Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who's Your Aquarius?

“Who’s your Daddy?” is a commonplace phrase, generally asked as a rhetorical question suggesting dominance over the interlocutor. My Daddy is an Aquarius. The Sun is in the astrological sign of Aquarius from January 21 through February 19. Aquarians are known to be original, inventive, unconventional, independent, friendly and humanitarian. My father embodies each of those qualities. They are also known to be perverse and unpredictable at times. “Fanatical eccentricity” is another trait listed on the profile, and I wholeheartedly agree with that one.

Growing up with an Aquarian father has been a real adventure for me, complete with ups and downs. On the whole my feelings for my father are quite warm. I have learned a great deal from his openness and intellectual curiosity. His birthday present from me is a tribute to his Aquarian voyage through life up to now.

Aquarians are known for changing directions in their open search for truth. These individuals are not afraid to venture into unknown territory, changing jobs, entering new relationships and experimenting with various schools of thought. Daddy has lived this way for the majority of his life.


David Garrison was born February 2, 1938 in Tipton, Missouri. He worked his first summer jobs beginning at age 5 on his grandfather’s farm in Anderson, Missouri. At one time, Anderson was “the strawberry capital of the world.” Daddy spent several summers picking strawberries and grapes in the patches and vineyards of southern Missouri.

At the age of 10, he moved to a town called Clarkton in the Missouri Bootheel. There he helped his father and brothers to construct a church. Once the church was built, he picked cotton during the warm months of the year. Back then, the Bootheel was “cotton country.”

My grandparents bought a family farm in Tipton Ford, Missouri when Daddy was 12. He helped his brothers and sister to milk cows and take care of other livestock including chickens and hogs. He raised a favorite pig called “Whopper.” As he was quite fond of Whopper, he disliked the paternally imposed initiation rite of killing and slaughtering Whopper. My grandfather wanted to teach him that as a meat eater, he needed to overcome his emotional attachments to the farm animals.

My grandfather Wayne was a school principal in addition to working as a farmer. As time went on, Wayne decided to construct homes as well. When Daddy was 14 he started working with his brothers, father and grandfather laying brick, roofing and plumbing. His construction work continued for the remainder of his time in junior high and high school.


Following high school, Daddy completed two years at Joplin Junior College. He then decided to explore his employment options in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He worked as a shoe salesman, a file clerk for a manufacturing company and a file investigator at an insurance company before deciding that a college degree would be necessary for vocational satisfaction. He enrolled for two more years at The University of Missouri-Columbia. He earned a B.S. in Education while living at home with his parents and laying brick as a part-time job.

My parents got married after college and moved back to my mother’s hometown of Joplin. Daddy’s first job out of college was selling “Baby Butler” products, safety equipment for babies such as high chairs and cribs. He got his leads from birth announcements in the local newspaper.

When my parents got up the courage to leave southwest Missouri, they both found teaching jobs in Kansas City. Daddy taught General Science and Physical Health to junior high school students. To earn extra money, he sold World Book Encyclopedias door to door in the evenings. When he was offered a traveling sales job for significantly more money he took a job with Corning Glass Works for 3 years. While still living in Kansas City, Daddy was offered another sales job with Champlin Petroleum Company, first in sales promotion and then as a District Sales Manager.

Since my maternal grandfather was also in the oil distribution business, he was able to convince Daddy to return to Joplin to work as an “oil jobber” for Champlin. When the local Mobile distributor passed away, he was offered that man’s job. He then managed 8 service stations which he converted one by one into convenience stores. At the time, convenience stores were a novelty. He turned this new business into a company called “Pronto Enterprises” and by the time I was in high school he had 25 convenience stores and 3 truck-stops. Because of a longstanding tax and accounting error, Pronto Enterprises was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1987. In 1990 the company had to be liquidated. Pronto stores were no more, but a lot of folks remember them.

