This past Tuesday was my birthday, my first in my new homeland of the Northern California coast. I woke up not knowing what I would do, but trusting that if I followed my emergent impulses, beauty would unfold. (This is my practice these days—listening to the moment. Sometimes I’m better at it than others. Moving here, letting go of everything I had known, and shifting from leading my life from my mind to following intuition has been my greatest teacher.)
I ended up spending the day offering flower blessings to the ocean in my sweet town of Muir Beach, receiving an oracle card reading from a dear friend and her six-year-old daughter in their garden in Petaluma, and eating roasted beet salad and pork chops on the beach with a new friend on a spontaneous dinner date as the sun went down over the Bolinas lagoon.
Life is good.
Last winter, when I first landed in California, I couldn’t have predicted life would have turned out this way. Not that it “turned out” any way at all. I don’t believe in the “myth of arrival”—I do believe in being of service, prayer, listening, and saying yes to what comes. Even though the entry into my new life was wildly rocky (i.e. a mold fiasco in my home in Boulder, my new rental house in California falling through, my bank account drained, etc. etc.) everything was and is perfectly aligned.
This is not to say that I wasn’t freaking out last winter when life was upside down. I was, at moments, a hot mess. That was until the ocean told me to get on my knees.
I arrived in California November 19th. I hit “bottom” with my fear and anger on December 26th. I remember the day well.
I had been in California for more than a month, but had barely spent time by the ocean. This was markedly odd. The ocean was the reason I left Boulder and moved to California in the first place. I followed her siren’s song. The call was visceral; she grabbed me by the hand, unearthed my roots, and pulled me back “home.” Before I moved I had had multiple dreams of walking by the ocean. In the dreams, she, along with the whales and other sea mammals, were teaching me about creation—how to bring something from the not-yet of the unmanifest into physical form. The dreams were vivid, lucid, and illuminated. So I listened, visited multiple times, fell in love again and again with the land, and then leapt.
Even though I am a devoted student of Soul and know better, there was a part of me that expected that I’d arrive in California, and without any significant trials, the Beloved would “spread her legs” and birth me into my next form.
When things fell apart, my inner child, the one who thought she was entitled to things “working out” according to her vision, was scared and angry. No house, no money, no roots—this was not, she thought, how it was “supposed to be.”
I think that’s why I had been staying away from the ocean. Like a child with an attachment wound, I felt dropped and was punishing Mother Ocean for abandoning me. Or maybe I just couldn’t look her in the “eyes” because I knew I would crack. Either way, I had been avoiding her. But avoidance can only go on for so long before cutting us off from the life force we depend on. As I knew well from my training as a somatic therapist, the only way out was through. It was time to do some serious reckoning. So I packed a small bag, put on my sneakers, picked an oracle card (Death of course) and headed off to Point Reyes National Sea Shore to have my say.
When I arrived on Drake’s Beach on the North Shore of Point Reyes, it was nearly empty. I found the dead birds first—three of them—a cormorant I think, then a grebe, then a gull—splayed with its wings still hinged on its rib cage, fleshy and smelling of brine.
Next I came upon the whale, also dead—a humpback that had washed up on shore the day before. A dead whale! It was enormous, and the stench was overwhelming. The scientists had found it the day before and had already performed a necropsy on it, so several parts of its body had been dismembered—its mouth was wide open, its baleen was cut, its intestines were on the outside, and whale blubber littered the scene. It was awe-inspiring and disturbing. Beautiful and terrible at the same time.
The message was not subtle—everything was falling apart. This was a death journey. Setting off for the promised land of California did not look like I had imagined it would. I was scared, and angry, and I couldn’t avoid my feelings any longer. So I brought them to the Mother.
About 15 minutes past the whale, when I was sure there was no one around, I walked to the edge of the water, dropped my pack, and began to scream into the ocean at the top of my lungs: “Why did you fucking bring me here? What’s the point? You called me here—to be with you, and for what, another fucking death journey? I’ve spent so much time in death cycles! I thought I was here to learn about creation. WTF?” I wailed, stomped, cried, and shook and let the emotion sequence through. I knew the ocean could take it, so I gave myself fully to the rage.
