When the flower revealed herself.

Nowhere better can you understand the precious vulnerability of life than in the desert.

Many cacti flower for just one day. It is magical to be able to see the gift of their bloom knowing how rare it can be.  Some cacti endure 30 years of life in the desert before yielding their first flower, and then, just like that, after one day, she fades. Lucky is he or she who stills long enough to recognize this rare occurrence.

The first time I peered into a flower’s universe, she revealed herself. I discovered life in her most glorious form; took a breath, and finally understood.

Life sets her own pace, we have no control over her. The only thing we can do is embrace her fully, for however long she chooses to bloom.  Let us admire and recognize the full worth of every being that comes into our lives; be in awe of their existence, for like the flower of a cactus, they may be gone before we can recognize the beauty they brought into our lives.

What a painful and beautiful experience it is to observe a spirit transition to its next life, and to feel the intensity of life as it is juxtaposed with death.  For what is life, if not but the beautiful expression that is created from understanding and accepting her impermanence.

In memory of every beautiful being I have had to let go of.

Anza14

AHIMSA – nonviolence in thought and action.

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AHIMSA INSTITUTE 

This is Dr. Sethia, founder of the Ahimsa Center and Institute for teachers. I am eternally thankful to her for planting the seed of nonviolence in my heart; for the grace I have received because of the opportunity she gave me. My whole life had been about violence, and that is the only way I knew to stand up for myself, to protect myself. She inspired me to sing the song of silence, and in its rhythms find peace, truth and a profound connectedness to all that is. When I attended  the Ahimsa Institute, I was a deeply wounded bird, searching for a reason bigger than myself, To Be. A nine year journey of forgiveness, healing and awakening lead me to discovering the greatest love within myself. A love that allows me to see I am everything, and everything is in me.

Nine years ago when I was teaching at Hoover High School, I received an e-mail from my principle around 4:00 pm, just as I was going to head home for the day. You know one of those all staff e-mails forwarded by your principle, so she/he can delete it from his/her inbox and quickly move on to more important matters.

The e-mail read something about an institute where I’d be learning about Gandhi and nonviolence. The words that most caught my attention were, “Nonviolence in thought and action.” There was immediately a call to action from deep within the seat of my soul. That night I sat at my computer to type a statement of purpose that was to be submitted with my application the next day when the application was due. I wrote all night. I found my pain taking over, and each time I attempted to write my statement, I’d end up writing about some of the most painful memories in my life.

Like the time I got in a fist fight with my mother.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to show her that I was stronger than her; hat even though I wasn’t good enough to be loved, I could still stand up for myself.  So in that moment, I raged against all the times she left for months at a time, against all the screams and accusations, against the men that had been in and out of her life, because like me, she was also searching for love. We tossed and tumbled across the living room floor. She was my enemy. I pulled her hair as if I wanted to rip it off of her head and hit her as if to destroy every part of her that had ever hurt me.

Or the time I almost hit my daughter with a broomstick.  She was about 12 and her room, more and more often, looked like it had been shaken, upside down.  It was definitely a point of contention.  Later I’d come to realize that it triggered memories of instability and neglect, reminding me of dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, loads and loads of dirty clothes scattered everywhere, an empty refrigerator, and cockroaches scattered amongst it all. I remember quarreling with my daughter about why she couldn’t just keep her room clean.  Why she couldn’t just take the time to care for and be thankful for what she had. Subconsciously, I was reproaching my mother , “If you love me, you’d take care of me, you’d take care of our home.”  I grabbed the broom that had been propped behind the door all morning as she procrastinated to clean her room.  I saw myself holding the broom over her and she laying on the bed with her arm shielding her face.  I hit her once with the bristles, before putting the broom down and going to my room to cry.  I had always been so careful to not hit her or scream at her, and there I was becoming the very violence I had hoped to never perpetrate on her.

I turned in my application and was given a fellowship to the institute and a chance to transform my life in ways I could have never imagined.

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JAPANESE GARDEN 

When I came to the Ahimsa Institute in 2007, my wounds and pain were stripped raw. Often, during breaks or lunch, I’d slip away and come down to the Japanese garden to cry. I had so much anger, it hurt. The Koi fish were calming. Their slow movements soothed my angry thoughts, their patient proximity to one another comforted my anxiety, and their coloring warmed the parts of me that were void of nurture.

