Day of the Dead

Holy Holy Mother of all

Pray for us now

At the hour of our death

Blessed be the weak in spirit

Blessed be the ones who hate

Blessed be the starving children

Blessed be the ones who take 

Blessed be those with the guns

Blessed those who are gunned down

Blessed be the haters and the hated

Holy Mother

Mother most blessed

Blessed be the Jews and the Gentiles

The Black the Brown and the White

Blessed the man who sleeps on the street

and the one with the golden bowl

Blessed the transgendered

the nongendered and too gendered

Blessed be the desert that is dying

The seas drying 

The animals who walk no more

Blessed be our hearts turned to ice

Our minds hardened to cages

Our fingers on the trigger

Our ink become blood

In your names this ask

May we remember them all

The syllables and sounds

May they stay on our tongues

In this time of darkness

May we remember your Light

Even as it is swallowed

By this terrible, triumphant gloom

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#MeToo, Or Maybe Not

San Francisco’s MUNI is a predictable source of triggers for more and more inner work. I never know what I’m going to confront in myself when I get on the bus. There’s a scene in the HBO show “Enlightened” when Laura Dern gets on a bus in LA and everybody on the bus has her mother’s face. It feels like every nuance of the psyche is reflected by strangers I ride with. I meet my fears, my jealousies, my curiosities, my compassion. Memories I haven’t noticed in a long time are jogged by someone’s bag or someone else’s half smile.

This morning, walking to the bus stop early for once, more relaxed than usual, I tried to listen to music on my earbuds, but it refused to load, so I thought maybe I needed to put that away and listen to the sounds around me instead. I caught an earlier bus than I usually do, asking the driver to open the door as he waited at a red light. At that time in the morning, I travel with the same people every day, all in our weekday routines. So this was a different bus crowd. Like being with someone else’s family.

I got on and sat on the long bench along the wall. Across and a bit up was a man wearing white sneakers. About a minute or so after I got on, he took off his shoes. Of course, this caught my interest. We learn to be pretty vigilant on the bus – often, men get on who are high and angry, and then we all need to figure out how to deal with a lot of yelling, swearing, bodily functions gone haywire, etc. I stared at the man’s feet, wondering what was about to happen. This is San Francisco – maybe he doesn’t believe in wearing shoes. Maybe he’s a Hindu and considers buses sacred spaces. His feet were raw and red. Maybe a rash. He was very careful to keep the shoes under his seat so no one tripped on them. This told me that he probably wasn’t high and probably wasn’t going to get crazy. I felt bad for his feet – the shoes must have really irritated them. I know the feeling well.

I guess he caught my eye – I don’t know what was on my face. I’m usually pretty poker faced in public, I think. I was completely startled when he began to talk to me – loudly, so the people around that area of the bus could hear. Suddenly, everyone was looking at me. “You are such a beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m a gay man, so I’m not…but you’re the most beautiful woman…your face…” Whatever. Freaked me out. I made eye contact with one person across the bus from me and then just shut down.

Time out here for a moment, before I go on about him. I have a long history of being harassed and intimidated on buses in India. Many women do, who have traveled on Indian city buses. Men have touched my breasts, butt, and all other body parts. Rubbed their hard-ons on my arm as they stood near where I sat. Spoken in loud voices about how I looked more like a man than a woman so that everyone was embarrassed, and I was ashamed. This happened so often and so invariably when I lived in India that I was pretty severely traumatized, although I did not have language for that in those days. After I came to the US and started going to therapy, I spent long hours sorting through the shame and fear and hate. It never quite goes away, although it does get easier to manage.

I’ve often worried that there’s something about me that acts as a magnet for this sort of thing and would gladly wear a burka when I travel in India. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt quite relieved to become more and more invisible, as older women are. I’ve even begun to give up my baggy clothes and no makeup look for clothes that make me feel more attractive and makeup that brightens me up a bit. I feel freer now that people leave me alone in public spaces. Germaine Greer expresses some anger about this aging-woman syndrome, but I have been really enjoying it.

Back to the #1 bus on my way to work. I sat with half-closed eyes (closed eyes attract more attention in public spaces) and hands folded on my backpack while the guy went on. “While, as for the rest of you,” he said to the others on the bus, “….” I sort of blanked it out. It wasn’t cursing, but it wasn’t complimentary. I don’t know what he had against everyone who wasn’t me. But then we heard more: About how he was coming to terms with his own death. And mourning the death of his mother. Now, a different facet of my attention tuned in. I wish I could remember his exact words, but his was a loud mumbling tirade. He’s dying, he’s sad, but he’s doing his work. That was it. Then he got quiet. We all did. The woman in front of me had her eyes closed. I breathed. Let my stomach relax, my chest, shoulders, knees, feet, forehead relax. In breath, out breath.

