Category Archives: meditation

Chickadee’s Legacy

Artwork by inmate Aaron Pearson

Each time we find ourselves standing on a stage or in a living room or in a backyard in Illinois or Vermont or Baltimore or Baton Rouge and we are holding our instruments and gazing into the unknown—a group of faces belonging to people we’ve never met, or people we’ve just met, or people we’ve known for years—we always reach that moment of free fall, when Addison introduces the song “Chickadee”.

“This next song is the title track of our new album, and is dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee,” he says, “who was stillborn two years ago. This whole tour is about her and this album we recorded for her. It’s also for you—all of you who showed up here and are making space for this music and this story.”

I stand transfixed, almost in horror, as he bares our bloody hearts for all to see.

“This song is the silver lining to something that was really hard,” he says. He begins playing and I fall into step with him. We free fall into the arms of strangers.

When the set is over and we enter into the midst of our audience, we find acceptance over and over again. We find a shared story with our listeners.

A woman approaches me. “Thank you for sharing that song about your daughter. Not many people talk about these kinds of things. My sister’s first and only child was stillborn. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about it and no one says anything to her, except for me. I’m going to share Chickadee with her.”

A man comes and stands with me, his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I lost three babies.” We embrace, and our tears mix together to create an elixir that heals us, a little more. Just a little more healing to get us through.

We’ve played our music for people all the way from Colorado to Louisiana and we finally arrive in Austin Texas where Chickadee was born, and where she is buried. The sights and smells remind me of the intense joy I felt while I was pregnant with her.

Our first show is at the Mohawk, a music venue with a stage and big lights that shine in our eyes as we stand up in front of a group of people we can’t see. I consider the option of bailing on the whole vulnerability aspect of the tour. This is a big venue, and people are here just to “have a good time”, right? We don’t need to ruin their nights by talking about our stillborn baby. But balking now would feel like a betrayal to something we’ve spent the past two years discovering.

Our voices and instruments are so amplified I feel as though I will be knocked over by the sound, so I try to ride the waves instead. We reach the part of our set where we’re supposed to play Chickadee’s song, and I barely breathe, not looking at Addison but watching his every move. Is he going to go through with it? He introduces the song. I wait, frozen. I wait for people to turn away in disgust. To walk out, shaking their heads. No one moves. I feel their hearts open, their willingness to go there with us.

“Being here with y’all is really what this whole tour is about,” Addison says. “Sharing this story and this album with people like you, especially here in Austin where this story began, is really special.”

After the music is over, we find our way off of the stage and once again into the arms of strangers. Human beings who have all suffered and lost, just as we have.

“Y’all are giving us all permission to be ourselves,” one person says after we’ve pulled everything off stage to make room for the next band.

“You’re doing something with your music that I want to be doing but don’t know how”, one musician tells us. He plays in different bands around Austin, but works on his own music as well. “I want to get there. I am figuring it out. I’m so inspired by your vulnerability and your story.”

A week and a half later, and about a month and half into our tour, we are going to a Buddhist gathering at the Travis Correctional Facility in Dell Valle Texas with our Dharma teacher, Alyssa. We pass a mandolin, banjo, guitar, harmonicas and fiddle through the security check and inside the fences and razor wire, and find a group of men in white and black striped jumpers, ready to meditate, to listen to our music and to discuss the wonders and hardships of being alive.

I look into the faces of these men, and see that their suffering has transformed them. They are in jail, but they are learning to find a freedom that they will always have access to—freedom from their thoughts, feelings and perceptions; freedom from judgement, freedom from attachment to things being a certain way; freedom from the notion of being a separate self but rather the freedom of finding ourselves in everything and everyone.

Addison, Alyssa, these prisoners and I have all come to this Buddhist practice through our own trials by fire, and we have arrived together from different paths, yet now we are together and trying to support one another along the same path. Alyssa greets each man as though he were a beloved son, embracing them and listening intently to their updates and check-ins.

We sit down and meditate together, following Alyssa’s instruction to relax the tops of our heads down to our feet, and to allow ourselves to arrive here fully. After meditating, I push metal finger picks onto my right hand and place the banjo into my lap. Addison tunes his five string violin and then we begin to play. The music transports all of us, beyond the prison walls, and we all forget where we’re sitting. We forget that this is the first time we’re meeting each other, feeling a familiarity that goes beyond our stories and judgements.

I tell the men briefly about losing Chickadee and how she appears in the song we just played and the one we’re about to play.

“I’m so sorry,” I hear one man utter softly.

After we play some more songs, a man shares the story of his father dying, while he was still in jail and unable to be with him. “Look at your hands,” Alyssa says. “Can you see your father’s hands in your hands? He is still with you, he’s still inside of you.”

“My father used to hold my hand through church service every Sunday,” he says. “I can still feel his hand on mine when I close my eyes.”

“Here in prison, right here with y’all,” one man says, pointing to the instruments in our hands, “is a joy I never experienced when I was ‘free’. Back when I was taking dope and peddling drugs, I never felt joy. I didn’t know what joy felt like. I would take drugs and ‘have fun’, but that was nothing close to this. Just sitting here in this circle with all of you, is the greatest joy I’ve ever felt.”

The men ask us questions about our life, how do we support ourselves, is it only with music?

“We offer people something that we have the ability to offer – our music, our story, our presence – and we always receive something back,” I say, “whether it’s money or a place to stay or a juvenile peacock feather tied to our merch case. Like being here with you and bringing you joy is a compensation that goes beyond anything we can compare. It’s the most fulfilling thing I can think of doing.”

It’s time to leave, so Alyssa rings the bell, and we bow to one another in gratitude for showing up and for what each person shared of themselves. Then we turn to bow to the trees and the insects and the sky and to all of our ancestral teachers. As the men prepare to leave, they give each of us hugs, thanking us for coming.

We make our way back out of the giant cage of the jail, and Alyssa asks if telling Chickadee’s story over these two months on tour has been like ripping a scab off of a wound repeatedly. Alyssa lost her grandson a few days after he was born, not long before we lost Chickadee, but I still haven’t heard her talk directly about him in her Dharma talks. Maybe one day she will.

“You know I don’t think there was a scab on the wound to pull off,” I tell her. “Talking about Chickadee and playing her songs for people has been helping the wound to scab and heal, instead of just bleeding non-stop.”

I used to feel so isolated in my grief, bemoaning the lack of ceremony we have as a culture around death, especially of babies and children. I had no idea until I was a bereaved mother that the way the death of babies is handled by many people is by avoiding the subject, for fear they might “upset” me, as if I’m not already beyond upset. But I don’t feel angry about the avoidance anymore. I understand their silence comes from not knowing what to do or say. So Addison and I created our own ceremony around Chickadee’s death by recording her an album and traveling the country with it.

The next morning after visiting the prisoners, we packed some snacks and Zoso into the car, picked up birdseed from the store and drove the thirty miles east out of Austin to Eloise Woods, the green burial site where we left Chickadee’s tiny little body two and half years ago.

On the day she was born, we had held her for hours, admiring every inch of this little miracle who emerged from my body. A few visitors had come and gone, crying over her both in sadness and in wonder, including my sister and my dad, who’d flown in at short noice when they heard the news. The hospital put her on ice afterwards, to give me time to recover from giving birth and slowly regain feeling in my lower body from the epidural.

Later we asked to see her again, and we cradled her cold, bundled body, looking into her face and wondering what we should do with her. The hospital was offering to incinerate her and give us a tiny urn filled with her ashes. Our midwife was telling us about a green burial space that we could bring her to.

“But we’ll need to keep her on dry ice all night, and change the ice out every four hours,” she said. “And we need to bury her tomorrow for sure. Her body is very fragile and delicate, and it will start to fall apart quickly.”

Talk about fucking impermanence.

I was trying to wrap my mind around keeping her in a box in our bedroom and changing out dry ice in the middle of the night when I could barely even walk and Addison was a bereft zombie version of his former self, when my sister stepped in.

“I can take care of that,” she said. “I’ll set a timer and change her ice out and whatever else needs to be done. You won’t have to think about it.”

She looked into my face, and I know that she could tell that the difference between us burying Chickadee or cremating her was what kind of support she could give us in this time of utter disbelief.

“Ok,” I said, knowing that I could rely on her. As soon as my sister received the news that my baby died while I was in labor, she’d gotten on the first plane out of Seattle that she could find a ticket for. “Thanks Radha.”

I’d imagined Eloise Woods to be an open area, a rolling cemetery covered in bright green grass with giant willows weeping across the symmetrical lines of gravestones. But Texas is not the northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. This green burial place is a couple of acres covered by scraggly oaks and scrubby brush, with stony paths cut through the woods. Erect gravestones are not allowed, so all of the markers lie flat on top of the burial mound they belong to, mostly marking the graves of babies and pets, though some adults rest there as well.

