If you want to really live…

If you want to really live:

1. Take radical responsibility for your life. For what you think, say, do, feel, believe, etc.

2. Congratulate yourself every time you fail. If you noticed that you did something you didn’t like, first you have to celebrate that you noticed it. If you judge what you see you will create a disincentive for cultivating self-awareness. Lot’s of people talk about how necessary failing is for succeeding but ultimately if you don’t learn how to have a positive and loving response to your own thoughts then everything in your life will become about avoiding failure and the potential for self-judgment.

3. Throw away praise and blame. Completely divest yourself of concern for what anyone else thinks about how you conduct your life. Forget what other people think about how you’re living and….

4. Figure out how you want to live. By trial and error. By trying out what you think will be amazing, successful, beautiful, joyful, funny, fun, stupid, special, etc.

Gone too young

A friend of mine lost his 17 year old daughter 2 days ago. She was driving home from a weekend with her boyfriend when she lost control of her car, ended up in the opposite lane and was hit straight on by an SUV. She died at the scene of the accident. She was just falling in love for the first time, had just had her first kiss, her first semester at college; her life was blooming.

It is so wild to reorient from the open seeming sky of young life to the definitiveness of death. The pictures we have of her will be the only pictures of her, her impressive accomplishments are now not foretelling of more to come, they are her greatest works in completion.

Returning from travel today, home to my parents and to this email with subject line “Memorial,” I am simply broken hearted and bereft on her parents behalf.

It’s easy to say that life is not fair in moments like these and yet it is also best not to try and glean spiritual lessons too early. Primarily loss is a destruction in our relational landscape; a horrible destruction that leaves burnt and smoldering rubble, shrapnel in seen and unseen places. Even when healed and integrated the loss of an intimate family member or friend will never completely disappear. Loss comes and rips the sky open like the night, revealing the paths of the stars to be endless and infinite tears falling. The world just changes one day.

Yet even with the certainty of the lived experiences of grief- the heaviness, sadness, anger, wildness, nothingness, emptiness, and the longing, I find myself humbled mostly by questions. If we were to be able to see the complexity of life from the perspective of God would such losses still seem unfair? As the world changes and shifts with time so too do our human landscapes yet in a timescale that we can see and relate to. Perhaps were we able to see in real time the crumbling of the mountains or the death of stars we would understand better when one of our stars dies.

How do we go back over what she had written, what she had done, how do we comb back through the annals of her life and recontextualize it all to be not an indicator of greatness to come, but actually her lifes’ work of greatness now in completion? How do parents survive such loss? I can’t even imagine how much they will miss her.

I met her about a year ago and it always startles me to go back to memories of someone alive after they’ve passed. The linearity of time seems to betray us in those moments, when we wish we could push through the veil of memory into that lived moment and tell them to be more careful driving that night, or even just to say that they have a year left and to make the most of it. It would have been redundant for such a brilliant and motivated young woman, but still I can’t stop myself from thinking back and looking for foreshadowing of what was to come, as though it were a movie.

Every time I’ve witnessed the passing of someone I am always led back to the truth that the meaning in it isn’t for me to see or figure out. And yet I do know that as much a betrayal as it seems it is actually the fulfillment of a promise from life made to each of us the moment we’re born. It may seem morose to say … but when we remember that we, like every other thing living and “non-living,” must participate in the cycles of existence, the reality of death must be something else in addition to sad. It must be the reminder of ultimate reality. It must be the liberation of matter back to the realm of possibility. There is a riddle in it that is just as connected to what we love as it is to what we fear.

Rumi’s Caravan

Dressed as lavishly (as per the request on the invitation) as I could muster for living in a construction zone last night I went sola to listen to the beautiful music of a middle eastern quartet and the words of Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Wendall Barry, and many other poets drop from the lips of some Sonoma elders. With a white camelia in my hair and smokier eye makeup than I usually wear save for at burning man, I entered a room of mostly white and grey hairs…

Why, when I am trying to meet peers in this new area, I find myself more frequently at events that attract older generations, I do not know. If you know where I should go to meet men and women in my general age range who are spiritually minded and open hearted, please tell me the secret.

