The Hard Path

The Hard Path

I’m thinking about this situation I’m in right now. I know breaking my foot has been an opportunity for me to re-examine my current trajectory. But I also think it’s part of a bigger pattern. Many years ago, as I was going into a challenging part of my growing up (my very early 20s) I made a decision to live my life without interference from a controlling and destructive family member. In that moment, I was determined to make my own decisions about my life, my relationships, make my own mistakes. I defiantly stated that if I had to do things the hard way in order for my life to be my own, then so be it. I have to admit that his easy resignation to this proclamation of mine was disheartening. He worked so hard to tear me away from those things that brought emotional health and happiness,  yet he was acquiescing so easily to my potentially hurting myself. I knew in that moment in no uncertain terms that he truly and absolutely did NOT have my well being in mind or in heart. Thankfully so, because his revealing himself to me in this way made it that much easier to walk out of his sphere of influence.

The point here is that I started myself on a path of difficulty. Thinking that the hard way was the only way, to whatever it is I try to accomplish. I can’t help but think that this ankle injury is part of this old misplaced pattern, coming at a time when I’m more energetic, determined, and clear about what I want than I’ve been since early middle school, since I first realized that I wanted to go to college, that I wanted something better for my life than what my family provided for me. This is not just a flu, or a pulled muscle, or a distraction induced by children or work. This is a major setback. It may be six months to a year before I can get back to where I just was.

I don’t want any more difficulty. I don’t want any more setbacks. I don’t want to be in this pattern anymore. So where do I start? How do I step out of this loop of self-sabotage? Is it as simple as making a decision to get off the merry-go-round of hardship, or do I still have more to learn? How much of this, all of this, is really under my control? I could logically conclude that if I decided to get on this thing, I could just as easily decide to jump off.

This is my job today. To decide with every fiber of my being to get off this plaster horse, frozen in that time in which I decided to get on. This ride is outdated and no longer serves the purpose that I originally intended. And so today I start a new journey that goes not in dizzying, repetitive, destructive circles but in a new direction, where learning and growing happen easily; where success and abundance come to me effortlessly; where my higher self can communicate with me clearly and direct me to that which serves my highest good.

And so, off this merry-go-round I step, carefully, with my good foot.



This is a momentous occasion. I did something I’ve never done before. Something I’ve always been a little bit scared of, yet so many people have had this experience. For heaven’s sake, CHILDREN do it all the time!

I broke a bone.

Actually, I broke two bones, in three different places. I figured (apparently subconsciously) if I was going to take the plunge, I would do it thoroughly and get it all out of the way at once. I wish I could say I’d been doing something epic, like crashing while heli-boarding down a virgin trail on an Alaskan mountain, or dirt bike racing out in the desert. In reality, I just slipped on the top step inside my house and landed on my ankle really wrong. Extremely grateful that I didn’t just go tumbling down the stairs, I knew regardless that something was awry when I heard the loud crack coming from my foot and the unnatural misalignment of my foot with the rest of my leg. This was going to require a trip to the hospital.

It’s been a week now, the longest week of my life I think. I’m much more familiar with morphine-based pain medication than I ever wanted to be. Tomorrow I have surgery to put me back together. At this point, it will require 4 screws, a plate, and meticulous attention to detail. I have faith in the capabilities of the people taking care of me. I know I’m in excellent hands. Now my only job is to sit still long enough for my bones to heal the way they already know how.

a promise

a promise

I’ve made a decision, a life altering decision. I’m changing my role, my self image, my capacity. I’m going back to school. I’m going back to work. I’m going back to myself.

My dear friend had an idea. She said I should get a ring for myself. From me, to me. I don’t wear jewelry except for my wedding ring, with its small triad of stones that stand for not simply unity with my beloved, the man with whom I chose to spend the rest of my days on this earth. Instead, it represents the people I am as a result of this union. Wife. Mother. Self. It’s a symbol of my evolution as a woman.

