All my life I’ve been traveling. I was born in Maine and at one and a half, moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Another country, another culture, another climate. At four, in the middle of winter, my mother and I left the Meditteranean and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, newly divorced in the late 60’s. At eight, my mother re-married and we moved to Oberlin, OH where academia coexisted with rural poverty and racial tensions of the early 70’s. After two years, we moved to Lake Forest, IL, listed in the “Preppie Handbook” as one of the 10 preppiest towns in the United States. I moved from place to place feeling like an alien. This is a pattern that has repeated itself my entire life. Always moving, trying on the new customs, reinventing myself.
One of the things I have always loved about traveling to India is the feeling that I am so far from anything familiar that it forces me to let go of any outward identity my ego may cling to to define myself: parent, wife, hospice volunteer, runner, home owner, etc. The only thing I have in India is the over-arching requirement to stay present.
I read somewhere that gold fish grow to the size of their bowl. If they’re swimming around in a tiny glass, they will stay that size, if they’re put in an aquarium, they will grow larger. The Bay Area is a much bigger fish bowl than the the one I’ve been living in. And I feel…free. I feel anonymous. I feel alive with possibility.
The past several days have been jam-packed with moving and arriving and storing and unpacking. It’s been exhausting. Yesterday was the first day I had a glimpse of the ocean. I forced myself to drive in afternoon traffic and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped my hat off. I stood at the shore, turned off my music and consciously welcomed myself home. In that moment, I knew that this land isn’t home. I know it’s cliche, but still I want to share. I am home. I am my home. Wherever I choose to go, I will always be home.
That said, I also had the realization (for ME) that 16 years is too long to yearn to be somewhere else. I feel a peaceful joy to be back, this multi-cultured holy land where I am both completely unknown and deeply loved.
My kids are having some last adventures with family this month and in September we will all meet up and take my daughter to college and then Harlan and I will begin Road School 2017 for the fall semester. Just like a blank canvas can inspire the painter, the open road calls to my soul – it always has. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I look forward to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” me, mile by mile.
This Spring, my son announced that he had two life goals: quitting school and living in a van. His love of learning has been with him from infancy, but ever since 6th grade, he’s slowly and progressively been losing interest in school. Over the past four years, I’ve watched the light go out of his eyes while in the traditional educational system.
By April, things had spiraled rapidly downward; my son was depressed, uninspired and feeling powerless to change his life. Uncharacteristically, he wasn’t getting up in the morning, he was isolating from friends and was refusing to go to school. I had no idea what to do or how to help him. Finally, at a crisis point, Harlan opened up to me. What I heard more than anything was that he really and truly doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to “drop out”.
As I listened to him, I had an “Aha!” moment. What if we “Dropped In” and hit the road? What if we took this Fall Semester of 2017 and he got to live and learn in real time, in the real world, seeing life through the eyes of a traveler? As a mother, I knew I needed to act quickly to come up with a creative solution that might serve to inspire my son into not giving up. Since nothing traditional has worked (and we’ve tried it all), I wanted to come up with an out-of-the-box learning opportunity that would spark his innate curiosity.
Without knowing exactly how I could pull it off, I proposed the idea of living on the road this Fall to Harlan. Almost instantly, like pumping a bicycle tire with air, I watched him come back to life. He became motivated and finished 9th grade. He joined a gym and is working out daily. He’s working with an inspiring mentor who is teaching him about meditation and healthy living. We’re training for our first Sprint Triathlon in October. He has a summer job and is saving money for the trip. We’re working with an educational consultant to design a personalized curriculum for Harlan.
We’re plotting our itinerary on the map:
Vancouver to Baja from September through December.
Along this route, we will be researching people and places that inspire us, in order to learn from these interactions. Together with an educational consultant, we will design a curriculum that Harlan resonates with; creating projects that involve writing, music, photography, and natural science – all with the rich backdrop of the Pacific West to support his education.
Since I have announced our decision to hit the road this August, miracles are happening. People are reaching out with places to stay, well wishers are offering words of support, and we are packing up and moving out of our home on July 31! Finances are an issue. I’m a single mom navigating work, life, and parenting two teenagers, the oldest of which is heading off to college in September.
I’m a grief counselor. I work with people who have lost a loved one and are navigating life without the person they love. I have teenagers. I know angst. I have lost family members to suicide. I have close relatives that struggle with clinical depression. I know life is short. And mysterious and powerful and awe-inspiring. I know that I love my son with all my heart and will do anything within my power – anything – to help him get the light back in his beautiful brown eyes. And yes, that means even asking for money, something I’ve been raised never to do. I’ve started a Go Fund Me Campaign, called Road School 2017, to help with our costs.
Donations will go toward:
Online Educational Consultant
Educational Experiences (e.g. Museums, State Parks)
NOTE: 5% of what we receive in donations will go to Pacific Sands Academy, a program that offers an accredited, interest-led, passion-driven independent studies program for teens. This money will help families afford an alternative choice for children who may be struggling with the traditional educational system.
There is no training manual for what Harlan and I will are about to embark on, but there is a road map – the one he and I will follow along the highway. As a parent, my job is not to mold him into a smaller, younger version of myself, but to hold a safe container large enough for him to expand his wings. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I want to introduce my son to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” him. Stay tuned, Road School starts late August 2017! #roadschool2017
Harbin Hot Springs. My soul-home. My screen saver. My compass. My place of healing and refuge. My recurring dream. My holy land. When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply. I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow. I’m home.
At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California. It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin. It was love at first sight. And I’ve been going ever since.
I’ve spent half of my life here. I’ve gone in all seasons. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year. I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform. I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.
I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively. Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces. I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore. All inside of me. Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up. 7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication. I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.” I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again. True story.
In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni. A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to. I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters. I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME. Harbin has received me in all ways, always.
I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog. I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother. I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen. I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent. Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried. I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.) I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love. Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.
I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands. I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin. I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again. I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely. I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.
This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership. I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.) I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.
This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire. The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.” Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end. My heart hurts. This fire did not happen to me, I know that. My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event. And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home. Harbin reconnected me with my past. She is showing me my future. And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.
I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass. My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back. I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge. I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo. This land, this place is in my DNA. I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not. But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient. I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths. I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me. I will thank her for giving me my lover. And I will kiss her softly. Everywhere.
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. – Kahlil Gibran
The second chakra is about pleasure, sensuality, touch, sexuality, creativity, fire, passion, life. Its essence is water. When open, there is an openeess to intimacy, an ability to express oneself freely, and a level of comfort with one’s sexuality.
When I was 25, living in the Midwest, I knew I was ready for a change. I wanted to move west and applied to several colleges in WA, OR and CA. I flew out to Eugene for a school visit and then drove down the coast of Oregon with a friend and landed in the Bay Area. We stayed with some friends of hers in Berkeley in a communal household that seemed like the “overground” railroad stop for dead-heads and free spirits. Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore. The beauty of the Berkeley hills, the smell of jasmine in the air, the bountiful potlucks and the constant stream of colorful people coming in and out of the house awakened my yearning for life, like a hibernating bear smelling the winds of Spring.
One day we drove to “Red Rocks”, a nude beach just south of Stinson. It was my first nude beach. We parked on a cliff and hiked our way down. Far below, I could make out tiny brown people playing Ultimate frisbee (naked!) in the sparkling surf. A few hours later, I was splashing in the waves, feeling the water on my bare skin and throwing a disc, leaping and jumping with abandon. I felt like I was “home” and free in a way I had never experienced before. I was sold. I flew back to Illinois, packed up my car, grabbed my cat and drove back to Berkeley to the purple house on Oregon Street to begin my new life in CA.
That was 24 years ago.
Along the way, there has been plenty of “life” to fill in those 24 years. College, Grad School, work, lovers, marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, friendships, yoga teacher trainings, ceremonial arts training, Reiki training, hospice training, work, travel. Somewhere in all of that living, I think I lost sight of that free-spirit that is my nature. One day, sitting in a women’s circle, the facilitator asked “If you were to die today, would you feel like you had reached your fullest sexual potential?” I was shocked at how fast my mind screamed “NO!”
It’s virtually impossible to be a woman in this society and not have experienced unwanted sexual energy/attention at best, and sexual abuse at worst. At 13, I was my full height (5’9″) and looked much older than I was. I attracted male attention and had no idea what to do with it, I became overwhelmed and shut down. I also had an aura of shame about this attention, as if somehow I had done something to make these men think they could speak to me inappropirately or touch me intimately. I was confused and scared. A part of me – my second chakra – closed down. “The second chakra is water ruled. Water holds emotional memories of past hurts and sexual abuse. Deep healing is possible through this sacred vortex. With great love and care it is possible to reclaim one’s eternal innocence and purity.” (from the Triple Goddess Tarot)
This year, 2014, has been the year of consciously reclaiming my “eternal innocence.” I am rediscovering my true nature; which is a sensual, creative, free-spirited being. As I near 50, I ask myself, “If not now, when?” This is my one good life in this body and I want to make it memorable and potent! On the winter solstice last year, I set an intention to do the Level 1 training at the Human Awareness Institute. The Level 1 workshop is titled “Love is a Miracle” and focuses on opening the heart, accepting and loving your body, and experienicng love and trust with others, among other things. When I looked at their website, all I saw was “Love, Intimacy and Sexuality Workshops” and it was an edgy step for me to sign up to do this weekend – solo! I can’t speak highly enough of the caliber of facilitation, the sweetness of the participants and the potency of the exercises I was lead through over the course of the weekend. The other men and women who were in the training were sweet, courageous, gorgeous souls that I connected with deeply. It was life changing for me. Deep bow to my husband for letting this butterfly fly free and be there to greet me upon my return. I know he is feeling the benefits of my deeper love and kinder heart. I’m in love with the world right now, and it feels amazing!
Yesterday, in Santa Cruz, I went to the nude beach and met up with some friends. We played frisbee in the sparkling surf and I felt alive and embodied – sprinting across the sand, leaping in the air to catch the disc, diving in the waves. There were moments of pure joy of movement where the appreciation for my body bubbled up within and I laughed outloud. I felt ageless, beautiful and sexy. I thought to myself…”If I die tomorrow, I hope my friends remember me just like this.” This is my essence, my second chakra spinning freely, an orange disc. Afire with Shakti, sensual goddess, my passion for life dripping off of each strand of hair, empowered with Light and Creativity.
May all things move and be moved in me and know and be known in me. May all creation dance for joy within me. -Chinook Psalter