The God of Magic, Serendipity and Coincidence

September 19

“Do you know how much God loves you?”

Spencer has asked me this question more than once. As it is rhetorical, he is not expecting an answer. But I reply anyway.

“I believe in a God of magic and serendipity. Of coincidence. The master quilter pulling together disparate pieces and weaving something gorgeous,” I explain. “I don’t believe in a God who can love me.”

Spencer suggests I try leading with my heart instead of my head.

A few days later, I mention this to my meditation teacher, Paul.

“Oh she does love you,” Paul replies … continuing on to tell me, in the most loving way imaginable, that I have a habit of “getting in my own way.”

This is not news.

When I ask him what I can do about it, his answer is simple. Consistent. The same answer he has given me for nearly 15 years — the amount of time I have known him.

Meditate. Twice a day.

For a long time, I have sat only in the mornings.

“Try twice,” he says, reminding me that meditation is “plugging in to the source.”

I offer up a few reasons why I cannot, but they fall flat.

“Just do it.”

So I do.

I sit. I close my eyes. And very gently, I begin to say the mantra. Pleasurable, physical sensations wash over me in waves — as they often do when I meditate.

Twenty minutes pass quickly and I open my eyes refreshed, recommitted and wondering why I haven’t been doing this all along.

Less than an hour later I receive a donation to my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.” It is more than generous. A game changer. The donor asks to remain anonymous, listing the funds as coming from “The Kind and Generous Universe.” Because really, they do …

Is this the God of magic and serendipity and coincidence? Perhaps. Regardless, I’ve been meditating twice daily ever since …

I’m still $307 away from my fundraising goal. My campaign ends in 16 days — when I leave for Girona, to attend a writers retreat with the intention of manifesting blog into book deal, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

Want to know more about”They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — How 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and landed me smack in the center of my own life. A post-divorce narrative offering the option of a happy ending, no partner required — and how to support it? Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/awanderingjewess

You can also support my work by liking my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lesleypearl.awanderingjewess/ or sharing this message.

(Photo: With Spencer my last night in Madrid. It is magic and serendipity that we met!)

With Love, The Universe

More words of thanks for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a  happily-ever-after, after divorce story, sans romance –and my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.


20 July

Last night I had the privilege of reading my work at Nikki Nigl’s AboutWomen in Chicago.

“I began having experiences instead of talking about them.”

I never know what words will resonate with an audience. This time it was clear, as this quote was posted on Facebook later in the evening.

I’ve talked about publishing a book for a long time. Now I’m ready to have the experience of it. Many thanks to Dana Harmon for her generous contribution, which brings me one step closer … (to) my dream of turning my experiences — my weekly Artist Dates, chronicled at http://www.awanderingjewess.com — into a book about the possibilities of happily going it alone after divorce.

(With Nikki, at AboutWomen.)

me and nikki about women


23 July

I forget that the universe is busy working on my behalf, even when I’m not working. In fact, sometimes it does its best work when I am at rest …

I was reminded of this truth this afternoon when I (uncharacteristically) sprawled out on the couch, listening to an interview about creativity with writer Elizabeth Gilbert.

I dozed off for about 20 minutes. When I awoke, I was met by a notification of a donation from my dear friend, Nikki Nigl.

Nikki packed 90 percent of my life into two suitcases and two carry-ons nearly one year ago, thus preparing me for my move to Madrid. She picked me up at O’Hare when I returned home 15 days ago. In between, she sent packages with what I couldn’t easily buy in Spain (travel-size toothpaste, Weight Watchers journals) and notes of inspiration. I’m fond of saying “Everyone needs a Nikki Nigl in their life.”

Many thanks Nikki for all that you do … and for taking my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign past the $1,250 mark. The retreat — where I will meet with literary and film professionals to transform my blog into a book — is now half funded. My goal is to have it completely funded ($2,500) when I send the manuscript to my retreat mentor on September 1.

(Notes from Nikki. I “found” these in the pockets of my winter coat … which she sent to me in Madrid.)

notes from nikki


25 July

I learned to meditate more than 14 years ago . I brought flowers and fruit as an offering for receiving my mantra. And I remember asking my friend and teacher, Paul Brown, how it was he “made a living” as a meditation teacher.

