I have been missing Sue, I’m sure I always will. Some days the pull to feel her presence is stronger than others. The other day, a friend of mine asked if I had reached out to her across the veil. Deliberately parting the veil is not something I do often these days. I have grown weary of the numinous and perhaps a bit distrustful. So many conspiracies and lunacies are now attached to the spiritual communities, yet there are aspects of home that cannot be denied when one steps into the space of silence. I’d like to think I heard her voice, again, in these words who are not just for me, but for anyone who doubts who they are. I share them here with visuals from the wonderful photographers on Pexels, open to individual interpretation…
You are evergreen boughs seeking water
You are a child gliding on a silver kite into the wind, breathless in wonder
You are hope letting go of despair
The wild window of wonder beckoning us back to life
You are beautiful in the essence of self
You are one thousand moments waiting to occur
The slipstream in the current pulling into infinite possibilities
You are life. Precious and uniquely yours to define.
These were some of the words expressed by my preteen bosses yesterday, and they matter to me. A lot. This is one of the reasons I show up when I get the call to substitute for a teacher who is absent for the day. The pay is lousy, but the bosses can be pretty great.
By great I don’t mean easy. They test me nearly endlessly, as 10-13 yr-olds tend to do. They can be brutally honest, a royal pain in the neck, and incredibly kind. They are our youth in the process of becoming their adult selves. In the classroom, among them, I am reminded of my own struggles, the struggles of my own teenagers, and of how darn hard it can be to be human in the process of becoming.
Each day offers a clean slate. I generally have no idea if I will get the call, and if I do, where I will end up. No matter what, though, I learn something. And usually that learning comes from my young bosses. Yesterday, while taking a mask break outside with my charges bosses, I was reminded of the power of empathy and how beautiful the face of compassion is.
“Throw the ball! Throw the ball!” the words pressured the release of the girl’s hand, which threw without aim, landing the tennis ball on the side of a young boy’s head. It was an accident that resulted in tears but also an unfolding of frustration into the pure, opened heart of empathy.
In a matter of seconds the girl was by the boy’s side, her face awash with compassion and regret. Before he could find his own words, she had made her way to the nurse’s office and back outside with a soft ice pack in her hand.
Never in those moments was there anger or blame. The tears took awhile to disappear back into joy, but they did. By the end of our brief recess, you would not have known there had been an interruption if you were just passing by.
Last week, it was my turn to express compassion and empathy. And with all that baggage of years between us, I’ll admit it took me more seconds than it did for that 10-yr-old-girl.
“Hey, Sam [not his real name],” I called over to the 8th grader who had tested my limits last year like no other kids had. I was ready for resistance. Prepared for a rough day.
Instead, the voice behind the reply sounded impressed, even flattered. “How do you know my name?”
“I remember you from last year.”
That was all it took. If I had told him why, the outcome would have probably been vastly different. Instead, I made the choice to be honest without expounding upon why. I had remembered Sam and that was enough for him. It was, in fact, more than enough. It made him happy. It transformed him a little, and in turn it transformed me.
I don’t know what Sam’s day-to-day life is like, but I know enough about being a middle-schooler to know that it is not always easy. Each action, or non-action in the case of children who fold into themselves, is often a call for acceptance. A call for love. I can only assume that Sam’s tendency towards disruption is a result of his own struggles. Although it can be tiresome and frustrating, it doesn’t mean he is not worthy of love.
I can’t wrap my arms around these young bosses of mine, but I can choose to show them I care in other ways. Sometimes a simple act can yield a profound reaction. I’ve only subbed three days so far this school year and each day has left me transformed.
It was a statement made by a friend on Facebook in response to my recent trip to Spain.
Somehow, in a rather mystical way, home finds me when I travel. Magic opens the window when we are willing to look outside the confines of limiting beliefs. A magic that is not about manipulating the elements to our will, but allowing the wonders that already exist to reveal themselves to the opened mind.
My family and I chose our beach stay because it was in our price range in Costa Brava, and because we liked the few photos we had seen of the timeshare-style resort. The photos, we discovered when we stepped out of our car, did not come close to doing justice to the wonders of the landscape.
If you begin to look for them, you will find the forms of dragons are not so uncommon along coastlines. Their rocky heads jut out over the water, seemingly pulling the energy of Earth’s oceans into the dry body of land. Their lines of fire, in turn, churning the waters around them. It is alchemy at its best. Somewhat hidden and mysterious, but unmistakably felt. The wind is often more wild in these places, the elements palpably alive and alert. How lucky we were to discover not one dragon wrapping around the coast where we stayed, but two…
We walked this pyramidal hill one evening after a lovely dinner in one of the restaurants in the cove below it. The climb was not long, and it was manageable even for those of us in dresses and sandals.
