Friday, December 26, 2014

My Superhero Cape

A few weeks ago while I was staying at the zen center, a friend me saw me getting ready for a run and said, "Wow, you look like a superhero with your running clothes and headset, phone holder stuff!" And I thought, Yes! I'm totally going to put that down as one of the many reasons I love to run! Feeling those endorphins coursing through my body, the sun kissing my face gliding down the road, I do feel like a superhero!

Sometimes, I have to be reminded to use my superhero powers for good. Like when I am running down the street and there's this guy (it's always a guy) who looks at me, knows there's a stroller to his left and I'm coming straight down the sidewalk. Most people most of the time would work with me to let me pass (and I will hop off the sidewalk if I need to, bust out some yoga twisting moves, do whatever, to politely pass). But this guy, he sees me, he looks me up and down, and almost smugly challenges me to pass him. Makes himself bigger sometimes even! I know what he's saying, he knows what he's saying. In those moments, I smile and think...you think I'm just a little white-looking girl whose too nice to elbow check you in the face!

Then, I remember that compassion is a practice. Which yes, is a "nice" thing to think, but more so a respectful thing to think.
As I pass him, with my superhero powers fully intact, I realize I don't really care if I have to pause a second or if I have to jump onto the street last minute. My superhero cape is not made of being right or puffing up my feathers in response to whatever it is he needs to show me in that moment; it's made up of letting go of the need to be right or the need to show my strength.  Because, I am confident that I am strong and that letting go gives me more than holding on to being right, or whatever it is that I think I need to feel secure. 

And actually, if he feels so threatened by a little white-looking girl running down the street that he needs to "hold his stance" to show whatever; his manliness, his power, his whatever - than he is suffering in other ways.  We are all suffering in different ways at different times.  He is showing me that he has insecurities with power, manliness, or whatever. 

Perhaps, if I resist the urge to elbow check him, and instead open my heart to being compassionate and not instigated by his actions, it could, one day, open up space for his heart to heal too.  Not betting that happens in this two second interaction between us that will probably never happen again, but hey, why not open my heart?  I'm not offering it to him. Just opening it.  And that, I think can heal the world. 

We all are superheroes with powers of some kind or another.  What's your cape made of? And more importantly, how do you use it? ;-)
 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

from The Place I Go, When I Go Away

I’ve learned that the road to wholeness includes practicing being compassionate and loving toward myself. Working on maintaining these practices, are two of the biggest joys, responsibilities and challenges I continue to take on, day after day. With each action and thought, I send myself messages; some compassionate, some loving - some not. I am continually working on dispelling messages that don't serve me and growing the ones that do. 
 
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what messages I send to myself when I am trying to comfort myself. And what I am saying to myself when I feel like I need comforting.  I think it's easier to spot messages to ourselves that are definitively harmful. "That was stupid." "You look horrible right now." "You are a mean person." Messages that are trying to help can also be missing a compassionate and loving undertone; for me they can go more easily unnoticed because they carry the guise of trying to help. 

Over three years ago, I woke up to a little girl who had been living inside me for a very long time; an abused little girl who had been put away, forgotten, mute. She had been me, once. She was a part of me, then.  She is now.  She had been hurt; I had been hurt. When I woke up to her, she was barely recognizable as me, as human even, she was so wrought with pain.  The first few years of healing were all about comfort and love. Listening and embracing. I wasn’t sure exactly how to do this but once I saw her, literally saw her during a therapy session, deep in my being, I was so moved by the depth of despair, abandonment and detachment I saw that all I wanted to do was comfort her. And cry.  To hold her, and love her. So I did. At times, with the wrong things. I coddled her and first just didn’t say no. I indulged and let go. 

After a bit, I realized that self-love isn’t giving yourself everything you want or desire in the moment. Sometimes it’s being present with yourself as you feel; being your own listening ear and presence.  Not "solution-finding" to expel the feelings.  But recognizing them, accepting and validating them, and feeling them.  It's easy with feelings like happiness and love.  But doing this with sadness, loss and anger is often much more challenging.  At first, she cried and cried and cried. She just wanted me to hear her again, after all these years of nothing. And that was hard.  I had developed a habit of disappearing and ignoring and to see and feel such sadness, such loss, was hard.  I've been practicing sitting with challenging emotion through meditation; through practicing compassionately listening to myself.  By doing this, I've made some big strides.  And, as I've come to realize this Fall, there is more specific work to be done.  I did some of that work, today. 
 
Meditation has been a tool I use to heal. One of the places I experience when I meditate is a place where I allow myself to deeply listen to my emotional landscape, as I call it. Which is also connected to my energetic health and well-being. I think of energy as something we are all affected by and respond to. It is not just limited to physics and science but I think, affects us in our relationships with ourselves and others. Today, I brought myself there after spending the last few weeks listening to and witnessing how I respond to my impulses to comfort myself during pain, sadness or anger.

This place, that I go. It’s not connected to the kind of logic most people in this society live by. It operates in a more dynamic way that is constantly evolving and responding. Being there requires a kind of letting go of knowing. At least knowing in a logic, fact-based, provable way. That’s just not important here. I focused on my breathing and asked to be shown where I might need to work; what was next up in relation to my personal curriculum on spiritual and emotional health; growth. I invited whatever needed to come up, whatever needed my attention at that moment, to surface. 
 
And then,  I saw a little girl. Me. In a lightly-wooded forest. Balancing on rocks emerging from a small creek. The sun streaming through like it was late afternoon. I watched as I slowly tried to make my way across the water, over the rocks. I knew this place.  I'd been here, felt this, many times but never before had I seen it this way.  Balancing on the rocks as the water touched my little girl feet, feeling the sun stream through the branches and hearing the sound of rushing water comforted me. I felt a sense of magic, and was full of beauty, felt safe. I knew, watching her, feeling this, that this was the place I go, when I go away. It is where I went, as a very young girl, when people were hurting me and I couldn't get away.  It's how I first learned to cope with pain. It is a place in between whatever the reality of now is and whatever isn’t now. It is my little hiding spot. And, most importantly, it was surrounded by a chrysalis of protection that kept anyone else from finding it, knowing about it or reaching me while I was there.  

