Dead Deer Zen

Zen Koan:

Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters are once again waters.


Driving to work on Friday, I decided to take a different way. Roadwork created a thruway to my job that would cut a few minutes off of my short commute. With the river on my left and a steep incline on my right, I cruised down the smooth city street, merging into a flow of traffic from downtown. A yearling deer and fawn sauntered across the street 50 feet ahead of traffic. As we approached a bend in the river, another doe bolted into the driver’s side headlight of the white Subaru Forester ahead of me. She faltered, and then fell back into the lane for oncoming traffic. All of the cars on the road came to a quick stop. The doe struggled to stand, and she did. Then, she tried to run, taking 3-4 limping steps. She fell again, got up again, and fell one final time. Traffic stood by. Every car contained one person encased in their personal pod of horror. The doe was lying in the road, lifting her head in pain or will to live or some other drive I have yet to understand in the privileged, injury-free lifetime I have lived. One woman got out of her car and cautiously approached the doe. Bending at the waist, she reached her hand towards her, hesitated, and then reached again to stroke her side. The doe lay motionless, either dead or dying. I willed myself to get out of the car, to be with the doe in her last moments of struggle. I wanted to send her metta and peace, but my discomfort and terror of witnessing her death kept me glued to my car seat. I called 911 to reach our small town police department so someone could come and expedite her death, release her from the pain she must be in. My car was in the middle of the road. The black truck behind me pulled forward and past the deer. A man got out, one I have seen at work many times. He’s gruff and a really bad tipper, so that is how I remember him. He approached the deer and woman, who was still stroking the deer as it lay dying. He told her to grab the hind legs and he grabbed the front. They pulled the doe to the side of the road. I heard police sirens. I had to move my car from the middle of the road. I am unsure if the deer was dead already or if it was alive when dragged to the side of the road along with pieces of the woman’s car that hit her. I wanted her to have dignity, but I did nothing to facilitate it. I cried in my car before going in to work.

When I think of that deer, I don’t wonder why she died in front of me. But in past years of seeking, I would have taken it personally that this deer ran out in the road in front of me and died. I would have wondered what it meant in the bigger picture of MY life and why it happened in front of ME, possibly even TO me.

This is the meaning of this koan. Because he’s convenient, I’ll use the bad tipper as an illustration of the first part of the koan. Before starting a spiritual journey with an end goal of enlightenment or entry to heaven or maybe a simple tight yoga ass, the seeker has yet to seek. The deer in the road is the deer in the road. In this case, the deer is blocking traffic, and, for the purpose of utility, needs to be removed. The bad tipper saw the dying deer in the road as a dying deer in the road and moved it. The deer was unconnected to him and his purpose, so he moved it out of his way and continued, unaffected. For those in the midst of seeking, they wait for the streets to turn into bricks of gold, their meditative efforts to manifest stacks of cash onto their spendthrift existence, or the joy of being able to bounce a quarter off of their tight yoga asses. In earnest, they grasp to the external to find their internal way. Their sense of intuition relies on the ability to decode the roles of the deer, the woman in the road, the bad tipper and internalize them. The seeker believes by knowing the reason, they will find the way. While understanding logic in making material and tactical decisions is important, it doesn’t work with the Mystery.

I’m far from enlightened and well into my study of Zen, but I do my best to let the mountains be mountains and the waters be waters and recognize that death is inevitable. Why the death happened in front of me does not matter, though through my seeking I understand the deer is connected to the Great Mystery in the same way as me. I wish I could have been a better shepherd and friend to that little sister during her final moments. Like the seeker, I walk away learning something about myself through an external experience, but I learn by listening to the internal dissonance created by it rather than internalizing the events in front of me or externalizing the dissonance. Make sense?

For all of you seeking, use the tools. Take what speaks to you, what hits you right between the eyes or pokes your heart, and work it. Journal it. Sit with it. Practice it, until you understand how it applies to your life with all of its successes and failures, with all of its moments of being the hammer and the nail. Use balance. Spend 30/60/90 minutes a day diligently focused on it, and then spend the rest of the time letting the mountains be mountains and waters be waters and belly laughs be abundant. This is how you will know yourself. This is how you will learn your intuition. This is how you will be a great student of mystery and lover of life. This is how you will survive.

The Helping Way: Sayings of a Lakota Elder


“If you are living only for yourself, and you know that everyone else is living only for themselves, you know that there is no help for you if you fall. All people must fall at some time, just as there will always come rain and bad weather. You learn that you must protect what is yours, or you may lose everything.

