love is love is love

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photo by Abby Paterson

“Sometimes our intuition shines brightest in our darkest moments.” – Molly Carroll from Trust Within;Letting Intuition Lead

While getting a pedicure a few weeks ago, I felt wholly taken care of. It was such a treat. We will call the angel woman giving me the pedicure, Alice. (She must be an angel to work with feet every day). Her touch was gentle and tender and she had kindness flecks like little remnants of star dust in her eyes. She told me about working hard and how she loved her kids.

Something about recalling this memory now feels sleepy, like a lullaby, like falling asleep as a child surrounded by stuffed animals and celestial mysteries swirling around my nighttime ceiling sky lit up by glow and the dark star stickers.

I miss my mom. I miss being a daughter. But here, here is love and I’ll take it. In whatever form it arrives. My mom’s love is not contained, it is everywhere. It is in these hands touching me and the color in my son’s eyes.

It brought back memories of my friend Phyllis, a woman I  met when I was in my early twenties when I volunteered for Hospice. She quickly became a dear friend and a spiritual teacher. I gave her weekly massages and spent cherished hours chatting with her about everything under the sun.

Once, she told me about a trip she took to Lourdes, France. Lourdes is a sacred pilgrimage site known for it’s healing waters and miraculous cures. She spoke of how loved she felt when the women there got her dressed after she bathed in the magical water. Their touch, she said, was patient and careful as they graciously put her clothes back on. It seemed that when she spoke, she was reliving the experience and how each moment was marked with an infusion of sacredness and grateful attention. We paused together marveling at the thought of this, the thought of every action being created from love, light and a deep sense of gratitude and peace.

As Alice massaged my feet a few weeks ago, my shoulders dropped and I relaxed completely in the oversized leather chair, the one that massages and vibrates (sometimes so much so that it makes me wish I had worn a sports bra). I let go. I stopped thinking so much. And I just allowed this transfer of energy, of complete kindness from a stranger, to swirl out of her fingertips and into me.

I feel this too in yoga when my teacher friend comes around while I lay still in savasana and she cups her palms on the sides of my face. It is hard to explain but it too feels celestial, almost other worldly, and it feels like grace. And home. I feel like a child again. Tears often well up in my eyes and a smile springs to my face.

I feel this in the morning when the sun slowly wipes away the sleepy sand from her eyes as I lay on the couch next to my kids, our legs intertwined with blankies and my nose rests on their soft sweet smelling heads.

Love.

Love is available to us in so many different ways. And I cannot help but believe our loved one’s spirits shower down on us through blessings manifested in our dreams, beauty, and kindness.

Life, inevitably at times, is overwhelming and sad. In these moments though, we can still give love, receive love, and be love. Because we always are, whatever our mood or station in life, part of this web of interconnection. Part of this loving exchange of energy and part of what makes good things happen. You provide love and you receive love. You are love.

This exchange happens with your permission and participation. If you are curious, open, and accepting. And if you allow it. The dream you had, it was a miracle, a blessing and a gift. But only should you choose to see it as such. Your mind may interfere but your heart knows. Maybe all we really have to do, no matter what we’re doing, is be love.

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how are you, today?

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Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to ask people in mourning, “How are you, today?” By emphasizing today, we acknowledge the bumpy nature of grief.

Sometimes, I think, asking, “How are you, right now…in this very moment?” may be even more appropriate because one minute you are fine washing the dishes, thinking to yourself about the awkward but funny comment your child made earlier (maybe you should stop referring to private parts by their correct names), and the next, you find yourself in a puddle of your own creation wondering what on earth to do next.

It has been three weeks since my mom died of metastatic breast cancer. Three weeks wrapped up in what feels simultaneously like 24 hours and 3 months. I knew this time would come and often wondered what it would feel like when it did. In the time forever marked as after. That picture was taken after my mom died. That was the kids’ first birthday after we lost her. 

The further I get away from her death, the more I feel like I am leaving the precious and intimately sacred space where time stands still and you are entitled, expected and even encouraged to be all consumed by the enormity of the loss. Friends and family wrap you up in a warm and protective cocoon. Thank God for that cocoon.

