When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Rumi do no seek loveIf you read this blog regularly, then you know that I’ve struggled over the last couple of years with living on my own. The loneliness tends to creep in around dinner time and sticks around until I fall asleep or numb it out with one of my three go-to additions (TV, food, booze). I’ve tried to remedy this unpleasant feeling in other, more productive ways – meditation, working and playing hard (basically keeping busy), and working with two wonderful Huichol shamans (more on that soon) – but I remain susceptible to its pangs more often than I care to admit. Nevertheless, I think it’s a basic human necessity to share your life with someone with whom you share a special intimate bond.

However, a recent sojourn into that tricky realm brought to my attention that, more often than not, there is a barrier between me and the rest of you that makes having a healthy relationship difficult, if not impossible. It’s nothing unique. I’m pretty sure there are others who have constructed, knowingly or not, a wall between them and the rest of us too. I picture mine as constructed of red brick, old clay bricks, crumbling to create a substantial pile of red rubble on the ground near its base. Large chunks of mortar are missing and the corners of the walls are uneven and lower than the rest of the wall. It’s old and failing, but it still separates me from you. Sometimes I can’t even see or hear you on the other side.

Your wall might be made of stone, concrete, straw bails, or maybe it’s just a sheet of plastic that you can pull down in one fell swoop, but it’s there, separating us, keeping us from connecting. You say I’m just writing in metaphor, but I say it may as well be real because there is nothing more powerful in keeping you from what you want than FEAR.

Fear keeps me bottled up too often. I don’t write more because I’m paralyzed by fear. I don’t reach out to more people because I’m afraid. And fear keeps me from expressing who I really am, in so many ways, far too often.

The blessing is that whereas I’ve been oblivious to its influence on my behavior for most of my life, I see the fear now, recognize it and my attempts at subverting it. I see now how I’ve hurt myself, lost sleep, and a lot of hair trying to outrun the fear. A lot of my actions – like surfing hard, stressing over my body image, and needing to know all the answers – are just me trying to cover up my intense fear that you’ll discover I’m imperfect and therefore unacceptable and unlovable. I’m so afraid of rejection that I do back flips in an attempt to prove to you that I deserve your love and attention.

The funny thing is that I had to be rejected to see how much my actions are motivated by my keen desire to avoid that very rejection.

I fell for someone recently, and as is typical for me, I fell hard, fully, unabashedly, and, it turns out, foolhardily. At first he seemed to be falling too – we were two people falling into the fuzzy abyss of love with big smiles on our faces, holding hands on the way down. We seemed to read each others minds and synchronicities abounded when we were together. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding heart-shaped rocks. Not just “a” heart-shaped rock, but rock after rock. One of them, about an inch across and pink, was almost perfect. My interpretation? Our love was divinely orchestrated.

But then he let go of my hand and I kept falling.

I fell for a while before I realized that I was on my own in feeling the way I wanted so badly to feel and to be felt about. I was pretty deep down in that hole when I finally  accepted I was alone down there with a goofy grin on my face, holding on to nothing.

That was hard. It felt a lot like someone kicked me in the stomach with steel-toed boots. I guess it was the impact of hitting the hard reality waiting for me at the bottom of my free-fall into unrequited love that knocked the wind out of me. What really happened was over the course of several weeks the other person’s actions (like his reaction when I gave him that pink heart-shaped rock) and what those actions said about how he felt sank in, and I had to admit to myself, “He’s just not that into you.” Yeah, no one wants to hear that, even if it’s your very own heart gently sitting you down and telling you like it is for your own good.

I cried a lot that evening. I took a walk down the beach as the sun was setting and felt the hurt and the anger bubbling up to the surface despite my attempts to keep them down. It all came out in a big blubbering, tear- and regret-filled emotional waterfall. I was angry with myself for being such a fool, for jumping into the deep end of a relationship once again, for wanting it to be what I’ve waited for so badly that I rushed in without giving things time to cure, without giving either of us time to discern whether this was the path forward or not. As the anger dissipated, it was replaced by sadness as I felt, once again, the hole in my heart where loneliness lives.

“Oh, it’s you again,” I said with resignation. “So, tell me, when are you going to leave for good?”

“As soon as you learn to look for love within.”

“I’m working on it,” I said, looking up at a sky filled with so much beauty I knew my thoughts were heard elsewhere.

This experience taught me something that I’ve been unaware of until now. It turns out I’m scared a lot. I’m running scared shitless of what other people think, afraid of people’s judgment, and especially their rejection. My whole life story is driven by avoiding rejection. I’ve said it before, and someone wiser probably said it long before, fear is a poor motivator. It’s a lot like running from your own shadow. You can never outrun it. And I’ve tired of running.

