The Sun in St Paul

Have you ever gone on a vacation and gotten sick?
Have you ever had a BIG exciting trip waiting for you, only to experience delays, snafus, and disappointment?

It can be so frustrating!

We have so much to balance these days, and those precious vacation days or DAY are what we look forward to.

A chance to have a NEW experience, to relax, to get away from the GRIND.

Isn’t everything supposed to be perfect in these moments?
Haven’t you worked hard enough that you deserve peace and ease?

As an Artist, these moments are so crucial to recharge.

Has this ever happened to you?
How did it affect you?

 

Two weeks ago, I boarded a plane with my fiance for Anchorage, Alaska.  My bags were packed with my binoculars, and many warm layers, ready to stand in the cold winds so I could witness the bountiful birds far North.

If you didn’t know, I’m a birder:)  I geek out over feathers, migration, and wing spans.

Birding nourishes me.  It’s time in nature slows me to the present moment, and has commonly been bonding time with my family.  In the wake of my divorce, my parents bought me a pair of binoculars, and I started going to birding festivals with them.

At a time when I was in deep pain, I found birding to be a healing balm.

My family and I planned this trip over a year ago, and we’ve been talking about it for months, getting so excited and even all buying the same Eddie Bauer coat in different colors.

On every level, I was VERY ready for a break.  Planning my wedding, running my business, settling into NJ, and recovering from a shoulder injury, I could feel it was time.

We touched down in Anchorage, after two long flights, and I could feel my body relaxing.  We took a selfie with a stuffed moose in the airport and met up with my aunt who’s flight got in right after ours.

VACATION! Yay!

We met up with our family, our tour guides, and the rest of the tour group (16 in all!) and crashed right after dinner.  With travel, we had been up for 22 hours.

The next morning we all flew to St. Paul, part of the Pribilof Islands, and the farthest west you can go in the United States.

St. Paul was cold, barren, and very windy.  The sign at our hotel said, “The Galapagos of the North”, as it is a huge destination for birders.  Indeed the hotel was full, not only with another tour group, but Cornell Ornithology research teams.

At dinner I started to feel light headed and nauseous, so I turned down the night birding and went to bed early so I could be well rested for the next day.

After a long night of sleep, I woke up feeling better, but as the morning progressed, I felt like my energy level was at 20%.  At breakfast, I turned to the tour guide and said,
I’m not doing so well….

My mother held her hand to my forehead, no fever.  I looked at her and said,
I think I’m going to pass out.

The room swirled for a moment, and I knew I couldn’t go birding.  One of our guides drove me back to the hotel, and I could feel the disappointment rising.

This isn’t what I wanted.
What’s happening?
Why NOW?

Have you ever felt like this?

I went back to my room, feeling like I was walking through soup…crawled under the covers, and crashed.

 

Two hours later, I woke up.  The hotel was so quiet. The guide was going to be coming back in another hour or two to check on me.  I had time, and reached into my bag for The Sun.

The Sun is a collection of interviews, short stories and poems.  I love it.  I started reading it four years ago, and it used to be my weekly joy.

Then life became very full with launching my business, and my daily time to read was cut shorter and shorter.  I used to take it on the subway, but my commutes were soon filled with social media and catching up on emails.

I had to stop my subscription to The Sun, because I had so many issues piling up.  I would wistfully look at all the magazines, hoping time would open so I could read them.

And here, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean…..I finally had the time to read.

As I opened the page, I could feel a warmth coming over my body; almost a sigh of relief. After reading a few stories, I decided to check in with my body and do some healing.

I did Walter McKichen’s Rainbow Meditation, where I brought energy up from the earth, to each of my chakras, one at a time.  On every chakra, the color was strong and traveled up my right leg to my center line, and then down my left.

Except one…my second chakra.

This is the chakra for creativity.

The color was so light, and barely traveled up my right leg. Usually bright orange, it was almost a dull gray.

So, I went back to bed.  I slept again, and again.  I stayed in the hotel, not going out birding.

And I finished reading The Sun.

As I closed the last page, a huge smile came across my face.  I could feel my energy coming back, and the dull gray morning light had now turned into afternoon sunshine coming into my room.

I remembered coming home from college, so exhausted, and then sleeping for a day.  I remembered a Christmas where I laid on the couch opening presents because I had the flu.  I remembered so many times I had gotten sick….and I realized what they all had in common…

My body needed to rest.

I had finally given it the space to recharge, and this is what it looked like for ME.
I actually was given the space to nourish what needed the most nourishment.

I had finally stopped, gotten off the carousel of my life, and here I was…..me and the Sun; shining it’s bright lights of inspiration and stories of humanity.

Right before dinner time, I sat up and did the Rainbow Meditation again, and when I came to my second chakra, the brightest orange light climbed up my right leg, connected at my spine, and then gloriously traveled down my left.

In flow.

I opted out of evening birding again, and slept soundly for 9 hours.  And the next day, I put on my binoculars, and saw Puffins for the first time in my life.

 

It’s a fallacy that we can push forever.  We all need rest, and most of all, we REALLY need it as Artists.  Our work comes from a very deep place, and is highly personal.

We decided to become Artists because we LOVE our Art, and we love expressing it.

This is not a process to PUSH through, or create on fumes.

The body never lies.  As Creative forces, we need to stay connected to our inner life, because it is our inner life and humanity we are expressing in our work. If your body is calling for rest again and again, listen.

