Endings/Beginnings

Welcome to Harbin
Welcome to Harbin

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.

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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.

Manzanita Tree - This plant has many characteristics of the Divine Feminine.  Its bark continually peels back, like the skin of a snake, revealing rich, smooth color under its layers.  Thus it is in a constant state of rebirth and transformation, dying to the old and letting go, while simultaneously bearing flowers and fruits.
Manzanita Tree – This plant has many characteristics of the Divine Feminine. Its bark continually peels back, like the skin of a snake, revealing rich, smooth color under its layers. Thus it is in a constant state of rebirth and transformation, dying to the old and letting go, while simultaneously bearing flowers and fruits.  The Triple Goddess Tarot

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bittersweet Summer Time

I’m going to write this without agonizing over every word.  Writing is something I do because it stirs in me and wants to come out – not because it’s easy or even that enjoyable.  I actually do a lot of hand wringing about it.  I’m in Florida right now, just finishing a trade show with my husband, and flying back to Boulder tomorrow.  These are some thoughts I’ve been having about Summer and Boulder and especially my beloved neighborhood of rural North Boulder, where there are no sidewalks, lots of open space, and deer walk around like they own the place.

backyard
backyard

Summer is actually my favorite time of year and these next few weeks, as it reaches its zenith, are the days I savor the most.  I live for the light and celebrate the longest day of sunshine like the wildest of pagan queens – joy pulsing through my veins, all cells dancing an excited jig.  I wish every day could be the day before Summer Solstice – just like Groundhog’s Day, to be repeated over and over, that’d be fine by me.  I feel melancholy the day after solstice, as I know the days are getting “shorter.”  I’ve always loved the highs more than the lows…duh.

I’ve lived in my neighborhood for almost 10 years.  I’ve seen things change.  I’ve sold a house and moved twice since then – my husband and I living apart for 2 years, while staying married.  It was a new beginning and a gamble, and one that paid off in a stronger marriage, but it still had it’s scary moments.  Walking past our old house the other night, I stopped to look at the now very unkempt yard.  It makes me sad to go past the house because the “new” owners don’t water or take care of the plants we lovingly tended.  I saw our peony bushes popping with buds.  They have a short window in early summer where they bloom and emit the most heavenly scent.  I used to fill vases to overflowing and the whole house would be redolent in their perfume.  I stopped and stared at the buds, plotting a midnight raid to take some cuttings.  A wave of sadness washed over me as I realized these are not ‘my’ plants anymore.  That time is over.  I planted a peony of my own last summer in our new yard…it’s got 2 tiny buds…it’s going to take time to get established.

peonies
peonies from Redwood Ave

Old neighbors, a family I love, have decided to end their marriage and they have sold their house and divided up their belongings.  What’s left of their life is on the street, waiting for the garbage man to haul it away.  I see the kiddie toys and broken tools and paper sacks and I see a life that doesn’t exist anymore.  I honor them all in their new beginnings and I feel the sorrow too…in dreams that have ended.  That house will always be their house in my memory, no matter who moves in.  I keep walking.

Down the bike trail and turning left on to my street, I see the empty lot where Joe and Lisa used to live.  Their house razed along with the old cherry trees.  The clump of lilacs stand alone as if to say “what happened?” – nothing has been built there and now a herd of deer seem to be the only residents.

cherries
Joe and Lisa’s cherries

Down my driveway now and I see my neighbor’s house is for sale.  This happened fast.  While I was out of town.  Nobody asked me about this!   My beloved 94 year old neighbor will be moving away.   She lives with her daughter after her house was swept away in Hurricane Katrina, this woman no stranger to endings and beginnings.  Now she speaks cheerily about how I can visit her wherever she may land.  When asked how she has lived so long and stayed so healthy, Miss Kaye replies “I’ve always had a positive attitude.”  Amen.  So she has.  I need to be more like her.

photo 1-1
Miss Kaye’s blood red poppies

There has been a lot of flower appreciation going back and forth over the fence this past week.  My poppies are in full bloom and, like peonies, they too have a short bloom period and need to be appreciated every minute they are in their full glory.  Last summer my gardener mistakenly pulled out all my poppy plants thinking they were dandelions.  I was devastated to think they were gone.  I viscerally felt the loss.  As I read this, it sounds like I am some spoiled, rich gardening lady but what I’m trying to convey is I felt the pain for the plant…being killed.  And I felt a responsibility for allowing this to happen.  I felt like a murderer.  A landscaper friend consoled my by saying that perhaps the poppies had seeded before they were pulled, and if so, they might come back.  Guess what?  They did!  And how!  Better than ever and maybe even more beautiful.

beautiful poppies on Sumac Ave
beautiful poppies on Sumac Ave

The point of all this is…all things begin and all things end.  The days get longer, the days get shorter.  People marry, people divorce, people separate and try again.  Kids grow (darn it!) and move away (not yet!!) and I keep planting flowers wherever I go.  I feel each passing more deeply than I used to.  I cry more often.  I love more.  I give thanks for flowers and for bees and for children and a home with a garden, for good neighbors.  I embrace the mess and chaos  – the perfect imperfection – of being human and judge less (thank god/spirit/grace) and miss the faces I used to see and embrace the new ones.  I love and appreciate my husband for being on this wild ride with me for the past decade.  I’m grateful for seeds that come back from under the ground, even when everything above ground is telling me they’re goners – it’s all a metaphor, get it?

can you see the bee?
can you see the bee?



Grief Spiral

dandy

Grief isn’t linear.  It’s not a straight shot.  You don’t pass through locks in a canal, never to go back, chugging along to what…?  Before?  No.  A land where there is no pain?  No.