What I didn’t expect was her response.
When I stopped screaming and got quiet I heard a clear voice reply:
“Get on your knees.” The voice was stern and chilling.
“Get on your knees. I didn’t bring you out here for you. I brought you out here for me.”
Whoa. Shit. Right.
In my temporary madness and survival fear I had forgotten who I was and how I serve. I had forgotten what this life was all about—sacred reciprocity.
I had been operating from the wrong side of the equation. This journey out to California was not about me “getting”—the perfect house on the ocean, the perfect partner, the perfect __________(fill in the blank). This journey, and the whole of my life, was about service, to the planet, to the ocean, to the Mother.
Get on your knees.
The ocean reminded me in that moment that I had gotten off track. Like many of my “personal growth” brethren, I had fallen prey to the false notion that I was “entitled” to grace. This was a serious problem and needed to be corrected immediately.
I took off my clothes, walked into the freezing water, and dropped down to my knees. From this “humility” (meaning from the humus or earth) I was now finally ready to approach Her, not from a place of gain, but from a place of honoring.
“How can I serve?” I asked. This was not martyrdom, but devotion, love.
I didn’t get an immediate response. But at least now I was listening. At least now I was asking the right questions. I couldn’t get there by bypassing the anger and fear. Those were the doorways. I could only get to Her through what was real.
Over the next few months, I began my apprenticeship to the ocean. I learned to make sacred offerings of flowers where the Redwood Creek meets the ocean on Muir Beach. I volunteered at a restoration project. I walked her shores. I opened to her consciousness. I did ritual in service to her. I listened. I’m still listening. I don’t really know what I’m doing. And that’s ok. There’s no right way. There’s no instruction manual, but if we come with an open and sincere heart, the earth will show us how to serve.
A few days after my reckoning at Point Reyes, I ran into Lissa, a former mentor of mine, at Open Floor dance in Sausalito. She “happened” to live in Muir Beach, the tiny beach town that I came here to live in, and she “happened” to be devoted to sacred reciprocity. Lissa invited me to a party in Muir Beach that night. Soon after that, she invited me to move in to her home. I’ve been living here ever since. It has been a profound blessing.
I can’t say for sure that “the Mother provided” once I decided to get humble and to serve. That would be reductive and miss the point. I can say that I am outrageously grateful, every day, to live here.
The other day, in the kitchen, Lissa was telling me a story about being in Australia at a public group meditation for Mother Earth, when the woman in front of her turned around, recognized her (she is a well-known author) and started sobbing uncontrollably. As Lissa recounted it, this woman had been in an extremely difficult moment in her life and was questioning whether she wanted to live. In a last ditch attempt to open to support, the night before the attending the meditation, the woman had put a prayer out to the universe, something along the lines of “ok God, if I’m supposed to live, give me a sign.” She had brought one book with her on this trip to Australia—it was Lissa’s. When she turned around after this meditation and saw the author of the book she was reading sitting behind her, she knew that she had received her sign.
After Lissa told me this story, my jaw was slack. “This kind of thing happens to me all the time,” she told me, nonplussed.
“You must have a strong contract with God. A contract about being used for the good,” I responded.
“It’s not a contract,” she answered. “It’s an explicit prayer I make every day: Let me be someone else’s miracle.”
When we walk this kind of prayer, we are given multiple opportunities to serve. And, in the process, often we are taken care of as well. Sacred reciprocity.
This is the right side of the equation: service + love = increased goodness, with exponential gains for all involved.
Tuesday, for my birthday, I woke up early, just past sunrise, and walked the windy path from our house down to the beach. As I walked, I listened for which of the local flowers wanted to come be a gift to the water. I gathered Calla Lilies, lupine, some small yellow wild flowers growing amidst the clover, and a purple, lilac-like ornamental from someone’s front gate.
