The Camino

I watched The Way with Martin Sheen (birth name Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) starring as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago de Compostelo walking trek. It hearkened memories of my own hitchhike/walking pilgrimage in 1979 with several friends after a study abroad program. He took the French Way and started in France, while we started the same route in northern Spain as depicted on the map.

We only had a few weeks so we walked and hitchhiked to stay within our timeline. I had only told my sister I was hitchhiking, but my mom, querida metiche that she was, went through Susan’s letters and found out. I received a letter admonishing me to stop ‘hijacking’. I was earnestly looking for ways to be open with my parents about my inward and outward journey, but I did not know how to translate it from US born daughter to parents who crossed borders to find a better life. To my mom, this pilgrimage was a sign that I only wanted to be a parrandera and abandon my studies at Stanford.

She acknowledged receiving the pamphlet I sent on the pilgrimage and that it looked muy bonito, but because it meant stopping at churches and convents, she wondered if I was una Sta. Teresita de Jesús o un San Francisco de Asis. She admitted to believing in God, but also in comfort, something she thought I might want to consider. While we did at times scramble to find cheap food and lodging, we soon met a man who gave us a ride and delivered us at a convent where we were treated to a nice bed and warm food by the nuns. After that, they directed us to the next convent that would welcome and house us. Unlike the pilgrimage documented in the movie, we did not stop at the designated locations to get a stamp because we were digressing from the official version and using the kindness of strangers who gave us rides when they saw our trusty hitchhiking hand stuck on the end of a cardboard pole. (Yes, Sherie, I still have it!)

Several moments remain indelible. There was the day we met some motorcyclists and Karen hopped on the back of one for a ride on the winding roads. I felt the terror of her safety, wondering what I would do if she were injured or killed. She was so tough, but she also had a tender side that provoked my protective gene to watch out for her. I breathed a huge sigh when the ride ended.

There were the meal breaks along the road with gente amables or in a small cafe when Sherie would unpack and play her guitar, inviting us to sing:

May all your dreams bloom like daisies in the sun
May you always have stars in your eyes
May you not stop running not until your race is run
And may you always have blue skies

 

Finally, there was the very end of our pilgrimage, walking up to the main cathedral and hearing the bells ring as if they were timed to go off when we arrived. Magical for three young peregrinas who were drinking in the life of being in the present moment without our usual duties and responsibilities. Here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote:
Nos encontramos por un día de nuestro camino
nos unimos con pan, con conversación
el tiempo que tuvimos era bastante para alegrarnos que todavía hay gente buena
nos encontramos hoy con mas esperanza
mientras seguimos nuestro camino por la vida

One day I will return and walk the whole way, hopefully with one or both of my twins. While Santiago de Compostela is an actual journey to a sacred place and shrine, it is a reminder of the other pilgrimages I have taken and am on now, those long journeys or searches of lofty purpose or moral significance. To every writer and artist, every parent and caretaker of a parent, every activist and lover, every monk and educator, every border crosser and rule breaker – I honor and salute your weary feet, tired souls, and unrelenting belief in the power of the human spirit to rise above the hateful, fear mongering acts that surround us daily. Thank you for believing in your amazing dreams in the sun and don’t stop running until your race is run. Ashé. #52essays2017 #weareone

 

 

The WOW Journal

When did you know your life was in danger, your dreams were about to be thrown out with the bathwater, you heart was about to close its doors forever? For me it was when I got the official notice of my rent increase. I had sucked it up the two years before, figuring out a way to pay; convincing myself it was worth it each time I watched the beautiful sunset over Mt. Tam or soaked in the hot tub. But that all dried up in my throat in the late summer of 2014. This time I was gasping, choking in paradise. I wanted to climb up a wall and escape the vice that had been my joy. Taking a few days to settle down, my heartbeat slowed into a rhythm and I considered a multitude of options – apartment mate, cheaper apartment, boat, living with my sister. And then one day my eyes opened, awake with present moment bodhicitta – I no longer needed the panal. I was going to the forest to sit under the bodhi tree and test my life decisions along the way.

What most people said when I revealed I was giving up my ‘palace’ in Larkspur and being intentionally without a permanent address was WOW.

A friend noted I would be going from wild city Giants championship parade horde to monkish, rural Grass Valley in a day. I delight in the contrary combos. Stopping for an In’nOut meal before landing in a seven day silent, vegetarian sesshin. Wearing sexy undies with well traveled jeans. Applying hot pink lipstick before a sweaty winner-take-all playoff tennis match.

In some ways this journey was about failure. Failure to finish my books in the bay area, failure to build my business. Failure to find true love. Failure to build a nest my teens wanted to rest in. Failure to adapt to congestion. Failure to earn what it costs to live here with space and time freedom. Failure to want a job, to fulfill other people’s dreams, to give up my truth to be liked, failure to say what others want to hear. Failure to play small or do what I already know what to do.

What did I do and what did I learn in the early fall of 2014? I released 90% of my ‘worldly possessions’ and drove to Grass Valley to stay with a friend who was recovering from knee surgery and snuggle with her gata, Miss Mittens Marie. The goal was to finish my memoir, develop my speaking and writing life, build my business, and get into great shape in a quiet environment. I covered the barbed wire of fears with a thick blanket of determination and trust and prepared to scale the mountain of prosperity and heightened well being. I found as the days passed I could not fall back on my past experiences and knowledge. The words of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi rang true: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. My mind said I could do it all well because I had so much wisdom. I re-learned to beware the expert’s mind, which can be more dangerous than barbed wire.

 

I sold my first gen Prius sooner than planned when the battery failed after almost 200,000 miles. I bought and crashed my motorcycle, derailing my get into great shape plan. I sent my memoir to an editor, increased my business skills with no resulting monetary results, and lost and found my faith again and again. I moved to another friend’s home in December and discovered car sharing opportunities. Instead of home and car upkeep, I poured over my calendar figuring out how to get where I wanted to go, both in terms of goals and public transportation, always written in pencil. I re-learned that detours are to be expected, especially if you are atrevida enough to aim high.