I love the metaphor that grief is a spiral, where I circle around, sometimes close to the epicenter (deep pain) and sometimes a bit farther out (awareness of the loss) and sometimes on the outskirts of the spiral (where I can smile at the memories and celebrate the gifts from knowing that person.)  No matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one, I can be anywhere on the spiral – although I can truthfully say once I’ve experienced the acute phase of a loss, I’ve never gone back to that excruciating grief that feels like it could swallow me up and seems unsurvivable when it’s happening.  I hope that gives people some hope to read that.

Sometimes…I can be grieving and not even realize it.  Recently, life has been feeling so tender and almost unbearable to me.  Spring is late here in Boulder and with Spring comes baby animals.  We’ve got a Mama Raccoon in our attic, right over my bedroom, and her babies make scritchy scratchy sounds and chirp all night long.  I am sleeping in another room because they are so loud!  They sound like they are in the room with us!  Andy is calling them his roomates.  I don’t ordinarily like raccoons, but I am very distressed about these babies.  What to do?  I want them to be relocated, and not euthanized.  But I’m worried they are too young to be moved.  I can barely stand the thought that they will be moved outside… and then what?

Yesterday, we noticed a very small, brand new, baby squirrel up in our tree.  The mama was trying to show it how to scramble through the branches.  Then we noticed a very fat, buff tiger cat (ours) up in the tree, getting ready to pounce on the baby squirrel!  Oh no!  Andy ran out and sprayed the hose on our cat.  This barely distracted her.  Note that it was pouring rain yesterday too.  I was paralyzed with fear that Baby (our horrible cat) was going to kill the squirrel baby, the squirrel baby that isn’t even strong enough, or old enough, to scamper away.  The cat finally came in looking like a drowned rat and she has been locked up under protest all day today.  I’m praying that baby squirrel has enough evolutionary smarts to grow – fast!

As I was unloading my animal woes (my fear of impending death to small, helpless creatures, and my participation on some level with their possible impending deaths) on a friend today, she wondered what is going on for me about death.  “Well” I answered innocently, “a year ago is the time I started working with Lance.”  Hmmm.  As I said it, I realized that is what’s been living in me without me being consciously aware of it.  Two days ago was the 11 month anniversary of Lance‘s death.

Last May, I started giving Lance reiki and spending more time with him.  It was a powerful, life changing month.  It was an  intimate experience that touched me.  I will probably write more about this time, but for now the words escape me.  I am just aware that I am more sensitive than usual and it’s a reminder to go back to the basics of self care; something we teach in the Newly Bereaved groups at hospice.  Drink more water.  Rest.  Get out in nature. Share with close friends – people who will listen and let me be right where I’m at.  Most of all, thanks to my wise friend Sally, I want to BE present with all that I am feeling right now.  I want to witness the sorrow and the tenderness and allow any and all emotions to wash over me.  I might feel things this year that I was too in shock to feel last year.  I can notice the gifts that have come to me in the past year, since knowing Lance, and give thanks for them and for his life.  Gratitude.  And, I’m going to try and help these little animal babies stay alive if I can…

Nature is my Temple

lotusDoor

Recently I sat with somebody who shared that she began her spiritual journey in her 40‘s.  When I heard her say that, I felt confused.  “Wha?” Something didn’t resonate…I couldn’t even put it into words until hours later.  There’s no age or moment I can pinpoint as the start of my spiritual journey – I’ve been on a spiritual path my whole life…as long as I can remember.

As a young girl, sitting in church, I was uncomfortable reciting things like: “we are not worthy to eat the crumbs off thy table.”  We were taught that God was love and that didn’t resonate for me.  It wasn’t adding up for me and I rebelled.  As only a Preacher’s Kid can.  (Actually, I rebelled because I was rebellious and an acting-out kid.)  My dad was pretty cool and new-agey as a Minister of Divine Science – I swear it’s not a cult, but it sure sounded like one.  My mom was, and is, a devout Episcopalian and I reluctantly spent most Sundays of my childhood in church.

I have always had deep respect for earth-based wisdom teachings and was drawn to Native American culture as a teen.  My father lived in New Mexico and  I would spend hours on my own in the museums of Albuquerque studying the history of the different tribes in the Southwest.  My father opened my eyes to the mystical realm, speaking to me of past lives, and third eyes, crown chakras…  He taught me the iChing and how to meditate.  I took it all in, feeling the truth in all of it, even as my mind struggled to make “sense” of it.  I know that my father recognized the seeker in me, just as I see it in my children now.

Later in life, I married my first husband and converted to Judaism.  I was attracted to Jewish culture;  the warmth (and fun!) of holidays celebrated with family, and the food.  Towards the end of our often turbulent marriage, I discovered kirtan – which is a type of call-and-response devotional chanting.  It was then that I discovered the power of mantra – even though I didn’t know or understand the words, through hours (and hours) of listening to kirtan music, the sanskrit words of devotion worked their medicine on me and I began taking my baby-step journey on the path to self-love.  I credit this time in my life as the beginning of consciously opening my heart.   (Always a seeker, but with a very protected heart…until the birth of my children and the discovery of mantra.)

Eventually, I got divorced and left Judaism behind and gravitated more towards Eastern philosophy; aspects of both Buddhism and Hinduism deeply resonated for me.  During my Kundalini Yoga teacher training, I was introduced to Sikhism which spoke to me as well.

Today, I call myself a Mystic.  And a Priestess when I’m not being shy.

All these terms say to me – “There is mystery and potency in the spirit realm and we don’t have to see it, touch it, understand it in order to feel it and know it’s powerful.”  Love is my religion.  Corny but true.  And…spirit belongs to everyone (not just special people who recite special prayers or pay special money to special priests, etc.)  Spirit is.  Spirit is in all of us…I am spirit (love,) you are spirit (love,) we are spirit (love.)  Make sense?

Eventually you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is.

– Gary Zukav