We arrived in a caravan of cars. Addison parked our car in the shade where I waited with our daughter in a styrofoam ice chest beside me. My sister visited with me in between checking on the progress of finding a spot to bury Chickadee. Addison wanted the best place for her and was walking in circles around the site, trailed by his mother, my dad and the midwife. What felt like an eternity later, he’d decided on a couple of options, and they led me around and showed me our choices. I was dismayed by how hot and merciless the sun was, and by how unwelcoming this place felt, and despaired at finding a burial place I could be happy with. At one spot I was being shown, I turned around and looked behind me. There was a corner patch of woods where I could see an opening at the foot of an oak tree.

“What about over here?” I asked. Everyone turned and looked. I wanted Chickadee to be buried somewhere remotely shady, and between the oaks and a big pine nearby, it was one of the shadier options. It was also a private nook, where no one else was yet buried.

Everyone agreed it was a good spot.

I went back to my seat in the car with Chickadee, and the men got to work, relieved to have something to do with themselves. They cut back brush, raked and eventually were able to begin digging her burial spot. It need to be at least three feet deep, which is no small task with soil as hard and rocky as this Texas soil was.

A chaplain, who my midwife had asked to come, was helping to cut and dig, when I asked if I could see him and talk to him about the ceremony he was planning on leading for my daughter. He walked slowly to the car, brushing dirt from his hands, and sat next to me solemnly.

“Mary Ellen asked me to do something involving some Christian songs and words,” he said, “but I hear you’re not Christian.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “Not that I have an aversion to Christianity either.” I think my dad had been worried about his granddaughter getting Jesus-afied during her burial, because he’d seemed a bit grumpy after the chaplain’s arrival.

“What do you believe?” the chaplain asked me.

I was so glad to be having this conversation. So glad that someone was asking me this.

“Everything I’ve read that the Buddha taught really makes sense to me,” I said.

“So are you Buddhist?”

“I don’t know…” I said slowly. “Maybe I am.”

We talked about life after death, spirituality, God or no God, all of the topics I love discussing with intelligent yet kind people such as this man.

We wrote out the ceremony together, and when it was time all of us formed a semi-circle, standing or sitting, around the freshly dug hole. Addison went to the car and carried the little bundle of his daughter over to the grave and carefully lowered her in. Later I would regret not having held her one last time, but at that moment I just sat and watched her go into the ground.

Addison and I each sang her a song, and her Nana tried to sing her a song but couldn’t get the words out through her tears, so Radha and I picked up the song where she’d left off and sang it. Radha also read her a message from my friend Colleen, and my friend Alice read her a Mary Oliver poem. MariMikal and her friend sang a couple of songs as well, and then my dad stood up to say some words.

“I can’t help feeling that she’ll be back,” he told all of us. “She came to Jahnavi and Addison at an important time in their lives, and now that her work is done she left again. But I think she’s coming back.”

When it was time to bury her, I lowered a beautiful moonstone necklace onto her bundle, given to us by the midwife’s assistant, along with a moonstone necklace each for Addison and I. Everyone surrounded her and began to pour shovels or handfuls of dirt over her. A chubby stone chickadee was placed at the head of the grave, along with some other pieces of art and beauty brought by friends or family.

Two and half years later we are arriving in the same car we’d transported Chickadee in, but this time we know our way around. We open the gate and roll in on the bumpy dirt trail, parking at the beginning of the Moonlit Garden path. Zoso knows the drill, and bursts from the car in a flurry of excitement, and commences with peeing on things and chasing rodents through the underbrush.

It’s spring this time, and although it’s sunny, it’s not yet too hot. There are wildflowers bursting with vivid colors all around, and it lends a feeling of cheerfulness to this unassuming patch of Texas forest. I look around, wondering how much of Chickadee’s essence is dispersed through the landscape here, how much of her is still inside of me, and where is the rest of her?

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha and science, our bodies and energy re-disperse into the world around us after we die, our molecules becoming a part of the insects, trees, plants, birds, sunshine, rain and clouds. Perhaps our mind-stream carries on to another form, but that is always up for debate. As the Dalai Lama says, until science can prove that re-birth does or does not exist, then maybe it does.

“As far as I know, no modern psychologist, physicist, or neuroscientist has been able to observe or predict the production of mind either from matter or without cause,” he says. If something has no beginning, it makes sense that it has no end.

Addison and I sit by Chickadee’s grave for a while, talking, playing music, journaling, reading and, of course, filling up her bird feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds. I sprinkle the seed mix around her spot, and Zoso wanders around picking up the peanuts and munching them contentedly. He’s hot, and keeps trying to do the frog dog, legs splayed out and belly to the cool earth, directly on top of Chickadee. Addison keeps shooing him off, but I finally say, “You know what, just let him. She’s his little sister and I don’t think she minds.”

Yes, I know that a dog can’t actually be related to a human, but Zoso is our baby and so is Chickadee, so there it is.

It’s strange sitting with a part of me that has been buried.

We take a walk around the grounds, noticing new burial sites with markers from 2018 or 2019. Beautiful quotes engraved in stone mark the paths, and we pause to read them or to smell the fragrant wildflowers who smile up at us. We find a dog bowl for Zoso because he’s hot and thirsty, and as we search for a spigot to get him some water, we discover a two foot tall medicine Buddha hiding behind the tool-shed.

“Oh wow,” I say.

“What’s he doing behind here?” Addison asks.

“He’s too tall to meet the marker requirements,” I observe. “And they don’t want statues set up here either. I know we have our chubby chickadee, but we are technically breaking the rules. So someone probably brought him here not knowing that, but then the caretaker saw and hid him back here while they figured out what to do with him.”

“Let’s take him to Chickadee’s spot,” Addison says.

“Ok,” I laugh. “They’re going to discover him sooner or later and carry him away again, but we might as well bring him over to hang out with her for a while anyway.”

Addison picks up the Medicine Buddha and sets him next to Chickadee’s grave. The Buddha gazes down at her in his cross-legged pose of blissful concentration.

Chickadee left a legacy of the greatest sorrow we will ever know. And she has left a legacy of music that we hadn’t known how to play until she came around. She taught us to be brave. She helped us commit to a spiritual practice, first when we were expecting her and meditating with her every morning, and after she left us. She has shown us that we really are interconnected with all beings, and that everyone has a story. If we stay vulnerable and just listen, we will hear the entire universe in the laugh of a baby, we will see all of the oceans in the tear of a woman, and we will smell the beauty of the entire world in the fragrance of a flower. When we begin to live our lives for the benefit of others, our happiness expands and we can begin to truly see other people as human beings with a story and a legacy of their own, which is not separate from ours.

We’re all in this together.

Happy happy

I’ve heard that while we are babies, we can still remember our past life, and that we know many things which we slowly forget as time passes.

My mom said that when I was very little, my first words were, “Happy happy!” I would say this while bouncing and clapping my hands. She always gets a big smile on her face when she tells me that.

This morning I was meditating and practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. During the second part, which is feelings, I was breathing in and saying internally, “I feel happy”, and then breathing out and saying, “I feel happy.” In that moment I saw myself as a little girl, bouncing and chanting, “Happy happy.”

I thought, “Wow, I already had this all figured out back then. I guess I forgot and now I’m reminding myself.”

I wonder if I still remembered who I was when I was learning to say “Happy.”

It’s funny and terrifying, but someone recently compared the process of re-birth, or reincarnation, to be like “attending junior high school, over and over again.”

Maybe I am currently relearning things I already know. But hopefully I’m getting better at them each time around. 🙂

How to be a badass

The man sits perfectly still in his dark brown robes, his back erect, his eyes bright and smiling. The rest of us in the room are shifting, straightening or re-bending a leg, pushing shoulders back to keep from slumping.

A giant golden Buddha sits behind Thay Tihn Mahn, a similar smile curving the statue’s lips.

Thay Tihn Mahn is answering a question, a question about how to let go of bad memories or experiences.

“When I was a child during the Vietnam war,” the monk is saying, “I saw many of my friends and neighbors killed or raped. It was very traumatic for me to see.”

His Vietnamese accent is so strong, it has taken all afternoon for me to get accustomed to the way he pronounces words, and the inflections he uses. But he speaks clearly and slowly, and I can still barely believe what I am hearing.

“I could have been consumed with hatred and anger for these people who were killing and raping. But that would be very harmful to me, and to the world.”

As he speaks, he looks from each on of us to the next person, holding eye contact for what seems like many minutes at a time.

