Greetings from my apartment. Tomorrow will begin week 5 of sheltering in place. By myself. I would never, ever have thought I could be alone for 4 weeks without going insane. What I “counted on” in life has either completely ended or radically changed. Between the news of the world, concerns for my family and community, and getting laid off, I’m processing A LOT! Falling back on my grief counseling experience, I am able to remind myself that it’s normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
Here in no particular order are a list of things that seem to be “working” for me – as in they bring me comfort, help keep me sane, elicit gratitude and even joy. Some of them are contradictory, and some things that work today may not work tomorrow. I’m sharing these with you with the hope that they may help, or you might laugh and see yourself in these. And also, I’ve been home, alone for 4 weeks, and I’m tired of talking to myself.
Getting outside every day, taking a walk
Not hating myself if I don’t get outside every day and take a walk
Smelling spring flowers (jasmine, hyacinth, daffodils = aroma therapy)
Finally hanging up the hummingbird feeder gift I got for Christmas
Watching the hummingbirds drink from the feeder, live TV
Looking for things to be grateful for right as I wake up, reciting them
Going for long bike rides
Praying for all the people suffering in the world
Ton Glen breathing/meditation technique
Getting into bed early (like 8pm)
Limiting my Zoom calls
FaceTime with my mom, staying in “close contact” with her
Texting with my kids
Checking in daily with a few friends
Not beating myself up about my messy desk or laundry pile
Laughing at COVID19 memes
Hula hooping to dance music
Yoga at home and with my Santa Cruz gang on Zoom
Thank God for Zoom!
Facebook!Seriously, so beautiful to be able to connect to humans virtually
Instagram (see above)
Reaching out to old friends (great college roommate zoom hangout the other day!)
Dancing in the living room, shaking it
Lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night
Virtual Seder (so sweet – next year Jerusalem!)
Bollywood films on Amazon Prime and Netflix
Amazon Prime and Netflix in general
Watching short, light, shows due to zero attention span
Not judging my TV choices
Getting up in the morning and making my bed, so I don’t get back in it at 9am
Establishing “order” by keeping the house clean, doing the dishes
Cooking delicious and thoughtful meals for myself
Freezing the leftovers
Being kind when I am not able to maintain the “order” of the house
Eating my greens!
Taking Bach flower remedy “Star of Bethlehem” for grief and shock
Reading stories on Zoom to preschoolers, seeing their faces every day, laughing
Checking in on my neighbors (2 lovely women on either side of me, both in their 80’s)
Finding out that PG&E reduced my energy bill to $8 this month
Wild Kingdom outside my window
My walking path
Makes me laugh
Cooking for 1
What’s Not Working:
No attention span for all the offerings (free or paid) on FB and Zoom
Really hard for me to meditate right now
Can only read a few pages at a time of books (see short attention span)
Long Zoom calls (short attention span again, overload)
Pep talks on how this is a perfect time to become awesome
Missing physical contact with people and animals (missing having a dog!)
Missing human contact in general
Wishing I could swim (all pools are closed)
Grieving all the fun things I had planned that have been canceled.(I had A LOT of things I was looking forward to)
Keeping fruits and veggies fresh (eating them before they go bad)
Wondering where/when I will ever be able to buy T.P. again, WTH America?
Not sleeping very well at night (lots of thoughts between 2 – 4am)
Looking at the FB Group “View From My Window” and comparing my view to everyone else’s
“The best work is done with either the heart broken or overflowing.” Mignon McGlaughlin
A favorite quote of mine. Sometimes the heart can be both broken and overflowing.
This past weekend was beautiful in California. All the winter rain has brought spring flowers, blossoming trees and the most life-affirming color of green everywhere! In the grasses, the leaves, the hillsides.
This past weekend was also my daughter’s 20th birthday. On April 20th. Which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I remember calling my father in Denver to tell him he had a granddaughter (his first grandchild) and he said “Thank God something good happened today.” He then told me the tragic news that had happened in Colorado. In the United States. Right on this phone call, our hearts breaking and overflowing.
15 years later, living in Boulder, the baby now a teenager. She was cutting her body. Depressed. Questioning life. 5 years ago today, I woke my daughter up at 5:30am and told her that we were getting on a plane. We flew to Durango and 2 wholesome looking strangers walked up to us and took my daughter away. (Staff from the Wilderness program her father and I had chosen.) I never exited the airport, just got on the next flight back to Denver.
Yesterday I got a text from a friend: “Call me when you can.” My first thoughts were ‘who died?’ and ‘who has cancer?’. The news: A friend’s son had taken his life. A howling black hole of wordlessness. Tears.
