Since posting my review on Linda Leaming’s book, “Married to Bhutan”, both Linda and I were on Hay House Book Club Radio together, talking about the story themes and what there was to take-away from reading this wonderful memoir about loving life in Bhutan and Linda’s life of love in Bhutan with her amazing husband, Namgay.  If you read the book, you’ll see that, truly, he sounds like a paragon of patience and an altogether wonder of a man!

Afterwards, