All my life I’ve been traveling. I was born in Maine and at one and a half, moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Another country, another culture, another climate. At four, in the middle of winter, my mother and I left the Meditteranean and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, newly divorced in the late 60’s. At eight, my mother re-married and we moved to Oberlin, OH where academia coexisted with rural poverty and racial tensions of the early 70’s. After two years, we moved to Lake Forest, IL, listed in the “Preppie Handbook” as one of the 10 preppiest towns in the United States. I moved from place to place feeling like an alien. This is a pattern that has repeated itself my entire life. Always moving, trying on the new customs, reinventing myself.
One of the things I have always loved about traveling to India is the feeling that I am so far from anything familiar that it forces me to let go of any outward identity my ego may cling to to define myself: parent, wife, hospice volunteer, runner, home owner, etc. The only thing I have in India is the over-arching requirement to stay present.
I read somewhere that gold fish grow to the size of their bowl. If they’re swimming around in a tiny glass, they will stay that size, if they’re put in an aquarium, they will grow larger. The Bay Area is a much bigger fish bowl than the the one I’ve been living in. And I feel…free. I feel anonymous. I feel alive with possibility.
The past several days have been jam-packed with moving and arriving and storing and unpacking. It’s been exhausting. Yesterday was the first day I had a glimpse of the ocean. I forced myself to drive in afternoon traffic and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped my hat off. I stood at the shore, turned off my music and consciously welcomed myself home. In that moment, I knew that this land isn’t home. I know it’s cliche, but still I want to share. I am home. I am my home. Wherever I choose to go, I will always be home.
That said, I also had the realization (for ME) that 16 years is too long to yearn to be somewhere else. I feel a peaceful joy to be back, this multi-cultured holy land where I am both completely unknown and deeply loved.
My kids are having some last adventures with family this month and in September we will all meet up and take my daughter to college and then Harlan and I will begin Road School 2017 for the fall semester. Just like a blank canvas can inspire the painter, the open road calls to my soul – it always has. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I look forward to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” me, mile by mile.
This Spring, my son announced that he had two life goals: quitting school and living in a van. His love of learning has been with him from infancy, but ever since 6th grade, he’s slowly and progressively been losing interest in school. Over the past four years, I’ve watched the light go out of his eyes while in the traditional educational system.
By April, things had spiraled rapidly downward; my son was depressed, uninspired and feeling powerless to change his life. Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t getting up in the morning, he was isolating from friends and was refusing to go to school. I had no idea what to do or how to help him. Finally, at a crisis point, Harlan opened up to me. What I heard more than anything was that he really and truly doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to “drop out”.
As I listened to him, I had an “Aha!” moment. What if we “Dropped In” and hit the road? What if we took this Fall Semester of 2017 and he got to live and learn in real time, in the real world, seeing life through the eyes of a traveler? As a mother, I knew I needed to act quickly to come up with a creative solution that might serve to inspire my son into not giving up. Since nothing traditional has worked (and we’ve tried it all), I wanted to come up with an out-of-the-box learning opportunity that would spark his innate curiosity.
Without knowing exactly how I could pull it off, I proposed the idea of living on the road this Fall to Harlan. Almost instantly, like pumping a bicycle tire with air, I watched him come back to life. He became motivated and finished 9th grade. He joined a gym and is working out daily. He’s working with an inspiring mentor who is teaching him about meditation and healthy living. We’re training for our first Sprint Triathlon in October. He has a summer job and is saving money for the trip. We’re working with an educational consultant to design a personalized curriculum for Harlan.
We’re plotting our itinerary on the map:
Vancouver to Baja from September through December.
Along this route, we will be researching people and places that inspire us, in order to learn from these interactions. Together with an educational consultant, we will design a curriculum that Harlan resonates with; creating projects that involve writing, music, photography, and natural science – all with the rich backdrop of the Pacific West to support his education.
Since I have announced our decision to hit the road this August, miracles are happening. People are reaching out with places to stay, well wishers are offering words of support, and we are packing up and moving out of our home on July 31! Finances are an issue. I’m a single mom navigating work, life, and parenting two teenagers, the oldest of which is heading off to college in September.
