The Belly of The Whale: Why I left Hawaii

Leaps of faith and having fun doing it.

Just leaps of faith and having fun doing it.

“The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.” –Joseph Campbell

 I thought you moved to Hawaii! Are you back?

 Yes I am back. And in therapy.

Are you here for good?

I don’t know. I don’t have the power of precognition.

The move to Hawaii was one serious journey that rattled me to my core. It was a fast paced episode of fear-facing and fear-conquering. I thought that my adventure would be a year in Hawaii and I would return with some magic elixir, armed with boons to bestow on my fellow man. Richer than before. Freer than before. More enlightened than before. Little did I know that Hawaii was not my actual journey, but the initiation of a greater journey. It was the belly of the whale, the place that would annihilate everything I thought I was, all the mental crap that sludged through my mind and kept my heart closed. It all had to die, as part of my preparation for a “true” new beginning. Those who know warned that the island would do that to me.

The island is deceptively dualistic, like all nature. Step foot in paradise and one disappears into cool springs running from the lush grey-mist mountains tops, the tides, the trade winds, the warm sun crushing the scent of plumeria flowers into cantaloupe skies, the power of the sunrise… Aloha flows in the soul as slow as the slack key—this is just a touch of the experience. But live there, and one also battles little monsters: six inch centipedes, scorpions, huge flying cockroaches called B-52 bombers, and giant moths that will eat your face. I can’t tell you the number of times I went to grab a towel from a shelf only to have what I thought was an effing bat fly at me, followed by an uneasy relief that it was “just” a giant moth. The locals always reassured, “Moths are your ancestors visiting you.” (How exactly is that comforting? I just tried to swat the shit out of a well-meaning relative.) But that was the island. Magical and monstrous. Peace-giving and dangerous. Rainbows and hurricanes. Soft ocean and razor sharp coral. Created by eruptions. It is this duality that helped me consider, more deeply, my relationship with Bella’s father.

The metaphor of the Island’s duality plays out in my experience with Ray. It’s hard for one to really enjoy paradise when one is simultaneously revisiting elements of her personal hell. I don’t mean that in a condescending way to Bella’s father.   It is simply a case of “how” we are together. We put the proverbial mirror up to our ugly egos; divorce allows people walk away from that mirror all to easily; I give Ray a lot of credit for being brave enough to face the mirror with me. We don’t need to be married to work out our differences.   But what is left is a painstaking practice of shedding and growing. In Hawaii, we found ourselves raising our daughter together—I won’t say “again” because we have always raised her together… but raising her together again within vicinity of each other. For those of you who don’t know, Ray has lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for the last two years, while I lived in San Clemente, California. He has made the best of “remote parenting”. He visits California often, Bella visits Hawaii, and their relationship is tight. In Hawaii, however, we lived about 10 houses down. We redefined what it meant to be together.

Before I left for Hawaii, people couldn’t help but ask me, “Are you guys getting back together?” There is always an uneasy mystery, I feel, at least, surrounding our relationship. Many people are fixated on a very narrow idealized image of parenting: married: raise children together; divorced: court-ordered custody.

We chose neither.

For us, the choice came down to this: either have the court tell you what to do, and carry on as unhappy, bitter little pricks to each other; or, carry on as bitter little pricks to each other, REALIZE our “prickiness”, shed the ego trip, and just be happy with our child. We chose the latter. Yet this lifestyle is a constant practice. It is work, every day. It is facing the shittiest part of ourselves and fixing it, everyday. It is faith, it is selflessness, it is love, and it is hard. But the reward is this: Bella experiences a sense of trust, support, shared values, learning, and fun that comes from both of us. She sees forgiveness in action. Her life is rich with adventure, boldness, compassion, and acceptance. She learns to nurture imperfections to growth.

So our “together” meant me riding my bike to and fro when it was time for family breakfast, or to watch a movie together, or plan the day. It meant watching the sunset as a family, or watching it alone. Together we shared the most beautiful adventures. We roadtripped together. Got lost together. Surfed together. Jumped off 40 foot cliffs together . Danced with fire together. Swam with turtles together. Snorkled together. And worked together.   Shared aloha together. That was our “together”. But it is not smooth  sailing. It doesn’t always feel good.

