Friday, June 8, 2018

Our life's journey ... Do we choose our paths?

Over the past few days I have found myself remembering childhood memories that have been tucked away somewhere in my brain .... a childhood friend from Thailand recently shared a photo from my swimming days as a young kid. That photo opened up memories for me that had been laying dormant .... I started swimming when I was 6 years old. My mother signed us up for swimming lessons. I remember feeling fearful of the water, this BIG pool (it was an Olympic size swimming pool, and to a 6 year old that was terrifying). We were given foam kick boards to hang onto and I remember hanging onto the side of the swimming pool with my kick board. We were asked to hold onto the kick board and flutter kick the width of the swimming pool. I remember seeing everyone else take off, splashing and kicking ... flutter kicks. How were they not terrified?

Then somehow I just took off. Maybe I didn't want to be the only one left on the one side of the swimming pool. Uncovering childhood memories for me is like my dream world ... patchy, and often no sense of time or even space. Images pop up. Felt sensations. Non-sequential. No logic.

A walk down memory lane is not a straight path on paved roads ... it's like a hike through the forest ... sometimes it begins with trails, and then we venture off the marked trails .... and though I might feel like I don't know where the unmarked path leads, I often get this sense of familiarity, of having been here before, of having experienced this sensation before, or heard this sounds, or noticed this scent.

This morning I found myself reflecting on my life's journey. As decades pass I realize more and more how much I don't really have control over the paths I take .... okay, maybe a little. I think I realize I can strive for something ... have a north star that guides me, if you will ... my Ahnung ... yet trust and allow myself to rest in the uncertainty and the unknowing and to allow myself to simply experience life and to be curious. Life for me is holding a vision while at the same time, not holding; it's about holding and letting go at the same time; about embracing endings and death so I can live fully; it's about seeing without sight; about hearing without sound; about touching without physical contact; it's about communicating without sound.

My Papa knew I needed a 4-legged furry being to help me heal ... he has sent me many, many beautiful 4-legged beings ... Splat, Shen, Shadow, Mister, Missy, Ahnung, Legacy, Ishkode .... they continue to guide and teach me, some from the spirit world, and some still here with me on this Earth.  The other day, I went for a hike with my Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibwe) along the same trails I used to walk with my beloved Ahnung in her final months with me on earth .... I have walked pass this bench many, many times and for some reason, never read the inscription on the bench. The other day, somehow, my Ishka tugged on the leash and led me to the bench. I smiled when I read the words, 'Hello Beautiful" ..... yes, Ishka, you are beautiful, and you (and your siblings) are my best medicine, my guide/teacher, my reminder to live fully, to play, to explore and be curious .... thank you for helping me to notice paths I may not otherwise notice ...

May we open up to teachers and guides in many different forms ...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Last month my story, The Ahnung Way, was one of 31 stories featured by the Coalition of Asian American Leaders as a part of the Minnesota Asian Stories campaign to celebrate Asian/Pacific Heritage month.

It has inspired me to share more stories and reflections ...

Merriam-Webster defines 'memories' as 'the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms' ... I have been reflecting on early childhood memories. I know my memories, my experiences, the felt senses of all that happened to me as a young child are all there ... but where is 'there'? in my brain? in the gray matter? in spirit? in landscape? I know this photo of me was taken at an apple orchard somewhere close to Alton, Illinois. I believe it was in 1968 when our family traveled around 8,700 miles from Bangkok, Thailand to bring my Papa to the United States. I had just turned 4. My Papa was dying, and my mother was desperate to try anything to save my Papa. I learned growing up how my parents believed in the educational system 'abroad' ... the United States, London, Australia. They wanted their children to be 'educated' not in Thailand, but in America, or London or Australia. I wonder if their belief in the education system being 'better' abroad was based on stories they heard, messages from 'abroad' ... or was it from personal experience? My mother was born and raised in the Philippines. She spoke tagalog (the language in the Philippines) and English fluently; and yes, a fair amount of Spanish. My Papa was born and raised in Thailand; my grandparents on my Papa's side were Chinese; they came from mainland China. He spoke Thai and English fluently; i believe he also spoke Chinese. The only common language my parents had was English.

