Where the Heart Is (Part 1)

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.

If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.

For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining, and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.

Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet~

Lobsterbird Rising Phoenix

Lobsterbird Rising: Collaborator / Photographer: AE. http://cargocollective.com/artbyAE images available as archival-quality prints which benefit the artists. contact: oceaninthevoid@gmail.com

i believe i owe you an explanation or, at least, would like to share with you where i am. because much like the phoenix, i went dormant for awhile. i have since resurfaced, feeling in some ways like a new creature entirely, yet some part of me is fundamentally the same. i imagine that if one is to die and be reborn, it would feel much like being a whole new being in a completely different reality. however, every once in awhile you get an inkling of who you used to be…

this is where i am. and i feel you wondering about me, much as i do with you. if that is true, then please allow me to share my journey. i look forward to finding you again on yours.

Space Dance

photo: Tokyo Space Dance / Tetsuro Fukuhara

after Japan i felt displaced, like my old life didn’t fit anymore. you know how sometimes you can have a favorite pair of jeans? they are perfect. they fit just right and they are totally your style. then one day, they just don’t seem right anymore. even if you didn’t necessarily gain or lose any weight, they just don’t really fit. from time to time you try them on again, hoping for that beloved reconnection and feeling that you could conquer the world in those pants. but that feeling never quite returns. one must go on the dreadful search for a new pair of jeans.

that’s what happened to me. all of a sudden, i had nowhere to put my bum that really felt right. going back to NYC was like the outgrown pair of Levis. i tried many different locations and went shopping for a new home with a series of good friends. i came up with nothing, except a gentle calling to be by the sea.

so i returned home to Long Beach Island (where i grew up) and shacked up in a wintery seaside cocoon. for the first time in my life (outside of Japan), i practiced being patient with my self. instead of pushing my self to have a new job immediately or pressuring my self to figure out what i was doing with my life, i practiced letting go of a sense of self that felt like it needed those things. i spent time healing from many years of abuse by contemplating past patterns, engaging in physical activity designed to let those patterns fall away, and by practicing extreme gentleness. i slowly felt like i could return to a sense of truly being in the world. i released into nature and into the void of silence and stillness. i waited there for a new pair of pants to find me. in the meantime, i lived out the winter quietly and joyously in men’s long underwear.

even though my bottom was cozy, there was a great sense of uneasiness during this time. i knew my time in Ship Bottom was finite. what i didn’t know was where i would go next, what i even wanted to do anymore, and how i could possibly make a living doing anything i felt remotely passionate about.

i was having a hard time with all of this uncertainty, so i went to listen to the ocean to hear what it had to say. it was poetry.

ocean poetry

ocean poetry

from that point forward, poetry started to rush out of me like the high tide. i was surprised by the flow of imagery and emotion out into poetic form. i hadn’t written poetry since high school.

then i found the LBI Writers Group and for the sake of community with kindred spirits as well as some experienced feedback on what exactly poetry is, i put on “real” pants (over my long johns). i began to emerge from my wintery cocoon.

i felt supported by the LBI Writers Group while i shared something so raw and intimate. i am the only person in that group under the legal age of, say, 50 or so. it reminded me of my grandparents who lived on the Island but have since passed away. they were storytellers and clowns; always entertaining and holding our family together. i practiced ukulele on the Island, channeling my Grampee who had been stationed in Hawaii and was much more proficient at ukulele than i. and i wrote. feverishly. i wrote as if my grandparents and the very ocean itself were telling me what to say.

i made some great new friends in the LBI Writers Group, including Sue, with whom i share many things in common like tiny houses and a love of nature and adventure (to name only a few). we also started carpooling.

on our very first carpool adventure, Sue told me how excited she was about the upcoming weekend. she was going to Omega Institute to spend a weekend studying and meditating with Pema Chödrön.

