Thursday, October 28, 2010

Aspen Mountain Powder Tours opens THIS MONDAY!

From the Purl himself:

Hi One and All, it's that time again.

There's 18" of new snow on top of Aspen Mt. and the Powder Tours reservations books open for the season this coming Mon. Nov. 1st.

Please call 970-920-0720 or email to book!

Let's Go Skiing!
                                                            Cheers, Bob.

When Folding Towels is Training for Ski Mountaineering

I don't always get to train as I'd like. For instance, today, I am stuck in the spa for eight hours with only one massage. It is, after all, the off season.

This is a BEAUTIFUL time to be in the Aspen Valley, its quiet, there is snow on the ground, and you can feel ski season right around the corner. Its not a great time to be stuck in the basement of the hotel when every single piece of you is whining and yearning and straining to be outside moving moving moving my body.

But we know from experience that whining is the same thing as wishing, and if anyone has been paying attention up till now, we also know that Wishing is the same thing as Suffering!!

RIGHT! The definition of suffering is wishing that something was other than it is.

And so, I am inside, I have a good job that I love at a great place in Aspen (boo hoo, Kate!). And today, I am keeping myself busy by stocking linen.

We have a big cart that comes in every night from the Laundry service that is full of towels. The towels all need to be sorted, folded, and stocked into the locker rooms every day. We have all day to do this, and its an easy task, exhausting neither mentally or physically. But when you are wishing that you could be outside, the mountain of towels and sheets seems to make the day interminable.

Here, I have a choice. I can look at this task and use it as a way to increase my suffering, thereby swimming in my own wishes and desires, changing nothing about the fact that I can't go outside today, decreasing the size of the laundry pile by not a single iota, and increasing my distress and resentment at having to fold all this nonsense just so it can get used once and put back in the laundry again, or, I can make a different choice.

There is an old saying, "Nothing is so difficult as that which is done reluctantly."

And so I choose to train for ski mountaineering today. I choose to get hard to work, in my spa uniform and my sensible Dansko shoes. No one knows what I am doing, why I am so intensely focused on the freaking towels every day, and I don't really mind. I'd rather work in silence, but I'm happy to chat and visit and joke too.

But here is what I notice. I set some parameters for myself. There is a job that doesn't want doing, which probably takes an hour and a half to two hours. I make the decision that the job will be done start to finish before I eat my lunch, answer my email, read my new book (Reinhold Messner's Annapurna: 50 years of Expeditions in the Death Zone), write my blog post, or any of the articles, poems or stories that are constantly swimming around in my head.

That's the first part. Work start to finish on the task at hand before reward.

The second part is to observe my attitude and behavior while I am working, and use this time to train some mental discipline.

I recognize the fact that when my small laundry truck is halfway full, I have the desire to push it through the spa to the folding area. But the cart isn't full, and the desire to end this task and move onto the next one is a good example of an undisciplined mind. I'm not tired, this isn't hard, the reason I want to move on is that I'm bored and changing tasks helps keep things fresh.

And so the next rule that I have for myself is that each part of the job, each individual task, must be completed to its fullest extent before moving on to the next step. (This, by the way, is NOT how I run the rest of my life, although maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to borrow a page here. I tend to answer email and face book and write stories and blog posts while doing laundry and cooking dinner and playing guitar and talking to Michael on the phone, leading to a life of blissful chaos in which the occasional personal task gets done and I'm enormously pleased with myself.)

And so, I use a tool that I learned in studying Vipassana Meditation (The art of observing your breath, without changing anything. Also the art, sometimes, of not running screaming from the room because you are suddenly completely alone with yourself and your mind runs like a wild monkey over what ifs and what were's), which is this: I gently call my mind back to the task and ask myself lovingly to complete it. There is no beratement, no judgement, no criticism. I allow myself to laugh or smile at my human folly and my proclivity to want to abandon my task in search of another one, and when I am able to call my attention to this action; to observe my desire to leave the task at hand, I relate it to monkey mind.

