My Birthday Present

Before me, a volcano.

The picture jumping out of the poster, with the words,
Yoga Retreat

As I stand rooted in NYC holding my yoga mat, I see the dates for the retreat are over my birthday.  And that’s in a a little over a month.

I’ve just moved out of my married home, been robbed, and am in deep mourning.  Seeing the lush greens of Guatemala pictured so beautifully in the poster, I turn to the front desk, and ask,

Who do I give my money to?

I’ve never done something like this before.  Given myself a huge gift.

But the message is so clear. And something is drawing me, something new inside.

 

Have you ever felt this?
What have you gifted yourself?
How do you celebrate your birthday?

Arriving at Villa Sumaya on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala back in July of 2013 was out of a dream.  I had never been to Central America before, and I had never been on a yoga retreat.  These were two things I had always wanted to experience, but had told myself they were not possible.

And now, both were made real with one decision.

I was one of 13 yogis that came from my yoga studio, including our two teachers.

We were all there for various reasons, and I knew clearly why I was here…

To heal.

Or at least, that is what I thought.

As part of our week, we had a Fire Protection Ceremony with a Mayan Shaman named Thomas.  Again, something I had never experienced before. Thomas spoke of the Mayan calendar and how this year was a good opportunity for change.

The ceremony was right beside the huge lake, and as Thomas built the fire,  I stared out at the lapping waters.

This lake was unlike any other, and all of us had the same experience when we swam in its deep, churning waters.

It exhausted us.

I was in really good shape, and on our first day there, put on my bathing suit, and treaded water for about two minutes.  When I got out, I felt as if I had swam for miles.

I felt as if the lake had taken something from me.

I emerged from the water breathless, shocked and surprised, and the other yogis all felt the same. I could barely catch my breath and sat on the pier with my eyes wide, holding my chest.

What had happened in the water?

As Thomas was setting up the fire, he spoke of the lake and how it held memories, and it began to click.

This was no ordinary body of water, and clearly part of my journey here was letting go, releasing the past.

During the ceremony, Thomas had us all pick a flower or plant by the water and whisper our past into its leaves and petals.

I picked a purple thistle, asked it to remember, and then threw it into the lake. As tears streamed down my face, I could feel space inside, and a relief.

A huge birthday present indeed.

 

What are you holding on to?

If you jumped into this lake, what would be washed away from your past?

What could this mean for your Art?

This week I celebrated my 42nd Birthday.  I woke to the loving arms of my man, and his energetic exclamation,
It’s your BIRTHDAY!

I was awash with gratitude, and wonder, and something even deeper..

AWE.

Our morning was left open to do whatever we wanted, and a visual came up within, a visual of water, and making an offering.

We took quick showers, and drove to Gantry Plaza State Park in LIC, Queens.

Instead of a volcano, I faced the majesty of the NYC skyline, rising from the East River.

I picked a single yellow daisy, bright in the morning light, and walked to the railing.

Holding the flower close to my lips, I whispered,

From Guatemala to NYC
From Lake Atitlan to the East River
thank you for this journey
From grief and loss to love
From letting go to receiving
I make this offering today to the water,
to the future,
and the journey that lies ahead

And then I let it go.

A huge birthday present, indeed.

 

What gifts are you giving to yourself?
How are you celebrating?

ARE you celebrating?

We can get caught in believing that a gift is something we acquire, but it may actually just be the willingness to do something very radical as an artist,

RECEIVE

Take stock today, and think of what is holding you back.  Look at what you feel you are “struggling with” and see where there are opportunities to make a change.

It may come as a retreat poster
It may come as a lake
It may come as a purple thistle
It may come as a giant loss

You’ve been crying out for help, and the answers are right in front of you. Are you seeing the signs?

Can you open and receive what it ALLOWS in you?  Giving up the fight can be exhausting. I’m grateful the lake took it FROM me.

Give yourself a birthday gift today.  Celebrate your natural Creative gifts, releasing the past and opening to the present.

Give to the water, the flow of life, and release the control.  Change is constant, and it’s time to return to your natural state.

The state of sweet Artistic Flow.

Washing The Elephant

elephant bracelet

“Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash the elephant,
begging the body to do it with soap and water,
a ladder,
hands,
in tree shades big enough for the vast savannas of your sadness,
the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fueling the windy spooling memory of elephant?”

Glitter and gold rise up from the white lights reflecting off each karat, nestled on neutral forms with a number assigned each piece. Placed with care in spacious glass cases, the jewelry awaits the buyers, voyeurs, and collectors to gaze lovingly upon its workmanship and possibly bid to take home.

