The Space Between Stories

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We will abide for a time in the space between stories. …

Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

Lissa Rankin is one of my spiritual mentors, but I have yet to meet her in person. (I will this Fall and I can’t wait!)  I resonate with so much of what she says. She skims off the collective in a way I know is real and true, and I listen with that ear behind the ear when she speaks through her work. I also listen to works she refers and Charles Eisenstein’s body of work is an example of that.

One idea Lissa has talked about in the past few months is Eisenstein’s space between stories so many of us find ourselves in right now. It’s that feeling you get when you finish a book and you haven’t found another that captures your heart. Or you finish a Netflix series and haven’t found another to take its place and panic sets in. (It’s possible this is just happening at our house.)

On a more intense level, it’s that uncomfortable span of space where your life as you knew it is no more and something new is unfolding. This is true both globally and individually. Globally, all systems are shifting. Individually, this space can be brought on by the end of a career and start of retirement, the end of a relationship, losing a job, a death, a birth, the flying of children from the nest, inspiration, desperation, confusion, infusion. Many triggers catapult us into this between-space and quite often, heave us into a disorienting murky pond upside down. Sometimes it takes awhile to see clearly.

And it happens at every age. I see my youngest son in his space, finishing up the education phase he was forced into and moving into the education phase he gets to mold however he chooses. I watch my oldest son and his partner, both college professors, preparing to figure out their next steps in their approaching 30, Saturn return futures. Two years they all will be living a much different story than they are now. Two years from now, with the upcoming fall elections in the USA, so will the rest of the world.

It’s tempting to fill the space. I see myself doing this. Knowing my youngest son will be leaving to go to college next Fall, I have two big projects lined up. Having parenting as a top priority for the past 30 years, I feel like that story is taking on a new, less demanding theme. One of those projects is to get my Spiritual Practitioner license that I’ve been working towards the past four years and dedicate some service time to my local spiritual center. Another is to make a documentary film on shifting the landscape of how we view and treat children’s mental health. These are parts of the new story. The question is how much time I will be willing to grant the in-between part.

My guess is just a little. I think it’s because the in between space is so unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I struggle with non-productivity. When I finish writing a book, and have rewritten it until my eyes bug out, I put it away for a period of time. I don’t start another one physically in the name of the space, but start “pre-writing” different stories in my mind. I tell my story maker inside to chill, but she doesn’t listen. She just starts scribbling on the whiteboard of my brain with all her color-coded markers and wants to get out of the bug soup phase as quickly as she possibly can…in the name of efficiency. She really won’t let me be until I use the physical white board and markers and storyboard a plan.

Still, the older I get, the more I value this space between stories. I like to listen to and witness other people’s space between stories. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s celebratory and exciting. Always, it’s to be greatly valued as the birth canal of infinite possibility.

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Beyond the Classroom

j2Yesterday my youngest son returned from his first trip outside the United States. He went to Europe with his AP History teacher and 25 classmates. He stood in the concentration camps in Germany, a deeply powerful experience he wasn’t sure he wanted to repeat. He stood above the clouds in the Swiss Alps, closer to the edge than “I would have approved.” He took waltzing lessons in Vienna, of which I definitely approved. He walked through castles, soaked up ancient architecture unlike what we have here on the baby West Coast of California, and bonded with new friends from his high school he may have never gotten to know on domestic soil.

During the period of time he was gone, 85 people were blown up in France (where his group had a plane change) and a coup went down in Turkey which left nearly 200 people dead. Now I know Europe is a big place, but when your baby is abroad for the first time and you really sucked in geography and aren’t sure what’s where, these turn of events can make a momma’s stomach turn. On the day before he was set to fly home, an axe-wielding man attacked and killed train passengers in a nearby town in Germany near where he was staying. It’s enough to make a parent never let their babies out of their room again.

Nevertheless, when my children are in new lands, I work very hard to keep my thoughts filled with a knowing that they are having a tremendous education and experience they could never get in the safety and security of their own backyard. I chat with their guardian angels–a lot. I hold a space of love and protection around them, and strong gratitude that they have adventurous spirits that lead them to explore a world that really, really needs their gifts.

While my son was traveling, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who has been a friend since our early high school days. He mentioned his son (12) was on Safari in Africa with a friend and his oldest daughter (19) had just returned from Panama where she worked a stint as a translator in a group called Floating doctors, a nonprofit that delivers healthcare to remote areas. We talked about how when we were in high school we barely saw the back end of a plane. Our kids, on the other hand, are the world’s children. They are adventurous, collaborative, heart-centered beings who I believe, given the right opportunities and encouragement, can evolve our world as it needs to be evolved.

It’s tempting to hold them close, to “small town” the hell out of them and encourage them to stay close to home and never leave. I understand this cycle and this temptation, as I grew up in a small town and now have moved back to that small town. There are many family compounds here built over generations of folks who have never left. There is much fear of the big, bad unknown. For example, my son was driving with his friend’s mom and told her of his plans to attend a university following high school. To this she said, “You need to be really careful in college because it’s really dangerous. 85% of the people there have venereal disease.”

Yah. That happened.

But the vision that comes from seeing lands, people, and places different than you is huge. If we let fear make that world too small, coddled in the arms of familiarity and perceived safety, we will not let our children heal the world to the extent they have come here to do. They have come, not just to tour humanity, but to immerse in it–to promote collaboration and defy ignorance. They have eyes that see the common-love through line that pulls through diverse people, cultures, and places.

My son made the comment, “It seems like people are more sophisticated here in Europe.” Then he added, “And they eat too much coffee and cake.” From the mouths of teens.

The insights gained in a few weeks touring new lands, far from the safety of his family and domestic protection, will continue to unfold. The moments that came from standing in and on new lands will mean so much more as facts pour forth from textbooks. The fact that he was with his classmates made this world curriculum so much more poignant than had he traveled with us.