So, what is your Sun?
What nourishes your Creative flow?

If you were to take a moment and stop….what would happen?

Things may really slow down….AND you may be getting exactly what you need.

Open the pages.

Open to your Sun.

The Compassion Course

ZMM

“How do you let go?”

Tears stream down my face, as I sit on the cushion in front of Ryushin Sensei, the Abbott of the Zen Mountain Monastery, any last illusion of keeping it together completely shattered as I choke out my question.

He gently grabs a box of tissues from behind him, and places them in front of me.

“That is a very good question. Now I’m going to ask you a question.”

I look into his eyes after my fists grab around a handful of white Kleenex and I fumble to ease the stream flowing down my face.

“Are you ok without him?”

Everything stops for a moment. I feel my breath in, my breath out, and realize my present truth, eyes widening as the tears abate and I slowly speak from a very basic place.
“Yes, I am.”

 

In my search for answers and clarity two years ago, I found myself drawn back to spirituality. I knew I wanted to add meditation to my yoga practice, and ended up discovering Buddhism. The practice resonated with me deeply, speaking to my anger, pain, and the massive surge of change that was steam-rolling a marriage of 15 years. I was getting a crash course in impermanence and needed study guides, and a teacher.

Raised Methodist, I enjoyed many childhood Sundays in the community of our church, ringing in my mother’s bell choir, and going on Youth Group trips. I read the Bible and prayed, believing in the Pastor’s word and taking great comfort in the teachings.

I had a compass.

My high school sweetheart and first really serious relationship lasted for three years. He was a year older than me and an atheist. Some of our worst fights were over religion and I ended up just accepting it was one of many things we would not share.

I ended up getting accepted into the BFA for Musical Theatre at Penn State, and college opened me on many levels. As my friendships deepened within my theatre community, I was very troubled by the church’s stance toward gay rights. The language felt harsh and judgemental, a complete untruth aimed at my gay friends.  I began to pull away, and didn’t seek a church community at college.  Sundays turned into time to sleep in and recover from the long week of classes, late rehearsals, and show performances.

I married a man who shared my religious views, and while we bowed our heads in prayer every night before dinner, church was an experience saved for family visits, and holidays. In the early years, we went to a church on the Upper East Side, participated in Lenten devotions, and gave up vices for those 40 days leading up to Easter.

While we were not a part of a formal church community, I believed God was in our home, and something we shared. We had our faith together, and in each other.

Until we didn’t.

Until I didn’t, particularly in myself.

Prayers became desperate, secret admissions, whispered in the dark, or as hot water fell around me in my solitary morning shower, my hands splayed on the white bathroom tile, reaching for support from the cold wall. I was asking for forgiveness, but not really addressing the rising panic or lies between us. I prayed for elimination of my suffering, but didn’t understand the inception of why I was scared and exhausted.

A month after he left me, in a moment of absolute anger, I yelled at him, “Did the vows you took before God mean anything to you?”

His harsh, loud return stopped me cold, “When was God a part of our marriage?”

Not only did I hear his loss of faith, I knew it was reflecting a gaping hole within me.

I began seeking, trying different centers and different sects of Buddhism, and three months later, found myself at an Introduction to Zen Training weekend at the Zen Mountain Monastery, weeping in meditation and waiting in line to speak one on one with the master teacher, Ryushin, in formal interview, or Dokusan.

In the moment I left the small room, my hands still clutching the wet tissues, I connected back to the basic level of living. Despite my inner pain, and the daily intense reminder of loss, I was ok. My ground of being always existed, but had been covered in a fog for years. Now I saw a path.

After that weekend, I knew I had found my practice and for the first time in years, embraced a childhood constant:
Faith

I started going to the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, and enjoyed community within this recovered space. Sundays became spiritual days again, and chances to connect.

Church dresses were replaced by loose pants and basic colors, but I was cultivating another gift within those walls, on my yoga mat, and back at home on my meditation bench:
Compassion

By embracing and recognizing my own suffering and giving it a voice, I found compassion towards myself, and began to see it in others, all around me. I wasn’t alone, and neither were those with bowed heads and heavy hearts I encountered throughout my daily life in the city. The separation I formerly believed was an illusion of my mind.

I wasn’t praying for the pain to stop, nor turning away. Instead, I turned towards it for answers, and was rewarded tenfold.

 

Last year, I opened my mailbox to find a sampling of The Sun magazine. It was full of short stories, interviews, and poems, all written from a conscious point of view. That it coincided with the beginning of ZenRedNYC was a beautiful synchronicity. After one issue, I was hooked, and signed up for a year subscription.

With a heavy heart towards recent acts of terrorism, I recently read an interview with African-American lesbian Reverend Lynice Pinkard on “The Revolutionary Act of Living The Gospels”. She resigned from her position as senior pastor in 2010 and became a volunteer and board member of Share First Oakland (sharefirst.org), and the community-training institute Seminary of the Street, with side work as a hospital chaplain. She intended to decentralize the church’s hierarchical leadership and put her resources into helping the surrounding communities. Her words:

“The problems that beset us aren’t insolvable. The world is not full of scarcity, and we do not have to scramble to get our share. Our hurts are not as endless as they seem. Hope doesn’t have to be stifled by frustrated cynicism. Peace is possible when we tell the truth about our hurts and our hopes.

The bottom line is that we are called to lives of compassion. We are called to the work of liberation through love. That calling is the only thing worth suffering for.”

Amen.

The Sun