Finding Roots

The cabin sits along the shores of Western Bay, looking out onto Mount Desert Island where 1500 ft mountains dot the horizon with dollops of deep green and strokes of grey.

A simple, single story structure, the wooden home is tucked away from the Atlantic’s cold waters. From its deck a sprawling lawn leads down to the shorefront where pine, birch and ocean rose bushes stand guard.

Atlantic view

It’s late summer on the coast of Maine. A place and time where the light blue of sky weaves into the green blue of ocean on the horizon, and the waves’ silver tips mirror the white cones of clouds. A place where breezes are cool, and smell of salt, seaweed and changing tides. A time when otherwise seldom seen neighbors- the herons, loons and geese, fox, deer and seals–make regular and noteworthy appearances.   

Today is one of those perfect summer days. The sun is high, the sky clear and the water  calm. Small ripples make their way to the shore where the salty brew drapes itself with easy abandon over a carpet of pebbles, shells and granite boulders.

Rugged and humble, the cabin’s magnificence lies in its simplicity, its richness in the stories it carries and its magic seen through the eyes of those who call it home. A refuge to generations of family, it holds within its walls, walkways and its land tales of love and loss, of hardship and celebration, of tears and belly laughs; stories of life in all of its sacred messiness. 

I could walk through this house and along this land my eyes closed, and do so without so much as a scratch. This place is etched into my mind, mapped into my being. It is the default button in my brain, the “rebooting” program in my system.

As far as I have traveled, as far away as I live, I always come back to this corner of the world. A place that held my family long before I was born into it, it is one root of my tangled and mixed ancestry. And every time– for however long or short I am here– this place welcomes me with open arms and with presence. And every time, it is as though it has been waiting, patiently and calmly for my visit, whispering to me as I approach: “Ah, my little one…there you are. Settle in. Settle down. Come and rest.”

And so here I am again.

It has been 145 days since the earthquake hit my home in Nepal. 145 days since everything changed– for the country, for its people, for those who call it home, and for those who are deeply connected to the small Himalayan nation. From where I sit now, on the coast of Maine, halfway across the world, the recent earthquake feels like a lifetime ago, and just yesterday, all at once.

For days, weeks and months after the earthquake, I lived like a lady-in-waiting. Waiting for my Queen, the Earth, to rumble, flutter and shift into a quiet slumber. Attentive to her every move– every aftershock, every new quake– I lived on the edge, ready to run or duck. Ready. Always ready. Half in my body, half out of it– a state which, with time,  became exhausting.

Even so, I was one of the lucky ones. One of those who survived the quake unharmed, with loved ones also spared. One of the lucky ones with a home in the Kathmandu valley that is safe. The scope of the devastation, the large death toll and the suffering of those who lost so much, is at times too much for my mind to fully grasp. At other times it slams into me so hard that it knocks the wind out of my chest. I catch my breath and remember that I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the many survivors who have been left to forge out a path of healing and recovery for myself and for my community.

This road to healing has brought me to another place that I call home. A place far away from moving fault lines. Here, on the coast of Maine, the earth is still. Thousands of years of ice, snow, rain, sun and footsteps have weathered its mountain tops into rounded mounds of hard, solid ground.

As does so much else here, this land calls me.

And so I heed its call: I walk. 

And walk.

And walk.

Every day, I walk. Sometimes for hours at a time. Whether on back roads, wide carriage pathways, narrow mountain trails, or boulder routes that hang high over deep bays. Whether alone or in the company of a chosen few. I walk, clamber, and crawl over it. I wade into its shockingly cold ocean waters and lay on its sun kissed rock beaches. I step into the pathway of its gusting ocean winds or rest in the shelter of canopies of balsam forests.

I walk and learn to trust my feet again. I learn to watch the natural world around me– not for signs of possible danger, but for the sheer joy of observing, being present and finding communion with it.

This land moves, drums, splashes, and wakes me back into my body. Back into life.

Back to the Earth. An earth that I understand now to be solid and not-so-solid at the same time. An earth that once brought me to my knees and has now built me up again–more humble, more attentive, more awake.

It is as though, through all of this, I have been called to attention. As though the Earth has shaken me awake to take notice, to watch and learn: the way she follows her own rhythms unapologetically–not sparing a soul, nor taking one unnecessarily. The way she surrenders and yet stands her ground at the same time. The way she is ever wild, ever gracious, and ever bare and true. Ever wise. She just is. Shaking whatever needs shaking, shifting whatever needs moving, turning whatever needs turning, quieting whatever needs stilling. She whispers to me: Watch and learn. Learn to flow and to be fluid in your stance; know that it’s necessary to give out and give in when the pressure is too strong; know that falling apart and breaking are necessary in order to begin anew; know that death and birth are equal parts of the continuum of life, one unseen the other seen, both mysterious and blessed. Know that you all come here to shine your light, to serve me and all living beings that I house: to serve and uplift each other.

Today is a late summer’s day on the coast of Maine. I bask hungrily in the last warm rays of the season and indulge in its last harvest of peaches and blueberries. I linger a few seconds longer in the embraces of my family here–my parents, sister, and endless gaggle of aunts, uncles, cousins and old friends. I take it all in– all of the love and support that is as solid as the ground beneath and as pervasive as the winds and water that swirl and rock around me.

Restored and still restoring, filled and still filling, grounded and still grounding, I am ready to go back to my home in Nepal with Rumi’s words in my heart– There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the Earth.

Life Lessons in a Snip

A few days ago I got my hair cut shorter than I have, ever (if you don’t count the time I shaved my head). I had been contemplating a short style for quite some time, inching my way closer and closer with tentatives every few months; cuts which took me from shoulder- to neck-length. Cautious would be one term to qualify these attempts. But to me these “snip-ettes” felt bold. As bold as did the changes I was making in my life at the time. I’d had long-ish hair for awhile. The style had accompanied me through a marriage, raising children, a separation, a divorce, seeing my children grow and leave the nest, a new relationship… and its recent end. Each haircut marked a shift in my relationships, and a letting go of an identity. One hairstyle at a time.

So when I arrived in Switzerland for a family holiday soon after the long-time-coming finalization of my divorce, change was fresh in the air, fresh in my psyche and in my cells. It was time. Time to let go. Time for a new cut.

I will not lie. I was nervous. Well, excited and nervous. I reached out to those closest to me and asked my mama to come along for the ride. She did so, enthusiastically. Her enjoyment was only multiplied by the complimentary espresso, French gossip-magazines and repeated requests for her input about the style, cut and color by Maria, the hairdresser/artist/counselor extraordinaire.

Neither my mother nor I were prepared for the transformation that took place. The process, which took most of one whole afternoon (!), had whispers of the magical in it. As Maria aptly put it, the butterfly was emerging from her cocoon.

And what a surprise. The form, colors and magic of a new look, and a new life.

Midwife to this metamorphosis, Maria was full of encouragement, wisdom and humor. I couldn’t have asked for a more skilled and insightful attendant.  In our conversations that flowed intermittently between the snips, hair flips, coloring, plastic wrap, brushing, washes and clouds of vaporized hair products, something gelled (Yes, yes. Pun intended).

One after the other insights and understandings came into focus. Clear as the cut, as bright as my new highlights. Bam, bam, wham. Was it the fumes of the non-organic, non-anything-natural- beauty products getting to my brain? Or was it just one of those moments in life when things click into place, like the pieces of a puzzle do? Who knows. Whatever it was, here they are:

  1. Dare to change. Here’s the deal.  I’ve always had my part on the same side, on the left. It’s the easiest and laziest way to go. Maria’s first move was to change that. One flip of the comb and “poof”, the look was completely different. Maria very matter-of-factly told me that habits need to be broken, otherwise we fall asleep to ourselves. I dared to go with her suggestion and am so happy I did. It was a reminder that when the opportunity to change an old habit arises, it is wise to go with it. So, my friends, shake things up, live it up and flip your part! You will be amazed by what you uncover.
  2. Do something you have never done before. I’ve never had bangs (willingly), or something crossing my forehead. Nor have I ever indulged in a far-out-hair-dresser-doo-wop-day. Other than simply dropping a habit, it’s incredibly liberating and revealing to try something new, to venture into foreign territory. There is nothing more powerful to breathe some new life into yourself.
  3. Be clear, state what you want and the Universe will meet you there. Going in I knew I wanted to look gorgeous, feminine and “me”. I also knew I wanted something short. All of these factors were so alive in my focus that they fell into place. Bam! Stop over-thinking, stop  dragging your feet. Take your time, get quiet, get clear and go for it.
  4. Admit what is present and alive in you. I told Maria, straight up, that I was nervous about this procedure. She met me right where I was and tuned in. Reassuring, without being overly so, she sensed when I was ready to take a leap, and guided me to the edge.
  5. Dare to be drop-dead beautiful. Beauty is pure you-ness, truth and love. Claim all of that and radiate it. This is life calling itself.
  6. Focus on what is beautiful, positive and unique about you. Spend so much time doing so that you have no time left to criticize others. You’ll have so much more to share with the world when you do.
  7. Live life in full color. For the hair make-over we added highlights, streaks of blond (my natural color before some grey and heavy metal city water toned it down). I considered the fact that there were most-likely some funky toxic materials in the white goop Maria was streaking through my hair. After contemplating the potential side effects for all of 5 seconds, I decided I could live with it. Pick your battles. Have fun. And let the color shine through.
  8. No one knows how to take care of you, better than you. Asked if I wanted the massage chair turned on while I had my hair washed, masked (yes, that happens!), and god knows what else, I said “yes” to the offer. All smiles, Maria affirmed: “Il faut savoir se gater, ma belle. Personne d’autre le fera aussi bien” (One has to know how to spoil oneself. No one else will do it as well as you).
  9. Life is too short to settle for less than your heart’s calling. We’ve heard it said before, and I will state it again, do not waste your time being miserable, praying for the other to change, wishing your life were different than it is. Change yourself, switch your perspective, do everything to take care of yourself, to open your mind, your heart, one baby step at a time. Believe in yourself and know you have the strength and courage to transform yourself. Dance to your Soul’s tune; it is part of the Universe’s symphony. Do this, and watch how those around you will join in, dancing themselves alive.

