Emerging from the dark hole of Seattle winter, I reflect on the potency of my many dark holes. The holes I fill, the holes I dig, the holes I see, the holes I don't, the holes I stumble, crawl, jump, fall and scream through.
I realize, through a hole I came into this life and to a hole I'll return.
This sobering fact is what makes life so precious and encourages me to savor every moment with everyone.
Because we never know when we'll pass through our final hole in this life, as my beloved stepbrother Kyle recently did before his 25 birthday. Which would have been today.
Nothing makes sense.
Makes me wonder so many things about life and death. Kyle, I love you. And I trust that you're finally free on the other side of the Mystery.
We all share this holey fate.
From my mothers' womb to my tomb this life will inevitably be filled with holes.
Even that sentence is a paradox. How is something filled with holes, when holes are "nothing"? Curious.
Nothing makes sense.
Maybe that's it. No-thing makes sense. If holes appear to be nothing- and our body holes are portals for our senses- therefore holes must make sense. Does that make scents? Or is my head just full of holes? Well yes, it is. I can count at least seven.
And for some-thing to exist the hole must be filled. Filling the nothing with something.
But what causes the hole to be filled, I wonder? Curiouser and curiouser.
I wonder if it's in the very wondering that the hole gets filled? My parents must have wondered at least a little bit about each other before jumping right into bed.
What if no-thingness becomes some-thingness by simply wondering through holes? Alice did fall down the rabbit hole by wondering...
I suppose that's true with my own dark holes. And my eternal quest to fill Mystery with sense, only to discover more and more wonder.
To make sense of this, I'll share a story of when nothing made sense.
It's summer of 2006. I'm freshly graduated from UW with a BA in International Studies and going through a bit of an existential crisis. Not my first one at that. My childhood diary can attest.
On top of my 'ready for hire to save the world because I'm clearly qualified now' delusion, I also carried a hypocritical edge toward cocktail party small talk where the first question asked is "what do you do?" I'd reply, "I'm a human being not a human doing." Little did I know I was a human 'tryingtoohard'ing.
During this dilemma on where to apply my eager ideals, I picked up my first restaurant gig at Nishino in Madison Park. Even though my BA ego was ready to help eradicate malaria in Sub Saharan Africa or something else as urgent, I justified that this esteemed Japanese establishment would teach me fine dining etiquette and therefore prep me for the professional world. Being raised by super young and hardworking parents in Gig Harbor, fine dining meant McDonalds, tatertot casserole and wonder bread. Still a wonder.
Soon my career pit became more tolerable as I filled my mouth hole with Nishino's Albacore Tuna Sashimi salad, Hamachi crudo, and whatever surprise roll Mori would whip up at the sushi bar. I began to notice my energy increase with this new fancy fish diet that I could only afford with a staff discount.
Nishino nourishment helped ease not only my career pit, but my relationship pit. Max and I were out of orbit that summer after being in and out since 17. I met Max in 2nd grade and I knew back then that this special boy would be in my life forever, I just didn't know how. Still don't. Leaving it for the wonder. And 14 years later Max and I still orbit in and out of fluctuating spirals of time and space. Our only constant is unconditional love.
So when I found out the news about Max's dad that June of 2006, I spiraled out into the dark spaces of disbelief and despair.
Hughie has Alzheimer's disease. That doesn't make any sense.
Hughie was only 56 and a fit doctor with the wildest intelligence. He was the sixth of ten Irish Catholic siblings and still the only one to have this tragic fate.
His diagnosis didn't make sense. Still doesn't. Probably never will.
Nothing makes sense.
This devastating news ripped a deep dark hole in my heart. A pit that couldn't be filled by Nishino or anything. So the only thing I could do that fateful day was what I always do when I'm lost: start walking.
I left my Fremont home with no destination. My feet headed toward Ballard as my heart sunk and my head spun with hows and whys and memories...
The first time I met Hughie was unforgettable.
He enthusiastically talked at me for 2 hours about the Mysteries of the Universe. Midway through his lesson Max and his mom Beth split off to go watch Dawson's Creek downstairs.
My teenage mind attempted to grasp what the hell Hughie was talking about. He spurted on how the Fibonacci Sequence and the golden ratio can be found in the spirals of a nautilus shell.
He led me over to his case of oddities to further prove his point and handed me the following:
"See here from the center point of the shell the spiral gets wider relative to the golden ratio which is the same mathematical pattern in pinecones, in our bodies, in galaxies!"
Huh? This doesn't make sense.
Even though I was lost, I didn't start walking. I stood in awe of his kooky charisma.
Today I'm finally catching up to his wise insights, and if only he were here to share my own expanding curiosity for the Mysteries. Alas, in 2011 Hughie spiraled into the greatest Mystery of all after living 5 years with this insidious illness...