I realized, as I was present, watching, holding witness, that this place, as soothing as it was, had a dark underside. Safe yes, but disconnected. There was a sense that this was a stagnant and static superficial experience.  This dark underbelly was right under the glowing surface of this place, the light, the water, the warmth. The safety. I felt distant and alone. And for many years, I came here, sacrificing connection for safety.  I felt grateful to be shown this place, and knew that the showing of it represented the next place to work; to integrate.  I knew that by coming here, now, like this, it was to invite that part of me to heal.  
Watching me, feeling, I welcomed the energy, the little girl - me, this place - into my being. Into my heart.  I could, in this moment, bring this place, this little me, back.  I was the only one that could.  No one else was allowed here.  And I needed to bring her back; I needed to stop using this place as a place of escape. 
 
I bowed, in gratitude to the little girl, me, and thanked her for her strength, her wisdom and her beauty. Truly grateful for the times she led us here to feel light and safe.  Then, I opened, inviting her to integrate into me, into the present. Knowing, that by doing so, the place would change, she would change and I would change. 
 
Through this opening, I was breaking the chrysalis that surrounded this place of light, magic and safety. And, I wasn't actually turning my back on this place, but inviting it too to come.  I was telling that little girl, me, that you don’t need to escape anymore.  That we can find light, magic and safety while being connected to the present.  
 
Without speaking I told her no one will hurt you anymore. That they can't.  That even if they hit you, rape you, kill you - you will endure.  The part of you that is connected to all life, the unity of all things, which is what she, what I, what you, are.  That part, that is untouchable, un-killable, un-taintable. 
 
By embracing unity, I gently cracked open this place of hiding. I cracked it open so I could reach her. Touch her. Embrace her.  And I cried. I saw that by opening this sacred space of safety and light, I could integrate it into my life here, now. That I didn’t have to go away to feel safe, light and loved. That I could find those things in the present.

Intimacy and being intimate in a healthy way has been challenging for me. But today, after listening when I felt wounded and scared, I found a way to open myself up, to myself. I’m learning to trust in intimacy as a healthy experience, a safe experience. Something, that not too long ago, sounded and felt like an earth-shatteringly terrifying experience. 

As I sit here, I feel, in the root of my being, a strengthening. And it fills me with joy. I smile, feeling the joy as it rises up through my spine, like a fountain of light, springing up through the crown of my head. I know this feeling. It’s how I feel when I feel connected to my essential self. It’s how I feel, when I feel whole.

Bit by bit, moving through time, I get here. I grow here. I am, here.
Bit by bit, we all can be.  Bit by bit, we can heal.  
:-) 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Embracing existence

I turned 28 a few weeks ago.  Thinking of how I wanted to celebrate the start of another year on this planet, in this existence...I decided I wanted to fast.  The idea had beckoned to me before and I remember dancing with it in my head from time to time before.  This time, it really stuck.  I thought, what does it mean to celebrate something like another year of existence?  I thought about how I wanted to celebrate.  The idea of drinking or holding a party just didn't seem to fit. Those are a few ways to celebrate, but I wanted something a little more intimate and more connected to where I was now in life.  Sitting, fasting and mediating called to me because I imagined that it could a time of deep listening and giving to myself.  Giving time, presence and compassion through deeply listening. 

I had this Monday off for Columbus Day and decided that day would be the day.  It was an amazing day, truly.  I tried to stay as intentional and present in my thoughts and actions while listening to how I was responding, moment to moment.  I wasn't always in that state but the intense dedication to maintaining that state had some of the most profound and peaceful effects I'd experienced in a while.  The thing about meditation I find is that the more you do it the deeper it gets.  The more you dedicate to the idea of learning from and listening to what comes of stillness and presence, I realize how powerful the mind is, how quickly it can and does evolve, adapt.  The mind, the human spirit, the heart - these remarkable parts about our existence, are all continually evolving and adapting in powerful ways but what mediation does is tune us into that process.  I feel like becoming aware of how I change, adapt and how my desires and thoughts affect me now, I can author myself and grow myself in ways I really want.   

I had a few intentions and few reflections I wrote out in the first few hours of the 24 hour fast.  (I fasted from sundown Sunday to sundown Monday).  Focusing on earnest and healthy reflections while listening for the intentions best-suited to help form me into a healthy, whole person seemed like a great way to start a year.  I spoke the reflections and intentions out, giving them voice that night, again in the morning, once in the afternoon and again as I was ending the fasting period Monday evening.  I used to keep things in my head when I was praying/meditating/communing with wisdom.  But saying them out loud affects me in a physical way.  I feel it as a warmth, a strength in my spine, a resounding positivity. The intention that most resonated was "I set this intention, to open myself and the back of my heart, to the connection of love that exists between and within, everything.  To let go of fear.  To embrace vulnerability."  Saying that, thinking that, holding that I could feel it affect me.  It's my intention of the year, I realized. 

I've had a full year of beautiful opportunities to heal -- very, very challenging and sometimes quite painful opportunities, but just beautiful.  How it all fits together, how it all contributes to becoming whole.  Looking into this next year, I see a sense of peace I am just, unbelievably grateful to see.  I have been looking for this, tirelessly, getting pieces here there, between plummets of emotional turmoil and now, looking ahead...I just want to joyfully laugh. 

I was at a new patient appointment for a doctor I'd never seen before yesterday.  After I'd give her my full medical history, mental health included, she asked me if I felt suicidal now.  I smiled and said, "No, no I really don't."  She said, "I didn't think so, you seem like you are in a really good place I just had to ask." Thinking about it after we spoke until today, I felt that resounding positivity.  It's been years since I've said yes to that question.  I thought of the reflection I most connected with on Monday, to "reflect on the many beautiful, surprising and perfect twists and turns my life has taken to bring me, here.  Staying open to what's to come."

