The Formidable Power of Intention

I careened into 2020 out of control. That’s how the energy of the new decade felt. I couldn’t focus, didn’t want to write, looked for distractions to keep me too busy to think. There’s a word used by my British friends that seems to fit. Scatty.

I was scatty.

Normally, my actions are intentional. I’m calm, well organized, emotionally stable, disciplined, and self-motivated. I set achievable goals and bask in an overall sense of well-being. In the months leading up to 2020 the person that used to embody those attributes went missing.

I felt like a stranger in my own skin.

I couldn’t put a sentence on paper to save my soul, nor did I want to. All that interested me was getting together with friends. Hikes, lunch dates, meetups for coffee, any excuse to be with people would do. I no longer needed long hours alone to recharge. For the first time in my life, people energized me.

I kept waiting for the phase to pass. I made excuses for myself: I was overstimulated from my trip to the States, out-of-town visitors needed my attention, it was just a bad case of writer’s block. Soon, I thought, the old me would be back and life as I’d known it would resume.

But it didn’t.

One morning, a personality test popped up on my phone. Before I was fully awake I’d engaged. Instead of multiple choice, I was told to identify the pictures that most closely answered each of the questions. I found myself sinking into the situation each image represented, feeling the truth in my body.

When my answers were tallied I viewed the graph in amazement. I’d scored a whopping 92% in extraversion which, the results explained, reflected how energetically I engaged with the outside world.

On the one hand, I felt seen. My unusual behavior was validated. By some twist of nature I’d become an extrovert.

On the other hand, it freaked me out.

Grasping for clues, I searched my journal entries and a pattern emerged. My desire going into 2020 was for honest communication, greater authenticity, and to be fully and unapologetically who I am. I’d been thinking about it, journaling about it, talking about it, and meditating on it. My intentions had been broadcast to the Universe in multiple ways, many times a day.

What I hadn’t done was imagine what that would look like in real life. I hadn’t expected a rewiring of my nervous system, or that I would become a social animal enjoying the company of the pack at least as much if not more than my solitary cave. I’d made assumptions based on old programming not realizing that the authentic me was a different creature entirely.

As I come to terms with my updated self and accept the mildly schizophrenic sensations that have accompanied this transformation, I’m in awe of the formidable power of intention. I’m also aware of how unskillfully I used that power. I imagined a slight tweak to my personality. But the words, to be fully and unapologetically who I am, that I unleashed to the cosmos, were not about tweaking. In essence I used a jackhammer to pound a nail.

I wish I could describe how it feels to be so abruptly and thoroughly changed. Everything I do is a new experience even though I know I’ve done it hundreds of times before. Sometimes I’m surprised by what I say though as soon as I’ve spoken I know it’s my truth. It’s like someone else has incarnated in my body and claimed it for their own yet this alien other is more authentically who I’ve always been.

It’s spooky, thrilling and disturbingly new, and slowly, very slowly, I’m starting to write again.

MUDDLED MIND

Muddling works for mojitos and mint juleps but it isn’t great for the mind. In fact it’s dreadful to feel at loose ends, directionless, lacking purpose. It can drag a person down.

For the past two months I’ve hosted a colony of ants under my skin. You may know the feeling. My body insisted on a constant state of motion, demanding long walks in excruciating 90°F (32°C) heat. I’d come home red-faced, drenched in sweat, ripping off clothes as I bee-lined for the shower.

For years I’ve guarded my solitude. Too much socializing drained me – at least that’s the story I told myself. Now I was the one organizing get-togethers, entertaining out-of-town guests, making any excuse I could conjure to keep myself busy.

Countless times I opened my computer, stared at the novel I’d been writing, and wondered where I’d found all those words. Two minutes, three, squinting, reading a few lines. Then I’d shake my head, hit the power-off button and message a friend or two to meet for lunch.

Distraction was the name of the game and I was winning.

During one of those get-togethers, the topic of vision boards came up. It seems my friends also felt anchorless. We agreed to meet at my house and see if we could muster clarity with the cut-and-paste approach. I found old issues of Vanity Fair and a National Geographic at the Smile Shop – Ubud’s Goodwill-type donation store – and snatched them up. Years ago in the States I had stacks of Architectural Digest, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle, House Beautiful, and Country Living. But not here. Finding six dusty, ripped, moth-eaten magazines was like striking gold.

On the appointed day we gathered at the dining table with paints, pencils, markers, scissors, glue, and the ratty magazines. Pages turned. Nobody spoke. The air hung heavy and still with the intensity of our concentration. I hadn’t a clue what I was hoping to accomplish. But every-now-and-then a picture jumped out at me. Or a word leaped off the page. Soon I was snipping feverishly with a collection growing beside me.

We did well, but after forty-five minutes the silent focus was unsustainable.

“I’m hungry,” I said.

My friends looked up, dazed. “Well, it’s five o’clock somewhere. Let’s go eat.”

