Greetings from my apartment. Tomorrow will begin week 5 of sheltering in place. By myself. I would never, ever have thought I could be alone for 4 weeks without going insane. What I “counted on” in life has either completely ended or radically changed. Between the news of the world, concerns for my family and community, and getting laid off, I’m processing A LOT! Falling back on my grief counseling experience, I am able to remind myself that it’s normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
Here in no particular order are a list of things that seem to be “working” for me – as in they bring me comfort, help keep me sane, elicit gratitude and even joy. Some of them are contradictory, and some things that work today may not work tomorrow. I’m sharing these with you with the hope that they may help, or you might laugh and see yourself in these. And also, I’ve been home, alone for 4 weeks, and I’m tired of talking to myself.
Getting outside every day, taking a walk
Not hating myself if I don’t get outside every day and take a walk
Smelling spring flowers (jasmine, hyacinth, daffodils = aroma therapy)
Finally hanging up the hummingbird feeder gift I got for Christmas
Watching the hummingbirds drink from the feeder, live TV
Looking for things to be grateful for right as I wake up, reciting them
Going for long bike rides
Praying for all the people suffering in the world
Ton Glen breathing/meditation technique
Getting into bed early (like 8pm)
Limiting my Zoom calls
FaceTime with my mom, staying in “close contact” with her
Texting with my kids
Checking in daily with a few friends
Not beating myself up about my messy desk or laundry pile
Laughing at COVID19 memes
Hula hooping to dance music
Yoga at home and with my Santa Cruz gang on Zoom
Thank God for Zoom!
Facebook!Seriously, so beautiful to be able to connect to humans virtually
Instagram (see above)
Reaching out to old friends (great college roommate zoom hangout the other day!)
Dancing in the living room, shaking it
Lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night
Virtual Seder (so sweet – next year Jerusalem!)
Bollywood films on Amazon Prime and Netflix
Amazon Prime and Netflix in general
Watching short, light, shows due to zero attention span
Not judging my TV choices
Getting up in the morning and making my bed, so I don’t get back in it at 9am
Establishing “order” by keeping the house clean, doing the dishes
Cooking delicious and thoughtful meals for myself
Freezing the leftovers
Being kind when I am not able to maintain the “order” of the house
Eating my greens!
Taking Bach flower remedy “Star of Bethlehem” for grief and shock
Reading stories on Zoom to preschoolers, seeing their faces every day, laughing
Checking in on my neighbors (2 lovely women on either side of me, both in their 80’s)
Finding out that PG&E reduced my energy bill to $8 this month
Wild Kingdom outside my window
My walking path
Makes me laugh
Cooking for 1
What’s Not Working:
No attention span for all the offerings (free or paid) on FB and Zoom
Really hard for me to meditate right now
Can only read a few pages at a time of books (see short attention span)
Long Zoom calls (short attention span again, overload)
Pep talks on how this is a perfect time to become awesome
Missing physical contact with people and animals (missing having a dog!)
Missing human contact in general
Wishing I could swim (all pools are closed)
Grieving all the fun things I had planned that have been canceled.(I had A LOT of things I was looking forward to)
Keeping fruits and veggies fresh (eating them before they go bad)
Wondering where/when I will ever be able to buy T.P. again, WTH America?
Not sleeping very well at night (lots of thoughts between 2 – 4am)
Looking at the FB Group “View From My Window” and comparing my view to everyone else’s
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.
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
Our two arms together say everything. So different and yet similar. Here she is at 16, tender skin with battle scars. There I am, with my semi-colon tattoo I got when I didn’t know what else to do, how else to support my girl when she didn’t think she wanted to live. I just couldn’t believe the story was going to end this way! Spoiler Alert: The guy doesn’t get the girl in the end. But I do. Get the girl. At least for now. For a little more time. And I’ll settle for that.
When I brought Lili home from the hospital at three days old, I knew then that I didn’t have a clue about parenting. How was I going to keep this tiny human being alive? I’m embarrassed when I see these photos of her first day home. The first one is of me crying, looking like a child myself, holding her. The second photo is me, back in my hospital gown (that’s right, I changed BACK into my hospital gown even though I was at HOME) and got right into bed. I wished I could have stayed at the hospital, where the nurses knew what to do and I was supervised at all times.
From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I loved Lili. That was the first thing I said when the doctor placed her on my chest: “I love her.” I look back at the early years of raising her and I ache over the mistakes I made – some big, some smaller. But there were also shining moments too, where my natural instincts to nurture and protect and supply entertainment were present. Parenting has been a humbling experience to say the least. One that has broken my heart open and brought me to my knees many times over.Lili was just three days into her 15th year when her dad and I made the impossible decision to sign custody of her over to strangers. Before he signed on the dotted line, her dad looked up at me, hand shaking and asked “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?” All I could say was “I don’t know.” But I knew that we couldn’t keep her safe anymore. Lili was clinically depressed and anxious and her self-harming behavior had become extremely dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.
