Monday, December 21, 2009

The Things that Open the Heart

The talk was on When Hard Things Open the Heart. Spirit Rock Meditation Center is WAY out in the hills of Marin, outside of San Rafael, CA. As I drove, twisting and turning through the unfamiliar neighborhoods, opening out into a stretch of rural road nestled between soft, rolling, green hills, I was shivering from the cold and the wet and from ending a relationship I had hoped would last. Wet grey felt lay across the land that day, dripping and primordial. I didn’t want to leave the house, but in the interests of “moving on” and my sanity, I decided to get up at 7:30 am on a rainy Sunday and go. I had paid $50 for this event, after all, and had never been to Spirit Rock before, though I’d heard about it for years.

Settling in to the meeting hall, listening to the teachers and audience members talk, I heard stories of dead wives, of fathers who had suffered strokes, of losing 401(k)’s to Ponzi schemes, of traumatic brain injuries that crippled a budding career. My problems seemed so trivial in comparison, but, in keeping with the spirit of the talk, I tried not to judge myself for feeling so lonely, lost, and bereft. Sadness was a comfortable old coat I wore, and that was OK. As another teacher put it once, sadness is a teacher, too, and my job was to welcome it in, to talk to it and learn from it.

After lunch, tired from not sleeping well the night before, I decided to leave the talk. I had heard it all before, and though at first I had been comforted by hearing the same information I already knew, now I noticed I was falling asleep during the meditation exercises. So, I snuck out, walked out into the dewy wetness that surrounded me in a strangely comfortable embrace. The world was muffled and resting, drinking in the water that seemed like it would never run out.

I walked, bundled up in my coat the color of the clouds. Up into the Spirit Rock complex, past the dining hall and the dorms, where I found a creek rushing under a tiny wooden footbridge. Stayed on the footbridge for awhile watching the water churn muddily. The water that flowed and eddied around any obstacle without complaint, but slowly, irrevocably changing the landscape as it did so.

Walking back to the parking lot, I passed a serene stone Buddha and made an offering of a quarter, wishing peace and happiness for all beings.

Approaching my car, I felt balanced and almost as serene as the Buddha, though still sad and longing to for home and sleep. I was heading to a friend’s music performance that night, and wanted to get some sleep before heading out. But my car was blocked in, another car – a Honda hybrid - parked behind it, and surrounded by cars so no fancy driving would be able to extricate it. Shit. I couldn’t believe it. In a minute all of my equilibrium collapsed and I shouted angrily at the trees. Wondered : should go back to the meeting hall and ask the staff to make an announcement? The car had a pair of crutches in it; I couldn’t see myself asking someone to come out of the talk, get on their shoes and coat, and walk all the way down here to move their car, especially if they had mobility problems. And besides, everyone would know I was cutting out early. I swore. Should I go back in and sit out the rest of the talk? No, I didn’t want to do that. The smell of wet leaves was calling me. I couldn’t go back inside.

I realized after a few choice comments about whoever designed double parking spaces for a place like this, that getting pissed off at a Buddhist retreat center was missing the point. The universe, I decided, was telling me something. So, reluctantly, I walked some more. Heading down the long winding driveway, past the sign that read “Yield to the Present”, my shoes getting wet from the grass and mud, I walked.

The clouds were doing a dance with the sinking sun – dark grey was interspersed with the most delicate gold that lit up the green hills with some previously unknown color. Clouds were caught up in the hilltops like seaweed, the light grey showing up in stark contrast to the dark green of the pines. I felt like I was in a cinematographer’s dream. I walked down to the highway, watched some nearby horses for awhile, then turned back and climbed into the hills. My feet were getting wetter and wetter – squish, squish. I jumped over a small pond that had formed in a hollow in the grass, and clambered up granite laced with pale green lichen. There was an old moldering bench placed under a crooked, wizened tree. The view was immense and green and rolling. The sky dripped. A damp breeze blew. Hawks circled above, while in the trees, crows hopped from branch to branch, gossiping with one another.

My sadness and my wet feet and the grey sky and the gold-lit hilltops and the crows and the hawks and I sat and watched the world for awhile. There were no problems or solutions, no dashed hopes, jealousy, or angry “should have beens”. There was only this moment. And below me, people sat around in a room and talked about opening the heart. I realized for the millionth time that for me, my heart only opens in a place like this. The only place where I know viscerally how it feels to be interconnected with all beings and the planet: outside, surrounded by teeming life and light and wind.

After that, I trudged down the hill, me and my sadness, and eventually I got out of that parking lot and drove home.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love is a Bird

We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it. – Rilke

I think the hardest thing love asks of us is to let go of the one we love most in the world, in the service of the happiness and well-being of both. We don’t like to hear that, we want to hear that love conquers all hardships. That’s what we’re told from the minute we’re born. “All you need is love” and all that. But most of us, eventually, realize that this isn’t true. All you need is the right time, the right place, the right circumstances, the right person, and then, yes, love might bloom. But if those other things aren’t in place, you can have all the love in the world and it still won’t work out. Because life intervenes.

As another relationship ends, I find myself reacting differently than I have with other breakups. In most other ones, I found myself talking about it incessantly, usually using bitterness or anger to hide my grief and sadness. This time, I don’t want to talk about it. At first I thought it was because I didn’t really want it to be true, and not talking about it was a form of denial. But then I realized, that though this might be true in part, that by not talking about it, I’m also attempting to preserve the sacredness of this moment in the lives of myself and my love. By not talking about it, I’m trying to keep it private and away from prying, judging eyes. Well, except for this blog post.

In this tender, sad, yet strangely beautiful time, I don’t want the imprecations that I’ll “soon find somebody else”, or exclamations of “he did what to you?” or tender reassurances of “It’s OK, honey, time will heal the pain.” I know those may be true, and that they’re offered with sincere care, but they don’t help me right now. I’m still deeply in love, whether or not it makes sense logically. Telling me I’ll get over it soon enough s like telling a new widow that she should start dating again three weeks after her husband dies. I need time to grieve, to digest the meaning of it all, and to become acquainted with the person I am now.

