Tag Archives: #resilience

Present Moment essay #22: Living with Grief

“I don’t when, or where, or how, but I see a tattoo in your near future. Perhaps it will be the date of Javi’s death, or his birth, but you will sear his pain into your skin to keep his heart beating in yours. An acknowledgement that his life and his death are part of who you are. It is a full moon and he calls out to all of us across space and time. He reminds us of what is not yet done, what arms we must now take up, what sorrows we must now bear and what joys only we can express.”

I spoke that into my Notas de voz app in the middle of the night on August 7, 2017, a week and a day after my son’s best friend died of an accidental overdose of Xanax and alcohol at age 22. Three days after the full moon my son celebrated his 22nd birthday with many friends he had met through Javi, who had planned to be there in body, but only hovered in spirit.

Another question woke me a few nights later: How to stay present in the grief of the moment and not get tangled in the grief of the world or the grief of the past. Not an easy task ever. In Charlottesville, Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer said: “Remember in your heart: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. And I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong. Don’t ignore it. Don’t look the other way. You make it a point to look at it, and say to yourself, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’And that’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but, by golly, if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

With my mother’s birthday on August 18th, the grief from the past entered the tattered muscles of my heart. Grief is always present if I pay attention, coming like a wave and triggering all the losses in my life, no matter how much I honored and felt them at the moment. There is no end, only a settling in with grief. That is why I mark dates on my calendar, why I keep reaching out to people who have suffered loss. Like tiny petals from a flower, grief falls into the moist soil of our corazones and slowly becomes one with our lives. Someone has the same accent or we use the same gesture of one who has left this earth and we wince with remembrance. My practice is to welcome the moments with a deep breath of love and gratitude for my life, for the opportunity to feel deeply, love deeply, and offer compassion to others living with grief.

I sat with my son for several days after Javi died, along with his twin sister, and witnessed his shattered heart. I set up an altar with a vela and some flowers. My son added an art piece painted by Javi and a bottle of his favorite alcohol. We said very little, offering him a wide meadow to empty tissue boxes, eat in little spurts, fall asleep with the lights and TV on, drink and sob and drink and sleep.

His wings dragged behind him, his breath stuck in his throat. He could only see a few feet ahead, his wish to fly unfettered with so much space he could close his eyes seemed impossible. He was so weary, so wanting to rest.

But ahora he can’t with his heart ripped to shreds, his guilt a noose around his neck, time too slow and too fast at the same time. How could it be a week already, how could the minutes pass so slowly. He dreads ahora, dreads going to sleep, dreads waking up and facing the same horrible reality. I can’t ease the pain that is a knee to his gut, a kick to his thigh, a punch breaking his jaw.

Al final, he is still alive and Javi is still dead. Al final, life will bear a gap where Javi would have been, as on his birthday. Al final, there is death. Al final, there are tears dripping off his nose. Al final, he will not sit in Javi’s room again with the fan he never turned off, will not talk tats with him or be stupid drunk with him.

Al final, I cannot make this go away. Al final, al final, al final there is nothing to soothe Javi’s mom, nothing to say or do that changes death. Nothing to take away the knives of sorrow that pierce my son’s heart. Heavy already with David’s death last year and Javi’s now, fear grips him about who will be next. He might even wish sometimes it would be him so he doesn’t have to ever look inside a casket again at a friend’s still body. As for me, I wish these young men of color would egg on each other’s brilliance as much as they do their risk-taking with drugs and alcohol. But then I remember they were not meant to survive and they do their best in a world that does not honor their gifts except to appropriate them for profit. When I looked for news the day after his death, I saw that he was not the only young man of color that died that night in Oakland. RIP Javi. Que descanses. Que todos descansamos until the next wave washes over and reminds us we are never alone in our grief. #52essays2017

Present Moment essay #20: The Camino

I watched The Way with Martin Sheen (birth name Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) starring as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo walking trek. It hearkened memories of my own hitchhike/walking pilgrimage in 1979 with several friends after a study abroad program. He took the French Way and started in France, while we started the same route in northern Spain as depicted on the map.

We only had a few weeks so we walked and hitchhiked to stay within our timeline. I had only told my sister I was hitchhiking, but my mom, querida metiche that she was, went through Susan’s letters and found out. I received a letter admonishing me to stop ‘hijacking’. I was earnestly looking for ways to be open with my parents about my inward and outward journey, but I did not know how to translate it from US born daughter to parents who crossed borders to find a better life. To my mom, this pilgrimage was a sign that I only wanted to be a parrandera and abandon my studies at Stanford.

She acknowledged receiving the pamphlet I sent on the pilgrimage and that it looked muy bonito, but because it meant stopping at churches and convents, she wondered if I was una Sta. Teresita de Jesús o un San Francisco de Asis. She admitted to believing in God, but also in comfort, something she thought I might want to consider. While we did at times scramble to find cheap food and lodging, we soon met a man who gave us a ride and delivered us at a convent where we were treated to a nice bed and warm food by the nuns. After that, they directed us to the next convent that would welcome and house us. Unlike the pilgrimage documented in the movie, we did not stop at the designated locations to get a stamp because we were digressing from the official version and using the kindness of strangers who gave us rides when they saw our trusty hitchhiking hand stuck on the end of a cardboard pole. (Yes, Sherie, I still have it!)

Several moments remain indelible. There was the day we met some motorcyclists and Karen hopped on the back of one for a ride on the winding roads. I felt the terror of her safety, wondering what I would do if she were injured or killed. She was so tough, but she also had a tender side that provoked my protective gene to watch out for her. I breathed a huge sigh when the ride ended.

There were the meal breaks along the road with gente amables or in a small cafe when Sherie would unpack and play her guitar, inviting us to sing:

May all your dreams bloom like daisies in the sun
May you always have stars in your eyes
May you not stop running not until your race is run
And may you always have blue skies

 

Finally, there was the very end of our pilgrimage, walking up to the main cathedral and hearing the bells ring as if they were timed to go off when we arrived. Magical for three young peregrinas who were drinking in the life of being in the present moment without our usual duties and responsibilities. Here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote:
Nos encontramos por un día de nuestro camino
nos unimos con pan, con conversación
el tiempo que tuvimos era bastante para alegrarnos que todavía hay gente buena
nos encontramos hoy con mas esperanza
mientras seguimos nuestro camino por la vida

One day I will return and walk the whole way, hopefully with one or both of my twins. While Santiago de Compostela is an actual journey to a sacred place and shrine, it is a reminder of the other pilgrimages I have taken and am on now, those long journeys or searches of lofty purpose or moral significance. To every writer and artist, every parent and caretaker of a parent, every activist and lover, every monk and educator, every border crosser and rule breaker – I honor and salute your weary feet, tired souls, and unrelenting belief in the power of the human spirit to rise above the hateful, fear mongering acts that surround us daily. Thank you for believing in your amazing dreams in the sun and don’t stop running until your race is run. Ashé. #52essays2017 #weareone

 

 

The WOW Journal

When did you know your life was in danger, your dreams were about to be thrown out with the bathwater, you heart was about to close its doors forever? For me it was when I got the official notice of my rent increase. I had sucked it up the two years before, figuring out a way to pay; convincing myself it was worth it each time I watched the beautiful sunset over Mt. Tam or soaked in the hot tub. But that all dried up in my throat in the late summer of 2014. This time I was gasping, choking in paradise. I wanted to climb up a wall and escape the vice that had been my joy. Taking a few days to settle down, my heartbeat slowed into a rhythm and I considered a multitude of options – apartment mate, cheaper apartment, boat, living with my sister. And then one day my eyes opened, awake with present moment bodhicitta – I no longer needed the panal. I was going to the forest to sit under the bodhi tree and test my life decisions along the way.

What most people said when I revealed I was giving up my ‘palace’ in Larkspur and being intentionally without a permanent address was WOW.

A friend noted I would be going from wild city Giants championship parade horde to monkish, rural Grass Valley in a day. I delight in the contrary combos. Stopping for an In’nOut meal before landing in a seven day silent, vegetarian sesshin. Wearing sexy undies with well traveled jeans. Applying hot pink lipstick before a sweaty winner-take-all playoff tennis match.