Daddy’s next venture was a recreational horse-riding park called “Happy Trails.” I remember brainstorming with the family to come up with that name on a long drive to the Grand Canyon. 18 saddle horses and 8 draft horses lived in the stables at Happy Trails. The stables and trails were all on the 200 acres of land where we lived in the family house. Before the official opening of Happy Trails, I helped my sisters, my stepmother and our French foreign exchange student to break in the trails with the horses. We got through a couple of minor injuries while having a lot of fun. The saddle horses were Appaloosas and Quarter Horses. The draft horses were Belgians and Percherons. Happy Trails offered wagon and trolley rides. At Halloween we had something called “Spooky Trails,” featuring horse-drawn wagon rides at night up and down wooded hills with all kinds of scary actors and macabre displays.

Daddy always loved to smoke fish, turkeys, brisket, ribs and steaks in his smoker, so in 1993 he opened Uncle Dave’s BBQ Restaurant. To this day he uses hickory wood to smoke his meats. Uncle Dave’s served a loaf of homemade bread and apple butter to every table. Of course, the restaurant served the full array of Southern style sides. I know, because I worked there for a year as a hostess and waitress. The restaurant was a tiring endeavor so Daddy sold it in 1996.


From 1996 until the present day, David Garrison manages a fun small business called, “Paintball Ridge.” Logically, Paintball Ridge is located on the same land where Happy Trails once entertained adventurous customers. Paintball Ridge claims to be Missouri’s largest paintball park, “complete with 6 playing fields, a 2,500 square foot pro shop and a party room.” I know how much Daddy has enjoyed working with teams of young players over the years and he still gets excited about tournaments and historical enactments.


Most folks call my father “Dave.” Dave’s career path is certainly unconventional. Times have been tough, but he always seems to have fun with his work. I never heard him say he was bored. As a quick addendum to this chronological history, let me thrown in some final quirky details:

• Dave is on his fourth marriage, and Ying Chau (Candy) is a devoted spouse and an energetic life partner.

• Although my father attends no church at this time, in the past he has attended many churches and he started one of his own when I was in junior high school. His church was called “Praise Place”; with a name like that, you guessed right if you envisioned a full band and lots of singing.

• When I was 23 Dave invited a sect of an international religious community to take up residence on his land. These people still live there and have reconstructed a large barn into a lovely house. They also have several cabins and mobile homes on their section of the land. The group does international humanitarian work and they live communally. Members of the group rotate through their Joplin location on a regular basis, usually to receive training for various missions.

• Dave is a longtime champion of LGBT rights and spent several years actively participating in Joplin’s largest open and affirming place of worship. He used to cook and serve meals for 100+ economically disadvantaged persons every Wednesday evening at this church.

• When I was little, Daddy claimed to be an agnostic. Over the years he has changed his position and now claims a firm belief in the Divine. He shares my interest in interfaith studies and we are both learning a lot about Eastern religions and philosophy.

• Daddy’s maternal great-grandfather was a Cherokee Healer. Both his great-grandfather and his grandfather are listed on the Cherokee rolls in District No. 10. With my aunt, Daddy has made several visits to the Cherokee Nation Headquarters in Tahlequah, OK to formally document our family’s Cherokee ancestry.

• Native American Fellowship Circles have been held on my father’s land on many occasions. These ceremonies have included bonfires, drumming, smudging and singing. Among others, the following tribes have participated: Cherokee, Pottawatomie, Choctaw, Inuit and Osage.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buttoned Up: Eliminate Mental Clutter

Buttoned Up, Inc. is an innovative company "whose mission is to give women the tools they need to live an organized life not a life of organization."  Four women founded the company in 2004.  At, you can find "free life organization tips, tools and help from organizational gurus,"  as well as a variety of useful organizational products for sale.  I consider myself lucky to have one of these gurus living in my community.  Sarah Welch was kind enough to invite me to post on the company website.  My angle on getting buttoned up is to start from the inside.  Check it out:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Circle of Faith

In the wake one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our lifetimes, I was able to find some comfort last week when I attended a Native American healing circle.  Healing is not only for our bodies, but also for our minds and spirits.  This was my first experience with a healing circle.  Each participant arrived with different worries and pains.  As I discovered, the circle was a collective rendering of prayer and praise to the Creator allowing for the healing of collective and individual hurts.  An attitude of reverence and gratitude was modeled and then followed.  This created a sacred space for expression, celebration, confession and edification. 