Anyway. Rumi has a special place in my open heart because of the poem “What was said to the rose…”

What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.

What was told the Cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that’s happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

I heard that poem on NPR days after what I describe as my heart opening experience, or my spiritual awakening. The poem described in words what I was experiencing and led me to Rumi, which led me down a spiritual path that became my life. I gave myself to it so completely- because in the words of Rumi I felt seen, heard, understood- I felt my heart connected to the hearts of innumerous others both from 800 years ago, and in the moment of hearing this poem through the airwaves across a modern city. In short, I felt connected in that moment to all of life across time. I remember it so well, I was driving on the freeway in San Francisco, where the freeway cuts through the heart of city before the bridge. It’s like driving across rooftops and everything is laid out around you like a model of a city- there is something about that section of road that seems to hover above the city that has always mirrored my own feeling of being in the world, but not of the world…

I don’t read Rumi that much anymore. In a way the ecstasy, the lack of regard for personal preferences, my own or others, the pleasure at any and every part of the human experience, these elements of what Rumi wrote about have become integrated into who I am and the way I understand and relate to the world. There was a time when I needed those words so badly, and drank them into my soul, heart and mind, phrase by phrase- I was so tender, so open, so taken apart… these words helped me rebuild a foundation based on truth and the beauty of human experience, these words and sentiments became the new building blocks for my relationship with life.

Still, I left during the intermission, feeling already full in my heart, and ready to return home to the delicate unfolding of my own life lived… the room I live in without a door to close me off from anything, the bed on the dusty plywood floors, the warmth of blankets given me by my mother, an old family friend, my father, and myself upon marking the completion of my first vision quest. I found myself wanting to return to the unpolished songs that are just beginning to bud up out my stomach, out of my life, out of my longing, out of my desperate need to take more risks with the living of my own story. These little songlets, they are not as beautiful to others perhaps as the music I left to be with them, but they are more beautiful and more interesting to me- because they are the clunky first tellings of my own story.

The walnuts falling in the pond, the ocean that has come to me to marry, the perfect falcon that has landed on my arm and become mine.

A favorite article of mine…

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I originally read this article when I was in graduate school, it was assigned. I loved it then and have rediscovered it; I love it still. I have many favorite parts, but this excerpt I chose because I feel so deeply resonant with these words that they could well describe what I feel is my own purpose here in this life:

“To this place, listening carries us. Whatever we conceive our work to be, in the end we know that we are only, infinitely, serving the place of prayer. I used to believe my work was about organizations and life inside them. Then a bit later I thought I was charged with changing the dominant worldview of Western thought. Notice how my scope increased as my ego gained a surer footing. Then one day, in a sunny patch of jungle in the Yucatan, I leaned against a small but perfect Mayan ruin while my two sons swam in a shadowy cave pool. Faced with jungle growth and sun, and the cold stones of yet another attempt at civilization, I knew that my work was, as is everyone’s, about reclaiming Life. All of us are struggling together toward a time when the human spirit can find more room for itself in the societies we create. We are all participating in enlarging the spaces in which we together dwell, so that they might hold more of the greatness of each of us.” Margaret Wheatley, from Consumed by Either Fire or Fire

If you can, read it slowly, and over again; it is dense with wisdom and meaning.

Bring the rain

Early early this morning waking warm in bed to the sound of rain falling… not sprinkles, or heavy mist, but rain, for hours… I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to hear the sound of rain.

I’ve heard that a way to pray is to feel something instead of just to speak it, to feel gratitude is a form of prayer- to enjoy something is a form of prayer, to play in the rain, to ask it to please continue, to notice the feeling of being refreshed in the spirit, to notice the exhale of the land as it’s anxious thirst is quenched and all the plants and animals revel in the rain’s return.

