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

Grandfather, India

Grandfather, India

I was twenty six years old when I saw

the Himalayan Mountain range for the first time.

I remember how abruptly

it rose from the rice paddies like

a row of hands signaling “STOP!”

“You shall not pass here.”

There is a reason the Hindus believe

their gods reside in the these mountains.

IMG_0101

Only gods would smash a subcontinent into Asia

in an attempt to get the sky’s attention.

Only gods would pull the ether so close

and insist to be kissed by her.

It is the nature of gods to seek residence

in the openness of sky

and there I was flying in it,

IMG_5660

catching a bird’s eye peek of peaks

that seemed to stretch all the way back

to my grandfather’s gaze

the first time he told me these things existted.

In those days his eyes

were my airplane windows

and I, a limb of his Bodhi tree

understood that he had grown up

where the Buddha breathed.

He had lotus blossom hands

IMG_5290

His stories were prayer beads

he strung around my neck

so that he could pull me back

when he saw me drifting

too far from my purpose

For whatever reason,

he saw in me a need;

and aching for the sky

IMG_4741so he produced photo albums

full of beings who knew her best,

Sepia toned images of hands pressed

together in prayer

IMG_5051

Black and white photographs of monks

whose eyes arced like raven wings

gleefully taking to the wind

prayer wheels spinning

to the backdrop of India.

India

the cough of car horns choking

on exhaust, exhausting jaunts

through mazes of people

amazing in their arrangements

flowers arranged in doorsteps

IMG_9735

side stepping copious piles of cow shit

squatting to shit over holes that belched urine smells

smelling jasmine and sandalwood

would travel by rickshaw, plane, train, and taxi

IMG_9664

to watch Himalayan spine

unfurl in long stretches, morning stretching

over my yoga practice, bending over the jumbled

jenga of shoddy construction,

huddling over construction paper

giving crayons to children who’d never colored before

IMG_9743

The color of saris bleeding into vision

like high definition dye, homeless man

dying on the street corner, dead guy by the piss wall,

the 5am call to prayer, the prayer beads, beads of sweat

protesting intense humidity, the soft

swirl of the pilgrim’s hands in the Ganges

IMG_0239

stirring my memory

toward my grandfather

who came to me as if in a dream,

a beam of light planting a seed

that would grow to lead my back

to the land

of my awakening.

-Lyndsey McGuire

IMG_5024

Magical Mystery Tour

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.

IMG_4398

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.

IMG_4969

 

IMG_5025

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.

IMG_1300

IMG_1302

IMG_1309

IMG_1317

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.

IMG_5814

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.

IMG_5877

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

2015/01/img_5557.jpg

2015/01/img_5511.jpg

One Day in Varanasi

My morning started at 5. I awoke early to partake in a tourist ritual of a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges. As I lay in my bed, part of me wondered why I had wanted so badly to come to Varanasi. It had been a long travel adventure to reach here – with some of the worst driving and shady driver experiences I had ever had in India. Part of me wanted to catch a plane back to a safe and familiar place. The other part of me knew that this is India. She tips me over and uproots me from all that is known. I always feel like I am in outer space and my loved ones are so very very far away. I have learned to ‘notice’ the feelings and stay with them. I remember a friend gently and wisely telling me “You don’t have to always like India.” And so I rose, got dressed and went into the smokey dark to meet our friend and guide and get on the boat.

The “sunrise” never really happened because there was a bank of clouds, but the view from the water of the ghats (stairs) and the city and the people and dogs, cows etc all sharing space on the river was fascinating. Men and women bathing (separately), laundry drying, dogs fighting, bodies burning, Muslim temple bells ringing, sadhus posing for a professional photo shoot with magnifying screens (for real) – it was all surreal.

