My mother loved teddy bears, especially as, older and frailer, she spent most of her time propped up on a pillow in bed listening to npr on her Bose radio and eating m&m’s, surrounded by her Teddy bears.
When I moved to California with my daughter Lily we made a few visits to the Bear Factory in downtown San Francisco and,, in addition to Lily creating her own bear, she made one for her grandmother choosing a traditional teddy bear brown, a red bow and red panties. We left it at that, declining the wardrobe selections to dress up your bear and lovingly, she gave it to ‘grandma’ who kept it on her bed in a place of honor next to Paddington Bear and his buddies.
When my mother left this earth 14 years ago, my sister and I sorted through a lifetime of stuff – dispersing it hither and yon like a diaspora. We divided up paintings, books, furniture, mementos, clothing, kitchenware and tchotchkes. I moved my portion north-east to Davis, my home at the time, and my sister moved hers across the Bay Bridge to her home in San Francisco. Culling and weeding it in another couple of years, I pulled up stakes yet again beckoned by a next season and a new chapter, and packed it up and trucked it across the country to Florida where it was put in a container and sent off to sea to land on the tiny island I call home, and then trucked it up and over and down the hillside to my not yet periwinkle blue cottages. Whew ! I imagine that’s what the bear was saying because it had been some journey.
Even though Teddy wasn’t worn and loved to shreds like the velveteen rabbit (being newer and never owned by a child) – it had still been a transitional object for my mom during her last transition and then had been chosen by me and deemed worthy of a trip most bears don’t ever get to make.
Teddy got to hang out with a big yellow stuffed tweety bird and a couple of other bears that had belonged to my daughter and I’m sure they complained about the heat and the rain and then about being forgotten lying there together in a white plastic garbage bag in the breeze-way cum storage space for what turned out to be a decade.
I’m guessing they were all excited and relieved to see the light of day when looking for my collection of puppets, I found and opened the garbage bag. I sat them in the sun and asked my daughter if she wanted any of them – tweety especially having been her favorite. She declined but before I could pack them up to give them to some children, Shelby, my daughter’s three year old pit bull, got hold of Teddy and slimed him beyond rescue. Even though I knew she’d rip Teddy to shreds, I knew she’d have fun doing it and I have to admit I kind of warmed to the sight of pit bull and her Teddy bear sleeping side by side.
Well, Teddy held up thanks to the Bear factory’s impressive fabrication skills. Shelby dragged him around begging for a game of tug o war and racing up and down with the bear in her mouth for weeks until, one evening, I noticed one piece of white fluff and then another evidence that Sheby had made inroads into Teddy’s brain and was eviscerating it’s contents and spreading them like a snow storm all over my floor. I collected the fluff and went to bed. The next morning, amidst more fluff, I saw something red on the floor. Blood? Getting closer I saw it was a heart – the red sateen heart that is the piece de resistance of the make a bear process. Before they sewed Teddy up, Lily picked a red heart (you could choose from a variety of colors) and tenderly placed it in his chest. I’d forgotten about the heart.
I picked it up and held it close to my heart before I magnetically anchored it on my fridge next to a poster from the devotional Krishna Das concert I’d just attended in Puerto Rico. It’s deep red, perfect heart shape and shiny surface catch my eye ever time I look that way – which is often.
That evening, I attended satcousang, a gathering for truth, and a group of us sang sacred songs accompanying ourselves on instruments – Gary, Pru and Katie on guitar, Karen rocking the harmonium, me playing violin with others keeping time with tambourines and shak shaks. We sang chants to various Hindu gods – among them, Ganesh. Krishna, Rama and Hanuman as Pru shared stories about them.
I was particularly moved by the story of Hanuman’s rescue of the kidnapped Sita, the love and consort of Lord Rama. After many adventures and misadventures recounted in the Ramayana, thanks, most of all,to Hanuman, Sita was rescued and returned home to the side of her beloved, Rama.
Shortly after he was crowned Emperor, Rama decided to reward his well-wishers. At a grand court ceremony, he honored his friends and allies, calling them one by one to the throne. Seeing Hanuman come up to him, an emotionally overwhelmed Rama embraced him and declared that he could never adequately honor or repay Hanuman for his help and service. Sita, , insisted that Hanuman deserveded honor more than anyone, and she gave him her necklace of precious stones and pearls.