At the age of 53 I find myself longing to have the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with my Papa and Mama … and my grandparents. My memories are sketchy. I have stories and narratives from my childhood, pieced together by sporadic memories. I feel a deep sadness for not knowing how to speak the many languages my parents spoke. They spoke English in the house. After Papa died in St. Louis, MO when I was 4, and we returned to Bangkok, Mama enrolled us in a British School, Bangkok Patana School. I know my mother only wanted the best for us. I can't help but wonder, what would my life be like if I had grown up in a Thai school, speaking the language of my home country?  I feel a deep connection to the wisdom of our communities, our ancestors and elders, our tradition. Yes, I have gone through the U.S. educational system and have a graduate degree; yet what matters to me is not that I have a higher education degree; what matters to me are the stories and narrative and experiences I carry with me, and in me, through my lived experience, and the collective lived experiences of my communities.

At 53 I find myself being drawn back to my roots, to my origin … to my country and a culture, language, landscape, spirit that … I know who I am is very much connected to my roots, community, culture, landscape, language. I am amazed and in awe of the wisdom of our bodies and our being; at how we adapt and transform to survive. I arrived in the U.S. when I was 16 from Thailand. The complexities and trauma I buried deep inside of me began to unravel when I arrived in a foreign country where I stood out. I was a brown skin. I began to apologize for being brown. I chose assimilation to a white culture in order to survive.

And now, I long to re-discover who I am; to unlearn and let go of survival strategies I took on at the age of 16; to remove the I am not brown mask I have been wearing for decades … this mask has been pressing deep into my skin, cutting into my flesh, peeling back scabs of old wounds and creating new wounds.

Today, I set my mask down. I thank my mask for its service. It has served me well. This mask no longer serves me as I step forward into a new path.

Today, I declare, with dignity …

I am a commitment to Being Brown without apology.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

An intentional pause

It's been a while since I wrote for my blog. An intentional pause. I have continued to write; to journal ... simply choosing to allow my new shape the space and the freedom to explore a new way of being in the world ... allowing the creation of something new to emerge in the sacred quiet of a more private landscape. The poet David Whyte beautifully articulates my intentional pause from blogging ..

"We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with too easily articulated ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others. What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence ..."

I have been on an amazing journey ... an adventure, actually, of really getting to know myself, getting to know the wisdom of my body ... i began a journey of seeing and experiencing the world with an enhanced set of lens, an embodied set of lens. Wow ... it is like I see the world now in so many more colors; in so many more dimensions ... I have learned to embrace and welcome, in a new way, in a felt sense way, shifts and changes in my being as I reach and I am my most alive self.

This morning in meditation I feel it is time now to surface and emerge. How do I put into words, however, experiences where words can't suffice? For now, all I know are some words that speak to me and guide me  ... I invite you to reflect and see what opens up for you with the following ... I invite you to the rising of The Ahnung Way. Ahnung has been, and will continue to be, my north star.

  • Spirit
  • Truth
  • Aliveness
  • Resilience

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A permeable shield ....

I had just turned 4 when I experienced my first and deepest loss. The multiplicity and complexity of the stories that emerged after that defining moment shaped me, and unbeknownst to me, I began building and creating a shield to protect my heart. It became an impenetrable shield [super power strength, in fact :)] ... my Papa knew the way to reach his little girl, to chisel away at the shield, was through animals ... he has sent me so many angels in furry 4-legged bodies who have taught me, and continue to teach me, how to break open to a place inside myself which is unbreakable and whole.

My Papa knew I needed a shield, but a different kind of shield ... a permeable shield held up around me by my beautiful angel dogs.

Miigwech to my many teachers (Splat, Shen, Shadow, Ahnung, Mister, Piper, Missy, Ishkode, Legacy).

The Unbroken
~ Rashani Rea

There is brokenness 
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
where serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mister visits in my dream -- go to the light, sweet boy!

