Katahdin – A Mountain of Love

I fell again.  The first time, I was curious.  Why would my leg buckle under my bodyweight like it did?  It was reasonable to expect, I guess.  I was physically exhausted.  My wife Lori and I had been hiking, scrambling over and around boulders, and rock climbing for over 12 hours.  We had been up the mountain and were now on our way back down.  We still had a mile or more to go down the steep rock-strewn descent of Katahdin (meaning: “ greatest mountain”).  It was my fifth time to climb this highest mountain in Maine, and it had been some years since the last time. It felt harder now. And I was older now, into my seventies.  Although I felt in good shape, I could tell that the stamina and endurance of the younger me had waned a little. 

I lay on the ground in the dark (we were now using headlamps since the sun had set a few hours earlier) and saw my mind beginning to conjure up thoughts like “what if I can’t get up,” “I should be able to do this,” and “I’m letting my wife down” and “she will be afraid if I can’t get up.”   Drawing on my many years of watching and noticing my thoughts in my daily yoga and meditation practice,  I chose not to indulge them further.  Instead, I felt my body.  Right now, I was not injured.  And my body, although exhausted, still felt like it has some reserves from which to draw.

I decided to breathe, sensing that lungs full of air might oxygenate my blood enough to bring new life to the muscles now saying “no.”  I inhaled to the count of four slowly, and out to the count of five.  I repeated this several times.  I attempted to return to standing and succeeded.  My legs held firm as I stood and took the next few steps cautiously.  I walked for about 10 minutes and fell again.  I repeated the breathing, got up continued.  I don’t recall how many more times this happened, but about an hour later, we stumbled in the dark towards the parking lot at the end of the trail.  

Along with the purely physical experience I engaged in getting my body to respond and support us in getting off the mountain, there was also the engagement of my mind.  My practice came to the fore.  I became very present-centered.  I deliberately chose not to indulge in any story about what had happened so far or what might happen in the future.  I remained steadfast in my focus on the moment I was in and making choices on being present.  In retrospect, I believe this is what helped the most.  It made the pain bearable, and it also gave me hope with each step.

To her credit, Lori did not panic either.  I’m sure she was concerned but chose to put her energy into checking in with me and asking me what I needed.   We both trusted ourselves and each other to choose wisely.  Earlier in the day, as she had struggled with fear, I had done the same.  She had a fear of heights and a few times became temporarily frozen as she lay on the top of a huge boulder just ascended and looked over the edge to the thousand-foot drop below.  Near the top of the mountain, she was exhausted and scared.   She had wanted to find an easier way down. But there was none.  There are no easy ways up or down  Katahdin.  Just different.  And with this mountain, the descent is at least equally tricky as the ascent and generally takes longer.   

Why would anyone do this, you might ask? 

Well, at the end of the day, although exhausted and sore, we were also both very much at peace.  At peace with the world, at peace with each other, and experiencing peace with life.  We had taken an adventure together.  We had faced ourselves and our fears, and we had shared the experience and supported each other.  That made it not just worth doing but gave us both a deep sense of gratitude that we could do it and did do it. 

The next day, Lori began a conversation about which trail we would take next year.  I must say I was a little surprised and asked her what inspired such a discussion.  She laughed and recalled the birth of our first child and enduring long and difficult labor. The next day she had held the baby in her arms, felt the love, and was ready to do it again.  And we did.

Spring and Poetry

On my morning walk today I could “feel” Spring – a real visceral body sense of it.   Spring has been a while coming this year here in the Berkshires in MA where I live.  But today there was no mistake.  It was full on.  The buds on the trees were ready to pop and the daffodils were displaying their bright yellow in several gardens I passed.  The air felt crisp in anticipation of a warmer day and light on a nearby lake took on that clear bright “let me show you everything” feel.  For a moment I reflected on why so many poets had written about Spring.  By really feeling it today I felt quite uplifted and inspired.

I’m not a poet but I am an avid student of change, particularly in relation to people. To me, Spring is more of an inspiration and validation of the process of change than it is the subject for a poem.   So, I let my mind head off in that direction rather than waxing profusely with words and imagery.

I asked myself:  Am I really in touch with the seasons in my daily life?  Is there a time in my life for bursting forth with new energy and allowing my creativity to manifest?

I’ve spent a lot of time in front of my screen lately, tweaking the curriculum for our yoga therapy school and writing my next book.  This is somewhat creative but it’s more of a process with which I’m familiar and comfortable.  Where’s the new growth in my life I wondered.  And how do I prepare the garden in my life for new growth to flourish?

One of my mentors recently suggested I find some time in my life for artistic and creative pursuit. Gardening came into the conversation until I realized that with my summer travel schedule and no one to tend to it, my plants would not fare well.  My interest in Japan led to the exploration of calligraphy.  I could picture the joy of creating a beautiful kanji of a Japanese concept and displaying it on my wall, but that one would require a long and slow learning curve.

Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places.

Maybe, just maybe, my moment of reflection by a beautiful lake bathing in the morning light today was a sign.  And my immediate thought about poets and spring.   Maybe, just maybe, I could wax wisely with words and be able to let go of my belief that I’m not a poet.  Perhaps I could allow the poet in me some room to play. Even if just for a few minutes every now and then.  It would mean letting go of some inhibitions and negative self-talk.   So why not?  Let me share with you with my first attempt.