My own Hughie moments could fill volumes. And I know that goes for anyone who's ever spiraled with him. It's as if Alzheimer's robbed his memories and gave them all to us.
For this story I'll spiral back to June 2006 now.
My feet wandered into a Ballard bookstore. I normally love getting lost in the different sections and wondering who's reading what and why. That day was different. I wondered what, if anything, could help with my pain. The first book that caught my eye was:
The Power of Now: A Guide For Spiritual Enlightenment.
Hmmm. I could use some of that right now.
So I purchased my printed hope and schlepped 3 more miles to Golden Gardens Park. My feet continued to march as my heart continued to sink and my head continued to spin with hows and whys and memories.
My growing pains were also stemming from guilt. Guilt for not being in orbit with Max during this time.
I now know this guilt was dressed up as assumed responsibility for others, for hoping to fix or improve situations that couldn't or shouldn't be fixed by me or at all. What I needed to focus on was my own fixing, or not. But I didn't have the understanding then, so I sunk deep into the quicksand of guilt as I walked on.
Once I got to Golden Gardens beach I posted on driftwood and quickly sunk my feet into the sand.
Alright 'Spiritual Enlightenment', whaddya got?
I flipped open to a random page. And after reading just a few sentences of Eckart Tolle's simple words, something began to fill my nothing:
P R E S E N C E
For that golden moment at Golden Gardens, I allowed presence to pour into my dark holes and fill my being with sense.
My eyes saw what was actually around me: The sunlight dancing on Elliot Bay with the Olympic mountains in the distance and a seagull swooping down for a plunge.
My ears listened to what was actually around me: The rhythmic pulsation of waves tumbling pebbles and children laughing in the distance flying kites and a beagle barking.
My skin felt what was actually around me: The barnacles poking my feet and the warm breeze caressing my face.
My nose smelled what was actually around me: Seaweed caking on the rocks and that beagle's business.
My tongue tasted what was actually around and in me: The salty sweet air and remnants of my Americano.
My heart opened to what was actually around and in me: My inner landscape merged with the outer with an all pervading sense of Love, actually.
Hmmm, I do feel lighter.
(Disclaimer: this did not shortcut my grief process, which is as long as insidious as the disease itself.)
This new presence practice helped me muster the energy to work at Nishino the following day. Luckily I did.
Another server named Rey was also working that evening. I've been hearing so many wonderful things about this cool and collected Rey from the old school crew who worked with her a couple years back. Rey returned for the summer after acupuncture school. I had a total crush on her. She was so... Present.
So when Rey asked if I wanted to get some late night dinner at Palace Kitchen after our shift, I internally squealed with excitement.
"Yeah, sure. I think I'm free."
We got a table in the corner. Back then I'd normally be nervous being one on one with someone for the first time, but there was something about Rey that was calming. My attention expanded beyond my inner critic noise to notice the beauty and magic all around us. Our conversation spiraled between the depths and surfaces of life's Mysteries for hours.
"Rey, the most amazing thing happened to me yesterday."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"Have you heard of the book Power of Now?"
Rey slaps her hands on the table and and looks me straight in the eye.
"I KNEW you were my hole sister!"
From that present moment on our relateholeship began to spiral...
Over the past decade Rey's presence has filled my hole life with sense. Because of our connection, I presently walk a path of Yoga, Soma, and a hole heart.
I'm eternally grateful I am surrounded by others like Rey walking a path of presence so we can remind each other to fill our holes with sense. So when the spirals of those we love orbit in and out of our physical presence, the very hole of their absence allows s p a c e to be filled with the wonder of sense.
Because when nothing makes sense in life and death, as with Kyle and Hughie, I practice opening my senses to be filled with the Mystery. And to fill the presence of their absence with the memory of their presence. And trust that nothing makes sense.
And to everyone who is still present on this Earth plane today, I love you.
"Evening ma'am. Will you help me?"
His southern accent filled my ears as I walked up the Harbor Steps of downtown Seattle. I was heading home alone after a spontaneous evening with friends. It was 1am.
I can't count how many times I've heard that same question 'Will you help me?' living in a city where homelessness is high. Counting is sometimes arbitrary, sometimes powerful. I suppose it depends on who's counting what to determine if it counts or not.
What counted for me in that moment was the feeling beneath the question. Something deep within me urged to listen. So I turned around.
"What do you need help with?"
At first glance I saw a 30-something homeless black man. The longer I looked I noticed a spark in his eyes. I felt safe.
"Well ma'am, you see I'm trying to stay at the Bread of Life shelter tonight. It's $20 for a bed. But anything helps."
I had a $20. And I had curiosity.
"What's your name?"
"I'm Em. I'll help you get a bed. Will you help me too?"
"Will you share your story?"