As our boat approached the main burning ghat, I could see the billows of white smoke rising up. It’s forbidden (rude) to take photos so I was fully present and taking it all in. It’s hard to describe the mountains of wood – this is a 24 hour burning ghat so bodies are burning day and night. There are swarms of men scurrying about bringing more wood, dumping ash into heaps, putting more kindling under the bodies. The buildings closest to the fire are black with centuries of smoke – making the place look like a scene from the darkest movie. Dogs are curled up in the piles of ash to keep warm.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/3f2/33926349/files/2015/01/img_4808.jpg

Our boat was front and center, very close and I watched a body, wound in white ceremonial cloth, as it started to burn. I saw the cloth burn away and I could see the man’s feet turn dark and blister in the heat. As close as I get to death in my hospice work, this was a new level of intimacy I have never experienced.

I feel that it will take me days to process this experience, perhaps longer. This city holds an intensity that is hard to describe, as feels right and natural given that death is front and center amidst a city so alive and busy. The contrast is at once dumbfounding and inspiring.

I went back to my hotel to rest and warm up and prepare for the evening’s full moon ceremony Melanie and I had planned. I was feeling drained and tender.

When I first asked friends and family to send me their prayer requests so that I could release them on the Ganges, I never imagined the depth of sweetness I would experience reading people’s heart felt prayers. I was and still am so touched by the honesty and rawness of some of them as well as the good kind hearted earnestness of them as well. What beautiful friends I know who are wanting to make the world and themselves better.

Melanie and I sat in prayer and meditation. Later we bathed and dressed in ritual white. We met Somit, our friend and organizer of the ceremony and he led us to our boat. The boat man and priests and a curious traveler from the UK were already in it. We rowed across the river to the sandbar in the middle. There we got out and waded (yes I put my bare feet in the river in Varanasi) to the sand.

In the twilight we entered into ceremony, making offerings of rice, sandal wood, flowers and coins to Hindu deities and the 9 planets. Prayers for our ancestors, our beloveds, the group of women who will be joining us in a few short days – all were offered to the fire.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/3f2/33926349/files/2015/01/img_4992.jpg

As the huge orange full moon rise in the purple sky (India has a way of blowing you away with her beauty) and the sky darkened, dogs crept closer to us, smelling the offerings of food we had. As the priests chanted the centuries old Sanskrit mantras, I closed my eyes and thought to myself “This is why I am in Varanasi. For this moment in time.”

Our boat rowed back across the river as the full moon cast her light across the river and our ritual fire burned on the shore as the dogs gently picked up the small burning dishes and overturned them in the sand to eat the ghee inside.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/3f2/33926349/files/2015/01/img_4981.jpg

Rishikesh – River of Love, part 2

I wrote about bringing Lance’s ashes to Varanasi and how powerful that was for me to release them into the river.

Now on to Rishikesh, a lotus of a place, nestled on the banks of the Ganges, in northern India.  The water is cool and clean, with sandy swaths of beach and many ashrams and temples along its edge.  There is something very peaceful and sweet about this small city and the slower pace is a welcome retreat.

Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge
Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge

When we arrived at our hotel, our amazing host, Govind Agarwal, had arranged for our group to have a special blessing by priests.  As each of us entered the yoga room, we were given a special necklace of marigolds as the priests chanted.

Priests

Red paste and grains of rice were put on our foreheads and prayers were offered to Durga (the mother of us all), Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and Shiva (Destroyer of Ego and one who sits in deep meditation.)  One group member said she felt “home” as soon as she heard the powerful chanting of the priests.  The acoustics of the yoga room made me feel as if the mantras were vibrating through my chest cavity and opening my heart.

ShivaDurgaGanesha
Shiva, Durga and Ganesha

Have you ever said “yes!” to something because you felt it in your body, even though you had no idea what it was?  Months ago, back in the US, Govind had suggested having a ceremony for our ancestors on the banks of the Ganges.  Ever since he mentioned it, I became instantly attached to having it.  In fact, during the entire trip in India, my intention was to cultivate an attitude of surrender in all things, which I accomplished for the most part, but I stubbornly remained attached – like a barnacle on a wooden boat! – to 3 things:  the sunrise boat ride in Varanasi (which didn’t happen, so obviously I need to go back), the ceremony for our ancestors, and the dipping in the Ganga.

