Girls’ Night In

As I gather my thoughts to write about Bhutan (a daunting task that really should be a book, not a blog post), I decided to share another unique story first: 

Last November I attended the most unexpectedly terrific dinner party ever.  Knowing that I would be in London for one night on a trip that took me to Rwanda and Oxford, I sent a message to Gwyneth Paltrow to see if she might happen to be in London at the same time.  Gwyneth and I met years before when I lived in London and, even after I moved to Hong Kong, we kept in touch and I sometimes visited her when I was in town.  Despite having relocated to Los Angeles, Gwyneth happened to be working on a movie in London and would be there during my visit.  She invited me over for dinner.

I had been to her house a few times for lunch, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with our kids and once with her whole family, including her brother and his wife.  Having made the mistake of asking her sister-in-law what kind of photos she takes when I later learned that she’s one of the most famous photographers in the world and was opening a solo show at the Tate Modern that same week, I wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself again.  I sent Gwyneth a message asking if anyone else was coming and she replied that yes, a few great ladies would be joining.   “Who?” I asked.   “My best friend Stella McCartney and Adele.  The singer.”

Oh my.  Seriously?!

Now what do you wear to a dinner party of four that includes the world’s most beautiful Oscar winner lifestyle guru, an OBE top fashion designer daughter of one of the Beatles and a Grammy award winner with the most stunning voice ever?  I opted for black skinny jeans, a sequined racer back top and a gray cashmere coat sweater with little heel boots.  I know next to nothing about fashion anyway, but I think it was OK for the evening.

Gwyneth’s home is lovely and she took great care of us.  She served beautiful food and we indulged in great conversation that flowed seamlessly from the mundane to the ridiculous and back again.  Sometimes we were talking about work/life balance and raising children and then they were comparing notes on changing paparazzi laws and how terrific Beyoncé is.  I could contribute to some conversations, and not at all to others, but the fundamental feeling I had was that we were four moms with very different lives, but who all love and want what’s best for our children.

At one point during dinner after I finished telling them about my trip to Rwanda and how I had worked in Somalia years before Stella says, “Christ, we all feel like wankers compared to you.”  I laughed hard and told Stella that I wanted to have that engraved on my tombstone.

Stella and I bonded over Ed Ruscha, my favorite California artist who had done an Iconoclast episode with Stella I had recently seen.  I gave her my card and hoped I might hear from her, but didn’t get her contact details.  Hugs goodbye with all and I was in a taxi home, pinching myself from a truly fun and wonderful night.

A few weeks later sitting at my desk in HK a message arrived from “Merry Sam” with nothing in the subject line.  I nearly deleted it thinking it spam, but then decided to read it.  It said,

“Hello.  I am writing on behalf of Stella who has asked if you could let me have your underwear bra / pant sizes, shoe size and also your children’s ages and names please.  Also the best address to send you something please.  Many thanks.”

I pondered this strange message and then replied,

“Hi.  I’ve never received an email like that before.  Are you serious?  If so, I’m psyched.  If not, well, you have a lot of random info at your disposal.  Here goes…”, and I listed the information requested.

A few days after Christmas in Colorado I returned from skiing to find a box waiting for me with a return address “Stella McCartney.”  Opening the box there were four beautifully wrapped silver packages with red ribbon, one each for my children and one for me.  All were addressed by name and signed “Stella.”  Each kid had received a beautiful outfit, and a nightgown for me that fits as if it was custom made.  I was so touched that she thought of me and even with her extraordinarily busy schedule sent beautiful gifts for no apparent reason.  I was (and remain) rather speechless with gratitude.

I share this story because it’s too good not to.  The cult of celebrity is so intense, so revered, so reviled and such a mystery.  My biggest take away from the night was that these are women with extraordinary talents, but even bigger hearts.  Moms who want the best for their kids, like we all do, who are trying to make life work for their families and to share their talents with the world.  I am as inspired by the depth of their character and thoughtfulness as I am by their resumes, and I was so honored and thrilled to have spent an evening in their company.