I embarked on a series of trips in March, April and May, including the AWP writer’s conference in Minneapolis, MN, a special celebration of Las Comadres para las Americas in Austin, TX, and a family visit in México. I began the arduous process of querying agents about my memoir – finding, among other reasons, that my failure to be famous and/or addicted stymied agents’ interest in representing me.

I re-learned that even if you are on the right path, taking risks means dead ends are inevitable and signal a strategic moment to pause. My reptilian brain kicked in with each rejection, sending triggers to my body and spirit to shut down my love of writing and ‘settle’. My frontal lobe would then kick into creative mode, gather all of my information to create a new approach, and then figure out what other options existed. Being unmoored meant I could go in any direction I wanted and  pivot quickly because I was not beholden to a location, person, idea, or organization. My molecules never settled, reminding me  that ‘unsettling’ for a buddhist is akin to groundlessness, right where I wanted to be. I was instead required to internally moor myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

I began a month-long house sit with a cat named Jezebel who, like me, yearned to tunnel in the underbrush and tiptoe precariously along the top of fences to explore the great, bright, shiny unknown. Wise people know it is skillful to get help when necessary, so I hired a coach who pointed out I interrupted myself before finishing my sentences, signaling too many balls in the air. His advice was to focus on what I loved and did well – coaching as a steady base to maintain homeostasis.

I re-learned to keep your head up amid the narrow, shadowy zone of 1 step forward, 1 step sideways, 1 step back, 1 step forward. It required me to dance away from ‘how do I’ to trust my inner wisdom and unrelenting persistence rather than sink into comparisons. People were too busy with their own challenges to reach their goals to judge me. In fact, they were still saying ‘WOW’. I re-learned releasing anxiety about outcomes opens up space to connect with your higher self and that of others.

 

In July I journeyed to Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center to meditate in a sangha, wash dishes, shake compost through a screen, thin fennel, and hike to Muir beach. My emotional and spiritual gas tank filled and I received an email on the second to last day that I was accepted to Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference to begin in 2 days. The stars aligned for me to catch a ride and room with a dear colega de escritura. These brief moments of community were precious in between the constant leaving and joining, coming and going with solitude my constant companion. I re-learned to STAY until the mud settles and opportunities can be seen in the clear water.

In July I rented a room near my Larkspur palace and re-connected with my yoga studio, Toastmasters club, and the beauty of Marin. I queried two more agents, had two essays accepted for publication and coached people through gentle nutritional cleanses. I started a many months process of navigating the bay area after abandoning my 40 year addiction to the car culture. I re-learned that strong bridges wait for your return, like a trusted friend.

 

The road more traveled has never appealed to me. No one ever believed I would be the settled one. I had the fifteen addresses in ten years, the sixteen soccer teams, myriad salsa classes, the multiple occupations. No one said- Yes, she will find one man, one house, one job, one favorite dress. She will wear a pair of shoes until they fall off her feet, she will have one sports team from birth to death. That was not what was said.

Many wish to be young again with the wisdom of our experiences; that is much of how I felt during my year wandering in the watery forest. I left the harbor and like Mission Impossible, it blew up – I did not want to have the option of returning to my previous life and mindset. Instead, I embraced my focus on possessions that we carry with us no matter where we travel. After a year of no permanent address, I again chose Marin as my home base, living in a ‘treehouse’ cottage with light and a view. It was time to rest. The journey brought back a renewed commitment to the lessons that unfolded and that I carry with me as I continue to roam madre tierra.

#52essays2017

 

 

Swiss Army Knife – A Minor Super Power

When I was in my early twenties, my dad bought me a Christmas gift that I still have — a Swiss Army knife. He almost never was the gift buyer. I doubt many young women can say their dad gifted them a knife that has been a beloved companion for 28 years. After 9/11, this compañera became a ‘threat’ and I stood several times at the security checkpoint with terror in my heart, realizing I had not left my knife at home. I resisted the new reality that I couldn’t fly with it in my purse and became an ace at locating an information desk and devising a way to mail it home. Sometimes I reluctantly put it in my carry-on and checked it if time allowed. Now they have those special hubs where you can mail stuff home for a hefty price.

Full of useful tiny tools, I have pulled out many splinters gently and cut wayward threads on pants, skirts, and shirts. Apples and cheese have felt the larger knife slice through them with precision and the little awl has poked needed holes in plastic and paper. My toothpick unwedges the green between my teeth and the regular and tiny screwdrivers loosen or tighten my screws, depending on what is needed. The nifty can opener and bottle openers have saved many an outdoor trip and even the cork screw has stepped in when the wine is ready to drink but the buyer has not come prepared. It took me a few years to realize I carried a small saw with me — more of a fascination to stare at than a tool I count on.

The toothpick and tweezers had been lost for a number of years, and I was delighted when I researched and ordered a order a packet of them online. One day the red plastic cover fell off of a side. I have glued it on a number of times but it keeps falling off. It has moved from my purse to my backpack to my keychain to my tennis bag.  Writing this inspired me to give my compañera a good cleaning, oiling, and sharpening.

The term “Swiss Army knife” was coined by American soldiers after World War II due to the difficulty they had in pronouncing “Offiziersmesser”, the German name. There now exist a plethora of knife options in all sizes, colors, and price points.

What is more interesting to me beyond the knife’s longevity and usefulness is the symbolism of the knife for my father and me. The father who was driven to buy it when for countless years and countless lists he drank his café and left the decision-making and purchasing to my mother. And who was I as a young woman that a Swiss Army knife seemed like a good gift to ask for?

I was living at the Catholic Worker in East Los Angeles and working on Skid Row when I opened the gift with a surprised smile on my face. I had become intrigued at fixing things in the hospitality house and a Swiss Army knife helped tasks go more smoothly in old buildings with constant small repairs.

