in beauty

© ingrid chavez

© ingrid chavez

 

We see you, see ourselves and know that we must take the utmost care and kindness in all things. Breathe in, knowing we are made of all this, and breathe, knowing we are truly blessed because we were born, and die soon within a true circle of motion. Like eagle rounding out the morning inside us. We pray that it will be done in beauty. In beauty.

Joy Harjo

 

the women issue

 
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For the past eight years I’ve been the senior editor of Common Ground magazine. I don’t talk about this aspect of my work much, but it’s a big part of my life. As someone who loves learning about every subject under the sun, this job has been a gift. I’ve met tons of amazing people along the way and grown so much as an editor, writer, and human being. 

Every October we publish a Women’s issue, which I gratefully take the the lead on. In light of recent events and everything that’s been going on in the world, this year’s issue was particularly meaningful to create. It’s no mystery that these are intense times. There’s so much injustice in the world and it keeps emerging from the shadows for us to see. Although this process is painful, it’s also essential in order to bring more awareness and healing to the issues. With that in mind, I tried to compile articles from diverse voices and perspectives, and I wanted to share a few highlights with you here because the content is so relevant right now.

My editorial search began when I unexpectedly came across a professor from Evergreen College named Frances Rains. Frances teaches several interesting courses, including one on Native American women and how underrepresented they’ve been throughout history. I was so intrigued by her work and she was happy to share, so we started a potent conversation that resulted in her thought-provoking piece called “Murmurs in the Wind: Native American Women and the Struggle for Representation”. This is a subject that doesn’t get much attention, but it’s an important one. 

Shortly after, I discovered an inspiring pictorial called: “Black Feminist Joy.” This photo essay was created by Maneo Mohale from Johannesburg, South Africa, and Neo Baepi, a photographer from Capetown. Together, they interviewed a group of women engaged in struggles against racism, sexism, and transphobia about the subject of joy. I was so moved to hear about this because the premise of the essay is that joy itself is an act of resistance - an incredibly powerful perspective. Maneo says this in her introduction: “In a world increasingly marked by deeply racist narratives that prescribe Black bodies and bodies of color as visible and legible only through the lenses of oppression, violence, and death, the insistence on, pursuit of, and desire for joy becomes an act of vital resistance.” I highly recommend checking this out. 

Another author whose work I really enjoyed learning about is Betsy Prioleau. Her article, “The Seductress Revisited”, explores how the archetype of the seductress is an empowering model for women today. Betsy’s view is that seductresses have long been misunderstood and discarded in women's quest for full entitlement, so it’s an intriguing and relevant subject. She says, “Women now are in a historic romantic slump, hostage to male mating mores, beauty/porn propaganda, cultural bogeys, and false ideas of female sexual power. Here’s where the seductress comes in—one of the most potent female personas in existence…. Real seductresses explode all the stereotypes.” Betsy’s research is fascinating, and her work honors and celebrates the seductress as a feminist heroine. 

Jenny Pacanowski, an Iraq war veteran, also contributed a heartfelt piece about how the unconditional love of the feminine has helped her heal years of trauma from her time in the military. I know Jenny personally and she’s a brilliant poet and public speaker who is working to bridge the veteran-civilian divide. 

Rob and I also had the honor to interview Alicia Garza. Alicia is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and I was hoping we might share her voice in the issue. Much to my excitement, it worked out! Alicia is a very articulate speaker and a fiercely committed activist-organizer who believes all people should have the chance to live dignified lives in the true spirit of democracy. I was particularly interested in talking to her because Common Ground is geared towards the “yoga community”, which tends to be predominantly white and privileged. As a kirtan singer, this has been a concern of mine, as I’d like to see contemplative spaces be more inclusive and diverse. When we asked Alicia about how the yoga community might reach across the aisle, she gave a poignant reply: “I don’t recommend that the yoga community reach across the aisle. I recommend that the yoga community eliminate the aisle.” Powerful words from a powerful woman. 

The issue also features lots of other insightful pieces on subjects as diverse as “The Vagina Revolution”, simplicity, liberating the witch within, healthy boundaries, and awakening the new feminine frequency.

It goes without saying that women and those who identify as female deserve equal rights and equal pay, full authority over our bodies, proper education, healthcare, an end to domestic violence, sex trafficking, exploitation, and abuse, and every opportunity to soar beyond the glass ceiling into the wide open, womanly sky. We need to trust in our innate power and stand hand in hand with men to bring about a real change in society. 

I also think that, as women, we need to end the petty jealousies, backstabbing, comparisons, and competition that create separation between us. Women can be so cruel to each other, but our unity is required to transform old patriarchal paradigms. We need to support each other to bring all of our fullness and beauty to the table. Every woman’s voice, feelings, ferocity, tenderness, liberation, erotic power, and deep love is magnificent and essential. We don’t need to act small to make other people comfortable. We need to know our worth and stop waiting for the world to validate it. 

Feminine qualities and leadership are more important than ever right now. As my teacher Amma says, the exile of the feminine principle from the world has affected everyone—women and men alike. But by cultivating more love and compassion—what Amma calls “universal motherhood”—we can help to restore harmony on this earth. May the wisdom of these writers and everyone working for peace help to awaken us all. 

Read more at CommonGroundMag.com. ♥

perfect tuning

 

Besides the beauty of music, there is that tenderness which brings life to the heart. For a person of fine feelings, for a person of kindly thought, life in the world is very trying. It is jarring and sometimes it has a freezing effect. It makes the heart, so to speak, frozen. In that condition one experiences depression and the whole life becomes distasteful. The very life which is meant to be heaven becomes a place of suffering.

If one can focus one’s heart on music, it is just like heating something which was frozen. The heart comes to its natural condition, and the rhythm regulates the beating of the heart, which helps to restore health of body, mind and soul, and brings them to their proper tone. The joy of life depends upon the perfect tuning of mind and soul.

Hazrat Inayat Khan

consort of the spirits

 
©metin demiralay

©metin demiralay


Where there is a woman there is magic...
A woman with a moon falling from her mouth, 
roses between her legs and tiaras of spanish moss
this woman is a consort of the spirits. 

Ntozake Shange

empty and open

 
prayer_flags
 
 


Sometime go outside and sit, in the evening at sunset, when there's a slight breeze that touches your body, and makes the leaves and the trees move gently. You're not trying to do anything, really. You're simply allowing yourself to be, very open from deep within, without holding onto anything whatsoever. Don't bring something back from the past, from a memory. Don't plan that something should happen. Don't hold onto anything in the present. Nothing you perceive needs to be nailed down. Simply let experience take place, very freely, so that your empty, open heart is suffused with the tenderness of true compassion.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche

 

Beginning anew

 
 © kelly rae roberts

 © kelly rae roberts

Hi dearest blog reader, welcome to my new website! I'm so happy to have you here. This website was several years in the making. I wanted to design the site myself, but it took some time since I had no experience with web design before I started. I'm so glad I can finally share my creation with you!

On my previous website I had a blog, which I tried to update regularly. My posts were mostly personal stories and musings, interspersed with inspirational quotes and images. I'm not sure if I'll follow that same format here, but I look forward to seeing how it evolves. I hope to share some snippets of my journey and tell you about my experiences flying and falling along the way. Please come by anytime and know that I appreciate your presence more than words can say.  