But a ring from me to me… It’s a commitment to myself. It’s a commitment to stand behind me. It’s a promise to defend myself, to honor my dreams, to support my endeavors, to have my back whenever necessary. This ring that is a promise, it’s like a direct line from my inner Goddess to me. It’s a reminder, an affirmation, a shout out. It’s my Goddess taking my hand and leading the way through the trials and triumphs that come from effort. It’s a call to live up to my capacity, to shine my inner light, to set free my fierce tigress, to heed my wise woman, to be cradled by spirit mother. It represents a rebirth of a soul who turned her ear away from the inner voice, whose path has strayed very far from a long lost but not forgotten course.

And so this soul is setting sail. It will take dedication and inner-strength. It will require a willingness to inflict discomfort, on herself and those around her, in order to return to balance. It will demand constant introspection, rechecking the coordinates incessantly to maintain her sight on the destination. It will require determination to keep her eye on the horizon even when the glare of self-defeating patterns momentarly blind her. It will require a loving touch and a reassuring hug when failure seems like the only possible outcome. It will demand an attentive audience with the gentle whisper that speaks her truth, the truth that is at once her compass and the wind in her sails. She must lift her head up into the wind. And she will succeed, because this is the way. When the path becomes clear, all obstacles fall away and the road ahead beckons brilliantly in the clean light of inspiration.

Goddess, lead the way. You have known this path all along, and finally, after so much has passed, I place my trust implicitly in your intrepid guidance.

My Journey Toward Public Speaking, Without Passing Out!

My Journey Toward Public Speaking, Without Passing Out!

There’s a statistic about public speaking that goes like this: people who fear speaking in front of a crowd fear it more than spiders, heights, confined spaces, and even death, actually seeing it as a legitimate form of torture. I can completely relate. Though I would have to point out that the only person to have actually DIED from giving a speech was William Henry Harrison, our ninth president. He gave a two hour inaugural speech on a cold and wet day in March with neither overcoat nor hat, and proceeded to ride on his horse to the inaugural ceremony and through the parade similarly exposed. Very shortly thereafter, he developed pneumonia and a month later he was gone. I would argue in this case that it probably wasn’t actually the public speaking that did him in, but rather the foolishness of not wearing the proper protection against a winter’s day in Washington, DC.

I’ve had a fear of speaking in public for some time now, though I’ve been reasonably sure I wouldn’t die as a result. It wasn’t always this way for me. When I was in middle school coming into my own as an awkward and sometimes obnoxious pre-teen looking for attention, I had no problem getting in front of people to speak, dance, and otherwise act foolishly. I was on a debate team where, of course, I had to go in front of my class and be verbally persuasive.  I even ran for office and won, becoming the president of my 8th grade class! I had big plans for high school and college, and I knew that being able to get some face time in front of crowds would be really helpful in my endeavors.

Somewhere around the time I started high school, something happened. I became VERY self-conscious and insecure. All the activities in which I’d wanted to participate going into school, like the debate club, spirit club, the theatre company… I not only shied away from them, I found myself going out of my way to remain unseen and unheard. Collaboration in the classroom was not excluded. You know, when the teacher puts a small group of students together to work on a problem or come up with ideas for a project, I was always the one taking notes, the one silently nodding in agreement with… well whatever, I wasn’t about to put my 2 cents in, even if it meant sacrificing my grade. It was all part of my mission to REMAIN, at all cost, unseen and unheard.

Life after high school continued in much the same fashion. I became more of a “one-on-one conversation” sort of person, a “non-participant if it means the spotlight” sort of person, a “wall flower who walks softly and speaks softly so as to not rock the boat” sort of person. I had gone into hiding.

Well, then I became a mom. There’s no being a wall flower when you’re a mom. One MUST speak up TO one’s child, and speak up FOR one’s child (which will invariably rock SOMEBODY’S boat). Fortunately for both my children and myself, the fierce Mama-Bear won out over the Wall Flower.

