My turn! 2017 has been quite a year and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of you cheering me on (literally!) and sharing your love and kindness with me. When I didn’t know how I was going to pull off Road School 2017, family, friends and strangers donated money and offered support and love throughout our journey. When I needed to raise $2300 in order to walk in San Diego for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk, you gave. When I was terrified to do my first Sprint Triathlon last month, your love and encouragement got me through! There are so many people who have lifted me up and shared their love and light with me. I am forever changed and I know I am blessed to have you in my life.
Now I would like to give something to you:
This December, I am showing my gratitude for my community of family, friends and generous supporters, and to everyone that could use some sweet reminders to slow down and stay present during the busy month of December. I want to help you bump up your Self Care, and encourage you to give yourself extra love and support during this holiday season.
My Gratitude Giveback is an invitation for you to turn inwards, to your soul sanctuary, and create a conscious, caring respite space for yourself during this often busy month.
Each week will focus on a different theme:
BODY BASICS (as in ‘duh’ I knew this already, but sometimes we forget!)
LETS GET PHYSICAL (I like to move it move it)
NOURISH THE SOUL (don’t forget your beautiful soul)
PRESENCE vs. PRESENTS (be here now)
You will be guided through each theme with weekly meditations, journal prompts, live Q & A conversations on Facebook, tips and tools for maximizing self care, and a resource list to support you if you would like to go deeper.
When all our reptilian instincts are telling us to stay in and hibernate, our culture is inviting us to “Eat, Drink & Be Merry.” When the days are getting shorter and it feels good to snuggle up to a fire and a good book, society is giving us the messages to go out every night and celebrate until sunrise, shop till you drop, and eat and drink all the things that you spend the rest of the year avoiding because they aren’t healthy. This can also be a lonely time for folks who watch the Hallmark holiday movies and compare themselves to the picture perfect lives on the screen.
I know things get busy at this time of year and the intention of this offering is to help make December more easeful, nurturing, and meaningful. You can join on the first of the month or the last day of the month, all the material is FREE and offered from the heart. It is my joy to share this with you all! The only thing I need from you to keep you in the loop is your email address.
All my life I’ve been traveling. I was born in Maine and at one and a half, moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Another country, another culture, another climate. At four, in the middle of winter, my mother and I left the Meditteranean and moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, newly divorced in the late 60’s. At eight, my mother re-married and we moved to Oberlin, OH where academia coexisted with rural poverty and racial tensions of the early 70’s. After two years, we moved to Lake Forest, IL, listed in the “Preppie Handbook” as one of the 10 preppiest towns in the United States. I moved from place to place feeling like an alien. This is a pattern that has repeated itself my entire life. Always moving, trying on the new customs, reinventing myself.
One of the things I have always loved about traveling to India is the feeling that I am so far from anything familiar that it forces me to let go of any outward identity my ego may cling to to define myself: parent, wife, hospice volunteer, runner, home owner, etc. The only thing I have in India is the over-arching requirement to stay present.
I read somewhere that gold fish grow to the size of their bowl. If they’re swimming around in a tiny glass, they will stay that size, if they’re put in an aquarium, they will grow larger. The Bay Area is a much bigger fish bowl than the the one I’ve been living in. And I feel…free. I feel anonymous. I feel alive with possibility.
The past several days have been jam-packed with moving and arriving and storing and unpacking. It’s been exhausting. Yesterday was the first day I had a glimpse of the ocean. I forced myself to drive in afternoon traffic and when I got out of the car, the wind whipped my hat off. I stood at the shore, turned off my music and consciously welcomed myself home. In that moment, I knew that this land isn’t home. I know it’s cliche, but still I want to share. I am home. I am my home. Wherever I choose to go, I will always be home.
That said, I also had the realization (for ME) that 16 years is too long to yearn to be somewhere else. I feel a peaceful joy to be back, this multi-cultured holy land where I am both completely unknown and deeply loved.
My kids are having some last adventures with family this month and in September we will all meet up and take my daughter to college and then Harlan and I will begin Road School 2017 for the fall semester. Just like a blank canvas can inspire the painter, the open road calls to my soul – it always has. To quote John O’Donohue, in his poem The Traveler, I look forward to “the invitations which wait along the way to transform” me, mile by mile.
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
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.
It’s kind of a personal story…one that is better told through smiles, gestures…tears. Sitting with a cup of tea and a comfy cushion, a nice blanket to wrap up in, a sheepskin to lie down on…perhaps a few candles burning. I would tell you this story on a perfect night like this, the wind whooshing through the cottonwood leaves, a dark sky threatening rain, contrasting with the early summer green. Birds singing their twilight song.
On a cold afternoon on one of the first days of 2012, I lay in my bed daydreaming on the New Moon…making prayers for the new year. Thinking about what I wanted to call in, to invite, to embrace for the year ahead. I asked to open my mind to new thought, to higher consciousness, expansion. I wanted to open my heart to larger love; ways of living, loving, thinking and acting that have been out of reach, beyond my abilities. I wrote in my journal: “I know I have called in something bigger than me – I have asked to be opened up and filled.”
Later that year I loved a man in the most intimate way. It’s hard to describe accurately or to do it justice. My friend’s husband was dying of a brain tumor. She asked me to come over and give him Reiki. I went over to their house and loved him. That’s what I did. I loved him the way a mother loves her child – unconditionally and purely. I let cosmic love pour through me and into him. I got out of the way. I was a channel. I felt filled with love. I think he did too. I know he did. We shared a few intimate hours together over his last few weeks. On the day he died, I held his hand while he transitioned from consciousness to coma. I held his feet and felt his spirit take flight – a hawk soaring fast and free. I lay with him hours after he had passed and stroked his forehead. Alison and I spent the cool hours of the dark early morning with him – this unseasonably hot June, the June that would bring fire upon fire to our mountains. We dozed on the bed with him, burned sage, laughed and cried together. I wrote in my journal how humbled and grateful I was to spend those days with him. I also wrote that I thought I had found my dharma and how grateful I was to Nancy and Lance for letting me in to their lives so I could share what was longing to be expressed in me – my desire to be of service and for my life to have deeper meaning and purpose.