Taking it in her hands, Hanuman immediately took it apart, and peered closely into each stone. When why he was destroying his precious gift, Hanuman said he was looking into the stones to make sure that Rama and Sita were in them, because if they weren’t, the necklace was of no value to him. At this, a few mocked Hanuman, saying his reverence and love for Rama and Sita could not possibly be as deep as he was implying. In response, Hanuman tore his chest open, and everyone was stunned to see Rama and Sita seated in his heart.
I thought of Teddy’s red heart ripped out of his furry chest and of my own heart and who is seated there for all to see were I to rip my own chest open and I thought of my mother who carried pictures of me and my sister in a heart shaped locket and of what it means to wear your heart on your sleeve.
I carry everyone I love in my heart – like Hannuman carried Sita and Rama – devotion evidenced by their place of honor. Like a motley crew of figures past and present, human and divine, those I worship, those who support and sustain me and those who I embrace in the here and now, they are all inside my eternally expanding heart, whose every beat is like a mantra, a love song and a kind of praying with out ceasing, the back beat of my song, the sound of the river that carries me.
All I need to do is dive in, sink down and rest in the the heart of the matter to remember who I am and who is here with me always.
With thanks to Teddy, Shelby, Pru, Hanuman, my mother and the blood red satin heart on my fridge.
What a difference a light makes. Used to waking up at 6, much to my chagrin I’ve been sleeping in and having to set an alarm to make sure I’m up. I wondered what was going on until I realized that, at this time of year, the world is still pitch black at 6.am and that, after hibernating for 6-8 hours, it’s the light that wakes me up each morning. Now I’m more likely open my eyes around 6:45 – consciousness dawning in synch with the sun. If I do wake up earlier and decide against getting up in the dark – I luxuriate in dozing off again knowing that the big on switch in the sky will slowly illuminate my little corner of earth.
At the winter solstice, the scales that are tipped toward darkness are also poised to welcome the return of the light. It’s a cusp, a heavenly pivot point as we go from waning, where each day is shorter that then last to waxing where each day grows longer and lighter. Even if it’s still dark I know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Whatever traditions and beliefs we espouse and whatever our feelings about the holidays – sad and glad, the fact is that we are all in this together. We share space on a sphere that is spinning through space while orbiting a fireball in the sky – all participants in this tenuous, scary and miraculous proposition.
However we celebrate this season or to avoid it, we are all living through a time each year when it is darker outside as well as times of inner darkness. The solstice reminds us that the light does return – that the darkness is truly just before the dawn.
For millennia, cultures throughout the world have observed the winter solstice (Dec. 21) as a sacred event and marked the first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations – important in an agricultural society it marked the seasons of harvest, dormancy, rebirth and ripening as well as their counterparts in our inner and outer lives physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Whether secular or religious, all of these celebrations are full of light whether a big bonfire, one tiny candle or simply the promise of light: the star that guides us – the lantern that keeps burning for 8 nights, the birth of pure potential out of the darkness of a seed – a baby and the everyday miracle of seeing the world take on form in the dawning of each and every morning.
Even as I huddle in the darkest of days under the covers, I fear not power outages. I have my lanterns, my oil and my candles both flamed and flameless. And I know that something’s coming – like in Westside story – just around the corner – on a clear day you can see forever – song and dance.. There’s a lot to get excited about, a lot to look forward to. The Solstice is a time to cast off old habits and negative feelings to clear the way and embrace hope amid darkness.
People come to see me because they are experiencing times of darkness. They feel discouraged, angry, hopeless and powerless and are looking for some peace, some illumination. Doing my best to shine a light and help them to uncover theirs, I am often able to tap into a place where something starts to dawns, a light goes off and I can see, by the flicker of a smile or a shift in demeanor that there they are – embracing hope amid the darkness, reminding me of what Rumi said :
“I wish I could show you when you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
The Solstice reminds us that it’s not going to stay dark forever. We are not going to be depressed forever. By cutting through the darkness, light is proof that, sometimes, all it takes it takes is the flick of a switch, the lighting of a candle and there it is, hope springing eternal and darkness yielding to the light of the sun and the light of consciousness. Light makes a big difference.