Rising amongst the rectangular cases are connecting towers, displaying at eye level smaller themed collections. There, wrapped around a small pillow, ruby eyes look outward as its black enameled trunk hooks into diamonds.

I’ve never seen an elephant here before.

I’m a seasonal employee with Sotheby’s in Manhattan, helping out with their jewelry exhibitions and auctions, four times a year. Most of the exhibit staff is comprised of performers and we have formed a kind of family, catching up every few months and hearing about everyone’s newest project and the changes that have occurred in people’s lives. I started working there in 2011, so many have watched the process of my tears and trials, and been loving containers as I have shared my journey.

Over safety clasps and intricate enamel work, we have shared our stories and found community.

The elephant bracelet began a conversation for me, a return to my Guatemalan beaded keychain I have held in my hands so many times, it’s small tusks flexible in my pocket and the smooth surface a comfort to my fingers.

The elephant first resonated with me in the form of the Hindu deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I had a small statue that I meditated in front of daily, and looked to as I felt wall after wall coming up in my anger and pain of loss. I had to trust that even though I was in a terrifying free-fall, that what was leaving no longer served me. Bit by bit, the obstacles would wash away, and I would see clear again.

In the wake of a horrible robbery while moving out of my married home in the summer of 2013, I decided to go on a yoga retreat at Villa Sumaya in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  I had just come out of a yoga class at Laughing Lotus and saw the poster on the wall.  I was feeling the edges of the black lake of depression lapping at my toes, and when I saw the retreat would be over my birthday, I turned to the front desk and asked where to give the money. This was going to be my birthday gift to myself.   In my present rawness, I was seeking peace in the storm, and a completely new environment.

The retreat ended up becoming the beginning of self forgiveness, opening a new healing space to move forward. I awoke on my birthday for morning yoga class, and watched the sun rise amongst the buzzing hummingbirds, giant green leaves, and towering dormant volcanoes.

After shavasana, we slowly raised our bodies to sit with eyes closed, and the teacher’s voice recited, “Washing The Elephant, by Barbara Ras:

It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the real loves-of-your-life,
and how much of the rest-
the mad breaking-heart stickiness falls away,
slowly,
unnoticed,
the way you lost your taste for things like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder to claim as your own,
often one love-of-your-life will appear in a dream,
arriving with the certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash the huge mysteriousness of what they meant,
those memories that have only memories to feed them,
and only you to keep them clean.”

Tears began and then steadily fell on my cheeks. As the final lines drew to a close, the teacher’s voice was joined by 11 others, singing Happy Birthday. I opened my palms to them, to the room, to the poem, and to this truth.  The night before I had dreamed of my ex, and for the first time since the separation had begun, he was kind and loving.  I knew this wasn’t the wish for reconciliation, but instead the beginning of acceptance within myself.

And now in the absence of his physical presence and facing his unilateral silence, all I had were the memories; the rise and fall, the love and heartbreak, the years of joy, and the crashing end.  I had a choice on how I would keep this animal.

I went to the gift shop and bought a beaded elephant keychain, hooking it alongside my silver and gold keys.  When I arrived back home in NYC, I felt something had shifted.  I placed the keychain by my door and the elephant hung down, lower than everything else, surveying my sanctuary, it’s head turning towards a beautiful card my neighbor gave me of a volcano surrounded by pink blooms.  His trunk high, he dangled and settled.

A year later, the same neighbor gave me a small elephant mirror, and I placed him on top of my bookshelf, his round belly reflecting the space, this new home I lovingly created.  Below him on my desk was a small yellow rectangular post-it simply stating, in my own hand,
Gratitude for what I have learned.

Three elephants resided now within my walls, Ganesha, Guatemala, and the mirror, each standing their ground, raising their glorious trunks to trumpet, or sitting and gazing at me through wise eyes. Their legs, once caked with the mud of their travels, began to wash clean, the dried pieces evaporating away in the afternoon sun shining through my windows.

 

I sit in a coffee shop, enjoying a warm toasted sandwich, looking out over Lafayette Street. Across the way, two men work vigorously with shovels, breaking down the accumulated February ice and snow.  Little by little,  they create a pathway from the sidewalk to the road, allowing pedestrians a direct line.  I see a woman walk through and muse upon her new-found ease.  A bus rolls by, slowly making it’s way in the urban traffic, and when it has passed, the men have disappeared.

For a moment, I stare at the empty space, trying to understand where they went so quickly, and then my eyes scan left to see they only moved a few feet.  Steam rising from their mouths in the cold, winter air, they create a pathway at the next crosswalk.

I put on my soft scarf and winter coat, and for a moment, my fingers brush up against the beaded trunk in my warm pocket.  I walk out onto the cleared sidewalk and cross the street.

Ganesha handstand