The healing circle was held at Human Body Works in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.  The Reverend Christan Burran, also known as Walking Deer Woman, presided over the ceremony.  Rev. Burran is an Interfaith Minister of Cherokee ancestry.  She has over 15 years of training with Native Elders in Sacred ceremony.  I was immediately interested in attending her healing circle since, 1) I am on a healing journey, 2) I have considered training as an Interfaith Minister, and 3) I also have Cherokee ancestry on both sides of my family, as do many people from my geographical home of origin. 

I felt at peace and at home during the ceremony.  In her opening words, Walking Deer Woman laid a beautiful foundation.  She spoke of grace and humility, two increasingly rare spiritual concepts.  Grace and humility have been recurring themes in my prayers, dreams and meditations over recent years.  I aspire to these qualities, so difficult to grasp or attain with consistency. 

Amazing Grace is my husband's favorite spiritual song, and it was also my grandfather's.  I was told by a yoga instructor days before the healing circle that she recites parts of Amazing Grace as a mantra.  As a girl, I was taught that we are "saved by Grace, through Faith." 

Humility is a quality even more elusive than Grace.  I believe this to be true in our times, and I surmise that it has always been true in many cultures.  Yeshua said, "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" and "whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 20:27, 23:12).  Walking Deer Woman spoke of the high value placed on humility in Native American culture.  Who among us has not been chided for acting in a humble manner?  Humility is not associated with success in Western culture--a bold, but true claim. 

In light of the recent earthquake and ensuing after shocks in Haiti, many of us are attempting to reach out.  If we are unable to travel to Haiti, we give our material goods, financial gifts and prayers.  Prayer was central to the Native American healing circle.  We prayed together for the earthquake victims.  This helped to ease the sense of isolation everyone feels upon hearing in words or perceiving in images terror, pain and gut-wrenching devastation.  I believe in the power of prayer.  Praying alone is powerful; group prayer exponentially expands that power.  I need to pray more, especially with other people.  The Native American healing circle was just the motivation I needed to seek out community worship as a regular part of my life. 

In closing, here is a prayer from the Native American ceremony that can be used irrespective of individual faith or beliefs.  May it comfort you in times of sorrow and disruption:

Peace in my heart brings peace to my family.
Peace in my family brings peace to my community.
Peace in my community brings peace to my Nation.
Peace in my Nation brings peace to the Earth.
Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Living Your Yoga @ Mount Madonna Center

Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., led a four day yoga retreat from January 8-12, 2010 at Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, California.  My expression of joy and gratitude for the gift of attending this retreat is contained herein.

I.  The Encapsulated Experience

The "Living Your Yoga" retreat was based in part on Judith's book, A Year of Living Your Yoga.  Those of us who attended experienced both refuge and stimulation of the mind, body and spirit in a uniquely supportive and nourishing environment.  The expertise and insight of Judith Lasater and her gifted colleagues blended harmoniously with the enlightened mission of the Mount Madonna Center, providing an extraordinary opportunity for holistic restoration. 

