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Monkey Mind

In Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro’s words ring true. “The meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg speaks of catching the mind scampering off, like the little monkey that it is, into the past, the future, anywhere but here, and suggests that the real skill in meditation is simply noticing that the mind has wandered. So liberating, this idea that we can start over at any time, a thousand times a day if need be. I see many parallels between the practices of meditation and writing but none are more powerful than this. Writing is hard. We resist, we procrastinate, we veer off course. But we have this tool, this ability to begin again.” 

Our minds roll at an astonishing speed and it’s easy to feel so busy and consumed that we never check in on our inner chatter. My meditation practice has taught me how to become the observer of the endless parade of my thoughts.

It’s called a practice for a reason. I think people often misunderstand and assume they cannot meditate. It bums me out to hear people tell themselves they can’t do it. So let me just say, you can if you decide to try. 

I’ve been at it for years and I continue to experience my thoughts trailing off to run buck wild while I practice. The practice involves noticing when you drift off and bringing yourself back to the moment. Over and over and over again. Over time, your ability to catch your monkey mind rambling and bring it back to the present will improve.

Here’s one example from this week of the thoughts I noticed in savasana. As I relaxed into my mat, I thought: Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. I wonder if my friend figured out her foot cramps? I wonder if she knows about LMNT packs? She mentioned her high heels. Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes. The episode when Big is leaving for California and Miranda’s water breaks on her new fancy pair. How do they walk around the city in stilettos? I’d fall on my face for sure! I’ve still never been to NYC. I think I’d get claustrophobic. I loved reading Ani’s stories about New York in her memoir. I can’t imagine living there when the pandemic hit. I wonder how many people left and aren’t coming back. I can’t believe we’ve been isolating for an entire year! How is that possible?! I’m so excited to start seeing everyone again soon!! Wait…what am I doing? Oh yeah, I’m meditating. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Breath in love. Breathe out love. Oh I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer. What else do I have to cook? Maybe I’ll make Banza pasta. Oooo my marinated onions are ready. I’ll make a big salad . . . Hahaha breathe in love. Breathe out love.  

Savasana Forever

A few weeks after my husband died, I learned of a local yoga retreat scheduled for the first weekend in April. My friend, Jessie, agreed to go with me so I signed us both up. Leba, my friend/yoga teacher, knew that her friend/teacher from her studio was teaching at the retreat, and asked her thoughts about me attending in my current state. Michelle thought it would be okay and offered to look out for me. Leba made sure to introduce us before the retreat. Michelle radiated a calm, loving presence and put me right at ease. (I could not have imagined that two years later, Michelle would become one of my yoga teacher trainers. It has been a joy and a blessing to train and practice with her).

When Jessie and I arrived at the retreat site, a bumper sticker jumped out at us that exclaimed, “Will work for poop!” We side eyed each other in contemplation, giggled and wondered aloud what that could possibly mean. It took a little of the edge off of walking into an unknown situation in the depths of my torment. 

I was not at all psyched about sleeping in bunk beds in a room full of strangers, but I was very invested in experiencing the retreat. My plan was to not say much, and I didn’t. I found myself wishing it was a silent retreat so I would not have to utter a word. I planned then to look into silent retreats, and though I still have not done the research, the idea of a mute gathering still beckons to me. 

I remember glancing at people thinking, they have NO idea about my suffering, and I, in turn, have no clue about their inner worlds. Kenny’s death was my bizarre, terrible initiation into a stark reality of the world: People are living with unseeable, untold, unfathomable pain. They always have been, I was just blissfully unaware of the existence of this particular human resonance. Now, tuned into the reverberation, everything felt dissonant and disturbed.

I took the classes, meditated, journaled, picked at the food and spent time in the woods. I released many tears and made no attempts to connect with anyone. I felt totally incapable of making a new friend or even an acquaintance. Michelle did check in with me, which I very much appreciated, and I enjoyed taking her class.

A moment of surrender my friend captured from our yoga retreat on April 2, 2016.

At one point, Jessie nudged her head toward one of the teachers and said, “It is definitely her car.” I can’t remember her name, her face or her class, but I do know this was declared as a compliment as we both dug her vibe and style. I nodded and grinned in agreement.  

During the last session on Saturday evening, the cabins lost all power. We stood in the dark for a few minutes, and then it hit me: I live fifteen minutes from here. I could go home and sleep in my own bed. Why didn’t I do this last night?! My friend smiled at my slow revelation and said she was surprised, knowing me well, that this hadn’t been my plan all along. My brain was tied up and blurry from shock and pain, so I was not at all surprised I had missed the obvious. We promised each other we would wake up early (though I would be the one to sleep in or bail, not her) and ensure we were back for the first class, an early morning meditation. I kept my word and we arrived, well rested, early Sunday morning before the first session began.

