Tuesday, November 17, 2015

peace offering

the world is on fire
all teeth and claws
swift and vicious
the fury that erupts
in gunshots and hate

many rush to
fight fire with fire
hoping to vanquish the enemy
or keep their hearts safe

but see

they have forgotten their tears
sweet antidote to flames
the salve of sorrow that
clears the eyes of rage

sitting in our grief
being with our pain
touching tenderness
we remember each other

i gather sacred water
in my small cupped hands
and offer you a drink

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Virtue of Humility

the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.

Humility is espoused as a great virtue. I can't say how many times I have heard people praised for their humble nature, or conversely criticized for holding themselves too high in their own esteem, branded as arrogant or pompous. I wonder at what point do we end up sacrificing our confidence to meet the expectation of staying humble? In a world where many people are barely scraping by in the department of self esteem, where self image is already darkened with insecurity, and beliefs of being "not good enough" are epidemic, how does this concept of humility serve us in living our best lives? How does it help us step out of the shadows of self doubt and bring our gifts to life, to serve not only ourselves, but the world? The way we currently define this quality of humility forces us to downplay our talents, requires us to stay smaller than we really are, convinces many of us to remain followers even when we are called to lead, because it is the polite and right thing to do. This limiting ideal of humility affects some groups more than others, women and other minorities, those typically already in a power deficit, are additionally hindered by such humiliation. We were raised this way, educated and coached this way, society praises it and we pass it on to the next generation, just because that's how it has always been done.

In yoga we typically use the salutation, namaste, to begin and end practice. Namaste means, "The light or spirit in me, honors the light or spirit in you.".  It is a recognition of the essential goodness and wisdom that we all carry within us.

I think it is time to adjust our definition and application of humility to align with the truth, that we all possess this inner light, this essential goodness. What if we all were firmly grounded in the belief that every single person is worthy and valuable, that we all serve an important purpose in this journey we call life? I think the world needs more illumination, more inspiration , more brilliance. My greatest happiness would be to see my children discover the things that fill them with joy and excitement, light those torches up within themselves, stoke their sacred fire, and let it be seen in all directions, without ever feeling that they are required to hold anything back. By expanding the light that shines from within us we then can see others more clearly as well. Perhaps, instead of needing to cut ourselves, or others down, so as not to appear inflated, we can discover a way to rise together.

Why shouldn't humility be about elevating and expanding instead of withholding and diminishing?

Humility should be the virtue of knowing that you have purpose and brilliance in you, and so does everyone else. No one person is above another, we are all entitled to express our unique and important purpose in life, whatever that may be. More love, less judgment. More confidence, less fear. More yes, less no.

We are all beautiful, unique, gifted, feeling, talented, beings of light and spirit. We all are needed and we all have value. The problem is, for many of us, that knowledge is never imparted, our torches don't get lit, we are not helped along. We need to help ourselves, but additionally, we need to bring each other up, we need to invest in each other's success and well being. Mastery and achievement are certainly of value and should be recognized and celebrated, but those who have attained mastery, and who have achieved excellence, those who are leaders, can embody humility, not by downplaying their accomplishment, but through generous service; by sharing their gifts and utilizing them to inspire others to shine.

Maybe I am being an idealist here, but I know there is truth in this ideal. I believe we can move towards this enlightenment. I pray for it.

“A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Ghost Story

In Tibetan Buddhism, Hungry Ghosts have their own realm and are represented as teardrop or paisley-shaped with bloated stomachs and necks too thin to pass food, such that attempting to eat is also incredibly painful. Some are described as having "mouths the size of a needle's eye and a stomach the size of a mountain". This is a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires.

i set out
unknown course
grasping for some latitude
the day and I
go together
searching for a clue
some small sign
a flash of light
a remembered tune
a recollection
it will be a miracle
a treasure
a scrap of myself
that i can hold up in the wind
here i am

I am here. I am alive, but sometimes I feel invisible, as though I am really half ghost.
I wonder where I belong. Why am I here?

