Naropa Buddhist University: What is the Summer Writing Program?

When I arrived in Boulder, the journey of several days was over. I had opened up to change, to challenge and to creating a new future for myself. The journey was about releasing fear, bodily tension and watching the anxious, limiting thoughts arise.

Every time I passed a semi-truck, I talked to myself about how wide my lane was, how protect I was by universal energy. I thanked the driver for safeguarding me and being aware of the presence of my 2003 golden Nissan with the Buddha on the dash board.

“Drop your tongue down,” I would tell myself. To release the energy in my jaw, to keep my face from clamping shut in fear, the tongue drop works beautifully. “Soft hands, ” I would tell myself. My hands upon the wheel would loosen and I noticed the tension in my neck and back would lessen. The car engine, the universal field were the power and it wasn’t my grabbing instinct that was keeping me safe.

The tomtom got me to Naropa and from there I asked directions to Snow Lions. The mix up was amazing. I had been assigned three different room numbers over a few weeks. But I got the contract to fill out for my room and was told to come back after three.

Moving my suitcase into my room seemed rather awkward. It was full (because I am always packed for survival on the moon, after a nuclear war or stranded on an island). So I left the suitcase in my car trunk as a chest of drawers and stuffed underwear, makeup and jewelry into my back pack. Vital survival items. Oh and the four dresses and three pairs of shoes. Also very important for a Leo.

The Snow Lions was not an up to date, meticulously clean environment; however, my university friends tell me this is typical. My OCD started kicking in right away. Walking past the two large white lions at the entry way, I thought about where I could get glue to reattach one of the corners that had been knocked off. I eyed the central patio area and wondered how long it would take me to sweep the area clean. I had to quell the OCD fairey’s voice.

“Just do what you came here to do, ” I told myself. “Let everything else go. Let it go.”

I was in the dorm for two days before I figured out how to use the magnetized fob thing to get me in the door. I tried making one of the room keys work. So for the first two days, I stood outside the door and waited for someone else to open the door until I could observe how to work the gizmo on my own. What a metaphor for the last two years. Standing in front of a door and just not being able to figure out how to work it. Yes. That is it!

The beds were small with a thin mattress but I didn’t care. The classes were inspiring. The people that surrounded me were creative spirits who had made a voyage out of their lives. Some were from small towns in Alabama, Texas, California. Some had grown up with racial discrimination with learning disabilities, with an angry household and yet each of these people had kept writing, had kept learning and had honed his or her skills. I felt as if my entire body was on fire.

Tracie Morris was the instructor for my section and when the short, fit African-American woman walked into the room we were in for a surprise. Her power revealed itself over the week. She was unfailingly kind and sensitive to each of the students in our group. There was no attempt to establish status. Her knowledge of writing, of performing, of the academic background of all that she presented simply poured out of her as she answered our questions. Twenty minutes into class, I felt as if I were in an Alice in Wonderland experience. Tracie’s stature just kept growing. At the end of the week, I captured some pictures of her and was astounded at the fact that she is fairly short. We lost that sense of her early on.

Her compassion and commitment to others is what most struck me. She genuinely wants to best for those around her. In my thirty years as a teacher, I can honestly say that I was blessed to be in a class with such a natural excellent teacher. She informed us that her meditative practice had taken much of the “edge” off of her personality. However, one knows that if it is needed she will step up and defend her beliefs with whatever it takes.

What did she teach me? She taught me that stature, status, reputation are irrelevant. She taught me that what is most important is to network with other souls on the same path as myself. Being open to working closely with others with an attitude of humility, is the quickest way to become better at the skills I have been given. Leave the ego behind and edit that sucker. Slice and dice. Go for the gut. Punch it out. But at the end of the performance, don’t leave them bleeding. Offer an after dinner mint with sweetness on the lips to complete the experience.

Be there for others, Tracie showed through example. Be fully and completely in the moment. Listen to others. Take classes. This woman has many prestigious degrees and yet she is constantly taking classes. Learn. Sit at the feet of others. Be open.

She taught us about breathing so there is power behind our words. She taught us about breathing so there is a strong connection to body passion in our words. She taught us about breathing so we can hear what our bodies are experiencing.

One of her exercises was to connect with an organ and talk to it. Many in my class connected with the liver: seat of anger. seat of stored grief. seat of unfair treatment. Poets…. yes it makes sense. Poets are called to speak out the grief and beauty of life. It makes sense.

My pancreas talked to me. According to Louis Hay the Pancreas is affected when life has lost its sweetness, when one is rejected. I have been like a Victorian heroine these last two years. Trailing through mind fog trying to find my purpose, passion and power, I picture myself in wafting gowns locked in a stone fenced territory. My pancreas I envisioned as a kind of meat baby, curled in fear under my heart.

This was a very powerful exercise and surprisingly clear in the message that we all experienced. After the visualization and breathing exercise we each wrote a poem message to the organ that was “talking” to each of us. The poems were powerful, lucid.

