Go With The Flow…


Udaipur, November 2015.
Traveling in Udaipur. Early morning breakfast. Nice looking man nods good morning and asks waiter for coffee “now”. Soon he is talking to the two men eating breakfast with their baby. A conversation starts up and the coffee drinking man says he lives in Santa Cruz. The couple say they are from The Bay Area and one of them grew up in Santa Cruz. This gets my attention as I have just spent the last three years splitting my time between Boulder and Santa Cruz. I have to say something right!? Before you know it we are all sharing synchronistic connections and stories. The solo gentleman brings his wife up to join the party (by now we are all clustering around each other excitedly) and we share MORE common threads. “You worked at Levi’s? I did too!” “Your kids were born at Alta Bates? So was my daughter!” The end result is an invitation for all of us to dine together that evening for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the dads is Indian born and takes the initiative to find us the perfect Indian restaurant that serves traditional Indian thali – a platter with tiny metal bowls filled with delicious bites of delectable vegetarian fare. As plans are made and some of us disperse for showers or planned adventures, Kate and I finish our coffee/tea with the couple from Santa Cruz. They are talking about how they love their beach home – having lived there for a year after retiring and moving from the East Bay. They love the flowers, their garden, the Monterey Bay. And just like that, as we speak of dolphins and whales, I feel the tears start to sting my eyelids. Part of me thinks “Oh no, not here!” and part of me just notices the tears – no stopping them. Let them come.

Rishikesh, January 2015.

I began this year in India as a married woman. When friends hear I’m officially divorced, almost all of them say ” Wow that was so fast!” and I think to myself “Maybe for you.” I can see their point. I guess it does seem fast from the outside looking in.

I have never worked harder to keep a relationship going than this one. Ever. And somewhere along the line it started feeling like I was caught in a rip current and the water was going up my nose and pressing me hard but I kept holding on to a tree root and shouting “hang on!” All the while the waves were crashing into my face and I kept clinging. We were both exhausted. And at some point, in April to be exact, I let go.  This ending has been years in the making.

Rishikesh, December. 2015.

11 women are joining us in India. Like individual tributaries, they flow separately and we will all meet in Rishikesh tomorrow; joining together to form one Radiant Tribe. As I type, some of us are in the air, flying over the top of the world in an arctic airstream. This is the first time I have been in India as a single woman. I wonder, as I prepare for our group’s arrival, what lives for each of them – what stories do they have to share? All the individual flavors and colors of them – of all of us – that will soon blend together into a beautiful masala. A lot of our time together will be spent on the banks of the Ganges – in fire ceremony, bathing and making offerings to the river. Mata Ganga – Mother Ganges. The only Hindu goddess that takes the form of water, residing in Shiva’s matted locks, Ganga is fluid in her grace.

India 2015.

Always a land of powerful transformation for me. In my experience, the easiest way for me to traverse India – literally and figuratively – is to cultivate and maintain an attitude of surrender. No agenda. Magical experiences happen for me on days where I have no attachment to plans and I can flow from one experience to the next.

As my tears well up and spill out in Udaipur, grieving the loss of my ocean town, and another layer of grief regarding the end of my marriage, my new friends draw closer. The woman shares that she too mourns the loss of a relationship and even now, 20 years later, she can feel unexpected grief. As she tears up, her husband hands her a tissue. They invite me to visit them in CA. Generous with their compassion.

I can’t think of a better place for me to mark the end of this year than in Rishikesh. I never want to will a relationship into being again. Ever. I am finding that it’s easier to go with the current vs. hang on to the banks. The river that had been pummeling me over the past two years swept me up in its arms and carried me down, out of the froth and I floated. I’m on a rich and beautiful ride. Yes, sometimes it can get bumpy but it keeps moving and I lift up my feet so I can float better.

