In Hyde Park, the people are standing outside on the streets, sitting on the porch, parked in chairs on the sidewalks and are looking up at the skies… The skies are bejeweled with color and dazzling sparks. The sound is intensely booming the celebration of freedom.
For one evening during this period of uncertainty, we are united by awe and wonder. Couldn’t we remember to regard each person with awe, respect and wonder more often?
These days, the news reports that drivers are more aggressive on the roads and that there are higher accidents and fatalities on the road. Some people are channeling their unbridled emotions with pressure on the gas pedal or taking unnecessary risks. Today, while driving along Western south of Jefferson Boulevard, someone passed to my left, crossing onto the lane of the opposite traffic and swerved to make a right turn, crossing three lanes. Bold and stupid to say the least.
During my drive, prior to being a witness to that, I was musing about the gamut of human emotions. I thought, as an experiment, that I would start to take notes on the range of emotions I experience in a twenty-four hour period, and correlate those emotions with the thoughts that motivated the emotions. Then, as an objective scientist, I would create a bar graph of the categories of thoughts-emotions, to visualize which bars tend to be higher than others. This bar graph would be an indicator of my tendencies, and perhaps help me to manage my emotions better.
My emotions have been running high. I shared with someone that, lately, I’ve been yelling a lot at the dogs. My temperature gauge is running hot and I don’t like this trend. Upon recognizing my rising emotional temperature, I reasoned that the dogs prefer to be near me, especially with the illegal fireworks exploding during the evenings and sometimes well into the late night. Or they are looking for attention when they destroy the hose or bend the metal bars of the screen door. Big sigh.
It’s interesting to me that what inspired the idea of taking an inventory of my thoughts and feelings by logging them was leafing through a book called “Classics of the Foreign Film”, by Parker Tyler, and published in 1962. Open a page and there, bared to the eyes of the soul are images of the human condition. Every page is breaming with these images. I think this compilation is better than National Geographic. It is art made by artists about You and Me, Us and Them, Me and We, He and She. It is the relationships put into cinematographic art form by years, starting with 1919 thru 1961 from different countries (Germany, France, Italy, Poland, India, USSR, Japan and more).
I don’t quite understand how my mind made the connection of what I’ve been experiencing with my emotions to the catalogue of dramatic scenes in those pages. Like a light switch, the light turned on and I recognized that I needed to step back in my own life and see it as a movie. In doing that, I don’t identify so much as the doer but more of an experiencer of what’s happening at the moment. i.e. not to take it all so personally (in pill form). Watch the images projected on the blank screen as passing moments. The only thing permanent is the screen, me; while the experiences are ephemeral.
This, all this, that’s been making our emotions run high and low, shall pass.
There are three principles in the practice of yoga that can apply to a writing practice. These principles originate from the second chapter of the “bible” for yogis, called “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali. It is an ancient collection of “sutras” (known as “threads” in Sanskrit) compiled into a book by the guru Patanjali around 200 C.E.
“Union in Action” is daily life lived in a clear and conscious way. – The Yoga Sutras.
As a sporadic writer, still aspiring to do something more ambitious than what I’ve been doing with my writing, I recognize that perhaps how I conduct my yoga practice could be useful to my writing life. Having spent a lot of time reading books on creativity and writing; immersing in artistic milieus: writing classes, acting classes, participating in LAFPI, attending plays… I continue to experiment and looks for ways to turn it around.
In my last blog,“Why Write?”, the fire within was ignited. Do not quit. I actually had stopped writing for about a two year plus period, because it was too painful, and too much heavy lifting to move my hands across the page, and draw sludge out of my veins, and what came forth was painful and ugly, and maybe even toxic. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped, because all those things I deemed “ugly” and “untouchable” were all parts of me I was denying.
In the past, yoga has been a practice that has sustained me through times of hardships. When my husband died so suddenly, some people gave me journals and encouraged me to write. I did for awhile, and I even started the entries as Day 14, Day 15 and so on. There were days when I couldn’t write, but I kept track of the days… Day 218. So I would say that writing has also been a companion that helped me through troubled times.
So, why not combine the two? The elements of the the triage can elevate my writing life and sustain it so that I can be more consistent and revive the spirit of joy in my writing. The triangle is known as the strongest structure in engineering and architectural structures. So the same goes for the triage of the three elements listed below. All three are required to have “Union in Action” for writing:
Willful Practice or Refinement – Tapas
Self-Study or Reflection – Svandhyaya
Release and Surrender – Ishvara-Panidhara
(The italicized words are Sanskrit.)
