Monthly Archive for March, 2012

i’m so in love

I took this trip to find this feeling, this falling. I am falling totally in love with myself! this is one of the ‘goals’ of this time that was gifted to me from so many loved ones, and the learning i am doing is deep and clear. and it’s marvelous :-)

here’s what I have learned so far:

loving myself is not the end of how I have been – it’s the acceptance of who I am. it is taking responsibility for my safety, my joy, my ways of being, for any pain I cause, for any work to which I am called being done well.

loving myself is not the forgetting of all I have done – it’s the remembering of how I have lived, how I got here. it is being awake and intentional about the ways I live, the choices I make each moment of each day for the time I have.

love for myself is not limited. it is an infinite pool from which I can pull compassion, truth, forgiveness and brilliance. it is the darkness where i can always find rest and restoration. it is the source of the love I give to my family, lovers, friends…and there is still so much to give to everyone and everything I encounter.

loving myself is an action and a way of being. when I love myself, I am not lonely when alone, or bored when I am still. I sit in the way of love and become present to all the life around me, the constant beauty and miracle that grows with my attention.

it is in the spirit of this learning that I declare my smitten-ness, my solo blushing, my unconditional gift: my radical love for myself.

Just kidding, totally still scared of nature!

I made it to the retreat center on the big island of Hawaii, and it is truly gorgeous. 

Once again, I’m sleeping to the sound of the ocean, and deeply in nature. My room has only screens on the windows and two of the shower walls.

In fact, it’s a 15-minute walk through the jungle to get here. Which is daunting and awesome during the day, just lovely. Literally everything is larger than me, and just jaw dropping in the sun.

And it all becomes my number one fear at night – specifically, walking through any kind of woods, swamp or jungle at night. I read a borrowed book in Tulum called Divergent, very hunger games-like. One concept was this fear test where they run you through a virtual reality composed of your deepest fears. Mine would mostly entail being alone in nature at night.

Im ok in a car, ok behind windows, ok in a tent surrounded by other tents and close to the bathroom, ok with any kind of barrier between us. 

But just me, raw meat walking through the jungle? 

I just walked it at night for the first time, and it took every somatic training tool and deep breathing self-talk technique I know.

I thought you might appreciate some of this. 

First, when I realized what it was, in the afternoon, I tried to determine how I could get someone to drive me here, or walk with me, at night. 

Even thinking of doing that made me feel I was falling off my unfear wagon. 

I half remembered a quote from dune, ‘I will not fear, fear is the death bringer.’ (it actually goes: fear is the mind killer, fear is the little death) 

and in the afternoon it didn’t look bad except for the final stretch to my room, which is like a tunnel of jungle.

I dive in caves! 
I drive through strange new countries alone at night!
I battle scorpions!
I will probably love this!

Night fell like a wet blanket over the wild fire of my brave intentions and quotations.

And it rained, so it was wet dark jungle. 

…But I dive in wet dark caves!

My talisman thought crept forward at the edges of the multitude of worst case scenario fear voices in a stage whisper.

Off I went with the little keychain flashlight they included on my keys,  and a massive umbrella I borrowed at the front desk instead of asking for an entourage. 

It stopped raining five steps into the darkness, but I figured creator sent the rain to help me arm myself with a massive weapon.

After all, even if the 100lb wild pigs they told me about haven’t attacked anyone else ever, there is a first time for everything. 

The sounds of birds and insects and night jungle creatures is otherworldly. It’s gorgeous and unceasing, and i think it’s saying, ‘this is our time, and you are outnumbered.’

I saw avatar, I know my relative insignificance in an uprising of nonhumans, even if im an armed and bug sprayed human.

Once the clearly marked solar nightlight path ended and I was on the dirt road less lit and more jungled, I started murmuring. 

‘nature is not out to hurt me. To kill me. If i die out here, nature won’t have meant it, it’s just being nature. I’m basically food. I’m not at the top of the food chain at this moment. And it would be death by natural causes. Groaning at a bad joke is better than trembling and standing still til the sounds overwhelm you, so stop hating.’

This went on for a while. I was making it.

Then I entered the jungle tunnel, where the jungle was thick and dark at midday, and felt close and incredibly full of strange sounds at night. My body was a taut wire, tight through each muscle and nerve. The murmuring went internal – if they can’t hear me they can’t eat me.