Although I could find no history of this site, either on the hill itself or online, layered remains of times past still exist upon it.
There is something to be said about walking an ancient land at dusk. The veil thins and the energies stir a forgotten magic. It leaves no one untouched, and I could see the feeling of elation mirrored in the faces of my family as we climbed the hill.
It’s a little frustrating not to know the history of a place aside from the feeling it offers you.
We encountered more mystery and intrigue the evening we climbed the well-known castle in the center of Begur, which dates back to the 11th century.
While looking at the breathtaking views atop Begur Castle, my eyes caught upon the mounds below, where are separated from the mountains behind them. Their shapes appear more defined than by the hand of Nature.
But that would have to remain a mystery as well. We did not travel to climb them as we had only allowed for three nights on the coast of Spain. Which, as you can see from this sunset vista taken atop Begur Castle, is stunning.
The time passes as all time does, and we were soon on our way to spend the night with giants on a much larger mountain than the hills of Begur…
I live in a typical upper middle-class American town. People are kind when it’s convenient, and unkind, I suspect more often than most realize. At least these days. It is a place where behind closed doors comparisons are made and unkind remarks are uttered, but it is also a town where, more and more, unkind words are uttered in public. Especially on platforms like social media.
We have a town FB page that was created with the intention to build community. Whenever I go on it, I find posts where people are mocked and attacked. This is not community. This is not kindness. This is not empathy. This is not, I am sure, the only town like this is America. Or in the world right now. We are living in an era of extreme polarization fed by fear and hatred. More often than not, we are globally tapping into the shadowlands of ourselves to react to life, instead of finding the self in the other.
We can blame the previous POTUS for being an instigator and propagator of this dehumanizing type of behavior, but that is also a convenient excuse. Each one of us is endowed with the choice of our actions, thoughts, and words. In any moment we can behave with self-serving rhetoric, or we can step into the space of empathy, kindness, and love.
Some days, like today, I struggle with the pull to react and defend. To try to balance the scales back to humanity. Mocking a global pandemic, which has caused millions of people to die or become seriously ill, is not an act of empathy, love, or kindness. It is an action that is, simply, unjustifiable.
Undermining someone’s concern for their child’s welfare, and the welfare of their child’s classmates and teachers, by a laughing emoji reflects not only a lack of empathy, but a lack of humanity.
We an use the argument of “lies” v. “truth,” which is ever-so-popular right now in our fear-driven, conspiracy-fed world, but where does that truely led us? To more separation from our core essence. To more separation from ourselves and each other. The need to be special, unique, right, and different, drives us away from the realization that we are all worthy of this life we are living.
I wrote this poem before drawing 12 tarot cards as a reflection upon this day. Forty-eight years ago I was born into this life. A life that seems, at times, difficult to define and accept. Birthdays have never been easy days for me, in large part because they have been days, like all the others, not wholly mine to embrace and be embraced by. I knew I would find the chalice in the cards, but I thought it would be The Queen of Cups, as this is how the “I” has reflected itself over the years, but 12 cards unfolding this journey brought The Ace. I had, after all, asked for something new...
There were elephants, apes, cats (both wild and tame), and there were giants. Lots of them. We were not a zoo or a carnival. Nor were we at the circus. We were on the top of a mountain in Spain. If you’ve been there, you will know Montserrat is nothing short of wondrous.
“Look,” my daughter pointed her finger to a grouping of stone figures peering down upon our arrival, “They’re elephants. Except that one. That’s a monkey.”
Wonder is even better when it is shared.
“That,” I added to her assessment, “Is most definitely a giant and it looks like he’s lost one of his four arms.” The figure stood directly over our rooms, as if in constant guard. A sentinel watching pilgrims come and go over thousands of years. To be in the presence of these giants in stone is nothing short of amazing. It is both humbling and mind-boggling. How did they get here? One wonders. How did we get here?
Life’s existential questions hover with you above the clouds and you are certain you must have ascended into another world. A world of stone gods.
They are not unkind. The atmosphere on Montserrat is both welcoming and peaceful. To all. Even though Christian hands have stamped their marks throughout its 4,000 plus feet of peaks and valleys.
Legends tell of a group of shepherds in the year 888 who encountered the presence of the divine while wandering near the top of Montserrat. Beams of holy light shone down upon them and the song of angels and bells filled the air. Each time they returned, they were met with the same holy welcome, which led them to a cave holding an icon of the black Madonna and child, “La Moreneta.”
Montserrat is not only revered by Christians, but by all types of seekers. It is said that the templars sought the Holy Grail here. Numerous UFO sightings have been reported, and there are legends of abductions and strange encounters with other dimensions. Caves channel through the mountain’s body and one gets the sense that its secrets will never been fully revealed.
If I could have stayed here longer, I would have. Maybe for a month, maybe years…
As it was, though, we had less than 24-hrs to explore a small part of the mountain’s mysteries.
We arrived by car to the parking area below the Benedictine monastery, and the small village that includes a hotel, hostal, apartments, shops, and transport stations.
If truth be told, we almost didn’t make it. Montserrat, we soon realized, welcomes you, but also tests your limits. For my husband, it was trusting the mountain would not careen us over its edge as he carefully drove us towards its top. His fear put us all on edge, testing us individually and as a family. I grew impatient as I calculated how much time we had already lost. Acceptance comes when one takes the gift as it can be welcomed only by you. For us, it was our brief, yet magical stay on the mountain.
We were greeted with a perfect day. The sun shining almost within reach through a nearly windless and cloudless expanse of endless sky. You really do feel as though you are on top of the world when you reach the summit of the mountain.
We took the funicular from the village to the summit, then walked back down to the village area. By the time we checked into our hotel and wandered a bit around the abbey (abandoning the chance to see La Moreneta due to the long, inching line), it was nearing the end of the day. We got one of the last runs up the mountain and had just enough time before the sunset to meander our way down, veering just slightly off-course now and then to explore and test limits.
Despite a few tugs of temptation, we stayed the course and followed the well-marked, mostly-paved path. The views are stunning no matter where you are on the mountain, the trail of serrated rock formations instill awe at each turn. We even found a dragon, in stone, meandering down one side. Perfect.
I felt like I had found heaven. Not a perfect heaven, but just the kind-of heaven I prefer. One that awes, but also tests in order to learn.
Even dinner was pretty close to being divine, and we very nearly didn’t get one. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but when my husband called for reservations the night before, he was told they were all booked. Most likely a miscommunication, the information lost and muddled in translation, we found this was in fact not the case. Upon our check-in I had no trouble reserving us a table for 7:45pm.
Our three-course, very reasonably priced meals, came with a large soup or salad (I got the pumpkin soup, which was, yes, divine), a generous and tasty entree, and dessert. If you go, make sure to choose the local cheese and Montserrat honey as one of our dessert options.
Sleeping at Montserrat is deliberately short of luxurious. Even the hotel rooms are furnished in a spartan style that favors celibacy. We had two adjoining twins adorned in plaid earth tones. A bible was the centerpiece of each of our night tables.
The close of day releases all but the committed travels down the mountain, and the village of Montserrat turns into a place of solitude and peace. Except for the bells, which we discovered as we attempted to slumber, ring out the time every quarter-hour. As we struggled with sleep in our rooms without air-condition, windows ajar, letting in the mountain air and the holy bells, I no longer wondered why there were so few of us spending the night.
Yet, I was glad we did.
Night atop Montserrat opens another portal to the heavens. Stars break through the canvas of day to shine in all their rapture. The big dipper was clearly visible as it dove its ladle into the bodies of the giants. It is magical. Other-worldly. An experience one will never forget.
Dawn, in turn, brings with it a quiet splendor as the sun ascends above the clouds and the monks make their way to the abbey.
Breakfast, although more casual in-style, is also impressive at the hotel. It is included with your stay and arrives in buffet style in the informal dining room. Aside from various pastries and fruit, a selection of meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, and beverages are offered. We did not leave hungry.
But we also did not linger too long. We needed to return our car by 10:30am, which became another adventure in itself…
It was with more than a twinge of reluctance that I said goodbye to Montserrat as we made out way down from its spectacular heights. Someday, perhaps, I will get a chance to return.
I no longer wonder how long it will last, but how long we will endure.
We are living in extremes. One side of the world weeps, while the other side burns in fever. One element, without the other, leads to imbalance. Just like in the human body. Too much yin swallows life force. Too much yang, burns it up. Yet, somehow, for now, we endure. Endure to hold onto extremes…
We reflect what we create.
Denial can be a powerful force of destruction. Eyes resist focusing on what brings discomfort.
Turmoil stirs the Earth, but it also stirs the self.
How often do we forget that what we sow within, we reap outside of us?
I find myself growing tired of excuses. The unchecked ego filled with self-affirming prophecies refusing to go inward to see outside the self with clear eyes.
I find myself growing tired of the selfish mind refusing to remember that we are here to take care of not only the self, but the whole.