Tapas translate to heat, and burning the impurities of the body and the mind and it leads to the refinement of the body, the mind and the spirit. I show up at the mat on a regular basis in both my own practice and when I teach. As a writer it’s required to show up in the writing space with the intent to write without false distractions (hunger, internet browsing, making and receiving phone calls, texting, walking the dog).
Tapas in a practice generates heat in the body as the muscles, tendons, joints and bone move into a pose (asana) with mindful awareness. From initiating the movement to holding the pose, the yogi expands his consciousness inward and outward. Self-study of the micro-movements of the body and the micro-movements of the mind and the breath. Svandhyaya in writing is conscious awareness of the process. If hunger arises then examine if the is the hunger real or an excuse to step away from the writing. In expression of the truth, are the thoughts expressed with the right intention? Is the truth being circumnavigated? Maybe the writer is not yet ready to juice the truth?
Listen to your body in both practices. On the mat, to be safe and to transform to higher states, the yogi listens to the body. Is it tired? Is the yogi ready to scale up to more difficult asanas or to hold the pose longer with more edge? As in writing, listen to the body. Is it fatigued? Is it tensed when writing something that releases trauma in the tissue. In yoga therapy the belief is “your biography is your biology”, so it the same in writing. It is a cathartic process that moves energy of a stored memory in the tissue to the outer sheaths beyond the muscles and skin.
Finally, with Ishvara-Panidhara, there is release and surrender. Upon initiating the movement into an asana using proper breathing of knowing when to inhale and exhale, while conscious of the spine alignment, the yogi listens to the feedback from all parts of herself. Where is the resistance? Where is the flow? How to adjust? Is this the edge? Allow and accept the edges (physical, emotional and mental) to be. Do not allow the ego to dictate the practice. Release expectations that push beyond unhealthy edges. So it is the same in writing. When forcing a release, sometimes there are means to help take off the edge. It takes courage to look at a blank page and then dive off the cliff. A little something can help give courage, but that some thing (be it alcohol, drugs, or eating sweets) can become addictive and unhealthy. As I described earlier I stopped writing for awhile. I just needed to be still.
How can any writing happen in being still? There are incubation periods and healing periods. When an athlete or a dancer is hurt part of the recommended physical therapy is rest to allow the injury to heal. So it is in writing, allow the heart to heal. To prescribe “stop writing” is not for everyone, but for me it was better to stop for a little while.
I once asked a writing mentor if a writing life means writing all the time. He had just finished describing a scenario that while waiting at an intersection for the light to turn green, he observed the driver of the car in front of him and it triggered an idea for a piece to write. So he said that he is always writing though not physically putting words on a page. The writing life is a way of being. I recognize the surrender to a writing life of accepting where I am at – at an intersection of my writing life where the light is green and there are road signs saying “Caution”, “Road Under Construction”. Surrender to what is in the now. Trust that I am at the right place at the right time. Let go of the results. I cannot force a blossom to bloom beautifully when the mini-me gets in the way.
I am stretching for a story to share with you to relieve my stress over writing. Here are a few things I’ve read in the past weeks related to writing.
“Writing is easy. You just sit and stare at the blank page until the drops of blood form on your brow.” – This is a sign on the desk of the wife of another writer Philip Zaleski (“The Best American Spiritual Writing” – 2007). His analogy was writing is like praying, a kind of spiritual discipline. “A spiritual discipline is something you engage in on a regular basis, whether you feel like or not.”
Like others, I’ve struggled with the question “Why write?”. It’s not something that haunts me. Although, when I look at the heaps of journals in boxes that I’ve hauled around with me from place to place during the past 40 years, then there’s gotta be something there that draws me to write. So I look to other writers who write successfully (whatever that means) and those that do it for practice (spiritual or otherwise).
Among the first names that come to mind is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The process of creating “The Gulag Archipelago”, moved me to ask what was his compulsion to write the manuscript.
He wrote the three volumes of non-fiction about the forced labor camp system in secrecy, while under the surveillance of the KGB. Then, following that, if the Soviet government caught anyone with the possession of the manuscript then it would mean imprisonment for ‘anti-Soviet’ activities. The process of getting the work published was an enormous feat, and unfortunately resulted in the death of Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, an assistant to the writer. She was captured and tortured by the KGB to reveal the whereabouts of a copy of the typed manuscript. Shortly after her release, she was reported to have hung herself in her apartment.
“It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God’s heaven.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Not sure if the “gladly” was in his mind during the creative process of “Gulag Archipelago”, but there is a joy in fulfilling one’s purpose and he was clearly aware of his purpose.
Margaret Mitchell said in an interview after writing the novel “Gone With the Wind”: “If the novel has a theme, it is that of survival. What makes some people able to come through catastrophes and others apparently just as able, strong, and brave go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are those who fight their way through? I only know that the survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’”
This quote inspired me, because of Nebiy Mekonnen (Ethiopian poet, journalist, playwright and translator). His story was among the collection of writings in the book “The Best American Spiritual Writing”. Nebiy was the subject of the essay “Tomorrow is Another Day” authored by Carol Huang. It describes Nebiy’s experience as a prisoner during the Derg Regime’s Red Terror. During his eight year term, Nebiy translated the novel “Gone With the Wind” from English to Amharic. The novel was the sole book available in the prison. Nebiy and his cellmates shared the book by circulating the book whereby one cell mate had the book for an hour each day before passing it on to the next person in the rotation.
By Nebiy’s fourth rotation of the book, he started translating it from English to Amharic using the lining torn from empty packs of cigarettes (and he wasn’t even a smoker). His goal of translating the novel to the native language of his people garnered support from the other prisoners. Some sacrificed their hour of reading for Nebiy, so that his work could progress faster. Meanwhile the smokers passed their emptied cigarette packs to his cell so that he could scribble the translations on salvaged paper including “puzzling over phrases such as ‘fiddle-dee-dee’.” Beyond this laborious process the translated pieces of paper had to be smuggled out of jail. The bits of paper were folded and repacked into empty packs of cigarettes that were resealed. The packets were casually transported out of the jail building in the shirt pockets of men released from jail.
“Whether you have black history or a white history, history is history,” he said. “You have to look for the outcome, which was the America that emerged. The present wouldn’t have been had the Civil War not been. That was the basic thing. I really prayed that the country (Ethiopia) would reach that level. And really, if you were in prison and read that book and saw the end of it, where of destruction reconstruction come, where out of war comes peace – that is the utmost you can dream of.” – Nebiy Mekonnen from the essay “Tomorrow is Another Day”
“Why write?”, indeed in the face of the enormity of what these three writers have accomplished. It is humbling to imagine what they’ve done, but at the same time, they humbled themselves to the creative force working through them.
Staring at a blank page feels like moving a mountain. I think about it, and see that the mountain is really my ego. It’s the ego that whispers and sometimes shouts, mouthing the words “You’re not good enough”. But, there are days when something inside me, the bigger “I” surmounts the little “i”, and then… and then some beads of blood form over my brow.
Writing contains a common thread that binds us together. It is one word strung together to another word and so on and so on, and then a thought is formulated and that thought triggers an emotion. The emotion moves something within, and that something is inside all of us. And that’s what makes us human; and being conscious of this is what makes it sublimely divine. We are divinity, and we’re always aspiring to our higher selves. So this is why I write.
Coming back from a brief and fast walk with my dog, my cheeks are burning from the nip of the cold rain. I love the contrasts of sensations. Each step, I recount the moments of stepping on slippery rocks and roots along the trail by Lynn Creek in North Vancouver. My dog, sniffing the carpet of dripping moss under a Cypress tree lingers, and lingers. And now my mind lingers too. My heart is heavy, my steps are light. I accept, finally, that I can never go back home.
The home I had was a memory that lived in my heart. And I recognize that if I continue to yearn and ache for the past then I will continue to bear the weight of loss and longing. So how do I cure myself of this malaise?
Many of us are self-isolating in our homes waiting for this tide of pandemic to pass. It is April 7th, 2020, and in a few days Easter will be celebrated quite differently from previous times; and also the beginning of Passover will be a new experience. These religious milestones are periods of deep reflection and reverence for events that uplifted the mentality and the hearts of people living the Christian and Jewish traditions. The rituals of these “Holy Days” conflate the past, present and the future. The past is the remembrance, the present is the practice, and the future is the hope.
And there seems to be an answer to what I just thought and put down on this page. The past is the remembrance, the present is the practice, and the future is the hope.
The practice can be anything. It could be walking, writing, or anything done with mindfulness. Today, I am remembering to be present to what’s happening now. It can seem so overwhelming to consider the “what if’s” of the future not yet here. There are so many permutations that can come out of this present moment. And the wisdom I’ve read and sometimes remember to do is to be aware of my intention of the moment. My intention(s) will produce the outcome just like a simple or compound math equation that has two parts on either side of the equal sign.