This is true for each of us. We don’t have to board a plane to Vienna to step into the unfamiliar and open our eyes to a new way of thinking. Try something new that might jack up our anxiety. In doing this, we really live and start to see what an incredibly rich world lies before us waiting to be explored.

 

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There Are No Others: Thoughts on Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the Dallas Police Officers

lovehateWhat will it take to believe it?

On weeks like this one that just passed, I feel emotionally raw. The killing. All of it. Being against being. It fills me with pain. For Alton’s family. For Philando’s family. For all the Dallas officers’ families. For their communities. For all of us, as we are all connected.

“JR, you’ve always been color blind and you always will be,” my white, Texan-rooted rancher Dad used to say. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. But when my Berkeley-in-the-60s educated civil rights lawyer stepdad moved in, this poster went up. It read the blind are also color blind. That resonated with me, even at 6 years old. I didn’t know why exactly, but I like the picture. One human loving another.colorblind

This was not the thinking of the collective in the town I grew up in. It was a white, conservative, Bible-beltish town where my Sunday school teacher (doubling as the town seamstress) used to call my mom and tell her I was going to hell when I missed Sunday school. Tolerance wasn’t a huge value. I watched my friends buy into it, but I never did. It just didn’t sit right.

When I moved to Westwood to attend UCLA, and there were many different types of cultures and races, all I wanted to do was talk to every last person and hear their stories–where they were from, how they grew up, what they believed. Those stories were so interesting to me. During my senior year as a Bruin, I married my college sweetheart, a black man from Long Island, NY. Nothing like an interracial marriage to uncover racist tendencies.

Discrimination came from all directions and all races. People had a hard time conceiving of how two people from different races could come together and fall in love. Hell, at that time it was still illegal in some states. Walking down the street, people would roll down their windows and yell racial slurs (at best) and provoke a physical fight (at worse.) Even family members who I thought would have been happy for me were not pleased at all let alone happy. It cost me long time relationships.

Two years later, when I gave birth to my first child, my awareness of underlying racism and stereotypes awakened even more as I watched how people looked at me and my child, trying to reconcile our skin differences. Adopted? From Africa? What gives? The things people say are mind boggling and it really showed me how pervasive this force is in our culture. The protective momma bear wanted to pound them any time they looked sideways at my baby. It was my job to protect and protect I would.

My child is now a 28-year-old college professor who shops at Whole Foods. He is educated, the most polite 20-something I know, funny, and has the most giving heart for service on the planet. People are constantly telling me how much they love him. Still, because his skin is brown, he is consistently followed by the Whole Foods secret police as if he’s going to steal some sea salt when no one is looking. Two months ago, on the same day a nice white police officer helped me turn my car around in Ashland (I was going the wrong way down a one way street) and sent me on my way with a smile and no ticket, my son was followed by a police officer for no apparent reason after leaving the market. He was tracked 15 minutes to his home.

The thing is, this is not unusual. I have never been pulled over and asked to sit on a curb and handcuffed in my life. This happened to my son while he was attending an undergraduate university in Southern California before he was 19. This was not the only incident.

As his mom, this hurts so much. I have a hard time reconciling the behavior. I have a hard time feeling I can convincingly say to him law enforcement is here to serve and protect you when FOR HIM this has been untrue so many times. For him, police are scary and could do serious harm if they chose. The scene in the movie “Crash” where Terrence Howard is pulled over after winning an award and his wife felt up by Matt Dillon’s character (a racist cop) is sadly a very real scene for many people of “other”.

Having said that, there are many wonderful police officers. And we can go ahead and replace those words police officers with “black people, white people, asian people, mentally ill people, gay people, straight people, transgender people, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhists–you name it.” We run the gamut.  There are people operating from hate and those operating from love–it all depends on how evolved the person is…how conscious. If the person is not entirely asleep, that person will understand we are all connected and what happens to one affects us all.  That’s why this eye for an eye shit is so ridiculously stupid. It’s like little kids on the playground whining: But he started it!

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My only thinking is if everyone is blind, then won’t we be color blind? That’s a thought.

We got the first splattering of drama porn on Instagram when my youngest son spotted it unfolding. Though white, he sees the injustice in the way people of “other” are treated. When something like this saturates the news, I can only dip my toe in, or it becomes too consuming emotionally. I feel the feelings of all the players on every side of the issue. The loss of the people they love. The injustice. The pain which they now must tread in the aftermath, struggling to keep their heads above it all and not drown in hate.

As for me, I’m going to continue to love. Even when it’s hard. Even when people are ridiculous. Even when I want to take my boots and stomp somebody. Won’t you join me?

Love just makes so much more freaking sense.

 

 

 

 

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Jordan Weil Goes to Boys State 2016

jordan2015libraryWhen Jordan was invited by his high school to apply for the 2016 Boys State, we had never heard of this program. We soon learned it is put on by The American Legion. After sitting through the Inaugural Ceremony Awards last Friday night at Cal State Sacramento, we are now ambassadors.

We learned Boys State has been going on for many years, since 1935 to be exact. Everyone, old and young, is excited to be there. The energy in the room pushed mania at closing ceremonies. It really is a state that belongs to these young men.  This is clear when they cheer for each other’s success and their individual cities and counties on the last evening with earth-shattering hoots and hollers, fists flying high in the air.