Solidarity with Standing Rock

 
 
© elena ray

© elena ray

 
 

The situation at Standing Rock in North Dakota is very close to my heart. When I was 16, I spent a summer on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. During that time I had the opportunity to see and experience the conditions on one of our Indian reservations up close. It was nothing short of heartbreaking. For so many years the indigenous people of this country have been overlooked and pushed aside. Many of the reservations struggle with a lack of water, health care, and nutrition—and violence, poverty, and substance abuse are rampant. Now a multi-billion dollar company wants to build an oil pipeline that not only poses a public health risk to the neighboring communities, but also passes through sacred sites and areas of great cultural significance to the people of this area. 

When I lived on the reservation, I had the opportunity to attend a Sun Dance ceremony—a four-day ritual where people come together to fast, dance, and pray. Although I was a young white woman, the Sun Dance leader—a medicine man named Bedeaux—extended himself to me with such openness and warmth. He invited me into the sweat lodge and taught me the power of ceremony and sacrifice. This experience was a privilege beyond measure and it completely changed my life. Five years later I returned and, once again, I was humbled by the kindness and love of the people. Every morning I rose with the sun and went to the arbor where the sound of the buffalo drum beckoned me back to my heart. The earth was alive like never before and I cried so much during those days, feeling her majesty. 

Although Bedeaux and I lost touch after that, several years later we reconnected and I went back to the reservation to see him. Again, he invited me into the sweat lodge and we prayed, shared food, and talked late into the night about his life and the struggles of his people. What touched me perhaps more than anything was his resilience. Despite all that the Native Americans have endured in the face of genocide, colonization, and imperial greed, they have managed to maintain their ceremonies, traditions, and a sacred regard for this land. That is a testament to their strength and I find it deeply inspiring.

So in the midst of the pipeline protests—and in the midst of this absolutely insane election—I just want to acknowledge those who are joining forces for unity and peace. Right now as a light shines on Standing Rock, let us pay homage to the indigenous people of this nation… and all nations. These cultures understand what it means to live in harmony with Nature—what it means to honor the power inherent in all of creation—and this is wisdom that we so desperately need right now. Let’s come together and give thanks to our incredible, patient, and ever-loving Earth—to the Mother who shelters all of us as one family, connected in our common home.

no more walls

 

I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, 
in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn't impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.

Anais Nin

the ram sessions

 
© eugene ruffolo

© eugene ruffolo

Hi, sweet blog reader… It's been a really long time since I've shared anything about my album and I apologize for being so out of touch. The truth is, I've been going through one of the most challenging experiences of my life with this creative project and up until now I haven't been ready to say anything about it. But now I am...

Three years ago when I embarked on this project, I had no clue that it would completely unravel my world. What started out as an innocent desire to record some new songs turned into a deep descent into the underbelly of my being. As one who is used to expressing herself with ease, this experience of stuckness has been beyond difficult. It's like I've been on a cosmic hamster wheel with no way off. On top of that, my "stuckness" has been on display for the world to see, and that has made things so much more intense. It's a terrible feeling to do a Kickstarter campaign and have people support your vision, and three years later have nothing to show for yourself. But there it is: It's been three years and I haven't delivered anything yet. 

Along the way tons of people have tried to analyze my situation, but, in truth, no one knows. What do any of us know about another's journey, never mind our own? Everything is shrouded in mystery. The only certainty is that this process has completely overhauled me as a human being, and it's been brutal and shattering and so incredibly lonely. It's been lonely because I've been going through something that has defied explanation, and it's felt like no one on the planet understands. I've mostly found comfort in a story my Dad told me about a year into the project. He said that almost 40 years ago he was at a tiny airport waiting to be picked up by my mom and there were only a few people around. One of them didn't have a ride and my dad offered to give him a lift—it was Paul Simon. He got in the car and as they made their way down the highway, my Dad noticed that Paul looked very down and dejected. Concerned, he asked him if everything was alright. 

"I just can't finish my album." Paul said. "No matter what I do, the tracks won't come together." 

God, those words have been like a beacon during my darkest moments. To know that an artist I admire so much could hit such an impasse—well, it's been encouraging in some strange way. Maybe this kind of stuckness is something that all artists experience at times, and perhaps it's even a necessary part of the path. One thing I've come to understand is that creative energy is a gift—a blessing—and it doesn't belong to the vessel that expresses it…. nor does it work according to the ego's timeline. How can it? The ego lives in the world of instant gratification, but the soul knows that things evolve through some other intelligent design. Who knows, maybe the soul works in dog years. Or light years. But it definitely doesn’t work in ego years. 

Sometimes I wish I could rush my evolution, but nature doesn't work that way. No one looks at an unripe fruit and says, "Why aren't you ripe yet?" It's an absurd question. But why should human beings be any different? We ripen when we ripen. Our projects finish when they finish. Our hearts heal when they heal. Of course effort is needed, but we don't always (or ever) have a say when or what the outcome will be. Other people may judge or criticize, but that just means they don't have the subtle awareness to see what's really going on beneath the surface.

Whether my album gets done in the next month or the next year, one thing is certain: After this experience, I will never again judge another person for their apparent "stuckness"—be it in a creative rut, a bad relationship, a crappy job, or any other pattern. Sometimes shit happens and we need to go through what we need to go through in order to learn important lessons. Those that truly love us will stand by and say, "Don't give up. I believe in you." And everyone else will just push us into deeper self-acceptance. 

At the end of the day, what matters is not the final product, but the journey. Ultimately, this whole shebang has just been a divine plot to help me learn more about patience, self-love, and surrender. This became clear a few weeks ago when I hit a wall of despair. After putting forth endless effort to no avail, I just couldn't do it anymore. Slumped at my harmonium with soaking wet eyes, I saw how attached I had become to the project... how terrified I was to give the whole thing up and walk away. But that's precisely what I needed to do. As the saying goes: If you set something free and it comes back, it's meant to be. Well, I needed to be willing to look my album in the eye and say, "Thank you for kicking my ass and helping me grow. I love you. And I'm willing to let you go." So that's what I did, and as I released my grip, I fell through some cosmic rabbit hole into a new world. The next day, everything flowed in the studio and it's been flowing ever since.  

Throughout this process, I have only had one thing to hold onto: the name of Ram. For some mysterious reason, the mantra of Ram became my touchstone during this wild pilgrimage and it took me down a path I never expected. As everything around me fell apart and I met shame, fear, failure, and so much more, Ram showed up in my life like the most compassionate lover. Try as I might to push him away, he remained steady and present in my heart until I finally let go. Amidst the pain and confusion, I tumbled into his arms… and every song I wrote thereafter contained his name. Despite my efforts to sing other mantras, nothing came out but Ram. Thus, THE RAM SESSIONS was born. 

Yes, I will soon be releasing a concept album called The Ram Sessions, and it is a collection of songs to Ram and Hanuman. This idea isn't something I planned—it just happened spontaneously as I tried to complete my original project, "Touch the Sky". Despite endless work on that CD, no matter how much effort I put forth, it simply wouldn't flow. Finally, after two years of pushing against the current, I realized that it wasn't meant to be. Something else wanted to come through, and it was the Ram album. 

Now—after many months of hard work—my vision is finally starting to come together and I am so happy about the tracks. Each one is unique, yet they all share the same thread of Ram. Some of the songs are my own compositions in English and Sanskrit, some are more world-oriented, and a few are in the ambient genre. In a way, the album chronicles my journey over the past few years and it tells a story of disillusionment, descent, healing, and rebirth. And what I'm most thankful for is the fact that the project has integrity because it is a sincere expression of my heart. 