II.  Personal Perspective

I came into the retreat as a relative neophyte.  My own experience with yoga consists of a decade of sporadic gym yoga classes in NYC and Paris as a younger woman, one excellent pre-natal yoga class at a reputable studio in Brooklyn, then more recently 4 months of regular attendance at Vinyasa and Hatha yoga classes at New York Sports Clubs.  Gym yoga has been a convenient option for me since I have a one-year old and a three-year old and my gym has child care options.  I have practiced at home with DVDs, yet have not had the option of premium, individualized instruction.  I chose the "Living Your Yoga" retreat based on Judith's outstanding credentials and longstanding reputation as a teacher of yoga, East/West psychology and spirituality, kinesiology and the fundamentals of health and healing.  Even through my brief experience with gym yoga, I have noticed significant improvements in my energy levels, immune system and musculoskeletal function.  When my husband offered me a personal getaway as a Christmas present, I chose a yoga retreat rather than a spa experience or a silent retreat.  I love any opportunity to travel and the natural beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains enticed me.  I booked the retreat within a day of his kind offer.  Bless his soul for providing me with the opportunity!

III.  Judith Lasater

You can find a wealth of information on Judith's background, teachings, writings and schedule on her website,  As quoted from one of her informational retreat cards, "Judith Hanson Lasater holds a Ph.D. in East-West psychology and is a physical therapist.  She has been teaching yoga since 1971 and is the author of eight books, including Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana."

Judith radiates an uplifting persona and energy.  She is a powerful presence.  Like many gifted women, she is brilliant yet relentlessly self-deprecating.  Personally, I relish self-deprecating humor.  For me, Judith's distinguishing characteristic was her immediate ability to penetrate the surface of a student in order to confront that student's obstacles head-on.  She possesses the spirit of a warrior in a female body, with the acquired ability to harness her razor sharp insight so that it edifies rather than cripples her students.  For example, after Judith adjusted me in a particular asana and I thanked her for showing me the "correct" asana, she informed me that she doesn't like to use words such as "correct" because of the implication that someone else is "incorrect" or wrong.  Judith managed to work this little piece of wisdom into the group instruction, while looking right at me: "You know how we bomb people with our minds?  Do you ever do that?  You can be driving along and someone cuts you off, and you bomb that person with your mind."  I understood her message this way; believing firmly that we are right about something can cause violent thoughts, actions and words to arise.  Bombing people with my mind is undoubtedly my greatest fault.  Did I just write "undoubtedly?"  Oh well.  Thank you, Judith. 

As I told Carol Banquer, one of Judith's longtime friends I happened to meet in the hot tub one afternoon, Judith has managed to balance 1) high level analytical reasoning and 2) intuitive knowledge that originates from the heart.  This is a rare and precious quality.  I aspire to attain it one day.  Carol told me, "she has a few years on you." 

True power calls for equilibrium between authority and deference, with a slight penchant for authority. Having navigated years of motherhood, marriage and professional achievement with a high degree of success, Judith has earned true power. 

IV. Program Messages

A significant portion of Judith's teaching focused on anatomy and kinesiology.  A good number of nurses, physical therapists and yoga teachers attended the retreat for continuing education.  Since my academic background is in literature and law, the anatomy lectures caused my eyes to glaze over a bit.  However, I do remember the term, "acetabulum" and I will try to adjust myself to maximize the fit between convexity and concavity.  I truly wish that my athletic DPT sister-in-law could have teleported into these lectures. 

In addition to teaching active and restorative asanas, the remainder of Judith's instruction focused on spiritual and psychological principles that help us to reach a place of peace and self-love, or as Judith would say, "positive unconditional self regard."  I will list a few of her quotes and insights.  First of all, our mantra at the beginning of each class was, "Yoga citta vrtti nirodah," which translates as "Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind."  One quote she gave us originated from another spiritual teacher, Yvonne Rand, a Soto Zen priest: "Does what I'm about to do take care of myself?"  I found that one to be particularly helpful.  To assist us in the arena of our relationships, Judith advised us thus: "Translate everything everyone says to you as "please" or "thank you."  As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, "how wonderful" if we could manage to do this.  Along these same lines, Judith gave us an enlightened elaboration of this sound bit of counsel: "Stop giving advice."  Don't you just love the irony of advising people to stop giving advice?  I do love the irony, and I definitely need to stop giving advice.  On a very healthy and practical note, Judith challenged us to go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night to address the huge problem of sleep deprivation in our culture.  My favorite original quote that Judith imparted to us was, "how human of me!"  As I have been told in the past by lay Buddhist instructors, we would be wise to accept all of our thoughts, feelings and actions as they arise rather than entering into a negative cycle of judgment.  Inevitably, we are going to experience thoughts, perform actions and speak words that later disappoint us.  Not one of us is perfect.  Since I have been saying, "how human of me," I am feeling much better about myself. 