In the next 10 days I will be sitting in ceremony releasing that which no longer serves, washing away past experiences and baptizing myself anew – creating the next chapter of my life and witnessing and supporting our group to do the same.
I feel safe in the rhythm and flow of ever-changing life.  – Louise Hay

This Story Continues…

armtats
Photo by Anna Yarrow

Our two arms together say everything.  So different and yet similar.  Here she is at 16, tender skin with battle scars.  There I am, with my semi-colon tattoo I got when I didn’t know what else to do, how else to support my girl when she didn’t think she wanted to live. I just couldn’t believe the story was going to end this way!  Spoiler Alert:  The guy doesn’t get the girl in the end.  But I do.  Get the girl.  At least for now.  For a little more time.  And I’ll settle for that.

When I brought Lili home from the hospital at three days old, I knew then that I didn’t have a clue about parenting.  How was I going to keep this tiny human being alive?  I’m embarrassed when I see these photos of her first day home.  The first one is of me crying, looking like a child myself, holding her.  The second photo is me, back in my hospital gown (that’s right, I changed BACK into my hospital gown even though I was at HOME) and got right into bed.  I wished I could have stayed at the hospital, where the nurses knew what to do and I was supervised at all times.

  • From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I loved Lili.  That was the first thing I said when the doctor placed her on my chest: “I love her.”  I look back at the early years of raising her and I ache over the mistakes I made – some big, some smaller.  But there were also shining moments too, where my natural instincts to nurture and protect and supply entertainment were present.  Parenting has been a humbling experience to say the least.  One that has broken my heart open and brought me to my knees many times over.Lili was just three days into her 15th year when her dad and I made the impossible decision to sign custody of her over to strangers.  Before he signed on the dotted line, her dad looked up at me, hand shaking and asked “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”  All I could say was “I don’t know.”  But I knew that we couldn’t keep her safe anymore.  Lili was clinically depressed and anxious and her self-harming behavior had become extremely dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.

    The year leading up to this decision to send her away, and the first several months of her being gone, were the hardest time of my adult life.  I fell apart.  I would see friends at the grocery store and turned away to avoid conversation.  I sobbed when friends posted pictures on Facebook of their daughters dressed up for homecoming, celebrating “normal” milestones that we weren’t having.

    I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in my life and I certainly couldn’t control it, so I had to surrender.  I didn’t do it readily or gracefully.  In fact, I was a wee bit rebellious at first.  I was advised to “do my work” by the therapists at the program Lili was in and let her do hers.  I hated when they would say that!  I was sad.  I was grieving.  My daughter was gone.  I was angry.  I didn’t want to do any “work”.  And truth be told, I was fucking exhausted.  I needed a break.

    I spent 3 months in Santa Cruz on the beach.  I went to yoga, I spent time with my other kids, and I started to “do my work.”  Which meant excavating some old territory that I really would rather not have looked at, like my childhood and my marriage(s) and mistakes I made as a parent.  As a mom, I’ve had to sit in the fire of my own guilt and shame around choices I’ve made, even as I understand that I was doing the best I could.  Rough terrain.  Although there were many days of darkness, my mantra became:  “I trust the universe” because even though my life seemed tragic (to me), I wanted to believe, needed to believe, there was a greater reason for what was happening.

    While Lili was learning more about herself and getting honest, I was taking a long look at my life and noticing what was and wasn’t working in it.  She and I are both at turning points in our lives.  After 20 months of hard-ass work, Lili is graduating from her program and coming home and my marriage is ending.  My divorce is final next month.  I’ve done this as consciously and kindly as possible and I’m proud of how Andy and I have both shown up, with a few bumps along the way, but mostly, with open hearts, love and respect.

