Tuning In in India

In India, I experience the gamut: giddy laughter, loving kindness from strangers, heart connection, unexpected friendships, communion with cows, encounters with monkeys, blaring horns, sublime sunsets.

What I don’t think I have conveyed is the journey within to deep stillnessthe Gift of Presence – that has been my India.

Words really don’t do India justice, and I have a hard time putting some of my deepest emotions to words, so I have attached a short 90 second video of some very sacred moments that are forever dear to me.

The soundtrack is me “tuning in” with the Adi Mantra. Something we do at the beginning of every kundalini yoga class and meditation. I was chanting this mantra in the early hours of morning, when it’s still dark and the winds come roaring down the foothills of the Himalayas. I was tucked into a blanket and let the familiar chant ground me and connect me to the Golden Chain of my teachers, and connect me to my yoga mat. To my heart beat. If you listen carefully you can hear thumps and bumps in the background. They are monkeys having a morning romp before the warm midday sun makes them heavy lidded and lethargic.

I’ll be traveling back to this country, to this yoga hall, to one of my soul homes, in just a few short months. There are spots for 2 more people if you would like to join me.

We have curated a tour that delivers daily opportunities to connect deeply to your Self, to nurture and restore with yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. Time on the Ganges, swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. Satsang with living saints. Stillness.

If you feel the call, contact me. I’m here to walk you through the details. Step by step.

Namaste,

Roxanna

On Being a Woman

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On Being a Woman

On this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day, I give thanks for being a woman. For navigating this country, this culture, as a woman. I am a strong, independent, tall, intelligent woman and it isn’t always easy or pretty to navigate in a predominantly man’s world. In fact, it can be a DRAG sometimes. But what lifts me UP are the WOMEN in my life. I love you. I see you.

For my Grandmother I bow at your feet.  You are softness and grace.  For my Mother I lay my head on your belly.  You are infinite and deep.  For my Daughter, I hold my arms wide.  You are sensitivity and grit – and so much more. You gave me the gift of experiencing unconditional love.

For my Sisters I give thanks.  You are Shakti and Mountain. I am inspired and awed by you! You keep on keepin’ on 24/7.  You are the ones, We are the ones, the Sisterhood.  You are all so beautiful.  Your reverence for beauty, for ceremony, for love, for children, for passion and sex, for life, for healing, for shining your lights and the commitment to be seen and heard.  Reminding each other of our gifts when we lose the way or forget. Powerful.

For gluten free, dairy free, sugar free and STILL making it delicious and nutritious and nourishing.  You SHINE with the undying light of your spirit.  Your kindness humbles.  Your wicked humor shocks and delights.  Your energy is palpable.

For the artists, the writers, the students, the moms, the divorced and still married – navigating, negotiating the FREE wild horses of you.  The solid rocks of you, the grieving of you.  The busy of you, tending, caring, giving generously – carrying me, loving me.  Claiming me.  Re-membering me, saving my place.  Crying with me, adorning me, laughing with me. Kissing my throat.   I humbly say thank you.

