63. Bowing in Grace

BLOG 63: June, 2000—Jean sat in her favorite chair in the kitchen by the screen of an open window.  She blew her cigarette smoke out past the tiny metal mesh, which temporarily protected her New England farmhouse from a few select mosquitoes of early summer. My new near-80-year-old poet and housemate seemed to love looking out the window, reflecting on her next poem, or maybe her many years married, and raising children, or her husband’s recent death.

As I stepped into the dimly lit kitchen, Jean looked up. She greeted me as I prepared to leave for a weekend of translating for an Ecuadorian Shaman who was visiting up north, in the White Mountain area. I had just arrived at her farmhouse several days earlier, but was now traveling two hours north to translate for an organization called Dream Change.  

When I arrived at the home where I’d work, the Ecuadorian Shaman, Alberto Taxo, sat in a corner of the room, legs crossed. He was a good-looking man with long black hair and graying beard. I greeted him, presented myself as the person who would be translating his Spanish to English. He nodded, smiled.

Later, he would tell me stories about growing up under the tutelage of his shaman father, and a lineage of healers along the Andes and Latin America. He’d tell me about his initiation at age 13, when was sent to the mountains to stay three days in a hole dug into the ground. One of those days, Taxo awoke with a snake coiled on his belly, at which point he described being fearless (since snakes can smell fear and attack). Instead he told the snake how beautiful it was and it uncoiled and slithered away. His journey as a shaman continued until his father’s death, 8194dc6334121ca8cc6c17b407f37edewhich provoked grief and anger and two years of living in the streets and temporarily abandoning his healer’s path.

I loved listening to Taxo’s stories. After all, imagine missing out on your childhood, and, at an early age, being ask to carry forth a 500-year-old prophesy of your indigenous ancestors to prepare for an immense change for the earth and humanity, a “Pachacuti”, that would occur at this time in history. This was Taxo’s reality, combined with political work he did, demanding equal rights for Ecuador’s indigenous people.

Beyond his stories and teachings, what struck me most about Taxo was the manner in which he approached life. As I translated for him during various gatherings and healings, he displayed an immense amount of grace and presence. He seemed to bow to all of life—to the trees, to the animals, to the food he ate, to the people he passed—in a state of gratitude and listening. It was a practice I imagined he had learned early on in life—a practice that seemed a stark contrast to our modern-American “let’s move fast and get somewhere or something (and not listen much)” approach to life.

While Taxo was far from perfect (He seemed to have been seduced by modern Western culture in an unhealthy way), I returned to the farmhouse having learned a state of grace and gratitude that would help me heal my injury and heart.

From that weekend forth, I began to walk in the woods, a hundred feet at a time (or as far as I could go with my pain), and 61f49d5902a99d2693d6e1e6bb5b9546did so by bowing down to every tree, every flowering, breathing element in the forest. As I walked, I breathed the trees and their energy field into my heart, and, with every out breath, I bowed to the trees, greeting and honoring them. In doing this kind of mindfulness meditation, I soon discovered how blocked my heart was—how challenging it was for me to truly receive and feel the beauty around me. I also understood that if I continued this practice, I would feel the origins of my blocks and slowly get “out of my head” and open my heart, bit by bit, to feel.

Back then, Taxo’s example offered me my first important lesson of many that would help me walk again—from 50 feet to three miles by the end of the summer on Jean’s farm. It’s a lesson I’ve come back to, time and time again, in my life (even though I’ve gotten lost, plenty of times, in all the daily running around!).

This place of grace—this bowing down to and honoring life—still sits waiting for me, and all us, at all times. These days, I return to this place of grace in the dark of the night, when I sing an offering to the land, to my recently deceased father, and to those I love; when I bow in gratitude and love to my friend and lover; and when I sit still enough to feel this butterfly of transformative love for myself and all of life that sits fluttering in my heart. 

My Novel, Child of Duende: A Journey of the Spirit, is about returning to this state of grace. It’s available on Amazon at Amazon Page  or at www.michelleadam.net. It can be ordered at a local bookstore as well. Also, watch a brief video on “duende”, “the spirit of the earth”: YouTube Video

 

 

53. Hunger Sleeps Sweet Ashes in my Chest

BLOG 53: June, 1999—Imagine yourself stuck, with little capacity to move, with nowhere to go, nothing to accomplish. Just you. Alone. Would you be able to be still? Would you be still enough inside to feel your spiritual hunger?

Almost twenty years ago, while living in my parents’ home in New Jersey, that was my story. But being still enough to hear my own longing was anything but easy. I struggled to walk, but slowing down inside, being still, remained an immense challenge.

