I’m not sure if it was the rainy day today that made me even more dreamy than usual or just the seemingly random events that occurred this morning. I read a woman’s post on Facebook that said she remembered her birth, that there were bright lights flashing in her face as she entered the world. I thought about this (and her) for most of the morning. Marveling that somebody remembers her own birth. I believe her. It’s just that I don’t think there are many people that remember their own births.
I’ve been tripping out on that more and more. How special each one of us is…and how really getting to know somebody (for me anyway) is like learning a new language. Sometimes like becoming an expert in a whole new species, surrendering preconceived notions and judgements.
I am driving on the road, past where the body of a young raccoon has been decomposing for a couple of days. I can smell it. But today I see another raccoon, a big one, dead on the other side of the road. “Oh no!” I exclaim. I wonder if they’re related, was this the already decomposing one’s Mama? My heart sinks as I touch my heart.
I have a vivid memory of riding in the backseat of my grandparents car. We passed a dead dog on the side of the highway. I was shocked to see it. I didn’t realize that this could happen. That dogs could get hit by cars and their bodies could lie by the side of the road, cars whizzing by. I spent the rest of the ride in silence, deeply saddened. That was a gray day too.
Early this morning the phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number but I answered it anyway. I rarely do that. “Is this the Grief Support Network?” he asks. “Well…not exactly”, I answer. Yes and no. The hotline still transfers over to my cell phone even though I haven’t worked there in 6 months. They don’t know how to fix it.
I start to go into a rambling explanation but then stop myself and ask if he is looking for support (sometimes it’s a sales person.) He is. He tells me what’s going on and I listen. He explains to me that he has plummed the inky depths and also connected to his brightest divine nature. “I can tell you get it,” he says. And I do. I am sitting at my computer in the darkness, having an intimate conversation with a “stranger”.
The older I get, the more I feel that each one of us speaks our own language and to really listen to somebody, to really get somebody, takes a certain amount of amazement and awe in humanity in general. What delicate and finely-tuned creatures we all are; senstive, unique, miraculous energy bodies that communicate on so many deep and subtle levels. Right now, for me, this is the best show in town. Peace and Love.
I’m hearing daily stories of heart break, illness and tenderness from friends and clients. It seems to be in the collective energy field right now. Regardless of where you fall politically, I think many people are experiencing the chasm in our country: between parties, between groups, between relatives and friends.
If our true nature is to be universally connected to all (which I believe) then this rampant atmosphere of divide and finger-pointing must be painful to all of us on a soul level.
So what to do? How to keep my heart open? No matter what? No matter who I am thinking about or dealing with? That is my practice that I’ve dedicated my life to. Even if it feels good to distance myself from somebody (or some group) because of their actions or words, I choose to take a look within myself and try and access compassion.
It’s a spiritual axiom that we can only change ourselves. Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I know I’m not saying anything new, but I’m sharing my practice with you with the hope that it may be helpful. Living a heart-opened path (no matter what!) is much easier to do when everyone is doing what I think is right, or “playing nice” and not triggering me. But what about when someone does something egregious? It’s so tempting to distance myself and say “Oh no. I would never do that!”
But if we’re all connected…I need to take a long, deep look at myself and find the part(s) of me that are related. Instead of pushing away aspects of myself that I don’t like to see in others, or that make me uncomfortable, I need to shine a light on those parts, and love them up. I believe that I do have the wounded masculine aspect in myself that acts out of insecurity and powerlessness. I am the wounded feminine that is too afraid to speak up, or speaks out harshly, fearing I can’t have what I want. I am the divine as well – we all are. I have all aspects of shadow and light inside of me because I am human. I am a spirit having a human experience. I think I signed up for all of it!
I am practicing loving myself. Unconditionally. Simple yet profound.
Love. It’s been written about. It’s been sung about. It’s an energy. It’s a feeling. It’s a way to live. So often I have looked externally for this feeling and offered it freely to others, but I forgot (or rushed past) the first step: Self-love.
If you are like me, you might read those two words and think “Blech”. Self-love? That’s no fun. I like to connect with others. I like to interact. Self-love sounds lonely. And boring. I really used to think that! (TRUTH: Sometimes it is kind of lonely and boring – definitely not instant gratification land.)
I believe self-love is the foundation for my life. When I skip this step (and I have) the opportunities keep showing up to allow me to get it right. Like pulling a weed and not getting the root, it just keeps coming back.
How do I practice self-love?