“Whoa…that is so wonderful,” i said with longing dripping from each word.

you see, as a performer, i have engaged in meditative practices for many years (breathwork, visualizations, movement disciplines, etc.) however, it wasn’t until i was in grad school in PIMA (Performance and Interactive Media Arts) in 2011 when fellow grad student Will Orzo brought up a quote by Pema. (i believe he was tickled in part by the likeness of names between our program and the spiritual guru.) at that time, i had never heard of this Pema Chödrön but the quote felt deadly right on. (i wish i could remember it, but i wasn’t yet mindful about the synchronicity of these kinds of things.) so i heard the mysterious quote, went home and looked up Pema Chödrön, listened to approximately three of her lectures, and thus began my daily meditation practice. entering grad school marked a particularly intense period of growth spanning all areas of my life; meditation became a way to stay grounded and focused on important aspects such as breath, kindness, ease, and flow.

i hadn’t really thought of Pema Chödrön since 2011, until Sue brought her up in the car. when Sue asked me what my connection to Pema was, it occurred to me that i actually credit her with teaching me how to have a meditation practice.

“Wow, that is so great that you are going,” i said in the kind of awe that happens when memory and the here and now collide.

“You should come with me!” Sue has many stand-out qualities, two of which are her openness and enthusiasm.

i laughed. “Um, I would love to except that it is likely impossible.”

the retreat started in three days, Pema Chödrön’s workshops sell out about a year in advance, and well, it’s not really anywhere within my budget to spend a weekend at Omega.

Sue decided to make a phone call as soon as we got to my house. my heart fluttered in my chest as Sue was saying to the receptionist, “I have a friend that I would like to bring with me this weekend for Pema’s workshop. I know that it’s probably sold out, but you know, sometimes when you ask the universe for things…”

i’m sorry if i’m misquoting you, Sue. my ears were ringing with that familiar symphony being played by fate, karma, destiny and the other instruments of the Ethereal Orchestra.

“…you do? You have one spot available?”

i knew quite well that the only job i had was to accept whatever was happening. long story short, a freak opening and a scholarship later, i was off to see Pema Chödrön with Sue.

Omega Institute Welcome

Welcome to Omega. photo: Sue Cummings

the weekend was, without hyperbole, life-changing.

Omega lives up to its hype. the environment is serene, the vegetarian food is most delicious, and the Ram Dass Library made me feel like i was soaking information in by osmosis. Sue and i went fishing on the lake—even though it was catch and release, it was sort of not allowed said Nick the lifeguard. we found out after Sue caught two beautiful fish as we shared stories about life’s many gifts, about being stuck and set free. i took a great yoga class and did yoga outside, practicing compassion and attention amongst the plants and insects.

the workshops themselves were truly enlightening. Tim Olmsted is a clear and gentle meditation teacher. i experienced much insight through his intelligent approaches. i also had an opportunity to take an Alexander Technique workshop with Hope Martin. i have been practicing Alexander since 2004, but this is the first time i have been in a class setting in probably seven years. it was a great refresher and revolutionized my thinking in terms of applying Alexander Technique to meditation posture. both Alexander and meditation are processes that help us learn to recognize and release tension (in our bodies and minds, respectively, although not exclusively). this helps us get back to our natural way of being without getting in our own way and working so hard. as Hope so eloquently put it, “You don’t have to embellish your basic humanness.” this is what we do when we tense up against and close our hearts to the world.

and i now know why Ani Pema is loved the world over. she is articulate and present; it is clear that she is a channel for wisdom and light to flow through. she makes concepts that may be difficult to understand relatable to our everyday lives, particularly in Western society where this way of thinking can have a much-needed impact. quite simply, Ani Pema is a delight. she emanates love and humor in equal doses. i could sit there and listen to her speak for an eternity. she also inspires me to sit alone and study, practice, and contemplate, so that i too may touch and share such unconditional love and wisdom to help relieve the suffering in the world.

any one of these experiences would have been reason enough to inspire boatloads of gratitude. it was obvious that it was worth it to take a leap and go with what was happening, but the clincher came at the last moment just when it seemed all was ending (as good clinchers tend to do).