Many of the attributes of the Koi symbolize several lessons and even trials individuals often encounter in life. The Koi fish has a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by its ability to swim against currents and even travel upstream. That’s what the journey of forgiveness, nonviolence and healing I was embarking on felt like. Some of the characteristics associated with the koi include courage, perseverance, and ambition; all characteristics I would need to practice on this arduous path.

Many of the above described symbolic meanings of Koi fish stem from the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate in which a Koi fish swam upstream, through waterfalls and other obstacles to reach the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain was the “Dragon Gate”. The legend says that when the Koi finally reached the top, it became a dragon, one of the most auspicious creatures in Chinese culture.”

This past weekend after a nine-year journey of healing and after a powerful three-day Ahimsa conference on Giving and Forgiving, I visited the Japanese garden once again to cry. I didn’t cry from pain, but from extreme gratitude for the Grace I have received through my experiences with the Ahimsa center. For the grace I received that day in my classroom when I received the application. I came to thank the Koi fish for their support and unconditional love. To thank spirit for its guidance and lessons. I came here to remember, to renew my commitment to healing and non-violence and to set new intentions for the next beautiful stage of my life.

 

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HORSE STABLES 

One last stop before leaving…
When I participated in the  Ahimsa Institute, I stayed on the Cal Poly campus. Every morning I’d get up early enough to walk to the horse stables and commune with the horses. I’d often pick up leaves and the horses would eat them from my hand. At some point, the caretaker there started to expect me, and would give me alfalfa to hand feed the horses.

I visited them once again this past weekend, and I stood in silence while one of the horses ate. At some point, it cam closer to the fence and stood their with me. And that was enough.

My longing to be with the horses every morning came from the deep unconditional love I saw in their eyes. The first time I saw that kind of love in a being’s eyes was in my grandmother, and later I’d come to see it in my daughter. In those horses, I saw the love I’d ultimately come to discover in myself.  A love I’d come to understand connects us all. At some point in my journey, I realized that no matter what I had experienced, the wounds and trauma I carried, or the love I was still searching for, I was whole.

WHOLE                                                                                                                                                           

One day I became conscious enough to ask:

“Who Am I?”

To which a powerful, but at the time,
indistinguishable voice
inside of me responded:

“Everything.”

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F O R G I V E N E S S

Every autumn season, the eucalyptus tree sheds its bark, and the process is highlighted by a wonderful display of color and / or amazing patterns of strips and flakes.

I imagine this is what our bodies look like as we open our hearts in vulnerability and and allow the wounds and bruises to air out.

When the bark is shed, lichens and parasites that are toxic to the tree are also shed. And a smooth, bark appears, until the next autumn season when the tree sheds once again.

We have seasons of growth and we have seasons of letting go. Both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves is part of the process of learning to let go of things that no longer serve us.

Cleansing and grieving are important processes, so our pain does not metastasize as hate. Hate will ultimately destroy us.

 “A sufi holy man was asked what forgiveness is.  He said – it is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.” – Rumi                                                                                                  

The Gratitude I have for Dr. Sethia, her work and commitment to nonviolence, and the opportunity she gave me to transform my life, I can only honor by dedicating to her my life of service and commitment to nonviolence. There are people whom I recognize as having saved my life – Dr. Sethia is one of them.

De Gotita en Gotita

Why getting your dream all at once can feel like too much:

My grandma used to say, “De gotita en gotita se llena el cántaro.” (The pitcher will fill up one drop at a time.)
A dream, working toward it, and obtaining it is a process; each step like a new beautiful stone, exciting to cherish, but also heavy if one has not prepared for the weight and responsibility of carrying it.

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to contribute as a writer and photographer in an organization I have become very passionate for. I am absolutely in love with writing, and in the most recent years, I have have also fallen in love with photography, especially how it compliments my writing. These art outlets for which I have found deep admiration have become creative tools through which I heal, expose social inequity and injustice, and explore community and vision for a new kind of world.

But this invitation scared me. I wasn’t being offered a full time position nor was I turning into a full time writer, though I write an average of 30 hours a week, still and yet, it scared me. You know that “fear of failure,” kind of feeling, or maybe “fear of success,” it came over me, like the night that slowly shades in the edges of the day. I started to obsess:
What if I’m not good enough?
What if they don’t like the next piece I write?
What if my writing isn’t what they expect?
What if I lose my creativity?

