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.

je suis l’amour


I love spices. I love that the earth is rich with colors and plant medicines, tender flowers, and healing waters. I love public radio, mason jars, and little white lights strung over doorways and railings. I love crafty people who make crocheted potholders and lampshades out of coffee filters. I love holding hands with someone I adore and pressing colored leaves in books, only to find them years later by surprise. I love the worn-in roper boots I bought at Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply in Longmont, Colorado; they’re about as close to a cowgirl as I’ll ever get.

I love that I visited Botswana a few years ago and we took a remote control plane into the bush and landed on a small strip of dirt where a giraffe was eating leaves. I love that one evening we went on a safari and I lay down in the back of the jeep and looked up at the stars. The sky was so huge that I lost myself in the boundless, beating heart of the universe.

I love that there are still a few places in the world where wild animals roam free beneath the moon. I love Kalahari Desert sands, jasmine flowers, sagebrush, and constellations. I love the curve of a zebra’s back and the way painted reed frogs sound like a symphony of marimbas in the night.

I love bookstores that are stacked with pages full of wisdom, beauty, and bullshit. I love drinking tea—it’s like imbibing the essence of plants. I love clawfoot bathtubs, red winterberries covered in snow, and earrings that don’t get lost in my wild hair. I love that countless souls are born and die every second. Now. Now. Now. I love that the Buddha said, “This life disappears only very quickly, like something written in water with a stick.” It’s easy to forget that amidst the busyness of life, but we have much to be thankful for in this brief human birth.

I love people who have a sense of humor. I love that I crack myself up regularly. I love profanities; when used at the right moment they really add a lot. I love that my parents met in the Whitney Museum and they still thoroughly enjoy each other’s company 40 years later. I love that we never know whom we might meet at any given moment... it makes life exciting.

I love that I’ve been a country bumpkin for the last three years. When I moved to the Berkshires from Boulder I had never played the harmonium, written a song, produced an album, led a kirtan, published an article, worked as an editor, taught a workshop, created a website, or successfully used a power drill. How did all of that happen in approximately 1,095 days? It’s amazing and, at the same time, it’s pretty insignificant. To me, success has nothing to do with stuff like that—it’s an abiding state of contentment and self-acceptance.

I love how deep and varied my country quest has been. I’ve had very few distractions, so it’s been a bit like a modern Himalayan cave experience. I must say I’m proud of myself for sticking it out. Early on I was lonely a lot. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and I was healing from a prolonged, mysterious illness. The first winter I was here I wept for hours every day. I had no direction and no idea what I was doing in a rural town with no community or vocation; it was really tough. But as Rumi said, “The moon stays bright because it doesn’t avoid the night.” As I surrendered to the darkness of the unknown, music poured out of me for the first time and I realized that a greater purpose hides behind every apparent “mistake”.

I love that the day after Hurricane Sandy hit I went to my meditation space to send some prayers and I ended up weeping for several hours without stopping. It was almost as if I tapped into an electric socket of planetary pain and I couldn’t break free. This deep, transpersonal grief just slashed me open.

I love how in the midst of tragedies like Hurricane Sandy, people come together to help each other out. I love how my sister solicited donations from the residents of her Brooklyn building and, within a few hours, shopping bags piled up outside her door. I love how the beer company Anheuser-Busch stopped producing beer for a few days and bottled one million cans of clean drinking water instead. What if that sort of thing happened on a regular basis? Surely there would be more peace on this spinning orb of earth and water.

I love that there are unknown heroes all across the globe—people who serve with no expectation of reward. I love that so many of these amazing beings will never be recognized, yet their good deeds spin threads of light around the planet and benefit the entire creation. I love people who value integrity and do their best to be kind and true even when no one’s looking. I love that His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasizes secular ethics and the cultivation of virtues like compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness; that’s a holy ground where we can all meet, regardless of caste, creed, or color.

I love New York City, deeply; I lived there until I was 13. It’s a tough city, and a resilient one. At times it seems so impenetrable, but natural disasters reveal how incredibly vulnerable it is—just like us. Isn’t it interesting how things often appear so hard and unshakable, even when they’re not? A lot of times I feel guarded, like I have all of these shells of protection, but just beneath the surface there is so much softness. As my friend said the other day, “You seem strong and fragile at the same time.” Yeah. While “fragile” probably isn't the word  I would choose, I definitely feel tender and raw beneath my self-assured exterior. Isn’t that the case for many of us, though? Don’t we all embody endless polarities?

I love that it’s impossible to lick your elbow. Well, that’s what I read somewhere and it seems to be true, unless you stretch your arm out; I’ve had success with that approach. I love that every three days we get a new stomach lining. Do you know that without a mucous lining your stomach would digest itself? It's like something out of a sci-fi movie.

I love that the indentation between the nose and upper lip is called the philtrum. No one seems to know quite why it’s there, but the Ancient Greeks considered it to be one of the most erogenous places on the body. So if you really want to turn up the heat, gently grab your lover’s face, look into her eyes, and tell her: “Darling, you’re so beautiful. All I want to do is kiss your philtrum.” Then proceed with your full attention and see what happens.

I love putting unusual words together like wet musk and bright plum. Do things have to make sense? Probably not, which is a good thing because if you think about anything long enough it just snaps the mind in half. I love that I wrote this on a napkin while sitting in a Japanese restaurant the other day: moss, petal, bone: woman of mud and clouds— secret imaginings in the starlit dream-bowl of her mind.

I love that we can see colors because we have a shitload of rods and cones in our retinas. I love that without photoreceptors we wouldn’t be able to process light or see in the dark. I love how I have flecks of gold around my pupils; they remind me of sea flowers, sunrays, and felines. I love how irises are like sacred mandalas that reflect the light of the soul. I love how vulnerable I feel when someone looks into my eyes. Sometimes I get scared and glance away; other times I breathe through my fear and let my heart be seen.

I love that yesterday I felt like I needed to understand myself in a new way, so I opened up a big blank book that I’ve had for years, took out my crayons, and drew for a few hours like a little kid. I love what a terrible visual artist I am—even my stick figures suck, but I don’t mind. I love that I keep surrendering to my creative energy in new ways. Of course it ebbs and flows, but I feel so much more open and trusting than ever before. Who knows why, but I shut my creativity down for so many years—perhaps because I feared failure or judgment. But the truth is, there’s always a risk of looking like a fool when we offer our authentic heart and voice to the world. In my experience, suffocating the soul is far more excruciating.

I love that Brussels sprouts look like little brains. I love that over-ripe potatoes resemble the skin of elephants. I love that I can’t stop making this apple dish with berries, oats, maple syrup, and pecans. I mix it all up, put it in the oven, and it comes out delicious! I love that I know how blessed I am to have food at all because there are so many in this world who don’t even have clean water.

I love that recently I went into the recording studio to sing on a friend’s project and, once I dropped my fears about not being able to deliver anything good, this huge power moved through my body and came out as music. Before we started recording, the engineer said, “Sing like a lover who is calling out to her beloved.” And I thought, “If I really try to sing with that in mind, it’s going to sound contrived and silly.” But then in an unexpected moment this deep yearning rose up from my depths and I sang it into existence.

I love how I have these stories about myself that only cause me misery, but sometimes they’re so familiar and comfy that it’s hard to let them go. Lately I’ve been observing an old script that says real transformation can only occur through suffering and pain. The truth is, amazing things are often born out of pain, but that’s not the only way to grow. Little by little I am shifting this worn out paradigm and opening to love in its sweeter, more sublime expression; it’s nice.

I love my body. It does so many things that I never think about like digest food, pump blood, breathe, fight pathogens, and heal wounds. Amazing, eh? We really are walking miracle factories, but we rarely realize it. Sometimes it’s easy to take the body for granted until life reminds us how fragile and, well, mortal we are. Just a few days ago I was helping a friend carry a heavy desk from her barn to her house and, as I tried to get a better grip, the thing fell on my foot. Oh, it hurt! I hobbled over to the house, lay down on the couch with an ice pack, and cried—not so much because of the pain, but because I realized how far I had wandered from myself; it took a heavy desk to wake me up. I guess that’s how it goes sometimes—life taps us on the shoulder and tries to get our attention, but if we don’t heed the call enough times, we get a push instead.

I love how I can tell that something big is about to shift in my life because I keep cleaning my house, my car, and my closet—letting go of stuff and creating space. It must mean that new energy is about to arrive.