The good news is that somehow during this experience, I realized that this heart of mine is full of love. As I ran over in my mind what happened and how things had fizzled so fast, I considered my actions in both romantic and other relationships and saw that they are more often than not caring, giving, and kind – all demonstrations of love. Gratitude, appreciation, and empathy are all rooted in love as well and these are emotions I experience daily. This made me realize that the fear that has driven me so often is not so much solid like a wall, but merely a smokescreen hiding the love that has always been right here inside me. To transform it and pass to the other side where we can all connect, I just need to turn that love inwards and recognize that I deserve my own loving embrace as much as anyone else does. So far, I mostly know this intellectually, but little by little I’m beginning to feel it in my soul.

thinklessfeelmore“Think less, feel more” was one of the many wise things my lover-turned-friend-and-teacher said to me during our courtship.

I can feel it right here in my heart, that unconditional love that I keep looking for elsewhere…I’m getting close, so very close.

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One of the miraculous sunsets we’ve been treated to lately.

 

 

Mystic in Mexico Part I: Connection

handicrafts-huichol-design-thumb21793453I visited Mexico for the first time in 2001. It was the trip that led me to move to Baja California Sur in 2002. Before I arrived in Baja, however I flew into Puerta Vallarta, on the other side of the Sea of Cortez, and traveled North to San Blas in the state of Nayarit, to a hotel claiming to operate one of Corky Carroll’s surf schools. I use the work “claiming” because upon arrival I discovered there was no surf school and I was on my own.

In between surf sessions undertaken on a yellowed surfboard with La Sandia (the watermelon) painted across its ample width, I explored the area around the tiny village San Pancho. One day, I stumbled across a small art gallery filled with brightly colored tapestries made of yarn and objects covered in brightly colored beads depicting different animals, suns and moons, plant life, and a symbol I was not familiar with that appeared in most pieces. It looked like a flower, with tear-drop shaped petals, but it’s coloring was always green and I sensed that while it may have been a plant, it was not a flower.

As I stood looking at the artwork, a gentleman working in the gallery approached me. He was dressed in loosely-fitted white cotton clothing with a brightly-colored woven belt around his waist made of the same material used in some of the tapestries displayed on the gallery’s wall.  He had a friendly, round face, dark skin and even darker, deeply-set eyes. He struck up a conversation with me in Spanish and although my knowledge of the language was very rudimentary, I discovered that we were able to make ourselves understood quite well. He explained that he was a member of a tribe of native Mexican Indians, the Huichol (‘wee-choll’), who made the unique art that surrounded us, depicting a culture of nature worship. He patiently explained what each of the symbols meant – that the Sun is father and master of the heavens, and the Eagle, Werika, is his wife, mother of the sky and goddess of life; that the deer, Kauyumari, is a spirit guide who leads the shamans on their visionary pathways. The strange symbol that I thought was a plant he explained was peyote, or Hikuri.

My ears pricked up. I’d always been curious about this plant and it’s reputation as a hallucinogen and spiritual teacher. I’d read Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan and was intensely curious about plant-derived psychotropic compounds as a means of evolving spiritually. This despite the fact that I’ve never been much into recreational drug use.

He said, “Peyote is powerful medicine. Peyote is a gift to the Huichol from the gods. It shares wisdom and is a way to connect to the gods.”

As he spoke I felt a slight shiver run through my body. With this we began discussing religion and things of a spiritual nature in general. It was an intense conversation in which I felt a strong level of understanding and connection to the man. I left the gallery feeling energized, buoyed up. I’d just engaged in my first spiritual conversation in Spanish! Later the same day I was struck by the realization that I didn’t speak Spanish well enough to have the kind of conversation we had and again, a shiver ran through me as I wondered if perhaps there hadn’t been some magic involved.

One of the pieces I ended up buying.

One of the pieces I bought.

The next day I returned to the gallery to buy a couple of pieces of Huichol art. The man greeted me warmly. He went into the back room of the gallery and returned with something in his hand.

He said, “I want you to have this. My wife made it for you last night.”

He placed a round shell, a little larger than a silver dollar, in my hand onto which the peyote symbol was carefully laid out in tiny beads.

“It is hikuri,” he explained, “peyote.”

I looked down at the tiny symbol.

“I remember,” I said feeling my heart swell in my chest.

I’m a plant biologist, but there was a time when I wanted to be an anthropological botanist – a scientist who studies the plants used by indigenous cultures for curing illnesses, imbalances, and for spiritual purposes, like the character Sean Connery played in the ’90s movie, Medicine Man. I wanted to, that is, until I realized that almost every indigenous culture in the world is patriarchal and their shamans don’t generally share their knowledge with white chicks like me. When I discovered that the entire Huichol spiritual doctrine is centered around a plant, I felt connected to them somehow. There seemed to be some kind of grace or Divine connection inherent in our meeting, like I was being contacted on some level, told that I was on the right path. That first encounter with the Huichol and peyote left me wanting to know more about them both. I’ve been drawn to them ever since. For whatever reason though, I haven’t had the chance to interact with them much. Once in a very little while I run into someone working in a gallery much like on that first occasion, but my interactions with them have not led to the same level of connection.