I sense myself lost at sea, a vast internal ocean that keeps me separate, keeps me searching, keeps me hungry. I have a hunger that is never satisfied. The ghost in me is ravenous, with a sieve for a stomach. She is a bottomless pit, a sinkhole. She wants it all, and all would never be enough. All the success, acclaim, friends, beauty, wealth, love, in the world, would never fill the gut of the hungry ghost.

I have tried to soothe this part of me. I have tried to send her away. I have denied her existence and tried to put her in the attic or the basement, but she just rattles her chains, deafeningly loud. I have tried to numb her with alcohol, drugs, food, accomplishment and all manners of escape.

I have tried to feed her. She always wants more. She is the mother of addiction. Addiction is the definition of this hunger. She can't be fed, she must be healed.

I am finding a way to heal my hungry ghost.

I have walked through so much fear following the trail of chains that bind my ghost and me. My search led me directly into the heart of a dark void, the core of this hunger. In order to free my ghost I have to know her, deeply and intimately, as a sister, my kin. I have to look her in the face. I have to hold my eyes wide open and see the truth, full and clear and painful. I have to open to the grief that this ghost embodies. Things that have been lost along the way, dreams that withered, yearnings unfulfilled, wounds that have been inflicted, and all the ways that I have come to the wrong conclusion that I am not enough. There was a moment that planted the seed of this misshapen idea that I must strive to be more, something other than just me. That seed grew, and it was nourished by all the messages, coming from so many directions, messages that I could not possibly be whole as I was, as I am. As it grew, it strangled pieces of me, starved some of my aliveness, leaving a hollowness that longs to be filled, that aches for nourishment.

I have been on a quest to fill that hollow. I want to set the ghost free and bring her peace.

After so much frustration at attempting to fill that hole from the outside in, I realized that this hunger must be met from the inside out. No one else could ever love me enough to bring me contentment. I would have to meet my ghost alone, out in that sea. I am the only one who can finally heal her.

I am enough and I possess the medicine and wisdom to bring this to completion. I have always had it. I have the perfect and infinite power of divine love in me. Just like you. Just like everyone. I also know I am not the only one who has been harboring a ghost. Maybe this sounds familiar in some way to you. If it does, I think we are in good company.

We forget who we are. The ghost distracts us and leads us away from ourselves. I forgot myself, my true and complete self, for a long time. I fade in and out now, moments of remembrance are increasing though. I catch glimpses, that are becoming gazes of truth. Clarity is coming, I am stepping out of the fog. I am reaching out of the darkness and reclaiming my light.  It is a long and arduous path, and yet, such a rich journey, it offers so many gifts.

I did some intense work on this at a retreat this summer. I told my spiritual circle about this ghost, and how I have been hanging on to things that have passed, how I am haunted by regret and how I long for a self that seems out of reach. My inner little girl still crying and heartbroken over what might have been and if only. We acted out a burial of that little girl, lost and wandering, and we brought her back, whole and new, fully alive and in the now. Then my dear friends told me how they see me. They named the gifts I bring to the world. They helped me see myself. Together we worked to put a bottom on the sieve that has been leaking my power and emptying my joy.

Something shifted at that retreat. I took a large step towards integration. Integration is the key. Healing this wound is not an extraction. It is not an exile. It is in fact, a welcoming, a homecoming; a way of speaking to this spirit about coming to shore after a long time at sea. I say to my ghost, "I see you. I love you. Come have a rest." I take her in my arms and separation falls away, and really, it never was. Our wounds, in truth, are our gifts, and to that I deeply bow.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why Share Struggle?

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another." ~ Mother Teresa

We long for peace and understanding, and yet it seems so far out of reach. I often pause to contemplate this quest for peace and acceptance within myself, how I sense it in others and in the world. We all thirst for it, but it seems elusive.

As a writer, I tend to be drawn to writing about my life, my personal experiences and the learning that has come, or is coming from them. I often share very personal accounts of struggle, and I frequently have moments, days, or even weeks of hesitation as I decide whether to publish or keep my writing private. That hesitation is not typically derived from any personal shame or insecurity about the challenges I am revealing, but rather the social attitudes I have encountered around vulnerability and being open and honest about the difficulties of this life.

