Ode to a Dog

Ohhh this one hurts.

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

rubySadhana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her breath was terrible.  All her life.

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

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

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

ElegantRu

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.

RubyCold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No way to fill a hole like this one.

RIP Ruby.  You are missed.  You are loved.

August 9, 2006 – April 28, 2016

12 Do’s (and Don’ts!) Supporting a Friend Through Surgery

or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error

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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.

DO’s

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.)

DON’Ts

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.

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Isn’t she cute?

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.

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

Into the Mystic

whale

My husband shared an article with me about a whale “Varvara” who journeyed from Russia to Mexico and back again on a completely new migratory path – solo – setting a record for the longest migration ever for a mammal.

What made this she-whale venture into the watery deep,  without familiar landmarks or celestial navigation, creating a brand new migratory pattern, eschewing the ancient wisdom of her mother?  The article states: “she made her way from Russia to Alaska by swimming straight across the Bering Sea, an area with deep water and little in the way of landmarks to guide her. Instead of retracing her steps on the return journey, she swam a new path”.

“Varvara” I whisper to myself.  Something about this story touches a chord in my own mammal heart, and I can feel it beat faster as I shiver with wonder and awe at the enormity and solitude of this epic quest.  Something else, deeper still, thrums with recognition as I see my life unfold, making its own unique arc, separate from my mother’s path.  Forging my way into the deep, the dark, the uncharted.  I am sure there were many times that my mother wondered if I was lost, and sent prayers up to the starry sky that I would find my way.

I think of my own daughter, who has not taken any route I have painstakingly laid out for her.  She has stroked a new path – and I have wrung my hands and wept when I couldn’t see her, lost in the high seas of her choosing.  But I know, on a deep inner level, that my girl must be given the freedom to go her own way – trusting her own sonar, feeling the inner turnings of her compass.  And I must as well, setting out for more unknown, no manual, no familiar land mass, stepping into the mystery.  Re-birthing again and again and again.

On the eve of the new moon, Kelley Rosano has this to say about change:  “What happens when you have one foot in the boat (new life) and one foot on the dock (old life)? Yes, your butt ends up in the water. We do not have to know how the future will work out to move forward. You are being asked to have courage, faith and trust. You may begin a new life, a new career and a new relationship. These can be better than your wildest imagination.

The ego goes into fear because it can’t control what is happening. Control is an illusion. The only thing we can control is our response to what is happening. The ego is going into fear because you have never been here before. You are charting new territory. So, when the ego pulls up past occurrences that are fear based to understand your current experience. This too is an illusion.”

Lonely Hearts Club Band

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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.

coldRuby

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.

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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.

Early Morning Sunrise
Early Morning Sunrise

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

Chakra Series – 1st Chakra

This is my first post since May – I don’t even know how that could have happened, but in part, it’s due to writer’s block, which happened the day I signed up for a writer’s workshop in Esalen next July.  Another reason I haven’t written is that I have been on a summer vacation at the beach.  This summer I needed to relax and restore myself.  I wrote myself a perscription, this is what it said:  Have Fun.  And that’s what I did.  I went to yoga, rode my bike, ate good food, swam, paddled, played, parented, visited with friends and family, made new friends.  I went for a lot of walks with Andy and Ruby (my dog) and slowly, slowly, my nerves thickened, and my muscles toned and my heart started to reconnect itself.

My daughter hasn’t lived at home since April 23 (who’s counting?) I miss her terribly.  Even to write this I can feel the sting of tears behind my eye lids.  She’s away, receiving support, getting better.  We are here, receiving help, getting better.  I guess I haven’t felt much like writing since she’s been gone.  Grief is a parasitic creature, living off of my creative resources.  I’ve been in an intimate relationship with Grief this year, and I’ve danced all the steps – from disbelief, anger, resentment, refusal to despair, collapse, surrender.  Grief brought her gifts ridiculously early, on the very first day of Lili leaving, I was able to see them.  I continue to be touched by the kindness of others, the compassion of mothers, the love of my children.  But it still hurts – in an open-mouthed “O” of shock at times.  Some days I can’t even handle the grocery store because it’s too painful to see somebody who doesn’t know about my life, or does know and asks me about it.

For me, the first chakra, the root, is about being grounded.  It’s my sense of place in the world and what makes me feel the safest and most secure.  It’s my energetic “home base” and my connection to the earth.  When my first chakra is open I feel a sense of well-being and peace.  It reminds me of a song my Grandmother used to sing to me:

The year’s at the Spring, the day’s at the morn, morning’s at 7, the hillside’s dew pearled.  The lark on the wing, the snail on the thorn, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This is a photo from 2 summers ago, we were all together in Santa Cruz.  This is my first chakra picture.  In the picture, I’m happy being a mama, I’m smiling at my husband, the kids are clamoring around me, and my world is complete.

