Lost in the Woods?

1 Dec

I’m convinced that the most exciting times in our lives are those in which we don’t know where the hell we are or where we are headed. They are also the most scary because the unknown can make us feel so lost.

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Dante wrote, “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.”

Most of us want order and control in our lives. We want to know how much money is in the bank, who we’ll fall in love with and when we’ll retire. Sometimes we want this kind of certainty more than wonder, joy, and mystery because let’s face it: the latter three invite more ambiguity. Wonder, joy and mystery can’t be structured, manipulated or planned for and they can disappear as quickly as they make an appearance. They aren’t the by-product of a game plan. They are the ball soaring through the air but when you least expect the touchdown.

Direction typically emerges out of intention. What is it that you most long for? What are your passions and how do you want to live your life? What do you want to be remembered for and what do you want to give to the world? Who and what do you love and who and what loves you? As 2016 draws to a close, instead of thinking about New Years resolutions, perhaps it’s more wise to reflect on these questions because out of the questions answers emerge. Out of the undoing and the not knowing comes clarity, focus, and manifestation.

 

 

Attitudes of Gratitude

22 Nov

This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.

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I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.

Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.

I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:

Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.

This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.

Amen.

 

 

Battle Scars

3 Nov

I  had surgery on Halloween. Nothing like being told that the risks of surgery include that 1) you could never wake up and 2) you could sustain nerve damage. Talk about fright.

My surgery was preventative and minor. Thankfully, I am extremely healthy and well and for that I am most grateful. But to put your hands in the hands of another human being is probably one of the most terrifying things you can do. You have to give up control and you have to TRUST. The surgeon said to me, “I get it. I don’t ever want to lie on that table.” But they wheeled me in anyway.

A friend asked if I got to take home the golf-ball-sized clump of cells they removed. “Put it in a jar as a souvenir,”he suggested.

No, thank you, although they did put it on ice.

They called me yesterday and it’s benign.

I got what a wanted.

But I also got more than good news. I was reminded of people’s kindness and the preciousness of life. Nothing should ever be taken for granted for we simply don’t know how long we have on this planet. We struggle and have our issues and conflicts but at the end of the day, love and joy are all that really matter.

I was also reminded that when we go through experiences we incur battle scars. Thankfully, this one is going to heal very nicely.

Every thought and event of our lives becomes held in the body – for good and for bad – so removing actual tissue triggers contemplation.

“What’s being removed? What is healthy and what is pathological? Were there little pockets of negativity lodged in that lump that needed excision? What do our bodies carry in their consciousness? What do our bodies and souls actually need to thrive and transform?”

I recall a woman I once worked with who had had a mastectomy. She was experiencing phantom limb, plus an enormous amount of grief. To help express and understand her feelings of loss, I had her dialogue with her missing breast and actually give the breast a voice. I wanted to hear what it was thinking and feeling.

That breast held a lifetime of memories for her – sexual pleasure, breast feeding, and her beauty and identity as a woman. She felt lost without it but once the breast’s consciousness was respected and acknowledged, her symptoms abated.

Perhaps, at Halloween, we dress up in scary costumes to remember the mess that comes with being in a human body and living out the human experience. Yet El Dia de los Muertos is also a day to remember and honor the spiritual journey of souls.

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On Nasty Women, Leaking Vaginas, and Child Rapists Getting 43 Days in Jail

21 Oct

My absentee voter ballot sits on my kitchen table. I need to read up on some of the propositions. I’ve known my presidential choice all along.

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Unlike my Twitter feed, I have not posted much about the election on my FB page. The hostility I see embedded in various threads on FB makes my stomach churn. I have preferred to keep my thoughts to myself because I don’t have the energy to sift through venom. Life is hard enough.

I remember early tirades against Clinton supporters. “It’s stupid to vote for someone just because she’s a woman.”

I would never vote for someone JUST because she’s a woman. I certainly didn’t vote for Sarah Palin when she ran for Vice President.

I will, however, vote for a female candidate that I believe is well qualified.

The fact that she is a woman IS a big deal.