All I could do is cry and play this Mantra. Chattr Chakkr Vartee by Aykanna. It is a mantra used to remove fear, anxiety and phobias. It is a mantra to lift one out of despair. “Chattr Chakkr Vartee is the mantra for the heart center, it gives direct energy to it. When you are sinking, if you know this mantra and can sing it, you can totally recuperate yourself.” — Yogi Bhajan
Meditation class last night – I’m leading a group for some of the parents of the preschool I work at. Sweet, young parents of sweet, young children. It’s all about being in the now, practicing presence. I wondered how much to share at check-in. I decided to tell the group what I was sitting with – talking about heart ache. About child loss and parent grief. Appreciating the ‘ALL’ of life. Celebrating that both of my kids have bumped along in adolescence and for right now, just for today, they are both in such sweet places in their lives. Heart overflowing with love for both of them. It was a beautiful group, with tears, kindness and connection. Heart overflowing with love for these sweet, earnest parents, and their worries and their struggles.
I taught them a Buddhist meditation, that my dear friend Sue taught me many years ago. It’s my ‘go-to’ when there are no words. When I don’t know what to do, or say.
“Tonglen is one of the richest and bravest practices that we can do.This is one of the great meditation jewels that offers a way us to cultivate our natural mercy.”–Joan Halifax
The practice of Tonglen, or Giving and Receiving, is done to develop our compassion and our ability to be present for our own suffering and the suffering of others. Pema Chodron teaches that Tonglen is a practice of “sending and taking,” an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain. With each exhale, we send them relief. I like to think of myself as a being of light, composting the darkness. Breathing in the sorrow, transforming it and exhaling out love.
Get still, close your eyes, feel free to place your hands on your heart.Inhale through the nose and breathe in any painful emotion that may be coming up for you (shame, anger, rage, fear, anxiety, frustration, judgement).Stay neutral to the emotions, just breathe them in and allow them to be.On the exhale through the nose, release these emotions and cultivate acceptance and compassion for yourself.Allow the emotions to release through you and surround yourself with an energy of unconditional love.
Note: My daughter gave me permission to write and post this.
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.
I work with people with broken hearts. I am deeply touched by their stories, their tears, their longing. I am also touched by their resiliency and bravery; to seek support and be willing to share with strangers. I am heartened by the comfort these group members take from connecting with each other. It reminds me how much we humans are social creatures longing for connection.
What drives us to keep going? For me, it is the most basic and yet profound human experience I can describe: connecting from the heart with others. Love.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
They say we have star particles inside of us. It’s true. Look it up. I think this is as magic as it gets. I like to imagine that I used to be a star, before I came into this body. In my fantasy, I peek down on planet earth and I see people living their lives. Tucking their babies close to their hearts, right under their chins, breathing them in. Getting licked by their dogs and succumbing to their joyful, unconditional expressions of love. I see lovers, breathing, bodies moving, sensual awareness and electricity. Watch friends sharing a smile, no need for words. I admire a body running fast along a trail, legs pumping and lungs bursting. I would want that, as a star. To experience humanness. To BE.
“Sign me up!” I shout. “I want to feel! I want to touch. I want to love!“
But…the Universe answers…’In this full tilt, multifaceted life, there are ups and downs. Not every day is filled with laughter and joy. There is hardship and strife. Do you still want this?’ “Yes I do!” I exclaim without a second thought. “See ya!” and off I go without a backward glance. That is so me.
But that is just a fairy tale. And here I am. Alive. On Earth. And some days life feels excrutiatingly painful. My dog dies. My lover betrays. My baby grows up and pulls away. My friendships end. A relative takes his life. There are bills to pay. My body hurts when I run.
What do I do when life feels unbearable? I Isolate. Cry. Pray. Reach out. In that order.
I reached a very low point several weeks ago. I felt alone and out of choices. I was scared. I cried and prayed. Then I got up off my knees and I made a couple phone calls. To some “lifeline” friends. I wrote to my community and asked for daily texts through the month of October and people started signing up. Every day I would get a message of love and support on my phone. Some people sent inspirational poems. In just a few short weeks, I started to feel better. Uplifted even. I felt the loving connection of human contact and was filled with gratitude for the people in my life.
They say there are no accidents in life. The ongoing grief support group I had agreed to facilitate started during that time. I got to sit with people who where struggling with their grief; to witness people who loved so deeply that their hearts were broken when their person died. Being of service added meaning and depth to my life and I felt on purpose again.I am humbled and amazed at both the tenderness and ferocity of love. And the tenacious courage we humans – made of skin, blood, water and bone – access again and again to continue loving. Even when it breaks us.
Since I started letting people know about the online suicide support group that begins next Monday, I have been contacted almost daily by people who are suffering, sometimes years after their loved one’s death. Each person has held their grief tenderly in their hands and I have held out my hands to hold it with them for awhile. Not wanting to move too quickly or speak suddenly, wanting to keep the reverence of this moment. Being allowed to hear these sacred stories has been my honor.
Humans have a deep need to belong – to each other, to someone, to a group, to a purpose. After a traumatic loss like suicide, people tend to lose their bearings for a time. Who am I? What’s next? How do I keep going? What’s the point? are all questions that can come up. Gratitude can feel impossibly elusive. The main focus of the Suicide Loss Support Group is to connect people to each other. To share our stories and to learn to bear the beams of love – together.