And my heart opened.

Recently, at a Holotropic Breathwork workshop, I heard Tav Sparks’ talk about “the vertical and the horizontal” (he calls it the Awareness Positioning System) which I’ve heard so many times, I thought that I knew every word. I’ve given the talk myself a hundred times at least. When a strong feeling is triggered, when a memory of trauma is awakened and begins to take over, when shame, anger, hurt, sorrow start to overwhelm because they have been prodded by something in the present, a way to work is to first allow the depths to open so that I become completely conscious of what is showing itself, and then I bring it up to my heart so that I can feel compassion for myself as I trudge this hard road (again), and then I offer up all that I feel, all that I am, to a higher power, to Source, to Spirit, to the Creator who engendered all this in the first place. That’s the method.

But I haven’t been doing that last part because – get this – I feel bad for bothering the higher Self with all my crap. It doesn’t feel fair to pollute the Source with my anger, hate, fear, and sorrow. That Source, that Spirit, that Mother, is so pure, so loving, so beautiful – it would be like spilling oil into the ocean. Also, this Spirit, Source, Creator, Mother is being called upon constantly by so many souls in need. Go anywhere, talk to anyone – everyone wants something. Help me, heal me, save me. I, a truly fortunate person with so many resources to rely on, have no reason to ask for anything. So I’ve left out that last part of the practice. And, without that last part, it’s all too fucking hard. It’s like practicing mindfulness without mentioning the transcendental – practice becomes sitting in one’s muck for hours, struggling to “let it go.”

This occured to me after Tav’s last talk, so I’ve been trying to cultivate an “offering up” practice. Trying not to get caught up in mind games of “to whom are you offering this?” and just opening outward. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, so this Energy in my body – this pain, discomfort, love, joy – comes and goes. I recognize it as it shows itself in my body and my psyche, and I let it go back to its Source.

There’s more. All on a short muni ride.

Once, when in a Holotropic state, I learned what felt like a new idea. The Mother, who is the Source of all comfort, doesn’t DO anything. She watches. She sits. She cultivates her garden. She rides her tiger, dances her dances, sings her songs, heart open, eyes everywhere. But she doesn’t do anything … until asked. Of course, this is all a projection on my part – all my thoughts are, for who can know what the Mother does or does not do? But this is what I saw. It was a significant learning. For one thing, it brought up again this idea of asking – which, as I’ve said, I find somewhat obnoxious. But it makes sense for the One who helps to wait until asked. This connected nicely to all I have learned in my HB training. I did not mean to make this blog post about Tav, but I need to mention here that Tav has come up with a practice for Holotropic Breathwork facilitators that he calls “doing not-doing” – my vision of the One as “not-doing” was a powerful reinforcement of this practice of allowing things to happen, to unfold, to play themselves out and not interfering unless asked.

So I offered and I asked. Sitting, in the bus, in my discomfort, wishing for a burka, suddenly ashamed of my short morning makeup routine, then distracted from my own shame and embarrassment by the man’s struggle for clarity and what felt like his reaching out to me, I offered up the whole busload of stuff. His pain, his vulnerability as he traverses a city that could do him harm at any moment, the varied and probably highly nuanced discomfort that each of the riders was brought to feel, and most of all, my own long past of feeling shame that I exist at all – because if I weren’t present, there would be no one to make fun of on a bus, to rub against, to make lewd faces at, to pinch and poke. Giving all this up as an offering, I was able to find the courage to open up to my barefoot teacher for the day. I was able, then, to ask for help – for me, for him, for all of us. Help him to work with his sorrow at losing his mother. Help him to find what he needs. Heal his feet. Por favor.

Touch him, I thought. People need to be touched. Especially people who are losing their bearings a bit. So, as I left the bus, I got up a bit early and walked to him. I’m sure that we were watched, but I was determined to ignore that. I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him if he was going to be alright. A pretty futile question, but really, there are no words to bridge that gap. He was great. “I’m fine,” he said. He sounded as if he might be. “You are so beautiful, your face is so…” I left him then.