The knife is a tool of survival and readiness, serving as a talisman of these qualities I leaned on for many years. I live in a world that pushes me to believe I have to focus on my survival and be ready to tend to my needs when others might not. It has morphed in the present moment to be a symbol of resilience and power, like a faithful guardian angel that has my back and celebrates my constant addition of knowledge, experience, and tools to support an abundant mindset. Because of this, I created a second generation tradition by gifting my twins each a Swiss Army knife in their late teens. It was like giving them a minor super power to encourage them on their journey towards authentic resilience, constant growth, and the delight of taking care of business with the flick of a tiny tool. #52essays2017

Mother Loss

My heart has been heavy this week. I thought the goblins and ghouls that sneak into my thoughts more easily near the full moon were poking me into this ‘hot loneliness’. Then, at the Chill and Still yoga class, I quieted down enough to understand it was Mother Loss, awakened by Mother’s Day. June marks fourteen years since my mother passed on to her next realm. I had not been thinking about her, which is why I missed the deeper source of my grief and malaise.

Instead, my thoughts had been on two friends and mothers who passed away within months of my father’s death in 1996. This remembrance was sparked by seeing two rose bushes I planted, one for each, in full bloom. I carefully cut some sprigs to mix in a bouquet — honoring them and mi Mamy Isabel, who doted on her rosas.

Meg died first, the cancer that had stalked her for a few years finally snaking into her brain one month after attending my father’s funeral. She had desired motherhood for many years and finally adopted Natalie, who was about seven years old, a rambunctious girl who must be in her early forties now. I hope she has the same spirited approach to life that stretched Meg’s reticent personality to its limits and beyond. Natalie lost two moms and I wonder if she feels the heaviness I do around this time of year. Meg sent me a card many years ago with a quote by Adrienne Rich that nestles in one of my drawer:

An honorable human relationship – that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

These words she gifted me have set a high bar in my life and I don’t regret that. I am even more honored she read these words and thought of me. It gave value to a word used too easily and with no thought of its amazing power. Love is a verb and this quote has reminded me of that through the years thanks to Meg. She is nodding quietly at this, a slight smile playing on her face. She was one of very few white friends over the years who did not decide one day, with no dialogue or clear explanation, to unfriend me before that became a thing on FaceBook. She went that hard way with me.

Willa was a force of power and grace who I met at Alameda County Child Protective Services. Her nails were long and her heart was as wide as the Pacific Ocean. After losing her first husband, she had found love again and her son joined an older daughter. Willa died because of the elitism system of health care when the Richmond Kaiser “standby” emergency room was not equipped to deal with her life-threatening illness, a classic case of structural racism. This poem emerged while in my MFA program.

Willa, Willa, Willa
You died too young
left your children too young
your oldest daughter an orphan
her father a Jonestown casualty

what can she use for hope now
what can help her know justice
when her father drinks cyanide for breakfast
on an island he flew to for community

when her mother’s heartbeat fluttered one last time
en route to a second hospital
the hospital she first drove to
had shut its emergency room down

greedy, racist economics killed you, Willa
heart that overflowed in kindness
black body that could not hold the pain
that ate your nerves as you drove that night
drained your adrenals down to empty

you could have lived
to tuck your children into bed
could have laughed that deep joy into the world
for days and weeks and years

if the world loved your people

you are with me when I wear shades indoors
when I grow my fingernails long
your spirit hovered as I watched my babies grow
beyond the age of your son at your death
past your daughter’s age at your death

you are in me when I rail against hate and ignorance
that deprives black and brown women of dignity and health care

Willa, Willa, Willa
Your name means desire and protection
May your strength rain down upon us all


These three mothers made an indelible mark on my soul and on my mothering. My mother never used the word ‘love’, but that did not stop me from learning what I could from how she tended her garden and embracing love, amor, y cariño in my mothering. I take no day for granted with my twins, and am committed to doing justice to the complexity of motherhood.

#52essays2017

Read it and Run

I became a whitewater river guide the year I held my last j-o-b. That would be 1992. It was a rocky beginning at guide school and in my new path with self-employment, but the river has more than made up for that in life-long lessons since then that are true on and off the water.

Right Attire
Enjoying the beauty and being safe on the river requires having the right attire and equipment. On the river it would be a hat that won’t fall off, clothes that dry quickly, shoes or sandals that will stay on, and a life jacket that squeezes you enough to know it will stay with you if you end up in the water and need to float until you are pulled back into a boat. Off the river, this is still necessary. I think of it as a uniform. I have my working at home uniform, my being in public uniform, my workout uniform, and my fiesta uniform, por darles unos ejemplos. They all require a different attitude and there is a purpose for each. It is not about bowing down to other people’s requirements or expectations. It is about setting myself up for success so I can focus on my goals and aspirations.

Right Company
I am very intentional to bring people on the river who may not have grown up feeling comfortable near water and who add racial/ethnic diversity to the natural world. As a river guide, I assess and then re-assess the strengths and growth areas of the folks in my boat because I count on them to listen to me and trust my leadership, their own capacity to confront challenges, and the power of the team. I am not expecting perfection, I am looking to balance our strengths so that the raft does not veer too much to the left or right. I also make sure we are all seated in a posture like a tripod, balancing on our two feet and our fabulous butts, allowing for the best use of our biggest muscles and for keeping us steady as we plow through the rapids. Off the river, being with people who value all of who we are and pronounce our names as we prefer is key as well. We need a tribe to cheer our success and console us when we suffer inevitable loss and disappointment.

Right Direction
To get down the river, I have to use the right commands at the right times. To be a guide is to speak up often, loudly, and con ganas. Your voice and your experience are your most important assets. Just like a car, the raft can go in five directions. Forward, back, right turn, and left turn. In many ways, the most important command is the fifth: STOP! This allows for the pause necessary to change direction, to celebrate success, to catch your breath, and to drink water. People tend to wonder ‘why you would paddle backwards on a moving river’? For the same reason we do we do this on land. Sometimes the best plan is to pull away from danger rather than hit it head on. This can be a person, a work situation, a group or even sometimes a family drama.

Right Effort
More than anything, as a guide my goal is to stay in the current. It is the true meaning of going with the flow, connecting with the river’s knowledge of the most efficient path to your destination. My most important tool to stay in the current is the guide paddle, which has a longer handle and blade. I am the rudder, quietly moving the raft or course-correcting my paddlers to create even power on both sides. On and off the water, it is important to exert enough effort – not too much and not too little. This is rarely obvious and requires us to know our tendencies and course-correct regularly.