“I don’t know, honey bunny,” he said. “I just do. Money comes to me.”

It sounded ridiculous at the time. It was a hard idea to wrap my head around. Sometimes it still is. And yet, I find it is true in my life too … as evidenced by the success of my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign and Paul’s recent contribution to it. Muchas, muchas gracias a mi amigo y mi profesor.

I believe we attract abundance to us when we do our soul’s work. For me, that work is telling my story — of how I found a happy ending after divorce … even without “getting the guy.” I didn’t see many models for this when my marriage ended … so when romance eluded me I had to forge my own path. Little did I know it would be such a rich and satisfying one. One that would lead me back to myself. The self I had lost along the way without even knowing it.

(Paul and I in Golden Gate Park … post mediation glow.)

me and paul brown


Want to know more about “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul after divorce and landed me smack in the middle of my own life — or how to contribute to my Go Fund Me campaign? Click here.

 

Everything I Didn’t Write — July and August 2015

I love words.

This should hardly be a surprise as I call myself a writer. Used to make a living as one. As the words “Left” and “Write” are tattooed on my wrists.

And yet, since leaving the United States on July 28 with a one-way ticket to Spain, I’ve written little.

Little about what it is to live in a country where I hardly speak the language. Little about the heartbreak of leaving a deep and unexpected love. Little about the humbling that accompanies beginning yet another career at the age of 45. And little about what it is to turn 46 in this place I now call home.

I’ve written little about my private victories. About being asked for directions and being able to give them – albeit in English. About when Spanish words tumble out of my mouth without my thinking – simple phrases like, “Para llevar for ella, para aqui para mi” – and having them understood. About getting paid in euros. Jumping through hoops of securing a Spanish ID card. And fulfilling a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember – to live overseas.  A dream so faint, so distant, so seemingly unattainable that I forget it was my dream and that I am actually doing it.

I’ve written little about my work teaching English, about my friendships with fellow wanderers and about my travels since arriving. Except on Facebook, where I have posted short, pithy, true-in-the-moment whispers of my life in Madrid, and many, many photographs.

What follows is a chronicle of my first 30-plus days here in Madrid – as they appeared on Facebook.

July 30

I have a Spanish phone number. (Message me and I will give it to you.) Most challenging interaction I’ve had so far, but I got it done. People are amazingly kind and helpful — like Jose, another customer at the post office who offered to help translate. (I will be going back tomorrow to get a box to receive “real mail” now that I can provide a local number.) He said my Spanish is good. I do not agree, but I think I am maneuvering well having been here less than 36 hours. Off shortly to an intercambio at J+J Books to meet Facebook friend Robert. Thanks for the connection, Jessica.

July 31

Third time IS the charm. Third day at the post office. Finally had everything in order to get a box. Here are the keys!

I wanted to take a photograph of the women who greeted me there these three days in a row, who were so patient and who were able to finally hook me up. They couldn’t imagine why. “Ayuda me.” (I meant to say “You helped me”…I was close, and they understood.) “It is my job,” replied one, in English. “It is my job.” Amazing.

2015-07-31 18.16.39

August 3

First day of school.

August 4

How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO

nikki and melissa

August 4

(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)

“Hmmm.

We can skip the wine.”

dirk meme

August 5

It begins to feel like home when I run into people I know on the street. I remember when it happened in San Francisco and Chicago. Now Madrid.

August 9

Falling head over heels over head for this city.

Magical skies. The energy of its people spilling into the streets after dark. A surprise misting by the evening sprinklers in Retiro Park.

Lunches with new friends — yesterday at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, today on Plaza de la Independencia — running into others on the streets.

Hard to believe I arrived less than two weeks ago. I feel so present, so here…

August 15

Officially overwhelmed…

August 16

Sunday morning in Retiro Park. Why yes, I should be doing homework. But first — sun, stillness and a shot at serenity. Refueling following a Saturday of letting go…and filling up for the week ahead.