‘walk quietly. You don’t really need to breathe right now. Just keep swimming, keep moving. Shhh, don’t worry what that is, mind your business. Just look where the light is. Just keep the light on the next step. The light is like a blinder if you use it right. Eventually you will get through this, or you will at least die and you can make papa and grandma brown and Blair laugh at you in the afterlife for dying from fear. Almost there, see that’s a star, that’s all of orion! Oh sorry keep your eyes on the rocky path. almost there, don’t look at the bug by your door just turn the key, there you go, close the door. Now breathe! Alive!! Winning!!!!!’

I made it this time. By and with myself. It took a long time to untighten, but I can grow this now that the first seed is planted, freedom from fear through self challenge, through facing the fear and continuing to walk right into it. 

My logical mind can reason through it all, but fear usually doesn’t come from that part of my brain. I like to think its my ancestors reminding me, in this case, that wilderness is wild, and even if I can see the beauty, I shouldn’t lose respect. the idea of them all rolling with me is helpful, surely some of them knew how to survive in jungles at night.

My goal by the end of this month is to be able to make the walk at night on any of the paths. And to not just feel beyond fear, but to experience it as a beautiful incredible life changing walk.

talking with strangers

the sun is rising over hawaii, where in a couple of hours I will start a sabbatical program at the kalani retreat center. I had another epic travel day yesterday, waking at 4am to fly from costa rica to miami to los angeles to honolulu. I managed to stay awake most of it, so hopefully jet lag won’t be too bad.

along the journey I had really nice conversations with strangers. I met an elderly couple from new mexico, an irish banker girl all decked out in day-early st. paddy’s day accessories, and an elderly hawaiian man going home for a visit. each conversation was sweet, about love, family, doing what we are passionate about, health. I have had lots of conversations like this in my travels.

the elderly woman from new mexico said I had a truly beautiful smile.

folks who know me well may remember that generally, I avoid small talk like it is a plague destroying the lives of millions of traveling americans, and also that I’m an introvert who deeply prefers to be alone or one-on-one with close friends, though I can give the extrovert boom when needed.

I travel with headphones, eye masks, books, magazines, journals to write in – I love the quiet anonymity of travel, looking out the window while traversing time zones.

but here I am, talking with strangers, and enjoying it.

one key has been avoiding the small talk conversation. I don’t initiate the conversation, but if someone starts up with me, I don’t do my usual conversation exit strategy move of smiling, nodding and going back to my reading. I ask something related to my own emotional processes these days – health or love. I share that I am on a sabbatical supported by my community, seeking my health, and i speak about doula work, being a writer and wishing that I could just do that, facilitation as a life skill, being an aunt, daughter, etc.

so far, every time, the other person is willing to jump into that deeper conversation and skip the ‘what about this weather?’ or ‘insert travel complaint session here’ routine. I have been amazed by what has emerged in these conversations:

1. I love detroit so much, though I am away. I love blowing people’s negative assumptions to hell. I am not traveling to be away from detroit or even winter, just to get closer to myself.
2. under the small talk, people are so hungry for authentic connection.
3. the shift is in me, i am getting so much out of setting my normal judgments, critiques, assumptions and dismissals aside (I am a Virgo y’all, this is hard, it’s as fast as breathing to me) and pursuing whatever brought us together.
4. the world, the humans in it, are much more complex than a lot of my political views normally account for.

I’ve always been drawn to the gray areas in issue work, and in people…the part that can’t determine whether something is good or bad, the part which has to rely on the pull of the heart, gut instinct, prayer, the circumstantial, what emerges from being present rather than being strict. for this reason, no single religion has held me, though I love mashing up sacred works and myths and histories and beliefs.

this talking with strangers has a similar yield – I don’t have to buy in or agree with these people aout everything, but I love hearing how they love, where love is hard, how they take care of themselves, especially elders.

