Dec 022009
 

Sometimes, on opening night of a play, the production company plants someone in the audience whose job it is to clap at all the right times. I think the Momastery production company…the G to the O to the D…planted Chimmy. Her poetic heart emerged like magic and turned this blog into much, much more than it would have been without her. She is here on purpose, just like the rest of us.


Fellow Monkees, meet Chimmy.




Women in Praise of the Sacred


I’ve always been an outsider. I really didn’t have much of a choice. Foreign born and raised half way across the world my parents knew, it was written. But unlike some, I have always felt comfortable and captivated by not belonging. By hanging out on the fringes of this life. I hardly felt comfortable in my own skin, how would I get comfortable anywhere else? I don’t think I ever set out to set myself apart and embrace the outer edges. Quite the contrary, I think I tried hard to blend, to disappear into my surroundings without every really belonging. Not even to the background.


I guess like many people, I just wanted to be invisible.


Ironically, as it were. I found my mantra in the phrase, “it’s kinda hard being hot pink in a khaki town.” Even though, I’ve never liked being labeled as this or that. Even though, I’ve never felt like I belonged to anyone or anything beyond the huge tribe that is my very large Malawian family. I have always felt the need to hide in the herd yet I still find my self somehow standing out. (Often times it manifests itself as me speaking out. Speaking my mind, my truth as it is revealed to me day after day).


I laughed to myself when I first read that hot pink phrase… and thought, wow that’s me! Sure, I’m a true introvert. A wallflower no doubt. Better yet, I am a chameleon – always finding a way to quickly fade into my environs. But inside, where God stirs my soul, beats a hot pink monkee heart.


It’s a quirky existence. Trying not to flash my hot pink self around because it has no place to fit in. And I like it that way.


Sometimes.


See this solace I have in being inside my hot pink self, in being an outsider has been both a blessing and a curse. The loneliness of it can consume you. Drain you of song. I do strongly believe that solitude is essential; that silence is golden because we can hear God’s whispers in that quiet place. But loneliness is also very easily an ache that knows no bounds.


That is why I write. It helps me maintain a very delicate balance of feeling all at once hollowed (by the noise of living) and hallowed (by the calm in the chaos) throughout my journey.


Writing helps me calm my crazy by listening to God.


That is the blessing of my loneliness, this ravenous spiritual appetite. I have soothed the lingering ache and emptiness of being alone by seizing the opportunity to step back and see the world in all its mystic beauty. And by world, I mean all of it. Especially people.


When I retreat into myself, I find that the moment, the pause, the sojourn, has a purpose. To slow down, to take stock, to feel sad, to feel uplifted, to look back, to look ahead, and to look within. Always within. To really see people, by penetrating through that layer of protection we cocoon ourselves in. It recharges and feeds that spiritual belly.

It fills the emptiness. That is why I have decided that I am more of a seeker than an outsider. I seek out that connectedness.


And from the very first time I read a Momastery post, I connected. I connected with the chaos Glennon had brewing inside her. She had a list of 25 things and me being a hot pink monkee, I read the list from the bottom up. Number 25 made me fidget in my seat as I read, “I was never truly happy a full day in my life…” What?

People don’t say that. They are not that open. No one is that frank and fragile in front of others. People like to be invisible, khaki. Especially among strangers. I mean even if I know Glennon from high school, she does realize that this is the internet and well, other people might be reading too, right??


No one is that honest. Besides, these are just plain words and as a writer I know that language is limiting. It’s khaki. Language is lacking in these beautiful and simple truths. In beauty. There is no proper syntax for grace. Cut it out.


No one can just write it here. I am going back to number one so I can step away from number 25 and head back into khaki town with everyone else. Blend. And number one read,

“I believe in grace because I share my home with proof of its existence.”


Whoa. Wow. I cried a little. I saw hot pink for sure. She is going there and she is taking me with her.

I thought to myself Me Too, sister!


I am feeling grace right now reading your story in these 25 simple truths about you. I feel it every day, even when I’m unraveling or lost inside myself.


(I feel like I should say, just to clarify and calm any worries that my silent moments, my retreats as dark as some of them may be during turbulent times, are far less about sadness and emptiness, then they are about meditating and bringing peace to my soul. I often describe my path like that of a dragon fly. Erratic at best, but gliding along. I wrote a poem about it that I will share some time.)


Needless to say, I was hooked.