“You put locks on your doors, locks on your hearts. You live in fear that you may lose what you have, so you spend your life getting more and more and trying to build walls around what you have. You learn to protect rather than to give.

“In the old way there were no locks on our doors. We had no fences to make lines between ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ To be great among our people was not to gather the most for ourselves, it was to be the biggest giver and sharer and to protect the weak. We honored those who could help the most, not those who could have the most.

“Once a person starts to live in your way, everything changes, because everything has to be protected. You start making rules about what people can’t do, not what people should do.

“I’d rather have rules that say, ‘You should, you should.’ It teaches us who we should be, not who we should not be. All your way does is tell someone how not to be bad. It doesn’t tell them how to be good.

“When we teach the children fear this way, we set their feet on a bad path. We teach them to grow up thinking about themselves. Sharing is just a small stick they hold out to other people, not the strongest branch on the tree of their lives. They learn to protect, not to give, and it builds a wall around their hearts.

“We need to change this. We need to teach them a helping way, to give them a vision of what is right, not only of what is wrong. We need to teach them that the way to be strong is to help the weak; the way to have wealth is to give things away; the way to lead is to serve. We need to let them know that they are an important part of the circle of life, and if they do not play their part, no one else can.

“If we teach them these things they will have hope in their hearts. If we don’t, their hearts will become hard. They will gather things to them and watch life from a cold distance. They will see the world as something to use, not something to honor. Their ears will stay closed to voices of creation, and the words of the sacred will die on their lips.”

~”Dan”, Lakota elder, as told to Ken Nerburn in The Wolf at Twilight


Castle Valley Parable

Yesterday a woman told me about the way she raised her sons in Castle Valley. There was no electricity or running water. The two boys spent a lot of their time chasing after 20 goats the family owned and herded. The boys made up their own language, which they didn’t share with their parents. They created intricate toys made from the rocky high desert ground.

One day, a family friend came to visit. He saw that the boys didn’t have toys, and he took pity on them. After his visit, the man went home and gathered toys from his childhood into baskets, which he brought to the Castle Valley homestead. The boys were excited to receive Tonka trucks, green army guys and yo-yos. The man’s visit was fulfilling. He felt proud of his good deed, and all of the blessings of being one who gives.

Later that day, the woman heard her sons angrily saying “mine” to one another. It was a word that hadn’t used before, and it was the first time they spoke to each other in conflict.

Company of Friends

There’s a song I’d like to share with you. I recognize that last sentence makes me sound like a lovesick teenage boy, but it’s true. There’s a song I’d like to share with you, and here’s why. The holidays are a time of embracing loved ones-family, friends and community. For those of us that love someone that died, the holidays can be a bewildering time. We fully participate in the cheer of the season, but there is an element of sadness. There’s just something missing a lot of the time.

The song is “Company of Friends” by Danny Schmidt and performed by Schmidt and Carry Elkin. For me, this song illuminates a way that I can honor my father, while also acknowledging that he has passed. I commemorate that I am in his eternal company of friends, and I hold the flame of his embers. I also take time to appreciate friends and family that are right here in the now, and to acknowledge how richly those unique individuals texture my world.


When I die, let them judge me by my company of friends

Let them know me as the footprints that I left upon the sand

Let them laugh for all the laughter

Let them cry for laughter’s end

But when I die, let them judge me by my company of friends

When I die, let them toast to all the things that I believe

Let them raise a glass to consciousness

And not spill a drop for grief

Let the bubbles rise at midnight

Let their tongues get light as thieves

And when I die, let them toast to all the things that I believe

I believe in restless hunger

I believe in red balloons

I believe in private thunder

In the end I do believe

I believe in inspiration

I believe in lightning bugs

I believe in slow creation

In the end I do believe

I believe in ink on paper

I believe in lips on ears

I believe what’s shared is savored

In the end I do believe

I believe in work on Sundays

I believe in raising barns

I believe in wasting Mondays

In the end I do believe

I believe in intuition

I believe in being wrong

I believe in contradiction

In the end I do believe

I believe in living smitten

I believe all hearts will mend

I believe our book is written

By our company of friends

Copyright 2007. Words and music by Danny Schmidt.