You know all the if’s, but’s, and no’s we come up with when we haven’t built up to our moment of greatness. This is part of our imperfection as human beings – not being able to believe and see our greatness all at once. So the shadow helps to filter in the light, like a buffer if you will, that protects us from the fear of our own light. In part, there are many lessons we have to learn to step fully into our gifts, our abilities, our greatness, and power. Along the way, we also have to acquire knowledge, technical aspects we have to learn about our craft.

Each drop prepares us for the next. Each step for the next level of grandeur. We want our dreams, but they also scare us, so each small opportunity is the fertilizer that prepares us to grow and bloom. As we journey through our dream, we become stronger, wiser; we learn to listen to our intuition, to discern how to stay true to our passion and purpose, and to understand which opportunities align with our dream and which distract us from it. And when we reach our dream, if we have gone through this process, we will know how to nurture it, how to be responsible for it, and how to represent it with integrity.

Art by Alex Escalante

art by alex escalante

broken english

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I’ve held on to this poem for quite some time, now. It pierced my soul, made me feel some kind of way when I saw it. Mostly the vast differences between the opportunities I had and the ones my mother had, so starkly highlighted in my ability to manipulate this language of global power, holding a degree in english, and her struggles and frustrations with not being able to express herself in a language as foreign to her tongue as it was to her heart.

She spent a great part of her school years working in the agricultural circuit of California, making it very difficult for her to attend school constantly, leaving her with many gaps in her learning process.

My grandmother never learned to speak or write english, and felt some of the same frustrations of not being able to navigate the basic systems of this country. Though in her later years, learning the fundamental cuss words in english, like you know, “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction. LOL! And she definitely always knew what we were saying in english.

For my mother, the frustration of struggling with the english language meant a lack of opportunities to lift herself and her children out of the poverty she had met as a child. A few years ago, she joined San Diego Reads, a phenomenal volunteer organization that supports adults in improving and refining their literacy skills. For so long she questioned her intelligence , feeling inferior and insecure, and withheld so much of what she had to offer the world. She now works at the pharmacy at SDSU, has been there for 10 years, and continues to find the courage to express herself in a language that once tried to crush her under its angry syllables and hardened consonants.

The privileges and successes. I enjoy, the opportunities I have to live a vibrant and bold life, and the risks and failures I am able to endure, all are upheld by my mother and my grandmother’s (and all the women that came before them) sacrifices, humiliation, oppression, grit, and love. I am because they were. I thrive because they endured. I overcome because they conquered. I stand because they dug deep enough to give me fierce roots.

 

Imperfect, but Alive

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Some days I feel so alive, as if I have glitter running through my veins.  Everything inside me feels electric!  Other days I wake up longing for something and I don’t know what. The longing feels so much bigger than me, so much stronger than me.  It’s a longing that makes me feel lonely and even a bit empty, like a weightless sensation in the pit of my stomach.  But I don’t run away from the longing; instead I try to learn from it and recognize what I need to pay attention to in my life.  Sometimes I feel like a fallen leaf just tumbling along on the street without a destination, and I remind myself to just enjoy the moment, though the sense of loneliness sometimes feels too heavy.

Today, I woke up with a feeling of hopefulness, like little butterflies fluttering in my stomach –  in that small place where sometimes emptiness overwhelms.  I woke up feeling empowered and in control. It’s odd to feel in control of a life that no one really has any control over.  I feel in control even though many of the issues that are part of my life aren’t resolved.  The only way they are resolved is that I have accepted them in my life, and I do what is in my power to deal with them, and the rest, I have to surrender and release.

This morning, I felt incredible joy paying attention to life: the trees waving at me as I drove along, the brush-stroked clouds in the sky, the arms of the sun reaching into my car, the birds like cursors shifting across the sky, and the wind like translucent silk gliding over my face and arms.

I felt this way and noticed these gifts of life even though the world around me seems to be falling apart.  It’s a wonderful reminder that even in the midst of violence, chaos, and uncertainty, we must allow for life to flow through us, unrestrictively; that our wonder and acceptance of the unfiltered energy of life does not have to be eclipsed by the madness of the world.

This is the condition of being that I continue to strive for.   My relationship with life is fulfilling because it is alive, not because it is perfect.