Now on to karma knitting in Bhutan…

Random Path Generator of Life

Today is National Day in Hong Kong. I can’t imagine it could be as unusual as the one I spent a few years ago and describe here… 

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On October 3, 1990, a pudgy college senior studying abroad in Vienna, I stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and watched as the flag of reunited Germany was raised for the first time.  I hadn’t intended to go to Berlin for the unification, but Oktoberfest had been more like “drunken grope-fest” and my travel mates and I needed a good night’s sleep.  So, with our Eurail passes we boarded a night train to Hanover (a solid eight-hour destination) then figured we might as well check out this unification thing in Berlin since we were so close.  It was surreal.  I chipped my own souvenir piece of the wall with a rented hammer from an entrepreneurial German (I still have that piece), wandered the streets of East Berlin with the buildings eerily lit for dramatic effect, crossed Checkpoint Charlie and explored the museum.  As I stood at the gate at midnight on the West Berlin side, champagne corks and fireworks exploded and Ode to Joy played.  A stranger handed me a cup and we all toasted the occasion. I was moved by the celebration and the hopefulness of the people around me.

Very few days generate the detail of recall as that day, so every October third I tend to reflect on the unpredictable path that led me from the Berlin Wall to my present circumstances whatever they are each year.  So twenty years later, the random path generator of life blew a fuse and put me in a bikini on a yacht in HK with my husband, mother, Hong Kong living legend Sir David Tang, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I had known since the spring that entirely by coincidence, my mother and Gwyneth would both be visiting Hong Kong during the first week of October. Mom for her annual kid visit and as a stop on her book tour, and Gwyneth to film a scene for Steven Soderberg’s upcoming movie, Contagion. Still, I had no idea what the week would bring and didn’t even know if we’d see Gwyneth.

Mom arrived first and jumped right into a few book related events we had arranged.  She’s a total pro.  She spoke at St. John’s Cathedral to a group of parishioners, teachers, and others who had heard about the talk.  It was well received and she sold a lot of books.  The next day I had organized a brunch at my house and invited 40 women.  I made my favorite recipes and, though it was originally planned as an open house, mom ended up giving an impromptu talk to the group that was provocative, challenging and inspiring for these worldly, but content-starved women.  It was a very nice morning, and I am so glad that we already had these two events under our belts before the crazy weekend ensued.

Gwyneth had sent me a text, “Friday night! Let’s go!! I am so excited!”  While I was excited to see her, I felt a bit of pressure, as her evening arrival coincided with National Day (many things are closed and the streets are thronged with people watching the largest fireworks display of the year), and, plus, just how do you take a celebrity out on the town for her very first introduction to HK?  I enlisted two trusted friends and, after considering a zillion options, settled on a plan.

My “entourage” that night consisted of my husband, mom, Sonya, Louis and eight-month-pregnant Kelly.  At the last minute Louis asked if we wouldn’t mind if a friend of his visiting from London joined us for drinks.  Turned out to be Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian, Harvard & Oxford, PhD, author of Dead Aid:  Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa and on the Time Magazine 100 most influential people list.  “Sure.” I said.

I had insisted that GP switch hotels and stay on the Hong Kong side, as the selected hotel for her would have been impossible to reach and too crowded with the National Day celebrations going on.   We had organized a private table at the bar at the Upper House and arranged to meet for drinks there to watch the fireworks.  I had to laugh when she texted to ask me what I was wearing (now I can say that I loaned money to a Kennedy AND gave fashion advice to a cover model!).  This turned out to be a spectacular view of the fireworks and a nice way to ease into the evening, although Dambisa arrived wearing a flashing devil horn headband with her own entourage of about ten oil guys who were quite enthusiastic about the party they had just joined.  Everyone handled it gracefully, and we managed to extract ourselves from the group and head to dinner.

After much deliberation and a hundred restaurants selected and then discarded, and at the advice of several in-the-know women, I eventually settled on a private Szechwan kitchen, Da Ping Huo on Hollywood Road, known for great spicy food and the wife of the chef who comes out and sings Shanghainese opera after the meal.  I thought it would be a real authentic and not cliché HK experience.  Well it was that, but sadly the food was rather inedible.  We were the only party in the five-table restaurant (save for one lone male European tourist).  Fortunately, Frenchman Louis had brought along some nice wine & champagne so what we lacked in food we made up for in beverage.  At least in a tiny, empty restaurant we could all really talk and get to know one another. Gwyneth is as interesting as she is graceful, so no complaints around the table.  Her charming assistant Kevin was a delightful addition to the party too.  The opera serenade was a riot, and overall the experience was fun, but it was unfortunate that the food was not great.

