“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.
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.