Letting Spirit be my guide.

It is cold and grey outside. Inside, we are adjusting to being back in this hemisphere. Back on this side of the Atlantic. Back in winter. Back in our routine. Splitting time between two homes, between home and work, between ourselves and each other, between Mommy and Daddy's house, between it all. The adjusting is painful. It always is. We both take a while to land, and despite the regularity of this, it catches us off-guard every time. Takes us by surprise and comes out in all sorts of backward and sideways places. All we want is each other and the wide open expanse of summer days in the sun, bodies splashing in warm water, held in our family's warm embrace. But we can't find the words for it. Instead it comes out in tearful cries; in stomping feet demanding this or that to fill the void.

How do we learn to listen to each other with love and compassion? How can I see my daughter as a mirror, reflecting back to me all the hidden places that still require my attention? How can I show up to her with love, with compassion, and with certitude? How can I parent her to be loving and kind, empathetic and resilient, soft and strong and filled with light?

The only way is for me to continue to nurture those qualities within myself. To find the things that bring me joy, that connect me with my own inner child, inspiring me to play, to lose myself in the flow of something greater, to grow wide and open, a channel for God's love and creative energy.

My intention for this eclipse season, and its final full moon last night, is to let Spirit be my guide. In all things. Always. Over and over I am presented with the truth: God is everything or God is nothing. What is my choice to be? How do I choose to live?

This post was originally my July 2019 newsletter. Click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter today. (I promise to respect your privacy.)

On Yoga

From March to June this year, I had the privilege of participating in a yoga teacher training course with some of the most inspiring and heart felt men and women I’ve met in a long time. Yoga came into my life over ten years ago. My first memory of it was a group class at college, where I felt suspicious and curious in the way one does when you come upon something true and holy and new that you are perhaps not entirely ready for.  My next memory is of a hot class in the middle of winter in Northampton, Massachusetts. I emerged sweat-drenched into the snow-covered parking lot and was again awestruck at the unspeakable power of bodies moving in unison. Of being stuck on my mat in a hot room with nowhere to go but inside. Nothing to do but move and breathe.

My next encounter with yoga was in a treatment centre in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It had been years since that freezing evening in Northampton and my life had come apart at the seams. I finally failed to keep it together - failed to keep up the pretence of a life that worked amidst the truth that I was exhausted and dying inside without any real idea why or what was going on. Thankfully, I was willing to get quiet for long enough to consider boarding a plane to the desert to spend eight weeks surrounded by other men and women who had filled their lives with sex and booze and drugs and had found a way out. Men and women who had found God and love and freedom and beauty where there used to be only darkness. Men and women who would share their path with me, be lighthouses, show me the way.

One of them was a woman named Pasha who came twice a week to teach yoga in the small trailer with brown carpet and tiny windows that stood overlooking the pink hills of the New Mexico desert. Three or four of us would gather with her as she led us from one pose to the next, moving our bodies, breathing, feeling limbs move in ways I had only ever moved for other people. For sex or love or affirmation. Never before had I moved my body this way. For quiet. For myself. Yoga introduced me to the holy power of my own body. The divine beauty. The sanctity. It was a coming home to my relationship with my body as a temple. A physical manifestation of the Divine. A cherished home. A safe place. A homecoming of the greatest magnitude.

After those seven weeks in Santa Fe I returned home to New York. It took months for me to remember anything I had learned there, for me to realize the absolute necessity of integrating the tools I had been presented with into my daily life. After a few months, desperate and alone, I wandered into a church basement and introduced myself to a room of strangers honestly and earnestly and before the night was through another woman offered her hand in help. Another lighthouse. A rescue boat. The path to a new life.

