I recently read this by Fredrick Beuchner:
“Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream…. A good night’s sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace.”
Lately, I have been thinking about the impact that I make on this world…at times positive, and at other times, perhaps less than that. I think of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people over the course of my life who I have impacted by the way I was choosing to interact in that moment, on that day, or in that season of my life. I have also been thinking about those who have impacted me. The countless both named and unnamed faces that have left their mark on my life. Some of those faces left a legacy within me that I am certain has grown and changed me just by the nature of their life, of their simplicity, complexities, and willingness to love. There have been others who have, for whatever reason apparent and present in their life, left a mark on me that leave reminders of pain and loss. All of them combining beautifully, painfully and gracefully into this moment and where I have been brought today.
There have been seasons and times in my life where I have been careless with the faces in my life. Times when I have spoke an unkind word or distanced myself with a coldness that isolates not only the other person- but myself. There is a part of me that wonders what could have come if I had remained…. if I had named face-to-face the reasons why I felt cold or why I wanted to pull away. I wonder about those faces, the grace that could have been for them and for me. As a therapist, a yoga teacher, a friend, a partner, a colleague, a human being- the very nature of my life must be about believing something more than death and suffering….the nature of my life must encompass both: the reality of death and of grace found in redemption.
When I lived in Cambodia, in the midst of some of the most dark and painful stories imaginable, I would often be asked how I could do what I did, living where I lived. Without a moments pause, I could assert it is because I believe that death does not have to have the final word. This is not me placing any sort of religious answer on the raw nature of human existence, the fact that we live and die. My stance is that life always fights for life. Life will always find a way. I know this world well. I know what it means to love and be loved. I know joy so great that tears roll down my face. I know the darkest of nights spent sleeping on the floor. I know the log in my eye. I know my own immense need for grace.
I have also known the story of a nine year old little girl who was so terrified and trapped in her own home that the only way she could imagine freedom was to put a gun to her own head. In many ways, it is because of her and her story that I am here, that I do what I do, that I believe what I believe. While this little girl knows immense suffering, her life is full of freedom and a brightness that comes only from the paradox of knowing death and life found in grace. There is no way that she would be here, that she would be alive, had it not been for her fierce belief that there was redemption in this world and the belief that perhaps at some point in time, she would find that she was not alone.
While our stories at times may separate and distance us, what I continually come back to is that we are all on the same path. We each have suffered. We each, in some way or another, know death. We know suffering. And frankly, life would not exist without death. We all want love. We all want to love. We all want healing. We all want grace. But as Buechner said, grace is indeed something that we cannot get. It has to be given. In order for that, we have to give. I believe that it is a journey that has to start internally. We need to pause, look, listen and understand that we all have our own stories, our own journeys that led us to this moment. And I believe that if we look hard enough and listen close enough, we will find beyond the pain and the losses, that very nature within us all that believes life will find a way. I believe that is grace. That is redemption.
May you find grace in yourself and for yourself this season. May that internal grace then turn and be offered to a named, or nameless, face in your life.
Love and light
Speaking With Moon Language
Have you ever taken a child by his or her arms and spun him/her around until you both fall on the floor in dazed delight?
For two years, I lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia working with victims of child sex trafficking. Those two years in that red dusted country forever changed not only how I see this world, but how I interact with it on pretty much a daily basis…. even to this day and I imagine, for the rest of my life.
There are moments when Cambodia and all that I know and love so dearly of that place, seem a million miles and memories away. Then there are other moments when a smell, a sound or a memory returns as clear as if I were still wandering those hot, broken and dusted streets. When those moments come, my heart is pierced and I find myself longing for my second home, longing for the space on this planet that caused me to encounter and embrace darkness and light, life and death, heaven and hell- the full paradox of our human existence.
On a blog that I kept during my time in Cambodia, I wrote the following on my “about me” page in reference to part of my experience living in a developing country:
“….And there are other days where I find myself twirling around with the children laughing with such depth, I actually believe that I am lost somewhere were Heaven has collided with earth.”
When I wrote that sentence, I was speaking metaphorically rather than literally. I had no idea that the metaphorical would eventually become a literal experience that will forever mark my life….
Here is what I wrote on March 18, 2009 in regards to the experience:
“About two months ago we admitted a seven year old little girl who had marginally survived an atrocious abduction and abuse. About three weeks into her stay with us, she noticed four scars on my shoulder. She pointed at them and said “Broken?” While my shoulder suffered no brokenness and I do not know the Khmer word for “dislocation,” I figured broken was close enough. In Khmer I said “yes it was before I had surgery.”
