Leave Love Everywhere

Wherever you go,

Whomever you meet,

Leave your love lying around.

Let the fragrance of your love

Linger far after you have gone.

Sometimes we can walk away from someone feeling as if our soul has been assaulted.  Usually, it’s moments when we feel judged, accused, criticized, scorned, ridiculed, dismissed, slighted, or even rejected.  When no one is in our corner rooting for us, believing in our capacity for good, and loving us unconditionally.  I can recall several times when I have been the perpetrator.  As I’ve healed, my scope of compassion, my ability to see myself in others and others in me, has profoundly impacted me.  I can feel the pain I cause others when I engage in a way that is not loving, nurturing and supportive.  I think about the times I’ve walked away feeling less than, either because I was diminished or because I diminished another.

I learned a profound lesson this past week.  A profound lesson of compassion in action, not just in the ideal of walking this earth lightly with love and gentleness.  It’s so hard to learn to be a gentle rose petal when all my life I’ve had to be a cactus with spines.

I had an encounter a week ago where judgmental and accusatory words were unleashed on me in a place I was supposed to feel safe and supported. A lot of wounds were triggered inside of me.  I felt insecure, defensive, and attacked. I felt as though I wasn’t enough. Part of these wounds are connected to my continued spiritual and emotional growth – knowing I am enough; I am whole; I am perfect. But the other part of my triggers was the lashing out, the scrutinizing, the accusing, and the criticizing that happened in the meeting I was in. There was a lack of gentleness and compassion; a sense of blaming and shaming that some of the people in that room were engaging in. They wanted punishment; to have a moment of punitive finger pointing.

After the meeting, I had to go home and soothe my soul that evening. Stitch it up with love.

That evening, I realized that the experience that left me feeling so vulnerable and humiliated also challenged me to understand in a more profound place of my soul how deeply I must hurt my husband every time I accuse, criticize and judge him.  The compassion I treat my students with and the people I encounter in the world seems to immediately disintegrate when I feel wounded, dismissed or not considered by my husband.  The person we are most intimate and closest to is ironically sometimes the one whom we lash at the hardest. But I cannot speak of compassion without honor the being that shares the bed with me at night. Something shifted inside of me that made me truly recognize that what I felt that day in the meeting is the same way my husband feels when I attack him.  Why would I want to diminish the very person I love so much? Why wouldn’t I want to uplift him?  In diminishing him, I diminish myself.  My husband is so precious to me, and I love him beyond the conditions and expectations of our relationship, and yet I don’t always approach him with the gentleness and compassion I seek, ideally.  My love for him goes beyond the role he serves in this dimension.

As I contemplated him this morning in bed while he was sleeping, I saw the delicate beauty he carries as a pure being. How could I do anything to destroy that? My role is to nurture, uplift, and love him, even when we have disagreements or conflict.

Once again, something has shifted inside of me.  An awakening of a part of my soul that had been numb. We’ve endured an incredible journey of healing, and one thing that I’ve learned is that healing is not linear, and it’s certainly messy and muddled.   Old behavior patterns show up again, packaged differently and we must be vigilant – constantly reflecting and probing our thoughts, decisions and actions.  While the accusatory screaming and judgmental arguments are no longer a part of our marriage, old patterns of victimization, blaming and shaming have a way of creeping back in subconsciously.

In processing these feelings, I also thought about the youth I work with. The people in that meeting with me make a living serving children, and if I left feeling the way I did, I wondered if there were also youth who walked away with a broken soul. They are so often assaulted with the same judgment, criticism and scorn that adults receive, only they don’t have the tools to stitch up their souls –  to say, “You’re breaking my soul.”

I am so grateful to Spirit for teaching me deeper lessons of compassion despite the pain. The pain becomes a mirror through which I can confront the reality of how I walk my path. The pain is the chisel that exposes the compassion under the hardening anger, if we allow it.  I cannot control the way others leave an imprint on the world, but I can co-create the world I wish to live in by continuously transforming myself.

It’s hard to become a petal,

said the nopal, when your

whole life you’ve been 

hardened with spines.

Then, came the 

monsoon rains,

And the nopal bloomed.

saguaro16

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Dar La Bendición

Dar La Bendición: invoke the divine blessing in favor of something or someonecross

Blessing the young is a ritual that has existed amongst our ancestors far before the colonization of our people by the catholic church.  Many of our ancestors used song, smoke, herbs and water to call on Spirit, nature, and ancestors to cleanse and heal he/she who was being blessed. As well as to renew and refresh him/her inwardly to have the strength and courage to walk the way of the culture and the way of Spirit.