We chatted in the back garden of a nearby cafe that happened to have two-for-one happy-hour cocktails. And what luck! My favorite drink of all time was on offer: frozen mojitos. I wasn’t born during the depression but there’s something about two-for-one anything that makes it immoral to have just one. I had two frozen mojitos and a to-die-for roasted-veggie salad.

After whiling away a few more hours at the restaurant, my friends left promising they’d work on their projects at home. I felt the mellowing effect of my drinks but was strangely energized and eager to see if the stack of cut-outs had a common theme. Would a direction emerge? Had my subconscious or a bevy of capricious Bali spirits come out of hiding to help me choose those words and pictures?

I’m not a crafty person. Normally I’d devise any excuse to avoid this kind of activity. But as I arranged the images that same laser-like focus returned. Body, mind, and spirit engaged and I saw myself reflected in pictures and words that validated the very essence of who I am. It didn’t spell out in a sentence, Sherry, do this, yet the message was unmistakable.

You know the feeling when you’re telling someone your deepest truth and they get it? I felt like that looking at my board. A bubble of joy that made me laugh. A sense of relief that I’d worked through the fog and could see the way ahead. And gratitude. Gratitude for friends. Gratitude for the simplicity of a vision board to help gain self-knowledge. And gratitude for this place where energies abound to support the inner journey.

Stressed? Just throw a good old-fashioned tantrum.

Yesterday I woke up cranky. Perhaps a smidge beyond cranky. The usual start-the-day-right rituals, wash face, make coffee, journal, do yoga, meditate made it as far as the journal. By the time I’d written a few sentences trying to get to the source of my dire mood I was so antsy and agitated I couldn’t sit still.

That state is rare for me – like once-every-twenty-years rare – and the usual methods of dealing with small irritations weren’t working.

I got up from my journaling chair and paced. It felt as though the house couldn’t contain all my roiling, boiling energy. I had to escape. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick message to Ketut. Do you have plans today?

The reply was instant. No plans. You have?

I’m stressed. I want wind in my face. I want adventure.

Ok. What time?

Now.

One of the many things I love about the Balinese people is their passion for gossip. We’d barely straddled the motorbike when Ketut said, Why you have stress? I was only too happy to vent my wrath to the back of his helmet, yelling my grievances: drought, heat, politics, monkeys, my friend with cancer. He nodded his understanding while navigating the insane Ubud traffic. When I stopped for breath he asked more questions plumbing for details, anything juicy.

It was during one of those breathing moments that I realized what was happening. I was speaking Indonesian and the vocabulary to describe emotions, frustrations, the craziness I was feeling wasn’t translating well from English. The words I pulled in to communicate my bizarre state of mind changed the story. My rant sounded silly, even to myself. I wondered how Ketut was hearing it. The image of a naughty child in full-on tantrum mode flashed before me and I exploded into laughter.

Ketut’s helmeted head swiveled as he ventured a curious glance over his shoulder.

Ya? You okay? That made me laugh harder. Was I okay?

Okay? I repeated, my heart pumping pure gratitude for this friend. Yes. I’m finished now. No more complaining. Thank you for listening. It’s your turn, Ketut. How do you feel today? Is your family good? Is your garden planted?

I knew what he would say – could have mouthed the words with him: Ya. Good. Same same. There was a pause as landscapes I hadn’t noticed to this point rushed past. I sucked lungs full of clean air and feasted on the glorious greens of paddies and jungle – and waited.

I’ve learned a bit about Ketut over the years. He’s a great listener but given the opportunity he’ll tell me just about anything. I was hopeful. Then, Maybe I borrow cow, he said and the floodgates opened.

We sailed along climbing steadily toward the rice terraces of Sidemen. I sat back, clear-headed, relaxed and content to listen to Ketut’s happy prattle.

From the precipitous roadside I caught glimpses of farms spread like patchwork far below, and Mt. Agung ringed in clouds. Our destination was Warung Uma Anyar, a rooftop cafe perched on the mountain with sweeping vistas of terraces, paddies, and jungled foothills. The memory of that view had prompted my urge to flee Ubud and we were getting close.

An hour-and-a-half after leaving home we pulled off the road. There it was: the chalkboard sign out front, the smiling owner, and the sinful cup of Nescafe with fake cream and processed white sugar that I’d been craving.

Crispy kerupuk, peanuts still hot from the roasting pan, and chemical-laden coffee. Heaven! Ketut took a minute to answer emails and I morphed into a vegetative state of bliss.

Mount Agung in the background almost obscured by clouds

We snacked on peanuts and crisps and basked in the immensity of solitude. Then the food came. I’d ordered vegetable soup picturing something like the canned Campbell’s we used to have growing up and couldn’t have been more pleased when the Warung Uma version arrived.

My delight must have been evident because the man who delivered the colorful dish beamed and told us he’d worked in a big hotel for nine years. It was owned by an American and featured a Thai restaurant. He’d learned to cook everything on their menu. Then bankroot, he said.