I am so grateful and so damn proud.  I've had so much support and am so honored by the amount of love I have around me to help me to get this point; the point where I can say by saying no that no, I am not suicidal. I love my life, cherish my existence and I don't want to give up either.  That feels pretty phenomenal and I savor the gratitude I am experiencing thinking about the so much of what has been to lead me here. 

We are all on such journeys.  We have so many perspectives to choose from as to how to look at this existence.  Thinking about this, I feel like happiness is not a choice but a choice in perspective can make all the difference.  Getting yourself to see that happier, healthier perspective can be work, but the fruits of that labor are always so sweet. 

Hoping that you, as you read this, take the time to reflect and intend in ways that support your highest good and encourage you to give yourself your deepest love. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Coming Home: Part 3

Nearly five years later, here I am.  Sitting at my mother's kitchen table.  Thinking of the old kitchen table that, with my five year old fists full of such anger and rage, that I literally broke by pounding so hard.  I've been here nearly four weeks.  Since leaving for Dartmouth five years ago, I haven't been back very long at all.  Certainly not four weeks.  And, in those instances, I left feeling like I was fleeing that skin of stuck-ness; of anxiety, fear and anger that I so easily slipped into during my sojourns home.  When I left, I felt like I was escaping.  

The first few weeks here, of June 2014, were rough.  I felt that old familiar skin try to settle itself on my shoulders and root itself through my bones.  Attach itself, like it held a place of honor and belonged there.  I had resisted, with respect, as that part of me saved me at one time.  It was not a part to be reputed as bad, evil.  It was me.

I struggled. With acceptance and change. 

But a few weeks ago, I faced it.  And put it to rest.

I had been fighting, myself.  And I meditated. I spoke to myself.  I
 opened myself up, welcoming the fear, anxiety and anger.  Did not villanize it anymore. 

Through acceptance, I came to a place of expansion.  Of such great openness that I could not see or think anymore and just felt.  I felt my body expand outward and just create more space to feel.  It was glorious and open. 

No one was there but me and space.

I enjoyed that for a while.  But everything changes and that openness created space for other things to surface. 

Violence presented itself.  In images.  To the stomach.  Birth and a knife.  Plunged deep into what was beginning.  I felt the pain but stayed with it.  Breathed into it.  It was startling but embraced; not welcomed but understood.  Soothed.  I was facing the root of the trauma.  And not looking away. 

I saw myself sitting at a window, old and smiling.  Watching life pass by, about to die.  Creases decorated my weathered face and my hands were soft to look at and resting calmly on my lap.  The wind, not unlike the wind that flushed through the tundra for miles on end, blew by through the ground before me.  And then I did die.  Flying away tailing the wind, I left with reverence.  I left with respect.  With honor and love. 

Now, I sit.  Peaceful and full.  I am still.  Not scared.  I have come full circle, sitting here.  I am nearly 28 years old and I am not scared anymore.  The part of me that was so deeply scared so many years ago understands, not through words, but through the grounding of my hands on this table and finding stillness in each passing cloud above, that I am safe. 

I realized that I had died, by the window.   I had let a part of me go.  The part of me that had suffered and held on to fear, anxiety and fear thinking those things could protect me forever, had died. 

I felt free. Moving from one moment, to the next.  The stuck-ness, the skin, was gone.  I could feel rooted in this moment while not fearing what had become or what was coming after. 

Drops of consciousness connected to create a stream.  Flowing the past into the present, pushing this moment into the next.  And that, freed me.  Following the rush of time, suspended but moving, opened me up to possibility and surprise.  Quicksand far below me, I was dancing with the wind, over the tundra and through the clouds, embracing each new tantalizing experience of the ever-changing reality of now.  I was racing toward the edge of the forward spin of the universe, flying with the wind as my vehicle, into the future. 

Sitting at this table, I am still in body, looking up.  In spirit, I am reaching.  In this moment I am.  Connected to this moment’s passing, witnessing and experiencing the birth of its offspring, I am new.  In that moment I was.  I am reborn in each new moment and I am connected.  Knowing, in the next moment to come, I will be. 





Coming Home: Part 2

After my first hospitalization at 13 for "suicidal ideation" as it was called - a term I became well acquainted with over the next decade - I began to feel my desire to disappear into the ether spiral out of control.  I became "unsafe" and "dangerous to myself" once or twice a year and found myself in the hospital, away from what my life had become, for long enough for me to grasp on to some slippery sense of hope and light long enough to recommit to life.  But it only lasted so long.  

Through my zealous academic pursuits, I graduated a year early from high school.  But this was also, largely, due to the pain and social anxiety I felt through high school.  I was worn out by hiding my pain from everyone else and I wanted to rest.  I left in a hurry trying to run from anyone who might be able to identify my fear, my anger or my pain. 

I tried school away, in Colorado for a few months after high school.  But I wasn’t stable.  Hadn’t learned to deal with my issues, my emotions and was soon hospitalized after leaving.  I came back, feeling defeated and hopeless. 

I became pregnant within six months of coming back.  Which was a blessing.  I had been dating Kyle before I went o Colorado and upon coming back in December, we moved in together. 

After the birth of my son, I started to look at my life, my value, differently.  I had found some stability through being a mother to my son and grabbed onto the beginnings of a sense of grounding in that identity as a mother.  

I used to see death as an opportunity.  A way to get way.  After my son, death started to mean instead that I was leaving someone behind, someone who needed me.  

And as much as I struggled with that at times, as I did feel suicidal quite intensely through my marriage and through the divorce and custody battle that ensued, I couldn't ignore the truth that leaving him like that would damage him.  As much as I hurt, I knew I couldn't hurt him like that.  I tried a few times to convince myself he was better off, but that was all smoke and mirrors and as I grew in stability and strength, the more those thoughts faded in their own strength and stability.  

By my son's third birthday I had been accepted into Dartmouth and felt propelled to finish my undergraduate career, for myself and my son.  That gnawing desire for fulfillment through education hadn't faded away, something I am thankful for to this day.  While at Dartmouth, I found the space, away from this place, home, that had held me tight in anxiety, anger and fear.  I was thousands of miles away from my home, the trauma. 

