Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brokenness and a Waterfall

Donald Trump has been elected President.

Chaos has erupted. Anger, hate, and fear have risen, from both sides, and every direction. People are divided; a country, communities, families, friendships...none safe from the chopping block. Millions of fingers pointing, blaming, shaming. Millions of hearts breaking.

My heart is broken. If you could shake it you would hear the pieces rattling in there, but you can't see what exactly has come apart inside. You can't fix it. People are angry. Some of them are angry with me. I wonder if I have lost them. The pain is deep, throbbing...sadness, grief, despair, rage, guilt, shame. Loss.

I am fractured.

My son broke his femur when he was two years old. He tried to kick a ball, but instead fell over the top and twisted his tiny leg. I wasn't looking. He screamed, a wailing siren scream, the kind that sends a mother running at super human speed. His father and I scooped him up, and rushed away to get help. We couldn't see what was broken, but we heard his cry of agony. We knew what to do. We knew where to go.

It seems that none of us know where to go or what to do now. We can hear the screams. But they are coming from everywhere. Some of them are coming from me. I feel the rattling of my heart. I reach out,wanting to save others, but I also cry out to be saved myself. I want to move, to run at that superhuman speed, but I feel stuck. I feel bound. I feel powerless.

The supermoon arrived just days after the election. A full moon that would be so close, so large, so bright. Powerful. Full moon has a spiritual significance of manifestation, creation, and completion, and is associated with the divine feminine and water. So, on the day of the supermoon I wanted to be out in nature and near that healing water. I hoped to find some clarity alone in the wilds, to pray for healing, for myself, and all my hurting brothers and sisters. I hiked a treacherous and slippery path down through the thick forest to a waterfall. I almost fell several times. I considered broken bones; femur, tibia, radius, ribs. I would be out there alone, no one would hear my screams.

At the hospital, they had to cut off his pants. His leg was so swollen.

They said the x ray had revealed a spiral fracture of the femur. They had to transfer him to the children's hospital. He would require special care that they couldn't provide there. At the children's hospital a nurse explained he would need to be in traction for a number of days, and then a cast. She said an orthopedic doctor would be in soon to explain the cast to us. I thought, a broken leg, sure, a cast from thigh to ankle, little crutches, nothing too extraordinary. No problem.

The doctor came in with a doll. The doll was encased in plaster from chest to ankle, both legs casted, spread wide, with a bar in between. A body cast. A two year old. I pleaded that there must be something else, something...he said no. This was the only option for healing. Complete immobilization from the chest down.

These days post election I have felt a great heaviness in my chest, it radiates out from there. It feels tight and drawing in on me. It's hard to breathe. I am usually a person of action, but in this I feel bound. I feel immobilized. There is no easy fix, not for me, our families, our communities, or our country. A little cast, a bandage, a bit of plaster won't do. The way to healing is going to be long and hard, and it's going to hurt, for quite awhile.

When I made it to the waterfall, I cried and heaved, I looked to the sky above and to the earth under my feet. As the water poured over the cliff, hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I reached down and scooped up cool water and mingled it with those tears. I prayed with all I had, in the ways I know how. I did moon salutation, from yoga, that honors the moon and the feminine. Praying with my body. I prayed with song, chanting. I uttered words of request, asking for help. Praying with my voice. I sat on a rock in stillness and opened to feeling, receiving, listening. Praying with my heart.
I listened to the natural world around me. Praying with my soul.

My son endured traction, painful, boring. He was medicated for the pain, only to have other pains from the medication. Weights pulled on his already broken leg. All I could do was sit at his side and do my best to comfort him, to bring him some measure of relief by holding his hand, kissing his face, reading him a book, watching his favorite shows with him.

He went in the cast for a week, an x ray check up then revealed improper healing...out of the cast, back in traction for two more weeks, back in the cast for two months. My poor guy, I call him bud, suffered in so many ways. When he came out of the cast, he couldn't walk.  His muscles had weakened too much, he would have to crawl first.

I asked the waterfall what to do. I looked to the water for some inspired answer. Her response was to simply continue pouring down, letting the water flow. The pool below receiving it, the stream it feeds flowing along. The wind blowing gently, the birds singing, insects flying. Out here nothing was wrong. Out in the wild there is just being. There is no resistance, all things simply doing what they do with no judgment, doubt, or hesitation.  The waterfall doesn't hold anything back, not a drop. She is wide open and letting go.