Right Thinking
As the guide, I am always looking a few curves ahead, like a chess player who makes every move with the next few in mind. In essence, I am setting my raft and paddlers up to manage the dangers and thrills of the river with grace and ease. I also know that the best laid plans are full of rocks hidden just below the surface of the water, paddlers who get distracted just as I call a command, or of other rafts who may not understand the etiquette of river collaboration. The meta-plan that ultimately guides me to read the river and then run it. Being in the present moment is the intention and truest approach, on and off the water. What just happened? What is the best response? If that doesn’t work, what is another response?

Right Decision
Inevitably, someone, including the guide, may fall in the river. The instructions are to listen to the voice of the guide to tell you what to do, even if they are the one swimming. Generally someone will pull you into a boat. Nice if it is the boat you fell out of, but any boat will do. If far away, then perhaps the best option is to lay on your back with your feet up to push away from any danger like a rock, using your hands as paddles, and your life jacket as flotation to hold you up. If in breaking waves, you breathe in the troughs between waves. If under the boat, you feel your way out. If right next to the shore, you get out and decide the best option.  You breathe, you listen, you trust and you learn. Those who falls in have the best story, even if they also feel the power of the rapids, understand why one rapid is called “Lost Hat”, and sport a few bruises. Off the water, we fall all the time, tripped by our unrealistic expectations, the daily inequities of society, and our distractable minds. We remember this happens because we are living life fully.

Right Timing
If you are excited about being on a river to learn all the lessons it offers, summer is the time to attend the ‘school of the river’ and practice what you learned in your daily life. The river is life, beauty abounding, dangers known and unknown, with destinations worth every minute of quiet, determined effort with people joined by trust and circumstance. I became a river guide in my late thirties and trained with a woman in her mid-fifties. She is still guiding in her late seventies. The force is strong in her.

My first river rafting trip was down the Colorado river and the ability to be in the splendor of the Grand Canyon was breath-taking. Yes, I fell in. Yes, I got distracted by the huge waves and didn’t paddle when I should have. These days I guide and paddle on the South Fork of the American river, located northeast of Sacramento, California. It is new for me every time, as is every day I wake up with gratitude for being alive and open to living with a ‘beginner’s mind’, where all things are possible.

Right Ending
What the river teaches me each time is that a life full of community, opportunity, and delight requires a Plan A, B, and C. When those all fail, as they will repeatedly, remember to read your life and run it with your body, mind, and spirit aligned to guide you. They will not fail you, even if you fall out of your boat or your comfort zone. That is when they shine.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The Cuddy power pose has been circulating amid folks and is one of the most watched TED talks. It sits into my “One Size Fits All” (OSFA ) file. This is the file that carries the motivation to be writing my coaching/motivational books, the ones that say “One Size does Not Fit All”. The books that contain the challenges and successes of the many people I have coached over the years because they chose to embrace their non-status quo size and create the frameworks and tools that match their life, especially in terms of dealing with interpersonal and societal oppression on a daily basis.

While the Cuddy pose may have some value, nowhere in the talk or book does Ann Cuddy address what happens when women and people of color show their power in a system that is set up to minimize and distort our power. We do not live on a level playing field and the world responds differently to our power posing. I work with my coaching clients on both presence AND taking into account the social, political, psychological, and economic impact of oppression. I read Cuddy’s book Presence because an African-American male client wanted to work with it. I then infused our conversations with the lens of the current state of racism he faces daily and how to notice and manage his particular presence in a corporate setting with very few people of color. Some of the initial questions I asked to enhance the book content were:
When did you feel most present in last two weeks (confident and enthusiastic)?
When this happens, what are the demographics in room? (Race/gender/rank/other variables?)

These are not in the book because OSFA books and speakers don’t worry about the stereotype of being a black man or even a small Latina woman with a big aura. He is magnified and I am diminished. In each instant we feel the privileged folks asking us to be the size that brings them comfort and a sense of supremacy. One of the quiet ways this happens is restaurant seating. Once I saw this, I added yet another habit of scanning the restaurant and deciding where I wanted to sit. If the person directed me to a location I did not like, I voiced my preference. I often tell them before they say anything so I don’t have to experience the ‘ouch’.

The power pose requires time in the bathroom posing in a stall before a big meeting or event. I don’t choose to spend time in bathrooms to pose when societal limitations descend. I might spend half my life in the bathroom! I do, however, see restrooms as a refuge, but not to pose. I smile at my reflection instead — I am real, I am enough, I am loved, and I am powerful. “I see you” is my message. That is my power – inside me all the time. Another question I posed to my client was:
What are adjectives that define your power (to)?

While I absolutely agree with taking up appropriate space, that is not going to look the same for each person depending on your blend of historically privileged and not privileged identities and your environment. While Cuddy says the ‘imposter experience’ is experienced across all types of people (and I agree), my work with POC and women confirm it manifests differently and more profoundly for these groups because society is telling us we don’t deserve to be successful and powerful. As a black man, my added question to my client on this phenomena was:
How to you experience the imposter phenomena and how does the combination of ‘black’ and ‘man’ make it particularly challenging?

Interestingly enough, the value of the power pose has been challenged even without the lens of equity being considered. Even in the discounting of it, no mention is made of who was studied and who was not.

The issue about OSFA writers is that people like Ann Cuddy or Ariana Huffington in her book Thrive get the benefit of the doubt with no credible science or awareness of differences in power. I read Thrive as a possible comp for my books, and noted she quoted hundreds of people, mostly white and mostly men, which seems antithetical to her positioning as a powerful woman. Sometimes a page had no less than 8 quotes -with very little original material.

The focus with my client was to use the notion of presence to get at what I have seen over the years build relaxed confidence. In addition to the ones I have already shared, these are questions to answer to understand your authentic power and internalize the external power pose idea without having to stand like superman/woman/girl/person in a bathroom stall.