The meal proved as tasty as it looked. Ketut and I lingered over it, chatting about the tawon that appeared to be building a nest in the roof. Ketut asked what tawon was in English. Maybe bee? I said. Or hornet? A quick consultation with Google pegged it a wasp. When we couldn’t scrape another morsel off our plates, a young man appeared to clear the table.

Bali people eat 15 minutes, Ketut said. We already eat two hours! But he seemed to approve the slower pace. When I observed he hadn’t ordered his usual Coca Cola and would he like one now, he smiled and nodded. Okay, he said.

While he enjoyed his sugary hit of extra caffeine, I studied the map. Let’s go home a different way. See? I showed him the phone. If we turn here, we can cross over to Sidemen village and take the other road. He asked me to put it on my phone. I plugged in the route and we headed off, waving goodbye to our host and promising to come back soon.

The warung was still in sight when Google sprang into action issuing orders. Right turn one-hundred meters, left turn one point five kilometers. The paved two-lane road narrowed to one lane. Left turn six-hundred meters. The asphalt was old here. Chunks were missing and what remained was potholed and lumpy.

We bumped along. A little farther on even the patchy asphalt disappeared. Then we were climbing again. The single lane became a trail of eroded, rocky gravel. We rounded a switchback. I gasped and grabbed Ketut’s shoulders. The way ahead was a vertical plunge to another sharp turn a long, long way below. My terrified croak, I’ll walk! was swallowed by the crunch of wheels grinding into the gravel. Good view, Ketut said as we started down. I shut my eyes.

By some stroke of fate (or Ketut’s expertise) we made it to the bottom, rounded the hairpin curve intact, and trundled on. The trail now was the width of a motorbike tire, a mere depression in the grass.

And then…

We’d been following Google’s instructions all the way. The map on the phone showed the road leading to a river. We were there. Water rushed wide and brown in front of us. Rice paddies stretched in all directions. But that was all. No more road. No bridge. This isn’t Sidemen village, I said.

Maybe Google not understand Bali, Ketut answered.

Definitely doesn’t understand Bali, I agreed.

We stood a few more dazed minutes. Then without a word, Ketut turned the bike around and I climbed back on. The impossible hill wasn’t as bad going up.

It was a magnificent day – the perfect adventure. There was not one single bit of it, not one fraction of a moment that I wish had been different. The wind in my face, the beauty, the terror, the food, the fiasco, and best of all, the friend who listened.

*Note: The ‘tantrum photo’ at the beginning of this post was taken by Sharon Lyon. Thanks, Sharon, for the worst photo anyone has EVER taken of me!

New York, New York to California Dreaming and everything in-between!

The end of my U.S. visit approaches. I’m nursing a Cubano and munching almond biscotti at Soul Grind, a cool coffee shop atop the cliffs at Linda Mar Beach while Dan braves the 7:30 a.m. surf in the fog.

Why anyone would want to risk that cold, wild ocean to catch a wave for five seconds is beyond me. But he’s an early bird and I couldn’t resist the offer to hang out for a few hours in that artisan coffee shop while he matched wits with the Pacific.

But backing up…

I left Bali at 11:00 p.m. on August 29th and touched down in New York City 36 hours later. It’s a brutal flight that leaves me brain dead and thirteen time zones out of sync with my sleep patterns – not a good combo for meeting the high expectations of Hadley Sophia, my 3 ½ year old granddaughter, whose energy could power the whole of New York City, and seeing her new sister, Delaney Mae, for the first time.

For nine wild and wonderful days Joy, Kellen, Hadley and Delaney entertained me at their cabin in Pennsylvania. We watched deer munching in the lawn and eagles soaring over the lake while we contemplated new exterior paint colors for the house and garage.

The serenity of the setting brought balance to their insanely busy lives. Despite the fact that Joy was on maternity leave, she was in the throes of interviewing for a new job. During my stay she accepted an offer from a company headquartered in Paris. I was thrilled to be on hand to experience the beginning of this next chapter for their family.

Whoever gets me fresh off the plane from Bali gets a zombie with a defunct brain. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth.

Jetlag subsided about the time I left New York.

I caught my Sun Country flight to Minnesota at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey where my carry-on was thoroughly searched. The sketchy item turned out to be a bag of coffee beans from Tana Toraja, a mountainous region on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. In my opinion, Torajan coffee is the best in the world and I always try to bring some of those fragrant beans as gifts. I held my breath as the official scanned, sniffed, and swabbed the package. Finally, he allowed it through and I boarded the plane.

The flight to Minneapolis was memorable for two reasons: first, it was distressingly turbulent, and second, I sat beside a fascinating young man who plays flamenco guitar professionally and lives in Spain. He entertained me for three-and-a-half hours. Several times as he was describing the history of the dance he broke into song. Yes, right there on Sun Country Airlines in the midst of lurching, bucking, nausea-inducing turbulence, he sang to me!