2015-08-16 11.44.56

August 17

Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.

August 25

Woo hoo!! Student of the week. Not bad for the oldest student in the class…

Tomorrow is the BIG grammar and phonics exam, as well as my final observed teaching. All good juju welcomed.

The past four weeks have been humbling, exhilarating and, at times, overwhelming. In the home stretch…looking forward to what comes next.

August 28

DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.

2015-08-28 15.49.15

August 29

I am walking to pick up the keys to my new apartment. At the corner of my street and Calle Mayor I see this banner. I look at the door and know it like I know my name. Every hair on my body stands up and I begin to weep.

My first night in Madrid, 16 years ago with my then husband …our waiter speaks perfect English. I ask him about it and he tells me he learned it on a kibbutz in Israel. I mention I’m Jewish and that my grandmother did not like visiting Spain because there weren’t any Jews here. After dinner, he sends me across the street … to where I am standing now, to this place with the beautiful doors.

How is it I am living here 16 years later…literally here? With the Jews? With the vintage camera shop? The bookstore? And the bakery? With a landlord and roommate named Maite, a former UN translator just five years my mother’s senior … in an apartment with an unheard of eat-in kitchen, a balcony overlooking a plaza, a piano, and lots and lots of original art. A home I didn’t even have to look for it…it literally came to me. (Thanks Kylie.)

I’m not quite sure what to think … Moving is hard. And it is magic. And I am definitely, definitely supposed to be here.

2015-08-29 11.49.32

August 29

(In response to Facebook memory “On This Day…”)

On this day in 2012, moving back to Chicago. With John and Karin on the exact same day one year prior.moving from Chicago to Seattle. Today I picked up the keys to my new digs here in Madrid. Something about August 29 and big movement in my life. Only thing missing is John and Karin…

August 30

Home. Fully unpacked for the first time in more than a month. (Including Ganesh. Thank you, Clover. And a hand-spun wool bowl made by Deb.) Also for the first time, I moved in a cab. Two suitcases. Two backpacks. A couple of shopping bags. Many thanks to Nikki who packed me the first time. (This time was easier but not nearly as much fun.) And to Jennifer who helped get me from Salamanca to Opera. As I write this, I am reminded that I don’t do any of this alone.

2015-08-30 13.11.12

Nose-ing What Is Right For Me

2015-04-27 09.30.23
The last page of the wedding ceremony…

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook, asking what she should do with her many years of journals in the course of a move.

I’d been wondering the same thing as I am moving to Madrid later this summer. My plan is to board the plane on July 28 with a one-way ticket, a one-year visa and two suitcases — but no journals.

“Burn them,” my friend Scotty wrote in response to the original question, the answer not intended for me. And yet, it was, as I intuitively knew he was right.

I had been an avid journal-er in my 20s — tucking into bed each night with a notebook and pen and chronicling the events of the day. Sometimes in prose. Occasionally poetry.  Lush, detailed descriptions of the sex I was having. Barely decipherable drunken scrawls, desperate and self-pitying.

I carried them with me for nearly 20 years — from Detroit to San Francisco to Oakland. To Chicago to Seattle and back to Chicago — about a dozen of them, most of them with hard covers.

I stopped journaling not long after my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) moved into my apartment — choosing to tuck in with him rather than a stack of pages and my most intimate thoughts.

I returned to the practice 15 years later, switching the time to first thing out of bed — Morning Pages, as suggested in the book, “The Artist’s Way.”

When I moved back to Chicago in 2012, following my divorce, I began reading my old words  — the ones I had carried with me for so long.  Juicy bits about the photographer who kept a studio above the restaurant where I worked. The aspiring rabbinical student. The actor.

The much, much older man from Detroit who suggested I meet him in Vail — “just as friends.” The lawyer and part-time musician. The doctor I met on a press trip in Germany.

I had forgotten.

It was fun at first, feeling like a voyeur, remembering who I had once been — until I considered contacting one of those men, at which time a friend suggested I take a break from my reading. And I did.