The morning of the ceremony, Govind walked us down the marble steps that literally disappear into the river.  The 3 priests were waiting for us accompanied by various bathers, curious onlookers and sadhus.  We took our seats on the marble, facing the river.

The priests put sandalwood paste across our forehead.   We offered prayers and offerings to the river, giving thanks for those that had come before us, honoring our lineage and speaking our ancestors’ names aloud.

I had brought a small vial with me – the remains of my beloved grandparents ashes – unsure of whether I would be willing to part with the last physical remnants of them.  As I prayed,  I knew with an inner wisdom that in the releasing of this ash, I was surrendering to the pulse of the universe, letting energy go into the flow of the river.  “Harold…Hazel” I said out loud as the priest poured milk into the jar and I tipped it into the river.  For the rest of the day, I experienced an uplifting of the spirit that was tangible and a peace I usually only feel after meditating.

Days later, Govind’s lovely wife, Bindia, graciously accompanied us to an area of the Ganges where we would dunk in the river.  The symbolism differs for everyone, but for me, it was an opportunity to “baptize” myself – to submerge myself 7 times, one for each chakra, in the holy river of unconditional love.  To cleanse myself of my sins, and to be born anew.  Returning to India, and bringing a group of women to India, had been a dream.  Now it was time to recognize that I had realized a dream come true and honor that part in me that had heard the call and said yes to it.  To realize that there are endings and also beginnings in a pilgrimage to India.  I was consciously saying ‘goodbye’ to aspects of myself, and experiences from the past 2 years.  In submerging in the river, I was also saying ‘yes’ to whatever was wishing to be born in me – perhaps aspects or ideas that I am not even aware of yet consciuosly, but the seeds have been planted.

Several of us were called to dunk in the river that morning and it was a powerful experience for all of us.  Much gratitude to Bindia who held our hands (with teeth chattering!) as each of us took the plunge.  Afterwards, we lit incense and made offerings to the river in thanks for her willingness to take us – the shadow and the light – and wash away our impurities and leave us refreshed and renewed.

I have so much gratitude for this journey and for all the ways I was able to be in sacred ceremony with the holiest of rivers – Mata Ganga – the Mother Ganges.  Sharing these experiences with this group of women has made it more potent for me and these memories live on in my heart and mind.  And oh Mother India,  I will return!  Deep bow.

lastNight
last night boat ride

Mother India and the River of Love – Part 1

IMG_9718

Before our Women’s Journey to India started, I shared with Nancy that I felt  2 themes were emerging around this trip, based on the few things I was learning from the participants and our itinerary.  The two themes were ‘mother’  and  ‘water’.  I knew we were going to Mother India and I was curious to see all the ways these themes might express themselves to each one of us.  We had chosen to go to places in India that celebrated life, death and rebirth – many of these life/death rituals happened near or in the Ganges river – otherwise known as Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges.)

We landed smack dab in the middle of Durga Puja – a celebration of the Goddess Durga – the mother of the universe, mother of us all.  What a “coincidence”!  The time of Durga Puja is a holy time celebrated throughout all of India.  Sculptures made out of clay are formed in her likeness – a powerful woman with 8 arms – and she is honored for several days with parades and dancing in the streets.  In Varanasi, the beautiful statues are decorated and worshipped, the streets are clogged with processions down to the river, and Durga is sent off in boats to the middle of the Ganges to be set free in the river, clay returning back to mud.

When we arrived in Varanasi, the weather was ominous with frothing white caps on the river that was at a record high and rain lashing at our hotel windows, creating puddles of water that soaked anything left on the floor.  The scene was all too familiar for those of us from Colorado.   We were dismayed to learn that all boat trips were cancelled indefinitely due to dangerous weather conditions.   I stared longingly out my hotel window at the river – Mata Ganga – churning wide, brown and swift, wishing to be on it.

Hotel view, there's water on the marble floor...
Hotel view, there’s water on the marble floor…

The Ganges is considered one of the holiest rivers for Hindus as well as a goddess:  Ganga.  Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, accepting all and forgiving all.  It is considered an honor to die at the banks of the Ganges if one is a Hindu, and if that is not possible, to be cremated on her banks with the ashes set free in her current.  It was my first time to Varanasi and I had come with the special task of releasing some of my dear friend and world traveler Lance’s ashes into the river.  What with the late monsoon floods, and rains from the typoon happening to the East, I was dubious if I would get the chance to fulfill this task.

Waiting...
Waiting…
more waiting
more waiting

On our last day, we were told that boats could make the trip and we would indeed be able to take our evening ride with a priest (Pujari – one who officiates puja – offerings/ceremony) so that all of us who were releasing ashes (symbolic or otherwise) would be blessed.  The current had finally died down enough so that the boat motors could power their way back up the river once they had drifted down to the burning ghats (the place of cremation in Varanasi that is at the water’s edge.)  Punam told me later that she had prayed “day and night” to make sure we could have our boat ride and I shared that I had been praying too!

Before I left my room at the hotel, I lit some incense and prayed to be present and open for the ritual I was about to participate in.

praying with Lance one last time
praying with Lance one last time

In some ways, it felt like the end of my journey with Lance.  From holding his hand as he slipped into a morphine sleep, to lying with his body in the wee hours of his death, to painting silks that wrapped around his body while he lay in his casket, to honoring his life at his memorial months later, here I was, in a final moment with him, releasing a baggie of ash and bone in India.

heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
Burning Ghats
Burning Ghats
puja
puja – offerings

On the boat, a fresh wave of grief hit me and I sobbed in the dark.  The women each held my story about Lance and his family in their hearts and gave me the strength to honor my friend.

After my wave of sorrow passed, came a joyful knowing that Lance would have LOVED knowing his ashes were in the Ganges, in a place that had meant so much to he and Nancy.  I felt lighter and calm.  A nice reminder for me that resistance is really the only thing that causes my suffering.

Rock Star Pujari with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Rock Star Pujariji with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Joyful…with Somit

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there.  I did not die.

-Anonymous

Holy Water

The rains last month were nothing short of epic. It might not have been 40 days, but 4 straight days of rain in Boulder felt biblical. I’ve never seen the ground so saturated. More than 2 weeks after the flooding happened here, there’s still standing water on my street:

just one home's damage
typical site on Sumac

Although we were more fortunate than many, we still flooded, our basement is gutted, furniture got ruined and our lives were majorly shaken up by the sirens, reverse 911 calls saying “Get to higher ground”, seeing our backyard turn into a brown raging river and hearing about a possible 30 foot wall of water headed our way, containing boulders, cars and sure disaster. And did I mention, everything happened after dark?  It’s been hard to wrap my head around the events that happened.  Andy and I look back and realize we were in shock the first few days. “Why didn’t we move those drawers off the carpet?” I ask myself out loud. It was because I never dreamed the rain would continue and we would get flooded a second time on the second night, this time with raw sewage and higher water lines on the dry wall. “Why didn’t we start cutting the dry wall away immediately?” I wonder. It’s because I couldn’t deal with the basement anymore, so I shut the door to the downstairs, compartmentallizing what I could deal with. Until the smell of mildew started to creep in. It’s been humbling to see how vulnerable we are compared to Mother Nature and to see how easily I can be cracked by disturbances in my “normal.” I want to be like grass, bending under the water weight, graceful and strong.

If you want to read a fantastic write-up on the collective trauma this region went through, read this woman’s account. Here’s one quote from her piece: “Humans have a biological need to “orient” in the face of threat. To assess for danger, and when the danger no longer looms, to create safety. We need to find our ground again. Especially when there are cracks and rivers where the roads used to be.” Amen.

