Thursday, September 29, 2011

eating, praying, loving

Its happened a few times now that when I explain that I'm taking nearly a 9 month leave from my so-called life in order to travel back to the US, visit what was home, re-acquaint myself with America, nourish myself with the company of old and new friends, and reconnect with family before launching into a 5 month stint in India, 4 months of it to study at a yoga shala in Mysore I get this response: "So, like Eat Pray Love?" or sometimes, "Like Eat Pray Love!"

Having read the book twice already, I can only sheepishly respond, yes, like Eat Pray Love.

Its been referenced so much recently that I decided to pick up the copy of it that was sitting on my mother's shelf. It was the very first copy I ready 4 years ago, upon the recommendation of my mother. I was going through some major changes. I'd made a huge break from an emotionally abusive relationship. I was healing. And I remember getting so much out of Elizabeth Gilbert's account of that year in her life.

I read it a second time between Mysore and Manila, my tumultuous return to said so-called life after my first two and a half month trip to India. I was going through a shift then too. I had started to gain perspective on my life as it was, on what I really wanted and the disparity between the two.

I love to read. I've always had special relationships with the prose and plays that I love. For me, when a piece of literature is good, it speaks to me. I can relate to it's themes in a nearly cellular level. My body understands it and takes it in. It is like air, food, water, and sleep--which is why I can usually forgo these necessities when engrossed in a book. It feeds me. Plus, I was quite a maudlin kid and books were my escape. I lived in the novels that I read. They made life bearable.

And since, three is a magic number, I've decided to read it again. Gilbert points this out in her book, the perfect balance of a three-legged stool is a beautiful thing, the magic of fine engineering.

This time, the energetic and emotional connections have never been more clear and the parallels to my own life's events are a little uncanny. I know there are new shifts now, though I am still trying to understand it. I'm sad. I'm happy. I'm trying to be nice to myself. I'm free. And I don't quite know what to do with it. So, yes. I guess I am eat-pray-love-ing.

Don't get me wrong, I think, ultimately, anyone who is going through serious life changes will relate to this book. And I don't think I'm anymore special than anyone else. And while I am at this weird crossroad, dealing with my own breakups, heartaches, newly acquired nomadic life, and, yes, freedom I don't think any of the tumult of the last year compares the depth of Gilbert's own story. But still, the similarities are interesting. Its just each time I read this book, I feel like I relate to it deeper and deeper, which is a sign of a really good book.

Gilbert has tapped into three universal themes that will create balance in those who dare to embody them: eat, pray and love. They are like this triple threat. Together, they have serious mojo.

This trip has been touched by discord and struggle, which is really forcing me to identify and seek out what nourishes me, whether its good food, beautiful company of the genuine-hearted, support of friends and loved ones. In so many ways, I've also been more conscious of the devotional aspect of my practice too. But recently, I've really started to pray again. I pray to the sun or to god or to my guru. And, well, love...

Love is trickier than I thought. I am trying to understand my heart. I guess that's why I write about it so much. That's the reason for this blog. There's some kinds of love that are easy for me. Those are bountiful. And then there are others that I struggle with also. There's nothing that I want more. There's nothing that I am more afraid of.

So, here I am, reading about a woman on a journey, just as I am a woman on my own journey, quite possibly the most important undertaking of my life thus far. And Gilbert's tale is a lovely companion, a true friend holding up a mirror. And hopefully, I'll have the vision to see what it is that I need to see, a glimpse perhaps of the real me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

family yoga, light vs. dark

I've been sitting on a piece of writing that's been simmering ever since I came out to NY with my dad to visit my sister just this June. I was sacrificing my asana practice in order to spend time with family. (Promise, Deva, the full article is coming! My good friend Deva first encouraged me to write about the idea of family yoga).

And now, I'm back in NY. This time with my mother to visit with my sister. Just as precious. Just as crazy as the time with my dad.

Its been over 3 years since the three of us were together. I expect its going to be beautiful, mad, enlightening, troubling, insane, lovely and all sorts of crazy because that's what family does to a person. They know you better than anyone and at the same time don't know you at all! And that's going to bring up stuff.

Anyhow, we arrived last night. Its going to be...great, really, but interesting. And definitely funny.

We were hanging out on Audrey's couch. The three of us sitting there when my mother turns to me, as if she's seen me for the first time--although I've been staying with her for the last two weeks in Los Angeles.

Mom: Karen, you are so dark!
My sister Audrey and I look at her puzzled, her face is filled with something of a cross between surprise and shock. She recoils a little, perhaps with a tad of repulsion. She's got an unhealthy fear of aging and is constantly in hiding from the sun, which in fairness has worked out for her because she looks incredibly young for her age.

