Personal Stories

Panorama of my Silence Heart

Sometimes a place can hold a specific marker in one’s life.  Sometimes a place was meant to be found and meant to be entered into.   Sometimes I wonder…do the places we occupy get created before we enter them or do we somehow create the places we are meant to occupy?

That’s what it felt like for me.  A tiny cafe in Queens, along a busy road, hidden in between a laundromat and a hair salon, seemed not to have existed before I found it…perhaps created just for me.  An outside observer walking past may not have even noticed the small, humble exterior, but a keen observer would have noted something different about the sky blue facade and the light stained glass windows.  Upon entering, one would have to notice something different about this blue and yellow cafe, from the women in colorful saris to the prayer flags to the pink roses in glass to the all-vegetarian menu.   It seemed oddly out of place in this asphalt Queens desert, cars streaming by and buses rumbling past.

I discovered The Panorama of my Silence-Heart cafe (yes, it’s called that) about a year into living in Briarwood, Queens.  Little did I know that this small cafe was going to become a second home the summer I had a deep personal healing open up and in the year after I quit my job and started a private practice.   Little did I know that it would hold space for so many of my emotional ups and downs in the span of two years.   I didn’t know much about the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy whose spiritual community had founded the cafe, but I soon got to know him well.   His image, art, and quotations were infused throughout the space.   It became almost impossible to separate the space from the man himself, who has passed on but continues to occupy its walls with his presence.

It was strangely more comforting for Sri Chinmoy to be holding space for the cafe from the beyond, somehow lending his image and legacy a bit more mystery and power.  Gurus or spiritual leaders still in the flesh tend to have the unfortunate aspect of being all too human and all too flawed.  His silent presence in the cafe seemed to give it an air of protection and potency that may not have existed had he been walking along its floors.  But then again, I’ve never met the man. 

Sometimes a place itself becomes like a person…a person beyond the person who created it or beyond the people who occupy it.   This cafe became like an intimate partner for two years of my life, watching and holding space for my most sad, lost, and worried moments, as well as my most joyful, lively, and creative selves.  This space has seen me at my best and worst and has been the best kind of partner: never judging, never prying, yet ever-present.  Each emotion, thought, and creative impulse seemed to land with just the right amount softness and inquisitiveness.  The space seemed to speak at times, as if to say, “You are more than you think you are.”

I redesigned my website in this cafe.  I wrote blog posts.  I began writing a book.  I had conversations with friends who ventured in from other cities or the faraway land of Manhattan.   I drank fresh green tea.  I cried silently to myself.   I sat elated, saving the world in my mind.  I stared at the bookshelf lost in thought, drawn to titles on nutrition, spirituality, and self-development.   I ate so many omelettes with homemade pesto and fresh greens.  I listened to many songs.  I wrote for many hours.   

I found myself here.   I found my voice here.   I gave these walls my trauma.  I demanded my life force back.  I spoke to the Universe silently, asking questions of its mysteries, sometimes with deep, empty silence, sometimes with whispers in response.  I sat cross legged at the low table, the one in the back, reveling in the simple pleasure of sipping a smoothie through a straw and burrowing into a pile of pillows.  

It’s hard to leave places.  It’s even harder to leave places that have become a part of your story, that have weaved themselves into your development.  One summer in the middle of some particularly intense spiritual experiences, I found this place.  I grounded my energy here.  This place saw me through the next two years of some intense personal and spiritual development.  It allowed a deepening in my life.  It was both a portal to distant places in my psyche and a landing pad to come back.  

As I move on and leave Queens for Westchester, I recognize that I am leaving more than just a place behind, I am leaving behind a specific time in my life.  And there’s nothing that can properly capture that or mark that.  We are here one day and somewhere else the next.  But just the fact that we have been here, that we have lived through these moments, marked by these places that we have occupied has to leave something behind.  These chairs will not telegraph my having been here.  The ladies behind the counter will eventually forget my regular order.  But something of this time will remain.  And something of me will remain in this space.  I’ll be that ethereal presence, crying and laughing silently, writing and singing to myself, still traveling through that portal, holding it open for those who need to find themselves too.

Emotional Enlightenment

Universal Terms of Surrender

This is the third time I’ve attempted to write this post.  Each time I’ve written it it mysteriously deletes itself or doesn’t save properly.   So…the Universe is asking me to practice what I preach (or write) with this one.

Surrender is one of those words that I believe has been deeply misunderstood in the English language.  Typically, it’s been used in conjunction with wartime to denote a loss on the battle field or a relinquishment of sovereignty.  When did we remove all of the beauty from this word and from this state of being?

