IMG_8107

sweat lodge at The Land

I’m not one for saunas. I’ve always wanted to be, but there’s something about sitting in hot steam that makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the difficulty breathing. Yeah, pretty sure that’s it. 

My particular challenge with sauna type spaces began a while ago. I’ve lived in places where this practice is culturally relished. Tunisa’s hammams only really drew me in because of their beautiful architecture of billowy arches and ornate tiles. Yet, I could hardly withstand the hellish heat of these steamy traditional bathhouses. It was definitely not one of my common practices while living there.

Like the Turkish bath houses, Korea’s jimjilbang are also a unique experience. Gender-segregated areas are furnished with hot tubs of varying temperatures, showers, and traditional kiln saunas. I made it a personal goal to try it all, including getting my skin scrubbed off with exfoliating loofahs by a no nonsense ajumma in no nonsense underwear. Hurt like hell, but at least I left with baby soft skin. 

While, I’d sworn off saunas, I recently found myself at my first Mexican temazcal. My friend explained it as a spiritual sweat lodge and while the spiritual part enticed me, the sweat lodge did not. I hesitated. She persisted. There would be a full moon that April night. It would be cleansing. It would be magical. 

A sucker for magic, I said yes. 

Caravanning over with a handful of other expats, I felt more comfortable knowing I was not the only novice in the group. We listened to the experienced ones who cooly shared, “It will be great.” Trickling out of cars, we made our way through a Mexican family’s dusty backyard. Smiles greeted us as we ducked under clothing lines heading towards the small, brick dome in the back. 

Preparations ensued with the men taking off their shirts, women wrapping sarongs around their hips. The ceremony leaders/shamans were a young American woman and a tall Mexican man with long braid hung down his back. Smudged with sage and feathers for cleansing, our incantation consisted of words of gratitude and humility as one by one we bowed and crawled into the dark space. 

I tried to be strategic as to when I entered, wanting to be standing in the open air as long as possible, but not so long that I’d be cramped being one of the last. 

As the fifth one in, turns out I was cramped anyway. It was declared that the turn out was higher than expected which would make for an excellent temazcal! I could feel the enthusiasm of the experienced ones because of this. With each person entering (a couple dozen in all), the small space I’d created for myself in the dirt diminished making it hard for me to share in the sentiment. Skin touching skin, I was sandwiched by strangers and my world became acutely uncomfortable. I started to squirm. The calm of preparations alluded me; my mind began to grip for methods of escape.

The stones glowed as they were slowly and respectfully placed in the center pit. Steam curled upward, still visible as the entrance remained opened during the final minutes of preparation. The stacked pile hissed and chirped like baby birds while a water dipped bouquet of herbs hit them increasing the steam, encouraging the heat. 

We were given warning when the tarp came down to cover the opening. We were told it would be pitch dark and that the heat may get so intense some may feel queasy. We were prepared with words of conviction, ones that linked us to each other as a sacred communal body. We were given coping practices. Breathe slowly. Lower your head to the ground for cooler air. Let yourself be in the discomfort. 

Even with all of this, I was not prepared. Within seconds of the door closing, I honestly felt like I would die. 

A friend once said, “As people, we spend our lives avoiding suffering.” While I like to be challenged, favoring hard situations isn’t a natural inclination. I think most people would agree. Skirting topics that may be divisive in conversation, maintaining the joyless job because it’s what we know, choosing numbing over healing our bodies; these are the easier things to do. Life is already hard, why create more discomfort? But, here I was doing just that. 

My occasional bouts with claustrophobia came on in full force. I strained my eyes to see something, anything, and it was just black. This intensified the feeling of being trapped. I could not move my legs. Knees to my chin, I hugged myself attempting to hide my nostrils from the steam. The heat grabbed hold of my lungs and my uneasy breathing swirled into a form of inner panic. 

I wanted out. 

Seconds away from being the first one requesting to exit only after a couple of minutes in, I found my saving device. The woman sitting to my right (who would later become a dear friend) took in even breaths in a slow, measured way that caught my attention. I decided to mimic her and follow her breathing. My heart slowed down and I felt as if I had returned to the present moment. It was incredible and I felt indebted to her for saving my life in that moment. 

Eased a bit, I pressed my head between my knees seeking cooler air. I tried to be with the discomfort as advised. Applying what I learned in yoga and meditation, I gently ushered negative thoughts away again and again, letting other pieces of the moment come forward.

The evening continued with tribal drumming, call and repeat song, and beautiful prayer. Instruments were shared and we united in sound. An homage to women as creative forces of the world brought me to tears and in a deeply inward moment, I conversed with loved ones who had passed. 

The 120 minutes broke up into segments where the tarp lifted momentarily and air and light brought relief. Isn’t that just like life? Pain + discomfort followed by quiet + relief…and then, repeat. 

The last minutes of the temazcal were the hardest. My mind, which had been silenced for some time, was whispering louder. “Are you getting any more out of this? Haven’t you experienced all you needed to?” I got up and asked permission to leave. One person called out: “Complete your journey, sister.” The others echoed. I considered ignoring them. But completing this ritual meant something. I sat back down and hugged myself again. How often do I do that? Hug myself. I decided to let go those last minutes, to take in this intensely individual and wonderfully bonding experience and leave control behind.

Outside the full moon greeted our sweaty, dusty bodies. We washed ourselves with buckets of water under the night sky. Taking seats here and there, we shared in eating fruit and hydrating with water. When ready, we packed in our carpool, a soft air of calm enveloping. Somewhere along the way 4 Non Blondes came on the radio. And, just like that, we all sang in unison: 

Twenty-five years and my life is still

Trying to get up that great big hill of hope

For a destination.

Why that moment produced such a spirit of “right on”, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the collective energy of goodwill and the intention of hope. Maybe it was being washed in moonshine after being challenged in the dark. Or, maybe it was just celebrating the ease after the discomfort.

Advertisements

moon

My sister recently experienced the pain of a miscarriage. It happened while in Mexico several destructive earthquakes shook the foundation of people’s lives. This is for her.

for Monica

in the trembling, the plates made new space
that wasn’t there before.
this movement, unexpected and harsh
left the living cradling in shock and then,
weeping in sorrow.
dreams and plans had once stood brick by brick
where the rubble heaps are large. branches that reached high sit broken below, in places they don’t belong.
and although the sun continues to rise, time stands painfully still.

but, the plates made new space
that wasn’t there before.
and amidst the chaos and panic, a small glimmer emerges.
sun beam and moonshine rests upon once darkened corners.
looking up, the sky seems to stretch long and wide.

in the absence, presence is elevated. 
a word, a touch, a smile takes on larger meaning.
the laughter of a child is a sound of hope.
kindness of strangers helps heal.
loss breaks us open and in that there is air, there is light.
yes, the vacuum feels brutally empty still, but some days the message comes in clearly: “create again.”

and so with courage, with humble conviction,
we blow away the dust to forget, pick up the pieces to remember,
and do just that.

[image]

san-miguel-de-allende-wall

San Miguel de Allende came to us like a wish come true. For a bit over a year, David and I had felt the swell of population, the pressurization of inflated prices, the unsettling political demise. My four year return to life in the United States confirmed a lot of things for me:

  1. The Bay Area had lost a bit of charm for me.
  2. Life didn’t have to be this hard.
  3. I thrive seeing the world from new places.

Read More

flash

“Flash” by J.T. Kade

Joining the rest of America a couple of days ago, I viewed the Access Hollywood video of heinous remarks about women further damning any trace of morality/humanity in someone holding the title of U.S. Presidential nominee.

I closed my laptop. I cried.

These were not tears of fear or sadness though. They were tears of rage.

This had been some time coming. The build up of so many months being force fed filth, stupidity, and degradation stoked a burning anger that could no longer be neglected or ignored. My coping mechanisms had lost their affect. I had tried to engross myself in work, to avoid the media as much as possible, to hope hard that this was all one awful prank.

I’m not proud of this. My responses were wrapped up in a smallness that give a false sense of escape. Beyond my tipping point, the physical reaction of a racing heart, sick stomach and tears told me I was duping myself. Ignorance is not bliss.

I admire those engaging in the uncomfortable conversations online and around the dinner table. I am inspired by people like my boyfriend who leap into the grossness of injustice, the ugliness of racism and sexism with a roar and bite. I seek to emulate folks with an activist spirit like journalist and writer, Courtney Martin, who credits an upbringing of creating importance around honorable rebellion. In a recent On Being interview, she shares:

“So one of the things I feel like my parents really entrusted me with was this idea that you should trust your own outrage. And sort of being able to honor that anger, to me, is one of the most important muscles of a rebel.”

Not everyone joins the rebellion in the same way; I know this and respect it.

But, for the sake of my four year old niece who is one of America’s next generation of empowered and respected women, for the millions of immigrants that continue to contribute greatly to a beautifully diverse culture and incredible work ethic, for the belief that my country is capable of modeling social progress, open-armed tolerance, and environmental responsibility, I will  trust my own outrage.

I will honor this anger.

[image]

 

 

 

 

nayathe quirky way she laughs is a combination of borrowing observed behaviors and the pure joy she gets in repeating an exaggerated gesture: throwing back her head, a wide smile, eyes brilliant, an occasional hand at the mouth, and hearing the sound of her own voice tickle.

with an absurd rainbow-unicorn towel, she envelops herself in music and movement, uninhibited. here she loses the stifling self-consciousness that often comes with viewing eyes, the recording iphone. a hop here, a twirl there. this is raw experimentation and it’s beautiful.

moments in the backseat of the car, she weaves reality and fantasy in breathless story lines that prompt questioning for clarification. her listeners will never truly understand her three year old truth, one that shape shifts and forms organically without effort.

when asked occasionally if she wants to be four, she shakes her head no.
” I don’t want to be old. I want to be three.”

I wonder, then, where does it go? the rawness of life experience, the one I witness in being with my dear niece.

And then, I’m reminded, listening to poet Paul Muldoon explain simply the loss of our natural poets, children, as they grow:
“I’m afraid that, too often, it gets educated out of us.”

when did we learn so wrongly?

blackbird in copenhagenThe record player spins on a well worn mid century modern dresser, akin to the cafe’s chairs and orb chandeliers. It’s all intentionally unpretentious with framed Hendrix posters and bathroom graffiti. These are pieces from Danish homes, second hand finds found on every other block. The Beatles serenade this 8AM morning, perfect melodies suitable for the melancholic gray outside, the romantic candlelight inside.

This pure artistry of a place, this mingling of quiet conversations in a foreign language with background latte making, this cozy nook where I write…this will forever, I believe, spoil future cafe moments.

%d bloggers like this: