For The Hard Women

I am not afraid of your hardness. I know it grew out of necessity, just like mine did.

I know it keeps you safe and in control, and that’s okay.

I see the part of you that is soft and open and wants to have the conversation, the one where you’re heard and seen and don’t have to prove how smart or successful or resourceful or worthy you are because we both know you’re enough without all that stuff.

Through your eyes I see the softness wriggling in the cage of your heart, trying to find a way out, and how some of that softness turns into anger, and how that too is valid.

So we talk about where you’re from and how long you’re visiting and the ages of the kids.

And I want to thank you for reminding me of myself, or say something to crack the superficial exchange, but instead I just smile into the space between us because then you’ll know there is a bridge your heart can cross when it finds the key to that cage.

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What I Remember

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?

I Believe in The Human Heart

beliefin3words

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.

The 4 Gratitudes

shadowsI am so grateful he comes home every night
and sleeps in my bed
and loves our child
and holds us together
heartsoulandskin

I am so grateful he is my teacher
those little eyes so wise and clear
reminding me of what matters
and what doesn’t
sharing giggles and tears and teaching me patience
every step of the way

I am so grateful I said yes
the day my brother offered to buy her for me
those human eyes in that furry body
and that I didn’t know she would tear my life and home apart
only to help me rebuild it full of love

I am so grateful we four sync our hearts together
day in and day out
in love, in sadness, in triumph, in loss
and witness the unraveling of our egos
and the stringing together of our souls

one heartbeat at a time.

Love Itself

I’m in a kind of dance with love lately. Sometimes it’s cheek-to-cheek, sometimes it’s a graceful waltz, sometimes it’s a wild gleeful swing, and sometimes it’s a solo sway to the rhythm of my heart.

When my ears stumbled upon the words below, I felt compelled to share them here, as I think all our hearts are heretics of the free spirit.

One of my favorite people on the planet was Marguerite Porete, lived around 1300. And she lived a very — she was a Beguine, and she lived a very kind of proper, Beguine life as a lay monastic kind of person.

But she wrote a book called The Annihilation of the Simple Soul. And in that book she describes how she has fallen in love with love. And as a consequence, she has left behind the virtues. She leaves behind the virtues in order to embrace love itself. And then she quotes Augustine, “Love love and do what you will,” that this becomes the moral axis.

So it’s no longer the church telling her what to do. She says, “I leave the little church and now I go into the large church, the great church.” So, she left the little church of the virtues. Because she, I think, discovered the source of the virtues themselves, codified and rigorously enforced.

She was burned at the stake as a heretic of the free spirit.

That’s the heresy. I think she was 600 years ahead of her time. And we all have that possibility now of making that discovery, stepping out.

Most of us have, I think, in this room, probably stepped out of the little church and may be finding our way to the big church. – Arthur Zajonc

Coming Home

rainbowI tap on the walls of my heart.

Are you in there? Can we talk?

She seems so close at times, resting a few inches deep in my chest, only a whisper away. Yet today it feels I must travel miles to see her clearly.

So I begin my journey. Miles in silence, miles in movement, miles in questioning.

Where are you? When will you speak? I cannot hear you. Are you saying something? Come closer still.

When all is silent I know it is not because she lacks the courage to speak but because I lack the courage to listen.

So I stop asking, stop moving, stop meditating, stop trying so hard to catch her.

And I start listening. To the wind howl and the rain drop. To the birds chatting and the leaves rustling. To the ambulance wail and the motorcycle’s blast. To my baby’s giggles and my dog’s bark. To my own footsteps and the silence between my breaths. To my own heart beat.

Slowly I begin to hear her. Speaking the truths she always speaks.

She is back, a few inches deep in my chest. A whisper away. Where she always was.

Waiting for me to come home.

Soul Work

To get right to the point, Why are you here?

Let’s put our learned answers aside for a moment because I’m interested in your answer, not something you learned from a doctrine or a book or an authority figure.

And I’m not even that interested in your answer. I’m interested in your asking the question and sitting with that space in between the asking and the answering.

That space, that’s what I’m after. For you, for me, for all of us soul-seekers and truth-speakers.

A few weeks ago my teacher posed that question to a room full of yogis high on meditation and asana: Why are you here?

Tonight I ended up at this same question oddly enough through what I thought was a very innocent analysis of why Rich and Strong are so sought-after in our society. To put it another way, why Weak and Vulnerable are what we try to hide away from the world. Not what we try to deny – because deep within, in our most private of moments all of us surrender to weak and vulnerable. What is interesting to me is why we try to hide it away.

Here’s what I came up with (non-scientifically speaking):
If we reveal to the world that we are weak or vulnerable there are a few things we fear will happen:

We will get hurt.
We will be outcast and not accepted.
We will feel embarrassed.
We will look pitiful.

Wrap these up into one line and it sounds a lot like this: We will not be loved.

Follow me into this hypothetical world of We are not loved. What are our options then?
Some people avoid their reality.
Some people kill themselves.
Some people confront their reality.

Why do these drastic measures seem the only option in a world where we don’t feel loved? Because many of us would ask in that moment, Why am I here if I am not loved?

Feeling loved is powerful, healing, and vital to our thriving. But in our hypothetical world of not being loved we aren’t concerned with thriving.

We are concerned with surviving.

So the more important question in that moment seems to be not do we feel loved, but Do we love ourselves?

What I observe is that most of us don’t wrestle with these two questions – Do I love myself and Why am I here – until we have no other choice. Until life takes everything away from us that matters and strips us of every label, identity, and story we ever had.

Then all we’re left with is that question, why are we here, and the haunting echo of nothingness.

Our minds will give us answers, just as they do with the other powerful question – Who Am I? – but while the answer would be helpful, I believe the transformation happens in between the question and the answer, in the darkness. In the silence.

In the absence of knowing we bathe in pure being. The answer doesn’t matter and the question doesn’t matter. This matters. This being. This wholeness.

If we are lucky enough to get an answer, to learn our dharma, then we are both privileged and tasked with the obligation to live it.

Maybe that’s why we don’t ask the question in the first place until it’s the only thing we have left to hold onto. Maybe it’s why we cling to what we know and what other people think of us. Maybe it’s why we spend our lives trying to prove we’re strong enough, good enough, and just plain enough. Because if the world takes away its good impression of us what do we have left?

We have ourselves. And we have questions. Questions that have no answers. Darkness everywhere we turn until we look within. There we find the ember of being that is the only light that ever mattered.

Stoke that ember. Stoke it like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

What I Know About An Open Heart

heartMy uncle had open-heart surgery last week.

In my good-sized extended family our reunions tend to take place at hospitals instead of at holidays. It’s an interesting dynamic trying to stretch my heart open wide enough to hold both the joy at seeing my family and the sadness or stress because of why we’re at the hospital.

It feels scary to do that—to stretch my heart wide open.

It makes me feel vulnerable which makes me feel protective and afraid I won’t be able to handle it. But mostly it makes me feel open. And when I’m open love can not only flow in, it can also flow out.

I did a little research on open-heart surgery and here’s what my non-med-school mind gathered: It’s a big deal.

It can vary from procedure to procedure but in many cases the chest is opened. While the surgeon works on the stopped heart, a heart-lung machine continues to send blood to the brain and other organs.

Healing happens in phases, the first of which lasts six to eight weeks.

The medical advances and science that are required to accomplish this is amazing. What’s equally amazing to me is the findings of the HeartMath Research Center, an institute devoted to decoding the heart-mind connection physiologically and how that affects our quality of life.

Without going into too much detail, some of what they’ve found is this:

“The heart affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance and personal effectiveness. Our research and that of others indicate that the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organized information processing center with its own functional ‘brain’ that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences profoundly affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs, and ultimately determine the quality of life.”

This gives us a major incentive to take care of our hearts both figuratively and literally.

When was the last time we had a heart-to-heart with our heart?

These aren’t always easy conversations. I find the only time I can truly enter my heart is when I am completely present, which requires radical attention and focus. Otherwise I’m not entering my heart. I’m entering my mind. I’m entering my mind’s representation of what my heart holds, but not my actual heart itself.

My mind likes to tell me a lot about my heart, kind of like a know-it-all friend likes to give us the low-down on everyone else. But that is often not the truth of the matter.

We find what’s really going on in our hearts by stepping into our bodies (quite literally into our body and out of our mind) and thus into our present moment.

Here is where the heart-to-heart happens. Like any authentic conversation, expect some powerful clearing to come from it.