Every relationship changes us, romantic or otherwise. How can they not? As I struggle with feelings of anger and disappointment at myself for having put up with certain things, and miss and wish for the good things we had, I have to realize that there is no such thing as wasted time. Whatever happens in a relationship, the time was never wasted if we can learn from what happened and grow into ourselves. This is our purpose, I believe. To live, love, and grow.

In our culture, the information we get about love is almost purely pragmatic. Magazines publish articles on “Red Flag to Watch For” and “What Not To Do on a First Date” and “26 Sex Tips Sure to Make Him Fall For You”. But the emotional part is strangely absent. There’s no acknowledgment of the complexities of love – the way it mixes longing with need with selflessness with ambivalence with hope with disappointment with confusion with elation with not knowing what to do but wanting more than anything to do it right, and then wondering if you can’t seem to do it right, if it’s better just to leave, but clinging to the idea that love will , somehow, watch out for us. And then when it’s over (or should be), books like “He’s Just Not That Into You” sternly admonish women to “get over it already” and go out there and find Mr. Right. Dating books abound, relationship books expand to cover shelves and shelves of bookstore space, but in none of them have I found the emotional resonance, the heart truth that I have experienced in actual relationships.

This stuff is hard. And complicated. This is why we act in romantic relationships in ways we would never act with friends or family. Love makes us meet ourselves, the bad and the good. Love is the closest and best way to learn about ourselves that I have found. Heartbreaking, heart-expanding, heart-humbling, love is a bird not to be held tightly. It’s sacred, this way we find one another, the way two hearts can meet and resonate with one another for the time they have with each other, and how they break and quiver with sorrow when they can no longer be together in that old way. To tell me to move on, get over it, is to not understand this deep sacredness.

If we are truly present with our hearts, we will never “get over” any relationship. They change us. We will never be the same. And that’s not necessarily tragic, if the way we let them change us is to let them allow us to grow into the people we were always meant to be, to learn love’s lessons not in a bitter, punitive way (“Well, I’ll never do that again!”) but in a truly present, compassionate way. To understand our mistakes and the mistakes of our lovers as things we did because we wanted to be loved and to love, and to perhaps learn that those ways don’t work so well, but not to punish ourselves (or our ex-lovers) for not being perfect, the way we would never punish a child for not being able to play the violin like a virtuoso.

I watch my emotions with interest. The way they change and shift, sometimes within minutes. There’s the disappointment, the pure missing, the anger towards both of us, the crushing grief, the compassion, the loneliness, especially at night and in the morning and weekends. There’s confusion and sadness and even some hope for a someday future with my love. There’s the realization, the learning, the understanding, that hits me in the gut at the strangest times. Then there’s a deep sense of pure love, in all of its complexity, that I can sometimes find and settle into the way one settles into a comfy old chair, content with what’s happening no matter what.

Every day is a new adventure for me now, as it probably always should have been. But all I can do is try to be present with it, try to learn from it, and try not to judge myself and my love for our mistakes. And understand that the love we shared is not gone, only changed.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Reeling from a recent decision for lover and I to part ways for awhile, at least romantically, I was curled up in bed, watching a movie on my laptop, feeling lonely and bereft. At night, in the dark, alone with oneself, these emotions come welling up from our darkest fears and threaten to overwhelm us. Dark night of the soul. In my despair, I reached out, energetically, to my man, seeking his comfort out there in the spiritual plane, something for my crying soul to hold on to.

And I found it. As soon as I had the thought to find his energy, I felt him there with me, as if he was in the room. I asked him "I that really you?" And he said "Yes". The timbre of the voice was his, the soft way he draws out the syllable, the deep tone of the 'e', the slight uplift at the end of the word. And I could see the way his eyes crinkle up when saying it, the depth and spark of his eyes.

I felt him as if he were lying behind me in my bed. I talked to him for awhile, and eventually he started stroking my hair, his hand heavy and warm on my forehead the way he used to do when I was upset. I felt his other arm around my chest, and with his hand on my head, I felt totally held. I started to feel sleepy and warm. As I drifted, every so often I would have an anxious or worried thought, or want to ask his reassurance that everything was going to be alright. But when I did, he said "Shhhhh. Don't think, just feel. Do you feel my love for you?" And I did, so I stopped talking, stopped worrying. Love was enough, no matter what else was there.

Eventually, I fell asleep, and slept well and deeply for the first time in a week. When I awoke, I still felt the weigh of his hand on my forehead.

I wonder if he was feeling my presence, too, in his sleep or wherever he was? If I was comforting him as well. Or if I made it all up. But the lesson remains: "Shhhhh. Don't think, just feel."

Monday, November 30, 2009

From my journal 9/19/09 (Grass Valley, CA):

Sitting in a shallow, warm bowl of rock after forcing myself to swim in the deep green swimming hole accompanied by two young trout, I had a moment - am having a moment - where I do not wish anything in my life to be different than it is right now. The water is cool, the day not quite hot enough to balance out the chill of the water but it feels good to be warmed by this rock after swimming. Fed one of my pb & j sandwiches to the pack of ground squirrels who live in these rocks. Me, the squirrels, the trout, and one baby frog are the only life forms around on this pleasant day here on the edge of the river. J's friend L pondered about how often one experiences moments where everything seems to come together, and I noticed that, with all of my struggles, I experience moments like that quite often. I commented that I thought it more a matter of paying attention to the moments when they come, because they exist more often than perhaps we notice. This is one of those moments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why My Burning Man Boots are Still in a Box on the Floor of my Spare Bedroom

Ah, Burning Man. I haven’t written for awhile on here because I was expecting to be full of fluid, fiery wisdom from Burning Man. I expected something Big to happen there, something easily translated into words on the screen. And maybe something Big did happen, but it’s certainly not anything that’s come gurgling up whole from the headwaters of my creative muse, as most of my blog posts do.