Suddenly, I am able to observe myself bending over, lifting the towels and placing them in the laundry cart. There is no time, the task does not begin or end, I leave off marking progress as the level of the laundry in one bin reduces and the level in the other increases. I find what pleasure there is to be found in the methodical repetition of the task at hand, and I am pleased with my ability to step over my desire to leave the task and embrace it wholly. Living in the knowledge that the desire to abandon was fleeting, and that that desire had a front side, and a back side, and that on the back side there was peace, space, and contentment, slowly, the laundry cart empties and it is time for the next task.

In this manner, all of the laundry is sorted, folded and delivered. I am not sad that I have to do it, but I am fascinated with my continual desire to stop.

This reminds me so intensely of what it is like to climb up a mountain before I ski down it. I love to climb, I love to live in the mountains, but there is always, still, for me, a section of the climb in which I wonder how long till it ends, and if I could just wish myself up onto the summit and skip the last third. Mountains have a way of keeping the hardest pitch for last, and as you expend your energy, the task before you often increases in dificulty, either just in physical exertion or in both physical, mental and technical.

Finding that space in your mind where you are moving, continually, you are living in the methodical rhythm of your footfalls, and asking yourself to be present, to observe, and if it becomes dificult, to feel the sun on the side of your body where it is touching, and the cold on the side where it isn't touching, and to come back into your body, and renew your dedication to moving upwards on the mountain, is dificult, and incredibly rewarding.

I think that the reward, (and I'm not talking about the summit here, I'm talking about the small rewards along the way, each time you step over your desire to stop, or you step over your need to go slowly and you manage to increase, and hold your speed, using this trip to train for the next, just like each Yoga class is the foundation for the class that follows, and each meditation is the foundation for the practice which follows), anyhow, I think that the reward is in allowing your spirit to fill with those small victories, and then just as easily letting go of the victory, that pride, the ego, and finding again nothing but the task.

Be it folding towels, be it sorting receipts, be it walking for twenty minutes on the pavement, or climbing a 14er, or an 8000 meter peak, be it tuning your gear well, or preparing food for your family, there is a benefit, there is an opportunity to train into your body the ability to have wells of discipline which you can call on when everything in you is telling you to abandon your task.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anatoli Boukreev

I'm reading The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, and I can't put it down.

I started reading more about this extraordinary man, who knew his body and the mountains so well, and had such a beautiful, respectful, simple formula for living and moving in the mountains, and I came across this quote by him:

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion...I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn."

Thank you, Anatoli, for continuing to inspire and teach, long after you left us.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


    Melisa Freeman is now an officially certified firefighter, and all around badass. Yeah, she quartered her first elk last week, too.

Mel, I'm so proud of you. You work harder than anyone I know. Its inspirational. Keep it up, you are a ROCKSTAR!

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

So two years ago, I was in a car accident. I was stopped in traffic and I was hit from behind by someone who was going about 45 miles per hour, and was texting, and didn't try to stop.

I was in my old Bronco, and when I was hit, my head went back over the seat and hit the metal brace in the seat.

When I stopped screaming, I wondered what that loud sound had been. I realized that it had been me, and that I should absolutely not move, because I felt like I had broken my neck.

I went to the hospital, and they did some CAT scans and some MRIs on me, diagnosed me with a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and several bulging discs in my neck that were impinging the nerve root.

At first, State Farm was very helpful, and I was able to get the treatments that I needed. In that first six months, we were most concerned about the brain injury, the headaches, and the bulging discs. I developed post trauma Fibromyalgia, which was managed well by acupuncture, massage therapy, soaking in the hot springs and some chiropractic work.

It was recommended to me to get some facet injections into my spine, but because I try not to put any unnecessary medicine into my body, I waited to do the injections.

State Farm refused to pay for treatments up front, and most massage therapists don't do any billing. Over time, as I moved out on my own with my kids, my financial situation changed dramatically, and I was unable to get the treatments that I needed in order to stay in a manageable state of pain.

It has now been a full year since I got any body work, because I simply can't afford to front even $100 to a body worker, let alone the $2200 a month that my injuries are requiring. I did manage to get one set of facet injections, because I hadn't had any body work, the situation in my neck and shoulder got markedly worse, and I was faced with no other option.

