confusion, echoes, and a year of blessings

This time last year, I can remember taking a course at my spiritual center where we did a guided meditation with the intent of discovering personal purpose. As we discussed our experience afterward, members of the group led themselves to very specific understandings of purpose; definite career goals, intentions in their personal lives, precise steps to take regarding their dreams.  Imagine my confusion when every time I meditated on my purpose, rather than a vision of what I was supposed to be doing, or illustrative and meaningful concepts coming from the depth of my being, all that would pop into my consciousness were three words; shake things up.  “Seriously universe, shake things up!?”, I thought with frustration each time I meditated on this topic, “Why does my purpose sound vaguely like a line from a 90’s dance hit?”  While I’ve had a fair amount of confusion over this topic in the last several years, I’m pretty certain my life purpose is not inventing the next Macarena.

Despite my confusion around the concept of “shaking things up”, this year did feel a bit like I was living in a snow globe, and every time the dust settled and the ground stopped moving, someone picked it up and gave it just a few more shakes.  As chaotic and disorderly as that sounds, I’m grateful -I’ve had the kind of year where the new experiences have been too rich to measure.  Though, as each crazy adventure ends, it begins to take on the blurry quality of a wacky dream in which I wake up asking, “Did that really happen?”  Did I really spend several months living in Thailand riding motorcycle taxis to my job in the middle of rice fields where I sang the English alphabet to wee ones who barely understood their own language, becoming accustomed to navigating around downed electrical wires, piles of fruit rinds, and wild dogs in the streets of Ayutthaya?  Did I really spend another several months of my year living in a cabin so deep in the Northern California mountains that cell phone service and internet were not an option, hiking in the afternoon to scale abandoned lighthouses or explore pioneer cemeteries?   Even the trip to Colorado just over a week ago seems unreal.  Within an hour of arriving, we were inside an empty silo known by locals as the “echo chamber”, the walls painted an almost purple dark red, emphasizing the depth of the eternal echo that even the tiniest noises seem to create. Did we really squeeze inside a two foot hole in the side of this man made cave, whistling, drumming, and yelling, each sound reverberating like we had stepped inside a Tibetan singing bowl?  As I unpack my suitcases for what I assume is the last time this year, it all seems to fade into an epic dream in which my subconscious exploded with the most surreal series of events that could occur within a span of months.

It seems appropriate that we arrived home in November, as this seems to have become an almost universal month for counting blessings.  The joy I have for each individual experience is a limb of an immense body of gratitude I feel for this entire year.   I saw a dream become a reality, as I finally traveled to the corner of the earth I’d felt drawn to for years, and saw the natural wonder I’d been seeking since I’d read about it years ago; synchronous fireflies, lighting up the dark tributary of the Mekong river in unison.   This year I also got engaged to the person who over the course of five years, never gave up on us, or me, despite my endless pursuit of rapid fire adventure and sometimes exhausting inability to sit still.  I’ve also been  blessed to have so many people who despite my being in touch rarely through the course of this year, have been in my heart and mind throughout, and who I look forward to reconnecting with this holiday season.  While traveling I’ve spent time with some absolutely amazing people, some of who I imagine will be but sparks that lit a moment,  others who I know life will connect me with again and again.

I feel like the things I’ve been able to do and see this year are enough to fill a lifetime, and for that I can barely count my blessings.  I both taught and learned; in the spring I taught yoga to eager first graders whose Bohemian parents had seemed to name them all after birds, trees, or folk singers, and later taught English to nervous Thai toddlers who cried when they first saw a ‘scary’ white teacher (but how their eyes lit up as we learned the English words for cake and ice cream!).    I learned more things about the world and myself than can be encompassed in words…and speaking of words- I also learned beginner Thai and refreshed my Spanish; Korp kuhn ka, estoy agradecida.  I was blessed enough to climb the zigzagging path of the highest mountain in the Kings Range, the jeweled steps of the highest temple in SE Asia, and the most challenging climb… up three flights of concrete stairs in the middle of bustling Bangkok with a broken toe and a pile of luggage.  Thank you universe for innumerable tests of physical and emotional strength.

Thank you animal world, for the tiger I fearfully petted as she stared lovingly at her tiny ten year old trainer at the river market, thank you for water monitors looking like baby alligators as they creep onto muddy banks in the Ayutthaya park and disappear so quickly you are sure you never saw them at all.  Thanks to my own personal apartment gecko who lunched on fire ants that hitchhiked in from work in the keyboard of my laptop, for royal elephants whose presence on the city streets constantly reminded me how far I’d come from home, for newborn kittens skittish on the wooden floor of an unfinished cabin, for sixty blubbery sea lions rolling in a cuddly pile as they sunned on the Lost Coast, for giant shelled Thai centipedes as long as my arm I admired from a safe distance. I have gratitude for learning that if you are in the mountains and see a bear, you play dead, and if you see a mountain lion you act big… and even more gratitude that I never had to try either of these out in real life.  Thank you buzzards and hawks, lazily floating in the thermals over the mountains, reminding me that sometimes it’s necessary to find a natural flow and let it carry me.

Into the wind, I whisper gratitude for all of the sacred experiences that I have both sought out and that have seeped into the cracks of my nomadic existence.  Thank you, for the ancient temples of central Thailand, crumbling ruins, Buddha figures burnt and decapitated in ancient battles, foundations weakened by flood, falling structures held up by rough rebar frames,  a perfect juxtaposition of  natural decay and human denial of impermanence.  Thank you universe for blessing my grad school classmate Lee with the gift of leading powerful rituals, and for finally trusting as I closed my eyes as she guided us around the bonfire, knowing that I was always being guided on the path, to meeting the right people and being in the right places.  Thank you for the wine and laughter I shared afterwards to celebrate the divine energy I’ve been lucky enough to share with an inspiring group of healers over the past few years. Thank you for the 601 steep steps to the top of the gold embossed temple of Chiang Mai, where a softly stern monk blessed me with his holy water and where I watched children do traditional dances as hundreds of Buddhists completed their pilgrimage to the sacred Wat Doi.  And most of all, thank you for all those moments in between, where the divine showed itself not as some sweeping ritual or ornate building, but as a moment of grace where amidst challenge or adversity, the universe opened up in some way and reminded me, “You are always supported”.

be the light