It was on this path that I found my way to yoga again. A crowded studio on St Marks Place where I paid a dollar for every class. A quiet room overlooking Court Street, mats laid out on creaky wooden floors and winter light pouring through the high windows. When we moved to Cape Town, I found you again. Free classes in De Waterkant. A backroom at the gym. I arrived at yoga tentatively for a while longer, but after too many years of doing battle with the voices in my head that told me this was something perhaps more beautiful and lovely than I deserved, I started to come around to the truth that in fact this is my medicine. My soul food. Like oxygen or water; like love.   

And so it is true. Yoga is the medicine that brings me home to myself and God as I have continue to walk through this hard and beautiful life. As I attempt to ride her waves with grace and dignity, squeezing all I can from each moment and growing closer to God all the time. Through the ups and downs of the most earnest attempt at marriage I could muster, bearing the loneliness of being unseen in the company of your husband, thousands of miles away from home, and then the loss of that marriage, becoming a mother and a divorcee all at the same time. The loss of friends who filled the loneliness, the dream of raising daughters together, of sisterhood and laughter and Thanksgiving dinners with our found family. And then the majesty of falling in love again. The pain of betrayal. The horror of abandonment. Of being faced with my demons again and again and again. How could I continue to face my pain? To walk through the darkness? To trust that somewhere there must be more light?

Some days all I can do is put my body in the room. Feet on the mat. Breathing in and out as I follow the teacher’s voice deep into my bones. A lighthouse guiding me within. Guiding me home to myself again and again. Showing me the way. Telling me the truth: You have been here the whole time. You have all the answers you need. You are already whole. You are already forgiven. You are already loved. You can stop looking. Stop moving. Stop. Be here now. Be still. Get quiet. Come home. I’m here.

The mat has been beneath my feet the entire way. My strong body surrendering to itself. Held by the practice. Held by my own breath.  

Eternal gratitude for this practice. For the depth of its truth. For the teachers along the way who have taught me to love myself when I didn’t know how. Who have held space for my tears, for my expansion, for my heart when it was breaking and when it was being pieced back together again, bigger and more filled with love than before. For the women who have inspired me to come back to myself again and again, to dig deeper, trusting I would find more light there. More gems to mine. More soil to till. More nourishment here than anywhere else. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Getting drunk & sober in a dry religion.

Originally published on The Temper.

**

For years, alcohol was my God.

I relied on booze, drugs, and sex to fill a void inside me that felt all but impossible to fill. No matter how much I consumed, the darkness only ever got bigger, darker, and more terrifying. The desperate loneliness I felt was all consuming. The shame was heavy as lead.

I was raised in a religion where drinking is strictly forbidden. So beneath whatever shame had accumulated as a result of my booze-fuelled escapades was the shame that, no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not stay away from this stuff. Initially, I did not want to try that hard. I reveled in the rebellion. I reveled in the invincibility I felt with alcohol rushing through my veins. But underneath it, down in my core, was a deeper knowing. A sense of homelessness; of not belonging anywhere — not to my religion, to my family, to myself, or to God.

The Baha’i Faith has plenty of other spiritual laws it calls upon its believers to adhere to. Baha’is are not supposed to speak poorly about anyone behind their back, be physically intimate outside of the confines of marriage, or harbor hatred or prejudice towards anyone; we are supposed to pray and meditate daily, fast for 19 days once a year, and work towards the unity of mankind above all else. The truth is that these laws are all held in equal regard. God does not care about some more than others, nor does the Baha’i Faith speak of a vengeful God who expects absolute perfection from its believers. But, as a teenager raised in a Baha’i household, I was certainly expected not to drink booze, not to come home stoned, and not sleep over at my boyfriend’s house or sneak men into the basement in the middle of the night.

Although I have come to know myself and identify as an alcoholic, believing wholeheartedly that nothing worthwhile will come of my life unless I put down the booze (and realizing that I never managed to do this on my own), my tug of war with God’s rules started years before my first drink… with my first kiss. The rush of adrenaline, affirmation, approval, and endorphins that came from that secret kiss in a synagogue hallway far exceeded any Divine Love I had felt up to that point. Some part of me suspected I might be disappointing God (or my parents, though the difference was not clear at that stage), but I enjoyed the whole thing far too much to stop. In fact, as you might have guessed, I only wanted more.

The shame of wanting to break the rules more than I wanted to uphold them started to seep in right then. Before long, I was convinced that God was completely unimpressed with, disappointed in, and uninterested in me if I could not get these right. When I started drinking, this was the perfect excuse to get very, very drunk pretty much every time I drank. If I was going to piss God off, I might as well make it worthwhile.

As the years progressed and the darkness settled in, the shame deepened. It evolved from shame at not wanting to stop to shame at not being able to stop or change no matter how hard I tried. I remember, near the end of my drinking, wanting so badly to go home to my husband and love him well, only to find myself on the other side of town, in another man’s bed, drunk.

What had happened? How had I strayed so far from the woman I had hoped to be? Become so lost? During that time, I attended a Baha’i conference in Stamford, Connecticut, where I heard a talk by one of the most gentle and honest men I have ever met. His words were loving and kind but they cut to the core. He spoke of men and women who know right from wrong but, despite their best efforts, continue to choose wrong. He was speaking about me, and for the first time in years, I felt some hope. He spoke with love. For an instant, it felt like it could be possible that God still loved me — despite the darkness, despite the pain I had caused myself and others. Perhaps the realm of the spirit was not lost on me after all.  

It was not long after that I found myself in a treatment center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. High in those pink and purple desert mountains, I started my journey back to God. It was clear in the brilliant colors of the sunset and the bright light of the full moon that God was all around me. It was there that I began to consider the possibility that God was inside me, too. That God was perhaps bigger and different to anything I had ever imagined. That the punishing, judgmental, disappointed God of my drinking was perhaps not God at all but my parents, my community, and even my own disappointment in myself. That perhaps God had never abandoned me or judged me but had been waiting patiently for me to return.

Despite these profound experiences and the life-changing effect they had on me (sobriety, honesty, and fidelity, for a start), I spent years terrified of “coming out” to the Baha’i community about my identity as a recovering alcoholic and addict. To some degree, I continued to live a double life. I was terrified of the judgment I assumed would be heaped on my head for not being able to abide by the laws, for struggling to uphold something that surely any good, decent Baha’i would be able to do with ease.

There is a passage in the book “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions,” by Bill Wilson, that speaks about the “profound confusion” felt by the “wanderer from faith.” The person who once had faith but found it wanting; who abandoned the faith of their childhood, believing that a life based on decent morals and material success would suffice. While I had never abandoned my faith entirely, to a large degree I felt that I had no choice but to relate to it from afar thanks to my many missteps. I couldn’t see how I could ever come into a full, honest relationship with a faith that I still imagined would judge me harshly for my past — a past that I was realizing I had no choice but to embrace fully if I was really going to recover. I had to believe in a loving God, a God that loved me wholeheartedly, not even in spite of my imperfections but perhaps loved me because of them. A God that loved me not because of my goodness, but because of His. The question was whether I could reconcile this understanding of a God big enough and loving enough to save my life with what I understood of the God I grew up with.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure. But eventually, I decided that speaking the truth about my past so that some other drunk Baha’i might read it and find hope was far more important than avoiding any possible judgment about how good I was or was not. I suppose I decided that the God I had come to believe in would want that more than He would want me to appear perfect (which I actually do not believe God cares about in the least). I suppose I decided to risk it: To risk being imperfect in order to be true. To risk judgment in order to bring hope. To risk looking bad in order to free my soul.

The miracle is this: I have come to learn that the God of my faith is vast. That the God spoken of in the Baha’i scriptures is mystical, loving, forgiving, and beautiful. Over and over again He is referred to as “All-Forgiving,” “Compassionate,” “Bountiful,” and “Merciful.” The ideas I had about God were about me, they weren’t about God.

The first time I wrote publicly about being in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, I was about eight years sober. It was a post on social media; I remember hitting “Share” and being at once exhilarated and terrified. I was finally brave enough to share my story with the world; to be honest about who I am and how I got here. I thought the best I could hope for would be comments and likes from my recovery friends. What I found was that, along with messages and comments from women and men I have known my whole life. Baha’is who I always assumed had never struggled with, or come face to face with, addiction, alcoholism, or any other struggles that may have challenged their faith in or reliance upon God.

They thanked me for my honesty. They applauded my courage. They offered their own stories. They showed me that God lives in us all. That the stories of judgment and isolation were my own. That I could return to my faith, be held by it, and be given the chance to bloom.

Walking each other home.

In Cape Town, the seasons are changing again. For most of my life, March and April brought the first stirrings of spring after a long, cold winter. But in Cape Town the days are getting shorter. Mornings are darker. The light filtering through the branches outside my bedroom window is soft. The air is cool. The skies are painted with brilliant oranges and purples as the sun rises and sets in our changing sky.
 
As seasons change, so life changes. This month I am quitting my full time job. I am getting married. I am in the midst of a yoga teacher training course I have been wanting to do for years. And I am doing lots of spiritual self-inquiry work that sometimes leaves me breathless. Who is at the center of it all? How do I stay grounded in times of upheaval and change? How can I stay rooted in myself, in gratitude and stillness?
 
More than anything, I want to be present. I want to be awake for my life; for every beautiful, earth-shattering change. I want to remember this time with a smile. With a sense of wonder at the miracles God makes possible when we surrender ourselves to Spirit. I want to move through change as a river flows. I want change to unfold like a sunrise across my landscape.
 
How do we get there? For me, the answer is always: more God, less self. Times of change present so many opportunities to cling to the thorns of my ego. To become completely entangled in them. Paralysed. Convinced of them entirely. This is never the answer. It never works. Never leads to freedom or peace. The answer is always: Go to God. God can remove the thorns.

How do I find the path to God? It is right here. In every friendship, every phone call, every Circle. Every like-hearted being who crosses my path. You show me the way. Thank the heavens for you all. Thank the heavens for your hands in mine. Your hearts holding my heart. Your spirits surrounding me. Your palms on my back. Your love. "Take my hand," she says, "I will show you the way."

We are all just walking each other home. We are the path to God. 

This post was originally my April 2019 newsletter. Click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter today. (I promise to respect your privacy.)

Every stuck place is an invitation.

Last month I wrote and shared about learning to meet my soft heart with tenderness and care, and February presented me with many opportunities to embrace my tenderness. To hold space for softness, for tears, for breath, for light. To hold space for that flickering light inside to grow brighter.

Opportunities to expand are also opportunities to come face to face with lots of old monsters. The stories I cling to for dear life despite the fact that they are killing me. Suffocating the flame. Drowning my breath. Rocks in my throat. A boulder on my chest. 

The Universe invites me to heal the places I am stuck. Every stuck place is an invitation. A messenger. More truth. More love. More old ideas and worn out stories shattered. More awake.

I focus my attention on the breath; breathe into that tender space between my ribs. Opening my heart. Digging out the rocks, making space to expand. 

"Hello, soft heart. I love you." 

What is possible when you are loved? When you are nurtured and cared for? Given permission to shine? You are the wellspring of joy, of art, of creativity and play, of tender love towards myself and others. You are where I want to parent from, to partner from, to create from. My only job is to return to you over and over again. To open my arms to you. To walk tenderly, joyfully, and intentionally, with the playful joy of a child and the loving care of her mother, towards you over and over again.

This month we will continue to invite ourselves back home to our own soft hearts, and explore what happens when we heed her call. 

This post was originally my March 2019 newsletter. Click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter today. (I promise to respect your privacy.)

The Ocean.

