I marvel at all of the miracles, overlapping soul circle connections, meant-to-be interactions and delightful surprises that pop up like so many wildflowers on a green expanse. I am tempted to roll around in them, laughing my joy to the heavens. I do that symbolically on a daily basis. It is what gets me through at times when life gets lifey and the world is too much with me. As I am typing these words, I am simultaneously listening to the clamor of construction outside my window, soothed by the sonic sweetness of Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens who reminds me to listen to the winds of my soul and understand “where I end up, well, I think only God really knows.” Such an interesting juxtaposition. I could be annoyed and distracted by the rumbling of trucks and beeping backup noises…a cacophony. I have learned to shut them out and immerse in the music instead.
What also charms me are the treasures that show up as messages from the Divine. My friend Paul Dengler, who is a Forrest Gump impersonator (among other things such as being a singer songwriter, performer, writer and artist.) shared a concept with me that showed up in conversation he had with a friend of his. He calls it ‘accidestined’ and defines them as “those things that seem random, but are really part of a larger plan.” I still meander back and forth between the idea that all things are pre-ordained as if written by an unseen hand on a parchment that we unroll or if we are given a blank sheet of paper ourselves on which we inscribe and describe our days. Somewhere in between lies free will and a handy eraser. We agree that our meeting was like that. We connected nearly two years ago at an outdoor music festival and bonded instantly. It turns out that although he lives in the Nashville area and I am in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, he grew up 10 minutes away from I make my home now. How cool is that?
When I was a teenager, my best friend Barb, her mother Stella and I climbed into the car for a road trip from Willingboro, New Jersey to Doylestown, Pennsylvania where we went to the Polish festival at Our Lady of Czestochowa shrine. It seemed to me at the time that it was on the other side of the planet when in fact, it may have been 90 minutes away. Now it is practically in my back yard, a mere five miles or so away. It is one of my go-to places to sit and meditate and commune with Mother Mary. She was a nice Jewish girl too, so we have that in common.
Yesterday my iphone froze up. I couldn’t even turn it off, so I hightailed it over to the closest AT&T store. I had a sense that there was a reason for it and I would likely have an fun encounter as a result and naturally I did. I walked in and with a bit of dismay, saw a bunch of folks waiting to be seen. Sighs turn to smiles, as I noticed my friend Julie Druzak sitting with one of the techs, getting to know her new phone. We hugged and chatted a bit and acknowledged the serendipitous timing of our meeting. Although I needed to wait for likely another 30 minutes, I also got to watch (several times), a video of a young woman/fashion designer who got the surprise of a gorgeous dress to wear to an awards dinner, created by someone she profiled on her fashion blog. That was followed by a little girl whose family was planning her birthday party. Her handy grandfather crafted a beautiful doll house and her culinarily talented grandmother baked her a cake that I’m sure tasted as good as it looked. I could have been growly and impatient, but instead, realized that if I had to wait, I might as well make it pleasant. I vicariously enjoyed the adventures of Kayla who called herself a ‘technista’ (conjunction of techie and fashionista) and Zoe, the beautiful birthday girl surrounded by her loving family. Both of these scenarios were actually ads for the various products that AT&T were selling, but the relational element added a nice touch.
What if each moment of the day played out like that? What if we are always at the right place at the right time to connect with the exact right people for the adventure of a lifetime?
Twenty five years ago, what was merely a seed kernel of an idea, called Living Beyond Breast Cancer,that was cultivated in the mind and heart of Marisa C. Weiss, MD, a radiation oncologist, became a dynamic, expansive event in Philadelphia’ the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ and ‘Sisterly Affection’. In 1991, she sought to bring together support and information for her patients who had received diagnoses of breast cancer. Knowing that she had medical knowledge, but not first hand experience, she went directly to the source..her patients themselves.
Five years later, Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, the organization’s first executive director (now chief executive officer) added her passion and dedication to the mix.
Fifteen years ago, yoga teacher Jennifer Schelter brought her inspiration to the team for what was once called Yoga Unites For Living Beyond Breast Cancer and has evolved into Reach and Raise. Back then, 150 gathered on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to raise funds as they lowered and raised their bodies on their yoga mats.
I found out about the event via a high school friend named Abe Morris. His wife Andi is not only a survivor of breast cancer, but indeed, a thriver who has gone on to take her experience and empower others. A few years ago, I joined other intrepid yogis and yoginis on a blustery and rainy May day as I stretched both on and off the mat. The experience became a chapter in my book The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary, called Mammogram Mambo and stressed the importance of breast care.
Then, in 2012, on a considerably more hospitable day, I returned to the steps and went even deeper into the practice; writing about it for Beliefnet in an article called Yo-ga Adrienne! which was a nod to the cinematic character Rocky who had dashed up those same steps.
On May 15, 2016, I joined a group of hardy souls once again on a day that nearly mirrored that first time I went. Clouds scuttled across a steel grey sky with the occasional sun-burst initially. Layers of jackets and coats covered clothes more appropriately suited for a warm studio than a gusty inner city out door venue. Rainbow hued mats covered the area, like so many beach towels, awaiting reclining bodies to lie down on them. As I scouted out my space, I decided to remain on the lower level, rather than traverse the steps which were more exposed to the wind.
The day began with Alexa Fong Drubay getting us giggly with the bubbling over power of Laughter Yoga. Warmed us heart and soul and set us in high spirits for the rest of what was to follow.