“Instead, I had to look back at these situations. I had to look back at these memories, so painful, and see how I could find compassion for these people. That is the only way I could transform the pain.”

Everyone in the circle is watching Tihn Mahn, and perhaps they are as amazed as I am to see this man, who is so incredibly kind and ready to smile, and to realize what he had to overcome to get to the place he is now.

“So we must take our pain, our suffering,” he went on, “and make it into our strength. Through finding compassion for the people we are angry with, we become very strong.”

And here I am, sitting in front of this man who sends loving-kindness to murderers and rapists, and I feel a little silly.

I thought I was really making strides, practicing compassion for friends or family who I only perceive as causing me suffering. I feel accomplished when I take my feelings of disappointment or hurt, and I channel them into loving-kindness, and come out the other side feeling more peaceful, more at ease. That’s great and all, good for me…

But practicing loving-kindness for people who murdered your friends and neighbors? This is a whole new level of understanding and it’s really raising the bar for me.

As we drive home I wonder where Thay Tihn Mahn came from, and how he ended up building a Buddhist monastery in the mountains near Denver.  Do the people speeding on the highway below realize that a 40 foot statue of the Goddess of Compassion is gazing down at them from those mountains?

I hope one day I can be a badass like Tihn Mahn. 🙂

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If you have a minute, write a comment and say hi to me. I love hearing from you. Tell me your thoughts or share a story of what you did to get through a tough experience.

Love,

Jahnavi

P.S. By the way, my band (The Love Sprockets) is releasing our next E.P., dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee. You can preorder it here: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee

Every Situation is a Passing Memory

Do you ever feel like you’re living in a dream? Like, what actually makes our dreams less real than our “real life”?

When I was a teenager, I would get a kick out of going wide-eyed and saying to my best friend, “What if our dreams are real life and right now we’re just dreaming??”

Sometimes I was sure I would finally “wake up”, and my true love—Leonardo DiCaprio of course—would be sitting by my bedside holding my hand, crying tears of joy as my eyes flutter open.

Pema Chodron says, “Every situation is a passing memory.” Think about it. Everything we do, every moment, every thought is always swiftly becoming a memory. Every second that passes becomes a memory.

And you are a part of my memories, a part of what I identify to be my self. Walker Bob, Tom Weis, Maria, Alice, John Gray, Bhakta Priya, Govardhana, Chiara. The list goes on.

Bob read a poem I wrote the other day, and we cried together, hundreds of miles apart.

Tom Weis, in a dream, has his bicycles and a small trailer attached to the back of our future school-bus home.

I talked to Maria on the phone while we were on tour last week, and she was organizing multi-colored fabrics and decomposing bison masks and boxes of feathers and bones and skulls while we talked. “Do you know what is relieving and depressing all at the same time?” I said to her. “According to the Buddha the only thing we get to take with us when we die is our mind-stream. In other words, the things that I think all of the time that I find so annoying, don’t necessarily just go away after I die. Actually, the real way to let go of my negative patterns is by meditating and doing the work.” “That’s kind of terrifying to think,” she sighed.

Just before we left on tour, Bhakta Priya called me (the childhood best friend who I would contemplate concepts like dreaming vs. real life with). “I think I know why you’re calling,” I said. We hadn’t spoken in months. “Yeah,” she sighed. Govardhana had died suddenly that morning. We recalled sledding on snowy Vermont hills with him, and how he would say things to us in Italian and we couldn’t understand him.

Govardhana was diagnosed with stage four melanoma just a few months ago. I created many memories of him in these last few months, even though I haven’t seen him in 15 years. I tried to get a hold of him, called his mother and left a message, considered driving to his house with soup or flowers or… I didn’t know what I would do. I just wanted to help somehow.

I created a memory of sitting with him, sick in bed. I held his hand and he smiled, even though he felt so ill. His eyelashes were still incredibly long. I told him everything was going to be okay, no matter what.

We drove all over Colorado and played music for hundreds of different people last week, and all the while I knew that Govardhana was being grieved by his parents, his children, his friends. And it was like this heavy secret I was carrying. Anyone who I confided in had to watch me melt down into an onslaught of tears.

With only 2 days of the tour left, we found out a friend in Vermont had committed suicide.

I held that, along with everything else. A crushing weight, like the whole world was sitting on my chest.

My friend Alice shared her day with me that night. Her dad’s death anniversary had just passed and she had spent it journaling, crying, just being with him.

We got home from tour the other day. I opened an email from my old friend, Chiara, and she told me the story of being 15 years old, her dad coming home from work and going to bed, and how it felt to discover the next day that he was never going to wake up again.

“I feel crushed,” I told Addison. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

But here I have the quiet spaces, the time in between, to contemplate, to unpack, to consider all that has come to pass in these last two weeks.

Death is a dream, as is life. How could we be expected to continue functioning after the death of a loved one if it were really truly real?

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we die, it’s not as if we leave a blank space behind. We can’t “subtract” ourselves from the universe. Everything that makes up our essence, our continuation, is all there. It just changes form.

The Bhagavad Gita says, “Never has there been a time when you or I did not exist.”

The Buddha says there is no “you” or “I”. But there is also NOT no “you” or “I”. We are not separate, but we are not the same.

When I think about my daughter Chickadee, and her tiny body buried in Texas, I wonder. Is there any of her essence still left there? The chickadees here in Colorado flock outside of my window, chirping and eating bugs and bringing me the memory of my child. There are chickadees all over the world who bring my daughter’s memory to anyone who has heard of her.

Wherever she is now, she is also my memory. And she is your memory. And you are my memory, as I am your memory.

May you and I continue to make more memories together for a good long while.

A Fork in the Road

“I just want you to say something that will make it okay.”

I finally admit this to myself and to Addison, lying in the dark and staring at a wall I can’t see.

“Well, I love you,” he begins, and I already know that there isn’t anything he can say to make it go away.

Earlier today, I went to Planned Parenthood for a breast exam (yes, everything is fine).

After checking in, I sat in the waiting room and tried to read my ‘First Buddhist Nuns’ book, while the TV cried out to me about the gut wrenching competition between two couples attempting to sell the most stuff at a flea market. Riveting, I know, but I focused on my reading.

A surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) piece of information I gained from reading about the first Buddhist nuns in India, is that many of them became nuns after losing a child or children. Once their world was shattered, they could not imagine putting the pieces back together. They simply stepped over the wreckage and into their robes and a lifelong commitment to their spiritual practice.

It is not hard for me to imagine myself doing the same thing. Except that I just married Addison and I really like him.

I heard a mangled interpretation of what must surely be my name being called, and I snapped out of my Buddhist reverie.

Once I was seated in a tiny little office space, the doctor’s assistant ran through the usual list of questions they ask all of their patients. “Some of these questions, might be difficult to answer or upsetting,” the girl said. I stiffened a little. Oh man, please don’t ask me about pregnancies and children, let’s not get into that. “…but I have to ask them in order to be sure that you are safe and so that we know how we can best care for you.” 

I nodded. She asked about family history of diseases, STDs, birth control, if I felt safe where I was living, etc. I relaxed, and answered her questions without hesitation. 

“Have you ever been pregnant?” 

Crap. “Yes.”

“Did you carry the baby to term?”

“Yes.” Please don’t ask anything else, please just stop there, that’s all you need to know.

“Are you currently breastfeeding?”

“No.” Annnnnnnd we’re good! Right?

And then, as if an invisible stop light had changed from green to red, she stopped asking questions.

Phew. 

She led me to the exam room, where I donned a crinkly, paper vest. The doctor was taking a while to arrive, so I read more about Bhuddhist nuns, all the while feeling secretly hilarious for reading about any kind of nun at Planned Parenthood.

When the doctor came in, I slipped the book behind me and greeted her. She looked to be in her 40s, with dark, straight hair and a face that seemed to have done its fair share of laughing and crying.

“I understand there’s a lump in your breast that you’re concerned about,” she said. “I’ll definitely check that out in a minute. But first, can you tell me if there is anything that may have happened in your life recently that could have effected your body or your hormones?”

I looked around the room. I really didn’t want to bother her with the details, unless it was absolutely necessary for her to know. Then I sighed. “About…. 8 months ago I had a stillborn baby.” There, I said it. Don’t worry lady, I’ve got this under wraps. I won’t make you uncomfortable by getting all emotional about it.

She looked into my eyes, her own filling with tears. “I’m so sorry.”

Well, that does it. I didn’t hear whatever else she might have said because I broke down crying. I scrubbed at my eyes and tried to pull myself together.

“Was it a boy or a girl?” she asked.

“A girl,” I sobbed.