One of the ways I do is to stay present to “what is” vs. what I wish was happening, and not try and escape any uncomfortable feelings that may arise (like loneliness, fear, grief). It’s a practice and some days are better than others. When an uncomfortable emotion shows up, I try to be loving and patient – the same way I would be with one of my children. Acceptance and forgiveness are huge players in this arena. Trying to love all parts of myself, not just the “nice” parts.
Unconditionally loving ourselves means accepting all parts of us, not “fixing” or removing the more prickly parts of self, rather shining true love and compassion on those harder to accept aspects of ourselves. This is love unconditional. This is love invincible. This is LOVELUTION.
LOVELUTION: a beautiful and quick shift from simply existing to loving oneself constantly and totally, radically impacting all areas of your life to ripple out to others. (I made it up. You’re welcome.)
Ripple out to others?
Yes! The best part of this, is that when I fully give myself to this path of open-hearted living, it is guaranteed to benefit everyone in my life. That’s right, by loving myself, I am increasing the love in my life. Love begets Love. I am surrounding myself with love. This is an energy I can always impact and control because it begins with ME. When I plug into this, I see its effects immediately. People respond and behave lovingly to me. Some days are easier than others. Some days I love myself more than others. One day at a time. Progress not perfection. I’ll keep you posted.
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
A friend of mine has traveled to Orlando to offer free therapy to those affected by the recent tragic event that took place at Pulse. He asked me if I would make a meditation available for people struggling with their emotions in the aftermath of this traumatic event. I am honored to be of service in this way. Through posts on Facebook and watching the news I see how this act of violence ripples out to the community, the country and the rest of the world. My prayer and deepest wish is that this offering may give somebody out there a moment of peace, comfort, and a knowledge that they are not alone. That we are ALL in this together. And if one suffers, we all suffer. Please feel free to share this link with anyone who you think could use it.
or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error
I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery. I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect. I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days. What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly. And…it’s not for everyone. So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.
1-Play to Your Strengths
For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery. If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.
2 – Take Your Job Seriously
Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient. You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking. In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.
3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!
Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin. I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified. Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one. This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner. Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.
4 – Have Food in the House
Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!
5 – Rest
Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped. Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep. You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud. You need your sleep too!
6 – Show Some Emotion
Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed. Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment. Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)
A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.
1 – Don’t Forget to Eat
Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks! And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get. It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well. When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)
2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery
Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well. Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.
3. Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby
Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you. Once again, the patient will not think this is funny. Neither will the doctor.
4. Let It Roll
Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally. A lot of emotions can come up. It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time. The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant. Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there. The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea. (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)
5. Don’t Be A Jerk
In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition. Right? Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards. This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked. And even then, people, use your heads. Remember…this is a tender time. Tread lightly! No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.
6. Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together
Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them. To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence. It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.
Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara. I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.
This story is about love, all the good ones are. And forgiveness. Before there was that, an incredible amount of wrong-doing happened, because it seems we always hurt the ones we love most, don’t we? As I type on this wintry night in Colorado, the coyotes howl right outside my back door, the sky darkest ink on this new moon. The last few months have been a blur – a kaleidoscope of beautiful experiences colliding into one another and creating a smear of bright colors. I haven’t had the time to stop and fully reflect on each moment and give them the time they deserve. Each experience is worthy of its own chapter, so perhaps this post is just an outline for future writings, each experience building upon the next and setting the stage. Here goes the continuous stream of miracles:
December 11th, my 50th birthday. Friends gathered and a book was presented to me, with photos and writings from loved ones. My god-daughter fanning me in the native american tradition with a hawk’s wing, her beautiful mother holding the smoldering cedar. That night, on that birthday, for whatever reason, I was able to receive all the love directed my way and feel full.
Early January, Varanasi, India – under a full moon, on a sandbar in the Ganges, sitting with friends and strangers around a fire, I chant prayers for others, for my family, for myself, and make offerings with sweets, flowers and incense. Of all my experiences in India, this remains one of the most generous and beautiful ones and I come back to it in my mind again and again. I am not always given the gift of knowing how special something is in the moment, and this was one of those moments, one to remember and re-tell.
Mid January, Rishikesh, India I dipped in the frigid waters of Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges) with my 80 year old mother. The night before I had led our group through a Kundalini yoga kriya called the Hour of Your Death and the next morning I led us in a rebirthing. Smiles were wide, hearts were light and my mother and I embraced in the yoga room as everyone danced to Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison. My birth had not been an easy one 50 years prior and this day felt like a do-over for both of us. We all took our newly born selves down to the water for a dip. There was a chilly fog that made things look even more mystical than they already felt. I felt like daughter and mother all in one, watching over my mother gripping the chain in the rushing water. We submerged, coming up baptized.