From as far back as I can remember, my bisabuela and abuela as well as the mamás in our familia always gave us la bendición, the act of invocating God, all of the angels, and our ancestors to bless and guide us on our journey whether we were traveling afar or off to work for the day. In essence, la bendición was a way to extol, honor and uplift us by dedicating our lives and journey to a divine purpose. It was their way of cloaking us in a protective mantle of unconditional love and spiritual strength.  Rooted in their catholic faith, they always blessed us by making the sign of the cross with their index finger and thumb and touching the fingers sequentially to our forehead, lower chest and both shoulders. As more and more folks have begun to move away from religious dogma, this practice of elders blessing the young or mothers blessing their children has started to succumb to simple goodbyes and see you later.  I’ve been guilty of it.

Today as we were dropping my daughter off at the airport, I was reminded by my husband to give la bendición to our daughter, a tradition also commonly practiced in the Philippines, where he is from, though slightly different.  Mano Po is the act of requesting the blessings from an elder by taking the elder’s hand and letting the fingers (near the knuckles) touch the forehead.

And I did.  Not because I subscribe to any religious dogma, but because la bendición is a way to honor my daughter as a sacred and divine being and continuation of our beautiful ancestors.  It is the way each time my grandmother blessed me, she let me know that my existence was extraordinary, and that I was loved and venerated long before I had been born.  You see, each time we are given la bendición, we are receiving all the love, the healing, the dreams, the wisdom, and the strength of Spirit and of all those who came before us.  We are being sanctified by the faith and power of those who fought so we could continue to exist and thrive. It is perhaps one of the greatest acts of love.

When the flower revealed herself.

Nowhere better can you understand the precious vulnerability of life than in the desert.

Many cacti flower for just one day. It is magical to be able to see the gift of their bloom knowing how rare it can be.  Some cacti endure 30 years of life in the desert before yielding their first flower, and then, just like that, after one day, she fades. Lucky is he or she who stills long enough to recognize this rare occurrence.

The first time I peered into a flower’s universe, she revealed herself. I discovered life in her most glorious form; took a breath, and finally understood.

Life sets her own pace, we have no control over her. The only thing we can do is embrace her fully, for however long she chooses to bloom.  Let us admire and recognize the full worth of every being that comes into our lives; be in awe of their existence, for like the flower of a cactus, they may be gone before we can recognize the beauty they brought into our lives.

What a painful and beautiful experience it is to observe a spirit transition to its next life, and to feel the intensity of life as it is juxtaposed with death.  For what is life, if not but the beautiful expression that is created from understanding and accepting her impermanence.

In memory of every beautiful being I have had to let go of.

Anza14

AHIMSA – nonviolence in thought and action.

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AHIMSA INSTITUTE 

This is Dr. Sethia, founder of the Ahimsa Center and Institute for teachers. I am eternally thankful to her for planting the seed of nonviolence in my heart; for the grace I have received because of the opportunity she gave me. My whole life had been about violence, and that is the only way I knew to stand up for myself, to protect myself. She inspired me to sing the song of silence, and in its rhythms find peace, truth and a profound connectedness to all that is. When I attended  the Ahimsa Institute, I was a deeply wounded bird, searching for a reason bigger than myself, To Be. A nine year journey of forgiveness, healing and awakening lead me to discovering the greatest love within myself. A love that allows me to see I am everything, and everything is in me.

Nine years ago when I was teaching at Hoover High School, I received an e-mail from my principle around 4:00 pm, just as I was going to head home for the day. You know one of those all staff e-mails forwarded by your principle, so she/he can delete it from his/her inbox and quickly move on to more important matters.

The e-mail read something about an institute where I’d be learning about Gandhi and nonviolence. The words that most caught my attention were, “Nonviolence in thought and action.” There was immediately a call to action from deep within the seat of my soul. That night I sat at my computer to type a statement of purpose that was to be submitted with my application the next day when the application was due. I wrote all night. I found my pain taking over, and each time I attempted to write my statement, I’d end up writing about some of the most painful memories in my life.

Like the time I got in a fist fight with my mother.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to show her that I was stronger than her; hat even though I wasn’t good enough to be loved, I could still stand up for myself.  So in that moment, I raged against all the times she left for months at a time, against all the screams and accusations, against the men that had been in and out of her life, because like me, she was also searching for love. We tossed and tumbled across the living room floor. She was my enemy. I pulled her hair as if I wanted to rip it off of her head and hit her as if to destroy every part of her that had ever hurt me.

Or the time I almost hit my daughter with a broomstick.  She was about 12 and her room, more and more often, looked like it had been shaken, upside down.  It was definitely a point of contention.  Later I’d come to realize that it triggered memories of instability and neglect, reminding me of dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, loads and loads of dirty clothes scattered everywhere, an empty refrigerator, and cockroaches scattered amongst it all. I remember quarreling with my daughter about why she couldn’t just keep her room clean.  Why she couldn’t just take the time to care for and be thankful for what she had. Subconsciously, I was reproaching my mother , “If you love me, you’d take care of me, you’d take care of our home.”  I grabbed the broom that had been propped behind the door all morning as she procrastinated to clean her room.  I saw myself holding the broom over her and she laying on the bed with her arm shielding her face.  I hit her once with the bristles, before putting the broom down and going to my room to cry.  I had always been so careful to not hit her or scream at her, and there I was becoming the very violence I had hoped to never perpetrate on her.