Its always bothered her that I like the beach, loved surfing and then chose to live on an island resort town for the last 5 years. Light skin is generally favored in the Philippines as a sign of beauty and economic prosperity (don't see any fair girls working the fields!). I feel like I've done a fair amount of work to get beyond such inane social norms and to feel confident about my own earthy complexion.

Mom: Your face is as dark as your body!

Me: I hope so!

Mom: Why did you let yourself do that?!

She walks away, her question more of a statement. My sister and I bust out laughing. My mother's hilarious, if not somewhat offensive. Most of the time she's lovely, really. Stuff like this, however, doesn't bother me. Other things, well...But this, I know is part of the package, part of the crazy stuff we have to endure, nay embrace, because we love our family, even if they press our buttons.

airport limbo

LAX, my least favorite air hub in the United States.

Airports are interesting spaces. They are like limbo. You are neither here nor there. You’re not traveling exactly. You’re waiting. That’s what people do in airports: wait.

In the departure terminal, we wait for movement. We wait for flights. We wait to get going on our business trips or holidays, reunions or great escapes. There is this undercurrent of restlessness that comes before the start of any journey.

At the arrivals, we wait for our baggage, for our rides, for our loved ones. People wait with love and anticipation, with fear and anxiety. There is always an element of excitement there.

Airports can be purgatory for travelers too. Luckily, that’s not exactly how I’m vibing it today. It may be bittersweet being at the airport again, but its not as bad as a waiting room for hell.

I can’t help but look back at the variety of different airport experiences I’ve had this year. Probably the most I’ve traveled within the span of year ever. And since early June, LAX is my 12th airport. In New York alone, I’ve flown into or out of the three airports that service the area. And before this time, there was India and Singapore in January, Palawan in March, Madrid in April.

This is beyond unusual for me. I am neither independently wealthy nor is traveling a part of my job. I feel my blessings. I can only say that when I decided to acknowledge that I wanted to be a part of the world, that going on a journey was a part of my heart’s desire, the opportunities to do so started to unfold for me, some appearing like manna from heaven and others I myself manifested.

I’ve had a lot of intense moments of introspection during my time in these airports/indeterminate states. It’s a fitting activity in limbo, gauging where you are in your head and heart spaces as you straddle two worlds.

When I left India in January after two and a half months of intense yoga study, I felt full and energized, ready for the madness of returning home, by then I think I knew that I would be shaking up my old life, though, in ways that I could have barely imagined. I felt poetry and bliss in Madrid, the possibility of a bright and shiny new love in Telluride, awkwardness in Seattle, and emptiness in Oakland.

And now in LAX, I feel limbo itself. I am between two chapters, or perhaps between a series of books—where does the heroine go before the author pens the sequel? No man’s land? She exists in space but has no form. No story to cling to.

I feel very much between things. I’m at the end of this trip with one week to go before returning to Asia and three weeks before India for 5 months—my next big adventure. This trip itself is a break from that static island life in the Philippines, a time of transition to a different way of living, of loving, of being.

I feel the recent weight of great sadness and loss and the light potential of the unknowable future. I feel the differences between life in America and in the Asia. I feel the pull of my loved ones here in the US as well as those in the Philippines.

I can’t say this is a new sensation. I’ve always felt torn between the East and West, duty and desire, what I love and what I think I should do. Then again, aren’t we all in some way or the other confused by this world full of opposing forces?!

This time, however, I can feel its intensity as if it were both a vacuum as well as this concentrated sense of the entire universe, everything and nothing. And in this dividing line, this crossroad, I am shifting. On the other side I will be as always me and at once will never be the same again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

the heavies

Its been an intense few days, which considering the general intensity which my life has taken on recently is saying a lot.

I partly blame the moon. I get moody near moon days, as my body cycles accordingly to it.

I'm also delirious from three-days of non-stop activity, squeezing in just about as many reunions as I possibly could. My mother's taken every opportunity to mention that I should not have left everything for the last week, which is her round about way of saying that she disagrees with how--or rather with whom--I spent my first week here in LA.

Of course, stubborn to the bone, I tried my best to sweep it aside and get through the weekend, which was my one opportunity to touch base with so many of the bright lights, the real stars, of my LaLa Land. Still underneath it all, that feeling remained, quietly frustrating me.

Last Saturday, my high school girlfriends Tracy and Marissa took me to see a friend of theirs, guitarist Jinsoo, who was playing with acoustic soul singer songwriter piano-man Chris Joyner at jazzy little Hotel Café in Hollywood.

(It was great hanging with my girls! – a statement that needs to be qualified in greater length in another article altogether!)

Though the set was short, I loved the sound of the band. Joyner’s songs were soulful and performed with such heart. And one in particular, a playful tune called “Heavies” seemed to define the sensation I was grappling with.