I first connected to the word in a different way in relation to the qualities of the Divine Feminine.  Regardless of physical gender, we all have masculine and feminine qualities within, or yang and yin for those familiar with Eastern philosophy.  Surrender, along with the element of water, flow, the moon, compassion, creativity, nurturing and “being” is typically associated with the Mother principle, or divine feminine (yin) in Eastern spiritual traditions.  The masculine, Father principle (yang), is typically described as the active, linear, steady and “doing” force and is associated with the element of fire and the sun.  

So surrender in the spiritual sense has a different meaning than the “rolling over” or “giving up” aspect we might associate with it.

The word surrender when we perceive it in a different way comes with a connotation of great strength rather than great weakness.  Surrender is the state of openness to the unknown, in which we cannot know what comes next in our lives but can allow each moment to stand exactly as it presents itself to us.  Surrender asks us to release our expectations about what’s next, to release our tight grip over control, and to allow a flow to take hold in our lives.  There is courage in facing exactly what appears.  True surrender doesn’t shield one from difficulties or negative outcomes.  It simply asks us to accept that we can’t know or control each moment in the context of a broader orchestration or larger divine dance. 

Surrendering to the possibilities around us at any moment contains an element of fear.  If I surrender to all of the unknown possibilities in this moment, it could mean that I could face some danger from which I won’t recover.  But in the act of closing ourselves off to the anxiety of feared consequences, we often shut our emotional systems down to positive sensations as well, like love, pleasure, excitement, joy, and calm.

Sometimes we spend so much of our mental and emotional resources trying to predict or prevent small or large shake-ups in our lives that we lock away our energy into narrowly focused worries.   And we don’t realize that often these worst moments, when they happen, are the ones that end up defining us the most, unlocking the hidden resources and paths we didn’t before see.

Reconnecting to the flow in my life has required some extreme rewrites and redirects.  An ill-advised cleanse which landed me in the ER seven years ago led to a dietary overhaul and a search for answers through alternative medicine.  Quitting a job (that I thought I would love) eight months into a three year contract gave me the fire in my belly to eventually work for myself.   A jarring kundalini awakening five months before my graduation date led to an exploration of spirituality and energy healing.  For me, these moments of painful and unplanned surrender were unwelcome at first, but they represented the beginnings of a much larger and more rewarding healing journey.

The lesson of the Divine Feminine is that from our place of greatest struggle and pain comes our greatest potential and possibility, our greatest inner resiliency, if we can only open and let go.  The true face of surrender is not giving up.  It is allowing the freedom to feel all of ourselves without contraction and having the courage to release what needs to go and invite what wishes to flow.  

Spirituality

The Return of the Light

At this time of the year, with the Winter Solstice behind us and the new year around the corner, we are assured a return of the light.  We’ve lived through the shortest day of the year and have made it past our descent into the dark.  While we are still fully encapsulated in winter, daylight becomes more and more prominent from now until the summer season.

These seasonal cycles were once honored by ancient cultures for the distinct energy they would bring into our lives.  Spring is a time of rebirth, summer is a time of youthful exuberance and planting seeds, fall brings the harvest and decline of the light, and winter is a time of hibernation, contemplation and gathering our strength for the inevitable rebirth.

Cultures, like the ancient Druids and other pagan traditions, who celebrated Solstice and seasonal rites of passage were wise in their recognition of the seasonal cycle as representative of the human narrative as a whole.  There are seasons to our lives, descents and ascents.  There are times for deeper lessons and karmic experiences and times for jubilation, emergence, and a celebration of cycles completed.  As we deepen our winter burrowing, we are in preparation for the the journey back to our rebirth in the Spring.

Continue reading “The Return of the Light”

Inspirational Figures, Personal Stories

Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow

Judy GarlandToday, on the anniversary of Judy Garland’s famously attended funeral in New York City, along with the NYC Gay Pride parade this weekend, it seemed like an appropriate time to devote a blog post to this icon.  She is a deeply beloved figure both within the gay community and to children and adults around the world who have landed upon her classic film, the Wizard of Oz.  I was one of those kids, awed and fascinated by the innocent and beautiful Dorothy in the blue dress.  The Wizard of Oz played on repeat in my home, as I fawned over her voice, her sparkly red shoes, and her metaphorical journey back home. 

As beloved and talented as she was, she was also a tragic figure, dying at the early age of 47 from an accidental barbiturate overdose, with a long string of failed marriages behind her and a history of childhood abuse by studio executives.  As loved as she was, she never could quite seem to muster that same love for herself.  She picked herself up by the bootstraps many a time, only to fall back into the same patterns of addiction and difficult men. Continue reading “Lessons from Beyond the Rainbow”