Mom was the first to peel off from the group, sensibly heading home after dinner.  The rest of us headed to a private club called Kee.  We walked there, and on the way a few people stopped her for photographs, but other than that she wasn’t bothered by paparazzi the whole time in Hong Kong.  Kee was great fun, dancing!  After some time on the dance floor with GP (nearly sending Kelly into pre-term labor!), they headed home and the remainder of our group eventually headed to another club under the escalator called Drop.   It is a wild experience to walk into a room and immediately have the best table cleared for you and champagne corks start popping.  We stayed until 3:30 am, then Gwyneth, my husband & I headed out.  Sonya stayed and showed Kevin the late night scene.  We dropped GP and were home by 4, the latest we’ve been out in years.

My husband takes the total dad-of-the-year prize for getting up to take our oldest to a shade-less soccer field in Kowloon by 8:30 the next morning for a four-hour tournament.  He came home and slept all afternoon!  Just as we were getting home from a difficult dinner in Stanley with the kids Saturday night, my mobile rings and I hear, “Gwen?  This is David Tang.”  “Oh hey!” I answer as if we’ve been friends for years.  He’s calling to organize sending a car to pick us up for lunch at his house in Sai Kung the next day, then an afternoon on his boat.  He had met Gwyneth previously and extended the invitation to her, which she insisted on extending to us.  O-K…

Sunday was a day of hilarious contrasts.  Probably the most unusual day I have ever spent… well, except the birthday I spent in Somalia when I visited the USS Tarawa by CH-46 helicopter and met Audrey Hepburn on the tarmac in Mogadishu, but that’s another story…

Sunday was Harvest Festival at St. Stephen’s church in Stanley and, since it was Pastor Will who had invited mom to speak at the cathedral and because we have been making an effort to go there, we all rallied and went to church.  After, we dropped the kids at a friend’s house, quickly walked Finchley and then headed out in David Tang’s white Range Rover with his driver Alex.  I must admit that before all of this started, I had never heard of David Tang.  I soon learned that he’s a Hong Kong entrepreneur, founder of Shanghai Tang, China Club and many other hot restaurants in Hong Kong and London.  He has also been knighted by the Queen, enjoyed a private audience with the Pope, writes regularly for the Spectator and FT, has the exclusive distribution rights for Cuban cigars for Asia and is an all-around character and self-described “maximalist.”

His driver took us to David’s country house out in Sai Kung. The house is located on a large, lush lawn stretching to a beautiful sea view, and is full of things he loves like dogs, books, good reading light and cigars.  David’s wife Lucy is a British woman who has channeled a penchant for intense socializing into excessive exercise and now competes in ultra-marathons on every continent in one year.  She has already completed the Gobi and Sahara deserts and is off to Antarctica for the next one.  When we arrived David told us that GP had gone to dim sum and so was delayed by an hour.  That meant that we were to make conversation for the next hour with a man seated next to a photograph of himself with the Pope.  Mind you, mom’s book is a controversial take on Mary Magdalene’s role in Christianity and does not look entirely favorably on the institution of the church.

David was a total pro, though, accepting a signed copy of mom’s book and offering her one of his own signed “To Cynthia. From your acolyte, David Tang.”  Eventually GP & Kevin arrived and we headed to lunch under a tent on the lawn for a great meal prepared by his Sri Lankan staff.  I was seated at the head of the table next to David.  At one point David sat in his chair and leaned back. For a split second I thought of grabbing his thighs to stop him from toppling over, but in my hesitation as I pondered what that would look like if he wasn’t really about to fall backwards, he actually did.  Fortunately he tucked up his head, or he might not have lived through lunch, as there was a concrete drain eerily close to the spot he landed.   He jumped right back up into his seat — an impressive feat for a not insignificant man — and the meal continued.  The conversation turned to organic produce and, as that is a regular topic of the non-working Southside mom set, I launched into a tale.  But, just as  I began the story, I felt a warm wet sensation on my Chloe-clad foot.  I looked down to discover that their dog was peeing on my shoe!  I still wonder if the dog was poorly, or very well trained?