I am aware that the passing of my grandfather has probably opened up my longing for deeper connections with older generations. I rode a horse the other day for the first time since he passed, he the great horse whisperer of the south, and felt my grief and longing all over again.

the lessons within my own family (accept the infinite shades of gray and let love clarify action), those lessons apply with these strangers. if I approach them as teachers, slivers of the divine, I can see them in their complexity and curiosity and wisdom, and learn.

it may seem small but it feels like a radically different way to be than I have been for most of my adult life. in order to articulate solid critiques, I have been good at quick assessment, at speaking to the distinctions of my people, my races, my gender, my sexualities, my community, poor vs rich, etc.

now I am learning to articulate love, and my wholeness, seeking my connectivity to others, seeing that the distinctions are only useful in so far as they help me see and be awed by the intricate richness of the whole.

years ago, in ny, people used to ask me for directions. literally, on the subway, street, wherever I was. I once counted something like 118 days straight where I was asked for directions. surprised each time, and usually able to give a next step, if not the whole journey.

over the course of this journey, that has also started again. each time I travel and often just walking around in new places, people have started asking. and, since my experiences in morocco and costa rica especially, I have started to notice people who are lost or need help. and offering up myself – ‘do you need a hand? can I help?’ it isn’t to be charitable, or be an angel, but just to be a better human being. to be aware of other people, of ways I might have something they need and vice verca.

it is an awakening, for me. what humanity needs is to reawaken to each other, to the little spark of creation in each of us, to our multiple vulnerabilities, to our need for each other, and to our interdependence. these two unplanned practices – talking with strangers, and being helpful – now feel like more honing of the new muscles I need for the world I envision for myself, my niece and nephew, my loved ones, and for everyone through extension.

kindness, curiosity, interdependence. silly to have to learn these things, but I was born and raised in an individualistic time. so I have go to school, in my own way.

now, one more short plane ride and then I get to be in one beautiful isolated naturally stunning place for a month and half! so I get to hone the muscle over a longer period of time :-)

wish me good learning.

my battle with Thing (oh, THAT was a scorpion?)

the other night, my only night completely alone in this isolated jungle home after my hosts left and before my sisters arrived, I did battle with what I now know was a scorpion.

I had the house locked up and the lights turned down, and went in the bathroom for the reasons we all go in the bathroom at night. and there, between myself and the sink and toilet, was a creature that looked like a massive spider had mated with a crab and then shellacked their child in black latex.

I’ve been getting all cool with nature, but with the general unspoken agreement of ‘no monsters in the bathroom, please’.

I stepped out of the bathroom to see if there wasn’t really another person around to handle this. after I confirmed that the nearest person I could ask for help with any dignity was over 3000 miles away, I checked to see if it was still there. affirmative. 

not dead, not giving ground.

I talked to it for a little while in a calm and yet shrieking whine: ‘I don’t know what you are (what ARE you???) but I need this space and I can’t use it if you’re there (do you eat people? are you strong in multitudes like an ant? are you a tiny alien???) cause there’s too much unknown.’

this yielded no response.

I went and got a glass and a newspaper, still in conversation with myself, which is just how I am these days. it’s comforting to create sounds to let out fear.

plan: cover Thing in glass, slide paper under, take thing away to outside.

reality: trying to capture Thing in glass, I learned that Thing can dart sideways really fast like a crab on speed (based on Yale research on speedy high crabs). so fast, in fact, I dropped the glass and it broke. 

but not on Thing. 

(ok, self, this thing is the size of the palm of your hand and you just threw a glass grenade at it, what’s wrong with you? its probably the truly terrified one, the hunted! calm down. just go away for a while and it probably will too.)

(but why hasn’t it left yet?? and where will it go, what if goes IN the toilet like the big moth the other night?? {thats another whole story} I want to pee now and later and brush my teeth and I Can’t until Thing is gone.)

ok.

plan b: cover Thing in non-breakable glass, which you can’t see through but also can’t break, slide paper under, take Thing away to outside.

reality: me yelling, ‘I’m not trying to kill you just go in the cup. just go in the cup!! is your brain…do you have a brain?? oh god!!’ while failing to drop the cup quickly enough about 23 times. finally finally I get Thing in the cup against the wall except for one antennae part. I slide the paper under! but Thing is more slender than the paper and instead of being neatly contained in the cup, Thing is now somewhere between the newspaper and the wall.

I stun-bap* Thing through the paper where I think the head might be, and drop everything. and back out of the bathroom to gather my strategic thoughts. 

i consider that I may have to go sleep outside in the jungle, or at least pee there. deep breath, back in, I lift the paper.

Thing is there, but seems dazed. I cover Thing in plastic cup, carefully get paper under, and then Thing comes alive and nearly knocks itself out of my container.

