I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~ anne lamott
That’s the thing about Squam – it’s a mystery of grace – hard to capture in words and images. It’s an etheral experience, yet grounded in the earth, trees, cold (sometimes), and the clarity of lake water. We pilgrims make the journey and then every day we trod wooded paths and we break through invisible obstacles. My own, some of which I moved through, others I feel I’m knocking on their door, I now know where they are…
My teaching experience felt gorgeous…stage fright (one of my invisible obstacles) tackles me pretty good the morning before I teach, but such beauty walked through the door each time that I was immediately at ease. Just one soul connecting with mine in the classroom and all my anxiety leaves my body. Lucky for me, a full half of my students had been in classes with me previously so at least I could trust they knew what they were getting into :).
Both of my classes ended in a great stillness…my saturday class in particular was so deep, so so still and quiet that my own gremlins and teaching insecurities crept to the surface for a moment – had I done something wrong? Did I leave them somewhere and they don’t know how to get back? Did anyone want to share, I asked. A soft no… so I let it be and trusted that all was well. Slowly they began to move, some came to chat with me to share…and they were good. Really, really good. Peaceful…blissed…centered.
The next day Bridget sent one of her SoulNotes with this:
“I thought of my three-hour yoga class yesterday, and how after we had twisted, and stretched and downward dogged and laid in corpse pose, we each sat up and blinked and none of us said anything for 20 minutes. We sat there in silence. The silence was not prescribed. We weren’t told to be silent. There was just nothing at that moment that would improve upon the silence. Chatter does not equal connection. Quiet does not mean loneliness. When we let go of our own chattering minds, the emptiness is like the hush of a chapel or a clearing in the early morning.”
On the car ride back to Providence, Elizabeth asked me my top 5 squam moments this time around:
1) Twinkle duty with Jen on Wednesday with Jonatha serenading us from the piano…
2) Listening to Kayte’s talk during our opening ceremony…
3) Celebrating Pixie’s 40th birthday with a dance party and “truth branch” circle of initiation to 40-dom…
4) Meditating on our dock before classes each morning… the lake spirits are so pure and clear
5) All the times the laughter was spontaneous, contagious, loud and snorting… as “lightening up” is my new mantra.
In a purely literal sense, i’ve never gone directly home again after Squam. This time I find myself in New York for three weeks. Something I intended back in May in conversation with my girls Madeline and Deanna – to spend a good enough chunk of time in The City each year to feel like I have a city life as well as my beach life – and here it is, Man-i-fested.
On a metaphysical sense, i’ve never gone directly home again after Squam either…or maybe home has shifted to someplace even deeper and more sacred within me. I find myself quiet, centered, comfortable and grateful in this new space – the stillness we found in my classes has come home to roost and I am good.
NYC from the Williamsburg bridge
sometimes I come here and i know exactly what needs to be said…it’s an idea, a story that bubbles out of me and like champagne it is uncontained by the vessel that is me and needs to be put somewhere. it’s just this feeling. other times, i remember that i might want to check in over here and see how everyone is doing. as i start this, i’m not sure where i’m ending up today.
things have flip-flopped at least five times since last we visited. i’m on this roller coaster of emotion and clarity and defeat and inspiration, the upshot being there is a huge transition happening in my life and i feel suspended…as in “there is a moment when the acrobat let’s go of one trapeze and is completely suspended in mid-air before she catches the incoming rung.” i am full of excitement and doubt. fear and belief.
that statement is accurate in the feeling-state of suspension but what is missing to me is the action required to catch the next rung…the active rather than passive verb…the REACHING. ’cause you gotta work for it, honey.