Pregnant, Ready to burst, Full and vibrant, life to come, Pregnant, Ready to burst,

That energy abounds, in the buds, the song of the birds enlivens, the brightening light, seeing clearly

A deep love of life within it all

A life that knows birth and knows death too

And right here right now

Comes again in fullness

Bursting forth.  It’s Spring. Bursting forth.

 What words and phrases describe your experience of spring?  Please share below as I’d love to expand my spring vocabulary for next year.


Yoga Therapy as Transformation

This article was recently published in Yoga Therapy Today, one of the IAYT publications for members.  I attempt to take a balance approach and look through the lens of yoga therapy with  a contemporary and broad based view.  Of course, my work is clearly focused on the Transformational benefits of yoga and yoga therapy and I also respect the work of many of my colleagues in the field who work with  a primary focus on helping relieve symptoms.

Missing the Forest for the Trees? Yoga Therapy’s Promise as a Transformational Practice

by Michael Lee



Resolutions can work – with a little Buddha wisdom applied

We often see resolutions as doing something “out there” (outside of ourselves) to create a happier life “in here” – (our inner state of being).  Could  the exact opposite of this process maybe get the result we want?

Many have given up on the idea of even making a resolution, as we know from experience (and also research) that they just don’t last and generally don’t really make anything much shift or change in our lives.

However, shift happens and behavior changes more easily and effectively when certain “conditions” are in place that support such things happening.  This idea is not new.  The ancient yogis and the Buddha expounded this element of behavioral science thousands of years ago.  It is known as the theory of “dependent origination” and is quite straightforward and not at all mysterious.  In a nutshell it tells us that when certain conditions are in place (many of them – not just one or two), then certain things MIGHT be “born” into “manifestation” and we can drastically increase the odds by setting in motion those conditions that will support the change we want. Think of the “perfect storm” that happens sometimes.  Many variables go into its creation and they are not always identical.  And some factors are complete oddities that we’ve never seen before and could be real game changers.  But we do know that if about 80 percent of the known factors are in place then the chances of a storm happening are high.

And it is also true for our life in the future.  We really don’t know what will happen for sure and any odd variable could change things, but we do know that if certain conditions prevail then there is a pretty good chance of predicting, with some degree of accuracy, what might transpire. We can increase the odds of the things we want to change happening,  if we take care of setting up the “conditions” that might give “rise” to their happening.  This is sometimes knows as setting up the “conditions arising”.

If you look at my short video you will see how I applied this practice in my own life a few years ago and was very satisfied with the outcome.

A big part of the process is right at the beginning.  Getting clear on what you want to change – and this should be in the form of a RESULT you want and not thing you DO.  Here’s a quick guide to help that clarity.

  1. What have you experienced in the past year that gives rise to a desire for change? Example:  You may have noticed that several times in interactions with your co-workers you did and said things that created strained relationships that took a long time to mend.
  2. What is it that you want to create in your life as a result – your intention?  Example:  You will create more harmonious relationships with your co-workers.
  3. If my you were to manifest this Intention what would it look like, feel like, or be like in your life?  Try it on.  Visualize it, feel it, experience it in your body as well as your thoughts. Example: You notice spending more time having fun at work and enjoying the company of your colleagues.  At the end of each day, you’ll be able look back and honestly say to yourself “That was a great day! I feel connected to my colleagues”
  4. What action steps do you need to take now to manifest your Intention?  Think small to begin with and then scale up.  It’s more important that the action step is achievable, realistic, and time bounded.  One example:  You will ask more questions of your colleagues to take a genuine interest in their well-being. You will do this with one colleague each week for four weeks and have two or three of these conversations with each person each week.
  5. How can you set up a daily practice to focus and support your daily Intention?  Example: You will breathe and move your body vigorously for 10 minutes right after you wake up each morning. Then you close your eyes and set your Intention for the day.  You then imagine a visceral embodied experience of this intention being manifest and as it comes to me you breathe and feel it more and then take the feeling with you into you day.

Good luck!   Let me know how it goes.

May you enjoy a meaningful New Year.  May your intentions manifest and your resolutions bear fruit.

Please share this post with your colleagues, friends, and others if you think it may serve them.   I’d love to hear from you too, so please leave a comment below.  Thanks.  

Let’s fire it up…

Thanks for joining me! I’m Michael Lee, and I’ve been a resident of this planet for a little over seven decades. Here in my home country that means I’m old. In other countries, like Japan and Taiwan where I also teach, it means I’m wise and respected (most of the time. Either way, instead of feeling jaded by life, I honestly feel more alive, more inspired, and more hopeful than ever. I want to share with you my passion for life. I want to tell you about ways to ignite that passion, and to share my belief that we can embrace life, give it a great shake, learn from it, transform it, and appreciate everything it gives us. It’s an incredible universal accident that we are even here… so let’s get into it and do it well.

I live in the small town of Great Barrington in Western Massachusetts. For the last few

september-01-2018-at-0710am1years, I’ve probably spent more time on an airplane than on the local main street. And I love it. I’m fortunate to have found a way to do what I love almost every day. I have the opportunity to travel to wonderful places and work with inspiring people. I love my wife and partner of 33 years more than ever, and I am the father of five amazing human beings who are among my greatest teachers. So, welcome to my personal website and blog. I look forward to serving you.

When I accept myself as I am, then I can change. 

– Carl Rogers