These days, I feel like an amputee – learning to live without a limb, something’s missing, someone’s missing.  And I trust the universe.  I trust my girl’s path.  I trust mine.  (most of the time)  I’m standing on this earth, feet planted, my lioness heart pounding in my chest.

 

 

 

Kindness Matters

compassion

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

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

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

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

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

-Dalai Lama

 

hOMe is where the heart is

hOMe sweet hOMe
hOMe sweet hOMe

I once heard a woman say that as soon as she sat on her yoga mat, she was home.  I will go one step further and say, when I sit and connect to my heart, I am home.  There’s a lot going on right now for me around the concept of  ‘home.’  For years I have prayed to be a “Citizen of the World” living the life of a gypsy, meeting people from different countries and learning about their cultures.  I imagined I would have a home base somewhere (Colorado?  California?) but most of the time I would be off having adventures – sometimes by myself, sometimes with Andy and sometimes with the kids.  As I write this, I think it sounds like the musings of a young girl and perhaps sounds immature.  Yet, these “adventures” I’m referring to stem from a deep desire to be of service, to connect from the heart with humanity, to experience the “oneness” in all things and to show this world to my kids.  To expand my boundaries into the unfamiliar, because in doing so, I get out of my ‘self’ with a small ‘s’ and see that I am a drop of water in a vast beautiful ocean.

vast

I once went to a homeopathist for a consultation.  After several hours of questions, she gave me my personal remedy – not for an ailment, but for who I am:  Falco peregrinus.

Know what that is?  Falcon.  Peregrin Falcon.  I looked it up.  Falco Peregrinus is Latin for Falcon Wanderer.  Yup.  Sounds about right.  I’ve lived in 2 countries and 11 states, and moved over 23 times.  In some Native American culture, Falcon is referred to as “The Stranger.”  I can relate.

Andy and I drove out to California this summer on our 3rd annual road trip.  Just us.  No cell phone service, no computers.  Just the two of us, a great playlist and a lot of sky.

Big Sky (somewhere in Utah)
Big Sky (somewhere in Utah)

Want to know what’s living for your partner?  Sit in a car with them for 2 days.  And listen, really listen, to what they have to say.  Turns out, sweetie has been phoning it in on our daily life.  (I knew it!)  I’ve been extra busy with kids, India, death work while he’s been busy with work but with a growing dissatisfaction with his time off.  This is a guy who is feeling his mortality, a man who loves the ocean and has never lived near one.  A man nearing retirement who has never had the luxury of time to himself.  I’m all about freedom (falcon, remember?) I never want to feel trapped and sure as hell don’t want my partner to feel trapped.

For the next hour, somewhere in Utah, under the vast expanse of sky, I listened to my husband talk about how unhappy he was in his daily life.  How he longs to live near the ocean before he gets too old to appreciate it.  How he’s lived in Boulder for the past 28 years and how he’s ready to leave.  A life lived for others…wives, companies, children – and now maybe it’s his turn…

The blessing of this talk was that I heard – really heard – him.  I took it seriously.  I love him and want him to be happy.  I want us to both feel free, never trapped.  Andy’s conclusion was that he could never live in CA because I wasn’t ready to make a permanent move – yet.  And so, he was trapped.  Stuck.  Grounded.

Long story short…we signed a year lease on a beach cottage in Santa Cruz.  Over the next year, Andy will live there two thirds time.  I’ll be there at least a third of the year.  This means we will be spending some time apart.  This means that sometimes I will be living in Boulder without Andy.   As much as I consider myself a free spirit, I have been surprisingly challenged by this new arrangement.  My beliefs around home, marriage and parenting are crumbling and there is no manual for this!  Where is my manual!!!  (shaking fist!)  Once again, I am pioneering a different vision of what is “normal” (I don’t think there is a normal per se) and I can’t find the “how to” manual.

Home Sweet Home in Santa Cruz
Home Sweet Home in Santa Cruz

When I am in Santa Cruz, I feel suspended in amber – like I have stepped out of my “real” life into a fantasy life I have dreamed up for myself.   I have a beautiufl yoga practice in Santa Cruz with an amazing community that has welcomed me.  I ride my bike everywhere.  I have a beach house where every thing in it has been carefully chosen by Andy and me.   I sit at the harbor and watch dolphins (yes, dolphins) play in the surf.  I surf!  I paddleboard.  I am going to learn the ukelele and paddle the outrigger canoe with other women on Thursday mornings.