In some ways this journey was about failure. Failure to finish my books in the bay area, failure to build my business. Failure to find true love. Failure to build a nest my teens wanted to rest in. Failure to adapt to congestion. Failure to earn what it costs to live here with space and time freedom. Failure to want a job, to fulfill other people’s dreams, to give up my truth to be liked, failure to say what others want to hear. Failure to play small or do what I already know what to do.

What did I do and what did I learn in the early fall of 2014? I released 90% of my ‘worldly possessions’ and drove to Grass Valley to stay with a friend who was recovering from knee surgery and snuggle with her gata, Miss Mittens Marie. The goal was to finish my memoir, develop my speaking and writing life, build my business, and get into great shape in a quiet environment. I covered the barbed wire of fears with a thick blanket of determination and trust and prepared to scale the mountain of prosperity and heightened well being. I found as the days passed I could not fall back on my past experiences and knowledge. The words of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi rang true: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. My mind said I could do it all well because I had so much wisdom. I re-learned to beware the expert’s mind, which can be more dangerous than barbed wire.

 

I sold my first gen Prius sooner than planned when the battery failed after almost 200,000 miles. I bought and crashed my motorcycle, derailing my get into great shape plan. I sent my memoir to an editor, increased my business skills with no resulting monetary results, and lost and found my faith again and again. I moved to another friend’s home in December and discovered car sharing opportunities. Instead of home and car upkeep, I poured over my calendar figuring out how to get where I wanted to go, both in terms of goals and public transportation, always written in pencil. I re-learned that detours are to be expected, especially if you are atrevida enough to aim high.

I embarked on a series of trips in March, April and May, including the AWP writer’s conference in Minneapolis, MN, a special celebration of Las Comadres para las Americas in Austin, TX, and a family visit in México. I began the arduous process of querying agents about my memoir – finding, among other reasons, that my failure to be famous and/or addicted stymied agents’ interest in representing me.

I re-learned that even if you are on the right path, taking risks means dead ends are inevitable and signal a strategic moment to pause. My reptilian brain kicked in with each rejection, sending triggers to my body and spirit to shut down my love of writing and ‘settle’. My frontal lobe would then kick into creative mode, gather all of my information to create a new approach, and then figure out what other options existed. Being unmoored meant I could go in any direction I wanted and  pivot quickly because I was not beholden to a location, person, idea, or organization. My molecules never settled, reminding me  that ‘unsettling’ for a buddhist is akin to groundlessness, right where I wanted to be. I was instead required to internally moor myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

I began a month-long house sit with a cat named Jezebel who, like me, yearned to tunnel in the underbrush and tiptoe precariously along the top of fences to explore the great, bright, shiny unknown. Wise people know it is skillful to get help when necessary, so I hired a coach who pointed out I interrupted myself before finishing my sentences, signaling too many balls in the air. His advice was to focus on what I loved and did well – coaching as a steady base to maintain homeostasis.

I re-learned to keep your head up amid the narrow, shadowy zone of 1 step forward, 1 step sideways, 1 step back, 1 step forward. It required me to dance away from ‘how do I’ to trust my inner wisdom and unrelenting persistence rather than sink into comparisons. People were too busy with their own challenges to reach their goals to judge me. In fact, they were still saying ‘WOW’. I re-learned releasing anxiety about outcomes opens up space to connect with your higher self and that of others.

 

In July I journeyed to Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center to meditate in a sangha, wash dishes, shake compost through a screen, thin fennel, and hike to Muir beach. My emotional and spiritual gas tank filled and I received an email on the second to last day that I was accepted to Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference to begin in 2 days. The stars aligned for me to catch a ride and room with a dear colega de escritura. These brief moments of community were precious in between the constant leaving and joining, coming and going with solitude my constant companion. I re-learned to STAY until the mud settles and opportunities can be seen in the clear water.