Toxic fumes and flashes of insight aside, here is what I know for certain today: We are Spirit manifest, made of star dust, made of the Universe itself. And just as the stars shine, the sun rises and sets, the oceans sway in tides, just as all elements of the manifest world do their thing, we are here to do just that…to be exactly who we are, as we are, beautifully imperfect and messy. Absolutely, unapologetically, outrageously, radiantly, gorgeous. For today and for all times, dance your dance, sing your song. You are invaluable. You are Life. Shine… shine…shine.

Bad Days

You know those days when everything seems to go “wrong” from the moment you wake up? You stub your toe, bump into the wall, the dogs chew on your favorite shoes or get into the garbage and decide to play with it in the living room. A day of bumper to bumper traffic when you’re late;  of coffee spilled on your clothes before an important meeting.

Yes. Those days. 

I’ve had a few of those days lately.

Let me preface my tirade with the acknowledgement that this struggle is not life threatening. There are places and people in the world, as I write, that are in the throws of extreme turmoil, where the threat to life is real and constant. As I rant I am aware of the scale of my “bad days” as minuscule in comparison.

My current daily struggle is rather puny. And so it is for many of us. Even so, the low grade, chronic irritation that is born from a pile up of small or medium scale trials is not inconsequential. Much of our “stress” comes from bite size triggers that are repetitive and continuous, gnawing on us till we bleed. The relentless irritation can drive us to drastic and impulsive behavior.

Last week felt like walking in a minefield. No matter how aware, how present I practiced being, I seemed to walk into one booby trap after another. Some were small; some were splat-in-your-face-in-public painful. After the third or fourth time I walked into the wall (literally and figuratively) I stopped. I just stopped in my tracks. The usual onslaught of frustration and ‘poor-me’ was playing loudly and clearly in my head. The tears were on tap and ready to flow. But in the time it took me to pause, to stop and simply breathe, the ridiculousness of the situation became crystal clear. I plopped down where I was and instead of tears came laughter.

“This is completely insane”, I thought to myself.

And it was. What was insane was not just the events that were happening. What was more insane than them was my reaction to them. Insane was my insistence to continue pushing myself to do things in the same way I had been doing them. It finally occurred to me that if I was running up against walls wherever I turned, then perhaps I might want to consider doing things differently and use a new approach.

When I stopped for a moment, I could rest. I could look around me and within.  What was I feeling at the moment? What sensations was my body experiencing? Pain, ease, tightness, ache? Just by the act of paying attention, of checking in, my entire system relaxed.

Yoga understands that wherever our attention goes prana, or life force, goes. Being present and alive with what was happening within in that moment brought the life flow back into the space of what was taking place. Present, I could then enquire and ask myself what I needed at that moment. Rest? Water? Food? Crying? A hug? Quiet? Activity? A walk? Writing? Playing with the dogs? For the next few hours I followed only this directive: find out what needs tending to and tend to it with full presence. 

I went for a long walk. A walk in the same neighborhood, with the same shops as always. It was my same body walking.  It was the same day I had been struggling through. But this time I took my time. This time I looked upwards. The sky was gorgeous. Right before sunset, yellows, oranges and purples mixed into the huge billowing white monsoon clouds against a light blue sky. This time I looked around me. People walking, trees standing, street dogs and butterflies going about their business. Each one of us doing “our thing”. A thousand, a million activities happening simultaneously; synchronized, and orchestrated by the same forces that made the clouds big and the sky so colorful. The same forces against which I had been pushing earlier. As I popped by the Durga temple and went in, I bowed my head, asking for Her Grace and Her strength to cut through the clouds of my ignorance and self pity. Fixed in stone, Her idol didn’t budge. But She was moving mountains, gently pulling away the veils from my eyes of in-sight. 

It is not that the clouds of confusion nor that any challenging emotion are bad. It is not that having a bad day makes us any less than who we are. It is that those “bad” feelings and their accompanying states of mind alienate us from the beauty and connectivity around us, that are up for the taking all of the time. At times we are called to reach out to that raw magic through action. At other times it is through quiet, stillness and non-doing that we align with that very majesty. Moment to moment, we are invited to gauge, watch, and notice what is offering itself to us. A world of abundant auspicious-ness and beauty.