Listen Closely to the Blackbird

My dear friend,

You are the part of myself that I don’t yet know, so instead of asking “How are you?”, the question is “Who are you?” Please take your time in answering, since there are so many layers to the question.

You may laugh and say, “But V, you know me!”, to which I can only shake my head and disagree. There are aspects of you that I know, but I wish to know more than your name, age, first job, employment status and marital status. Those things have nothing to do with you,  and thus are meaningless.

So, tell me, who are you? What brings you joy? What excites you? What’s your definition of success unrelated to money? Where have you been in your dreams? Do you now recognize that your body is a sacred space, your chosen place? Do you see that we’re all leaves on one tree? If you were a color, which would it be– has the name been created for that color yet? If you could be anywhere in the world, would it be where you are now?

I stood on the balcony for a long time this afternoon, and looking down, I saw a boy on a scooter pull up next door. He parked and started walking– quick and sure. Then, he looked up at me, and I saw that he was in his fifties or thereabouts. He wasn’t a boy after all, but he is a boy to his mother, a middle-aged man to his wife, and an old man to his grandchild. I tell you this so that you know not to trust your eyes; they tell you only so much.

A blackbird stood cawing near me just now, looking east and west, ready to fly off. I have no idea where he’ll go next, but I asked him to give you a message. Listen closely to the next blackbird you see.

You’ve written that you miss me, but I must tell you that I don’t miss you. My heart holds you, so how can I miss you? Missing you would be like missing the hand I’m writing with now. Do you understand?


All my love,



The Shape of Memory (A Love Letter)

Dear Friends,

There are hours of silence here, in which there’s ample time to sit under the tree of memory. Often in repose, memories shade me, and when I lean against the thickening trunk of the tree, a leaf of the past will drift onto my lap. When one can sit undisturbed, it’s wonderful how much one recalls.

There are incidents, places and names, I’d love to remember, but they are unreachable; other memories are shrouded and webbed; then, there are some, like those today, that are easily plucked and ready to be appreciated. I wouldn’t expect my memories to be of interest to anyone but myself, those who helped to create them, and the minority who ae interested in the past of another. Memories are personal and precious; yet (hopefully), we all share moments of riotous showerings that leave us amazed and happy or weeping from the impact, and those we must share. This letter contains such leaves.

As a girl of four, my safe place was under my mother’s dress, holding onto her legs. I remember my favorite dress of hers from that time was a long, green dress; she smelled of cocoa butter, perfume and cinnammon flesh; she was as warm as the sun outside her skin; and, she let me stand there in peace. For how long?– that detail is insignificant. Some memories– even the best ones– are incomplete and a bit fuzzy, but full of scent, warmth and shadowy light.

Memories are time-travel, which enable us to simultaneously live in the past and present. Looking closer at the same leaf of memory, I encounter my other mother, my godmother– the woman chosen by my parents to love me as her own. Aunt Yvonne. It’s all there: the long train ride on the #4 train to Moshulu Parkway, getting off the train and walking the block and a half to Tracey Towers, her apartment, 12J, pink and plush, three rooms with all the TVs tuned to NBC, the smell of Tone soap, her smooth hand holding a snifter of brandy and orange juice, eight gold bangles on her right wrist, eight silver bangles on her left, her small feet in satin Chinese slippers, the smell of toasted Eggo waffles, fruit cake with hard icing on the dining room table, and pictures of her nine godchildren on every surface. ( I was on her fridge, her TV, on her cabinet, in the den). I can clearly see my mother sitting on one of her kitchen stools drinking coffee, while she stood over the stove frying something. Both, vital, laughing and beautiful.

This isn’t a story– no turn of events, no plot, no conflict. This is simply a page of recollections that have fallen from my tree. When you ask me, “How’s the ashram? ” I’ll tell you that this letter reflects ashram life– a chance to feel your heart expand, everyday, and remember who you are, and from whence you came, in the quiet of the mountains. While the sun sits alongside me, I’ll close my eyes and reflect on those who have loved me with every thread in their heart, and of whom I’ve felt the same. Maybe, when you have free time, you can sit under your tree of memory and do the same?