I began to allow the part of me that felt the compelling desire to protect, to rest.  It was little at first.  I seemed to be on guard, still, most of the time, at first.  Which was similar to at home: I was feeling pain but no one except those closest to me knew.  But unlike before, I started, in this new and distant place so far from what I had known, face those rooted emotions of fear, anger and anxiety.  I stopped running from them.  Because I was so far way.  I began to uncover the wounded little girl that I had been protecting for so long.  I didn’t even know she was there, she was so well hidden.

I was still in the middle of a long, drawn out custody battle for the first few years I was away.  But through that, I found strength and wisdom through people who I'd known all my life and from new friends who helped me to see things in me I hadn't yet recognized in myself.  

I would come home, but not longer than a week or two. That was a long as I could stand before the panic or anxiety attacks took hold and I couldn’t stay at home and be safe.  I fled my homecomings, year after year, terrified of who I would become. 

I worked.  With many people on many things and little by little, I began to accept the trauma. 


Little by little, through learning to trust and love myself, I began to feel less heavy all the time, and at times, even kind of light.  

Coming Home: Part 1

Time, all the way up here, stretches.  Moments reaching forward and moments reaching back, connect.  Suspended in the present.  Moving forward.  Webbed and so enmeshed that you cannot see where one begins and another ends. But moving.  

And you can feel it.  The passing of time is constant, as it is everywhere.  But here, it stretches like it doesn't anywhere else, I know.  Following its rhythm, it hums.  It arcs in elated moments of sensation and lulls in quiet moments of contemplation.  It stalls and empties, swells and fills.  

Before, I felt time like was like a sucking, a stuck-ness that swallowed me.   A moment suspended, quicksand that moved but kept me entrapped and sinking.   

But, this time, I anticipated coming home with a lightness.  For the first time, in, ever.  Not because I hate where I come from.  No, I love my home.   But, because home was a dichotomy for me.  A place of pride, and a place of pain.  

The tundra or the snow.
The water or the ice.
The houses on stilts.
The dirt roads that were in perpetual loops in and around town, forever leading into another.  
But never away.  
The sun intensely present and within a few shifts of the season, entirely absent.  

But beyond all of that, I knew and felt that home was a connection to my heritage. It grew and sustained me while persisting as a place that cut me, wounded and deep, at the core of my spirit.  

It dizzied me, trying to make sense of the two.  Faint moments of confusion, exhaustion and loss characterized my life from age three until I was able to focus into a kind of remembered consciousness.  

But, there was a time, in my very early life, remembered in a very few softly-light moments, where I felt joy.  I was very young and very new to the world.  My mother played with me and I was happy.

By five, I felt like there was an extra layer of skin stuck to me.  It was tight and anxious.  It knee-jerked in reaction to the slightest hint of danger and constantly percolated boiling emotions of fear that could easily erupt into protective displays of anger. Displays of anger that would rattle most adults.  

I felt like I could be attacked at any moment.  Always ready to protect.  I learned early on that this part of me was not acceptable to most people.  Most people were frightened.  The part of me that protected me, frightened others.  I was powerful in those moments.  And I learned to hide it.  

From most.  Everyone but those closest to me.  

I channeled that energy into school. But at home, I let go of the emotions that I worked so hard to keep hidden in public.  I let all the fear I was feeling, out. And it wasn't peaceful.  It was painful and what my family saw and felt was anger.  I pushed them away, afraid even of showing them my pain, my wounds.  I didn't trust anyone.  And the best way to hide fear or pain is to be angry. 

Through out middle school and high school I dreamed of death. Day-dreamed and thought constantly about dying.  I couldn’t control my emotions and I wanted out.  I didn’t understand why I was stuck in this quicksand of hellish pain as I saw my emotions erupt and affect those closest to me while not feeling like I could control the eruption.  I hated hurting other people and thought, if I could just go and stop all this pain, it would be better for everyone.

I cried constantly.  But no one knew.  By that time, I was a star pupil and one of the highest achievers of my age in town.  I was on the swim team for years.  Took first in regional spelling bees year after year and by 7th grade had won state science fair for creating my own fuel cell.  The more I succeeded outside, the more I felt I was losing my grip on my life inside.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Listening to the Birds

I was laying down on my bed.  The windows open and the sun streaming in through the open air.  I live in a good-sized city and if the sounds themselves, when envisioned became, say, a belly...and I'd say the city-belly of sounds is almost always pretty full.

Sounds of the every-day life of the moment; the hum-drum sound of a car rolling by followed by the stop and go of a bus's upteenth time passing by on its route with sprinkles of the occasional human voices communicating random everyday experiences floating into my living space.  My breathing space.  As the light kept streaming in.

I lay there...and amid the city "noise" all I could really hear were the birds.  I thought of the birds.  Perched on wires, on streetlights.  I live in a city full of concrete, like many cities.  You have to commute somewhere to find a field or water.  Around me are houses, and people, and various kinds of automotive vehicles.  It is an environment almost entirely of people and people-related things.

I grew up in a space that was just the opposite.  The people, the houses, the cars -- they were all foreign.  The vastness of nature and environment around me engulfed the human civilization there.  The sustained human footprint of my home, in Northern Alaska, had only just been planted, permanently, a few hundred years before; if that.

There I lay...thinking about being in amid all of this city and yet only hearing the birds.  They sang, communicated and chirped as if saying, "I am here. We are here."

It was a reminder to me...a reminder that although we may construct these walls, this concrete...we are forever a part of life.  It is sometimes easier to find -- out my doorstep at home; sometimes more subtle and less apparent.  Listening to the birds, I found myself smiling.

The earth is full of all kinds of environments.  In each, can we connect.  In each, can we learn.

I hope, in moments of difficulty, in moments of triumph...in moments of life, you are able to find a moment to listen to the birds.  ;-)

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Can you hear me? I am suffering, can you see?"