Take one a day and explore your authentic power to be your brightest, most amazing self.

What are two personal inner core values?
Why are they core and when was a time it proved to be important to you?
When did you recently feel present and saw that someone else became more present because of your relaxed confidence and attentiveness?
How do you capture moments/situations when you feel personally powerful, in control of your own psychological state?
What has personal power revealed to you about your best self?
What body postures do you manifest that signifies power or powerlessness?
What is your ‘haka’ – where is your ‘belonging place’ and what you do that demonstrates pride in your heritage? How do you reconnect to your spiritual/heart strength?
#52essays2017

On the Road

“I crashed my motorcycle.”

That was what I said to the few people I told. They asked if I was OK and asked about the damage to the bike. I said yes, nonchalantly, I had bruises on my legs and the bike would need repairs. Only a very, very few knew what really happened, how I ended up laying on the road under a motorcycle I had purchased on a Wednesday, insured on Thursday, and taken out for a practice drive on a Friday.

I had moved out of my apartment and re-gifted, sold, or donated almost all of possessions in the early fall of 2014. About 7 boxes of items were stored at a few locations until I built my next nest, fluffed out my feathers, and settled down. My plan was to stay with friends and family and focus on my writing and network marketing business. A motorcycle seemed like a logical part of my downsizing plan. Even though I owned a first gen Prius, 95% of the time it was only me in the car. Anyone caught in San Francisco bay area traffic or a hard time finding parking knows what I mean. I wanted to use the carpool lane and have easy parking. Light and nimble drove my decisions.

The original plan was to wait until my house sold to buy the motorcycle.  The Prius’ hybrid battery began its death wheeze in October and I upped my original timeline, figuring I needed some form of transportation, as I was then staying with a friend in Grass Valley and there was little public transportation. I had taken classes from Moto U  in the summer months before saying adios to my apartment. They did not believe in the weekend classes format. They wanted you to take a series so your body slowly acclimated to the bike and the skills. I believed them.

When I mentioned my goal to transfer to two wheels and a motor, people either loved the idea of me on a bike, dubbing me a ‘Buddha on a bike’ or they hated it, worried about my safety. My son, 19 at the time, said: “Mom, motorcycles are so unsafe.” I paused, noting the oxymoron of him admonishing me at a moment in his life when all things unsafe were considered his purview.

I took my Moto U instructors’ advice and bought safety gear, including a lovely, luminescent yellow jacket, along with padded pants, thick gloves, and a DOT approved helmet. I found the perfect starter bike at a good price in Grass Valley. The one recommended by my instructors. A Honda 250 Rebel.

I wanted to take it slow. Problem was, there were a number of circumstances that did not support that goal. Challenge one was that several months had passed since my classes of a new skill I had not really mastered. Second, there was no real slow in Grass Valley. The roads where I was staying are hilly and also curvy.  My intuition kept prodding me with this data. Heeding my inner valid worry, I found a weekend class and signed up, but it wasn’t for a week and a half after I had bought and driven home my fledgling motorcycle. I  paused, pondered, and then decided to climb back on the verve and fragile confidence that had gotten me home from the motorcycle store atop my new ride.

My plan on Friday was to go for a simple circle drive. I hate admitting my first mistake, because it would come back to send me to the wrong side of the road. When riding, you first open the throttle fully to warm up the engine. You then down it down. I was sitting on my bike, letting it warm up when a car pulled up facing me with people sitting in it. Why I let them dictate my next actions is beyond rational thought so I will just say it.  I was making up stories about what they thought about me sitting there, so I drove away. My plan was to turn the throttle down at the end of the road, but I became completely wrapped up in managing the bumpy, narrow downhill beginning to my practice run and I forgot.  I then missed my crucial third turn because the smoother, wider road was still curvy and I saw the turn too late. No worries, I would just turn down the next road, but it did not come for a while, and then each right turn sent me onto road after road that didn’t lead me home. Cars would show up in my rearview mirror and urge me to drive faster. As my heart raced, I repeated what I learned in my classes – hug the bike with my knees, sit with a straight back, check my mirrors, keep my wrists flat, and don’t go over 35 miles per hour. After about 20 minutes, I came to a stop sign and decided to take one more right and find my way home, no matter what. I was completely exhausted with a roil of panic in my gut.

It was then that, as my mom would say, that mi inteligencia se me fue a mis pies. I saw a car coming on my left and would have preferred to wait for it to pass. There was a car behind me and I foolishly let that push me to decide to turn rather than wait. My next rookie mistake was revving the engine a little too much at the beginning of my turn. This is when the throttle still on high became the final extra push of power to unhorse me.

If anyone reading this rides a motorcycle, you will know there is a difference in how you change direction than what happens with a car. On a motorcycle, you crank your head all the way toward your destination and that tells your body what to do. Instead, I did what I do as a car driver, I turned my head slightly because the hands turning the steering wheel are what turn a car, not the head.

Where did my bike go with my head only slightly turned and my engine revved? It turned past the right lane and into the oncoming traffic lane. In a split second I knew my life was in complete danger because there was oncoming traffic and I held on for my dear, precious life.

I collided head on with a Prius and ended up on the road, underneath my bike, my padded gloved hands still gripping the bike handles. Laying there for a minute, I scanned my body. No searing pain and no mangled body parts. I slowly released the handles and slid out gingerly from under my bike. Some men who had stopped helped me pick up the bike and move it to the side of the road. The left side of my pants had ripped through the first layer. I was flooded with gratitude, adrenalin, and total vergüenza.

The woman who was driving the car that I hit ran over to me. “I thought I had killed you,” she said, and burst into tears. I hugged her, saying: “I am so sorry.”  She finally calmed down and looked at me. “You’re a miracle,” she said.

I didn’t feel like a miracle. I felt like a fool, like I had proved everybody right who had warned me this motorcycle plan was a bad idea. An ambulance arrived and the paramedic checked me out quickly, almost too quickly. I could have had a concussion. They didn’t look under the torn pant at my knee. By then the police had arrived on the scene and I answered their questions completely. After listening, the officer said “OK, we’re not going to take you in”.