    When Anna Yarrow said she had some sessions open for her Spirit and Bone project, I was excited to have a photo representation of this potent time.  The words “Spirit” and “Bone” are strong – and sinewy and bloody – kind of like the past couple of years.  Gritty.  And Lion hearted.  The hero’s journey down into the abyss and back up again.  I have grieved what I thought I knew, who I thought I was, what I thought the future held.  I am more open to what actually IS now, and I look forward to welcoming my daughter home – who she has become, what she is showing up as and beginning this new chapter in my life as well.

    trees1bwE
    Photo by Anna Yarrow

When Friendships End…

Three years ago, over the course of three months, I lost 3 friends.  They didn’t die, they dumped me.  All of these relationships ended abruptly and each one of them came as a surprise to me.  I’d love to have a nice new age explanation for why these friendships ended – like, it was time for anything and anyone that doesn’t serve to end – but all I really know, is that they did.  End that is.

I didn’t want anyone to know that someone I had considered one of my closest friends no longer wanted to be in relationship with me.   You know that phrase “You’re only as sick as your secrets?” well I kept this a secret for a long time.  Only my husband and one or two close friends knew.  Recently, as I was confessing all of this to another friend, she shared that she had recently had some friendships end too. “There’s no term for friend divorce.” she said.  As we spoke, I realized that I’ve been carrying a sense of shame about these endings and feeling very secretive about it.  I can feel guilt and hurt, but carrying shame is toxic.  Why is it that the very thing I am embarrassed about in myself, I can accept and understand in somebody else?  I wonder if other women are walking around feeling shame about friendships that have ended.

sad me
sad me, feeling vulnerable, 3 years ago

A few weeks ago, I was in a group that was studying with Ann Drucker, and we were discussing the shaman practice of “dismemberment.”  In a shamanic journey, it can be common to experience dismemberment by one’s spirit guide.  This is a unique experience for each person, but it’s common to be literally torn apart, limb from limb, or eaten/ingested so that there is nothing left of you.   The spirit guide does this with great intention and service to the individual, in order to tear down and clear away the old, what no longer serves, ego.

Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process.  It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier.  Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth.  It’s seeing through the facade of pretense.  It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.  – Adyashanti

I started thinking about my past relationships and wondered if on some energetic, karmic plane, these particular friendships were dismemberment gifts to me.  I have no idea, but I can say that looking at these endings with this lens is comforting.  I felt totally naked, exposed, raw when these friendships ended – one in particular.  She wrote me an email and said terrible things to me about my character – things I would never have thought a friend would say – I did feel like my heart was ripped open – the same way a Jaguar spirit animal might eat my flesh.  But what if that was the gift?  I hardly ever know why things happen the way they do…that’s actually one thing I’m looking forward to when I die – I hope I get let in on the mysteries of life!  But I do trust the universe.  And I do trust that these friendships ended for a reason.

Fast forward to last week, sitting in my car, on the phone with a friend, both of us confessing about our ended relationships and both of us realizing that we carry shame and secrecy around this.  As we talked, she gave me a gift.   She said “People are complex.  We have our faults.  We’re not perfect.  But I know this, if any one of those people reached out to you today and asked if you would meet with them, you would say “yes”, wouldn’t you?”  I said “Of course!”  and just like that, I re-membered myself.  I RE-MEMBERED myself!  All the shame, all the embarrassement, all the secrecy I’d been carrying for years started to lift.  Yes, I am imperfect.  I am horribly hormonal sometimes.  Ugh.  I am flawed.  But I am also unflinching in crisis.  I am always, always willing to try again.  I have a gentle and kind heart.  And my friend reminded me, to re-member who I am.  I AM.  And that is another gift of the shamanic spirit guide, after they dismember you, they re-member you so that you are complete. Whole.  It took me awhile to remember myself, years to be exact, but I am more whole today because of those friendships.

These days, I am filled with gratitude for the women in my life.  I am blessed to experience the level of intimacy in my relationships that I do.  I feel humbled with the abundance of love that is beamed at me, regularly!  I’m still me, I didn’t suddenly become the greatest person in the world.  I do keep working on myself and try to own my shit, when I’m aware of it.  The one common thread that all my relationships have currently is the quality of “leaning in.”  I can truly lean in to my friends and they can lean in to me.  Each of them have seen me in my rawness, my vulnerability and my imperfection and loved me anyway. Inspite of.  Because of.  Deep gratitude to the women in my life – all of them.  Past.  Present.  Future.