So I practice awareness of the feelings and the thoughts that come in flurry, like the raindrops slashing across my eyes, cheeks, nose and lips. My warm breath condensing to the temperature drop beyond, and I pause to weep for a moment only, then walk on, calm, assured that hope is just beyond the next step, the next breath.
Easier said than practiced, but this is what practice is all about. It is showing up to the page, to the mat, to my feet on the ground, to the listening with an open heart. An open heart that accepts all foibles and doubts without judgment. Once in awhile, I can easily open up the trinket box of memories and wish for things to be what they once were. The scent of a perfume or the colors of a bloom, a snippet of a conversation, a dream – all these can pull me back, but I mustn’t linger lest I lose track of the moment now.
The way of life as I knew it before the lockdowns, a domino effect in towns and cities across the world, will never be the same. Neither you nor I can go back to that way anymore. It’s odd to “feel dirty” after grocery shopping, as I dispose of masks and gloves and anything that might be contaminated into the garbage and the washing machine. Grocery shopping of the past was a treat, filling the basket with favorite things and believing these things will always be there.
So savor the moments, the flavors, the scents, the observations, because it’ll be over soon enough.
Home is where my heart is, to be present and to be aware of the gift of this time.
It’s been 5 days or more that this task has been haunting me. What should I write about? What do I want to write about? A slew of ideas come to me, but I am not able to piece any of it together. Why? Why? Why?
Oh forget the why’s. Just do it.
So I pop open my laptop, a dinosaur of a Mac OS 10.6.8.
First the battery had died so I plugged it in. I am baffled, at first, as to which port the power fits into without ruining the jacks. Hours later, the green light goes on. Yay! Screen displays, password verification… Uh-oh. Oh sh-t. I type in tentatively a few guesses and the screen responds with a terrifying tremble. Eventually I do get in, feeling guilt. If I did this more often, then all this would be in my bones. Ah well, it’s a new year, I promise to be better. Tally on.
Click on Pages… another hurdle – ‘Enter your purchased iWork ‘08 serial number’. Has it been that long? I’ve either misplaced or tossed out the box. I should’ve saved the number in a file somewhere. Oh well, another one to work on getting better at. Continuous improvement, right?
Be resourceful. Ok, got it. Google Docs! Click on the Safari icon. What now? “This version of Safari is no longer supported. Please upgrade to a supported browser…” I press on, hoping I can fool this stupid software. I tap on the “W” and pops open a dialog box telling me “Unable to load file. Try to load it again or send an error report.” a big bold pushbutton “Reload” is below the polite words. I am feeling it, like Captain Pickard. “Make it so, Number 1”. This action clears away the dialog box thus inviting me to tap the next letter “h”, and there it is again – “Reload”. The booming command reminds me of cannons that I feel like aiming aiming at my screen.
Be patient and calm. Just do it.
I choose to shift courses and use Chrome. Click. Search for Google Docs, and click again to find a login screen for my Google account – pinky hovers over the ‘a’ of the keyboard, then press and nothing. Let’s do this again. Pinky hovers over the ‘a’ then down. Nien. Huh? Okay. I now vaguely remember why I haven’t been using this laptop. The ‘a’ letter is no longer functional. I ingeniously remembered my ‘work around’ for this problem. Open a virtual page and highlight the letter ‘a’, and copy it to the clipboard. Whenever I need the letter ‘a’ then I do quick “Command+V”, and there’s an ‘a’.
Voila! Fait accompli.
Now just save this puppy and post it.
The most unexpected things can inspire one to write. For me it was the briefest email from a friend who sent me a comic strip, saying that he saw “this” and it reminded him of me.
Veritas is the logo of Harvard. Its meaning is “truth”.
What is truth? Could it be that it is the convergence to a point from different directions and planes; a traveler through space and time; the weaving in and out of needlepoints that evolve stories depicted in a tapestry?
The majestic tree stood resilient, with its gnarled roots and knotted trunk. Its boughs were heavy with magnolia buds and waxen leaves. This tree will not be moved, unless it fell to blows of external power – mechanical or through an act of nature. This tree is truthful.
October 9th, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of The Harvard Independent newspaper. It is the second newspaper of Harvard, second in its inception to The Harvard Crimson. The first president of The Harvard Independent Morris Abram Jr., gave a remarkable speech that had three parts: a recognition of the architects and builders of the newspaper; remembrance of the good times and hard times; finally a plea to build a new and permanent home for the staff of the paper. Morris recounted how the idea of a second newspaper in Harvard was formulated on a napkin in the cafeteria between himself and Mark Shields, a senior, while Morris was a sophomore. Between the two men they recognized the oxymoron of what they had: • no funding • no experience or idea about starting or running a weekly newspaper • no advertising • no staff – All these combined was a big laugh. “Ha! But we’re still gonna do it” kind of attitude.