I started a teaching residency in Dorchester this week.  Dorchester is known for being a particularly  dangerous place for families and one of the most difficult places to teach in the Boston Public School system.  Dorchester schools are difficult for many reasons you'd expect.  No funding, burnt out teachers and not enough leaders in administrative positions.  As my coworker said earlier this week as an ambulance halted our commute to Frederick's Middle School, not for the first time, "that siren seems to the theme music for Dorchester."  We worked in another part of Dorchester in the Fall and I remember leaving school grounds during a long break between classes.  I was teaching to find chapstick.  I went into three difference convenience stores, all within walking distance from the school.  Every single one of them had floor-to-ceiling bullet-proof glass between where I stood to pay, and the teller.  That was harrowing.  To think that my students knew this as normal. This environment of fear, danger and violence, day in and day out.  That it was all some of them, if not most, had ever known.

For the first three weeks of May, I was teaching in Cambridge.  Cambridge is the education mecca of the country, for both primary and secondary schools as well as higher education.  Some of the most prestigious colleges are located in or around Cambridge.  Places like Harvard.  The students have access to opportunities unparalleled anywhere else in the country.  And a plethora of them.  Many students are children of prestigious professors who are leading minds in their fields of study.  The schools have the best in education at their beck and call and the best resources Boston has to offer.

Going into Cambridge earlier this month, I tried to have no expectations.  But, deep down, I thought -- Cambridge!  These kids will be able to take the curriculum to new levels!  With what they have at their fingertips...

It was rough.  The students, by and large, looked at me and said, "what do you have to teach me?" It was an uphill battle.  A climb from sea level to 15k in three weeks.  They had so much around them, so many people clambering to give to them that, by and large, they didn't want anything anyone had to offer.  Most of the 6th grade students I taught were resistant, to say the least.

I learned a lot of Cambridge.  Learned that it is very important to go into all teaching engagements, actually any situation, with a Beginner's Mind.  Learned that the pain body, as we call it, in our students is present anywhere and everywhere.  Resources available or not.  Although these students had much more available to them than the kids in Dorchester, they were still in pain.  They were still reaching out for help.  They showed it through their resistance.  I wasn't asking them to give up anything.  I came with a gift.  A gift of wisdom and many of them, at first, shoved it away as if it were toxic.  I felt their pain through their inability to listen, to sit and to embrace.  But, day by day, they adapted.  Day by day, they began to accept that I wasn't giving up.  I wasn't going anywhere and I would keep knocking.  I would keep asking to be let in, to lay out before them a different way.

And one by one, they let me in.  One by one, they listened.   Each student participated, each student transformed.  Each student took the journey and came out the other side.   The students, as hard as they rebelled, all got up on the stage and delivered their lines, proud.  Speaking the lines of ancient wisdom; in this case the wisdom of Socrates.  What they do with what they learned, is up to them each.  But, they all smiled and looked over at me as they finished their performances, full of pride and hope.

This week, I'm back in Dorchester.  And I am dumbfounded.  These students are begging for instruction, by and large.  They struggle, they show their independence but by and large they are attentive, interested and they listen.  I am learning how students in different situations, listen.

Sure, they have their resistance leaders.  They have their attitude armor placed so delicately present but underneath it I can see their vulnerability.  I can see that they just want to be reached.

That isn't to say that kids in Cambridge aren't in the same boat.  That is to say that the kids in Dorchester, maybe because they are facing a different kind of mass adversity, a collective understanding of the "trenches" as many Dorchester teachers call it, they are more rapt and attentive toward learning about these ancient wisdom traditions I teach.  We are all clambering for wisdom.  And these kids, these kids who face homelessness, domestic violence, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide at alarming rates, they sat, ears perked and eyes forward waiting for the next cue; waiting for the moment they could jump start their lives into something better.

We had a journaling exercise.  I remember in Cambridge, the journaling exercises were a joke.  The kids talked over me; they laughed during the meditation intended to bring them more focus and draw them inward.  This isn't a judgement; this is where they were and I met them there.  The Dorchester students, they quieted.  Yearning to look inward.  Yearning to search for an answer from within.

The journal entry we worked on last week was "Know Thyself."  I'm teaching a unit on Socrates and to know yourself is a central tenant of Greek Philosophy.  I shared with them how learning to know myself, at their age, when I was severely depressed, anxious and angry saved my life.  I invited them each to look inward and ask themselves questions about who they were, in that moment.  I asked them to answer the question: "in my life, I would like to understand why I..."

I took them through a few more breaths, "breathe in courage, breathe out fear..."  And asked them to quietly open their eyes and begin writing, silently, in conversation with themselves.

After a few minutes of writing, I asked for volunteers to share what they had written.  "Sharing is entirely voluntary, no one needs to share.  Your grade will not be affected.  What you wrote is entirely confidential.  But, if there is anyone who would like to share, please raise your hand..."

One by one, courageous sixth grader after courageous sixth grader raised his or her hand.  The first student said he had been bullied since as long as he could remember.  For being different.  He started cutting himself in fourth grade and would sit in the bathroom and cry during lunch, asking why people bullied him so much.  He wanted to try to understand why he was so different.  The second student, a girl, simply asked, in a quiet voice, "I want to know...why do people hate me so much?" She laid her head down and silently cried for the rest of the class.  A third student, usually vibrant with energy and enthusiasm, raised his hand solemnly and asked, "I want to know, why don't people say hi to me, even when I know they hear me?"  A fourth student, who was separated from the class because of his learning disabilities asked, "Why do people think I'm boring?"  Questions kept coming.  With the same depth of emotion, the same yearning for wisdom and the same honesty.

I was honored to have been trusted with such questions.  I answered each with as much compassion and truth as I could find within myself.  Trying to reach each student where they were while trying to teach them that it was within themselves that they could find love, comfort and solace.  The lesson was to know yourself.  To listen to yourself.  To love yourself.  I encouraged each student to listen to what was being said, not just outside their heads, but within themselves.  "The things you tell yourself create who you are, and if you don't treat yourself with love, it will be hard to see and feel when others try to treat you with love."  I told the student who felt different that others may bully you yes, and the girl who felt that everyone hated her that yes, it may feel that the whole world is against you. The boy who felt that others thought he was boring and the boy who fixated on getting responses from those around him that yes -- we can take our cues from others.  In all of these ways.  But, if we want to find happiness and stability in life, we have to learn to stand up and tell ourselves we are important.  We are worthy and we are loved.  Hear it a thousand times from those around us and it may not settle but hear it once with meaning from ourselves and it can stick forever.