Its a fun song, but still quite observant of life's struggles. The chorus goes: "Oh no, here come the heavies. They're going to hit hard so you better get ready. Oh no, here come the heavies again."

We all have tough times. We all get our fair share of heavy burdens. I get that. I’m not winging really, I’m just saying: “I know you (referring to "the heavies"). I know you’re here with me. I know there’s a reason that you’re hanging around, and I’m willing to learn and grow from it. But when we’re through, I mean it, we're through."

To listen to the track, you can visit Chris Joyner's myspace page:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

soul food

There are all sorts of different kinds of hunger.

There is the most basic, of course, one of physical necessity. Our stomachs are empty, we must fill it. We eat to live. Though sometimes many of us forget, we either neglect our needs or over indulge our senses. We starve ourselves or stuff ourselves to death. Then there are those that are in no position to do either.

Everywhere in the world there is hunger. I've seen it in the Philippines and in India. And it happens here too, in this fabled land of plenty. Though poverty here in the United States is nothing compared to that of the developing world, it doesn't make it any better. And the sensation of empty stomachs, living on the streets, being down and out is pretty universal.

Yesterday, I joined my Tita Evelyn at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, a small non-profit group that exists on donations and volunteer work. My mother also cooks for them once a week. And I was eager to see what they were doing. I know from talking to them both that they loved their volunteer work, that they had tapped into a beautiful way of expressing their love for their fellow man with the hours they spent there.

Seven days a week, on the corner of Sycamore and Romaine, the coalition food truck parks and sets up a food line, where hundreds of the area's struggling men and women get a nourishing hot meal, for many of them the only food they will eat on that day.

On Friday evening, I poured juice. Later, I washed serving trays and the giant soup pot with a garden hose at the back of their kitchen head quarters. It felt good to take part, to participate in compassion in action. We fed about 250 hundred in all.

I think its a worthy service to feed those less fortunate. But there's more to it than just food. Or rather, just as there are different kinds of hunger, there are different kinds of sustenance too. At the food line, the volunteers served more than just casserole, soup, and bread. They dished out smiles and kindness, encouragement and support.

In truth, everyone needs the nourishment of soul food. We all just need to unlock our personal storerooms and freely dispense hope, faith and love, which when given out is restored two-fold. This is the food that will change our world.

If you are in LA and would like to know more about the Coalition, please check out the following YouTube video:

For more info on how you can get involved:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

roots in city of angels

Blue skies in West Los Angeles today on the way to the Food Coalition truck.

Last week when I arrived in Los Angeles, I wrote this:

"I'm in LA. Home. Supposedly. Though it doesn't feel like it. I look around my mom's new apartment. Different. We were walking around Hollywood to dinner this evening. Different. Did I mention, we were walking, in LA? Different!"

I was feeling what I usually feel when I first touch down in LA: awkward.

But today, with only 3 days left of my time here, I feel what I also feel before each departure, this strange well of love. The city's quirks may frustrate me, having grown up here I feel justified complaining about them, but I also understand her. I've always felt an affinity to her strangeness, perhaps it reminds me of the awkwardness that I feel in my own person, this being struggling to be greater than she is, sometimes missing miserably, other times, well...

With a few days left to go, I'm running around like crazy. (Right now, I'm at Primo Cafe on Sunset Blvd stealing some moments to myself before running off to help my Tita (Auntie) Evelyn who is volunteering at a food truck feeding the homeless). And already today, I've had morning practice with Noah Williams at Silverlake, coffee with a yoga friend Sheila, brunch with my high school girlfriend Tracy, and taught my friend Marcel a mini yoga class at Equinox next door. After the food truck, I have a late dinner with my college friend Staci in Los Feliz. And there's more over the next two days!

Everything is concentrated. Its a potent mixture of nostalgia and love. And I am thinking the unthinkable: that I like LA. Its my loved ones who live here. They make the place. They also can't help but ask the question, when are you moving back? And today, between engagements, I did catch myself wanting more time, desiring to be closer.

I don't know why, but I'm always surprised when I feel all this amazing energy. This crazy place is home to so many people that I love. And because of them I will always have roots here, anchored by their oasis-like hearts in this expansive urban desert.

Friday, September 23, 2011

the weeping willow, woman warrior

My mother and I have been checking out the garden oasis of the Los Angeleno desert. Yesterday, we took ourselves to the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, a project of the local water reclamation plant. There, we walked around, sat and meditated, and took photos. The 6 acres were filled with little gems: rock gardens, lotus ponds, shrubbery wonderland. But of all the trees, the weeping willows really caught my attention. In the brochure guide, it said that the tree was a symbol of the feminine: kind, understanding, flexible to change. Being very zen of course, the manicured pines that dotted the garden symbolized the masculine, strong (and in my opinion, stumpy in comparison to the elegant willow).