“Of course I love you,” the flower said to him. “If you were not aware of it, it was my fault.” (The Little Prince, p.41)





Even after all these years, the Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. Look…Hafiz

Dear Friends,

After days of on and off again rain, it seems the sun’s ready to stick around for awhile. The locals in Bali say that we’re now in winter, which by my estimation is the kindest winter one could endure. The early mornings and evenings are cool, though our perception of cool has been skewed. We draw for sweaters and light scarves when it’s 23 degrees Celsius.

All whom I’ve met here know that what we’re experiencing is a gift, and we don’t take the days for granted. We attend workshops about transformational breath; workshops about the ego and love; detoxification sessions; and, yoga classes multiple times a day. We frequent cafes where singing birds fly on the ledge beside us; sit in restaurants that produce only the freshest, healthiest food; listen to evening play readings; browse at small shops that showcase books by Osho, Tolle, Gibran, Neale Donald Walsch, et al; and, lounge at local restaurants that seem to be tree houses, because their rooftops are nestled among branches. We read on cushions, in bed, in cafes, books on all subjects, some for light fun, others for enlightenment.

Our lives have dramatically slowed down. We wear nothing but yoga clothes day and night or the most comfortable options available. No one has worked in several weeks, and a few of us haven’t worked in months. We wonder how we’ll re-enter the “real” world, yet we realize that though our bodies have slowed down, our minds and spirits are stronger, so we can face anything. Every day in Ubud is a life class, and the lessons will be taken to Tokyo, Oslo, Sydney, Hamburg, Geneva, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Antwerp, Zürich, Montreal, etc. We’ve been taught how to change our moods by changing our breathing; how to go into the pain and heal ourselves; how not to go too deep too fast; how to eat healthily, slowly and consciously; how to reunite our bodies and souls; how to hug meaningfully; how to flow as a river moving gently downstream; how to detach and let go. We are students who realize that these lessons don’t come easily, but with time, commitment, and practice, they will be mastered.

There are “awakenings” each day. Blinking slowly, then gazing inward, I’ve become aware that:

1) Life is simple. All the “what ifs,” “whys,” and “if onlys” only create disharmony and discontent. It may seem trite to say that things happen as they should, but they do. If it seems simple, it is because it is simple.When there is an acceptance of what is, and not one wishes it could be or could have been, then the mind and the spirit will find peace.

2) Choose happiness. For a few days, my mood was gray like the clouds that gathered overhead. I was feeling inordinately sad about the disintegration of a relationship that worked on some levels, but not on others, and my friend H said, “Val, choose happiness.” Her words, spoken from a place of serenity, nudged me out of the darkness I was stepping into. If “choose happiness” seems simple, it’s because (again) life is simple. (Thus, please understand and respect that I don’t want to talk about negative, unhappy, or miserable things.)

3) What’s Yours Will Always Be Yours. The other day pangs of jealousy came over me; I felt like I was losing something that I felt should be mine, and I struggled to get to the root of it. Then, it dawned on me that if that thing could be taken away from me so easily, then it was never really mine. For example; Suppose I had a precious ring, that I treasured and was pleased to own, and someone came to my house, admired it, and complimented it. Suppose that visitor to my house came to covet my ring; then one day, without me noticing, took it from me. Though I would no longer own the ring, it would still be mine, and never the visitor’s.

*No one can steal what’s yours: your joy, your spirit, your strength, your values, your consciousness, your smile, your mind– they are yours and forever will be. If you give something away, and it hurts because you miss it, don’t blame the visitor. In regards to a guy or girl, no one belongs to you, and thus, they can’t be “taken” from you. If you’re meant to be with someone, you will be. It’s that simple, because life is simple.

4) Set Your Intention. As you know, each day it’s good to set an intention for yourself. My daily intention for a few weeks now has been peace. My mind has a tendency to be hypervigilant and overactive, thus it has helped to practice peacefulness. Try any intention, and see if it doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the day better than a few cups of coffee. I am peacefulness; I am joyousness; I am kindness; I am generosity; I am_____ (fill in your divinity). Every thought we have creates our world, and by extension, that of others. Your energy affects mine, while my energy is affecting yours, so let’s work together to create positive things. Let’s love like this.

As you quiet your mind, you begin to see the nature of your own resistance more clearly, struggles, inner dialogues, the way in which you procrastinate and develop passive resistance against life. As you cultivate the witness, things change. You don’t have to change them. Things just change.Ram Dass Much love, Val

p.s  Give this a listen:


Meditate On A Love Like This


It’s yours in heaven, it’s yours on the earth; you’re blessed in heaven, you’re blessed on the earth; you’re free in heaven, you’re free on the earth.You’re blessed, go and get your stuff; you’re blessed.– T.D Jakes

Before there was a name for the sunset, what did they call the deep spreading of pink across the sky; the deep purpling of what was not earth; the appearance of the moon in the heavens; the low hush of evening? Before there was the word “sunset,” what did they call the onset of approaching darkness? Did they say, “Pinpricks of light are marching across the sky” or did they say nothing, and just know that time was circular? I wonder about naming, because names make things concrete, yet things exist before we name them, don’t they? They say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but what can be more important than naming an abstract thing and making it “real.”

We all have superficial names, but what do they mean really? Most of us know the baby dictionary meaning of our given names, and some parents painstakingly pore over baby books to choose a name that will represent what they’d like their child to be/represent/embody. (On the other hand, some parents choose a name, because it sounds beautiful or it was the name of someone they loved or they’ve run out of ideas and someone can’t go through life with the name Baby Boy Jones or Baby Girl Harrison forever.) Yet, as special or cool as our names may be, they don’t represent us. You could say to your friends, “My name’s useful, because it makes it easy for you to call me, but that word has nothing to do with me at all.”

Some friends tell me they don’t believe in “this,””that,” or the other, and that’s okay, because many times people are hung up on names, words and concepts, and not what the thing actually is.

Thus, if we rename ourselves, we can give birth to new ideas of ourselves. Let’s begin:

1) I am Love.

2) I am Spirit.

3) I am Artist (i.e., Creator).

4) I am Bountiful.

5) I am Spirit.

6) I am Artist. (i.e., Creator)

7) I am LOVE.

8) I am Blessed.

All these names mean that this life is no accident; we’re here for a reason; creation is inherent and ever-present; the whole universe is in us and vice versa, there is no separation; we are connected; we have a purpose. No time like now to find the purpose.

Happy Sunday,



You Were You, Before You Were Even You


“Sweeter Than Wine”

So different and so new….

It’s not different, nor is it new. Things stop becoming new quickly. We sound like imitations of ourselves. Our words aren’t new. The things we say to each other aren’t new; we’ve said them before to each other; we’ve said them to different people. We forgot we did. Then, it hits us; it’s déjà vu, “Hey, I said this years ago, but not like this.” Let me make it different this time; let me smile as I say it; let me sigh as I say it; let me take it back. There are no take backs, so the words sound insincere. They’re not false, you just forgot. There’s nothing new. What to do?

Sweeter than wine….

There’s no taking anything back, but the mind can go back. That’s a danger, isn’t it– a mind? A body and mind that stores memories like dusty boxes on a shelf? A danger and a pleasure. Let’s open one and see. Let’s reach… Ah, there it is: an everlasting sea, sand too hot to stand on, pricking feet like dozens of heated needles, and the water waiting, expansive and ready, and your arms open, expansive and ready. Half-pink almonds falling one by one, and them being wiped on water-dotted arms. The tang of the seed, the husk, the crunchy salt and the tartness. (Memory can be so faulty, but it’s at that moment it must be shaped– so where were we?) The shade of an almond tree, a vendor selling woven bracelets on the beach, another selling reggae cds, and yet another selling bags of pepper shrimp. Birds calling and waving, vendors calling and waving, the sea, calling and waving. And the sun and the fish and the sand and the almonds and the love and the heat, sweeter than wine.