In addition to the Ram album, I will also be releasing a second album of other material (different mantras) sometime later in 2015. At this point I don't know the exact release date for either CD, but in the very near future (a few more months) I will be sharing lots of new stuff that I've been incubating for the past three years. 

Do you know how much I look forward to sharing the songs of my heart with you? I don't think it's possible to explain. Please just know how grateful I am to every one of you who has supported and encouraged me during this time. It's been a really rough road, but as Rumi once said, "What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle." Man, it's hard to believe that sometimes, but in my depths I know it's true. 

Please stay tuned, sweet blog reader! The fruit is almost ripe.

i love, revisited

 
 © duy huynh

 © duy huynh

I love. God, I love. There is just so much to love in human eyes and soft sighs and long nights washed with tenderness and rain. How could anyone not love such things: sunrays hidden in the silver moon, weathered books, and blessings from old souls and saints? I love the scent of autumn and the way green leaves give birth to gold. I love blank journals and the minds that fill them. I love the hands of woodworkers and the music of crickets. I love your open heart. I love that my mom is a potter and that I can drink tea out of her handmade mugs. I love that there are brave humans who put their lives at risk to help others, and that so many beautiful acts of selflessness happen in secret. I love that there are people who decipher palm lines and constellations and handwriting and auras and pulses—it just shows that we are so much more than we know.

I love my ears; I love yours too. All ears are beautiful—they’re like soft sculptures sticking out of everyone’s head. And they hear things like songs and waves and birds and rain on wooden rooftops and tap dancing and clapping and laughing and temple bells. I love when a lover whispers in my ear because it’s so intimate and when he says something sincere into that little space it opens me up like magic. If you could whisper in your own ear, what would you say?

I love Pablo Neruda. There’s just something about the way he describes a woman’s body that softens me. He sees the female form in colors and landscapes and flowers, and when I read his words, I feel beautiful. One of my favorite books of all time is his 100 Love Sonnets; I keep it by my bed. A few nights ago I was reading through some of the poems and this line leapt off the page: “From all the graces my homeland offered, I chose only your savage heart.” I chose only your savage heart. It’s hard to explain what happened when I read that, but I literally sat up and tears fell out of my eyes. It was as if he was saying those words directly to me, and I felt so seen and loved. Thank you, Pablo.

I love that I met a man once and we fell so hard for each other. One time when I barely knew him, he took my hand and walked to get some water from the kitchen. Without saying anything, he filled his cup and lifted it to my mouth so I could drink first. Do you know how much that touched me? Although it wasn’t possible for us to be together, I’ll never forget the way he put that glass of water to my lips with such love and kindness. Maybe sometimes we cross paths with people just to share sweet moments like that.

I love basil. Twelve years ago I actually worked on a hydroponic basil farm. That was during a time in my life when I had a little obsession with unusual farming jobs. The year before I spent a summer harvesting seaweed in northern Maine and, later, I shoveled cow shit on a farm in the Arctic Circle. It was a happy time—full of hard work, strong arms, bad beer, and good bread.

I love rainbows. I know that’s kind of cliché, but I don’t see them too often and last week I saw two. I love that in the Tibetan tradition there is something called the “rainbow body”—it’s a phenomenon that happens when great yogis dissolve their body in light at the time of death. Some accounts talk about the body shrinking and emanating rainbow light until only the hair and nails are left. I love that this is possible.

I love Bekandze, the Medicine Buddha. I love to sing his mantra. I love how his form is a deep, translucent blue, and how he holds a celestial bowl of medicine in his hands. I love that there are healing deities in so many spiritual traditions and that we can call upon them anytime. I love that I am just learning it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes I feel like I have to do everything alone, but that isn’t true; it’s just a lie I tell myself.

I love these words by Ajahn Chah: “There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free." I love that in every moment we have the opportunity to investigate our suffering and thus liberate ourselves from it.

I love that spirituality is not a self-improvement project or a way to become someone higher, bigger, or better. I love how it’s ultimately about letting go of all attempts to change ourselves, and to accept who we are right now. I love that Osho said, “When you stop trying to improve yourself, life improves you.”

I love jasmine flowers, old stone chapels, passing clouds, and muffins. I love that in India people put flower garlands on cows and cars and photographs and people. I love how the aloe vera plant looks spiky and stiff, but inside it’s soft and cool and soothing. If you just open it up, the nectar is revealed. Nice metaphor, eh?

I love how innocent we all are, know it or not.

I love how being in the fire for the past three years has burned away some of my fear about what other people think. I used to be absolutely terrified of being judged—terrified. And it’s not like I particularly enjoy it now. But the truth is, we can only like or dislike our perceptions of each other, and often those perceptions are based on hearsay or clouded by negative mind states like jealousy and fear. I think self-acceptance is the truest freedom.

I love that I am learning patience. It’s not always easy to practice, but magnificent things often take time to ripen and they are always worth the wait—a creative project, a fulfilling love relationship, a spiritual experience, a delicious meal, an invention, a garden. I love that the earth is patient. I love that mothers are patient. I love that trees are patient. I love that Rumi said: “The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full."

I love that in the Buddhist tradition it is said that this precious human birth we’ve been given is extremely rare—about as rare as a blind sea turtle coming up for air once every hundred years and putting its head through a single ring floating in the vast ocean. I love that some brilliant human came up with that metaphor. I love that it seems totally farfetched, but if you think about how many zillions of life forms there are, perhaps it's possible. Years ago I read something in the NY Times that said there are more intestinal bacteria in one person's colon right now than there are human beings who have ever lived, so… who knows?

I love pencils with good erasers, dirt roads, lilacs, and the body of a rose in full bloom.

I love that it's been ages since I've been in an intimate relationship—basically since I started singing. It’s kind of strange, but when music came into my life, it was like being swept away by a long lost lover; I gave myself to him completely. He was so familiar and so foreign at once, and I wanted to spend every day and night immersed in his world… so I did. But unfortunately, before I knew it, there was no room for anyone else.

I love that I didn’t fully realize all of this until six months ago when my neighbor’s boyfriend offered to take some photos for my album cover. He said, “What do you want to wear—a wedding dress?” I had no clue what he was talking about, but as soon as he replied, it all made sense: “Yeah, it’s like you’re married to your music, so maybe you should express that." I love how his words snapped me awake and I realized—holy shit, I have been married to music and I’ve neglected my intimate life for way too long. I love how much I cried that evening as I realized how imbalanced my life had become. Oh how I grieved for the seeming loss of that part of myself… and I vowed to call her back.

I love that a few days later I went to my shaman friend’s place and we sat on her cozy couch as the sunlight streamed through her big windows and she asked me some damn helpful questions and brushed a condor feather over my body and anointed me with palo santo smoke. And I went deep inside my heart and had a conversation with music and told him, Darling, I love you dearly, but we need to change the form of our relationship because there’s no room for me to meet my beloved when you’re taking up his space in the bed every night. He smiled and said, “But what do you mean? We’re not separate anymore.” Just then I looked around and he was nowhere to be found because it was true: he had become a part of me. This profound love of mine—I had assimilated him into my soul. I love that this may sound absurd but it is totally honest and I woke up the next morning feeling like I was single for the first time in years.