I meandered around, soaking up the energy that permeated the space, through the smiles and hugs of those who were stretching, laughing, hugging and chatting in anticipation. I had the chance to connect with Jennifer who was garbed in a grey winter coat, that matched the sky, and with kirtan artist Yvette Pecoraro whose lovely voice wafted over the crowd of over 2500, during the class that Jennifer led.
This was done with grace and humor. The focus was on living our dreams, without hesitation, even if we tremble at the thought of it. Many who were there had the opportunity to renew or perhaps, for the first time, establish theirs, following their diagnosis or that of someone they love. Some of the asanas (poses) were meant to reflect that. I looked at the heart opening poses as allowing me to bare myself to all that I want. I viewed the balancing poses as a way of showing me that even as I may sway and sometimes even topple over, I can still regain my composure and stand once again. I was grateful for the supportive postures: tree and Lord of the Dance, being done my placing a hand on the back of the person next to us. Jennifer asked us to hold in our hearts and minds, the image of our deepest dreams.
The end of the practice had us lying in Sivasana , as Yvette offered her exquisite new song called We Are One, accompanied by the sweet voices of The Philadelphia Boys Choir. I could feel the sun peering out, melting away the chill and sealing in my deepest heart’s desires. As Yvette declared at the beginning of her musical offering…and so begins the love.
It occurred to me today that in a month, I will be celebrating my second cardiaversary. In the interceding time since the heart attack, I have opened my heart, stretched comfort zones, allowed myself to be vulnerable, held my own heart sacred, let others in, took down the walls, peeled off the layers to reveal the real, spread my wings and lived my bliss. Scary and exhilarating all at the same time. Opening the anahata…heart chakra is like that.
Far more than mere physiological healing has taken place. Although I have dramatically altered my schedule, diet, exercise and med regimen, an even bigger change has taken place internally. I don’t take the cavalier approach to life as I had before, knowing that it turns on a dime and that it can move rapidly from one extreme to another. Not that I was physically reckless in previous years. Rather, I was unconscious and would often symbolically sleepwalk through my days, counting on an infinite number to follow. Not fearing death then or now. Just honoring that it is awaiting my willingness to take its outstretched hand when the time comes.
Yesterday, as I was taking a walk in Valley Forge Park with my friend Robyn Evans, many of these thoughts were formulating, as if lining up for me to write about them, like the soldiers who were in that encampment during the Revolutionary War. Although, according to the website ushistory.org, no actual battle was fought on those grounds, there was death and disease lurking about. I could clearly feel the residual energy of those who lived and died there and on occasion, could catch a shadow from behind the cabins that remained.
One of Robyn’s hats is that of a hospice chaplain. As we strolled, she shared stories about the patients and their families which she has served over the years. One after the other, were tales of facing fears of dying (not death itself, but the process leading up to it.) Some were accomplished with tears of regret, and others of joy and gratitude. For some, anger was a companion and for others, abundant love. One in particular, remained with me. He had fought in Okinowa and told her that when he died and met God, he would ask God for an apology for all he had been through and all he had seen in war, saying something like, he couldn’t un-see it. Powerful admission.
Each day brings with it an opportunity to embrace life and the people in it more fully and completely. Putting aside thoughts of ‘not enough,’ has been my challenge lately. It has been that way for years, that no matter what I do, it never seems to match my somewhat insane expectation that I need to be more productive or more loving, understanding or more…..whatever it is I think I am lacking. It is part of what led to the cardiac event in the first place. When I think about the nature of the medical condition, I make a link to the idea that the artery that was fully occluded, was really a metaphor for not allowing free flow of love and acceptance to occur.
In order for me to continue the dance on this earthly plane, I need to both reach and root and keep my heart chakra open, so that when my time comes, I will not have wasted a moment.
“Why do you leave out what is intimate and go in for what is external?” -(Bhagavan in ‘Talks with Sri Ramana’ 106)
This quote and query all in one came to me via a dear soul and fellow spiritual traveler, Tom Ziemann who penned a treatise himself on such exploration, called The Department of Zenitation. He challenged me to write about it and not being one to turn away from a dare, of course, I had to scoop it up and delve deeply, since depth is at the core of intimacy.
In my years on this planet, it has become one of my favorite explorations. Not one to skate on the surface of the pond in any relationships, I have come to see the word as into-me-see. A mirror; sometimes squeaky clean, sometimes distorted, smudged and blurry. When we come face to face with another, we may feel a need to hide our deepest fears and instead present a masked image, falsely believing that who we are beneath it is unacceptable. What if this person really saw the all too human messy emotions and less than laudable thoughts that swirled about in our minds? Would they run screaming or would they remain and, with delight, contemplate what else might be under there? Could we each bare our hearts and souls to each other, even if we are trembling in trepidation?
And what of intimacy with the Self, the One who gazes back, reflected in the looking glass? Which is more intimidating? We may able to run, but ultimately not hide, since we live with ourselves 24/7 for the rest of this incarnation and who knows how many others? I can vouch for my experience of pretending to be someone I wasn’t, in the service of keeping up appearances. Lately, as I have been peeling off the layers to reveal the real, I have found that intimacy with others I have in my life now and will call in, in the future had increased exponentially.
Lastly, what of intimacy with the Divine. Are we even more timid to face whatever we perceive God to be? My favorite poetry is that of the ecstatic poets Rumi and Hafiz whose words are lush love songs to the Divine as well as the human Beloved.
While the external; the trappings of worldly success or illusion of what true beauty looks like, may seem safer to pursue, it is likely only in the raw and real, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of human existence where intimacy grows and thrives, like the lotus arising from the mud.
What if each time we gazed into the eyes of any Beloved, we beheld The Face of God?