Down by the ocean, as I made my birthday flower offerings, my eyes seemed to change. I began to see all points of the ocean at once—they appeared as both individual aspects and a singular consciousness of love. I saw the water I was standing in as love and each separate wave as love. I saw the lines of motion going in multiple directions at once. I saw the rocks along the shore and the birds as emanations of love. And I felt myself as a part of it all, non-separate and co-arising as love. As I prayed over the flowers and released them into the water I remembered a line from one of my favorite Hafiz poems: “All a Sane man can ever care about is giving Love.”
So how do we serve? How do we know that which is ours to do and do it? By listening—to ourselves, our bodies, to our community, to the land, and to the moment. By becoming aware that our lives and all of life, is sustained by the Mother. By alchemizing the sacred obstacles on our path (survival fear, self-doubt, self-hatred, lineage trauma, and separation wounding, etc.). By owning our true power (the power to serve). By shifting out of self-centered thinking and survival mindsets into relationship with the “greater good.” By being Sane and giving love.
Years ago, on a nature-based Soul quest in the Arizona dessert with the Animas Valley Institute, I went out on the land with a question: “how do I belong?” The answer was obvious but required a paradigm shift. After many hours of sitting with this question, the land responded: “You belong by belonging.” And by this I decided it meant: you belong not by waiting for someone to deem that you belong, but by choosing to belong. By knowing your place, living your gifts, and offering them to the world. By being the blessing.
We belong by belonging. We serve by serving. Not with shame or martyrdom. Not out of an attempt at specialness or trying to be seen or validated. Not in an attempt to fill the empty void, but just because that is all a “Sane man” can do.
Last week I had the honor of travelling to a sacred site here in Marin with a Columbian Mama and advocate for the Kogi tribe. Like many indigenous caretakers of the earth, the Kogi elders from Columbia are devoted to sacred reciprocity. They recognize that we (those that they call “younger brother” who are living in an illusion of separation) are harming the Mother. We are entitled and it’s time for us, collectively, to get on our knees and practice giving instead of obsessively taking more than we need. (It’s important to note here that I am not idealizing indigenous cultures, many of which have their own shadows to heal. Nor am I shaming my own culture or blaming myself. Instead, I’m honoring the message of reciprocity and am listening to how I can serve.)
When I tune into what is needed to bring life into balance, I can feel overwhelmed. Our whole lives are based on the illness of separation—just walk into a shopping mall or a grocery store or turn on the news and you can feel it. So what can we do? What I can I do?
I can’t speak for all of “younger brother,” but I can speak for me and the small tribe of healers I work with —my, what Bill Plotkin calls, “ecological niche.”
Most healers in the post-modern, Western, psychologically-based, 3-D world are still living in relationship to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—we focus on psychological and survival needs first and then make our way up to the highest order of attainment—what Maslow calls “self-actualization” (i.e. personal accomplishment).*
As healers, it’s time to transition from a focus on self-growth, personal development, and enlightenment, to service. To shift our awareness off of our own personal wholeness and the individual wholeness of our clients, and onto the ways in which we can serve all of life. To remember how to give back. To do this, we must be in relationship with all that is. Service is about a relationship. But our relationship with the earth is severely out of balance.
So how do we bring it back? How do I? Truthfully, I don’t fully know. For now, I’ll offer flowers, and pray for and to the ocean. I’ll feed the holy with beauty and listen and say yes to what I hear. I’ll practice remembering how to be in relationship with the earth instead of just walking on her. I’ll get on my knees. And I’ll continue to do my work of helping healers remember who they are.
I am a baby in this. I stumble. Sometimes I still run my gifts through my wounds. I still want to be loved to be seen and sometimes offer from that place. But that’s ok. I know how to love those parts of me too. And I believe, that if we come with clear intent, good hearts, and a true desire to serve She will show us the way.
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*To his credit, Maslow himself revised his hierarchy in later years to include a new, top-tier category called “Self-Transcendence,” based on service.