This Little Light of Mine

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Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light. -Yogi Bhajan
I know many people are feeling overwhelmed with everything they are reading and hearing about in the news.  Whether I am discussing the natural disasters, or the latest events in the United States, every conversation I have with friends revolves around what we can do, how we can help.  I had tea with a friend of mine, a retired attorney and fellow yogi, who said “I didn’t used to believe in evil.” and paused for a moment, calmly picking up croissant crumbs with his fingers, “Now I do.”  Things are feeling pretty dire – more than usual. Is this just me?  I wonder…   I am deeply saddened by recent happenings in the world (both natural and human) and I also believe that we are greater than this and that LOVE conquers all.
I have written before about Yogi Bhajan‘s prophecy that the world’s hectic pace will only continue to increase and many people will be overwhelmed – on all levels – and not know how to keep up with the chaotic energies.  He went on to say that a third of the world’s population would die, a third would go nuts and the last third would be left to hold it all together.  There are times when this prophecy feels like it has come true and it’s my choice to decide which third of the population I want to be a part of.
The day this picture (above) was taken, I had just driven 500+ miles in very challenging driving conditions: high winds, forest fires and driving rain for several hours.  I was driving a 22 feet van that I was not wholly comfortable with and even hydroplaned a few times.  When I finally pulled into the RV park, my legs were shaking.  I then proceeded to get into a huge argument with my daughter who left to stay with a friend for the evening.  I called a friend and sobbed.  After the cry, I felt…so much better.  Lighter.  Less alone.  Normally, I like to cry in private and talk to friends after I’ve had my breakdown.  I made a conscious decision to let myself be seen in my tenderness and it was a personal stretch.   I am grateful I made the decision to be vulnerable and reach out vs. keep it all to myself.  Thank god for loving friends that are lifelines!
When the darkness befalls me (whether because of what’s happening out in the world, or because of whatever is going inside of my own psyche) it’s time for me to reach into my Self Care tool box and use whatever is appropriate for the situation at hand.   I don’t intend to be Pollyanna or to sound naive, but don’t underestimate the power of Self Care!  When the world feels overwhelming, I turn inwards and listen closely.  “What do I need right now?” I ask myself.  Usually an answer pops right in.  Othertimes, I have to just use trial and error to see what helps.  Getting out in nature is always a great place to start for me.
Spending the last month on the road, in a van, living with a 15 year old boy, has challenged my self care routines. There is very little alone time (something that I normally rely on heavily for self-sourcing), there is limited wifi (connecting with friends/lifelines is almost nil), the weather was initially very challenging (exercise was not happening for days.)  I wasn’t meditating, I wasn’t practicing yoga, I was feeling isolated from adults and totally catering to another human 24/7.  Thankfully, I am remembering my own teachings on Self Care and Self Love from LOVELUTION! and putting my oxygen mask on first again.  Phew!
What does that look like?  Have you heard that expression “If Mama Aint Happy, Aint Nobody Happy”?  I’ve started making sure that I am doing something for myself each day that fills up my tank.  Whether that’s a solo run, a tea date with a friend, making time to write at a wifi cafe or bringing back my meditation practice (why oh why do I ever let this go?)  The expression “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” is my simple prayer and intention.  I want to shine as brightly as I can so I can add my light to all the other brilliant lights in the world and we can shine light in all corners, dispelling the darkness and love it up so that it doesn’t need to spread.
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.  All things break.  And all things can be mended.  Not with time, as they say, but with intention.  So go.  Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.  The broken world waits in darkness for the LIGHT that is you.    -L.R. Knost

Welcome Home

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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.

 

Road School 2017

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)
  • Gas
  • Campgrounds

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

 

Passover 2017

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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

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

-Bob Marley

I Stand with Standing Rock – a poem

"We Are All Connected" by Aliah Faith Rogers
“We Are All Connected” by Aliah Faith Rogers
We the people are rising up because we are strong, we have been silent too long and we shall overcome.  Love prevails, let Love rule. My country tis of thee, great land of Liberty. Let freedom ring through our voices, through our hearts, through the steam of our nostrils, as we stand with our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock.  Last stand. Our land.  A land of the free and the home of brave veterans, mothers, brothers, native elders who fight for our rights =  the right to clean water, fresh air, sacred burial grounds to remain unmolested.   
We the people entreat you, our Government, to Honor your Word.  If not our word then what? In oil we trust.  We must worship something more than that, more than cash. Blood sweat and tears are shed for this line in the sand.  This Last Stand – again.  History offers us another chance – again.  I stand with Standing Rock, I stand for democracy – not hypocrisy.  I am sick of this elephant stench.   Open the window so that I may breathe the fresh air of truth Live streaming. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be on Facebook.  Are you listening?

Go With The Flow…


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.

India 2015.

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

Into the Mystic

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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.”

Find Me in India

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
loud speakers,
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.

-Roxanna Smith

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