In July I rented a room near my Larkspur palace and re-connected with my yoga studio, Toastmasters club, and the beauty of Marin. I queried two more agents, had two essays accepted for publication and coached people through gentle nutritional cleanses. I started a many months process of navigating the bay area after abandoning my 40 year addiction to the car culture. I re-learned that strong bridges wait for your return, like a trusted friend.

 

The road more traveled has never appealed to me. No one ever believed I would be the settled one. I had the fifteen addresses in ten years, the sixteen soccer teams, myriad salsa classes, the multiple occupations. No one said- Yes, she will find one man, one house, one job, one favorite dress. She will wear a pair of shoes until they fall off her feet, she will have one sports team from birth to death. That was not what was said.

Many wish to be young again with the wisdom of our experiences; that is much of how I felt during my year wandering in the watery forest. I left the harbor and like Mission Impossible, it blew up – I did not want to have the option of returning to my previous life and mindset. Instead, I embraced my focus on possessions that we carry with us no matter where we travel. After a year of no permanent address, I again chose Marin as my home base, living in a ‘treehouse’ cottage with light and a view. It was time to rest. The journey brought back a renewed commitment to the lessons that unfolded and that I carry with me as I continue to roam madre tierra.

#52essays2017

 

 

Present Moment essay #18: Swiss Army Knife – A Minor Super Power

When I was in my early twenties, my dad bought me a Christmas gift that I still have — a Swiss Army knife. He almost never was the gift buyer. I doubt many young women can say their dad gifted them a knife that has been a beloved companion for 28 years. After 9/11, this compañera became a ‘threat’ and I stood several times at the security checkpoint with terror in my heart, realizing I had not left my knife at home. I resisted the new reality that I couldn’t fly with it in my purse and became an ace at locating an information desk and devising a way to mail it home. Sometimes I reluctantly put it in my carry-on and checked it if time allowed. Now they have those special hubs where you can mail stuff home for a hefty price.

Full of useful tiny tools, I have pulled out many splinters gently and cut wayward threads on pants, skirts, and shirts. Apples and cheese have felt the larger knife slice through them with precision and the little awl has poked needed holes in plastic and paper. My toothpick unwedges the green between my teeth and the regular and tiny screwdrivers loosen or tighten my screws, depending on what is needed. The nifty can opener and bottle openers have saved many an outdoor trip and even the cork screw has stepped in when the wine is ready to drink but the buyer has not come prepared. It took me a few years to realize I carried a small saw with me — more of a fascination to stare at than a tool I count on.

The toothpick and tweezers had been lost for a number of years, and I was delighted when I researched and ordered a order a packet of them online. One day the red plastic cover fell off of a side. I have glued it on a number of times but it keeps falling off. It has moved from my purse to my backpack to my keychain to my tennis bag.  Writing this inspired me to give my compañera a good cleaning, oiling, and sharpening.

The term “Swiss Army knife” was coined by American soldiers after World War II due to the difficulty they had in pronouncing “Offiziersmesser”, the German name. There now exist a plethora of knife options in all sizes, colors, and price points.

What is more interesting to me beyond the knife’s longevity and usefulness is the symbolism of the knife for my father and me. The father who was driven to buy it when for countless years and countless lists he drank his café and left the decision-making and purchasing to my mother. And who was I as a young woman that a Swiss Army knife seemed like a good gift to ask for?

I was living at the Catholic Worker in East Los Angeles and working on Skid Row when I opened the gift with a surprised smile on my face. I had become intrigued at fixing things in the hospitality house and a Swiss Army knife helped tasks go more smoothly in old buildings with constant small repairs.

The knife is a tool of survival and readiness, serving as a talisman of these qualities I leaned on for many years. I live in a world that pushes me to believe I have to focus on my survival and be ready to tend to my needs when others might not. It has morphed in the present moment to be a symbol of resilience and power, like a faithful guardian angel that has my back and celebrates my constant addition of knowledge, experience, and tools to support an abundant mindset. Because of this, I created a second generation tradition by gifting my twins each a Swiss Army knife in their late teens. It was like giving them a minor super power to encourage them on their journey towards authentic resilience, constant growth, and the delight of taking care of business with the flick of a tiny tool. #52essays2017