Monthly Archive for February, 2012

stories we tell (gracias tulum)

the main lesson I am leaving tulum with is this: I am not the stories I tell on myself. I spend a lot of time crafting a self for the world, without much consciousness, and then feeling beholden to being that conglomeration of stories.

here, far from those stories, I indulged in ways I am, perhaps new stories.

my story is that I am afraid of the dark, but today I floated down deep into that fear in caves, caves full of bats, caves far from a surface, caves empty of any light save that from the flashlight. I had to breathe deeply, not look back, not think about the earth above me…eventually I reached my wonder, and started going deeper, closer, darker. it was like flying through space on another planet. the darkness around each corner became delicious. there’s a whole world to look up under!

my story is that I can’t finish a good thing, but this trip I finished a story that is incredibly important for me to tell, liberating to have on paper. it’s done, and I can edit if I want to, but fundamentally, it is sacred and complete as it is. bravo!

my story is that my body can’t do things, keeps me from doing things. but actually my body is incredibly strong and capable, and the more I do, the more I can do, and the more I want to do. the more I walked, the more I remembered the beautiful feeling of a well-used body, the joy of activity. and I pushed myself up against the fears of what my body can and can’t do, there are real limits, everyone has differing levels of physical capacity. but within that there is pushing and sweating and feeling the heart push your blood through because you are doing something that makes you grin at yourself.

my story is that I can’t be alone, but oh god I love love love it! I got homesick for different specific things, especially seeing little round brown blonde boys in diapers and wanting to hold and smell my nephew. but mostly, I read books, created things, talked to myself out loud and with jokes, and loved it.

when there is no one around to uphold the old stories, it is easier to relinquish them, perhaps. no one here knows I’m scared of bats and darkness, so maybe I don’t have to be, just to see how it feels. and now it feels like an old story, and a new one is, I dive in caves. I can add it to other stories of my bravery: I swim with sharks, I travel alone, I put love first.

drew dellinger, in a lovely little book of cosmic poetry in Jodie’s bathroom, says ‘the future belongs to the most compelling story.’ I invite you to think of the stories you hold about yourself, which may be outdated, past stories. and the stories we tell, as communities, movements, about ourselves and what we want, and particularly who is responsible for our happiness and well being.

where is it time to pretend no one is watching, and write the story for the future? why not go ahead and put pen to page, just to see?

thank you tulum, for the healing, paradigm shifts, caves, bats, lime soup, my one solid spanish word (gracias) and that gorgeous constant ocean.

on to costa rica :-)

Cenote!

I just got back from my second day of scuba diving. I forgot that scuba diving is my happy place. I’m glad I waited til near the end of this trip or I would spend all my food money on dives.

Yesterday was in the ocean, it was incredible and kind of scary, big waves. I got seasick after the dive, clinging to the side of the boat while I relinquished whatever was in my body that could be taken. But it’s the ocean underneath, gorgeous coral and tons of fish.

On the way back the guide said, the cenotes have better visibility…I had decided no cenotes for me after being told they are ‘caves where Mayans did sacrifices, full of ancient glacier water and bats, which you get lowered down into on a rope.’ naw son. The way bats and I work is by coexisting without seeing each other.

But actually there are tons of kinds of cenotes, i learned, all fresh water, some are exposed underground rivers, some are glacier melt, they are sacred in different ways. So I signed up.

Wow! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen – truly another world, I think gaudi designed it. The Cenote we went to, casa Cenote, is open on the top, with mangrove trees all around. You swim under their roots and the rock and dirt that holds them, caves and algae that looks like red shag carpet, cracks in the rock that feel like flying above the very center of the earth. There were snorkelers too, but they don’t get the caves, that’s where you feel the mystery of existence and gravity and time.

So now I am researching dives in costa rica to do with my sisters, and dives in Hawaii. What a perfect gift/skill to remember. There’s lots of study on the physical and emotional healing properties of diving. My body feels strong and capable, and I feel brave again.