The year leading up to this decision to send her away, and the first several months of her being gone, were the hardest time of my adult life. I fell apart. I would see friends at the grocery store and turned away to avoid conversation. I sobbed when friends posted pictures on Facebook of their daughters dressed up for homecoming, celebrating “normal” milestones that we weren’t having.
I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in my life and I certainly couldn’t control it, so I had to surrender. I didn’t do it readily or gracefully. In fact, I was a wee bit rebellious at first. I was advised to “do my work” by the therapists at the program Lili was in and let her do hers. I hated when they would say that! I was sad. I was grieving. My daughter was gone. I was angry. I didn’t want to do any “work”. And truth be told, I was fucking exhausted. I needed a break.
I spent 3 months in Santa Cruz on the beach. I went to yoga, I spent time with my other kids, and I started to “do my work.” Which meant excavating some old territory that I really would rather not have looked at, like my childhood and my marriage(s) and mistakes I made as a parent. As a mom, I’ve had to sit in the fire of my own guilt and shame around choices I’ve made, even as I understand that I was doing the best I could. Rough terrain. Although there were many days of darkness, my mantra became: “I trust the universe” because even though my life seemed tragic (to me), I wanted to believe, needed to believe, there was a greater reason for what was happening.
While Lili was learning more about herself and getting honest, I was taking a long look at my life and noticing what was and wasn’t working in it. She and I are both at turning points in our lives. After 20 months of hard-ass work, Lili is graduating from her program and coming home and my marriage is ending. My divorce is final next month. I’ve done this as consciously and kindly as possible and I’m proud of how Andy and I have both shown up, with a few bumps along the way, but mostly, with open hearts, love and respect.
When Anna Yarrow said she had some sessions open for her Spirit and Bone project, I was excited to have a photo representation of this potent time. The words “Spirit” and “Bone” are strong – and sinewy and bloody – kind of like the past couple of years. Gritty. And Lion hearted. The hero’s journey down into the abyss and back up again. I have grieved what I thought I knew, who I thought I was, what I thought the future held. I am more open to what actually IS now, and I look forward to welcoming my daughter home – who she has become, what she is showing up as and beginning this new chapter in my life as well.
Harbin Hot Springs. My soul-home. My screen saver. My compass. My place of healing and refuge. My recurring dream. My holy land. When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply. I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow. I’m home.
At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California. It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin. It was love at first sight. And I’ve been going ever since.
I’ve spent half of my life here. I’ve gone in all seasons. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year. I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform. I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.
I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively. Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces. I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore. All inside of me. Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up. 7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication. I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.” I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again. True story.
In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni. A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to. I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters. I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME. Harbin has received me in all ways, always.
I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog. I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother. I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen. I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent. Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried. I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.) I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love. Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.
I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands. I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin. I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again. I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely. I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.
This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership. I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.) I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.
This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire. The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.” Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end. My heart hurts. This fire did not happen to me, I know that. My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event. And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home. Harbin reconnected me with my past. She is showing me my future. And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.
I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass. My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back. I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge. I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo. This land, this place is in my DNA. I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not. But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient. I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths. I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me. I will thank her for giving me my lover. And I will kiss her softly. Everywhere.
“When we are heavy with the world’s sadness, call to us through Hawk’s cry, reminding us to look up and beyond, trusting in Spirit’s great design.” Tiphaine Bonetti
For years I have related to the hawk and have felt that hawk was one of my special animals. I would have dreams of hawks and sightings – close encounters. There is a connection between Hawk and Kundalini energy, some say hawk comes into your life only after Kundalini energy is activated.
Four years ago, my friend, Lance Gentry, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor. During the last year of his life, he saw many hawks and started to feel that they were messengers. We had some email conversations about hawk medicine and that’s when I started calling him “Brother Hawk”.
Around this time, Nancy and I would go for hikes and have heart-to-heart discussions about our life. I prayed for my life to have meaning and wished there was something I could do for Lance and his family. Nancy prayed for Lance.
“This powerful bird [hawk] can awaken visionary power and lead you to your life purpose. It is the messenger bird, and wherever is shows up, pay attention. There is a message coming.” from Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews.
In the Spring before Lance’s death, I got to spend more time with him, giving him Reiki and quietly sitting with him. I was able to let all the words I wanted to say to him, and all the love I felt for him flow through my hands, through my touch. His gift to me was that he received that love. We got to communicate without words…and share sacred time together…the biggest exchange of LOVE I had ever experienced with another human being that I wasn’t related to. It was a soul love, without form or expectation.
The day Lance died was a beautiful hot June day. He was at home, in his bed, made peaceful with morphine. A friend of Lance’s stopped by to see him and brought a hawk wing, not knowing that Lance had an affiliation with hawk, but feeling called to do it. Lance died 10 hours later, surrounded by dear friends and Nancy holding him in the bed and his mother by his side.