I love that a friend came over the other day, sat down on the rug, and said, “This girl broke my heart.” I just looked at him because what is there to say when someone’s heart hurts like that? “I guess the pain of rejection is cracking me open in a big way,” he sighed. And I smiled and shed a few tears because I understood what he meant. C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.” Most of us know the truth of those words. We may put our heart on the line and get rejected; there’s no guarantee. But in my view it’s always worth the risk because even the most searing rejection can awaken us to the love inside ourselves. As Erica Jong said, "If you don't risk anything, you risk even more."

I love that I randomly came across this line from Henry Rollins while looking for a poem online the other day: “My heart slams against my ribs when I think of the slaughtered nights I spent all over the world waiting to feel your touch.” Whoa. Slaughtered nights? I know the feeling, and what exquisite use of language. Just reading that sentence nearly slaughtered my heart in the best possible way. Good one, Henry.

I love that I can go into Google Translate, type anything I want, and—voila!—the phrase comes back in another language. I love that “I am love” is “je suis l’amour” in French; it sounds so beautiful I just want to repeat it: Je suis l’amour. Je suis l’amour. Je suis l’amour.

You know what else I want to repeat? Je t’aime, Je t’aime, Je t’aime. Yes, sweet blog reader, Je t’aime—I love you.

golden wings

   ©  susan seddon-boulet

 © susan seddon-boulet

Oh soul, you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less why do you worry?
You are in truth the soul, of the soul, of the soul.


more i love

  ©  elena ray

© elena ray


I love pinecones. I love walking in the woods when the leaves are bright and it’s chilly enough for me to wear my favorite fake furry vest that looks like a sheepskin rug. I love that I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. the other night writing a song to the Buddhist goddess Tara, whom I adore.

I love that I had dinner at a retreat center near my house recently and this 94-year-old woman named Natelle sat next to me and we pretty much fell in love. I love that her name is Natelle because it’s a lot like Nutella—the chocolate hazelnut stuff—which is delicious. I love that before we started talking about our lives, she asked for my autograph because she said I seemed nice. I love that someone would even think to get a person’s autograph because she looks nice. Who does that? I love that I scribbled my name on a little piece of paper and when I handed it to her I looked in her eyes and saw all of this wisdom, tenderness, and heartbreak behind her ocean-hued irises. I love that I saw myself.

I love that when I was in the recording studio last week I felt so sad in the middle of singing for no known reason. I love that I told the engineer I needed to pause, then crouched down on the carpet in the little sound booth and bawled my eyes out. I love that, as I sat there with tears pouring down my face, I could hear my voice coming through the headphones singing, “Let love in, darling. Let love in.” If that’s not perfection, what is?

I love that the other night I went to sleep with a heavy heart, feeling like I was all alone in the galaxy, and then in the morning I got a phone call from some random international number. I was sure it was a telemarketing thing so I didn’t answer, but it turned out to be my dear friend Amar calling from India. I love that Amar never calls me, not even when he’s in the States, but for some reason he felt inspired to dial my number while looking out at the Arabian Sea. I love that he left a message that basically said, “I heard a great satsang (spiritual talk) a few days ago and the swami said that we should love ourselves, so I’m calling to pass on the message: Love yourself.” I love that as soon as I heard his words my eyes filled with tears because I knew that, even though I felt alone the night before, in actuality I wasn’t—some compassionate presence was there, holding me.

I love that I played at a music festival in California last month and it stretched me in some crazy uncomfortable ways. I love that I was asked to sing for a hula-hoop yoga class and ended up making an idiot of myself in front of 100 yogis. Basically, I got so anxious and freaked out about the whole thing that I forgot the chords to one of my songs in the middle of playing and everyone looked at me like I was a total freak who f*%ked up the flow, which I did. Honestly, it was one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. I love how much I wanted to run and hide, but I was in the middle of the desert and there was literally nowhere to go, not even a bush or a tree to hide under.

I love how that experience of humiliation was like an earthquake deep in my being that brought all of these old feelings of shame, unworthiness, and insecurity to the surface. I love that I had no choice but to burn through the pain, so I went back to the place where I was staying, lay down on the chaise outside, and looked up at the vast desert sky. I love that as I rested there with my heart beating so hard and fast, I remembered that Mother Teresa once said the only way to learn humility is to be humiliated.

I love that my experience at the festival made me realize how hard I try to avoid being humiliated on a daily basis. Can you relate? I imagine so. Most of us do all sorts of weird stuff to save face because we don’t want people to judge us or look down on us. I love how absurd that is because we all screw up once in a while.

I love how everything I’m doing these days requires immense courage because my nature is quite shy, but my music and writing demand that I breathe through my conditioning and keep showing up, even if that means looking like a fool. I love that even when I think all of my courage is gone, more appears. I love that being authentic and vulnerable and brave means taking lots of risks and making mistakes. There’s no other way to learn, you know?

I love the word luminous. I love old things like record players, typewriters, and cast iron skillets. I love that I recently heard a dharma talk and the teacher said, “There has to be some friction in existence otherwise it doesn’t ignite.” That meant a lot to me because I’ve been going through a pretty hard time. Things have been intense, internally and externally. I get the sense that a lot of people are feeling this kind of friction right now, at least the people I know. Some of my friends are going through painful divorces and break-ups, some just lost their jobs, and others have health challenges. I suppose it’s nothing out of the ordinary as far as samsara is concerned, but do you feel like things are speeding up and pushing you into uncomfortable places more than usual right now? I do. Maybe it’s something in the stars. Maybe it’s some kind of evolutionary impulse that is squeezing us into a new consciousness. Or maybe we’re just being asked to let go of the things that hold us back so we can live truer, freer, more heartfelt lives.

I love the way people care for each other. I love that everyone has unique gifts to offer the world—everyone. I love that some people are really good candle makers, some are excellent at operating heavy machinery, and others are gifted at embroidery, trading, or thangka painting. I love how it’s possible to make something out of nothing, and nothing out of something. I love how emptiness and fullness are basically the same.

I love that in the depths of the sea there are bioluminescent beings that light up from inside like aquatic fireflies. I love that octopuses have three hearts and eight arms with suction cups. Who comes up with these things? I love altars and things that people make sacred through their intention and devotion. I love this little stone chapel that sits in a meadow just down the road from me. I go in there every now and then, sit in the wooden pews, and play the piano when no one’s around. I love that I don’t really know how to play the piano, but I know enough that I can sing and that’s all that matters.

I love that I read this amazing interview with John Lennon in an old Rolling Stone last week and he talked about how hard it is to be an artist sometimes. I love that, as I read his words, this huge yes exploded within me because I understood what he meant. Being an artist is a beautiful path, but sometimes it can be lonely, too. I don’t think that’s necessarily “bad,” though. Why is the word ‘loneliness’ like some kind of off-limits profanity in our culture? Most people don’t want to admit that they feel lonely. And society is set up in such a way that we don’t have to feel our loneliness—we can just distract ourselves all day and night. Maybe that’s helpful on occasion, but I think befriending loneliness can be beneficial every now and then. Hafiz articulated it perfectly when he said, “Let your loneliness cut more deeply.” He knew that every single thing we experience can be a gateway to greater love if we only open to it.

I love mystics.

I love that yesterday my friend asked me to review her online dating profile and I got completely sucked into the whole thing and ended up spending a few hours reading about random dudes and their ideal first dates. It was pretty interesting, actually. I love that I have no desire to get involved in online dating. My heart is basically splattered across cyberspace in this blog anyway, so there’s no need to spell it out in charming answers on a dating site. Besides, I would feel silly crafting an image to attract a partner, knowing full well that I might not always be able to live up to it.

I love how my beloved friend in Australia just wrote and told me about the time he was sitting in an airport reading the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue and his heart opened so wide that he wept like a child right there in the terminal. He said it was a huge moment for him because most of his life he resisted and repressed his emotions. I love how a heart that’s broken open is the most tender, soft, irresistible thing in the entire universe.

I love that I was in a bookstore the other day and this card caught my eye. It was a collage/painting of a sweet little bird with some flowers and it said, “She could hardly believe all that was waiting when she finally opened her heart.” I’m not sure why, but it went right into me and I thought, “I should give this to someone—it’s such a beautiful message.” And as I stood there on the creaky hardwood floor looking down at the image, I suddenly realized that I should give it to myself. So I did something I had never done before and bought myself a card. It felt monumental and special in every way. When I got home later that night I sat on my bed, looked at it, and wept because the words resonated so deeply.