Soon after that, my husband became involved in the organization Rotary, where he eventually became president of his club and a sought-after MC for Rotary events. (Now, my husband has always been a great public speaker. He’s witty and funny and has a strong voice with good projection. Above all, speaking in front of a crowd really appeals to his inner HAM. I felt the beginnings of a little competition in this area.) As the spouse, I was expected to follow along, which meant meeting a lot of new people who were curious about me, my family, and my experiences, forcing me to pay attention to how I spoke and what I spoke about. Each conversation was a little bit like mini-public speaking. Every event I went to with my husband presented the opportunity for successive rapid-fire Table-Topic discussions. I soon realized that I needed to create a sort of elevator synopsis for each topic that came up. That wasn’t so hard: there were the standard questions like, “where are you from?”, “where did you and your husband meet?”, “what do you do?”, “Don’t you just love Rotary?” The dependability of these questions arising made it easier for me to focus on how I presented myself: was I being succinct or was I rambling? Was I able to inject some humor into my stories? Did I carry myself with confidence and maintain eye contact, or was I fidgeting and making shifty eye movements? Was I representing myself and my husband in a way I was proud of? Without knowing it, my experience as a Rotary Spouse and, as my husband would say, being dragged all over Central California for partying cleverly disguised as “Service Above Self” (District 5240 is a feisty group!) was grooming me for public speaking. I was on my way!

But I still had a way to go. The culminating moment slapped me square in the face, when in 2005 my best friend in the whole world of 26 years, announced that she was getting married. Well, I thought, if there’s ever a time to put myself out on that proverbial limb, it’s to express my love, gratitude, and joy for my best friend’s happiness. And I would be giving my declaration of congratulations to a frighteningly large group of mildly inebriated people. This was my challenge.

Two weeks before the wedding, I wrote my speech. There was a lot I wanted to say, but in the interest of not putting everyone to sleep, I pared it down, and pared it down again. While practicing, I realized that in my nervousness I might have a hard time remembering my lines, so I pared it down yet again, until I had something short and punchy, yet heartfelt.

So the day arrived. It was beautiful, of course. My dear friend, who can plan a party like nobody else I know, put on quite a lovely display for herself and her groom. She could give Martha Stewart a run for her money. The bride, myself, and the bride’s maids were professionally coiffed like so many poodles readied for show. I don’t usually go on about my appearance, but I have to admit, we all looked stunning: the up-do, the flawless dramatic makeup, the formal gown… It was like a fairy tale for me, almost as much as for the bride. We floated through the ceremony without a hitch; the food was delectable; the music was enchanting; everything was pretty perfect, and as I gloated on behalf of my dear friend, I also couldn’t help but move through the whole affair with my heart in my throat just waiting for the moment when I would have to go stand next to the happy couple and speak my congratulations into the microphone to the crowd. I. WAS. PETRIFIED. I tried going over my speech in my head thinking that if I reassured myself with still knowing what the heck I was going to say, that my nerves would calm… but NO. I couldn’t remember a single word. My husband must have seen the look of panic on my face, because he came over to ask me how I was doing.

“I can’t remember a single word of my speech!” I said, only back then, I inserted a few panicked expletives. He took my hand and calmly led me to the table where rows of champagne were conveniently filled with the bubbly nerve tonic. He handed me a glass. I took a sip. He motioned with hand as if to say, “Bottoms up, Girlie Girl.” I obeyed. Take a deep breath, he said. Take another deep breath, he said. He proceeded to walk me through what I had practiced with him and helped me pick out the bare essentials of what I wanted to communicate, only the really important stuff, the stuff that came purely from my heart. It was so short, but she was my best friend. We’d been through so much together. She didn’t need a dissertation on love, marriage, and friendship. Just an expression of gratitude, a heartfelt wish for deep and lasting connection between her and her new life partner, and a toast to my Soul Sister and my new Soul Brother-in-Law.