Tracie completed her lesson to us through her performance later in the week. Her rendering of “I’ve got you under my skin” with the voices of those sexually abused at Penn State was electrifying. She brought us to our emotional knees. I kept thinking it was more than I could take and yet it went deeper. She was merciless in her mercy.

Another influence on all of us was to spend the afternoon listening to panels or presentations by other artists. There was never a sense of the usual academic hierarchy. And I noted how incredibly effective it is to have someone stand before me who had simply made a choice to be who he or she wanted to be. To strike out into the world and make the heart’s statement without waiting for validation had been a choice. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth put together his band and ruthlessly toured the world. Find others, say what you have to say, keep moving!

Laurie Anderson was so simple, direct, unassuming in person as she stood on stage in front of us. And then she performed. It was watching a kitten become a dragon. Her power and presence was transformative. She had one number in which she described her obsessive experience with a ouija board. In her first life…. pause… she was a raccoon. In her second life…. so gentle the voice…. she was a hat. The people in my row were laughing together. We looked at one another, we bent over with laughter. It opened us up. It opened us up to saying whatever came to mind, to standing on a stage saying whatever came to mind, to one another, to the flow of energy in the audience, to and from the stage. Laurie is a catalyst. She creates magic. Period. Period.

The other teachers each took the stage: Caroline Bergvall, Toi Derracotte, Jena Osman, Bhanu Kapil, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Brad O’Sullivan, Claudia Rankine, Roberto Tejada, Anne Waldman and Matvei Yankelevich. It was like watching the Olympics of creatives. They each made it look so simple.

The ability to take the gifts that the universe gave to you, find shelter in friends/networks and feed your flame was demonstrated for the students. Skill. Pushing through. Listening to your inner voice. Seeing setbacks as lessons. What better way to encourage students than to be authentic and open about your own journey?

I was filled with energy. I felt as if I had been hit by lightening, light en ing. When I read out my poetry in front of the school, teachers and other students came to me to tell me they liked my work. I sat in the audience with tears pouring down my face.

I was so grateful for the encouragement. I was so grateful to feel as if I was in the right place, with the right people doing what I was born to do. The stimulus was challenging and overwhelming but for the first time in almost three years I felt fully alive.

Finally, the message that Amiri Barake delivered stayed in my consciousness. Make it happen. Get out there and witness for a better world. Speak your truth. Be who you are without fear. Passion is a gift. Intensity is a gift.

Thank you Anne Waldman for creating and sustaining this transformative haven. Thank you fellow Naropa students for your diversity, your imaginative genius and your loving kindness. A creative center founded on compassion and keeping oneself humble is exactly what is needed as a “spark” in today’s world. I was lucky enough to be a part of that for a short period. Gratitude.

Christmas Eve

Beautiful blue eyes

I have been staying with my daughter, Dominique, and her husband Troy since I was coughed up by the Greyhound Bus after a twenty hour ride on rough roads. The fact that somewhere along the journey my suitcase that I foolishly dropped my medications into and that was full to the gills with Christmas Presents had gone veering off in a separate direction from my bumpy trajectory could not lessen the experience of arriving.

Firstly, seeing my daughter was wonderful. Secondly, just being able to stop the alternating of the rough jostling with being kicked out into the yellow-green slime of light that coats all the surfaces in the small “cafes” lining the route was a cause for celebration. Had I been able to unbend my knees sufficiently to dance, I would have. However being in hedgehog-fetal position to try to fit onto the seat through the night precluded anything more than being calmly thankful that I had enough stamina left to disembark.

Lastly, I had the practice. My mind wanted to run to the first window which was victim. Oh poor me. No suitcase. Then came the second window which was blame.

“You stupid twit, why did you put your medications in the suitcase. You traveled all over Europe. Twice. And you knew enough not to separate yourself from clean underwear and medications.” But because I have been basting my brain with Buddhism, the last part of that alternative of bad vision was minimized. I managed to shut the curtains shortly after, “You stupid twit.”

Then came the use of the practice…. being patient. I asked to file a missing luggage form but was told by a very terse woman (who had previously hung up on my daughter) that they waited five days or more before filing a lost report.

Rahne is a serious, focussed leader. Her eyes say it all.

Now my mind did its work. I saw that the woman was angry. I saw that her life wasn’t working. I saw her treat people without respect including hanging up on another caller as I watched and I wondered, “How’d you get that way?” Reading Wayne Dyer and How to Win Friend’s and Influence People taught me a few skills.

I was patient. I didn’t crowd the woman but I didn’t go away either.

I came back to the depot three times, phoned three times. Politely. I explained that my daughter would be living with a werewoman after my withdrawal from my bionic woman meds. My poor little waifs of grand daughters would be deprived of their Christmas presents.

And lastly I went for the heart or the jugular. I said I had no other clothing and needed a change of underwear after 21 straight hours on the bus. What human being could resist that plea?

During the recounting of my tale, it spilled out that I had purchased my ticket on line. The woman’s face shut down like a castle gate under attack.

“On line. We don’t want you to purchase tickets on line. We don’t get any commission for finding lost luggage for people who purchased a ticket on line.”