Her lowered head suddenly lifted and her eyes grew wide with curiosity. “What happened?” “Does it still hurt?” And as I carefully listened to her questions and gave my answers, she slowly began to show me her scars that were not so different from mine.
About a week later she sat next to me once again and pointed to the scars on my shoulder. “Does it hurt today?” Connection. Multiple times since the first occurrence, she has used the scars of our shoulders to share pieces of her heart and story.
Just last week, she threw her arms around my waist, tossed her head far back and looked up at me with a brilliant smile. Her arms were latched on my waist so tightly, it only seemed natural to start spinning. I started twirling gently and came to a stop not sure she had ever “spun” like that before. When I stopped, she grabbed on tighter and shouted “AGAIN! AGAIN!” So we started spinning more together, her arms wrapped around my waist and I pressing my hands onto her back to keep her steady. And we spun. She tossed her head back, looked up at me and I down at her as we spun and laughed and the world around us became nothing but a blur in our periphery.
In that moment, I thought of what I had previously written on my blog about heaven and earth colliding…… So this is it, this is what it is like…… As I felt a tightness in my throat and tears begin to well in the backs of my eyes, the world around us became a blurred mixture of greens and tans and browns and grays….what locked us together was the sharp clarity of her face, the fitted gaze of our eyes fixed on each other, the clap of laughter and the clear presence of the spirit of God dancing and twirling and holding it all in place.”
As I remember and re-read this story for probably at least the 100th time, I sigh at the depth of anger, love, and longing that it brings up for me. I am drawn back to those red dusty streets and long for the connection to the naked realness of life in the developing world.
As I think now, two years later, about my left shoulder and its need for its third reconstructive surgery, there is a part of me that grows weary with the frustration of another annoyance, another pause in my life of movement. Yet there is a greater part that connects back to that little girl and her story, back to those streets of Cambodia, back to one of the biggest things that I learned during my two years abroad: letting go of my expectations of life and being open to love and connection.
I cannot help but wonder whose story will one day intersect with my minor annoyance. I learned a million things in Cambodia, but perhaps one of the greatest is the belief that there is some greater purpose for even this moment.
“Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them ‘Love me.’ Of course, you do not say this outloud… Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?” Hafiz
The following post is one that I shared on my former blog from March 1, 2009. Enjoy
“With storytelling we enter the trance of the sacred. Telling stories reminds us of our humanity in this beautiful broken world.” Terry Tempest Williams
I think that the last time I snorkeled I stood under five feet tall and still had ultra-fine, pin-straight blond hair of my youth. Not to mention the fact that it was in my back-yard swimming pool. Or perhaps it was in one of my aunt’s swimming pools? I cannot remember exactly. But I do remember that if it was in my aunt’s pool, their pools were not held together on one side by ramshackle rods to keep it from collapsing like my beloved pool in our wooded backyard! Needless to say, it has been a long while since I have put that tight mask over my face and the rubbery flippers on my feet.
So, the day that my brother and I decided to go snorkeling on Sapi Island off the coast of Borneo, I really did not know what to expect from the experience. It also soon became very obvious that I was not a pro-snorkeler.
As I walked from the picnic table with flippers in one hand and the other hand adjusting the goggles and mouthpiece that I had already put securely in place, I became keenly aware that I was not sure what to do. As I neared the waters edge, I paused and contemplated when the appropriate time is for one to put on flippers. Do you put them on before you get in the water, or is it after? I came to the conclusion that it surely must be before.
So there I stood, balancing myself on one foot, with my right hand holding the tube thingy onto my goggles and my left hand pulling with sure effort on my flipper as I tried to wedge my dry, sandy foot inside of it. After I managed to accomplish that first task, I shifted my weight to the other side and attempted the same on the right. So there I stood after a few moments, now with both flippers on and my mask securely in place as the South China Sea lapped its warm water around my flippered ankles. Now what do you do when your feet are flippered and the lapping water is sweeping sand over the top of them as you begin to sink into the earth? I quickly decided that I should lurch forward and plow on into the sea. Well, if you have any experience with heavy objects plus sand and water, you can likely imagine how well this situation turned out for me!
As I caught myself from tumbling face first into the water, I tried a different tactic: lifting my knees highly and stepping down into the water from the top… you know, similar to moments when you are walking and you elevate your knees to jump over a puddle. Well… “Flipper meets sea from the top” and I am not exactly Jesus, so if you can gather this approach did not work out so well for me either.
Alas, I decided that I must have it all wrong and that perhaps one is supposed to put the flippers on after submersion and not before. So I did what any defeated sportsman would do after a loss, lowered my head, gazed side to side to see who was watching (and laughing) and quickly (well, as quickly as you can remove wet rubber from wet skin) peeled off the flippers from my feet and then fully submersed myself freely into the water and out of the game.