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that Burning Man is just like Real Life, only more so. There’s something about the intensity of the preparation, the drive, the environment, and the community that brings out all the stuff that’s already inside. I felt totally at home some moments, and totally alien in other moments. Full of joy, and full of fear and insecurity. Totally whole and happy, and totally fragmented and floating someplace where I had no place to land. Like I had found my community and like I will never, ever find a place where I belong. Totally in love, and totally despairing that I will ever find Love. Too hot and cold, too high and too sober, never quite clean, yet also, strangely, while tears streamed down my cheeks at the Temple, cleansed by the pure fire of human experience in all of its beauty – the joyful and the tragic.

What a trip.

I suppose the most intense experience was in wandering through the Temple, a place where human emotion runs raw. Just entering the intricate lotus made out of plywood, the energy shifted. It was like entering a post-apocalyptic cathedral; people sat, lay, knelt, wandered, amongst the notes, photos, personal items, altars, and art pieces that commemorated some part of someone’s soul, some pain or moment of wisdom or grief, some attempt to let go or to understand, some parting or coming together. It was like the sum total of all human experience was concentrated in that one structure, and just entering it, my throat tightened and I had to hold back the tears. As I wandered back into the dust, I felt awe at the strength of all the people who had left parts of themselves there. And as my companion sobbed, remembering one soul he had to leave behind, I held him and marveled that something that blossomed out of the desert and out of the creative minds of this motley crew could be so powerful, hold so much in its embrace.

As the Temple burned, lines of dust devils left it like the ghosts of marching soldiers, some large and stately, some small and mischievous, and I couldn’t help but think of them as spirits who were being released back into the deep space of the Infinite, leaving their fingerprints behind on those of us whose lives they touched.

When the Man burned, people were raucous and shouting; when the Temple burned, the silence almost had a sound of its own.

I guess I was expecting to escape from myself for a week at Burning Man, but what I found there was Myself, more intense and less escapable than ever. I’ve come back knowing myself better, with a better understanding of what it takes to be in relationship to others, and with a deeper appreciation for the ocean of human experience in all of its aspects. Coming up against Myself, at times barely holding on to it, I’ve found that I can now better ride the waves of emotion and experience, and that it’s slightly easier these days to stay centered in my essential Self, the core that is always there, always balanced, always serene, and always watching the shenanigans of life from a distance.

The box of dust-covered playa boots still sits in the corner of my spare bedroom, reminding me of all the places I walked in them, both physical and metaphysical. I danced in those boots, I cried in them, I walked far out into the desert and stared at the ancient mountains, and I shoved them under the bed before crawling into the love nest that was the refuge of my partner and I; those boots have seen a lot. Either that, or I’m just too lazy to clean them and put them away.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Love Letter to Myself

My love – you are a wonderful person. Your compassion and kindness shines from your eyes, your laughter lights up the room. Your sweet gentle presence calms people, grounds them. You listen and people feel heard; people feel seen. Your silliness makes people laugh, lightens their load, even if just for a moment.

People respect you, your insight, your intelligence, your quickness. When you stand tall and proud, and your confidence shines from you like a light, you are unstoppable. You move forward with the things you need to do, exuding grace and calm under pressure; you realize that pain is part of life, and even though you sometimes lose your grip in the intensity of the pain, you always come together again, stand up, dust yourself off, take responsibility for your part in it, and move on.

You are stronger than you know, and more lovely than you know, too. Your soul is light and kindness and gentle strength, insight and wonder, You see the mystery in all things, even the pain and suffering. You stop in awe at the flight of a bird. You drink in the moonlight as if it was an offering from God, which it is. A flower is a magical being to you. A rainbow stops your breath. You see what others don’t, and you want to share it with others.

Your frustrations are based in wanting others to see the wonder and beauty that you see. Your frustrations in love are based on wanting, more than anything, to be able to give of the incredible amount of love you have inside you, and to feel that love from another. When you meet your partner, the light will grow a hundredfold, and the two of you will fill the world with sacred love.

You don’t just see people as a means to an end, but as sacred beings. That’s why they sometimes frighten you; because you don’t always believe that you are sacred, too. But if you can see your own light and stand proudly in it, you will be a goddess, capable of anything. Your humility stops you, because you feel intimidated by the grace you possess – you are, as all are, a sacred conduit to the universe. Your purpose is to see this, to witness it, to bring it out in yourself and others.

The sacred, divine light shining from your eyes is a beacon to others that says “come out and play, divine one. “ All it will take for you to spread your wings and fly, as your favorite song says, is for you to embrace your own divinity, to stand in the light of your own grace, and let the light shine from you like a star of peace and wonder, embracing all in the universe, uplifting all.

Your lover


Friday, June 05, 2009

Sometimes you get kicked in the teeth. Not in a bad way, but in a way that says "wake the hell up." That happened to me last night. Someone I love very much, struggling with his own frustrations and fears, took off the kid gloves and made me look at myself in the mirror. After I got over being defensive, hurt, and angry, I realized that, though he maybe could have been kinder about it, that he's right. I am holding on to the pain, I am choosing to be here, in this morass of confusion, hurt, disappointment, and anger. I have lost my way, become somebody I'm not proud of. I continue to cling to things that no longer serve me, and I'm deathly afraid to let them go. My ego is ascendant, trying to force him to be someone he's not because it would feed my ego, because I think it would make me happier. I've become a whiny, depressed, sad little child, hungry for something I can never have, and I continue to seek solace in the cave of my own fears.

In talking about each of our fears, I remembered going into a trance once, at an experiential workshop in Portland, and encountering, in a deep, dark, dripping, primordial and feminine forest, a laughing fox and a beautiful laughing naked woman who took me on a flying, laughing tour of the forest, and who told me I was perfect, that I'm in the right place, that there's nothing wrong with me. I had forgotten the feeling of being OK, deeply, profoundly, perfectly OK, the way the enlightened ones say we are.

