To walk in beauty

bathhouse

I have never felt better in my entire life. Dare I say that? Something inside fears I may challenge a contrary part of the universe with such boldness, but there it is. My life is better than I ever imagined.

Each morning I sit in my backyard, as receptive to the sun as an Ojai orange, letting gentle morning light kiss every cell of my body,  ushering me into sublime states. I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer demonstrate the power of sound, so I incorporate it into meditation with phases like, the universe dwells in me, as me. I place all limitation in the museum of old beliefs. And, the universe has unobstructed flow through me. I do not limit my abundance.

(I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian idea of God, so I use the word universe instead.)

After that I take a long hot soak in my outside bathtub surrounded by trailing petunias, nasturtiums and purple hyacinths. The roof opens into the bluest sky one can imagine – every single day – dotted only by the arrival of scrub jays dipping in and out of a bath of their own. A gift of wind chimes from my sister accentuates the silence, reminding me of our history, bond and love.

Blended strawberries, beets, ginger and yogurt propel me out the door and through the wooded bike path to the Athletic club, where I get to swim, stretch or do yoga with some of the finest instructors in the world. One could not imagine a more ideal setting. And when that’s finished, I pedal back home ready to meet whatever the afternoon might hold, with an open heart and grateful spirit.

When I saw my acupuncturist last week, she said I had the body of a twenty year old. Well, she’s right because it’s been in storage for decades wrapped and preserved against the cold, my only activity, some Olympic indoor swimming to outrun the devil darkness.

But I walk in beauty now. My days are full of richness and a kind of grace and gentle spirit I could only imagine in my former lives. I craved the sun before, complaining to anyone who would listen about its absence. I was depressed and heavy for years, like a plant put in a closet. I withered and become diminished in spirit, never fully comprehending the personal cost. Now, thankfully, all that has changed.

I remember my first days in Ojai when I realized that shorts, tank tops and sandals could be daily apparel, instead of fleece, long underwear and sweat pants. Literally ‘seeing’ my body every day was like visiting an old friend I had dearly missed.

“Oh, there you are. How nice to see you again! So that’s what you look like, I’d nearly forgotten. Welcome Home.”

Giving Thanks

It’s dark. Six o’clock on Thursday night and I’m at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club finding my spot on the floor. The lights are soft – the room, clean, spacious and airy.

Robert, my yoga teacher, bounds in, ready to pretzel us into health and vitality. I smile, remembering my initial reluctance. “I’m not a yoga person,” I’d tell anyone who asked. “No thanks. Who wants to spend an hour on the floor with bent knees?”  I came to class as a curiosity, because I’m a swimmer. That’s all I’ve done, and it’s been enough.

But after trying, I saw how easily accomplished the exercises were, and noticed enhanced strength pedaling home on my bike. So now here I am, occupied with folding poses like “downward facing dog” around a recently eaten burrito, or trying to do a reclining twist without putting my foot in Nelson’s face. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No chanting, just good solid body therapy, smiling faces and Robert’s teaching delivered with joy, humor and reverence for life.

I reach for my toes, amazed that I can touch them. When did that happen?

And my neck that has always resisted turning to the right is now fully mobile.

The class exhales into bridge pose, as I remember a card from my chiropractor in yesterday’s mail. It read, Long Time No See. I’d long ago accepted that my low back would always hurt, I could not bend at the waist enough to touch my toes and a visit to the chiropractor would be a monthly thing. But in seven short months, all that disappeared.

Music by Louie Armstrong fills the room:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful athletic club, new friends made, the masterful teachers who work here, the beauty of Ojai and my ever improving health. I savor the music and the moment as Robert’s voice trails toward the door, “Thanks for showing up everybody and for keeping me employed.”

Money From God

“Our life drawing model canceled,” Norma told me. “If you know of anyone, please let me know.”

My mind drifted to an old Mexican man who often biked past my window, a tattered sombrero shading a weathered face, sandal wrapped feet laboring against an uphill grade. I’d watched him sorting discarded bottles and pop cans with callused hands.