My seatmate was also a skilled conversationalist – a rarity these days. In fact we became intimate old friends over those few hours together. Then, in spite of the ‘bumpy air,’ we landed safely. I raced off in one direction to collect my luggage and he disappeared in another. In minutes Jenny, my youngest daughter, pulled up at the curb and the second phase of my U.S. journey began.

She knows me! Our first outing was a nearby Mexican restaurant that featured – you guessed it – Nachos!

They were every bit as delicious as they looked.

Jenny and Kennen’s twins are twenty-two months old now and absolutely irresistible! They just started daycare and Jenny began a new job so this household, too, was in the midst of transition.

Rowan, left, and Remy, right, are identical yet their personalities are solely their own. For several days they burst into tears every time they saw me. But finally I was accepted. After that, if I wanted to solve a problem, Remy was my man on the scene. If in-depth conversation was called for, Rowan was quick to oblige. It’s fascinating how quickly my grandchildren became who they are. It took me sixty years and I’m still working on it!

For this photo the boys must have been sleeping. Jenny and Kennen grab every opportunity to chill out during naps for a few moments of ‘alone together’ time.

When I planned the trip to meet Delaney Mae during Joy’s maternity leave I didn’t know I’d be saying goodbye to Mom at the same time.

She was ninety-one and had been ready to join Dad since his passing three-and-a-half years ago. She’d continued to engage with the community at the assisted living facility where she had her own apartment, but old age regularly took her friends and she was tired of funerals. On August 9th, she died in her sleep.

My sister took care of our mother as she slowly lost the ability to drive, manage her own finances, and a million other details that required Gwen’s assistance. Now as she planned the memorial service, she assigned me only one job. I was to find the urn for Mom’s ashes. It gave me purpose. When I saw the cowrie-shell basket in one of my favorite shops in Ubud, I knew Mom would approve.

Gwen wanted an outdoor service on the banks of the Mississippi at a site about a quarter mile from the riverside home where we grew up. At first it sounded like a lovely idea. But as the date approached, I remembered September weather in Minnesota. It can snow. In my worst imaginings I saw us huddled under the pavilion with icy sleet blowing in our faces.

On the phone with my sister I ventured a tentative question, “Gwen, what’s plan B? I mean in case it storms?” With no hesitation whatsoever, she said, “No plan B. We’re at the river rain or shine.” She paused for a heartbeat then added, “The weather will be perfect.”

I experienced a moment of irritation. September. Minnesota. Outside. No plan B. But as quickly as it came, I let it go. Gwen was the one on the front lines. She was handling everything while I was still in Bali, and all she’d asked of me was to find the urn.

Of course the date came and it was a stellar, perfect Minnesota fall day. Somehow Gwen knew.

It was also one of the most overwhelming days of my life. At Dad’s service, Mom was front-and-center. She was the recipient of all the well-wishes, reminiscences, and tears. This time it was me, the eldest child, and it was wonderful. Old neighbors I hadn’t seen for 40 or 50 years came up to tell me how much they loved my mother. While I was hugging one guest I’d see the next familiar face approaching. Typically I avoid large crowds and prefer intimate gatherings. But that day I channeled my mother. She loved socializing and the bigger the group, the better.

Then it was over. I spent the night with Gwen at her home reading sympathy cards, remembering our shared childhood from our own unique perspectives.

The time in Minnesota evaporated, and once again I found myself on Sun Country, this time headed for California.

The trip south was smooth with no scintillating seatmates, just a quiet young man on my left reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, and a serious young woman on my right with a book entitled Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker. I was sandwiched between them for four hours and thirty minutes with nothing to read, nothing to watch, and nothing to eat on that bare-bones, economy flight. I had only a pad of paper and a pen. So I wrote.

Jessa, my oldest daughter, and her partner Dan, met me at the airport. They also know what I like and a quick stop at El Gran Amigo restaurant produced dinner: take-out nachos! (Plus a burrito, refried beans, guacamole, wine and salsa.)

There are many languages but good food communicates love more clearly than words. When a meal is purposely served because it’s known to be one’s favorite, the heart is nourished along with the body.

Since my arrival, Jessa, Dan, and I have hiked miles of frothy coastline, rested on white sand beaches, marveled at circling hawks, and driven on roads through eucalyptus-scented mountains. We had devilishly decadent ice cream doused with TCHO chocolate in Golden Gate Park after an exceptional dinner purchased from The Breads of India food truck and eaten on a park bench.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos as they’ve introduced me to Linda Mar Beach, Big Beach, Bean Hollow, Maverick Beach, Little Beach, Pescadero Beach, Montara Beach. I know I’ve forgotten some. Each was more breathtaking than the one before it. I’ve been saturated with beauty.

Today there’s down time. A little while ago, I sent Ketut a photo of Jessa and Dan’s patio.

He responded by snapping a picture of my garden in Bali.