it was the very end of the weekend and Ani Pema was saying a tremendous list of thank yous to everyone who made the workshop possible. the acknowledgments and outpouring of gratitude were incredibly moving. then, Ani Pema said something that would change the course of my life in an instant. she looked out and it was as if time stopped and there was a floodlight emanating from inside her. it was totally surreal. she started talking about this temple that they are building in Colorado and how it is really special to her. she joked-not-joked about how self-servedly she wanted it built so she didn’t have to walk up the big hill anymore. she said that it would also serve as a very important place for spiritual activity and world peace. the last note i wrote from the weekend was:

“Benefits of retreat Sanga Dalí Temple??? Colorado”

Salvador Dali temple key

photo: Richard Termine, “The Dalí Project” created by Puppet Junction (Serra Hirsch and Sophia Remolde)

it turns out that is not what it is called (its real name is the Sangdo Palri Temple), but i have an obsession with Salvador Dalí and sometimes we hear what we want to. i thought: if there was a group of people studying some form of surreal Buddhism at the Salvador Dalí Temple, then i needed to be there.

at the rate of light speed, the thought flashed through my mind: Maybe i can go there and help. i had left Ship Bottom in the end of March and had been bouncing around again in the search for a new home and purpose. my only guiding principle being: Go where you are needed. for awhile it had not been particularly clear where that might be. i thought: Maybe they need help in Colorado.

then Ani Pema said, “In the café there is a table next to the Pema Chödrön Foundation table and you can find more information. I really encourage you to go and look at it.” these final words cut through the space like a surgical knife doing a mini-operation on my heart. i vowed to go and see what i could find.

then the retreat was over. (or so i thought.)

i met back up with Sue who told me the list of things she needed to do before we hit the road, which included (of course) going over to the café to take care of some business at the Pema Chödrön Foundation table.

“Great, I need to go there too!” i felt like i had yelled it even though no one seemed to notice any unnecessary enthusiasm.

entering the café, that drifting feeling hit me again. on my more neurotic days, i call it “feeling lost.” after the serenity of the weekend, it felt okay to just loiter around and wait for something to happen. when there was a clearing, the women at the Foundation Table pointed me to the other table but not before giving me a sweet little book by Pema Chödrön called “Practicing Peace.” i was touched and surprised.

i walked up to the other table. there was a woman there asking a lot of questions about buying things and a very mellow guy behind the table eating a salad. i hovercrafted around the table wondering if the sought after information would somehow reveal itself.

i found a flyer for the Sangdo Palri Temple that said, “The World Needs Places of Refuge.” earlier that day, i had had a lengthy conversation with another woman. she had asked Ani Pema a question during the retreat and i was sitting by the microphone. afterwards, she thanked me for being there. i was very moved by this. i told her i thought her question was very brave about how i really respected her intention to let go of her anger. then she told me what it means to “take refuge.” these words from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Pema Chödrön’s root teacher, feel particularly resonant:

By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees. Taking refuge does not mean saying that we are helpless and then handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. There will be no refugee rations, nor all kinds of security and dedicated help. The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security. We have to give up our sense of home ground, which is illusory anyway. We might have a sense of home ground as where we were born and the way we look, but we don’t actually have any home, fundamentally speaking. There is actually no solid basis of security in one’s life. And because we don’t have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak.

Relating to being lost and confused, we are more open. We begin to see that in seeking security we can’t grasp onto anything; everything continually washes out and becomes shaky, constantly, all the time. And that is what is called life.