During the ending Ceremony we had the honor of hearing Dick Tarble, now 96 years old, talk about his attendance at the first ever California Boys State. That’s how enthusiastic alum are to be in what they often referred to as a prestigious fraternity. We also met a sophomore from UCLA who missed the experience so much he returned to volunteer. Here’s Mr. Tarble who received a standing ovation from all 1,000 boys (and the few parents who were able to make it in the back two rows.)oldguy

If you’re like us, and don’t know what Boys State is, this from their website:

American Legion Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students. A participatory program in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government… 

Some famous Boys Staters include: Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton, Neil Armstrong, Phil Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Jordan, Dick Cheney, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ebert, Jon Bon Jovie, Tom Brokaw and a bunch of others.

Each junior boy is sponsored by the local American Legion chapter and selected by his high school to represent that area at the state meeting. Boys are transported from all over the state, some traveling all night by bus to show up at Sacramento State. They are assigned cities and counties for the week. Jordan’s city just happened to be Redding and his county was Chambers.redding

In the opening ceremony, the announcer told the boys to look around at each other because they just very well may sitting next to the next astronaut or President of the United States. Indeed, Jordan said he had never been around a group of such smart, funny, together kinda guys. All 1,000 of them. He met Anthony (from his home town of Torrance) who we will definitely see again. He met Dominic, who sat next to him during Awards and looked at him with huge eyes when he won the Samsung Scholarship Award which he didn’t anticipate getting. He met this team of three that were hard to leave. Jordan’s room apparently became the gathering room according to this group (and a group of others who had already loaded on the bus).friends

During the week, the boys were all supposed to work in their cities and counties to achieve certain tasks. As in any city, they needed officials, judges, lawyers (who had to pass a bar), negotiators–you name it. They had meetings long into the night to work out certain logistics. Group work at its finest. During the Awards Ceremony, model cities and counters were awarded places. Chambers won third top County so I guess they completed their tasks. What a great time to understand the political system since many of these boys, including Jordan, will vote in this whacked out election as their first ever election. The American Legion coordinators emphasized the importance of voting, of using your voice whatever that is, whenever you have an opportunity to do that at the polling place.

With work, comes play. During the late afternoons, boys were allowed to choose from a huge array of sport offerings: football, basketball, softball, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball. The City of Redding won first place in the Volleyball competition. The best part of sports it seemed to me was the way it broke up the mental tasks with 1,000 friends to hit the balls around and just plain brah out.

We talked to some other parents. It was clear to me some had known about Boys State and had strived to be included in the honor. We, on the other hand, we’re just trying to figure the whole thing out as we went. Still, I’m so thankful it happened for us the way it did and that Jordan was honored in this way to have such an unforgettable experience. The highlight for him are the relationships he’s built. He said this was one of the best experiences he ever had and he’ll never forget it.

The moments that take your breath away…

 

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Sneak Preview: I’m Going to Make the Movie “Thrive!”

moviesI’m smack dab in the middle of a project that has got my creative juices gushing. I know the signs. Right now, I sit at my laptop with 8 screens open alternating between a business plan, notes, my project journal, a poem, whatever. My OmHarmonics play in the background on the creativity track. I love this energetic space.

Physically, I’m in this amazing retreat condo at the base of Mt. Shasta where it is clear so many seekers have sat before and will sit after. I’m in the area attending a retreat that starts tonight. Though it’s mid-June, rain patters on the beautiful organic patio garden filled with greens, herbs, and flowers. (That’s the only kind they have in Mt. Shasta.) I decided to pass on the pre-retreat hike. Hiking in pouring rain…just not my thing. For this state of mind, jammies and listening to the rain fill the need. The vibe is perfect for receiving my next steps in this venture. I imagine how I will receive the information for this calling. I feel it rushing in faster than I can get it down on the page. I don’t just notice synchronicity–I become it.

Then there’s the second part. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. All I can do is open up, listen, and repeat from a slightly disoriented space.

What’s the project? What am I even talking about?

I’m going to make a documentary on children’s mental health called Thrive. Here’s my mission statement of sorts I added to the top of my business plan:

I feel a calling to make “Thrive.” I want to give hope and vision to kids (teens, TAY) and parents looking at a disease kids did nothing to get but be born yet get stigmatized because they have it. That’s just wrong. I truly believe kids can activate the gifts of their condition to change the world (and their lives) in a positive way by learning to manage the challenging parts. 

In this way, we all win. There are no others.

Parts of me are terrified about this project because of the “I have no idea what I’m doing part.” Parts of me think I should keep my project hidden in the closet in case it doesn’t pan out in a way that is acceptable to the rest of the world. That’s my ego talking, which after a read of Lissa Rankin’s Anatomy of a Calling, I have dubbed René Bordeaux. (That accent on the “e” is SO my ego.)

The bigger part, though, is that Adventure Whisper I choose to embrace says, “Hell, yes, you’re going to accept this assignment.” That part also is dedicated to letting go of attachment, a gift I received from the monks at Shasta Abbey last month. Instead, I’m really about letting the God who goes by many names play on the planet through me in such fun ways I get giddy thinking about it. My job is to remain open and not let René drive the bus, try as she might.

The way this whole thing started was weird. Here’s the story. My son and his buddy went to Nike Swim Camp at UC Santa Cruz back about 5 years ago. My husband and I stayed in Santa Cruz at a rental with our lab and combined camp drop off and pick up with a trip to Dog Beach and a business visit to the Dean of the Social Documentary Filmmaking Program at UCSC, an internationally acclaimed program–and I believe in the top ten world programs in its niche. The Dean showed us around the school and I heard the Whisper loud and clear: you are to do this program and make a film.

Hunh? I go to movies. And not documentaries. AND I definitely don’t make them. Until then, it had never even crossed my mind to make a film. I could barely work those early video cameras back in the day. I have hours of footage of me walking around with the video camera on when I thought it was off.(Riveting footage we find hysterical, but it’s for a select crowd.)

