Slow down enough . . .

to follow the clouds

drifting by, caressing the

floor of the sky,

 

to hear the gentle

whistle of the breeze

as it reminds to listen,

 

to notice the tide

recede into the womb

of the ocean .

 

Slow down enough

to watch the moving

branches of a tree,

like batons conducting

the symphony of the birds,

 

to contemplate the changing

shadows of the light

imprinting filigree

on the ground,

 

enough to perceive the

different shades of green

that adorn the landscape.

 

Slow down enough

to discover ladybugs

winding playfully

down grass blades,

 

to observe the crow

bravely challenge the hawk

in an open meadow

high above the

reach of the trees,

 

to catch the bugambilia

flowers flutter like butterflies

when they are nudged

by the wind.

 

Slow down enough to track

the snail’s path

as it trails the

sun’s shadow,

 

to distinguish the endless

trills of the Mockingbird

and the warbling

chirp of the Finch.

 

Slow down enough

to feel alive!

 

In Her Dying Process, I Found Peace

As I stepped out of the airplane I smelled a familiar smell of dew and dampness, one which I had smelled before in places like Veracruz and Cuba.  For a moment, I looked back hoping I’d see my grandmother trailing behind in her walker.   My visit to the Philippines was the first time I traveled out of the country without her.  The last time I had smelled tropical humidity was when we had visited Cuba for the second time.  I remember arriving to the Cuban airport, feeling uneasy and uncertain – eyes watching and interrogating us as we walked through the corridors, before reaching the immigration booths.   A wall lined with doors stood between us and Cuba.  We were each escorted to a different door.  I was asked for my passport and stood in long silence as the official probed and prodded at my passport, swiping it several times and staring intently at the computer, which I had no view of.  All a sequence of actions, which heightened my uneasiness and uncertainty.  I was finally told to go through to the other side. As I opened the door, I saw my husband waiting.  I was relieved.  A few minutes later, my daughter came out.  My grandmother took the longest.  Finally I saw a door open with a bit of sound commotion – loud voices, animated voices and laughter.  I instinctly knew that was my grandmother.  She had been entertaining the officials with her traveling stories, and everywhere she went, she made sure people knew I was a teacher at Hoover High School.  She always had a way about her that brought out the best in everyone she came across.  To her there was no distinction between a person of power or authority and someone with a less “powerful” role.  She treated everyone with dignity and respect; pass the roles that identified them, right to their spirit.

I wanted to make sure, during the last months of her life, she was treated with the same dignity she had always treated others.  Though she was dying, it was important she continued to be validated and honored.  That she didn’t just become someone we were taking care of, but that we were standing in solidarity with her.  The process of coming to peaceful terms with her death would be one that would connect us all.  Coming to terms with death did not mean giving up on (her) life; it just meant we stopped fighting death.  By surrounding her with love and family, we attempted to make the process less frightening for her.

My Tia Mary told me that even though part of my Tita was fighting to survive, there was also a part of her that knew she was dying.  One after noon, they were sitting in Tita’s bedroom, and she was gazing outside, toward the backyard.  All of a sudden, she brushed her fingers through her hair with a look of sorrow.  My aunt, her sister, asked, “Que tienes Manita,” as she lovingly called her.  My grandmother sighed deeply and responded, “Siento que se me va la vida, Mary.”  She felt as though life was escaping her.   She spoke of wanting to live a little longer for her family. She had dedicated her whole life to us, and the most difficult part of dying was learning to let us go.

A month prior to Tita’s death, she asked me to take her to the salon so she could get her routine beauty care – manicure, pedicure, and waxing, even though there wasn’t much hair to wax, her tattooed eyebrows ensured she always had perfectly shaped arches.  Even in the midst of battling for her life, she refused to stop living.  Tita was such a diva-fashionista.  She had such a sense of style and a hip look that mirrored her hip attitude.  She had also asked me to dye her hair; in all her eighty-four years, she had never worn it silver.  It was the last “normal” girls-day-out we spent together.