The rest is as they say, history er uh…

herstory

I have been drawn back to Momastery over and over again to take in Glennon’s story. Stories. All of them.

Because she was sharing her heartsong.

And if there is one thing this seeker knows, when someone is singing that song. You listen.


So how do you fill in for a Glennon? How do you guest write on a magical site like Momastery?

The answer is very clear. You don’t. (okay, that’s your first answer)

You don’t replace Glennon because there is no substitute.

The answer is you join the chorus. Sway, stomp your feet, belt it out.


You follow Adrianne up to the Momastery stage (btw – thank you for painting in vivid detail just how wonderful the Glennon of our imaginations is in real life). You pull yourself in closer to the warmth of the fire she described in yesterday’s post and get up for your turn to sing and dance. To share what you will to people open and eager to receive it.


You remember how each morning, you are giddy over a new kind of guilty pleasure. Feeling whole and holy.

Embracing what is sacred and shared between us.


You remember how you sit in anticipation of what is to come in the next post. And that in this company who doesn’t believe that each day, each post no matter who is up here holds nothing less than peace and possibility!


You remember what Glennon has created here. The very thing that she sought! (Read her profile). The very thing we all seek. A refuge, a place where she is able to speak her peace, speak her sorrow, speak her joy, speak her aversion to pots and pans and speak through a paper bag if she must. (I am still fighting the urge to mail her a casserole dish, some foil paper, a bag of my favorite basmati rice, and instructions (I won’t say the “R” word) on how to make her a gourmet chef without even trying).


She has hand carved a place where even an outsider, used to not belonging, belongs. Where a seeker always scratching at the surface of her soul can be found over and over again.


So you lend your voice to the song, knowing that what began as one woman’s story has quickly grown into our story. Our song. And lifting every voice makes the music rise above the din, above the noise of living.


I’ve read that writing is like whispering to God. I also believe that it is God whispering to us.


As a fellow writer who also happens to be a Christian, I too listen. As an African woman who was also raised to hear the whispers of her ancestors in God’s voice, I listen. I listen knowing that the words will flow freely right to my lips and hands when it is time and that they will be shared because we are not on this journey alone. I listen for Glennon’s voice in mine. For Adrianne’s voice in mine. For every monkee’s voice in mine and in my quiet.


The title of today’s post came to me immediately. Women in Praise of the Sacred. It is the title of a book my father gave me when he discovered my love of poetry and writing. I chose it because the very first post I read on Momastery took me right back to the first time I opened the collection of poetry by women from across the ages collected and in many cases translated by Jane Hirshfield.


Spiritual poetry, prayers, chants, songs from amazing women of all races, ethnicities, colors, creeds, nationalities, you name-it-ies. Being a part of Momastery felt like being back in the lines where I first uncovered a place much bigger than my self, my family, my labels, my hiding places and surroundings. My first Momastery read took me back to the lines of a Navajo prayer that I revisit often when I sit to write, to listen to God:


As you speak for me, so will I speak for you

May it be beautiful inside me

May it be beautiful all around me

I am restored in beauty


(I’ve paraphrased but would be happy to share the full length of it if any of you are interested)


Recently, while reading another blog, Every Thing From Here to There, I read, “I am still looking around and waiting for who comes to me with God in their back pocket.”


Have I got a blog for you, I thought!


And I think every monkee would agree.


If you are following along here on Momastery. If you are taking part in the Monkee Revolution. Women (& Men).


The wait, dear friend, is over.

Dec 032009
 

Today I am thrilled to introduce to you to Sofia, my Swedish soul sister. I was instantly drawn to Sofia when I met her at James Madison ten years ago. Without knowing her well, I invited her to my home for Thanksgiving because Sweden is really far away and also, they don’t even celebrate Thanksgivingvfor some reason. The invitation was a risk, but I figured even if she wasn’t a barrel of laughs, at the very least I could count on her to be neutral.

Sofia turned out to be one of the most fascinating, brave, and warm women I’d ever met. She lived in the states for 6 years, then moved back to Sweden to become a political advisor for the Swedish Prime Minister. She is actively involved with an organization that addresses international and foreign aid issues in 15 developing countries. Through this aid work Sofia met the Tibetans, and her destiny, in the Himalayas.


Monkees, meet Sofia.


From the Mountains to the Momastery


From a world of monasteries to the world of Momastery comes a post about trying to follow your dreams and your heart. Regardless of how crazy it might seem.