When I’m in Santa Cruz, on a long weekend with Andy, I miss my kids.  half of my heart longs to be with them.  When Andy and I are apart, I am loving that he is filling up at the beach, giving himself the gift of being near the ocean and I am missing him and looking forward to the time we will be back together.  When I am in India, skyping from outer space, nothing could be more poignant that calling my children and getting the answering machine.  It’s rare that we are ALL together and when it happens, I cherish it.  Heart overflowing.

“There is nothing from outside. Try to understand that. All is in you. You are the storehouse of your totality.”

-Yogi Bhajan

Rishikesh – River of Love, part 2

I wrote about bringing Lance’s ashes to Varanasi and how powerful that was for me to release them into the river.

Now on to Rishikesh, a lotus of a place, nestled on the banks of the Ganges, in northern India.  The water is cool and clean, with sandy swaths of beach and many ashrams and temples along its edge.  There is something very peaceful and sweet about this small city and the slower pace is a welcome retreat.

Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge
Beautiful Rishikesh from Laxman Jula bridge

When we arrived at our hotel, our amazing host, Govind Agarwal, had arranged for our group to have a special blessing by priests.  As each of us entered the yoga room, we were given a special necklace of marigolds as the priests chanted.

Priests

Red paste and grains of rice were put on our foreheads and prayers were offered to Durga (the mother of us all), Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and Shiva (Destroyer of Ego and one who sits in deep meditation.)  One group member said she felt “home” as soon as she heard the powerful chanting of the priests.  The acoustics of the yoga room made me feel as if the mantras were vibrating through my chest cavity and opening my heart.

ShivaDurgaGanesha
Shiva, Durga and Ganesha

Have you ever said “yes!” to something because you felt it in your body, even though you had no idea what it was?  Months ago, back in the US, Govind had suggested having a ceremony for our ancestors on the banks of the Ganges.  Ever since he mentioned it, I became instantly attached to having it.  In fact, during the entire trip in India, my intention was to cultivate an attitude of surrender in all things, which I accomplished for the most part, but I stubbornly remained attached – like a barnacle on a wooden boat! – to 3 things:  the sunrise boat ride in Varanasi (which didn’t happen, so obviously I need to go back), the ceremony for our ancestors, and the dipping in the Ganga.

The morning of the ceremony, Govind walked us down the marble steps that literally disappear into the river.  The 3 priests were waiting for us accompanied by various bathers, curious onlookers and sadhus.  We took our seats on the marble, facing the river.

The priests put sandalwood paste across our forehead.   We offered prayers and offerings to the river, giving thanks for those that had come before us, honoring our lineage and speaking our ancestors’ names aloud.

I had brought a small vial with me – the remains of my beloved grandparents ashes – unsure of whether I would be willing to part with the last physical remnants of them.  As I prayed,  I knew with an inner wisdom that in the releasing of this ash, I was surrendering to the pulse of the universe, letting energy go into the flow of the river.  “Harold…Hazel” I said out loud as the priest poured milk into the jar and I tipped it into the river.  For the rest of the day, I experienced an uplifting of the spirit that was tangible and a peace I usually only feel after meditating.

Days later, Govind’s lovely wife, Bindia, graciously accompanied us to an area of the Ganges where we would dunk in the river.  The symbolism differs for everyone, but for me, it was an opportunity to “baptize” myself – to submerge myself 7 times, one for each chakra, in the holy river of unconditional love.  To cleanse myself of my sins, and to be born anew.  Returning to India, and bringing a group of women to India, had been a dream.  Now it was time to recognize that I had realized a dream come true and honor that part in me that had heard the call and said yes to it.  To realize that there are endings and also beginnings in a pilgrimage to India.  I was consciously saying ‘goodbye’ to aspects of myself, and experiences from the past 2 years.  In submerging in the river, I was also saying ‘yes’ to whatever was wishing to be born in me – perhaps aspects or ideas that I am not even aware of yet consciuosly, but the seeds have been planted.

Several of us were called to dunk in the river that morning and it was a powerful experience for all of us.  Much gratitude to Bindia who held our hands (with teeth chattering!) as each of us took the plunge.  Afterwards, we lit incense and made offerings to the river in thanks for her willingness to take us – the shadow and the light – and wash away our impurities and leave us refreshed and renewed.

I have so much gratitude for this journey and for all the ways I was able to be in sacred ceremony with the holiest of rivers – Mata Ganga – the Mother Ganges.  Sharing these experiences with this group of women has made it more potent for me and these memories live on in my heart and mind.  And oh Mother India,  I will return!  Deep bow.

lastNight
last night boat ride