But time soldiers on. And eventually, you have to emerge leaving the safe and nourishing shelter as a completely different creature than the the one you were before you started the unwelcome but necessary journey.

You are a changed being now. You will never be the same. You start to acclimate slowly. You return home or the people you love go home. Work, school, plans, and chores resume and sometimes the familiarity is comforting and sometimes it just feels wrong. No, no, no this can’t be, I can’t be laughing and talking about Halloween costumes, my mother just died! In her house! And we were there. And it was intense and beautiful and heartbreaking but beautiful. Sometimes. Sometimes it was and is just plain sad.

I have been creating quiet, restful moments during the day. Grief requires this. And these are the moments when I relish the relationship my mom and I built and revel in the one we are still building.

As Thomas Merton said, “Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard.”

In this fruitful silence, I notice one palm tree swaying to it’s own breezy music while all of the other trees stand still. I hear the peck on the glass and turn to see a yellow finch trying to fly through the window. I am comforted, soothed.

Sometimes I talk to her out loud. Or I’ll say something to my kids that sounds just like her. Like the other day, as my son played piano in the dark, I walked into the room, flipped on the light switch and said, “A little light on the subject?”  How many times over the years did I hear her utter that expression? I love her expressions with their touch of humor and reliability.

As I feel the presence of my mom, I also feel more and more like her. And I remember the times when she would laugh and say to no one in particular, “I sound just like my mother”. Her mother, my grandmother, Nana, whom I also adored, still adore, and miss.

This week, my oldest turned 11 and my youngest daughter turned two. Our silly and sassy little caboose with brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer grin makes everyone in the room smile. Just like her grandma did.

When my brother said the day after my mom’s service that he knew he would be o.k., my sunny friend Derek enthusiastically said something to the effect of, “Well that is something!” And it is. Because sometimes it is enough to know that we are growing in the right direction. That in this moment, no matter how bumpy and how much we ache for the people we love, we know they are o.k, and ultimately, we will be too.

 

i can just tell

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photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

prayer; dear some something

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Prayer. When I was little, I prayed. But it was really more of an OCD. My own version of If I die before I wake…was an anxious plea to keep myself, family and friends safe, healthy, happy, and alive. If I didn’t perform this prayer the same way every single night, right after closing my eyes but before drifting off to sleep, I feared something bad would happen.

Unfortunately, something bad happens whether you pray or don’t, have an OCD or not.

I never learned how to pray. And I didn’t know whom or what I was praying to exactly.

But I did it anyway. It soothed me and felt essential in some curious way.

I didn’t see my parents pray. If they did, it was personal and discreet, perhaps it was something done at night or first thing in the morning behind closed doors.

When I was younger and heard someone say, “I’ll pray for you”, it sounded like an insult. But, “You are in my prayers”, sounded more inclusive, gentler and not so judgemental.

Tosha Silver in her exquisitely beautiful book, Outrageous Openness, seems to echo this sentiment when she writes that worrying about someone is the worst energy we can send them (and ourselves). She writes, “It’s simple instead to learn to send blessings as soon as worry begins. Just hold the person in your mind filled with light and happiness, see them peaceful and content. Do it day after day. That’s the single most useful gift you can mentally offer anyone you love.”

I also read somewhere that while meditation (and or stillness and silence) is listening to the divine, prayer is talking to the divine. To be in a relationship requires both; talking and listening, giving and receiving.

But every dawn of every new day, my definition of prayer expands. It is deeper, wider and more forgiving. The particulars are irrelevant. All that matters is that I do it. Prayer to me is inviting sacred meaning into my day.

And now when I think back to my dad admiring the desert sunset with a gin and tonic in hand, swaths of orange and purple sky embracing him, I see him in prayer. My mom, on the beach, sitting in her chair, toes in the sand, drinking up the sunshine as waves play and roll around in the background, feels like prayer. A positive intention, a wish on behalf of a loved one or stranger can also be prayer. Singing Happy Birthday around a cake lit with the soft glow of candles and smiling faces, prayer. Art, prayer. Walking for charity, collective prayer. Writing this blog, prayer.

While reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I loved the visual she offers of imagining a bottle of vinegar and oil. When we pray, her friend Geri says, “pour out the vinegar first – the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh, and jangling your nerves or spirit.” I am worried, scared, sad. 