cue: stayin’ alive soundtrack
i had this long dialogue with deanna in NYC this week about my recent statement that “joy is our birthright” she completely disagreed with me, and as is one of our habits we figured it out together (she can be very persuasive even though i am the elder more worldly and wise friend). ultimately she concluded and i agreed: joy isn’t our birthright. (gasp!) there are endless examples of poverty, destruction, mental illness, and economic disaster that would impede this birthright. but the PURSUIT of joy IS our birthright (oh those founding fathers…). there’s the rub. the verb makes all the difference. none of this life stuff comes easy all the time. sure we have gifts, we have zones of genius, we are lucky to be born into certain situations…but ultimately to claim your own joy you have to do the work. as elizabeth gilbert put it so beautifully “you have to persist relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”
so where was I? oh, i am suspended. yes. hanging out here in mid-air but rather than retract in fear i am choosing to expand. i’m investing, i’m re-creating, i’m building – i’ve released my grip on one rung and i am
R E A C H I N G
for the next. if i don’t catch it and plummet i am trusting that if i can just relax a little i’ll bounce at the bottom…
Oh, and I wrote a post over at Serendipity on Sunday…a little about “why” we need these creative retreats as women. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
…i like the colors, they make me happy.
…and because the thoughts turning around in my head are still forming, the thread is missing and they feel disconnected. i need a bit more time to sort them through and structure them.
…and because i’m in mississippi and this land still vibrates with the deep roots of conflict, and yet it is rich with beauty and light and possibility and creativity.
…and because on the new moon i pulled the five of cups…a card of loss, but a reminder not to mourn so deeply that you forget the abundance of blessings that remain. the card was a powerful messenger, and it wasn’t two days before it manifested in my life. still, i was blindsided, but i’m dealing with it the best i can and when the tears threaten to fall, i let them and search through blurred vision for the wildflowers, the feathers, and the reminders of how to find my way back home.
jatiluwih valley, bali 2011
this little boy and his friends were having a swim (and perhaps a bath too!) in an irrigation ditch, while his sisters washed clothing. he would climb out and jump in, climb out and jump in over and over again. when they were finished with the washing they all climbed on a motorbike to head home and hang the clothes out to dry. just another day…so vastly different from my own.
what struck me most was that none of them were in school. the sisters were perhaps 14, this boy and his little friends should have been in early elementary school i would think. but the system there doesn’t provide education to all the way our public school system does here at home. in bali, the families must pay and unfortunately most parents aren’t able to send their children to school.
still, their literacy rate is high and they often speak many languages – balinese, indonesian and english at a minimum. in lombok they knew sasak too, and when asked how they learned, they would smile and laugh and say they learned from us! the visitors to their country…”do you like my country? what do you like best?”
how strange and beautiful it is to feel so much is lacking and in the next moment feel so lucky. we had this ongoing conversation about culture and happiness between americans and the balinese, and who lives a happier life, and who lives a more challenging life and why? we haven’t decided…
launching *serendipity* last week was a big step, a bit like stepping off a cliff to jump into a river 30-feet down. i had done most of the work for it while i was traveling, bringing it to life in a land full of kindness and offerings from the heart. so it feels so good to me. but still, i’m putting myself out there in a far bigger way than a blog, or teaching, or making a fool of myself lip-synching to some terrible 80’s song and posting it on facebook*. and those few days after i hit go did feel like free-falling (after the amazing spontaneous dance party i had in my office of course!). but it was something that had been marinating. one of those things that wanted to be born, and it was only my own fears and insecurities that kept putting up these terrific obstacles. i was actually planning to launch it 3 weeks prior – but the name i had chosen just wasn’t right and i knew it. it wasn’t born of my heart, but it was safe.
but there is something to a name, and when i let go and stopped thinking too hard about it is exactly when *serendipity* arrived. it has some magic in it, and a sense of discovery, and of unexpected treasures. what more could you ask for in a name? well, then i found this…
Whether we name divine presence synchronicity, serendipity, or graced moment matters little. What matters is the reality that our hearts have been understood. Nothing is as real as a healthy dose of magic which restores our spirits. ~ Nancy Long
i hope it finds you, too.
