Saturday, September 24, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture Opening: Sept 24, 2016

This country was built on the backs of black men and women, forced into slavery.  Our country wouldn’t be what it is today if we didn’t have the free and arduous labor black men, women and children provided on the plantations.  How our early economy faired paved the way for America to sustain independence.  But black lives weren’t only used for economic reasons – they were enslaved for social reasons, too.  Black slaves dressed their masters in fine clothes while they lived in rags. They cooked and served five course meals while they ate cornmeal, lard and molasses.  They often couldn’t even have the left overs without getting whipped, or worse.  But not whipped with a belt, a hard chord of leather with fragments of sharp glass stabbed into the end instead.  Slave women nursed and raised master’s children while their own children were ripped from their arms as babies only to be sold to the highest bidder.  Even working to expand their own intellect through something like learning to read was punishable, sometimes by death.  

Many people don’t know much about the lives of slaves. Most schools don’t want to talk about things that could be disturbing children or parents. But it's not just in schools we shy away from talking about uncomfortable things.  Society, by and large, doesn’t want to face this stuff either.  Things that make us feel sad, or scared, or ashamed. 

credit: Phil Freelon of
The first National Museum of African American history and culture opened today.  Honoring people who dedicated their lives, literally, to the building and evolution of our country's future, by giving of their bodies, their minds and their blood. For over 400 years, American society not only denied black people their rights, we also denied them their place of profound importance as builders, creators, teachers and leaders of our evolving American existence and culture.   Our president, who is black himself, opened the doors to an institution built to stand against that denial.  Built to honor the black people of yesterday and today.  To say I'm sorry and I respect you.  Your history, your culture and your spirit.  We stand, all of us - black, white, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Islamic, Christian, young, gay and struggling, together.  But we are not just together, we are all uniquely magnificent and equally strong.  We need to do what we did today.  Stand together at the opening of those doors, and say, I see you.  You are valued.  You are beautiful.  You are strong.

We need to remind each other of our strength to be able to grow stronger together.   For centuries, we denied an entire people living with us, space in society to show their strength. Their insight.  The purposes they chose for themselves.  This is a huge part of our history as a nation. A history that we  have been reluctant to face fully, because of our shame and our fear.  But this museum provides a space to face it.  To talk about it.  To learn and to think.  Conversation by conversation. Museum by museum. Day by day.  Let’s dig up these roots we have connected to abuse, pain, fear and loss and rebuild.

I’m ready to stand in front of the slave cabin, the auction block and the slave shackles the Museum has in its collection.  But, I’m also ready to stand next to Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.  Facing fear and celebrating strength. Beauty. Resilience. 

This museum isn’t just for African Americans, but for all Americans.  This is all of our history.  We all have work to do and we all have gifts to contribute.  Towards a future we all share. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

His mom

Reading with my son on FaceTime started my evening off on the right foot. My day was ok, but after the busy-ness of work was over and I got home, I felt a little, eh. Driving to Costco and buying new contacts sounded tiring. The idea of going to the gym didn't stir up any feelings of motivation or excitement. Dinner options were, meh. Sitting there on my couch, trying to motivate, I called my son. We read the beginning of the next book in this series we love. We read, were delightfully interrupted by two of his brothers, both toddlers and read some more. It only took a few minutes for me to feel my chest lighten. As we connected over the excitement in the story, the sadness, the silliness, I felt better. Watching him giggle over small jokes through FaceTime lit my heart. When we hung up, I smiled and thanked the universe for my son. For my life. For being given an opportunity to see the beautiful things - the things that help make things lighter. Learning to see and be open to accepting those moments of lightness, in my heart, has been a journey. The existence of my son has been a big part of that. A foundational part. There have been many times as hard as I tried to see light, I couldn't. Times that were much worse than, eh. I've been practicing, for a long time now, how to see I can feel differently. Life is so many things. Before us at any moment we have material to work with - cultivated both from within ourselves and from others and life around us. Material that evolves and changes over time. Material that we shape, either consciously or not, into what we understand to be our realities. Our ever evolving understanding of ourselves in each moment of existence. And, I think, clearly and non-jugementally seeing what is before us is probably the first real step in recognizing what we can truly do with that material. My son reminded me of what I needed today to be able to face some slightly painful reflections in the material before me today. Love. And connection. To the person who matters most to me. After we got off the phone, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I felt like I was gliding through the air, shifting my weight and balance as I advanced forward. I felt rooted. Open and connected. To the world and life around me and inside me. Going to sleep tonight, I feel my son in my heart. Beating. He comes from there and when I feel him at home, in my heart, it beats stronger. With more depth. He starts middle school next week, and although at times my heart feels heavy being so far away, it also feels light and full, because we are connected. Like this message he left me on his drawing/white board easel: "we are always connected." The green lines are the lines from our hearts connecting to one another. He wrote this for me as a message from him to me for when I was sad and missed him. I look at it everyday - sometimes out of sadness, sometimes out of gratitude. Always with love. I got pregnant at 18 and had my son when I was 19. I don't recommend this for everyone, but for me, his birth and his life couldn't have come at a more needed and meaningful time. He'll be 11 in February and I don't know what my life would be without him. I thank the universe every day that he chose me to be his mom.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Building depth

Being a distance parent is hard. Being a parent is hard. You give a lot but you get a lot, too.  You grow a lot. You learn a lot.