In vigils people hold candles. At Christmas Eve caroling services they flicker in the darkness and dance in the breeze – hopeful, valient, bright and vulnerable and on the 8th day of hannukah there are eight candles burning bright.
I have glass cylinders that protect the candle flames from sea breezes on my deck and just yesterday, I was transported to a piece of happy childhood when I untangled and wrapped strands of multi-colored Christmas lights around my Norfolk pine and then “ta da” – turned them on in the darkness. I could feel my own little light flickering back in recognition.
If the world were like The Maine Fiddle Camp all would truly be well. The ingredients in the recipe for a most amazing week, were the same ingredients that make the world my happy place: community, generosity, diversity of age and abilities all hanging out together, music, music, music, lovingly prepared, fresh, healthy food, a common purpose (music and fun), compassion, tolerance, empathy, encouragement, silliness, learning new things, practicing old things, continuity (people keep coming back year after year), a beautiful environment with a natural back drop equivalent to our tropical paradise, pretty good weather and a lightness of spirit that oozed everywhere bathing the whole shebang in a golden glow even on the couple of overcast days and especially for the most dramatic mid-night thunder storm I may ever have slept through.
I am already planning on returning next year and thinking that I’ll stay for both of the two week sessions. I made good friends, many acquaintances and tens of warm, musical, friendly connections throughout the 5 days. I learned to play a handful of fiddle tunes and to recognize a host of others, was continually awed by the talent, the sheer fiddle wizardry and the beautiful, heartfelt tunes.
I fell in love with the little kids and melted when I realized that the beautiful, pregnant teacher – mother of the 3 and a 4 year olds strutting around with the tiniest violins I’ve ever seen – had been brought to camp by her parents – also teachers at the camp, when she was that age. While no one sang “May the Circle be Unbroken” – that’s what it felt like.
I roomed with 8 girls under 18 and their 21 year old ‘house mother’. They were adorable. I didn’t get too involved, preferring to say sweet dreams and slip into my coleman sleeping bag like a baby roo to conk out till morning. I covered for the house mom so she could slip out and jam after 11:30 – the under 18 curfew. She told me the last night of camp was the night they were most likely to sneak out. She sounded like she knew what she was talking about as she tip toed out with her fiddle into the night.
Grandparents brought their grandchildren and 3 generations of a family from Quebec had driven down from Montreal to play music together all week. There was the Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist who spent the week with her 10 year old son and niece playing fiddle tunes, a vacation from the pressure and repertoire of the symphony; the photographer from New York with his 15 year old daughter, a guy from Maine with his 7 year old daughter, French Canadian retired professors and a surveyor who just started playing the fiddle a year ago and was so intent on learning and getting better you just wanted to help him, so we played tunes together after the class – hammering the tunes into our heads by repeating them over and over and over and over again so I’d fall asleep with The Wren or the Spotted Pony playing me to sleep like lullabyes.
It was deeply moving to watch the high school students of the Farmington Fiddlers perform and to watch the 85 year old master fiddler who showed up to fiddle and call the evening dance and to sing along with the under 8 year olds. It was so hopeful and uplifting and it was really happening. I was there.
Is it naïve and unrealistic and whoo whoo of me to believe that it is possible for people to live together in peace, love and harmony? Am I just an old hippie who never grew up, an Anne Frank who believes, that despite everything, that people are essentially good at heart?
Because I am human and because I’m a healer who’s in the business of being present to and helping transform suffering, I am acutely aware of all the stuff that gets in the way of peace, love and understanding. I have also come to know that that stuff can be seen for what it is, expressed in ways that do not cause harm and little by little or all at once cleared away and released. There are so many tools to help us get and stay connected to source (God, the divine, inner guidance, higher power, however you choose to see it) and to cut through the old tapes that hang us up and run the show from behind the scenes.