My request/offering/thought/inspiration for all the rain dancers and rain prayers- In whatever ways you notice the rain today, send it out, feel it, let it grow inside of you, love it with the depth of your being. Notice desire quenched and anxiety lifted, even slightly. Celebrate the inconvenience the water brings as just another sacred expression of how life’s continuance is not about our convenience, but about the interconnection of the wellbeing of all of our relations.

Numinous Unknown, a Rite of Passage

I realize that I didn’t talk to you all about this trip and I’m seeing and feeling now that this rite of passage I’ve chosen would feel so much better, so much more complete, if I was anchored by the people I love in my community. So this is request for you to hear my story, and to know where I am and what my intentions are, so that I can be held in this journey with love. Thank you for being in my life in the ways that each of you are, and thank you for whatever moment of your day you may or may not give to reading this and witnessing me. I will return on the 26th of May and will be sure to share pieces of my story with you along the way.

Here is the beginning of my journey:

 

“Already the patchwork quilt land is falling, oh the worlds I could fill with what I don’t know…

This year I lost my grandmother Melba- she said she didn’t want to live anymore and then she got in bed. She argued with food and she argued with doctors and she argued with heat and then she argued with cold. She argued with her past and with her family and with everyone who tried to help her. Finally one night, a day after she had decided not to argue with water any more, her body writhed with pain and her spirit decided to stop arguing with breath too, and she took her last.

 

I laid in her room for a day, sometimes touching her hand to see if it would still squeeze mine or if I could still fit my hand inside hers and pretend like we were holding hands the way we used to. She always used to tell me how beautiful my skin was. Death has no glamour, one eye wouldn’t close and the skin pulled taught across the bones of her face so I could see the structure of her dear little skull- that skull that protected her mushy grey matter for all those 87 years of beauty and pain. In a borrowed hospital bed her body lay for a day as her skin cooled, her eyes clouded, and as she no longer either argued with all the discomfort of living or said to me “Oh my darling, I’ve missed you!”

 

At half past midnight on the second day a nice black gentleman came over with his young apprentice and we had tea. His job was to carry her away from us and to a place where her tiny, hard and cool body, her hands that I held for the last 30 years, that heart that loved me for the past 30 years, those eyes that told me I was beautiful always, where all of that would be cleansed with fire and released from this world and from us and from me.

 

Oh dear heart how I wanted all those years to make life more joyful and loving for you. How I never wanted you to feel alone but how I could not stop my life from taking me far from your hermits retreat and could never bring myself to dedicate my life to just you. How hard it is to say that, how I wonder if I have betrayed you and all of life by not giving my life to one who gave so much to mine… Did I do you wrong?

 

Below the mountains are covered in snow now.

 

This year I looked in the eyes of a man I thought I might marry and told him that if he needed to journey on his own that I could no longer hold him here with me in my arms. In a mad evening of blessed grace we disentangled every piece of our last 8 months together, keys, clothes, objects of love, the olive oil, the pepper mill, the granola, the unfinished projects and the unfinished plans, the tears of fear and friendship and deep love. This year I let him go with all the feeling, longing, love and abandon that my physicality could hold and I wished him so well on his journey, and I wished myself so well on my journey, and we turned and walked away from each other.

 

Oh the trips I would have loved to share with that man, oh the dreams we dreamt, oh how it all burns burns burns washes washes washes blows blows blows decomposes and composts to become life again. Here we are at the door of endings and beginnings again…

 

This year I spent 9 months on the land relearning what community can mean, beginning to touch the longing of my life. I have stood outside the gate without even knowing it for so long. How to say yes to the challenges of beginning to walk through that gate? In such complete ignorance and with the wild need to live, no matter how foolish, I began to meet new/ancient grief and resistance. In the grace of those gifts I also received some small touch of courage, and tastes of homecoming joy and the quiet and wild freedom my soul is on the lifelong hunt to live. Still, two days ago I drove away down a dirt bumpy road, disappearing through tall fields of grasses, swallows and mockingbirds singing, and quietly put miles between myself and the already dissolved and dispersing community that held me in that for the last 9 months… I don’t even know what it means to walk away from that, or if it’s even possible to walk away from that…

 

I am now on a plane going somewhere I’ve never been, and I don’t fully know why… I am going because it was the best way I knew how to say yes to dissolution, to letting go, to burning through all that I love and in the face of losing it all, choosing to give it all away in remembrance that it was never really mine to begin with.