Meanwhile, I continued filling soft-covered notebooks with Morning Pages, stacking them one on top of the other on a shelf in my bedroom closet — until a few weeks ago, when I placed them in a box along with my marriage license and a copy of our wedding ceremony and drove them to Michigan, to the home of my friend Paul, the sometimes reluctant shaman.

That evening, at Paul’s suggestion,  I tore off the covers from my notebooks and ripped pages from their metal spirals. I threw a glossy journal into the wood-burning stove that heats the entire house and watched the resin-covered cardboard catch, shrivel and glow. I tossed in several more, until the oven was filled with ash. Then Paul played John Lennon’s “Starting Over” and we danced, laughing.

In the morning I brought the remaining notebooks, wedding ceremony and marriage license outside to a fire pit Paul had dug. He said a few words, inviting in the spirits, and I again began the process of burning my words — stopping occasionally to read a random page out loud before throwing the notebook into the flames — until the pit was overcome with ashes like the stove the night before.

Nearly two hours later, I wasn’t done. Paul suggested I leave the remaining notebooks with him, promising to burn them at his next sweat lodge. I agreed, and asked that we end the day’by burning my marriage license.

Several people had suggested I might need it one day, but I couldn’t imagine any reason to hold on to it. So I offered a few words of thanks to my ex and once again set him free — something I had done following the completion of our civil divorce, and again following our Jewish divorce.

The legal document crackled and hissed, engulfed in yellow and blue flames.

Since then, my ex and I have had precious little contact. And the relationship that had begun just prior to my trip to Michigan has blossomed.

Paul closed the ceremony by bringing me inside, where we sat in meditation. Then he sang and he drummed, smudged me with sage and handed me a rubber nose in a small plastic container — the kind from a bubble-gum machine that contains a prize, a ring or tattoos — and assured me if I continue to listen to my heart and to my spirit, I will always “nose” what is right for me.

Like knowing when to let go of my stories and how to do it. With fire, with friendship, and with God.

Artist Date 81: I Could Swim In Your Voice. And Drown In My Own.

With storytellers Carmen and James.  Carmen with trophy from the Dollar Store for Best Story of the Night.
With storytellers Carmen and James. Carmen holding Dollar Store trophy for Best Story of the Night.

I am nearly seven years sober and I am sitting in a bar by myself.  On its face, this does not sound like a good thing.  Except that it is a very good thing.

I’m at Story Club – a monthly “live literature” event where three featured performers tell true-life stories, and three audience members, invited up at random – their names pulled from a monkey carved out of a coconut, the words “Have Fun” scrawled onto the base – do the same.   Artist Date 81.

My feet are slick with massage oil and slosh around in my orange peep-toe wedges.  My head throbs, a reminder of the two cysts I had removed from my scalp just this morning.

I take a seat at a table up front, and immediately wonder if I should sit on a stool at the bar instead – where “singles” sit.  Even though I have trouble seeing and hearing and engaging when I am that far from the stage.

I wonder if I should see if I can join another party of one at one of the banquettes against the wall.

I wonder if it is ok to take up this much space – me alone.  It is a question that has haunted me my entire life.

I stay at the table, order a club soda with lime juice, pull out my reading glasses and dive into my book.

I am sitting at a bar alone with a club soda and a book.

At the table to my right, a gaggle of girls talk about San Francisco.  About writing.  And about a secret Facebook group of women writers – 26,000 strong.

I want to tell them I used to live in San Francisco.  That I too have been wooed into the fold of these female wordsmiths.  That they both excite and frighten me.  And that I’m not even sure how I came to know them.  But I say nothing.

My name is pulled from the coconut monkey – the first of the evening.  I climb to the stage, take a breath and begin reading…”The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers.  Like my body.  Like my heart.”

My voice is sing-song-y and gentle.  A heightened version of what I call my massage voice.  It is sweet and loving, lilting and melodic.  It tells you the things you wish your mother had told you.  That you are human.  That you are lovely.  That you are good.

I hear my poetry professor Catherine Kaikowska reading her work – perched on top of a desk.  Her legs crossed, Diet Coke in hand.  Hair wild.  “Deja-rendevous. Deja rende, rendezvous.”  Hypnotic.  I could swim in her voice.