Early February, Boulder, Colorado. My daughter came home for the first time in 10 months. The breath I had been holding all this time, slowly exhaled as I felt her presence once again in my house, heard her voice, followed her trail of clothes. She was home for a family occasion, the Bar Mitzvah of my son, her brother. Family and friends came to witness this rite of passage. My children’s father and I, divorced now for 11 years, put aside old quarrels and came together, united in our love for our children. My husband (of almost 10 years) and I shyly presented ourselves at a family dinner where I would see friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the divorce. Both grandfathers have died in the past 11 years and they were honored and spoken of. Both grandmothers are alive and well and graced us with their presence. In front of the congregation and our community, I released my baby and blessed him into manhood. Symbolic of course, but powerfully potent like all ritual can be. I felt it. He did too.
Last weekend, family therapy at my daughter’s school. My ex-husband, my husband, my daughter and son and me. We all showed up with vulnerability and an unflinching commitment to do our work. There were moments of despair, pain, tears and also such compassion and tenderness. The weekend was deep and hard. The weekend was light and full of love. Forgiveness was the oil that kept us all on track, even if sometimes we looked like the most sorry-assed jalopy on the lot. On the last night, before I had to leave, I held my daughter for over an hour, stroking her hair and singing to her. Rearranging my DNA. Deeply comforting. Another rebirth. Our own ceremony.
Years ago, I read a story about Thich Nhat Hanh riding in a small boat. He was a passenger along with a man who had raped a young girl. Thay was on this boat with the rapist and, by some cruel twist of fate, the young girl as well. He shared that he was actively practicing compassion for everyone in the boat. He couldn’t feel love for only the girl – one is not more deserving of love than another. In the story, he wrote, that he could see himself in the rapist. That he was both the rapist and the girl. At the time, it was a struggle for me to understand what he was saying. How could Thay identify with the rapist? What did that mean exactly? I was confused, but the story has stayed with me all these years.
“If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” -Yogi Bhajan
I have been at a complete loss for words after hearing about a black man (any man, any human) getting choked to death by a white police officer. I can’t watch the video. It makes me sick. I want to distance myself from the man who killed Eric Garner. My heart breaks that I live in a world where humans kill each other. There is a part of me that is ready to leave this planet. Beam me up. My bags are packed. What the hell are we doing? I want to point the finger. Blame others. I feel powerless and angry. I am tired. I don’t want to offer a hand, or a compassionate heart.
I want to open my throat and, with a lioness roar, make a sound so loud that all guns shatter into a million pieces. I want my tears to replenish the oceans and rivers so there is no more drought. I want to wrap my arms around the earth in a healing embrace. I want to personally apologize to each animal and plant that we are driving to extinction. I want to lay my head down and go to sleep so I don’t have to hear about fracking and GMOs and human violence.
But instead, I look within and I know something about myself. I am the police officer, so angry, in need of control, that I kill. I am the human enjoying my white privilege in the United States. I am the wounded soul that hurts others out of fear. I need to recognize that in myself, so that I can heal it and seek to empathize with others, and be a better ally. My silence comes from shame or confusion or sorrow, or all three. Our silence doesn’t help the situation, it enables it to perpetuate.
I don’t know what (if anything) is going to turn us around as a human race. But my heart tells me this: Love is the answer. At Stevie Wonder’s concert last week he asked all of us to keep trying to love one another. A black man who is blind, Stevie keeps spreading his message of love and unity. He says this of love: “If it’s magic, why can’t we make it everlasting? There’s enough for everyone.”
When one suffers we all suffer. We are ALL connected. We can only evolve as much as the very last person in the evolutionary line.
“This world was made for all men. All people, all babies, all children, all colors, all races, this world, my world, your world, our world, this world was made for all men” -Stevie Wonder
Anahata (Sanskrit: अनाहत, Anāhata) the heart center – this chakra allows us to love deeply, feel compassion, and access a sense of peace and connectedness.
There is much yearning for me to live in the heart center. If you notice, it’s right in the center of the 7 chakras. I draw upon the energy from the lower chakras and pull down the energy from the upper chakras and they all meet in the 4th to generate a warm loving pulse, a strong drum beat that I walk to. Not all the time, but as much as I can manage. It is my life practice to keep the heart chakra open.