*speaking of lip-synching to bad 80’s music – jen, allison, stacy, mccabe – we brought online karaoke to new heights yesterday and that was exactly the magic i needed. i haven’t laughed so hard in far too long! thank you…love you all.
if i could have any superpower, it would be teleportation. to be able to blink or snap my fingers or hold my body *just so* or click my heels together three times and be somewhere else. that’s what i’d wish for. see, indonesia is nearly as far away as physically possible from home for me. in actuality the antipode to nags head is somewhere just to the south of bali in the indian ocean off the western coast of australia, but i was pretty close and it was the furthest i have ever been. so, i’ve thought a lot about teleportation and how it would affect our bodies, souls and minds and i imagine the experience of air travel is in many ways similar…ripped from the grip of earth and hurled through time and space to find oneself in some completely different place.
and hurled is the key word. travel is really hard for me personally. as a strongly earthbound soul/creature i find the sensation to be like an uprooting. subtly violent and painful. i suffer jet lag terribly, become weak to the mid-day seductive caress of sleep, and while my intellectual and curious mind battles with my body, i sit in the middle full of malaise and guilt.
yes guilt. lots of it. for the first three weeks of my journey i’d say that was my number one, go-to emotion. guilt for being on vacation, guilt for working (i had to finish a few projects), then guilt for not working, for having the money to travel to the other side of the world, for being an american, for not buying that sarong or bracelet, for not staying in touch better, for being so lazy, for not wanting to go exploring today, for not wanting to go surfing, for not checking email, for being afraid, for feeling shy, for not liking the hotel, for being so self-absorbed and then for the self-loathing. the list goes on, and worst of all — i also had second degree guilt. guilt over feeling so guilty. it was fascinating.
so i stepped back and let myself consciously observe my process. i noticed that i was unimaginably cruel to myself. shockingly so…my inner monologue was downright abusive. and the questions – am i a workaholic? why can’t i just relax? what’s wrong with me? do i work so much subconsciously to avoid listening to the workings of my own mind? is this what it’s really like in here?
in addition to the guilt, i also felt frustrated and betrayed. as this malaise and depression set in, it marked the end of the longest period of uninterrupted happiness and good spirits in my life and i felt like a character from awakenings, or flowers for algernon. i felt i had been given a reprieve from my own personal demons only to cruelly have them all come flooding back. i kept reminding myself that gratitude is the antidote, and would spend time counting my blessings and gazing around, pinching myself in essence to remind myself that i was in paradise. but the guilt and depression lingered.
then came the meltdown, 21 days after i left home. we were on lombok – an island to the east of bali – and bryan rented a boat and boatman to take him out to a surf break called gerupuk. for the first session i sat on a little man-made beach in front of a home-stay kitchen and read my book. after lunch, motivated by my guilt over my laziness, i opted to take the boat out with him. it was a gorgeous day with a light breeze and i’d never had that particular viewpoint of surfing. i swam a bit around the boat and then crawled in and got comfortable to watch the conveyor belt of wave after wave.
it wasn’t long before the swells were messing with my equilibrium and the nausea of sea sickness set in. i felt icky but it was manageable. i waited as the sun set over these gumdrop headlands until finally as the last light of day snuck away, bryan paddled back to the boat. i felt immense relief until we realized our anchor was stuck in the rocks below and bryan, usually so calm and even-tempered, had a moment of seriously urgent dialogue with the boatman. all the other boats were leaving and we would be stuck alone with no one to help us. i reacted with a wave of fear and panic, the swells suddenly seemed immense, and all i could imagine was us capsizing in the (to my mind sharky) dark, water. but quickly the boatman dove in to cut the line to the anchor and within a minute we were on our way. i gripped the side of the boat and gritted my teeth against the metallic taste of fear.
safely back on shore, we started up the scooter for what felt like an insanely long and terrifying ride back to our hotel. it was dark and the road was covered in potholes, the other scooter riders were beeping and swerving around us and i was still nauseus and freaked out. at last back to our hotel, i ran to our room where i think my tears filled the tub faster than the shower. then i shut down. became mute and went to asleep.