The moment came, and I went up and said just that. I said it beautifully, and she received it beautifully. And I’m so proud to say that I neither threw up, nor passed out. I even received some praise for delivering my heartfelt words. I knew then that I wanted to learn how to do that again. I had started my journey toward public speaking.

The Elusive Path to Enlightenment, or Trying Not to Freak Out!

The Elusive Path to Enlightenment, or Trying Not to Freak Out!

I recently re-read the classic story of Siddhartha. When I read it in high school, I remember being quite disturbed by it. I didn’t know exactly why it upset me so. Maybe because he wound up alone in the end, even though he experienced enlightenment. Maybe I just couldn’t fathom being satisfied with the choices he made. I mean, I sure as hell didn’t want to make the same choices he did to achieve inner peace. Now I’ve revisited this man who lived thousands of years ago, and once again I’m disturbed but for different reasons.

He was an extremely bright young man who knew that there was more to the world than what he was being told by his Brahman father and society. He went off on his own to see for himself if he could figure things out. He purged himself from all comforts of life: warmth, rest, shelter, a full stomach, safety… all these things he denied himself and in the process learned that he was actually quite resilient, but still he didn’t find the answers he was seeking. He met a beautiful woman, went under the tutelage of a wealthy and savvy man who taught him everything he needed to know to become himself financially successful, but still he didn’t find the answers he was seeking. After many years of lavish living, disgusted with what he had become, one day he simply walked out of his opulent home, went through the gates of his town, and disappeared into the forest never to return to his now former life. He met an old man, a poor man who took donations for ferrying people across the river. Siddhartha found comfort and wisdom with this man who taught him how to listen to the river for cues on how to live in peace, in unity with everything around him. In the end, having learned once again to live without, including companionship, for the old ferryman passed away eventually, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment without the distractions of money, objects, people, utterly alone with his river.

How can we learn from this? What can we take away from this experience? We are pack animals. We need interaction with other beings. And even if a person wants to be alone, how does one do this on such an extreme level? Do we simply walk away from everything like Siddhartha did to disconnect ourselves from the roles in which we’ve found ourselves? Would Siddhartha have left if he’d known that his lover of many years was carrying his child, a fact he didn’t learn of until a decade later? Is it even remotely possible to attain enlightenment while remaining responsible to one’s duties–children, spouse, parents, professional colleagues? Is it really one or the other?

I’m reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. He claims that the dysfunction that makes us everything from dissatisfied to homicidal is our connection to our ego. He teaches that the things we identify with and become attached to, the roles we take on, the emotions that wreak havoc on our relationships, all this is to feed the ego. Once we can take a step back and realize that when we are affected by these things we are actually catering to the ego, then we can start to experience a freedom, a peace, from that which can cause so much chaos in our lives. But how does one do that? All my life, I’ve looked for roles that would fulfill me but haven’t been able to find them . On a bad day, when my children are being particularly ornery, I even question what the heck I’m doing as a mother. (Quite sure I’m not the only one!) Tolle is saying that we should be comfortable not boxing ourselves in to the constraints that a role creates, that we can relieve ourselves of the burdens and judgements that come naturally when we define ourselves and others according to the roles we have adopted for ourselves, and others for themselves.

In theory, this all sounds lovely, ideal really. Imagine a world where people could take a look at their emotions and step out of themselves for a moment to realize they are not serving themselves, but an evil twin by the name of Ego. There would be no war, certainly much less suffering. Consider what it would be like if people didn’t judge each other because they realized that, in the end, it all means nothing, that we are all on this earth to accomplish something greater than the BMW that is or isn’t in the garage. I’m feeling a John Lennon moment coming on.

But how? Some people claim that they look at themselves in a detached way and suddenly, they feel peaceful. Wow! Is it really that easy? Are they failing to mention that they spent the last ten years at ashrams in India meditating on their detachment? Did they forget to mention that they slipped LSD into their coffee that morning?

