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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When the Storm Hits

"You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather. ~ Pema Chodron

My family moved to Taiwan three weeks ago. We arrived on the island just in time to find out that a typhoon would be upon us within a few days. Not just a typhoon either, but Super Typhoon Soudelor. A friend commented to me that the name sounded a bit too much like soul eater. I considered this observation with interest and an undercurrent of anxiety. I had prickly thoughts of landslides, flash floods, powerful currents, vicious winds and rains that could sweep everything away.

Storms can be like that. They can rush in and change the landscape of everything in one fell swoop of mother nature's hand or gust of her breath. Transformation can be destructive and violent, storms teach us that. They teach us that nothing is ever set in stone, nothing is indestructible, nothing exists outside of the realm of change.

As we waited for this storm to roll in from the ocean, I knew I was waiting for another storm as well, another storm foretold, predicted and not yet confirmed, not solidified, a shade away from real, but ahead of the storm I could sense a shift in pressure, an electricity in the atmosphere, the pretense of what approached, the calm before.

Super Typhoon Soudelor came during the night, with howling wind and bucketing rain. The power popped and struggled and then submitted. Noises swirled and inflamed my anxious imagination, every bump, thud and wail, made my heart pound. I spent that night sleepless and desperate for the morning light.

The morning did arrive, and the storm raged on, trees bent and breaking, the rhythm of fierce gale winds that threatened to tip the whole world sideways and then would drop it back down. Curtains of rain hiding the city below. Our family huddled in our new home, hoping it would pass this test. Wondering how we would pass this test.

We spent the next days without electricity. We played poker through the storm and continued after it parted. We ate meals by candle and flashlight. We went for a walk the day after and marveled at the power of nature. We held each other and helped each other through. We also got grumpy and irritable as the house got hotter and hotter, as we were stripped of our escape mechanisms of technology; no television, no computer, no video games. There were moments of bad behavior by children and adults alike. Tempers ran short, and yet we hung together, we laughed a lot too.

I had enough battery charge on my phone to turn it on sparingly and check in. The day after the typhoon passed, the other storm hit.

My son had gone in for neuropsychological testing a few weeks previous. He already had a diagnosis of ADD from a couple years ago, but we anticipated some new findings, ones that would stand to change his life, our lives, forever. I had received an email with the findings of the testing.

I scanned through the lengthy report and got towards the bottom where it listed the diagnostic outcome. ADD, Bipolar 1, general anxiety disorder and written language learning disability was what I read. The words filled my eyes and flooded my brain. We suspected some of this before, now it was real, there in words, in concrete form, it made landfall. In an instant, in a breath, the world turned sideways and dropped back down, the landscape altered, forever changed.

But what stands out on both accounts, is that no matter what size or shape a storm may take, what never changes is our commitment to each other. The love always remains. The love stands the test of time and circumstance, and though things don't remain the same, and we ourselves don't remain the same, we stay with each other. My heart broke a little reading that diagnosis, but my love for my son shone out through the brokenness, the light piercing through the clouds. I have always loved him as he is, and in that respect nothing had changed, not the least bit.

Sometimes the bravest thing to do is to accept what is. It is hard to acknowledge that there is actually so little in this life that we can control, so much is outside of our will, outside of our wanting. When I accept what is and enter the flow of life, then I can engage with reality in a productive way. When I balance my fighting warrior nature with an equal measure of faithful surrender, then I can navigate the storm, come through the challenging terrain with more ease, with greater skill.

The true test of who we are is not in how we show up in the good times, on days of blue skies and gentle breezes on calm waters, but who we are when the super typhoon hits and our world is tilted sideways and dropped down hard upon us, or when the ground seems to disappear from under our feet. It is in weathering the storm that we will meet our edges, face our fears, and grow stronger, wiser and more resilient. We can learn how to stay and experience life, how to feel, instead of burying our heads in the sand or running away. The storm might seem to be entirely destructive in nature, but it is also the force of creation. What was lost or transformed is the invitation for something new, whether or not we venture out into that new world, and how we choose to meet it, is entirely up to us.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On My Feet Again

sitting here now
with nothing else to do
i consider my feet
irritated by the chipped polish
on just one toe
the assymetry it creates
a gash in otherwise perfect pink
i see lines and creases
skin peeling like old paint
disrepair, tired and worn
reptilian scales
i recall their former smooth creamy
untouched, unblemished

now calloused white sand deserts
fill gaps
blue veins rising, cataclysmic
the new topography shocks me
i recoil from such ravage
this failing flesh
decay of youth

i see it on the side of
my big toe
down to the heel
the roughness of these years
journeys taken
hard concrete roads
blistering barefoot
walks on glass

but also dancing
skipping through fields
climbing mountains
toes in warm sand

the hardships endured
the delights enjoyed

perhaps there is wisdom here
even beauty

when i look closely
it is all there
every story
every step taken

with all directions wide open
in front of me
i get on my feet

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sun, Moon, Water, Sky

soaring high on broad wings
seemed to soften space and time
into a tender embrace
 a love newly discovered

 the very sun himself
turned the purest hue of rose
a blossom from the heavens
fire of passion born
dazzled sky and adoring waters
the ocean mirrored muse

at the peak of brilliance
he humbly gave himself
all he had
descending into her tidal arms

 day makes way for night

full moon rising
dressed in stars
the dark that holds the light
her beauty needs both

down on the water below
the fishing boats
sit in clusters
lamps lit
creating their own constellations

the eye can't tell now
where sky ends and water begins
or if they do at all

Monday, June 8, 2015

Expectation is a Bitch

"The root of suffering is attachment." ~ Buddha

 "...we expect love if we're offering it to others. Since we expect it, when the time comes to offer love, we're hesitant. Because of this hesitation we fail the test to some degree. That's because we don't know the principle of love. Love can only be offered, not asked for in return." ~ Swami Kripalu

It is said in Buddhism that expectation, or attachment, is the root of all suffering, and in yogic philosophy we find many messages about the importance of nonattachment to the fruits of any and all actions we take. It may seem fallacious to think that all suffering at its core is derived from expectation, but hold experiences of pain and suffering up to close inspection and the truth is revealed. Distill disappointment, heartache, disturbances of all kinds down to their essence, and expectation will be there in some form.

I find myself chronically afflicted by expectation. Even though I have been practicing yoga for over a decade I can't seem to get a grip on this one. No matter what I throw at it, no matter how sincere my efforts are to assuage it, I find it creeping into my thoughts, fueling my actions and impacting my emotions. Releasing expectation is the most challenging of practices, the most elusive of intentions. Expectation is the opposite of yoga because it takes us out of the pure present moment and propels us into future stories and possible outcomes, which are illusions, and may or may not ever come to pass. Expectation is the sharp edge of ego, insatiable and greedy, as soon as it has what it wants, it is on to wanting more. If it doesn't get what it wants it howls and lashes out, or sulks and sinks into lethargy and hopelessness.

Expectation is a bitch.

I am a writer and artist. I dig deep into my very heart and soul to birth each creation large or small. I pour my truth and feelings into words. I used to write and keep my words to myself, for my eyes alone, but a blog is an enterprise of sharing, it requires the bravery to be vulnerable, it begs for generosity. It is a giant leap to go from withholding to generosity, and true generosity does not marry itself to expectation, they are incompatible. I aspire to be generous, but I am only human. I live in a society and culture where expectation is the norm and we learn about it in our earliest formative experiences. As small children we are rewarded and punished alternately for how we are showing up, how we are "behaving". We learn what is expected of us, and we learn that failure to meet expectations causes suffering and pain. We are born into the cult of expectation and fear, desire and aversion, and so we must be fiercely compassionate with ourselves as we begin to bring awareness to these powerful and compelling forces, and invite a new way of being into our lives.

When I write a piece and share it, I work quite intentionally to be conscious of my attachment to a result, my expectations. There are actually layers of expectation I can identify. There is what I expect of myself, what I expect from others, the different currencies I expect to receive, the level of success and validation I hope to acquire.

I put energy and emotion, love and care, into creating art that is genuine and heartfelt, and I offer it to you. The roots of suffering begin there, the moment I put my heart on the line, when I give, I almost immediately start to crave getting something back. This is a set up and it can result in elation and satisfaction, but it can also lead to disappointment and devastation, suffering. The onus of that suffering is mine and mine alone. The principle of love applies to my creativity, it can only be offered, an expected outcome or return is not guaranteed.

Anytime we expect people to be or act a certain way, when we put our happiness in the hands of external phenomenon, when we assume a debt is owed to us, or we feel we have earned certain things, we put ourselves directly in the path of potential suffering. I know this is true for me, I do it all the time. I do it in my relationships, in my parenting, it runs rampant in my quest to be seen, my efforts to be good, my perceptions of progress and achievement. Around every corner expectation is waiting. Some expectations are small and cause minimal vacillations in my energy and emotions, while others are massive, and when I fail to materialize them, can wreak havoc on me, leaving me despondent and feeling diminished.

That is not to say that reasonable expectations don't exist or that we should not stand up for ourselves in our lives. Boundaries must be held and respect must be required of ourselves and others. Expecting to make our way in our lives, have our basic needs met, to have safety and security under our roofs and in our communities is fundamental. We should reasonably expect to have opportunities to seek fulfillment, to be treated as equal beings on the planet and to walk our unique roads in the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in delivering these basic expectations to all.

In each of our lives, we must do the best we can with what we have in any given moment, seek ourselves and give of our love, be of service. That means to generously share our talents and brightness with the world and to be vulnerable and courageous in this showing and sharing of who we are. The question is how to maintain our own inner balance and harmony even when we are walking on rocky terrain or sailing stormy seas. How do we match effort with ease, will with surrender, desire with contentment?

How can we navigate this maze of inner and outer worlds? How to soothe our anger, how to soften our pride, how to be compassionate warriors in our lives, our relationships and in our communities? Releasing attachment and expectation is the path to true love and contentment. It is the way to peace.

I am not Buddha or a master yogi, so far from it! I can expect to dedicate the rest of my life to this practice of nonattachment and release of expectation. However, awareness is a powerful first step. Although I do not anticipate conquering expectation in this lifetime, I can consider it, I can examine it, I can soften into my breath and attempt to return to compassionate self observation when disappointment and suffering are being experienced. I can lean into the sharp point, feel it, embrace it and give love to it.

The key is love for myself. It has to start there. If I truly love myself, even my flaws, even my greed, even my dark side, all can be integrated. Wholeness is our true nature, love is the way back into our own hearts, but not selfish love, true love. Love that is given without demands or caveats. Love that is given seeking nothing in return. Perhaps this is the work of a lifetime or more, but I sense that this is the way to liberation. I think we can all agree that liberation is what we seek; to be truly free, happy and basking in the light of love, released from the bonds of fear and longing.