“The universe is made up of experiences that are designed to burn out our reactivity, which is our attachment, our clinging, to pain, to pleasure, to fear, to all of it. And as long as there are places where we’re vulnerable, the universe will find ways to confront us with them. That’s the way the dance is designed.” –Ram Dass

And so it is with me. My life on Hawaii has been like an episode from Fantasy Island. It is as if I asked Mr. Rourke to give me this amazing life on an island with my daughter, where I had little work and all the time to be a bum and a mom, and she could be with her incredible father. However in the Fantasy Island tradition: “Be careful what you wish for,” right? Because there is a dark side, and I was transported right into the dire straights of my old marriage. I thought, maybe, just maybe, we could try to be conventional. It was like picking up right where my ex husband and I left off, with all the ugliness and issues that were never properly addressed five years ago. My spiritual growth came when I had to face certain undesirable conditions of our past, and make peace with it. Speak my truth. Fuck some shit up. I feel satisfied, now, yes. But it was a heavy curriculum. Conclusion: we are not a conventional couple. But I am so grateful to have a relationship with him.

Still, we will raise our daughter unconventionally. I am challenged by aspects of him, and I am certain I challenge him. We manage to accept that and love each other, thereby fitting the square peg in the round hole.

In truth, after revisiting my previous blogs, what I really asked for was change. Looks like I got what I wanted.  I have been consecrated with true aloha and I am in love with what I have learned.  I am bringing Hawaii back to my classroom, to my life, to my relationships– the humility, the honesty, the compassion, the enduring, the unassuming, the tenderness, the gentleness, the love… all that I aspire to be and hope to impart as a steward to the children I teach, and the people I meet.


One of our last adventures


and let go

…let go

So, when I returned to California in September, it was with my head down, defeated, hurt, wounded, ravaged. There is no drama to that statement. Hawaii swallowed me whole, not in the Saturn Devouring His Son kind of way, but in the most loving, maternal way. But it was still painful. The magical threshold of The Big Island embraced me with its slow moving beauty and its morning birdsongs, the gentle lapping of the current on lava rock, the sweet crush of plumeria oozing in the heat.  Then it made me face the snap bites of centipedes, the rush of giant moths, the B-52 bombing flying cockroaches, the humiliating thrashings in the waves. This is my life metaphor. The beauty. The monsters. The adventures. But I’m stronger now. I’m prepared. I want more. And I’m ready to slay some dragons.

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In Search of Duende


DUENDE ~ “A mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher can explain.” — Goethe

Change is the only constant in our lives, yet it has such negative connotations. It’s disruptive; it’s scary, it’s uncomfortable. That’s why I hate change. I prefer the comfort of the predictable. I suppose it is because of past traumas that I opt for a normal existence, a prudent lifestyle, a safe career, and somewhat colorless passivity. At the same time, when I feel the salt air, the call of the wild ocean, the pull of the mystic moon, my soul stirs for some adventure, for the risky, for the “duende”. It makes me a little schizophrenic.

At the moment, I have a stable career with very good benefits and health insurance. My home is located in a desirable area of affluent Orange County. Where ever I go, people know my name. I get free shoes at Ocean Minded. I walk into Juice It Up and my students greet me cheerfully; I run on the beach and kids stop me to say hello and talk about life and all the amazing things they’ve learned; my family is here; I am loved and my daughter is loved. Everything is just about right. But… I am getting up, packing up, selling everything, and leaving it all, anyway. WHY? Why change? I ask myself that question every day. And everyday I give myself a pretty quick answer.

Something in my spirit does not desire a complacent life. I have been a prisoner of my daydreams for the last two years, sitting behind a desk, surrounded by four walls, a mountain of papers, captured by visions of distant lands, visions of me with my daughter living and loving in the moment… yet those visions are interrupted by the worries of the next day and our to-do lists; interrupted by the proverbial shaking finger chastising me, “you don’t assign enough homework!” “Why aren’t you done grading papers?” “Why haven’t you completed your IPGs?” “When are you going to enter that late work?”