Take me in? I then realized they were assessing whether I had been reckless or under the influence of any substances. Certainly laws of reason and intuition had been violated. Meanwhile, the husband of the woman arrived and also gave me a hug. They were being much nicer than I was being on myself. They even drove me home after the tow truck carted off my banged up bike. Close to tears at what I knew had been a brush with death, I had called Dee, my only friend in the area and my shopping partner when I bought all my gear. She met me at home, incredibly solicitous, and treated me to dinner and a margarita.

Over the next few days my bruises spread until my thighs were many shades of purple, while my left knee remained swollen and stiff. I had a few scrapes on my left arm and side, but it was so little given the possibilities of harm. The woman I collided with called me and texted me periodically, asking after my health and continually reminding me I was a miracle. I appreciated her care, and yet her communications also opened up my regrets of the series of unfortunate events that led to my brief moment as a biker mama. My motorcycle was not so lucky, and the insurance adjuster declared it totaled. I sold it for parts to the man who had sold it to me, both of us disconsolate about the circumstances.

A week later a friend posted one of those quotes that shows up regularly on Facebook: “10% is what happens to us and 90% is our response”. I added a comment:
“10% = crashed motorcycle 2 days after buying; 90% = grateful to be alive, focusing on healing bruises, refusing to be drawn into shame and blame, dealing calmly with insurance companies, and planning to get back on a bike once I have fully healed!”

Despite my cheerful post, I did decide to delay my motorcycle era. Not right away. I had signed up for that weekend class and I dragged myself there one week after my crash, wanting to give myself a positive experience on a motorcycle. I hung in there for almost the entire 2-day class. Just a few minutes before they ran us through the final test to award us a temporary license, I became confused with the signals of the instructor as to whether to stop, turn left or turn right. I braked and turned, landing once again on my bruised side. This time I had on my padded boots, which saved me somewhat, but my ankle was sore and cranky. I tried to walk it off and one of the instructor’s gave me some stronger pain pills (whispering to keep it between us), saying I was sure to pass the driving test. Even though I could have toughed it out mentally, my ankle refused to be silenced and I regretfully left the course with another “fail.”

I called my friend, who still rides a motorcycle in her seventies, to flush out my frustration. She gracefully talked me through the jag threatening to engulf me with more shame. It was the best medicine for my wounded body and soul and I returned home ready to give myself all the emotional and physical rest required to make sound decisions about two-wheeled, motorized creatures.

I sold or gave away my gear, creating a clean slate. Like donating organs, women are out on their bikes protected by gear I know, sin duda, works. It has been two and a half years since the accident. I Lyft, walk, bus, ferry, BART, get rides, and rent cars. I have been dubbed a Valkyrie, a vagabond, a gitana and, more surprisingly, an inspiration for folks to re-think their beliefs about the nature of permanence, the car culture, and possessions.

I do ride a two-wheeled motorized creature – an electric bike I purchased in 2015. My tiny wheels, folding bicycle gets lots of love from strangers and friends alike, further inspiring people to consider their transportation options. I favor bike paths as I have no protective gear beyond a helmet and gloves and I know who will lose if a car collides with me. (photo by Minal Hajratwala)

I used to think that my decision to not share the details of my crash was because I was embarrassed and didn’t want people to think I was una loca if one day I do join the motorcycle tribe again. In sharing this story about a year after the crash to a friend, I admitted that I had not done so before because I really could have died. It could have been a bus or a ten-wheeler instead of a Prius. It is not even my possible death that kept this story quiet either. It was the reality of how my death or even serious injury would have impacted the driver, and more importantly, the people in my life who I love – most specifically, my twins. I didn’t want to look at that. Telling this story now is part of forgiving myself and realizing what that sweet woman I crashed into said is true: I am a miracle. I bet all of you, like I did that day, have made some less than wise decisions and we are all here today. Let’s forgive ourselves once and for all so we can rejoice in every moment and every breath of life. #52essays2017 #motorcycles #crashes #miracles

Holding Your Truth

I recently trained a 2-day Racial Justice workshop for a mix of ciswomenblack, brown, and white. I did something I do as little as possible. I pushed white people about white privilege and white supremacy. No blame, no shame. Just the facts. One of which is that there is no lack of anything that causes horrible housing, food deserts, inaccessible health care, under-resourced schools and toxic environments. The problem is not crime, poverty, unplanned pregnancies, hunger, disease, climate change, or _____________ (fill in the blank). The actions stem from white and often male privilege and are rooted in white supremacy. When we were problem-solving the root causes of why it is challenging to have productive, authentic discussions about racial justice, the focus turned, as it should, to the white women in the room.


My question to them was: How did you move from the interpersonal level of “I am a good white person who can help you” to looking at inequity from an institutional/systemic level where ‘lack’ is not the issue? They couldn’t answer me. As women, this would require them to step out of their sense of being one down due to gender and step up to embrace their white privilege and own it with white women AND white men. We all agreed that was their work to do so they could be the one initiating and holding the discussions instead of what typically happens – people of color carrying both the negative impacts of white privilege in our lives AND having to challenge it in conversations. Check out this great essay by Minda Honey on doing it in the beautiful outdoors.


Several privileged situations have occurred recently to spark me to write at this moment. I was playing a tennis match at a tennis club with my team. We enjoy our away matches because the amenities are many, and our home courts are Larkspur public courts, in serious need of repair, even in wealthy Marin County. My partner and I were the only women of color on either team. One of the women we were playing doubles against hit a ball out by about 3 inches. “Out!” I yelled, raising my index finger as is the practice in case they don’t hear the call. Yet another ball was hit out so I did it again. “That ball was in. Maybe some parts of it were out, but it was in. And the other call was bad as well.” Out of that pot of rage that is always simmering in people of color, I stood my ground and said: “Both balls were out by a significant amount. If you have a problem, call for a line judge and you will see my calls are correct.” My anger was palpable, so real I imagined my aura was red hot and they all felt it. People do sometimes question calls and I am one of them. The difference I felt and which my body responded to was the clear, unequivocal tone and sound of white privilege. The complete assurance that she was right and the two brown women were wrong.

My inner warrior did not hesitate to leap on her horse and brandish her sword. By slicing through her delusion, she knew I would not accede to her sense of supremacy. She did not question any further calls and did not call for a line judge. It was only afterwards that I understood my quick and sharp response came from that place of knowing, sin duda, what white supremacy feels like, even when dressed in tennis skirts on a beautiful day with smooth, clean courts where I was enjoying my class and educational privilege that so often gets interrupted as it did the day.


The other dynamic is the requests, again and again, to take care of white, alleged allies. A coaching client and I were working through this maelstrom. She did not like a white savior woman who was constantly inappropriate, yet she was struggling to let her go. My response was for her to consider if the shoe was on the other foot. What I said was: “We give so much leash to white supremacists when they would have cut our throat long ago if we had challenged and undermined them the way they do it to us.” My sword again sliced through a delusion of having to be fair in the face of ongoing disrespect. She is on the move now.


We do no one a favor by allowing them an undetermined amount of time to figure out they act from white supremacy. We do it because we are tired and it is not in our work descriptions: “Excellent interpersonal skills in calling out white supremacy.” It should be in the job descriptions of white people! It should be in the required qualifications and in the interview questions and in the evaluation forms of every organization that has words like equity and justice and equal rights in their vision and mission. The question I raised with the white women would be a great interview question and standard by which to hire – how did you move from an interpersonal to an institutional/systemic analysis of oppression? No answer, no job. Punto. #52essays2017

The Secret of Discipline

“So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them.  We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline.”  Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian

When you hear the word discipline, what do you think of? It often has a negative connotation due to being connected to punishment. The origin is indeed related to both punishment and suffering AND also to teaching, learning, and knowledge.  This is the definition I use, along with mental self-control to direct or change behavior. It can also be a particular field of activity, as in the discipline of writing, public speaking, or leadership.

I was not big on discipline growing up, believing that constant activity was the key to achievement. Excellence was not a word that was connected to me, even though both my parents were quite detail-oriented and disciplined in many areas of their lives. Most of my teachers did not set a high standard or pay attention to what I could accomplish. My parents didn’t understand the American school system yet still had clear goals for me that included a college degree, a good job with benefits, and a husband with children.

Discipline is sometimes inherent in an individual’s personality and sometimes, like in my case, it was initially an agonizing practice. Something interested me and I stuck with it until I reached a certain level of competency. Without being pushed by most teachers or coaches to be the best I could be, I bounced to another sport or activity. While I was competitive, I did not yet have the mindset to decide a goal, assess the situation, devise a plan, and then evaluate the results. In hindsight, some of the low expectations were based on my gender and race. I had few role models or even a visual of someone like me excelling. I now see that my parents could have been that for me, but they were not held up as role models by my US education and media. They lived by the love they did not see until I was much older and realized all they had done to achieve a comfortable life in this country as immigrants.

There is a lot of talk about the lack of discipline in black and brown communities. Talk of how we are lazy, unmotivated, and don’t believe in education. As Chelsea Batista said when accepted to 11 medical schools: “Several naysayers have attributed my successes to affirmative action, as opposed to discipline and hard work. At some points, I had to remind myself that I earned these accomplishments. That I worked just as hard as those around me and that I had to break through a prominent glass ceiling to get here. I had to remind myself that I was not chosen because I am a Hispanic woman who fulfills the requirements. I was chosen because as a Hispanic woman, I had to struggle through more obstacles and resistance than the typical medical school applicant and I still managed to excel.”

As I said earlier, when recounting my experience, a key element to developing a strong discipline practice is role models. An article about Lieutenant Uhuru from Star Trek when she turned eighty-two stated: The Star Trek character played by Nichelle Nichols broke racial barriers on TV, and when she thought of quitting the series at one point, none other than Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged her to stay on! “He said I had the first non-stereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, ‘You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we’d see this on TV.'”

The first time I used all my previous discipline skills consciously was as a mother at the age of thirty-nine. Before that, but I was too often driven by the end rather than paying attention to the means I used to reach the end. Discipline is all about the means. In fact, when I knew we were having twins, I began making lists, the first conscious discipline tool I used other than a watch and alarms. Without checking off my lists, trips would have ended in tears and sad memories. Another core discipline I began with my children was living a fully bilingual life. I truly accepted that repetition and boredom are necessary elements in achieving life goals, sustaining my spiritual practice, and in raising children. Discipline forces me to transform my world, one small change at a time, planting dates that will not flourish for many years.

Discipline is inherently based in self-love. Discipline must first and foremost be directed at achieving your own aspirations and goals. Only by doing this can we truly give to others because we have the patience and fortitude to know that our present actions are based in love for what we may never see.

First and Last Hour of Your Day
To assess and deepen your own practice, I suggest you start with the first and last hour of your day. These are the most important two hours to create a fruitful discipline practice. Make a list of what you are currently doing in these two hours. Rather than judging yourself, look at each activity and ask yourself: When did I start doing this and why? Do these activities bring ease or do they encourage scattered energy and focus? Then list and commit to activities that are absolutely essential and also note down optional choices. Order them in a natural progression. One of my first hour activities is lighting incense and dedicating the merit of my day to someone. It helps me step out of ego and remember we are all connected. One of my last hour activities is noting 3 things for which I am grateful in my day and why.

Hal Elrod, a bestselling author of a series of books called The Miracle Morning, offers a 6 minute practice if time is of the essence that is a good framework to consider.
1 minute each of:
Silence to calm the mind and breathe, Affirmations to increase internal motivation, Visualization of goals and the day going well, Scribing gratitudes and results for the day, Reading something inspirational, and finally, Exercise to get the heart rate up. While every part of your day should be focused on your important values and goals, the first and last hours form the cornerstone of discipline.