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman. The roles we take up, some of it cultural, others seemingly built into our genetic code. And the willow really resonates with me. Its inherent softness. In terms of foliage, its a bountiful tree, one you can really take up shade under. Its graceful as wind sweeps its leafy tendrils hither and thither. In the Celtic tradition, it is associated with the moon, water and the goddess, with dreaming and intuition. In other cultures it symbolizes death, mourning and deep reflection.

If I were a tree right now, I would be a weeping willow. I feel so much of its strength, so much of its magic, and so much of its sadness.

I feel like I have to qualify the sadness--though I am, if I'm really honest, filled with a subtle sorrow--as one that sees the difficulties of the world, that observes it, feels the sting of it without being victimized by it because willows are strong too. Though their curtain of leaves bend to the wind, its center is steady, its roots are strong. Her branches are merely dancing.

mindful manifesto

I've been free writing most mornings according to Julia Cameron's methods in "The Artist Way." And although these morning pages are supposed to be exorcised and not shared, I'm going to go ahead and disregard that one rule because 1) I genuinely liked what I wrote on August 15, a month and a half ago and 2) its become really important for me right now to remember these ideas, nay, intentions. I have found myself reading this one passage time and time again. For these are challenging times, and in challenging times we have to embrace the values we hold dear...

I am going to be true to myself, to who I am and who I hope to be. I will embrace all my goodness, all my good intentions, hopes and dreams.

I will, likewise, look in the eye all my fears and insecurities. I will acknowledge them and befriend them.

I will be honest with my endeavors. I will be forthright about my feelings.

I will feed myself with all things nourishing: good food, good friends, good experiences.

I will allow the creative force to live through me, through my actions and through my interactions.

I will be selfish enough to recognize my needs. I will be selfless enough to be able to share my gifts with those around me.

I will love with my whole heart, mind and body. I will trust love as the supreme source of light that binds us all together. I will be an instrument of love. All things I do I dedicate to that purpose: to give love, to share love, to be love.

I will see God in all things and people and will be filled with the divine. And my life in the here and now will be heaven on Earth.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

tangents, star wars and silver linings

I was driving up Highland Avenue this evening on my way home to Hollywood where my mom lives when I see Han Solo, Darth Vader and Obi-Won Kenobi walking down the street, the later two with capes flowing in the wind, light sabers on hand. It made me smile, such is street life in Hollywood, colorful, strange and unexpected.

I love Star Wars and the universal themes that stitch the story together. I love the idea of "the force" and how there is a need to have balance between the archetypal opposing forces, light vs. dark, good vs. evil, man vs. machine, etc. Somehow, there is always a balance. And when things are out of balance, disaster strikes until balance between the two can return.

Balance was something I did not have a good handle on today as I wobbled in my some balancing yoga postures. I wasn't surprised, my body usually empathizes with my emotional state. And today, I was feeling wobbly internally too. So much has happened lately. So many changes and challenges.

There have been a few clouds hanging over my head these last few weeks. Some have been dense and foreboding.

Today, the sky has been dotted by clouds. But with each cloud, there is a silver lining.

I feel the sting of harsh words from a close family member. Through the hurt, though, I see more closely the things that are bothering me.

I feel alienated that many I lean to do not understand me, that the way I am dealing with things is different from their value systems. Then I get an email from Saras, a new acquaintance who just read this blog and understands where I am coming from, offering soothing "balm" and a friendly ear. I also receive a beautiful and understanding letter from my wise little sister.

I feel the heaviness of heart and whirl of emotions. From all sides, I've been feeling an assault. My dog dies. My mom challenges me. My open heart bleeds profusely (ok, I exaggerate, but it does trickle so). Then, just as I feel I'm hitting a low, Denise Hughes, a beautiful devi from the Universal Shivite Fellowship retreat that I've been attending, waves me down from my car quite out of nowhere to tell me that the chaos in the world (I'm amazed that she had sensed it, I think I seemed calm throughout the retreat) is also a part of God Consciousness too (our topic for today). It made me cry to hear it!

I feel the loss of a love, but am comforted by a friend whom I know will love me forever.

Its not an easy world. Things are not always as I wish they would be. Each up has a down. There is good, there is bad. But thank goodness that there is a balance in the force, even when we think there is none, its there, in the sidelines, waiting to have its impact. And while things aren't exactly even right now, I know that they are trying to be. Sunlight peeks behind each dark cloud. Where there is darkness, there is also this all pervasive light.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

multom in parvo, a lot in a little thor

Dear Thor,

Thank you for having such a great personality (insane but totally lovable): for ruining my hardwood floors in South Syquia; for insisting on sleeping on the bed, for developing the knack of rubbing your eyes over all my clothes; for forcing yourself onto the driver's seat or rather my lap while I was driving, your paws at the wheel; for making it impossible to take you out to restaurants because you chased after waitresses because you felt so entitled that everyone at every moment should be fulfilling your desire to consume food; for ignoring all the rodents in my apartment in Boracay; for being jealous of the Loki and Oscar; for having no survival skills, poor eye sight, tired legs, obscenely stinky odor. Despite your perfume, you were the cutest pug I'd ever seen, and the countless tourist photos that were taken of you is proof of it.