As I was dying her hair, we had a moment where we talked about her cancer and how she felt about all that was happening to her.  She had spent so much of her life caring and nurturing us, she just couldn’t fathom there being anyone else who would fight for us the way she had. During our conversation, there was a pause followed by Tita shaking her head as she gently sobbed.  I asked her if she was crying because she was afraid of dying, but she shook her head and continued sobbing.  Then I asked her if she was concerned about Carmen’s well-being, and I assured her I would always watch over Carmen the way I knew she’d want me to.  But she shook her head again and said, “No, no es eso.”  Then it hit me . . . she was scared to die before she had the opportunity to see Carmen again; she was surrounded by so much family, but Carmen was still finishing up her semester in college.  When I asked if that was why she was crying, her sob became stronger, like a wounded child, and she nodded her head.  It broke my heart. Carmen was not only a gift in my life, she became a symbol of hope and new beginnings for both my Tita and I.  In her, we began to see the liberation we were all waiting for.

CarmenGrad1

Tita Carmen and Carmen, High School Graduation 2010

Two weeks before she passed, she stopped going to her radiation treatments.  It had become a great struggle for her to attend the treatments; each time she went she became more fatigued.  Getting dressed, walking to the car, getting in and out of the car, walking to the medical office, undressing again for the treatment, receiving the treatment, getting dressed again, and making the trek back home had become just too labor-intensive.  And one day, as it was time for her to get ready, she grabbed my hand and softly pleaded, “Ya no mas,” shaking her head with the little energy she had left.  I knew, without radiation, the opportunity for a miracle diminished greatly.  I asked her if she knew what canceling her radiation treatments meant.  She softly responded, “Si.”  We both recognized in silence, it was officially the beginning of the end.  My grandmother was a fighter, she never gave up, but she made that decision because her body could no longer fight.  She got back in bed, and lay down like a vulnerable child, relieved that she would get to rest.

Carmen arrived a week before Tita’s death.  For Carmen the process was much more difficult; she had not been present, as we all had, to assimilate Tita’s journey to dying.  When Carmen left to college at the end of the summer, Tita was a vivacious and colorful woman, and returning to see her in such a declining state was heart-breaking to say the least.  The following is a journal entry in which Carmen describes her coming to terms with Tita’s dying:

My Tita Carmen loved, and I mean, loved food.  If you offered her food, she would take it in a heartbeat.  If you had food left over, she would gladly eat it.  Food was important to her because in many Latino cultures and families, food is what connects us. When I came back home for Thanksgiving break, Tita Carmen was basically gone.  She could no longer move and her speaking ability was almost non-existent.  But to me, one of the most important aspects she had lost was her desire to eat.  Feeling hungry signifies life.  It means that your body wants to keep fighting and living.  My Tita Carmen had practically lost all sense of hunger.  There were only two things she would eat, if that: sopita and banana.  I remember when I fed her, she wasn’t very hungry, so we decided to give her a little bit of banana.  My grandmother had always been the one to take care of us, and now we were taking care of her.  (Tita’s maxillary muscles had started to weaken, so she could no longer fit her dentures in her mouth.  This made it so that we could only feed her soft food.)  With the banana, I had to be careful not to scrape too much onto the spoon, because she couldn’t have too much at once.  I still remember what it felt like. . .feeding my grandma like a baby felt like I was saying goodbye to her.  It was a coming to terms with the fact that she was going to leave us soon. 

IMG_2053

Tita Carmen, caught eating again. . .

Two days prior to my Tita dying, she asked Carmen and I to give her a bath.  “Escojeme una blusa para ponerme,” she requested.  She wanted to get out of her pajamas and dress in her usually fashionable clothes.  Perhaps it made her feel more alive, or perhaps she wanted to feel like herself before she died.  When I pulled out the first blouse, she wrinkled her nose in a protesting gesture and mumbled “No. Esa no.”  Then I pulled out another blouse, and she wasn’t going for that one either.  I thought it was so like my Tita to be lying sick in bed, but still be meticulous about what she wanted to wear!  Finally, at about the fifth blouse, she nodded her head.