Fiddle camp gave me a chance to be part of a world that I want to be a part of in a way that felt so good and natural that it was a shock to be jolted back to the version of reality on the evening news when, after leaving camp, I was sitting at my friend’s kitchen table: Ferguson, the beheading, the Israeli/Palestinian horror. The contrast was glaring and I wondered how I was going to hold onto the glow, the promise and the music as I re-entered the denser atmosphere of everyday life in paradise.
As I debrief and consider which threads I want to pull into the tapestry of my life and how to pull it off, instead of getting overwhelmed and frustrated I strap my violin onto my back and like the true companion it has been for weeks, take it with me on my travels. When I have a break, I head out toward Cabrita Point, pull over onto the beach and learn a new fiddle tune – yesterday 100 Pipers. I play it over and over and over again to get the tune into my head, my fingers and my heart as the waves lap the shore, taxi men eat their lunch and kids frolic in the turqouise sea.
Here’s to holding a vision for what’s possible and living it into existence – one tune at a time.
The same way I used to go through my mother’s jewelry box, I have been going through my own. As a child, I’d lift the lid on her green leather box embossed with tooled, gold designs. I’d finger the broaches, jingle the bangles, admire the cameos and find gems – not only of jewelry but of newspaper clipping and photos – the secret stuff of which the family was made.
My own jewelry boxes are a mélange of ‘the real deal’: the tanzanite ring, strands of pearls and lapis lazuli, a gold charm bracelet ripe with charms from my mom, a pair of emerald earrings, from my ex, my everyday gold shells –from myself and then a collection. There’s my daughter’s first tiny hook bracelet, a photo of my great grandmother, Icing caliber earrings, a tooth fairy stash of baby teeth and bits and pieces from friends, family and lovers, including my very own engraved silver spoon, a pair of my dad’s cufflinks and a tiny wax hand sculpted by a friend.
Memories, stories and feelings bubble to my surface. I try things on. I reminisce. I look among the gold and the pearls and I breathe a sigh of relief when I spy the six wooden beads that I’ ve carried with me since I was 21.
There used to be more. It started out as a hindu mala (Hindu prayer beads) and it wasn’t just any mala. It was given to me by Kumar Kumar, a Hindu swami who lived on west 14th Street in New York City in a 5th floor walk up.
I’d discovered Yoga, loved eating with the Hara Krishnas and was drawn to chanting and meditation and spiritual teachers. In Kumar’s gentle presence, I was silent. I don’t remember what he said to me, but I know that he gave me the beads and that we meditated. And I know that when I got up to leave he looked at me with great kindness and said,” Come back.” I nodded as I walked down the 5 flights of stairs , “Yes, Yes, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.”
I never went back. Not to see Kumar Kumar anyway. But I have returned. I’m realizing that I never left. The threads of yoga, meditation, service, love and spiritual seeking have been woven throughout my life popping up again to save me even when I’ve turned my back and never staying away for long.
When I return to the yoga mat after a break, I picture climbing up the staircase at the Sivananda Yoga Center on St. Lawrence Blvd. in Montreal and feeling like I’m home. I give thanks that of all the random things I could have gotten involved with back then, I’d taken up with yoga, art, music and meditation. –
But, I am easily distracted. My iphone chimes ‘message’ and l salivate. Busy with work, family, things to do and places to go to, the beads grow dusty. I get too busy to do Yoga everyday. The dogs don’t let me meditate every morning and, like a stubborn child, I refuse to consistently do what keeps me connected, happy, healthy and whole.
In meditation, when I realize that I am thinking, I gently bring myself back to my focus, my mantra. In my life when I realize that I have gotten off track I gently return to the beads, to the tried and true. I remember what really and always matters and what practices work for me. I remind myself that talk is cheap and action speaks louder than words. I get out the yoga mat and lay it on my deck, looking out to sea.
Reaching into the plastic pouch where the beads have been living I pick them up, roll them around and enfold them in my closed palms. I feel warmth and a glow that brings me back to myself like I’m dropping into my heart, tuning in, activating the connection.