My son did crawl, and then he stood, he walked again. Healing did happen. It required patience, care, courage, support, willingness to go through the hard parts, and love.

I left the peaceful oasis of the waterfall after a long sit. I found a new challenge on the ascent. The muddy and steep mountain trail offered only jagged rock steps as footholds. There were stretches that I had to put my hands down on the rocks in front of me, dig into the dirty surface with my fingers, and crawl up. It took some effort, strength, will. I got there. And at the top I stepped onto the flat path and walked. I felt my heart more steady, less rattled, beating stronger.

I will think of the waterfall when the tightening comes, when I want to run away, or hold things in. I will try to make myself more like her, not holding back, wide open, letting go.

I know healing happens. It will happen now too, but the way ahead is clearly long and painful. The first thing is to fully acknowledge the injury, really look at it, inside and out and from every angle. We must look at all the ugliness, the blood and guts of it, with eyes wide open. We each must do our best to show up now, attend to ourselves, lend a hand to others, protect the people around us, especially those who are vulnerable and deeply afraid. The wounded world needs us. It needs us to be people brave of heart and bold of truth. It needs deeply grounded warriors, medicine people.

Healing will happen. It may take a very long time, we will have to crawl before we walk. It will be trying, it will challenge us on every level, but we must not lose hope, or harden into hate and resentment. In our fight against dark forces, we must not forget the light. This healing will require courage, fire, will, relentless and vigilant action, but also patience, steadfastness, support, compassion, and love. This great challenge is before us, and we will meet it, but may we keep our intentions centered in our hearts. Open, in flow, powerful, goodness will prevail.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Out of the Ash

Perhaps to arrive in the purity of truth we must risk standing in the middle of the fire, looking destruction and death in the eyes. As long as we fear that we can be destroyed, we remain blind to our essential nature. The vital truth is as simple as observing the partnership of a single breath; inhale, exhale. The antidote for fear and chaos is there, in our center, inviolable, whole.

On a recent trip to China I was reminded of the importance of magical, celestial animals in Chinese culture. They figure prominently in their art, architecture, literature, feng shui and ultimately the way life is seen and lived. They are the bearers of good fortune, hope, health, and wealth.

Two of these animals are particularly sacred. The dragon and the phoenix. Dragon is yang or masculine and phoenix is yin or feminine. Together they create balance and harmony, the perfect marriage.

Dragon has the force of life, chi, in his breath, he is the bringer of strength, good fortune and hope. Phoenix is the goddess of all the winged creatures. She is ultimately male and female. She can transform bad luck into good. She is rebirth and continuation. She can not be killed by any flame. She rises from the ash of destruction.

Dragon and Phoenix, yang and yin, masculine and feminine forces, both are needed to have balance and flow on this earth.

I am not an expert on the system of feng shui, nor am I deeply schooled in the history and culture of China, but these symbols are familiar. When I sense into them I feel a bone truth. There is an intimate knowing that these energies are more than myth, more than story or superstition, they are alive and integral in our world. They are the forces of nature, day and night, sun and moon, life and and sky, water and fire.

The breath of the universe. Inhale. Exhale.

We are part of this cosmic rhythm, though we have entered a dream, one where we imagine ourselves outside of these forces, and so we have become estranged from our own truth and put out of balance. This imbalance is reflected in our culture, our politics, our relationships, the way we show up in the world.

The dragons of Western mythology are destroyers, monsters. Perhaps we have mistaken them for such, when all they are is heartbroken in their separation. Maybe they are in grief over the absence of the beloved phoenix. Without her the marriage is empty, love is lost.

We have a conspicuous absence of the powerful feminine in our consciousness at this time. Patriarchy dominates and so we have fire upon fire, burning things to the ground. We hear about scorched earth, we see it, smell it. There is fear, panic, roiling us in the wake of this destructive fire. We long for the phoenix to rise, but we have forgotten that she is what we are searching for. And so we stumble around in the dark, reaching out madly for something, but essentially all we need to do is open our eyes and see.