“Oh, a sweet little girl.” After a moment she said, “Well it is definitely relevant and I’m glad that you told me. Thank you. And I am so sorry.”

During the exam we discovered that she knows the midwife I worked with last year. I waited for that sliver of a second, waited for her to tell me that the midwife I had chosen was a quack, a terrible midwife, that it must have been all of her fault that my baby died.

But she didn’t say anything like that.  

Once she had examined me, the doctor decided to be on the safe side and send me in for an ultrasound and a mammogram. When I went to the window to pay and get my referral papers, the receptionist told me the fees had been waived. I took my referrals and looked for the doctor to give her an appreciative smile, but I didn’t see her.

Later that day, I went to get my boobs smooshed in turn between two plates of glass. Although the technician chatted merrily about the weather in Colorado and women with no pain tolerance (“You have a very high pain threshold for someone so young,” she told me), she steered clear of topics about reproduction, except for when she put a protective apron around my waist to protect my ovaries and uterus from radiation.

The woman who gave me my ultrasound also avoided the topic of pregnancies and children, and when I went out after my appointment to pay at the front desk, again they told me the fee had been waived.

Whether the Planned Parenthood doctor had instructed these other women to spare me the painful question of “do you have any children?” or the like, I don’t know. I do know that we had quickly connected through a common understanding–the love of our children and the pain of losing them.

“We are companions in suffering,” my Buddhist book told me as I waited in different appointment rooms.

I had told Addison about my day, and reflected on how thorough the doctor and technicians had been, taking me through every available examination, whether or not they thought it was totally necessary. At the end of the day, we were all pretty darn certain me and my boobs were going to be just fine.

As I lie here, I drift to that crossroads in time, a time I try not to dwell on, but one that surfaces nonetheless…

…those days right around Chickadee’s due date. That Sunday when I realized that she wasn’t moving as much. Addison’s mother seemed worried too, even though she said that her babies also moved less as she came closer to labor.

Early the next morning we went to the midwife’s house so she could check on Chickadee.

“She’s barely kicked or moved at all in the last day or so,” I told the midwife. “I didn’t realize it until last night.”

She pulled out the doppler and listened for Chickadee’s heartbeat. It sounded strong and steady.

“She sounds great,” the midwife said. “It’s not uncommon for babies to move less as they begin to lower into the birth canal. I’ve seen it in my pregnancies and with a lot of other women also.”

And right here, I freeze time. Stop everyone. Just STOP.

Would it really be such a hassle to send me into get a sonogram? Would it be so inconvenient for us to take a few hours out of our lives to make sure our baby is 100% okay?

In this time-freeze, I turn us down a different fork in the road. This time, we get a sonogram. Perhaps by the time we’ve made the appointment and driven to the clinic, Chickadee’s heart rate would have sounded distressed. In that dark, cool room, we would have seen our big, fat, upside-down baby on the screen. Would they have been able to ascertain that something was wrong?

Maybe, in this alternate reality, they would have seen something to concern them, and rushed me to the hospital. They would have induced labor and maybe, just maybe, Chickadee lives in this alternate storyline.

I tell Addison about this alternate reality, and he strokes my hair. “We did everything we could with the information we had,” he said. “We trusted our midwife completely. We didn’t know that we should be concerned. It’s not going to change anything or make us feel better to resent her now.”

“I know,” I sigh, “But maybe I feel like I failed my child. When I feel angry at my own parents for not sticking up for me or protecting me at times, now I feel like maybe I did the same thing to my own daughter. I didn’t protect her from a midwife who thought she knew everything. I feel like I failed her.”

Here come the tears.

“You didn’t fail her. You didn’t do anything wrong. She still loves you.”

I hear that we learn a lot about being parents by experimenting with our first child. Did the lesson I had to learn cost my child her life?

And out of all the women throughout history who have had miscarriages, stillbirths or who have lost children, do I really think that I was supposed to be the exception? 

By running through these alternate realities, am I really just saying that sad, inexplicable things happen to other people, and surely it wasn’t supposed to happen to ME and surely if I had just done a few things differently, I could have saved my daughter’s life…?

Surely not. Surely nothing. Surely nothing is sure.

And somewhere in this mire of fears and regrets, all of these bereft mothers and I find solid footing, and we stand stronger than we ever could have before; we know something which is also somehow unknowable–incomprehensible. We’ve reached deep inside of ourselves and either pulled ourselves up and out, or else we drown.

Yes, I want someone to say something that will make it all okay.

I also know that will never happen.

And that’s okay.

Loneliness

“Yes I’m lonely, wanna die… I am lonely, wanna die…

If I am dead already… Girl, you know the reason why.”

-The Beatles

I am almost 8 months pregnant now. It is late September in Austin, hot, humid with a population of mosquitoes that boggles my mind, despite my years in India.

I hail most recently from Vermont, and am unaccustomed to the long months of confinement in air conditioning that I’m experiencing here in Austin.

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Our cat loves meditation time

Sometimes I venture to open a window, to let the sound of bird song drift in… But the heat quickly fills the house and I am quick to shut it again.

I slip outside on a daily basis to water my garden. I move quickly, swatting away mosquitoes while I hold the hose. Sometimes I’m lucky and only get 5-10 bites before I duck back inside.

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These guys don’t mind the mosquitoes…

Most mornings we meditate out on the back-porch. We set up by lighting two citronella candles, several sticks of incense, an essential oil burner filled with lemongrass and citronella oils and whatever else we can find that smokes and smells vile to mosquitoes. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside and not get bitten… too much, anyways. An occasional kamikaze mosquito will break through the frontlines and find it’s way to a leg, or a foot, usually getting a blood sample or two before it’s exterminated with a mighty clap.

One day I scurried outside equipped with a mini saw and some clippers, to cut back the unwanted saplings and suckers from the trees in our front yard. I moved as quickly as I could, while a veritable cloud of blood sucking, hungry mosquitoes formed about me. Ten minutes later I was rushing back inside, my work done, and throwing myself onto our bed, moaning in agony. I counted almost 100 mosquito bites on my body (I got in the habit of counting mosquito bites when we lived in India and were camped on some land covered in rice paddies while we began construction on the community that would be built there). Addison and I rubbed ice cubes over the swelling bites, and I lathered myself in essential oils that eventually helped the itching to calm down.

My midwife told me about these mosquito repelling DEET sprayers that you can clip onto your belt while you garden. I never knew I would actually consider getting something like this before, but it sounds awesome. Misting mosquito death all around me… a force field of toxic doom for the blood sucking masses. Ahhh….

At this point you may be wondering what all of this mosquito talk has to do with loneliness, the title of this blog post.

Or maybe you live in Austin and you are simply commiserating with my mosquito tales. 😉

What this all has to do with loneliness is this: I am hugely pregnant, spending a lot of time at home. My usual activities (when not in my third trimester of pregnancy) involving nature connection, capoeira and cycling adventures have been put on hold for the moment.

I go to bed early. I wake up to pee up to 5 times in the night. I try to get up early and write for a couple of hours before I do any other work.

I go to Barton Springs and swim in the healing, cold waters that seem to suck the inflammation from my swollen ankles and fingers. These spring waters are a veritable source of bliss for this pregnant lady.

I have a mandolin lesson every other week, and noodle around at home, practicing the melodies and chords in preparation for the next lesson.2016-09-21-14-27-43-1

I read out loud in french, practicing for when the baby is born and I have to speak to her in french as much as possible so she can be bilingual as she grows up.2016-09-15-15-22-02

I reach out to a few people every week, hoping someone will want to come over and see me, or maybe go swimming with me. Perhaps, in some people’s minds, the fact that I’m pregnant means that I don’t exist right now. If I can’t come to capoeira class at night, or go see a show, than why invite me to anything or check in on me? I have a full time job creating another human being, so what else could I possibly want to do?

Ok, that was my bitter, proud Leo side speaking.

I’ve always wanted people to reach out to me, to invite me on adventures, to include me in crazy schemes.

But that’s what I do, not other people. I’m the one who calls people up and asks them to go camping with me, I’m the one who tries to get everyone together to make crafts and play music, I’m the one who writes letters on a typewriter and sends postcards and am thrilled if anyone responds in kind.

I know I am loved and adored by all of my friends. I know most of them would do anything to help me if I asked. I know they all care.

But I am in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I don’t want to be alone all of the time. I do like being alone most of the time. But not all of the time.

I’m feeling discouraged about creating community in Austin at the moment.

I did have a brilliant idea.

I updated my Couchsurfing profile and switched it on, to “Accepting Guests”.

Lo and behold, I’ve had requests from interesting, friendly people from all over the country who want to stay here… and that’s just within the first day of turning it back on.