Tomorrow I’m going to get in one more dive before packing up my cabana. This has been a truly perfect two weeks, creative beyond my wildest imagining, and I think I’m sleeping 10 hours a night, I get tired when the sun is gone, by 8pm. Feels like I am catching up in years of sleep, as my body and mind restore.

I know this sounds all tropical heaven influenced, but I find that most of the things which are restoring me are everyday activities. Sleeping, creaove time, walking meditation, listening to music and not doing anything else at the same time. I have to remember this.

there’s even time for dreams.

Awake

What a good day. My senses, my awareness is awakening so much in the absence of my ‘doing’ life.

I finished NK jemison’s inheritance trilogy today, marvelous and imaginative and truly places the mortal-divine construct in a new light. Then sunbathed a while, went in the ocean a while.

Then I went to the ruins, which I will write a whole post about, but I was blown away by three things: 1) I smelled my grandparents home in the jungle on the way into the ruins and it felt like a love note from my grandfather, 2) I followed a trail of ants for half a mile til they went too deep in the jungle for me to follow but wow, there must have been millions of them so focused, and 3) I was overcome by a sense of humanity’s future, a tangible longing.

I walked home in the darkness on the beach, challenging the fear usually produced by my active imagination (is that a seal? A dragon? Oh god…oh it’s a log. Whew. Safe once more!) and watched the moon, Venus and Orion come out. The scale of it all.

Then a white cat crossed my path. That must mean good luck.

Tomorrow, I’m going scuba diving.

Self love project

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Self love project

I have been doing a self-love project for about three weeks now (yes, basically my whole trip) and I wanted to share components of it. I’ve done it before in a non-paradise context, and it is amazing how quickly it yields results. Reading this may make some of you uncomfortable, in which case i advise doing a self-love project immediately.

There are no rules to break, no quotas for the day, no requirements even. It’s just a set of principles and beliefs in application, things I always know but forget.

If you need more self-love in your life, try this. And let me know if you have other pieces you do!

Self-seeing: The first piece is based around a Rumi quote my girl Jodie has brought into my life. I have it paraphrased in my memory: ‘whatever you truly see, you are that.’

I have spent time looking in the mirror, taking and drawing self-portraits, all with an eye towards truly seeing myself, and particularly seeing beauty when I see myself, seeing the wholeness, the vitality, the health of myself. 

Sometimes I have to look for a while, there’s a lot between me and those mirrors…but if I give it time, I always find myself in love with what I see.

If I want to, I affirm it out loud by declaring my love for myself (which sometimes sounds like, ‘damn honey you look good’…or in the spirit of dj rimarkable, ‘honey!’)

Self-listening: there is a hafiz quote I have been given at least four times in my life, paraphrased – ‘listen to each person as if she is your great teacher uttering her last words.’ 

I have turned that quality of deep listening on myself, particularly on my body. 

It feels like a tuning in, and it’s amazing what I hear if I have a degree of sacred curiosity. Asking what it means, what it means when my body feels restless, what it means when my tummy feels full, when my skin needs touch. As a result I have been walking miles each day, eating less, getting regular body work. 

I feel attended to, and a general undertone of anxiety which usually permeates my life, the work of quieting the suppressed voice, is slipping away from me.

Self-romance: a Sufi-poet-loving pleasure activist once said, ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away’, and this is still fairly true. 

But as in any romance, at least where a female-minded person is involved, the orgasm is just the miraculous magical exclamation point on a beautifully crafted, thoughtful, titillating sentence. 

its limiting and dependent and unhealthy to have passion and romance only in the context of others, so I have been romancing myself – making myself laugh out loud, looking for the best day possible each day, rubbing on my booty while I read, getting more limber in my yoga practice, being naked as often as possible – generally reminding myself throughout the day that I am delicious. and then, aligned with the listening practice, having really amazing sex with myself whenever I want to. Really amazing, like ‘does this qualify as a super power?’ kind of loving.