There was a beautiful ceremony for his life at the Shambala Center – a buddhist center here in town. His body lay in a cardboard casket. He wore his favorite hat and favorite T-shirt that said “Love More, Fear Less”. The hawk wing was placed on his chest. We kept Lance’s body on dry ice for 3 days and friends took turns staying with him so he was never alone, sleeping with him in shifts. It’s hard to describe the holy atmosphere of the place in the middle of the night, sitting in solitude with Lance, candles flickering, watching the room start to lighten with the morning sun.
After Lance died, so many people reported fantastic hawk sightings, myself included. Nancy had one experience with the kids where a hawk came flying right down the middle of the street towards them, at eye level, and flew right past them. They all felt that they had just had a visitation from Lance.
I am missing Lance and really missing that beautiful heart of his. It’s hard to lose something that feels that sweet. I had a dream about Lance the other day, and there he was in my dream, so loving and kind, smiling. It was good to feel him again. One thing I committed to, after Lance died, was to always let the people in my life know how much I love them…Lance taught me about being loving. He taught me that there is beauty and grace in openly loving people and not hiding it. After Reiki he would often say “I love you” and it felt so good to hear it from him. His face was open and radiant and all the love in his heart came pouring out of his eyes.
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.”
Three years ago, over the course of three months, I lost 3 friends. They didn’t die, they dumped me. All of these relationships ended abruptly and each one of them came as a surprise to me. I’d love to have a nice new age explanation for why these friendships ended – like, it was time for anything and anyone that doesn’t serve to end – but all I really know, is that they did. End that is.
I didn’t want anyone to know that someone I had considered one of my closest friends no longer wanted to be in relationship with me. You know that phrase “You’re only as sick as your secrets?” well I kept this a secret for a long time. Only my husband and one or two close friends knew. Recently, as I was confessing all of this to another friend, she shared that she had recently had some friendships end too. “There’s no term for friend divorce.” she said. As we spoke, I realized that I’ve been carrying a sense of shame about these endings and feeling very secretive about it. I can feel guilt and hurt, but carrying shame is toxic. Why is it that the very thing I am embarrassed about in myself, I can accept and understand in somebody else? I wonder if other women are walking around feeling shame about friendships that have ended.
A few weeks ago, I was in a group that was studying with Ann Drucker, and we were discussing the shaman practice of “dismemberment.” In a shamanic journey, it can be common to experience dismemberment by one’s spirit guide. This is a unique experience for each person, but it’s common to be literally torn apart, limb from limb, or eaten/ingested so that there is nothing left of you. The spirit guide does this with great intention and service to the individual, in order to tear down and clear away the old, what no longer serves, ego.
Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true. – Adyashanti
I started thinking about my past relationships and wondered if on some energetic, karmic plane, these particular friendships were dismemberment gifts to me. I have no idea, but I can say that looking at these endings with this lens is comforting. I felt totally naked, exposed, raw when these friendships ended – one in particular. She wrote me an email and said terrible things to me about my character – things I would never have thought a friend would say – I did feel like my heart was ripped open – the same way a Jaguar spirit animal might eat my flesh. But what if that was the gift? I hardly ever know why things happen the way they do…that’s actually one thing I’m looking forward to when I die – I hope I get let in on the mysteries of life! But I do trust the universe. And I do trust that these friendships ended for a reason.
Fast forward to last week, sitting in my car, on the phone with a friend, both of us confessing about our ended relationships and both of us realizing that we carry shame and secrecy around this. As we talked, she gave me a gift. She said “People are complex. We have our faults. We’re not perfect. But I know this, if any one of those people reached out to you today and asked if you would meet with them, you would say “yes”, wouldn’t you?” I said “Of course!” and just like that, I re-membered myself. I RE-MEMBERED myself! All the shame, all the embarrassement, all the secrecy I’d been carrying for years started to lift. Yes, I am imperfect. I am horribly hormonal sometimes. Ugh. I am flawed. But I am also unflinching in crisis. I am always, always willing to try again. I have a gentle and kind heart. And my friend reminded me, to re-member who I am. I AM. And that is another gift of the shamanic spirit guide, after they dismember you, they re-member you so that you are complete. Whole. It took me awhile to remember myself, years to be exact, but I am more whole today because of those friendships.
These days, I am filled with gratitude for the women in my life. I am blessed to experience the level of intimacy in my relationships that I do. I feel humbled with the abundance of love that is beamed at me, regularly! I’m still me, I didn’t suddenly become the greatest person in the world. I do keep working on myself and try to own my shit, when I’m aware of it. The one common thread that all my relationships have currently is the quality of “leaning in.” I can truly lean in to my friends and they can lean in to me. Each of them have seen me in my rawness, my vulnerability and my imperfection and loved me anyway. Inspite of. Because of. Deep gratitude to the women in my life – all of them. Past. Present. Future.
and PS – thank you to my husband who midwifed me through all my grief during that time, even as he struggled to understand what the big deal was. I love you.
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.
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.