However, as it does, the Whisper was persistent. Finally, I started looking into the SocDoc program. The problem is UCSC is 5 hours away and going back to school after already having lots under my belt (and not having ANY film background) felt like daunting hurdles I wasn’t ready to jump. Maybe after my youngest left for college the timing would be right. I would reevaluate then.

Meanwhile, I would educate myself in the world of documentaries. I would determine what I like and what I don’t like. I would listen for the film that is my film to make itself known. For the last three years, I have watched about 3 documentaries a week and taken notes to see what works and what doesn’t. I have watched hundreds of documentaries at this point–maybe thousands. I taught a film class at my local spiritual center and was tempted to show all documentaries, but resisted in the name of balance. Turns out, documentaries were the favorites. Through all this viewing, much of which takes place on my daily StairMaster time, I’ve come across many, many different styles and different strategies for both making and marketing films.

One strategy I really liked: offering the film for free for a period of time. Filmmakers like Nick Polizzi (Sacred Science), Pedram Shojai (Origins), and Jeff Hayes (Bought) were all doing this. I was watching as they came out, wondering how they were able to do this without going broke. I didn’t expect to get rich off a documentary, but I definitely didn’t want to go in the hole and do feel like I should be compensated a fair wage for the year (or ten) it takes to make the film. (And so does my husband, right Honey?!)

Then about a month ago these three filmmakers put together this joint venture: Movie Maker Academy. I watched the pitch (and made a few close confidants watch it, too) and decided I liked what they were doing.  Best, I could do it online from my own home. The course would be 10 modules over ten weeks which fit perfectly in my summer off time from my practitioner program. There was an application process to join the first Movie Maker Academy and I went through that process to see what happened.

About two weeks later, I was notified that I was accepted. After Module 1 was distributed, I was so excited. This is exactly what I needed to brown up my green. The one thing I’m seeing is that film is such a collaborative process, and this opportunity lets me be in collaboration with others who have done this and who are doing this…to see the way each person’s unique stories play out in film. I wanted to be open and share what I am doing, struggling with, succeeding in–and see that in other’s journeys.

Movie Maker Academy has with it a FB forum and live chats with the Three Movieteers–Nick, Pedram, and Jeff. In that, I have both magical mentors and littermates all across the globe. How awesome is that? The synchronicities are already firing rapidly. Mostly, I love this canvas on which we’ll all collectively paint movies that make movements and lift up the planet in so doing.

That’s a wrap.

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Team Tolerant

intoleranceI sit here brokenhearted. Just after last call this morning, the most deadly shooting in US history…50 killed, 53 hospitalized (so far) at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub.

My husband saw the news on his feed as he waited in the car with our pup while I got fresh bagels in the bagel store for the pack of teen boys back at the house. He told me when I returned to the car. I thought about our pack of boys sleeping soundly. I thought about the other parents who would never see their children again. We flipped through channels, listening to the different filters the media had already started to use.

The media was quick to say the nightclub was a gay club. (I wondered if they would point it out if it was a “straight” club.) They were also quick to point out it was a Latin event. (I questioned that as well.) Differences are treated differently–unless they’re not. We listened.

There was the channel that went straight to terrorism. There was the note from the shooter’s father that said this wasn’t about religion or politics, but rather that his son had seen two men kissing a while back and had been angry ever since unable to get the thought out of his head. There was the channel that reported the bodies were still in the night club (dead) and that the parents (some having received terrifying texts in the night from their children who were being held hostage in the club for hours after initial shootings) still had no idea if their children were alive or dead.

The channel that struck me the most was the one reporting texts back and forth between parent and child.  One note the newscaster read was from a son texting his mom he’s holding us hostage in the bathroom and he’s going to kill us. I’m going to die. I sat listening, tears welling up in my eyes, as I thought about all the players involved and how this pain would play out in the media. Causes would jump on board (guns, anti-terrorism, terrorism, mental health, religions, LGBTQ, anti-LGBTQ–the political contenders, media ratings) and as all these factions showed their various viewpoints, one faction that rests at the heart of all this shit may possibly get ignored: intolerance.

Princess Diana said it best: The greatest problem in the world today is intolerance. Everyone is so intolerant of each other.                                                                                

Bingo.

Just those words, by some, would be considered hate words. While they sound like love words to me, in that linear left side of my brain, I get that we are all just results of the beliefs, thoughts, and ideas we’ve inherited from our family lines. Sure, there are a few segments of the population who really examine those–the seekers, willing to expand knowledge beyond familial and cultural legacy. But often those legacies forbid it. They say learning about other cultures, religions, ways of thinking, political standpoints–fill in the blank–is evil and not acceptable according to the framework they’ve been given.

However, the cost of settling in there is too high and will eventually come back to bite us. We must sift through our own blockages, each of us. We didn’t come in hating. We didn’t come in threatened by beings different than us. We came in with enthusiasm. We came in with love.  We came in reaching out. It’s our experiences, education, families, and cultures that form our filters.

babiesIn truth, if each being on this planet could responsibly examine their own beliefs and prejudices outside what they’ve inherited, I believe we would be living in a completely different world. This would be a world not driven by fear that wells up as intolerance, first cousin to hate. This would be a world driven by heart and love–an understanding that we are all connected and we must take responsibility for looking at our own limiting beliefs that keep us from kindness.
It’s easy to point outside ourselves and see who did what, then retaliate. Our prisons are overflowing with that vibe. But to what end? More prisons, more cemeteries, more hate. The neverending story.

The cost is too high. Albert Einstein said “The most important decision we have to make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” I always believe it’s the first, but this morning, as my heart ached for all involved in Orlando, the pain stopped me. It’s still so numbing. I get how people end up in the frameworks they cling to. But after a moment, I went back to my default place…

Love first. Be kind. Show compassion. Embrace differences, understanding if we were all the same this would be a very boring place. Join me on Team Tolerant? Our world can’t afford for us to let it down.

 

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Memorial Weekend with the Monks: Days I’ll Never Forget

bestmthastaThings pull at me. Intuition will grab a cushion, sit on my shoulder, and whisper in my ear until I listen. Not in a stalkerish kind of way, but more like that fun friend who calls you to adventure. (I’m blessed to have friends like that! You know who you are.)

I’ve named this fun friend voice Adventure. For the past three months, Adventure had been calling me to Shasta Abbey, a Soto-Zen Monastery in Mt. Shasta. shastaabbeysign

When I first heard the call, I was puzzled. Really? An Abbey? I clicked on the site: http://www.shastaabbey.org. There was an application process. I filled it out. (Adventure gets bossy sometimes.) As a spiritual practitioner student studying different types of religions, I wanted to learn more about Buddhism so it made logical sense that way. As a long time meditator, I wanted to see how monks meditated. It seemed to me they’d cornered the market there. And, God knows, mindfulness is trending as our culture grows more and more distracted from what truly matters.

I was also up for the challenge of three days of silence. I love people and I love to talk, but I hate surface chit chat, and the idea of being with new people without having to do that was strongly appealing. When the application came back and I was in, I made a decision: rather than getting more background on the Abbey or Soto-Zen Buddhism, I’d go in cold and soak it all up: the philosophy, the lifestyle, the sacred space.

When I arrived at the Abbey on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I was struck by the beauty of the space. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to put an Abbey. Shasta Abbey sits in a forested plot forestso close to the base of Black Butte and Mt. Shasta, I felt like I could reach out (if I had a really long arm) and touch it. Everywhere I went in the Abbey I saw majestic Mt. Shasta smiling back at me. From my room. From the dining room. Along the pinecone-speckled walkway to The Buddha Hall. From the gardens lush with orange spring poppies and purple iris. poppiesEverywhere.

Shasta Abbey was started by one of the first woman Zen Masters who studied Soto-Zen for 8 years in Japan. Her name was Houn Jiyu-Kennett (1/1/24 – 11/6/96) and she is quite a respected Reverend Master. After studying in Japan, she returned to England where it became apparent that they were not quite ready for a female Zen Master. That didn’t get in her way. She set off for California (originally the Bay Area) and then landed as the first Abbess of Shasta Abbey. Her presence is still felt, and there is an equality feeling between genders, perhaps from this history. At the Abbey, there are only monks (not monks and nuns) and they all shave their heads and wear the same brown robes. The only difference is the color overlays which designates their seniority in the monastery. Throughout the weekend I heard many a monk refer to a Reverend Master Jiyu story with a nostalgic glisten in their eye. I wished I’d met her.iris

As I walked into the visitor’s office, friendly monks greeted me, and a fellow Bruin came and escorted me to my room. She and her husband live at the monastery, but are “lay” people–not monks. There are a number of these people at different parts of their journey that live on the grounds and participate in the monastery. My greeter set me up with a weekend schedule (jam packed with multiple meditations, meals, Dharma talks, services, etc.) and oriented me to the space. My room was simple and clean: a twin bed, a desk and a chair with a window opening up to mountains and forest. My docent showed me the bathroom down the hall, all the common areas and rules about using them, and all the books the monastery generously provides (for free) for those who want to learn about Buddhism.buddhistbooks

One thing struck me right away: this monastery was very tidy, organized, peaceful, and welcoming. I felt like people had read my application, were happy I was there, and were invested in me just because I was another living being. Throughout the weekend I learned this is really key to Buddhist philosophy. It is perhaps the kindest, most compassionate path as a whole I have seen. There is a clear respect for ALL living things and an understanding of how we all fit together in a symbiotic nature. Kindness, compassion, love, and an embracing spirit make the whole area feel like a big hug from a really good hugger. (On a side note: in a Dharma talk, a retreat participant asked the monks if they hug. The response was all monks are different, but usually if we see one coming, we bow as our default greeting. After all, celibacy is a vow monks take at Shasta Abbey.)

Dharma talks are teaching talks and we had several of those. I was confused by the word dharma and I wasn’t sure why. I asked the question and the answer was cut and dry: it’s the teaching and it’s capitalized. But if you remember Dharma and Greg like I do, or you listen to Deepak, you might think of dharma as that something that upholds the positive cosmic order. Many people came up to me after the talk, all with their own suggestions of the various meanings of dharma. When I checked with Merriam W. the overall gist is it’s one of those words that varies from belief system. Just know that in Soto-Zen Buddhism, Dharma is The Teaching and is sacred.

In fact, keeping the Sacred at the fore is a key concept along this path. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and statues of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddhist name for Kwan Yin, Goddess of buddhastatueCompassion) are along the paths. The tradition is to stop, bow, and take a moment for mindful awareness each time you pass in front of one. The gesture is one of respect, but also it was explained that in a world where our faces are glued down at our screens or the ground, mindfulness and gratitude is important to remember for ourselves and for our world. I found this to be so true. I found myself bowing to everything: the statues, the trees, the mountains, the people, the morning. What this did was keep me in a reverential, thankful place and that felt like such a peaceful place to be.buddha

That sacred sauce is poured on everything, including meal time. As not killing (animals or people) is a key precept of the faith, all meals were vegetarian and DELICIOUS. The monastery depends on alms (donations) from those in the community who donate money, food, or items the monks need from the alms list on their website. The list tells what is appropriate and not appropriate to bring. And because they are at the mercy of what others give, the kitchen crew impressed me to no end with the creative ways they put balanced meals together.

