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!

PITY PARTY!!!

wahhhhh
wahhhhh

I’m home, kids are home, dog threw her back out, I have some weird virus that has settled in my inner ear, causing some hearing loss which “may or may not be permanent” says my doc.  I feel like I am going deaf, have water in my ear, or 5 cotton balls wedged in my ear canal.  Ruby’s on pain meds, I’m on steroids (which have a “30-50% chance” of clearing up my ear and restoring my hearing) and baby girl got her wisdom teeth out yesterday.  Her percocet and viocodin are sitting on the kitchen counter singing their siren song.   Got some hilarious video of #3 (Lili’s nickname since we have 5 kids combined) just after her surgery – where her mouth is gaping open, stuffed with gauze and she’s saying “I fink there’s sumfin in my mouf” – good times.  But as soon as we got home, I realized she was going to be a big fat handful, needing meds round the clock, ice, gauze, no falling asleep until the gauze comes out, she’s falling asleep!  tv blaring…needs assistance walking because she’s woozy.  #5 needs dinner, and there’s three (three!) piles of cat barf on the carpet (of course) in my bedroom.  And my husband is still at the beach in CA.  Fuck-it-all.

Meanwhile…I am making homemade custard (the kind you make from scratch and pour into buttered ramekins and bake in a hot water bath), doing laundry, getting scrips filled, carrying the dog up and down the stairs to go potty several times a day, hosting playdates, making late night runs to Whole Foods for mashed potatoes, etc.  All this time, as I’m trying to take care of all the characters in this play, I am feeling bad about myself.  I am feeling guilty approaching a level of self-flagellation that I skipped my meditation practice.  I’m feeling ineffectual and like a Loser (with a capital ‘L’) that I am just walking around in a daze with no motivation to write a blog post or go for a run – not to mention I’m eating all the homemade custard that my kids decided didn’t taste as good as Kosy Shack’s rice pudding.  Go figure.

Anne Lamott talks about practicing Radical Self Care and jokingly refers to “keeping the patient comfortable” about herself when she’s struggling emotionally.  For her, it means curling up in bed with a book and her dogs and a bag of M&M’s.  “Whaaaat?” I say.  “Self Care?”  (Imagine me cocking my head and saying this in a Yoda voice.)  “What is this ‘Self Care’?”  Hmmmm.  Where can I get some of this I wonder?  The kicker is…I have to do it! After a good cry (after the dumb cat jumped up on my lap and missed, leaving 5 puncture holes in my leg) I was sufficiently beaten down enough to surrender (key) and let all expectation of having a “productive” day go.  Making lemonade people!

I decided to take all “shoulds” off my list today.  I’m choppig wood/carrying water re. the kids and animals – i.e. everyone is entitled to have food – as much as I wish everyone could just make their own cheese and crackers and we’d be done with the whole thing.  All pets will be let in and out and carried down steps.  Medicine will be dispensed.  Maybe I will do some yoga, maybe not.  Maybe I will watch the entire season of a reality show, maybe I will try and take a nap.  I’m giving my inner critic the day off.  I’m upping my caffeine level for today.  I’m going to try and show up for myself even just half as much as I am willing to do for my kids.   Let’s see how this goes…

 

Under Construction

Wild Ride
Wild Ride

I am in heavy Family Time right now.  Me/Him/Mine/His (no “Ours” – I guess that would be the cats…and they’re not here with us right now.)  We’re on a Family Vacation.  I’m learning A LOT.  The first thing I have learned is that I suck (sometimes.)  I really do.  I am mean.  I am childish.  I am petty.  Wow.  No sugar coating this part.  It’s humbling.  The other thing about this is that when you are on a Family Vacation, and you Suck, your whole family sees…there’s no hiding it.  And…some of members of this family are made up of teenagers.  And guess what?  Teenagers notice this stuff.  No getting around it.

There is a certain terrible rhythm amidst all 5 of us.  At any given point, at least one of us is feeling fed up, sad, hurt or angry.  We’re being called to stretch ourselves and make room for all that we are – not just the nice persona we show the public.   I happen to be blessed by a family that forgives and truly wants to be in good relationship with each other, even if we are not always sure how to do that.   There’s a lot to be said for the power of apologizing and the grace of forgiveness.  I’ve been doing both.  A lot.