Remembering it again made me sad
- sad that I had let go of the memory, and sad that I can't seem to let go of other memories and other stories of who I am. Me the lonely, misunderstood one, the ugly one, the one nobody loves. My friend, who sees auras and energy, looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me that he can't understand how I can't see myself the way I am, can't see the kindness, compassion, beauty, and light that he sees. I felt like crying, too, wanting more than anything to see that.

He told me something that others have told me: that one day, I will drop the baggage, just open my hand and drop it, just like that, and that only then will I be free to embody my true self. As he said it, I felt a deep sense of fear, fear of letting that pain go. As if that pain is my only identity - what makes me who I am. Fear of having to discover a new way to be, one where the self-pity and sadness, so comfortable to me, are no longer valid paths. The one where my ego is not the most important thing in the world, where my longing for someone to make it all stop hurting, and my tendency to take out of rage and hurt on others, is simply no longer acceptable. The one where it's my responsibility and mine alone to be my joyous, kindhearted, compassionate giving self, and where I can no longer blame the world or anyone else for how I feel. That kind of responsibility is terrifying.

I don't know if I have the strength yet to let go
. Even knowing all this, I feel the fear and the resistance. I make plans to hole up with vodka and movies, to numb myself yet again because I don't want to face the truth. I worry that I'm losing my friend, yet know that this worry is just my own grasping on to something I'm comfortable with, even if our relationship has been painful and confusing almost from the beginning.

For awhile now I've felt that I'm transforming
into something, someone else. This kick in the teeth is part of that, I feel. Maybe, as my friend said, I'm not yet ready, but maybe I'm getting closer. Maybe I need more kicks in the teeth. Or maybe I can steel myself to face myself, finally, in a way I never have before. And to let all those old stories of pain go.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I feel like I'm stepping off the world into some kind of void. The sadness threatens to rise up and swallow me whole. In some ways, I welcome it - it feels like a sort of death, but as death is, also the start of something new. But in other ways I'm deathly afraid, ashamed of the actions that brought me here, embarrassed at how I continue to not be able to let go, afraid that this feeling of deep, soul-shattering emptiness will never fade, and that I will never embody the person, the energy, that I feel I'm meant to. That I'm a waste of precious breathe and space. The longing is immense - more than any one relationship or any one situation. When the tears come, they're not just tears for myself, but for everyone and all the pain that exists. I feel nobody else understands this. I feel so alone. The thing that keeps me going is the tiniest glimmer, the smallest spark of an idea, that maybe my solitude is the chrysalis, and that maybe, someday, I'll have the energy to burst out of the protective cloak and become something I've never been before.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My lessons/gifts from the universe today

1) A gorgeous, amazing day and the inspiration to drive up to Napa

2) Classic car show in Calistoga - damn, I like a nice Ford Mustang, and those 60's era Chevys are nice, too. Turn me on. (Message to me: accept that you are a car ho. )

3) John Lennon singing "To Everything there is a season" in the cafe (message to me: things happen for a reason and nothing is permanent, so relax)

4) A road sign pointing to "(a very significant person in my life's name)'s Way" which I did not take. (Message: who knows)

5) A spider belaying on its own thread, a very, very long way between trees (message to me: I have no idea)

6) A really pretty metallic green and yellow bug with a red underbelly (Message: I don't know - metallic bugs are pretty?)

7) A lady relieving herself in the woods (???)

8) right after the lady, a convenient side trail to a pretty creek so I could go sit there and avoid seeing the lady on the trail, saving us both embarrassment

9) the realization that I had just been thinking of the word "Abundance" and had separated it into "A Bun Dance", and laughing because the lady was doing a bun dance! OK, maybe only funny to me.

10) The image above. (Message: Be patient with yourself as you would a child. You're still learning to walk....)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Uncertainty

I have to say that this is the hardest thing I think I've ever done. I feel pathetic writing that, since it's so ridiculously mundane compared to what a lot of people go through, but it's true. It's triggered all my deep-seated fears of abandonment, my hidden conviction that I'm worthless and unloveable, my terror of the unknown and the uncontrollable, my longing for someone to stay with me, love me, and protect me. There's a reason why I never liked those scare-inducing rides at the amusement park and never liked taking physical risk, never liked watching horror movies or telling ghost stories; I don't like being afraid, being out of control, and having to sit with uncertainty. Let's just say that I am not a candidate for sky-diving.

Now, sitting here, surrounded by the unknown, by the infinite possibilities generated by my very imaginative brain, and the worst part: not being able to check them out with you or reach you at all, I find I'm terrified. And in response to that terror, I worry. I worry incessantly, with all my soul. There's an ache in my gut, a gaping chasm of blackness; there's no trust that things will be alright in the end, no hope that we will ever get through this, and a nagging feeling that you are now lost to me forever, almost like you never existed. Sometimes I fear you are dead, and that I will never know, because nobody would think to tell me. I recognize this worry as a way to try to control things, like somehow my worry will reach across the physical space between us and help things turn out alright. At least I'm not just sitting here doing nothing! Because there is nothing I can do. And that terrifies me.

To deal with the terror, which some people may call anxiety but feels like absolute, crippling terror, I turned to a technique called EMT, or Eye Movement Technique, based on EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It was easy, I could do it by myself, and it works for me. During one session, trying to calm my anxiety, I concentrated on this gaping terror-feeling in my gut, and after a half a minute of tapping, I had a vision of a little girl, cowering in absolute fear in the corner of a dark room. It was more than just fear of some specific threat out there that she was feeling, it was an all-encompassing panic-stricken fear of the world; of where she had found herself by being born. Like a wide-eyed, horrified sense of "What the hell is this place?"