Much of Eastern spirituality centers around seeing through illusion. We are lost in a deceit, wrong seeing, both of ourselves and the world, which brings suffering. We believe a separation has occurred, between ourselves and divinity, when in reality it has not, and so we fight an endless battle against an enemy that lives in that dream, an enemy born in our minds and egos.

Right now it seems that all is burning, and complete destruction may be imminent. Fear and hate are making a stand. We are at each other's throats, it is epidemic, we see it all around the world.
All of it may end in ruins. But the phoenix is ready to rise.

The question is not an if, but a when.

The moment our inner eyes open, we see clearly, we reclaim our true nature. The dragon and phoenix that live in each of us are there waiting to be awakened, and we need them both. We must not forsake one for the other, either. We need the powerful masculine, and the powerful feminine, only together, united, can they bring the peace of love back to us. They are the inhale and exhale of the inner and outer spiritual world. Without an inhale, or without an exhale, we can't function. We are stuck, paralyzed, stagnant. Asleep.

We begin to undo the sleep state by embracing ourselves, by owning our power, and learning how to step into the world as peaceful warriors. Peaceful warriors have their dragon and phoenix at the ready, balanced in the yang and yin, fierce and wise, guided by great courage, armed with compassion. A peaceful warrior is engaged and active, ready to fight the good fight, but equally adept at forgiveness. When we step out of the dream, we step out of fear, because the dragon brings us the life breath, and the phoenix reminds us that we can not be destroyed. When we are out of the shadow of fear, we will create a culture of partnership and dynamic growth.

It may take a long time for us to awaken, to bring dragon and phoenix back into harmony. It may take many lifetimes. But each time a person is pierced by the light, whenever there is a flash or a glimpse of clear seeing, the shift gains momentum. I myself know this is what I am trying to live into. I think I have glimpses, and then I stumble back into fear - the illusion. The best I can do is try to return, practice, breathe, practice, open my heart, attempt to be as present as possible in any given moment.

The truth is. Truth may be obscured, buried, burnt to the ground, but it still is. My truth is...
I am fierce. I am loving. I am here, full of life force. I will go through deaths in life and beyond it. I will rise from the ash. So will you. This is who we really are.

Friday, October 28, 2016

After the Gauntlet, Ice Cream

tables arranged
into a grid
neat aisles
for passages
of hopes and fears
parents running a gauntlet
of blood, sweat, and tears
the heart of our hearts
broken down
into feedback

assessments and averages
percentages and pop quizzes
letters and numbers
tattoos on a future
permanent records
marks never erased

i listen attentively
to the good and bad news

tears rise from within
a truer voice

of joy
of sadness
steeped in love

those kind of tears

i reach for a tissue

when i close my eyes
to wipe
potent droplets
an image of us

we sit under
a tree near the ocean
salt and sand
sun on our freckled faces
our toes dipped in
dancing water

we are eating ice cream
and laughing

simple, free
not a mark in the world
in the natural state of things

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Midlife, Destruction, Creation and Game On

I just turned 45.

It's hard to believe. I don't feel 45 or at least not the way people led me to believe I would feel.
I don't feel tired, I don't feel settled, I don't have things figured out. I also don't feel like I actually know who I am. I don't think we ever become a set person, a solid identity, we evolve. We are constantly changing and growing. Shift happens within us, as it happens all around us. Change and transformation is the nature of things.

I think of butterflies, babies and how dawn comes after night. The forces of creation, constantly birthing. I also think of floods and fire, volcanoes and glaciers. The powers of destruction that paint new landscapes and clear spaces for what creation will bring next. Darkness and light. Yin and yang.

Joan Didion said, "I have already lost touch with a couple people I used to be." I get that quote. As I think back on these 45 years of life, I am astounded by how events have come and gone and how some of them were like brush fires, unforgiving, brutal and cataclysmic, but clearing a path. Others the moment of arising, flowers blooming, sun shining, the butterfly emerges.

There are times that have split me into before and after.

When I was twenty I was arrested on felony drug charges. I was confused, traumatized, angry, but underneath it all a sad and very scared girl. I pretended to be all punk, all I don't give a fuck, so tough. When they walked me into the cell block, the women laughed. I looked about twelve, red eyed, wearing a university sweat shirt. One actually said to me, "What are you in here for?".