As I came back to the surface with the bubbles still tickling my skin around me, I noticed that I quickly was being accompanied by a school of about 50 zebra fish. At first site, these fish alarmed me. It is not everyday that I get into the ocean for one thing, and not to mention, it’s not everyday that I am surrounded by 50 fish bumping, poking and grabbing bites of my flesh. I was not sure if I was having fun, or if I was slightly afraid… I think it was a combination of both. As I watched these fish curiously wondering why they found me so interesting, I soon realized that this school of fish recognized my “otherness” as a source of a meal. Thankfully, they were not thinking that I was the meal (albeit the fact that some of them were nipping my flesh) but rather, they were used to humans in this part of the ocean and with humans came a bottle of fish food aptly supplied at the beach shop. As I felt my shoulders relax a bit I realized that I still was holding my flippers above the water and needed to put them back on my feet. It was a much easier process this time around.
After these mere 5 minutes, I finally had myself situated and ready to begin my first seawater snorkeling. I repositioned my mask and tube thing (what is that called?!), and slowly lowered my head into the water, consciously telling my lungs that I could in fact breath…. Which is a strange, strange thing by the way.
No sooner had I immersed myself than I quickly encountered another world of life underwater. There were the most brilliant teal, purple, orange, yellow, pink, spotted, stripped, solids, and not to mention, zebra fish… everywhere. As I freely floated at the surface of the water with the sun pressing its hot hand into my back, I marveled at the feeling of the changing currents of this underworld. I hovered, I watched, and I listened. The sound was the most peculiar to me… It was the same sound that you hear of carbon dioxide exploding from the billion bubbles released in an open can of soda. I still wonder what that sound was from.
As I began to gently kick my feet and glide forward, for a moment I felt as if I were becoming one with the underworld. Fish were in my peripheral gliding along with me. As I twirled around against the force of the current, I saw a great trail of fish following behind me as if I were leading them on an outing. As I stopped, they again pooled around me, pecking at my skin and bumping at my goggles. I squealed and giggled which came out in a muffled form of hundreds of tiny bubbles around my head. I hovered there for a while until the fish became bored of me and swam on in search of other adventures. As the sensitivity of my human flesh reminded me of the cold current, I too began to swim on in search of more life in this new space.
As the gentle current pushed me forward I observed the coral city that expanded just beyond arms reach below me. I peeked down between the crevasses of coral in search of movement and signs of life. The experience reminded me of the moments on an aircraft when the plane is well into its decent back to earth and you begin to see the pencil thin streets below and you narrow your eyes to focus onto the movement of automobiles. As I did this here in the sea, I discovered fish so transparent that the only thing that cued me into their silent existence was the movement of their shifting eyes. I encountered fish- orange with white stripes outlined in black (a fish I aptly named “Nemo”), diving with every shift and sway of the purple-fingered plant. I smiled at the endearment of their shyness.
I found myself following a fish that was much larger than any of the other fish that I had found thus far. He was painted a pale yellow with strategic black spots dotting over his round body. He was a loner fish. I followed him for a while watching him in his apparent independent isolation from other fish. I watched him glide from one coral to another, taking little bites out of miniature molecules of food. Occasionally, he would open his mouth, mid swim, and gobble up whatever he apparently spotted floating by. There was a moment during my observation of him when I saw my own hand against the backdrop of the ocean floor. My hand looked strangely and abnormally large, drained of color, wrinkled and swollen with water. Set against the swirling currant, the sway of the reefs, the cascading fish, my humanity was entirely out of place. For as many reasons as the most obvious of my need for oxygen, I am a creature that simply does not belong in the ocean. Yet as I continually see time and time again, no matter my location on this globe, there was something about those moments underneath the surface of the water that caused me to believe in all of the ways that we are all connected.
I was a mystery to those fish- an odd perplexity. To the ones who took note of me, I was a spectacle to check out. Was I a threat to them? Was I going to be the source of something that would help sustain their life? What was I? What was I going to do amongst them? Would I destroy their fragile environment by my careless ways? Isn’t this similar to what we are constantly doing with one another? I think we are always asking who these new and curious people are that we encounter in life. Are you here for good… or for ill? Although we are not walking around literally pecking at one another’s goggles, we are curious beings, constantly curious about one another… “Who are you… who are you?!”
Those moments when I floated on the division line between warm salty air and cool salty sea, I found myself mesmerized by the functions of life that exist beyond the world I am so familiar with. I marveled at the foreignness of my presence in the water and at the same time, the curiosity and acceptance of its inhabitants. I left the water that day with a deeper appreciation for life and of all the ways we creatures are so similar, so connected, even in our obvious differences.