The first night we had beet and potato soup with cottage cheese and bread from local bakeries. Everything I ate there, I loved, and was so impressed by the creativity, love, and ceremony that went into each meal. I’m pretty sure there needs to be a new reality cooking show where monasteries go on and have to use only the ingredients that have been donated to feed a hundred people tasty, well-balanced meals.

Meals are a special and unique time. For example, when you enter into the dining hall, you sit two feet across from another person with a person on each side of you. There were 30 people at this introductory retreat plus the senior monk leading the meal. The leading monk clanks together two wood sticks, leads some bowing, says some ceremonial verses, and starts the dishes down the line. The lay people enter silently, eat silently, and clean up silently in a very orderly fashion, placing cutlery, compost, cups, and plates in their respective gray bins. The monks are extremely aware of their environmental imprint on the earth (and have been well before it was trendy to do so). Each person is encouraged to take only what they can positively eat and half way through the meal second serving is announced with an option for more. As each dish is passed to the next person there is a mutual bowing that occurs over and over again. I’m going to estimate there are about 30 bows per meal. Lots and lots of bowing. Nods of respect from one being to another, a mindful acknowledgement of another being’s light. As I sat quietly eating, gazing out at the face of my favorite mountain in the world, and thinking about how unusual this experience was–but also how AWESOME–I understood why they named it The Medicine Meal. This was a time to nourish both body and soul as a community without egoic distraction.

This level of mindfulness was a theme retreaters were asked to maintain throughout, but especially during meditation proper. We were lead in an hour long meditation instruction with form, theory, props, chairs, cushions for sitting meditation. We were shown how to hold our hands (mudras)  in both sitting and walking meditation to maintain mindfulness. We were even given a period for working meditation which was actually super enlightening to me. My job initially was to brush down spider webs and guard Liam who was really high up on a ladder. I’m really not quite sure how helpful I would have  been had the ladder fallen over, but I was ready to run and get help. It occurred to me as I was brushing down spider webs that I might kill a spider and what with the no killing rule, I wondered how they reconciled that issue. I verified with a monk. “Oh, no. We take them down. They put them up. It’s a game we play.” Okay, then. The awareness was interesting, though. Because of a shoulder tear that quickly got aggravated, I was kindly shifted to dusting the altar which was actually magical and felt more congruous with the Buddhist Way. Here’s the altar in The Buddha hall. It’s breathtaking.altarwithmonk

During the several long periods of meditation morning (6:00 a.m.) and night (7:00 p.m.), between which time you are asked to keep The Noble Silence we sat in The Buddha Hall, eyes open to stay alert and stared at either a white wall or a white screen two feet away. We were taught to notice if we had an itch, but not to scratch it. Instead, just notice. Watch it come, watch it leave. Oh my goodness! What a revelation this simple practice showed me. Change is constant. It doesn’t need to be responded with panic and reaction because no sooner does it appear in an uncomfortable way than it vanishes. Here’s my new mantra for life: Feel the itch. Don’t suppress it, feel it. Notice it. Don’t scratch it. Then watch it be on its way. I challenge all you LA drivers to practice that one on the 405! Just remember: eyes open. The idea of eyes open is so you can transfer this idea into all your waking activities and stay Zen. I was resistant, but I kept my vow to keep an open mind, and it actually is pretty amazing how it works.

Back to the Buddha Hall. It’s larger than this picture shows. In addition to the main hall, there are two rooms with huge big wooden doors that open during the ceremony and the monks enter into the main area in their formal robes with silk mats they use both on the floor (for more bowing) and on the chairs when they sit. The feel of the space is sacred. There are gongs, and chimes, and bells, and a drum–and just because Reverend Master Jihou wanted to make the hymns “Western friendly,” an organ.altar The organ makes chants about consciousness sound very similar to the ones I used to belt out when Grandma Opal took me with her to the Methodist Church during the summers I spent with her in Poway, California.

Buddhist services hold similarities with Catholicism and Judaism when it comes to ceremony. Uniquely, though, there isn’t as much a message as ritual. The service is filled with song, bowing, incense offering, monks entering and leaving, chants, candle lighting and so forth. However, as this was Memorial Day, there was a special community ceremony to honor ALL those hurt in war (not just “our” side, but everybody and all things. I had never seen this done in any religious institution and was so touched by the respect for all life, not just a selected group.) The group that gathered, and groups of people who follow the Buddhist teachings in general, are called the sangha. The sangha is a key component to the Buddhist way. (Homage to the Buddha. Homage to the Dharma. Homage to the Sangha.)

We met many monks during Dharma talks and meals and instructions, but I must admit my favorite became Reverend Margaret. There is an option to sign up for “spiritual counseling” during the weekend and I was assigned to her. I wanted some one-on-one time just to make certain I was being respectful by taking pictures. Retreat rules request nobody use cell phones and take a tech vacay so I was very careful not to go against that, which included picture taking. I sat and talked with Reverend Margaret about how best to handle that, if it would be considered an act of dana or it would be disrespectful. We talked about her personal path to senior monk and how long she’d been at the Abbey. We marveled at the beauty of the gardens around us while we sat under this fruitless plum.

Reverend Margaret spoke with such candor and gentleness. It was clear to me we were equal beings and she did not hold herself levels above me as you may feel with leaders in some religions trapped in their ego. There was a fun, peaceful, grounded, humor about her, and just sitting with her in the garden fed my soul. I will look for her again. This is her standing next to her great Master’s stupa. Here is what the stupa says on one side. jiyoustupabestpicofmargsmilingIt has a unique saying on all four.

As I was talking with Reverend Margaret, I asked her about dream yoga. I’m quite the dreamer and have many synchronicities during the day that tie into my night life. She informed me that was Tibetan Buddhism and that’s the moment I realized there was actually more than one flavor of Buddhism. It’s seem so obvious now, but you don’t know what you don’t know. In one of the Dharma talks, a monk said the Dalai Lama (a Tibetan Buddhist) said that Buddhism is the cake and all the various types of Buddhism are the icing. There is no “icing bashing” that goes on here. Instead, there is an embracing of other ways and a solid focus on describing Soto-Zen. My dream yoga will have to wait.

One of the great things about completing an introductory retreat is that after you learn the program, you are welcome back any time. The monastery works on the idea of dana. There is no set fee or even a “suggested donation.” This is by design. And dana comes in many forms, not just money. There is an understanding that when beings are generous with other beings, those beings will be generous back. And let me tell you, these beings are generous. There is an exchange of energy so strong it creates a swirling vortex of kindness, compassion, and giving.

Gassho, Shasta Abbey. You have shown great kindness and I will remember you.

Please consider Shasta Abbey when you give. They are truly grateful for your donations and say so every meal time. Here is their website again. On that site is a list of what they need: www.shastabbey.com

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Twin Flames

twinflamesWhen I met Omaran as part of my venture up to the Mt. Shasta Pyramid, I had only tangential familiarity with the term “twin flames.” I thought it had something to do with the ideal partner that one spends a lifetime to find and, when the two show up, bliss ensues. In Twin Flames, a book written by Antera about her relationship with Omaran, we have a story that doesn’t exactly unfold in this way.

Here is the description in their own words:

Twin Flames: A True Story of Soul Reunion describes the intense experiences Antera and Omaran went through as they met, drew on Spirit to overcome obstacles to their getting together, then were challenged to heal all unresolved pain in their past so they could move forward with their spiritual service. An amazing, inspiring story of True Love and faith for lightworkers. 

The story of Antera and Omaran began at a meditation retreat they both attended many years ago. While doing a meditation exercise together, something happened, and there was a realization that they had been together in another lifetime. Alas, many lifetimes. They met several times after as they ran in a similar circle of soul seekers in the Marin area of California. They both realized there was an intense connection. The only problem was Antera was married to somebody else. Happily. Both, however, were aware of the idea of the idea of twin flames, and felt pretty sure they were each other’s.

Beyond Antera and Omaran’s story specifically, this story unravels the complicated nature of the twin flame relationship. My friend, Devon, who studies everything about twin flames she can get her hands on, explained the concept like this:

The main thing about twin flames is a path of healing and unconditional love. It’s one soul split in two to have individual experiences separate from each other. Many lifetimes are spent together and apart, hence all the healing. Twin flames usually don’t meet unless they have done enough healing work on their own. They are mirrors of each other, seeing their wholeness, absolute best in each other–but sometimes that’s a lot for the ego to handle when it is so set on not feeling good enough or want relationships in the 3D to be needed. Twin flames thrive when both twins understand this and act from true self love unconditionally. Then, with enough healing, clearing, and self love they learn how to unconditionally love one another and experience reunion…a complete soul merge raising the vibration of the planet. 

As Antera and Omaran’s story emerges, this reunion shows the many ups and downs that accompanies this complicated relationship. As Omaran put it, his emotional body had not been addressed prior to the reunion.  While Antera delves into the results of that roller coaster in the plot of Twin Flames, I found myself playing counselor in the background, cheering on the couple whose main goal was clearly to complete their spiritual work on the planet together. I thought about how many couples are really just about themselves and their brood. The idea that a couple holds a focus to raising the planet’s vibration feels like important love to me and one that we need.

Twin Flames is a love story, but not the sappy sort of fairy tale princess story they make into a pop film starring Channing Tatem. It’s the kind of love story that happens for a larger reason than the romantic satisfaction of the two participants. I know this because I know the sequel. The details in the book draw the reader into an understanding of the twin flame ceremony, the complex feelings of all parties involved (including Antera’s ex-husband, Michael, whom she and Omaran had a mountaintop meeting with during the height of things to debrief everyone’s feelings), how it almost went bust in the first months, and the present day missions some 20 years later.

Today, the Twin Flame couple lives on a beautiful piece of land with a full gaze of  magical Mt. Shasta. Omaran, a construction worker, built an amazing pyramid on the sacred space with the intention of evolving humanity through the great seekers that come to meditate there. They hold courses, both live and online, all holding focus to make the world a better place than when they got here.  Their story, as it continues to unfold, is one in which you feel such growth you can not help but to grow with it.

Buy your copy here:  http://www.amazon.com/Twin-Flames-True-Story-Reunion/dp/0972552804

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Death as the Beacon of Life

lighthouse

The key to the conquest of death is to find out who you are. Deepak Chopra

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on my eulogy. I’ve come to one conclusion: this is one of the best exercises for framing life I’ve ever been assigned.

The reason for this exercise: it’s an assignment in the third trimester of my Spiritual Practitioner program. This program is one that aims to prepare you to get a state license as a spiritual therapist after a four year period and was recently highlighted in Newsweek’s April Special Edition called Spiritual Living. It’s also one I fell into by following an intuitive hit. It is definitely one of the best follows I’ve ever pursued.

One reason is the consciousness opening it facilitates. I am blessed to have an amazing spiritual teacher as well as a cohort of 3 other practitioners ranging in age from 52 to 85 and all in between. With that range comes many different ways of thinking and watching the opening of those patterns is so inspiring.

Each term has a focus and this term is a cross study of the five major world religions and death/dying. As the program transcends religion per se, we look at how the way one’s spiritual body is affected by death is really about the religious paradigm (or lack thereof) in which that person views the world.

But the even more interesting thing becomes how one’s idea of death bleeds over to influence how one lives. For example, if the belief is that when a person dies, that’s it, it can make death a little harder to swallow than for the human that believes death is just life reformatted. The choices one makes while living, then, often react off fear or avoidance instead of intrigue and curiosity. The closer that person gets toward the exit, the louder that gets.