I love resilience.

I love that the same moon shines on every continent and the same sky embraces all beings. I love that snow leopards exist. I love that my spiritual teacher Amma has been asking people to visualize white flowers of peace raining down on the earth. I’ve been trying to imagine that and it’s a beautiful practice. Will you do it with me?

I love writing about what I love because it helps me appreciate everything so much more. I love that my hands can type this, and that your eyes can read this. I love that we are all connected in an intricate web of techno madness and boundless love.

I love you, sweet blog reader. I never tire of saying that because it’s true. I love the depths of you that resonate with the depths of me. I love your sorrow and your silence and your secret songs of joy. I love the void from which you tumbled into this life, empty-handed and open. And I love your mystery, which perhaps even you do not understand.

Yes, I see the beauty of you—never to be replicated—and I love your savage heart.

don't wait

 
 © beatrice armano

 © beatrice armano

Go after her. Fuck, don’t sit there and wait for her to call, go after her because that’s what you should do if you love someone, don’t wait for them to give you a sign cause it might never come, don’t let people happen to you, don’t let me happen to you, or her, she’s not a fucking television show or tornado. There are people I might have loved had they gotten on the airplane or run down the street after me or called me up drunk at four in the morning because they need to tell me right now, and because they cannot regret this and I always thought I’d be the only one doing crazy things for people who would never give enough of a fuck to do it back or to act like idiots or be entirely vulnerable and honest, and making someone fall in love with you is easy, and flying 3000 miles on four days notice because you can’t just sit there and do nothing and breathe into telephones is not everyone’s idea of love but it is the way I can recognize it because that is what I do. Go scream it and be with her in meaningful ways because that is beautiful and that is generous and that is what loving someone is, that is raw and that is unguarded, and that is all that is worth anything, really.

HARVEY MILK

woman, underground

 
butterflycouch

Oh man. It’s been forever, sweet blog reader. I’ve missed you. I never imagined I’d go this long without writing, but after my last post I went into a deep hibernation and stayed there. I know it’s not really good form to abandon one’s blog, but despite my efforts to write, nothing flowed. I just felt like a wilted flower—unable to create, never mind articulate what I was going through. But none of that matters now. I just want to connect with you in this moment, like two soul friends who always feel close even after years apart. Will you meet me in the intimate space of our shared humanity, without posturing or pretense? Will you journey with me into the secret places that we usually keep hidden? That is my desire and I hope you’ll come along. Tell me, sweet blog reader, has your heart ever shattered? Have you ever experienced the unrequited or longed fiercely for your own love? Have you ever felt an ache in your chest for something unknown, yet strangely familiar? Have you ever suffered the sharp sting of betrayal or spun your wheels in stuckness? I have. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past year.

Yes, last year was one of relentless heartbreak for me. So many things fell away—relationships, self-concepts, support—and I tumbled to the very basement of my being. Just when I felt like I couldn’t bear another goodbye, something else was swept from the shore of my life.

On top of that, as you probably know, I’ve been working on an album for the past two-and-a-half years. It’s been a brutal process in far more ways than I can ever express. When I started the project I was absolutely burnt out and somewhat freaked about the path my life was taking. I never, ever expected music to ravish my soul, but it did... and like any good lover it flipped my universe upside down and shined a light on all of my stuff. For this reason, when I went back into the studio to start my second CD, I was a bit shell-shocked. I knew I had a vision, but I wasn’t sure how to convey it and that ignited a primal anxiety inside that rippled out into every corner of my world.

The truth is, I got scared. Without any warning life dropped me in a wild jungle of creative energy and it was beautiful and magical and dark and terrifying... and I was completely, utterly alone. No matter which direction I turned, no one was there. Sure I had engineers and musicians in my sphere, but my project was a job for them, not an investment of the heart. I had no real collaborators to consult, no producer, and no partner. I just had a song, a prayer, and a heavy sack of fear. Nothing was there to guide me but my own mistakes and no one was there to hold me but space.

Unfortunately, as the months rolled by with no end in sight, an upsetting thing happened: I built a fort around my heart so I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable. It wasn’t conscious, but by the time I noticed the degree of contraction and overwhelm in my being, the damage had been done. All I wanted was to be strong and push through the obstacles like a tough little warrior, but as each day passed I felt weaker and more worried. People kept asking when the album would be out and I had no idea how to respond. There was simply no easy way to explain that my old self was in the process of being deconstructed and reconstructed through the creative fire. How could I answer any questions about the album when it seemed like the album was nothing but a divine hammer smashing away at my ego? I was afraid that if I let down my guard all of my fragile efforts would disperse in a million directions, so I shut down and retreated into a dark cave of isolation.

But there was no way to go on like that forever. Being the compassionate force that it is, life began to tear down my walls. Little by little, things started to shake and crumble around me. Long-held beliefs and structures suddenly had no meaning. People that I cared for turned their backs and walked away. Confusion stalked me. And all sorts of painful emotions that I had never embraced burst out of my depths like a geyser of black mud. I met shame. I met insecurity. I met failure. And I wondered if I’d ever make it through that moonless night.

Still, I didn’t turn away. I kept reminding myself of the words a wise medicine man once shared during a sweatlodge. It was pitch black in the tiny hut and I kept squinting my eyes shut and pressing my sweaty palms into the dirt. Just when I couldn’t handle another moment, he spoke in my direction: “Open your eyes, Carrie. You have to look into the darkness.”

Look into the darkness. Those words changed my life. I realized in that instant that transformation comes from meeting the shadow, from seeing it without resistance. And that is what I have tried to do during this grueling artistic odyssey. After so many months of unearthing my depths, of feeling humiliated, pathetic, unsupported, and afraid, I finally hit a place inside that ripped my guts out. It happened this past January when I was in India, sitting with a French Tarot card reader who shattered my protective shell.

“What are you doing?” he asked when I sat down. I had no idea what he was talking about, but something deep within me trembled at his question. “What are you doing?” His words hovered in the air. “Do you really think you can survive if you just exhale all the time? You have to inhale too, otherwise you’ll die.” I tried to explain myself, but he wasn’t interested.

“When are you going to open up and receive love?” he continued. “You want love, don’t you? Then why do you keep pushing it away? You’ve barricaded yourself from nurturing and support, and veiled your true desires under a cloak of self-judgment. How do you expect to complete a huge creative project when you’re so imbalanced? If you don’t honor your feminine nature and let love in, life will keep drilling you into the ground until you get the message.”

Whoa.

In an instant his words lit a match right next to my diesel-doused heart. I wanted to run, but the session had just begun so I knew I had to stay in the room and burn. And that's what happened. For the next hour, the Tarot dude looked in my eyes without wavering and spoke about my struggles with perfect perception. He explained that over the past year my whole foundation unraveled because it was time for change. He talked about the importance of forgiveness and letting go. He pointed out my ego strategies and defense patterns. And by the time he finished I couldn’t see a damn thing because my face was soaked with a year’s worth of unshed tears.