I think it’s nearly impossible not to love yourself if you are having really amazing diverse deep good sex with yourself. Self-romance!

Self-worship: this last piece is largely inspired by my friend Gibran, who says a quote all the time – om namah shivaya – and he explains it, again paraphrasing from memory, as honoring the god within yourself, in each action, and by honoring the god in others. 

I work with this in my own way. I have a tattoo on my left wrist that says ‘fragment’, and it was initially meant to remind of my relative insignificance. I have a bad habit of taking myself too seriously, which leads to a lot of worry, stress, and the sense that I can control things which I absolutely cannot control. 

But lately I have been thinking of it a little differently: that I, just like every other piece of existence, am a fragment of god, of creation, of the divine. This is why my body feels so much, why I have so many creative ideas, why i can experience awe…because I am a tiny piece of a whole that is magnificent to behold, to even conceive of. 

So each day I have been doing little ceremonies to honor the fragment of creator in me. Some days it is meditating in gratitude, some days I pull a goddess card (in the way that Adela Nieves taught me to pull cards), some days I sage myself, some days its playing alice coltrane while i do my yoga, some days I reach out to those I love who are not part of this world anymore…each day it’s different. But each day it’s something that honors the part of myself that is sacred because it is connected to the whole. 

This has resulted in a sidebar practice of compassion and reflection for myself and others. If we are out of touch with that sacred whole aspect of ourselves, what sadness! I honor all of the people who have seen my holiness when I have been unable to, and I look for it now in others I meet, regardless of how absent it may seem. If they breath, I must be able to find it. (Even in loud drunk tourists!)

So that’s the whole thing. it’s lots of little actions each day which accumulate, there is no checklist, no one to whom you are accountable for doing it other than yourself.

But it’s works. And it feels wonderful.

Mexico 1

last night I landed in Mexico after about 40 hours of travel including taxis, wheelbarrows, trains, airtrains, buses, and planes through four countries on three continents, and including meeting up with my friend in NY to hand off cold weather items and my entire Moroccan shopping spree to go home to Detroit.

today was a sort of day off from my vacation – I got my laundry clean, slept a lot, and got lost in cancun, far from the hotel zone and beaches, and super aimless. it was nice to sleep and to walk, to see all the markets and babies and VW bugs and just be in the sun.

I tried to find a Mayan healing clinic I was told about and ended up in a rather fascinating experience…up some stairs in a back room covered in violent jesus imagery with a guy who nodded when i said, ‘donde esta los limpias?’, using a computer translation program and an egg. the traditional healing I have previously experienced was from elder women with rosemary and juniper bundles, reiki, stone massage. I really need to get better with Spanish, because I think we were having a complex conversation, with a lot of good will and intentions, but the translation program wasn’t able to keep up…still, I’m going to sage myself tonight. that egg looked all bad.

I will try again in tulum!

tomorrow I begin the beach cabana sun on my skin piña colada yoga part of the sabbatical. I’ve been doing my sun salutations, now i want to integrate more balance poses.

I also have my workbook to work through from dr. schubiner (http://www.unlearnyourpain.com)as a huge part of this trip is learning about my aligned mind-body-spirit health, so that I don’t just achieve vacation health results, but long-term healthy practices.

I’m so ready to slow down after a fantastic whirlwind start to things. its been too easy to stay in the plan-and-do mode. today i went to do my laundry and the woman at the laundromat wouldn’t let me, explaining that its her service. i didn’t argue, just paid well and told the universe, ‘got it’, and went back to sleep for a while.

the thing about being abysmal at languages is that when I am alone in a country and don’t know the language, I can’t escape into charming banter and small talk, into the distracting field of new people and new stories. I have to just sit here with my stories, my questions, my inner work, my spiritual practice, my body.