That day, Carmen, Tita, and I experienced a beautiful moment in which we found acceptance and closure.  My Tita asked to be given a bath.  By this point, simple tasks like taking a shower were just too arduous.  I remember Carmen and I gently wiping down her body with a wet cloth, trying to record in my memory every mole, every age spot, every vein, and every wrinkle.  It was the greatest honor and sign of respect that Carmen and I could give her for all that she represented in our lives.  It was also a moment my daughter and I would share for the rest of our lives, and perhaps, a moment she would remember when it came time for her to come to terms with my death.  I felt proud of the compassionate and generous woman Carmen was becoming, and humbled that my Tita had played such an essential role in her upbringing.

IMG_2055

Tita Carmen bathing Carmen – 1 month old.

After bathing her, in her deteriorating state, she lifted up her hand, struggling against her weakening body, and pointed toward Carmen.  Then, as if she had weights on her tongue, she asked me with an affirmative tone, “Es mi niña,”  pointing toward her chest. To which I responded, “Si chiquita, es tu niña, tuya.”  She nodded her head in agreement and winked at Carmen, giving her a strenuous smile that radiated with joy.  This moment came full circle to the day I gave birth to Carmen.  Tita told me when Carmen was born, as soon as she was placed in my arms, I looked at her and asked, “Es mía, es mi niña?”   She was so pure, so perfect.  I couldn’t believe I deserved something so beautiful.  What magic existed inside of me, that I could create such beauty?  I imagine that’s what Tita felt in having had the opportunity to be part of shaping Carmen’s life.  In a very perceptive way, Tita knew her spirit would live on in Carmen.  Carmen was (is) our niña.

In witnessing my grandmother’s journey to a physical death, I learned to discern what I needed to let go of and what I needed to hold on to.  Life is about nurturing another being, understanding that how we care for that being, whether it is a plant, a crop, an animal or a person, will determine the significance of our own lives.  Sometimes we are even fortunate enough to nurture a being into life.  Only when we love another being and stand in solidarity with him or her, can we begin to realize and embrace the miracle of life.

I didn’t know at the time, but in caring for my grandmother, I was nurturing her into death.  It wasn’t something that came easily, especially when I had to come to terms with never touching or speaking to her again.  Some deaths, like my brother’s, are tragic and unexpected therefore they cause a lot of grief and suffering before one can come to peace with them.  But there is something very mystical about witnessing the dying process of someone who lived a complete life.  As I watched my grandmother physically fade away, I was able to feel that she was more than her body.  The last few days, when I couldn’t connect to her physically anymore, I felt a different energy, a presence that was unbinding and timeless.  In some aspects, nurturing Tita into death was more profound than nurturing life because I found a deeper connection to spirit.  Death is something we all want to understand, but can’t, so when I came face to face with its mystical essence, it hit me at a soul-level, the way nothing in this world has. I understood then, that spirit is the only lasting reality, and with that understanding, I knew that my Tita would be with me (us) forever.

Beauty in Winter (Tita Carmen)

November 24, 2012 will be 2 years since my grandmother Carmen Elida Prince passed. The following is a meditation by my daughter Carmen Elida Mason that rings true to the impact my grandmother also had on me:

“I learned how to love deeply and fully through my Tita Carmen. I don’t think I fully realized the impact she had on me until she passed away. In fact, I don’t think anyone did. Her energy could move people. She was the type of person who enjoyed watching novelas and occasionally gossiping on the phone. And that’s okay…she didn’t have to be or do anything else. Her love was so strong, that no statistics or theories or revolution could replicate it’s power.”

It was this love that my grandmother radiated, that filled even her difficult journey with cancer with so many blessings.  And it was her love that encouraged me to see all these blessings even in the midst of my grief.

LUNG CANCER  (August 25, 2010)

What the fuck is that!?  Are the words I want to utter after grandma tells me the doctor needs to do a bronchoscopy to diagnose the developmental stage of her cancer.  An abyss of fear, of abandonment emptied my stomach.  Nausea overwhelmed my emotions because I couldn’t handle feeling anything else.  I surrendered myself to that moment because I was no longer in control and I took in all the love I had ever received from my grandmother – I took it in because I was faced with the possibility of loosing her.  All I could say to her, because I know her spirit, was that she would not stop living until the last day of her life – no matter what the outcome.

