love

Secrets of a Professional Snake Charmer

Seated safely behind glass, an audience of  twenty-five onlookers watch as Carl and Anne Barden mindfully bring out six plastic boxes to a well-lit table. Each one is labeled respectively: cobra, coral snake, cottonmouth, rattlesnake.

Carl removes an angry five-foot long creature from a drawer labeled “monocled cobra” and lets it loose on the table. Instantly it rights itself, “standing” with its tell-tale hood flared, its eye on the crowd.

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Carl moves about like a Kung Fu master, shifting gracefully, fearlessly around his “opponent”. Then with nothing but a modified golf club, he secures the snake to the table, just below the head. He then grabs it by the throat and brings the snake to the window for the crowd to see up close. Mouth open, fangs displayed, the snake is clearly pissed off.

That’s exactly what Carl wants.

When he knows the cobra is sufficiently worked up, Carl dips it’s fangs into a glass jar. Onlookers gasp as the yellow liquid is excreted into the vial. Carl swiftly returns the snake back into its warm little drawer, tucks it away, and pulls out another snake. According to Carl the snake has “paid its rent” and won’t be asked to perform for another fifteen days.snake coral milk

The Reptile Discovery Center, in Deland, Florida is home of Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, where Carl and Anne educate audiences on the nature of poisonous snakes and allow guests to watch as they collect venom samples for research and anti-venom purposes.

My family and I have seen this venom extraction here five times now and honestly, it never gets old. What impresses me more than the snakes themselves is the gentle, fearless dance that this “snake charmer” and his assistant do time and time again.

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After the “show” Carl was asked about the number of times he’s been bitten.

“Eleven, but every time it was my fault, not theirs,” he said, making clear that snakes aren’t the bad guys. He explained further, “All the snakes want to do is curl up safe and cozy in their warm boxes and then I come around and bring them out into this bright room…” Carl clearly feels deep compassion for his venomous friends.

This last time we were there, as I was watching these snakes ooze venom from their mouths I was struck with a realization…

This relationship Carl has to his snakes is not unlike our own relationships–both with the people around us, and more importantly with our own “snakes” within.

Like the charmer’s snakes, each of us is simply trying to get by with the tools we have been given. When we are not mindful of our actions, we are animalistic in our behaviors, reactionary. Most of us do not go seeking trouble, however if we are prodded, our snake-like emotions emerge and we behave in ways that can hurt others, as well as ourselves.

But as our friend the snake charmer showed us snakes are not inherently evil. They simply are what they are: Snakes. He expects nothing less, nothing more. Treating a rattle snake like it was, well, let’s say a kitten would simply be foolish.

Our own snake-like tendencies can be brought to the surface merely by the complications of day to day life. When this happens our dark-side emerges and sometimes, when it gets bad enough, we strike. For humans “striking” can be lashing out at others, but it can also be lashing out at ourselves, acting jealous, greedy, needy, or hopeless. We each have our own personal snakes. There’s no reason to be ashamed, angry, or afraid of these parts of ourselves. We are what we are.

The trick however is to recognize is that we are also the snake charmer.

It is our job to keep our personal snakes in line. How is this done? Just like Carl does. Understand the implicit behaviors of our own inner snakes and those around us. When we can learn to do the dance of the snake charmer, our serpents are kept at bay.

A good snake charmer knows all about his snake’s venomous dark side, yet is not scared. He shows up and does his work every day. He loves his snakes, for they are his life and livelihood. The secret? The more he charms them, the more balanced and mindful he becomes…and the less he is bitten.

The greatest part of the snake charmer’s journey is that as he develops the skill of taming his inner snakes, he also acquires the greatest skill of all—the ability to transform the most toxic of venom into something that has the power to help and heal.

Now that said, the snake charmer will make mistakes. Of course he will! He is only human. Errors happen. All the time. In fact, the other day, I watched a cobra lunge uncomfortably close to Carl’s leg. But Carl did not falter, instead he reacted with kung fu deftness and gently corrected for his error.