The two men had a lot of youthful dreams fueled with energy, humor, boldness and above all – a passion for the truth. In Morris Abram Jr.’s words, “If one paper is good then two is better”, this was the impulse that provided the forum for expression of all views. Past contributors to The Harvard Independent included luminaries such as: Samuel Huntington (Historian), David Riesman (Sociologist) and Noam Chomsky (Linguist/Political Philosopher).
“I” recognize that truth is an unfolding, like a rose opening each petal in due time. The whole truth and nothing but the truth is a process of awakening as the fog of sleep lifts; and the lens of bias is stripped away.
Through persistence and immunity to resistance, The Harvard Independent has thrived for 50 years. I imagine that one day, LAFPI will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary with the founding members and future staff raising a toast together – to recognize the blood, sweat and tears that is drawn from the artist to manifest the human condition on-stage and off-stage. Jennie Webb courageously brought us together as a community of writers who has made the public aware of the gender parity issue in theater. She awakened in us that we are empowered. We can’t wait any longer to be granted the light to shine upon us. We are light in ourselves. Let us shine.
LAFPI started with Jennie Webb and its original members gathered in a darkly lit house in Topanga Canyon. Outside, it was gloomy and raining, but inside, together, we huddled and shared stories, warmed by the communion of minds and hearts. We sensed being part of something bigger than our individual selves. It was for the cause of expressing our truth. After that day, were follow-up meetings with Jennie coaxing or delegating jobs as “instigators”, “editor”, “website architect”… AND we had LAFPI badges to distribute to theatres to spread the word about who we were and what we were about.
The tree observes and absorbs everything under the sun and below the ground. I think with my heart and feel with my brain. This slows me down from jumping to conclusions to make space for growth, because truth is not stagnant. It is not static, but it flows dynamically, evolving yet rooted to its source.
The current staff of The Harvard Independent continue with this new Harvard tradition of a newspaper that is dedicated to publishing work that could be eye-brow raising and bold. The Anniversary issue published, “66 Years of Political Integrity – an Interview with Professor Harvey Mansfield”, known as the “last conservative Professor” on campus. The interview covered topics of: affirmative action, the role and place of women and feminism within the college, partisanship among the Professors and political correctness.
LAFPI is also a new tradition. We serve the community by our stories that turn over every rock to see what lies beneath; and perhaps even break rocks to determine what stuff it is made of. I’ve had my imagination intrigued with some of the most creative ideas I’ve seen on stage that were produced, written, directed and supported by women. But we’re not exclusive to only women anymore. I’ve noticed men coming out to our Christmas shindig at Sam French. We’re gaining tracks of followers and members – one tie at a time till we have a railroad from here to the East Coast!
The Harvard Independent is fondly spoken of by both the old and new members a home away from home. It was home because it was comfortable. I imagine that the sense of comfort comes from being welcome for being who you are. It is what you make of it. The only mold there is is the breaking of existing molds which makes space for evolution. This newspaper has been a launching pad for individuals who continued to have successful careers in journalism (writers for The Washington Post, New York Times, NPR and others) and other paths.
LAFPI continues to nurture seasoned and amateur female writers who need a home to express their stories in drama form, blogging, and above all having a community of writers with the understanding that we recognize each other as worthy.
After all, who do not look to the stars and wonder: D’ Ou’ venon-nous? Que sommes-nous? Qu’ allons-nous? Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
“In searching for ourselves and a vision, we find greater meaning in all things. It is “art of enduring interest”, that addresses these questions. – Morris Abram Jr. (Class of 1971)
Reflecting upon the stature of the tree, it persists. It evolves each season, another ring to add to its solid girth. If I think I know the truth, then I recognize that I am wrong in my knowing. The tree rises above all this knowing by its being. Being is a process. Being is truthful.
Surrender was the theme that presented itself throughout the week. Allow and accept. Let it be. Let go.
Back in October, Constance wrote a great blog on the theme of “Surrender”, and it was succinct and straight to the point. I liked it.
My take on surrender is like a lazy windy old river. I will meander on.
At my last yoga class I taught Yin Yoga. Yin requires surrendering to the force of gravity to allow the muscle to relax so that it allows access to the deeper and denser connective-tissue. This is different to the traditional yoga classes which use more muscle to move into the pose and to hold the pose.