I love how I keep talking about crying in this blog entry because it seems to be a frequent occurrence for me these days. What can I say? I love that tears taste like the ocean.

I love synchronicity. I love that I just opened a book on my shelf by Robert Adams and this is what I read: Always remember deep in your heart that all is well and everything is unfolding as it should. There are no mistakes anywhere, at any time. What appears to be wrong is simply your own false imagination. That’s all. I love that those words are exactly what I need to hear in this very moment.

Sweet blog reader, I love that you just read this. Thank you.

i love.

  © metin demiralay

 © metin demiralay

I love my womanhood. I love the way my soft form is connected to the moon, the way another soul can take shape inside my being, the way that I am permeable to the raw beauty and pain of the world. I love my shadow. I love how people look innocent when they eat. I love that I long for something un-nameable when my heart feels empty, and that sometimes I can fill the hole of my yearning with my own light.

I love the color of morning. I love that I have touched the depths of shame and forgotten myself in a song. I love that I am terrified of being seen in my core, even though exposing that tender place feels like the most healing thing. I love that I don't really have a core—just a lot of space inside. I love the way rhythm moves my animal body. I love that I get so hardened over with shells of protection that I push people away, because in that pushing there is pain and when that pain is witnessed, I wake up.

I love that I worry about what people think, but I don't worry so much that I stop sharing. I love that I want intimacy more than anything, yet it scares the shit out of me. I love that I loved a man once and he didn't want me. His closure was a clear mirror that threw me back on myself. I craved and cried and my heart stretched wide. I love that I love him even more for rejecting me because, through that, I learned how to stop rejecting myself.

I love that clouds are like poems that speak to us in shapes. I love that I make mistakes because I’m human and I can't get it all right because there is no 'right'. I love how my neuroses inspire me to sing and my fears force me out of the fetal position and into the wild woods where I can weep. I love my secrets, though I'm not sure what they are.

I love jealousy because it shows me my true desires. I love that I think conformity sucks, but sometimes I still feel pressure to be like everyone else. I love that there are brave souls who just live their truth and pay no mind to the rolling eyes of others. You inspire me, people. I love that I have no idea if I will ever fall in love again, learn to play guitar, or drop my ego games. I love that I’m just a random woman whose life is a story that she doesn't always know how to read. I love the esraj and the sound of my own voice.

I love how much I want to forgive the people who have hurt me even though sometimes my heart still shivers with sadness when I remember the pain. I love when I wake up alone in the middle of the night and it’s thundering and raining and I realize that I am going to die one day and so will everyone I love and who knows when that day will come; it keeps me humble. I love that maybe one day a sweet man will be in my bed again and I'll wake him up and tell him I'm freaking out and he'll just be there and I'll cry like a child and fall back asleep in his arms. I love that I don't need a man in my bed because I’m brave enough to look into the void; it makes me tremble sometimes, but in that trembling I'm so alive.

I love that I have a guru who is an embodiment of unconditional love, which is something I honestly can't explain because my mind doesn't even know how to conceive of it. I love how people think having a guru means you're in a cult or something when, really, a true guru just points you back to the wisdom of your own heart. I love rooibos tea and rose oil, but not mixed together. I love that it's possible to plant a tiny seed in the dirt and then watch it reemerge as a pumpkin, full of sun and stars.

I love the smell of ocean. I love that the earth's core is so hot it's practically unfathomable and that weird things happen that we don't understand like crop circles and pyramids and unidentified flying objects and, no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist or obsessed with aliens. I'm sure there are other life forms out there, but I'm not really interested in meeting them right now.

I love when people do sweet things for each other like hold the door, listen deeply, or say I'm sorry. I love when a lover plays with my hair. I love that I cry easily because it means I'm not as shut down as I often think. I love going to this open field near my house and walking around in the late afternoon sun when a golden hue lights everything up because then I become golden too.

I love that we're all doing the best we can. I love that I am writing this piece about the things I love even though, ultimately, this little "I" is nothing but a dream woman who thinks she is solid and separate. I love that I'm a real woman, too. I love paradox—it's everywhere. I love that I don't know shit. I love that I don't want anyone to know that I don't know shit even though it's totally obvious.

I love that I got a spiritual name from my guru this summer and have been trying to write a blog about it for the last month to no avail. I love that I was given the name Dayashila, which means one whose nature is compassion. I love how pretty the name looks when it’s written with Sanskrit diacritics: Dayāśīla. I love how different the name is from anything I’ve ever heard and how I have no idea if I will grow into it or not. I love that the name is about one whose nature is compassion because that means I don’t have to become someone else or try to turn myself into a goddess named Shakti Mama or become pure or perfect like the sun. I love that I can just rest in what I am and stop berating myself for being such a sensitive soul who feels the pain of others. I love that I can just let that pain open me more. I love that Carrie is kind of like Dayashila because sometimes a compassionate soul can’t help but carry people’s pain. I love that the name Carrie has different meanings like “darling”, “melody”, and “song of joy”. I also love that it means “manly” because I’m about as manly as a mermaid. I love that I’m not a mermaid because having feet is nice.

I love how much I have to learn about compassion because sometimes people’s suffering destroys me and that doesn’t help anyone. I love how the Buddhist teachings say that compassion and wisdom must go together because only one who is truly wise can respond to suffering in a skillful way. I love how I want to be wise.

I love when snowflakes land on my eyelashes and disappear. I love when someone is trying not to cry and then lets go of her resistance so the tears can flow. I love when I catch myself judging people because I don’t mean to; it’s just that sometimes I get scared and want to make things safe.

I love that there are things I don’t love like poverty, drought, injustice, comparison, poaching, and humans who are intentionally mean; those challenges draw my mind inside. I love books. I love how long it takes to start a fire in my woodstove. I love how habitually I want to hide, and how life keeps putting me in front of people. I love my ovaries. I love that geniuses keep inventing new technologies to help save the planet. I love that I’ve had the same orchid for three years and it continues to bloom. I love that I’m like my orchid.

I love when I feel understood. I love my intuition, especially when I listen to it. I love that sometimes when I want to open I get all twisted up in knots, and sometimes when I want to close, I can’t shut down my heart. I love the word auspicious.

I love my sister’s sense of humor. I love that she lived in a hut in the bush for three years with no running water and now she lives in Brooklyn. I love how things never turn out the way I expect. I love prasad. I love that my grandmother went back to college when she was 85. I love the way my friend Ingrid takes amazing photographs of telephone poles and twigs. I love that Rumi said there are “a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

I love that prayer flags get frayed in the wind—what a good way to go, bestowing blessings on all beings. I love Pablo Neruda, Carlos Nakai, and Nada Yoga. I love disappointment; it reminds me to surrender. I love that some people who read this will think it’s self-indulgent and some will think it’s sweet. I love how that’s just the way the world is and it really doesn’t matter.

What do you love, sweet blog reader?

talking to myself


I fell in love with myself once and it wasn’t some kind of ego trip. No, it was the real thing: my soul fell in love with itself. I honestly didn’t know that was possible, but apparently it is.

When it happened I was sitting in a strip mall parking lot in Colorado Springs, flanked by Wal-Mart and Whole Foods on one side and some big mountains on the other. That morning I had driven down from Boulder for a doctor’s appointment. It was honestly amazing that I even made the two-hour trip because I could barely keep my eyes open. At the time I was sick with a mysterious illness that left me absolutely exhausted; most days I felt like all the chi had been sucked out of my body. Aside from going to the one class that I didn’t drop in grad school—a devotional singing course—the only other place I ventured was the grocery store and the acupuncturist’s office.

Desperate for help, I went down to Colorado Springs to see an osteopath that someone had recommended. For an hour I lay on the table and she held my head in her hands. It was the first time anyone had touched me in such a loving way for a long time and I almost couldn’t handle it. When I left her office, tired and tender, I pulled into the parking lot, leaned my head against the steering wheel, and burst into tears.