I'm FREE!
I’m FREE!

and PS – thank you to my husband who midwifed me through all my grief during that time, even as he struggled to understand what the big deal was.  I love you.

Magical Mystery Tour

This story is about love, all the good ones are.  And forgiveness.  Before there was that, an incredible amount of wrong-doing happened, because it seems we always hurt the ones we love most, don’t we?  As I type on this wintry night in Colorado, the coyotes howl right outside my back door, the sky darkest ink on this new moon.  The last few months have been a blur – a kaleidoscope of beautiful experiences colliding into one another and creating a smear of bright colors.  I haven’t had the time to stop and fully reflect on each moment and give them the time they deserve.  Each experience is worthy of its own chapter, so perhaps this post is just an outline for future writings, each experience building upon the next and setting the stage.  Here goes the continuous stream of miracles:

December 11th, my 50th birthday.  Friends gathered and a book was presented to me, with photos and writings from loved ones.  My god-daughter fanning me in the native american tradition with a hawk’s wing, her beautiful mother holding the smoldering cedar.  That night, on that birthday, for whatever reason, I was able to receive all the love directed my way and feel full.

IMG_4398

Early January,  Varanasi, India – under a full moon, on a sandbar in the Ganges, sitting with friends and strangers around a fire, I chant prayers for others, for my family, for myself, and make offerings with sweets, flowers and incense.  Of all my experiences in India, this remains one of the most generous and beautiful ones and I come back to it in my mind again and again.  I am not always given the gift of knowing how special something is in the moment, and this was one of those moments, one to remember and re-tell.

IMG_4969

 

IMG_5025

Mid January, Rishikesh, India I dipped in the frigid waters of Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges) with my 80 year old mother.  The night before I had led our group through a Kundalini yoga kriya called the Hour of Your Death and the next morning I led us in a rebirthing.  Smiles were wide, hearts were light and my mother and I embraced in the yoga room as everyone danced to Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison.  My birth had not been an easy one 50 years prior and this day felt like a do-over for both of us.  We all took our newly born selves down to the water for a dip.  There was a chilly fog that made things look even more mystical than they already felt.  I felt like daughter and mother all in one, watching over my mother gripping the chain in the rushing water.  We submerged, coming up baptized.

IMG_1300

IMG_1302

IMG_1309

IMG_1317

Early February, Boulder, Colorado.  My daughter came home for the first time in 10 months.  The breath I had been holding all this time, slowly exhaled as I felt her presence once again in my house, heard her voice, followed her trail of clothes.  She was home for a family occasion, the Bar Mitzvah of my son, her brother.  Family and friends came to witness this rite of passage.  My children’s father and I, divorced now for 11 years, put aside old quarrels and came together, united in our love for our children.  My husband (of almost 10 years) and I shyly presented ourselves at a family dinner where I would see friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the divorce.  Both grandfathers have died in the past 11 years and they were honored and spoken of.  Both grandmothers are alive and well and graced us with their presence.  In front of the congregation and our community, I released my baby and blessed him into manhood.  Symbolic of course, but powerfully potent like all ritual can be.  I felt it.  He did too.

IMG_5814

Last weekend, family therapy at my daughter’s school.  My ex-husband, my husband, my daughter and son and me.  We all showed up with vulnerability and an unflinching commitment to do our work.  There were moments of despair, pain, tears and also such compassion and tenderness.  The weekend was deep and hard.  The weekend was light and  full of love.  Forgiveness was the oil that kept us all on track, even if sometimes we looked like the most sorry-assed jalopy on the lot.  On the last night, before I had to leave, I held my daughter for over an hour, stroking her hair and singing to her.  Rearranging my DNA.  Deeply comforting.  Another rebirth.  Our own ceremony.

IMG_5877

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?