“I hear a voice on the radio in the other room, the sound of a busy world. It distracts me. It makes it hard to hear my hunger. It numbs my existence once more, and builds within me a hunger that so often reappears in extremes, in grand desires to escape the chaos and find a place of stillness to hear myself,” I wrote in my new journal I had just dedicated to hunger itself. “This is the modern world after all. This is the challenge we all face in hearing and addressing our hunger. What once was with us every day as a joyful hunger or longing has become a kind of ravaging ghost that you and I don’t know how to see, yet we feel it grab at us, tease us, make us restless.”

Back then, hunger was a kind of longing for what I couldn’t have in the moment no matter what I did. I wrote, “I can address my hunger by relocating, in my mind, the places where hunger was most awake, most present, and in ways, sweetly: the fields in Spain, the long b6cc3f020432ec5efd545b633828c5b9waiting for God to appear, for a voice to speak to me before a magnificent landscape; driving west out into desert, wide-open skies; or more magnificently, standing on the mountains, the Sandias, watching the bright white clouds, like cotton balls, spreading their wings throughout the entire stone and tree landscape; or driving, driving along the roads of New Mexico, chasing the clouds, with pinks, blues, oranges, purples, tormenting the skies with a surreal godliness that I longed to reach, to hold onto, in my most humble way, by driving, driving, and not slowing down.”

Then, when I found moments to be still enough to feel my hunger, to hear the words that wrote stories into my novel, I traveled inward to faraway lands. “Hunger, she sleeps sweet ashes in my chest, a silence longing for itself,” I wrote the lines of a brief poem. “I hear her stumbling sounds in my heart. I listen and I write.”

With nowhere to go, I wrote, and I allowed words to be my meditation. It’s no different today, as I sit here sharing my reflections of past and present. After a week of moving too quickly for my soul’s pace, and prior, with a month’s time with m1e98d8e0a905478eea6d6f086bf020b7y family and father before his passing, I cherish coming back to this page. Back to you: stillness and hunger.

When I was crippled by pain, my time of
forced meditation—of writing my novel and discovering the story inside “the remotest mansions of my blood”—was a blessing of sorts. I lived inside a cage that required the inside come out. But, now, as I share my novel, travel to be with family, and juggle teaching, writing, and bringing my art into the world, there seems so little time for slowing down. The hunger remains, but its more subtle, less drastic. The hunger is for the quiet, for the listening inside, for a place of presence that can’t be found in all the running around.

It’s found here, though, as I write, as I watch the moon rise, as I let the sound of all this technology, all this doing, be taken over by bird song crawling along the vines in front of my New Mexico home. The song has always been here. The moon, she has always been here lighting the night sky. Yet I am the one who has changed.  In making time, as once I was forced to do, to feel into this stillness that carries my hunger, I can find my way back to me, to all that I has always waited for us inside this presence.

*My novel, Child of Duende: A Journey of the Spirit, is a story of following this hunger home. Check it out on Amazon: Amazon Page  or at www.michelleadam.net. Also, watch a brief video on “duende”, “the spirit of the earth”: YouTube Video

 

32. Time to Be Like Buddha

HAVE YOU EVER FELT YOUR SOUL—OR A PART OF IT—LEAVE YOUR BODY?

Blog 32: Dec. 1997-April 1998—Days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, as I live in a house in Berkeley, California with five other people that seem, for the most part, discontent. Although I long to leave, and even seek out other options, my body won’t cooperate with any kind of movement. The message for me is to “be like Buddha,” so I sit and be with where I am no matter how painful.

I reflect on who I have been in my journal. I write, “I used to feel that I didn’t feel. I used to think that I couldn’t love. I would try so hard to feel love, but I couldn’t. It hurt so much. It hurt me so much to think I could not feel. I did not understand all the tears late at night, all the anguish in trying to tune into my heart.”

Now that I am injured, I feel pain (how can I not?), I feel love, and I realize that it never was true that I couldn’t feel. The truth was that I didn’t honor how I felt. I didn’t know how to listen to my heart, how to trust myself, because I was so busy being strong, proving myself, and on some level, leaving my body, not wanting to be here because it was too painful.

I continue to write in my journal, “This pain, this heat moving through my bd3f697970790656d76d951b75a139723ody takes my soul away. My soul is trying to come back, but for some reason it is scared. My soul is scared to be with me. When I wake up the next morning, I can feel how little power I have in my body. It’s as if my breathing is outside of me. And I sense that my soul has been trying to leave my body since birth. It has little interest in being on this earth, yet another part of me that knows I am meant to be here, and is bringing me back, back, to this place of Buddha that needs to feel the pain, that understands better than this.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT YOUR SOUL—OR A PART OF IT—LEAVE YOUR BODY?