41 and Timeless

I turn 41 today, but for the first time in my life I feel a glimpse of timelessness.  It’s a very unfamiliar feeling, to not feel of any age.  Sometimes I have this strange sensation of being completely detached from my body.   Other times I feel like a visitor who is just passing by.  There is an ancient knowledge of me that my own body cannot grasp.  A knowledge that my mind tries to contain and mold, as if it were a dam waiting to rupture.  A timelessness in which death is irrelevant, where beginning and end fade into each other in an ever-illusive horizon, and where the aging of my body gives way to the expansion of my soul.

I am like water – I never die – I transform, and take the shape of the creeks and valleys I flow through. I am everything and anything all at once.  My thoughts, the stuff that is constructed by my beliefs and perceptions, are limiting.  But when I stand in the experience of my soul, I can feel my infinity.  It is in experiencing the magic of life that I can subtly grasp my eternal self, thought it feels like trying to grab water with my hand.  I have to just experience it, without trying to hold on to it.

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It’s difficult to explain the feeling of timelessness.  It’s like trying to conceive the ocean one drop at a time or measuring the length of the sky.  It’s an odd occurrence to know that I am and I will always be.  This same knowing is what helped me to reconnect with my grandmother after she transitioned from this life.  Though I can’t touch her anymore, I can feel her essence all around me.

I used to be unable to explain moments when I felt immensely overwhelmed for no apparent reason, other than being present in a moment in time, and I’d begin to cry.  Those moments happen very often now.  Sometimes they come when I ‘m watching an elderly person cross the street, other times when I watch the interaction between a mother and her child, even when I’m contemplating a tree.  I’ve come to understand that those moments are moments in which I feel the infinite wholeness of the universe and I experience my connectedness to everything at a very profound and spiritual level.  In those moments, I understand the meaning of God a little more.

Last year on my birthday, the Google doodle was a hummingbird, and I knew that my 40th year would be an extra special one.  I thought about all the spectacular possibilities.  I went to Costa Rica for the summer, I had the courage to walk away from a career that was not fulfilling anymore, I developed and have been teaching a series of personal growth workshops, and I have a vision for the center that these workshops will ultimately develop into. But the most spectacular event that happened to me was the moment I realized I was more than my body, and that part of me will go on eternally, like a hummingbird, boldly taking on the next stage of my journey.  I remember that moment so clearly, because it was the first time I felt bigger than my body, bigger than all that surrounded me. It was as if I was finally breaking out of myself.  I realized that my limited perception of who I am had been my greatest prison.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thought and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  The delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us, to our personal desires and to affections for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of [the universe] in its beauty” -Albert Einstein 

I hope to continue to experience this limitless expansion of my soul.  The journey of our lives is to understand that we are more than the existence of our physicalness.  Far after a flower has completed her cycle of life, her presence continues to exist in the wind once entangled with her aroma, in the hummingbird once lured by her sweetness, in the light that once captured her color, and in the hearts that once witnessed her bold and gentle beauty.  Like a flower, after our physical bodies have withered, our presence will exist through the way in which we chose to interact with the world.  It is up to us if we want to be remembered as an aroma or a stench, as sweetness or bitterness, as colorful or faded, as beautiful or ordinary.  As for me, I will continue to linger through the universe as the sultry, tropical aroma of gardenia.

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What am I worthy of?

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As I welcomed the New Year and thought about all the resolutions that I had committed to in past years, one very important lesson dawned on me: I have learned that New Year resolutions are successful when we heal enough to believe we are worthy and deserving of those resolutions.

For the past couple of years, after leaving a 13 year career, I have been struggling with defining what I want to do next in my life.  For most of my adult life, I have always known what I would do next.  After I graduated from high school, I attended college, then I applied for a teaching job, which lead me to a Master’s program, and so on.  There was always something concrete that I could grasp for, A defined goal with very structured and delineated tasks. There were always two results: I either obtained what I was applying for, or I didn’t.   Now the hardest aspect about my journey is having to navigate through uncertainty; not knowing what the next step looks like, how it will unfold. Not even knowing what the end-result might be, yet trusting my heart to take that next step.

I am familiar with fear – the kind that I grew up with.  Fear of getting in trouble, fear of “bad” people, fear of getting hurt, fear of not having enough food, fear of not finding a place to live, fear of failure.  But the kind of fear I am experiencing now, I have never felt before.

