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Anzaldúa, Coyolxahqui , and Dorothy: Homecoming and Re-Membering

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coyoEarlier this month I attended a conference titled: “The Feminist Architecture of Gloria Anzaldúa: New Translations, Crossings and Pedagogies in Anzaldúan Thought”. Although I only could attend half of day 2, it felt like an intense, and deeply rooted homecoming.

I first became familiar with Gloria Anzaldúa’s  work in 1996, when I was an undergraduate student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. At that time I had been away from my hometown of Salinas, CA for 5 years. I was 24 years old and wrestling with issues of cultural identity, gender roles, academic poverty, romantic partnership, my place in my family and the world outside it. Although I enjoyed new experiences, I felt out of place and conflicted in the mainly White  campus. Being that Salinas is an agricultural town, with a predominantly Mexican heritage population, the 5 years away from it left me with mixed feelings of being hungry for new experiences and homesickness for the small things that brought me what comfort.

I was in a Feminist Studies, Cultural Studies class when I was introduced to Anzaldúa’s work. At that time, reading Anzaldúa’s work was both nourishing and challenging, I did not consider myself an academic, but loved learning. Anzaldúa and other feminist authors used words that were unfamiliar to me, and described concepts that felt bigger than what I was ready to understand. Yet somehow, I could feel some sense of familiarity as some concepts did resonate with me, and helped me to name some of the struggles and challenges I was facing as I questioned parts of my “otherness”.

Despite feeling too green to completely understand Chicana feminist texts, I kept their books close to me, taking them with me to every place I relocated to. Anzaldúa and other Chicana feminists writers became older and wiser sisters to me, and over time, I turned to them when I needed a reminder of where I came from, and a connection to a part of me that I was yet to meet. I suppose I subconsciously knew that I would eventually grow into their works, and as a result, grow more into myself.

When I decided to attend the conference this month, it was a complete confirmation that I had indeed grown into, not only knowing, but into living many of the experiences Anzaldúa describes. As I slept that night, I dreamt of earthquakes. An internal experience I am all too familiar with. I often have felt aspects of my internal world crash or adjust against each other, each piece of me trying to make sense of me. This has resulted in seeing pieces of me reflected in various people, places, works of art, and communities. It has mostly left me feeling out of place everywhere. A stranger among strangers and an outsider among outsiders. It seems I have spent my life trying to find people and places where I can see my complete reflection. In failing to find this, I resigned to accepting my outcast nature.

At the conference, I could feel the beginning of something magical happening. The day after the conference,  I revisited Anzaldúa’s words and I felt my parts come together, and my whole being finally reflected back to me. It felt like abrazos, like the “whole” I have been searching for. It was blissful and frightening. Too new to feel true.

Like Dorothy about to leave Oz, I wondered why I didn’t understand these lessons all along. The words were there and so close to me for so many years,  yet I couldn’t see their deeper application to my life. How much suffering could I have spared myself had I just opened Anzaldúa’s  books again? And like Dorothy, I knew that I had to make the journey myself, because I wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe the truth if it was told to me.

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Dorothy’s lesson of “There’s no place like home” always sat awkwardly with me for many years. Especially those years where I was deep in my journey away from home (both physically, emotionally, and spiritually). But I understand now that the home she refers to is not the little farmhouse in Kansas, but the home that has been with me all along. Even before my time. It is my birthright, my divinity, my ever-evolving identity, and communion with the divine itself.

It is connecting with my favorite parts, getting to know them, accepting them, loving them. It is coming home to my body, this body that has devoted itself to my very survival.

“With the loss of the familiar and the unknown ahead, you struggle to regain your balance, reintegrate yourself (put Coyolxauhqui together), and repair the damage. You must, like the shaman, find a way to call your spirit home. Every paroxysm has the potential of initiating you to something new, giving you a chance to reconstruct yourself, forcing you to rework your description of self, world, and your place in it (reality)…” G. Anzaldúa “this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation”

I have studied psychology, indigenous healing, myth, the S/hero’s Journey, shadow and light integration, chakras, dreamwork, the enneagram, and so much more, all in the attempt to make sense of myself of this world. All these have played a significant role in my healing. I wouldn’t be here without them. Re-connecting to Anzaldúa’s work has been both the journey home and the existential glue that fuses these pieces together.