March 26, 2011
My blog is here!!!
Welcome! I plan on using and updating this space with various thoughts I am having on relationships, yoga, philosophy, spirituality, and all the complex and interesting things that connect us together in this life. I hope you enjoy and visit me often! Much love and gratefulness to you!!!
In Sanskrit, two of the many things the word Atha refers to are “an auspicious beginning” and “now, the present.” What an appropriate word as I journey into a new business: combining yoga and therapy into one therapeutic model.
For many of us new beginnings (jobs, moves, relationships, changes in diets, exercise, etc) often conjure a variety of emotions ranging from excitement to nervousness about the unknown. We ask ourselves “What will happen?” “What will this be like?”…. “Will I succeed?” It can be rather natural and easy for us to get lost in our own (and others’) questions instead of “just being.” It sounds so simple… and in many ways it is, and in other ways, its not.
Presence and living in the moment has been something I personally have been trying to culminate for many years now. There are times when I pat myself on the back with self-assurance thinking that I am doing a really good job of letting go of control and just being with what is. Then there are other moments, like moments when I dislocated my shoulder after two surgeries to assure it will “no longer dislocate,” where I internally rage at misfortunes, the unpredictable and unexpected. There are times when I just want my life to be clean, predictable, and laid out for me like a freshly laminated map.
One thing I have found that always, without fail, brings me back to here, now, is my breath. One of my favorite people of all times is Thich Nhat Hanh. Not that I have had any personal encounters with the famous Buddhist monk, but I always love what he has to say. The funny thing is, a lot of the time what he has to say is relatively simple. “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” “Let us enjoy breathing together.” Is it really that simple? No. Yes. No…. yes. I think it really can be.
There have been many moments in my life… far more than I prefer admitting… when I have been freaking out about one thing or another. In those moments, my heart rate increased, my body temperature increased, my anxiety increased… and oddly, my breath either decreased or became manic. Like for example, not even a week ago I dislocated my shoulder for the second time. It was not “supposed” to happen. My shoulder was strong, stable and I have had no complications with it since my second surgery 2 years ago. But hidden beneath the surface was a damaged bone that happened to be placed in exactly the “right” spot when I was rock climbing and it dislodged from my socket. As my body landed on the padded floor of the climbing gym and pain consumed every part of my existence, my breath became quick and shallow. My mind raced with anger, fear, frustration, grief and embarrassment as I shouted profanities in response to what I felt. My body grew hot and nauseous. Even through my pain, I was aware of my thoughts… “I am a yoga teacher and a therapist, I should not be dropping the ‘f’ bomb as much as I am! I should not be shouting at all these people to move faster and take me to the hospital… NOW!” Wow. It truly is hard sometimes to breathe when we not only are in intense physical or emotional pain… but when life seems to throw us a curve ball that we were not at all expecting.
After I finally made it to the hospital and after several rounds of asking “Why is it taking so long for you to put my arm back in my socket?!?!” I broke down, sobbing. All of the emotion, the pain, the questions, and the fear made its way into the backs of my eyes and flooded out onto the front of my tank top. Whew. That felt good. But my breath was still short, intense and panicked. My nurse looked over at me and simply said, “Sometimes it helps to breathe.” Right! Oh yes! I knew this… yet I had forgotten. So in those next moments, even as the pain raged and the fears lingered, I focused on the one thing I could control- my breath. As my mind shouted at me to pay attention to my arm, I gave myself permission to be in pain, but also to slow down and breathe. As I did so, I noticed instantly a sense of calm come over me. The pain definitely did not go away, but my sense of humor returned and my window opened to a larger view than how much this “sucked.”
It is somewhat peculiar to want to come back to the moment, the present, when that moment is filled with intense pain. However, being in the moment, being present, is not to be consumed by it. For me, it is a reminder to slow down my thoughts about “where this moment may or may not go, what may or may not happen.” It gives me the space to just be with what is. It affords me the chance to breathe and offer life into a situation that my mind would rather leave because I cannot control it. To breathe in the moment is to be free with what is… it allows ME freedom from my need to control.
I tell you this story to share with you my realness and my humanity in hopes that you too can find a way to connect. Although our stories may be largely different, we each have suffered some amount of pain in our lives… be it physical at times, be it emotional at others… we all live in the same world. I wish to encourage you (and myself) to remember to breathe in those moments. When circumstances seem out of your control (and most often, they are), the one thing you can control, the one thing that can always bring you back to freedom is your breath.
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” Thich Nhat Hanh.