I left that classroom last week shaken.  I had been a part of a real transformation.  Those kids, together, stood up and said, I feel pain.  Can you hear me?  I am suffering, do you see?  And I tried, with all my might, to embrace them and to encourage each of them to embrace themselves.

Dorchester isn't very different from Cambridge, no.  The students in Dorchester, the students in Cambridge, all seek wisdom.  With resistance or without.  We all do.  Sometimes its with an earnest hopefulness in our eyes; other times its through steely eyes so forcefully intent on not letting anything in that all I can see is pain.

Wherever I am, Cambridge, Dorchester, or anywhere; some things are certain.  Our kids need more than aptitude tests in math, science and reading.  Yes, these are important.  But they also need to know how to listen to truth, within themselves.  How to trust themselves.  How to know themselves.  And how to be compassionate toward not only themselves, but everyone around them.  They are begging for this.  Aching for guidance.

This last week, I witnesses more than a few students reach out.  Vulnerably so.  And I was humbled.  We are so distant from each other sometimes.  When all we really need, deep down, is to connect.  With ourselves.  With one another.  With life.  It's really that simple.  Connection.  Take away the fear, clothed in so many forms, and all you have is light looking for light.

My students are light.  And they guide me as I guide them.  Perhaps they will grow to learn to do the same, with many others.  That is my hope.  That is why I do what I do.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In the shadow, I find light

Running today, I looked up and saw a sunflower.  In the sky.  It was the sun with some kind of cloud trail coming directly from its center, outward. 

Looking up, with the pound of each running step I could feel the rhythmic pump of my life-sustaining blood spreading through out my body; I breathed in the same clean, fresh air that life all around me depended on. Looking up, I was comforted.  At that particular moment, in my eight and half mile run, I looked up.  I don't always look up.  And realizing that after about half a mile that the sun flower didn't look like a sun flower from that vantage point any longer, it caused me to reflect on the moment I did look up. 

In one of my plays, an autobiographical play that deals directly with the childhood sexual abuse I experienced, I describe myself as a sunflower.  In reference to where the main character, Aaluk, would like to commit suicide.  "In a sunny place."  Because "You've always been a sunflower."  Looking up, I saw a random Sun flower, visible only in that place that I happened to be running through for just a few moments. 

This week was.  Important.  Challenging.  I went into the shadow of one of my deepest wounds.  And I sat with myself, there in that place.  It felt like death.  Quite literally death, as I can understand it from a living perspective.  It had a deafening emptiness.  I felt loss, sadness and fear.  I couldn't comprehend or trust my thoughts.  I was in shock, stunned back into an existence I know very well.  An existence I used to call life.  For many years. 

I had to go back.  Wound doesn't just disappear.  And spiritual wound, takes something from you.  Part of you.  You have to go back to reclaim the part of you that sits there, in the wound, stuck. 

I have functioned well, given the circumstances.  Very much so because of the seen and unseen love and support who have sustained me.  The people, the places, the life that has reached me; from this life and beyond.  There are a people who have known me for millennia and they have never left my side.  They protected me, even from myself.  I am of them and they are in me.  I give reverence to them and honor them each and every day; never forgetting that each breath connects me to them if I let it. 

You can't push away the wound, the feelings, the history of your pain.  You can't.  If you do, you push away yourself.  And you divide yourself into sections that you have to navigate around; like walking amid land minds of yourself that could explode your sense of peace and security at any moment. 

While in that place a few days ago.  Searching for grounding, light.  I looked up.  I was in a room, not present.  Not connected.  Looking out a window, searching for connection to life, I saw a tree.  A white birch tree I think.  I could only see an outstretched branch from where I sat, looking out the widow.  I tried to connect to the energy of that life form, that long standing tree who had stood and seen so much.  While looking at the part I could see, I found my eyes tracing it upward. 

When I reached the top of the branch, the top of what I could see, I felt light.  I looked up and saw love.  Saw light.  I heard something that felt like smiling.  It was the part of me, the essential part of my soul, that could never and had never been wounded.  Our bodies can be harmed, our energies affected and our egos left questioning and analyzing; but our souls, they are untouchable and so powerful, so full of love and light, each and every one of us, that nothing on this earth can alter them.  They are only perceived to be altered if we believe that about our selves, with our minds.  Our hearts, deep in our hearts, know this.   

Looking up, in that moment, I heard from myself.  She looked down, shining in light, with a face full of love and reached down her hand to me.  After having spent time in that space of paralyzing death, fear; I was mesmerized by this extension of love.  She said to me two simple things. 

She said, you are a child of love, of light.  And you are stronger than this.  She said them with such certainty and such compassion that in that moment, all that was empty around me, filled.  With light. 

I began the process of coming up, into the light.  From the place that part of me had been, for so long.  Left. 

It was important that it was me, who pulled me out.  It was important that I could connect and knew the wisdom that she, that I, led me to.  I work, daily, with students, teaching them the exact same things.  That doesn't make me immune to the depths of suffering and pain.  What that provides me with is wisdom to pull from, to stand upon in those moments of death, fear. 

There are many who live in the place I lived.  Many parts of souls or whole souls who feel death seep into their blood, their breath and stare into lifeless places begging for an end to it all.  Many who, in these places, sleep, drug or shame themselves into silence or numbness. 

To those many, many people, to myself, I say look up.  Into yourselves.  Into light.  Into love.  Don't be afraid to believe it or shove it off.  Or do and you will feel what is left in the wake of that; darkness, fear and death.  But know that you have it, in you, always, the source of life.  We all do, all life.  And looking up, reaching out, you can find peace.  It won't last forever, you won't look up once and be done with it.  But the process of looking up and reaching in, again and again, strengthens something in you.  Reminds you that you are powerful.  A child of love.  A child of light.    