The injections helped a LOT, but I'm now sitting on a $10,000 medical bill that State Farm refuses to pay until I get an independent medical evaluation. My lawyer has advised against getting this evaluation, because most of the "approved IMEs" work for State Farm, and its very difficult to get an honest evaluation.

Meanwhile, my orthopedic surgeon has strongly recommended that I get three more sets of injections, which of course I can't do unless State Farm agrees to pay. Over the summer, my left hand started going numb and I began experiencing shooting, stabbing and burning pain through my shoulder, back, neck and down into my hand.

I had to dramatically reduce the amount of massage work I was doing, because I couldn't feel that hand, but I needed to pay my bills. I got the job as the manager at the stables, which is also lots of heavy, hard, physical work, but the team there was amazing, and helped me out quite a bit with the heavy lifting.

In the last three weeks, due to the fact that I can't manage my injuries with massage, yoga, chiro, acupuncture, etc, they have gotten dramatically worse, and now, my left hand is cold, numb and weak most of the time. I can't pick any thing up that weighs more than about ten pounds, and my lower lip, left side of my jaw and ear are going numb.

I am, for the first time, scared.

I called Dr. Raub at Vail Summit Orthopedics and told him, look I can't pay you and I have an existing balance, but I'm very worried about the numbness and the amount of pain I'm in. I was raised not to complain, I believe that the mind has the ability to handle pain if it is properly trained, and so I work anyway, no matter the pain.

The difference is that now, I am physically unable to do the work that I need to. I am exhausted. My stomach is always upset. My body hurts from head to toe, all the time, unless I've been to the hot springs. My left shoulder is weak weak weak, and in pain. There is no position of comfort or rest for the shoulder, and the pain radiates down my arm and into my numb hand.

The question now becomes, how do I pay my bills? How do I make a living, and how in the world do I get the medical help that I need?

Dr. Raub told me to come on in, he wanted to see what is going on. He spoke to the billing department who put me on a payment plan that makes it so my account is current, even though I'm barely paying on it.

Dr. Raub diagnosed me with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a direct result of my car accident, and we discussed the fact that it probably would not have progressed to this point if I had been able to do the PT and soft tissue work that my injuries required. Because State Farm wouldn't pay for the treatments my injuries required, I am, two years later, much worse off.

We have scheduled an MRI for my c-spine and my left shoulder, and pending those results, we are going to see a neurologist. I have scheduled another set of facet injections for my low c-spine, so at least the treatments are happening, regardless of the ever mounting medical bills and the fact that I can't do any supportive pain reducing therapies.

They want to put me on Lyrica, which is an anti-seizure medication that calms and sooths the nerves, but the problem with that medication is that the common side effects are confusion, fatigue, and massive weight gain. No thank you, we have five weeks to ski season and this is a tryout year.

I'm already working hard to become more aware and responsible with my schedule, I don't need to add a brain confusing drug that makes you fat and tired. Michael looked up the effects of this drug and told me right off, "Babe, please don't put that toxic poison in your body." and I quite agree. Its a slippery slope to the beginning of the end.

So basically, State Farm would pay for a toxic band aid, but not for massage, which is super effective at reducing the pain without diminishing my ability to do my job and pay my bills and make me sicker.

I'm glad we didn't end up settling the case, as we almost did earlier this year, I was hoping for a settlement that would allow me to finally go get the therapies that I needed, but we decided not to take it, it was such a small amount, it would only cover the outstanding bill and one more set of injections.

It turns out that these conditions, Fibro and TOS, are lifelong issues, both of which can degrade into serious issues later in life. I'm not planning on letting this injury change my lifepath, make me sick, or take me down. And so I'm hanging in there to get the therapies that can get it in check, take the symptoms down, and allow me to do what I love, ski hard and teach skiing, do body work and help people relax and heal.

Michael's gift of Yoga has been an incredible help, and I've been spending my rent money on trips to Glennwood Springs, because every time I put my body in that hot water, I feel immeasurably better, my arm doesn't go numb for hours afterwards.