Sweet blog reader, have you ever known something, but pretended you didn’t? Perhaps you were in a miserable relationship, but convinced yourself that everything was “fine”. Or perhaps you worked in a job that you hated, but made believe you were happy just to get by. So many of us betray ourselves like this, even in small ways, but no one can live in denial forever. Eventually something will happen to tear our illusion to shreds—an affair, a layoff, an illness, a habitual pattern that we can’t break through. It may seem awful in the moment, but in actuality this kind of destruction is nothing but love calling us home.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that love is synonymous with truth. And love does not like bullshit. No. Love doesn’t want our lies. Love wants our liberation. The challenge is that in order to become free, sometimes we have to go to the places that scare us, as Pema Chodron says. We have to reclaim the parts of ourselves that we have disowned and allow the sheaths that conceal our sweet heart to be severed. Maybe that’s why Rumi once said: “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question, or with fears for its reputation.”

Sitting on the temple roof, all of the feelings I tried to ignore came flooding into consciousness; there was no escape. For the first time ever I realized my greatest fear—that if people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. But that realization was a gift. As soon as I surrendered to the pain, something amazing happened: my heart softened so much that it completely disappeared. That may sound strange, but when I went to look for my heart there was nothing there but space. It was as if I could stick my entire arm—actually, my entire body—through the center of my chest. Yes, what was once my heart had become a gateway to the galaxy and it was the coolest magic trick the universe ever played on me.

That moment was like an initiation into something I still can’t define, but oh man it was beautiful. As soon as I met my resistance fully, it fell away. And since then so much more has come undone. It’s hurt like hell at times, but that’s alright. I’ve been shedding the skin of an old life and an old self, and that kind of renovation doesn’t always come easy or happen fast. Sometimes it’s necessary to torch the person we once were so we can more fully embody the person we’re meant to be. As Nietzche said, “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new if you had not first become ashes?” While it may suck in the moment, letting go of outworn defense structures allows the soul to blaze more fully and that is an untold blessing.

Of course this process is still unfolding, but I'm at peace with that. After all, the soul’s journey of awakening may unravel for eternity since love has no beginning and no end… but that’s just part of the play. Until we pierce the veil of separation, life is but a brilliant dance of opposites: openness and closure, expansion and contraction, yum and yuck, yay and nay. Thankfully there’s a place of stillness at the center and that is where I am slowly learning to rest.

In some ways I feel like I’ve just crossed the darkest, widest ocean on a piece of driftwood. When the waves dragged me out three years ago I searched day and night for the sand, but there was nothing but sea. Exhausted from paddling so hard, I surrendered to the wind and, by grace, she guided me. Now I see the other shore and, though I haven't reached the land yet, it is in sight. This new land—it already exists within me like an unrevealed song, and when I finally I place my feet upon the earth, everything that’s happened will make sense.

For now I’m still out on the ocean where the clouds and stars are my companions. Out here my clothes are tattered and my hair is a tangled, salty mess, but my eyes are bright and clear, washed clean by the brine of my tears. Truthfully I’ve come to love this solitary sea, though I sense we’ll soon be parting ways. Why? Because I’ve finally uncovered the lesson that these dark waters have been trying to teach: Don’t fight the current, darling. Let it carry you.

While I can’t say I’ve totally let go and stopped resisting, I can say that some really old shame has been cleansed from my heart, swept out by the surf. I feel a deeper resilience and a new kind of strength—a strength that says, “Even when everything falls apart; when people misunderstand me and cruel words are fired in my direction; when all of my efforts crumble and I screw up out of ignorance... there is still a place within that remains unaffected by the drama of life. There is still a silent presence that knows my essence is pure and untainted, despite what the world—or my own mind—may say.”

Ultimately what I’m learning is how to let go of control and have faith in the invisible because sometimes the most amazing things evolve in secret, shrouded by darkness. When the seed of the Chinese bamboo plant goes into the soil, it stays underground for five years with no sign of life—no bud, no sprout, nothing. But if the seedling is tended to with loving care, eventually it will grow up to 90 feet in just five weeks. Pretty wild, eh? Well, I don’t think human beings are all that different. We may work for months or years on a project or practice with no visible signs of progress, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Perhaps during this time we are developing a strong, sturdy root system so that later we can rise up and touch the sky.

Sweet blog reader, I know this isn’t the most lighthearted entry, but it’s honest… and honesty creates intimacy, which is nutritive and healing. In my experience, a little deep sea diving is good for the soul—especially in this flyby Facebook culture we live in. You know what I mean? Real life doesn’t look like the cover of a fashion magazine and it can be helpful to remember that. Who wants to live an airbrushed existence anyway? Imperfections make us more relatable and love penetrates much deeper when there are cracks.

For so long I’ve tried to hide my mess under a guise of perfection, but this album journey has made that impossible. All of my strategies have fallen apart and my egocentric efforts have failed; it’s been mortifying at times, but that’s been the grace of it all. I finally get that it’s a waste of energy to worry about what other people think because my path has its own intelligence… and so does yours. When we honor this intelligence instead of looking to the world for approval, we become free.

Sweet blog reader, I appreciate your virtual presence so much. Thank you for bearing witness to my story. Of course there’s more, but for that we’ll have to share a cup of tea and talk all night beneath the stars. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Then I could hear your story too—I know you have one and your heart interests me. Until then, I send you my love.

raw and ripped open

 
 © metin demiralay

 © metin demiralay

Barn's burnt down—
now I can see the moon.

masahide


I’m in Abiquiu, New Mexico, right now where the night wind rolls like ocean waves, rocking me back to myself. So many days I have dreamed of this place—the deep silence, the stark, hot rawness that strips the soul bare. I really love it here—nothing but sky and clouds, cracked earth, strong light, and space. In this naked land I can feel my heart. I can feel her tender crevices and secret wounds, her buried beauty, and her yearning. I can feel her sweet, searing grief and her hunger to be seen and known.

Being here has been challenging, yet so beautiful. No distractions, no people, no nothing. Just me and my heart and a stack of sorrow that I keep offering to the southwestern sun.

A few months ago I had the desire to visit New Mexico. I used to come down here every now and then when I lived in Colorado, and I always felt a sense of home. This time I wanted to visit Abiquiu, even though I had never been before. I knew it was home to Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch and a monastery called Christ in the Desert, but that’s about all. Much to my good fortune, I found out that a friend of a friend owns an organic farm there and she invited me to stay. So I rented a car in Albuquerque and made my way to her amazing sanctuary by the Chama River. That’s where I am now and she is actually away, so it’s just me and a symphony of crickets, a zillion stars, two caretakers, three dogs, and one 36 year-old horse.

Although I spend a lot of time alone when I’m at home, there’s something different about being here. The vastness of the sky and the intensity of the elements turn me inside out. It’s very healing, but I have to admit: from the moment I stepped off the airplane, I have been crying. Part of it is the nostalgia of being out west again and part of it is the bare beauty of the desert. But most of it is that I finally have some space to connect with myself and this overwhelming heaviness keeps rising up from my depths, begging for release.

This last year has been one of the hardest of my life. I hesitate to say the hardest because each period of life brings its own challenges, but this past year has been almost unbearable at times. I have experienced the continual falling away of people and things that once gave me meaning. I have felt incredibly stuck and bereft about my still-unfinished album. I have felt humiliated, lonely, exhausted, confused, and painfully aware of my flaws. And I have endured a relentless churning deep inside my being—a churning that has brought up all of this old, shadowy stuff and made me question just about everything in my life.

Sometimes these periods happen—they’re like intense clearings that level the house so a new structure can be built. And while it’s really not fun, I know it’s necessary. In my experience, if we go too long without heeding the call to step into a more authentic existence, life will make sure it happens one way or another. At such times, everything and anything that no longer serves our highest good may come undone, forcing us to let go and open to the unknown. While this may look fierce on the surface, in actuality it is nothing but grace that makes things fall apart so they can be put back together in a new way. It’s a painful process, but it has to happen. And it’s happening for me.

Four years ago I jumped off a cliff into the void. I left my familiar world, moved to the Berkshires, and devoted my whole heart to being an artist. At first I had no idea what that would look like because I never considered myself a creative person, but I knew I had to unearth my unique voice. Much to my surprise, that's what occurred. It was wild and beautiful and challenging and shocking, but somewhere along the way I took a deep breath... and never exhaled. What happened is the sweet, innocent artist in me was born a bit premature. She busted out of the birth canal, did a few flips, sang a few songs, and then realized she wasn’t quite ready for the world. So a few months ago she went back into the womb to cook a little more. At the moment she’s still there in the dark, ripening.

All of this is just to say that I’m not sure where I’m going or what I’m doing right now. I just know that I’ve been very out of balance and my energy has been scattered and stressed, trying hard to be a self-employed, single woman in a vocation that is still so new and unfamiliar. I know I’m on the right path, but I need to find a way to walk this path with more gentleness, trust, and joy. I need to do some self-inquiry and get clear about what I want to offer and how I want to serve. And I need to slow down and come back to a more yin space.

What do I mean by "yin" space? I mean a way of being that is more yielding, open, and embodied. More, well, feminine. In order to create a new dharma for myself, I’ve had to draw on a lot of my so-called “masculine” qualities: clarity, direction, assertiveness, bravery, initiative, and independence. It’s been wonderful to tap those traits, but ultimately I prefer to rest in my feminine essence, which is more intuitive, nurturing, and receptive. I’ve honestly been living like a monk in a hermitage for the past few years with a one-pointed focus on my work, and in the process I’ve inadvertently turned away from some really important things like intimacy, vulnerability, softness, sensuality, surrender, and the simple beauty of being. I’ve felt so hardened over with a shell of protection, trying to be strong and not fall apart, but the time has come for that shell to crack open.

The truth is, although my career has value because it’s the outward expression of my soul, ultimately what matters to me is love. And, sadly, love has felt very far away for the past few years. So many of my old, young patterns of closure have come to the surface and embracing those patterns with compassion hasn’t been easy. Still, somehow I’ve been able to hang out in that black hole of pain and look my core wounds of unworthiness, self-loathing, and shame right in the eye. Somehow I’ve been able to sit in the center of my greatest fears and not turn away. It’s been excruciating and amazing and, by grace, I’m finally starting to love those perfectly broken parts of myself and to see that they are nothing but love in disguise.

Nevertheless, things have felt ‘off’ for a while and it’s time for them to change. Of course I’m all for living at the very edge of life and making endless love with the unknown. I’m all for screwing up and learning from my so-called “mistakes”. And I’m all for bawling my eyes out because I don’t know where I belong or why I push love away so much. I’m all for all of it—the whole damn, delicious mess. I want to embrace it all because every path is a one-way road to awakening in this joint. At the same time, I need to live in alignment with my heart. And if my mind is on fire and I’m not tending to my feminine depths or honoring my sacred desires or making space to just be, then something has to shift.

In the Tibetan tradition there is a term called bardo. Bardo means “intermediate state” and, though it’s traditionally defined as the period between one life and the next, I’ve gone through several so-called “bardos” in this one incarnation. You know those times when everything feels like a liminal zone where the old hasn’t fully disintegrated and the new hasn’t fully arrived? To me, that’s a bardo. And it’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be because there’s not much to hold onto. Right now I’m in that kind of space. I have the sense that I’m being squeezed into something new—I just don’t know what that new thing is yet. I know I can’t run back to my old way of life, but I don’t know what I’m moving towards. At the same time, part of me has unwavering faith that this is exactly what’s supposed to happen right now. And in that flicker of faith, everything is okay.

Recently I read some interesting stuff about butterflies. Do you know that before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly its entire being turns to liquid? Yes, the little leaf-muncher actually digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. Once that happens, the nectar reconfigures itself into a new form, the chrysalis cracks open, and the butterfly emerges—crumpled and vulnerable with tiny, wet wings pressed close to its body. Clinging to the shell of the chrysalis, it pumps fluid into its wings to expand them and within just a few hours the bright soul is ready to fly.

Sweet blog reader, right now I feel like my old sense of self is being liquified. I can’t seem to grab hold of my identity and solidify it like I always pretended to in the past. I can’t figure anything out. Am I a singer? A writer? A woman? A child? A lover? A lion? A healer? A poet? A plum? A friend? A freak? A cloud? A song? A name? Maybe I’m all of it, and nothing. And maybe it doesn’t matter. It just seems like there are certain times when we’re asked to let go of an outgrown way of life and open to something new. But in order for that process to unfold, we have to drop all of the things that stand in our way and allow the intelligence of life to transform us into the fully flowered beings we are destined to be.

It’s at times like these that all we can do is offer everything into the cosmic fire and keep letting go. In Sanskrit there is a word called svaha. Svaha is an exclamation that essentially means, “so be it” or “all hail”. It’s an expression of offering and release. When I really don’t know what the f%*k is going on and all of my conceptions are snapping like dry twigs, I can’t think of anything better to say than svaha. It’s sort of like telling the universe, “I don’t know anything, so I’m throwing everything into your compassionate inferno: Endless failures. Svaha! Praise or blame. Svaha! Lost love. Svaha! Blocked creative energy. Svaha! Joy, jealousy, sorrow, and success. Svaha! Purity and pollution. Svaha! Humility and arrogance, pain and pleasure, self and no-self. Svaha!

I realize this may sound a little heavy, but from my perspective it’s not. It’s just the natural evolution of life—creation, preservation, and dissolution. Even though it hurts beyond words sometimes, the dissolution phase has to be honored, too. If you look really closely, you can see that a new light, a new creation, is hiding just beneath the surface of whatever is falling away. A snake only sheds its skin when a new skin has already grown underneath it. When it’s time to evolve into something bigger, the snake has to shed its old layers. If it doesn’t it will suffer greatly, and maybe even die. We, too, are like the snake—we have to let go of our worn-out self-concepts and attachments. And we have to trust that, as we endure the painful process of letting go, a beautiful new reality is already there, waiting for us to step into it.

When I look with honest eyes, sometimes I can see a new life for myself. I can see an existence where I don’t berate my heart for being human and I don’t divide my being into “good” and “bad”. I can see a reality where I embody love—not just as a platitude, but as a lived experience. Not just as an idea, but as a vibration that permeates everything. I can see a world that mirrors back the beauty that I am instead of the lies that my mind conjures up to stay safe and small. In truth, this new life already exists in the space between my thoughts. It exists in the center of this very moment. And it exists when I drop my efforts to be someone special who is trying to get somewhere. Where could I possibly go? The only real destination is here.

Right now I don’t have much to offer but the messy madness of my journey. In this story, there is a woman. She likes to forget herself and sing. She likes to feel things deeply, drink tea, write crazy blogs, and listen to the rain. She likes to read about saints, wear red, and play with her hair. She doesn’t know what will happen in the next chapter of her book, but she’s doing her best to stop grasping and let it be revealed.