 

As the miles fall I feel the anchors of my identity dropping away. Who will I be? What lives will build with beauty and momentum in the gaping holes being made in the fabric of what I’ve known? I feel stripped down, vulnerable, and shaky. I pray that creator receives these tears and this shaking as my offering of willingness. In this unknown I feel my fear shifting back and forth towards love, faith and exhileration, back towards fear, back towards faith. I needed this. I needed to go for a ride on a big jet plane and live into my body the truth of saying yes- to loss, to what is asked, to joy, to wonder, to mystery, to my life, to myself, to being in love with the person I’m becoming.

 

Still, in this moment, I can’t drink enough tea to comfort myself. I don’t want to be strong right now, I want to be held. I want my grandma to tell me it’s all going to be okay. I want my lover and partner to tell me it’s all going to be okay. And- I’m going to learn how to hear myself tell myself it’s all going to be okay in a deeper way than I have ever said and to hear that with deeper ears than I’ve ever heard with, to hear that with my deepest knowing, to be that in my deepest heart.

 

May this be a cleansing, may I let go of all else that needs to be cleared in order to land with both feet where I am going, may I laugh and lighten up, may I lighten what I carry, May I strengthen in heart.

 

This is what I know:

I know how to pray.

I know who I am.

I know to whom I belong, friends, family and ancestors alive and dead.

I know to whom I owe my life.

I know the gifts of loss.

I know the grace of grief.

I know how to laugh.

I know how to love, I am so good at loving.

I trust myself to see with truth.

I trust myself to live well.

I trust myself.

I have made friends of paradox, change, and challenge and I will not cower from them.

 

My purpose is as simple as my prayer; to be a conscious and intentional creator of culture and to share that good life with a partner, children, my family, and with a building glowing community. That is what I’m working towards. How can I serve that better? Who is doing that? What paths did they follow? What advice can they give? Why am I so sad today? Why does my heart feel so sore? Can I love this fragile beautiful place too? Can I love it as much as that bend in the river with the leaning trees and the morning sun’s reflections on the river walls?

 

This is me today. Thank you thank you thank you, Please continue, Let us be light.

Burning man 2012

Burning Man was for me like a hundred tiny joined dreams: dreams of color, dreams of explosions and flame, dreams of sound and light, dreams of darkness, dreams of humbling heat. Cycles of hours where time seemed to slow and stop, to breath prayers of quiet grace and celebration in honor of life shared. Dreamlike sunrises and sunsets that punctuated the endless roaming of friends through our separating, joining, dancing, crying, laughing, sleeping, talking, dreaming, cuddling, dancing some more, kissing, loving, praying, and opening wide to the creations from human mind and heart.

I have found a peaceful home in the desert- how light-and happy I feel to be welcome inside of those words- Sukkat Shalom.

My body feels like a blooming flower- arching back, opening, and vibrating in celebration of being alive. In this grace everything sparkles. I feel aware of such beauty in myself, others and the world… Today each moment is, for me, more noticeably pregnant with the full realm of sacred possibility – the same realm of possibility that Burning Man holds, as the mountains hold, and as every person, place, and moment holds, whether seemingly sacred or mundane.

In my heart I’m joyful, and there is sadness too. I find myself looking forward to next year, and wondering what this new year will hold… this past year has traveled the heights and the depths- who will I be next year?

In the meantime I’m in love with the dust.