“But, why, WHY do you want to study Tibetan? Why don’t you study Chinese instead? More than a billion people speak that, and their economy is really booming. Or Hindi-why don’t you study that instead? Tons of people speak Hindi.”

It seemed like I heard this, or some other similar question more than a hundred timed before taking off for five months to do an intense Tibetan language course in the Himalayas of Northern India. Most of the time I felt like rolling my eyes and saying, “Oh, you won’t get it anyway. I’m not even sure I get it” but that would be a very un-Tibetan thing to do. And if there’s anything in the world I strive towards, it’s to become a little more like the most humble, generous, compassionate and genuine people I have ever met – The Tibetans.

But of course the questions I got were valid….less than six million people speak Tibetan, and the absolute majority of them are living in a part of the world that is not accessible for most of us due to crazy politics. Even if you were to go there, you wouldn’t be able to speak with them without being guarded. A few hundred thousand Tibetans live as refugees in exile, most in India, Nepal and Bhutan, and some in the Western world. In exile they are trying their hardest to preserve their culture, religion, and language, since that is impossible in their occupied home country.

However, regardless of how many there are- there isn’t another group of people that I’d rather be able to communicate with than the Tibetans.

I first got involved with these people in 2003 when I worked as a volunteer is Dharamsala, the headquarters for the Tibetan government in exile, and the Dalai Lama’s hometown as refugee. That was my first contact with the Tibetan people and back then I did not understand most things about their culture or behavior. Much of what they did or said was confusing to me. But over the past six years I’ve returned again and again to spend more time with them, always with an intense desire to understand and learn more. Now I am mesmerized by the Tibetan people. There is something special about them…

Learning the language is a crucial step for me if I want to get a closer understanding of these people and their culture. I decided to take a leave of absence from my job for five months, and spend this time with the Tibetans while doing a language course. Most of my friends didn’t really get why I was doing this. And maybe I didn’t either. To be honest it felt like a pretty crazy idea at the time. But I also felt like it was something I HAD to do.

During the months that led up to my departure, I was often wondering if I was doing the right thing by following what was in my heart. What was the point of this? What good would come of it? Would anyone benefit from this? But the moment I landed in this peaceful, harmonious, environment where the Tibetans have set up their refugee settlements, I know I had made the right decision by following my heart. And this has been confirmed again and again since my arrival here. I catch myself thinking “I am so happy to be here” many times every day.

So what is the answer to those questions? Why is it in my heart to come back again and again? My best answer is that there is a sense of community among the Tibetans that I haven’t come across anywhere else in the world. Allow me to give you some examples.

Tibetans are super mega mindful. They listen to what you are saying and when they listen they are really there, one hundred percent. And they don’t even need meditation- CDs or yoga classes to become that way.

Tibetans take care of each other. Not just their own friends and family, but anyone that needs to be taken care of. Refugees that come across the Himalayas by themselves are often taken by someone who is able to provide them with a roof over their head and some support during their first time in a foreign country. Elderly lonely people, that may have lost all of their family, live together in homes where the stronger takes care of the weaker.

Tibetans find strength in each other. Most daily things that they do, like cooking or doing laundry, they do together. And while doing it they laugh together, cry together and share moments of silence together. But mostly they laugh, and I would like to quote the Dalai Lama’s autobiography My Land and My People on this one. He writes about the Tibetans: “I don’t know if we always laugh at the same things as Westerners, but we can almost always find something to laugh about. It is only in our most desperate circumstances that our sense of humor fails us.”

Tibetans are true “take the shirt off their back” kind of people. Even if they don’t have much to offer you, they will gladly give you their bed for the night, and sleep on the floor themselves. You will always get a cup of tea and something to snack on, even if those biscuits are the last ones they could afford that month.

This sense of community is the reason that I am here, learning a language that hardly anyone in the world speaks. Maybe these all seem like very elementary things that are present among any group of people. But do we really remember to live by these things in our day to day life? All I know is that I don’t. I get caught up in less important things all the time – forgetting to really listen, forgetting to really take care of the person next to me even if it’s someone I don’t know, forgetting to really find strength in the people around me, and not taking my shirt off for someone who needs it more than I.

I can’t tell you what will come out of all of this, but I’m thinking it’s gotta be something good…and even if nothing substantial comes out of it, maybe that’s the important lesson? Maybe there doesn’t always have to be a tangible result and a fulfilled goal with everything we do. Maybe sometimes it’s ok to just follow your heart.