V. Mount Madonna Center

The Mount Madonna Center is an integrated creative and spiritual community covering 355 acres of the Santa Cruz Mountains between Gilroy and Watsonville, California.  The community is inspired by Baba Hari Dass and sponsored by the Hanuman Fellowship.  For detailed information and photos, please visit the website at

Baba Hari Dass is a monk and master yogi who has lived in the United States since 1971.  He was born in 1923 near Almora, India in the state of Uttarakhand which borders Tibet on the north and Nepal on the east.  He was classically trained in the traditions of Ashtanga Yoga and has maintained a vow of silence since 1952.  According to some of the community members I met during the retreat at the center, he began his spiritual quest at the age of six.  Baba Hari Dass is more commonly known to the Mount Madonna community members as "Baba-ji."  He communicates with a chalkboard.  He has authored many books himself, and he agreed to mentor a pregnant student, Jeannine Parvati, so that she could continue practicing asanas in spite of the traditional male yogic proscriptions against it.  As a result, the first book in the Western world on prenatal yoga was published in 1974, Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth.  Baba-ji is now living at the Mount Madonna Center and presides over philosophy classes there.  I was told that if I approached him for a mantra, I may have the opportunity to receive one the following day.  Unfortunately I did not get the chance to see Baba-ji during the retreat, and honestly I am probably not spiritually developed enough to have fully appreciated his presence.  Perhaps I will see him some day in the future and have the honor of asking him for a mantra. 

The founding principle of the Mount Madonna Center is selfless service, hence all of the community members cooperate, volunteering their individual efforts and time to foster an effective environment for yogic practice, spiritual development, ecological preservation, education and hospitality.  I noticed many single community members earning certification to teach yoga, massage or a Master's degree in Ayurvedic medicine.  Additionally, I saw families with children living in the community and noticed that there was a school for kindergarten through high school aged children.  Every community member I met spoke to me readily about his or her own experience and answered my questions about the community's shared values.  I felt very welcome and safe during my stay. 

Three notable highlights of the visit were the Kaya Kalpa Wellness Center, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple and the Oaks Cabins. 

The Kaya Kalpa Wellness Center provides high quality holistic health, massage and body treatments based on Ayurvedic medicinal principles.  I received an Abhyanga massage with a Marma point face add-on.  My treatment lasted nearly two hours and was exceptionally balancing and therapeutic.  As I learned, Ayurvedic massage uses a large quantity of oil, but in spite of the amount of product used, the extensive experience of the therapist and the duration of the treatment, I was charged the customary price of a one hour Swedish massage with an add-on in the New York area (where I currently live).  This is a definite incentive to return! 

The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is a sacred place of worship used primarily by the residents of the community and many Hindu visitors, although it is open to the public.  As the name implies, the temple is dedicated to Hanuman, a Hindu deity.  Hanuman is sometimes referred to as The Monkey God.  I was told that his primary quality is selfless service, as reflected in the values of the Mount Madonna Center.  As a visitor, I was invited to attend two daily services, one at 6:30 a.m. and the other at 6:00 p.m.  I attended three of the evening services.  These were joyful experiences of praise and worship of the Divine, complete with various musical instruments and beautiful bells hanging at multiple points across the entrance, perimeter and covering of the open air temple.  I especially enjoyed ringing the bells.  I also sang, or attempted to sing songs of praise which had been thoughtfully written out in the English alphabet with various accent marks to assist in pronunciation.  I was invigorated and inspired by these rhythmic chants, which I believe were the Hanuman Arati.  I plan to buy a CD containing the Hanuman Arati and the Hanuman Chalisa.  At the end of the service, everyone was invited to receive the tilak forehead mark and to partake of the Prasad, which consisted of sweet foods placed into the hands to be immediately consumed.  We were then invited to partake of blessed fruit from a large basket.  I interpreted this as receiving the bounty provided for us by the Divine following our material offerings along with our offerings of prayer and worship.  I loved the beauty and simplicity of the service and appreciated being allowed into a Hanuman temple as a woman since this is apparently forbidden in traditional Hindu practice. 

The Oaks Cabins are one of the lodging options for visitors to Mount Madonna Center.  Rather than sleeping in a dormitory with an indoor kitchen and plumbing, I chose a single cabin.  I was very pleased with this choice.  My cabin had hardwood floors and a lovely wood vaulted ceiling.  It contained two firm single beds with comfortable bed linens.  The cabin had indoor and outdoor lighting along with baseboard heating controlled by a thermostat.  There was a shared bath house within short walking distance of the cabins complete with very clean toilets, sinks, showers and herbal bath products.  Since I enjoy camping, this was more than comfortable for me.  I saw deer walking around my cabin daily and enjoyed hiking up and down the trail leading to and from the central buildings.  In my opinion, even a non-camper would enjoy the Oaks Cabins. 

Anyone can visit the Mount Madonna Center for a personal or family retreat and I highly recommend it. 

VI.  Attendees

In my final section, I would like to thank not only Judith Lasater, her assisting teachers and the members of the Mount Madonna Center, but also everyone else who participated in the retreat with me.  I met some extraordinarily bright, open and entertaining people.  I will list a few of them along with their professional web links. 

  • Michele Sahm, of Healthy Styles Inc. 
Michele is a beautiful, energetic mother, wife and business woman I met at the first retreat dinner.  I will not tell her age, but I would have never guessed that she was older than I am!  She is the National Marketing Director for JuicePlus+ and her website is  Michele was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis as a young woman, and it was through her child's pediatrician that she discovered the natural alternative health products she now sells.  She was fortunate enough to have Dr. William Sears as her family pediatrician.  As many of you know, Dr. Sears, along with his two pediatrician sons, are brilliant innovators in pediatric medicine and William Sears a.k.a. Dr. Bill founded the now widely popular philosophy of Attachment Parenting.  When Dr. Sears recommended JuicePlus+ products to Michele, she was hooked and has been taking them ever since to treat her RA.  In addition, she is savvy about nutrition and like me, she practices Vinyasa yoga as one of several yogic practices.  Her new vision is to open her own studio after getting certified to teach yoga.  To watch her practice the asanas, one would already believe her to be a teacher.  What amazes me is that she has achieved this level of physical health and balance after many years of living with RA. 

  • Sonja Bjelland, Editor/Founder of
Sonja's new website, is a brand spanking new enterprise dedicated to guiding seekers of yoga, spa and wellness retreats to the perfect getaway.  Her business card reads, "Find Your Escape."  Sonja attended my undergraduate alma mater for journalism school: The University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou-Rah!)  Now that is one elite J-School.  Ever heard of the Mizzou-Mafia?  If not, ask around the industry.  Ms. Bjelland is currently taking time out of the journalism world to start up her new site.  I love her vision, so I plan to do some East Coast volunteer research for her since she currently resides in SoCal. 

  • Judy McNeely, co-founder of
Judy co-founded a web business with her husband Dennis assisting prospective college students to connect with their unique gifts, talents and desires, ultimately leading them to a good college and a well-suited career path.  I immediately connected with Judy since she was wearing a tee-shirt that read, "Comment vous sentez- vous aujourd'hui?"  We began conversing in French and I discovered that Judy was formerly a French me!  We got some stares, but that was fine with us.  Judy started up following her retirement from teaching.  She said some flattering and uplifting words to me that I will not forget.  I told her that in my opinion her spiritual gift is the edification of others.  Everyone can see her open heart in her smile, and I would have loved the benefit of her guidance when I made my first choice of vocation.  She revealed her vision for me: teaching law and French in high school!  I have worked as a lawyer and taught French in college, yet her idea is a better fit for me as a mother.  In spite of Judy's suggestion, writing is the next career that I plan to manifest.  An example of Judy's ever-young spirit: we shared the comical and exhilarating experience of hiking in a dense fog in the dark with one small LED flashlight.  Her comment to me the next day was, "Last night was a blast!"  I told her how I loved "night hiking" back in high school. 

In parting, I cannot fail to mention Kirsten Ferries, a soulful and kind non-profit professional and volunteer, who also happens to be a mother and wife...AND... the endlessly entertaining Mr. Kam Mofid, the film buff, engineer and former executive who never failed to work a movie line into any conversation.  Thanks to Kam, I learned a bit about Zoroastrianism and Iranian culture as well as green technology and off-the-beaten-path travel ideas.  One of the high points of my retreat was a pre-breakfast hike with Kirsten and Kam to a nearby Buddhist monastery. 

I hope to see some or all of my new retreat friends again, and I will think fondly of them as I recover from what Judith Lasater calls "retreat syndrome."  Clearly, if you are looking for an excellent yoga workshop, seek out Judith Lasater, Mount Madonna, or both!  If you do find a good retreat, make sure you tell Sonja Bjelland about it:

Signing off as a California dreamer planted here in New York,


Michelle Garrison Hough

P.S., please enjoy the following photos of Judith, her assistants, classroom instruction and some gorgeous views from Mount Madonna:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Avoiding Zombieland in Marriage

I haven't given much thought to the topic of swinging lately, as in non-monogamous sex experienced within a married couple.  We all hear the occasional joke about swingers, or say something in jest such as, "Oh, we didn't know you guys were into swinging!"  Honestly when I hear the word, the first thing I think of is a kiddie playground, hence my surprise upon receiving an invitation to join a swingers club via my Meetup membership! 

Perhaps you have heard of the internet networking site, Meetup.  As you might imagine, like other cities the greater New York area has a fairly large number of participants looking to find like-minded individuals to share common interests.  I first encountered upon moving to the suburbs from NYC with a new baby.  I was looking to meet new moms so I got onto the mailing list for new parenting meetup groups.  I initially joined two mommy groups, but now I ignore or delete most of the announcements.  Luckily the title of the newest group caught my eye as I skimmed through my e-mails, finally giving me the full entertainment value that a Meetup account could possibly provide!  Lo and behold, there in my inbox was a suggestion that I join "A New Meetup Group That Matches Your Interests," Married but not Dead.  I giggled.  As I read the group description, the giggling quickly accelerated into full-on laughter: "This group is for married men and women, 40 yrs and over who find themselves wanting to escape the married world for awhile and get out and have fun and socialize with people other than your husband or wife. We will have happy hours, dinners, and possibly weekend getaways. This is not geared for couples but as individuals. A photo is required, no exceptions. I will try to have an even ratio of men to women. Everyone will be screened to make sure you can be discreet and honest about who you are and why you joined. Your input is greatly appreciated. Ideas on meetup spots and times are certainly welcomed!"  Holy Cannoli, I certainly did not think that my stay-at-home mother Meetup profile would qualify me as a candidate for Married but not Dead, but then I guess the show Desperate Housewives had to be inspired by some real life women, right?  My only complaint about receiving this invitation is that I am actually not yet 40.  I know, I know... in your late thirties people tend to round up, but I'd still like to hang onto a little bit of youthful freshness and innocence!  Weekend getaways? Screening for discretion?  All I can say is WOW!

