I have seen mothers go through this before.
She’s been hurt. The police get called. Child Protective Services gets involved.
She is fleeing abuse and staying in a shelter.
They say that she’s “combative,” “non-cooperative,” and “unstable.” Lots of phones are called. Lots of papers are shuffled, and decisions are made well before anyone appears before a judge.
The day comes, and a defiant mother shows up to court with her head held high, exhausted and mad as hell, but confident that no one is capable of taking her child from her arms.
And then, they do.
It is the single most tragic thing I have ever witnessed.
And this time, it knocked me off my center.
I watched, dumb, as she fell apart. I rode the waves of her grief, and I felt like I, too, was drowning in it.
How could they do this? To take her child away. To put him in an unfamiliar place, with people he barely knows.
Why can’t they just help her?
I spent the rest of the day and the majority of the next in a daze. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I dragged myself around, sullen, and aching. The deep pain that was still resounding in my body turned to anger, and I felt it brim behind my eyes, seeking someone to blame, before I surrendered it to tears.
I was confused. Why was the pain so different this time, why did it feel like it was seeping into my bones and changing me so profoundly?
It doesn’t belong to me, I thought,
before realizing that,
it actually belongs to all of us.
It is a violation of nature and a crime against humanity to forcibly remove a child from its mother.
Personally, I am at a very safe distance from a threat of this kind, but still, my body knows it like a haunting memory, and I see it all around me, crying out for attention right now, and getting it.
I see it in the faces of immigrant parents
who have been separated from their children.
Thank God we are seeing it.
I also see it in the scar on the face of the earth
where a forest has been clear cut.
I see it in the body of the deer, the dog, the skunk,
who was stuck by a car and left to rot on the pavement.
I see it everywhere, and when I feel into the enormity of our violation against nature, it brings me to my knees and close to despair.
After a few weeks of grieving, and what I feared was her giving up,
I saw this mother again with her head heal high and her game plan in motion.
I realized, with some relief, that Mothers don't give up.
And Nature doesn't either.
After class on Sunday I went walking with my dog through the nature preserve near my home, enjoying the subtle shift between day and night. In the distance I heard an owl, softly cooing. And then a few moments later another owl, with a lower voice, or perhaps farther away, gave a knowing reply. I remembered the work we did in class as I walked, and began thinking about the beliefs and values which underpin my skills as a hiker and lover of the woods. I recalled myself saying to my partner in class that the belief I carry that enables my ability as a hiker has something to do with acknowledging that we are, ourselves, a part of nature. That our lives are interdependent and interwoven with the lives of plants and animals. And that being in nature is simply healthy for us.
As I continued around the bend it dawned on my that my even deeper belief is that the forest itself, and everything in it, is conscious and aware. And that everything in the natural world has something to teach us.
I communed with this belief as I emerged from the thickness of the forest and turned onto the bright open dirt path leading back to the neighborhood.
The feathery hoot of the owls wafted above me, and I stopped in my tracks to get a sense of where they were.
A few paces ahead, and up, I spotted the first owl. Alighted on a powerline, and looking down at me with calm surprise. I bowed to him as an offering of friendship and humility, and found myself wondering what his teaching was, and how to model an exemplar such as this fine screech owl.
A little farther up the trail I heard his comrade. And found him resting in a treetop, visible against the fading glow of the western horizon. I stood underneath and asked again inwardly, what is your teaching? How do you do what you do? The owl turned and looked down at me, and I stared back up, openly. As I watched the bird rotate his head to peer directly behind itself, I recalled a story from class about a consultant who was paid $25,000 a day to fix problems within companies. The secret to his success was his ability to look at the problem from every angle, until the right perspective was found, and it ceased to be a difficult problem at all.
To see things from all perspectives, and to do so from on high, in a detached, curious, and objective way, seemed to me, to be the teaching of this owl.
The next morning I watched the doves outside my window walk up and down the branches of the big oak trees in the backyard. Curious, I asked again, what is your teaching, dove? How are you so good at what you do?
The dove softly beat its tail, up and down, up and down, as it walked and rotated on the branch. As it turned toward me, I noticed its chest and wings formed a heart shape, and I smiled as I realized its message was about the heart. About the rhythm, the tenderness, and the innocence of the heart.
A crow swooped down and landed on the same branch and after a moment I heard him say, even before I asked the question, logic.
Wisdom, the inner eye. Tenderness, the original heart. Logic, the pure mind.
Upon completing this short passage, and looking for a thumbnail image, I do a google image search for “owl medicine” and find the picture above. A nice reminder that these three teachers have many more students than just myself.