I even had a Persian PhD student ask if we could be adventure buddies since he enjoys hiking and camping and wants other people to do this with. I said yes, but as I am so pregnant, I can only go on short hikes and am better off swimming.

The other day we had a young couple from Olympia, WA stay here. We talked about adventures and travel, and then they squished together on our leather chair next to the vinyl player reading books, while Addison and I worked out a couple of songs for our show on Saturday (are you coming? It’s at In.gredients on Sept. 24th from 6-8 pm).

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Back when I hosted a cyclist from England during my second trimester of pregnancy

It was very cozy and nice to have other human beings in our house.

Next weekend a woman from Alberta, Canada is going to stay with me while Addison is in Chicago. We’re going to go swimming, crotchet and read french to one another.

The weekend after a couple from Colorado is staying here for ACL.

Oh, and this kid from Denmark, who is traveling around the United States, just hit me up while I was writing to stay here tonight. 🙂

And ANOTHER guy just hit me up to stay here this weekend… he’s offering us Thai massages and yoga instruction. Woah.

Another idea I had is to figure out how to sit in my front yard on a daily basis, so I can wave to neighbors as they walk by. If anyone stops to chat, I’ll offer them a drink and a seat. I just need some really baller outdoor furniture and some extra citronella candles… maybe a fan that blows mosquito repellant everywhere. 😉 (if you live in Austin and have baller outdoor furniture to share with me, let me know! If the furniture comes included with you sitting in it, even better!)

I have always wanted community. But I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. And now that I know that, I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I’ve moved so frequently my entire life that I have friends and family spread across the world, literally.

Sometimes I sit and consider who I’m going to visit when, and as I start going down the list my head begins to spin. Should I spend New Years in Saltillo, Mexico with my new family-away-from-home that I spent last New Years with during my bicycle trip? How will that be with a newborn baby?

When should I fly to L.A. to visit my uncle and my new cousins who I still haven’t even met yet?

And then there’s always India. I haven’t been back there in 10 years, and I’d love to visit my mom and brother in their natural habitat, and revisit the Tibetan refugees who live near Govindaji Gardens (the spiritual community where my mom and brother live) and walk through their beautiful temple again and see the incredible depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities.

Oh and France, of course. Half of my family lives there, shouldn’t I do a french pilgrimage and visit them all with the new baby?

And since my sister and her husband have decided to move to Washington, well I suppose I’ll need to head that way in the next year as well!

I will have to wait on all of these schemes while I discover what it’s like to live and travel with a baby. But I do believe she has a lot of adventuring in her future… 😉

For now I am thankful to have a beautiful, spacious home and a guest room, so that I can invite people to stay here.

And perhaps one day I will actually buy a house and live in the same place for the rest of my life and build up the kind of community around me that I’ve always wanted.

Seeing as you’ve read this all the way to the end, something about this topic must be interesting to you and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. About any of it. In addition to being curious about what other people’s thoughts are on community and loneliness… and mosquitoes, reading your comment I think will help me feel less lonely. 🙂

The Bicycle Chase Meditation

The air of the room is held captive by a stillness only meditation can summon. The older meditators are sitting in chairs, as still as stones. The rest of us are on the floor, kneeling, with our butts supported by little wooden stools or cushions.

Addison and I had ridden the bicycles we’re borrowing from Tellman and Jodi over to the meditation hall with minutes to spare. The driveway leading up Solar Hill is steep and long, and I could feel my lower abdominal muscles straining to hold my big, pregnant belly in place as I heaved myself uphill. While parking our bicycles, we attempted to calm our breathing down to a reasonable pace as quickly as possible. Meditation had just commenced and we didn’t want to enter the room gasping like a couple of land-locked fish in the midst of their glorious silence.

Apparently a couple of the other attendees had ridden their bicycles to the morning sangha as well, and no-one had appeared to bother themselves with locking their bicycles up. The entrance to the hall is hidden from view and the building itself is set up in the woods, well away from the main road.

This is amazing, I think, as I begin to settle into my meditation. My back doesn’t hurt!

Being almost 8 months pregnant means that I have been experiencing the unpleasant visitations of back pain, which feels not unlike the an overwhelming visit with relatives who are easier to love from a distance.

 

After a moment however, I noticed that although my back wasn’t really hurting, there was a different concern that had arisen. I can’t really breathe. I wonder if it’s just because the room is stuffy and open my eyes to see if the windows are open. They’re all closed. A plastic tree stands in the corner, wearing a fine layer of dust. And that ‘tree’ sure isn’t helping with the oxygen levels in here.

I shift my weight around, trying to give my lungs more space. But my belly now swells up almost to chest level, so there just isn’t a whole lot of extra space to be had. I should just be present with whatever is happening, I remind myself. Even not being able to breathe properly is something I can be present with.

I can feel my hands getting tingly. I imagine falling unconscious suddenly and falling to the floor. Would everyone remain unmoving, silent statues while Addison tried to revive me? No, everyone would probably leap up to help–albeit meditatively perhaps. But then I’d be responsible for cutting everyone’s meditation short this morning.

The thought of interrupting everyone’s meditation practice by passing out on the floor prompts me to adjust my position. I lower myself down to a supported child’s pose, with my cushion propped under my chest so that my belly has space to hang above the floor. This helps a little. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m going to faint. I take some deep-ish breaths. In, out, I say silently with each in-breath and out-breath.

I hear the sound of softly shifting gravel outside. Perhaps someone is walking up the driveway. A very late meditator coming to join us?

No…I focus in on the sound, my imagination kicking into gear. Someone coming up to check out the bicycles? If someone was going to steal a bicycle, which one would they pick? Mine. Though it’s not really mine. It’s Tellman and Jodi’s. But it’s the one I ride around right now. Mine looks the shiniest. And it would be easy to grab, since it just parked at the foot of the steps with a kickstand.

Shhhhhh… I tell myself. You’re being silly. You’re ALWAYS worried about people stealing your bike… or someone else’s bike that you’ve borrowed.

But there it is again, the crunching gravel sound. I am becoming all but the sense of hearing.

There is a distinctive metal click, like that of a kickstand being released, and then louder crunchings, as though wheels are rolling over the gravel.

I am standing up now and waddling to a side door in the room I’ve never used. If I’m imagining all of this, than this will be a moment of embarrassment to be remembered forever. I wrestle with the door handle for a second, unlock it and then wrench it open. The meditators have turned to watch me as one.

“What’s up?” Addison is asking, but I am hurtling across the deck. A figure wearing a white wife-beater and a backwards, black baseball cap is rolling away, down the driveway, past the pine grove and towards the road. Whoever it is appears to be riding my–no, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle. I crash through the tiger lilies and grab Addison’s–Tellman and Jodi’s–bike, which had been leaning on the side of the building. The seat is so high I can barely reach the pedals. But Addison is moving too slowly and time is of the essence, so I point the handlebars downhill.

“Someone stole a bike!” I manage to bark to Addison as his head appears out of the open door. I am flying down the hill, my pregnant belly bouncing in time with the bumps.

“STOP!” I scream at the receding figure. I hear Addison yelling something as well, but I’m concentrating so hard I don’t pay attention. “Give me my bike back!” The whites of the bicycle thief’s eyes flash briefly before he takes a left onto Western Avenue, pedaling awkwardly. The seat is too low for him, and his knees poke out at odd angles as he labors.

I focus on turning without wiping out, and stand up to pedal more easily, since the too-high seat is preventing proper contact between my feet and the pedals.

“That’s my bike you’re stealing!” I holler with air reserves I didn’t even know are available to me. “I’m PREGNANT!”

Somehow this last bit of information seems important for me to relay to the thief. Because stealing a bike is a bad thing to do, yes, but he might still be able to sleep at night after selling it and doing his best to forget about it (and being chased). But stealing from a pregnant woman? That could haunt his dreams for a good long while.

A man in a dress jacket is getting back in his car holding a freshly-purchased cup of coffee.

“He’s stealing my bike!” I call to the man, pointing to the gangly bicycle thief who is now making a wobbly turn down one of the steepest roads in Brattleboro. Union Hill…! “Call the police!” I don’t have time to explain to this guy why I’m still able to chase the thief, who is supposedly riding away with my bicycle, using another bicycle, and I don’t know if he’s actually going to call the police, but I keep pedaling as though my life depends on it.

I’m watching the bicycle thief disappear down the hill and hoping that he might crash thanks to the lack of front brakes on my bicycle. I’d released them earlier that week as they’d been rubbing against the rim of my wheel and I hadn’t taken the time to adjust and reconnect them yet.

