Once Upon a Time

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Mo reflectionOnce upon a time when I was very sad and very alone I would walk a certain stretch of beach for miles and dream of the woman I would like to be and say to myself, over and over:

That woman is worth waiting to meet.

I did that for years. It kept me alive. It kept me sane. It kept me going.

Sometime and somewhere during the last 13 years I became that woman I waited to meet.

Along that path I met many sisters who held me up physically, energetically or spiritually
(in small rooms, in big conversations, in silence, in chaos, with grace and with patience).

They did not offer me refuge or remedies. They offered me presence and acknowledgement.

Along that path I met gurus and sages. They offered me questions, not answers. They pointed me in a direction but did not tell me what I would find.

Along that path I met the moon and the sun. They did not offer me their light. They offered me their consistency, a space in the sky to store my heart and a promise that if I showed up each day and night, so would they.

Along that path I met my small self. At the bottom of wine glasses, in bad poetry, in the arms of the ocean, on the limbs of suicide, in caverns of doubt and in mazes of mirrors, each one reflecting a different side of me.

And I met my true self. At the bottom of wells of silence and reflected in pools of stillness.

Once I met myself I could finally begin to meet you. One by one, online and in person, in yoga classes and coffee houses, in the land of loss and the land of laughter, broken and whole, human being to human being.

Wherever we are and however we are, we are in this thing together. In fact, we are this thing.

What I Remember

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It’s the love I remember.

From the stranger or the soulmate,
the smallest act of kindness;
each one saying, I love you.

I remember the shaming and the pain too,
but the love gives them room to be seen, room to breathe.

That’s how I know it’s the way forward
and backward and
in and out of everything,

because I’ve felt that seismic shift
(the one where everything falls from its perfect place and my heart cracks open to reveal a depth of pain I didn’t know I was capable of.)

And love is the ladder I climb out on,
and the bridge that spans pain to presence.

And I wonder what you remember,
in those moments of mortality when life thins and you can almost reach your hand through the veil to the other side.

Do you remember the love?

What if We Didn’t Call it “Prayer”

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FullSizeRender (1)“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven; it is a cry of recognition and love; embracing both trial and joy.” – Thérèse de Lisieux

I used to pray for the saving of my soul, but now I pray for the shoring up of my heart; because for me it’s not about being saved. It’s about being human.

Be it prayer to god or to the great unknown, in grief or in gratitude, by rote or from our heart, it is all sacred.

That voice, belted out from our belly at a concert with the same soul as a church choir;

The sacred groans of childbirth. And that first liberated cry of life;

The gut-wrenching wail of grief when we lose (for first time or the nth time) a piece of our heart called our mother, our father, our child, our partner, our friend, our pet.

Thank you is its own prayer, and You’re Welcome is too; a sweet exchange of soul from one god to another.

This embrace is a prayer, the one that makes us feel loved, welcome, human.

And this digging in the dirt, skin to skin with Mother Nature, a simple prayer of presence.

The quiet commune with nature: be it snow or sea or tree. Here is where I find god. Here is where I pray.

Not all prayers have words.

Movement can be prayer. One body-sized, breath-filled amen.

And stillness too. A silent, heart-pumped hallelujah rising from the depths of the soul.

For others or with others, community is its own prayer, full of heart and healing no medicine contains.

I use these words prayer and god. But what if we didn’t call it prayer and we didn’t call it god.

Might then all our hearts surge and merge with primordial consciousness when called; and then, with our hearts twice as large, go about the work of being human.

Wouldn’t that be a prayer answered for mankind, by mankind.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

Making Room for Humanity

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doorFriday’s new moon was a dark one.

Sandwiched between the two most intense memories of my life (death and birth) it was a kind of doorway I had to walk through.

I tracked the fear and traced the source in my body and in my heart. There, at the bottom of it all, in the emptiness we spend our lives trying to avoid, I surrendered.

That was the key that let me through. Surrendering to the nothingness and the everything-ness. Seeing that clearly and being terrified of it, frozen by it, and eventually freed by it.

Freed to fear less. Freed to love bigger. Freed to move forward.

I used to run and hide when the doors appeared, but now when the doors show up, I knock on them.

When they open, I walk through them.

It is a practice, this living fully, this showing up, this rising to the occasion of my life. Every time I wonder if I have enough courage, and every time I find I have enough heart.

Sometimes stretched, often broken in the process, but always enlarged by facing my own humanity and through that experience finding I have more capacity to hold the world’s.

“Grief Brut” : Raw Grief

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IMG_7779There is a kind of art called Art Brut, literally “raw art.” It describes art that defies the rules of traditional or popular culture. Art that is not tidy and acceptable but raw and wild. Often referred to as “Outsider Art,” it’s expression that has not been edited or sanitized or applauded but has found a way out of one’s heart and into the world.

What about Grief Brut. Raw grief. Can we create a space for grief that does not fit within societal paradigms, stages or expectations; for grief expression that is not edited, sanitized or applauded but courageously finds a way out of our hearts and into the world anyway.

It seems the more I invite in this conversation with grief the more she has to say. My role is to listen and at times to speak for her. There is nothing easy about this conversation with grief but there is everything honest about it. Honest doesn’t always fit politely between hello and goodbye. Honest is often messy, raw, and uncomfortable.

Written, voiced, drawn or made, can we welcome our raw and heartbreaking stories of loss? Can we listen to them without looking away or looking for the happy ending? Perhaps if we pave a road for grief to travel and walk beside her for a time we will one day realize she is not an imposter but one of our own.

The full version of this piece appeared on The Huffington Post.

When I’m Gone Please Don’t Have a Funeral

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IMG_7674When my husband passed away 13 years ago we hadn’t talked about what kind of funeral he wanted. At 25, I was too afraid to have the conversation.

When my 98-year-old great-grandmother passed last month on the hunter’s full moon, I finally found the courage to consider what I would hope for upon my passing.

It’s one of those difficult and powerful conversations, the kind that set us free to live fuller, love bigger and fear less. What do you want upon your passing? How does contemplating your death inform your life? What would you say or do today if you knew you would not be here tomorrow?

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When I’m gone please don’t have a funeral,
but do gather in some wild outdoor space.

Don’t hold on to society’s standards of loss,
but do hold on to your loved ones.

Let everyone speak or have the opportunity to speak. If they choose not to speak just let there be silence where the words would be. Hold the space for their choice to be heard.

Don’t praise the good and downgrade the bad, just say it how it was, not how we would have liked it to be.

Let there be singing or chanting or wailing, whatever it is you do.
Open your throat and let it rise from your belly like our ancestors did.

Let there be dancing, as awkward as it will feel. Let the grief move through your bones however it will.

Let there be flowers. Not the perfect kind but the wild kind that don’t match and know how to be messy and beautiful at the same time.

Bring your fear with you, on your face or in your pocket. The fear of stepping outside the box, the fear of death, the fear of breaking open, the fear of not knowing what to do or not knowing what to say.

Bring your love with you. The kind you reserve for your partner or your children. Bring it in buckets and share some with everyone you meet.

When it’s time to part I hope you part slowly, after a collective exhale, maybe pausing at the bottom of the breath until you feel that urgency to breathe, that urgency to live.

And then go live.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

I Believe in The Human Heart

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What do we do when we see it coming at us too fast to escape, too strong to fight against?

Death, illness, trauma or tragedy.

Those things that bring us to our knees in prayer or in weakness, but leveled, hurting, imploding.

Human.

When we can’t hide the wail behind our walls of sanity, when there’s no civilized way out because there was no civilized way in, can we connect with each other here? Here in the mud, here in the muck. Can we who have not been leveled descend, not to dig them out, but to sit with them in their pain?

Isn’t this the ultimate honor, this holding our fellow human (with our arms or words or presence) in birth or in death, in grief or in gratitude, in sorrow or in success but with compassion?

Is this what it means to be human? To sit with another in this deep trench of vulnerability, beneath all the layers of what-we-thought-mattered and to finally know, on the level of our bones, the only thing that matters and has ever mattered is love.

Not the small love we only offer to those who love us back. The big love that does not require reciprocity. The love that asks the hard questions and listens to the uncomfortable answers. The love that is enlarged by our differences instead of threatened by them. The love that heals by seeing our weakness, acknowledging our pain, welcoming our humanity and loving us, not in spite of it, but because of it.

That’s the question for humanity. Can we love bigger? Can we at least try?

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

Plan A

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Somewhere in my teens or 20s I missed the turn sign that announced:
You are now leaving your Plan A life and heading for Plan B.

Who knew the path back to Plan A would be so hard to find,
be the journey of a lifetime,
a pilgrimage into the heart that would deliver me,
not to the golden gates of Plan A but to the starting line.

no map,
no compass,
just this heart,
just these questions,
just this knowing what it wasn’t,
just this commitment to staying the course.

The friends and teachers I’ve met along the way tell me their stories,
share a little bit of their soul to encourage me onward (or inward as the case may be.)
Often we travel together for a time and then diverge,
for we must each listen to our own calling.

This living is a learning, an unlearning, a growing,
a coming together and a falling apart,
a practice in loving. Not the soft kind reserved for kittens and babies,
the powerful kind that can heal countries and families and the humans who make up those families.

I keep an eye out for the sign that says I am detouring back to Plan B,
because while both paths begin at birth and end at death, one only requires I live while the other demands I come alive.

Being Human

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I wonder how we can dignify this human experience
our birth days and our funerals
our love stories and our tragedies
our collapses and our relapses
our wounds, scars and beauty

I don’t have the answer,
but I have this embrace I offer you each time we meet
I have this heart that beats and breaks like yours

I have this experience of being strong, weak, injured, alone, hopeful, dejected, empowered, pained
this experience of being human that I hold out as an offering
as the torch I sometimes carry for you and you sometimes carry for me

It’s a place to start.
It’s a conversation to have.
It’s a question to ask.

What Are You Waiting For?

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woodsWhat are you waiting for?

The world will never approve those big dreams
those too-good-to-be-trues

It will never applaud your going-for-broke
your trusting your instinct
your following your heart

You must approve yourself
trust in it all and risk it all
that heart, that gut, that comfortable life
it must all get put on the line
(the one that keeps moving forward)

This living fully is not a choice but a calling
in the pilgrimage we find the confirmation we seek
in the discomfort we find the aliveness we crave

it is hidden not in the place we search but in our bones
it is trapped in our very being that we push aside trying to please others

we must sojourn to the emptiness we fear to find the enoughness within
and journey it back to the home of our heart where it can seed, rest, and grow
big enough to support our souls and all living beings we encounter
strong enough to cradle vulnerability in its boughs and set her down softly into the world.

It’s a question that has many excuses but only one answer.
What are you waiting for?