When I wake up in the morning and read yet another article about yet another male judge giving a joke of a sentence to a rapist, I think having a female voice in politics is a good thing. (According to NPR, “a state district judge in Montana is facing a call for his impeachment after sentencing a man who admitted to raping his 12-year-old daughter to 60 days in jail, of which he will serve 43.”). When I hear about a 19 year old male claiming on the Internet that women should control their menstrual blood flow and stop whining about the necessity of tampons, I think having a female voice in politics is a good thing. And when women are continually called “nasty” or “difficult” or “unapproachable” or “unlikeable” or “unkind” or “hysterical” or “emotional” because they express their opinions, I think having a female voice in politics is a good thing.

LA Times contributing writer, Melissa Batchelor Warnke eloquently describes why many women currently resonate with Clinton. About the debates she writes: In three acts, Clinton demonstrated the unlearning process that guides many American women’s experiences: performing for men, leading for others, living true-to-self. We’ve never witnessed such a compressed, gendered metamorphosis in American political life. For many women, Clinton’s movement toward her own power is a historical moment. We’ll remember where we were when fire took our shape.”

When we’ve been the “second sex”for most of our life experience, it’s a historic day to see a woman having a seat at the table.

You can be a feminist and dearly love men. In fact, you can be a man and a feminist! Being a feminist means you believe in both genders having a voice.

Using my voice doesn’t make me nasty, and no, I can’t stop my own menstrual blood flow through sheer will power. That would be a great super power though.

 

The Spirit of a Place

14 Oct

Certain places imprint. When I was sixteen I swam under an inky sky off the coast of Sicily at midnight. The water was warm, the moon was full, and as I floated on my back looking up at the stars, I was filled with a sense of endless possibility that comes with youth and the wonders of travel. In that moment I was free.

I rarely think of that experience now and yet when I feel traces of it, I’m suddenly suspended in time. That moment created a sense of expansion. The universe offered me a gift and I embraced it greedily, appreciatively, and without shame.

The longer we’re on the planet, the more we can lose touch with moments like this that allow us to transcend the ordinary realm of experience. While it’s true we can find the extraordinary in the ordinary, we sometimes need to step out of the ordinary to find the extraordinary.

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I have no idea what creates this sense of adventure. I only know what happens when I’m suddenly in the drama of it, playing the leading heroine. I get a chance to reclaim myself and life.

Often, these experiences come randomly and with luck. Other times, we consciously create them.

I recently taught a class in Hawaii. It was the second time I’ve been here for work and work is work. It wasn’t all play and fun. But Hawaii is international enough that it can leave you suspended in another world. Being welcomed with a wreath of orchids never fails to make me tear up. The spirit of ohana is alive and well. We are all interconnected. There is no denying it.

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The world can be ugly, harsh, and dull. Suffering and hardships are more than real. Life can bring us to our knees in anguish and cripple us with worry. Yet the spirit of a place can make us see, even if temporarily, that there is so much more happening beneath the surface of the physical realm.

All we have are moments in time but it is the moments that most matter. They are only moments, yet they can alter our perspectives forever, leaving us changed and more receptive to the life around us.

As I floated in the ocean, I thought of that night in Sicily when the sky held wonder to my younger self. I had forgotten that experience. The warm water also brought to mind greeting the day in the Sea of Galilee while watching the sky turn pink and feeling deeply connected to God. I had forgotten that experience too. Yet when we catalogue the most important moments of our lives, what will they be? Who or what changes us? What takes us from the ordinary to the extraordinary and how does the extraordinary serve as a spiritual reserve to keep us going through the dull and mundane?

On our death beds, we will not be thinking of the mortgage or the losses. We’ll be thinking of the miraculous. Canals in Venice, a child’s hug, a lover’s embrace in the cold Alaskan night and a fantastic wave. We’ll think of profound conversations, beautiful music, a grandmother’s hug, delicious food, beloved pets and rainbows. We’ll reflect on the many wonders of life and the spirit of a place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to the Sea

9 Sep

Something happens to me when I’m in the sea. I am both the child I was splashing and laughing in the waves while my mom sunbathed on shore and the adult that I am now, yet free from everything. There is only the sun on my face and the undulations of each wave. The sea integrates my introspective nature with my wild one. It calms me and unleashes me simultaneously. For me, when the conditions are gentle and mild, it’s bliss; when they’re harsh and choppy, it’s utterly humbling and makes me bow down at the Maker.

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When I have had some time in the water, for the next 24 hours I feel a rocking motion within me that is the up and down of the wave now imprinted in my system. I feel my energy body entirely different as if I’ve just taken some type of drug or had a five hour yoga class.

Isak Dinensen wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.”

This is true.

I surf but not for the thrills or danger. At my age, I don’t need to shred anything. I’m a long boarder and prefer mild, gentle waves like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. I just want the calm ride in and to be free of injuries. Yet more than anything, I love to surf because it gets me in the water. You put on the little black seal suit that will keep you warm in the frigid Pacific and paddle out on your mini boat. Then as Jackson Browne sang, “Rock me on the water,” something does just that.

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Nothing will commune you more with life pulse energy than the wave. When you catch one, you are being pushed by a force that runs the universe. In a weird way, you become one with the Universe. You are moving and being moved by Nature. It’s thrilling, intimate and completely unpredictable. It is solitude and communion.

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I get in the water to make certain I’m more focused on living than dying.

Sobriety of Mind

6 Sep

It’s astonishing how obsessed we can become with our own thoughts. It’s an addiction not really discussed but we’re all susceptible to it. Our thoughts can take us down quite literally. I have seen in it myself and I have seen it in others. Sobriety of mind is a noble undertaking.

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Ultimately, recovery is a process. We can never completely free ourselves of our thoughts. It’s the nature of the mind to look for trouble. To cling and grasp, catastrophize, and create drama.

We can gain some degree of sobriety though. We can learn to tame our minds. We can alter the way our perceptions tyrannize. And we can practice serenity.

I weary though of talking heads who say we create our reality and that everything external is a reflection of our internal perceptions. To a degree that is true but tell that to the woman diagnosed with cancer. You’re basically telling her that her diagnosis is all her fault. Tell that to the little boy sitting stunned in blood caught in the crossfire of war whose photo went viral. It’s a cop out to say something like that as it reduces life’s crap and evil to simplicity and allows us to abdicate any responsibility for helping others in situations far less fortunate than our own.

If I get hit by a bus, the reality is that it is going to hurt. I am going to have to deal with the aftermath of the accident. While I have some measure of control regarding how I deal with that reality, it’s still going to have to be dealt with. If my legs get broken, they’ll have to be fixed. Pain is a part of life. Our minds will react to circumstances and stimuli.

So where is the line between addiction and sobriety? When do our thoughts make us spin out of control into complete excess? And what do we do about it?

It’s not as simple as mind over matter or willing ourselves out of our feelings. Emotions are crucial because they give us information that something is wrong. As the brilliant Sufi poet, Hafiz wrote, “The Heart is right to cry even when the smallest drop of light, of love, is taken away.” Quite frankly, it’s not the tears that are an issue. That is just energy releasing that ultimately frees us. When we move the energy out we break long held karmic patterns of hurt the yogis refer to as samskaras. Instead it’s our thoughts that can keep us stuck, prisoners in our heads.

When we cling to what happened or what could happen and then dissect every angle of something completely beyond our control, we are simply grasping for control. And that is absurd.

We want perfection out of life. We want everyone to like us, for there never to be a mishap, and to micromanage ourselves and others. This will never be attainable yet the mind will keep questing for it. Why we build an alter to worship at it, I will never understand.

There is no constancy, as much as we long for it. There is our breath and this moment. That is it. The more we can move from one moment to the next without clinging or rejecting, then we achieve a degree of sobriety.

It’s okay to have pleasure. It’s okay to say, “F— it to worry and pain.” The pain and the worry will always be there because we are masters at it. We can ruin even the happiest of moments with obsessions but we don’t have to live with drama 24/7. For a bit, we can let go. We can enjoy ourselves.

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