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The meal complete, and a ceremonial cigar with David (how could my husband turn down a Cuban offered by their honorary ambassador?) we headed out to board their fancy “ocean-liner of old” style yacht.  We sat up on the top deck admiring Sai Kung, but one by one we peeled off for bathing suits. GP came out in a tiny pink bikini looking entirely glamorous.  I gulped hard and decided not to care and donned my own army green bikini.  Who’s looking at me anyway?!  We had just had a discussion of the dodgy water quality in HK and Mr.E’s mysterious viral water warts that his doctor had said probably came from swimming in the ocean.  So GP hesitated on the deck for an awkward several minutes after the rest of us had jumped in, probably doing a mental calculation of the risk and reward of a refreshing swim, making her singing debut at the CMA covered in water warts, and the commercially beneficial irony of actually catching a virus while filming the movie Contagion in which she is patient zero for a devastating virus that sweeps the world.

We sailed into Victoria Harbor at dusk as David held court about his views of the environment… “The real problem is not the birth rate but the lengthening of the lifespan.  If you really care about doing something for the environment, then DIE!”

Gwyneth had to meet with the director back at the hotel, so the boat docked at the star ferry pier in TST and she and Kevin debarked along with David & Lucy who were also heading off.  As we were scheduled to be on Lamma Island for mom’s appearance at the inaugural meeting of the Philosopher’s Club at the Bookworm Café, David sent us off on the yacht to Lamma.   This is how we found ourselves alone on a staffed luxury yacht in Hong Kong Harbor watching the sunset.  Go figure.

In a classic Hollywood tale, this would be the parting shot, us sailing off into the sunset, but I can’t quite end the story there, as the Lamma portion was a perfect antidote to the luxury day.  We arrived in Lamma with enough time for a quick seafood dinner at one of the local places where you point to your fish in a tank and it arrives a few minutes later on a plate.  Mom’s host met us at the restaurant and gave her the low down on the evening ahead.  Apparently, the poster his evangelical girlfriend had made for the talk had created a bit of a stir on this tiny island bastion of mid-sixties, Caucasian hippies and local fishermen, so the night portended to be quite interesting.

In fact, it was.  Completely random, awkward and a difficult set-up in a public café with half of the people there for the talk and the other half there to have dinner.  But again, mom handled it with her usual skill and the talk was well received and interesting.  She posed for a few pictures, sold a few books and we ran for the 9:30 public ferry.

So, since her visit, Gwyneth has guest- starred on an episode of Glee!, graced the cover of ELLE, made her country music singing debut at the CMA, promoted Jessica Seinfeld’s new cookbook and any number of other experiences.  For her, HK was an “interesting cultural experience” and is a distant memory.  For me, her visit was a glimpse of another world and a long slow exhale.  Now What?

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My Kind of Revolution

On paper, a personal revolution fit perfectly between Golden Week and the last day of school before summer vacation. A revolution that fit around real life sounded like the ideal plan, but as de Tocqueville so aptly stated, “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

PURE Yoga Hong Kong was offering Baron Baptiste’s ‘40-Day Personal Revolution Programme’ taught by a lovely former snowboarder turned yogi from British Columbia.  From the brochure I picked up, the program seemed the perfect combination of structure and flexibility.  I rationalized that the six, two-and-a-half-hour Saturday afternoon sessions would nestle in between morning kid activities and evening social obligations without too much family disruption.  From a cursory look at the textbook, the rest of the program was pretty flexible, encouraging daily yoga and meditation in increasing durations and a generally healthy but un-prescribed whole foods diet.  No problem-o.  I got this revolution thing in the bag.

But why launch a revolution at the busiest time of the school year when I was gearing up to leave town for two months with three kids in tow?  Well, because I have a disability that it’s high time I address.  I’m metaphysically challenged.  I’m like the black sheep of the new age world.  Not that I really know anything about it, but when I talk with people who do, I get the sense that I have a rather disagreeable metaphysical composition.  I’m a Virgo, numerology 8, and a 9 on the Enneagram.  Put those all together and you get an organized peacemaker with visions of grandeur.  Time to get to the bottom of this personal narrative, and what better than a disciplined program of physical and mental growth to cap off another season in Hong Kong?

Ironically, I missed the first Saturday class on “Presence” because I was having my energy rebalanced at a swanky wellness retreat with my husband in Hua Hin, Thailand.  I know, so cliché, but the trip had been planned for a while, and as I said, I was fitting revolution in AROUND my regular life. I read the first hundred pages of the book, donned my new citrine bracelet to balance my solar plexus chakra and headed back to Hong Kong for week one of my revolution.  Our marching orders were simply to “be” where we are.  The twelve “Laws of Transformation” prescribed by Baptiste provided the framework for excavating our best essential selves.  I was on my way to revolution.