More importantly, it is the fact that she speaks of psychology, existentialism, spirituality, and so on with concepts and language that is in my blood. She uses words and concepts that are culturally relevant to me. They are my cultural inheritance, so I have had them all along. Re-connecting with Anzaldúa has guided me to re-connecting  with myself on a deeper level that no colonization can take away from me, hard as it may try.

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One Sentence Saturday – I Love This Quote!: KIOS Blog-A-Thon, Day 21

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Today’s KIOS Blog-A-Thon prompt is: “Share with us a quote you love”

Image credit: Hien Nguyen/Flickr

Image credit: Hien Nguyen/Flickr

Criticize me all you want, but I love quotes. I find many of them to be healing and encouraging. Like a song or painting, so many of them re-connect me with a truth. The best experience with quotes are when I am feeling somethings unsettled or unformed, and I stumble across a few words that put shape to the feeling. I get that “YES!” experience that only a connected life can offer.

There are too many quotes that I love for me to pick just one, so I will select one that is pertinent to right now.

“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chödrön

I’m a crier and a deep-sea dweller. What I think this means for many people is that I can be boring and uncomfortable to be around. Yeay me! But really, I love serious existential topics and discussing the interrelations of life, art, and symbolism. I’m not afraid to talk about those dark, disturbing, and uncomfortable life experiences. I can be lighthearted too, but it’s usually in a spontaneous moment, or in the presence of people I feel safe and comfortable around. I’m not the chatty life of the party, or a karaoke queen, but, if you need someone to connect with because you are going through a rough time, I’m yer gal.

Getting to know others like me has made me realize that being this kind of person can make people uncomfortable. Not many people want to address their unwanted feelings, and by nature, I bring that out in people. I don’t mean to. Seriously. Many people are uncomfortable with quiet and stillness. It makes us anxious and allows for unresolved feelings to arise. I think what happens is that my quiet nature allows me to be a blank screen for others to project onto.  You may call this psychobabble, but like it or not, it’s human nature. We all do it.

This quote means so much to me right now as I’m beginning to understand this part of me on a deeper level. I’m understanding how this part of me, the quiet deep-sea dweller, allows me to be connected to and compassionate with those who need and want some compassion. Before I could offer this to others, I had to go through my own painful process and learn how to be compassionate with myself. As a therapist in training, this is crucial to my work. I notice that clients who are ready for the journey of healing can harness the compassion I have to offer and begin to understand their own path of self-compassion.

As for my non-career self, it can be tough. I can still go to painfully dark places, with a small part of myself trusting that it’s part of my growth. However when I do go to these dark places, it forces others to decide if they can meet me there or not. We can’t all be there for each other  100% of the time (I know I have my moments when I can’t connect with others) so having a small cluster of deep-sea dwellers helps.

On a side note this short video on empathy describes so well the challenging task of connecting with others who are going through rough experiences. I really love it as it reminds me how to be genuinely connected, and why I sometimes can’t be.

If you’d like to participate in this Blog-A-Thon, please visit: http://kickinitoldskool.blogspot.com/2013/11/get-ready-to-ruuumbbbllleee.html

A “Mourning” Person. Get It?

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I have been restless all week. I usually LOVE this time change as I am a morning person and I feel like I am getting more “morning” to ease into my day. But not this year. This year I am as so restless that I know something more is going on.

This morning I decided to do some writing and in doing so, perused through some past writings for reference.  In doing so, I found this piece from August 2012. It’s all too appropriate for what’s happening with me right now.

When my brother passed away in May, a friend of mine and her son scattered flowers into the sea for him. I was so grateful for this beautiful gesture and decided that I would do the same for my brother who passed away on Monday.

Yesterday morning was my brother’s funeral, and the whole night was excruciatingly painful for me. Not only was the pain of losing this brother painful in itself, it brought back, and was compounded, with the loss of my other brother in May. I don’t remember falling asleep, but upon waking, I decided to walk to the beach, flowers in hand, to spend some time in solitude.

He loved Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, and as I sat on the beach, this song played in my head. “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”. I cried at the pain of losing him and my other brother. When I felt ready to, I found a spot on the shoreline and watched the waves. What happened next was an unanticipated meditation exercise.

I believe that the answers to everything can be found in nature. Nature, although imposed upon by humanity, moves and exists in rawness and truth. With all my pain, I observed what was happening as I slowly walked toward the waves.