And then what you find underneath is golden. There, lies the oil. There, the divine is working. There, we are not alone. Please give me strength. Please provide comfort and peace to those I love.

We get to bring our whole selves to prayer. We are honest and naked in prayer with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. We pray when we or others are in need. We pray to give thanks. We pray when we are standing in the midst of sacred awe.  And sometimes we pray simply because we don’t know what else to do.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself up to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

“These prayers acknowledge that I am clueless but something else isn’t. While I am not going to go limp, I am asking for the willingness to step into truth.”

Prayer is said to be powerful. I used to think that meant powerful as in the realm of magic and miracles, powerful. And while that might be true, prayer is also powerful because of what it does to the person praying.

In a recent article in Outdoor Magazine, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg writes about his research on prayer. “Newberg found that prayer allowed his subjects to more ­quickly and ­efficiently achieve flow, that coveted state of mind most commonly described as being ‘in the zone.’ During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals descend into the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes.”

Prayer is good medicine.

Prayer for me is no longer an anxious plea. It is a letting go, a ride on the crest of a breaking wave. It is an open arm surrendering, falling backward onto a field of velvety green grass. Prayer is resting. It is being carried. It listens, it holds, and it is always an option. Sometimes, it is the only option.

Admittedly, I still pray, hoping to keep the bad at bay, but in addition, I pray to be given the strength and courage to endure whatever happens. I pray to be of service. I pray as a way of showing up.

I pray to stay open.

And, slowly, prayerfully, I am learning.

 

 

 

 

i love you, i am listening

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When Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked how he experienced God, he responded that God is the experience.

“How are you?,” asked a neighbor of mine the other day during a wave of abrasive heat on a walk with my dog. He asked in such a way that it brought me to tears. Right away. No time to think or process or adjust. Bam! Waterworks. I don’t know, it took me off guard somehow. I wasn’t expecting it. His asking was so earnest and innocent. So sweet. God is in the details some say.

The thing is, I am grieving. I am mourning. But the weird thing is that sometimes we do this before a loss. It is referred to as anticipatory grief. There are so many incremental losses along the way that can and often do paralyze us. Or when we feel triggered by the pain associated with our losses, we may feel more forgetful, angry, irritable, tired, heartbroken, distant, distracted. You name it.

And then sometimes grief does the opposite. You grieve. You cry. But then you feel like part of the world. Part of this seamless mystery that makes flowers bloom. Sometimes grief motivates us to be more human, more kind, more selfless, more apt to just get out there put our grievances aside and show up as much as we can, knowing that this is our one shot at doing so. No need to worry about saying the right thing, looking perfect, or sounding wise. That shit doesn’t matter. What is in your heart, that matters.

What a gift. What an opportunity. What a blessing.

Grief is internal but mourning is the outward expression of our grief. We need both. Sometimes solitude is the healing salve our soul yearns for and other times we need to share our laughter and tears with others.  We don’t need to say things are o.k. or well because they may not be in that moment. They will be again…someday. But crying right in the middle of a heat wave on the sidewalk happens sometimes.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. When we are grieving, our resilience is down and all of our emotions are so close to the surface. Seaweed floating on top of the salty sea. Seaweed, green, tough, and seemingly everywhere. And you have the choice to get entangled in it or swim through the clumps, revealing the clear water everywhere else. The clear water waiting to hold you, to support you, and wipe your beautiful tears away with an incoming wave, dispelling it and joining it with the rest of the sea.

We stop resisting. We surrender. We float.

And when we grieve, we don’t squander or squelch our feelings as much as we normally do, they just come out and recede like moving water, like passing weather.

And this too, as hard and awkward as it is, is also a gift.

Just swim through it like the seaweed.

After being embarrassed for much of my life about my readily available tears, I don’t apologize for them anymore. I don’t wave them away. I tell them I love them. I thank them. They are doing their job.

Which reminds me of a circle of lovely women I sat with recently on a nearby dock. On the steamy summer solstice evening, we listened to the lapping water and mind numbing planes overhead while discussing how we love ourselves in the midst of heavy, hard stuff.