When I lifted my head, I noticed a tape recorder on the passenger seat, the one I used to record songs in my singing class. Without thinking I picked it up, pushed record, and began speaking into it. “I’m so tired. I can’t stand another moment of this. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing...” I wept as I spoke, but was too distraught to be self-conscious. For several minutes I poured my heart out to the little plastic gadget and then rewound the tape and played back my words. As I listened to the recording I was overcome with a flood of compassion and my heart broke with tenderness, hearing the anguish in my voice. When it was over I turned off the recorder and sat in silence. For some reason I felt incredibly calm and relaxed, as if I had just had a nourishing conversation with a friend.

At home later that night another wave of despair washed over me and, once again, I confided in the recorder. It was odd, but there was something comforting in the practice. I felt completely uninhibited with myself, which was rare and so liberating.

Without thinking too much about it, I began to carry the tape recorder with me everywhere I went. It was like a nonjudgmental presence and whenever I had an important thought or feeling, I pushed record. Although at first I was critical of my voice, over time it soothed me. At the end of each day I snuggled into bed and shared my heart, and I always listened to the recording right after. This helped me zoom in and out of my life situation: When I talked I opened up and released my pain, and when I listened I bore witness to my experience. Soon I had tapes full of my words and the audio journal became my nightly ritual.

A few weeks into my acoustic adventure I began to try new things: I read poetry and sang myself songs. At night I kept the recorder by my bed and shared my dreams when I woke up in the morning, much like I might with a lover. I spoke my prayers, visions, and fears, and soon started to feel like I was falling in love—in love with myself. All I wanted to do was sit down with my recorder and open my heart because talking helped me reconnect with my soul. I saw my innocence, confusion, and longing, and learned how to embrace myself by listening. For so long I wanted to be seen, heard, and understood, but I always hoped that someone else would give that to me. I never imagined I could give myself that which I always sought from others, but as I became my own lover the world began to change.

In Hindu philosophy there’s a term called sakshi bhava, which means “witness consciousness”. Witness consciousness is the ability to observe thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment or identification, and it’s really what meditation and other spiritual practices help us do. I often think about sakshi bhava like a movie screen: The screen is unchanging and it has no preference or opinion about what images are projected onto it—it’s simply a witness. In the same way, we can learn to witness our experience without grasping at it. This is exactly what the audio journal allowed me to do. Without even trying, the practice helped me drop into a space of witness consciousness where I was able to hear my story without trying to change it. Every time I rewound the tapes and heard my words, it was like watching clouds drift through the sky. I was able to witness my suffering with compassionate detachment and acceptance.

At the same time, I didn’t deny my story—there was space for it to be there. This was huge for me because back then I had a tendency to get lost in painful emotions or to deny them altogether by spiritual bypassing.

Have you ever heard that term spiritual bypassing? It’s one of my favorites. Years ago when I used to work in a bookstore, a new release caught my eye; it was called Toward a Psychology of Awakening, written by John Welwood. I took the book home and became obsessed with it because the author articulated something I was doing, but never realized: spiritual bypassing.

Basically, spiritual bypassing is a way of using spirituality to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and all of that human stuff. John Welwood coined the term in the early 1980s when he observed this happening with many of his clients who were long-term meditators and spiritual practitioners. Instead of confronting their “issues” and painful emotions directly, many of them used spiritual platitudes and other methods to ignore the reality of their experience. Me too. Spiritual bypassing was safe and cozy, but it also divorced me from the true radiance of life.

The second time I went to India I had just ended a five-year relationship. Even though my boyfriend and I parted ways in peace, I still felt very sad about the end of our partnership. The problem was, I didn’t think it was okay to feel sad because that would mean I was attached and emotional.... God forbid! I thought I was supposed to be totally detached and surrendered, so I didn’t allow myself to grieve. But the sadness in my heart just intensified over time until I couldn’t turn away from it anymore. Eventually, I had to confront my pain.

In a miraculous way, the audio journal provided an outlet where I could feel my grief and observe it at the same time. The practice helped me understand that spirituality is about being fully human—not some perfected, aloof, indifferent person who is above all emotion. After all, if numbness were the aim of spiritual practice, many of us would be robots, not sensitive, deep-feeling souls. To be really human, I feel we have to be intimate with all aspects of our experience without shutting things down and locking them away; that just leads to repression. Of course it’s a very fine line because we don’t want to indulge in suffering or get caught in our story either, but if we always try to gloss over what’s right in front of our face, we risk living insincere lives.

Spiritual teachings can be helpful or harmful—it depends on how they’re used. Either they can help us become more compassionate, conscious beings, or they can turn us into judgmental, narcissistic pricks. I’m speaking from personal experience here. Over the years spiritual wisdom has humbled and transformed me, but it’s also given me a superiority complex at times. I hate to admit that, but it’s true. Maybe you know what I mean—it’s the subtle belief that “I’m above all of that ‘human stuff’ because, in essence, I’m just a witness. Nothing touches me. Nothing phases me. I’m totally indifferent, detached, and, well, disassociated.”

My last partner taught me more about this than anyone. He had a simple depth and genuine quiet that really eased my mind, but he didn’t wear his spirituality on his sleeve. Unlike my previous partners whom I shared more with on the surface, this sweet man challenged me to consider all of my ideas about what it meant to be spiritual. Of course I had my concepts, but the more time we spent together the more my mind came apart at the seams. Whenever I tried to put him in a box, he broke through my judgments with simple questions like, “Do you think being spiritual has to look a certain way?” Apparently I did.

But his presence and the audio journal (both came into my life around the same time) taught me that there is a place for everything in life—both relative and absolute. In the Buddhist tradition this concept of relative and absolute is referred to as "the two truths". The relative or conventional view is how things appear (ie. the storyline of our lives) and the absolute or ultimate view is the state that is beyond all appearances—like the vast sky without clouds. These two truths interpenetrate each other and both have important roles to play.

I find this teaching to be really useful because it suggests that the messiness of life has value even though there is an ultimate reality that transcends it—and that has been my experience. From what I can discern, spirituality is about embracing polarities. So the relative can be a gateway to the absolute and vice versa. Going into my story and then witnessing it through the audio journal has allowed me to experience these two truths in an embodied way.

I still record audio journals every now and then. Actually, there’s a beautiful wildlife sanctuary where I like to walk and sometimes I go out there with my little recorder and just share my heart. No one hears me but the trees and the birds and it always feels like this intimate exchange between my authentic self and the natural world. Sitting there in the quiet of this sacred place, I hear myself—for real—and in that hearing there’s a letting go that happens. I stop trying to defend and protect my ego, and it’s easier to drop my fixation on being a separate, solid self. In those moments I truly love the mysterious being that I am.

Try it some time, sweet blog reader. You might really enjoy the experience. Just sit somewhere with a recording device and share your heart. Then listen to it and appreciate the beauty that you are.

Thanks for reading—it means a lot.

parting ways with perfection

  ©  kelly rae roberts

© kelly rae roberts

Dear blog reader, I don’t generally like to share too many intimate details of my life on the Internet, but I think you should know that Perfection and I just broke up. We tried to make things work for a long time, but there were too many issues between us. Although deep down I always knew that we weren’t a good match, I didn’t want to accept it. I was hopeful that we could be happy together, but he only seemed to like me when I got everything right, and that didn’t happen very often.

The truth is, even though I felt an underlying sense of discontentment with Perfection for the last 30 years, it wasn’t until a few months ago that something really felt off. It all started when I was in the recording studio one day, working on my second album. I was having the hardest time with one of the tracks and he was putting so much pressure on me—it was exhausting. On the car ride home I finally told him, “Darling, I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. I love you and I really want the best for you, but I know I can’t be what you need; I’m too imperfect.”

He gave me the silent treatment for a while, but later that night we had a good conversation. In the midst of talking I realized that I couldn’t blame Perfection for anything; he was just doing his thing and I was projecting. All along I thought Perfection wanted me to be like him—perfect—but in reality I was the one who wanted me to be like that; he just reflected my shit back to me. Well, now that we’re separated all of my issues are in my face and I have to deal with them.

For the last several months I’ve been making an album. Until recently, Perfection used to come to most of the recording sessions, but now I’m flying solo. It’s a bit weird without him there, but the good thing is I’m starting to see my insecurities in his absence. To be honest with you, I’ve been having a tough time working on this CD. While the process has been beautiful, right now I don’t really like the way anything sounds and I just want to throw the whole project in the garbage.

The fact is, while I’d love to go into the recording studio and bang out my songs in a few hours, the process rarely unfolds that way. Usually I start out enthusiastic and then as things move along and don’t turn out exactly how I want them to (when I want them to!), I get frustrated. Ah, the creative journey.

Several years ago I was granted a writing fellowship. For one month I lived at an artist residency in Vermont with a bunch of other poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, and inspired humans. I went there to work on a memoir, but the piece never actually materialized because I spent most of my days sitting in a green velvet chair and dozing off, staring at a blank computer screen, and watching the icicles melt. Every evening, after an oh-so-successful day of writing absolutely nothing, I’d listen to people share stories of their creative process—how they just downloaded some mega chapter of their book or made a piece of art out of twigs and duct tape. Let me tell you, it sucked. Why? Because I could not stop comparing myself with everyone else for even one minute! All of that wasted energy made it impossible to write.

I felt like such a failure. Did the people on the selection committee know that they granted a fellowship to a total charlatan writer? Probably not, and I sure as hell didn’t want them to find out. Strangely, as I work on my album, it’s like a deja vu: I don't want anyone to know how messy the process is—how often I lie awake at night and wonder if the project will actually come together, or if any sentient being will ever want to listen to the finished product.

Fortunately I’m learning not to take all of this drama too seriously because it’s just part of the path. In my experience, the creative journey is not a straight shot to the finish line. There are twists, turns, and some really massive potholes along the way. Doubt is a frequent companion, and so is frustration. Some days I feel exalted and want to throw myself into the invisible arms of my music with wild abandon; other days the sound of my voice makes me want to hurl a shoe at one of the speakers right there in the recording studio.

What intimidates me is that once I publish my songs, technically they exist forever—as much as anything in this world exists forever (which it doesn’t). That means occasionally I get anxious and self-conscious about how the tracks sound. Mostly I retract when I hear a lot of vulnerability in my voice because that feels scary to preserve in sound waves, even though it’s where the real beauty lives. Often when I sing my voice trembles with emotion, especially when I feel my heart. In such moments the engineer says, “Oh, that’s great—let’s keep it!” while I squeal like a distressed hamster and implore him to delete the part.

It’s not that I don’t want to share my vulnerability; it’s just that doing so feels frightening sometimes. When it comes to my music, I don’t hold anything back. As soon as I start to sing, it’s like I become transparent and whatever is inside of me exists for everyone to see. That’s how it feels anyway—sort of like I’m see-through. It’s beautiful when that happens because all of my self-consciousness falls away and I’m at peace with whatever is. But as soon as I step aside and watch what’s going on, my ego gets a little freaked out.

While it’s definitely gotten easier to surrender and trust the gift of my vulnerability, it’s still not all that comfortable. When I feel raw and ripped open during my performances (which aren’t really performances per se, but music meditations), most of the time tenderness breezes through me and moves on. Once in a while it does stick around and I cry or feel a huge pulse of energy in my being and forget that there are other people in the room, but none of that gets recorded. It’s just a moment in time, preserved in the heart alone. When I’m in the studio, however, I have to listen to the longing in my voice for hours and that can get pretty intense.

Years ago I tried hard to conceal my so-called “humanity”. I wanted to be perfect and did everything I could to hide my insecurities, frailties, and sensitivities from the world. As you might imagine, that didn’t work too well. The thing with perfection is that it’s a huge illusion, but it looks so damn good to the mind. While the illusion still entices me sometimes, I’m learning to see it for what it is: a pretty little lie. That’s because trying to be perfect is like sticking your hand in a cloud and expecting to find something solid—it’s impossible. There’s nothing inside of a cloud but vapors, and as soon as you try to grab some of it, the whole thing vanishes. Perfection is the same way—it doesn’t actually exist, but oh how we want it to. There’s something safe and stuffy about the idea. After all, if we strive for perfection, we never really have to take a risk or reveal ourselves to anyone.

Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage,” and I absolutely agree. It takes courage because the only way to be creative is to jump off a cliff and trust that we’ll fly, or at least have a soft landing. Just like love, in the creative wilderness there are no guarantees. We may end up with something lovely, or not. There’s no way to know what’s going to happen when we set sail into the wild ocean of the soul. Whether we wish to make a painting, write a poem, cook a meal, or love another human being, we have to follow Rumi’s advice and “dive into the boiling sea of passion;” otherwise, we may never transform.

In my humble opinion, the true artist must be willing to burn­—because in that burning her false self-concepts turn to ash so something new may emerge. That burning doesn’t have to be painful—it’s just that we have to let go and surrender in order to birth something and the mind doesn’t like that very much. But the creative journey really can’t be forced. Sometimes things flow, sometimes they don’t. The trick is to not get attached to either polarity, but rather to trust in the underlying energy. (In case you’re wondering, I haven’t mastered this.)

Ultimately making this album is just a brilliant opportunity to drop my ego games and let the music come through as it will. That is the most important thing because the music I make has nothing to do with me. In fact, the main reason I sing is to let go of "me". I don’t sing to have a career or manufacture a new identity. I sing because it helps me unburden my heart and create more space inside. I never set out to be a singer or recording artist, never mind a music producer, but apparently that’s what is meant to happen. It’s humbling, and sometimes it’s hard. But I also know that it’s righter than right, so I keep moving forward without any idea how things are going to unfold in the next moment.

In some sense everything already is perfect—we just need the eyes to see it; that’s what a lot of wise beings say anyway. Since the mind is full of preferences we often miss this. That's because true perfection doesn’t have an agenda; it’s a total acceptance of what is. I try hard to remember this, especially when Perfection says, “Can we try again, my love? I promise things will be different this time.” But I know they won’t be different, and if I keep going back to him this album will never get done.

Bye, bye, Perfection. It’s been amazing. Best of luck finding another flawless woman to shack up with. Love, Carrie


come back, giridhara


O friend, I sit alone while the world sleeps.
In the palace that held love's pleasure the abandoned one sits.
She who once threaded a necklace of pearls is now stringing tears.
He has left me.
The night passes while I count stars.
When will the Hour arrive?
This sorrow must end.
Mira says: Lifter of Mountains, return.

(trans. by andrew schelling)

reality check


Last Friday was my birthday—May 4th. It was a pretty strange day since I just arrived home from Australia and everything was upside down, but I ate some chocolate cake, slept, and contemplated the meaning of life for a few hours. I suppose it was nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that my body digested dessert as a 34-year-old for the first time.

Birthdays are a bit bizarre. There’s so much pomp and circumstance about them, though in truth they are poignant reminders that our days on earth are dwindling. Forgive me, I don’t mean to get all morbid and depressing here, but it is reality after all. Most of us know our birthday, but none of us knows our death day. The mystery of that is what adds incredible vulnerability, tenderness, and beauty to life. It’s also what drives some of our asses to the meditation cushion as fast as possible.

A few years ago a dear friend died on my birthday. She got sick suddenly and left her body shortly after. I found out on the morning of my 32nd year and felt really off-kilter the rest of the day. Yes, I was deeply saddened about her passing, but I was equally shaken by the truth of impermanence that her death smooshed in my face. In an instant I realized how quickly things come and go—like flashes of lightning in the sky. One person’s birthday is another person’s death day, and that’s just the way it is. In fact, this year Beastie Boys' rapper Adam Yauch died on my birthday too; yet another reminder.

The whole life-is-fleeting thing fascinates me. Some moments I feel grateful for the preciousness of being, so tender in its transience. Other moments I weep, knowing that nothing in this world belongs to me. At times I really do wish I could be one of those rare beings convinced about the interdependence of life, or perhaps a Zen master aware that she was never born and, thus, will never die. But alas, every year when my birthday comes around I still believe that I am my age... and I eat cake to celebrate this oh-so-lovely illusion.

Fortunately there’s another, gentler way to look at the whole birthday thing—with gratitude. Gratitude is what I’m trying to cultivate these days because it makes such a huge difference. Though I often feel like a little girl who has no clue how to navigate her way through the universe, at the end of the day I’m just thrilled to be here on planet earth—singing, writing, breathing, listening to the rain, swooning at the supermoon, and stuff like that.

Sometimes I like to believe there’s a holy grail and that, as soon as I stumble upon it, all of my suffering will vanish like a line drawn in water. But the more I live, the more I realize that perhaps suffering itself is the Holy Grail. Sound crazy? Not to the Buddha. He understood that misery is just freedom in disguise and that beneath its choppy exterior lie priceless jewels of self-knowledge.

In his first teaching after enlightenment, Buddha named the big fat elephant in the room when he said, “Suffering exists.” That is the First Noble Truth and it’s quite a powerful statement. Why? Because  the only way to become free of suffering is to acknowledge that it exists in the first place. After all, if we don’t notice that our room is dark, we won’t bother turning on the lights!

Despite having different realities, I think all seven billion of us can agree that suffering is not the most enjoyable hobby. Still, those of us who are married to our egos suffer, plain and simple. The question is: What exactly is this thing called suffering and why won't it go away?

Unlike the dictionary definition of suffering, which refers to pain and distress, the Buddha defined it as a kind of uneasiness or discontent—what he called dukkha. In Pali, the language of the early Buddhist canon, dukkha is translated as “bad axle-hole,” du meaning “bad” and kha meaning “axle-hole.” (I hope you find that hilarious; I do.) A bad axle-hole is basically a misshapen wheel and it's no mystery that a lopsided wheel doesn't make for a very nice ride. Another way to put it is that dukkha is the uneasiness that results from bouncing through life. Once in a while it’s fun, but when the bouncing goes on for years on end it can get a bit tiresome. Unfortunately, a smooth highway doesn’t improve the journey much since the wheel is the problem and that comes along with us wherever we go.

But bad axle-holes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Buddha’s views on suffering. Instead of mushing everything together into a big ball of miserable, samsaric dough, the Buddha took suffering apart and broke it down into three main types: the suffering of suffering (dukkha-dukkha), the suffering of change (viparinama-dukka), and all pervasive suffering (samkhara-dukkha)

The suffering of suffering refers to the obvious: Emotional, physical, or mental pain. Discomfort. Anxiety. Broken relationships. Poverty. Disease. Death. And a host of other unsatisfying things that we simply wish would go away. This is the kind of suffering that we can discern most easily, but there are subtler layers, too.

The Buddha also said that we suffer because everything changes; nothing is permanent. Not that impermanence is problematic in it’s own right, but our relationship to it is. When things go our way, sure, impermanence is grand. “It’s all good, man. Yeah, this impermanence stuff—it’s no big deal.” When we stub our toe we’re glad as hell when the pain passes. When it rains for weeks on end we cheer when the sun comes shining through the clouds. Bravo impermanence! We love you.

But what about when our lover leaves, we get fired, sprout grey hairs, grow two chins, and all our stocks crash? Damn it! Impermanence, you suck. This is what the Buddha called viparinama-dukkha, the pain of change. In a world that is ever-shifting and full of uncertainty, we can never get too comfortable. Even with our fancy cars, tiny turbo iPods, and herbal elixirs, we can’t control the wind. Life is always changing: the seasons turn, the moon swells and shrinks (just like our tummies), the wood burns to ash, our best friends become our foes, and our foes become our friends. Though we know this, still we don’t know it. Somehow we believe that happiness comes from things outside of us, but the more we seek for it “out there” the more we feel estranged “in here”.

The third kind of suffering that the Buddha spoke about was all-pervasive suffering. This is the kind of suffering that is so subtle we hardly even notice it—like the underlying fear that we may lose something we really love. Since everything changes and nothing is completely reliable, at any moment in time we are susceptible to pain. Even pleasure contains the seed of misery for it, too, is transient.

While all of this may seem a wee bit sad, I actually feel it's a relief—like sharing a long-held secret. Though speaking the truth may be awkward at first, ultimately it sets us free. The Buddha knew this, which is why he said what no one else wanted to: that we suffer because of our desires and attachments. With his penetrating insight, he understood that all we need to do is be honest, watch what’s happening, and see where we’re burning up inside. We don't need to stand on our head or sleep on a bed of hot coals to get enlightened. We simply need to develop awareness and acknowledge what’s really going on because only from there can we truly make a change.

What often causes me suffering is expectation. I remember a few years ago my guru Amma said, “Spirituality is a destruction of expectations.” At the time I wasn’t too thrilled to hear that, but the more I contemplated her words, the more I realized how true they were. Expectation is very good friends with the word “should,” which I’m convinced is one of the most destructive words in existence. Should says, The way things are is wrong; they need to be different. The problem is, sometimes they can’t be different and when we expect them to be, we suffer. It’s a pretty simple recipe.

That’s where spirituality comes in. True spirituality sneaks into our little world of egoic fantasy and says, “Baby, you’re all turned around. I’m going to destroy some of your incorrect perceptions, okay? For starters, you’re not the center of the universe.” If that’s not a profoundly unpleasant message, I don’t know what is. But when we really want to expand, wisdom hears our call and illuminates all the places that we’re full of shit. Wisdom reminds us that we’re one speck of brilliance in a vast ocean of consciousness—no greater or less than anything else. And wisdom reminds us that, when we resist reality, it hurts.

Over the winter a friend came over for dinner and as we sat at the table eating black bean soup, he asked, “Why is reality so hard to accept?” It was a great question. Sometimes we see things clear as day, but refuse to accept them because they don’t mesh with our desires. For instance, when the sky is grey, why do we want it to be blue? Or when someone we love doesn’t love us back, why do we want to convince him otherwise? It makes no sense. Fighting with reality is nothing but exhausting because at some point we always lose.

So what to do? How about be kind to ourselves—isn’t that the bottom-line? Ultimately, that’s what I recommit to on each and every birthday: kindness towards myself, first and foremost. Without that, this beautiful mess of a life just looks messy. I'd rather see the beauty, soak my heart with love, and let life be.

Thus ends my soliloquy on suffering! As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate you.



‎"Heart" is merely another name for the Supreme Spirit, 
because He is in all hearts. 
The entire Universe is condensed in the body,
and the entire body in the Heart.
Thus the Heart is the nucleus of the whole Universe.


hide and seek


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this blog lately—like, why am I writing it and does it even matter? Today I’m honestly not sure. Some of my entries are so personal, and while that feels natural, I can’t help but wonder if they’re over the top. It’s a fine line between sharing from the heart and overstepping appropriate boundaries in the public domain. But what are those boundaries and who sets them?

One thing that I feel very committed to in my life is transparency—I think it’s so important. Not that I have to bare my soul to the entire universe and spill every deep, tortured, beautiful thought onto the page, but I do value the practice of self-disclosure; it keeps me real. However, it also leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable at times. I realized this when I posted my last long entry titled “On Sex and Stuff”. Just before publishing the piece I got crazy nervous and almost trashed the thing. Instead of being irrational, however, I emailed a very good friend and asked him to read it. He assured me that it was perfectly fine, so I took a deep breath and put it up.

Afterwards I got to thinking: Why do I need other people’s seal of approval before putting myself out there? It’s a pretty deep question. Can I just trust what comes naturally, without needing others to confirm me? Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I’m afraid to say the wrong thing or mess up, but maybe that’s the risk we all must take in order to express our truth. By choosing to put ourselves out there we do risk judgment, but we also open ourselves to those who wish to deep-sea dive into authenticity with us.

The other day I was talking to a friend and he asked, “Why do you feel the need to share so much personal stuff in your blog?” At the time I wasn’t sure how to answer, but later I realized that revealing certain elements of my inner world makes me feel more connected to other people. Though each person’s story is unique, we all share a common humanity. We all struggle and experience pain, pleasure, longing, fear, love, grief, and rage. What’s wrong with naming those things? Why must we conceal the raw material of our human journey?

Sometimes it seems like society encourages us to be superficial, to keep a lot of things hidden. For instance, how many of us even know where our garbage goes? We just dump it in the trash and forget about it. But in some places, like India, it’s not so easy to turn a blind eye. That’s because everything is out in the open—everything: dead bodies, garbage, flowers, shit, saints, and spices; it’s all mingled together. I was pretty blown away the first time I went there 14 years ago because my mind couldn’t make sense of the paradox. I saw the same thing when I lived in Crete for four months. In the markets, carcasses hung from ropes, skinned and bloody with their limp heads hanging. Not so over here!

In our sterile world the meat fits into perfect little packages with plastic on top and everything’s stacked nicely in sealed containers. We don’t have dead people lying in the streets and most of the poverty is out of view. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s an interesting metaphor. What do we hide from other people? And what do we hide from ourselves? I recently learned that the word “shame” comes from the Indo-European skem from kem, “to cover, to veil, or to hide”. Isn’t that fascinating? Many of us are conditioned to think that who we truly are is a problem, and we expend tremendous energy trying to conceal our tender heart; society trains us to be this way. The media tells us what we should wear, buy, eat, and think, and it takes a lot of courage to let those messages go and shine our authentic light into the world.