“Love is what we are; we don’t get it from somebody, we can’t give it to anybody, we can’t fall in it or fall out of it. Love is our true Being.” Krishna Das
This post has taken me longer to write than the others in the series because I want to do it justice. Like describing a lover’s face to somebody else, I don’t want to leave anything out, get it just right. And in the realization of that, I can let go and do my best, it’s just ego setting out its trip wire.
Once, when I was a pre-school teacher, one of my favorite 4 year old girls threw her arms around me and said “I love you so much, I wish I could kiss you on the lips!” and I received the pure uncensored abandon of her love. What my 4 year old girl wants to say about the 4th chakra is: “I am in love with this chakra, with this life, with YOU, with ME and I wish I could write a thousand love poems for the heart!” I wish I could throw my arms around the world and dissolve into one million points of light and ecstatically merge with All. (Maybe that’s what death is like…I hope so.)
This full moon time, I’ve been praying to take the “next step” in my work life, the next step on the path of meaning and service. I pray to be of service in the world, in the areas of death & dying, grief healing, suicide loss, threshold passages, sacred sexuality, body awareness/appreciation – you know, just the usual stuff. And ALL of it under the umbrella of sharing from the heart, with each and every encounter, seeing others through eyes of love.
“Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love.” -Rumi.
So how to do that? Stay in love with the world on a daily basis…not always easy. Especially driving around Boulder at 5pm. My god I am challenged! I am humbled by how quickly I can get knocked off center. My blueprint for living these days is my beloved book: The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer. In it, he speaks about how the heart center is an energy center and this energy (Chi, Shakti, Spirit) is unlimited and it’s our birthright. It’s our birthright! We store pain in the heart center and in order to be truly FREE, we need to commit to a practice of feeling our pain and releasing it, witnessing it as energy, nothing more/less, and allowing it to pass. This enables us to stay in our heart and not close it off anytime we think we might feel something painful. Living in fear of feeling something that hasn’t happened yet isn’t freedom. Singer says: “The only thing you have to know is that opening (the heart) allows energy in, and closing blocks it out.” The good news is that I am presented with mulitiple opportunties a day to stop, breathe and relax my heart and open it again. Which is why it is my most active, ongoing practice and it has immediate, amazing results. My life is changing before my eyes.
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
This is my first post since May – I don’t even know how that could have happened, but in part, it’s due to writer’s block, which happened the day I signed up for a writer’s workshop in Esalen next July. Another reason I haven’t written is that I have been on a summer vacation at the beach. This summer I needed to relax and restore myself. I wrote myself a perscription, this is what it said: Have Fun. And that’s what I did. I went to yoga, rode my bike, ate good food, swam, paddled, played, parented, visited with friends and family, made new friends. I went for a lot of walks with Andy and Ruby (my dog) and slowly, slowly, my nerves thickened, and my muscles toned and my heart started to reconnect itself.
My daughter hasn’t lived at home since April 23 (who’s counting?) I miss her terribly. Even to write this I can feel the sting of tears behind my eye lids. She’s away, receiving support, getting better. We are here, receiving help, getting better. I guess I haven’t felt much like writing since she’s been gone. Grief is a parasitic creature, living off of my creative resources. I’ve been in an intimate relationship with Grief this year, and I’ve danced all the steps – from disbelief, anger, resentment, refusal to despair, collapse, surrender. Grief brought her gifts ridiculously early, on the very first day of Lili leaving, I was able to see them. I continue to be touched by the kindness of others, the compassion of mothers, the love of my children. But it still hurts – in an open-mouthed “O” of shock at times. Some days I can’t even handle the grocery store because it’s too painful to see somebody who doesn’t know about my life, or does know and asks me about it.
For me, the first chakra, the root, is about being grounded. It’s my sense of place in the world and what makes me feel the safest and most secure. It’s my energetic “home base” and my connection to the earth. When my first chakra is open I feel a sense of well-being and peace. It reminds me of a song my Grandmother used to sing to me:
The year’s at the Spring, the day’s at the morn, morning’s at 7, the hillside’s dew pearled. The lark on the wing, the snail on the thorn, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.
This is a photo from 2 summers ago, we were all together in Santa Cruz. This is my first chakra picture. In the picture, I’m happy being a mama, I’m smiling at my husband, the kids are clamoring around me, and my world is complete.
These days, I feel like an amputee – learning to live without a limb, something’s missing, someone’s missing. And I trust the universe. I trust my girl’s path. I trust mine. (most of the time) I’m standing on this earth, feet planted, my lioness heart pounding in my chest.