Ketut wrote on the photo: Here this morning a little rain only one time.

And suddenly I’m lonesome.

I’m a traveler and a homebody, a mother who is no longer a daughter. I’ve loved seeing family and getting a close-up glimpse into their busy lives. I miss them when we’re apart and I’ve started planning the next visit. But I have a different life on the other side of the world that I can only silence for a while and it’s beginning to whisper me home.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF A PLUTO SOUL

When you have a Pluto soul…

Wait. Back up…

You know you have a Pluto soul when your evolutionary astrologer reveals that tidbit of terrifying information during a birth chart reading. She says it matter-of-factly, then adds, Oh, and by the way, the god of the hell realm also opposes your Venus and resides in your fifth house of sexuality, creativity, and…children.

I had my first reading when I was sixty. It was a telephone session. The person didn’t know anything about me. After an hour of listening with my jaw hanging, the dear woman said, and I quote, “Sherry, if you don’t change the direction of your life now, you’re nailing your coffin shut.”

It was harsh but she got my attention. I took her advice to heart and two years later, when my divorce was final, I retired and moved to Bali. It was as though I’d been bound and gagged my entire life and now the fetters were off. Every day was an adventure. Everything was new. I was in love with life, in love with Indonesia, and a bit more in love with myself than I’d dreamed possible.

I’d lived abroad for three years when, at sixty-five, I had my second reading. It was from this practitioner that I learned how significantly Pluto figured in my chart. With Pluto opposing Venus, she told me, it was almost impossible to have a successful romantic relationship. By that time I’d accumulated a distressing number of failed marriages.

To complicate matters, Pluto sat conjunct my moon. I had to find healthy ways to feed my shadow otherwise it would manifest catastrophe and dysfunction. The dark is so much a part of you, she said with an earnest, concerned look, if you don’t get enough excitement in your life in positive ways, you’ll create your own destructive chaos. Ouch. I won’t even go into how that tendency haunted my past. But nurtured appropriately, she assured me, your shadow is the truth teller. It can be a powerful ally.

I found much of that necessary nurture on the Island of the Gods. Bali, a paradise of sunlight and smiles, knows how to honor the darkness. It isn’t dusted off, polished, and shoved under the rug. Death is on display. Gamelan pounds in frenzied discordant percussion as sweating men carry the tower and bull to the cremation site. Smoke layers over the town while the body burns. On New Year’s Eve, monsters parade the streets enticing evil spirits to enter them. Ritual trance dance, ceremonial cleansing, shaman healers, black magic – they’re all just business-as-usual here – Pluto soul-food. Perfect for me. And the perfect place to write.

I noticed, however, that Pluto didn’t fully appreciate the need for quiet in my writing life. It’s a silent, solitary business and I spend many hours inside my head with imaginary characters of my own devising. This morning, try as I might I couldn’t focus. Lead-gray clouds poured rain. So I burned incense, turned on lights, did yoga and meditated, drank coffee, but restless itchiness persisted. Pluto grumbled. As torrents pelted down, the noise provided a rare opportunity. I scanned YouTube, hooked up my sound booster, and blasted, really blasted, music.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Pluto seemed to say. I followed up with Leonard Cohen: “You Want it Darker,” “The Traitor,” “The Waltz.” So I waltzed, spinning through the house, one two three, one two three, one two three, whirling and dipping and letting go. Cathartic. I feasted on sound for three solid hours and sated my Plutonian appetite.

Evolutionary astrologers don’t mess around. When my second reading was finished I was stunned. How could she know me so well? She told me things about myself that hadn’t been clear, even to me, until she spoke them. I felt affirmed, seen and understood.

Beyond that, she showed me what still hung on from my karmic past, the snares that continued to trip me up, the tendencies that seemed to repeat in a never-ending loop. And she gave direction for the way ahead, the path of evolution to my highest, happiest, most fulfilled self.

Only evolutionary astrology accomplishes that. Many say it’s better than years of therapy. I wouldn’t know. But I do know the information I received in those two readings gave me the motivation and the awareness necessary to change my life.

Reptilian Brain – Lizard Love

I’ve owned dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets. There was a cute white bunny one Easter. We named her Snowball. She grew to the size of a two-year-old and was just as needy.

I live blissfully alone. My pet-owning days left with the kids.

Almost.

The cicak is a common house lizard prevalent in tropical regions. They come out when I turn on the lights and slurp up any flying or creeping thing that crosses their path. We have an agreement: they occupy the wall and ceiling, I stay on the floor. It’s worked.

One night about a year ago I was hammering out an article intent upon finishing before bed. Lights were on, cicaks were feasting. Then the edge of my computer moved. For a split second the adrenaline rush, the accelerated heartbeat, the panic. A cicak, the tiniest I’d ever seen, crept into sight. He was no more than an inch from nose to tail. I watched him poke around for a bit. Then he disappeared and I went back to work.

Several minutes passed and I’d forgotten about him when something tickled my hand.

“No!” I said as the youngster proceeded to make his way up my arm. “No, no, no! This is NOT okay. Where’s your mother?”

He stopped and looked up at me, his round eyes shining pure lizard love.

On the terrace, I directed him to the floor, closed the door with him outside and went back to writing.

Tickle, tickle. It had been less than five minutes. He was crawling up my leg.

“Listen, Junior. This is creepy. Your reptilian brain isn’t capable of attachment and I’m not your mother.”

This time I went farther afield to abandon him. When I returned I shut down the computer and began my bedtime ritual. He found me.

Totally weirded-out, I hurried to the far edge of the garden and deposited him on a rock. In no uncertain terms, I told him we were finished. All night I kept waking up thinking he was crawling on my neck, my face. But he wasn’t. He was gone.

The other morning as I lay on my back in Shivasana, I noticed a teenaged cicak watching me from the rafters. How long had he been there? Motionless, he kept his vigil until I’d rolled up my mat. The next day he was there again. For three weeks I watched him watching me. “Coincidence,” I told myself. “He just happens to sit up there at this time of the morning. Or maybe he likes the music.” Shamanic Dream by Anugama, calming, meditative, and rhythmic is my go-to for yoga. 

Our ritual continued. He was always there.

Then one afternoon in broad daylight – tickle, tickle. Teenage yoga buddy was making his way up my leg. “He’s lost,” I thought. “As soon as I stand up he’ll scamper away.” I stood. He clung. I stamped. He clung. I walk-ran to the garden. He clung. “I don’t do pets,” I told him. “I don’t do reptiles. Your brain cannot form attachments. Neither can mine. Don’t come back!”

He didn’t.

Whatever strange bonding instinct was at work there, I want no part of it. I’m committed to humans – they’re hard enough.

Small House Magic


How much do I really need?

That was the question I asked myself as the calendar left 2010 and I turned sixty-one. My life wasn’t working. The numbers I scrawled in my journal every morning didn’t add up to an early retirement – more like no retirement – ever. Too many bills. Too much debt. Too little IRA.

As blizzards stormed through that January, the thought of another winter in Minnesota gave me cold sweats. It wasn’t just the sixteen-hour arctic darkness, or icey steets, or no parking so the plow could get through that I dreaded. Or snow snow and more snow, or shoveling off the roof, the driveway, the sidewalk, or frozen pipes, broken pipes, ankle-length down coat over layers of fleece, socks, boots, hats, mittens, heating bills, aching joints. It was all that and more that made it unbearable.

And…I…was…over…it.

So when the numbers didn’t add up to the right answer, I tried a different question. How much do I really need? That sentence hounded me. The truth stared me in the face. I needed very little and had way too much. The weight of my belongings crushed me. I was imprisoned by abundance.

I’m a Capricorn – a goat-like being with stubborn drive and dogged persistence toward a goal – the top of the mountain will do. Without that vision it’s a slippery slide into grumpy discontent. I was teetering perilously close to the pit. But one thing was clear: I had to purge possessions.

Was it easy to let go of prized belongings? Not the Ralph Lauren farmhouse table. I knew if I could part with that I could part with anything. So I took photos and put it on Craigslist. It sold within hours. I whirled and whooped in the space where it had been and paid off two-thirds of my credit card debt. I couldn’t get rid of the remaining treasures fast enough. By winter of 2011 everything I owned fit into three plastic bins and a suitcase.

Debt-free from sales of all the unnecessary excess I could afford to dream. Without the responsibility of stuff I could go anywhere. I’d vacationed in Bali several years earlier. As I journaled through that December, visions of terraced rice paddies and swaying palms floated through my mind. Could I retire early and move there? My 62nd birthday was a month away. On March 1, 2012, a week before the first Social Security check came, my plane touched down on the Island of the Gods.

I took some risks those first years – used every dime of savings to lease a parcel of land in the center of Ubud and renovate the old house that sat on it. I knew nothing about building in Bali but I drafted plans for a major overhal and the patient crew told me I’d drawn walls too high to sustain earthquakes. They would build them for me if I wanted, but just FYI. Back to the drawing board…literally! Finished, my new apartment was a hair shy of 500 sq. ft. and it was perfect.

There’s magic in small spaces. Since upkeep is minimal, I have time and energy to do all the things I love. I possess only items I want to look at because there’s no place to store anything else. I get fresh produce daily because my small fridge will accommodate only one day’s fruits and veggies. I eat simple meals because I don’t own a microwave or an oven. I save money because it’s less expensive to care for 500 sq. ft. than it is to maintain a mini-mansion.

That leap into the unknown has changed me. How could it not? I no longer have to cope with winter. I love my tiny house, my giant view, and the wild freedom to live life full throttle. But to get here…

I had to take that leap.