I am tired of those who insist on being right at the expense of life. Denying a crisis serves no purpose other than for the ego to feel justified.
We are taught by our spiritual leaders that all life is sacred. That we are just one part of a whole. We are taught interconnectedness and to do no harm, yet the ego’s search for separation has led to a world that burns and weeps extremes. A world where more than 4 million people have died from a virus that is mutating out of control because there are so many hosts that refuse to believe it is real.
Refuse to see that inaction can cause harm.
Our Earth was created with free energy and that energy has never left us. Yet we burn her lungs for profit, and drill into the body that feeds us for industrial gain. Temporary gains leaving trails of disease and death.
We are, undeniably, a selfish lot, but we don’t have to be.
Small gestures can go a long way…
Getting a vaccine can not only save your life, but countless others.
Wearing a mask if you are at risk of harming your own life and others, is not a violation of your personal rights, it is an act of ahimsa. It is an act of grace and kindness.
Tending to the planet is not an act of weakness, it is an act of strength. It is an act of ahimsa. It is an act of grace and kindness.
I have become enraptured by a family of robins. I noticed their nest about a month ago, hanging on a low branch of my lilac bush. A mere few inches above the top of my head, it is ideally situated for my viewing. It also happens to be perfectly aligned with one of the windows on my porch. Ideal for taking photographs without intruding on privacy.
On Tuesday I noticed the first hatchling and became enraptured. That was it. My heart filled with love and awe for the circle of life that had decided to grace my yard.
To be privy to this brief unfolding; to watch its emergence and transformation, instills within the humble joy of bearing witness to a miracle. It is the dance of grace. It is small, yet profound reminder that life is in constant cycle.
I have named this family even though they are not mine to name. I am calling the babies Sue and Rachel, and I think perhaps no one will mind that I do. It is my way of remembering two lives that are in their own process of cycling. Two lives I was fortunate enough to share with my own for a brief time. Both lovers of birds who are now untethered from Earth. It seems fitting.
Many a moment is now spent watching. Watching the mother, Bratha, as she tends to her chicks. There are only two, where the average is 3-5 eggs per breeding cycle for the American robin. The number fits nicely into my homage.
In just a few days the eyes of the chicks have opened and their bodies have sprouted thick coats of mottled gray. They are beginning to find their voices as they call out their hunger to their mother.
She is mostly patient and obliging, but she also gives them space. Space to emerge into individuality. I find it both heartbreaking and beautiful. It reminds me of loss, but also of hope.
I am sitting in my car, driving home from my yoga class, shaking my head. The radio is tuned to NPR and there is (another) program on about the pandemic. There have been other programs before it, there will likely be many more as we struggle to overcome what has become a struggle not with just a virus, but with our humanity.
The mystics of old, as well as the mystery schools, teach us that we are all, in essence, one. We are each a piece of a larger consciousness. A consciousness that we become somewhat (but no wholly) separated from for a period of time to learn and grow back into the return of unity.
This is the prevailing concept that drives my life. This is why I turned to the mysteries. To yoga. To studying Life, as best I can, in each moment.
To me, the concept of “oneness” includes the knowing that at our core there is love. It is the force of love that drives life into being. It is the force of love that sustains the continuation of Life, and it is the force of love that unites our separation into unity.
Even though I grew up with a very scientifically structured childhood and adolescence, there were seeds of spirituality scattered throughout. Seeds of this idea of unity and of a conscious energy that flows through all life. In the closet were decks of Tarot cards, no longer used. On the shelves, books about the divine feminism and yoga. In my household there was the prevailing, underlying knowing of this greater consciousness, even if it was largely ignored.
I studied biology (and English) at Bowdoin College. A place filled with brilliant minds and inquisitive students. My lust for understanding Life led me to read writing by philosophers, mystical poets, and scientific texts based on logic and theories that could be tangibly proven. After Bowdoin, I went on to study, for a brief time, at Brown University. Another place filled with brilliant minds and inquisitive students. Over the course of my years studying in the field biological sciences, I worked in four different research laboratories. I ran experiments in molecular genetics at Bowdoin, and in two different laboratories at Brown. Then, when I left Brown after deciding that a career in a laboratory wasn’t for me, I took a 1.5. yr temporary position under a neurogeneticist who was getting ready to retire at Massachusetts General Hospital. Why am I telling you all of this? Because during these years I met and worked with several brilliant minds all with a shared interest of studying and understanding Life, not for mere personal gain, but for a genuine and sincere interest in making the lives of others better.