More than ten years later, in November 2012, that all changed.

Find out what happens when I meet a Huichol shaman and his apprentice in Part II: Meeting Hikuri.

Potential Energy

I’ve lost my way. I’m like a little girl out in a misty forest full of strange sounds and prickly bushes. I came here looking for something, but when the fear grabbed hold of me, I got disoriented and turned around. I’ve been wandering around looking for my destination, but all I’ve found is muddy holes, impassable creeks and a big patch of poison ivy. My clothes are tattered and my legs and face are covered in scratches. I haven’t given up though, and I know there is a way out of this tangled mess.

Once a week I am joined here in the forest of my life by Andrea Mauer, my wonderful and talented life coach. She takes my hand and walks the twisting paths with me. I show her the paths I tried and she helps me see where I went wrong. She points out the similarity between these paths and the ones I’ve already taken that led to impasses. She saves me from going down paths she is already familiar with or that she points out are rife with obstacles before I get too far along. Every once in a while she invites another wise person to join us in our search for my destination.

Andrea introduced me to Amy Oscar’s blog several months ago. Amy describes herself as a Soul Caller, an intuitive, a life coach and a teacher. Amy is deeply spiritual and connected to the Spirit World in a way that few people I know are. Like me, she believes in angels. But Amy has a connection to angels like no one I’ve ever met. You can read more about her here.

Recently, Amy invited readers to join her in a month long Writing Circle. I’ve joined in the hopes that her connectedness to the Spirit World and a connection to the other writers participating will help me find my way out of this dark forest of self-doubt, fear and resistance, to reconnect to my purpose in life and bring me to that place where my writing is full of inspiration and passion.

Yesterday’s prompt spoke to me and the eloquence with which Amy writes was inspiring. She wrote:

There is a place between here and there, between mystery and science, between staying and leaving, between choice and becoming: a place where most of us do not want to stay very long. We want to name and explain everything. We want to understand, to know – so we can put things in their places.

And yet, sitting in this space of not yet, of “I don’t know,” can be the most powerful place of all. For it is here, having departed the familiar and not yet arrived at the ‘who knows where,’ that anything is possible.

Not knowing is something I’ve never been comfortable with. It’s the reason I went into the sciences where the security of a “right” answer gave me something to hang on to and I did so for dear life. As a child, my greatest rewards – praise, love and attention – came from “knowing.” Naturally, it took me almost forty years to get more comfortable in the grey areas of life. The one area I was still severely challenged in was the realm of relationships.

I’m a serial monogamist – my whole adult life I’ve been in and out of relationships, but have been in them more than out. I moved in with my boyfriend when I was 18. I’ve been in a committed relationship for 21 of the 25 years that followed. I was 32 the first time I lived on my own for any considerable amount of time. I’ve been so uncomfortable with those in-between times that they have typically been filled with anxiety, depression and serial obsessions with first one man and then the next and the next, until something sticks and I’m back in a long-term relationship.

Not this time.

I find myself in that in between place now, the place Inyala Vanzant calls “the meantime,” that time between staying and leaving, between the choice I made and becoming whatever it is I will become. This time there is a difference though. I am still not completely comfortable here, but I notice I am more at ease than ever before. Anxiety is an occasional visitor rather than taking up residence in my soul. Andrea’s coaching has been invaluable in helping me find this place of acceptance and calm. When we started working together, I was already walking a path that hugged a jagged cliff-face overlooking a bottomless pit. She talked me off the cliff step by vertigo-inducing step, gently helping me figure out I was once again on the path to self-destructive relationship behavior, and then helped me figure out where to put my feet.

This is my chance to change the pattern of making choices that are not in my best interest and to stop hitting my head on the relationship brick wall. This time I am going to get quiet, turn inward and listen to my soul more. This time I’m going to take care of me more and worry about who “he” might be less. This time I’m not going to let myself fall head over heels in lust with someone I barely know. This time I think some “dating” and getting to know the person before I move in with him sounds like a good idea.

Perhaps more importantly, this time I’m not going to sweat the alone time. I’m going to use this time to work on me and my writing. When so many of my friends are juggling full-time jobs and kids, I am in the envious position of having only myself to worry about (six dogs and Felipe the caretaker hardly rate in comparison to 9-5 and a family).

Like Amy says, it is from this place that anything is possible. There is an energy in these in between times that is palpable – the potential energy of possibility, like a seed on the forest floor waiting for an opening in the canopy so it can to burst forth and grow. And so, I will be here waiting for the sunlight while I connect and create – me, myself, my soul.