We do need to find our ground again…here at home. Or at least, that’s my impulse. To take comfort in the familiar.  I’m attached to ritual and routine.  I feel untethered right now, I’m tired and my immune system feels compromised.  Everything here is topsy turvy. Our furniture is out on the street, or in the garage.  Andy’s office has now moved into my space.  I feel squeezed.  Physically, emotionally and spiritually, and it makes me cranky and brittle.  “Let me be like grass…” is my mantra these days.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
– Lao-Tzu

the power of water
the power of water in Rishikesh, India

I am leaving for India in 3 days.  India, the queen of unfamiliar and untethered. The place that knocks me off my feet and pins me down until I surrender: powerless and open.  The best advice I can give anyone who is about to travel in India is to let go of all expectations and need for control. When I’m there, I am devoted to the present moment with a fierceness that knows this is my salvation in a completely foreign world.  In India, I “Let go and let God” and I love it.   The rains last month have given me a head start for India by exposing my rigidity and reminding me that control is always an illusion.   I pray to keep supple, so that I may bend, not break.  I pray I may keep opening my heart and my hands so that I may release my death grip on what I think I need or must have.  I pray for all those affected by this flood and all floods everywhere.  I pray for the group of women that are about to embark on the India trip – for safe travels, the warmth of community, and heart-openings.  I give thanks for the gifts I have received from the heavy rains – the literal washing away of things that no longer serve.  The cleansing and purifying of my home and land.  The heart-healing from mending severed ties through offering helping hands.  For the trees that look more refreshed than they have in a decade.  For my home in Boulder and my home in India and my home in Santa Cruz.  Home is truly where the heart is.

hOMe
hOMe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catch and Release

Back when I was younger, I kept my heart under 24/7 lock down.  Nobody was going to hurt me!  Not surprisingly, by shutting everything down, I stayed closed off to giving and receiving love.  I also had a lot of heart palpitations and irregular heart beats throughout my life.  About 5 years ago I was put on beta blockers because my heart symptoms were so frequent and disturbing.  Then, one magical day, on a hike to a sacred place of mine, I prayed to Spirit to “remove the shield from my heart.”  At the time, it was a ‘throw away’ prayer, something I casually tossed out.  I just said the words at the last minute, before I hiked back down the mountain.  However, I came down from the hike and haven’t been on heart meds since.  True story.  There have been heart palpitations, but now when I experience them, I get quiet and ask my heart what it’s trying to say.  What do I need to pay attention to?  Every time, it’s been related to something emotional that’s happening in my life that needs attending to.  The heart is an amazing barometer of the emotional body.  Pay attention to it!

Hanuman in Rishikesh, India
Hanuman in Rishikesh, India

These days, I can’t open my heart fast enough.  I feel like the picture of Hanuman, and I’m ripping open my own chest, saying “Here God, let me help you!”

I found a book – or rather it found me – The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer.  I have no idea why I reached for it at the bookstore, I think I liked the color blue and the horse…and something about the word “untethered.”

buy this book
buy this book

The book is small – digestible for me, and easy to read.  It talks about living with an open heart, it gives directions on how to do this, it’s a PLAN (I love a plan!) on how to keep your heart open and what to do when you feel your heart closing.  As soon as one becomes willing – conscious – to witness the energy shifts of their heart, they can be aware of a tendency to close the heart.  The book breaks down the theory of energy centers – especially the heart center – using scientific terms within a yogic context.  And did I mention it’s easy to read?!  Really.

All of this resonates for me and makes sense.  It’s like reading things I already “know” on some level, but having it in this simple format has really clicked for me.  I have been spending my past few days in my open heart, watching the tendency to shut down and close up when I experience an emotional trigger.  So far, it’s been pretty easy and even fun.  Until today.  Today I got “blind sided” by an interaction with someone.  It triggered all my stuff – my “good enough” stuff, my “scarcity” stuff, my “alone” story, etc.  I could literally feel my energy body wanting to spin out and keep all my stories alive.  It was all I could do NOT to fan the flames in my head.  Instead I went and danced for an hour.  But like a tongue poking a sore tooth, even with the book, and my meditation practice, and the physical exercise and conscious breathing in the heart, I still had to check several times on my stuff to see if was still there (it was.)