Thank you for teaching me patience and responsibility, taking care of you helped make me a better person. You came to me when I really needed something to love and you returned that love unconditionally. Thank you for forgiving me when I left you for trips, I hated to see the look you gave me whenever luggage was out, and loving me when I returned. Thank you for being patient. I don't think I was a really good dog owner. But I think you understood that I wanted to be.

The motto for pugs is "Multom in parvo" which means "a lot in a little." You lived up to that. You may have been small, but your personality was huge, as was the clumps of hair you shed all over, like tumbleweeds they would fly around the apartment. The impressions you have left in my life and the lives of those that loved you is bigger than your life. Thor, you were a lot in a little dog, living up to your namesake, the Norse god. I will always hear your bark, small hoarse thing that it was, but to me it will sound like thunder.

Thank you, I love you,

My friend Claudia wrote to me today, letting me know that my old dog Thor passed in the Philippines. It seemed that whatever took him worked fast. There was no lingering. He stopped eating during the day and looked tired. Then retired by 10pm. He was 7 plus in dog years. I'd given him away to a friend's family in Aklan. They were the best fit. A family with children and time. Thor was a needy little dog, who loved to be loved. And he deserved that.

I gave him up in June, that was a little over 3 months ago, because I'd decided that traveling, yoga and writing was my calling. Life in Boracay with Thor was not. It was not an easy decision. Actually, Thor was one of the hardest things about leaving home. And there were times it seemed like he was my only real anchor to my old life.

And now, he's gone. Not just from my life, but gone gone. I'd like to celebrate him by writing him this letter (let's imagine dearly departed dogs can read for a moment or beyond that postive energy can vibrate through time and space).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

grace and swami lakshmanjoo

Where there is love, there is grace.

For the last 3 weeks, I've been praying for grace--grace to be strong enough to withstand disappointment, hurt feelings, and sadness, grace to be greater than my limited ego and expectations, grace to be true to myself, my heart and the values I hold dear.

And throughout these past weeks, it feels like my prayers have been answered in the shape of compassionate friends, fortuitous coincidences/fate throwing me a bone--or rather a sumptuous veggie meal, and magnanimous actions that seem so beyond my capabilities that I have surprised even myself and bewildered some very close to me.

Today, grace took an entirely new shape altogether as I attended my first Havan at the Universal Shaiva Fellowship in Culver City, where we celebrated the mahasamadhi of Swami Lakshmanjoo, a spiritual leader devoted to the teaching of Kashmir Shaivism.

I've been curious about Kashmir Shaivism since Mysore, where I'd caught a taste of Kashmiri chants, so full of ras or flavor. During this last Shivaratri, I was privy to a Kashmiri puja over Skype. And now, since my dear friend, the architect of this introduction and my co-creator of the above distress, is here in LA to attend the festivities, I was able to tag along.

He talks a lot about Kashmiri Shaivism and Swami Lakshmanjoo with such devotion. I was curious and baffled--baffled particularly about how he could feel so connected to a teacher who died 20 years ago today. And as my brain tried to process the key words "self-realized saint," I couldn't help but wonder, what's the big deal?

I can't even begin to illustrate what kind of deal it is because I can barely begin to fathom how I've been feeling since this afternoon. Was it big? Huge. Nay, gigantic! But at the same time so totally subtle, sneakily quiet.

The day was filled with chanting, so different from the style of chanting I'm used to in my own yoga practice--which I also love. There's something totally enthralling about it. Time passed so swiftly.

As the Kali temple priests stoked the fire, we chanted. And as I chanted, I started to mentally throw different ideas into the fire. When my mind was empty, I started to extract emotions for the fire. After I'd excavated my heart, I dug out at my guts and threw that in as well. At some point I imagined throwing my entire being into the fire, me standing there, burning up, hoping I would be like a phoenix renewed by the flames. I wanted to be rid of all excesses, all the unnecessary stuff. But I could still feel the same thoughts, the same feelings lodged into my person.

Then I remembered what George, one of the facilitators at the Havan, said, that this wasn't about us but was about Swamiji. In the end, I just gave myself up because the truth is I don't know how to make things better, I don't know how to manage all this. So, I decided to surrender myself to Swami Lakshmanjoo, surely he would know better than I.