Check out my novel, Child of Duende: A Journey of the Spirit, at Child of Duende website

23. Freedom of Imagination

WHAT IS YOUR SOUL’S STORY?

BLOG 23: August-October, 1997“I was born in the back of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of these things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory…”

Isabel Allende’s words, her soul’s magical expression from her novel Eva Luna are with me now, years far beyond my father’s country, Argentina, where I had first read her story of the imagination. Now I write my own story, here, on the computer, in my home in the Oakland hills of California. I write with no clear beginning, nor end. Just an urge to give form, to create, to release words that long to find their way to my fingertips.

“I was born inside white-washed walls where ivy crawled, and where flowers sprung along the southern coast of Spain. On that day, the same day Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco died, freedom permeated the air. Yet, the earth waited, and not a branch dared break ….”

“I was born Spanish inside a German family. Somebody had made a mistake…”

“I was born…”           

My encounter with “Archie” on the plane ride home from my family reunion reminds me now that I am a storyteller, and that it is time to write my tale. And this time it’s fiction, and not magazine articles or poems as I’ve always done. My imagination gets to play, page after page, with words that amount to little, yet matter.

My writing becomes the dance I can no longer be. With my hips and legs in such pain, and no job and place to go, my limitations have become my wings. They have offered me a retreat from the pressure to become someone, and now anything is possible. My hands, which once held a pen—and in my ancestor’s hands were quills, the wings of a bird—now grant my inner world the freedom to be as I choose her to be.

I write, I start again, I play.  I am not writing for anyone, not even for myself. I don’t need anyone’s permission to be useful, or correct, or creative. I am like my dreams, free to roam the entire universe, only to come back to myself and discover the joy of being alive inside my body and imagination.

WHAT IS YOUR SOUL’S STORY?

 

22. A Flight of Inspiration

WHAT SERENDIPITOUS MEETING INSPIRED A PASSION OR WORK?

BLOG 22: July, 1997—Debilitated from having pushed myself dancing in California, I travel, armed in crutches, to New York State, to our annual family reunion at my uncle’s house. I haven’t seen family for more than a year, and never in this condition I’m in.

Everything I do at my uncle’s house and on his pond is an effort. At one point, my mother gives me a hard time for not getting up to fetch something I need, but I’m in pain, and I spend most of the time longing to lie down or sit to alleviate my condition. I can’t explain what I am going through with my family, because I myself don’t understand why my groin pull injury from last October has weakened me this much. I’ve had tests and have seen plenty of doctors and healers, but nobody has been able to help. So my family seems to create a simple diagnosis: either I’m lazy or I’ve lost my mind.

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Later, I begin to cry heavily in my sleeping quarters. My oldest sister walks in at that moment and I share with her my struggles—not just the physical ones, but the emotional ones that have been coming up for me around my family. She listens and consoles me. It’s probably the first time in my life I’ve reached out to one of my sisters like this and it feels good.

On the flight home, I sit next to a man my age who calls himself Archie, and whose personality seems a comical combination of Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen. To top it off, he’s writing a screenplay on his laptop. His real name is David, he tells me, but he changed his name to Archie when he wrote a screenplay a few years ago, as a film student at New York University, based on three months spent in a trailer park in the Dakotas. The premise of his screenplay was to discover if David, as Archie, with a completely different history than his own, could, in the middle of nowhere, become the person he wished to be.

Did David become Archie? I ask him, while laughing the whole time at his self-deprecating humor and story. No, he tells me. I laugh so hard that it actually hurts, and Archie, who seems to be flirting with me, tells me he wishes he could be could as bold as Archie—and not David—and just walk up to an attractive blue-eyed woman like me and talk to her. I tell him the key to overcoming his fear is to begin dancing.

The magic of our encounter is this: I go home and begin writing a novel. I don’t know it’s a novel yet when I begin, but Archie’s great story-telling for hours on our flight home made me realize I too was a storyteller (not just a journalist), and it was time to tell my story. Plus, I don’t have the capacity to dance, so I might as well put this hunger and passion somewhere. Meanwhile, Archie goes home to Los Angeles, puts music on, and dances. Later he takes his first dance classes, and I begin the novel that just two weeks ago I finally published!

WHAT SERENDIPITOUS MEETING INSPIRED A PASSION OR WORK?

18. The Last Dance: The Last Straw

WHAT WAS THE LAST STRAW THAT BROKE YOU (or said “enough!”)?  