The goal is thus to keep learning, dancing, and developing our skills and in doing so we are able to “extract” wisdom from our errors and eventually heal ourselves (and others!) along the way.

Listen closely to the calling of your own soul and the dance of the snake charmer will be yours for the keeping.

Peace and love,

Becky

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Death and Life Entwined

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Today I attended a funeral for an aunt I never knew well.  What little I knew of her, I must say,  when my family would visit with my aunt and uncle and cousins I always admired her brash, out spoken nature. In spite of our infrequent visits I wanted to go to her funeral.  Family is family, love is love, no matter how distant.

My relatives have done very well for themselves. They live in southern Florida and exemplify the image of the Jewish family who always played their cards right and made it big. Their life is luxury, and they live it well.

The funeral was in an opulent funeral home, with large Greek pillars out front and floor to ceiling marble. The sanctuary was filled with wealthy men and women, country club goers, all with New York and Philadelphia accents. It felt foreign to my Midwestern upbringing, but very quickly all awkwardness melted away.

My cousins and uncle sat in the front row, holding each others hands, comforting each other when they broke into tears. As I watched this tenderness, heartbroken thoughts of the last funeral I had attended came to mind.

This funeral took place in Northern Florida, with a working class, non-Jewish family grieving the loss of my friend’s dear mother. She was a single mother, a strong source of love, who devoted much of her life to solely supporting her seven children. Making ends meet was never easy.

Given these two family’s backgrounds, you’d think the differences would outweigh the similarities…yet in many ways these two families, in this moment of sadness and loss were so similar, it was striking. Love, tenderness, vulnerability do not discriminate, because in the end grief is grief, love is love. No matter whether you’re living in a multi-million dollar home or just barely paying rent, sadness is still sadness. Heartbreak hurts, no matter who you are.

Today I saw my family’s humanness, their beautiful, bare tenderness, just as I saw with my friend’s family ten months before. Both share a deep love for one and other, and a devotion to family that keeps them steady in times of weakness.

There’s something so beautiful about death. In our broken moments of grief, we are at our very worst but we are also at our best. It is in these shattered times that we are in our truest form. We are not the wealthy banker, the waitress, or the homeless guy on the street corner; we are just humans, sad and broken in our loss. It’s in these moments that we become beautiful in our tenderness.

Most people I know fear vulnerability. We’re supposed to be strong, be champions of our own lives. “Never Quit” everyone says with rigid tenacity. We chant “life is good” and smile even when our heart aches. But when someone close to us dies, something happens and we can no longer hold up that front, and even if it’s just for a moment we break as we realize that we and everyone we love is fragile.

It’s during this window that our view of the world shifts in radical ways. We’re rudely awakened to the fact that most of this stuff—the things we wrap our identity around—doesn’t matter, not one bit and we’re left in this raw, vulnerable state that is both terrifying and absolutely beautiful.

As horrible and awful as these feelings of grief are, these rare moments to me are like gold, for this is the time when the heart splits open and in our bareness we are reminded who we are. It is then that we see that we are not the costumes we wear or the identities we take on, but instead we are simple, delicate beings. Human to the utmost.

There is nothing wrong with grief, there is nothing wrong with sadness and there is nothing wrong with letting your heart break open, because when you do, you expose that raw, bare piece of yourself. In that moment you have the opportunity to stand up and say “Here I am!”—not the cooperate investor, not the single mom, or the garbage collector—just YOU. Pure, simple, beautiful you.

When you celebrate who you truly are, a beautiful creature of dichotomies: strong and weak, radiant and ugly, fearful and brave—something great happens. The healing begins and suddenly there’s space for the sun to shine in.

I believe death is beautiful…because it is also life. The two are so closely intertwined that you can’t pull them apart. The more things end, the more that they begin.

Today at my aunt’s funeral I did not see that dark, ugly thing called “death” that people spend most their lives running from. All I saw was love. And although someone magnificent is missing from that picture today, my aunt is still here in her truest essence, because love does not die. Everything that she ever truly was lives on, moving outward like a ripple of golden light that spreads, touching everything in its wake.