Now even these months here seem too short! I think this might be a Western syndrome- we always want more and more, and then more. There’s a passage in Eat, Pray, Love about this that I often think about. When one of the author’s friends arrives at a beautiful place she starts obsessively talking about how she wants to stay there forever, instead of enjoying that very moment then and there! I suffer from this illness too from time to time, and it’s a constant work in progress to try to appreciate the moment instead of spending your time wanting more and more and forgetting about the N-O-W. But still…I daydream about living here for real, and starting an orphanage for the refugee kids. I can’t help it.

Dear Fellow Monkees – if you ever run into a Tibetan – tell them “Tashi Delek” and savor the moment when their eyes light up, as they realize you know their way of politely greeting each other. Approximate meaning in English is “blessings and good luck.” And that is how I will leave you, “Tashi Delek, Monkees!” Now go follow your dreams!


Dec 042009
 

Our Revolution turned an important corner last week, when I received an email from Erin, a Monkee from Colorado. Erin asked me if I’d like her to organize a service project in honor of the Revolution, the holidays, and goodness in general. I said Yes! Yes! Yes! …because oh my goodness, that is exactly how Monkees do. Erin and I are very, very excited about this, and we think you will be too.

Everybody, meet your Monkee sister, Erin.


Holiday Monkee Business

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ah, the holidays … the smell of fresh baked bread, a warm fire, and presents under the tree … you get the picture. But, for many, the holidays don’t look like that at all. Warmth, food, and gifts are a scarcity that many cannot afford.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, and all things Monkee-rific, we are going to adopt a family this year and share our many blessings with those who could use a little help this year.

Let me first start by saying, there is absolutely no pressure whatsoever at all to participate. None. Perhaps you already sponsor a family, give to charity, donate your time, or are otherwise unable to give this year. That is totally fine. But, like me, there are many who think each year, “I’d really like to do something to help someone” but generally have no clue where to start. So they don’t. That’s how things usually work for me. Full of good intentions, short on action.

In any event, my past inaction has inspired me to rally the support of my fellow Monkees to help make one Northern Virginia family’s holiday season a bit brighter this year. After all, charity begins at home. And, although I no longer reside in Virginia it is the home of my childhood and I hate to think that any child should go hungry or do without on Christmas. That, and the fact that the Monkee “headquarters” is in VA so it just makes sense.

And, without further ado … we have been matched with … drum roll please

the Hulls:

Lakisia Hull – Mom, age 35

Justin – Son, age 14

Sydnie – Daughter, age 9

Jordan – Daughter, age 19 months

I’m told that toys, warm clothing, or gift cards (the total of which is not to exceed $150 per child and $75 per adult) make excellent gifts and that gift cards to Safeway or Giant are a welcome addition to the food basket. Please keep in mind that all gifts should be wrapped with a name/gift tag.

Specifically, Lakisia wears a women’s size 6-8 in clothing and a size 8 shoe; she mentioned that she needs canisters for flour and sugar, etc., and plastic storage containers for food. Justin wears a size 14-16 in boys and a 9-9.5 in shoes; he would like X-Box (360) games. Sydnie loves chapter books (reads on a 7th grade level) and wears a size 12 in girls clothing and a size 6.5 shoe. Little Jordan is wearing 18-24 month infant/toddler clothing and the mom would like Leap Frog or Fischer Price learning toys for her. And the food basket can, quite literally, be anything we want to give them: baked items, canned goods, produce, frozen turkey, hard mac-n-cheese like Glennon serves her family, etc.

Keep in mind that there will be ways to help that don’t include monetary donations or gift purchases. Perhaps you’re particularly handy with scotch tape and would like to wrap all the gifts for the family. You can donate food or baked goods to the family’s food basket. Maybe you’d like to “re-gift” an unopened toy or clothing item that still has the tags on it (here is your chance – we won’t tell!). And, most importantly, we need at least one person to volunteer to be the Monkee point-of-contact. This person will receive all the food and gift items in the mail and deliver them to the HCSNV office (that’s short for Housing and Community Service of Northern Virginia) in Springfield, VA, by Thursday, December 17.

For those interested in participating, please comment after this post with what you’d like to contribute specifically so we don’t duplicate, and then email me directly at [email protected]. I will create a list of all the volunteers and match Monkees with family members. I’ll send out periodic email updates with our progress and status.

I hope you are as excited about this as I am. Let’s spring the Monkee-militia into action and help give the Hulls a holiday they won’t forget!

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