It wasn’t her physical death that I feared; it was the possibility of her suffering.  So there I was thinking how not to think about it.  I decided to numb myself until the day of her test.

The Day of the Bronchoscopy   (September 3, 2010)

In the midst of tragedy, one must continue to recognize the gifts from God – for this is the way in which he answers our prayers.

First Gift from God – Stephan:   A warm dispositioned lab technician with a cute French accent in English and Spanish, gently and nurturing, sat right next to Grandma and held her hand as he introduced himself and gave her an initial explanation of the process.  I saw in his eyes that he was fulfilling his purpose in life, and cared deeply for the service he gave.

Second Gift from God:  How fortunate my grandmother is to have health insurance, so that she is able to receive the necessary medical attention as her material body transitions to its season of Fall.  How many people endure ailments and painful physical conditions without dreaming of the possibility of a dignified healthcare system?  How many die each year of preventable illnesses and diseases?  How many more live with chronic illnesses without the proper care?

That she has health insurance is an accident of birth – geography and economic status.  That we are grateful for the care she is receiving is a gift from God.

Third Gift from God – TOM:  A lab technician, Tom, came to the waiting room to inform me that Grandma was ready to be discharged.  As I walked out of the waiting room and proceeded to the hallway, he inquired if I was Carmen’s daughter or granddaughter.  He then said, “I love your grandmother; she has such a beautiful spirit; I just want to take her home with me.”  He proceeded to describe how well the procedure went and how much everyone had enjoyed my grandmother.

As he helped her out of the wheelchair and into the car, he hugged her and in his broken Spanish whispered in her ear, “Que Dios Te Bendiga.”  Grandma embraced him and he kissed her softly on the cheek.

This is the kind of immediate impact Grandma has on people.  My Gift – I have experienced her beautiful spirit my entire life.

Fourth Gift from God: Temperate Breeze, Blue Sky, Tender Sun, flirtatious leaves on the trees, the color purple.

Visit to Dr. Mercandetti (September 8, 2010)

Fifth Gift from God:  Before this visit, I had already read the pet scan result – with words like MOTASTISIS, MASS, and TUMOR stabbing at my amateur understanding of cancer. But my Grandmother hadn’t.  “Today” was the day she would have to face her truth.  Like jagged glass intertwined in Dr. Mercandetti’s tongue, the cancerous syllables cut through Grandma’s hope.  Dr. Mercandetti patiently drew an anatomical sketch of Grandma’s lung and gently explained the location of the tumor and why she was having trouble breathing.  He assured her that science would do its part to try and save her life, but her will to live and the love of her family would extend her life far beyond any medical expectations.  He personally made the appointment with the oncologist he was referring my Grandmother to, and told us Dr. Stanton would take wonderful care of her.   In the soil of pain and turmoil, compassion and love bloom.

Visit to Dr. Stanton (September 14, 2010)

Sixth Gift from  God: As we walked into the Scripp’s Cancer Center, we were greeted by Sandra’s radiant smile and gleaming honey-almond eyes.  The recessed lighting reflected off her scalp creating a caramel-orange  aura that matched her African patterned dress.  A crystal award that read “Values in Action” sat to the right of her desk with her name etched in silver.  She assured me we would love Dr. Staton. 

Seventh Gift From God: Dr. Stanton – “The treatment of serious illness demands a devotion to science and a commitment to the art of medicine.  One flows from evidence.  The other is grounded in respect for the goals of each patient.” 

One can’t deny when a profound metaphysical connection occurs between beings; an inexplicable bond.  I had expected a compassionate maybe even gentle doctor, but what I experienced was a spiritual interconnectedness in which I could no longer distinguish a physical separation between myself, my grandmother, and Dr. Stanton.   He began by explaining, declaring, his patient care philosophy – one of respect for the patient’s beliefs and culture and one, which gives dignity and honor to the patient throughout the entire process.  He allowed himself to share the same emotional space that both my Grandmother and I shared – experiencing my grandmother’s fear and pain.  The glossiness of his eyes made him human.  He spent the first part of our encounter listening to my grandmother’s story – learning the heart of this woman who would entrust her life to his.  When the time came for me to translate the difficult decisions that lay ahead for Grandmother, with solidarity, he reached for his guitar and began to play music resonant of  “Cantares del Alma” (Songs of the Soul) by the great classical guitarist ,  Carlos Bonilla Chavez.