BLOG 18: June-July, 1997—I am sharing dinner with my friend Jane and her girlfriend on the patio of my new home in Oakland, California. With good wine, food, and a view that looks out over the entire San Francisco Bay, it’s hard to imagine a better place to be. We are living in paradise, I think. The water and the outlying mountains feel like a tropical Asian land far away from the Americas.

I am excited to have finally made it here after an eight-month hiatus in New Mexico. I am back on track with my original plan to relocate in this dynamic area of the country. Despite my injury that slowed me down in the desert lands—and my calves that feel as hard as surfboards from having moved all of my belongings up four flights of stairs—I’m now taking modern dance classes in San Francisco and Berkeley. I surrender my body to the music, and move through the pain and tightness in my body, and my limited training among dancers with many more years of experience.

I begin my work as at a temporary agency for artists, helping artists find jobs in creative industries. It’s a nice part of town, along Berkeley’s bay, and in a loft area shared with other artists and residents. When I’m not working, though, I’m in dance studios where, especially in San Francisco, I feel out of my league. Fit, trim, elegant dancers move across the floor with much more grace than I feel I have (or a lot more training to make it look easy).

My passion for dance inspires me to keep going, though, until I take a ballet class. As I am lifting up my right leg and pivoting it around my body, my legs begin to weaken below me. It’s only one movement, but just the perfect one to break my innate strength and stubborn disposition that has kept me going so far since having pulled a tendon or ligament, possibly off the bone, in my inner thigh eight months ago. When I finish the class, I sit on the studio floor and stretch my legs along with other dancers. But I feel it. My body is crying what my eyes dare not show. This was the last straw. My body has had enough.

For weeks after that class, I walk as well as I can. But something is wrong. I feel as if I am walking over my right hip joint. My femur is not moving correctly in my hip socket. The more I walk, the more inflamed my hip becomes, and the less I am able to move. I begin walking with crutches and become desperate to find relief from my pain. I seek out healers, but little helps until my friend Geri drives me out of the city to a highly recommended chiropractor. After looking at my condition, the chiropractor jerks my right leg and returns the femur bone to its correct position.

I was out of alignment; the bone was stuck in the joint. He fixed the issue and my hip feels better, but it seems it never quite returns to the hip I had taken for granted for almost thirty years of my life.

WHAT WAS THE LAST STRAW THAT BROKE YOU (or said, “enough!”)?

16. Winter into Spring: Move On!

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR RESTLESSNESS? (especially during younger years)

BLOG 16: January- June, 1997—The surrounding Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains, roads, and buildings that make up Santa Fe, this “City of Faith” in the high desert of New Mexico, are now covered in more than a foot of snow. This small city slows down, while inside homes, fires burn, warming old adobe walls, and filling the crisp, clean air with the scent of piñon smoke.

Days pass like this as I housesit, sitting by my fire, reading spiritual books and discovering a bit more of who I am—or more specifically, who I’m not. During the daytime, I take dance classes, turning, jumping across the dance floor with as much grace as I can muster. Mariko, a visiting dancer from Canada who used to perform with a modern dance group in New York City, watches me move, and at one point shares with my teacher that I am using too much muscle when I dance—not enough grace as I’d like. Her comments seem to sum up my life.

After dancing, I work in the evenings at a restaurant, but my groin and hips are getting tired. They are done with all my pushing, all my determination to dance despite having severely pulled my groin muscle months ago when I spontaneously stopped and decided to stay in New Mexico on my way to California. Working as a waitress seems to just make matters worse. I feel a dull ache as if I have an eternal bruise, and it’s tightening my muscles and making it more painful to sit and walk with each day that passes.

In order to stay in Santa Fe through the winter and into spring, I find another housesitting situation, and then rent a room during my final stay in this city. I move a carful of boxes from one place another, which puts more pressure on my back and hips.

I miss Albuquerque and the Sandia mountains, but I enjoy the solitude and time for myself inside this winter wonderland. I learn to be more still than I have ever been, and embark on spiritual journeys. When I hear songs or talks on the radio about Native American experiences in this country, I cry. I feel lifetimes—or past lives, perhaps—where I have lived as people here have lived. I feel deeply connected to roots of this land. There’s a familiar feeling here that opens my heart.

As spring approaches, though, so does my restlessness. I take a trip to Utah, but I’m disenchanted by the tourist playground there. I also spend time in Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains, camping, and completing my time in New Mexico as I promised the land I would do six months ago.

By late spring I’m ready to go to California as I had originally planned.  My hip hurts more than ever (even after going to a chiropractor and doctor that provided little assistance), but I have a job lined up in Berkeley and a house to share in the mountains of Oakland. I am excited for a new adventure, although I’m not prepared for the reality that lies ahead.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR RESTLESSNESS? (especially during younger years)