There you have it, sweet blog reader. Do you know that I love you? I do. That may sound like bullshit, but I think we both know there’s a place deep inside where all of us are madly in love with each other. Let’s hang out there for a while. Or forever.

the perfect balance

 
 © keely varada

 © keely varada

It's exhausting, trying or pretending to be 'up' all the time. What a relief it is, to embrace 'down' too, and to see 'up' and 'down' as part of the great and perfect balance of life. And to know ourselves beyond both, as the vast open space that embraces these slings and arrows, these tribulations and triumphs of existence, and is trapped within neither. Ups and downs, highs and lows, tragedies and comedies, bliss and boredom and buses running late, birth and burials - the many faces of the One, moment to moment, shining brilliantly. 

JEFF FOSTER

the record goes round and round

 

Hi, sweet blog reader; it’s been a little while. I’m sorry for the delay, but I’ve been a bit distracted trying to untie a deep knot inside my being. So far, despite my crazy efforts, no threads have come undone. Maybe one of these days I’ll remember that shifts tend to happen when I stop efforting so hard, but today doesn’t seem to be that day, so let me share my messy process with you instead.

For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been working on my second album, Touch the Sky. The entire time I’ve been working on the project, I’ve been burning—just burning up from within. The process has created so much friction and brought up so much pain that I’ve been unable to see beyond it. Lately, as the CD gets closer to being done, things seem to be getting more intense.

Have you ever tried to birth something into the world, but been unable to do so? That is what’s been happening for me with this album. I’ve had a vision for it, but I haven’t been able to manifest that vision into a form that feels right. It’s been so frustrating and has triggered all sorts of unhealed wounds that I never even knew I had.

As you may or may not know, I have only been making music, singing, recording, and all of that for less than three years. Three years is not very long in the grand scheme of life, and I’ve hardly had a moment to catch up with myself. It’s like my dharma (sacred work) just came out of nowhere, swept me off my feet, and said, “Baby, you’re mine! Let’s go!” And before I knew what was happening, we were off and running into a completely different life than I ever imagined for myself.

Since that unfolded a few years ago, I went from being totally unclear about my path and praying like mad for some direction, to writing songs, learning an instrument, producing albums, performing, and doing all sorts of other things that scare me. The journey has been wild and beautiful, but I have to be honest—making this second album has been nothing short of excruciating. When I started the process, I had no idea how much it would stretch me beyond every comfort zone or make me face my weaknesses. What started out as an innocent desire to record some songs turned into a descent into the underworld of my mind where the ferocious beasts of fear and self-doubt have tried hard to take me down.

Basically, this experience has shined a light on some dark, unconscious parts of my psyche and catapulted me into a deep healing process. It’s been such a lonely, confusing, and humbling journey. Since I haven’t had a producer or collaborator to work with, I’ve had to hold everything alone, and being new at this, I’ve made a lot of poor decisions and humiliating "mistakes". But how could I not screw up when I’m learning how to do all of this music stuff on my own? I don’t have a mentor, manager, or machine pumping advice, support, or funds into my project. I just have a vision, a deep feeling heart, and super sensitive ears.

What I'm starting to realize is that this whole album process has very little to do with making an album and everything to do with the growth of my soul. I don't think life cares too much if I put out a nice CD. I think life wants me to wake up. How could it be any other way?  After all, the divine Sanskrit names that I sing are imbued with the highest vibration of love. This potent vibration can’t help but grate against the resistant, fearful, lower vibration aspects of my ego. Isn’t that the point? It’s often the most sacred, auspicious things that show us our stuff. I’ve seen this happen with my guru Amma for years. She embodies such vast love that whenever I am around her, it’s like looking into a magnifying mirror. Usually it’s awe-inspiring, but it can be agonizing too because her light illuminates the places in me that aren’t illuminated, and that isn’t always comfortable. I guess something similar has happened with this album. Working on the project has been like staring into the looking glass of my mind and seeing these very old, hidden pockets of self-judgment and shame.

Still, somewhere beneath the veil I know this is just a play. When I question, “Who feels frustrated? Who makes mistakes? Who makes music?” I don’t get an answer. That’s probably because there is no solid person having this experience, which is a huge relief. When I step back from the drama, it’s clear that none of this has anything to do with “me” at all. And perhaps that stagnant, illusory sense of doership is what’s being wrung out through this process. I feel so totally out of control because, in some sense, I am out of control. If it was up to me, this CD would have been done many months ago, but that’s not the situation. So who’s in charge—my ego, or the intelligence of life?

Recently I read a quote by Sri Prem Baba that touched me deeply: “This is how we may ascend: by placing our gifts and talents at service of the common good. Then suddenly it is no longer you who are in service: it is God who uses your talents. There comes a moment when the ego needs to be sacrificed along with its personal desires, because in this phase we’re no longer being led by the wounded child. We are no longer dealing with self-development, but rather with how to become pure channels of love. In this phase the ego has no power, it can’t control things any more. Now your main challenge is fear, the fear that you will turn into a little leaf that the wind can take wherever it wants.”

This passage articulates how I feel so well. There is nothing I'd like more than to be a pure channel of love, but, in truth, I am a bit scared to completely let go and trust that life is creating through this vehicle called "Carrie" in the perfect way, at the perfect time. Even though in my depths I know this is the way things really are, it's hard to see when my human angst looms so large. But perhaps becoming a true channel is not about getting out of my own way so some flawless creation can emerge, but rather getting in my own way and learning from that. You know what I mean? Who said that learning to become an instrument for beauty and grace actually looks beautiful and graceful? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe it looks like a total disaster, but in that so-called "disaster" the small self is being refined and transformed into something more magnificent than it could ever imagine.

All I know is I’m learning how to be patient, how to trust the way things are, and how to forgive myself for screwing up. On the most basic level, I’m learning about self-acceptance. Plain old, powerful self-acceptance. And, like it or not, the only way to learn it is to get in touch with the things about myself that I consider unacceptable, and love them fully. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what this album journey is asking me to do: accept myself. Not some half-ass self-acceptance, but a total acceptance of everything about this thing called “me”. Yes, I need to accept my neuroses, my weaknesses, and all the aspects of my personality that some might roll their eyes at or whisper about behind my back. I need to stop whispering behind my back and criticizing my imperfections. Ineed to embrace my totality—blemishes and all.

Sweet blog reader, I’m just being honest with you here. Oftentimes our culture emphasizes finished products, not processes, and that’s unfortunate. We’re taught to keep the messy details of our life hidden and only part the curtains when everything is polished and refined. But that’s not real life. Real life comes with setbacks and obstacles, chaos, confusion, and moments of doubt and despair. That soul-squeezing work is simply part of the path and it, too, is beautiful.

So here I am—with no clue when my album is going to be done, or when I’m going to emerge from this creative wilderness. But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Something huge is happening and I can feel the boundaries of my small self expanding little by little, becoming more spacious. I can feel the knot of my self-concepts relaxing and my self-judgment softening. What else matters in the endless end?

I so look forward to sharing the fruits of my burning with you whenever they ripen. In the meantime, please know how grateful I am that your loving eyes have landed on this page. Thank you for existing, and for reading this.

all for love

 
© billy dodson

© billy dodson

What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving, or being loved.
I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey to find its source,
and how the moon wept without her lover’s warm gaze.
We weep when light does not reach our hearts.
We wither like fields if someone close does not raintheir kindness upon us.