Best of the season to you and yours, Kaci

Walmart Satori

Today I am kind of depressed, a natural inflection.  I leave the house in a huff in my pajamas, not knowing where I will end up.  When a little down in the dumps, a run or yoga will typically pick me up.  When true Despair makes a visit I crave a long drive, the open road giving me a sense of freedom and liberation my running shoes and yoga mat cannot.
Due to my overarching need for Purpose, I go where most people who are depressed end up when they leave their house in their pajamas:  Walmart.
I sit outside and watch people go in and out, enjoying the anonymity of being in a city 45 minutes from the small town I call home.  I have some solid ideas on what is causing my depression, but I do not want to address any of these things.  Instead, I stew on the circular nature of karma and the difficulty of the human condition.
I attempt to romanticize my current situation with ideas that I will meet a great spiritual teacher here on the bench outside of this Superstore of America.  The young Hispanic sweeping up the trash around me offers me,  “Looks like it is going to rain again today.  I brought my jacket out just in case.”
“Yeah, but the rain is still a blessing, eh?”  I offer, hopeful that he will transform this everyday banter into a profound insight on my current state of sadness.
He nods and moves on to litter further away.
Another employee, a rounded woman in her mid-30s, sits on a bench two down from mine.I glance over.

She swigs her Mountain Dew and belches loudly.

Disappointed, I head into the store. I typically reward myself with a bag of Sun Chips and a Vitamin Water after a Wal-mart experience, but today I am not in the mood.  I check out with no treats and load up my car for the drive back up to 8,000 feet.

Lately, I have been running.  I am training for a marathon.  Well, I think I am training for a marathon, just as I think I will one day write a book.  Today my schedule dictates that I run, but I here I sit pecking away on my computer.  Today may be the first day I miss a training run.

I wonder what the point is.  Not just the point of running a marathon, but what is the point of anything?  What is the point of consuming Sun Chips?  The pint of Guinness after work?  The hours I spend on my yoga mat?  What difference does it make to the world if I log miles, meditate or drink ten shots?

I can cling to running, I can cling to work, I can cling to Guinness, but in the end, it is all the same.  My ego seeks to define itself by external activities, consumptions or possessions.  In one moment, I strive to find identity as something-a yogi, a lover, a writer.  In the next moment, I know from the experience of my past lives as a financial planner, student and wife of that my spirit cannot make a singular identification with something else home.  There will always be cracks in the matrix.  There will always be a lack of grounding in these pursuits.

While I have learned this little life lesson, I do not know what is past it.  So, I struggle.  I attach myself to what is lost because I do not know yet what is to be found.

Maybe the young Hispanic at Wal-mart has a point after all.  It does look like it is going to rain today.  I should have brought my jacket.

“All you have to do is pay attention; lessons always arrive when you are ready, and if you can read the signs, you will learn everything you need to know to take the next step.”  Paulo Coehlo, The Zahir

Don’t Forget Your Superpowers: Guest Blog for Hanuman Yoga & Music Festival

Photo by Becca Caldwell


Only in Colorado do I have to cue yogis to come down from arm balances.”  ~Noah Maze

Well, what can I say, Noah?  Your statement filled me with pride as I pushed my body through your exceptional LEAP! Class on day 2 of Hanuman.  As my ego filled, I noticed how attached I was to accomplishing the postures you cued.

I heard a running dialogue in my mind:

“This class is great.  My arms are getting pumped.  I am going to be so much stronger.  I have never been able to contort myself into Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) and here I am holding it like a champ.

I should practice these arm balances everyday.  Maybe I should add some pull ups into the mix.  I could be ripped by the end of the summer.  I am going to gain so much muscle.  I could probably lose a couple of pounds too.”

And then, I fell right on my behind.  I tried to get back in the pose, but I couldn’t stick it.

My eyes flashed on the temporary tattoo I picked up at Yoganonymous’ booth that morning:

“Exhale only love.”

Kaci, Kaci, Kaci, where is the love?  Where is the breath?

I strive for excellence by both my own and others’ standards, but what I was doing in that moment was not excellent.  I was allowing my ego to grasp for power by standards that are fleeting.  My arm strength and the length of time I can hold Tittibhasana are merely surface level measures of self worth.

You are as powerful as the wind;

You are intelligent, illustrious & an inventor.

There is nothing in this world that’s too difficult for you;

Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.

-as told to Hanuman by Jambavantha

Forest sages put a curse on Hanuman to punish his orneriness as a child.  He had many powers, superpowers if you will, but could not remember what they were unless someone told him.

Like Hanuman, I tend to forget the superpowers I possess until someone tells me about them.  No matter where I am at in life, I push for more, looking to acquire power/achievement/virtue without giving reverence to what I already possess.

Hanuman Festival helped me to remember some of the powers I possess but had forgotten.  These powers have nothing to do with the size of my biceps, but more with the size of my heart and the strength of my character.  As I interacted with teachers and fellow students, I remembered that I am kind.  I value people.  I give genuine, loving hugs-shining my heart wide open.  I have the ability to experience pure joy in watching a solar powered bubble machine or the swing of a hula hoop.

