It was a thrill to be interviewed on Melanie Scott’s podcast: “Intentional Conversations” about the transformational potency of traveling in India. Click HERE to hear the full conversation. In our 48 minutes together, we share our love of India and travel as well as reminisce about our two trips to India together and some of our favorite experiences in this magical country.
In India, one can experience the gamut: giddy laughter, loving kindness from strangers, heart connection, unexpected friendships, communion with cows, encounters with monkeys, blaring horns, sublime sunsets.
And for those of you who can’t listen to the whole interview, the take away is that India has a way of showing us who we are, deep inside, and bringing us home to our selves. It is a heart-opening experience to travel to India. I hope you will join me this November for Enlightened Tours’ Journey to India, 2019.
Enlightened Tours has curated an experience that delivers daily opportunities to connect deeply to your Self and others; giving you plenty of time to nurture and restore with yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. Group activities as well as time on the Ganges, swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. Satsang with living saints. Stillness.
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.
Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah. Well, I guess it’s a theme for me. But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now. It’s called Embracing Loneliness.
Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive. Don’t laugh! Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive. It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people. I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down. Balance is a good thing. Praying for that. And working on it. Always.
Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is. Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself. All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me. Never! I’ve done so much on my own. I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc. You can probably get the picture. All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely. I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough. If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right? We’re all connected. So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely! Push it down. Call a friend. Judge myself. Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!
And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment. I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect. He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other. He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room! He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through. I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….? Wha??” He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.
I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel. What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief. I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day. I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes. What if I applied this to loneliness?
The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.
I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.
But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it. Letting myself go there. I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better. And guess what? Big surprise. It’s passing! Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome. In a poignant way. Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory. This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart. I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him. I notice the beauty of the falling snow. I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting. I am grateful to be in my own good company. I heat soup. I feed the cats. I walk the dog. I feel content. So simple. So big.
There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God. – Rumi
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.
Waiting for a boat to take Durga out
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.