I rocked the first week.  Five minutes of mediation twice a day?  Check.  Twenty minutes of yoga daily?  I did more.  Mindful eating?  I mulled over every morsel.  Revolution?  No problem.

When I finally joined my fellow revolutionaries at the start of week two, “Vitality,” I was surprised to walk into the room and see sixty unfamiliar faces.  Sounds strange, but despite the high density living, the chain yoga set is an insular little group in Hong Kong and can feel downright provincial at times.  Never one to miss an opportunity to meet someone with a good story, I was pleasantly surprised with the potential that surrounded me.  My fellow revolutionaries were similarly bursting with self-awareness and healthy habits on their own personal voyages.  As I sat listening to each and every one of them share the details of their week, I had my first lesson in patience and presence, but I was actually surprised by how charming it was. We made an agreement that information shared in the studio would stay there, so I will respect that and not tell any stories unrelated to my own experience, but suffice it to say that in competitive Hong Kong, the athletic yoga component was generally easier for folks than the quiet meditation.

The class assistant passed out a nifty matrix each week on which we were encouraged to record our mediation minutes, every morsel we consumed and our yoga practice.  Being goal oriented, I found this sheet to be entirely motivating and was often the sole reason I would sit in meditation some evenings instead of diving straight into bed.  It worked, but as days passed I began to feel that I was missing the point.

The jump from five to ten minutes of mediation that week was huge.  I can do just about anything for five minutes.  A few long deep breaths and some exercises to notice thoughts without reacting to them, and the timer sounded before I knew it.  But ten minutes requires an actual practice and discipline that I just didn’t have in my conscious bag of tricks. Despite my mother being a meditation teacher, I’ve never been able to do it well.  As soon as I sat that week, I was transfixed by the image of each thought as an enormous fish caught on the line as it thrashed itself to submission in its attempt at liberation. “Get off.  Seriously, go!  Get off, get off, get OFF!”  I would implore my fishy thoughts to leave, but the more I battled, the more they stayed on the line.  Ten minutes of this battling felt interminable, but would eventually pass and I’d finish feeling more relieved to be back on shore than enlightened.

I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years and, after living in Santa Monica for more than a decade, healthy eating has become so ingrained that neither of these elements of the program presented a big challenge. Getting to Central for the daily yoga class was the only tricky part, but on days that I didn’t make it to class I found the YogaGlow website to be useful.  There I could take classes from global favorites like Amy Ipoliti in the comfort of my own room and for the duration I had available.  Gotta love the Internet!

Rounding the corner into week three, “Equanimity,” I was hitting my stride and feeling really great. We learned some new meditation techniques to try at home, and talked about Baptiste’s principles for stepping to the edge.  Sitting knee to knee with the person sitting next to us in the room, we had to share about our week.  We were asked to pay particular attention to our intuition this week and to let it guide our actions.  Bingo, that solar plexus chakra thing was all about listening to intuition, so this would be the week it all came together for me.  Right?  Sure.

The meditation increased to fifteen minutes in week three and I was surprised that something clicked and I was getting it.  I actually had a few of those buzzy moments where the top of my head was electrified without a specific thought in mind.  Could it be that I just fell asleep momentarily or was I really meditating?  I was never able to discern the difference between the two, but I got a feeling that’s what it feels like when you do it right.

My oldest son was initially surprisingly uncomfortable with the idea of me meditating, and even walked in on me one time with the same shocked expression as if I were doing that other thing kids walk in on in the bedroom.  But modeling positive behavior is a parenting fundamental, so I did it anyway and was rewarded with two sweet moments that week.

My five year old, who has an uncanny psychic connection to my biorhythms, opens his eyes in the morning at precisely the same time I do each day (5:25).  There’s no getting up before him to meditate.  If I’m up, so is he.  So one morning I asked if he would join me instead of just wandering about.  He sat right down, criss-cross-applesauce, placed his thumb and pointer finger together, turned them to the sky, and, gently resting them on his knees, closed his eyes.  We made it for 3 delicious minutes and it was a great meditation.  Later that week I told my 12 year old that I was going to my room to mediate and he actually didn’t roll his eyes.  Ten or so minutes into my mediation I heard footsteps and something being slid under the door.  I was torn.  Should I get up and see what it was, or continue for another five minutes first?  Well, I tried to stick it out, but curiosity won out and I got up to find a slip of paper from my nine-year-old little girl that said, “Mom please read to me when your done meditating – “Sidewalk.””  Needless to say, I went right in to read and returned to finish the mediation after she fell asleep.