Occupying the space between life and death (November 18, 2010)

21 Radiation sessions later, tonight, my grandmother has asked me not to take her to radiation anymore.   I asked her if she knew what she was requesting, and she nodded her head quietly, in surrender. She has lost 22 pounds since September 14th when she weighed 162 1bs.  She doesn’t eat or drink much anymore, and she has resigned her body to the limitations of her bed.  Her body is withering, and I desperately am trying to discover the peaceful beauty in this process – learning how to occupy the uncomfortable space between life and death.

Beauty in Winter (November 22, 2012)

After Carmen and I bathed her for the last time, I watched her as she lay in bed.  Her face had lost it’s rounded vivaciousness, her skin was more pale and waxy in appearance, and the veins of her feet and hands were boldly blue.  Even in her journey toward death, she radiated love.

Even as the Cypress trees morph into the shadow

Of fragile pewter limbs

And the frigid air burns the warmth of the moon

I find beauty in your stillness

And peace in your silence

Even as the bitter wind covets the

Indigo summer breeze

And the rosy crimson hues on your flesh

Become opaque and sallow

I find strength in your existence

And resilience in your process

Even as the snow conceals the

Tapestry of your spring

And the ashen sky

Covers heavy

I find contentment in your inevitability

And harmony in your restfulness

Your serene landscape feels me

With love and compassion

Discovering My Power

Today I experienced a deep realization of my power.  I can’t explain to you what happened exactly, but I know that some of the transformational work I did over the summer had a huge influence on my experience today.

As I have begun to heal, I have also begun to root myself in a place of calm, and sometimes my roots can even reach the most peaceful and profound parts of me.   Working with students who are not only disengaged from an oppressive educational system, but also from their lives, can be a very difficult task, especially when I have to serve as a teacher in a classroom of 39 students.

In the past students experiencing such difficult transitions in their lives triggered a sense of powerlessness in me, evoking feelings of anger and painful memories of my own childhood.  Some of my anger came from my own experiences in a failing system.  Other aspects of my anger came from a place of not feeling qualified enough or worse failing at the job that I perceived as my calling.

Last year as I was learning to find my voice from a place of calm rather than from a place of anger, I had a difficult time with my classroom management.  I knew that much of the behaviors and apathy the students were feeling for school had to do with the sense of powerlessness they felt over their learning.   Because of this, I was more tolerant to behaviors that, later I reflected, were infringing upon the right to learn of other students who were trying so desperately to hold on to some sense of control over their education.

This year something definitely changed inside of me.   There are times when I have to use assertive and direct communication with students.  Though I understand where the root of their behavior is coming from, I also cannot allow the classroom to turn into an unsafe and intimidating environment for the other students.   Understanding that the disruption comes from a place of pain allows me to engage the students from a place of love and compassion.

So what actually changed?  Anger no longer has the power.  When I used to engage the students from a place of anger, I use to end my day feeling powerless and at times defeated because I am not my anger.  I am the part of me that loves.  That’s the part of me that feels powerful, even when I’m exhausted at the end of the day.   There are times when I feel a glimpse of anger, and when that happens, I use my breath as the anchor that roots me in my calm.

In Stillness, I Am

 
 

Laying on fields of silence

breathing sun wedges

sweet pea warmth on cheeks

 
 

Moons and stars meditating on

Lakes of glass

wrapped in velvet purple

Internet photograph

 

Crystal droplets of lavender rain

gently cradled

in emerald petals of tarty soil

 

Indigo mountains framing the skies

robust muscular limbs

divinely guarding the earth

Spirit of Oak

Extending arms of compassion

in the knowing

of its oneness

 

Inward quiet

consenting to

heart echoes of conscious

wisdom and spiritual presence

Stillness

to recognize

God

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Photographs taken at Mt. Madonna Center by Maria Cristina Malo

i have arrived

Each step I take is my destination.  I AM here now – not in my past, not in my future, only now.  Whatever my journey is, I believe I am where I am supposed to be.  Everything I have lived has led me to this moment and in accepting this moment, I am whole. This certainly does not mean I will not continue to change and evolve – it just means I love myself for who I am now, not on the condition of who I will become.