May the feet of men and women be free from sores. May our bodies be healed. May our hearts and minds be free to love. May we feel compassion for the pain of strangers. May we be safe when we reach out to them.

We are all so beautiful. I wish we could all be sure of that. I wish we could all be proud of that. I wish beauty didn’t become a thing to attack. The Darkness that propels some people to attack beauty by demeaning it – I offer it up to the Creator of all Beauty. May all women on buses be safe. May they be free. May they know their strength. May they be allowed to go in peace.

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Time to Cry

This recent shooting in Texas has me badly rattled. Right before it came the attack in NYC, and people I love the most in the world are in NYC every day. Then this. So many children died. For no reason whatsoever. Little babies having hardly tasted this life, are gone.

Before this year, I used to have a long commute to and from work. Alone in my car for at least two and a half hours every day, I had time to digest the goings on in the world and inside myself. When the Newtown shootings happened, I cried for days. Listening to NPR about Syrian refugees, I washed off all my make up for days. I hated the commute for many reasons and was seriously relieved when it ended. But now, I have no time to mourn the sorrows that keep on coming.

I take a bus to work every day and watch the people who ride with me. What tears are they holding back? I love seeing their eyes, their hands, their faces, their socks and shoes, the grey in their hair, the lipstick they have put on before leaving their various homes. I love that I am able to participate in their lives in this small way. That somehow, we are all together, making this ride every morning to our various jobs and back again when the day ends. But I can’t cry while on the bus. It wouldn’t work.

So I go about my day, doing my job. I work with children and with people who love children. In the innocence that saves us from the high anxiety that we ought to be feeling, we take them out to play and forget to be vigilant. Another day, another shooting, but life goes on, and we cannot afford to be bogged down by each horror perpetrated on strangers we would never have met anyway. The people in front of us, the work we need to do, is more immediately important and there’s hardly time for much else.There’s dinner to be made, friends to talk to, yoga classes.

But underneath, at least for me, the tears are building and sometimes, I am extra tired keeping them down. And sometimes I have no time for the fret and fuss of ordinary life, and sometimes I am so angry with the slow people in line in the supermarket or the person who talks too loudly in the airport. Sometimes, I want to cry so hard I could vomit. But I go about my day as if nothing is bothering me, smiling at people, doing the work I need to do, trying to be as efficient and constructive and thoughtful and helpful as I can be.

This way lies sickness.

Ask me what I wish for….here it is. A place where people gather to mourn about the sorrows that come their way, personal or otherwise. (What’s this “otherwise” anyway? Is it not a personal grief when children are gunned down by a madman?) I wish that we could all take a break from our busy-ness and sit together somewhere and speak what we feel. Not in a workshop setting in the mountains, not in a retreat center by the ocean, not in a circle of strangers come together for a weekend of transformation. But with the people we live with every day – our coworkers, friends, lovers, children. With our neighbors. I wish we could meet and say, I do not understand where the angels who are supposedly protecting little children have disappeared to. Did they forget that they have a charge? Forget to lock the doors? Forget to do their jedi magic and calm the mind that carries the guns? Could they not remember that it is their job to keep our children safe because we have forgotten how? Because we don’t have the power to do so anymore? I’ll tell you what’s eating me these days – the fact that none of us can say that our children are safe. This is the end of the world, truly.

And then, we can make some time to allow ourselves the luxury of a good, long, collective cry.

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Gratitude, #2

Can you feel it?

Gratitude

for how each drop of pain

like black fire

sinks into the heart

and explodes

into a zillion shining shards

so that all of you –

neck, shoulders, lungs, bowels –

is swallowed by agony

so that the mind can begin

its long wondrous swim

through brilliant realms

dive into the earth

where stars are born

and gods find their peace.

If the only god is

the broken open heart

how can you not feel grateful

that the world is such a very

cruel place?

 

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In the Arms of the Dragon

When one does a lot of NOSC work, Holotropic and other, it is imperative (we say) that the Traveler make time and space to go through an “integration” process – that is, be able to spend the time it takes to allow the new material, new lessons, new information gained to become a part of one’s life. This needs reflection time more than anything else, preferably without distractions such as jobs and family. Perhaps the Traveler could draw, sing, paint, walk, swim, meditate, pray – any activity that will allow what is latent to arise, what is undigested to be properly diffused into cells and tissue, what is not yet aligned to take its place in the whole. This is the prescription after every session – what we say, what we remind people to prepare for, what we insist is right practice.