"Don't compare your reality to someone else's highlight reel." ~ Jill Sessa

When I am online I detect a kind of pressure to never let them see you sweat, and I would add, cry, despair, fail, hurt, outrage, suffer or anything that does not fit with the one dimensional "good life" we have perpetrated on each other, especially on social media. I am not saying we should hold back from sharing all the good stuff we have going on. Lordy, in today's world of bad and worse news it is such good medicine to see each other living and thriving, loving our families, our friends, our work. What I am saying is that we should feel equally empowered to share our tough times too, lest we all end up feeling like the only one in our circles that stumbles and falls every once in a while, or, let's be real, every single day in some fashion (at least I do).

When we allow ourselves to be seen in all the ways we show up, and meeting all the diverse experiences life is throwing at us, then we can begin to cultivate real and meaningful connections with our communities both large and small. I cringe when I hear people criticizing others for posting, blogging or in other ways sharing their hurts, sad moments, illnesses, relationship challenges, mental health problems and so on. I have heard accusations of narcissism, being an attention hound, holding a pity party and general commentary of  "I can't believe that she/he put that out there, like in public!"

My take on this is that, whatever the motivation for sharing...BRAVO! It takes courage to be honest and authentic, vulnerable. I am not held hostage by someone's choice to share something. I get to choose if I want to respond or not, and if I respond, I get to choose in what manner and how much. I get to hold my personal boundaries, and I can do so without judgment of any kind; no judging of my action and no need to judge their action. If we could all embrace that, imagine the freedom we would have with each other and ourselves. How liberating it is to share what is real, both the sweet and the gritty, with no fear of rejection or reprisal. I endeavor to model that in my sharing and way of communicating with others both on and offline.

We should share our struggles because it increases empathy and inclusion. It is my experience, that when I disclose a challenge I am working with, someone almost always thanks me for making them feel not so alone. I know there are probably others who do not understand why I would reveal what I do, but that one person who feels supported and understood always makes it worth it.

Our wounds are ultimately our gifts, our obstacles are our greatest opportunities, and we can find the healing that eventuates that much more quickly, and with greater immediate impact, when we do it in relationship, in the company of our fellow journeyers. When we see and are being seen, clarity is awakened, the clouds part. Light emanates from the joining of hands and hearts, but this can't happen without the presence of trust and compassion. If we are hiding from each other in fear, our lights are hidden as well.

We should share our struggles because it is the path to peace. When we feel separate or apart from our human family; when we feel judged, alienated, misunderstood, or outcast, that is when fear takes hold and anger grows. When we feel separate from each other, we become protective, defensive, ready to battle...and we do battle. The more we battle the more we withdraw and withhold, we hide our wounds and mask our weakness with a shiny exterior that we imagine to be bullet proof, but really, it is just connection proof. It holds us back, keeps us in a small shell, stifled. Pressure builds in there, that pressure can become violence. That pressure is the stuff of war.

My teacher Devarshi says, "There are really only two prayers in this world, "Help me, help me, help me." and "Thank you, thank you, thank you.". When we create a culture in which it is safe to say our "help me" prayers out loud, they can get magnified and energized, so that the "thank you" prayers can become bigger and stronger. Together we can make those "thank you" prayers more and more abundant, because we are manifesting a world of love and support. That sounds like peace to me.

My prayer, my hope, is for a time when I, you, anyone, can speak their truth, be exactly who they are in any given moment, and be met with respect and a willingness to try to understand. I hope for a time when I can share any struggle I am facing without hesitation, and when I do I will not be applauded for my bravery, because bravery will no longer be required.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

at the peak

at the peak
where i could nearly
grasp the fingers of clouds
longing to touch ground
tender and loving
i marveled at the
dance troupe of
middle space
between heaven and earth
a swirl of wings
spiraling and soaring
beautiful black
butterflies that glide
swallows rising and falling
dragonflies hovering
weightless and magical
free and so alive
what a tribe of the skies
gathered there
standing among them
i felt
at peace

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Now Fly

what seemed a wall
can be a window
depending on which eyes you use
whether day or night
light or shadow
a kingdom
of things unspoken
what some call magic
you will call simplicity
knowing the unknown
how stars sing
birds shine
and dreams have wings
now fly

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beginning Again

In expat lingo I am what is called a "trailing spouse". I don't much like the sound of that term, but honestly, it is a fair descriptor. A trailing spouse is the one in a partnership who follows the other; usually on their career path, in the quest for success, financial security, the good of the family, and, in expat assignments, the thrill of unique experiences and adventure.