As the cold Pacific Ocean hit my feet, I couldn’t help but feel jarred awake and into my body. I watched the ocean rush towards me and pull back into itself. As the ocean pulled back, the sand under my feet began to shift. If I stood in the same place long enough, I would lose my balance. So each time the ocean waves pulled back, I moved to a new place.

As I watched the waves come and go, and as I slowly moved to new places in the sand, I began to throw flowers, one by one, out into the ocean. I took long pauses between each flower being thrown so as to watch how the ocean interacted with it. What I noticed was that it was the calmest waves that carried the flowers furthest out. The bigger waves brought the flowers back to me. When this happened I would pick it up, walk towards the waves, and wait for a calm wave to approach before throwing it out again.

To me this was a teaching moment. The waves represent life. As life moves, one must keep moving as well. If I try to stay in one place (try to maintain the illusion of control i.e. doing things “my way”), the sands will shift from under me and I will lose my balance and fall. But if I keep moving, I stay standing, and in synch with life. The biggest waves (emotional upheaval) brings memories back. This is just how it is. It is painful, and when things have settled some, the healing takes place, and memories are carried out.

The beach has warning signs stating that there are “Changing Conditions”. This is all too true. In the midst of calm seas, a rogue wave may come (seemingly out of nowhere) and with it old memories may come. I must be with it. I must meet the wave and yield to the shifting sand as I step to new footing. This is living life in all it’s pain and beauty. Learning to be yielding and proactive.

These are the things the ocean taught me this morning, as I grieved loss.

There is something new wanting to grow in me, but in order to do so, something in me needs to die. I know this is what I am experiencing right now. I am fighting this out of fear. Fear of the pain of grieving loss, even though I know something amazing is on the other side.

The Moon’s Other Half also known as Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

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Esalen

Sunset at Esalen

This post is inspired by April’s Pink Moon that so gorgeously lit the night sky last Thursday.

I’ve been stressed lately as I’m trying to handle new changes in my life. A new job and different class schedule have me trying to make my life less complicated, but life seems to be quite the opposite. Needless to say, I don’t handle change very well, yet I try to find comfort wherever I can, so last week’s Pink Full Moon was definitely something I was looking forward to. As I watched the pregnant moon travel the night sky, I began to remember the comforting lessons I received at The Esalen Insitute in Big Sur, CA.

Last November I was at Esalen for a weekend retreat on loving kindness facilitated by Against the Stream facilitators Noah Levine, Vinny Ferraro, and Enrique Collazo.The retreat started off rainy and windy, yet somehow the climate at Esalen was warm and cozy. Late into day two of the retreat, the sun broke through the rain storm and we were given the opportunity to enjoy the sunset. I stood on the patio and watched the sun quickly drop below the ocean horizon. As it did so, I felt no anxiety towards how fast this moment was ending. Instead I felt calm and was able to simply enjoy the experience. “Goodbye for now.” I thought. “See you soon.”

The next morning I woke-up early. I am typically an early riser, so a 5:30 a.m. walk down to the tubs wasn’t too unusual for me. When I arrived at the tubs it was still dark out and there was no one there. I disrobed and sat in the outdoor hot spring sulfur tub that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. I was immediately filled with so much gratitude for the experiences I had at Esalen. The conversations, people I met, the moments alone, the tubs, the dharma talks, and the meditations were all so intertwined for me. In moments where I felt attachment I practiced non-attachment and simply tried to observe. I thought of my mother and brothers who have passed on and cried simply because I miss them. In doing this, I somehow began to prepare myself for the upcoming loss of being here, and returning to my “regular” life.

How do you prepare for an ending? Well, like the sunset just a few hours before, I chose to just be in that moment, and reminded myself that all is well. I sat and watched the sky lighten, and just like that, I realized that this is how it is.

Right now, the changes in my life are quite obvious, but sometimes change is so gradual that it’s easy to miss. It does not matter if you are paying attention or not, change happens. Change is always happening. For example: although I still feel distressed at times, and my distress can feel familiar, I have in fact, changed. I am more patient with myself, and I give myself more loving kindness than before. I can appreciate a moment, and not be attached. I am more proactive and slightly less reactive. I speak on my own behalf and take more risks. Yes, there are still enough old patterns in me to drag me down, but there has been an emergence of a kinder self in me.

Just as the sun set the day before, it arose, without question or worry. Mindfully observing this natural cyclical pattern of darkness and light gave me great comfort. It was evidence to me that this is how life is, and that I just need to let go of trying to be in control of making my life light all the time and keeping the darkness at bay.

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