Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Float with the Flame

As death is the "change agent" of Life, as Steve Jobs observed, then fire is a growth agent, causing people to pop open like the seeds of certain plants, germinating fresh life. I must be of this species of plant, since fire transformed my journey powerfully on October 20, 1991, in Oakland, California. Yes, twenty years ago this month.

Fire brings a spiritual re-alignment, a crackling pop of a psychic chiropractic adjustment. There is an Aha! of what is really important, and what is not.

The Oakland Hills Fire revealed my ultimate priorities. It gave me the courage to leave my cozy burrow in the hills above the romantic city and migrate to a better place. A friend who also landed here in Big Sur afterwards commented, "That fire was one of the best things that's ever happened to me." I would have to agree.

One of my favorite stories is from my neighbor who, after jumping through flaming hoops to get home, realized just as he came through his front door that nothing in the house was important enough to take. He walked away from it all, and then in the end, his home was safe.

When you lose all of the personal items that somehow define who you are, you release an anchor chain that stretches to the bottom of the sea. That chain, swirled in tendrils of green muck, drops to the floor as the ship sails free. Instant lightness of being. Your focus is freed up to be in the moment as there is less care and feeding of "the stuff".

And then, something magical happens. You see all living things in a new light -- and all your experiences become filled with wonder. For about a week. That state of grace which I enjoyed after the Oakland Fire made me fearless about facing a crisis, and left me floating upward, with the alchemical flames, into a new life.

I can still see the word Samsara almost jumping off the perfume bottle at my friend's house a week after the fire. Of all the assorted toiletries in the medicine cabinet "Samsara", a concept I was just beginning to grasp, was suddenly as crystal clear to me as the label on that glowing vial.

In dreams, my missing cats reassured me that they were napping in the sunshine on the other side. Years later I learned my future husband had stood beside me on that nightmarish afternoon, watching news broadcasts of the disaster at a pub in Noe Valley.

The fire taught me that the capacity for grief is directly proportional to the capacity for joy, that there is always a blessing hidden in tragedy, that angels do, in fact, watch over us all.

The illustration above was done by my friend Dave Ember, who worked as a graphic artist for the Oakland Tribune in 1991. He wrote a lovely poem on the original, which he gave to me.

"The flowers
of the future

spring forth from
the ashes of the past --

float with the flame."
--Love, Dave

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Me and my Ice Pack

Time to admire the flowers once more.

Life pushed me down on the playground recently. This is not a metaphor. I actually did fall and twist my ankle a month ago.

It felt like the school-yard bully, some mean girl, came up behind me and smacked me down onto the asphalt. I came up with those hot fast tears in my eyes that come with the question, “Who did that?” I may even have looked around, though I was alone.

Even though I had traipsed all over the rugged terrain of Esalen Institute the previous week (learning about my soul’s camouflauge) wearing these same, potentially deadly clogs, apparently I was due to have my own mini-accident, falling off of Highway One on the way to the Labor Day party.

Ah, the lowly ankle, so taken for granted, and so necessary to comfortable daily living. Unlike other joints, this one gets constant, weight-bearing use.

Anyone who’s lived in uneven rural terrain can tell you how important it is to have coordination, balance and sturdy ankles. Climbing over wood-piles, chasing stray goats, bush-whacking through forests searching for chanterelles, or lugging groceries down stone steps, are just a few of the tasks where losing one’s footing can be extremely inconvenient.

Deciding to practice stoicism (most un-characteristic for me) I didn’t go to the Big Sur Health Center right away. Since piggy back rides from dashing gentlemen only work for the first few hours or so post-injury, the following day I borrowed my husband’s crutches from his ankle cracking last year (a brush-with death-while-pruning event.)

Later that week a Qigong instructor gave me Taoist Liniment to apply religiously to my swollen foot, a dancer friend suggested an arch support, and my dear neighbors brought me a few blessed vicodin tablets. (These same neighbors loaned me a great book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” a wondrous read for all us dog-lovers out there.)

Now, a month later, I am still hurting, and have learned to love my ice pack. Seems the universe is telling me to put my foot up at the end of the day. However, at this point I am beginning to worry about my caloric intake, since my general pattern of eating whatever I like and breaking a sweat a few times a week has been interrupted. Kind of ominous, as we head in to winter!
Hmmm, nuts and berries, hold the Deetjens Eggs Benedict, for a few weeks at least...