I think the biggest universal thing you learn as a parent is how to love deeper; and for me, that is a journey my son leads. He shows me the ways he is beautiful. He shows me his heart. His mind. His love. When he is testing me and pushing me, as all kids do, I have to learn to love deeper in another way.  And, it's those moments where he shows me the ways he is beautiful, his heart, his mind, his love, that I hold on to in learning to love deeper that way.   

In some ways, I think one of my most important practices is to learn to see the pushing and testing as opportunities to respond with more of an open-heart, through earning to empathize with where he is when he is pushing and testing.  To me, this means, stepping back from the pushing and testing and holding the space for him to feel it.  Because, if I want him to share with me what he is feeling when he is struggling, I need to create a space for him to fully feel without judgement, criticism or shame.  Just love.  Holding the space for him to explore those emotions in a healthy way. And, in holding the space, teaching him how to rethink things to maybe feel better.

My son was upset tonight.  He did something to ground himself to his room for a few weeks and feels angry about that.  I didn’t push him when he didn’t want to tell me why he got in such big trouble and I realized during the conversation, that was ok.  My job as his mom, who lives far away right now, is to hear him.  Is to support him.  Is to show him how much I love him.  

So, instead of talking about what he did wrong, we talked about things that made him happy.  Things that made him feel good.  We talked about our cat.  The one we, with my brother, picked out on his last visit in February.  And, what he said, astounded me.  Not because it was something that I was surprised by, but because it was one of those moments that I could feel how deeply I loved him. It felt like an effortless love in that moment, something so rooted. As it is.

We were face-timing and the cat was snuggling my face.  Our cat, Lynx, is a really affectionate, loving cat. He just wants to snuggle all day.  And I said that'; that Lynx would just snuggle all day.. A big smile crossed my son’s face, and I asked, “What?”

His smile was loving and sweet. “See, you have someone to keep you from getting lonely, now.” 

My son has wanted me to get a dog or a cat for years because I’ve lived alone for as long as he can remember.  He’s been worried, since he was five years old, that I would be lonely.  He lives with four brothers, two cats, two dogs and chickens.   So, I knew what he meant, I knew where this was coming from and it warmed my heart.

I said, “Yes! And you helped me pick him out.” He smiled again, saying, “I knew just the right cat that would make you happy.”

That dropped me into such a beautiful place. Of love and connection.  And, I said, “Yes, babe, you did.  You really did.”

Looking at me with a deep kindness, he said, “You notice how I didn’t say thing?”
I paused for a second, astounded again, realizing what he was referring to. “Yes, I do. Because he’s not a thing, he’s family.”

“Exactly,” he said pausing a moment. “Yep.”

We’ve come a long way, him and me. I used to struggle with being far away when he was struggling, in whatever way.  I used to not be able to hold the space, I used to need to know more because I was struggling with not being there. 

But, holding the space is for him and me.  It teaches him and it grows me.  My son is such an integral part of my, everything.  And how things have unfolded, although very difficult and full of heartbreak, have also been full of growth. And love. And learning.

And, in holding the space, I gave him a gift and he gave me a gift.  Both created out of love.

Grateful for today; not all connections with my son are this nourishing. And that’s hard when I’m far away. But today nourished me and I'm going to sleep happy. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Closer to Love

I adopted a cat a little over a month ago who hadn't ever lived in a home. To help him adjust to the transition, the first day I got home from work, I dropped everything, got down to his level by laying on my belly to pet and snuggle with him. I'd been gone from 7a to 5p and I could only imagine how lonely he was.  He needed that I think, and I made a point to show him he was safe. That I would come back and I loved him. That began a practice, a routine for us.  We did that everyday. And, soon enough, he'd settled in.  And, now, we are pretty cozy together. I can't imagine my life without my little snuggle buddy, even if he does wake me up meowing for food early every morning.