Softer than the summer night….

Music played and we danced until our clothes clung to us, pasted on with the salt water of sweat. Shirts claiming bodies that wanted only to absorb rhythm. Was it a birthday party? Or a street dance? Or a festival? (The occasion isn’t important; dance is the message.) And the deejay played hit after hit, and each song elicited a cheer, more foot stomping, swaying, hands in the hair, groping for air, for someone there. Sweat dripping down noses, streaming down backs, down fronts.

That music lives in you, your DNA, your blood has bass clefs, and trebles. Oh, to feel that song, to know that song. (At that moment, you feel love, and you think you’re in love, but it’s the beat you love.) Your feet following your mind, your heart following your hips.

Forever til the end of time….

Are you waiting for me? I’ve been so remiss. What happened? I should tell you, my feelings are fickle.

The night was cooler than it should be in spring. Scarves were being thrown around necks, and the neglected heater was turned on. Someone started playing Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, and you know how one feeling, one note leads to another…. Leroy Gibbons. There’re movements inside one that can only be understood by that one, and there are movements inside one that can only be understood in a particular place, a particular time. If you don’t understand this, it’s not for you to understand.

It took me by surprise.

The missing took me by surprise. The presence and absence, the loss and multiple gains, the sorrow beside the happiness, the desire and lack of desire, the youthfulness and the aging, the hunger and satiety; this time took me by surprise. Well, it didn’t take me by surprise; (remember), it’s not different, nor is it new.

Forever til the end of time….


1) Yesterday, my student K, an elderly woman, presented a box to me, on which she’d written “Sensei” in Japanese characters; and inside the white carton were homemade sweets. Her gift touched me, especially since we hadn’t met many times before. My love of sweets must’ve been impressed upon her in our study of the past tense; Repeat after me: “I ate chocolates; I craved chocolates yesterday; I desired chocolates this morning.” I taught her the phrase, “You made my day!” as her action really made the day so special.

2) I teach H every Monday from 11:30 am-12:55 p.m. (Recently, he also brought me a gift from his trip to New York– cards. There are few things I love more than cards. Yay, generosity!). He really liked New York and was pleased that street vendors understood him when he asked, “How do I get there?” (We studied asking for directions for three lessons.)

On Monday, we reviewed the chapter on directions again, and when I looked at the illustration in the book, it struck me that all the roads lead to the roundabout. Then it hit me that my life’s nothing but a roundabout, since I’ve taken various roads, which all bring me to the same place.

At our first meeting, H told me that I’m a “brave woman.” I hear that a lot from my students in Japan, but I know that moving to another country doesn’t make one brave. I’m living a life that I’ve already known, just on different streets of the roundabout, just with new people on a new continent. Teaching, hanging out, drinking, suffering from insomnia, crushing on cute guys, sleeping too late into the afternoon, working in the evenings, spending too much, blogging– doing it, did it, done it.

I’d like to be braver. Do something different/think differently/act differently at times. Be better. What would be a true act of bravery?

3) When I was ten, I wanted nothing more than to be sixteen with a swinging ponytail (I had easy dreams). I’d beg my father day and night to let me chemically straighten my hair, but he refused. He told me there was nothing wrong with my hair the way it was, that it was fine and there was no need to straighten it. But, how could that be? My mother, my music idols, even most of my friends had gorgeous, straightened hair. Why’d I have to be different? I got my hair pressed for my sixth grade graduation and you should’ve seen me swinging it and running my hands through it. I was ecstatic, but as most of us know, pressed hair only lasts a few days.