To add even more value and meaning to your lives, integrate the three core elements of discipline:

Notice and appreciate how your day, week, and life blossom with the secret of discipline – living by the love of what we will never see — knowing our lives have benefited by what was planted by those who came before us. Knowing others will benefit from what we plant each day with discipline. #coaching #fullhearted #discipline #self-love

Salsa and Makeovers

Getting to my first salsa lesson took every ounce of imagining myself dancing with my most recent crush. I found a beginner’s class at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and shooed my qualms out the front door and into the car with me.

“You have no idea how to be a follower, eres una mandona” jumped out of my throat, followed closely with “You’ll give Latinas a bad name.”

I ran into the Ashby BART station and pushed my card through the slot and there was no turning back. Those voices hovered in the air, trailing me like they owned my heart. This was my chance to set aside the independence I so coveted and see what it took to trust a dance partner the way I trusted my business colleagues and friends. The expectation that all Latinas are good dancers was as foolish as the other stereotypes I regularly helped my clients unearth and release. Practicing what I preached was not always fun.

I exited the 16th station and walked down the sidewalk full of odors ranging from pan dulce to carnitas to urine. On the wall just outside the Center’s blood-red building, a jaguar stood vigil with an outstretched tongue, daring me to enter. I boldly bought a four-class pass to reclaim my stake and climbed the dark stairs to the second floor landing. Standing outside the dance studio with a few other intrepid souls, it was as if we were going to watch a safe sex video before being tested for HIV. We avoided each other’s eyes and stood like girasoles along the cool walls. The teacher, a dark haired, petite gringa walked through us and into the studio with her assistant, a younger man with short-cropped curly hair, a thin frame and large dark, almond eyes. A full-length mirror greeted me and a sigh escaped my lips. I am not one to run away, but that doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t pulse through my veins.

“Line up in four rows,” Ava said.  She then began, as she would, lesson after lesson, by reviewing the “basic.” The 1-2-3, pause, 4-5-6 pause seemed easy enough, and I kept my eyes and mind focused by whispering the numbers under my breath. The group was mixed and I was grateful about half were Latinx and all of us were less than suave in our moves.

As I climbed the stairs each Thursday and settled into my row of four, the ‘basic’ accompanied by Hector Lavoe’s canciones became a beat that eased into my body and reminded me the cadera is connected to the corazón. In the midst of ending my relationship and managing my mother’s depression, these classes became a sliver of hopeful challenge I pushed myself to stick with as I did my fledgling meditation practice. These two anchors held my bruised spirit steady as my doubts rose like swells in the ocean, tempting me to steer back into my past delusions.

A young Latino, Jaime, probably about eighteen, with cholo pants, an ironed white t-shirt, and a net on his head inspired me to keep coming back when my worries were close to talking me into watching TV. When we shyly smiled and placed our hands tentatively on each other’s bodies, we were gente, dancing for our lives. His hands guided me into a cross body turn and my body listened for how to meld our distinct rhythms. Like friends and colleagues, some partners like Jaime brought grace and strength and some stepped on my toes as they tried to conquer salsa as their ancestors had conquered this land. My goal was to keep my beat and support my partner’s added challenge to lead me. I am not going to lie, I did at times anticipate moves, but I mostly enjoyed this rare chance to not make all the decisions. An errant move was much easier to correct with my partner on the dance floor than with my ex in orchestrating our children’s schedules.

I had never been complimented on my dancing. When Philip, the assistant, danced with me a few months into my lessons and remarked “Very nicely done,” I thought I could definitely handle having a lover half my age. That is, until the next meeting at the organization where my crush was a board member and I was a multicultural planning consultant. He charged in, the last to arrive, again. At the break he came into the kitchen where I was slicing up strawberries for the group.

“Do you want one?” I held the ripest one out, knowing they were his favorite.

He inspected it carefully. “It looks a little tired, don’t you think?”

“Come on. It came all the way from Berkeley.”

“Pues, entonces, OK.” He leaned in and grasped it from my outstretched fingers. Wearing a new skirt with slits up the sides and a more form-fitting red shirt, I was flirting, pure and simple. It was fun, a feeling I had tossed aside for demaisdiados años as I buried myself into obligations that submerged my passion.

“¿Te gustó?”

“Sí. Hey, do you need some help? Here I am behaving like a typical male.” He took the knife I held out into his bronze hand.

“How are your salsa lessons going?” I asked, feeling my face flush and my breath stop.

“Fine until today. We tried to reschedule but I’m busy this weekend teaching a parenting class in Fresno and helping a friend sell jewelry at a pow wow.”

“You don’t stop, do you?” I said.

“This is all we have. Gotta take what the Great Spirit gives you.” He paused. “I’ve had a big disappointment recently that made that real to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

The strawberries glistened in the bowl he placed on the table. My fear of engulfment had scurried into a mouse hole, chased there by my outstretched claws of infatuation.

His long hair motivated me to grow mine as part of my life makeover. As difficult life events came at me, cutting my hair had been a way to feel lighter, to let go of memories that dragged me down. Now my curls embraced the power of memory, the sudor de mi esfuerza. Instead of clipping off my pain, it joined me on my meditation cushion and we rehashed old stories, arguing over details and using more than a few of those swear words I held in check when my twins were around.

My wardrobe makeover continued as I perfected my Susie Q and other ‘shines’ in my salsa classes. I cleaned out my closet of the last of my old, size medium clothes and went shopping with Ana, my lead in learning to embrace my inner diva. She ordered me to try on a pair of tight black capris at Rockridge Rags. When I walked out of the dressing room, Ana surveyed me with her critical style eye.

“You have a more traditional Latina body.”

“And that means…”

“Curves, breasts, some hips.”

“I don’t know, Ana. They’re not quite my size.”

I turned and turned, looking in the mirror for an image I recognized. While I shunned the rumpled, cotton uniform of many moms, I did not dress to accentuate my curves. Curves were dangerous. They were about sex and lust and uncontrollable emotions that only ended in trouble. Fine then. I was ready to see what a different kind of trouble looked like other than my family woes. Ignoring my body had brought its own measure of loss.

“You look great,” said Ana. “Take them off and let’s go look at shoes.”

I cheerfully obeyed. Being a follower had more perks than I had ever imagined. #52essays2017 #salsa #newbeginning #diva #reclaiming