‘no! no, Thing, you cannot stay here!’

there was much magic maneuvering to get my two handed Thing contraption out the locked two handed front door, but I managed. I closed the door behind me, exhaled, and had a good laugh at myself.

today, as I tried to describe it to my sisters, I realized it really wasn’t a spider, or a crab. so I looked up images of scorpions in costa rica. and there amongst the larger, tailed variety, small and tailless and black and harmless to humans, was Thing. 

Thing was, and is, a tailless whip scorpion who moves fast side-to-side on six legs with two massive antennae and has some social behaviors, unlike most scorpions. 

here are pictures!

Thing, and the process of dealing with Thing, reminded me of my emotional processes, sometimes. 

upon seeing the large, though relatively small, and unknown uninvited emotion – and feeling scared – I try to talk myself, and the emotion, out of the confrontation. 

then I realize I have to deal with it if I want to be free of it. or learn from it, or whatever is required to evolve.

then with much flailing and breaking things and self-cheerleading, I get the feeling clear and then laugh at myself for having been so scared of something so relatively small in the grand scheme of…living creatures, and/or the emotional realm.

from fear to acceptance to action. quellchrist falconer, an anarchist revolutionary in richard morgan’s takeshi kovacs series, says, ‘face the facts. then act. face the facts, Then act.’

the faster I can go through this process, the healthier I feel. 

so, now, I’m adding this to my list of accidentally brave things i do, after dives in caverns, and drives alone in new countries at night: battles with scorpions, faces actual emotions and fears, and wins.

(sometimes.)

* stun-bap is the technical term for a light non-smashing touch designed to disorient a smaller opponent. probably learned this from art of war or something.

In and of the world

This place might be the most remote and wild place I have ever been, certainly alone.

There are so many sounds, I am learning them. The geckos laughing on the ceiling, the different buzzing of mosquito versus wasp, the wide guttural holler of the monkeys (smaller in person than their big roar suggests), the choral pulse of the crickets.

At the grocery store yesterday I watched birds in mating ritual. Last week I watched iguanas have sex, bats traverse an underground cave. A family of doves visits the poolside every afternoon. Massive bugs and spiders like to hang on walls near me, katydids near the door.

There are a host of creatures to keep an eye out for, tarantulas, scorpions, snakes if I want to walk too far, an aggressive jungle twist on a raccoon.

Here and in Mexico I have been pushed into much closer communication with the natural world. The soles of my feet are changing from the time spent directly on the earth. The sun has changed my color, in some places my skin peels from over indulgence in all that light.

I wake up as the sky gets lighter. The other night I sat around a ceremonial fire and watched the moon rise and orbit through the sky, stars falling towards me. Most nights I don’t make it an hour past sunset though, and I can’t quite believe the schedule I keep in the city.

I’m spending an immense amount of time renegotiating my love and fear of the natural world. I just finished Nalo Hopkinson’s beautiful Midnight Robber about a girl from a teched up future being exiled to a parallel universe where she has to learn to survive in the bush. Im not in the wild in that sense, but the beauty of moving closer and closer to the rhythms, cycles and processes of the earth feels radical to me.

I espouse love for this planet, but I don’t always practice it. It’s harder in cities obviously, all that concrete muffling the connection, anything wild fighting for its life and living off our waste.

One thing I love about Detroit is the way nature is encroaching on the city, working out a new balance of things. But it’s still so toxic. It’s been good to be in the minority of creatures, remember my respect and relationship with this world, in which my role often mindlessly vacillates from absentee lover to virus.

I sit and look at it. I wonder about these monkeys who seem to love each other, at all the mating and dying, I wonder if the inability to reason is true, I wonder if it makes things easier.

Im starting to imagine tattoos that reflect my sense of relationship with the world, all the ideas are bigger than my skin so far.

I love it out here, and I’m shifting beyond fear into love. How sad to think that I have been scared of the organic world and felt safe navigating the concrete and the thousands of human strangers. Out here I am beginning to understand, remember, that the world isn’t out to get me or hurt me. It’s just in constant emergence, surviving and evolving and changing and cycling through to the next moment, hour, day.

There are times when only nature can hold space for the healing we need. There are times when we are predators, prey, budding, blossoming, blown away, sucked under, still and taut and stuck, running for our lives, or completely at peace – we look like every aspect of this world in the course of any given day.

We all have a calling within that, a primal thrust. We are not apart, in spite of the walls and the pavement, that’s an illusion. We are, all of us, in and of the world.

I find a great comfort and spaciousness in that, so I offer it up to you, wherever you are.

Go outside.