I’m hearing so much more of my own voice already, it feels like getting to know someone after an absence. I didn’t know I needed so much unstructured time to hear myself.

and all the sudden its here, the time of not doing, the time of being. the dynamic tension of being alone for a while is right here, terrifying and thrilling and plentiful. and I’m noticing that I want to email, facetime, facebook, chat, scrabble, and call everyone I have ever known. I’m going to resist that desire, and lean into the contradictory one, to be out of touch.

I know, or at least have read many times and experienced in my life, that leaning into my discomfort is what opens the transformative space. my discomfort is not having a to-do list or anyone needing something from me…if I’m not needed will I continue to exist for other people? or is something else needed from me, which can only emerge if I slip out of the current paradigm? and what do I need from myself?

this space feels like an intervention on myself, AND a declaration of love and commitment to myself. I feel an elevated sense of presence and awareness and even scale of myself as a living thing. so much of our human experience is irrelevant simply because we aren’t actually present for our lives.

I am arriving.

ah Whitney

this is two posts at once but it’s really two things.

on the train ride from fes to casablanca I put on ‘how will I know?’ and sank all the way into my Whitney grief. which meant crying like a baby in my little cabin while all these sweet women tried to comfort me, though I couldn’t explain…they didn’t know what ‘whit-(sighing hiccup)ney’ meant.

it’s just another life’s journey, and I want to have no judgement of her, but this was not how it was supposed to go for Whitney. not Whitney from the Whitney Houston album. not Whitney who promised to always love me in that incomparable voice.

I’m not into this aspect of getting older – not only do I have to lose and mourn loved ones i knew and held, but also those who shaped my culture, my singing, my pop culture sensibilities?

Whitney was young, and a mother, and an addict on the rebound, and she finally walked away from Bobby (right?) and aren’t you supposed to get rewarded by God with a little more time if you make a good effort to walk away from the shitty path and try the promised one that was born out of your spectacular vocal chords?

I wanted Whitney to get the movie version of her life, the great come back.

as I have felt with so many artists – fame is a hungry beast, and keeps devouring our best. we should protect our greatest talents, but we put them under our microscopes, helpless as ants in that heat. our love appears to be fatal.

my experiences with grief have taught me that even if it’s 90% likely that the person is in a better place, it still feels unfair and too soon and wrong for those left with our jaws dropped.

only we aren’t surprised to lose Whitney, anymore than we were to lose Amy, and even Michael. and given the talent gifted to us through these artists, when we don’t feel surprised, we should at least feel some massive collective shame.

how can we do better by the creatives? how can we honor them, without crushing them?

Whitney, rest in peace.

ah fes

sitting in the Casablanca airport for another epic journey – casablanca to Frankfurt through JFK to Cancun to Tulum. luckily I love this part of it as much as being any one place. sometimes I think my earliest memories are of being in transit, urban nomad, opt-in gypsy.

I want to share some thoughts before I go.

I didn’t cry coming in to Africa, but as I left Fes I found myself very emotional, crying and full of dueling emotions. it will take a long while to process…

first, the overwhelming beauty of the people and the place can’t be overstated – it was just kindness and sweetness and being surprised by the generous way people received my ignorance, my questions, my needs.

but in and around and under that there was so much that was in the way of being able to authentically connect.

first, the legacy of colonization. I’d mis-remembered my sister autumn as having a dream that we were from morocco…it was actually an ancestral reading she got, which said we were Moroccan royalty.

maybe yes, maybe no, but it’s Africa, and I definitely come from somewhere here, right?

I was aiming to have no expectations, but of course underneath that was a surprising great massive shuddering pulsing longing which would not be denied – are you my motherland?

then here I was surrounded by men and women who looked like me. not kind of like me, or like my cousins, but exactly exactly like me, and my father, and my sisters. I took pictures of children that I sent to my sisters because they could be our childhood photos.

but…

but here I am, in this place, and I am so ignorant!