Its my job to work hard enough to pay my bills and care for my kids. I'm proud of the fact that I get better and better at that, I have some good friends who have given me some excellent advice on saving money over the winter, and I have the opportunity to work a lot at the St. Regis spa. The question is... am I healthy enough to do 8 hours of massage four days a week?

Right now, the answer is no. But the reality is that it's Bodhi's birthday this week, he's turning seven. Its time to put together a birthday, some costumes, and pay my car payment and my rent. And so I go to work.

State Farm says, well, she's working, she can't be that hurt. But what they don't know, or won't believe is that you can work when you are hurt. Yeah, it hurts more. Its hard to use a weak, painful left arm while giving massage, every stroke sends an electric shock down to my numb hand and deep into my ribs and back. But lots of people have to do work when their body hurts. What is the alternative? Not to work? I'm not sure what planet that works on, but here on planet earth, we have bills to pay and groceries to buy.

I'm not upset that I have to work while my body hurts. I don't mind doing what needs doing. What makes me angry is that insurance companies bill themselves as here to help, when really, they are accomplished conspiracy theorists that are fairly certain that because I'm still working, I'm just trying to milk them for money. They think that because I try to do the most minimal invasive medical treatment that I'm not injured, and that if time passes between treatments its because I'm not injured. As opposed to time passing between treatments because I can't afford to do the treatment, or the treatment is so medically invasive that I'm trying to do healthy supportive therapies to reduce the amount of actual big procedures.

So that's the update. The rest of me is strong, excited for ski season, and working hard. I do have to say Than GOODNESS for the Skier's Edge Machine, because I'm keeping my core and legs in shape without doing further damage to my back, neck and shoulder. Yoga helps immensely. Pilates rocks my world and is making my core ready to go hard. MRI on Monday. Game on.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I just found this on The Future Buzz, and couldn't resist sharing it!

Recognize that the other person is you

Wow, I got so many great emails from Compassion for the French Tipped! The main theme from everyone seems to be one of my other favorite puzzles, which I read on a tea bag once, I have no idea who said it. "Recognize that the Other Person is You."

This is probably the best cue for suddenly and completely letting go of my ego that I can find. Every time it occurs to me, I find that I have a lot of love in my heart, more grace, more compassion, and I'm grateful to that other person for reminding me to be kind.

I suppose its been said in a bunch of different ways. "Treat others as you would be treated" "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" "Lead by example" and so on. But it never really hit home for me until I read that tea bag about five years ago.

Recognize that the other person is you.

This summer, I wrote it on the board at the stables, and I got a succinct answer: "What?" to which I replied with my own understanding of that lovely layered sentiment, which I thought I'd share with y'all.

I think that recognizing that the other person is you means that when you are talking with someone, observing someone, or interacting in any way with someone, even if its just you from a distance looking at them, if you can have the awareness to recognize that that other person, in another place and time, could be you, suddenly, the thoughts you are having reflect back at you as though you are looking in a mirror.

You could be, and are being, watched, sized up, judged, critiqued, examined, and so on. In this moment, you have a choice. You have the opportunity to see the other person as the mirror that they are for you.

Whatever you are seeing that might be repellant to you probably jumped out at you because you have fears in your own person about that thing. Looking in a mirror is frightening, and looking at another person is often looking in the mirror. We refuse to see that the thing that scares or disgusts us is likely a reflection from our own lack or prejudice. But if you recognize that the other person is you, you are less likely to be so harsh.

It's hard to admit when the fear you are feeling, or the frustration, anger or annoyance is amplified because you know that you have struggled in the past with the same issue, or you hope never to struggle with that issue because you find it repugnant. But how easily could that person have been you?

Remember that old saying, "There but for the grace of God go I."  I don't think that's accurate. I think, and this is a bit esoteric, but I think that that person IS you. There is an old Zen koan which says, "You are the leaf, and the bug, and the root." And I think that this idea means that you are the other person, as well.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Compassion for the French Tipped

This morning, I was in yoga class, and I was struggling. Not with the postures which our esteemed teacher decided it would be prudent and beneficial to hold for an interminable amount of time, but with my own person, judgments, and ego.