The custom teak table and chairs do dual duty: desk and dining. Behind the carved door is my only closet…gulp!
The kitchen is compact and functional. I love the hand-carved apron and the hand-woven under-counter storage baskets.
The dorm-size refrigerator tucks under the counter. The only other appliances are a blender and yogurt maker.
During the day the doors slide open to give the breezes and butterflies free access.
The daybed (original paint) was buried under logs and branches in the corner of Ketut’s family’s woodcarving shed. His father made it years ago for his growing family. I’d been looking all over Bali for exactly that! It’s my sofa.
The queen-size bed faces east. I love waking up at 6:30 to the sunrise!
Sometimes the first thing I do when I open my eyes is grab my camera.
I’m standing in the shower to take this photo of my sweet 4′ x 6′ bathroom.
The shower occupies the far end.
The ceiling peaks at 20 feet and lends volume and beauty to the simple room.
And my view over Ubud’s rooftops…to die for!

Self-Discovery – I’m Old


I woke up one morning twenty-nine years ago to an identity trauma – who was that middle-aged woman staring at me from my mirror?

The strangest part of the mid-life crisis is that it doesn’t creep up bit-by-bit allowing itself to be integrated gently. No. It slams, shocks, knocks upside the head with a stunning force that shouts: You’re old.

Until that morning I felt vibrant and sexy, very much alive. I hadn’t given aging a passing thought. That stymies me even now. How could I not have seen it coming? Proof of the process is everywhere – parents age, siblings age, movie stars age – my own children were aging. I had to have known that I wouldn’t escape the inevitable. Yet the shock of it flattened me.

Today a similar jolt brought me up short. It was a thought that loomed at the edge of other thoughts. It had dark borders and felt ominous so I ignored it as long as I could. When it saw it’s chance, it sprang and the impact of its message pierced me with slivers of dread.

Questions swirled. At what point will I no longer be taken seriously? When will my opinion be brushed over, my suggestions ignored, my point of view deemed irrelevant simply because others assume I’ve exceeded my use-by date?

I’m not talking about dementia or Alzheimers. People with those afflictions often lose their ability to think logically or communicate well. My concern is ageism – the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of age alone. It hadn’t concerned me before. But as the idea wormed into my headspace today it felt just like that morning twenty-nine years ago when I saw myself for the first time at the far end of youth.

It has me thinking about how much I appreciate my deductive reasoning abilities. I enjoy having my words respected and my advice sought. I relish intelligent commentary, debate, and the rare witty comeback that I pull out of somewhere! I don’t want to be marginalized and set to boil dry on the back burner. Death would be preferable.

Why isn’t there an outcry against ageism in the media like there is for racism and sexism and gender bias? Why is discrimination on the basis of age accepted as normal? Possibly because it’s so commonplace. It’s such an automatic response that we’re unaware we’re doing it. I’m guilty. I’ve discounted the abilities of the elderly based solely on their white heads, but never again.

The realization has dawned that this kind of stereotyping could become my personal reality. That’s terrifying. Fortunately for me, I live in Bali where the culture honors oldies. If I hang exclusively with my Balinese friends I’m safe!

Seriously though, it’s time to rally. Babyboomers are 60 million strong. If we join forces and speak out against ageism, I guarantee we’ll be heard – white hair and all.

The Importance of Mistakes

picture from: https://id.pinterest.com/vexyvee/pins/
Don’t let remorse trap you in a non-life.

My daughter came home fired up from a company training session. She thought the concept that mistakes would no longer be referred to as mistakes was brilliant. In that progressive industry errors in judgment were labeled opportunities. I remember at the time thinking, Why not call a spade a spade? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.

I was wrong.

At the time I labored under clouds of guilt because of my own mistakes. My definition agreed with the Cambridge Dictionary: an action, decision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result. I’d accumulated a significant number of those unwanted results and anything that smelled like avoidance of responsibility for my errors in judgment annoyed me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how things like that can hang around to haunt you? In fact, that word, opportunity, wouldn’t let go. One day it hovered in my consciousness bugging me until I finally checked the definition.

Opportunity: A favorable juncture of circumstances.

I ran through a few mental equations:

If mistake = opportunity

And opportunity = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Then mistake = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Really?

The answer is yes and no. It’s what we believe about our mistakes that either imprisons us in guilt and shame or catalyzes our personal evolution. If we try to avoid the pain of our misjudgments or wallow in the messy consequences of them, we limit our ability to progress into a deeper relationship with our own life.

But what if we saw every mistake as a favorable juncture of circumstances? The possibilities of that blew my mind! What a viewpoint shift, right? That change in perspective would empower us to forge ahead, to look for opportunities for self-discovery and growth in the midst of the fallout of an error in judgment.

Sometimes our mistakes hurt others.