Walking meditation teaches me to feel the firmness of the earth. It is the foundation to the strength that is within.  In order to make space for peace in my heart and invite peace into my life, I have to make time for peace – make time for stillness so that I may listen to the whispers of the universe.

My freedom comes from my Being.  I must allow myself to be without judgement or restriction.  In being, I am doing what I was always meant to do.

The less burden I carry, the more I surrender to the wind as it carries me gently with compassion.

Like a tree, I am  rooted to the ground, so that I never forget to come home.  As a bird flies to experience the gift of its freedom, so does it come back to shelter and nurture amongst the trees.

My breath is my anchor for the storm within.  When I observe my breath, everything settles into an ocean of peace and the space for love surrenders to love. My breath takes me within – it brings me home.

My breath cultivates the blooming of my heart.  Our hearts are like a garden that must be tended to daily.  Underneath are seeds we cannot see.  Some seeds sprout into weeds and some bloom into beautiful flowers.  We must ensure we are pulling the weeds and nurturing the soil.  And the blooms will come unexpectedly, like the gift they are.  The work must be done daily or the heart will be entangled with weeds. The night before these flowers bloomed, a Monk had walked by the bare stems.  The next morning his eyes received the gift of these beautiful flowers.

I can choose to see myself as water in a cup separate from the ocean.  Or I can see myself as part of the vast ocean of life.   When I make opportunities to enter into realms of peace, I am creating and widening the space for peace in my heart.   And when I see myself as part of the ocean of peace, I begin to understand the purpose in my being.  My being propels me to a clear vision of what I am suppose to do with my life.

Look around –  this is what life has to offer in its utmost beauty.  It gives its all without asking for anything in return.  Yet we continue to hope that it will get better.  It can’t get better because it’s already perfect.  What we think will make our lives better, really won’t. In this moment exists the greatest capacity for love, for happiness, and for peace.  In this moment exists the greatest opportunity to rejoice.

The universe gives us the sun to warm our fears, the moon to  cool our anxieties, flowers to calm our breath, sky to give us a vision, trees to see the wind, rivers to hear the rocks, and smiles to feel our hearts.  And when we smile, the universe receives our love.

I spent a great portion of my life improving what I do and what I have.  I’ve worked hard to obtain a college degree and fulfilling jobs, improved my skills and talents, purchased things that made my life more comfortable and effective, traveled in the hopes of learning more about the world and myself, and accomplished many goals that would deem my life successful.  Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that I needed to get in touch with a deeper part of myself. I decided to improve who I was (am) rather than what I did or what I had by being more compassionate, caring, loving, and peaceful.  So I began to spend more time Being rather than doing.

 Be still.  Listen.  Listen for the instructions and you will be propelled forward.  When I am still, my vision becomes clear, my courage unwavering, and my determination relentless.  In stillness I no longer have fear of what is to come because I trust that my spirit will guide me to where I need to be.  I am learning to surrender to the silence instead of being in control of the noise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs taken by my daughter Carmen and I at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

The Peace of Your Night

The lingering sweet of

rain on a tree bark

is the scent when

I’m entwined in the peace of

your night

 

Ancient drums call

your heart into rhythmic

palpitations that

soothe and heal,

invite me into the peace of

your night.

 

The easiness of your breath

draws me closer

as I merge into an

extension of you.

 

Our angles complement

each other

blurring the crescents

where your skin begins and mine ends

into hills of honey

 

We love each other through

the conscious

realm of our existence – the part of us

that doesn’t require effort or

commitment

 

The Divine part of us that

just is

 

A Centripetal force created

by the peace of your night

 

For my husband whose gentle and kind spirit has been essential to my healing and to our love.