“I think I know just the person,” I told her. “An old man whose face is full of character, strength and ancestry.”

“Perfect! Find him and let me know. If he can pose for three hours we’ll pay him $100.”

It was two weeks before I saw the old man again. Temperatures of 106 kept me inside, hiding behind drawn curtains but I continued thinking about him and what $100 would mean to a man who made his entire income collecting bottles and cans.

Then one morning riding my bike from the health club, I spotted him. Excited, I pulled over and used the only Spanish I know. “Senor.  Hola.  I have work for you, dinero.”

He looked at me as he poured the remaining liquid from a beer bottle he’d found beneath a pepper tree.

“Do you speak any English?
He shook his head. I put my hand over my heart.

“My name is Karen, Karen. And you?”

“Raul”

“Raul, I have work for you, dinero.”

He studied me like I was an exotic bird that had perched on the redwood rail that divided us.

This is not going well.  I held up my hand.

“Wait, don’t go.”

I dug in my gym bag, found my phone and dialed Julio. I needed an interpreter. No luck. A recording. I snapped it shut.

I smiled, motioning toward the health club.

The Ojai Valley Athletic Club is one of the finest in the world, intimidating even me, but bless his heart, Raul trailed in after me, never missing a beat. Jose, the manager of the café was seated in clear view. I went over.

“Jose, this is Raul. He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Would you do me a kindness and talk to him on my behalf?”

Jose was sorting morning receipts, white clothes accenting black hair and dark eyes.

“What do you want me to tell him?”  He silently took in Raul’s appearance without apparent judgment.

I placed my gym bag on the table and plopped down next to him, relieved.

“Tell him there’s a group of people who would like to paint him. And that if he can hold still and pose for three hours that he could make $100. Of course, it would not be three hours straight. There would be breaks for walking and stretching.”

Jose looked at me. “I’ll pose for $100. Use me!”

“Thank you, no. It’s his face I want.”

Jose is a handsome man but his essence is not unusual.  There is something in Raul that is primitive and raw, a face untouched by civilization.

Jose studies me for awhile, then translates my words.

“Why would anyone want to paint me?” Raul asked.

“You have a strong face,” I say. “Hermosa.”

Because I didn’t know the date, I had Raul write his address on a napkin, telling him I’d be in touch when I knew details.

I returned home excited. Got on the computer and shot off an email.

Re: Model for Life Drawing:

Success. I have found the Mexican man, spoken with him and he is willing. Let me know your next open date and I’ll pick him up and bring him over.

Reply: Re: Model for Life Drawing:

We don’t need him anymore. We found someone else to fill in. Thanks anyway.

Thanks anyway? But I gave him my word. I promised him income and got his hopes up.

For two days I pondered the situation. Finally deciding to pay him from my own pocket.

In this town people pay $100 for lunch and think nothing of it. But to this man it could mean much needed groceries or health care. I hedged. But I’m not working and my resources are getting low. Maybe I’ll just offer him $20 or $30. Why would I give him $100?

Because you gave your word and oddly, it feels like the right thing to do. It really does seem the right thing.

Maybe $60, how about $60?

When Julio came home I explained my dilemma, asking if he’d drive with me to speak with Raul.

“I’m thinking of giving him the full fee anyway.” I confessed.  “It just feels right.”

“Oh Karen, that would mean so much.”

The certainty and tenderness of Julio’s reply erased doubt, convincing me to go ahead.

When we arrived Raul was in front of his house talking with a neighbor. Julio lowered the car window, explained the situation and told him I was going to pay him anyway.

Raul refused, shaking his head. Words passed between them I couldn’t understand.

“Tell him it’s important to take it,” I said.  Raul hesitated, then came to the driver’s window speaking again to Julio.

“What did he say?”  I asked.

He said he would take it because it was money from God.

I smiled. “Yes, Raul, that’s exactly what it is. It’s money from God.”