Magic happens when you surrender. This is a favorite theme with me. I've seen it in my own yoga practice. I've seen it in my own life, which has changed so much since I seriously started to surrender to my higher good.

And today was no exception. Without going into details, which are too new-age-y even for me to repeat, I will say this: I totally felt Swami Lakshmanjoo's presence. I felt supported by him. I felt his guidance, which made me feel totally vulnerable. All conflict, which I'd been working so hard to repress, floated up to the surface. And I cried. I cried until I felt better. I'll probably have other tear-filled episodes, but for now I feel relief.

I feel the light hand of grace stroking my hair, letting me be sad, but also letting me know that after I let it go everything will be better. Thus begins my initiation into Kashmir Shaivism.

Friday, September 16, 2011

contradiction in terms

I am about to head to bed, again, later than I'd hoped. Outside, I hear choppers and sirens. It could be a war zone out there. The sky is this bright lilac gray. LA's electric smog-infused sky, so different from the breathtaking night-scapes of Boracay or Bellingham, where one sees stars against cosmic blackness. Here, the stars are on the side-walk, where tourist traipse over them. Earth bound, they need polishing, the City of Angels defeating logic.

So it makes sense that we meet here, the axis for contradiction in terms, he and I, redefined or rather finally defined as friends. Its a wonder that a love could be so great that it ends before beginning, that it could bypass the gravitational pull of two so in love it is like the force of celestial beings wanting nothing more than to orbit each other.

I am trying to make sense of it. But am I trying to reconcile the irreconcilable? Is love really so unwieldy? Or do we make a mockery of it by trying to define it at all? (Its no wonder the job has fallen into the hands of poets. Words alone are insufficient.)

I said to him today, "love knows no bounds." Its a cliche, but I believe it. Still, my limited head continues to be baffled by love's infinite vastness.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

bay area integration

I've arrived home in Los Angeles. I use the term "home" loosely. Its where I grew up. Its where my mom lives. And when I come home to visit her, its here. Even when the apartment changes, its still LA--a topic which deserves it's own article, so complex are my feelings about this city. But I'll get to that later. For now, my thoughts gravitate to the list of friends that must be contacted, get together dates set, connections that I have only a brief time to revisit and tend to, my little desert cacti garden, dry but juicy.

But I know that somehow it will work out, as it has the last two and a half months, which has been absolute magic on the friend front.

The Bay Area, where I was just at, offered the most eclectic web of friends. I felt this interesting convergence of my different parts. My different social groups were all at once validating my presence, I could see who I was through their eyes. With Q, I am sweet college Karen, who she met in '98 when I was her resident. With Cybil and Gwen, I am Kazzie, the spastic balikbayan, American Filipino returning home to the Philippines. With Reggie, I am Kaz, former night owl in the Manila scene. With Deborah and Sharz, I am a fellow yogini and Mysore friend. With Randan, Reggie's beautiful partner, well, aside from a brief encounter 7 years ago, she got to know me for the very first time.

Recently, I've been mulling over this feeling of personal disintegration. There was my island life, my Manila life, my LA life, my life as a poet, my yoga life, my life as a writer. They all seemed so compartmentalized. There was some mingling here and there, but for the most part, each bit felt separate from the other--which I do recognize as a normal occurrence as well.

This last weekend, however, as I traipsed across the East Bay and SF to spend time with this eclectic assemblage of friends, I felt not disintegration but integration. Though these different segments didn't meet each other, they met the same person, me, who I am, the total amalgamation of my sum experiences, habits, personalities.

Most people, if they are objective and fair, will see what you let them. Perhaps, in the past I showed people a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle out of my own reluctance and lack of self-confidence. I showed friends what I thought they would like about me. I anticipated judgment because I was judgmental of myself. This is hard to admit, let alone write. And to be honest, I didn't really understand it myself until now because as I type this I feel a knot loosen in my chest, a sign that this must be true. (I feel like I should apologize for such poor behavior on my part. It wasn't intentional, I promise...)

But recently, the events in the Pacific Northwest (heart ache induced stress followed by realization and acceptance) have forced some veils to drop. I feel the effects of it. I feel more real and vital, I feel more whole, I feel more certain of the world around me and of who I am. Something shifted. I stopped getting in the way of myself. And since then, I've let myself be. And this is who stepped off the plane in Oakland, the sum total of me, unabridged, uncensored, a little snotty-nosed, a little worse for wear, but wholly totally me.

To those lovely folks in the Bay Area who appeared out of the woodwork to greet me, thank you, I love you. Thank you for being a part of this journey!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

berkeley revisited

Hours from leaving the Bay Area. The air is so cool and crisp here. It feels positively cleansing. So far, everything about this part of my trip has felt like a boon. As if the Universe, fully recognizing that I'd had my fair share of crazy recently, decided to finally give me a break.