In the 20 years during which I have been wandering this path, it has been both curse and blessing that my life is such that I have had almost no time to simply sit through a long integration process. Work and family have been all-consuming. The time away from both has been spent in NOSC session and taking more time is pretty impossible. I push back at those who would argue that this is all a matter of choice by agreeing that it is a choice but only in so far as I choose work and relationship over my own process because there are others involved – others who are at least somewhat dependent on my attention. This is samsara – and to be fully human, one needs to, I think, accept samsara fully even if one is fortunate enough to transcend it often. The barbed wire tangles of a human’s existence among other humans is highly irritating and it is tempting to “transcend,” to “detach,” to escape – but I choose not to. For one thing, I am not one who wants to keep coming back to this human existence – I’m pretty done with it despite the good food, sex, and forest hikes that make life bearable. So I’m in a bit of a hurry to learn all I can about barbed wire so I can get it over with and move on to something else.

My transformative integration process happens on the fly. Sometimes, literally – on long flights when I have the time to listen to music, read, stare out the window at vast stretches of land and water passing beneath. There’s something about the height that invites perspective, something about the rising that allows letting go, and of course the forced idleness is perfect. Long solo car drives help. Waking up an hour early in the morning to read or read the tarot or sing or stare into space or cry helps. 10-minute meditations, 2-minute check-ins, taking a long breath in the bathroom, getting into bed early enough to shut out the world before opening to the dream. The heart opens, the mind suddenly expands, the body lets go. Sometimes an image shows up just long enough to make sense of everything. Often a poem. But it’s all very fast and in between other, more practical, activities. I don’t recommend this to anyone, I still preach the long, purposeful integration, but I have not had it and have managed to get by without.

So I have come to see that the huge barbed wire tangle is really a living dragon – scales, teeth, tail, hot breath, and all. While she tosses me about, there is also her warm flesh to lie against, her eyes to look into, her scales to explore carefully. The stresses of not being able to pay my mortgage are her nails clawing my back, arguments with co-workers her hand dragging on my hair. I bite her back when she chews on me by bringing disappointment after disappointment. All those high expectations dashed under her swaying, thrashing tail. Bruised and scratched up, it’s good when I can get a minute out of her lusty, scaly arms, a minute to breathe clean air after the hot breath of depression and despair, the drooling snot of black fear that intoxicates mind and body.

But each scratch opens me up, each hot breath is a wake-up call, each tail-swipe against my head a naming of my own impermanence. Accepting this relationship with her is the only way to live – saying yes to every bruise, then realizing that all this battering is her way of dancing with me, and I just haven’t yet learned the steps as she does them. I remember the first time I danced with someone’s arms around me – the only way to not step on toes and not bump knees was to get so close that we moved as one. This is the dance of the dragon samsara and getting as close as possible is more than survival, it’s the way into the dance. Listening with every pore to her and to myself prevents much pain, and I come to realize, finally, that dancing and snuggling with bad breath, sharp claws, and chomping teeth – inhaling parent brutality, neglectful lovers, abortions and drug abuse – is Love. I awake in her arms to the understanding that the dragon loves me, that I am ultimately safe with her. That Life loves me and, in fact, in Julian of Norwich’s words, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Sat, Chit, (not yet) Ananda

When I think of myself as divine, star dust, created out of the same substances as the planets, I am filled with fear. Not uplifted as I am supposed to feel when I am told that I am all these things. When I am in the presence of the Great Mother, I am intensely agitated. Her eyes frighten me and I hide.

It’s almost as if I am happier being a clod of earth, although how can I say that anymore, when I know that the clod of earth is the Great Mother and that it is made up of the very same substances that make up the stars? I prefer to be just human, walking the earth in a purely material way – it seems safer. The rules are clear. If I make money, I will be safe. If I can eat, drink, live under a roof, have clothes on my body, I am safe. Expanding my consciousness beyond that is terrifying.

Because then there is no end, no limit, and hence no safety at all. Because then, there are no rules that I can recognize or know. All is possible and I, being everything, being god herself, being not part of the universe but the universe itself, then I am nothing that I recognize or know. If I don’t recognize or know myself I am not – because this mental recognition is all I know. All I can grasp. Letting go into not knowing, not grasping, is terrifying beyond anything.

So I shut myself away from her touch, her voice, her glance. I close myself into my shaking frame. And pull down the shutters, lock the doors. But she finds me anyway. Sometimes pounding on the door, sometimes even cracking it a bit. Sometimes waiting patiently for me to show up. Sometimes, in a stern voice, “Sharanya!” and I shake.