The ocean was calm this morning as I wound my way down the side of the mountain, through the trees, and towards the shore. The wide open blue stretched herself in front of me under a glistening sun. What does she make of me, I wonder. What does she make of us, come to her shores to bury our feet in her sand, ponder our insignificance, take comfort in our small place in this oh so wonderfully grand world. I must know something, I think, and nothing all at once. The mind is a tricky tool, too clever for its own good. We would be better off, I think, staring into the nothingness. Being carried away by the stars. Throwing ourselves like heavy rocks into the waves, allowing ourselves to be smoothed by the centuries. Grains of sand, channels of light, smooth as stone, or pearls.


Hello, soft heart. I love you.

January's days were full up with friendship, family, work, laughter, love, and also tears, resentment, fear, self pity, and plenty of self doubt. I don't think I am the only one who has felt catapulted into 2019 with full force.  I called a lot into being in 2018. There is a lot on the horizon, taking shape, beginning to bear fruit. So far, it has felt like a shake-up. There are big things in store this year and I can feel it. It requires courage, action, and the willingness to step into myself. It requires surrender and faith. But surrender can feel like falling. The space between today and tomorrow, between each step--that space of uncertainty-- can feel like an eternity. It is beautiful and terrifying all at once, of course, and sometimes my scared mind and tender heart take a while to catch up to the creative force and powerful voice I am working hard to set free. 

I am trying to meet myself with compassion. With love. With a soft voice and a gentle touch. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to feel tender. It is okay to be tired. Go towards love. Walk towards God. You know the way. You hold the light. 

So perhaps this is also a year of compassion. Of tender-heartedness. Of softness towards ourselves and others. A year of turning with love and care towards that scared, small voice inside that is yearning to be heard. A year of learning to embrace and protect her, give her the love the she needs, tend the garden of our hearts so that she can bloom.

This post was originally my February 2019 newsletter. Click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter today. (I promise to respect your privacy.)

Healing Love

Coming home to the truth of who you really are.
Standing firm in the beauty of your big, bright, beautiful heart.
Coming to believe that the Divine Love living inside you could be the love you have been looking for your whole life. 
Treating yourself as though that were true.
As though your story matters. (It does.)
As though people needed to hear it. (They do.)
As though your voice could move mountains. (It can.)
As though everything you have ever been looking for - all the love you crave - could be found right inside you. (IT CAN.)


Time to take the lid off.

It is Saturday and we are five days into this new year. In Cape Town, it is summer and the city is buzzing. Beginnings and endings everywhere. The wide open energy of sunshine, of beach days and blue sky - the shedding of winter skin as we dance excitedly and anxiously through the season and into the new year. 

Like many, I am not really one for resolutions. But I have to admit to some belief in and appreciation for the power that comes from honest self reflection and from the opportunity to commit to letting go of the past and using our creative imaginations to look ahead towards the future. I believe in intention, in commitment, in action, and in faith. 

2018 was a lot of things, but perhaps above all else it was a year of discovery. Many times it felt as though I was walking in darkness with only enough light to make it another step. The amazing thing is that I kept walking. The amazing thing is that there was always enough light. The amazing thing is that I learned the power and wisdom of my own inner guide. I learned to listen close. I learned to trust what I heard. I learned to trust where the light would lead me.

On the eve of the new year one of my teachers asked me, “What would happen if you took the lid off? What would happen if you refused to stay small? What would it be like if you gave yourself everything you need  to be the biggest, brightest, truest version of yourself?” 

The answer: my heart would sing. I would not be weighed down by the deep knowing that there is some divine dream I am too scared to realise. I would no longer be saddled with that heavy load. I would be free. 

So here is to a 2019 filled with the loudness of who we really are. Filled to the brim with the beauty of our powerful, purposeful voices. Overflowing with the love we have to share, our invaluable gifts, and our stories that matter. Here is to a year devoted to the magic that happens when we grab hold of who we truly are, the women we have always been.

This post was originally my January 2019 newsletter. Click here to sign up for my monthly newsletter today. (I promise to respect your privacy.)