in the morning i fell apart. i screamed, i cried, i threw my earrings at my reflection in the mirror. i cursed my guilt, my fears, my abusive monologue. essentially i lost it. and then…
it was over. the dam broke and my spirit was set free…
i’m still trying to process what happened…why it took so long for me to break free and settle in. why letting go was so…violent. why i was and am so hard on myself. but the good spirit returned and is still with me, and i was able to enjoy the balance of my trip and the one following.
but i need to remember:
beauty. i need something beautiful to rest my eyes on…i can rough it with the best of them, but i need something of comfort and beauty to support me. staying in cell block surf hotels is a disaster for me.
expectations. this is a big one. my expectation of bali was of rolling rice terraces and people on bicycles a la the eat pray love trailer**. in reality the places we visited were far more urban, far more crowded. and this was a big adjustment for me. i love cities, and by the time we arrived in ubud i was more adjusted to the traffic and people and i totally fell in love with that city. we stumbled on to this amazing hotel – which far exceeded my expectations – and all my hopes and dreams about my time in bali were realized here.
i’m shy. it was crippling actually how shy i was when out of my element. and the balinese couldn’t have been kinder or friendlier people. but i learned to start with the children…whenever i was in a situation where i felt nervous but i needed to connect with people, it was easiest for me to start to make friends with the little ones first. it softened my shyness. we would smile and play and laugh and as i became less guarded it was easier to connect with the adults.
and i learned that i really love to take pictures. everyone does in some ways, right? but somewhere along the line i stopped worrying that “i’m not a photographer” or that my photos wouldn’t be good enough or like bryan’s or david’s or any of the friends of mine who are professionals out there. instead what i came to believe is that my images are a record of what I saw…and felt. the holga i got for christmas opened a new world for me and i loved getting lost in my viewfinder, observing not just as an anthropologist, but as a documentarian.
i want to wrap this all up in a nice little package and put a bow on it…but i can’t seem to find the lesson that ties it all together. because there isn’t one.
it was messy.
i am messy.
and essentially it was a beautiful disaster…like so many of the things and people in my life that i love.
**i just watched the eat pray love trailer again since i was linking to it and lo the irony. i had forgotten the tag line from the movie…let yourself go… maybe that is part of the magic and the lesson of bali after all.
flight delayed…and we’ll be sleeping at the airport when i could be swimming in this water…
but it’s a fair trade for the week i just had:
just the turquoise sea, the breeze and…
eating coconut that fell in the yard and was carved open with a swiss army knife
aruba arriba cocktails
a bit of yoga on the deck
bonding with new friends
adventures to undisclosed locations
it was truly epic (thanks helen & dimitri!)
& honestly, it’s the most relaxed i’ve felt in years…
this island has so many words running around in my head that i can’t think straight
so many questions…of the existential kind
and many beginning with “why?”
and lines of poetry, and the beginnings of chapters in novels
…so many questions.
this island has reduced me to a bawling heap of fearful tears…
and induced complete loss of self awareness through laughter with little sea urchins who have absolutely nothing.
nothing but their single dirty and ripped t-shirt with no pants or vice versa
and their wide smiles.
and their hope that i’ll have some treasure for them in my heavier-than-comfortable bag of stuff i think i need.
or the barrette in my hair.
an unfair trade for what they gave me.
devotion around every corner
a mixture of city smells and frangipani
motorbike sounds fading to the swooshing cut of a scythe in the fields
flowers tucked behind the ears of statues
the fine art of bartering
elephant* images everywhere i turn
the calls “massage!?” from the women and “transport?!” from the men
curiosity tinging every interaction, both ways
nasi goreng for breakfast
goosebumps & happy tears with a friends love-news from home
magically meeting up with flora!
“where are you from?” ~ “oh! amerika!”
being unwell and being healed
white herons soaring over rice fields
rice terraces mingled with modern architecture
ancient seaside temples to hindu deities
colorful fishing boats
hipsters with toy cameras
pro surfing groms
flowers in your hair
bright-eyed babes &
offerings of rice and flower petals
a dozen different languages
insane motorbike rides
being rescued by a tattoo artist & learning my balinese horoscope