I have a vision that has come to me in pieces through dreams, symbols, and feelings that arise from the deepest part of my essence.  As I’ve started to make sense of the pieces, my vision has become clearer, while the resistance of taking the first step toward fulfilling my vision has become stronger.  Understanding where this resistance is coming from has been the greatest struggle to accepting that I am worthy of my vision.

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We all have a purpose to serve and fulfill in our lives, and that purpose is revealed through our vision. It’s up to us, however, to pay attention to our hearts in order to discover our vision.  Toni Morrison, one of my favorite authors, wrote her first novel at age 39.  She spent a great part of her life searching for the types of stories she was yearning to read, and when she didn’t find them, she realized that it was up to her to write them.  Our vision begins to come to us when what we are yearning for, we cannot find in the world around us.  As my experience and passion for teaching, mentoring, and serving youth increased and I learned to listen to our youth, I began to discover that the systems through which I was serving them would never allow me to provide fully what they deserved. The gap between what I could provide them in the classroom and what they needed was ever-widening, creating a drift between my soul and the role I was fulfilling.  It was then that I began to envision.

I know what I am.  I know who I am. I know how I serve.

Fear of fulfilling my purpose, fear of success, fear of creating, and fear of not having what it takes keeps me from receiving the gifts that my soul is offering me.  My relationship with my soul is about co-creating my life so that I am living it to the fullest and aligning it with my purpose.  However, in order to do this I must get to a place where I truly believe that I am worthy of the gifts, the abundance, my soul has to offer me.  By abundance I am not referring to material wealth, but rather the possibilities and resources that are available to me as I take the first step to commit to doing something good for and with my life. As I become open to receiving, and trusting my soul, my vision will become clearer, unwavering, and most of all, more powerful than my own fear of fulfilling it.  So when I ask myself, “What am I worthy of?”  My response must honestly be, “I am worthy of any blessings or desires that are a manifestation of my inner life.  I must believe this without any shadow of doubt.  Believing is not just the ability to think something is possible; it is to recognize in my soul that it is inevitable.  

 

When I feel worthy and deserving, I know the following: (From Dr. Wayne W. Dyer)

My self-esteem comes from myself.  As the daughter of the universe who comes from the stars, my worthiness is given.

I accept myself without complaint and without conditions.

I take full responsibility for my life and what it is and is not.

I understand the importance of having harmony between my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions.  This harmony translates into peace and contentment.

There is nothing my highest self wants more than peace.  This is the peace that makes me feel worthy of all the richest blessings of the universe.

I am worthy of that which reflects how much I believe I’m worth.  And so each time I am called by my soul to be a greater manifestation of myself, to fulfill a greater purpose in my life, I am also called to the work of believing in my worth.

I remind myself of all that I have overcome and I celebrate my strengths, and make note of how they have contributed to me coming this far.  I often focus so much on my challenges and failures that I forget that those are the platforms from which I forge my strengths and successes.    This allows me to see that I already have everything I need to fulfill my purpose, I just have to remember and trust that I do.

Even when the vision seems so overwhelming, I remind myself of the next practical step.  The vision of a tree begins with the germination of a seed.  As small as that process may seem, it is significant to the fulfillment of the miraculous tree.  Each step is important to my trust in the process and myself.  As I move through each step, I learn what I need for the next. Plus, overcoming the fear of the next step is much more doable than overcoming the fear of my vision.

I pay attention to what I am learning and how I’m growing along the way.  I especially focus on the learning that guides me to be a more authentic version of myself. When learning becomes my accomplishment, then the things I fail at also become part of fulfilling my purpose.  This in turn allows me to release more layers of fear and discover more of who I am and what I have to offer – knowing that we all have a genius to offer the world.

Genius is more than an idea.  Genius is hard work; hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work.  It’s taking risks, making mistakes, starting over, getting lost, discovering, surpassing expectations, finding miracles, and creating new. It’s tedious work and uneventful hours, lots of waiting and uncertainty.  But if it makes me come alive, it is the calling of my soul, and I am worthy of the work.

I sit in silence, attentive to my inner voice.  To the whisper that drowns the loud echoes in my mind that beat like a drum, “you are not good enough.”   I wait for that inner voice, invite it to my awareness because there is where I find God, where I find truth.  Each time, I learn again, I am spirit housed in a physical body, brought to life by the universe to fulfill a divine purpose, for every single being that exists, from the stars to a grain of sand, has a purpose.