We have moved a lot both at home and now abroad. I am an expert at starting over, beginning again and again...

There is something exhilarating and liberating about moving to a new place where you have a fully clean slate. No one in this new town knows anything about you, much less that stupid thing you said at the meeting, or the embarrassing thing you did at the party, or any single piece of your baggage from the history of forever so far in this life.

Every time we move I get the opportunity to reinvent myself as much or as little as I like (to a degree). I get a kind of do over, armed with what I learned in my last hometown; mistakes I won't make again (hopefully), changes in how I will invest my time, or goals I will set, things I will set aside for awhile, new things I will try.

I always enter these new beginnings with ideas of how I will be, who I will be, how things will go...I am always surprised by reality. I find I really can evolve in these spacious transitions, but I am who I am, and I can't simply wish my basic nature, my core self away, nor would I, but I do sometimes dream of it, a break from me, a complete metamorphosis. I lack patience in many ways, and most of all with myself.

We move, and I am anonymous to the people around me. I am merely a face, a stranger, an unknown. This stripping away of identity, while ripe with opportunity, is also quite scary, startling and difficult.

I was a yoga teacher in Shanghai, and every place I have lived for the last 13 years. Suddenly, I am a yoga teacher with no one to teach. This happens every time, and every time it is quite uncertain what I will find, or not. Having to start from ground zero, yet again, is exhausting. And then the question arises, "Who am I if I am not being a yoga teacher?". I am really attached to that role in my sense of self. I panic a bit when I realize I might not be able to be that here, or not in the way that I am used to.

"Who will I be, if I am not...." Fill in the blank with those things we think "make" us who we are.

At the center of that question is the base fear; the fear of death, the fear of unbecoming, disappearing, nonexistence. If I move to the other side of the planet will it feel like annihilation? Will I become too far removed from those who I am leaving behind, will I be forgotten, will I be lost?

Of course I have the anchor of my husband and family. I have my role as wife and mother. The most important and beloved people in my life are right by my side. That is a great comfort. Yet, this one kind of falling away reminds me that others are coming. My children are getting older, soon they will leave home and begin their own unique quests. My nest will be empty.

Who will I be when I am no longer so defined by that role? I have been a mother, dedicated and fully invested, for almost seventeen years. I see in that near future an opening up, a space full of newness, and I also sense grief. I expect to feel and experience a vast array of emotions. I anticipate meeting that ending and beginning in ways I can't even fathom from where I stand now. I know reality will surprise me, it always does.

Life is full of rich searching, struggling. We are all here finding ourselves, experimenting with possibility that becomes reality, and we can get stuck in the safe haven of who we think we are, but that house is built of straw at best. The only true shelter is in making friends with flow, vulnerability, risk, leaps of faith, courage and surrender. Beyond identity, beyond typecast roles we zip ourselves into and hide, there is a greater self, the light we are at our core. Love.

I determine more and more through these repeated deaths and rebirths, that the most important achievement in life is not what you do, or how high on a ladder you might climb, how rich you can be, or even how smart you are, how much you "know", but rather, how much you risked to feel, how wide open did you allow your heart to become, and did you let it get broken, not just once, but over and over again? Did you let your heart be broken by joy, by sadness, by love, by grief, by upheaval and transformation? It is in brave vulnerability that we come to know our wholeness, our power, our ultimate truth.

If we are to be deep wells, dug down to our souls, we must allow ground to be broken, we must allow our earth to be split and upturned. From that the most beautiful things will grow, those things will have endings too, and we will begin again.