I’m in love with the dust that saturates every thing I own, every inch of my scorched skin, every strand of my hair. I’m in love with the dust that forces our surrender and demands loving care for ourselves and for each other. I’m in love with the dusty visions that fill the quiet moments now… a strange kind of beauty that signifies belonging, a shared experience, an emblem of fierceness and wild desire to live and be free…

Driving back through the night and early morning each dusty vehicle sparks a deep joy and excitement in me- a resonant and satisfying feeling that the home and community my soul sunk into last week is not disappearing, but traveling back with me.

Leaving Black Rock City there is a line of headlights that snakes back miles. The seamless line stretches from the camps of the Playa through coned lanes and on to the pavements and freeways. Looking through the back window at the day’s last light the stream of cars and RVs feels to me like an arterie of blood – a pulse of fresh energy out into the world. Liquid light life force seeping steadily out…

Around midnight I reach the crest of the Sierras and pull over. Here in the mountains is another home to me- the memories of every trip I’ve taken and the echoes of laughter and good conversations linger on these roads like a lover in the sensual awareness, the arch of a back and a memory that grabs your breath. I smell the pines and notice their evening silhoettes against the sky. With the moon there are fewer stars, it is quiet for the first time in a week. My heart swells soaking in the moon. Climbing into my dusty sleeping bag in my dusty clothes next to these strange dusty possessions I feel happy to not be home.

Everything that was with me out there doesn’t seem to belong in this clean car, including me. My car feels foreign. Home feels foreign. Paying for things with money feels foreign. Not cuddling up to sleep near warm sweet skin feels foreign. I’m unready to be home, and unready to wash off the dust. Sleeping dusty I feel connected back to that pulsing line of cars, back to the camp I spent the last week in, back to the community of people I find myself feeling love, pride, gratitude, and humility to call myself one of.

As I arrive back in this other world I receive news from my mother that Cory, my neighbor at my parents house in San Diego, decided to end his life last week. Fierce anger, sadness, loss and betrayal enter the space I’m inhabiting, even though death is always inhabiting the same world as beauty, joy and celebration…the other side of the same coin, the bringer of rebirth and renewal…

But before I actually feel any peace with death’s presence in life I feel confusion and other emotions too transitory to name. Perhaps because I’ve experienced deaths just as surprising I no longer feel surprise as though it couldn’t happen; I know it can happen to anyone, and there doesn’t need to be sense or logic to it. But the math is still turning my stomach and causing my head to shake. I can’t quite focus on it. Next to the last week of my life, such a beautiful high of new friendship and life explored, this other experience is not feeling compatible- a part of me is checking out from it because my heart just doesn’t have it to understand right now. Understand isn’t the right word…

I’m packing out for a trip and I know that a deeper grief will come soon- I worry that it will come while I’m guiding, that it will affect my presence for others. I make a prayer to be able to do what I need to do to take care of everything in the right way at the right time, and to receive the assistance I need to be able to lovingly do my work.

A man who has been building a life with his wife, 3 year old son, and baby girl- how could he have committed such violence? Why? Why, why, why. His wife Jenna tells my mother she is so angry she can’t even feel love for him right now. I feel that from her even through my mother through the phone over hundreds of miles, the heat of such betrayal. Her anger for how their life has been destroyed tears around inside of her. These violent eviscerations are unforgettable, leave deep wounds, are hard to heal, and even more so in a world like this where we are culturally so inept at grieving. His possessions are already being sold, the house will be on the market soon, you can almost hear the ripping sound in the fabric of their lives.