But I would like to drown my own.  I have fallen out of love with it.  My voice.  My story.  Just this moment.  I am bored with it.  All of it.

I have not written about love and pain and loss.  I have not written about sex.  I have written about my connection to my body, to my spirit.  It feels esoteric.  Less familiar.  Less sexy.

I have left out the juicy bits.  The part about tearing off my lapa – my West African dance skirt – and jumping into a pond naked with my crush after the sweat lodge.  The part about him plucking me out of the water – naked – when my strength failed me and I could not pull myself onto the high dock.

I have not written about any of it.  I have not given him a clever moniker and chronicled the story of my heart.  I have held it instead.  Held my heart.  Held my words.  It feels unfamiliar.  Untrue.  It is the story I am used to telling.

But tonight, James and Carmen tell it instead.

James (AKA GPA – Greatest Poet Alive) who has committed to memory the story of Maria breaking his 5th-grade heart when she circled “no” in response to the query in his note – “Will you be my girlfriend?  Yes?  No?”  Not even a maybe.  Not even a spritz of Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel to the paper could sway her.

Carmen who invites us into her bedroom and her psyche at the moment when her friend with benefits asked her to talk dirty to him in Spanish.  Her words are funny and irreverent, honest and sad.  She rolls her Rs and says things like, “Aye, Poppi.”  She feels like a caricature.

They are storytellers.

I fear that I am not.  That I am only a writer.  At least right now.

Carmen – one of the gaggle of girls talking about San Francisco and the secret group of women writers – tells me otherwise.  As does James, when we gather together after the final performance.

My story is lush, he says.  That he closed his eyes while I read.  Listened to my words.  Let my voice paint the pictures for him.

He let my lilting, sing-song-y massage voice – the voice that tells you that you are human, that you are lovely, that you are good – my storyteller’s voice, tell him a new story.

Jai Guru Dev. Thank You, Beloved Teacher.

With my teacher, Paul Brown, on Guru Purinimah in 2012 -- when we both found ourselves in Chicago, although neither of us lived here at the time.
With my teacher, Paul Brown, on Guru Purnimah in 2012. In Chicago.

“Today is celebrated as Guru Purnimah, Full Moon of the Guru. One honors one’s spiritual lineage.”

My meditation teacher, Paul Brown AKA Paul Edward Blackburn, posted this on Facebook today along with a story from one of his associates upon meeting his teacher, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

This is my story of meeting my teacher.

I am standing at the bar at a swanky anniversary party. I order a glass of champagne. Paul looks at me, smiles, and says, “We’re going to be friends.”

He says this as if nothing could be more obvious. And nothing can be more obvious.

He is tall, with a shock of white-blonde hair and blue eyes that I want to swim in – elementary backstroke, gentle, looking up at the sun. I don’t know if he is gay or if I am in love or both.

Both.

Over dinner he tells me about Transcendental Meditation. (Now commonly called Vedic Meditation.) He tells me about meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – John, Paul, George and Ringo’s teacher – in Spain. He tells me he would like to teach me to meditate.

On the ride home I inform my husband that I will be learning to meditate. It is one of our first and few disagreements about money. We don’t have much as I have recently left a job in public relations and am answering phones at a massage school for $12/hour while I build my budding bodywork practice.

Meditation seems an unnecessary extravagance, but he relents.

I arrive at Paul’s home – a bungalow that he shares with his roommate Mikey, who runs an old-school soda fountain in Berkeley, California – carrying pears and oranges and a mess of star-gazer lilies, offerings for my initiation.

We place the fruit and flowers on a silver tray, next to a photograph of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on an altar Paul has created. And he lights a stick of incense.

The rest is a blur.

I receive a mantra which Paul had chosen for me. He says it. I repeat it. He says it again. I repeat it again. And so we continue for 20 minutes. Saying the words to one another, and then eventually to ourselves.

I feel dizzy. And then like I am flying. I notice every sensation of my body. I feel like I have experienced this before, as a young girl…but I did not have words for it then. Or I did, but they sounded strange and silly. The feeling and the imagery is exactly the same – I am a cube of ice suspended from dental floss tied to a toothpick. Both heavy and light at the same time. And nothing more.

