Endings/Beginnings

Welcome to Harbin
Welcome to Harbin

Harbin Hot Springs.  My soul-home.  My screen saver.  My compass.  My place of healing and refuge.  My recurring dream.  My holy land.  When I arrive, the first thing I do is go to the water spout at the cold plunge and sprinkle water over my head – 7 times – one for each chakra. Then I drink, deeply.  I get naked as fast as I possibly can and jump into the swimming pool so I can float on my back and look up at the tall Poplar trees. They are a talisman for me, reminding me to stand strongly rooted in the earth, reach for the sky, and bend gracefully to the breezes that blow.  I’m home.

At 25 I was a naive, wide-eyed girl who had just realized my life-long dream of moving to California.  It was the Summer of 1990 and a friend brought me up to Harbin.  It was love at first sight.  And I’ve been going ever since.

I’ve spent half of my life here.  I’ve gone in all seasons.  I’ve spent New Year’s Eve shivering in the warm pool as it snowed, pulling Tarot cards for the coming year.  I’ve camped in the Fall, listening to the acorns, pop like gunshots, as they drop from the mighty oaks and explode on the tent platform.  I’ve slept under the summer sky, counting shooting stars, and holed up in hotel rooms listening to the Spring rain.

I’m naked and exposed at Harbin, literally and figuratively.  Anything that has been “living” inside of me surfaces.    I’ve encountered the Wounded Masculine and the Divine Feminine, I’ve met the Priest and the Whore.  All inside of me.  Harbin is a portal place, a sacred chakra spot, and in my experience, Harbin provides me with every opportunity to heal whatever is needing to come up.  7 years ago, I was on beta blockers for severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and I was depressed that I needed to be on medication.  I hiked up to the tea house with 2 friends and prayed for the “shield to be removed that protected my heart.”  I walked back down to the pools and never took another beta blocker again.  True story.

In his yoga classes, Peter would refer to the waters of Harbin as mother’s milk and if the pools are Harbin’s breasts, then the waterfall slit in the rocks, along the sacred path, hidden in a tangle of fig roots, is Harbin’s yoni.  A place I’ve brought my most raw and unedited prayers to.   I’ve come to Harbin at my most tender and broken, taking refuge in the waters.   I’ve showed up in my fullest expression of joyful, playful ME.  Harbin has received me in all ways, always.

I’ve been a starving student, escaping the San Francisco fog.  I’ve been a single woman, a married woman, a young mother.  I’ve shared laughter and popcorn in the Harbin kitchen.  I’ve knitted on the sun deck, beaded in the Blue Room cafe, I’ve journaled in my tent.  Toned in the meadow, I’ve sang, danced, prayed, chanted, sat, meditated, laughed, cried.  I brought my children there and camped (which they hated.)  I went to the meadow and sat inside a circle I made of my grandparents’ ash, thanking them for their love.  Comforted that they will be part of this sacred land.

I can’t count the list of people I’ve gone up to Harbin with – old friends, new friends, women’s groups, boyfriends, husbands.  I’ve met poets, artists and strangers that feel like family at Harbin.  I’ve had the deepest conversations with people and never seen them again.  I’ve gone up by myself and been lonely, I’ve gone with friends and been lonely.  I’ve been there alone and felt such contenment and peace, knowing that death could knock on my door and I would rise up gladly and leave immediately – my soul complete and filled with the natural beauty of Harbin’s land.

IMG_7098

This year, for my 50th birthday, friends who know and love me gave me money to use at Harbin and I bought a life-time membership.  I finally felt ready for commitment (smile.)  I got up to Harbin 3 times this year – once for my annual Spring trip with women friends, once for a HAI workshop and R&R and lastly, in July, for some one-on-one time with Barbara, a soul sister who has been coming to Harbin longer than I have and we share a deep and profound love of Harbin as well as laugh our heads off when we’re there.