Life is horrible, life is ugly, but it is also so exquisitely beautiful. In this world, you can’t have one without the other, in fact I think on some level they might be one and the same. Acknowledging this heart wrenching…yet astonishing truth is one of our greatest challenges we have as beings on this planet, but it is also holds one of our greatest rewards.

Do not fear your brokenness…it is your gift.

May light and love guide your path always.

Peace,

Becky

 

Night Vision

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Author’s Note: I was having trouble sleeping the other night, so I got up and started writing.  I have to say I was a bit surprised when this came out….

Once there was a princess, who had everything she ever wanted, but her life still felt empty. So, one night, while the palace was asleep, she slipped out the iron gate into the woods. The girl followed a trail of silver light along a path, lead only by the beckoning call of frogs within the wood.

Deep in the forest of pines, she stopped and stared at the moon. Away from the castle, this moon was much more beautiful than she ever knew. There beneath its brightness, she found herself smiling, experiencing a happiness she forgot she knew. So, alone among the oaks and pines, she danced in her shimmering gown of gold, her lithe body making silhouettes against the moonlit ground.

Every night, intoxicated by its greatness, she went into the wood and danced, sure that she could feel the moon’s silver kiss on her skin. In her gratitude, she brought her dear moon gifts: a white feather, a beautiful stone, and a deep green leaf. And although this celestial being did not speak, she decided she needed no thanks, for its constant glow alone was all she asked for.

Then one night, when she stepped out onto the trail, she could not see. The frogs did not sing, the crickets did not chirp. Her path was total darkness. Stumbling her way out to her space in the forest, she looked up to the sky and called out.

“Oh, moon? Moon? Where have you gone?” But there was no answer, only the cool breeze of the whispering wind.

The princess in the golden gown went home and wept. She cried, angry at herself as it dawned on her thatperhaps this moon, this creature of the night, was never hers to begin with.

What sort of foolish girl falls in love with the moon? she thought.

In her grief she was left empty… just a hollow girl, alone.

One night sleep refused to come. She lay awake in bed, her curtains open, looking to the black sky. Breathing long, slow breaths, she felt as if every golden spark of joy she ever knew was lost in the woods during the nights before.

As she lay there gazing at the subtle movement of blackened clouds, she heard a distant call.

Hoo, hoo, hoo….

The call of an owl.

She had heard once that owls were messengers of death, and in her sorry state death seemed dully appropriate.

Death of love, death of hope… she thought under a heavy dose of self-pity.

Hoo, hoo, hoo, it called again.

She covered her head with a pillow, but the owl kept on calling.

Fed up, she went to her window and opened it. On a nearby oak stood a white owl, its yellow eyes looking at her. It ruffled its feathers as if mocking her sorry state.

“Go away,” she called to it, but it merely flapped its wings and flew to a closer branch.

Determined to scare off this harbinger of death, she ran out of her room, down the stairs, out the palace gate, and onto the trail. The owl up ahead flapped its wings and glided in complete silence to a tree ahead. She followed.

And so it went–the owl, moving from tree to tree and the princess following behind, determined to scare it far away from the castle. This went on for quite some time until the princess paused and looked around. She was deep in the woods, alone, in the dark, without her moon.

However in that moment something strange happened. She realized that even without the moon above, she was not blind.

Far from it!

In fact, her eyes had become so well adjusted she could see the details in the bark of the trees, the dancing leaves on their limbs, and the tiny movement of small creatures on the ground.

Hoo hoo, the owl called again.

Then there, in this subtle darkness, she felt a change within herself. A warmth grew from within her chest. Her own heart was alive with radiance. This loving energy flowed outward towards her hands, her legs, her feet, until she was wrapped in that same luscious joy she felt from the moon, but tenfold!