That fact cannot be remedied or undone for anyone else. What’s left for us, personally, are the stories we tell ourselves — our response to whatever repercussions have been generated. We can be destroyed, damaged for life, or we can move forward toward healing. There are lessons we would never learn without those events. Often the greatest opportunities for growth are brought about by our most grievous mistakes. Revelations come as we allow the pain, admit culpability for the part we played in the debacle, and move through it into greater awareness of our weaknesses and tendencies.

It can be terrifying to take a close look at the past and risk being flooded with unresolved grief. But until we do, we’re more handicapped than someone on crutches. We’ll never be able to fully express who we are when a portion of the self is kept hidden.

Changing how we perceive mistakes isn’t as simple as telling ourselves that the hairy monster living in our psyche is a wonderful growth opportunity. Depending upon the degree of trauma and fear, we have to find a level of safety that makes it possible to begin our mental shift.

There are several approaches.

1) Therapy is one of them. I personally found the expertise of a Somatic Experiencing therapist incredibly helpful in dealing with my guilt, shame, and self-blame. But everyone is different — find what works for you.

2) Telling a trusted friend or family member — with extra emphasis on trusted — who will listen without judgment to what happened, what you fear, how you want to move forward can be first a step toward liberation.

3) Write it. I cannot emphasize enough the insights to be gained by writing the whole story as you remember it. Memory is tricky. As you describe what happened you may find yourself asking, “Was that really how it was?” As you write, ask why questions. Why did I do this? Why did I think that? Why did I say what I did? Keep asking those questions until you get to the real answers which may not be the story you’ve always told yourself.

Then let it go?

Maybe not. The truth is, we can’t. Trauma remains embedded in cell memory. But how we choose to think about those life challenges has the potential to change everything. What we can let go is our attachment to shame, guilt, and self-blame. When we do, relief is enormous and liberating. The best parts of self are free to come out to play. And the depth of soul we can summon to meet others in their own dark places multiplies exponentially.

Before I understood the importance of my mistakes
SAD – HAUTED – STUCK
After I explored the opportunities surrounding my errors in judgment
FREE

Creating A Life that Fits Like Skin – Seven Years Later

 

Creating a Life That Fits Like Skin was the title of the first blog I posted when I moved to Bali. I knew I’d found my place, my people, my authentic self, and I thought I knew why.

The island nurtured me. The natural beauty of tropical rainforests, rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, and cloud-shrouded mountaintops offered ever-changing vistas. Exotic temples and terraced rice paddies awed me.

People were kind, welcoming, generous, and devoted to their Hindu rituals. They were other-focused – as non-narcissistic a group as could possibly be – devoted to the common good. They respected themselves and others and went about life with quiet dignity.

Those were my surface perceptions. They were all true and fed my starved soul. But there was another energy, something deeper, hidden, that hummed in me and came alive when I heard the metallic frenzy of a gamelan orchestra, saw a cremation pyre shooting flames and black smoke skyward, and I prickled with gooseflesh when the ogoh-ogoh monsters paraded the dark streets on Nyepi Eve.

I had much to learn about my Pluto heart.

In the holy springs of Tirta Empul, thirty minutes outside of Ubud, there are twelve gushing fountains to cleanse the body. Past another wall are four more for purifying the mind.

The water was chilly and fish nibbling at my legs distracted me. When I reached the fourth cascading fountain and ducked into it, Bali spoke: “If you dare to truly know me, you must accept the darkness with the light.” It was as though I’d been zapped by lasers. My eyes sprung tears, my body trembled, but my heart knew. This was the missing piece, not just in Bali, but the thing that had gone so terribly awry with my life.

The Balinese have a foot in both worlds, the seen, and the unseen. Their rituals strive to maintain a balance between the two realities knowing that both have their place, that neither is inherently good nor bad. Ancient texts written on strips of preserved palm leaf, instruct those who can read them in astrology, myth, medicine, and magic, both black and white.

Lontar

Darkness is paraded in the streets as though to say, “Look, everyone! These are the symbols. They represent what we cannot see. Look!” Offerings are piled in towering stacks and people gather in dance, trance, and prayer. 

The Midwest, mainstream, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant box I was raised in had no room for deviant behavior. Even Catholics were looked upon somewhat askance. For those of us who need the Plutonian connection with the underworld, there were few options. Some turned to opiates and alcohol to brush elbows with darkness. Others, like me, looked for it in marriage and found it in divorce.

It’s taken time to understand the message of that holy spring.

I didn’t know how to care for that other side of me. I created a facade for the person I thought I should be and played the role, denying self and watching my life disintegrate. This quote by C. JoyBell C. says it well: “The caterpillar does not become a butterfly by telling everybody it has wings. It actually buries itself in darkness and grows those wings.” 

The Balinese know that darkness comes out sideways causing great harm if left to fester unattended. Shamanic rituals offer an outlet for dark energies and are essential to everyday life. On this island of mystery and magic, I’m free to embrace the shady underbelly that makes me who I am. The shadow deserves to live openly, to dance with darkness and claim its place. When all has been said the truth will out: without darkness light has no significance.

 

 

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