I jest, but really, I’ll still keep an open mind. I mean, what’s the harm? Maybe all this spiritual mumbo jumbo will keep my sanity a little more firmly intact, in which case my family will certainly appreciate the hoped-for by products of patience and understanding. If I reach for the stars and only get to the moon, that’s still progress.

Pining for the Caldera

Pining for the Caldera

So I’m signing on to my blog for the first time since… a while, and I realize I haven’t written anything since May, since we left Santorini. We’ve done so much since then, but my beautiful Santorini that has the breathtaking views, the steps everywhere one turns that ensure I’ll get my exercise even if I’m feeling lazy, the delicious food that’s so good for me too… It wasn’t perfect. The kitchen was too small for long term cooking (I’m such a spoiled American!), and the bathroom was outside–less than comfortable when the wind kicks up and it’s 50 degrees outside. Still, something inspired me there, something brought me to life. I miss it so.

Caldera in the Cyclades

Caldera in the Cyclades

Santorini is the most beautiful place I’ve visited. I’ve heard it told that the color of the water surrounding Greece and her islands is like no other on the planet. Photographs don’t do it justice. Different hues created by the varying depths of the valleys under the surface make it look like a water color study in blue. It’s the product of the violence that Mother Earth can sometimes inflict, wreaking cataclysmic destruction, but when the dust settles and the land heals, a garden of Eden is born.

Santorini, whose proper name is Thira, is the southern most member of a group of islands in the Aegean known as the Cyclades. It’s a tiny cluster of four islands made up of a crescent shaped ridge with three islands in its interior, remnants of a composite volcano, the largest and most destructive type where a magma chamber under the surface relieving pressure explodes and falls in on itself, creating an enormous bowl shaped structure called a caldera. Santorini is such a structure, its western portion collapsed allowing seawater to flow into the center. The result is a glorious combination of volcanic cliffs and brilliant blue sea. Rent a car for one day and you can circumnavigate it from one end to the other, fitting little excursions throughout the day and still have time to catch a glorious sunset at one of Ia’s many cafés on the Northern tip of the island.

We took a day to walk all the way to Ia (pronounced EE-ya), the upper third of the island, and the effort was spectacularly gratifying. Walking Northward, as the clusters of whitewashed hotels and villas fell away behind us, we were greeted by vibrant wildflowers framed by ancient volcanic stone walls, terraces that I imagine once held the bounty of past Grecian societies–perhaps Venetian or Turkish, being former occupiers of this bewitching crater–but that now nourish the seeds of dozens of wildflowers and whispers of bygone eras. We continued onward, passing desolate rocky cliff faces with nothing to grab onto if the unsteady gravel happened to give way under our feet. We climbed up narrow dirt paths lined by black stones that had fallen from the mountain above us, evidence of the once volatile movement of this island, to come around a bend and be almost tackled by the winds of the Aegean blasting over a ridge that afforded us a breathtaking view of both sides of the island. The only thing keeping us from staying for a while and taking it all in were the brutal winds. We continued on until we reached the leeward side of the ridge where we could rest from the beating we’d just taken. The rest of the trail was as magnificent, always changing, always challenging. Reaching Ia was a relief–we were tired, hungry, and had gone through our water. Still, I wanted to walk back, experience all of it again, be dazzled and inspired anew. But our wariness and our full bellies got the best of us, and we decided to take a taxi back to our little cave house.

We’re enjoying our stay here. Every evening we get a spectacular show of colors as the sun sinks behind Nisos Thirasia. When the light fades and night envelopes the sky, stars come out with a stark clarity. Morning comes and we are reminded of how incredibly lucky we are. To be here. To be able to move around the planet with such ease and see other landscapes, other seascapes, other miracles. To be reawakened by our senses.