I felt such compassion for her and concern for her that I started to cry. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was all going to be alright, that she was safe. It sounds so cheesy, but I know that little girl was me - my inner child or my inner terror, anyway - the thing that is terrified of being brutalized by this bizarre place we call reality; the little girl who hides and cowers, trying not to be noticed, and not knowing how to stand up and blossom. So that lasted for a few minutes, and then I felt a little better. But the worry, the agony of the not-knowing is still in there, if a bit calmer.

I wonder what I'm supposed to be learning by having you in my life. How to let go? How to deal with uncertainty and impermanence? How to ride the waves? I worry about you, I want you home, I send you all my love, and yes, I let you go.

May you be peaceful
may you be happy
May you be healthy
May you find joy

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye

A few weeks ago, we took Paco Sinatra the Wonder Dog up to Mendocino. Rescued from a beach in Mexico, my love's devoted partner for the last several years, a dog who's sailed, crossed borders, chased cats and raccoons as if chasing them was his only purpose in life, this is a dog with his own business cards offering spiritual and emotional solace. When you look at pictures from his human's job sites, Paco's always in at least one or two of them. When I was going through a breakup, my soon-to-be-love offered to lend Paco to me for help in getting through it. And when my love has been out of town, I would sometimes lie in bed with Paco, his head on my shoulder, and we'd miss our man together. Some of my happiest memories from last summer were of lying on the grass with my new sweetie and Paco, in the sun, watching the glittering waves.

Anyway, we took Paco to Mendocino, and stopped for him on hwy 128, in the heart of the redwood forest. He was so happy, running through the ferns, chasing sticks, nosing around like he was in a new candy shop. Later there were beaches, and more sticks, and tennis balls. He's good at letting the waves bring him the stick when we throw it too far into the surf. He's no dummy.

We've known he's been sick for a few weeks now, first I just thought he was fat - too much eating from the barbeques that people around here throw once a weekend. Then we thought he was just constipated, watching his defecations like a mother worried about her baby. Then I thought he had a bowel obstruction and nagged at the man to go see a vet. Worry for him clogged the air around sweetie and I, even when we tried to be cheerful and upbeat. That worry was always there. But on the trip, in that forest, he seemed to perk up, and that perked us up, a bit. Thinking that maybe he would be OK, after all.

After a few doctor visits, we thought he had a tumor on his spleen, and had to have his spleen removed. So, we threw a fundraiser party last weekend for the people who love him, and we raised more money than we ever dreamed we would. The generosity and kindness of the people around Paco - and by extension, us, as his humans - moved us to tears. Still does.

But, two days after that lovefest, we found out that he has a terminal autoimmune disease that's destroying his kidneys and that there's nothing to do for him except make him more comfortable as nature takes its course.

This dog is laid back like no other dog I've ever met, with eyes like a person and crooked ears that always reminded us of the Blue Dog pictures they sell all over the place in New Orleans. We were going to dress him up as Blue Dog for Halloween, but now he won't see Halloween.

I think the best feeling in the world is to have a dog running towards me, tail wagging in greeting, and it's a feeling I haven't had since my childhood dog died when I was 15, until I met Paco.

I am SO glad we brought him to Mendocino.

Go well, sweet Paco.

Friday, April 03, 2009


So my love just came back from 2-1/2 weeks of sailing into the sun and surf of southern Mexico. It was hard for me, very hard. I missed him, I was sad. Although I went out and socialized almost every day, I still felt his absence the way an amputee might feel the absence of a limb. It hurt. I got cranky, sad, depressed. I couldn't sleep. Even in my misery, I knew I was overreacting, that he was on a great adventure, that I was in his heart no matter where he was or what he was doing, and that I was surrounded by good friends and a lot of love. I knew I should be happy for him, and that he would come back to me eventually, with his twinkling eyes and the smile that tells me everything will be alright. I dredged up everything I've ever learned about being in the present moment, sitting in the pain and letting it dissolve into acceptance and joy, and still it didn't help, or would only help for a few minutes. I was anxious, couldn't concentrate, kept resisting the impulse to just go home and curl up in bed until he came back.

The second week, I barely heard from him, and got sadder and crankier as time went on. I kept trying to call but couldn't get through; there aren't a lot of cell phone towers in the ocean. Finally, midweek in the last week, I got through and he answered from the center of town, where he had just bought his plane ticket back. All my pain and sadness sat in my chest and I could barely speak. He asked what was wrong and all I could say, in an angry monotone, was how much I missed him. It was like my pain choked me and eclipsed the love and care that lay beneath it. Afterwards, I felt stupid and pathetic, being like that. What in the hell was wrong with me? I wanted to call back and apologize, but I've apologized so much to this man, that I resisted. Apologies, to my mind, are worthless if you can't promise that it won't happen again. And I knew I couldn't promise that.

So I kept the phone off (mostly) and tried as hard as I could to stay sane and centered. And then he came back, and as we got reacquainted, he told me a story.

That day, the day I called and was cranky and angry, my love saw death - not once, but three times. On the beach, with a crashing 8-foot surf, taking photos of a friend body-surfing, he heard screaming. A man was in the water, drowning, people thought. Lover, good in any emergency, dropped the camera, ran over, pulled him out of the water and gave him CPR amidst a group of screaming tourists and the man's two young, crying children. When the paramedics finally came, the man had been unconscious for over twenty minutes. He was turning blue. The EMT's took him away, and my love never was able to find out what happened to him. Telling me this, he said he could tell the man was dead as he was trying to get him to breathe. Head trauma, he thought.

There was more death, but the details aren't important. What is important is that in my compassion for this stranger, his children, and my love, who tried to save a life and couldn't, was the knowledge that, as I sat being sad to be parted from my man, two children lost a father, people somewhere lost a husband, lover, son, friend. And I was depressed because I wasn't with my man? God.

I'm trying very hard not to beat myself up too much about being so pathetic when vaster, more important things were happening. I'm hoping that this widening of my perspective, this letting go of expectation, and this deep appreciation for what I am lucky enough to have in my life right now, in the moment, will last. I know myself well enough to know it won't, not completely. But maybe I can remember it the next time things get bad in my head. Next time my brain tries to eat itself, maybe I'll see a windswept, desolate beach, and a man trying to save another man's life. And maybe I'll just relax, finally, and be able to appreciate the love and beauty around me, no matter what happens.

Friday, January 30, 2009

My Favorite Myth about Love: Or, Why it Sucks to be Alone on Valentine's Day Even if you Think Valentine's Day is a Ridiculous Hallmark Holiday

Psychology Today just published an article on what real connection in an intimate relationship means, debunking the myth that we should be totally independent of our partners and never need anything from them - or never show them we need anything from them. On the contrary, the article says, we seek intimate partners in order to get certain totally normal emotional needs met - the need for emotional and physical attachment and connection - and if we don't get those needs met through our partners, we end up in unhealthy, conflicted relationships, trying to get them met through excessive neediness, seeking reassurance, or withdrawing in an effort to get our partners to come forward and show us they love us. Obviously, these techniques aren't usually the most effective, but they are normal, understandable ways humans try to feel loved and cared for by a love partner.

Right before I read this article, I had been having a mental monologue about that pervasive old saw that in order to truly love someone else, we need to love ourselves. Let me clarify: I was having an out-loud monologue while driving home, as I often do these days when alone in my car. I was hoping all the people driving around me though I had an earpiece and was talking on my cell phone.

Anyway, this idea that to be able to love another, you have to love yourself is, if you'll excuse my bluntness, pure crap. If this were true, nobody would ever love anyone else, because nobody, except maybe the odd monk who's reached pure enlightenment, is ever totally free of self-doubt, self-criticism, or the occasional bout of self-pity. None of us loves ourselves truly, completely. We aren't designed to, we're designed to be in community, to be connected, to really only feel complete when we have supportive people around us. It's a survival mechanism.

In fact, I think it's the opposite that's true: if you haven' t been shown love by others in your life - by a parent, peers, family, lovers, or friends - you cannot love yourself. This has been proven time and time again: before babies can speak or understand speech, they can interpret the facial expressions and quality of touch of their caretakers. If a baby's caretaker interacts with her in a positive way - smiling, mirroring her own facial expressions - touches her gently, and comes to her when she's in distress, a baby is more likely to grow up confident and able to withstand life's ups and downs. On the other hand, if a baby grows up being frowned at, ignored, neglected, treated harshly, or even being treated inconsistently - having a caretaker smile and be gentle one minute and be harsh and upset the next - she's more likely to be afraid and be less resilient. We've all heard the horrible stories of orphans who are never held or comforted, and grow up to be unable to form bonds with others.

I believe that in all relationships, we need mirroring, that we need to see ourselves in the faces of others in order to know ourselves, and that we provide the same for our friends, family, and lovers. We don't truly know ourselves, and we can't learn how to love, if we don' t have loving, responsive people in our lives. If we have relationships with people who don't respond to us - don't laugh when we make jokes, don't act supportive when we feel sad - we feel lonely and unseen. And if we don't respond to others - as is often the case with people who never got healthy affection or care as children, never learned how to interact with others - we are also lonely; nobody likes to be around someone who won't mirror them.

People without strong social ties are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and to suffer physical health problems, and to recover more slowly from illness and surgery, than people who have strong social ties - friends, close family, a supportive community, a healthy love relationship. When we are loved and we love others, we have a stronger immune system and healthier body functions (lower blood pressure, less risk of heart attack, etc.) Humans are simply not meant to be alone.

If it were true that in order to love others you need to first love yourself, narcissists would be the most loved people in the world, and while it may be true that selfish pricks (i.e. bad boys) get a lot of chicks initially, they don't generally get a lot of long-term love, the best and most fulfilling kind of love.

I've often felt like - and sometimes been made to feel - like I'm a needy, insecure, messed up creature for wanting a healthy love relationship, and for being upset when my needs aren't met in the relationships I have found myself in, but I've recently decided that this is bull. I'm not saying I've always acted well in relationships, and I certainly don't deny that I can be needy and reassurance-seeking - which is something I'm trying to work on. But the need to be mirrored in a positive way and to have a solid physical and emotional attachment to a lover is a basic, normal, human need. Gloria Steinem (supposedly) said "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", and, as the Psych Today article says, in more polite terms, that's crap. I do get the sentiment, but actually, we all need one another, and we all need love. Here's to it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I remember that first date – a blind date – after 20-something e-mails and a 2-hour phone conversation. He drove up to my house in a green convertible, the top down, the dog in the back seat. He got out of the car, smiled behind dark glasses. A good-looking guy, not my usual type, but chivalrous, confident, and all smiles. He opened the door for me. I felt nervous. We talked nervously on the drive to Napa, the wind in our hair, it was hot, even on the freeway with the top down. We talked, and talked, and slowly got more comfortable with each other. There was the nice dinner in the French bistro in Yountville, the flowers and chocolates. This was an old-fashioned man, but only old-fashioned in the way I like – all generous attention, with grown-up goals and a grown-up life behind him, with sadness and joy freely expressed, but without possessiveness, arrogance, or judgment. He told me he wanted to know all about me. Later, he told me he knew from that day that we would be together,

I wasn’t so sure. At the Police concert, afterwards, I drove home and he stopped me in the parking lot as I was driving away, down on one knee, and told me he wanted to kiss me. Maybe it was the champagne talking. But I told him I wasn’t ready. I drove away, watching him in my rearview mirror.

At my birthday party, I watched him watch me. There was something about him – what was it? In a photo of the birthday crowd, he was there in the background, watching me with a strange combination of intensity and calm. Strangely sexy. When his friend got locked in the bathroom and it took three guys an hour to realize they couldn’t un-jam the door, he took control and kicked it down. The next day he came over with bloody maries and an omelette pan, fixed the door, then made me breakfast.

He was going to Burning Man, so I came by to help fix the food. He showed me how to efficiently chop an onion. We worked in the kitchen like we had been born to work together.

I told him I’d be his when I took his hand. He told me his hand would be there any time I wanted to take it.

Then the dinner – he's a trained chef – and the wine and I couldn’t drive home but didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in his bed. So he gave me a Dan Marino football jersey to wear, that fit me like a dress five sizes too big, and I slept on the couch with the dog. Or didn’t sleep, actually. In the morning, a Friday, he made me coffee and we sat on the couch and talked about books. We kept pushing back the time we needed to be at work. We walked the dog in the park, and I did it – I took his hand. And we kept walking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And we sat on a park bench, looking at the water, and we kissed. And checked in at work, to tell them we wouldn’t be in that day.

Then he was off to Burning Man. I went to Grass Valley, a solo trip, and from Reno, he called several times a day to tell me he was thinking of me. The sweat dripped down my back, as I sat on a wall under a pine tree, and heard his words and felt his love, and I missed him so much, but it was a beautiful feeling, to miss a man I loved who loved me.

Within weeks of knowing each other, we made plans to travel to Florida for a week, where he grew up, so he could show me the Florida keys. We drove up to Mendocino in his crotchety old van to collect driftwood for facing for the bathroom he was installing, stayed in a crummy dog-friendly hotel right on the freeway, got popped by the local cops, but got out of it, as he's wont to do. On the way back, me driving, we stopped on the shoulder of the road, overlooking the fierce ocean, and he held me with tears in his eyes, telling me he was so glad to have found me. Told me I was the woman he'd been waiting for his whole life.

There was lots more – the drama with his best friend – a woman – who wanted to be with him and stopped talking to him after we got together. The complications of old friendships, the disappointments, the needs not met, the old stuff that comes up, the marriage that wasn’t quite ended. And our love that seemed to grow and grow, within three months came up against obstacles it couldn’t overcome. The talk of love and a future, yet the past coming back and back, to haunt us, not quite ready to leave the stage. My need for solitude with my love, his need for social time, my insecurities, his need to hang on, my uncomplicated life, his complex one, and then, as usually happens, the purity of love being sullied time and again with emotion, bad decisions, resentment, things we both wish we could take back. Then the pain, such pain, a different agony than the agony of missing someone you love. The agony of seeing your love and dreams fading.

And now? The love and the truth, the pain and the ambivalence, all intertwined and inseparable. A decision that must be made, and we know what decision that is, but I, at least, rationalizing how not to go there. How to have what we had, back then, though I know we can never go back. But I want to, so badly. To be in that place of uncomplicated love again, when we thought the future was there waiting for us.

I’m sorry, S, for everything I did wrong. I wish you and I all happiness, love, calm, and peace. We were meant to meet, and I’ll always remember that first sight of you, driving up to my door, the top down, all smiles behind dark glasses. I love you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Weird things that make me about you?

  • New colored pens!
  • putting together a new outfit that totally works, man.
  • getting off the phone with an author after having a really good, professional, confident conversation about publishing contracts.
  • Seeing new roots growing on the plant cutting in my window.
  • when my step-dog sees me and greets me running and jumping.And when we lie together in the sun and he puts his head on my arm.
  • Getting invitations, even when I can't go.
  • Having people write sweet/supportive/intelligent responses to my blog posts.
  • Having friends who I can cry with as well as laugh with.
  • Going into some hole-in-the -wall place and hearing a great, unknown, totally unexpected band.
  • The sound of a powerful high-performance engine starting up. Total turn-on!
  • The wind blowing through a eucalyptus grove.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lover gave me "The Compassion Box" for Solstice this year. It's a lovely gift, with a book by Pema Chodron about the Buddhist lojong (or "mind training") practice of working with slogans in meditation (and in life) to become increasingly awake and aware. Pema is my hero when I've struggled with depression, grief, and confusion; I love "When Things Fall Apart". The box also includes a set of lojong cards and a CD with a guided meditation.

So, in my recent struggles, I got out the cards and have been picking one every day to reflect on as I go through my day. I don't (yet) have a formal meditation practice, but I have the cards by my computer at work, where I look at them all day long.

Today's was "Don't Try to be the Fastest", and the commentary on the back says, simply, "Don't compete with others."

It's extremely apropos to my current struggle because I realize that I've been competing, at least in my own mind, with my partner's past, and it's been causing me immense pain. The phrase "Don't Try to Be the Fastest" reminds me that not only is competing with another woman for the affection of a man ridiculous, juvenile, and unfeminist, it's based entirely on my own deep sense of insecurity. That I'm OK with him, I'm OK without him, and that I'm the same as her: a feeling, thinking, struggling human being dealing with relationship and emotion, always confusing at best and horridly painful at worst. Enough of this catfight shit.

I like the idea of not struggling to get ahead, to be the best, to win the man, or to be the one and only in the perfect blissful relationship . I like the idea of just being, not thinking about the race or participating in it. I've always felt like I wasn't ambitious enough in life, I don't have a high-paying job, a McMansion, or many save-the-world credentials, but I have a nice life and wonderful people to share it with and a flexible mind to take it all in.

Who needs to be faster?