As she stood in rapture, she wondered if maybe it was not the love she received from the silent moon that had driven her dance, but something grander, something that reached beyond the sky, beyond the forest…outward, full circle, then back into her own heart.

And so that night, beneath the cloud covered sky she danced, bathed not in moon light, but at light that came from within.

To this day, you will still find the princess in the golden gown out dancing in the forest. Sometimes it will be with the wise, old trees, the playful frogs, or the noisy crickets, and sometimes it will even be with her dear old moon, but regardless of who accompanies her each night, one thing stands the same: you will always find that princess dancing with joy, illuminating her world with her own golden heart.

 

Authors Note: To me this is a story about being pulled by our own desire for happiness, and the mistake we make grounding it in material things–people, objects, places, believing that they will cure your woes, but in the end all  these things are fleeting. Like the princess in the golden gown, it’s not until we learn to find that inner joy-that love of Self that we can be truly content with ourselves and our world.  The moon didn’t have all the answers, only the girl did, within herself.

All you can really work on is yourself.  That’s it. As my friends Tim and Marybeth say, “It’s an inside job.” 

That it is.

May you  dance everyday of your life by the golden glow of your heart.

Peace,

Becky

 

 

 

What Do You Want?

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I stumbled on a funny little exercise in “The Way of Mastery”, a book my meditation group is reading.

In the chapter they suggest meditating for just five minutes, clearing the mind, and then asking yourself “What do I want?” The authors tell you to write down what comes to your mind for seven days of this and then on the seventh day reading through them all.

“Ha!” I thought when I read this. “This will be easy!”

So I sat down and quieted my mind. I tell you, before I got the breath number two, those wants were rushing through my head in full force.

“I want a hot tub,” I thought.

“I want that cute dress I saw in the store.”

“I want one of those sugary “morning buns” I had when I was a kid…the ones my mom used to buy us as a special treat, that were slightly crisp on the outside and hot and chewy on the inside…yeah, I want one of those.”

“I want a new motorcycle. Ooh yeah…I shiny, red one. A Harley!”

“I want to be able to get on my motorcycle and ride wherever I want to…be gone for a week…or no! A month! Without a concern for money…or any of my responsibilities”

This thought made me pause.

“I want freedom.”

“I want to respect the path that each and every person is on.”

“I don’t want anyone to suffer.”

“I want to know Love.”

I noticed then that I felt a shift in my heart. No longer was I dreaming of buttery cinnamon rolls, or fast motorcycles, no longer was I grasping at the air for things that are untouchable. Instead I was yearning for something within me. And as I did this, I could feel this deep desire well up, radiate through my body, release through my pours.

This feeling wasn’t fueled by needy wants, or those unfulfillable dreams that only lead to more desires. This was something fiery, laden with passion and heat. It was alive.

This feeling was the desire for connection, not on the material level, but on a deep soulful level. I wanted then a contact with something beyond the mundane…something so real, I physically ached for it. This was Love…right there in all its shining glory. Right there.

Turns out the one true thing I truly wished for had been with me all along.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want that morning bun…I really do! But it means that I understand those sort of things are fleeting. A morning bun leads to needing a cup of really good tea, which leads to wanting a brand new thermal insulated mug for my tea to go in. And on and on…

In truth, I suppose, it’s not the actual morning bun I want. Maybe it’s the pleasure, the joy, the happiness that that little pastry brings me.

One of the goals of this exercise is teach people that there is no sin in wanting good things. We are no less spiritual because we dream of winning the lottery or buying ourselves a sports car. Wants are wants. The first goal is to love who we are…and that includes what we yearn for.

Love the pleasure a cinnamon roll gives you. However don’t think that that cinnamon roll or that Lexus is going to be the answer to your prayers. They are moving targets that dissolve in your arms when you hold too hard.

Go ahead! Yearn, want, cry out for what you love. There is no shame in passion…just don’t forget to recognize its source is something deeper…something that’s been with you all along.

Morning buns, hot tubs, and motorcycles are all temporary.

Love is eternal.