I turned in my application and was given a fellowship to the institute and a chance to transform my life in ways I could have never imagined.

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JAPANESE GARDEN 

When I came to the Ahimsa Institute in 2007, my wounds and pain were stripped raw. Often, during breaks or lunch, I’d slip away and come down to the Japanese garden to cry. I had so much anger, it hurt. The Koi fish were calming. Their slow movements soothed my angry thoughts, their patient proximity to one another comforted my anxiety, and their coloring warmed the parts of me that were void of nurture.

Many of the attributes of the Koi symbolize several lessons and even trials individuals often encounter in life. The Koi fish has a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by its ability to swim against currents and even travel upstream. That’s what the journey of forgiveness, nonviolence and healing I was embarking on felt like. Some of the characteristics associated with the koi include courage, perseverance, and ambition; all characteristics I would need to practice on this arduous path.

Many of the above described symbolic meanings of Koi fish stem from the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate in which a Koi fish swam upstream, through waterfalls and other obstacles to reach the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain was the “Dragon Gate”. The legend says that when the Koi finally reached the top, it became a dragon, one of the most auspicious creatures in Chinese culture.”

This past weekend after a nine-year journey of healing and after a powerful three-day Ahimsa conference on Giving and Forgiving, I visited the Japanese garden once again to cry. I didn’t cry from pain, but from extreme gratitude for the Grace I have received through my experiences with the Ahimsa center. For the grace I received that day in my classroom when I received the application. I came to thank the Koi fish for their support and unconditional love. To thank spirit for its guidance and lessons. I came here to remember, to renew my commitment to healing and non-violence and to set new intentions for the next beautiful stage of my life.

 

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HORSE STABLES 

One last stop before leaving…
When I participated in the  Ahimsa Institute, I stayed on the Cal Poly campus. Every morning I’d get up early enough to walk to the horse stables and commune with the horses. I’d often pick up leaves and the horses would eat them from my hand. At some point, the caretaker there started to expect me, and would give me alfalfa to hand feed the horses.

I visited them once again this past weekend, and I stood in silence while one of the horses ate. At some point, it cam closer to the fence and stood their with me. And that was enough.

My longing to be with the horses every morning came from the deep unconditional love I saw in their eyes. The first time I saw that kind of love in a being’s eyes was in my grandmother, and later I’d come to see it in my daughter. In those horses, I saw the love I’d ultimately come to discover in myself.  A love I’d come to understand connects us all. At some point in my journey, I realized that no matter what I had experienced, the wounds and trauma I carried, or the love I was still searching for, I was whole.

WHOLE                                                                                                                                                           

One day I became conscious enough to ask:

“Who Am I?”

To which a powerful, but at the time,
indistinguishable voice
inside of me responded:

“Everything.”

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F O R G I V E N E S S

Every autumn season, the eucalyptus tree sheds its bark, and the process is highlighted by a wonderful display of color and / or amazing patterns of strips and flakes.

I imagine this is what our bodies look like as we open our hearts in vulnerability and and allow the wounds and bruises to air out.

When the bark is shed, lichens and parasites that are toxic to the tree are also shed. And a smooth, bark appears, until the next autumn season when the tree sheds once again.

We have seasons of growth and we have seasons of letting go. Both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves is part of the process of learning to let go of things that no longer serve us.

Cleansing and grieving are important processes, so our pain does not metastasize as hate. Hate will ultimately destroy us.

 “A sufi holy man was asked what forgiveness is.  He said – it is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.” – Rumi                                                                                                  

The Gratitude I have for Dr. Sethia, her work and commitment to nonviolence, and the opportunity she gave me to transform my life, I can only honor by dedicating to her my life of service and commitment to nonviolence. There are people whom I recognize as having saved my life – Dr. Sethia is one of them.

De Gotita en Gotita

Why getting your dream all at once can feel like too much:

My grandma used to say, “De gotita en gotita se llena el cántaro.” (The pitcher will fill up one drop at a time.)
A dream, working toward it, and obtaining it is a process; each step like a new beautiful stone, exciting to cherish, but also heavy if one has not prepared for the weight and responsibility of carrying it.

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to contribute as a writer and photographer in an organization I have become very passionate for. I am absolutely in love with writing, and in the most recent years, I have have also fallen in love with photography, especially how it compliments my writing. These art outlets for which I have found deep admiration have become creative tools through which I heal, expose social inequity and injustice, and explore community and vision for a new kind of world.