We finish the meditation with the words, “Jai Guru Dev. Thank you, Beloved Teacher.” And then count backwards from 100 to zero, allowing ourselves to settle back into this time and space.

When we are done, Paul makes me a martini – heavy on the vermouth, and we sit at the dining table with Mikey while he eats his dinner, sans shirt. And when he is done, he plays the guitar for us.

A few weeks later Paul teaches my husband to meditate – gratis. It is his gift to us. He thinks it is important that we be able to meditate together.

We meditate in the sun in our pajamas, camping in a field up in wine country. And on a rock face in Lake Tahoe, where we back-packed in for several days. My husband suggests we take off our watches while we are here. I agree but ask, “How will we know when we are done?” (This form of meditation is traditionally done for 20 minutes – once in the morning, once in the evening.) He laughs and replies, “We will be done when we are done.”

It seems like a radical notion.

We do this together for many years. And then we don’t. Our schedules change. He falls away from the practice. And then, we are no longer a we.

My practice changes and morphs too, and probably can no longer be classified as true Transcendental or Vedic Meditation. I add different prayers and “count” them towards my 20 minutes. At the request of a sick friend, I repeat a Durga (Hindu Goddess) mantra 108 times, at the time of her morning meditation. I let my evening practice fall away and lean exclusively into my morning sitting.

What remains true, 12 years since my initiation, is what Paul promised me early on – when I ask him how his life is different since learning to meditate. He thinks about it and replies, “I just think I have a really good and sweet and beautiful life, Honey Bunny.”

Yes. Me too.

Jai Guru Dev. Thank you Beloved Teacher.

Artist Date 79: Aho Matakuye O’yasin

Bent and tied river willows form the structure of the sweat lodge.  Photo: Paul Tootalian
Bent and tied river willows form the structure of the lodge. Photo: Paul Tootalian

 

The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers.  Like my body.  Like my heart.

I thought the African skirt would become this way over time, as I danced in it – but it remained rigid and stiff.  Until today, when, in the dark and heat of the sweat lodge – Artist Date 79 – it softened, pinning itself to my body.

I roll the fabric between my fingers like rosary or prayer beads.  I feel the moisture accumulate between my breasts – grateful for their small size.  Grateful for the darkness to peel off my sports bra, unnoticed, and let my t-shirt from the Knoxville Farmers’ Market cover me.  Given my druthers I would wear nothing.  But I respect the modesty requested at this ceremonial gathering of men and women.

I close my eyes, breathe in the sweet sage, and fix my ears on the beating drum and the sound of my friend Paul’s voice.

It has been a journey just getting here.

********************

I arrive despite a blinding thunderstorm, the need for on-the-road car repairs, and a bit of information which shakes my sense of perception and causes me to question if this is right for me, right now.  And with the aid and calm of friends who ferry me to and from.

I walk about a quarter of a mile through wet, freshly mown grass to where the lodge is set up – my orange, peep-toe wedges gathering silky, green slivers.

I remember wearing these shoes through Rwanda two summers ago – collecting the red earth of the land of 10,000 hills between my toes – and recalling Patsy and Edina schlepping their Louis Vuitton bags through sand in the Morocco episode of the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous.  Dragging my rolling suitcase filled with towels, sweat and apres-sweat clothes, I feel like a bit actor in the Sweat Lodge episode.

********************

Paul is draping blankets over the hut he constructed out of river willows – collected from his sister and brother-in-law’s property a few miles away.  Rocks are heating in a pit outside of the lodge, and he has built an altar from the dirt inside of it.

Paul is the third in a line of spiritual teachers with the same name.  The first being my university religious-studies professor, the second, the one who taught me to meditate – leading me through initiation with an offering of fruit, flowers (star gazers, my favorite) and the bestowing of a mantra.

Our paths have been crisscrossing for most of our lives.  We agree the universe has been conspiring for us to meet.

 

The Altar. Covered Lodge. And our guide, Paul. (I call him “The Reluctant Shaman.”