Catching Sunbeams: The Delicate Art of Stopping Time

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This weekend I went to a symphonic concert featuring the music of one of my all-time favorite bands-Led Zeppelin. Hearing the music performed live was intense and wonderful, perhaps one of the highlights of my decade.

As I sat there in the darkened auditorium and watched the violin bows moving in a synchronized dance, beneath the lights that poured on the stage, I felt as if the music was rushing at me like a wild wind, sometimes forceful, sometimes delicate. Two hours of perfection. When my favorite song, Kashmir played, I listened mesmerized. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted sit there into the night, just soaking in the continuous rolling, luscious sound.

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Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook that made me think of this previous night. A friend was talking of the inevitability of change and reminded me of one of my favorite aphorisms: “This too shall pass.”

This saying works great when things are bad, but what about when things are really, really good? Like that moment during Kashmir. I didn’t want that to pass. I wanted to hold on tight to it and not let go.

Time is a tricky beast. It is slippery and the more you try to hold on the quicker it slips away.

I experience this a lot in life. I try to grab onto time, but it never stays, in fact the harder I grab, the faster it slides from my hands. I want constancy in my life. I want to preserve the magic, the goodness, maintain in those perfect moments.

The other night my eight year old twins were lying on the bed with my husband and I all wrapped up in the blankets, when my sixteen year old son came in and jumped on the bed too. In a rare moment we were all there rolling in bed, laughing in one big tickle pile. It was ridiculous and wonderful. I was laughing so hard tears came from my eyes.

However moments later, as these things go, someone got elbowed, another got tickled too much and the crying began. That precious little sliver of time was gone, as quickly as it came.

It seems just as we get a hang of things, they change. It’s incredibly frustrating. Some days all I want to do is yell out “Wait! Wait! Please stop. Can’t we rewind a minute?” Yet this life of ours is tenuous. It is a beam of light pouring in through a window. It cannot be caught. It can’t be held. And no matter what you do that sun will drift past your window, in its continual dance forward.

I’ve learned a little trick that I use from time to time in those good moments. Rather than worry about losing time, I take it all in, breathe and smile and love it for what it is, not for what it should be or might be tomorrow. When I allow for this perfect balance, it feels as if I actually become the moment. I cease to be the woman who is obsessed with preservation and become one who just is.

When I sat in the concert hall I tried this technique. I refused to give into my desire for control and power and I simply listened. I closed my eyes and let myself feel that music fully…so when it ended it was okay, because I knew there was another moment to come, and another and another, and they were all good.

Eventually the show was over and my husband and I with our two friends walked over to my favorite bar for a drink, and that was perfect too. Every moment was different, brand new…and every moment was perfect in its own beautiful fragility.

It feels as if we have little control over our lives…but I sometimes wonder. What if in fact we have absolute control? What if we treated these moments as if they were just a tiny feather resting lightly in the palm of our hands and opted to not hold on? If we did this, I mean REALLY did this, would those moments…or even life itself…. become timeless?

I think yes.

Change is necessary, loss is inevitable, but when we sit back and just let the music play, everything works out just as it should.

Confessions of an Agnostic: Why I Believe in God

Twice in my life now have I had the odd feeling of waking up…not in the literal sense, but more, I suppose in the metaphysical sense.

It’s very weird, and difficult to talk about because it is so personal. We’ve all experienced it, I’m sure, we just deny it because it messes with everything we take to hold true.  I’m not crazy, though I have certainly been treated as such for most of my life. In fact its the exact opposite of crazy.

The first time it happened it was very abrupt.  It was terrifying.  I literally thought I was dead.  I was sitting on my boy friend’s bed talking with him when I was hit with this sensation of divine stillness. The chatter in my mind stopped and I was just there. Purely Me. It was beautiful and frightening at the same time.

The self I had spent 19 years with, listening to her strive, worry, and grope and  was gone.  I mean completely gone, leaving me with this thing, this feeling I suppose one could equate with God.