This past weekend, Harbin was burned in a fire.  The text I received on Saturday said it all: “Sis, Harbin is gone.”  Pictures of the landscape stand my hair on end.  My heart hurts.  This fire did not happen to me, I know that.  My heart goes out to all the beings (plant, animal, human) that are affected by this major event.  And still, I mourn the loss of my temple home.  Harbin reconnected me with my past.  She is showing me my future.  And she taught me to identify, appreciate and require presence.

I know how the sun looks dappling through the giant fig leaves, it is in my cellular memory how the candles flicker in the hot pool, I have sat in the garden lulled by the buzz of the bees in the apple blossoms as I watch dew evaporate off of a blade of grass.  My body knows the feeling of the plaster temple floor warming my back.  I can close my eyes and hear the night frogs croaking down by the bridge.  I can smell the honeysuckle that rings the gazebo.  This land, this place is in my DNA.  I don’t know what will happen to Harbin, if it will be rebuilt or not.  But I can say that if it does get rebuilt, I will care for the land lovingly, with the tenderest of touches, as if I was tending to a beloved hospice patient.  I will bathe her body and swathe her in the softest of cloths.  I will whisper my gratitude and joy to her, to be able to give back even a portion of what she has given to me.  I will thank her for giving me my lover.  And I will kiss her softly.  Everywhere.

Manzanita Tree - This plant has many characteristics of the Divine Feminine.  Its bark continually peels back, like the skin of a snake, revealing rich, smooth color under its layers.  Thus it is in a constant state of rebirth and transformation, dying to the old and letting go, while simultaneously bearing flowers and fruits.
Manzanita Tree – This plant has many characteristics of the Divine Feminine. Its bark continually peels back, like the skin of a snake, revealing rich, smooth color under its layers. Thus it is in a constant state of rebirth and transformation, dying to the old and letting go, while simultaneously bearing flowers and fruits.  The Triple Goddess Tarot

Hawk Medicine

featherTat
new tattoo, hawk feather, mission ink, ron nelson, santa cruz

“When we are heavy with the world’s sadness, call to us through Hawk’s cry, reminding us to look up and beyond, trusting in Spirit’s great design.”  Tiphaine Bonetti

For years I have related to the hawk and have felt that hawk was one of my special animals.  I would have dreams of hawks and sightings – close encounters.  There is a connection between Hawk and Kundalini energy, some say hawk comes into your life only after Kundalini energy is activated.

Four years ago, my friend, Lance Gentry, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor.  During the last year of his life, he saw many hawks and started to feel that they were messengers.  We had some email conversations about hawk medicine and that’s when I started calling him “Brother Hawk”.

Around this time, Nancy and I would go for hikes and have heart-to-heart discussions about our life.  I prayed for my life to have meaning and wished there was something I could do for Lance and his family.  Nancy prayed for Lance.

“This powerful bird [hawk] can awaken visionary power and lead you to your life purpose.  It is the messenger bird, and wherever is shows up, pay attention.  There is a message coming.”  from Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews.

In the Spring before Lance’s death, I got to spend more time with him, giving him Reiki and quietly sitting with him.  I was able to let all the words I wanted to say to him, and all the love I felt for him flow through my hands, through my touch.  His gift to me was that he received that love.  We got to communicate without words…and share sacred time together…the biggest exchange of LOVE I had ever experienced with another human being that I wasn’t related to.  It was a soul love, without form or expectation.

The day Lance died was a beautiful hot June day.  He was at home, in his bed, made peaceful with morphine.  A friend of Lance’s stopped by to see him and brought a hawk wing, not knowing that Lance had an affiliation with hawk, but feeling called to do it.  Lance died 10 hours later, surrounded by dear friends and Nancy holding him in the bed and his mother by his side.

There was a beautiful ceremony for his life at the Shambala Center – a buddhist center here in town.  His body lay in a cardboard casket.  He wore his favorite hat and favorite T-shirt that said “Love More, Fear Less”.  The hawk wing was placed on his chest.  We kept Lance’s body on dry ice for 3 days and friends took turns staying with him so he was never alone, sleeping with him in shifts. It’s hard to describe the holy atmosphere of the place in the middle of the night, sitting in solitude with Lance, candles flickering, watching the room start to lighten with the morning sun.

