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Embracing the Mystery

20 Dec

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I’m going to be in Venice for New Years. Not Venice, California. Venice, Italy.

When a friend-of-a-friend invited me to stay at her Venice apartment this winter, I was reminded to not turn away the gift horse. As Sheryl Sandburg wrote in her book, Lean In, “When you’re offered a space on a rocket ship, you don’t turn it down.” You jump in no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how inconvenient. The dance doesn’t alway come around again.

Going to Venice is not convenient. It’s sandwiched in-between the holidays, a writing deadline, and a teaching trip in Memphis immediately afterwards. I’ve also been gone for the last two weeks teaching. But when is boarding a rocket ship ever convenient?  You either say, “Carpe Diem!” and do it or you stay safe right where you are, never fully becoming who you meant to become.

I like order and control, particularly as the old year transitions into the new. I like to mastermind my goals and get my ducks in a row. I work on my taxes and await the New Year with quiet respect. I don’t party it up with horns, streamers, and confetti.

In Venice the locals drink champagne in St. Mark’s square. I’ll work on my tip sheet for the publisher while downing a beautiful cappuccino and I’ll map out my goals walking along the canals. But then I’ll drink champagne too, gesticulating like the Italians as we embrace the wild beauty of the night.

On the way out, I’ll pass through NYC where I’ll have an apartment to stay on 5th Ave. near the Met and the Guggenheim thanks to a friend’s sister who is a film producer. They are leaving museum passes on the counter and instructions regarding my stay with the maid. There will be two Parisians there too. Do not turn away the gift horse.

My expenses are maxed out at present but the trip was paid for almost entirely by miles. Do not turn away the gift horse.

I will be tired and jet lagged and discombobulated teaching so soon after it all but this is life. Instead of trying to capture, control, or manipulate the Mystery, we must learn to bow to it. When she beckons, we follow. We do not know where we are going. All we can see is the magic and mist and romance of it all.

*Photo credit – Laura Sousounis

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.

 

 

Transitioning

16 Feb

We are all in a state of transition, sometimes incrementally, sometimes more dramatically. What does it mean to move on? Whether in this life time or on into the next?

My Grandmother, perhaps the person I have loved most in my life, made her transition yesterday on Valentine’s Day. I found that very fitting. She has always been fiercely in my heart but now will be there more than ever on February 14th.

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Again, we are all in transition, eventually.

This Valentine’s Day I also said goodbye to Minou and a host of people who mean the world to me. I said goodbye to the town where I was raised and the home I’ve lived in for the last ten years.

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When we leave behind people, places and things we deeply cherish, it’s discombobalating. But in order for new experiences to emerge, we sometimes have to transition. To transition is to evolve perhaps in a spherical sense – we move forward, yet we integrate the previous and include it in our present domain.

Transitioning entails dying to what is known so that we can fully embrace new life.

 

 

Transcending Dimensions

4 Sep

Driving home the other day, after having a two hour coffee with someone twenty years my junior, I suddenly realized something. My trend to be friends with people twenty years my senior has expanded to folks at the other end of the spectrum as well. I realized that I had had dinner the other night with someone in her twenties, that one of my closest friends this summer has been someone in her twenties, and my dear friend, Charissa is nearing 30. Likewise, some of my favorite people are in their late sixties.

So often, we think we’ll have things in common with people our age, but that isn’t always the case. Just about everybody in my age bracket is consumed with taking their children to soccer practice and maintaing their mortgages. My older friends have finished doing that and my younger friends haven’t started. Some of my younger friends, still single, volunteer for humanitarian causes internationally, and some of my older friends, divorced or widowed, also do tremendous amounts of service. Then there’s my 75 year old friend who just got back from a cruise with her boyfriend who she met two years ago in a hiking meet up group. She too swims at the pool, has an active meditation practice, and wild, kinky blond hair like mine. I find this all fascinating. I am also amazed at the vast wisdom and talents of my younger friends.

Taylor Swift sings of shaking it off, but I also think in life that we need to shake it up. It’s important to have friends of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations and social classes.  Learn to speak more than your own language – literally and figuratively. Be in the world and your world expands.

My grandmother, who is 96 and on hospice care used to tell me she never wanted to be part of the Organ Club. “What’s that?” I asked her. “People in my age group who only want to talk about their doctor appointments and what organ is failing them. I just find that depressing.” So my grandmother always took an interest in younger people. She had many friends. As I move through my forties, I’m seeing the great wisdom in her mindset. We should never think that we’re getting too old to do new things or to connect with others. That is the beginning of death.