The energy of the beads sustains me. Their smooth wooden roundness reassures and soothes my energy. Holding them affirms that my heart was, back then, and is now, open – that learning, loving, seeking, serving, growing in consciousness, having fun and spreading the love are what matter most to me.
What about you? What are your beads? What’s in your jewelry box?
I am a very lucky woman who has wonderful friends. A group of us have been celebrating one another’s birthdays for many years now. We go out to dinner – the birthday Queen picking the restaurant and us soul sistahs treating her like royalty: wonderful company, a deck or two of angel cards with words of wisdom, portents and inspiration written on them. And a tiara of course. Over the years one birthday girl wanted to create a silent retreat for her b’day and a few of us went and stayed at Concordia and were silent in celebration. We’ve dined on St. John, on my deck, played music, gone sailing enjouing luscious foods and libations. We have photo archives that document the celebrations capturing the love and the light and joy we create together.
Our current birthday girl said she’d woken up at 3am knowing that what she wanted to do for her birthday was to get together to listen to a talk on Awakening by the spiritual teacher Adyashanti – a talk that had deeply moved and excited her. We all loved the idea and arrived at her lovingly appointed home home bearing pizza, wine, cheese cake and chocolates.
It was yet another affirmation of the preciousness of our small group linked by love not only of each other, but of wine and chocolate, music and dancing, the healing arts spiritual seeking and finding. So it isn’t surprising that in addition to having a heartwarming, uplifting afternoon, I saw something that rose to hit me over the head as I was driving home so that I had to stop to find a piece of paper and a pen and write it all down.
One of us share that she’s about to go on a voyage – inside and out. She told us her plans and her feelings about her journey. She kept mentioning how hard the trip was going to be and I chimed in, suggesting that perhaps she could reframe how she was looking at it all – maybe picture it be easy or fun. I could tell that my law of attraction coaching, advice wasn’t what she wanted to hear so I backed off and the afternoon continued as we made ourselves comfortable and settled in for an hour plus of Adyashanti on Awakening.
A couple of thing he said really struck me and one of them had to do with how self-referential we are – how we tend to make everything about us, how we are always insinuating ourselves into every picture or situation – even if it’s only in our heads.
So when I was driving, I replayed the scene where I reacted to my friends describing her upcoming trip as hard and realized that I’d judged her and how she was thinking and feeling. I put myself in the equation and I really thought she should be more like me and adopt what I was calling my more positive take on things. I looked like I was listening to her but I wasn’t. I was being what Adyashanti was talking about – self-referential. I allowed myself to come between me and her I realized that I do this all the time and that we all do. I could see that the outcome of getting out of the way would be to have truly listened to my friend and asked: What do you need?
I felt as though I were downloading truth as I scribbled in my dimly lit car. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t thought about this before, that I hadn’t known that my ego loves front and center and that as much as I hate being judged, my mind holds court overtime and if I hated how critical my mother way I learned well. In the bible it says that we now see as through as glass darkly – soon face to face and that what I saw so clearly. That what makes the glass dark is us getting in there between me and thee or me and the divine and casting a shadow. From this self-referential hall of mirrors, very little light escapes.
According to Adyashanti and demonstrated by my aha moment and scribbing in the car:
The more we engage in spiritual inner work, the more carefully and persistently we are able look into ourselves, and the more this once-compelling ego, this self disappears. Or perhaps we see that it never existed to begin with. Gradually, our belief in our ego assumes a porous quality, which rather than cutting us off from others, merely clouds our relationships intermittently. This separate self never was. Our devotion to it shrivels and we are left to truly be ourselves, to play our unique role in the larger story of our common life. When moments come in which we fall back into that trance of selfness, we feel uncomfortable, like in a shoe that no longer fits, and we let it go.
As usual no one says it better than Rumi:
Adapted from Rumi
After years of inner work,
A seeker found the door of the Beloved and knocked.
A voice asked:
“Who is there?”
The seeker answered:
“It is I.”
The voice said:
“There is no room for me and you.”
And the door stayed shut.
The persistent seeker engaged in ever deeper spiritual practice,
And then returned to the door of the Beloved and knocked.
The voice from within asked:
“Who is there?”
And the door opened,
And the seeker opened
“It is You.”