"Sure Em. Well let's see...I grew up in Louisiana. I was abused a lot as a kid and then I began to hear voices. Those voices told me to do bad things. One day the bad voices told me to burn down a house and I didn't want to listen to them anymore. That's when I found God. Or God found me. Not sure which but just glad it happened. The bad voices are gone now. And even though I'm homeless, now that I found God I feel at home."
Wow. This shit just got real, real fast. I listened on as we climbed up the steps.
"You see Em, even though I'm black and you're white and I'm homeless and you're not we're all the same in the house of God. Those differences don't matter. What matters is God is love and love doesn't judge."
I knew Lorenzo wasn't talking religion here. And my heart was cracking open with this impeccable Truth. The message was clear: God is Love. Love doesn't judge.
I allowed this Truth to sink in.
"Lorenzo, do you want a cigarette?"
"Well I don't actually have any, but we can go to a store?"
Honestly, I wanted both the excuse to listen to Lorenzo longer and I had a sudden craving for the nicotine buzz. I've been in a longterm love/hate relationship with cigarettes. As a yoga teacher who used work for the No Stank You campaign, smoking has quite the stigma. But every once in a while I crave the vice even though I usually regret it right after. Remember: Love doesn't judge.
"I know a store that's still open Em. Follow me."
And down the streets we walked. I still felt totally safe.
On our way to Pioneer Square we bumped into Lorenzo's friend. Michelle was a black woman in her 40s. She was carrying a pizza box.
"Nice to meet ya Em! Want some pizza? It's hot!"
A tiny voice in my head said 'you shouldn't eat her pizza because she's homeless and needs it more than you do'. Then a louder voice said 'accept Michelle's food as you would from a friend'. So I did. And it was delicious.
I thanked Michelle for her generosity. Then she embraced me and buried my head in her large chest and rocked me like a child. She reminded me of Amma, the hugging saint.
"Em, we are sisters. We need to feed each other."
My heart exploded. Something about being held and fed by a 'stranger' melted any resistance I may have been consciously or unconsciously carrying. I began to weep in Michelle's chest and I muttered 'thank you' and 'I love you'. When I came up for air I met her eyes. I saw the same spark.
That's when I realized, the Saints are on the streets.
Eventually Lorenzo and I made it to the store. During our not-so-satisfying smoke, I noticed he was shivering in his T-Shirt.
"Do you have anything warm to wear?"
"No not right now. But that's ok because the shelter's warm."
"I'm pretty sure I have an extra sweatshirt in my car. Wanna walk me there?"
Luckily I did.
"Hope this fits. This sweatshirt was given to me from my friend Abria. It has a super special meaning to me, and now it belongs to you."
"Em it's perfect. Why's it so special?"
"It represents yoga. And yoga is one way I found God, or Love. Before yoga I heard bad voices in my head too. Telling me violent things about myself."
"You see Em, we're not that different."
"Yeah I see that Lorenzo. Hey do you mind I take a picture of you? I'd love to share your story if that's ok?"
"Of course Em."
On my way home I cried and cried with my real-eyes-ation of this Truth: according to Love, Lorenzo, Michelle and I are not that different.
And now for the current truth: according to our current societal systems, Lorenzo, Michelle and I are treated very different.
I'm white, and Lorenzo and Michelle are black. Adjusting my previous lens of Unity Consciousness to focusing in on what's happening right here right now in the streets of Seattle is a big fucking wake up call for me.
According to the NAACP, African Americans make up around 7 percent of Seattle's population -- but account for 41 percent of people in emergency shelters for the homeless. (http://kuow.org/post/seattle-homeless-crisis-naacp-says-plan-must-look-race)
Allow that truth to sink in.
Now is the time to wake up to the stark differences that are underlying the right to survive, live and thrive in this system for Lorenzo and Michelle and the other 41%.
How do I/you/we shift this current truth of racial inequity to the greater Truth of Love?
I believe it begins with owning what's real for me/you/us. Acknowledging what is true right here, right now. And then we will all be asking the same question Lorenzo asked:
"Will you help me?"
Will you help me see my white privilege? Will you help me see your disadvantages as a black person? Will you help me understand when I say something that upsets you? Or when I do something that upsets you? Will I help you the same? Will you help me when I'm unclear? Will I help you when you're unclear?
It's a choice. Lorenzo didn't ask 'can you help me'. He asked will. Will has power.
If I/you/we will it to help each other by shamelessly sharing our own truths, then we will begin to see with real eyes.
I believe when we safely and honestly share what our different perspectives are, then we will move beyond differences and understand the greater Truth where differences are indifferent. Where we see the spark in each other's eyes. When we will be real, beyond judgements of what's good or bad, then we will truly attain real-eyes-ation. Then we will evolve into a Real-Eyes-Nation.
Waking up is uncomfortable. And now is the time for me to. Will you help me see?