Monday, January 12, 2009

What I believe

  • That everything that has come before this – in our personal lives and in the world – happened in order to prepare us for this moment.
  • That we all have a shared responsibility to create a world that nurtures and supports all beings, even the people we disagree with, and even the people we don’t understand.
  • That being truly open to and accepting of another person is the most difficult thing we can do.
  • With the exception of being totally open to and accepting of ourselves
  • That love is a daily practice and that we have the opportunity to practice it in every second, with everyone we meet.
  • That all of it’s worthless if we can’t also laugh and play and be silly
  • That rules were meant to be broken, or at least twisted.
  • That hate, resentment, guilt and self-righteousness are the most useless of emotions, unless we can learn from them.
  • That the important thing is not what mistakes we make, but what we do with the lessons.
  • That it’s okay to be afraid.
  • That the hardest moments of our lives are also the ones that include the most profound seeds of growth
  • That no situation is a problem, just an opportunity to learn.
  • That there is no such thing as perfection, only the pursuit of balance
  • That we all have things to teach each other, and things to learn from each other
  • That if we ever stop growing, we’ll die – or we might as well.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Were hearts just meant to be broken? Is that why we have them? So we can break open and feel the true energy of the universe - all the beauty, joy, poignancy, messiness, confusion, fear, and pain, pain, pain that exists in the world? Maybe a broken heart is the truest thing in the universe - and a joyful heart is, also. They're both sides of the same coin. Maybe diving into the pain the the only thing we can do when confronted with the pain and confusion, and maybe on the other side of that - somewhere that I have yet to find - is joy and release from all this exquisite agony. Maybe opening up to that pain - being brave enough to do that - is opening up to the universe, to God.

The confusion is so deep - the love and the hurt intertwined in such a way that I can't separate them. Is this normal? Is it because I'm supposed to learn the exquisite lesson that pain and joy and life are inseparable? Or is it because I'm too sensitive, because I can't turn away from it? Is it something I'm forced to live with, my whole life? And can I do it?

In "Doctor Zhivago", one of the lines that I loved, and wrote down (somewhere), was "For a moment, she re-discovered the purpose of her life: … to call each thing by its right name.” I remembered this when I saw "Into the Wild" recently and he quotes that line. I remember when I first read that, I felt like that was me, that was my reason, too. And maybe me role in life is to observe, to watch, to experience the nuances of human emotion. Maybe my exquisite sensitivity and tendency to absorb emotion, like a sponge, maybe it's my role to live with that, to experience it fully, let be the pain flow over me and through me, so that I someday, somehow, find the joy on the other side. Maybe pain and joy will always be my companions, no matter what. Maybe they're everybody's, but we just don't like to talk about it. Maybe my job is to talk about it.

Today, in talking about my situation, I was told that I'm too nice, that I let him get away with too much. I was always taught that, as a woman, I had to be nice to be acceptable, happy, coupled. But nice only gets you so far. Nice gets you happy smiles when your soul is breaking apart, sweet words to hide the truth, declarations of love and actions that speak the opposite. Not uncommon for the nice girls, the ones who trust what people say. The nice girl in me says I'm being too harsh, that he's only dealing with his own confusion and pain. But the dark one says I'm being played for a fool. And I'd rather believe the nice girl, but there's still that doubt, that doubt....

But in this week, I've heard such care from people I never would have expected it from. I'm so grateful for all the people who have been honest with me in my confusion, supportive, let me cry in the middle of a party, led me outside to talk, called to check on me, told me they loved me and how special I am. The people who are taking care of me in my grief. My best friends, my mom, even my hairdresser, my doctor, and my boyfriend's neighbors...they all support me in being my whole, true, self. And that's magical, and I love them all for reaching out to me, for letting me cry, and unload all my crap on them. For telling me I deserve better. Maybe that's why I'm in this situation of limbo, pain, confusion and yes, I can appreciate the good things I have while letting go of the expectations of what a love relationship is supposed to be. Maybe my lesson is to accept what is, exactly as it is, and to dig deep into myself to find the unconditional goodwill that can support the one I love through all, even if it means it takes him away from me, and to find the strength to live my own life, on my own, without dependence. Maybe the interdependence will come later, when this period in our lives is over.

I just want to lie down in some field and sink into the dirt, become part of the earth, because I don't know how to be in this life at the same time that I must. Am I just too sensitive to pain and the nuances of truth? Do I need too much? Then how can I exist? How do I cope? I know there's a profound lesson here, but I'm damned if I know what to do with it. That love hurts, like Steve Perry always said? And I sit here popping anti-anxiety pills and drinking champagne to dull the pain that wakes me up at night. I don't know what to do. I've moved on so often. I'm so tired. Part of me wants to become one of them - the mercenary, the manipulative, the ones who just use others to get what they want - because that's who gets ahead in this world. Maybe it's time to turn over a new, even more cynical leaf.

On one hand, can I accept the love that I'm offered, accept his confusion, and make a life with him that has room for that? Or should I be the iron bitch and just move on, not looking back, my tears being wiped away by the wind of my passage as I go, because, dammit, I can't get everything I want? Should I relish the good things and just accept the rest, caring for him in his confusion and pain, and seeking his acknowledgment of mine without wallowing in it or allowing it to turn me into a harpy? Or should I look, yet again, for someone with an uncomplicated life, who has all the room in the world for me, and who can offer me the warmth and strong arms around me that I long for. And does that person even exist?

I don't know. I don't know.

The image above is from

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day and my love can't be with me, is wading in the deep messiness that comes from all human relationship, navigating the road of love and pain, past and future. I miss him so badly, want so badly to call to see if he's OK, but I'm trying to be strong and let go, the way they say you need to let go of the one you love. And in the letting go, I'm catching glimpses of that soft love in the center of my being that says everything's going to be OK, no matter what. The unconditional, encompassing love-with-sadness that the Buddhists call bodhichitta. I realized with a jolt, while taking down my Christmas lights: I love this man and I just want his happiness, whatever happens. It feels like a warm glow in my chest, like the sun that's right now breaking out from behind the chilly fog of the first day of 2009.

I regret the times I've tried to control him, make him meet my expectations. Right now, at this moment, I don't care about all of that. I just want to see him happy. I still miss him, but I'm holding him in my heart. It's funny how underneath all of our struggles and pain, is this love and warmth, and if we could all just learn to sink below the pain, we'd realize how lucky we are to be here.

OK, that's enough new year's cheesiness!

Happy New year!