The last few days hes seemed to have more anxiety when I got home.  He didn't seem to want to end snuggling and followed me around meowing for a while.  So, I though, maybe he's becoming bored all day! So, I started playing with him longer.  Everyday, we play with those wands with cloth or something attached to it for the cat to try to catch and pounce on. He runs around the whole apartment! I throw little mice beanies for him to tackle and we end with pretty vigorous scratch and message sessions.  I take care of him like he's a life I love, because he is. He is my pet companion and I am his person one.  To me, a companion is someone who will try to listen for what I truly need and support me in finding it.  And I try to be that as a companion. 

Today, he seemed like he wanted to run around again and we did for a while.  And then I just wanted to sit. Lay down. I've been sad. Which isn't a bad thing - people hear sad and say, oh I'm so sorry but sadness has it's place. A mentor of mine once said allowing yourself to really feel sadness, to really sit in it, can allow you to experience a kind of dignity.  A kind of acceptance that feels supportive and meaningful.  

The last few days have been full of emotion - all kinds. Emotion that has helped me move forward. Not all bad but it has been challenging and exhausting at times.   He followed me into the room - meowing, pacing back and forth.  I thought it was because he wanted to play more. I said, maybe later as I sat down on my bed, checking my phone and pulling up a show on my ipad.  

As I looked down at him, playing by my feet, I realized, he didn't want to run around. He wanted to snuggle.  Sometimes, I lay on my bed and he lays on my chest, like a baby. So, I put down my phone and my ipad and let him crawl into his baby position. While he was snuggling into me, I looked at him, his little eyes closed, purring.  He was just happy laying there, snuggling. If felt like, showing me he loved me. And for a moment, I thought, I wonder if he's sensed me struggling. Sensed me sad. And he thought, and felt, let me love you.  

I realized, maybe it wasn't him who needed the extra attention the last few days, Maybe it was me. And maybe it was him, sensing I needed to snuggle and feel close to something I loved.  

So we did.
<This is from the day he came home with me and my son.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

City Light

I grew up rural. Like real rural. For nearly 400 miles, my hometown of 5k is the biggest city around. Can't drive in, dependent on the limited flights in a day for milk and eggs kind of rural. Like, if a blizzard decided to grace us with its presence for a few days, and I mean -40F with snow blowing winds 20-30 miles per hour, we were in it for the long haul. No flights out, no flights in. Hope you have some cans of carnation milk and some frozen meat in the freezer because the stores would be out of most anything fresh.   

And it was beautiful. The colors of the tundra in the fall; red and rusty orange with healthy sprouts of brown and green popping through. The months the sun didn't set. The way the ice turned bluish-white during the Spring whaling season; when going out on the ice was like being on a different planet, a planet full of exquisite beauty. The peaceful dark blue sky, lit only by the moon and stars throughout Christmas. I grew up around such startling and rare beauty that not everyone who came up could even really see it at first. They saw the trash and the pain of our little “city”…much like I felt when I first moved to a real city.

I've been an urbanite for a while now. And, yes, it is a concrete jungle. The houses are very close and there is very little green or wildlife anywhere.  Even in DC, which is a more park-friendly city. It's easy to miss the beauty in a city, like it is for some people who aren’t used to the landscape where I come from. Some of the buildings at home are old and decaying with broken windows and snow piling up in the doorways.  Some of the buildings in cities are graffitied out and look like they’ve been used to cook meth. At first, I had trouble seeing the light here. I remember living at home, deep in a cycle of re-triggering and trauma, very depressed, feeling the same way about home. I could only see the pain and the trash. I couldn’t see the light.

But, now, almost every morning, I sit on the metro, looking out. I can look out and see so much beauty. How the sun seeps into the streets and on metro platforms as the day begins.  I can see how the new buildings are growing and evolving under construction. I cross over water, wide and deep. And, when I get off the metro, I can walk through the sunlight as I move through the streets on my 5 minute walk from the station to my job.  The last corner I turn, I see this. This light, bursting, ready to expand into every corner, every crevice, every moment of my present.  And it’s glorious.  I feel connected to this earth, this universe and life in a way that confirm, in the gravity of my soul, that there is light. That there is always light.   

Light and beauty are everywhere. Life and the forces that sustain it are everywhere. They are the foundation of our existence. Almost every morning, when I walk down this street, I say thank you. In my heart and my soul, for the light.  And for eyes that I’ve trained to see it. ;-)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Surface of the Sun

I've always been a sun person, always had a certain reverence for it.  Us, our planet, and our solar system wouldn't have developed without the creation of our sun happening first.  It's birth, gave birth to everything else.

Sometimes, from here on earth, when I'm looking up at it, it looks like it could fit in my hand.  And it seems to shine in a kind of quiet, peaceful way; flickering here and there.  It brings such gorgeous light into my life in different ways everyday.  I like to watch it move around, smile at how it dances between buildings and find peace in how spreads out over fields and water. It is almost like a companion.

