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impermanence

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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.

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“I think you just have to go through it. And I think that if rather than sort of squeeze your eyes shut, you decide that there’s something interesting about it, if only in the kind of spiritual life cycle sense of the word. But also, — you find out what you’re made of if you weren’t already sure you knew the answer to that.” -Jane Gross

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36 boxes stacked strategically in the dark, small, storage space. Black marker scribbled on the sides in large letters, Mrs. Christine. The men from the Vientiane packing company assumed our home’s possessions were all mine, that I was in charge, so they deemed the boxes mine as well. At the time, the logistics were simple. We were parting ways. I was taking the things.

To be fair, I had been the one to accumulate. The rugs from Tunisia, the framed mola from Colombia, the wooden Buddha from Cambodia, the antique console from Korea…each piece marked a time and place we had been and shared, and I treasure them all.

Inside taped up cardboard structures, that life was hushed in paper and bubble wrap. Standing in the hot Hayward sun, many, many months later, I wondered how I would reconcile ownership, what my present self would be able to release. I won’t lie. There was a part of me that wanted to drizzle gasoline over the whole thing and ignite it into the atmosphere. But, the sentimental girl who saved yearbooks and love letters, duplicate photographs (in case I wanted to mail the other to a friend) and tattered journals, felt more like sitting in the middle of a pool of them to conjure up a flood of memories.

Things like art I had no wall space for or lamps that operated on a different voltage…some of those things were easier to let go of. But, things like the photographs that adorned our walls for years or the cigar boxes that stored his coins, the bottles of the Saharan desert we kept as if it were powdered gold, the wedding albums we had tucked away on bookshelves, and the CDs we made with each other in mind…these, these things bore deep holes in my heart.

It’s crazy how quickly an object can send you into a spiral of thoughts:

Riding on the back of his motorcycle in the hills of Medellin. That kid who toured us on his father’s tobacco plantation in Cuba. Having summer backyard dinners eating Bill’s grilled salmon. Getting stuck in Miami before embarking on our Tunisia journey because I let my passport expire. India, visiting India. Sunday walks on along the river in Seoul for our seared tuna dinner. Creating a yoga studio in a Buddhist wat in Luang Prabang. Walking in la ciudad antigua on Cartagena evenings.

Overwhelming.
Could I really do this?
I hated and loved going through those boxes. But, they are me. The journeys, the joys, the changes. They are what I’m made of.

There was a moment when making a trip to the large garbage bin where a warm breeze blew much of the Saharan sand that had piled up at the bottom of a box. So fine, it moved like waves across the sweltering concrete until it totally dispersed.
In ways, this image felt like our story, rolling up and down, moving farther in distance until the grains land in other formations someplace else.

In this process of this separation, I’ve felt like crying my insides out, like I’ve been punched in the stomach, like I’ve been the source of a ruthless self-inquisition, like I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and make it all go away.

But I could never shut my eyes for long. For one thing, it gets too dark. And for another, the curiosity for what life holds is far too great.

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In life, there is always pain. But, you don’t have to suffer.

A woman walked into the shop the other day. Only, she wasn’t just a woman. She was an oracle, a messenger, an angel. She was Light walking around in a 70 year old body, Wisdom wearing a sweet hat and smile.

I don’t know what nudged me to ask if the elephant earrings she was admiring were something more. But I did, and this resulted in the gift of surprising openness and vulnerability. Her stories trailed one another in a long ribbon of knots, each distinct in their impact on her life’s direction and purpose, all colorfully connected indicating the distance she had gone. And, although some parts touched on sad moments and disappointments, there was a grace in her delivery, gentle instruction in her voice.

It was in all this sharing that the words came:
“You know, because in life, there will always be pain. But, you don’t have to suffer.”

Emotion rose to my eyes. She saw it and smiled knowingly. I needed to hear that.

It’s the most simple concept, isn’t it?

One thing we can count on in life is that we will experience pain. Even the tiniest of creatures do. But, like everything, it comes and goes. If only that could be embraced more…not just acknowledged but hugged tight.

The difference seems subtle, yet it’s incredibly large.

To be refused the job you wanted is pain. To tell yourself you weren’t good enough for it is suffering.
To experience illness that shifts your daily habits is pain. To close off to all beauty because of the illness is suffering.
To have a relationship end is pain. To hold onto the past while asking why is suffering.

Time gauges which is which. Pain prolonged is suffering. Sometimes the length of the experience is out of our control. Sometimes it’s not, and we have the chance to answer the question a good friend recently posed:

Are you living YOUR life or just surviving the pain of your struggle?

Could be just me…
… but there’s no way I’m here to just survive.

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.

open handed loveThere is a story about an attended wedding where the groom’s vows made a lasting impression. The exact words are fuzzy, but this gist was something like this:

The key to loving is to hold it well. Not like this (hand rolled closed into a fist), but like this (palm wide, upward).

And, that’s it. That was what was remembered.

The simple gesture speaks volumes. What does it mean to offer open-handed love?

Since the time we are children, we have the tendency to wrap our fingers around things: the toy, the friend, the grade, the plan, the income, the outcome, the relationship. It’s human nature to hold fast to what we want, what we love. But, like anything natural, we are meant to be free and the being held tightly can squeeze out the beauty of love: growth.

If we could move past the ego’s desire to have to oneself, love may just blossom wildly.

I get it. It’s hard. Who doesn’t want to be rewarded for peristence, to gain due to goodness, to be loved reciprocally? Yet, the moment we grab onto expectation, we’re screwed.

Life is impermanent. It shifts and changes and shifts again. All the cliches are true. Expecting things to go our way can lead to pain sooner or later. Letting go, surrendering…this is what nature does. This is what lets other beautiful things to happen.

This is what opening your hand, offering all your best, and watching love freely is really all about.

photo (15)Ever do the “when this,then that” thing?

When I get into the college of my dreams, then I will well be on the track towards the career of my dreams.
When I find the “right” person to share my life with, then I will find happiness.
When I make $ ____, then I can enjoy life.

It’s a spinning ride that doesn’t stop.

I found this most true in the goals Craig and I created while in Laos. At first it was about getting the work visa, then finding the right home to live in, then the yoga space, then launching the business. There were some genuine matters that relied on time lines, but for the most part we accelerated our being there.

It wasn’t until we made the decision to leave, that we had the chance to look and see all those months lined up behind us. Where had the time gone?

Far from behaving as an isolated event, I can see similar patterns where I am now. When I finish my teaching job, then I will feel more creatively free. When the visa paperwork is done, then Craig and I can have a normal marriage again. When I make enough money, then I can relax.

Such bullshit.

A few weeks ago, Craig called his ninety-nine year old grandfather. Asking how he was feeling, Gramps shared: I’ve bloody overstayed my time.
I wondered how I’d feel at that age, if life just plain would wear me out. Craig wondered too. Was there grace left after so many years? Would you not appreciate one more sunrise or one more cup of coffee or one listen to a favorite song? he asked.

I held on to that. At ninety-nine or thirty-nine, there are no guarantees. I may have forty more years or forty more hours of being on this precious planet. It’s the showing up at this very moment that matters. So, I could participate in the creative learning of my students. I could love the marriage I have now. I could find moments of relaxation in my day-to-day activities.

Look back at a line of months spent anticipating life or living it? My choice.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 8.59.25 PMIt’s been three months and life in Luang Prabang feels like a dream somehow.

At times, we can’t believe it happened at all. If we didn’t remind ourselves once in a while in Skype chats or via glimpses of FB updates from there, it’d seem unreal. This is because: 1. our time was significantly shorter there than our other overseas homes and 2. we so radically changed our lives that it feels strange now.

A couple of years ago while we planned our escape of life known, I created a Pinterest board called Laos Dream. Visually inclined, I pinned dreamy images of how I pictured our days there: tropical surroundings, yoga, colors, and calm. In many ways, that board materialized.

Now, in my North American existence where life is speedy and a bit pushy, the fact that I lived another way feels like a dream. I mean, did I really wake up to the sound of early morning drums from the monks at the nearby temple? Was a bicycle my main source of transportation to and from the morning market? Was sticky rice a staple food in our daily diet? Did I truly accept living with very large spiders as a norm? (um, no).

There is no way to completely capture the reality of those months, not in photos, not in words. I can’t ever pin down what it was like, the dichotomy of struggle and wonder, being adrift and very present, wanting less but craving more. The closest thing to capturing it all is this blog…and even it, falls short.

Because truly there’s no such thing as a dream catcher.

They may get tangled along the way, but dreams are really just meant to fly.

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