I’m a grief counselor. I work with people who have lost a loved one and are navigating life without the person they love. I have teenagers. I know angst. I have lost family members to suicide. I have close relatives that struggle with clinical depression. I know life is short. And mysterious and powerful and awe-inspiring. I know that I love my son with all my heart and will do anything within my power – anything – to help him get the light back in his beautiful brown eyes. And yes, that means even asking for money, something I’ve been raised never to do. I’ve started a Go Fund Me Campaign, called Road School 2017, to help with our costs.
Donations will go toward:
- Online Educational Consultant
- Used laptop
- School Supplies
- Educational Experiences (e.g. Museums, State Parks)
NOTE: 5% of what we receive in donations will go to Pacific Sands Academy, a program that offers an accredited, interest-led, passion-driven independent studies program for teens. This money will help families afford an alternative choice for children who may be struggling with the traditional educational system.
There is no training manual for what Harlan and I will are about to embark on, but there is a road map – the one he and I will follow along the highway. As a parent, my job is not to mold him into a smaller, younger version of myself, but to hold a safe container large enough for him to expand his wings. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I want to introduce my son to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” him. Stay tuned, Road School starts late August 2017! #roadschool2017
Just coming off a whirlwind weekend visiting a college with my oldest, soon to be 18, my daughter.
We landed in Denver and I stopped to fill my water bottle at Root Down, my favorite stop at DIA. After filling it, I screwed the cap on tight and turned, just in time to see a man being wheeled past, only a few feet from me, a swarm of paramedics administering CPR. I could see his chest going down and up, an alarming amount of distance really, it was not natural, not at all. They were pumping his chest with their hands. He was wheeled down some hallway I’ve never noticed before – the whole thing happened in seconds. “This is an emergency” I thought. I sucked in my breath. It did not look good.
Right there in terminal C a man was possibly dying. Probably dying by the look of the whole scene. I shut my eyes and felt the tears. Heading down the escalator to the train, I wanted to stop and tell the people swarming from the doors, “There’s a man possibly dying up there!” Life and death so close.
Of all the things I kept thinking about this weekend, “Life is Short” was one of the most prevalent thoughts. Memories of my girl as a toddler, scenes of her as a youngster, bed time, reading her stories, singing to her. Watching her struggle and falter and careen into some hard years.
Now a young woman, going to college. Beautiful big eyed girl. At ease (mostly) with herself and with life. She’s ready. I watch her from a distance.
Leaving the airport, we drive straight to her dad’s house. It’s Passover and we are going to his “Bob Marley” Seder. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery and people will play instruments and sing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
On the way, we stop and pick up my daughter’s boyfriend. I hear her in the back of the car whispering to him, “You are part of this family”. We arrive and the table is crowded with friends and relatives and exes and children. We open the door for Elijah. As usual, everyone is starving as we slog our way through the Haggadah – the book we read that tells us what Passover means and why we celebrate as we do.
On this night I sit between my son and my friend Starling. There is laughter, and the usual chaos. There are people complaining that they’re hungry, and children who would like to drink more wine, there’s raucous singing, and music breaks for more Bob Marley songs, there’s dancing, and food. And more food! Tsimmis (my favorite), and brisket, and smoked turkey with gravy, and matzah and charoset and soup and gefilte fish. Everyone is stuffed.
I look around the table. There is love. There is forgiveness. There is laughter and subtext. History. There have been heart-aches and illness and crises and hard times. Tonight we celebrate Redemption – being saved from sin and error and gathering together to celebrate another year with love and grace.
I raise a glass and thank the cooks. And I remember the people that can’t be with us; the people that can’t be here and the people that have passed before, and yet they feel so close tonight. And I say a prayer for the man at the airport and his family. We all drink. L’Chaim. To Life. Life is short. We are all part of this family.
I do the dishes. The kids stay at their dad’s. My heart is full with just a tinge of sadness. The full April moon follows me on my ride, lighting up the mountains that wait silently for me to arrive, home.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh
Some say it’s just a part of it
We’ve got to fulfill the Book
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Udaipur, November 2015.
Traveling in Udaipur. Early morning breakfast. Nice looking man nods good morning and asks waiter for coffee “now”. Soon he is talking to the two men eating breakfast with their baby. A conversation starts up and the coffee drinking man says he lives in Santa Cruz. The couple say they are from The Bay Area and one of them grew up in Santa Cruz. This gets my attention as I have just spent the last three years splitting my time between Boulder and Santa Cruz. I have to say something right!? Before you know it we are all sharing synchronistic connections and stories. The solo gentleman brings his wife up to join the party (by now we are all clustering around each other excitedly) and we share MORE common threads. “You worked at Levi’s? I did too!” “Your kids were born at Alta Bates? So was my daughter!” The end result is an invitation for all of us to dine together that evening for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the dads is Indian born and takes the initiative to find us the perfect Indian restaurant that serves traditional Indian thali – a platter with tiny metal bowls filled with delicious bites of delectable vegetarian fare. As plans are made and some of us disperse for showers or planned adventures, Kate and I finish our coffee/tea with the couple from Santa Cruz. They are talking about how they love their beach home – having lived there for a year after retiring and moving from the East Bay. They love the flowers, their garden, the Monterey Bay. And just like that, as we speak of dolphins and whales, I feel the tears start to sting my eyelids. Part of me thinks “Oh no, not here!” and part of me just notices the tears – no stopping them. Let them come.
Rishikesh, January 2015.
I began this year in India as a married woman. When friends hear I’m officially divorced, almost all of them say ” Wow that was so fast!” and I think to myself “Maybe for you.” I can see their point. I guess it does seem fast from the outside looking in.
I have never worked harder to keep a relationship going than this one. Ever. And somewhere along the line it started feeling like I was caught in a rip current and the water was going up my nose and pressing me hard but I kept holding on to a tree root and shouting “hang on!” All the while the waves were crashing into my face and I kept clinging. We were both exhausted. And at some point, in April to be exact, I let go. This ending has been years in the making.
Rishikesh, December. 2015.
11 women are joining us in India. Like individual tributaries, they flow separately and we will all meet in Rishikesh tomorrow; joining together to form one Radiant Tribe. As I type, some of us are in the air, flying over the top of the world in an arctic airstream. This is the first time I have been in India as a single woman. I wonder, as I prepare for our group’s arrival, what lives for each of them – what stories do they have to share? All the individual flavors and colors of them – of all of us – that will soon blend together into a beautiful masala. A lot of our time together will be spent on the banks of the Ganges – in fire ceremony, bathing and making offerings to the river. Mata Ganga – Mother Ganges. The only Hindu goddess that takes the form of water, residing in Shiva’s matted locks, Ganga is fluid in her grace.
Always a land of powerful transformation for me. In my experience, the easiest way for me to traverse India – literally and figuratively – is to cultivate and maintain an attitude of surrender. No agenda. Magical experiences happen for me on days where I have no attachment to plans and I can flow from one experience to the next.
As my tears well up and spill out in Udaipur, grieving the loss of my ocean town, and another layer of grief regarding the end of my marriage, my new friends draw closer. The woman shares that she too mourns the loss of a relationship and even now, 20 years later, she can feel unexpected grief. As she tears up, her husband hands her a tissue. They invite me to visit them in CA. Generous with their compassion.
I can’t think of a better place for me to mark the end of this year than in Rishikesh. I never want to will a relationship into being again. Ever. I am finding that it’s easier to go with the current vs. hang on to the banks. The river that had been pummeling me over the past two years swept me up in its arms and carried me down, out of the froth and I floated. I’m on a rich and beautiful ride. Yes, sometimes it can get bumpy but it keeps moving and I lift up my feet so I can float better.
In the next 10 days I will be sitting in ceremony releasing that which no longer serves, washing away past experiences and baptizing myself anew – creating the next chapter of my life and witnessing and supporting our group to do the same.