What I know about my heart is that it’s a muscle. Physically and emotionally it’s a muscle. It needs to pump to work and it needs to love to work. Not just once or twice but every moment of every day for my entire life.

Life will perform open-heart surgery on all of us many times over in our lifetime.

It will feel like our chest is being ripped open.

It will feel like our heart has stopped beating.

It will take us time to heal. When we heal, our heart will beat better than ever and it will love better than ever.

Over and over again our hearts will get broken. When they heal we will find they can hold a little more love than they could before. When we can hold a little more love, we can give a little more love.

And that’s what makes the world go round.

Originally published on elephantjournal.

photo via Pinterest

The Art of Decompressing

To quote yoga teacher Darren Rhodes: “You’ve got to be able to handle compression.”

He likens this concept to the air inside a tire. There’s a lot of compression in that tire, but because of the way it handles it, it isn’t crushed. It can roll with it, if you will.

I’m in the midst of learning how I handle compression on a new level. It’s been a challenging year full of twists, turns and transitions that seem to go on forever. My old resources for staying full and balanced have been mostly unavailable, so I’m navigating new territory in a new way and quickly finding holes in my tires so to speak.

The idea of managing compression reminds me of scuba diving. Divers can dive deep fairly quickly, but they must surface much slower. The diving compresses their lungs and the rising to the surface decompresses them, but this decompression takes time.

The compression that happens in many yoga poses is often supported by an inner buoyancy that supports our inner body even as our outer body becomes compressed. When backbending, for example, we keep our back body full energetically to support the compression of bending backwards.

We get better at handling these polar opposites – staying full while under pressure – through practice, practice, practice. In yoga we practice the same poses over and over, not to get better at them but to get better at us; to get better at staying attentive to what happens as we move into poses we like and poses we don’t like, poses that feel liberating and poses that feel compressed.

In life we practice staying attentive to what happens when we move into situations we like and situations we don’t like, situations that feel free and situations that feel compressed.

This begs the question, what supports us when we’re compressed? The air supports the tire. The air is what re-inflates the diver’s lungs as they rise to the surface. For us humans it’s Prana, or our vital life force, that supports us when life begins to get intense. That’s the air in our tires.

I find love to be a great source of Prana, both the giving it, the receiving it, and the embodying it. It’s so healing, so filling, and so powerful yet unassuming. Ironically when we feel compressed (read stressed, burdened, or tired) love is sometimes the last thing we feel we can tap into.

Thankfully it often comes tapping on the window of our soul and asks to come in. When I soften to that invitation I fill myself up, find I feel more alive and, like that diver rising to the surface, I learn that decompressing is often more a practice of allowing than one of forcing.

As I continue on my journey of learning to handle compression I hope love keeps tapping at the window of my soul, reminding me that receiving, giving and embodying love is what will support my inner being when my outer being feels compressed; and that embracing these polar opposites is what will allow me to ride through life come what may.

Wild Things

wild thingIt takes a brave soul to love a wild thing.

A wild animal, a wild heart, a wild spirit… they all require the same courage.

I didn’t start out brave, but I’m ending up brave because loving a wild thing cracks your heart open one day at a time, not all at once. I didn’t decide when I took my first wild thing home, I’m going to love deeper than I’ve ever known. I just committed to owning something. I called it an animal, but really I was committing to owning my own heart.

Yes, I thought I owned my heart before, but not like this. I didn’t realize this 5-pound animal was stretching my heart strings ever so gradually until one day I saw my heart had opened to her more than it had to any human being.

This kind of open I only trusted to an animal because only she could understand the primal rawness of my heart and how I wasn’t as tough as I seemed on the outside.

Getting to know her introduced me to another wild thing I hadn’t met formally, my heart, and taught me that all wild things need the same stuff: to be seen, to be loved, and to be free.

All my wild things have one thing in common. They understand the natural cycle of high and low, rest and intensity, life and death. They need no explanation for my tears, no definition of my mood, no justification of my worth. They are content to just be with me here, one life sitting with another.

I take them for granted, I love them more than I admit, I hold them close, and I will lose them one day. When their cycle of life is over I will find another wild thing to love. Not because they can be replaced, but because that’s what they taught me: how to love and be loved and that it’s the only way to stay truly alive.

This is the cycle of life that all wild things accept. It’s why they are content with just being, why they’re so shamelessly alive and why they forgive so easily.

They know the secret to life: This is it.

Let’s spend it together.