For one thing, coming out here has created space. I'm far enough from the elements that were giving me discomfort to see more clearly, more objectively. You can only see so much when you are at the center of a whirlwind.

Also, coming out here is an important part of my journey. One that I probably needed to do on my own too. Its been over 7 years since I've been back in the Bay Area. But I have history here. When my family first moved to the US, we first landed in South San Francisco. I spent Grade 5 in a small Baptist school there, a new immigrant, totally awkward and uncertain.

I returned for college, taking a BA in Literature and a minor in Creative Writing at UC Berkeley--still awkward and uncertain. After I graduated, my sister did her undergrad in Berkeley too, then lingered on in Oakland before moving to New York, giving me reasons to return and visit.

Last Saturday, I took my less awkward and less uncertain self on a long walk through my alma mater. I ambled across campus and through Telegraph Ave. I walked up College Ave, past my old apartment, and all the way to Rockridge where I eventually met my old college friend Q, who drove down from Sacramento to break some Zachary's Pizza with me.

Overall, I feel how things change, yet at the same time things feel the same. Throughout my walk that was a major theme. There is a newness, probably inherent to all college towns, new students, new establishments, new buildings. At first, I felt disoriented, the newness threw me off a little. Soon enough though, the paths became more and more familiar. Names of buildings started to pop back into my head, along with memories of classrooms, lecturers and fellow students.

I walked past my favorite spots, the Eucalyptus Grove, the Life Sciences building, Moffit and Doe libraries where I worked, Bancroft--my favorite building with its Mary Poppins roof, the Study Abroad offices. When I got to Wheeler Hall, where many of my English classes were held and where many of my English teachers held office hours, I felt the urge to go in. Check things out.

Despite all the changes, there is also a feeling of consistency. The essence of Berkeley is unchanged. The spirit of learning lives on, though the torchbearers that flow through constantly. There's always another me, an archetype of me, walking about campus, discovering for the first time the meaning of being free.

Berkeley was the first place where I felt I could start to explore who I was as a person, as a sentient being. I remember the sensation of seeing my family drive off after helping me get settled into my dorm that first move in day. And then the excitement as I wandered down Telegraph with some dorm mates. I didn't know anything about anything. And it was glorious, this feeling of uncertainty, everything was full of possibility.

I am feeling that now--and have done so many times this trip, whether I was walking around the brownstone lined streets in Brooklyn, or absorbing the stunning scenery of Colorado, or jumping up and down a trampoline to take a glimpse of Mt. Rainier in Seattle's Capitol Hill, or contemplating the sunset going down on Puget Sound in Washington. Sometimes this feeling is good, blessed. Sometimes it is fraught with anxiety.

I feel grateful that there is a continuity in that feeling, that somehow that thread of light has lit the way across the landscape of my experiences. There were times when I had less or no hope, and those were always the darkest moments. But times like now, when I fully acknowledge the incredible creative potential that comes with the unknown, I am filled with awe of the gifts not yet presented, so many lessons and so much love yet undiscovered. Yes, I welcome change. If the infinite potential of the universe comes with it, how can we not embrace it?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

the path full of signs and further reading

The Path

I know the path: it is straight and narrow.
It is like the edge of a sword.
I rejoice to walk on it.
I weep when I slip.
God's word is:
"He who strives never perishes."
I have implicit faith in that promise.
Though, therefore, from my weakness
I fail a thousand times,
I shall not loose faith.

--Mahatma Ghandi
(From Timeless Wisdom by Eknath Easwaran)

I believe that there are no coincidences. That there is a reason for everything. That despite how much things don't turn out as we hoped or planned, that there is a greater plan out there for us that we can't even begin to imagine, we just can't think big enough!

So I choose to believe that my desire to step into Wheeler Hall (Today, I was in Berkeley--which will need a more extensive article altogether), where many of my English classes where held, must have some higher purpose.

There at the lobby, I'd accidentally stepped into a 9-11 peace conference being run by the Berkeley Meta Center for Non-Violence. I could not join the talks, but was drawn anyway to a booth with books. Most were titles dealing with peace and non-violence. But some jumped out at me instantly. First, books by Eknath Easwaran, one about Ghandi and another called Timeless Wisdom, a collection of sage sayings and stories.

Lawrence, the volunteer at the booth, asked how I came to the conference. I explained to him that I was an old Berkeley grad simply having a nostalgic walk about campus, struck by a sudden desire to enter the building. He looked at me and commented that I went to Berkeley didn't explain why I would be familiar with Eknath Easwaran. So I explained that I also teach yoga and studied his translation of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. We talked briefly about yoga. And he suggested Easwaran's Passage Meditation to accompany Timeless Wisdom.