Please share your insights.
We need each other to survive and thrive. This is obvious. But when you trust your community has your back, miraculous things happen. That message came to me in a loud and literal way recently.
In September four different people asked me the same question in the same week:
"Em, that big mole on your back looks weird. Have you had it checked?"
The fourth ask was during a Soma bodywork session. The mole my concerned client was referring to was normally hidden from sight, located at the point where my bra meets my spine. Since it was a smoldering Indian Summer day in Seattle, my mole was exposed thanks to my yoga tank-top. I was already hot, but after the fourth ask about my mole I was also bothered.
I did my best to remain present during the rest of our Soma treatment, even though my mind slipped into future tripping dialogue between my voice of fear and reason:
If four people in the last few days all noticed my mole then it must be a sign something's wrong.
What's the worst thing that could happen?
I die from melanoma.
Before assuming anything, I'll make an appointment. Then I'll take the necessary steps if it is cancer.
How the hell am I going to afford treatment? I rely on my body for yoga, for Soma, for E V E R Y T H I N G.
Relax, nothing is permanent. Especially this body. Remember that whole non-attachment thing?
I should've used more sunscreen. Is it my genes? My karma? What did I do wrong?!
Calm down. If my mental state impacts my health then stressing about a possible diagnosis isn't going to help. I'll make an appointment right after the Soma session.
That's right. B R E A T H E...
My breath brought me back to my body, into my feet, and aware of my client. As I traced my her back with my elbows I chuckled to myself, 'Regardless of what happens, at least we've got each other's back.'
After the session I rushed over to Zoom Care because my voice of fear wanted to solve this immediately. Unfortunately they don't do mole removals. Bummed, my voice of reason recommended I call my previous mole inspection site at West Side Dermatology. Over ten years ago I went to WSD for a full body scan in response to my college friend who had melanoma after living in South Africa. Since I studied in Senegal I thought best get checked too. I was cleared back then. And now the earliest they could get me in was October 13. 'What?! Over a month to dwell on this. B R E A T H E...'
The month passed by quickly and I nearly forgot about this back mole, being totally out of sight and mostly out of mind. Then a few days leading up to the appointment I got a cough. 'Uh oh. Has the cancer spread to my lungs? B R E A T H E...'
Tuesday I arrived to WSD at 8:10am and left by 8:37. The relativity of time in situations like this amazes me. Just like in Senegal when my host sister spent hours preparing supper only so the family could devour it in minutes.
My shaved mole was sent off on a field trip to be biopsied. That same morning another client and I wondered who has that job of inspecting bodiless moles? This peculiar conversation brought our awareness to one of his own moles that he's been eyeing. I'm pretty sure he's going to get his mole checked now.
It's the day after my mole and I parted ways. I'm at our Thrive Tribe office waiting for my next client and I'm reading from a book my business coach recommended, The Science of Getting Rich. (disclaimer: that title is still a little embarrassing for me even though I'm devouring it like a Senegalese supper). I was reading this very paragraph when my phone rang:
"To look upon the appearances of disease will produce the form of disease in your own mind- and ultimately in your body. Instead, you must hold the thought of the truth, which is that there is no disease. Disease is only an appearance, and the reality is health." -Wallace D. Wattles
I let the 206 number go to voicemail and then I paused reading. Before reaching for the phone I paused again. My gut knew it was WSD.
B R E A T H E...
The cryptic message said to call back for results. No hints.
Now my gut wrenched. I re-read the above paragraph and allowed those words to sink in. Now was the time to embody the louder message I just received: the reality is health. I felt into that truth. I imagined hearing the dermatologist saying I was fine. I imagined my body being filled with light. I felt into that that truth too. Then I called back.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
The reality is health.
The reality is health.
'Your mole is benign.'
Now I know...well, nothing really. I do know that I'm not immune to death no matter how many times I recite 'the reality is health'. And it's this very reality of impermanence that provides perspective on life. Perspectives are infinite, as are the way we respond to them. I'm eternally grateful for the dynamic perspectives my community offers me, especially when they're beyond my limited sight- in this case on my very own back. Soma and Yoga teaches us to balance on an edge between taking self responsibility for our health and opening ourselves to outside perspectives for areas of growth (pun intended). Perspectives can come from a place of fear, reason, or belief.
From my humble perspective, I believe beyond our limitations of perspective there's place of deepest knowing and love that cannot be seen. It exists in the s p a c e s between perspectives, or beneath the surface of them. In the moments of pause. In the sightless place where one must have faith to be held. One must have faith to trust and know their community/world/universe has their back.
So to my community, my world, my universe, thank you. Thank you for having my back. Literally. Trust that I've got yours too. I love you.
For identifying moles visit:
I traveled into the labyrinth of Self to discover my authentic voice. Still traveling. Still discovering.