Journey to the Aegean

Journey to the Aegean

It took a 2 hour car ride to the airport, an 8 hour red-eye to Madrid, a 3 hour flight to Athens, many failed attempts at sleeping, and all the waiting time in between, but we finally got to Greece. Up to this point, we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the pain of jet-lag, traveling to places in time zones only an hour or two ahead of California. The 10 hour time difference knocked all of us for a loop. Despite efforts to acclimate quickly by not napping during the day, going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating meals at normal times, going out and getting moderate exercise during the day, it still took us a full week to stop waking in the middle of the night (even with the help of Melatonin) and not feeling dog tired the first half of every day. The first few mornings, it took everything bit of will power not miss breakfast at the hotel restaurant, trying not to show up with our clothes inside out. I can’t recall ever being so tired for so long.

I’d always heard that Athens, despite its glorious history, had become a congested and polluted city, unpleasant and not recommended to visit. Something changed that. In 2002, Athens was the host city for the Olympics, and the government took the opportunity to make some profound changes. To prepare, construction was completed at baffling speed and in unprecedented amounts for the country’s history. The clean up effort was immense. It’s obvious to me that those changes were taken to heart, because I did not encounter the pollution and congestion I heard about. Athens is a big city and, as such, has traffic. As an old city, it has narrow roads and tiny cars to navigate those roads. It still doesn’t come close to LA’s 405 freeway at rush-hour. The subway was impeccably clean, and some stations have art and replicas of ancient artifacts with historic information on display. I was impressed. The only thing that disappointed me was the city planners’ lack of foresight in handing out permits for what seems like an obsession to build 1970s themed apartment buildings, all with the same lack of character or unique design, street after street, block after block. We still had a good time, and we enjoyed the ruins. Even though we were warned of pick-pocketers, we were never bothered. Once again, I was reminded of how much I enjoy being in a big city.

We visited the Acropolis on our second day here. A stone structure that appears to have erupted out of the ground eons ago, it proudly displays the Parthenon, built as a temple to honor the goddess Athena. Accompanying the Parthenon are other temples to other gods, but the Parthenon is the crown jewel, and in its time it was the largest and most admired of all the temples on and surrounding the Acropolis. At night, we had the good fortune of dining just a short distance away so that we could admire it like an illuminated jewel on display for all to see. Even though it has taken its beatings through the passing of time, from nature’s sometimes violent movement, from thieves looting, from conquerors’ callous maneuvers in war, changes inherent in occupation– through all this, it has remained regal and stunning, still demonstrating the genius of its architects. Experts are still in awe of the way it was built. They have been rebuilding part of it to maintain structural integrity of what remains and to demonstrate, in part, how it looked before its demise. Those new additions, the white marble originally used, can be easily seen in subtle but visible contrast to the ruin itself, which has yellowed with time. They’ve done a remarkable job of filling in the gaps with care and precision. In studying the Parthenon, they discovered that not a single section of the columns (of what remains) matches another section, so reconstruction has required painstaking research. They also found that the shape of the columns, how each one tapers toward the roof, gives the impression of exaggerated height and a feeling of movement to the whole structure. Fascinating. We completed our visit with some quiet time for the kids to ponder what they were seeing and write down their thoughts. In doing so, my husband finally had the chance to fulfill his dream of studying the Acropolis while sitting at the steps of the Parthenon. It was almost like traveling back in time. I couldn’t help but imagine being in the same place 2,000 years ago, wearing a toga and sandals, holding scrolls under an arm, or bringing my offerings for the goddess.

A Brief Respite

A Brief Respite

It’s April and my family and I have decided to stop in the States to visit with friends and family for a while. It’s very strange to go into a store or restaurant without needing to Spanish. We had lunch at a yummy place where the waiter was from Latin America (I didn’t ask where), and I couldn’t help myself, I had to order and chit-chat in Spanish. I suppose this is part of my Language Immersion Maintenance Program. Okay, I’ll go with it.

I’m going to use this few weeks to re-center: cleanse my body, get back into a diet that feels good, not just tastes good, get back into my exercise routine, visit dentists and doctors to make sure we’re all still healthy–a general tune-up. Admittedly, I’ve already been putting off the commencement of this grand plan for optimal health and well-being, so my husband has made me sit down to write and practice yoga. I love him.