But as far as “equanimity” went, I was a failure.  Wow, there’s something about where you place your attention that can expose a bigger problem and make it worse!  Focusing on equanimity made me angrier and more reactive to the mundane injustice of it all.  Easy to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but being a successful wife and mother of three kids in hectic Hong Kong is precisely about the extent to which the small stuff gets done right.

I paid particular attention to sugar consumption this week and realized that I really don’t eat much.  What I do consume is often the result of a gift or gesture.  I ate a cinnamon roll that a friend had carefully selected just for the occasion of our lovely breakfast, and I enjoyed it because I enjoy her and the fact that she invited me over to her home.  Baptiste calls these wholesome foods and acknowledges the role they play in our lives.  I like that about his philosophy and believe it whole-heartedly.

Which is why I approached week four, “Restoration” with not a little trepidation.  The one red flag in an otherwise solid program was a random three-day fruit cleanse that was neither medically substantiated nor even well laid out in the book.  Basically we were told to pick any three days within the week and eat only fruit.  We were reminded that avocados and tomatoes count and encouraged to be good to ourselves this week, but still show up for yoga.

 Having worked for a nutrition company in an office full of nutrition scientists for a few years, I have strong feelings about detox/clense diets and I generally don’t believe in them.  Still, I didn’t want to be the party pooper of the revolution, so I decided to embrace a modified version by cutting out wheat, dairy, meat, and alcohol from my diet for the three days.  I ate primarily raw vegetables, fruit and the occasional Ryvita cracker, but found my stomach was in knots and I didn’t really feel very well.  I felt even worse when I spoke with a fellow revolutionary in the locker room who claimed to have subsisted on coconut water alone for all three days.  That class meeting our facilitator asked us to think about intuition and how we’d used our intuition that week.   I wanted to scream that my intuition told me that eating only fruit for three days was a stupid thing to do, but I kept my mouth shut and privately reasoned that at this point I’ve pretty much figured out what my body needs to be fed and I shouldn’t mess with it.

Still, I had a really powerful week.  A month into daily yoga practice and I was really strong.  The point on my lower back that is always a little tweaked stopped bothering me and I was able to stand up from wheel pose.  I held my handstands longer and joyfully popped in and out of headstand and crow with little effort.  A classmate who runs a juice detox company gave me a green drink sample that included spirulina and I felt like I had consumed a double espresso all day.  I think I’ve discovered the wonder food for me, and it’s algae, not caffeine.

But things went downhill from there.  By week five, “Centering,” my revolution was in tatters.  We were supposed to be meditating 25 minutes twice a day, introducing minerals into our diets and practicing daily yoga for an hour.  I had a date with my husband, a fiftieth birthday party and a farewell for dear friends, which meant three nights of indulgence instead of piety.  How was I supposed to have a revolution with such a busy social schedule?

That week I tried to go to yoga, but I’d maxed out my class allotment for the month, so I would have to pay extra.  Since I was already there that day, I reluctantly paid for the only class available at that time.  Hot yoga.  In June.  In Hong Kong.  The smell when I walked in the 105-degree room was nauseating.  Even before the first asana, sweat poured from the men like a summer storm.  The foul common mat beneath my feet stunk, and my feet slid every time I tried for down dog.  Compounding the humiliation, I found after my shower that I had forgotten to take a bra and underwear and ended up in a taxi in my little sundress with about an inch of fabric to spare between my root chakra and the gross plastic taxi seat.

My meditation was equally cursed.  I never watch TV, but on the rare occasion that my husband goes on a business trip, I catch up on Glee.  I know, strange choice, but having grown up in a family of high school music teachers, Glee is my own personal history re-write, where being in show choir is the hottest game in town.  Anyway, in the national competition, the Glee cast sings Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”  Never in the history of music has a tune so insidiously worked it’s way into a brain to the point that even my subconscious can’t keep it at bay in a fraught filled meditation. “So now I’m praying for the end of time, so hurry up man arrive!” relentlessly repeated, over and over as visions of Greek Week at college came flooding in along with it.  I had to quit the meditation or go mad, and the harder I tried to expel it, the tighter it’s grip.  I gave up.