Then I recall my short-lived acting life at the “Imagined Life” studio. I wasn’t very good. I had the tendency to be in my head rather than my heart and my body. The teacher tried different techniques to help me drop my judgmental-analytical mind. One assignment I had was to play a mother, “Rita”, who has a fling with her son’s best friend. My resistance to the character was the problem. I was playing rather than being; and judging and not accepting – “That’s not me”; “I could never do that”. But once I allowed myself to fall under the spell of this woman’s imagined life, I became authentic.
Surrender also applies to my writing too. I had the best intention of writing every day of my blog week, especially as it is my last week before the start of the new year. But I was more concerned with product rather than process. I was pulling at ideas rather than letting them come to me. Forced writing is more applicable to “work” (like doing a user manual; writing software specifications; or a project proposal). Writing from the gut is organic and flowing.
This piece almost wrote itself one very late night (or early morning) and I was in a half-conscious state. The theme was inspired by the mythology of Demeter. Upon the discovery of her daughter Persephone’s disappearance, Demeter, as Mother Earth hailed drought upon the lands. The crops withered and the land was barren for a very long time. She could not be appeased, until she finally conceded to the fate of Persephone’s marriage to Hades upon Zeus’ persuasion. Upon Demeter’s surrender the land became fruitful again. But Persephone also had to descend back to the underworld for part of each year, and when she returned to earth then the corn crop would also return. Life needs this cycle of active and passive stages. This is Yin and Yang.
December 15th, 2018 is the 11th month anniversary of Bruno’s fatal accident. This past year I’ve had many times of being powerless to the weight of my grief. I felt like Demeter losing my light. And when I resisted being down, I felt more incapacitated because I wasn’t being authentic to my feeling. I was resisting the feeling of the pain. It’s like lightning struck down half of a whole tree. I just wanted to get the season of winter over and done with. But it doesn’t work that way. These things take time. When I decide to surrender and let go of my idea of being “okay”, and allow myself to stay in the dark cocoon of grief till it was ready to melt away then the tears flow; and it passes.
Forgiveness is also a form of surrender to my idea of being right or being granted justice. It’s not fair that Bruno died in the hands of a hit & run driver and that I’ve been robbed of my dreams with him. It’s wrong that this person is still at large. It’s unbelievable that I had to fight to get my green card status, because the INS didn’t believe my marriage to Bruno is real. The list can go on about how life is just – just – just blankety blank-blank. But at this moment, I choose to let it go. I surrender. I can forgive, because I must otherwise I can’t move forward to let spring and summer arise and bear fragrant flowers and sweet fruits into my life. I need air. I have to breathe again. Exhalation is surrender.
day three hundred and twenty-six 6, december 2018 3 days of rain already overflow gutters garbage & fallen fronds lantern fruits paint grey skies international-orange persimmons fatten seasons bright finger tips press firmly, imagining ripeness forgiving peace hope love
I needed a lifeline and a buoy to stay afloat and to anchor myself to another reality of some sort.
The therapist recalled that I stood out from the crowd because he saw that I was in a deep trance. I wondered perhaps if my consistent meditation practice is the reason for this ability to lapse into a different mode. I booked a private session to address the weight that I had been unable to unload without professional help. I was tailspinning into a depression over the loss of my husband Bruno Herve Commereuc in a motorcycle accident this past January. So we begin.
I am lying down comfortably with my eyes closed and listening attentively. My body is deeply relaxed. He suggests that I relinquish my analytical left brain and allow my superconscious to take care of everything. The superconscious knows everything – more than the left-brain modality which sorts, judges and focuses only on what’s at hand, while the right brain has the detailed roadmap to everything the subconscious has recorded.
I am aware that I take deep breaths now and again. I move my head to release the tension on my neck. My body is dead weight. My awareness is acute. I am tuned in to his every word and other noises in the room and beyond its doors and walls. I feel the movement and temperature of the surrounding air. I sense the modulation of his voice and the fine-tuning of my bodily states, mostly heavy and limp and my eyes feel stretched out. What a strange state of awareness – fully awake and yet, under the spell of a suggestive voice. I go down an elevator, then I walk down the stairs to a garden.
What is this garden? The sunlight is softly filtered perhaps by an early morning mist and there’s a tree in the middle. A pathway surrounds the tree and one by one, my loved ones from previous times appear. The first to appear is my dog, Chloe. Not far is my Beloved Bruno. He wears the shirt I gave him for Christmas in 2014. He loved that shirt. Then others appear one by one: my cousin Sonny, my father Andre, my elderly best friend Helen, Bruno’s father, Christian, whom I never met, Bruno’s friend Hiep, and Bruno’s surrogate mother at the farm in Brittany. Her name was Helen also. Then I see David and Valentine – the dog and cat under the fig tree. After a brief conversation with each one or just looking into each others’ faces, I stand back and watch both sides of our families and friends mingle. It is a garden party. I don’t really know what to say or ask them so the therapist suggests to me to ask Bruno what lessons he was supposed to teach me and what did he learn from me.
Bruno to me: “Take a bite out of life”. “Don’t live with regrets.”
What he learned from me: “Sweetness”, “Gentleness”, “Happiness in each others’ company”
This is just the beginning of the journey. Later I am drifting with a light energy to meet my spiritual guide. I know his face. It is also the spiritual guide of Paramahansa Yogananda. Now I understand why I had an affinity to Sri Yukestewar. He was in the pages of “Autobiography of a Yogi”. He was the brightest star in Paramahansa Yogananda’s life. And I find out now that he too was my karmic spiritual guide. He had saved me from poverty in the streets of India. I was an orphan begging at the railway station. I moved from homelessness to live in his orphanage where I was nourished with food and love. Then I grew up there and became part of its foundations to help other orphans survive and thrive.
After an hour of past life regresion I come back to 2018 in my body, in the same room where I entered the garden and later I turned towards the staircase that lead away from the garden. Upon leaving the garden I said to Bruno “I have to go”. This is quite the opposite of what had happened in January with his unexpected and sudden death. This time it is me saying to my Beloved I am going. I am leaving the realm of the superconscious to return to a shallower realm of the consciousness – the realm of problem-solving, questions (lots of it), judgements, loneliness and occasional breakthroughs to the underlying reality that we are all one. We are energy condensed into matter with a veil of separateness because of ego and free will.
I recognize that it would be hard to convince anyone of you readers about this visceral experience. What led me to this particular path of exploration? Why? And where to now? My deep interest in metaphysics is what attracted me to attend a workshop sponsored by the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) with the featured speaker Gregg Unterberger M.Ed, LPC. The topic was “Edgar Cayce on The Unseen Worlds – Past Lives, Future Lives, the Afterlife”. The timeliness of this workshop was a god-send for someone like me who needs to tether to another realm of truth for answers to questions that this day-to-day reality cannot provide so readily. That answers the What and Why. Where to now? I have a sense of hope, a lightness of being after being unburdened with the questions. At least, I had a chance to see and talk to my Beloved (even if perhaps it was in my imagination). But it was real. I know it. I am moving a little more forward and treading the earth a little lighter. That mountain of grief doesn’t appear so tall and unsurmountable. There is a path.
On this path I carry a book written by Gregg Unterberger. The book is titled “The Quickening”. In my own words it describes proven techniques for spiritual awakening based on scientific research and deep soul searching from an educated and compassionate healer. From my experience, it is the reality-shattering experiences such as a trauma that can jar a person into waking up from a recurring nightmare of flatlining to ennui or meaninglessness. I did recognize I needed help and so I reached out for it. I am grateful that I found this modality of help that is inline with my personal belief system.
Nearly six months since Bruno died, I want time to stand still. Everything of his still remains as it was the day he died. Now I know that scene in the movies when the camera takes the audience into the bedroom of the departed, and in the past I wondered what it was all about. Now I know.
I was reminiscing about Bruno’s 50th birthday in 2015. For his gift, I offered him a trip in to one of my favourite cities, New Orleans. I am resurfacing something I wrote to a friend in an email. I was digging up emails with “New Orleans” as part of another project related to trips with Bruno and came upon “Louisiana Stories”. Back in June 2010 I travelled to New Orleans to investigate what was happening to the city after Katrina and what had been the recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
I read the stories and was surprised at my writing voice then. I kinda miss that voice just as much as I miss Bruno’s voice with that heavy French accent. New Orleans and the surrounding towns and cities has many ghosts and where time simply stands still…
I got back from my trip last night. One day you’ll find your way to that great city with its deep roots and soul. I’ve been sending you a couple of updates via phone. I’m writing to you in retrospect after some of the experiences have sunk into my bones.
It’s easy to meet folks and strike up a conversation with locals.
Monday Afternoon –
They have a special way of listening and responding to you. I stopped at a mechanic’s garage to ask for directions in Gretna (just south of the city on the other side of the Mississippi.) An old man sitting at door of the opened bay door watched me get out of the car. His eyes were soft and brown, his skin wrinkled and dark like a purple prune. The whites of his eyes were yellow and stood out like embers glowing from a soft flame. I was in the presence of a saint, and perhaps he was, after all the things he’d endured as a black man in the deep south.
He spoke while his hands rested on the cane between his legs. He’s imagining the pawn shop as he describes how I can find it. “There’s a seafood place across the street… It’s on Van Kempf.” We exchanged few words, but we shared so many thoughts in between. I’ve met this soul before, perhaps he is knowing of the suffering we all endure, and he reaches out with his grace… I know. I know. It’s alright.
Sunday night –
One of Jonathan’s homeboys told him about this new hookah bar, so my housemates and I see what it’s about. We get out of the parked car in an alley in the French Quarter and walk to non-descript warehouse door. At the lobby three young black men welcome us. One of them has shiny shoulder length braids. He pointed up the stairs and we go on up to find the booze bar to the left and the hookah bar to the right. Low couches and tables all around with burning scented hookahs. It’s crowded enough that Jonathan asks a couple if they wouldn’t mind if we shared their space. While Jonathan gets our hookahs the couple introduces themselves as Paris and Shanikah. They offer Josh and me tokes from their hookah.
Later, we now have three hookahs at the table. We’re smoking, chilling, and getting to know one another. Paris is funny and quite good looking. It’s their second date, and she looks goddess like in her turquoise dress. She wants to dance, but Paris doesn’t. I guess he might get offended if she asked either Josh or Jonathan to dance so she asks me. We do the salsa, and she’s teaching me most of the steps. She’s a teacher from Boston. She likes it here in New Orleans, but the challenge as a teacher is to motivate the kids. But once she found that once she gains the student’s trust that they’ll do anything for her. I thought about it then said… “When you believe in them then they are inspired to do.” “Yes!” she agreed whole-heartedly.
Wednesday morning –
I got three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 am. I wanted to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi delta, but I got there late. The nose of the rental car faced due south in Venice at around 8 am. (I had left the city around 5:00 and drove around somewhat lost which I didn’t mind because I was exploring to find the I-10 West / I-90 West. I finally walked into a Starbucks in the Garden District to get coffee and ask for directions at 5:30 am. I’d been wandering for about 1/2 hour looking for the onramp to freeway.)
LA 23 into Venice goes from a two lane highway to a single road that forks into little harbors. The road is level with the water and the long-necked birds are extensions of graceful water plants. They sway gently with the breezes. The waters out here are still protected from the oil spill I am happy to find out.
I spoke to a few locals to hear about their laments about the BP oil spill. As one local put it “They cut off our right hand, and now they want to cut off our left hand.” He refers to the moratorium on the oil wells. Everyone is waiting to get out and work on the clean up. Every tool is commissioned to help out: trucks, boats, helicopters, oil spill separators. Right now most of the effort is to put out booms or pick them up. It is literally ant work. Helicopter trails dot the skies as they carry booms one-by-one to the Deepwater Well, and return boom-less ready to pick up another.
I got back into the car and headed north on LA 23. On the way I stop at Buras where hurricane Katrina began in 2005. I to get some oyster gumbo, but “Camp’s” had closed after the hurricane. The firehall station where I got married a long time ago is replaced by a modern red brick building. The JP’s office had transferred to Port Sulphur, just north of Buras. The only place to get something good to is “Black Velvet”. I stopped by at 10 but they didn’t open till 11. I smelled the bacon fat cooking which is a key ingredient in the gumbo. “Nothing’s ready yet,” was the answer from the waitress, “I’m sorry.”
Before leaving Los Angeles, someone had told me everything happens for a reason, and I remembered this as I drove the lazy road back to New Orleans. I thought of my blessing to have had the opportunity to go back and revisit a place that was the birth of many pains. I discovered there wasn’t any pain anymore when I retraced steps to the past. This is the grace of this place. I look to the side to catch the name of a road “Grace Harbor”. I think it’s another sign that I’m going in the right direction. I’m approaching Home Place, a small town that dots the LA 23.
Before crossing the bridge back to the city I stopped at Gretna again to pay a visit to the saint, but he wasn’t around. I asked the man there if he could give the old man these fresh peaches and Creole tomatoes I picked up on the way. He looked at me funny and grateful. I told him, how the old man “made an impression on me”, and that I wanted to see him again and say “thanks.” I found the pawn shop and got what I was looking for. I bought an old guitar. It was beat up but its sound resonated deeply like an old soul, and I felt kinship with.