I can’t speak Arabic, can’t speak to the lovely Berber woman caring for my hosts’ children (who could be my sister), can barely speak the colonizers language of French to my host’s gorgeous childish young Moroccan wife.

I am not prodigal here, I am a tourist and an outsider.

the work of slavery and colonization which separated my ancestors from this place was so thorough…the wound is cauterized on both sides, if that makes sense.

the other piece, same but different, is capitalism.

no matter what I said, what my work is in the world, how I experience my own class and privilege, however self aware I may be? here, I am a wealthy American. because wealth is very very relative. and as a woman alone, I was a wealthy American woman traveling alone.

the power dynamics were subtle to me at first, and when they became clear it was painful. there was incredible kindness partnered deeply with incredible need, sprinkled with class assumptions. i was scolded for cleaning up after myself, and served hand and foot even after I demurred…oh no no no…they think I’m rich!?!

and, yes, I had some of the most powerful talks with those who definitely needed me to buy something from them.

a few times I purposely hung far back behind my guide, testing the waters of how it would feel to walk around alone. each time I was immediately inundated with compliments on my beauty followed by invitations to see some wares.

how could I believe anything I was told, when it was all part of a sale?

me being me, I felt bitter in the first stage of awakening to reality, and i kept trying to connect without buying.

then I remembered – I am relatively wealthy, I can get a small carpet and a mosaic and some oil and a jelaba and some shoes, it’s all for less than I make in a day’s work. and this is what I want – to redistribute wealth to those who need it, based on real assessments of who has what, the work we contribute, and our needs.

so I shifted my approach. I had fun with it, said what i could spend up front and honored the skill of the sale of these ancient handmade crafts…and i bought quickly so I could then linger and truly talk. or at least a little more truly. this led to a different connection – gifts, sister gifts, invitations, endless tea, massive cheek kisses. and everyone claiming me…I must be Berber, Fesi, from the Rif mountains, am i sure I don’t live here? I was hungry, and fed.

I connected most deeply with the young children, who are not yet active parts of the economic constant of tourism as a primary industry. we laughed and played and giggled and sang and were equals.

before i go back I want to be fluent in French and functional in Arabic, and I want to go for a while, so I have more time to get lost, as that led to the most magical experiences of my trip.

and fuck France for colonizing these beautiful people, and goddamnit but slavery is a beast of a legacy. but I have had my first taste of ‘home’, bitter, sweet – I will need more, and soon.

Barcelona to Morocco

This might post…I am in tangier morocco relying on the kindness of strangers. I’m at the train station with a stranger named Fouad who seems to be helping me because he was the only person around who spoke French and mine was too bad for him to send me off alone.

Last night I slept on a ferry from Barcelona, after a last lovely day touring the small streets of the old city, marveling at the streets lined with everyone’s laundry strung from balconies, children free and playing in every square. I bought euro clippers after killing my u.s. ones, so the hair is fresh.

Last night was dreamy, sharing histories and health tips with my moroccan cabin mates, one older and one younger and both with lots of advice for me, in a mash-up of French, Arabic, Spanish and English.

I got to see Gibraltar and befriend a bunch of kids who made eyes at me whenever I walked around the ferry.

I thought I might cry when I saw Africa for the first time, but instead I started grinning and haven’t really stopped.

***

Got interrupted earlier by the train departure and now I am delirious, but overjoyed.

That may have been the best train ride of my life, with four Moroccan men who just adopted me and wouldn’t let me go astray. The first i mentioned earlier, Fouad, was on the ferry with me and somewhat reluctantly started helping me because he spoke the most French and no one spoke English. He became kind of my uncle, ordering me around to the right taxi and train station and transfer.

He befriended three young men, one of whom is studying English, so Fouad made him our translator when I was clearly no compris pas. That young man, Adil, wants to visit Las Vegas. We’re going to Facebook. I didn’t know how to tell him Vegas takes, morocco gives…it didn’t matter at the moment, we were mostly pleased with our attempts to bridge the language barrier. He is 16 and thinks I would really love the Koran because I seemed very nice.