By Thursday I had eaten everything bad in sight and I was about to write off my revolution completely.  That morning I had an hour to spare before my youngest’s pre-school concert and I could have switched on YogaGlow and checked that box on my revolution matrix.  Instead, I instinctively grabbed my running shoes and headed out the door to do the one thing that always works to settle my mind and increase my confidence.  I went for a run.  On my regular loop along the South China Sea, I listened to my Telluride Bluegrass play list and I felt clarity seeping into my pores with the breath. As Mumford and Son’s inspirational “Awake My Soul” rang in my ears, I finally saw the way to do the two things I had pledged to accomplish at the start of the 40 days.  I crystallized my vision for expanding my women’s hiking group and, if you are reading this and you aren’t related to me, I achieved my second goal too.

I arrived at week 6, “Celebrating,” and shared my story.  I found connection, empathy and support from those familiar faces who were now friends.  One of our mediations was to sit knee to knee with the person next to us and to stare into his or her eyes without looking away for four minutes.  There was uncomfortable laughter in the room, but not from me.  My partner was nervous, but I held her there in the space and she settled into it.  We connected and I felt good.  My yoga practice was strong too.  I left that final class feeling confident and centered, went home to kiss my kids, shower and head out to a friend’s house for a BBQ where we ate meat, sugar, carbohydrates, dairy and wine until the wee hours of the morning.  What’s a revolution without a dissenter?

So, on the final morning of my revolution, I didn’t meditate, but I did make it to yoga and, as I finish off a homemade coconut chocolate chip cookie, I can picture the revolutionaries shaking their heads at my lack of discipline and self-control.   Was my revolution a success or a failure?  Depends on how you look at it.  I suppose the thing about revolutions is that you just can’t plan how they’ll turn out.  Most real revolutions aren’t planned, they are sparked, and that’s just what happened to me on that run.  Whether or not the program precipitated that spark I’ll never know, but I suspect it did.   As Che Guevara said, “The Revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe.  You have to make it fall.”  I prefer to pick apples rather than aggressively agitating to make them fall, but the sentiment is there, and as I fix my gaze and raise my arms to the sky in tree pose, my foundation feels a lot steadier now.

The Right Kind of Like

I wrote this a few years ago, sent it to some friends, but mostly it sat on my computer.  Recently, at a gathering of graduate school friends, I told this story and a woman who works with military wives told me that she was going to take my suggestion and use it.  I decided that if it was useful for her, maybe others would find it useful too.  Let me know what you think:

One afternoon I was invited to lunch at a friend’s house.  She is married to a rather high profile and somewhat intimidating man I had never met.  Her warning that I should not be offended, as he probably wouldn’t say much to me didn’t do anything to alleviate my discomfort at the thought of making small talk with him over lunch.  So I was surprised when he sat down at the table in his backyard, turned to me and asked,

“So, what do you LIKE to do?”

With the addition of that one simple word, “LIKE” — a word I’m usually trying to erase from my family’s California born and bred vocabulary — he so chivalrously lay down his cloak, welcoming me to step daintily across that first impression hurdle.  With that one word the possibilities were opened and her husband got a real answer.

“Well,” I gulped.  I decided to go for it.

“I like to take my children on cultural adventures near our adopted home in Hong Kong.  I like to cook and have friends over to enjoy healthy meals with me.  I like to run, hike, paddle board and do yoga.  I like to write, but I’m not as good at it as I’d like.  I like to organize events, watch TED Talks, drive in Hong Kong, and read about neuroplasticity, compassion and mindfulness.”

“What kind of yoga do you do?  Because your arms are very fit,” he replied.  I liked that question too.

With that one word, he spared me that awful other question that stay-at-home moms have not yet figured out how to answer with the force and authority we used to be able to muster when we “really worked.” Had he asked me, “What do you do?” my answer would have been an apologetic jumble of volunteer parent advisory groups, ad hoc writing gigs, glorified travel agent and bus driver for my family, that trailed off with, “You, know, that kind of stuff.” Just think for a moment how much better his question is, and what a difference it could make if we all added “LIKE” to our vocabulary in the right places.

And, it was a good thing he had built up some good will with that question, because I had a bit more trouble answering his next one.

“Are all bankers assholes?” he asked.

“Well,” I gulped.