At twelve, my father acquiesced, but not with a relaxer as I’d hoped for, but with a leisure curl. The leisure curl, for those of you who’re unfamiliar, was the jheri curl’s younger sister. The leisure curl promised to give the look of smooth, curls without the wetness of the jheri. There was no moisturizer of any kind involved, and therein lay the problem. Dry hair is hair that’ll break, and my hair broke off and shed like there was a party on the floor that it needed to get to. Less than a year after getting the leisure curl, I had to cut my hair into a very short bob. I cried like… I can’t even think of a simile, I’d never cried that hard before. Inconsolable. Gone were my dreams of a swinging ponytail.

Life’s a roundabout. Ponytails have come and gone, so did an attempt at locks, a shaved head, three really short cuts, and one weave that lasted two weeks, but I’m starting again. When I look in the mirror now, I see myself at nine, ten, eleven– it makes me happy at times, but also wondering how I’ll manage it. This forgotten part of me. I’d forgotten the waves and crimps of my hair, how it felt, and how it doesn’t listen. Now, I wear it exactly as I did then, and looking at myself, makes me remember my childhood– what I thought, who I was. I can look past the new lines near my mouth, and all the signs of my aging, and see how very right my father was all those years ago; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me… I am “fine,” more than fine, just the way I am.

life, People (Unreal life)

Life’s a Roundabout

life, People (Unreal life)

On Love: How It Lingers, How It Lasts

Was there a garden or was the garden a dream? – Jorge Luis Borges (Adam Cast Forth)

My mother skypes me in the morning (my morning, her night), and fills me in on the hummingbirds who’ve flown into her house and act like its theirs, her garden and its beauties, the concerts or shows she’s been to, the latest Jamaican political news/scandal, her latest writing projects, and how hot it is in Kingston. A few days ago, when she was talking about the “pleasant” heat, and the sweat beading on her forehead, I said something to her that I’ve never in all my years said, not even as a teenager when it was always on the tip of my tongue (and thankfully stayed there),—“Mummy, shut up.”

However today, her aim wasn’t to torture me with the glorious sunshine and heat that she’s reveling under, but to share stories on love. When she starts to talk about the past, it’s when I’m most attentive.  She didn’t say, “Let’s talk about love,” but she did start talking about one of her favorite subjects, her father. I never met my grandfather DJ, as he died decades before I was an egg/sperm cocktail; but when my mother shares stories of her childhood and her father, I think of how love lasts; I think of how the smallest acts of true love never leave us.

It’s amazing how one’s life can boil down to a few often repeated stories—the ones we choose to remember, the ones we can’t let go or the ones we choose to relate. This morning, my mother told me (again) the story of my grandfather bringing home treats for her, her sisters and brother. This isn’t my story to tell (maybe), but I will anyway… He didn’t have much money, due to life circumstances, but on Wednesdays, he would bring a small carton of ice-cream home for his four children to share. A little ice-cream may seem insignificant for those of us who have so much, but for his children, it was an incredible joy. At nine or ten, to my mother, that vanilla ice-cream may have been just a wonderful delight (“Yay, ice-cream!”), but as an adult looking back, that ice-cream was more than just milk and sugar. It was pure love. He brought what he could, sometimes it was a bag of yellow plums, sometimes a bag of cane… sometimes, it was as simple as sharing rice from his dinner plate.

In February, where romantic love is pushed like crack on an urban street corner, I can’t help but think of love in all its manifestations. I’m not in love, so I’m thinking of those I love/loved in a non-romantic sense, how much I’ve been loved and how love never leaves. I’m thinking of laps that were always open and waiting for me to lie in, arms that held me, broad backs that I piggy-backed on, shoulders that I swung on, dinners that were kept warm after a long day, patient ears and minds that listened, and special trips for ice-cream on Sundays.

It’s much to have loved, to have known true joy,

To have had– if only for just one day–

The experience of touching the living Garden. –  Jorge Luis Borges (Adam Cast Forth)

p.s For my mother: