Divinely Human

DivineHuman

I’m not sure if it was the rainy day today that made me even more dreamy than usual or just the seemingly random events that occurred this morning.  I read a woman’s post on Facebook that said she remembered her birth, that there were bright lights flashing in her face as she entered the world.  I thought about this (and her) for most of the morning.  Marveling that somebody remembers her own birth.  I believe her.  It’s just that I don’t think there are many people that remember their own births.

I’ve been tripping out on that more and more.  How special each one of us is…and how really getting to know somebody (for me anyway) is like learning a new language.  Sometimes like becoming an expert in a whole new species, surrendering preconceived notions and judgements.

***

I am driving on the road, past where the body of a young raccoon has been decomposing for a couple of days.  I can smell it.  But today I see another raccoon, a big one, dead on the other side of the road.  “Oh no!” I exclaim.  I wonder if they’re related, was this the already decomposing one’s Mama?  My heart sinks as I touch my heart.

I have a vivid memory of riding  in the backseat of my grandparents car.  We passed a dead dog on the side of the highway.  I was shocked to see it.  I didn’t realize that this could happen.  That dogs could get hit by cars and their bodies could lie by the side of the road, cars whizzing by.  I spent the rest of the ride in silence, deeply saddened.  That was a gray day too.

***

Early this morning the phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number but I answered it anyway.  I rarely do that.  “Is this the Grief Support Network?” he asks.  “Well…not exactly”,  I answer.  Yes and no.  The hotline still transfers over to my cell phone even though I haven’t worked there in 6 months.  They don’t know how to fix it.

I start to go into a rambling explanation but then stop myself and ask if he is looking for support (sometimes it’s a sales person.)  He is.  He tells me what’s going on and I listen.  He explains to me that he has plummed the inky depths and also connected to his brightest divine nature.  “I can tell you get it,” he says.  And I do.  I am sitting at my computer in the darkness, having an intimate conversation with a “stranger”.

***

The older I get, the more I feel that each one of us speaks our own language and to really listen to somebody, to really get somebody, takes a certain amount of amazement and awe in humanity in general.  What delicate and finely-tuned creatures we all are;  senstive, unique, miraculous energy bodies that communicate on so many deep and subtle levels.   Right now, for me, this is the best show in town.  Peace and Love.

Passover 2017

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Just coming off a whirlwind weekend visiting a college with my oldest, soon to be 18, my daughter.

We landed in Denver and I stopped to fill my water bottle at Root Down, my favorite stop at DIA.  After filling it, I screwed the cap on tight and turned, just in time to see a man being wheeled past, only a few feet from me, a swarm of paramedics administering CPR.  I could see his chest going down and up, an alarming amount of distance really, it was not natural, not at all.  They were pumping his chest with their hands.  He was wheeled down some hallway I’ve never noticed before – the whole thing happened in seconds.  “This is an emergency” I thought.  I sucked in my breath.  It did not look good.

Right there in terminal C a man was possibly dying.  Probably dying by the look of the whole scene.  I shut my eyes and felt the tears.  Heading down the escalator to the train, I wanted to stop and tell the people swarming from the doors, “There’s a man possibly dying up there!”   Life and death so close.

Of all the things I kept thinking about this weekend, “Life is Short” was one of the most prevalent thoughts.  Memories of my girl as a toddler, scenes of her as a youngster, bed time, reading her stories, singing to her.  Watching her struggle and falter and careen into some hard years.

Now a young woman, going to college.  Beautiful big eyed girl.  At ease (mostly) with herself and with life.  She’s ready.  I watch her from a distance.

Leaving the airport, we drive straight to her dad’s house.  It’s Passover and we are going to his “Bob Marley” Seder.   Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery and people will play instruments and sing Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.

On the way, we stop and pick up my daughter’s boyfriend.  I hear her in the back of the car whispering to him, “You are part of this family”.  We arrive and the table is crowded with friends and relatives and exes and children.  We open the door for Elijah.  As usual, everyone is starving as we slog our way through the Haggadah – the book we read that tells us what Passover means and why we celebrate as we do.

On this night I sit between my son and my friend Starling.  There is laughter, and the usual chaos.  There are people complaining that they’re hungry, and children who would like to drink more wine, there’s raucous singing, and music breaks for more Bob Marley songs, there’s dancing, and food.  And more food!  Tsimmis (my favorite), and brisket, and smoked turkey with gravy, and matzah and charoset and soup and gefilte fish.  Everyone is stuffed.

I look around the table.  There is love.  There is forgiveness.  There is laughter and subtext.  History.  There have been heart-aches and illness and crises and hard times.  Tonight we celebrate Redemption – being saved from sin and error and gathering together to celebrate another year with love and grace.