The DEA said my best friend and I were drug dealers. They knew one when they saw one. The women in the jail saw a little girl with no business on the block. The women were right, but they sure couldn't save me. They were in the same fucked and powerless position as me. Loser scum of the earth, criminal wastes. I only spent a day and a half in the county lock up, but I saw where it could take me. I was released to await a preliminary hearing. My public defender said the evidence was strong, I would probably do hard time.

A couple months and a plea bargain later, my lead counselor in court ordered rehab would throw a box of tissues and a teddy bear at my head, and tell me that it takes the same muscles to smile as it does to cry. I was talking about how much I hated myself and my life, all with a big smile on my face. Emotionally disconnected, torn from my own heart, in so much pain.

In rehab for criminal offenders, no bullshit got by. They had my number and I was not getting off the hook just because I was a college kid. Tough love epitomized. It worked. I have often wondered what the outcome would have been had I gone to state prison. I doubt it would have been positive, I got lucky.

Getting arrested had seemed sure to destroy me, in the end it saved me.

My future husband and I got back together at that same time. We had dated and split up before. He was there for me and supported me. He picked me up when I was at the lowest of lows. The emptiness started to take on new form. Destruction shifting toward creation.

We got married two years later. embarking on a new life. College graduates, so much hope and excitement. We got jobs and an apartment, we went out after work, we had fun and friends. We had ups and downs, young and still immature, breaking the cocoon, wet winged, clumsy. But headed in a good direction, together. It felt good to have a together to lean into and rely upon.

Married with children. A show we liked to watch, but an idea that terrified me. I felt that I should never have children. I feared I would be unable to love them enough, what with my heart, patched up and sewn together, but far from whole or completely healed. I had visions of how they would crumble in my arms, how I would turn cold and cruel when they came to me. I couldn't bear the idea, but when our son arrived, I arrived with him. He gave me the gift of my true heart, full of love.

Four children that I hold in my arms and my heart are the very best of me. They are the jewels of my life. My family is the greatest blessing I could ever have asked for. When I go to the dark places that still live in me, it is my family, just the thought of them saves me. I love them so fully and faithfully, that I am restored to knowing the light that I am, and that I have always carried in my heart.

45 years and it has been many things, but never boring. I have lived on three continents and have been to four. I have studied photography, become a yoga teacher, a dancer, a writer. I have run marathons and done triathlons. I say yes when opportunity arises, and I take risks, I put myself out there, beyond my comfort zone. I strive to stay in growth, to maintain forward momentum.

I still make mistakes too, and I struggle with my shadow side, depression, anxiety, trauma recovery. One day at a time.

I may be at midlife, but I am a force to be reckoned with and the first 45 was only a warm up. I am just getting started.

Life always has challenges. I say bring it. Game on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart of Devotion

I live a half mile up the side of a mountain overlooking Tianmu, an area of Taipei. Every morning I walk my dog on a mile loop on that mountainside. It is quite steep. I am fit and relatively young, and yet I almost always break a sweat. No one would call it a particularly easy walk.

Besides the beautiful views of the nature all around, and vistas of the city below, one of my favorite things about the walk is it takes me past two temples. The temples are situated very close to one another. One is large and sits above a smaller one, like a parent watching over a child. Some days there will be a ceremony going on at the large one. As I walk past, I hear chanting and bells. It fills me with a sense of the sacred, reminds me to open my heart to devotion. The small one sometimes has incense lit, the scent flows out to the street. I breathe it in like medicine. There is a powerful healing agent in ceremonies and all the elements involved. The senses are awakened to their own divine and holy nature, a deep knowing, open channels to heart and soul.

Another staple of my walks is a man. I pass by him nearly every day. We say "zao" (good morning) and smile at each other, and that sums up our interaction. The language barrier keeps locals at an arms distance or more from me. Although I have never spoken more than that one word to him, he has had a significant impact on me.