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Standing witness...with a PB and J

 I wrote this a few days ago as a Facebook status update and wanted to archive it here, :) 

When I was five years old, I would have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday after school. With a glass of milk. It was the first thing I would do after getting off the bus. Five for me was, well, hellish in my little mind. It's when I started getting really, really angry. I was miserable. I had horrible nightmares and I remember, at just five, how heavy and depressing being alive felt. The abuse I'd been enduring for a few years had started to take its toll, in serious ways.

Everyone noticed. My siblings became scared of me or would get very angry with me; and I with them. How I processed the abuse was to push everyone close to me away, most especially my loving and perceptive mother, through angry outbursts.

But everyday, I would sit down and enjoy that pb and j with milk. Looking back, I think my mom let me have it everyday, without fail, because maybe she could see it was one aspect, however small, of my little life, in which I could enjoy something. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the vast majority of my childhood.

I just made a pb and j. An "adult" version: coconut and peanut butter with blueberry "preserves" grilled in light butter on multi grain bread!

Sitting there, I was brought back to those days, over twenty years ago, in which I sat in my same body, with my same hands feeding my same mouth. And I smiled, thinking about how much had changed. I don't regret or wish I grew up any differently. It was very difficult, what I went through so early on in life, but sitting there eating my pb and j, I thanked that little girl. Because she survived. And eating her used to be go-to comfort food, I honored her. With a smile on the outside and an abundance of love on the inside.

I hope we all find moments to honor, respect and above all, love the parts of us who survived, at whatever stages in life. And in the process, stand witness to the sacred, beautiful journey that is life.

Jump in

If you follow my posts, you know I feel a lot, often.  And I feel things pretty intensely.  It's a gift, although challenging at times. 

Anyway, the past few days have been challenging.  For various reasons that I don't have an interest in sharing right now but I've been feeling confused and felt some deep sadness.  After work I was walking along the road next to beach.  I sat down in a nice area with grass and trees and felt the sun.  I was going to head back to the apartment I'm staying at here in Santa Monica but something inside me, said, cross the street.  It's a big street and I have been tired, so tired lately.  The distance to the waves seemed far.  Part of me just wanted to go back to the apartment and curl up and hide. 

I gently confronted the part of me that wanted to hide.  Spoke to her as if she was a hurt child; and in many ways that's exactly what that part of me was.  I looked out at the soon to be setting sun and coaxed her through the beauty that was the beach before me, to venture out.  The closer I got to the waves, the more I started to feel a sense of calm settle into my spine, my body, my soul. 

I sat there, close to the waves, meditating.  With my face tilted slightly up so as to feel as much sunlight seep into my skin, my soul.  I let go with my breath, of tension in my body and my mind.  I gave myself space to rest.  Respectfully asked my mind to quiet.  The energy of the life of the ocean filled my body and it was many things.  Calming yet invigorating.  Playful and deep.  Wise.  I surrendered to it.  Gave thanks. 

When I was ready to open my eyes, I laid back onto the sand behind me.  Looking up at the sky.  And thought about the intelligence out there, beyond our atmosphere, our sky.  Felt blessed to be alive, conscious and awake at this moment, in this place.  Laying there, my arms were stretched out, palms up.  After a few moments I took a slow deep breath and sat up. 

Sitting there, watching the waves, being, a man came up to me.  Gently.  Looking out at the waves too.  He asked me about the water.  And said I looked like a bird laying there in the sand with my arms outstretched.  I laughed, as I love birds.  We talked about Siberia, where he is from, and Alaska.  But we mostly talked about the ocean.  About swimming in cold water.  After a pause, he looked at me with a light in his eyes and said, "let's jump in!"

I used to not like being wet.  Or cold.  And cold and wet I almost always avoided.  But things are changing.  And the idea of jumping in, as the sun was setting, in that cold water, sounded like just what I needed. 

I didn't have a suit on or with me or a towel but I didn't care.  In leggings and sports bra we giggled toward the water.  As we got closer I squealed a bit thinking about the cold.  He reached out his hand right as the water reached my ankles and we dove in!  We waded out, until the water was chest high and rode a few waves.  Laughing and diving.  Someone ran along the beach behind us, a mother was holding her toddler just above the waves, dipping the baby's feet into the water as the waves rolled by. 

Immersed in the water, feeling alive, I thought - yes.  This is what I needed.  I needed the power of these waves, a dousing of cleansing ocean water and the simple joy of innocent human connection. 

Coming out of the water, I felt whole.  The part of me that wanted to hide was laughing.  Smiling.  Feeling the light of the world around me.  Walking back toward the apartment, looking down at the sand, I noticed the gentle glow of a setting sun bouncing off its peaks.  I was reminded of how beautiful, truly beautiful, life is. 

I hope, if and when you are given the opportunity to jump into life, you take it too. ;)

Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm not ready. Not yet.

I'm learning (and getting pretty decent at) trying to listen to myself.  Truly listen.  Without expectation, with as little judgement or criticism as possible.  And it feels good.  It's not always easy.  As I teach my kids when I teach the play on Socrates, following your conscious is not always sunshine and water lillies.  Sometimes you have to face and make decisions that aren't easy, aren't leaving you feeling happy.  But, with that said, when I make a decision that is truly good, virtuous, for me, even if it is hard, I feel a sense of wholeness and health that makes me happy. :)

I've been wanting to DO something about all the pain, all the hurt in the community I was born and raised.  My home is sacred to me.  Truly sacred.  Where I come from is like no other place, and everyone says that when they come, when they visit and while they live there.  It is unique, it is foreign to, almost anywhere else.  There is a sense of deeply rooted history, a sense of genuine community and deep love for one another. 