But this invitation scared me. I wasn’t being offered a full time position nor was I turning into a full time writer, though I write an average of 30 hours a week, still and yet, it scared me. You know that “fear of failure,” kind of feeling, or maybe “fear of success,” it came over me, like the night that slowly shades in the edges of the day. I started to obsess:
What if I’m not good enough?
What if they don’t like the next piece I write?
What if my writing isn’t what they expect?
What if I lose my creativity?

You know all the if’s, but’s, and no’s we come up with when we haven’t built up to our moment of greatness. This is part of our imperfection as human beings – not being able to believe and see our greatness all at once. So the shadow helps to filter in the light, like a buffer if you will, that protects us from the fear of our own light. In part, there are many lessons we have to learn to step fully into our gifts, our abilities, our greatness, and power. Along the way, we also have to acquire knowledge, technical aspects we have to learn about our craft.

Each drop prepares us for the next. Each step for the next level of grandeur. We want our dreams, but they also scare us, so each small opportunity is the fertilizer that prepares us to grow and bloom. As we journey through our dream, we become stronger, wiser; we learn to listen to our intuition, to discern how to stay true to our passion and purpose, and to understand which opportunities align with our dream and which distract us from it. And when we reach our dream, if we have gone through this process, we will know how to nurture it, how to be responsible for it, and how to represent it with integrity.

Art by Alex Escalante

art by alex escalante

broken english

broken english

I’ve held on to this poem for quite some time, now. It pierced my soul, made me feel some kind of way when I saw it. Mostly the vast differences between the opportunities I had and the ones my mother had, so starkly highlighted in my ability to manipulate this language of global power, holding a degree in english, and her struggles and frustrations with not being able to express herself in a language as foreign to her tongue as it was to her heart.

She spent a great part of her school years working in the agricultural circuit of California, making it very difficult for her to attend school constantly, leaving her with many gaps in her learning process.

My grandmother never learned to speak or write english, and felt some of the same frustrations of not being able to navigate the basic systems of this country. Though in her later years, learning the fundamental cuss words in english, like you know, “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction. LOL! And she definitely always knew what we were saying in english.

For my mother, the frustration of struggling with the english language meant a lack of opportunities to lift herself and her children out of the poverty she had met as a child. A few years ago, she joined San Diego Reads, a phenomenal volunteer organization that supports adults in improving and refining their literacy skills. For so long she questioned her intelligence , feeling inferior and insecure, and withheld so much of what she had to offer the world. She now works at the pharmacy at SDSU, has been there for 10 years, and continues to find the courage to express herself in a language that once tried to crush her under its angry syllables and hardened consonants.

The privileges and successes. I enjoy, the opportunities I have to live a vibrant and bold life, and the risks and failures I am able to endure, all are upheld by my mother and my grandmother’s (and all the women that came before them) sacrifices, humiliation, oppression, grit, and love. I am because they were. I thrive because they endured. I overcome because they conquered. I stand because they dug deep enough to give me fierce roots.

 

Imperfect, but Alive

Birthdayweekend 9

Some days I feel so alive, as if I have glitter running through my veins.  Everything inside me feels electric!  Other days I wake up longing for something and I don’t know what. The longing feels so much bigger than me, so much stronger than me.  It’s a longing that makes me feel lonely and even a bit empty, like a weightless sensation in the pit of my stomach.  But I don’t run away from the longing; instead I try to learn from it and recognize what I need to pay attention to in my life.  Sometimes I feel like a fallen leaf just tumbling along on the street without a destination, and I remind myself to just enjoy the moment, though the sense of loneliness sometimes feels too heavy.

Today, I woke up with a feeling of hopefulness, like little butterflies fluttering in my stomach –  in that small place where sometimes emptiness overwhelms.  I woke up feeling empowered and in control. It’s odd to feel in control of a life that no one really has any control over.  I feel in control even though many of the issues that are part of my life aren’t resolved.  The only way they are resolved is that I have accepted them in my life, and I do what is in my power to deal with them, and the rest, I have to surrender and release.

This morning, I felt incredible joy paying attention to life: the trees waving at me as I drove along, the brush-stroked clouds in the sky, the arms of the sun reaching into my car, the birds like cursors shifting across the sky, and the wind like translucent silk gliding over my face and arms.

I felt this way and noticed these gifts of life even though the world around me seems to be falling apart.  It’s a wonderful reminder that even in the midst of violence, chaos, and uncertainty, we must allow for life to flow through us, unrestrictively; that our wonder and acceptance of the unfiltered energy of life does not have to be eclipsed by the madness of the world.

This is the condition of being that I continue to strive for.   My relationship with life is fulfilling because it is alive, not because it is perfect.