Here in this default world a man can go into his home alone, as though no one else in the world existed, away from the helping hands, hearts and eyes of his community, and choose to end his life. What would drive a loving man to do it- I simply don’t understand… More confusion, disbelief, anger and fresh grief for this world… only questions in me, no answers. I wonder if he felt trapped? I wonder what the world looked like or felt like to him that even with so much he loved it still seemed like a good solution to end his life…

In my mind and heart I hold these two truths: 1. Every year a city is built and then destroyed to make way for the community’s  renewal. This is done lovingly by a community of people who are seeking to create a space where all is welcome 2. A man spends every day of his life for years building a family and helping to build a lasting neighborhood community and chooses to destroy it in a day. All of this exists in the same world. The spectrum is far wider than these two vignettes indicate, but I find myself holding these two realities next to each other and wondering what to learn, what to see, what it means or if there are directions hidden somewhere in all of it…

I feel this other world crumbling, communities and families being destroyed inside out and outside in. Then I think of this growing temporary city that is built to give people a lived experience of a deeper community, a life of connection and interconnection. I find myself between these different worlds feeling both realities as separate and as one.

In my heart there is further confusion as to what it means for him to be gone- I’m a little shaken. I’ve never known someone choose to leave life before… I’ve known so many to pass away, but not because they wanted or chose to. There is something so disturbing about suicide. As I live each day of my life more deeply committed to living and all the wildness that offers I can’t fathom choosing to walk away… Perhaps it is a failure of my imagination…

On the last morning of Burning Man I walked from the ashes of wall street to the temple; it was just after dawn. Josh and I arrived arm in arm just minutes before the temple was closed off to be readied for burning. Exhausted and open-eyed we made our way in sacred morning air  through the temple walls to simply behold what this gathering had created over the last week. It had been the whole week since I first saw it and from a pristine intricately carved temple with wood like lace rising to the heavens it had become a space achingly full with love and mourning.

The whole temple in the middle of the desert at dawn was covered in images of passed loved ones, scrawled goodbyes, poems, trinckets, songs, stories of deaths that came too soon, stories of lives well lived, stories of forgiveness, stories of anger and loss, stories of life tattered- pure and impure- unfair and inglorious- without reason- humbling- heartbreaking. Everywhere people were consumed in this moment before the temple’s demise- before the loss of access to that sacred space of contact- this moment that is a stand in for the goodbyes we’ve missed, the goodbyes we never had opportunites to say. Collapsed in tears at the altar of all that is. All that mystery, all that is unknown, all…

Outside already people stood around the edges, disallowed from entering. The rangers began to move around the space, comforting people and asking them to make their way out. Leave the tears, to leave the scrawled messages inside, and to move out so the sacred place could be prepared for going up in flames along with all the mixed feelings of everyone who made that place sacred through their openly shared losses, through their hearts suffering- sanctified by grief, purified by love and fames. There was something so profound about the request to each of us to let go… “let go and leave your mourning and your tears here where we will take care of it. Where we will send it to the sky to help you release.” Community mourning, there is nothing more necessary or human.

When the ranger came to me he hugged me- his embrace broke me open and tears came again, but not just for my own losses- but for the love offered in this place, for the pain and joy of living that emerges when we love deeply and truly, for the humanity of this stranger’s embrace, and his tears that came so easily with my own. My body’s shaking elicited his, his tears came and when we separated our eyes were both red. There is nothing to hold onto- we are inside the same heart.

As I walked out of the temple my eyes came to rest on my dear friend who I had looked for all week to no avail. Seeing her there felt as magical and perfect as having lost someone for 20 years and finding yourself in their presence on top of a mountain-top in a foreign country. Equally wild, we were dressed for ceremony together- white clothes, white neck scarves and forest green jackets…  She was there to close a ceremony that I had helped her begin a year earlier. Unplanned, orchestrated by the divine, we sat and held each other and closed the ceremony, dressed like sisters, made from the same stars.

We left the final temple walls holding hands, and once again parted ways. Words of meeting again, but it wasn’t to be.

Is it possible to leave this place? I have a feeling a part of me will stay residing in these perfect moments of love and being found… and that they will be just as precious to me when it is my time to leave this world. And yet, there is nothing to hold onto- we are inside the same heart…

“All boundaries melt in the warmth of love and we know that we are part of an indivisible whole- an expression of the eternal divine.” -Deepak Chopra, M.D.