There are eight of us, the last arriving in a John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle.  She looks like an African Queen, regal in her loose batik dress with dragonflies on it, her grey hair braided at the temples and wrapped around her head like a crown.   Her face is at once both sad and serene.

She reminds Paul they have been in ceremony together – with her former partner.  The break-up is obviously fresh.

Words tumble out of my mouth about divorce, change and the painful nature of endings – no matter how right or how kind.  How people will say all sorts of stupid things.  And that she is, no doubt, on the precipice of some sort of adventure.  She smiles in a way that tells me she has lived a thousand lifetimes and knows that this kind of pain is just part of it.  That she has chosen this and is not fighting it.

I mention that I wasn’t sure I would make it here today.  That I wasn’t sure it was right for me, right now.  “Until now.  You are why I am here.”

********************

Paul smudges each of us with sage and we enter the lodge on our hands and knees, proclaiming “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations.”

I remember Patsy smudging my ex and I when she officiated our marriage.  And me doing the same for my friend Chase when her divorce was final, smudging the entire house – making it “her own” again.

********************

It is hot and humid inside.  I feel a wave of nausea wash over me as Paul explains what will happen in ceremony.

Rocks.  Herbs.  Water.

Chanting.  Praying.  Smoking.

Complete darkness.

Connectedness to the earth.  To one another.  To ourselves.

I am afraid.  Afraid of the total darkness.  Afraid of what I might feel, what might “come up.”  Afraid I cannot physically or psychologically endure this – even though Paul has assured us that this will be a “gentle sweat.”

But the heat is like a balm – different from the still Midwestern humidity that settled heavy around me just moments before.  The drumming and chanting force all thoughts from my mind.  I only hear my friend’s voice – strong, confident, prayerful – and the African Queen’s.  It is sweet and slippery and hard to hold on to.  But very much there.  Just as I feel her, very much there, next to me.

Everything softens.  My body.  My brain.  My lapa.  I feel the sweat sliding down my body and I am deliriously in love with it.  This body I have fought for so much of my life.  That has brought me here and is sustaining me today.  It is strong and small and very, very feminine.  I feel my hands pressing into the earth beneath me.  My legs.  My feet.  My ass.  The soft dampness of moist earth is flesh, the spiky grass is hair and we are one.

 

Apres sweat — eyes wide open. Photo: Paul Tootalian

 

I pray for my stepfather and my two girlfriends who are battling mightily.  And I ask for prayers for myself.  For compassion and acceptance for myself, for where I am, not where I think I should be.  My voice cracks and I add, “May we all have compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for one another.”

I pray for the man who hurt my heart not so long ago.  I call out his name when I am certain no one can hear me.

********************

I smoke from the Chanupa — the sacred, ceremonial pipe.  Sober nearly seven years, my addict is awakened.

I am back in college, sitting in a circle.  My friend Brian stirs the bowl and lights it while I suck in all that I can, holding it in my lungs.  I converse easily while I do this – like one of the big boys.

But I am not talking.  And this is not weed.  It is tobacco, although it tastes like juniper and pine.  It is ceremony.  It is holy.  It is community.  It is what I longed for, sitting in a circle like this, so many years ago.

********************

I weep in the darkness.  I am certain no one can hear my dying animal letting go. And it is over.

We crawl out on our hands and knees, just as we had entered, saying “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations,” once again.

Paul greets each of us with an embrace, and we greet one another in the same way.  The African Queen’s eyes are wordlessly different.  Lighter.  As if the color has changed.  She presses me tightly to her.

The group walks towards the house for a celebratory feast, but I stay behind and wait for Paul.

While I am waiting, I do cartwheels around the lodge.  One after the other after the other, until I feel dizzy.  I feel the pull of my pelvis – the source of chronic pain – and I welcome it.  I feel the lightness of my body, of my mind and I welcome it, give thanks for and to it.

I had believed I was here to meet the African Queen.  That was only half of the truth.  In the stillness of the after-lodge, I know its other half, its twin — I was here to meet myself.  “Aho Matakuye O’yasin — Greetings, All My Relations.”