Tonight, after a long day, I am feeling more at peace.  I am feeling more ‘free’ – truly.  I have successfully stayed in an uncomfortable place and kept my heart open.  I’ve felt some pain and fear and have passed through some fire.  Having the feelings of fear or insecurity don’t make me pure or impure.  The trick is not getting drawn into that energy, and to simply relax and release as the energy appears.  “And no matter how many times you’re pulled, that’s how many times you relax and release.  Your opportunites to grow are endless.”

You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free.

Michael A. Singer.

In this beautiful song by Nirinjan Kaur, Aud Guray, she is singing the words “Protect Me, Open my Heart, and I’ll be Free.”  I like to think she is giving her will over to Source, God, Spirit, and saying please protect me (so I don’t have to!) and open my heart and in doing this, I will be free.  A’Ho!

Aint Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang

Harlan G

Got your attention?  I’m talking about the ‘G’ word…Grief, not Gangsta.  I hope you don’t stop reading just because you found out this post is about grief.  I think people, and Western culture in particular, have an unease about the word grief.  “Ugh…so heavy…grief” my friend says when she hears that I’ve titled my trip to India ‘Transcending Grief’,  “I just think of a bunch of women sitting around crying” she adds.  I get it.  I changed the title to something lighter, more fun sounding…”Journey to India” and people responded postitively, they liked it better.  Phew, less heavy.

I find myself drawn to the word grief, not repelled.  Anytime I see a workshop, a book or something on the internet with the word ‘grief’ in the title, my pulse quickens and I get excited to see what it is.  I truly have a passion for grief!  Grief makes me appreciate life more…love more.  My heart has cracked open so more can get in.

“The wound is where the light enters you.”  -Rumi

I don’t know if it’s the word itself or if it’s the fear of the pain that we back away from.  I often notice people backing away from the word grief and changing it to something more palatable, like “loss” or “letting go.”  Grief packs a powerful punch.  Oomph right in the gut…or the heart.  Ask somebody who has lost a loved one and they’ll tell you they’re grieving.  Grief is the word that fits.  After a few years (or months!) our society wants people to be moving on and getting past the loss, i.e. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Stephen Jenkinson says:  “Grief and the love of life are twins.”  Two halves that make a whole.  He goes on to say,  “From a young age we see around us that grief is mostly an affliction, a misery that intrudes into the life we deserve, a rupture of the natural order of things, a trauma that we need coping and management and five stages and twelve steps to get over.  Here’s the revolution:  What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught?  What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway?”

If we’re truly living in the moment each day, we are grieving every day as well.  How so?  Well, if I am appreciating the beauty of this moment, with my dog snoring softly on the couch, my daughter sleeping peacefully upstairs, the sun shining through the green willow leaves, I am also aware of the temporal state of this moment.  Everything passes.  Everything dies.  The knowledge that each moment is finite fills me with an ecstatic pleasure as well as an ache to know it will never happen again.  I’m loving life anyway, in spite of loss, because of loss.  In this way, grief has been a life changing gift to me, by giving me a profound appreciation for each moment, knowing that this too shall pass, I will pass.

Summer Poppies come
Summer Poppies come

Often when we lose somebody or something dear to us, we feel compelled to search for the meaning behind the loss.   “What if meaning is not something to find?” Stephen asks.  “Meaning is made by the willingness to proceed.  Life has to continue, not YOU have to continue.  Life is not your life span or your children’s life span.  How about holding the fact that nothing you hold dear lasts.  How about holding that fact close to your bosom?  That’s making meaning of the end of life.”

and go...
and go…