The Body Pays — To Antonio Variaçãoes (obrigada Duarte)

Night reveals us. We have traveled the world three times between us– the journey ends here.

Olha! The young are dancing; grandmothers are curling their hips; the lovers, busy loving; the boy, rolling his cigarette; the girl sighing, “Ohh la la.” We play everyday.

We drink 1.50 euro wine in water bottles from Senhor Costa. At first sip, vinegar blazed its way down our timeline, but now we see tomorrow. In Portuguese, your poems makes sense– we are realized– a melody to sing along to, the last verse, incense permeating the night, the unconscious drawn to the fore.

You’re an artist, I’m marble. I’m an artist, you’re clay. We are malleable; let’s chisel, mold, break each other down– again. Let’s chisel, mold, break each other down. We can’t help but discover new things every day.

Am I your succubus in waking life? Let’s bathe in stars, dripping pearl droplets on the floor. Let’s wear eternity around our necks. Let dust coat our ears after the bath.The words will drip like molasses off your tongue and coat my limbs– let’s make a path and create visions.

You said, “The body pays.” Oh new one– these ideas are for tomorrow. “When the head is convinced, the body suffers. Let it suffer. Let it suffer, if you’re liking it.” We imagined this moment before birth, but let’s talk about this tomorrow.

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The First Date at Princesa do Castelo (It Happened Like This…)

The streets layer themselves; they collide; they diverge; they wrap around and meet; they hover over each other. They are multi-textured and multi-colored: slate, white, marble, cobbled, asphalt, rose. They know the beginning of tales: Senhora Fernanda is reading a book; Senhor Joao is smoking a cigar; Joana is cuddling her cat; Pedro is smoking a joint with his girlfriend; Mateus is drinking coffee at a round table; Carla and her lover are caressing. The street conceals and binds.

There’s a vegetarian café on the street, Princesa do Castelo, inviting pedestrians to enter. The walls are alternately orange and yellow; the tables and benches, wood; a giant red and white mushroom protrudes from a wall; Bob Marley issues from the speakers, “If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.” The menu: salads, soup of the day, nachos, hummus, noodles, quiche, desserts, fresh juices, alcohol.

From the heaving street, a couple enter, order two pots of tea, and settle into the banquette. They are new to each other.

“Where are you from?”

“XYZ. You?

“ABC. Have you been there?

The same small talk being practiced in cafés worldwide: ‘What’s your…do you like…where do you…when did you…?” The questions and responses fall and connect like stones in a wide river. There are some that will be needed to get to the other side. Some will pile into boulders– insurmountable and difficult to process; some will be held onto for safety.

He orders more tea; the laughter grows; the volume of the whispers increases; the energy of new attraction/lust/flirtation palpitates.

“That was good.”

“Yes, it really was.”

They rise– together– and step onto the wreathlike street. With them: white petals racing, a dog running (with its owner trailing), four men playing dominoes, all connecting.

If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.

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The Load Grows Lighter: A Day at Gulbenkian

On a Sunday afternoon, when the sun is streaming through raised shutters, and nature is beckoning, “Come to me,” get up, and go. Give yourself to trees, to art, to birds, to lakes, to wind, to the sound of twigs snapping beneath your feet. Go to Gulbenkian park in the middle of Lisbon.

Take the Red Line to São Sebastião and within the concrete walls, you will find an oasis. Vamos passear! Walk around the lake; throw a volcanic rock in a pool; see the ducks spreading their wings; notice people sitting under the open sky eating juicy plums, reading, plucking their guitars, practicing their love. Practice your love.

Peer at hearts carved into ancient trees; wonder at the impermanence of romantic love; wonder if the Marie that wrote, “Marie loves Rik 2006,” still loves him in 2015? Observe the peace. Listen to the story of another:

In the past, I had one heart. I gave it to my lover– the whole heart. “Here, take it,” I said. I didn’t learn from a previous heartbreak. When she left, the heart was gone. I suffered. All that was left was air, but I couldn’t lift my head to get some. It’s not the way to do things.

A day in Gulbenkian isn’t enough. There are museums, gardens, terraces, an ampitheater, films being shown, photography exhibitions, musical performances, an art library, a cafeteria. There are tapestries handwoven in wool, silk, gold and silver threads to gaze at; intricate ivory carvings to wonder at; and all of nature giving itself to you on a warm, spring day.

I had one heart, and then it was gone. I trudged up and down the hill to my house with a heavy load on my back. I thought, “Why is this my life? It’s so hard.” Then, one day, the load became lighter. I was becoming free. I don’t have one heart, but many. I have no lover, but I have love– strangers, friends, family. 

Nature gives; nature heals; nature teaches– Gulbenkian is a large classroom– the grace, the birdsongs, the fresh air, the new buds, the towering trees, the silence. Everything rests– even the quivering, ungraspable ripples in the pool.

An elderly couple exits the park dressed in their Sunday best. When she opened her eyes this morning to face another day, she possibly said, “How marvelous! Here we are again. What shall we do?”  “Let’s stroll around the gardens of Gulbenkian,” he responded. “Let’s stand for a moment near the lake, close our eyes and feel the breeze that will kiss our lids. Let’s practice our love.”

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Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt inder The Willows - Sargent, John Singer
Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt under The Willows
– Sargent, John Singer
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Flora –Carpeaux, Jean-Baptiste
The Dance, (*Tapestry from the set "Children Playing)
The Dance, (*Tapestry from the set “Children Playing)

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This Is How It Starts– The Falling in Love

This is how it starts– the falling in love with a city. It descends and envelops you. There’s nothing you can do, it happens all at once. In mid-step, between your exhale and inhale, you realize it.

You find yourself doing things you’d never do anywhere else; like, leaving the house in the pouring rain to listen to live jazz and blues. You adore music, of course you do, but in another city, one you’re not enamored with, you’d say, “There’s music on YouTube, why would I go out in weather like this?”

You want to hold your excitement in, but can’t help sharing every photo, every realization, even when you may be the only one who can feel the thrill of it all.

Like the “Come to Jesus” posters at Arroios station say, “Every day’s a revelation.” You take the advice of a wise five-year old and taste raindrops on your tongue. You’ve eaten codfish before, but never steamed and served with potatoes. Oh boy, that doughnut filled with custard and the churro with creme, you’ve eaten those before, but heaven hadn’t opened its gates in your mouth then. Floods of flavor. Wow.

You do things you know you may regret, but then you think, “Those five minutes were worth it”– like, the mango margarita at The George on Rua Crucifixo. Tequila, aka “Ta kill ya,” you promised never to imbibe after the 2002 Festivale Mexicano fiasco, but here you are with a mango margarita– mango, tequila, salt, and– is that black pepper on top?

You fell in love before, of course you did, but this time, this time is different. You’re different. This city brings out the best in you; it makes you write everyday; it makes you smile inside and out, to which strangers will respond, stop you on the street and say, “You’re wonderful;” it makes things seem new, and since you know everything ends, your heart constricts a little.

Wait!

The novelty may fade, but the feeling could deepen. It doesn’t have to end. It doesn’t have to end.

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(Check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCM_VWzSiMo)

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On Birds: 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?

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All my love,

Val

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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)

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Love,

Val

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Meditate On A Love Like This

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