Some people do speak of marriage as a sort of death, and I suppose it is, in a way.  In order to get married we must die to our single selves.  We cannot, or at the very least we are not supposed to hook up with co-workers, cruise bars for sex on weekends or chat up the dentist.  I did have a friend once who wanted to ask her dentist out on a date.  If she ever gets married, that opportunity is forever lost!  We mourn the death of our single selves at bachelor and bachelorette parties.  Personally, I think the guys get the better deal in that department since most women are simply too uncomfortable with the idea of male strippers, and female strippers are quite frankly much hotter than the guys. 

A bit of superficial research on the topic of swinging turns up this amusing commentary from Wikipedia, "Swinging has been called wife swapping in the past, but this term has been criticized as androcentric and inaccurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which swingers may take part."  Apparently swinging has a formally documented history dating back to the 16th century, and certainly just as solid a history dating back to the inception of marriage... it just wasn't that easy to transmit and preserve documents pre-Renaissance!  Of course the ancient Romans had their share of fun orgies.  What must it have been like to be a wealthy Roman?  Maybe these new Meetup participants are looking to find out!  If you are finding humor in this as I have been, do read the Wikipedia write-up on swinging.  It is impressively comprehensive.  I haven't been called a prude in quite a few years, but some of the swingers lingo was quite alien to me until today.  Cuckolding is a familiar term, but I had never heard of "soft swap," "dogging," or "hot wife."  Is it girlish of me to find these terms hilarious? 

It would appear that most swingers clubs try to keep their groups private.  At the top of the aforementioned group's page is a line reading, "sssshhhhhhhh!"  Isn't it ironic that these groups are private when some of our most public figures are raging philanderers?  My grandmother always said, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all," so I won't name names but a whole bunch of politicians, actors, preachers and athletes actively "swing" as a hobby.  Anyone who has turned on the television or skimmed a single news publication in the past month might have learned something about a certain champion golfer!  Why should everyone else have to keep this hobby private?  I have always loved the truth of this scripture from the Christian Bible, "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (Luke 8:17).  I wonder if Bernie Madoff ever read that one?  Surely there's a Torah equivalent.  Irrespective of our religion, we give credence to our ability to hide prohibited behaviors somehow knowing all the while these acts will eventually be uncovered.  Perhaps that is part of the appeal!  It must feel good to get caught in the act and then receive forgiveness.  Is swinging just another stab at finding unconditional love under the banner of sex? 

In her book, Grant Me a Higher Love, Cindi Sansone-Braff delves into the depths of conditional versus unconditional love in romantic relationships.  She also analyzes many marriage and relationship traps that we all fall into;  one of my favorites is what she calls the Everybody Loves Raymond marriage, wherein the partners relate to one another as Raymond and Debra Barone.  I can think of many marriages I have witnessed that seem to follow that pattern.  Repetitive domestic routines can quickly lead to the doldrums, and when you throw in the challenge of children--well, you know the rest of the story.  Grant Me a Higher Love is an excellent relationship resource, but it certainly doesn't recommend swinging.  I am not standing in judgment of swingers.  If it was socially and culturally acceptable, I cannot say with certainty that I wouldn't do it myself.  Being human makes it difficult to claim anything with certainty. 

Do we really need swinging to stay alive in a marriage?  Are we doomed to live as zombies if we follow the traditional pattern?  I don't believe so.  I believe that through delving into the best parts of ourselves and reaching the capacity to love ourselves and our partners unconditionally, we truly can be Married but not Dead, in the confines of our original vows.  It is not the easiest path.  It is not like following a cake recipe--but it is less complicated than a highly intricate web of extra-marital sex, be it consensual or not (i.e. cheating versus swinging!)

To close, I'll leave you with two funny "meetup topics" used as criteria for group participant selection: "Hip Parents," and "Discreet Friendship."  I would love to be considered hip and when I really try, discretion is within my power but...I ain't no married zombie!