Just the night before, Reggie and Randan (my lovely friends and hosts in Oakland) were talking about how much meditation has helped them, which reminded me of how much it had been helping me these last couple of weeks.

Recently, I've been very sensitive to signs. My intuition seems keener than before. Or perhaps my ability to translate these odd feelings is simply more refined. Whatever the case, I'm trying to be more attentive to the world around me, to the little messages it might be sending me. And heck, I'll be happy for any help the universe might be throwing my way. I'll be the first to admit, I need help.

So, perhaps, the message is to meditate. Here, have some tools. They're right here in front of you.

The third book I was attracted to is a book by James O'Dea, called Creative Stress, a path for evolving souls living through personal and planetary upheaval. Now, I have an aversion to self help-sounding books though I find myself guiltily being drawn to that category more and more recently, but as I turned the book around, the first review was from Marianne Williamson saying the "book delivers the medicine for our modern times."

A friend recently sent me a quote from Williamson that resonated so much I shared it on facebook: "And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” I love that because it is true. So, I felt rather inclined toward trusting what she thought and opened up the book to find passages that seemed to intelligently verbalize the process I've so recently been through.

In his introduction, he writes: "Stress either opens us up or closes us off. When it causes us to open, life does not get easier, it gets deeper, more creatively engaged and spiritually fulfilling. Overcoming our tendency to close is our most essential work, even when life throws boulders in our path..."

I may have left Wheeler Hall with a bag heavier than when I arrived, but I was more weightless myself. Thank you, Universe. I appreciate the guidance/literature. Its nice to know you still have my back!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

heart ache

Spent the early morning on the boardwalk, watching the sky light up on Bellingham, Washington. There, I read a love letter—I want to say an old one, but it was dated only this past July--and a poem, the love from both I wanted to offer up to the sea, hoping that nature would know better how to dispense it.

What I realized is that I don’t have the power to take back what I’d freely given. That love, as much as I’d like to control it, is unwieldy; it doesn’t work like that.

I am perturbed by my own heart, which refuses to stop loving even now when it hurts. All my usual defense mechanisms appear broken. It has been patient and understanding. It has continued to give. It stays, despite it all, open.

So, instead, looking out onto the Puget Sound, I prayed. I prayed to the Sound, to her healing waters, I prayed to God to pacify the hurt and sadness that I can’t help but feel, to flush out the bad feelings and refresh the good ones.

My former beloved turned friend (can change be that swift, really?) was there, holding me as I poured out my hurt feelings, emptying that--for a change--into the sea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

tough love & new discoveries

I watch the sun rise above the hills overlooking Seattle this morning, its rays casting a light onto the waking city, I can’t help but feel that indescribable essence of the dawning of a new day.

I leave Seattle today a different person from when I arrived two weeks ago. I’d come for love, a new one, seemingly brimming with great possibility. I was an explorer, ready to dive into a new adventure, and delve into the new undiscovered continents of my growing heart.

Without going into details, things changed in my absence. Our boy meets girl miracle of a love story takes a twist when boy meets another girl. The plot thickens. The heart coagulates.

And since then, I have been hard at work, trying to keep this rusty tin can of a heart open, to keep love flowing, to keep living in the light of love—which has been one of the true gifts of the connection between said boy and myself.

But the last two weeks has been fraught with struggle, I have been conflicted between my fears, my need for self-preservation, and my commitment to love completely and without condition.

Yet no experience is lost. Love, like water, is constant. It gets channeled into different pools or simply changes form. This has been the hardest thing to get my head wrapped around. That we live in a world of change is easy enough to understand. To accept it is another story altogether.

And while its been tough, I know that I’ve accomplished what I’d set out to do—albeit the ways in which I had hoped to do so and the end results have greatly strayed from my original intention. Challenges are opportunities also.

All this has given me the chance to explore the vastness of my own heart, it has tested my patience and understanding, it has appealed to my need to be compassionate to others and most especially to myself.

Though, I’ve been very sad and very hurt, though I’ve cried a lot, I’ve not been angry—maybe I will be one day, but so far I haven’t felt it. Not real anger anyway. And the absence of it confirms something for me, that when we fill our life with love and other higher frequency emotions, there’s less room for more inferior feelings.

And so what I have discovered is this: that within those deep recesses of my heart (our hearts!) is space and within that space there is more than chunks of land on which we accidentally get moored. Instead, there are whole planets, and planet systems, stars, and star clusters, galaxies glowing brightly, some existing on its last dying embers, and some brilliantly being born into existence. Like the universe, the heart is expanding, continuously growing beyond its limits—if you let it. I will it so, My heart center, the seat of my soul, my connection to the divine, is full of creative light, limitless, and infinite.