Poison words. I had poisoned my case and now had to begin reworking our relationship. She was mistress of that desk and I a mere suppliant. The very repetition of the phrase, “on line” was for my benefit because I was obviously an “idiot.”

Part way through the days of sweet persistence, she deigned to fill out a form while asking me questions. I described my luggage in laborious detail. When we were done, she handed me a slip of paper indicating that I now had permission to pick up my suitcase. And when the detailed, adjective rich depiction of my suitcase was complete the line for description on this power-of-pick up form simply stated,” suitcase.”

To understand the depth of mini-autocracy at work, I had talked to this woman daily. She is working at a depot with only two people. Both people had been included in the conversations I held with them. So as I took the paper which said that I could pick up my luggage should it ever arrive and present it to the only two people in this tiny, unadorned closet of a depot to make sure that it was official, I was silenced by the sheer force of convoluted logic. Perhaps the idea was to get rid of me by sending me away with a white scrap of hope.

She could, apparently rule her kingdom with an iron will.

So I called the Greyhound national office… It is in Texas. The woman who answered gave me the Canadian corporate headquarter’s phone number. And thus began my Christmas conversation with Emmanuel. I explained to this savior the details of my plight… now for the eighth time. It was good practice. I was becoming more succinct and gently hopeful while maintaining my dogged persistence with each retelling of the saga of the lost suitcase.

He said I should call the national office in Texas. I told him that I had. He said,” You should ask the depot to put a trace on it.”

I said, ” I asked the depot immediately.Yes. Yes I have tried for three days, six different times,” I informed him.

“Why don’t you go to another depot and fill out the form?” he asked.

I fell for a moment into a pool of confusion. Whaaaat?

“The nearest town with a depot is four hours away and I took the bus. I don’t have a car with me, ” I said starting to blank out from the sheer confusion of those I was dealing with.

“Well, I don’t really do that, the tracing. But I can ask for a trace if I file a complaint at the same time,” he offered.

And there it was. The rune in the full moon light. The switch to the sliding bookcase. An opportunity to educate the Houston, B.C. Greyhound Depot staff on the company policy. A chance to help those poor fools who thought they could call a business and ask a question without having someone slam down the phone. My intention was to stay out of anger and just keep the attitude that everybody was going to be alright. Even my dark blue almost black, 35 lb, cloth covered suitcase with a pull handle and wheels.

On the fourth day, Donna, who reigns supreme, allowed me to fill out a form. From then on everything changed. She actually looked at my face when we talked. She immediately faxed the request to the stations along the way where some, in her words, “idiot” could have miss-routed my luggage.

The next day after the fax went through to the six stops along the way, my luggage showed up. The woman was actually happy for me. Her face had softened. She said, “Now your grand daughters have their Christmas presents.” She let me hug her.

I will write a letter. But now it won’t be a letter of complaint. Communication is the problem all down the line. The mistresses of the desk needs to know that, yes, a trace can be filed immediately. The company needs to know that a review of procedures will help bring in more customers. And the driver needs to know not to leave Christmas parcels out in the parking lot where some “idiot” will back over them.

My body is now nicely humming along with all of my bionic woman meds, I have clean underwear, the Christmas presents are under the tree. I have learned so many things about travel, about loss of focus when packing, about compassion and not least of all about why I want to be rich enough to fly first class.

Merry Christmas everyone. Blessings out.

Teagan is a loving, sensitive, bumptuous soul.

What Gifts are Best for Christmas? Buy original art

Penticton Art Gallery now has two pieces of mine for their pre-Christmas sale, I will be in a show at the Rotary Centre for the Arts for three days November 12th on, then the next week Gallery Vertigo is letting me have a show at the Kalamalka Campus. Summerland Art Gallery is holding a pre-Christmas sale of art cards and books which has motivated me to get producing again.

photograph of my hand shadow on a scrap book page

photograph of my hand shadow on a scrap book page

Hand made books are a real pleasure to create and I want to have three or four more ready for Gallery Vertigo’s book store.

This thursday I will be in the Rotary Centre for our First Thursday Open house. Last month 30 students from UBC attended and it was lovely to have a chance to meet the up and coming art teachers that will be inspiring students in the high schools and elmentary schools.

texture abounds in this piece for a CD cover

texture abounds in this piece for a CD cover

I am a featured artist in Homes for the Holidays and will be putting up the pieces that I created next week in the show home. All of those great photos I took one day last winter after a heavy snow fall should look great in this old fashioned christmas themed open house.

star gazer lily in my neighbours yard

star gazer lily in my neighbours yard

Meanwhile, I am organizing an all candidates meeting to get more interest in the election. Only 22% of citizens turned out at the last election and there seems to be a more prevasive kind of negative inertia in our town. People are quick to complain and critize but don’t go out to the cities open houses or respond to on line surveys. I guess it is human nature to have everything be alright until it seems to be all wrong. What about the place between?

Sutherland park after fresh snow

Sutherland park after fresh snow

Cold weather, art, politics. That is my life right now. Happy November.