I raise a glass and thank the cooks.  And I remember the people that can’t be with us; the people that can’t be here and the people that have passed before, and yet they feel so close tonight.  And I say a prayer for the man at the airport and his family.  We all drink.  L’Chaim.  To Life.  Life is short.  We are all part of this family.

I do the dishes.  The kids stay at their dad’s.  My heart is full with just a tinge of sadness.  The full April moon follows me on my ride, lighting up the mountains that wait silently for me to arrive, home.

 

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds

Have no fear for atomic energy

‘Cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look? Ooh

Some say it’s just a part of it

We’ve got to fulfill the Book

Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

-Bob Marley

Meditation for Trauma – Love for Orlando

A friend of mine has traveled to Orlando to offer free therapy to those affected by the recent tragic event that took place at Pulse.  He asked me if I would make a meditation available for people struggling with their emotions in the aftermath of this traumatic event. I am honored to be of service in this way. Through posts on Facebook and watching the news I see how this act of violence ripples out to the community, the country and the rest of the world. My prayer and deepest wish is that this offering may give somebody out there a moment of peace, comfort, and a knowledge that they are not alone. That we are ALL in this together. And if one suffers, we all suffer. Please feel free to share this link with anyone who you think could use it.

Ode to a Dog

Ohhh this one hurts.

Meditation dog.  Never sat down to meditate without my sidekick showing up.  Had her own sheepskin but she would usually crawl in to my lap midway through the set.

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A little too full-figured for a lap dog.  She didn’t care.

Silly dog – people would smile at the sight of her.  Some would ask to take her picture.  She made me laugh.  Every day.

Drove to Texas with Lili to get her at 8 weeks old.  She was the size of a baked potato.  A baked potato with huge ears.

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When she was happy she would roll on her back and make strange choking sounds.

Everyone thought she was a boy.  “Don’t they see the pink harness?” I would ask myself out loud.

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She loved me.  My god the devotion.  She would whine outside the bathroom door for me.  When I traveled she would go on hunger strikes and suffer bouts of depression.

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Had to stand on my lap in the driver’s side looking out the window on car rides.

Flew on the airplane like a champ.  My “emotional support” dog.  She would fall asleep as soon as the plane took off.  Lying across my lap, occasionally farting.  Nobody seemed to care.

Her breath was terrible.  All her life.

She was unafraid.  She would challenge the largest deer.  Shrilly barking at the nonplused herd.  I thought she would get brained one day by a sharp cloven hoof.

She was Mr. Magoo blind.  Unaware one time that a large red fox was stalking her in our backyard.  I had to run out in my socks and scare it away.  Then she barked like a mother fucker.

Dare I say it, she could strike quite the elegant pose in her old(er) age.

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I burn with shame to say that I don’t remember the last walk I took her on.  I’ve been pretty busy the past several days.  And it’s been snowing.  Not her favorite weather condition.

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The last two nights of her life she slept uncharacteristically close to me, up by my pillow.  It was cold outside, I didn’t mind.  Sweet comforting presence of her, snuffling and snorting.

Her last day, she ate a good breakfast – rotisserie chicken and kibble.  She took a nap with me on the couch.  I’m wracking my brain to think of what else she did.  Barked at a puppy – as was her way.  Not very friendly to other dogs, sorry to say.  She skipped dinner – that should have been a huge red flag.  She enjoyed her meals.

Last night, I came downstairs to turn off the lights.  In hindsight, I do think it was strange that she hadn’t already made her way up to my bedroom.  I saw her sleeping on the rug in the TV room.  I called her name and she didn’t wake up.  Not strange though as she’s become hard of hearing lately.  I stretched my hand out.  She was cold.

Linda called her “soulful” and that felt too deep to me at first.  I found her subtlety dismaying.  Never a licker or a tail wagger (she didn’t really have one) her face was a mystery.  Poker face extraordinaire.

She was my heart companion.  For ten years Ruby has been by my side.  When I cried, she would charge her way to my side.  Concerned.  Present.  A reassuring weight.  Her favorite place was on me or right beside me.  Always.  So “soulful” it is.  I can see that now.

I am chagrined to note that in all my “death” experiences of being and sitting with people and animals that are dying, I was a basket case when it came to this.  I was afraid to touch Ruby and I felt totally freaked out, like I wanted to run or throw up or both, simultaneously.

Grateful to my kids for their compassion and kindness last night, to my sweet friend who stayed up until 1am with me on the phone and to my sister Linda who came over this morning and did what I couldn’t.  She helped me get Ruby out of the cardboard box in the garage, set up an altar with sweet flowers, candles, oils and incense.  And chanted Akals to my soulful heart companion, Ruby.  Then she helped me wrap her in the same sheet we had wrapped her beloved mastiff, Juno, in just a few weeks ago and bundled me in her car, while I held Ruby in my arms, kissing her sweet nose, and drove me to the vet, where I left her to be cremated.

No way to fill a hole like this one.

RIP Ruby.  You are missed.  You are loved.

August 9, 2006 – April 28, 2016

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

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

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Kindness Matters

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On Sunday, as I was going through security at DIA,  I saw a TSA agent help an elderly man who was struggling with his backpack.  It was a busy morning and people were rushing to empty their bins and put their shoes back on, and the man was trying to quickly exit the security area but his backpack strap was tangled and he couldn’t get his arm through.  The TSA agent reached over and lifted up the pack so that there was more room to maneuver and the man  was able to put his pack on.  Tears stung my eyes at this simple act of kindness between strangers.

Last week I sat vigil with a man who was dying.  I do this as often as I can, but what was different about this time was that he was conscious.  Not just awake but aware.  This was a first for me. It’s one thing to walk in as a complete stranger and sit with a person who is dying when they’re unconscious, but to walk in to somebody’s room when they’re alive and present seems presumptious at best and intrusive at worst.  In that moment I had to push ego aside (“Will I be good enough?”, “What do I have to offer?”, “Who am I to be here?”) and say a prayer to be of service.  To say he was gracious would be an understatment.  Welcoming me into his journey, his transition, with a smile and a whispered “hello”, it was his kindness that allowed me to access my highest self and connect on a soul level for a brief period.  We prayed together, I stroked his magnificent head and laid my hand on his heart.  To love freely, without any thought of past or future, is to truly be present and timeless.  The gift was all mine.

I looked up the definition of compassion and learned that it translates as “suffering together.”  And it’s not just about suffering – when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.  Compassion generates more compassion.  Beautiful.

Yesterday I shared a burden with a friend and she cried for me as I could not.   I was numb and all cried out.  Even though my heart was heavy, seeing the kindness, the compassion, in her eyes, gave me a sense of peace and I felt lighter, less alone.

“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion. ”  

-Dalai Lama

 

The story doesn’t end here…

 

"The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn't"
“The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn’t”

This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time and had no idea how to start. It’s about a subject that is sensitive and personal. It’s about Suicide. I personally know a lot of people who have chosen to end their lives.

Everyone had different circumstances and methods – some had Aids related dementia, some were chronically ill, others were clinically depressed (despairing in a darkness that no light could reach), some were a complete shock and some were unfortunately hinted at and worried about before the actual deed was carried out.

When my mother’s partner Fred was experiencing a soul crushing depression three years ago, I wrote to him and asked him to live for his son and grandchildren – telling him that suicide was not a legacy he would want to leave his grandsons.  Advice I gave from personal experience.

I was 25 when my maternal grandfather hung himself.   In his goodbye note he misspelled my mother’s name. He took his life on his wedding anniversary and his body was the first thing that my grandmother saw when she came downstairs to make breakfast. Every night after that, for months, I would wake up at 4am with heart palpitations – hyperventilating, unable to breathe.  Only a trip to the emergency room assured me that yes, my heart was strong and I wasn’t dying of a heart attack.  Just suffering from an overly sensitive nervous system.  I wish I had known then about grief and how it can manifest in the body and how we can experience the phantom symptoms of our loved one’s illness or death.

I have no wise insight into why people commit suicide or how I could have prevented anyone I knew from taking their own lives.  I do know that the people I knew were in a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I also know that I can’t force anyone to want to live. It doesn’t work that way although I wish it did.

Fred hung himself from the garage rafters and my mother found him as she pressed the garage door opener, returning from church.  In his note he asked for her forgiveness.  He ended his story.

It’s been a tough year for me and I haven’t felt able to talk about it much.  Mostly because it didn’t feel like my story to tell.  My daughter has been struggling with anxiety and depression.  At times she’s struggled with wondering what the point of it all is.  This has rocked me to my core.  She is my heart.  My moon.  My love.  My life.  I’ve been stretched to my parenting limits and stretched some more.  The gifts that have come from these several months are still unfolding but already I am grateful to experience first-hand the tenderness of strangers, the circle of tribe, the ties of blood, the howling fierceness of mother love, the tempering of my will, and the sweet grace of surreneder.

The semi-colon movement was brought to my attention by my husband.  The movement is for anyone who has ever self-harmed or has tried to commit suicide.  On April 16 they are asking people to draw a semi-colon on their body in solidarity with them.  A writer uses a semicolon to continue a sentence and uses a period to finish one.  The semicolon is a sign of hope. The sentence doesn’t end here.

PS – the picture above is my new tattoo I got today.  Whenever it started to hurt, I thought of my girl and all the pain she’s been through and put all my love for her back into the ink.  The story doesn’t end here…

 

For Bill, Joe, Ives, John, Sarah, Frank, Stephen, Tim, Mary, Fred, and everyone everywhere who just couldn’t bear one more day and all those who loved them.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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last night boat ride

Mother India and the River of Love – Part 1

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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