The weekend wrapped up with a final yoga class. We practiced in front of the windows facing the woods, our mats illuminated in the late morning sun. I gazed at the birds skittering around like the thoughts of Kenny ricocheting in my mind. As I settled in for savasana, a powerful feeling washed over me. It was a knowing, and a presence I recognized as Kenny. I swear I knew before the first note . . . our song was about to play. I heard the guitar chords, and a wall of anguish flooded over from deep inside of me, a rapid surge of countless, complex emotions. Relief that he was there; despair that he also very much was not and never would be again. I let it all come, allowed it to pummel me, made no attempt to quell the crushing wave. It is worth noting that I had never before heard any Ben Harper song play during savasana, let alone our song: Forever.   

Jessie gently placed her hand on me as I wept in savasana. The music stopped, the class ended and I eventually peeled myself up from the torrent of grief. I couldn’t speak, there were no words, as we made our way outside and across the parking lot. Sure enough, that teacher was getting into that car. It felt impossible to hear my own laughter arise after that cataclysmic wave, but there I stood, chuckling anyway. 

I thought of a shirt for sale at my yoga studio that stated “i heart savasana.” I drove straight to the Yoga Lounge that afternoon just to buy it. It would serve as my reminder of that brutiful moment and connection with Kenny in savasana. I had felt him whisper through our song that he was proud of me for going to the retreat, for finding ways to survive the seemingly unsurvivable. I still have the shirt and let it bring me back to that moment, to the heart-wrenching reminder of our forever changed forever.

Wearing my special savasana shirt two years later to class at the Yoga Lounge & Barre on May 4, 2018.

“Just here for the savasana” became my motivation. I continued to return to my mat because of the sweet, gentle encouragement and support from Leba. I felt safe only in her studio and it is very unlikely I would have gone to practice anywhere else. She gave me a reason to leave my house, a safe destination, a peaceful space to move and breathe and bawl on the floor, a way to exercise some control over my experience. I arrived, hugged her, practiced in class, kept my head low on my way in and out. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to perform small talk, I was there in pursuit of my survival alone. 

Practicing at home to get to my savasana on March 5, 2018

What I learned on my mat stayed with me in my grief and my life–I can do hard things. When it feels too difficult, I just have to remember to pause and breathe. Let it be difficult. Breathe with it. Feel it in my body. Surrender. Let it shake me and strengthen me. When I want to give up, focus on taking a deep breath. And then another. And then another. Time, somehow, passes this way and so do emotions.

Then, at the end of each practice, the glorious moment would unfold before me. After the effort comes the ease. Savasana. My release. My chance to let out all I had churned up with my mindful movement and breath. Stagnant fragments of trauma loosened and flowed out of me through my exhales, sweat and tears. This was the core reason I kept showing up on my mat, and why I still do. It wasn’t just a clever saying on my clothes, I really was there for the savasana, to create and experience the healing power of the release that comes in the stillness after the strenuous sequence of a well-taught class.

Sweet Savasana

A Real Meal Deal Becomes Kenny’s Kitchen

After I achieved the tremendous results from my first Whole30, I was inspired to start a business with the mission to help folks make delicious, real food meals a reality in their daily lives.

Y’all know I like to rhyme all the time, so it’s no surprise I landed on the business name A Real Meal Deal.

My amazing friend Sara created the logo. We were ready to roll.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 11.40.08 AM

                                  logo by Studio SPC

I wanted to show others how delicious nutritious food can taste and make it easier to prepare. My husband started looking into the legalities & brainstormed various ideas with me including: a meal planning service, meal prep classes, meal delivery, freezer meals, cooking demonstrations, grocery store presentations, recipe creation, Paleo food products and group coaching. I designed meal planning recipe boards to sell on Etsy to kick things off.

Kenny had supported me through the debilitating effects of my autoimmune disease years earlier. He walked with me through my darkest days. He had seen me turn my Whole30 experiment into lasting lifestyle change and got to witness firsthand all the ways my health and life improved. Then he experienced Whole30 for himself, and he became even more invested in my mission. He was aware of all of the benefits our friends and family reported during and after the Whole30 our group completed together. He believed in me and my passion to share my story and offer my support to others. We were on the brink of change.