After we transferred, which meant running across train tracks with our luggage in the dark and waiting for a train that no one was sure was coming, Fouad got me a seat in the full and completely dark train. It was next to a very long-limbed man with the most beautiful face ever. He woke up when I sat down and demanded I have a bite of his snack, a muffin, before passing out again. 2am in morocco.

We finally pulled into Fes around 2:30 and my host was waiting on the platform like a British angel with spectacles. He and his French wife are making love upstairs in this gorgeous riad in the Fes medina, with a wedding partying somewhere, while I drink whiskey, eat soup, mourn Whitney and count my blessings.

Tomorrow I will post some pictures of this place, which looks like exactly whàt you think of when you think of morocco – gorgeous tiles, pillows, balconies, doorways, cloths, down narrow ancient alleys.

Tomorrow.

Right now I am just blown away by how clearly and simply I need other people, which I usually try to deny to myself. And how, by being alone, I am interacting with so many more people than I usually do, in such amazing ways that don’t take energy from me, but seems to feed and sustain me. This may all seem simple but it’s major for me.

After 45 straight hours of travel, it’s time to take a real shower and sleep in a real bed.

Bonsoir!

releasing great expectations

i am almost two weeks into this journey, and realizing that one of the biggest pieces of work I need to do is in releasing expectations.

I have been longing for this trip as long as I can remember, or some variation of it. I’m not a backpacking couch surfer, but the idea of solo travel, time to reflect with unplanned, unstructured days stretching into months…I have hungered for it.

so as with most things in my life I have played out potential scenarios, selected the perfect ideal trip, and set up fairly massive expectations of myself and the world to deliver that trip, pronto.

letting go of my plans and the lists of things-I-must-do-when-in-”place” and actually being present to the people I am meeting, the places I am seeing – so much more is happening than I expected.

this may seem simple, but for me it is a hard piece of work. I can already see the deep relationship between all my daily expectations in life and my disappointment, hopelessness, exhaustion, self-deprecation. i am so busy most of the time trying to map out the future that i am tripping over my present, which is full of teachers, joy, surprises, and love.

i also notice, (and this is very small, very initial, so it may not quite make sense) my expectations are shifting from external to internal. I am starting to have greater expectations for how I show up and how present I am in my life, rather than how I want the world to yield me a great life.

my last observation for now is this: the clearer my sense of self and purpose, the less I feel burdened by expectations. without expectations, the present becomes more possible, the futures that can come liberated into multitudes.

this also feels like a blessing of not-knowing, and being at peace with that.

tomorrow I board a boat for the completely unknown, and I am open to what’s coming.

adding this because it’s on time (from real detroit weekly horoscopes):

‘You over-worry about how things are going to work out. Recent changes are so new you haven’t got your bearings. If you’ve settled in enough to meditate on what’s next, you know that it will be born out of what’s going on right now. Stay true to yourself and remember that life doesn’t have to be as hard as you make it.’

Barcelona 1

I have fallen so in love with Barcelona! and I haven’t even been to the beach yet!

this is mostly because of gaudi, an architect and visionary who created these sumptuous space travel underwater looking magic buildings and spaces all over this city. he is teaching me another lesson about creating: if there are things within you which have no translation in your world, it is that much more imperative that you articulate them in tangible form. to introduce something new to the world, which is the best argument for why you exist, and to show others that there are still new perspectives to be explored, that humanity’s greatest contributions of beauty, of the sacred, of love, may be before us still.

I also love the architecture, walking the city, the calcotes, the tapas, the familiarity to other European cities, the unique mixture of this particular place, the squatting movements, the friends of friends I have gotten to eat and play with, the way spanish is not the first language here at all – I’m learning a lot, a hot mess of words keeps coming out of my mouth.

still having a hard time relaxing, so today I tossed my plans out the window.

besos!