Every morning, there he is walking, slowly, and it often appears, painfully. He walks with a cane, the kind with four small legs at the bottom, in one hand. He uses the other hand to grip a stick of incense. The incense is held right up close to him, at heart level. Over time I have surmised that he walks down the steep downhill stretch to the temple, he gets the incense there, and then he ascends back to where he lives, and burns it at a family altar on the side of the road.

I can tell that this daily regimen must take all his strength. There is a look of will, his furrowed brow, a quality of determination. What strikes me though is the clear dedication, the insistence in this action, committed, faithful. I don't need to know a single thread of his story, or detail of his life to know that it is centered in disciplined devotion. I don't need to know the words of the prayers, or what god, goddess, or divine force they are spoken to. I am inspired in the mere witnessing of his action.

I see him, and I think about willful action. I believe in the power of such action, though I have not nearly achieved a practice of it in the ways I imagine I could. And he reminds me to hone it down, potent action can be singular, simple.

He takes one step at a time, slowly, he holds his incense, makes an offering of it. I am probably one of very few people who know anything about this act of earnest devotion he does, loyally each day, and yet, I know even when I am gone, even if no one passes him on the road, he will be there, doing what he feels called to do. He does this in the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering. There is suffering that can be seen, one hand gripping a cane, shuffling, but I am sure there is much more being carried, held close with the incense, clutched at the heart.

Human suffering. We all carry it.

I have been down lately. I have spells like that, some life events are pulling me there. I feel heavy. I slump toward immobility, a broody lethargy. I drop the ball on my practices and prayers, and then I am weighed down by guilt and shame, that I am in this state again. I always hope this time will be the last, but that has never been the case to date. Brightness always fades to grey, and back again. Moods like the weather on the mountain.

Clouds roll in around the mountain, sometimes a fierce storm, clouds roll out again. The mountain simply stands. The mountain does the action of being, it holds the space for all expression without judgment. It asks nothing of us, of me. I find that idea peaceful.

The earth is always underneath us. It is one of the few reliable things. Such a powerful and strong container, it bears all things. That is the comfort to be realized, to lean back into, soften, release, deeply receive. This truth. Everything that happens is held, all of the doing or not doing, all of the cycles, each change of season, the bright and the grey, day and night, life and death and every single thing that occurs in between. All of it perfect, to the earth.

The life that happens on this patch of mountain may seem of little importance in the larger world, but I find it profound. I am so deeply touched by the man who walks and prays, and the chanting and drums in the temple, the smell of incense, sweat and tears, struggle and mercy mingled. I honor myself in that as well. I am equally included, and I need do nothing to be whole and healed. The heart of devotion is like the mountain, the earth that supports us all, embracing the dedicated action, the weighted inaction, all of it taken, equally sacred, the smoke of prayers and incense, things being burned away. All of it a beautiful offering.

We are here. That is enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Life at an Airport

I was trying to get from my home country to my host country, from one home to another. Sometimes getting from point A to point B gets complicated. It is easy for the way to become encumbered, disrupted, or just plain blocked. Such is life. It is mostly curves, with only the occasional simple straight line.

My way was impeded by a pack of typhoons threatening Tokyo. Gale force winds, torrential rain, powerful forces of nature blowing a hole right through my route home. My flight from Tokyo to Taipei was canceled and this left me committed, by force, to a meandering course, including an all day lay over at Minneapolis International Airport.

I happened to be traveling alone as my husband and kids had already returned to Taiwan for the start of school. I was missing them intensely, and I knew they needed me. My husband was right then readying for his own trip, going away on business, leaving our children solo on the other side of the world. I pictured my children, two teens and one tween, there, alone, waiting for my curvy path to arrive back in Taipei. I started to panic as the check in agent informed me of my new and very long itinerary. I became extremely frustrated by this delay. I was short with her, my irritation spilling onto the messenger of things that are beyond anyone's control. I can be reactive at times and I wanted her to fix it, make it to my liking, dial up the weather gods and get it right. It didn't work. No shit. I had to concede defeat and apologize to the poor woman just doing her job.

I am only human, and we do have claws and fangs. Mine occasionally get brought out a bit hastily, especially when mama is on a mission for her kiddos. I walked away from that interaction feeling bad for her, bad for myself, wincing at the sharp dagger of my inner critic. I should be better than this. Sometimes being human tastes bitter to me, a blend of tears and blood. I wonder if people notice my claws and fangs. Suddenly mine felt sharper and bloodier than others. Perhaps I am more beast than beauty. I often wonder if people are looking at me, pretending not to see my ugliness, my scars. I get an intense impulse to hide. I turn to run toward exile. My ideas of separation and unworthiness rise within me, relentless and brutal. I don't belong. I'm not worthy. I so intensely long to be seen, to be included and understood, but I equally want to hide. Pulled apart by paradox, as we tend to be.

I spent ten hours at the Minneapolis Airport. I had a lot of sitting ahead of me on the two flights to come, so I decided to walk. I followed signs for Terminals A,B,C and Terminals D,E,F.  I determined to connect all those dots, cover all the terrain. As I walked I began to relax, and my attention shifted from being self absorbed, frustrated, and guilt ridden, spinning in my inner story, to the buzz of activity all around me.

Airports are truly a microcosm of the larger world. For a moment, a few hours, or occasionally even days, people end up at this hub of exchange, randomly thrown together as they travel straight lines or curvy meandering paths in a shared quest to get from point A to point B. As I walked I observed all these people. There were young people and older people. Babies in strollers alongside elders in wheelchairs. Beginnings and endings. There were people of all different colors, speaking varied languages. There were people from all backgrounds and walks of life.There was a business man sitting next to a teen aged girl with pink streaks in her hair. He was wearing a suit and tie, she had on ripped jeans and combat boots. He had a briefcase, she had a violin. Only at an airport would it be likely that these two would end up side by side.

I saw a Catholic nun, and then later a Buddhist monk. I saw a guy decked out in cowboy wear and a woman dressed to the nines in couture. Buttoned up people and buttoned down people.

We may seem so far from each other, so different, so distinct. But spend a little time at an airport and you will observe all of us engaged in what we do in common. We journey. We endeavor to get from point A to point B. I watched in wonder as I walked. So many people, so many stories to be told. Sometimes I guessed where people might be headed, and other times I overheard.  Some of those people were going to weddings and others to funerals. I saw people crying and saying hello, and I saw people crying and saying goodbye. There were families heading out on vacation, and families going home. A young man off to college, another in uniform returning to his military station after a visit with his family. I saw parents hugging their children and parents scolding their children. Newlyweds going on their honeymoon with big dreams of a life ahead, and an elderly couple sitting quietly, at ease and still holding hands.

In an airport you will witness all of human expression and experience. In ten hours I saw people happy, sad, elated, frustrated, exhausted, angry, anxious, relaxed, distressed, engaged, connected, disconnected. I witnessed people being generous, people being selfish, people in love and people enraged. Airports are epicenters of emotion, shift, and change. They are a constant gathering flow of people in the fire of transition. Going from point A to point B guarantees at least a change of location and scenery. It includes people in the midst of a multitude of different situations, emotions and transformational events. Observing people on their journeys reveals so much about the human heart, and our common ground of feeling. Under one roof we can see love, grief, celebration, loss, industry, leisure, community, and isolation. In an airport we can openly observe the things that bring us together and the things that tear us apart.

I have traveled many places, and right now I live across the world from where I began. And yet, I realize one only needs to go as far as the airport to learn all there is to know about people. We are all here to evolve, moving from where we are, towards where we need to be. We are all just human and we do have claws and fangs, but we also have warm arms to embrace each other, tears for both our joys and our sorrows, hearts that can be both delicate and courageous. Most of all, we are all capable of noble and amazing things as well as brutal and destructive things. But we are all born of love, that is the most powerful force I saw. At an airport you will see many people holding each other tenderly, for many reasons. Love lives. It is the most powerful part of us. If we have fangs and claws, then love surely gives us wings to rise above. On our seemingly separate paths we walk, or fly, going from our point As to our point Bs, whether we realize it or not, we are all in this thing called life, together, following a curvy path home.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


gather 'round people
make me a village
raise me now
like you couldn't before
place your hands on me
my holy places
or any torn fragment
what you can reach

hoist me towards heaven
or in the general direction
i trust
that you know
which way that
may be

once i'm high
over the rainbow
i'll get my wings
and return to you
stage dive
from a starry night
into your ready hands