Our friend Emily found an incredible recipe for plantain wraps, and after trying her delicious tacos, this became my obsession. I began playing with the recipe to make it ours. We focused on the wraps as a potential first Paleo food product, and we easily came up with the perfect (rhyming) name: Jane’s Plantains.

February 23, 2016 was an ordinary Tuesday and I spent the evening in the kitchen, joyfully testing new plantain creations. I created wraps, stuffed dumplings and cinnamon crisp bowls. We tried them for dinner and dessert and gave them all of our thumbs up. All three recipes were keepers and I was pumped. I tucked the leftover dumplings in the fridge to save for Kenny’s lunch the next day and cleaned up my giant mess. Kenny left, I put our daughter to bed, and fell asleep with exciting ideas bouncing around my mind.

February 23, 2016 our last meal & moments with Kenny

I was awoken in the dark to the unfathomable news of Kenny’s accident and death, and in a breath I felt our dreams and future dissipate like vapor. He was gone in an instant and so was our life together.

Our house became packed with loved ones who came to support and mourn with us. I had a drawing on our fridge of another product name idea, and my cousin, Jeremy, asked me about it. I explained our ideas to him and he encouraged me to keep my faith. He looked into my eyes and told me he believed in me, and I felt the flame flicker and rekindle.

I shared my idea with my brother, Jarod, and he agreed to help me make our dream a reality. His gentle, steadfast support was exactly what I needed to move forward. It gave me a new purpose, a reason to believe in something again.

The name Kenny’s Kitchen came to me and sealed the deal. I knew it was meant to be.

I worked with my talented friend Sara again, and she brought our vision to life in a new logo.

logo by Studio SPC

Kenny’s Kitchen would become our way to honor his life and memory. We could keep Kenny’s light shining in people’s everyday lives with our products. He would have a presence in their homes, in their kitchens, to enhance their precious time together. His spirit would live on in each delicious bite, each boisterous laugh around the table. My goal was to inspire people to create a habit of meaningful mealtimes, to appreciate the greatest gift we have to give each other–our time and presence.

We decided to start with spice blends, and thanks to my brother, Chill -n- Grill was born. Together with my daughter, we launched Kenny’s Kitchen in February, 2017.

Our Kenny’s Kitchen Crew

We kept our small business running until the pandemic hit, and had to pause production. A year later we are finally ready to slowly ramp it up again. I have missed working on Kenny’s Kitchen and I am thrilled to have the chance to share the Kenny Love with y’all once again. You can find our spices for sale at kennys-kitchen.com. There are currently a limited number of Chill -n- Grill bottles and Taco Time will be available again soon.

My hope remains the same. May our products inspire you to make meaningful meals and memories around your table in honor of Kenny. None of us know when our last moment together will be, and in my eyes, that makes every meal a reason to celebrate.

Our last Thanksgiving together in 2015

Five Years

He has missed so much.

We miss him so much.

Every day.

The weeks pile up without consent.

Left to wonder where the time went. 

Five years

living in the fray.

She has lived longer with him gone than here.

He fades further with each passing year.

Grief refuses to be kept at bay.

Toddler memories don’t keep.

I have helplessly witnessed hers seep

a    w    a    y.

The gaping hole will haunt her in different ways

for always.

A burden I cannot slay.

This I cannot change 

facts I cannot rearrange. 

I have to bear it night and day. 

As a child, she lives in the moment

while I overthink and lament.

Still, she grieves in her own way.

Why her, she pleads, why her Dad?

Why didn’t she get to keep the life she had?

No answer will make her pain go away.

She remembers the last words he spoke

He’d see her in the morning.

But instead she awoke

to the primal screams of my mourning.

Burned into her memory, the horror will stay.

There is nothing I can do or say.

I lift it to God and continue to pray.

Assure her He is with us, come what may.

You Have It In You

We can totally change how we eat & treat ourselves.

I was:

  • a kid who liked two foods
  • a teenager who subsisted on fast food & Hungry Jack
  • a vegetarian who lived on cheese & bread & sugar
  • a young adult who started every day with a Pepsi Big Gulp & often ate just a Snickers for lunch
  • an adult who became debilitated by an autoimmune disease

I am:

  • living my own unique food freedom

I began to change my habits out of sheer desperation. (Which can be very motivating!) Once I understood the way my food choices were negatively impacting my wellness, it became much easier to make healthier choices, create new habits & take better care of myself. 

If I make it seem easy now, I just want to remind you that I had a lot to overcome & unlearn to reeducate myself.

You have it in you to do it, too.