Mister came to visit me in my dreams again last night. We received the most beautiful card from my vet and his staff with a personal handwritten note from my vet:

"I am so sorry for the loss of Mister but want to let you know what an honor it was to work with you and Mister during this process. I can only hope that I can approach life like Mister did. He was such a beautiful example of how life should be embraced and it was so special to see how you embraced that with him and celebrated him through the end. He is in a better place now and thank you, as always, for giving me the privilege of knowing him. Luther"

In my dream we experienced his last moments on earth again. I can see him so clearly and still feel his fur against my skin. My vet and my partner Joannie were in my dream but it wasn't at his clinic. We were in a large open space, like a field. Mister's eyes still had so much life in him, and his tail was wagging. In my dream I said to Mister (as I did the night of Nov. 6th), "I promised to let you leave this earth with dignity" and through his eyes I could see absolute trust and love. It was like we both knew this wasn't goodbye. In my dream, I could see this beautiful light. I knew that was where Mister was going. And I said to him, "it's okay sweet boy, to go to the light. Your work is done." I could feel this light inside of him, and I could feel this light inside of me. It was as if we were one - a bridge connecting us eternally.
Mister has touched the lives of so many. As my vet says, he was a beautiful example of how life should be embraced. Till the very end sweet boy, you did just that, and I honor and celebrate you, always.

Thank you for visiting me again last night. Thank you for the image and sensations i now hold in my body of the peace you felt in those last moments as you went to the light.

And a heartfelt thanks to my vet Luther (Dr. Luther Groth of Vet Partners Edina). It was an honor for us to walk with him on Mister's final ride!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Little Drummer Boy ... dancing to a new beat

With my beloved Ahnung in 2010 at Laura's home
Saturday night while at the Carrie Newcomer concert, and as I listened to her sing her song, Sanctuary, I realized I was listening with more than just my ears .. I was listening with my whole body and i returned to a sensory memory from 7 years ago. I had buried a memory from my childhood that was so painful (sexual abuse from a trusted family friend, a Catholic deacon at the time) and in the summer of 2008 while up in Ely, MN, for whatever reason the trauma reared and surfaced through nightmares and flashbacks. My journey to healing a childhood trauma began, at a different level. Little did I know that making that decision would then lead me, a year later, to choosing to end a long-term relationship that sent me into a deep, dark spiral. I soon found myself without a place to live as I fumbled, and crawled, my way through an incredibly painful transition. I returned to the memory last night in an entirely different way, of how my dear friend Laura Leonard was a sanctuary for me. Laura opened up her heart and her home for me (and Ahnung). While living with Laura and her son, I visited Missy and Mister every day in my old home while I searched to find a new home of my own. I landed in my current home in Bloomington, MN in January, 2011. As Carrie sang the lyrics, I also remembered memories of my Papa (Carrie is from Bloomington, Indiana where my Papa and Mama met and fell in love in the early 1960s).

" ... Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire's all but gone?
Will you remember
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary
'Til I can carry on
Carry on.
Carry on.
This one knocked me to the ground.
This one dropped me to my knees.
I should have seen it comin'
But it surprised me ... "

and this is from an old blog post (12/12/2010):

" ... The Christmas season has always been hard for me. Bittersweet, one could say. Every time I hear the song 'Little Drummer Boy' I go back to the 3 months I spent as a 4 year old at Barnes hospital in St. Louis, Missouri with my mother visiting my father every day ... my mother praying desperately to God to save my father's life. As an adult i've never put a Christmas tree up. This year with the ending of a long-term relationship and some major health issues I find myself having to reach deep inside of myself to find strength, and to reach outwards to my friends and family and animals, and to God and my Papa to help pull me through a painful and uncertain time in my life ... it's like i'm walking on a thin sheet of ice ... days of crashing through and feeling like i'm going to drown while other days I feel like I will make it to solid ground.
Christmas 2010 at Laura's