Personally, I never gave much thought to shame until a few months ago when I did something that brought it to the surface: I spent 90 minutes in an isolation tank. Have you ever been in one? They’re not the most common contraptions in the world. Basically isolation tanks—also known as sensory deprivation tanks or flotation tanks—are lightless, soundproof “rooms” filled with skin temperature saltwater. When I say “saltwater” I don’t mean water with a little swish of sea salt. I mean water with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts. 1000 pounds! Since the water is so dense the body floats effortlessly, which is supposed to be very relaxing. This relaxation helps the brainwaves transition from beta and alpha to theta or even delta, where dreams and deep sleep occur. As the frequencies slow down, they bypass the conscious mind and go directly to the subconscious where healing, creativity, and deep meditation are possible.

I’m honestly not sure why I decided to try the whole thing out—especially because I don’t like dark, claustrophobic spaces—but something compelled me to go; it seemed like a good way to see God, or at least chill out. It wasn’t until I made it into the pitch black, dead silent, salt-drenched tank that I realized what I had signed up for: A raw, wild meeting with my mind.

The whole thing was awkward at first. I couldn’t get comfortable and the salt burned my eyes, but once I finally surrendered to the water and let myself be held, there was nothing left but breathing. It was sweet and rhythmic, and all sense of heaviness and tension dissolved. After a little while I couldn’t feel my body because it had merged with the water. Initially it was nice, but then my heart started to race. I began to think about dying and living and loving and losing… and everything in between. My heartbeat was so strong and rapid that I could hear it reverberate in the watery space of the tank—and for a moment I actually wondered if I might have a panic attack.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, but as the wave of primal fear passed an image of myself as a child rose up in my mind. The image was so clear that it seemed like the little girl was right in front of me and she looked so damn innocent that I started to cry. In that moment I realized that whatever fear I may have felt as a child still lives in me and sometimes it affects my nervous system. I can get into fight-or-flight mode very easily if I’m not careful, and those seeds were probably planted in my younger years; I can’t say exactly why and it doesn’t really matter.

In the midst of that scene, an unusual query came to mind: “Do I feel fundamentally flawed and fucked up?” I stared that excruciating question straight in the eye and, oh man, it wasn’t easy. You know why? Because I realized that sometimes I do feel like something is inherently wrong with me because I don’t fit into other people’s boxes. Have you ever felt that way? If someone tells us we’re too emotional, sensitive, rational, lazy, intense, blah, blah, blah, eventually we start to wonder if those things are true—and we may even believe we’re wrong for being what we are.

But who is “right”? Who has the one true answer? Is there one? We’re all such different creatures, fashioned in our own unique way thanks to karma, family, education, culture, and infinite other causes and conditions. It doesn’t help to crucify ourselves for being what we are. All we can hope for is to meet ourselves—with all of our neuroses and gifts—with compassion and understanding. Then, through that tenderness and the support of other kindred spirits, we can slowly transform the compost of our erroneous self-concepts into beautiful flowers.

Recently I’ve come to understand that being a mature adult means taking full responsibility for my life and not pointing fingers at the world. It’s not always easy to relax into this, but more and more I see that it’s the only way to go. Sometimes I question if it’s really possible to shift the core beliefs that have been with me since childhood, but deep inside I know it is. In fact, I’ve experienced profound internal shifts many times—simply from looking at the stories I tell myself without judgment. Remembering that helps me take a step back when my old programming comes into view or I find myself in an isolation tank bawling my eyes out for no obvious reason.

Once in a while I fantasize about all the ways I could be “better”, but then I remember Osho’s brilliant words: “When you stop trying to improve yourself, life improves you.” That is quite possibly my favorite phrase. It’s silly, but I constantly have to shed the idea that everything will be perfect when… When what? When I obliterate all of my imperfections and get it all “right”? When nothing triggers me and I never feel sad or confused? That sounds nice, but it’s not really human.

I don’t know much, but maybe all that’s needed on the wild path of awakening is trust; simple trust that life will take care of us, just like it does with the flowers and the clouds, and we don’t need to worry so much about it. I’ve heard lots of teachers say that we really can’t judge our “progress” on the path. We don’t have the subtlety of mind to be able to see how we are evolving, so it’s better to keep on moving forward with humility, openheartedness, and faith that everything is unfolding just as it should. Even though sometimes it may seem like we’re on the divine hamster wheel, spinning and spinning, exhausting ourselves and going nowhere, maybe that’s because, in actuality, there’s nowhere to go! We’re already whole and complete, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Phew.

good reminder


My friend Rebecca sent me this photo - she took it outside of a temple in Thailand. It really is such a great message. Why take things so seriously, hold grudges, and live with a closed heart? This precious human birth is so very short. It's snowing in the Berkshires today—very soft and beautiful. Peace to you...

love note


I'm at my parent's place for the weekend. When I walked in this sweet note was on the kitchen table—my mom left it for my dad since she's out of town. The message completely touched my heart, so I took a picture of it. Even after almost 40 years of marriage, my parents still leave sweet notes for each other around the house. Isn't that nice? I went through a phase once where I hid love notes in random places—like in books at the library and on stranger's windshields. It was fun. Amelie inspired me. Have you seen that film (Amelie)? It's wonderful. I think I'm going to start doing stuff like that again—makes me happy.

on sex and stuff


I recently finished working on the February Sex issue of Common Ground magazine where I’m employed as an editor. It was a ton of work, but I got to read lots of fascinating material about sex, so I’m definitely not complaining. After contemplating the subject for four weeks, the only conclusion I have is that sex really is a loaded subject—in every sense of the word. We humans are so intrigued by it, yet it remains a mystery to most of us.

What I find interesting is the way that different people conceive of and approach sex. For some folks it’s no big deal; for others, it’s super significant. I suppose I fit in the latter category. Even though I’ve been out of relationship for some time now, I haven’t had any desire to go on the hunt for a bedmate, and dating lots of dudes just hasn’t appealed. Some single women I know go out with random people every night. They meet at bars, shoot the shit, smooch for a few hours, and part ways. Maybe I’m missing something, but that seems about as fun as sitting on an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic with no clothes on.

Perhaps I just have a very old-fashioned view of sex. While I certainly enjoy it as much as the next person, it’s not something I take lightly. Maybe that’s because I’m aware that sex involves so much more than physical intimacy—in many ways it’s an energetic exchange. In the modern world most of us are so uneducated about subtle anatomy and we don’t realize that, in addition to having physical bodies, we have energy bodies too. That means when we are physically intimate with another person, his or her entire being meshes with ours, like the smoke from two fires coming together. We don’t just enter someone’s body; we enter their essence. Isn’t that significant?

It’s unfortunate, but our culture really doesn’t offer a sacred view of sex. In the media and everywhere else, sex is portrayed at the grossest level—it’s all about performance, positions, and la petite mort. But if we actually knew how much was happening subtly when we merged bodies with another person, we might consider our consorts more carefully.

While I’m no expert on this subject (not even close!), it’s definitely something I’ve thought about a lot. I truly believe that physical intimacy can be one of the most powerful crucibles for deep healing and transformation. The Tantrikas of ancient times understood this, which is why they used sex for spiritual awakening. They didn’t just screw because it felt good. They practiced under the strict guidance of a teacher and used sex as a kind of technology to awaken higher consciousness.

Over the years I’ve been very influenced by Tantric philosophy. When I say “Tantric philosophy”, I don’t mean the watered down sex workshop version, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with that—it’s wonderful. What I mean is the Tantric view that this world is divine and every single shred of it is pulsing with a sacred life force. When we bring this perspective into the bedroom, it can turn a mundane sexcapade into a holy experience. For this to happen, no erotic acrobatics or obscure philosophical discussions are necessary. All we need is an awareness that our partner has a spark of divinity inside—a recognition that he or she is more than just a mound of flesh with genitals and a beating heart.

Although in the West Tantra is often associated with sexual practices, that interpretation doesn’t articulate the full beauty of the tradition. More than anything, Tantric images of deities embracing are symbols of the ultimate union between energy and Spirit, or form and emptiness. They remind us that all of our ordinary activities—sex included—can be portals to greater love and transcendence. Pop culture often overlooks this subtle meaning, which can be dangerous. We need only look at scandals in the yoga world to see how some people toss around words like Tantra, but lack the integrity, accountability, and discrimination to put those words into practice in a healthy way.

At the deepest level Tantra is a way of life, not a bliss fest relegated to the bedroom. After all, any schmo can read books on sensual massage, semen retention, orgasmic ecstasy, or whatever else, but what’s so great about that? Good technique doesn’t make someone a nice person or even a skilled lover. In my humble opinion, being a good lover is all about presence. It’s about being a good listener, a good senser, and an openhearted human being... but that isn’t always easy! If it was, we’d all be enlightened. Maybe that’s why lovemaking—just like eating, walking, or breathing—is a great vehicle for spiritual practice. Like watching our breath in meditation, as soon as our mind wanders we can gently bring it back to the present moment and the amazing human being before us.

One definition of the word tantra is “loom”, which is perfect since Tantric wisdom has helped me weave together the different parts of my being. Years ago I had a bad habit of compartmentalizing my life into boxes—namely, worldly and spiritual. I felt that only certain things fit inside the “spiritual” box and sex was not one of them. I never felt that way in my late teens and early twenties, but at the age of 22 everything turned upside down.

It all started after college when I became a full-time spiritual maniac and spent hours reading books on non-dual philosophy, renunciation, and the nature of suffering. Although I was living with my guitar-playing, poetry-writing, tofu scramble-making boyfriend at the time, I was convinced that our relationship was a roadblock on the path to enlightenment. This belief threw a little wrench in our less than perfect partnership and eventually, after five years of being together, we packed up our cozy cabin in the woods and went our separate ways. He moved down to Atlanta to pursue his music career and I went to India to try monastic life on for size.

For almost six months I did my spiritual practices like a good devotee and cheerfully served food in the ashram cafe. Even though my white clothes were stained and I spent most of my time meditating on God-iva, overall things were grand in nun-land. There was only one minor problem: I didn't really want to be a nun. Sure I wanted to get enlightened (whatever that meant!), but I also wanted to live a vibrant, sensual, creative life. Who knows why, but it seemed impossible to do both. So I stashed my desires away in a nice airtight container labeled "repression". Every time I felt sad about the end of my relationship, I pushed the grief away with platitudes. Every time I felt angry, I forced myself to forgive and forget. And every time I felt lonely, I snuffed out my desire for companionship with an arrogant, know-it-all attitude: Come on, woman, only weak people need affection!

In the name of liberation I was so hard on myself and, after a few months, my heart shut down to the joy and beauty of life. All I wanted was to be a strong, surrendered, devotion-soaked lover of God, but instead I felt divided inside—like there was a deep fissure in my being. On the one hand I desperately wanted to drop everything and live a monastic life, but on the other hand I craved intimacy and connection; by the time I left the ashram this internal split was painfully obvious.

The late sage Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “Don't pretend to be what you are not; don't refuse to be what you are.” Isn’t that brilliant? In India I felt so damn sure that spirituality had to look a certain way and I was determined to make my life fit into that story, but it didn’t work... at all. Although I knew there was ultimately no separation between “worldly” and “spiritual” life, I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.

Have you ever felt divided inside? Maybe not divided about “worldly” life and “spiritual” life, but about something—a relationship, perhaps, or a job? It’s the uncomfortable feeling that two (or more) parts of our self are at odds with each other and, in order to keep the peace, we have to suppress one part. For instance, we may be in a relationship that feels untrue in our gut, but breaking free of our lover’s arms may seem so scary that we just stay there and rot. It’s amazing how we lie to ourselves sometimes... but those lies can’t last forever. If we keep turning our back on truth eventually the pressure will become too intense and we’ll snap—at least that’s what happened to me.

After being single for three years upon my return from India, the force of my suppressed desire for intimacy became too much to bear. I remember exactly where I was when the big shadow looming over my celibate life came into view. I was standing in my kitchen in Boulder making oatmeal when all of a sudden I felt like a huge cannonball was shot through my solar plexus. Leaning against the sink, I burst into tears. Initially I had no idea what was going on, but then this intense desire for physical affection emerged from deep within me. It was palpable and so painful—a yearning I had pushed away for far too long.

Maybe I was afraid that if I opened myself to love again I might get caught in a quagmire of suffering and attachment. After all, the saints and sages said that desire and attachment were the cause of suffering—and I had experienced the truth of that for myself. So why share my heart and body with another person, only to fall off the path? Why get caught up in my desires when I could sublimate them in service or sadhana (spiritual practice)?

It seemed like an obvious choice to just steer clear of all that messiness and enjoy life on my own. But there was another issue in the mix: I was afraid of intimacy and found it safer to hide behind a fortress of spiritual teachings. I didn’t want to risk getting hurt again, so I tried to conceal my human longings under a shroud of indifference. It’s not that I was insincere in my quest; it’s just that two parts of myself were fighting with each other. My fears and old wounds were all mixed up with my higher aspirations and it felt impossible to heal the rift.

Smack in the middle of this unraveling I got sick. I’ve written about this in other blogs so I won’t go into too much detail, but basically my life force vanished like a shooting star and it didn’t return for a few years. There were many reasons for this, one of which was absolute exhaustion caused by trying so hard to be someone I was not. The yogini in me wanted to be like the Buddha and cast off the world, but she wasn’t a Buddha yet—at least not a mature one. She was a woman who wished to give and receive love—deeply and passionately—as well as a spiritual seeker who wanted to bust through the illusion of separation and ego.

As I accepted this truth, things shifted. I ended up meeting the kindest man who taught me so much in the two years that we were together, and I began to embrace the principles of Tantra in a real-world way. The teachings helped me see that I didn’t have to cut myself in two. Instead, I could live one integrated existence and use everything in the service of awakening. It was such a relief to realize that I didn’t have to renounce the world and escape to a mountain cave; I could weave my desire for spiritual expansion into the very fabric of my life.

Tantra helped me understand that the body is not something to reject, but rather it is a temple for the divine—a scripture that tells the rich story of our current incarnation. When we invite someone to read this story with us, anything is possible. That’s because the body isn’t just a pleasure factory; it’s more like the wilderness, filled with gnarled roots, bright flowers, and unknown mysteries. Every single thing that happens to us in life is stored in the body, even if it’s just an energetic imprint. These imprints can be healing and beautiful, or they can be painful in the form of trauma and unprocessed emotions. When we open our body to another person, we create the fertile conditions for both wellbeing and wounding to arise, which makes us incredibly vulnerable. That’s why it’s so important to trust the one we open to because, in touching our body, he or she also touches our soul.

Of course we can have sex and feel nothing, just like we can eat food and not taste it. But we can also express love through our physical forms and turn it into worship. This may sound like some romantic fantasy, but it all depends on how we define worship. To me, it’s about being transparent with the universe. When I sing that’s a kind of worship, but the practice isn’t always pretty. Sometimes I cry or feel really pissed off. Other times I feel so grateful and relaxed. Whatever happens, it’s all part of the process. Isn’t lovemaking the same?

Who just shows their lover a smiley, happy face? In intimacy everything spills out—and if the love is genuine, there’s room for all of it to be there. I think that’s the beauty of sex. We may not have 1008 orgasms every time we commune with our partner, but that’s not the point (unless, of course, we just want to get off). Orgasm or not, sex is about sharing love, and when we share love any part of us that resists love will arise; that’s what makes it so powerful.

When we dive into another soul, we never know what’s going to happen. What makes these connections special is that we don’t share this kind of energy with most of the people we meet in life—we only gift it to a select few. While some folks are more promiscuous than others, chances are that even if we have hundreds of lovers, we don’t let all of them see our tender heart. That’s risky, eh? But what do we really want when we make love? Sure we want the pleasure, but maybe more than that we want to forget ourselves. For just a few moments we want to stop thinking and obsessing about our self-centered existence and disappear into the vastness of our true nature.

This is such a deep subject—I could keep writing and writing. For now, I’ll stop here. Thank you for reading, sweet blog reader. I appreciate you!

love tree


“What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to taste each other’s sweat and feel the delicate pressure of finger on chest, thigh on thigh, lip on cheek? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to the birdsong, to watch the dragonflies hover, to look at your lover’s face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving together in the breeze? What if the point is to invite these others into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, to experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?"

DERRICK JENSEN, A Language Older Than Words