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I’ve always been afraid of earthquakes. This is a rational fear. As a Californian, the experience is inevitable. No matter how well you prepare, even with so many childhood school drills…you never feel quite ready.

Likely because earthquakes are largely unpredictable.

Sure, there are studies showing patterns and trends that give some level of predictability… like looking at the history of movement in a region, detecting where pressure is building along fault lines.

But we never really KNOW when the ground beneath us will decide to shake.

I guess my biggest fear is that it will happen while I am alone. Currently living on my own for the first time in my life, the chances of this fear realizing have increased. There are moments at night in between dreams that it grips me. What would I do if “The Big One” hit? What would be my route of escape? Would I have enough food/water? If trapped, would I have the courage and strength that survivor stories are made of?

Panicked, the scenario continues to expand beyond my walls:

When will it be enough? How will I pay all these bills? Where is home really? Will I ever be a mom? How can I take care of my parents later?  Are soul-mates found or created? Am I doing any of this right?

Tremors build into quakes, full-on quakes. Rolling and rumbling, uprooting some things and bringing others down… to pieces.

There may be some indicators. Perhaps with more mindfulness, the climbing pressure could be sensed, diffused in some way. The ground could remain steadied for some time longer.

But, with time, the floor beneath our feet will do what it needs to. And, when it does, what is there to do?

Nothing more than this: find sturdy support for protection, have a small prayer on the lips, and just ride it out.

[image: Caltech, Pasadena]

Christine40thBirthday_0067This was written to present to my guests at my recent 40th. Such a memorable occasion this party was, that I had to share it here:

My 30s started much like this. Theme party. A mix of 80s music and salsa. Contagious positive energy.

Throughout the decade, life shared it’s sense of fun and mystery, wonder and risk, gasps and cheers. Pulled in from the audience, I was no longer a spectator, watching safely from my seat, sipping on soda whispering opinionated comments to companions. I was an animated participant , taking on varying roles when called to.

The tight rope walker steadies herself in intention. The rules are simple. 1. Make it across to point B. 2. Do not stop for too long. 3. Do NOT look down. There’s no other course of action, really. No other choice. It’s a matter of focus and determination to get an end result. If doubt enters, she feels it in the rope. Slight trembles can shift into rapid shakes. This can make for a graceless performance. People will hold their breath. People will stare. It’s ok. She takes a moment to fix her gaze, to relax into her path. She will get there.

Upon first glance, no one knows the extreme pliability of the contortionist. Just like everyone, she stands in line, maneuvers through crowded streets, sits in cafes with friends. It is in moments of tough choice, moments of compromise and negotiation that she twists herself, one limb at a time until the upright body distorts into something unrecognizable. Only while maintaining the form of her soul, is her flexible nature beautiful.

The magician is a master of illusion and surprise. In playful spirit, she keeps people guessing ; wondering what else can be pulled out of that hat. At times, the enchantment disguises other things: self-doubt, loneliness, fear. At times, there is nothing left up her sleeves. Standing there vulnerably, palms open, the tricks disappear. What you see is what you get.

Possibly the most valiant performer is the lion tamer. Poised and commanding, she looks at the beast in the eye. Sure, there are traces of fear in her as she walks forward; it growling, intimidating. In a last ditch attempt to put her in her place, it bares it’s sharp teeth wide. The struggle is inward and for a moment, she stops to take a deep breath. Then, with new found conviction, she raises her voice above its noise that sharply quiets into a softened purr.

The clown is the comic relief. She’s a reminder that throughout this string of acts there’s humor to release suspense, to tame fears. She embraces the ridiuclous and encourages belly laughter. While juggling many things, she maintains a smile, knowing all too well that this thing can’t be taken too seriously. She is the wild color that brightens the show.

I suppose the inspiration for this party was a mix of things: the artsy venue, an excuse to dress up, my love of Natalie Merchant…
It all just made sense to me. That, while these last couple of years, in particular have been topsy-turvy, unexpectected, and a bit of a spectacle…life is strangely wonderful. I expect my 40s to be no less of the greatest show on earth.

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“Phantom pain is pain that feels like it’s coming from a body part that’s no longer there.”

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Nights ago, a sudden movement caused from a dream I can no longer remember stirred me. My right hand hit the side of the sofa bed against the wall and I heard myself mutter in a groggy voice, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

I’d shed off enough slumber to realize that no, there was no one beside me and yes, I’d just given my bed an apology.

I sunk into a soft sadness.

It had been months, nearly a year since I’d shared my space with Craig. There were countless times an unintentional kick or quick flapping movement of the body had us whisper “sorries” in the night. It’s part of sharing a space, a bed, sleep. While sometimes irritating, there is something of a comfort in knowing that someone you love is to your right, curled on his side, breathing in rhythm. An added warmth on cold nights, there is an assurance that as your eyes weigh down in rest, they will lift to see that person, familiar and constant.

When gone, it is a strange sensation.

That morning as I stared at the ceiling, I felt like something was missing, a part of me, an appendage even. And it stung in pain. It hurt.