A few years ago, my friend Charissa and I took a road trip up the California coast. It was one of the best trips of my life. We dubbed ourselves Thelma and Louise because in that iconic film, Thelma was a bit younger than Louise.

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We weren’t this bad ass looking but we felt the incredible joy of freedom. It’s something to treasure, to hold on to, and to cultivate all one’s life.

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Because Life is Too Damn Short

16 Aug

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Something happens to women in their forties. I call it the “I’m done with bullshit,” phenomenon. By the time you get to be a certain age, you’re just done with nonsense in all facets of your life: work, relationships, social expectations, etc. You simply stop caring what other people think and do what you want because you realize LIFE IS TOO DAMN SHORT. It will be over in a blink of eye, so why waste time doing things you don’t enjoy? Why not surround yourself with a tribe of folks who accept and celebrate your authentic self instead? Granted, we of course have to be responsible and tolerant and show up for our day to day tasks. Likewise, we learn and grow when relating to those who are not sycophants and who challenge us towards growth and transformation. But truly, we have far more choices in life than we realize.

I remember years ago a supervisor saying, “Lise, you’re working harder than your students. Stop it. It’s not serving them and it’s not serving you.”

There are things that I put up with in my twenties and thirties that I simply no longer have patience for in my forties. They say by the time you’re in your sixties, you go from not giving a damn to not giving a (insert your word of choice). Do you develop a foul mouth as you age? No. Of course not. And I don’t mean to insult anyone with my language. I am trying to make a point. As you age, you start to carve out the precious time to do what means the most to you and what adds premier value to your life. You surround yourself with others who “get” you and who support you in being all that you possibly can be. And you in turn want to do the same for others. A life of meaning and value is one of service but of the best kind – the kind that comes from choice vs. a sense of obligation that has no real heart behind it.

Let’s all lead a heart filled life, embracing each moment and squeezing all that we can out of life. This doesn’t mean avoiding sadness or pain because these are part of life. The more we can feel our own emotions, the more compassionate we are towards ourselves and others. Yet there is such grace in the ethers, if we let go of the bs in our lives and focus on what’s of integrity, joy, passion, and commitment. Sometimes that starts with ourselves, as we carve out time to appreciate God’s grace and settle into our authenticity. Then we can show up for others and support them in theirs as well!

Shoot the Dying Animal

21 Jun

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Years ago a psychic told me that once I got over my longing for a traditional nuclear family complete with white picket fence, I would be truly content. I was recently thinking about her words.

The American obsession with romance and marriage paradoxically kills any beauty left in these institutions. I believe in both, yet the way our culture distorts and abuses these, makes me realize how hard it is to sustain love,  marriage, and happiness. How then do we embrace well-being and union, for these are deeply human needs.

When I think about the best moments in my life they have always come when I have surrendered any attachment to outcomes. Instead, happiness has come from stepping out of my comfort zone and simply connecting with life, no matter how it is presenting itself to me. These moments are subtle. They don’t include the contrived glamour of being handed a rose. They don’t always include passionate love either. More often than not, happiness results from connection with friends, neighbors, strangers, pets, and work.

These moments come like waves rolling into shore. They are the ones unfolding in the here and now. These are the moments to nurture, not the fairy tale notions of happily ever after.

This is the happily ever after. Right here. Right now.

I Found God in an Airport Bathroom Stall

16 Jun

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Instead of finding God on the corner of First and Amistad, I found Him in an airport bathroom stall. Yes, an airport bathroom stall. Or at least as I came out of one.

I’d been crying. Sitting on a toilet with my hands in my face. It had been a year of crying in airports or wherever else my damn psyche wanted to let loose. I had no shame anymore. If the grief was waving through, I found somewhere to sit and let the emotions have their way.

As I came out of the stall, I noticed myself in the mirror. I looked like a drowned rat with puffy eyes. All the beauty and vitality were washed away like the mascara that had come off my face.

I thought I was all alone yet I wasn’t. I sensed her presence. A young woman approached me. She too had no shame. “Do you need a hug?” she asked. I simply nodded. I’d learned long ago that when someone offers kindness, you don’t refute it.

The young woman put her arms around me and I started convulsing with sobs. The kind that make you sound like a dying animal. She simply stroked my back like I was her baby that needed soothing. Oh, how I needed soothing. She didn’t flinch or pull away. She waited a full five minutes until the wailing subsided.  When I pulled away, I saw that she was crying too.

They say that God cries when we cry. Perhaps that is true because the angel that touched my heart cried tears of compassion and anguish too even though I didn’t say a word.

Resurrection comes in funny places. Even in airport bathroom stalls.

 

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