I remember two friends of ours knocked on his dorm door and we let them in.  As they spoke I could hear everything.  Beneath their words I could hear their fear, their need for love and acceptance.  They soon left and I told my boyfriend what was going, crying for the loss of self.  He assured me I was okay.  He had known this feeling himself.  This in fact was something to welcome, he told me.

The months went by and like a good student I l asked questions to my boyfriend who seemed to know exactly what this was all about. But time passed and the magic of his insistent wisdom wore off.  It was all replaced with a new fear–a fear that I was loosing God, that it was slipping out of my hands, leaving me in the world alone.

Anxiety engulfed me like a raging fire and I plummeted into my own personal hell.  Suddenly no choice seemed like the right one.  I was paralyzed with the fear of failing God.

The boy friend and I went our separate ways and I eventual found my balance.  I did the only thing I could do, resorting to the comfort of psychiatric drugs and talk therapies that brought me back to this world.  I do not look back at this period of my life as not good or bad.  It is what I needed to do at the time.

So life went on.  I grew and learned, and continued to hold the unspoken knowledge in the back of my mind that this God-ness I experienced might very well be real, that love is all there is, but whenever I thought too much about it I was sent literally into panic attacks, for fear that the demons wouldn’t slip in again.

So now 20 years later I have an amazing family and devoted husband, life couldn’t be more perfect.  But for a long time I was not satisfied.  I wanted more.  I wanted the other, not what I had, but everything else.  I complained incessantly about people..my friends no less.  I didn’t just expect perfection from myself, I expected it from everyone else.  While I could feel God on my walks on the beach I couldn’t control my fear and anger.

So, this next part I’m hesitant to say, because it just feels so odd.  In the reality I help for 20 years this was not supposed to be.  I was not supposed to feel God every second of everyday, to look at everyone I meet with compassion and love.  These are not things meant for this little neurotic Jewish girl. My story went like this: you are helpless, the world is out to get you, you will try but never suceed.  Yuck!  I’m done with those thoughts.

I’m letting go of my need to be good. No, I’m not turning into some crazed sociopath.  Good is something that is my essense, I don’t have to try  I am good, because I let myself be…and sometimes I’m bad. If you saw what I ate for dinner, or what thoughts jjust crossed my mind, you’d see) But bad is all part of it…so ultimately that’s good too.  Does that make any snese?

I am the one writing this book. I choose where I go.  I have control because I have faith in myself.  I am God!  As are you! We are beautiful.

Love Has Come for You

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As a child I was taught that love was something earned, specifically by keeping the people around me happy. This wasn’t about entertaining them so much as it was about emotionally feeding people’s needs. It was a pretty big job as a little kid and to this day it still takes on too much weight.

Now I’m understanding something, though. Love is not the emotional unit of two people grasping at each other because the world is too big and scary for them. Nor is it holding on so tight that the other person can’t move. Love is freedom, love is awareness, and ultimately love is connection.

Love is huge. It is the biggest thing in the universe. It is what makes everything tick.

It is diving into the world without fear. It is connecting from the heart, not from the socially constructed brain that says “love right or die”. It is living free, liberated from the fear that you might be abandoned and left hopeless on the side of the road.

Healthy relationships are about two beings who stand alone, yet perfectly together. As we tap into that cosmic love we acknowledge it within ourselves and each other.

Being human it’s easy to slip into a place of fear and wanting. We’re so attached to what we call reality that the threat of loss feels too much to bear. We don’t want to be alone, but what I understand now is we’re not. Not ever. Love is a force that pervades everything. It is more than our wants, then our fears.

Although I will always carry with me the loaded scripts I’ve been given as a child, I hope as I move forward I can pause to acknowledge the magnificent love within myself and everyone else and no longer feel the need to feed people to feel safe.

Love is alive around us reverberating in the trees, in the water, in our hearts. It is who we are. Our job is not to be security blanket for the people around us, it’s to lift the heavy bindings and let people fly free.

Peace,

Becky