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.

IMG_7098

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

End of an Era

Oh boy,  this week is going to be tough.  It’s taking me by surprise…Andy’s not surprised though.  He called it when Lili went to Kindergarten 9 years ago (!)

Lili's first day of school
Lili’s first day of school

I was complaining about how institutionalized the school seemed and how it was nothing like our awesome, Buddhist inspired preschool Alaya.   Andy said that I would become just as active in this school as I had been at Alaya, that I would make friends, and that I would be boo-hooing when my time at Crest View was over.  (A time which felt about one million years away, by the way.)  I vehemently denied all of his predictions.

Fast forward to now.  Lili is “graduating” from 8th grade and Baby Boy is completing 5th grade, and the time has come…one million years have passed, and it is the end of an era.  For almost a decade I have been walking, biking and driving to Crest View. I have volunteered.  I have fund-raised.  I have combed hair for picture day.   I’ve been a room mom.  I’ve stuffed Friday Folders.  I have made good friends.  And last week, when I rode my bike over to Crest View before school to put a ‘thank you’ card in the office for Harlan’s teacher, and the principal was cranking Pink Floyd (who knew?) and the office ladies smiled at me and Lili’s kindergarten teacher from 9 years ago waved to me, I realized I was the world’s biggest liar.  I am a wreck!  I’m not ready for this!

Harlan's first day of Kindergarten (with his best buddy Cade.)
Harlan’s first day of Kindergarten (with his best buddy Cade.)

I already know when I’m sitting at the 8th Grade Award Ceremony (that’s right, she’s getting an award) I will be making that awkward half smile face that signals to my kids that “Mom is trying not to cry but it’s not working because oh Geez, now she’s making these tortured half laugh/half cry sounds…look away and pretend you are not related because now she’s full on crying.”  What can I say?  I’m a cryer.

Then on Thursday, I will bike over to Lili’s 8th grade graduation and see a lot of kids that I’ve watched grow up since kindergarten walking across the stage looking like young men and women.  I will remember the Halloween parties and the play dates and the class field trips when they were so much smaller.  And I will cry.  And I will be proud of the young lady that Lili has become, even if she is ignoring me because I am crying.

bigWee
ready to fly

After the graduation, I will head directly over to Crest View for my final ever class party (how could this possibly be?) For 9 years I’ve been doing this.  I’ll scoop ice cream and congratulate kiddos.  Some of the other parents are in my shoes, this is their final year at this neighborhood school, and I’m guessing there will be tears…

growing up
growing up

I know the only constant is change. I also know that my kids are each ready for their new, bigger frontiers;  I trust them and their journeys.  Right now, I’m just saying goodbye to an era that I remember fondly and won’t happen again.  There is something poignant and beautiful in being present to a moment you know is impermanent…a stage in life you will never get to do over.  I loved living so close to school and being welcomed into the classroom, even if it was just to say ‘hello’ and give a hug.  I loved that the teachers knew my kids and kept a close eye out for them.  I loved being a mom to an elementary school kid.  I already know that Middle School is the dark void re. parental involvement.  I’m sure High School is even more so.  I am feeling this milestone with a mixture of heavy heart and gratitude for getting this far.  Grateful for the teachers and families that have been part of the ride.  Thank you.