My breathing is a heaving, erratic horror story, but I plough on. I’m heading down Union Hill and I see that the young man has wasted precious time by trying to divert onto a side street halfway down the steep hill. The missing front brake has indeed caused him some trouble, and he is now finishing a cumbersome U-turn onto Beech Street.

Chickens are roaming the edges of this little back lane like tiny, modern dinosaurs, their head crests wobbling with each jerk of their necks. They watch the bicycle thief approach with expressions of blank terror punctuated by ear-splitting squawks.

One of the chickens barely escapes being run over, and emits a “bok bok BOK!!!” of alarm. She races out of harms way on T-Rex legs.

“STOP!” I gasp, swerving around the chicken mayhem. At this point I don’t know who I’m talking to… the guy stealing my bicycle… the chickens… myself??

Ahead there is the tall, metal fence that surrounds the playground behind the Green Street School. A steep, non-bicycle-friendly path goes around the side and up into some scattered trees.

The gangly-legged, white wife-beater wearing, backwards baseball cap sporting bicycle thief launches himself from my bike, using the momentum of his sudden exit from his vehicle to hurtle up the path. He careens across the hillside above the school, dodging trees, slipping on loose stones and scrambling for the cover of the bushes at the top of the hill.

I stop to watch my bicycle–well, Jodi and Tellman’s bicycle– slowly fall over on its side, wheels still spinning. I hear the sound of sirens.

I lay Addison’s–I mean, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle down and take a seat in the dirt, focusing on my ragged breathing, while the chickens slowly reappear, suspicious, but grateful for the restored peace and quiet.

There is nothing but my breathing for a few minutes.

Then the bell sounds and I raise my head. The other people in the room begin to stir from their statuesque positions. Addison is shifting and straightening his cramped legs. I pull myself up out of my child’s pose and back to sitting.

The meditation leader, a small woman who’s eyes are magnified by her thick glasses, pulls forth a paper.

“This is a poem that was written in the 14th Century,” she says.

And the poem goes like this:

What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?”
Bassui

And perhaps I will take the liberty to add to this poem…

What is it that hears the sounds of crunching gravel outside of the meditation hall?

And who is it that went on that bicycle-thief-chasing-adventure?

The Timeless Fog

2016-08-11 08.24.07 HDR

And it’s that quiet force,

a rhythm that pulses through the crickets and insects,

which blankets and cradles me in a silence so profound

it sends a hush deep down into what must be my soul.

Now I feel a relief, a release, a letting go

a relaxing of the muscles of my mind,

and I want to dive under, inside and surrender,

I want to relinquish control, hand over the reins to this utter Presence.

I want to arrive so intently

that I burst through the walls of my mentally-conceived reality

into the timelessness of the fog,

the dew-dressed spider-web,

the rippling, cold, brackish water,

the stone that sits, and sits and sits

wearing a shawl of yellow-green seaweed wrapped around its silent shoulders.

And I want to sit, and sit, and sit

and I want to be

until I simply am.

2016-08-11 08.43.49

Learning to Live with Myself

I am sitting in an air bnb apartment on Avenida 15 Nte. in Playa del Carmen. Outside our balcony window is Avenida 15, a busy street with tortillerias and cheap Mexican food. The ocean is a 10 minute walk away. Inside this one room apartment there are towels,clothing and musical instruments strewn around.

I am slathered in sunblock–a morning and afternoon ritual I have been adhering to since I arrived–and my skin is salty from swimming in the ocean today.

Addison is sitting on the couch trying to get his work done on the computer, though he’s really just fighting the urge to go take another nap.

I have ridden my bicycle across Mexico (and taken rides in a few buses and cars), and now I sit back to contemplate the last two weeks.

During these last 14 or so days, I’ve ridden my bicycle almost everyday, spent the majority of my hours alone, slept in random hotels or at couchsurfer/warmshowers hosts’ houses, and have eaten everything from cold tortillas stuffed with refried beans from a bag in my hotel room to huevos rancheros floating in red sauce at a fine restaurant in Champoton. I’ve consumed roadside coconuts, oranges that are peeled and sliced in half and sold for 10 pesos a bag, and the stray coca-cola when I’ve still got 30 km to my final destination and I feel like I just can’t take it anymore.

With my chapter of alone time coming to a close for this trip (at least for the moment), I feel truly grateful for this rite of passage, and also relieved that nothing ever stays the same.

My friend Watson (also former upright bass player for my band, The Love Sprockets) lives in Playa del Carmen and had been expecting me to show up any day. He had also mentioned if shit really hit the fan, he’d be open to borrowing a truck from the brewery he works at to come and save me.

Traveling from Villahermosa to Merida I had been heading due east along the Gulf Coast. Then from Merida (about 300 km from Playa–so basically 4-5 days of riding) I was turning due south for the last leg of my ride. While leaving Merida, I was hit with such an incredibly strong headwind, that it felt like my purpose in pedaling was mostly to avoid being blown backwards. It was also intensely hot all of a sudden.

In addition, my iPod had died, never to return to the land of the living, during the fateful rainstorm I wrote about in my last blog post. This meant long hours of lonely silence, only broken up by the passing of trucks and cars, and the occasional Mexican man who decided to yell or whistle at me.

I felt a wave of complete and utter discouragement, and suddenly didn’t care about finishing the final 321 km by bicycle. I wanted out. I wanted Watson to come and get me, and to just lay around Playa until Addison arrived on the 18th. I didn’t want to be fighting a headwind for the next 4-5 days, staying in hotels, eating shitty food from roadside restaurants, and being out in the full sun day in and day out, with no shade to speak of.

But when I tried to make the emergency rescue call, Watson was not available. He had work/the truck wasn’t available. Eventually, over the next couple of days, I tried to convince him to just ride his motorcycle out to see me, and I could take the day off, hang out with a friend and go swim at a cenote in good company.

However, his lady friend was visiting, and he didn’t want to drag her out on the motorcycle for a 4 hour ride to come and meet me.

So I found myself pushing through a wall that I had really hoped to just walk around and avoid altogether.

Yes, there was quite of bit of crying involved and a tad too much sun exposure, but nothing that was going to kill me. At the urging of Radha (my sister), I began to make my rides a bit shorter, tackling 60 km a day rather than 80-100 km as I had been doing for the first half of my trip. This certainly helped my moral.

This seems like a good time to talk about the wildlife I’ve seen, most of which has been roadkill, but some of which has been the real, living animals themselves.

Here is some of the Mexican roadkill I can recall (I’ve researched photos of the real thing online so you can get a visual of the magnificent, though sadly dead, creature):

Coatis

Coati

Gray foxes

Gray fox

Ocelots

Ocelot

An oriole

Oriole

Beautiful blue and green birds (maybe the blue-crowned motmot?)

blue crowned motmot

Small, brown bats

bat

Black Vultures

BlackVulturesML

Dogs

Butterflies

Cleopatra butterfly

Snakes of all sizes

patchnose snake rat snake

Parrots

parrot

Some of the live animals I’ve seen have been:

-a gray fox who crossed the road in front of me so close that I had to stop so I didn’t run into her

-lots of bats at the cenotes here in the Yucatan

-many varieties of birds including herons, orioles, parrots, doves, grackles, warblers, woodpeckers, hawks, eagles, pelicans and ones whose names I do not know.

Motmot Great Kiskadee Couchs Kingbird Blue Heron

-I was able to hang out with a bush-full of coatis one day, much to my (and their) surprise.

-I never pass up the chance to watch one of the enormous, cat-sized lizards sunbathing or doing it’s strange ‘push-up’ dance, where it bobs up and down and sometimes arches its head back rhythmically. Oddly, I feel no desire to try and catch one and hold it, like I used to with the little fence lizards in California. Dinosaurs are best observed at a small distance in my opinion. 🙂

Iguana

Here in Playa del Carmen I saw a giant rodent like creature rummaging around the trash near the beach… an agouti seems to be what I saw:

Agouti

2016-03-21 07.28.19
Here’s a picture of the agouti’s tracks that I took on the beach here in Playa del Carmen (I added my credit card in the photo so you can get a sense of their size)

I was able to camp one of the days I was on the road near a cenote, in a small Mayan village town called Yokdznot (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). I was psyched to see an official campground in Mexico.

2016-03-10 17.22.45

Yes, I was the only person camping, and the Mexicans who passed by my camp spot seemed to be highly perplexed as to what exactly I was doing…

I didn’t sleep all that well in my little tent–what with the village dogs raising the alarm every hour or so when a leaf rustled in the distance–but I was so happy to hear the wind in the trees and to be awoken by birdsong that it was fine.

Actually, in the middle of the night at that campground, I had to go to the bathroom, and had a cool little experience.

The bathroom was a good distance away, so I followed the path that led to it, stomping my feet every now and then to scare off snakes. I saw a strange, white beast off to the side under a tree. It seemed to stock still, gazing at me with mute concentration. I stopped, feeling a little uneasy, and had to look at it for a while before I could discern that it was a goat. And no, it wasn’t staring at me with it’s head erect–that was, in fact, it’s butthole and it’s little tail sticking up in the air. It’s back was turned to me and I suppose it was just sleeping standing up or something.

When I reached the bathrooms, I saw two men sleeping in hammocks hanging from the trees nearby.

There was something so fascinating about seeing them dangling there, like two overgrown babies, snoring softly. No blankets, sheets, pillows or mosquito netting. Just a hammock swaying beneath the trees in the breeze.

I was truly impressed by this scene.

I snuck by quietly so as not to awaken them.

All of this alone time has given me plenty of space for meditation and just ‘being’ with myself.

Sometimes I don’t really want to hang out with myself.

Sometimes I’d MUCH rather hang out with anyone else but me.

But that’s usually when I’m feeling some kind of pain–fear, loneliness, despair–and I don’t want to feel bad anymore.

So I’ve simply taken the time to hang out with these unpleasant feelings, and it’s amazing how much quicker they seem to dissipate when I give them all of my attention.

It gets tiresome when these unhappy feelings arise every morning, or every 5 minutes. Especially when I need to pack up all my gear and hit the road in a timely manner, and need to have the strength of mind to cycle 7-8 hours everyday and find a place to sleep at night before it gets dark.

But now I’m beginning to regard these painful  feelings simply as little crying babies with poopy diapers. As long as I’m willing to hold them, let them cry, and even change their diapers occasionally, they can’t carry on forever. They finally seem to be satisfied at some point, and give me a break.

It’s during these respites that I regain my sense of humor, and actually want to talk to other people, even if it’s only in spanish. I feel a resurgence of inspiration around my trip. I feel space inside of me, and can take some easy breaths, maybe even smile.

What I like about being alone is that I get to decide exactly what I do when. I can leave the hotel in the morning as early (or as late) as I feel like, I can go to sleep when I decide it’s time to turn off the light, and I don’t have consult anyone about any decision I’m trying to make.

That being said, sometimes I choose to consult other people. Like Watson, for instance–when I’m getting ready to ride 100 km with a broken spoke and my wheel is rubbing the brakes off to one side even thought they’re released.

Or I’ll call Radha and Erik (my sister and her husband), when I’ve had a rough start to my morning and my insides feeling all junky and sad. I just chat with them for a few minutes to hear how their day went (they’re getting ready for bed when I’m waking up, because they’re in Thailand), and Radha will patiently remind me that feeling sad does not mean the end of the world.

I made it to the small town of Chemuyil (near Tulum) on Monday, and spent two nights at a friend of Rohn Baye’s (Rohn is one of my Patreon backers who I met in San Antonio on my way through to Brazil). His name is Pepe, and on Tuesday we spent some time walking around Tulum while he got his car repaired at the mechanics, and then he drove me to his friend’s place out in the jungle where I was taken through a series of underground caverns and swam in an underground cenote. Truly amazing.2016-03-15 17.26.192016-03-15 17.16.12 2016-03-15 17.15.56

On Wednesday I awoke at 5:30 am, so that I could rolling out to Playa del Carmen by 7 am, and be able to beat the heat. I arrived at Watson’s apartment complex around 10:45 am.

“Watson,” I said, after he’d stepped outside to meet me and was marveling at my loaded bicycle. “I rode my bicycle across Mexico. Now I never have to do it again, ever.”

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Me and Watson

Tabasco and Campeche

“God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

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I sit at a table on a restaurant patio overlooking the ocean this morning.

I have been dreaming about eggs for days now, imagining them gliding around deliciously in a handmade tortilla, dripping with salsa.

And now, here they are with me, huevos rancheros, gazing solemnly up from my plate in their warm bath of red salsa and fresh, crumbled cheese.FullSizeRender (3)

The tortillas that my waiter presents me in a basket wrapped in cloth are, indeed, handmade and very hot.

Before diving into my breakfast, I sip my cafe ollo (coffee brewed with cinnamon) and look out at the three cormorants (badass birds that can swim underwater) who have set themselves up on the three available wooden posts that stick out above the ocean tide.

These three birds are facing the sun, which rose about an hour earlier, and are sitting silent and still, in worshipful reverence of the source of warmth and light for the entire Earth.

I stare at them, appreciation swelling in my heart.

Without water, I would die, I think, looking out at the vast body of lapping waves in front of me, and so would these three birds.

Without the sun, I would die, I continue in my head, looking at their peaceful, beaked faces pointed at the sun, and so would these three birds.

I feel my connection to the water, the sun, the birds and… without food, I would die. I gaze down at my breakfast.

I imagine the man or woman inside the kitchen who has carefully prepared my tortillas and huevos rancheros for me.

I feel gratitude filling my chest for this stranger who is making sure I have a delicious meal to give me energy for my day.

And I think about the chicken who has laid the eggs I am about to eat, and wonder where she is right now. Most likely she is scratching around in the dirt next door, chasing bugs with that vacant look in her eye that all chickens seem to have.

I take a sip of the freshly squeezed orange juice waiting in a tall glass in front of me, and imagine the orange tree reaching towards the sun, drinking in his rays and fattening up her crop of bright, sweet orbs of fruit.

After these contemplations, I promptly begin eating.

The waiter approaches a little while later, smiling at me good naturedly with his haggard teeth, and I thank him as he takes away my used napkins.

“Donde vienes?” he asks me (meaning, ‘where do you come from?’).

“Austin,” I reply.

“Austria?”

“Austin Texas,” I clarify, silencing the ‘x’ in Texas so he can be sure where it is I’m talking about. “Voy a Brazil con mi bici,” I explain with a smile.

His eyes widen. “Con su bici?”

“Si.”

He wanders away, clearly needing some time to digest this information before his next question.

I have been traveling from Austin, TX by bicycle, bus and car for 2 months now, and in the last week it has now been solely by bicycle.

When I left Austin, headed for Mexico, I didn’t really have a way to prepare myself for the endless highways running through the endless desert, broken up only by cities that are barely navigable by bicycle.

I soon found that my comfort level allowed me only some short stints by bicycle, and then many more by bus and car.

The waiter returned, this time with a new question:

“No tienes miedo a viajar sola?” (‘aren’t you afraid to travel alone?’)

It took me a minute to decipher this question, because I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘miedo’ (‘fear’). But after repeating the unknown word aloud a few times, I understood.

I shrugged. “Un poco. Pero, esta bien.” (‘a little, but it’s okay’)

He laughed and walked away again.

I have come to know Fear over these past 2 months, more intimately than I had ever hoped.

Rarely have I actually been in any ‘real danger’. The fear I have been experiencing is mostly hand-made. 😉

After arriving in Mexico City in the car of a friend, I met Mestre Acordeon for the first time, practiced capoeira with Profesor Nao Veio, spent 5 days with Addison who came to visit me, got a new tattoo, and then finally got on a bus to a town in Tabasco called Villahermosa.

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View from inside the bus. 10 minutes after we pulled out of the station in Mexico City, someone decided to drive right in front of the bus and get their fender nearly bent off.

In Villahermosa I spent my first night sleeping in a hammock, something I’ve never done before. It was very hot and muggy, but after being bitten by mosquitoes I eventually pulled out my sleeping bag and somehow managed to wrap it around myself while not falling sideways out of the hammock.

I was at a Warmshowers host’s house. His name is Juan, and he was expecting two more cyclists the next day.

My first morning in Villahermosa I was awoken at 7:30 am by the sound of someone bashing a wall in across the street with a sledgehammer. I shifted around in my hammock, and then eventually sat up to greet my host and his friend.

They both left to work for the day, and I greeted my fear, who was waiting for my undivided attention. I meditated, journaled, cried, called friends, and cried some more.

During my walking meditation, I saw a little statue of Jesus Christ in Juan’s hallway. And I began to say to myself, over and over, “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of me.”

Finally, I heard a knock during mid-afternoon and opened the door for the two cyclists Juan had been expecting.

Their names are Charles and Denise, and they are retired french canadians who have been cycling in South and Central America now for a year. They started in Peru, cycled down to the tip of South America (Chile), than back up into Peru where they spent four months, after which they continued north and eventually ended up at Juan’s house with me, in Villahermosa.

I was glad for their company, and Denise and I walked together to a nearby supermarket to buy food. I had a strange sense of feeling like a child again, wanting her to be my mommy, not wanting to lose her in the huge supermarket.

