We are taught to be anxious about things - future and past. And generally are inclined to spend far too great a percentage of our energy on this fruitless worry. The last few years have given me heaps of opportunities to worry, and I can assure you that I did my fair share. Nothing like the “C word” and “complications” to get a person to go there…. Not to mention all of your friends and acquaintances.
And, this worry is never about now. Right now things are actually just happening, no matter what is actually going on, even though it might be an overarching period of difficulty in your life and the waviness of life is still doing what it does. Life pulses and makes waves. But this moment in time, this moment, this now is actually fine.
When we forget about the natural pulse of life and resist it, we suffer. If you, for instance, take a deep breath and hold it…and KEEP holding it and keep holding it, you will very soon appreciate that in AND OUT are important and welcome. The pulse of breath and life. In and out. Up and down. Summer and Winter. So birth and death are important pulses and natural too.
It’s your life. Don’t miss it.
“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” - Mary Oliver
So, how can we find more impartial kindness-for ourselves, for others, for the planet, at this moment in time? How can we support each other-consciously feeling it all: sorrow, rage, confusion, pain, pressure? How can we find enough access to our heart/ centre so that we can be courageous/ heartful? (cœur = heart in French, cor = heart in Latin). How can we listen with our hearts and respond rather than react, accessing our discriminative intelligence?
Simple opportunities arise each and every moment. Two recent opportunities have presented themselves to me involving choirs full of strangers.
Choir invite number 1:
First the background- Three years ago The Voices of Our City Choir was created by an extraordinary friend of mine named Steph Johnson in response to the San Diego housing crisis. She couldn’t bear the homeless crisis in San Diego so she decided to do something about it. To do what she could. Homelessness rose 800% in one year. And, to add insult to injury, homelessness is technically illegal, so it’s a crime to be homeless and therefore punishable.
How could she create a bridge/ a threshold?
The choir was created with the aim to transform the perception and experience of homelessness through the healing power of music and singing together. Things have gone from strength to strength for the choir. It’s now a not-for-profit organisation offering weekly song writing lessons, guitar lessons, and choir practice along with a delicious healthy meal.
The thing I remember most about Steph’s inspiration was that she wanted to create a place where everyone, anyone, at least for an hour, could have the experience of dignity. We all need and deserve dignity. We all need and deserve holding.
A couple of months ago, in San Diego, I had the opportunity at long last, to sing and dance in the aisles with the ‘Voices of our City Choir’ weekly choir practice.
I went along to sing with the choir with 100 strangers who all had a different story. I got to see them perform an arrangement from my choir back in England, with which we have a fledgling song exchange going. I felt like I was at the best, most rocking jazz-gospel-dance extravaganza that I’ve been to in a very long time. So much love. So much generosity. So much life. Surrounded by strangers, all of whom I fell in love with. Living Awake.
Threshold held. Threshold opened.
Choir invite number 2: I was recently invited to a bilingual threshold choir rehearsal at Rancho la Puerta in Baja. I love the Threshold Choir movement and loved the chance to do it in this group.
Here is a snippet from that evening:
We gather to sing threshold songs*. We are a ragtag bunch of physical fitness instructors, Mexican housewives, a former singing nun, a landscape gardener, an artist and two cherubic girls, aged eight and 11.
We settle into a song. I muddle my way through in broken Spanish. And this, by grace or by God, creates enough of a doorway in us all. And the tender heart of this glorious eight-year-old sitting next to me on the couch connects with mine. For the rest of the song cycle, she leans on my right shoulder, comforted by my warmth and kindness. And I am, in turn, comforted by her trust and warm radiance. She is an orphan, which is unknown to me. The side she is leaning against is my scarred body side, which is unknown to her. Our bodies and hearts connect and for the rest of the song cycles we both melt and soften into each other. We hold and heal each other. Strangers crossing the threshold.
Threshold held. Threshold opened.
Compassion, we probably all could agree, is more important than ever. And, as the gorgeous Sylvia Borstein reminded me a while back in one of her fabulous Wisdom Week talks at Rancho la Puerta on the theme of courage, it’s important to differentiate between biased and unbiased compassion. Biased compassion is easier and is toward our already existing “in“ group and unbiased compassion is toward all beings and takes more cultivation. This latter practice tends to be more challenging.
Unbiased love is much more awake. Alongside this unbiased love for others we can start to see how the love of difficulties and pain and even death can become more integrated into our lives. Not pulling away from what is happening but staying open in an embodied, soulful way. Tolerance when it’s just cerebral will never be genuine. Otherwise there is a disparity between what we espouse cerebrally and cognitively and what our bodies are saying. The electromagnetic message, our transmission is clear, whether we can put our fingers on it or not.
And with both choirs - the large unsheltered choir or the little threshold choir full of strangers, these small moments, unexpected moments of opening to indiscriminate kindness, not pulled toward out of wanting, not pushed away out of false modesty. Simply being kind and open to those outside our set circle can make living while we are alive more awake.
Speaking of Living Awake, I’m very happy to let you know that I will be starting to offer courses and sessions again. Sloooowly but surely. I am calling it, with pun of course intended, the 'Dying to Live West Coast Tour', beginning in Canada where I'll be joined by my dear friend and collaborator Dr. Lilli Ruth Rosenberg and ending up in Rancho La Puerto. See below for details:
LIVING AWAKE: GRIEF, GRACE, AND GRATITUDE: September 29, 2019 to October 3, 2019 at Hollyhock on Cortez Island - an unparalleled center of learning, connection and cultural transformation. - 4 full day immersion.
PLUS - November 30 to December 7, 2019 at at Rancho la Puerta, the world-renowned fitness and spa retreat in the mountains of Baja California as part of a radical well-being program of offerings.
WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE: WOMEN LIVING WITH AND BEYOND BREAST CANCER: December 7 to 14, 2019 also at the world-renowned Rancho la Puerta.
These events are the bookends of my West Coast 2019 'Dying to Live' Tour. From the end of September through mid December 2019. I am considering Victoria Canada, Whidbey Island and Seattle WA, Portland OR, San Francisco CA, San Diego CA and environs. Contact me if you would like to organise a talk, workshop, an In Your Own Skin event: talk, book signing, film screening- in your West location or to book a private session.
If you’ve been inspired by this blog post, please pass it on to someone else who you feel might appreciate reading it too. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Thank you so so much!
Take care, Take Risks