Over the years I have moved into the more mystical side of science, yet “science” is ever-present in my life. It always will be. Science is integral to who we are. We are complex molecular structures woven into complex bodies of cells, muscles, and tissues that move and operate through a matrix of energy systems. We are science, but we are also more. Pervading through these bodies of cells and atoms is a life force that sustains us and will sustain our being after our bodies return to Earth.
Life happens. Things go wrong. We get sick. We mistreat our bodies. We mistreat each other. We are human beings having a human experience. We are imperfect. That is why we are here to learn and to grow…back into unity.
This is why I am deeply troubled, as I know many of you are, by the extreme polarity that persists in our world. That stuff that seeds war, racism, hatred, and mistrust is bothersome to me. All of these aspects of our minds that move us away from unity and the knowing that we are more alike than we are different. This polarizing movement away from the knowing that we are all, in essence, seeds of the same light.
We have our individual experiences, and hence we are different from each other. Experiences, which I believe, most often extend throughout many lifetimes. Yet are are not served well from these experiences if we do not explore their effects on us and on others.
I have a friend whom I consider to be deeply spiritual. She has studied Shamanism, as well as reiki and other forms of the more mystical aspects of life for many years. And she is also college educated, with two degrees, was brought up in a Jewish household, and considers herself a follower of both the mysteries and science. Although she has a deeply rooted fear of needles (not vaccines), which may seem illogical unless you follow the thread of experiences of past-lives, she pushed through her fears and got the COVID-19 vaccine. Even though she is health-compromised from fibromyalgia, I am happy to report she is doing fine post-vaccine. There were some uncomfortable side effects a day-and-a-half, but they have passed.
I am incredibly impressed by her strength and fortitude. I admire her ability to balance a life of science and mysticism while constantly keeping her fears in check through awareness. She believes in the prevailing goodness of humanity, even though she knows we are all imperfect beings having a human experience. My friend also believes in facts and data. She knows that “numbers don’t lie,” and that the deaths from this virus have far exceeded any fear she harbored about getting jabbed with a needle. In her case, she is not afraid of the vaccine, she is afraid of the mechanism that administers it.
And she owns it. In order to understand her fear she did not divine into a conspiracy. She did not search the irrational to find an excuse. She dove into herself. This is, in my humble opinion, what defines a good Life student. My friend sought to understand herself, and in doing so, uncovered the root of her resistance to getting the jab. And in doing so, she overcame it. Not just to help herself, but because she knows that we are all interconnected. She is aware that by vaccinating herself, despite the risks of her underlying health condition, she is helping others who may be susceptible to becoming ill, or worse, from a virus.
A couple of days ago, another friend of mine brought to my awareness a recent article titled “Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine Was My Act of Ahimsa.” Ahimsa is the yogic practice of living life with the intention of inflicting as little harm as possible on other beings. It is the principle of altruism based on a selfless knowing that we are all connected, and that all life has meaning and value. The author of the article wrote this assertion after her diligent research separating facts from conspiracies and speaking with experts in the field, “It brought me right back to my understanding of ahimsa. While the concept of ahimsa’s direct command is not to kill, its wider, and more positive meaning is simple: to love.”
Unlike my friend, the author of this article was at very low risk for having any side-effects from the virus or the vaccine, yet she decided to get the vaccine as an act of ahimsa. She thought not merely of herself, but of the wholeness of humanity of which she is a part. She weighed the risks against the benefits. She explored the intricacies of science and how viruses work, as well as the vaccines meant to keep them in check. And, she overcame her personal fears to do what she considers to be the right thing for the world.
Feeding mistrust divides us. A lot of controversy spun out of this article, which appeared in Yoga Journal. Some people were outraged. Others read through their personal fears and insecurities and saw the love at the core of it. They saw Ahimsa. Sometimes life requires us to surrender to trust and faith in the prevailing goodness that unites us. Yes, there will always be those that would do harm based upon their own life experiences, but the vast majority of beings walking this Earth are striving, ever-striving, towards that reconnection with Love. Including the scientists and healthcare workers that dedicate their lives toward ahimsa.
Before I get out of my car to enter back into my home, I listen to the words of the reporter on the radio, lingering for a moment in my garage. He is talking about all those thousands of people dedicated to saving lives. In particular, various healthcare workers who are emotionally and physically exhausted from months that have now stretched past a year of trying to save lives. And he is talking about some, more than a few, who are so exhausted they are considering giving up their careers. They simply have depleted their personal supply of constantly giving of themselves in the face of death and adversity. Giving up their careers is not turning away from ahimsa, it is, sadly, instead a result of too many people not practicing its principles. We cannot do it all alone, but we can, together, live in the belief of love.