What do you do when eleven years of familiarity seem to disappear? How do you cope with such a shift in life? Where does that energy of work, hope, love go to?

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“For some people, phantom pain gets better over time without treatment.”

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There are a number of things people do to manage large life change. Dive into work. Exaggerate exercise. Dance. Meditate. Breathe. Engage socially. Challenge a fear. Anchor onto the words of sages. Over-indulge. Experiment with new surroundings.

Sleep.

Sob.

Scream.

Scribble feelings.

It’s all ok. No one has the right treatment. Nothing uniformly works…except maybe…time.

Because whether it’s the sting after ripping off a band-aid or the twinging pulsations felt in a new scar, the pain is there to inform us of this: that there was something big enough to feel, and as with all wounding things, time is really the ultimate healer.

[image]

letgo

My 2.5 year old niece recently taught me a lesson. It’s not the first time this has happened; little people have taught me before.

The lesson came in the form of song. Not just any song. The trending song of little girls everywhere, Frozen’s “Let It Go”. Naya’s rendition, however, lacks resemblance to the actual song. Why? Because she picked it up at daycare, mimicking all the other little girls who sing the song on repeat, who sing it like their very own anthem.

It took a while to figure out what she was singing. But, one thing is certain; you can’t mistake her belief in what she’s singing. Even Joey, the dog (hiding under blankets in her bed) is audience to her passionate plea.

(please excuse the poor quality)

Everyone I’ve shared the video with has fallen apart laughing. It’s endearing. How many times have we sung our own versions of popular songs only to later find out we were a bit off?

Yet, Naya’s performance offers so much. A glimpse at unadulterated joy in doing something creative. An admonishment to just “put the phone down (already) and dance”. A reminder to LET IT GO….AND MOOOORE.

So what should we let go of?

The frustration when obstacles seem to get in our way. The disappointment when we fail to receive the good news we’ve been hoping for. The fear that prevents us from trying something new.

Naya’s song not only inspires us to relinquish our need to have things be “just so”, it also gives us permission to grab that mic or plastic megaphone and sing our hearts out following our own tune.

Girl-in-The-Rain-Autumn-Ann

in the middle of the morning, under the season’s first real rain, i stepped into a korean memory behind glass doors on San Pablo Avenue. paper lanterns of varying shapes dropped from an exposed ceiling and Asian furniture adorned the space creating small areas that catered to soft exchanges among tea drinkers.

an elevated bamboo platform encouraged us to remove our shoes and my legs folded with familiarity over each other on a colorful seat cushion. the smell of steeping herbs calmed the vigorous nature of hours before and my hands cupped a welcomed heat. this experience imported quick flashes of favorite spots discovered on strolls in the cobbled streets of Insadong nestled in the heart of Seoul.

there were, though, imperfections here.

for one thing, there was much too much open space-not enough hanging wooden bird cages nor small niches to hold a ceramic animal or bowl. the tea pots and cups lacked charm and delicacy. the classical music played was misplaced. the hostess smiled too openly.

yet, engaged in the exchange of stories from faraway places with a soulful stranger, i felt connected for the first time in a very long time to a reality of life that seemed to have vanished along with 2014.

[image by Autumn Ann]

so a while back i shared a bit about some uncertainties around my health. after some weeks of waiting, procedure, recovery, waiting, i have received confirmation that all went well, that my body is healing, that there’s no malignant anything to worry about. in the Dr.’s words: so, yeah…you’re ok. go ahead and get on with it (life).

i stepped outside the UCSF Medical Center, out of the shadow of the building and into the delicious October sun. blue sky above, a frenzy of city activity around, i stood aware.

in this whole experience, there have been levels of awareness. awareness of vulnerability and fear, of wondering whether i should worry or be present. awareness of my blessings and of all the things i’ve yet to feel, do, be. awareness of how true it is when people say each day is a gift.

and so in the spirit of this gift, i revel in joys and continue to just be aware.

 

















Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 7.52.44 AM“Find beauty in the sad parts”. ~ Monica 8.22.14

It is all too easy to want to numb, hide, run away from sadness or pain. Who, after all, wants to feel sad? We’ve long attributed such feelings as negative, as though something is wrong and we scramble to find away to be ok again. But, what if we could just be with discomfort? Recently, this message was shared with me:

We hear a lot about healing these days, but less about accommodating woundedness: allowing it to be there without needing to remove it.
This willingness to recognize the presence of suffering and refrain from interfering with it is a powerful theme…
…the heavens point to the need for compassionate patience which allows ourselves and other people to be imperfect, in pain, struggling without needing to intervene to make things ‘right’. They remind us that ‘right’ is whatever is in the moment, not a particular version of life that we prefer.

It is natural to find impatience stirring when it comes to healing. Aching to get better quickly from an illness or surgery. Jumping into work to avoid emotional conflicts. Distracting ourselves socially in order to silence what comes when we’re alone. Yet, these methods fall flat, postponing the true process of healing.

Being wounded does not make us weak, it makes us human. And, part of this experience is to exercise humility, gratitude, and compassionate patience while we strengthen in our own time.

[image: ripening persimmons]

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