I feel safe in the rhythm and flow of ever-changing life. – Louise Hay
My husband shared an article with me about a whale “Varvara” who journeyed from Russia to Mexico and back again on a completely new migratory path – solo – setting a record for the longest migration ever for a mammal.
What made this she-whale venture into the watery deep, without familiar landmarks or celestial navigation, creating a brand new migratory pattern, eschewing the ancient wisdom of her mother? The article states: “she made her way from Russia to Alaska by swimming straight across the Bering Sea, an area with deep water and little in the way of landmarks to guide her. Instead of retracing her steps on the return journey, she swam a new path”.
“Varvara” I whisper to myself. Something about this story touches a chord in my own mammal heart, and I can feel it beat faster as I shiver with wonder and awe at the enormity and solitude of this epic quest. Something else, deeper still, thrums with recognition as I see my life unfold, making its own unique arc, separate from my mother’s path. Forging my way into the deep, the dark, the uncharted. I am sure there were many times that my mother wondered if I was lost, and sent prayers up to the starry sky that I would find my way.
I think of my own daughter, who has not taken any route I have painstakingly laid out for her. She has stroked a new path – and I have wrung my hands and wept when I couldn’t see her, lost in the high seas of her choosing. But I know, on a deep inner level, that my girl must be given the freedom to go her own way – trusting her own sonar, feeling the inner turnings of her compass. And I must as well, setting out for more unknown, no manual, no familiar land mass, stepping into the mystery. Re-birthing again and again and again.
On the eve of the new moon, Kelley Rosano has this to say about change: “What happens when you have one foot in the boat (new life) and one foot on the dock (old life)? Yes, your butt ends up in the water. We do not have to know how the future will work out to move forward. You are being asked to have courage, faith and trust. You may begin a new life, a new career and a new relationship. These can be better than your wildest imagination.
The ego goes into fear because it can’t control what is happening. Control is an illusion. The only thing we can control is our response to what is happening. The ego is going into fear because you have never been here before. You are charting new territory. So, when the ego pulls up past occurrences that are fear based to understand your current experience. This too is an illusion.”
If I should die soon
Tell my children to look for me in India.
In the prayer bells
Ringing out over the Ganges,
In the tablas beating their rhythm over the
As the red sun melts into purple sky.
Look for me in the Varanasi sand bar
As the dogs creep closer to the fire.
In the ghee filled bowl burning brightly,
And the flower offerings bobbing drunkenly downstream.
See me in the sari clad women sprinkling Ganga water on strangers, blessing them.
Let them feel my arms wrapping them in each soft shawl they try on, and every white dress they see.
Sip me down in their lime sodas, quenching their search.
Seek not but find me in the tuberose offering at Saraswati’s feet,
Or the monkey’s soft “coo coo” at their door.
Let them find joy in the calf’s jingle bells and the soft white spot on their foreheads.
Step on the soft sand of Rishikesh and know
I was happy here.
Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah. Well, I guess it’s a theme for me. But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now. It’s called Embracing Loneliness.
Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive. Don’t laugh! Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive. It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people. I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down. Balance is a good thing. Praying for that. And working on it. Always.
Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is. Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself. All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me. Never! I’ve done so much on my own. I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc. You can probably get the picture. All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely. I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough. If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right? We’re all connected. So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely! Push it down. Call a friend. Judge myself. Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!
And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment. I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect. He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other. He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room! He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through. I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….? Wha??” He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.
I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel. What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief. I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day. I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes. What if I applied this to loneliness?
The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.
I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.
But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it. Letting myself go there. I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better. And guess what? Big surprise. It’s passing! Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome. In a poignant way. Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory. This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart. I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him. I notice the beauty of the falling snow. I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting. I am grateful to be in my own good company. I heat soup. I feed the cats. I walk the dog. I feel content. So simple. So big.
There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God. – Rumi
The second chakra is about pleasure, sensuality, touch, sexuality, creativity, fire, passion, life. Its essence is water. When open, there is an openeess to intimacy, an ability to express oneself freely, and a level of comfort with one’s sexuality.
When I was 25, living in the Midwest, I knew I was ready for a change. I wanted to move west and applied to several colleges in WA, OR and CA. I flew out to Eugene for a school visit and then drove down the coast of Oregon with a friend and landed in the Bay Area. We stayed with some friends of hers in Berkeley in a communal household that seemed like the “overground” railroad stop for dead-heads and free spirits. Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore. The beauty of the Berkeley hills, the smell of jasmine in the air, the bountiful potlucks and the constant stream of colorful people coming in and out of the house awakened my yearning for life, like a hibernating bear smelling the winds of Spring.
One day we drove to “Red Rocks”, a nude beach just south of Stinson. It was my first nude beach. We parked on a cliff and hiked our way down. Far below, I could make out tiny brown people playing Ultimate frisbee (naked!) in the sparkling surf. A few hours later, I was splashing in the waves, feeling the water on my bare skin and throwing a disc, leaping and jumping with abandon. I felt like I was “home” and free in a way I had never experienced before. I was sold. I flew back to Illinois, packed up my car, grabbed my cat and drove back to Berkeley to the purple house on Oregon Street to begin my new life in CA.
That was 24 years ago.
Along the way, there has been plenty of “life” to fill in those 24 years. College, Grad School, work, lovers, marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, friendships, yoga teacher trainings, ceremonial arts training, Reiki training, hospice training, work, travel. Somewhere in all of that living, I think I lost sight of that free-spirit that is my nature. One day, sitting in a women’s circle, the facilitator asked “If you were to die today, would you feel like you had reached your fullest sexual potential?” I was shocked at how fast my mind screamed “NO!”
It’s virtually impossible to be a woman in this society and not have experienced unwanted sexual energy/attention at best, and sexual abuse at worst. At 13, I was my full height (5’9″) and looked much older than I was. I attracted male attention and had no idea what to do with it, I became overwhelmed and shut down. I also had an aura of shame about this attention, as if somehow I had done something to make these men think they could speak to me inappropirately or touch me intimately. I was confused and scared. A part of me – my second chakra – closed down. “The second chakra is water ruled. Water holds emotional memories of past hurts and sexual abuse. Deep healing is possible through this sacred vortex. With great love and care it is possible to reclaim one’s eternal innocence and purity.” (from the Triple Goddess Tarot)
This year, 2014, has been the year of consciously reclaiming my “eternal innocence.” I am rediscovering my true nature; which is a sensual, creative, free-spirited being. As I near 50, I ask myself, “If not now, when?” This is my one good life in this body and I want to make it memorable and potent! On the winter solstice last year, I set an intention to do the Level 1 training at the Human Awareness Institute. The Level 1 workshop is titled “Love is a Miracle” and focuses on opening the heart, accepting and loving your body, and experienicng love and trust with others, among other things. When I looked at their website, all I saw was “Love, Intimacy and Sexuality Workshops” and it was an edgy step for me to sign up to do this weekend – solo! I can’t speak highly enough of the caliber of facilitation, the sweetness of the participants and the potency of the exercises I was lead through over the course of the weekend. The other men and women who were in the training were sweet, courageous, gorgeous souls that I connected with deeply. It was life changing for me. Deep bow to my husband for letting this butterfly fly free and be there to greet me upon my return. I know he is feeling the benefits of my deeper love and kinder heart. I’m in love with the world right now, and it feels amazing!
Yesterday, in Santa Cruz, I went to the nude beach and met up with some friends. We played frisbee in the sparkling surf and I felt alive and embodied – sprinting across the sand, leaping in the air to catch the disc, diving in the waves. There were moments of pure joy of movement where the appreciation for my body bubbled up within and I laughed outloud. I felt ageless, beautiful and sexy. I thought to myself…”If I die tomorrow, I hope my friends remember me just like this.” This is my essence, my second chakra spinning freely, an orange disc. Afire with Shakti, sensual goddess, my passion for life dripping off of each strand of hair, empowered with Light and Creativity.
May all things move and be moved in me and know and be known in me. May all creation dance for joy within me. -Chinook Psalter