This kind of fear I experience is the strongest when I am transitioning into a new, unknown situation. This time it was the transition from Mexico City to now actually cycle touring again, and not knowing what it would be like to spend days on my own, sleeping at hotels in towns I knew nothing about.

But at the moment, I was safe, and I had a wonderful couple to spend the evening with. They made a pasta dinner for all of us, and drew me a route through the Yucatan on my map of Mexico, since they had just come from the area I was headed. This brought me some relief, as the unknown began to feel less ‘un’ and more ‘known’.

That night we pulled the hammock out of the way, and the three of us lined up on the tile floor and slept side by side with our sleeping bags and earplugs.

Sleeping with strangers has never felt so comforting.

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Me, Charles, Denise and Juan

The next morning we all packed up and made our procession out to the sidewalk. Juan was chatting with us amiably and helping us out the door.

Charles, Denise and I navigated through the city, and then, after a few blocks of riding together, they turned left and I went straight.

I took a deep breath. Here I go… I thought, watching the highway take shape out in front of me. I would be on Highway 180 for the next week or so.

After sitting and gazing out over the ocean some more, the waiter arrived to take my plate away. I was left with my coffee and orange juice (probably not the best combo for my digestion, but who cares), which I took as long as I wanted to sip and savor.

In Mexico they NEVER rush you in a restaurant. You can sit at your table for hours, maybe even days, and they’ll just smile and offer you more coffee.

But eventually I did raise my hand for the waiter. “La cuenta por favor.”

He bustled away to count up my order.

I’m doing it, I thought, watching a large, blue-black grackle making a ruckus in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying being alone.

It’s so hard for me to go to a nice restaurant, or hang out in a beautiful place and not be filled with the desire to share it with someone.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve it, but I love sharing the world with other people. And maybe I’m afraid it’s as if none of this actually happened, if there wasn’t someone to witness it.

‘If Jahnavi hangs out in a fancy hotel and meditates by the gurgling pool in the garden out back and no one else witnesses it, did it really happen?’ 😛

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I say good bye to the waiter, who wishes me luck and ‘cuidado’ (‘be careful’), and make my way back to my hotel room.

I’m taking a day off at this hotel, because since I left Villahermosa that morning with the french cyclists, I have been pulling 7-8 hour days, fighting a headwind as I travel alongside the Gulf of Mexico. My body wants a bicycle, wind and sun free day.

My first day back on the bicycle, from Villahermosa to Frontera, was 82 km and so easy, I was confused. It only took me 4 ½ hours, and there I was, in Frontera, booking a room at a cheap hotel at 2 pm.

I figured the next day, 99 km, shouldn’t be so bad.

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There’s a whole lot more water in Tabasco and Yucatan compared to the deserts I’ve been traveling through for the past 2 months!

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Taking a break from the rain

But that’s when I hit the waterfront, and was reminded about the joys of a nice, healthy, headwind. At first I was more focused on the fact that I was being rained on pretty thoroughly for a couple of hours, but once that cleared, I began to feel concerned.

I was traveling so SLOWLY.

After 5 hours, I had only gotten halfway to Cidudad del Carmen, the town I was intent on reaching, where a Couchsurfer named Victor Hugo was awaiting my arrival.

It was like moving in slow motion for 9 hours straight.

When I finally reached the city–after crossing a mile long bridge and weeping copiously as my speed slowed to a crawl due to the even greater wind exposure–I had to cross through the entire city to the other end, where Hugo lives.

At one point I pulled over to look at my cellphone map, and a very excited, older Mexican man approached me, eager to practice his english and find out what in the hell I was up to.

I was so tired I could barely conjure up my good manners, though I appreciated his interest in my trip. Most people just regard me as an alien here in Mexico, so when someone actually treats me like a human being and asks me about my life I feel glad.

After chatting with him and explaining that I was riding my bicycle to Brazil and yes, I am crazy, I continued on to Hugo’s apartment.

Hugo was amazed to see me and my bicycle pull up to his place, and helped me inside.

The beer I drank before we ate dinner was like an elixir of life, and we talked about travel, my sister and her husband’s 6 month excursion across half the world, my mom and my brother living in India, and his part in his family’s business.

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My second night with Hugo. I made him ‘sandwiches like in the USA’. He loved them, especially the hummus which he was trying for the first time.

I had been planning on continuing on to the next place in the morning, but I had already arrived at Hugo’s much later than expected and was feeling rather knackered.

I awoke early the next morning, looked at some maps, and finally decided I would take the day off.

After a morning meditation session with Addison over the phone, I wrote this down from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called ‘Fear’:

“If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to live the same way all the other moments of your life.” -Thay

Sometimes I do need to live life moment to moment–any more than that can feel overwhelming when I am in a certain state of mind. And now I can just consider it a meditation practice, this one moment where I choose to live deeply.

“If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.” -Rene Char

Hugo took me to Walmart so I could buy supplies for my trip (and where, coincidentally, they were blasting capoeira music), and then we ate lunch under an oceanside tent restaurant.

We discussed jealousy (something Hugo struggles with, as do I and most people) and he asked me how I deal with it.

“Meditation!” I said. “It’s the only way!” I laughed.

He was intrigued, so we talked more about meditation and discussed the best way for him to get started on his own, since he’d never done it before.

That evening, my right hip and leg began to hurt so badly, that I was having trouble walking. I tried to brush it away, assuming I would feel fine in the morning and be able to ride.

I stretched, massaged the area, slathered myself with biofreeze (thanks again Diane!), drank a glass of water with arnica drops in it, drank magnesium, and then finally lay myself out to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep, because the only comfortable position for my leg was straight, so that didn’t give me many options for how I could lay down (and boy do I like to shift positions every 5 minutes).

I awoke at 6:30 am, eager to find out if my leg had magically healed overnight.

But when I stood up to walk to the bathroom, I was filled with dismay. It hurt just as badly… maybe worse.

I called Radha and Erik (who are in Thailand) and discussed the situation with them.

Finally, I decided I would have to take the day off. Even if I could manage to get on my bicycle and ride 80 km that day, getting off to walk around was agony, and probably not the safest situation to put myself in considering I’d be traveling out in the middle of nowhere, alone.

So I stayed, and spend some quality time with Fear.

I’ve been meditating so much on this trip that I told Addison, “I’m beginning to feel like a monk, like I’m in a monastery… but I’m on an epic journey at the same time… so it’s like I’m a warrior monk.”

The day off didn’t kill me, and I even got some practical things done, including making music with my mandolin.

“Art is the essence of life, and the substance of art is mindfulness.” -Thay

The following two days would be a blur of oceanside cycling, granola bars, sunburn, Harry Potter audiobook, hotels, limping around, whistling Mexican men, semi trucks, gray foxes, coatis, iguanas the size of cats, swamps, mangroves, beaches, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, fish, exhaustion, alone-ness, and more meditation. 

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Looking out from my hotel room in Sabancuy
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A bush full of coatis. How many can you see?
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A lizard the size of a cat
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Miles of swamps
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Lunch at the only (rather fancy) restaurant between Sabancuy and Champoton
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Mid-day photoshoot break (anything’s better than getting back on that bicycle seat!)
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The long and winding road over more swamplands

Having spent so much time gazing at the ocean, I gleaned this thought from my reflections: “The ocean is not afraid of change. She never stops moving, never stops shifting, and changing the sands at her edges and the ocean floor beneath her.”

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At another point, as I was riding past miles of mangroves and swamps and listening to Danny Malone’s album, ‘Balloons’, this question he asks stuck with me:

“They say the way to know yourself, is by yourself

But what if you’re someone you don’t really wanna know…?”

When I pulled into Champoton yesterday and saw the Hotel Posada la Regia on my right side, I didn’t care if it was cheap, expensive, new, old, had internet, or hot water… I just wanted to stop, and sleep.

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My fully loaded bicycle looks a little out of place in this setting, but she doesn’t mind

But after being shown to my room and realizing it’s actually a nice place and a reasonably nice town, and taking consideration of my very unhappy right leg, I decided I was staying an extra night and that was that.

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My companion for the night

“The past is not me. I am not limited by the past.

The present is not me. I am not limited by the present.

The future is not me. I am not limited by the future.”

My goal right now is to rest, write, read, and (yes, you guessed it) meditate. Than it’s another three days to Merida, where a warmshowers host is awaiting my arrival on Saturday.

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A side neighborhood here in Champoton

I’m learning to relish this alone-ness, to let it sink into my skin.

Because once I get to Playa del Carmen, I may be traveling with a whole lotta people, and potentially looking back on this sweet, quiet time wistfully–and then turning back to my large group of humans and reveling in their company all the same.