That became really clear to me in my own little laboratory as I asked friends and family to speak at my “pretend” celebration of life. Each person’s reaction was so unique. Some people got mad at me. Some people couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Some people forgot (you know who you are.) Some people wrote me the most beautiful, poignant words/poems/jewels that made me laugh and cry simultaneously. I will keep them and cherish them forever.

During the course of writing out my ceremony which I will present to my cohort the day after tomorrow, I spent a week in Pacific Grove, California at CHMACY, the California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth. As a member of the Executive Board of United Advocates for Children and Families, I attended this conference with travel arrangements made by UACF. The Conference was held at the Asilomar Conference Center which is where I drove after landing at SFO. I had printed up my confirmation number and drove straight to Asilomar. When I arrived the lady said, “These aren’t our confirmation numbers. You’re staying down the street at the Lighthouse Lodges.”

She was right. I’d missed that detail. Back in my rental car, I headed to the Lighthouse Lodges. After checking in, I walked up to my room (these rooms are AWESOME, by the way!) and looked out the sliding glass door. I laughed out loud. Right outside my window was a huge, beautiful graveyard. I would be spending four nights sleeping with dead people. How appropriate for somebody studying death and working on their pretend eulogy.

During the course of those few days, I noticed several things. One, other hotel guests requested to move because they were so freaked out that their sliders opened to the graves. I had a lengthy conversation with a woman who just couldn’t take it. Another observation: graveyards are very peaceful and quiet. The deer love them.graveyard

In this particular one, the trees towered over creating a beautiful canopy for visitors and headstones alike.

trees
Each morning I got up at the crack of dawn to walk through the graveyard to the beautiful central California coastline. The first morning I found the lighthouse for which the lodge was named: the Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the Pacific. I watched as the light scanned the water just as it had since 1855, a beacon showing the way to seeking travelers.

coastuse
I thought about how the Light is there to guide us, but so often we get caught up in the illusion of business and fear. I thought about how every person I heard from the highest state and agency positions in California talk about their ideas of how we needed to move from nearly the worst of the 50 states in how we handle homeless children (and mental health), only behind Mississippi and Alabama, to some place more respectable. I thought about how they all talked about involving families and yet nobody really seemed to be doing that.

And yet the Light continues to shine, jumping up and down, beckoning, “Here I am. Here I am!” It’s a consciousness that shines brighter than all the mumbo jumbo that fills the halls of people verbally running in circles and trying to explain why things are the way they are and how to make them better. It’s an awareness that knows that the autumn leaves falling and decomposing into the earth are what makes it rich with life. We see it in nature, and all the beauty around us.treeeye

There is an Intelligence, a consciousness here waiting to shine Its Light. This is not a metaphor. We’d do well to listen.

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The Illuminated Mind

heartOne of my purposes for being on this planet is to become conscious about consciousness. It is perhaps why I find myself seeking to dive deep into the understanding of the mind-body-spirit connection. I am fascinated how that manifests in each human being (or doesn’t) and how it amasses into beliefs, culture, religion, and general world views. It influences who we are, what we chase after, and how we behave while we’re doing it.

My general feeling is that 95% of the population moves through life on autopilot chasing carrots, pushed along by subconscious motoring not clearly understood by the conscious mind. However, that subconscious part has a TON of good information that can help us lead happy, peaceful, actualized lives. Yet, we are not taught how to do this in school, unless we take graduate level work in depth psychology. Even then, programs fall short.

In order to find the tools necessary to open up that part of our minds, we need look outside the mainstream. Developing intuition is key to that journey. Intuition is important because it is our main navigation system.  It is also a key to inspiration. For me, developing this has been a lifetime pursuit. When my intuition is firing (and I listen) I get into far less trouble and am able to be available to what is trying to emerge through me. If I’m ignoring my intuition, or not trusting it because of what others say, I pay the price.

In my ongoing pursuit of strengthening intuitive muscles,  I spent over 20 hours in a workshop this past weekend called “Intuitive Mastery Seminar.” I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know much about it other than I was being called by my intuition to take it. I’m more than thrilled I trusted that voice inside.

The way I would describe these three days is the fast track to higher consciousness. I was amazed how in such a short period of time (over a weekend) we were able to cover so many aspects of working with our subconscious minds. The nicely laid out format included song, lecture about such things as beta, alpha, theta and gamma states, and many guided meditations. The meditations are designed to take each student to the alpha state wherein lies all we need to know about questions before us. (I swear I touched theta more than once. I know, because I get super creative in there.)

This combo format forms a playground for your imagination. Our teacher, Rob, had an amazing voice. He probably should be a meditation recording master if that’s a thing. While about 20 of us (depending on the day) went into deep meditative states, Rob guided us to do such things as create our own workspace/healing/sacred spaces in any way we wished. We returned here for various meditations. (It may not surprise you to know I have added a Korean Spa to mine.) Just letting our imaginations dance felt very productive.

In guided meditations, I invented new healing tools to help people who are struggling and to proactively maintain prime mind-body-spirit health. I met my parents when they were babies, then adolescents, then teens which gave me a really interesting perspective on them I hadn’t had before. In live time, I sat with a partner and was able to practice remote healing on a person she knew that I didn’t know, and allow her to do the same. We were both so excited how accurate each of us were able to achieve that even though we were both feeling iffy at first. We all have the ability to work with these flows. It’s just knowing the steps.

The true gift from this weekend was to remember each of us have an enormous supply of gifts to offer in service to the world. We are all able to access far more of this supply then we realize. In so doing, we can give back to lift the world up in love, compassion, and healing which is really what makes us most fulfilled in the end.

Knowing that’s possible makes my heart happy–in an illuminated kinda way.

 

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