“…. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

I woke up to my existential reality. Blah!   Sure, my life is comfortable. Beyond comfortable… blessed!   But I am also stuck. I lost my passion. I don’t believe in what I am doing anymore. I don’t feel the work is worth sacrificing time with my daughter, and my time to EXPERIENCE life! The Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca developed the aesthetics of the term duende, which loosely means, “to have soul, or passion, or expression and authenticity”. What is your duende? What drives you? Makes your burn with dark, creative passion— not a destructive, chaotic creativity, but a controlled, channeled passion? It has been latent inside of me, and I have been longing to conjure it, but I had neither the time nor the energy. Now I have the opportunity to meet new people, create new experiences, challenge myself in new and dynamic ways. In all that, I will find my devilish muse.

One other thing: we were put on this earth to stir and to grow, to create, to change, to evolve, to teach and to learn, to care for each other, to love one another, to live out our passions and share our talents. This is the adventure. Everyday, each one of us is, in someway, living the hero’s journey. Whether it is buying a new house, changing careers, moving on from a relationship, trying to raise our children, or grow our business… we are being called to adventure. We can choose to refuse the call, and either nothing happens, or disaster happens. However when we accept the call, and step into the unknown, growth is inevitable. We meet mentors and guides, allies and challenges, we have setbacks and comebacks, and if we endure and are open to learn, our life will grow in spirit and strength; we will be giants in our world; in short, nothing will ever be the same.

Right now, duende is my holy grail, and  I have accepted the call.

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TO BE OR NOT TO BE – Shakespeare
TO BE IS TO DO- Rousseau
TO DO IS TO BE – Sartre

If you are pushing 40 or are 40+, you are a new brand of youth.

You know you have a couple of options: lead a sedentary life, of menial work and obligations, day-in, day out, and rot; or keep the adventures going and your passions alive.  Some of us say, “I will FIGHT the 40s!”  and work out like maniacs at the gym, do the latest juice cleanse, take on every new activity imaginable, date younger people (guilty of all of the above; kinda proud of the last one)… Others say, “Naw, man, I’m cruising into this” and let the days unfold, treading gently into new lives and possibilities; still, many find joy in the success of their offspring. They roll out the red carpet for their spawn because that spotlight IS their joy. So we have different styles.  The question is, as we enter the half-way mark of our lives, are we trying to PROVE something that we really don’t need to prove?  How do we do this gracefully and not egotistically?

After my divorce, I felt a strong desire to take on lots of responsibility.  I didn’t want alimony, but I did want to spearhead projects, volunteer my time, be a leader in organizations, further my education, perform optimally in athletics, and stake my claim as the dominant provider for my daughter.  Whenever someone asked a favor of me, I obliged. I wanted to prove myself an autonomous woman.  Can I get a “Hell yeah!”

Actually I was more like neurotic bitch.

I spread myself too thin. DOing validated me. BEing was not part of the equation. Oops.  Not sure if this had something to do with aging or just wanting to prove to myself that I could handle life, but now that I know that I CAN do a million things at once, I am no longer interested.   My new goal is balance. I do enjoy being productive, but it is far more important to me to take life slowly, digest it, and enjoy it.  Sometimes that means DOING NOTHING and just being.  This, however, is a challenge to the 40-somethings.  We want to show that we’ve still got it.  That we can rock it, and shake it, and rule it, and embrace it, and own it… and all that shit. But let’s not sugar-coat it.  A rose by any other name is still a: … midlife crisis.  The trick is to do it with grace. We can’t desperately cling to the past. We want to love the best parts of ourselves as we are right now, to the highest potential we can.  And the beauty of 40 is, we know how to do it.

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

–Walt Whitman

My feeling, for all of us at war with “old”, is to just take it easy.  We do not need to look like a movie star. We do not need to achieve.  No, we really don’t.  That’s all kool-aid. We don’t need to take on more activities or strive to accomplish more, if it’s killing us.  We just need to remember the lessons of our masters (i.e, our children): play, imagine, and love; remember the wisdom of our teachers (Jesus, Buddha, Rumi): suffering is part of life, forgive, let go, laugh, love; and we need to remember the wisdom of our parents: get off your fucking phones, off your damn tvs, get outside, and behave. And call your mother.

So forty-somethings, pioneers of new youth, full of action, pride, and friendship…. what is your tip for aging gracefully?

I will re-blog some of the best tips.

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