It is my first morning alone in India. My traveling companion, Maria, has left for Paris, and I find myself wandering the streets of Varanasi, taking in the sights and sounds with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
Walking along the ghats, a young boy approaches me. He smiles widely and shows me a water balloon with purple fluid in it. I shake my head at him and say “no,” but as soon as my back is to him he slams me, and all at once, me and my belongings are covered in purple dye. I run after him, and he disappears above the ghats, laughing. I want to laugh too- but I can’t. Instead, I duck into an abandoned temple to hide, feeling angry and ridiculous.
On my walk home I feel like a walking target. I can feel the beginnings of my moon blood starting to flow, and the usual stares and comments from men as I walk home are getting under my skin in a way that makes me boil. All of the suppressed resentment I have felt since arriving in India is surfacing and I don’t know what to do with it. I decide to write it all down and it pours out of me, hot and angry, and fluid. I’m sick of being a woman in India, I write. I proceed to air out my grievances, most of which have to do with Indian men, and once it is complete I know I have to share it with someone. So I post it on social media. It is International Women’s Day, and I see posts with radiant, smiling women everywhere. As soon as I have posted the message, I take a breath and pray to the Divine Mother. I apologize for my anger, ask her for grace, and let a few tears fall as an involuntary oblation.
After a few hours I’m restless and hungry and venture out of my room. Something feels different. I feel lighter and hardly notice the comments of passing men and pushy touts. Later, I am browsing the racks of clothing at a local store as the salesman is encouraging me to sit down and have chai. I agree and he orders a younger man to go get the tea. This family owns a dog- a dachshund- they are the first Indian people I have met who own a dog (like, let it live in their house, own it). As we are sipping tea the younger man introduces himself and we start to chat about Varanasi, and what to see and do here. He is a student at the university, and is studying Spanish. This is his family’s shop. I’m struck by how kind he is, and leave the store with more items than I actually want or need. On my way out he flags me down and offers to take me to the most famous temples, if I’m interested in seeing them. Am I interested in seeing the holy temples of Varanasi? You bet I am. Normally I would never accept an offer from a stranger to be my tour guide, and especially not in a foreign country. But I found myself saying yes, eagerly. I trusted this guy.
The next day I am walking back to my hotel, to meet Ayush, my tour guide, when a motor bike pulls up beside me, and I suddenly realize that this is my ride. He smiles warmly and motions for me to jump on. I have never been on the back of a bike, and feel my legs trembling, but I still trust this guy, and in a few moments, we are weaving in and out of the beautiful chaos of Varanasi. I am so thrilled, I can’t believe it. This is fun.
The next few days are a whirlwind of incredible temples, amazing food, and great conversation. I am treated with so much care and respect by this sweet young man, who never tries to come onto me, or asks anything of me in return for his time, care, and effort. I have seen things that I would never have been able to see if left to my own devices.
At the Vishwanath temple we are able to get right in, bypassing the line of worshipers that weaves down the tight streets of the old city. After receiving a blessing from the temple priest, who humorously throws a garland of flowers over my head, I whisper a wish into the ear of a statue of Nandi the bull, and I know, deep within my heart, that this prayer will be answered.
I book a plane for Delhi a few days before Holi with the intention of ending up in Rishikesh for the Holiday. Ayush finds a cab to take me to the airport and we part ways. I have fallen in love with him, but in a way that is so pure and so clean, I am not the least bit ashamed of it.
I realize, upon leaving Varanasi, that my prayer for Grace was answered. It was as if Mother India herself, heard me in my moment of weakness, and responded by showing me the kind and courageous men who I had been neglecting to see amid the clamour of the more obvious jerks. I left Varanasi a few days after meeting Ayush, but his impression stayed with me. And for the rest of my journey, I continued to meet Indian men who treated me with kindness and respect, and cleared away obstacles from my path, without asking anything in return. In the end, and to my total surprise, it was India’s men who made my journey so safe and comfortable. I realized during this experience, that it is natural for men to take care of women. I had been so accustomed to shunning ideas like this one, which historically have been used as excuses for disempowering women, that this revelation came as a bit of a shock. It is natural for men to take care of women. Any by “take care” what I really mean is, honor. What is unnatural, is for men to treat women like objects, or like untouchables, or like infants. What is unnatural, is for men to dishonor women, and vise versa.
I am still learning about the mysterious nature of Grace, so I can’t really tell you what it is. But I do know that it was the spirit of Grace that responded to me that day, my first day alone in India. And that She is always there, waiting for us to be ready to let go of our suffering.
This was the question on my mind a few mornings ago.