So becoming a refugee is acknowledging that we are homeless and groundless, and it is acknowledging that there is really no need for home, or ground. Taking refuge is an expression of freedom, because as refugees we are no longer bounded by the need for security. We are suspended in a no-man’s land in which the only thing to do is to relate with the teachings and with ourselves.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, excerpted from: Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist

in a nutshell, “taking refuge is a landmark of becoming a Buddhist, a nontheist.” it means committing oneself to a life of awakening through the unbroken lineage, guidance, and discipline established by the Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago. to me, it means to shed the illusions of a particular kind of life or self that feels very real but is not actually true. it means going on a magical journey through one’s own experience in a newly awakened and mindful way. really embracing this requires some guidance, which one can find when they take refuge.

so i took the Sangdo Palri Temple’s flyer and was about to go on my way when in the way appeared a small table next to the main table. it had a t-shirt on it that read: “HEAL YOUR HEART, SAVE A LIFE!” it had a giant lobster graphic with a hand holding it. in that moment nothing more profound could have resonated with me, perhaps in need of saving and most definitely looking to serve life in some way.

the guy eating the salad came over to me and i asked, “Um, so what’s the deal with this shirt?”

Lobster_post-card

image: Tatjana Krizmanic, to support Mangala Shri Bhuti’s life release practice. high quality items available for purchase at: MSB’s store

he pretty much asked me in return what my deal with the shirt was. i explained the historical significance of the lobsterbird and how lobsters are incredibly important to me artistically and spiritually. turns out, Joey is half Japanese, he almost wasn’t even going to put the shirt out there on that table but did it anyway, and they were doing this practice in two days called tsetar where animals destined for slaughter are blessed and returned to their natural environment instead of being eaten. their particular practice of tsetar was devoted to, you guessed it, lobsters.

“I think I need to go do that with you,” i blurted out.

Joey said something like, “We would love to have you join us.”

i was already in the lobster trap before he finished his sentence.

my mind was spinning: “I am supposed to go back to NJ in a minute. Is it horrible to not go back with Sue? How will I get to Portland, Maine? Oh my god, Portland, Maine! Over the winter my family was talking about going to Maine because my grandparents used to go fishing there. And Dan contacted me while I was in Ship Bottom! I hadn’t spoken to him in about six years since he moved to Portland and he contacted me out of the blue a couple months back. I wasn’t able to talk on the phone but I said I would love to catch up in person…this wasn’t really what I meant but…”

it occurred to me that if i called Dan, he answered his phone, and would let me crash at his place, then i would do everything i needed to go. Dan answered the phone.

“Hey Dan, so this is really weird and hard to explain, but if I came to Portland like, tonight, do you have a place I could stay?”

“What??? Why are you coming to Portland?”

“It’s going to sound crazy but I’m releasing lobsters into the wild and I kind of need to leave now if I’m going to come. I promise I’ll explain when I get there, but I really just need to know either way if I’d have a place to stay once I got there.”

Dan, bless his heart, said yes.

i talked to Sue who was unsurprisingly supportive, and got in a car with Joey, his wife, Vanessa, and their daughter, Lila. it turns out we would be listening to “A Wrinkle in Time” on audiobook, which is a seminal text from my childhood. i had even reread last summer. my sister, Alicia, had even gifted me a beautiful set of the entire series after my obsession reignited. getting into that car to go on a Lobster Pilgrimage was like traveling through a tesseract to bridge some points that were otherwise light years away. i had spent a great deal of time researching stillness and being exactly where i am. it seemed the primordial flow was telling me it was time to go.

Omega Institute

Coming, Going, Same Same. photo: Sue Cummings

i laughed as i remembered Ani Pema during the retreat, saying one of my favorite things in the world:

“What is it they say in Star Trek?” she nodded. “Resistance is futile.”

even if it meant getting assimilated into the Borg Collective, i was well on my way to a whole new dimension.

it was time for Lobsterbird to set sail and spread its wings once again.

Lobsterbird Dancing

Lobsterbird Rising: Collaborator / Photographer: AE. http://cargocollective.com/artbyAE images available as archival-quality prints which benefit the artists. contact: oceaninthevoid@gmail.com

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and faith of both.

Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows—then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky,—then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet~

 

for Part 2 of the Lobsterbird Pilgrimage: Where the Heart Is (Part 2)

Related posts:

Written by lobsterbird