Please share this information with anyone you think could be served by having a supportive community to belong to:
Suicide Loss Support Group: Losing a loved one to suicide can be extremly shocking and sad. There can also be shame or societal stigma associated with this type of loss. In this group, you will be connected with others who have each experienced this particular type of loss and have the opportunity to share your story with each other. This is a six week support group that meets online once a week. The group is open to 8 participants who have lost a loved one to suicide. Each week we will begin with an exercise (breath work, guided relaxation) to open the group. Everyone will have an opportunity to check-in with the group and share. There will also be topics for discussion and materials emailed weekly. There is no “homework” for this group, only handouts that are optional and ideally helpful. Cost for this group is $180 and includes 6 weekly group sessions and weekly materials that will be emailed to each participant. A pre-group screening call is required. To arrange a phone call, please contact me.
Dates and time: Mondays; 11/21, 11/28, 12/5, 12/12, 12/19 & 12/26 6:00 – 7:30pm MST Time
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error
I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery. I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect. I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days. What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly. And…it’s not for everyone. So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.
1-Play to Your Strengths
For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery. If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.
2 – Take Your Job Seriously
Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient. You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking. In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.
3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!
Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin. I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified. Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one. This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner. Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.
4 – Have Food in the House
Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!
5 – Rest
Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped. Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep. You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud. You need your sleep too!
6 – Show Some Emotion
Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed. Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment. Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)
A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.
1 – Don’t Forget to Eat
Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks! And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get. It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well. When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)
2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery
Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well. Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.
3. Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby
Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you. Once again, the patient will not think this is funny. Neither will the doctor.
4. Let It Roll
Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally. A lot of emotions can come up. It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time. The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant. Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there. The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea. (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)
5. Don’t Be A Jerk
In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition. Right? Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards. This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked. And even then, people, use your heads. Remember…this is a tender time. Tread lightly! No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.
6. Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together
Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them. To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence. It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.
Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara. I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.
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.
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
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.
“When we are heavy with the world’s sadness, call to us through Hawk’s cry, reminding us to look up and beyond, trusting in Spirit’s great design.” Tiphaine Bonetti
For years I have related to the hawk and have felt that hawk was one of my special animals. I would have dreams of hawks and sightings – close encounters. There is a connection between Hawk and Kundalini energy, some say hawk comes into your life only after Kundalini energy is activated.
Four years ago, my friend, Lance Gentry, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor. During the last year of his life, he saw many hawks and started to feel that they were messengers. We had some email conversations about hawk medicine and that’s when I started calling him “Brother Hawk”.
Around this time, Nancy and I would go for hikes and have heart-to-heart discussions about our life. I prayed for my life to have meaning and wished there was something I could do for Lance and his family. Nancy prayed for Lance.
“This powerful bird [hawk] can awaken visionary power and lead you to your life purpose. It is the messenger bird, and wherever is shows up, pay attention. There is a message coming.” from Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews.
In the Spring before Lance’s death, I got to spend more time with him, giving him Reiki and quietly sitting with him. I was able to let all the words I wanted to say to him, and all the love I felt for him flow through my hands, through my touch. His gift to me was that he received that love. We got to communicate without words…and share sacred time together…the biggest exchange of LOVE I had ever experienced with another human being that I wasn’t related to. It was a soul love, without form or expectation.
The day Lance died was a beautiful hot June day. He was at home, in his bed, made peaceful with morphine. A friend of Lance’s stopped by to see him and brought a hawk wing, not knowing that Lance had an affiliation with hawk, but feeling called to do it. Lance died 10 hours later, surrounded by dear friends and Nancy holding him in the bed and his mother by his side.
There was a beautiful ceremony for his life at the Shambala Center – a buddhist center here in town. His body lay in a cardboard casket. He wore his favorite hat and favorite T-shirt that said “Love More, Fear Less”. The hawk wing was placed on his chest. We kept Lance’s body on dry ice for 3 days and friends took turns staying with him so he was never alone, sleeping with him in shifts. It’s hard to describe the holy atmosphere of the place in the middle of the night, sitting in solitude with Lance, candles flickering, watching the room start to lighten with the morning sun.
After Lance died, so many people reported fantastic hawk sightings, myself included. Nancy had one experience with the kids where a hawk came flying right down the middle of the street towards them, at eye level, and flew right past them. They all felt that they had just had a visitation from Lance.
I am missing Lance and really missing that beautiful heart of his. It’s hard to lose something that feels that sweet. I had a dream about Lance the other day, and there he was in my dream, so loving and kind, smiling. It was good to feel him again. One thing I committed to, after Lance died, was to always let the people in my life know how much I love them…Lance taught me about being loving. He taught me that there is beauty and grace in openly loving people and not hiding it. After Reiki he would often say “I love you” and it felt so good to hear it from him. His face was open and radiant and all the love in his heart came pouring out of his eyes.