And then, if you are open, you can maybe move to the full expression of the pose...
  For my birthday, my wonderful and loving partner, Michael, bought me 45 days of unlimited yoga at the o2 studio in Aspen. This is an incredible gift, I haven't had a consistent yoga practice in ten years at least, and it feels amazing to begin every day with yoga, and to sometimes be ridiculous enough to stay for Pilates and bend my belly into ski shape.

My favorite thing about trying to do yoga every day at the same time is that you end up going no matter if you are tired, or sad, or happy, or energized. It doesn't become about "feeling" like going, but just about going, and finding your practice every time you show up.  What does today's practice mean? Is it about continuously committing to trying, in every moment, because you really don't want to be there and you are just waiting for the class to be over?

Spending an hour and twenty minutes trying to change that attitude from one of depressive negativism into positive change, and then hold onto that slippery sucker and make it stick so that when you leave the studio, you not only feel glad that you came, but like you overcame and emerged changed as well is a wonderful experience.

I'll be honest, I was glad that Bodhi had been puking all night yesterday (well, I wasn't glad that he was sick, that's a bummer for him, but the repercussions meant that I could say to Michael, sorry, honey, I'm staying home with him just in case he's sick again.) and I got out of yoga.

What a funny thing to say. I got out of having to go to yoga. This practice which is by me, for me, which forces me to work on compassion, for myself, for my body, and for everyone else in the room, this practice which strengthens my body and makes my Fibromyalgia feel soooo much better, this practice which helps me to begin my day grounded, focused and alive, calm and deep into my open heart, I managed to get out of it yesterday.

This makes me smile at my human folly, and brings up another subject that I've been thinking about, that of abdicating our responsibility for our own health and happiness.  But that's another post.

Each of us gets benefit no matter how deeply we go.
Today, I want to talk about the fact that I did NOT get out of going to yoga today, I went, I was glad to go. I walked into the studio feeling sad that I had missed class the day before, and unhappy with myself for eating a half a box of Wheat Thins last night while I was devouring a fascinating book called Shocktrauma about the first dedicated trauma hospital in the nation, built in the 1970s. I was trying not to miss Michael, who left for Africa after yoga class yesterday.

 So into yoga this morning, I carried my belly, a bit distended and unhappy with me, and I carried only one mat, as Michael is gone for 35 days, and the rhythm of my new life with him begins to show itself, here for a month, gone for a month, here for a month, gone for a month, and I begin to learn what it means to live with and without him as I continue to walk down my path.

I wore a shirt that falls off my belly when I do inversions, and consequently, I had the opportunity to view my belly every time I went back into Downdog. Today, I set my intention for my practice at compassion for my belly. Which is getting stronger every day, which made two people, was a house for them, and now hangs a bit slack (I try to think of it as gloriously slack, but that doesn't always work).  If I looked through my legs past my belly, I could see the Aspen that everyone thinks of when they think of Aspen on their mats behind me.

To be honest, this is the first time that I've encountered this in class. This studio, while expensive and quite beautiful, tends to attract people with a deep practice and an open heart.

A friend once told me when I was about to move here that Aspen is a skier's town. Yes, there are rich, and beautiful and plastic people that come here five weeks out of each season, and some of them even live here year round, but you choose the circle you travel in, and every single kind of circle seems to be well represented here. The population as a whole is fit, healthy, and outside.

And every once in a while, either on my table in massage, and now in yoga class, I come across someone that I have trouble loving. And in that moment, I have an opportunity to listen to that old, nagging voice... "What is the lesson you are meant to learn here?" In cases like this the lesson is that my ego has taken hold again when I wasn't paying attention, and it is time to practice peeling it off, setting it aside and really being open to the person who is in front of me, who is now my teacher, and I their humble student.