"I Am Always Watching" by Amélie Gentry
“I Am Always Watching” by Amelie Gentry

After Lance died, so many people reported fantastic hawk sightings, myself included.  Nancy had one experience with the kids where a hawk came flying right down the middle of the street towards them, at eye level, and flew right past them.  They all felt that they had just had a visitation from Lance.

I am missing Lance and really missing that beautiful heart of his.  It’s hard to lose something that feels that sweet.  I had a dream about Lance the other day, and there he was in my dream, so loving and kind, smiling.  It was good to feel him again.  One thing I committed to, after Lance died, was to always let the people in my life know how much I love them…Lance taught me about being loving.  He taught me that there is beauty and grace in openly loving people and not hiding it.  After Reiki he would often say “I love you” and it felt so good to hear it from him.  His face was open and radiant and all the love in his heart came pouring out of his eyes.

“Lance:  Friend, husband, father, mountain climber, son, brother, voracious reader, truck fixer, bookcase builder, barefoot runner, dead head, Truth Seeker, guerrilla marketer, peanut butter hawker, solo quest maker, adventurer, risk taker, meditator, guide, braver warrior, soaring hawk—We remember you.”  Tiphaine Bonetti

 

Sweet Memories

Santa Cruz Harbor
Santa Cruz Harbor

When I was a kid, I would spend every 4th of July in Narrangansett, RI with my grandparents.  Just me and Mimi and Grandy.  It was idyllic.  Not just the romanticizing of childhood that can happen with sepia toned memories, but truly perfection…and unconditional love.  Lots of that.

It took me a long time to figure out why I get so emotional about fireworks (they’re magical to me) and an even longer time to consciously “get” why the 4th of July is such a big deal to me.  I love gathering friends together and burning sparklers, kids running around like crazy, sweet treats and later…fireworks in the black night.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that it wasn’t until a few years back, with the help of my husband who gently pieced it together for me, that 4th of July goes hand in hand with happier times in an often grim childhood spent with alcholhic parents.  This is one holiday I don’t have a single memory of alcohol crashing in like an unwelcomed guest.

For the past 3 years Andy and I have been spending the 4th in Santa Cruz, a beach town in California.  The thrill of spending this holiday at the ocean is beyond description.  The part of my brain that holds all the sensory memories of summer gets stirred and a peace and joy comes over me.  Salty air, sunburned skin, charcoal fires, music playing, the occasional loud ‘POP!’ down the street from a clandestine fire cracker, the holiday goers lugging their coolers and cranky babes, the locals sitting outside Deke’s Market, playing ukeleles…all of it weaves an old familiar tale with new traditions.

Santa Cruz lighthouse
Santa Cruz lighthouse

My daughter is backpacking in the mountains of Colorado, my son is in Europe on a cruise with his dad.  Both unreachable by phone or email.  But my step-daughter arrived  today for her first experience of 4th of July, California style.  Andy and I sat on the shore and watched her step into the ocean… uncertainly at first, then more and more sure of herself.  Soon she was was out past the breakers.   As the sun tried to burn through the fog, I had a vision of my grandparents watching me in the waves years ago: “Don’t go out too far Zan!”  Mimi would call and I would laugh.

I’m filled with gratitude for the all the love my grandparents showered on a growing girl that needed it.  Grateful that they can live on in my heart for as long as I do.  Concentric circles of love rippling out and lapping at other’s hearts like gentle waves.  I miss you guys so much.  And was and continue to be so lucky that I was loved by you.

Best Grandparents Ever

“The wave is the same as the ocean, though it is not the whole ocean. So each wave of creation is a part of the eternal Ocean of Spirit. The Ocean can exist without the waves, but the waves cannot exist without the Ocean.” 

-Paramahansa Yogananda

What a difference a year makes

heaven

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.

footsteps

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.