But it is hard.  There has been a significant amount of historical trauma that has bled into and become present-day trauma.  Many of our young people die from suicide, overdoses and gun violence.  Many of our women and girls especially, but also men and boys, are horribly abused - physically, sexually, verbally.  Alcoholism and drug addiction are commonplace.  So much so, that my best friend's father, the only judge in town, has estimated before that over 97% of his cases are alcohol related.  This may seem contradictory, how can a community have a deep sense of love for one another yet have such high rates of abuse?  I don't have the answer to that question, but have learned that we hold many things in the same hand, sometimes, contradictory things. 

I have had an idea, an idea that germinated during my last few years as an undergrad at Dartmouth.  It started out as an idea to use theater as a healing medium to provide a space for those affected by the abuse (i.e. just about everyone, directly or indirectly) to begin to learn to heal.  There are some in my home town that are on the path to healing and some well on the path to healing.  But there are many, many young people particularly, who seem lost.  I am not an expert, yet, but I started to feel like I knew enough, just enough, to help guide people toward their own path to healing.  I seem to have always had a way of cultivating the light and the love in others.  I wanted to use that ability to help my home. 

This year, I was all geared and prepped to go home and DO.  I'd been working on a blueprint of a plan so to speak, had it as well thought out as I could have at this stage.  I wanted it to be a summer residency, a three week residency.  I had planned to use the art of storytelling, both in writing and on stage, as a catalyst toward healing; as a means for the participants of the program to learn more about their spiritual wounds and begin to work through them.  Spiritual pain is delicate, it's finicky and requires a lot of listening to heal from, I think.  I thought that by working to create a safe space for shared expression and used both verbal and writing tools and exercises to cultivate and ground this space, perhaps it might grow space to heal.  My ultimate goal of the whole thing.  To start people, through my own experiences and with my voice, presence and ability, on their own paths toward healing.  I felt that this first year was going to be....challenging.  Not in a bad way.  In a...Aaluk, let's be honest and gentle with yourself here - it may be a bit rocky...kind of way.  Yes I was scared.  But I have been scared a lot, quite a lot, in my life and that has never stopped me. 

But as the summer started closing in on me, back in November, when I was really gearing up, applying for grants and working on writing prompts, exercises, scripts....I started to hear a voice.  At first I thought this was a "cold feet" kind of voice.  An, "I'm scared - let's run away!" kind of voice.  As I've been training myself to do over the last few years, I sat the voice down.  I said, "Ok, you have my attention.  Feel free to speak.  I am listening."

At first, my "superficial" fears as I call them surfaced.  Not superficial meaning not meaningful, just surface fears.  Things like, "the logistics are too tough with your work schedule in Boston."  "You aren't going to find the money."  "You don't have the time." And lastly, the quietest one of all, "You aren't ready."  I almost didn't hear the last one.  Actually, for the first few weeks or even month, I don't think the voice even said the last message. 

I responded, as compassionately as I could, as I knew that this voice was a part of me, bringing up real concerns.  I said, I'll work around my schedule and try to do it so it works for me, for my job and for home.  I'm pretty good at balancing things after the difficult balancing acts I've found myself performing over the years (extreme mental health issues, divorce, custody, ivy league education, etc).  That message quieted.  I thought about the money issue.  I responded saying, all I need is a plane ticket.  I can handle that.  That message subsided as well.  the "not having enough time" message took it's turn in the forefront of my mind and I assured myself that I would listen to time constraints, that I would listen to the messages that might come up that were related to over-working myself, doing too much, etc.  I treat myself with a lot of love, a lot of understanding and a lot of compassion, so that message subsided as well.  It knew that I would be on the look out for over working myself and it trusted that I would take care of myself.  I have a enough of a track record taking care of myself that it trusted me.  

But the last message.  Which was timid.  Almost childlike spoke again. "You aren't ready."

To me, this was a pretty serious message.  Instead of pushing it aside saying, oh yes I am!  Silly me!  I'm strong!  I am powerful!  I am READY!

I said, wait.  How so?  Why?  What about me isn't ready?

These questions weren't all at once.  I investigated this not ready message over time, over a few months.  I learned that although I am on my own healing path and I am learning, with greater depth, greater understanding and greater love, how to take care of myself and how to attend to my spiritual wounds....that a part of me, just wasn't ready.  I needed time.  And a part of me, however small, knew that.  The healing from my own spiritual wounds of suffering and abuse needed time, it said.  I said.  A part of me, said.  I wanted protection.  I wanted just time, with me. 

I've made the decision to hold off.  It hurts in places.  I will be home this summer and I will see what I grew up seeing.  The hallow-ness of numbed pain projected through the eyes of young children, the steely depth of pain endured through the eyes of older children and the loss sense of identity and purpose in the eyes of many adults.  Is this all there is in my hometown?  Goodness no.  Not by a long shot.  There is also, as I mentioned above, deep love.  But when I see this kind of pain in young and old children alike and adults, it tends to permeate my understanding of the health of my home.  One person enduring this spiritual pain, as I see it, is too many.  It hurts me.  And unfortunately, it's much more than one person.

I am learning to feel compassion without letting the pain of suffering permeate my emotional landscape, but I'm not there yet, entirely.  One of the reasons I'm not ready to start this project.  I am being gentle with myself and growing myself.  So that when I am ready, I can be as available and compassionate as I need to be and want to be.  I'm not there yet.  And that's ok.  That's more than ok.  That's what it is and I am at peace with that.  

Everything is a learning opportunity and an opportunity for growth.  I used to get frustrated and speak out to my creator asking, WHY?! do I have to learn SO MUCH!?  Can ya just give me a break?  :-)

Now I understand things differently.  I am blessed to be given the opportunity to grow.  The break isn't in the spaces between learning, the break - or the sense of peace as I like to see it now - is in the moments of true blossoming.  The moments where something new comes out of what was to create what is.  And it happens all the time.  The greater awareness I have of when I am growing and how I am growing, the more grateful I am for the opportunity to grow, to expand.  I like space and growing to me means expansion of understanding, love and peace.  And now, I don't ask my creator why, I thank my creator because learning and growth is a gift. 

You are forever in my heart, home, and I will always be connected to you.  I will always love you.  Know that you are never forgotten, I'm just not ready.  Not yet.