But that's just how I experience it here on earth.  Working at NASA with the sun people, I read and work on projects about the sun from a different perspective.  From it's surface. And the  surface is probably the most  intense and volatile place in our entire solar system.  The surface is unimaginably hot and super, super active.  That peaceful, quiet, almost candle-like-flickering sun we see down here is constantly erupting with massive explosions of energy.  The video below below in text shows the massively destructive and powerful nature of the sun's surface. I recently read about a solar flare, a type of massive eruption from the sun's surface, that was 7x the size of earth...and that was just one flare.  The sun's diameter itself is over 100 times the size of earth's diameter and these eruptions are happening all the time.

Although I am continually amazed by the beauty of the sun's light and how it shines on me and the world around me, I also stand in reverence to the other things the sun is that aren't the happy, hippie-Aaluk things I tend to gravitate toward. Yes, it is light for us, life, actually, but only as long as we stay where we are.  Too much closer it would kill us and indeed, when it finally does implode in something like 4 billion years, it will kill us - if we haven't already killed ourselves off.  But right now, I can sit and bask in its beauty and its warmth from this perfect distance, marveling in the fact that the source of its beauty is explosive and the warmth of its rays are from a massive intensity of violent energy spewing out into the universe. I like noticing the layers of difference in things, I like learning how something is multi-faceted and not just one thing.  Perhaps one thing to me at one point in time, but different at other times.

And, the more I pay attention, the more I see how nothing, truly nothing, is actually one thing or black and white.  From the life in the sun to the life in ourselves to the life around us, everything is constantly evolving along a spectrum of experience and understanding...I could have lived my whole life not knowing about the duality of the sun's nature being both light and beauty but also intense and destructive.  Many humans in history did not know anything about the surface of the sun.  But, when my perspective changed, I saw more.  Living today, I am given the opportunity to see the sun differently.  Beyond the sun though, I think we are given opportunities every day, in many different ways, to see differently.  To know and understand differently.

As I look out at the sun each morning, I smile, thinking of all I see, all I can know and understand right now.  And all I don't see or haven't yet had the opportunity to know or understand.

Surface of the Sun: Solar Flares and CME's

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Forgive, Surrender and Accept

Sometimes I talk to people who are interested in meditating but don't feel like they can do it.  They say things like, "I just can't quiet my mind." or "I don't do it right." This quote speaks to that. It says forgive yourself for not being at peace and by forgiving, surrender to where you are. Accept where you are.

Forgiveness is like a hug you give yourself. And in forgiving, you tell yourself it's ok to let go, to surrender.  Surrendering creates space in your heart for new things and through acceptance, your heart opens. By forgiving, surrendering and accepting, you can open yourself to the peace in that moment.  In practice, after you surrender, the peace kind of flows in on it's own, like the ebb and flow of a wave.  You forgive pushing out to sea, letting go of any judgement, any frustrations, whatever and after letting that go, something comes back in waves. And if you really let go, the waves that come back are full of peace.  They don't splash you in the face, you aren't gulping for air. You are refreshed.

In this quote, I also hear, surrender to not knowing, surrender to fear, surrender to seeking validation from others. About how good you are, how sexy, how lovable.  And, accept where you are.  When you are trying to know, trying not to fear, looking to others for validation, you are reaching.   Reaching for something outside yourself while looking at what you aren't inside. Not letting go, creating space, opening. Forgiving ourselves of our short comings while accepting where we are creates new space for us to embrace the parts of ourselves we want to grow. The part of ourselves we want refreshed.

Try this: Surrender to a more open-hearted you today as a test, as an experiment.  You will likely fail in being open-hearted all day; you may make a short reply to someone without meaning to, you may find yourself being quick to anger, feeling disrespected in some way. Whatever creates the moment in which you find your heart closing, try to forgive yourself for finding yourself in that moment, surrender to not being perfect and accept where you are, no judgement.  And see what happens.  I imagine, if you do this all day, by the end of the day you will not only recognize more peace coming in and out of your heart, but you will grow your relationship with your heart and yourself more deeply.  And maybe, if you try again tomorrow, your capacity to be open-hearted might grow more.

It's in our hands, our hearts, to bring more peace into this world.  And like Ghandi said, it has to start inside first. If we all practiced having an open heart every day,  can you imagine what the world would be like in a month, a year, 50 years?  Open to the world through your heart; you will likely close it again many times. But keep opening it.  Keep forgiving, keep surrendering.  Keeping accepting.  And one by one we can build more space in this world for peace. And love.

Forgive yourself for not being at peace.  The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace is transmitted into peace.  Anything you accept fully, will get you there, will take you into peace.  This is the miracle of surrender.   Eckhart Tolle <3: