to chest. I did a figure four stretch and then a lunge. It was the first time I’d done yoga since I’d heard the news, and it felt simple and really good. With my body somewhat soothed, I crawled back into bed, put a hand on my heart and let my breath guide me to sleep.

That same night, at 12:40am on Halloween morning, West Seattle Police Officer Patrick Chang found my Uncle Jim in a Seattle park, disoriented, but alive. He was sleeping in his car, wearing a lot of layers on top but shorts on the bottom, with the heat all the way on but the windows down. He seemed to have no idea five days had passed, that he was lost, and that people were worried about him.

I will be forever grateful for the thoughts and prayers that I believe shone like a spotlight on my Uncle the night he was found. I’m also grateful for Officer Chang’s thoroughness, kindness, and sense of humor. When he called my Mother to tell her he had found her Brother, he assured her that he was safe and well. Then he said: “I must say, he has a beautiful view of the city right here. Would you like to speak with him?”

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