A few days ago, I got a call from my hospice supervisor letting me know a woman was transitioning. They were asking for volunteers to take turns sitting with her during the day while her family members were at work. It had been a few months since there had been an opportunity to sit vigil and I jumped at the chance. First shift. I’m there. I have sat with 4 people since Lance died last year. First I had to go through general training, then a special training to sit vigil. When my supervisor told me of this new person, she mentioned that this woman was conscious. This was new. Something to ponder. It’s one thing to sit with a stranger that’s dying and they’re unconscious. But to walk into the room of somebody I’ve never met before, while they’re going through one of the most intimate (if not the most intimate) acts of their life and sit with them…well, this got me nervous. I prayed as I drove. I prayed to be of service, to connect with my heart, to just BE.
It’s hard to explain, again, words can’t do this justice. From the minute I walked into this woman’s room and she locked her blue-gray eyes on me, there was not one second that felt awkward or wrong. I held her hand. She didn’t speak but her eyes saw my every move. I introduced myself and told her I was going to sit with her. I honored the work she was doing – as she seemed to be laboring – and her body’s wisdom to know when it was time to let go. I told her she wasn’t alone. I never know what I will be moved to say or do with any particular person. It’s different every time. Sometimes I sit in silent meditation. We must have “gazed” for over an hour. It was intimacy on a soul-level.
When I returned the next day for the first shift, I was told that she had just passed. I went in to see her body and touch her forehead. As I sat and waited for her family to arrive, I cried. At first, I was critical of myself…”Stop being so dramatic! You didn’t even know this woman. Why are you crying?” After those thoughts passed, I decided to allow my heart to expand and just feel everything that was surfacing: the ending of this woman’s life, the shell of her body in front of me, the softness of her gaze from yesterday, the imminent arrival of her loved ones. The LOVE my own heart could feel for this woman, for the people that cared for her, for the patients in the facility, and for my family.
Today I looked back through my journal and discovered that the day I sat vigil with this woman, was a year to the day that I first sat with Lance. If grief is a sprial, then love is concentric circles…rippling out to infinity. I am truly grateful for this life and for the meaning that I am privileged to have fill my days and the people I am honored to serve.
Grief isn’t linear. It’s not a straight shot. You don’t pass through locks in a canal, never to go back, chugging along to what…? Before? No. A land where there is no pain? No.
I love the metaphor that grief is a spiral, where I circle around, sometimes close to the epicenter (deep pain) and sometimes a bit farther out (awareness of the loss) and sometimes on the outskirts of the spiral (where I can smile at the memories and celebrate the gifts from knowing that person.) No matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one, I can be anywhere on the spiral – although I can truthfully say once I’ve experienced the acute phase of a loss, I’ve never gone back to that excruciating grief that feels like it could swallow me up and seems unsurvivable when it’s happening. I hope that gives people some hope to read that.
Sometimes…I can be grieving and not even realize it. Recently, life has been feeling so tender and almost unbearable to me. Spring is late here in Boulder and with Spring comes baby animals. We’ve got a Mama Raccoon in our attic, right over my bedroom, and her babies make scritchy scratchy sounds and chirp all night long. I am sleeping in another room because they are so loud! They sound like they are in the room with us! Andy is calling them his roomates. I don’t ordinarily like raccoons, but I am very distressed about these babies. What to do? I want them to be relocated, and not euthanized. But I’m worried they are too young to be moved. I can barely stand the thought that they will be moved outside… and then what?
Yesterday, we noticed a very small, brand new, baby squirrel up in our tree. The mama was trying to show it how to scramble through the branches. Then we noticed a very fat, buff tiger cat (ours) up in the tree, getting ready to pounce on the baby squirrel! Oh no! Andy ran out and sprayed the hose on our cat. This barely distracted her. Note that it was pouring rain yesterday too. I was paralyzed with fear that Baby (our horrible cat) was going to kill the squirrel baby, the squirrel baby that isn’t even strong enough, or old enough, to scamper away. The cat finally came in looking like a drowned rat and she has been locked up under protest all day today. I’m praying that baby squirrel has enough evolutionary smarts to grow – fast!
As I was unloading my animal woes (my fear of impending death to small, helpless creatures, and my participation on some level with their possible impending deaths) on a friend today, she wondered what is going on for me about death. “Well” I answered innocently, “a year ago is the time I started working with Lance.” Hmmm. As I said it, I realized that is what’s been living in me without me being consciously aware of it. Two days ago was the 11 month anniversary of Lance‘s death.
Last May, I started giving Lance reiki and spending more time with him. It was a powerful, life changing month. It was an intimate experience that touched me. I will probably write more about this time, but for now the words escape me. I am just aware that I am more sensitive than usual and it’s a reminder to go back to the basics of self care; something we teach in the Newly Bereaved groups at hospice. Drink more water. Rest. Get out in nature. Share with close friends – people who will listen and let me be right where I’m at. Most of all, thanks to my wise friend Sally, I want to BE present with all that I am feeling right now. I want to witness the sorrow and the tenderness and allow any and all emotions to wash over me. I might feel things this year that I was too in shock to feel last year. I can notice the gifts that have come to me in the past year, since knowing Lance, and give thanks for them and for his life. Gratitude. And, I’m going to try and help these little animal babies stay alive if I can…