I was walking my dog through the woods above Barton Creek and was mentally calculating the time it would take for us to do a quick loop around the trail, sprint back to the car, drive home, jump in the shower, gather food, drink a cup of coffee, and jet off to work. I wasn't even planning on hiking down to the water until I reached the edge of the hill where I was planning on turning back, and suddenly Luna races down to the bottom, and stares up at me, daring me to follow.
Just to the edge of the water, I think. And then I'm at the water, smiling into my reflection among the clear pools forming along the bank, and I hear my inner Knowing ask me, why not bathe here this morning?
It's that perfect time of year, when the rains have filled the aquifer and the creek is full of fresh spring water. The color of the water captures me. It's a soft opalescent blue, and is so still I can see straight to the bottom.
My inner Knowing stared at me, like my dog had done at the bottom on the hill, daring me to give in and let go of my typical, frantic morning routine.
Yes, I replied to it, with a shy grin, I was going to take a bath anyway...why not here?
I find my favorite spot a little ways down the creek, hidden behind a grove of trees. I slip out of my clothes and step out onto a rock, warm from the early morning sun. The sunlight itself feels like a bath and I let it wash over me. I feel like I am smiling through ever pore of my body. The utter naturalness of this moment embraces and renews me, and I feel the Knowing within me smoothing over the events that lay before me, letting all my obligations know that I will be there in due time, that this time I am taking for myself is serving to make everything else better that is yet to come.
Luna is in the water first, with a splash, and I dive in after her, opening my eyes under the water in the cool blue and pausing near the bottom, before the air pulls me back up towards the surface. I float and dive and let my body take over my movements while my mind floats blissfully upon the water. I am Alive. The spring and the sun and my nakedness affirm to me that yes, I am alive, and I was made for this.
I later wonder how many opportunities like this I pass up due to business or shyness or fear. I feel so grateful that I allowed this unplanned moment to flower in my day, and I carried it with me for the rest of the day like a little jewel in my pocket. Touching it when faced with an unpleasant situation, and remembering that I am Alive, that I was born to feel alive, and that life is full of unplanned moments, and that it is within the uncertainty of the unknown that the most precious treasures are hidden.
For months I had been spinning my wheels, irritated and unhappy at my job, looking for a new city to move to, a new group to join, a new technique to learn, anything to alleviate this feeling of going nowhere. Unhealthy habits had crept back into my life like opportunistic pests sensing my weakness. I just wanted to feel better. To feel like I was doing what I was meant to be doing. And in all that effort to be doing, I lost my being.
Due to the stress, the unhealthy habits, and the vicious cycle that these two factors seem to always enable, my meditation practice had tampered off to a few minutes every morning before I started my day. I clung to this like a life raft, and indeed it was, and still is, a practice that keeps me afloat during precarious times.
My short morning meditations had started to develop a common theme. Depending on when I woke up, I would sit for a while, or simply pause in my little mediation room and bow for a few minutes, but one element silently crept in and began to tie everything together as my prayers evolved from a myriad of requests to one simple plea:
Guide me. Guide me through this day.
Lead me to the people who need me and to the people I need, too.
Lead me forward towards that which my soul is longing for.
I'm here. I'm listening. Just guide me.
Something about the act of just admitting now lost I felt was a huge relief, and became the most peaceful part of my day. Surrendering control, even for a moment, and allowing myself to commit to being open to what lay ahead- without any idea about what it could be- became my morning ritual.
And so when I received an email from my yoga community announcing a four month training in India that would be personally taught by the spiritual head of Kriya Yoga International, instead of dismissing it as a opportunity that I was neither prepared for or worthy of and moving onto the next email, I paused, listened within, and quickly realized that this was a door that was standing wide open, as an answer to my inner prayer, and was mine if I chose to accept it. Everything within me shouted "yes!" And it would still take months of deliberation, being struck by flying objects (seriously) and subsequently coming into exactly enough money to pay for the program expenses before I finally committed. But the Knowing never budged, because I never stopped trusting it.
The Knowing has to be surrendered to. Every morning, if possible. Every moment, every breath- even better. The Knowing may ask you to do really scary things. Jump out of comfort zones and into the unknown. It will never push you. But will quietly wait, patiently, while you run in circles here and there, drive yourself crazy in all of your effort to figure things out and establish security, and will still be there once you have collapsed in exhaustion. It will be smiling slightly, sitting calmly and will ask you one more time, "are you ready to let go, and be led?"
I trusted that Knowing across an ocean and all over a country I had never been to. It took care of me every step of the way. And I'm still struggling to let go of wanting to control life. But my grip is much looser and my faith in the Knowing, much stronger. And whenever I find myself running in circles and collapsing again into a puddle of confusion, I remember that calm smile, and the path that is illuminated just beyond it, just bright enough for me to see where to take the next step.