The more I know and love myself, the more I can help raise the vibration.

As I immerse myself back into my normal routine, I hold onto the knowledge of my capabilities.  I use the skills I learned from instructors to enhance and encourage the virtues I already have and to nurture those I am inviting into my life.  As I open and strengthen my body in asanas, my heart opens to others.  I hope to help them recognize the power of the unique superhero inside of themselves.

I am more relaxed.  I am more detached with those that interact with me in aggressive or uncaring ways.  Now, I view all of us as having the same curse the sages put on Hanuman when he was a little boy.  We all possess powers we do not remember.  Sometimes this forgetfulness causes us to act hostile or defensive in an attempt to hide our feelings of weakness.  With faith, love and the story of Hanuman, we know that we each possess inside of us something larger and more powerful than the strength of our arms, the shape of our hips or the success of our business.

As Jambavantha said to Hanuman, I say to you, me and everyone:

“No other living creature has your strength, wisdom and radiance.  Why are you sitting quiet, not knowing yourself?”

Namaste and Blessings.


Inspiration & Bravery: Everyday Examples of Authentic Existence

Photo by Rio Roman

I watch a friend love her little girl, born at 28 weeks, instinctively, fiercely and with an abandon unknown to her in the past.  I watch via text and email as this little girl fights bravely with every pore in her body to live-TO LIVE, to connect, to be here, to be with us and make her way into the arms of those that love her so much.

I talk with a friend who has known for years, that something is wrong-IT IS WRONG-though on paper she has everything she should dream of.  She knows that she must grow, bend and change into something, but she doesn’t know what.  She is not sure of the outcome.  She does not know who she will be without this cover of the normal life she has been conditioned to want.  I observe her struggle to find her voice.  Though she knows-SHE KNOWS-she must speak, must act.  She does not know what she will say.  She does not know what she will do, but she heads forward one clumsy, uncertain step at a time with determined courage.

A friend confides that she is dieting again.  Her weight has swung back and forth for the last 10 years.  At times, she has taken on this challenge by punishing herself fiercely, disassociating her mind from her body without consideration for her soul.  She knows that all of her old obsessions and demons will be there waiting for her to let down her guard for one minute-waiting for her to become too attached to her results, tempting her to punish herself with starvation in order to achieve her goal.  And here she is again, back at the plate with a bat in her hand, determined to walk a road of unknown outcomes, but certain fear.  She is here in order to live.  To truly be alive.

So many of us want to live authentically.  When we look at the price tag, living our true self seems expensive.  Truly living means we will most likely embarass ourselves one way or another.  We may sign up for one train of thought or philosophy, but then, in order to be true, we may have to recant those ideas at an inconvenient time.  We may extend our heart to someone who is not available to love us in return.  We may make a declaration of “I will never” or “I will always”  only to have change that statement to “I will sometimes.”

We are conditioned in life to believe that if we go to Place A we will next find the trail to Place B.  Then, we see that our baby was born 12 weeks early.  The trail is dark and the only light we can see is the light of an old soul emanating from her young eyes.  And now, there is no path.

We have followed the path from college to career, but we are inexplicably unhappy.  We followed the trail map we got at the gate, but this trail is filled with sadness.  The moment comes when we want to go back and get another map, but we recognize that all trails have been mapped by another hand.  We want to lay down in despair, but instead we take out our headlight and head into the forest.

We have walked and walked and walked.  We have eaten and not eaten.  We have loved ourselves and hated ourselves.  We have run.  We have walked slowly, examining the leaves and branches of every tree, trying to get it right.  We reach the end of the trail, only to realize there is a steep chasm between ourselves and the summit.  The chasm is filled with the leaves and branches we so carefully passed by.

More than likely, our authentic self this year will not look the same as our authentic self next year.  We will end up bushwhacking our way to what we believe is the top, only to find that we are on someone else’s mountain or have reached a false summit.

But in the end, we must all remember the struggles we have overcome in order to get to this place of demanding truth and authenticity of self.  The road, our road, has been leading us here all along.  Inspiration will be our food, water and shelter.  We must find it.  We must cultivate it.  Inspiration is here, everywhere.

Inspiration is in the eyes of a child born a few weeks too soon, fighting with her utmost strength TO LIVE. She heads boldly into the unknown. She does not escape into a television, bottle of beer or obsessive exercise. She LIVES because that what she is here to do. She LIVES because she must. We must too. Namastae and blessings.