The well put together woman. Including french tips.
There were two women in class today, each with french tipped manicures. They were both beautiful in that sculpted with a knife kind of way, each woman in her mid fifties, each with high, firm, round breasts popping precariously out of their beautiful designer yoga tops. Each was wearing an enormous shining diamond ring, each had a low ponytail that never seemed to get mussed of beautifully colored blonde hair.  Each was ripped. And I mean RIPPED. These ladies had sculpted hard bodies, tasteful makeup, and seventy dollar yoga mats in their own designer sack. As the thought occurred to me that these were my teachers today, I rebelled. Any lessons they had to teach me, I did not want to learn. Which meant, of course, that it was probably a really important lesson, and today was the day to learn it.

And I was struggling. I was shocked to find myself looking. Most of the time, yoga is so hard (and this class was no exception) that I get a kind of fuzzed out gaze and just go to work. I had a teacher at the yoga House in Pasadena who once told us "yoga is a practice for yourself. Do not look around and compare yourself to anyone else in the room. You can not be "good" at yoga. Being deeper in the pose does not mean you are Better. A person who is tight in their body gets as much benefit from folding forward and being nowhere near the floor as the person who folds over, lays their belly on their thighs and presses their palms flat to the floor. You go into the pose as deeply as you need to to gain benefit from the pose. As you continue your practice, that place of benefit will change."

I found that statement to be SO relieving and it gave me permission to go to class and "suck at it" from a Western perspective. From that day on, I didn't worry about if my clothes were the cool yoga clothes, or if I was flexible enough or if I was making the teacher impressed or proud, or if other people in the class could tell that I did yoga frequently by how excellent my postures were. On that day, my practice became my own, and it began to become a healing practice for both my heart and my body.

Today, however, I couldn't stop looking at those french tips. I wasn't angry, but I was confused. I was sad. I found myself wondering what they thought of me, I wondered if they thought I was low rent, if they thought they were better than me. I was surprised to find how toxic those thoughts were; suddenly I was having trouble in balancing postures, I was having trouble surrendering to the energy that the posture was creating and allowing it to deepen, I was suddenly struggling and fighting.

 I felt shame come up, because I knew that in projecting those thoughts on those ladies, who, after all, were here in yoga, I was wondering if they were judging me only because I was judging them. I did not want to admit it. I want to be a person who has an open heart for everyone.

I searched for some compassion, and it was hard. Part of me wanted to say, well, they can't possibly be gaining benefit because they are so wrapped up in yoga as exercise, as a parade, that they aren't practicing a deep internal practice, of compassion and love. THEY ARE MISSING THE POINT.

Um, Hello? Are you listening to yourself? Sheepishly, I looked at the women. They were good friends, and I wanted to think of them as catty, gossipy, coffee club kind of girls, the head cheerleader and her best friend. But is there some possibility that I'm pulling that idea forward and imposing it on these women? Who am I to judge why they got their boobs done? Wasn't I just lamenting the sad state of my flaccid belly only moments before? If I had the power to change it with a tummy tuck, I hope that I wouldn't take that temptation, but instead learn to love myself better and deeper, but I'll tell you what. It would be hard to resist.
Each practice is individual, non competitive, and what you wear and how you look while you are doing it don't help you gain benefit from the postures.
And so I started rooting around for some compassion. I wandered through thoughts of sadness about what it must feel like to live in denial of aging to such a degree that your life becomes focused and centered around looking youthful, to such a degree that you become a gross cartoon of a younger body. And then I realized that statement is full of judgment again.

And so I worked some more, sweating, feeling fat and ugly next to these beautiful store bought women, and I realized that I needed not to look for an answer but just to let go of my fear. French tipped manicures mean something in my past which tells me the woman sporting them is a bitch. My job is to recognize that association and sever it, being willing to see the person in front of me regardless of what they are clothed in. Some people wear dread locks and a diaper and ash on their face. Some people put silicone inside their skin and acrylic on their nails. They are both people wearing costumes that indicate clan or culture, bringing the wearer a sense of belonging to a group.

These two ladies belonged to each other, they were of the same tribe, they were fond of each other, and I watched the friendship between them, and felt my judgment melt away. I was surprised at what my practice had offered me this morning. I had guessed that it was going to be about going to yoga on my own without Michael.
Instead, it turned out to be about unearthing, all at once, human prejudice that sits so very close to the surface.