MEISTER ECKHART

más amor

 
 © elena ray

 © elena ray

I love how snow makes everything quiet. I love how clouds, rivers, oceans, raindrops, glaciers, and geysers are all made out of the same thing. I love paper lanterns, ballpoint pens, and altars. I love my heart for never abandoning me, even when others do.

I love meandering on overgrown trails at this wildlife sanctuary near my house. I love that halfway down one of the paths there’s a lone wooden bench that overlooks a beaver pond. Sometimes I sit there for a while and drink in the view. Other times I lie down and look up at the sky. Through the tree branches clouds drift by in perfect impermanence, reminding me how fleeting and fragile this incarnation is. By the time I sit back up, I’m sufficiently humbled.

I love my eyelids—I don’t appreciate them enough, but they’re so important. I love honey, vivid dreams, craniosacral therapy, and my red winter coat that makes me look like I belong in a catalog for some country bumpkin outfitter or horse tack supply store. I love my fears for encouraging me to be brave. I love my hands for feeling this world into existence. I love the moon in all of her moods.

I love haiku poets like Yoshiko Yoshino who manage to capture the most vivid images in just three short lines:

nights of spring— tides swelling within me as I’m embraced

I love that there are so many incredible things happening on this planet that inspire me. Just this morning I saw a trailer for a documentary called Landfill Harmonic about The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay. This is such a beautiful story about a poverty-stricken town built on top of a landfill. One of the garbage collectors named Favio Chávez began to salvage trash from the landfill and create instruments out of it. Then, he taught some local youth how to play them and they started an orchestra! Is that amazing or what?

I love people who think outside the box. Actually, I love that there is no box.

I love that my friend just texted me and said she was sweating like a banshee while breastfeeding her baby in a bookstore. I thought that was a great sentence— maybe it was the alliteration that hooked me. I do love language, a lot. Even though the most profound truths are often communicated in silence, I am enthralled by the way words can shape reality. One Tantra teacher that I know often says that the most erogenous zone is between the ears (and the only way to reach there is with words), but then again he’s a linguist, so it’s no wonder that he thinks that! Still, I like the sentiment.

I love how often I feel like I’m in this wild arm wrestle with my conditioning. Every now and then I step back from the game and realize that my habitual patterns really are starting to shift. It’s not always easy to discern the changes because they’re subtle, but they’re happening nonetheless. I’m just easing up on myself, that’s all. Maybe that’s why I was given the dharma name “Gentle Blooming of the Heart” many years ago at Plum Village. Perhaps the beloved monk who named me saw what I am starting to see: that my heart is like a flower—blossoming slowly, in her own time. There’s no need to force anything.

I love that Mooji said, “You need nothing to be happy; you need something to be sad.” Ain’t that the truth? Sometimes happiness arises for absolutely no reason, but sadness... sadness almost always arises in relation to thought. I remember when I was in the South Indian town of Tiruvannamalai eight years ago, sitting on a rooftop. I was just sitting there on this mat, looking up at a sacred mountain called Arunachala, when this wave of happiness rose up out of the ocean of my being and washed all of my thoughts away. Suddenly everything was in its right place—the clothes were hanging on the line, the little girl across the road was screaming, and I was ecstatic for no reason whatsoever.

I love that real happiness has nothing to do with external causes or conditions; I only wish I could remember that more often.

I love Benjamin Smythe. He’s this eccentric guy who shares videos on YouTube, and he makes me inquire in a really good way. He is so totally himself and he also says “fuck” a lot, which I find refreshing. I just love that he is a truth-teller who is honest about his own experience, and I learn so much from his insights. For instance: If you want to be pissed off, all you have to do is get an opinion about somebody else’s life. How true! But what I love more than anything about Benjamin is his unabashed realness. He is so unpretentious and authentic that I can’t help but be riveted every time I tune in. Plus, he makes me laugh.

I love that I attended this Medicine Wheel Prayer Circle recently and it was such a deep gathering. Fifteen of us sat around a little medicine wheel, surrounded by stones and crystals. Each person placed a stone on the wheel and shared some prayers. One woman cried and prayed for all of the daughters who are struggling in these tumultuous times. One man prayed for the trees. Another sweet soul said she felt like she was giving birth to herself and the contractions were getting so fast and strong that all she could do was breathe through the pain. I could definitely relate.

I love how powerful it is to sit in a circle with other human beings and share sincerely. Great transformation is possible when we simply bear witness to each other. That’s why, at the end of the afternoon, all I could say was: “I give thanks for tenderness.” Yes, tenderness. That soft, delicate quality—it can thaw even the most frozen heart.

I love that my colleague and I interviewed Jean Houston a few weeks ago and we asked her about the whole 2012/end of the world thing. She said, “Well, it’s evolve or die.” And that felt pretty right on. These are intense times, don’t you think? Everyone I know is burning up in some way, but there seems to be an intelligence behind it all. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to purify the pain body—both individual and collective. If you’ve ever read any of Eckhart Tolle’s work, he speaks about this “pain body,” which is essentially an accumulation of old emotional pain. Personally, a lot of my old wounds have come up over the past few months—in a more intense way than usual. It’s been challenging, but very valuable because I’ve seen how certain habits and thought-forms don’t serve me at all; they simply shrink my vital energy and plunge me into darkness. So I’ve been trying to meet those thoughts and feelings with loving awareness, and in doing so I’ve glimpsed the possibility for a real shift in consciousness.

I love that it’s December 31st and I’m sitting in my little cabin-ish house, feeling so grateful to be alive. Soon it will be 2013—just another number in time, but a poignant reminder that this precious life is so very... precious. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the past year and, man, it’s been a wild ride. This year I birthed many new dimensions of myself and also made a ton of humiliating mistakes. (Fortunately, there are no mistakes—only learning opportunities—so that takes some of the pressure off.) I ascended to the heights of creative ecstasy and descended to the depths of loneliness and shame. I lost myself in a beautiful melody and found myself in the silence of an old spruce tree. I yearned and burned for something nameless, cried like a child, loved like a woman, and made some really good soup.

The poet David Whyte said, “What shape waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky?” That is such a beautiful question. I know there is so much in the seed of me that wishes to expand in the coming year—more realness, more light, more awe. And I know there is so much in the seed of you that wishes to grow in the coming year, too. We’re all here together on this pulsing planet—dancing in our divinity and our darkness, doing our best to dwell in the heart. It’s tough sometimes, but beauty abounds in our brokenness, not just our wholeness. And our brokenness, it turns out, is whole and perfect unto itself.

On the eve of 2013, I only have one prayer: May I know, see, hear, taste, touch, feel, give, and receive more love than ever before. I think that covers all of the bases, and I wish the same for you. Thank you so much for reading this post, sweet blog reader. Do you know how grateful I am for your presence? Too grateful for words. May you be blessed in every imaginable (and unimaginable) way.

the color of longing

 
© mayumi oda

© mayumi oda

Something wants to be birthed from within me, but I know not what nor how to draw it forth. It is a deep grief knocking in my heart that needs to be expressed. A grief, or perhaps a longing, for something that I cannot name: God, love, my very own Self?

Maybe it’s just that I want to be held. Or maybe I want to hold myself with the kind of tenderness I so often reserve for an imagined other—lover, bird, tiny blossom.

Yes, something is stirring in the secret velvet of my yearning—endless—for that which I already am.

The heart cries out for a witness, and the head a chest on which to rest.