Forgiveness. Self Care. Compassion. And sometimes if we are challenged to access this kind of compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves, we may think of how we would approach a dearly beloved friend and then turn that kind of attention to our own thirsty souls.

Life is here too in this grief. Laughter, smiles, rainbows, big colorful ones that keep appearing over the Bay, and then there is my littlest girl naked with a fuzzy halo on her head playing with flowers.

It is all Spirit. Truth. Source. God. You choose the name you are comfortable with, maybe there isn’t a name.  The soul in me and the soul in you.

It is the experience.

How do you love yourself? How do you thank your tears and your anger as well as your waves of joy?

They are all here to help us heal and to encourage our growth, to encourage our union with Spirit. Loneliness and Separation are an illusion. Or as my friend Erica said the other day, “a thinking error”.

It may be as simple as putting our hands over our hearts and saying, “I love you. I am listening.” – ( From the beautiful and soul enriching podcast, Live Awake by Sarah Blondin).

This is the experience.

 

 

 

 

Rasta Cowboy Unicorn

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When I was home for the holidays, I found a letter I had written to my mom. I was 15 and at an overnight retreat with a group of kids from different high schools in the area. The letter was an apol0gy for an argument I don’t remember having. Seems I was a pain in the ass and then felt really bad about it. Not uncommon in those years. (And regretfully, maybe something that happens on occasion now).  But the sentence that stood out most for me was this one, “It is so nice to be here with people who have open hearts and minds and walk around with their masks off.”

I read it out loud to my husband and we both laughed at how it sounded like something I very well could have written in my journal five minutes ago.

Seems as if I have been craving this my whole life.

And it made me think about what I can do or be to keep this yearning alive. How can I bring openness and realness into my life and my relationships with others?

When we were out to dinner for my husbands birthday the day before New Year’s Eve, we were discussing our word for the new year. We also committed to doing one little practice every day for one month. Something the author Lois Hay writes about and Dr. Christiane Northrup talks to Oprah about and that is looking at the mirror every day and saying I love you. It may sound funny but once you do it, it impacts the way you treat yourself and others.

Because when you look at yourself in the mirror with your tired eyes and messy hair and imperfect skin and increasing wrinkles and all the mistakes you’ve made and you love yourself anyway, it helps you to love everyone else out there in the world with all of their imperfections too. Maybe you don’t see their pain in the assness as much. Maybe you see their souls peeking through more.

And more importantly than a word, resolution or goal, what is the energy you want to emit? What is it that you craved as a child that still stands true for you today? How can you bring more of this energy out into our world?

With the help of my son who is really interested in Reggae and Rastafarianism at the moment, to my daughter who declared that 2017 was to be the year of the cowboy, to a game on Facebook that my friend Jules shared, I have decided the energy I choose to bring forth this year is that of the one loving, ass kicking, rainbow making, magical, mystical, Rasta Cowboy Unicorn. Yee Haw and One Love amigos!

the soul in everything

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This morning on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, I walked with my baby girl in her stroller to the sound of  birds chirping. From high up tree branches, they sang their little hearts out. Giving voice to that which needed to be sung.

I left my phone at home this time. With no temptation to pick it up and check messages, I felt truly anchored to the unfolding of life happening all around me. The messages that needed to reach me were not on my phone, they were outside in nature. Messages to keep going and stay connected. Messages to reach out. To practice gratitude every step of the way. And to keep giving voice to that which needs to be sung within me.

We can start over at anytime. We can mend and heal. A new day, a new beginning, a new intention, a new year.

And as a slight breeze swam through the humid air, it dawned on me that mother nature truly feels like a mother. Anytime we are feeling lost, plagued by a worrisome thought or just need a hug, we can head outdoors and be held by the beauty and unconditional love hidden in every leave, scurrying squirrel, singing bird, dancing tree, social butterfly and color in the dreamy sky.

They are there to keep us connected to our souls. When we connect to our own souls, we connect to the soul in everything.

It is a lullaby, a hushed comfort telling us that everything is going to be okay. On this new day of this new year, find your words, your tune, your melody and share it with those around you. We need your voice and all the voices of the world to keep us connected to the soul in everything.