Yesterday we (Minnesota) were hit with a major blizzard. About 18 inches of snow. I am living now with my friend Laura and her son Walker as we go through this transition. She played Christmas music as we decorated the Christmas tree ... and the house was filled with warmth and love as she made chili and biscuits. And as she reached for the last ornament in the box, she pulled out The Little Drummer boy ornament. She knows my story and significance of The Little Drummer boy. She handed it to me and said I need to put this ornament up. Laura remembers the story behind all her ornaments except for this one. She said, "I think The Little Drummer boy ornament has been waiting for you and for your story." So as I clasped the ornament in my hand I could feel Papa; I could feel him carrying me; and I whispered to him ... this will be a new beginning ..."

And yes, it was a major dip in my life's journey in 2010, and another fork in the road for me.
My Papa has been watching over me and sending me many angels and guardians throughout my life. My dear friend Laura Leonard is one of them. From the bottom of my heart Laura, thank you for being a refuge and a sanctuary for me when I so needed it, and didn't know how to ask <3 p="">Just yesterday morning, I asked Joannie to help me move through Christmas in a different way. I made a request, I want to have a Christmas tree in our house. I want to celebrate Christmas, and for me that is also celebrating my Papa and his passing. Christmas has been associated with my Papa and my mother's pain. A childhood memory and pain I haven't wanted to feel or sense with all of me. Laura gifted me with the Little Drummer boy Christmas ornament saying, "I think The Little Drummer boy ornament has been waiting for you and for your story"

8 years later, I believe my story is ready to come out.

This year, we will fill our house with the spirit of Christmas, with Papa, with lights and smell of baking Christmas cookies. This year, we may be down to 3 beloved companions (Ishka, Legacy and Missy), but we will have the spirit of Ahnung, Piper and Mister with us as we celebrate Christmas, Papa, childhood, life, living. joy, peace .....

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Grief's invitation

I found myself missing my boy Mister this morning. Longing for his presence, his physical presence - his goofy, joyful, unbounded way to being.

And so I did I what I have done for years. I wrote.

So Mister, these words are for you, for the gift of inviting my teacher Grief back. For your lessons that continue beyond your physical presence; for the teachings and support that reach back into places where more healing is asking for my attention; for the invitation to swirl and unravel so I may transform.

Grief's invitation

Grief unravels you
Creates new wounds
He rips the scabs off of old wounds

Grief is a shape shifter.
He is everywhere.
He becomes the first snowfall
The sound of lapping water.
The dog bowl, left on the counter, waiting to be filled.
He becomes the one lonely pair of shoes that finds its way into the backyard.
He becomes all of everything and everyone you have lost - longed for.
He becomes the 4 year old aching for her Papa; the teenager reaching for alcohol to numb the pain; the emerging adult looking, desperately. to fill the void she does not even know exist.

Grief becomes memories that make you smile, and rip your heart, in the exact same moment.

He becomes all that is, was and is yet to become.

Grief unravels you.
Grief exposes you.
Grief challenges you – pushes you to the edge of all that you know and into the space of who you are yet to become.

He invites you.
He swallows you. 
He asks of you what you think you do not have.

Grief creates a hole in your heart
The size of a crater.

You stand at the edge of what was ‘normal’; of what is now trembling ground; at the edge of unknowing, questions, uncertainty.

Grief reaches his hand out.
“Dance with me”, he says.

There is glows that surrounds him.
There is a glow from deep inside him.
There is a glow extending out and into me.

      ...  Surrender
         ....  Unravel"

And so I stand at the edge ...

I stand, an observer of the intersection of life's complexities, multiplicities, mysteries.

One hand over my heart. One hand extended.

I look Grief in the eye. 

"I accept"

I jump. 
I surrender.
I fall into my wounds, old and new.

I unravel.

Thank you Grief (and Mister and Papa and Ahnung and Piper and Shen and Shadow and Splat), and so many more who have crossed over) for the invitation to unravel and to face into that which scares me; to experience vitality and aliveness in my deepest sorrow and invigorating joy; to surrender and rest in the mystery and miracles of life and death.