I wish I could be like other people who feel only joy when they hear her voice. I wish the call to freedom didn’t scare me so much. I wish my heart would be calm and I could be bold enough to take my rightful place. I wish I could accept the reasonable, everyday glory of being a divine being. But I prefer to be a creepy crawly, as if expansion of that sort would crack my ribs and turn my bones to dust. As if muscle fiber and connective tissue would rip and tear until nothing was left of me  anymore. And the pieces would scatter to the winds. And I would be nothing.

So it’s a trajectory to fear. Give way a little to freedom, to empowerment, to love, to divine companionship, and the end of that road is annihilation. Better to huddle under the blankets. Better to dull the senses. Better to keep life small, manageable, safe.

The thing is, though, that creepy crawlies are the mother – not even disguised in any way. There’s nowhere to go, nothing I can be that will save me from this state of divinity. This is the truth. This consciousness. I just can’t seem to feel the bliss.

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Sensus Corporis

During the long introductory lecture before a Holotropic Breathwork session, the subject of the body comes up a lot: somatic realms, trauma in the body, energies manifested in the body, body work during the session, etc. Once, many years ago, a man at one of my workshops asked the following: in all Hindu scriptures, the body is considered unimportant. For true transcendence, we must transcend the body entirely, they say. So why, in work that purports to be so spiritual, do we spend so much energy, time, effort on the physical body?

The question pushed my buttons on many levels. And, since, in a workshop setting, the only person I can work on is myself, I had to breathe into the pushed buttons and find an answer – which came quite quickly and seemed to satisfy most of the group – although I don’t think the person who asked the question bought it. I said, simply, that the primary teaching of this modality is to work with what is and, since we have bodies, we work with our bodies.

This question brought up a whole bunch of discomfort for me. Rage, shame, and wanting to jump out of my skin. All in a second. First, because the questioner was an older Indian man. As he spoke, I remember my mind jumping off to the small room in my family’s house where the Hindu idols resided. I remember being afraid to go in there. I remember being told not to go in there when I had my period. And that thought brings up all the ways in which my body – female and hence impure – was kept out of all spiritual practice. The men do the puja. The women stand by. IF they are not menstruating. All difficult, interesting, thought-provoking spiritual matters are left to the men. Kundalini practice is too powerful for women. Real shlokas are learned and spoken by men. We yell so much about the Catholic Church – has anyone ever seen a female priest in a Hindu temple? For some priests, the touch of a woman’s skin could send them off to take another shower. Because god will not listen to the prayers of an impure priest.

I was a Bharatanatyam dancer for most of my life. Gorgeous practice, it was banned in India for many years and, even in my time, women who practiced the form after a certain age could find it difficult to have an arranged marriage. In the “old” days, Bharatanatyam was the dance of the temple prostitutes. Translators of the stories of gods and goddesses, the women were kept as chattel. And, because we danced in front of so many men, we were “used” – a term carrying too many connotations to go into – but you read it or hear it and you know what it means. Defiled by eyes and lustful minds – somebody else’s – and now only trash. I don’t know if “prostitute” in this case meant actual sex acts or if it was a way of calling them “vestal virgins” of some sort. It doesn’t matter. The men, in discarding the humanity of these women, were discarding their own humanity as well. Because, clean or impure, our bodies are all the same. Also, if a prostitute is unclean, then so is the person who is with her.

To be human is to have a body. Probably there is nothing else that differentiates us from other beings. So we must include our bodies in human spirituality. “Transcending” bodies is pretending that we are not human. That simply can’t work, for anything not authentic is not true and the untrue cannot be spiritual. The history of humankind is a story of bodies as much as a story of ideas, feelings, movements.

True awakening cannot be separate from bodily awakening. But what a mess that is! Bodily awakening means coming into our feeling of pain: all kinds. Of craving. And the cells of the body lead directly to our emotional centers, so bodily awakening will be a coming into our emotional pain as well. Most of all, awakening into the body means awakening to our mortality – and perhaps this is why we would all prefer the spiritual bypass of finding god or oneness, transcending the immediate – because it’s so frightening to wake up to the knowledge of our imminent and certain death.

I try not to be sure of anything. And as I do more and more inner work, I am taught that I know nothing. And yet a paradox, for this I do know. At least for now. We cannot experience ourselves as spiritual without including our physical selves and everything that comes with that.

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