The other thing I am learning – and this is Monumental with a capital ‘M’ – is that LOVE is limitless.  It comes from source, so it never runs out.  I run out of patience and get frustrated, but when I am running on empty, I can remember to ask for help.  For Grace.  For some “more love please”.  And guess what?  It’s working.  I’ve never been so consciously aware of this before in my life.  It feels miraculous, truly.

Sparkler

A dear friend gave me a ring a few weeks ago.  It has the letters ‘LIMI‘ on it.  They stand for Love Is My Intention.  They were created to promote more love on the planet.  Normally, my goal is to love more and to fear less (thank you Lance), but to have this reminder to breathe, to love, to recommit to my intention, on my finger helps me come back to this mantra again and again throughout the day.

LIMI = Love Is My Intention

 

On my own, I am a human being with a finite set of resources.  Sometimes I have a “raisin heart” – which means a little, dried up, Grinchy heart.  When I’m in this mode, nobody is happy, including myself.  Sometimes I indulge in shitty behavior, and like any addiction or bad habit, I don’t feel better afterwards.  Source (or Love, or God, or…) is Limitless and I can change from the “Me” channel to “Source” channel and that is magical.  mmmm.  Love.  Healing.  Grace.

To err, to apologize, to ask forgiveness, to love, to forgive…it’s one wild merry-go-round here and I am learning…growing…loving.  Grateful.

Sweet Memories

Santa Cruz Harbor
Santa Cruz Harbor

When I was a kid, I would spend every 4th of July in Narrangansett, RI with my grandparents.  Just me and Mimi and Grandy.  It was idyllic.  Not just the romanticizing of childhood that can happen with sepia toned memories, but truly perfection…and unconditional love.  Lots of that.

It took me a long time to figure out why I get so emotional about fireworks (they’re magical to me) and an even longer time to consciously “get” why the 4th of July is such a big deal to me.  I love gathering friends together and burning sparklers, kids running around like crazy, sweet treats and later…fireworks in the black night.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that it wasn’t until a few years back, with the help of my husband who gently pieced it together for me, that 4th of July goes hand in hand with happier times in an often grim childhood spent with alcholhic parents.  This is one holiday I don’t have a single memory of alcohol crashing in like an unwelcomed guest.

For the past 3 years Andy and I have been spending the 4th in Santa Cruz, a beach town in California.  The thrill of spending this holiday at the ocean is beyond description.  The part of my brain that holds all the sensory memories of summer gets stirred and a peace and joy comes over me.  Salty air, sunburned skin, charcoal fires, music playing, the occasional loud ‘POP!’ down the street from a clandestine fire cracker, the holiday goers lugging their coolers and cranky babes, the locals sitting outside Deke’s Market, playing ukeleles…all of it weaves an old familiar tale with new traditions.

Santa Cruz lighthouse
Santa Cruz lighthouse

My daughter is backpacking in the mountains of Colorado, my son is in Europe on a cruise with his dad.  Both unreachable by phone or email.  But my step-daughter arrived  today for her first experience of 4th of July, California style.  Andy and I sat on the shore and watched her step into the ocean… uncertainly at first, then more and more sure of herself.  Soon she was was out past the breakers.   As the sun tried to burn through the fog, I had a vision of my grandparents watching me in the waves years ago: “Don’t go out too far Zan!”  Mimi would call and I would laugh.

I’m filled with gratitude for the all the love my grandparents showered on a growing girl that needed it.  Grateful that they can live on in my heart for as long as I do.  Concentric circles of love rippling out and lapping at other’s hearts like gentle waves.  I miss you guys so much.  And was and continue to be so lucky that I was loved by you.

Best Grandparents Ever

“The wave is the same as the ocean, though it is not the whole ocean. So each wave of creation is a part of the eternal Ocean of Spirit. The Ocean can exist without the waves, but the waves cannot exist without the Ocean.” 

-Paramahansa Yogananda

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