I grew up in Macomb County, a blue-collar suburb of Detroit, during the 60s and 70s. Starting in junior high school, I spent my lunch money for “spiritual” pursuits purchased for $1 in the smoking area. At the University of Michigan I continued my spiritual quest in sorority life, leading to excessive alcohol use, an eating disorder, and academic probation. I interspersed poetry, journaling, and sleeping too much with reading about Buddhism and occasional attempts at meditation.
All of this somehow resulted in a graduating with a master’s degree in Computer Science, a move to DC, and a brief stint in the quintessential office place, IBM, before moving to an exciting but soul-killing position in sales at Oracle. During my first months in DC, where I reverse commuted an hour from city to suburbs, I was politely stalked by a handsome stranger who I eventually married and with whom I share four beautiful children.
Working at a job which championed the Genghis Kahn motto “It’s not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail” encouraged me to work part-time from home, but raising four children (born a total of three years apart) left me with less time and even more questions about life and how to live it. Meditation and reading books by Thich Nhat Hanh, Angeles Arrien, and Pema Chodron helped. I took a side trip into Christianity and what-it’s-like-to-be-a-minority by attending Divinity School at Howard University, where I received my M.S. in Religious Studies, and discovered which direction my path was not leading.
In 1999 I accepted the Five Buddhist Precepts (aka the Five Mindfulness Trainings) from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat in upstate NY. The fifth training suggests letting go of using drugs and alcohol, which was a challenge, requiring me to more fully engage in life and my mindfulness practice to get through each intoxicant-free day with four kids and a husband while attending graduate school.
Being more awake in the world isn’t always easy. For the first couple of years after accepting the precepts, I struggled off and on with anxiety and depression, periodically falling back into old escapist habits. This shifted quite suddenly on September 11, 2011, when I got the message that life was too short to waste sitting on my ass, and that if I ever wanted to contribute to the world, now was the time.
On that day, I connected with peace activist Coleman McCarthy, and later that week began teaching mindfulness, conflict resolution, and peer mediation in nearby Washington, DC public schools.
Realizing that kids learn best by moving their bodies, and wanting to support their continued mind-body connection, I began teaching kids’ yoga in schools and local venues, eventually opening a children’s yoga studio, Budding Yogis, in my neighborhood. That program expanded and is now a full-scale adult and family yoga and mindfulness studio, serving more than 900 students per week. In 2011, with a nod to my anarchist daughter, I reorganized the studio into a workers’ cooperatively owned business, Circle Yoga Cooperative. (In 2014, I stepped away from day-to-day operations, but remain on the cooperative board.)
Always wanting to expand my understanding of mindfulness practice and real life, I attend several retreats each year with various mindfulness teachers, including (until his stroke in 2014) my main teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I trained in an 18-month program weaving together yoga and mindfulness at Spirit Rock Mediation Center in Marin County with Insight Meditation Teachers Jack Kornfield, Phillip Moffit, Anne Cushman, and have studied with many other renowned meditation and yoga teachers.
In 2009, I furthered my commitment to mindfulness practice and the mindfulness community by accepting the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, which continue to challenge and support my practice and make me part of the Tiep Heim Order of lay Buddhist practitioners, a community founded by Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam during the war. In 2011, I grounded my mindfulness in the body practice and.became a Licensed Massage Therapist. In 2015 I finished my Focusing Professional Training with Anne Weiser-Cornell, and in 2018 completed a year-long Trauma Informed Clinical Practice training with Dr. Julie Lopez. I continue to teach and coach from a foundation of mindfulness and the body.
I’ve been writing all my life, starting with my “Dear Ziggy” journal in junior high school, editing the University of Michigan Greek Newspaper, writing for the U-M yearbook and founding and editing the Micro Digest, the U-M Computing Center’s first newsletter. In 2016 my second book, Things I Did When I Was Hangry: Navigating a Peaceful Relationship with Food, was published by Parallax Press. Before that, I self-published book of essays, Thoughts from Annie. I’ve also written various articles on mindfulness and families online and in print magazines.
When not visiting my children, traveling the world, trying out new fitness modalities, writing, or walking with my dogs, I practice yoga and mindfulness with the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC.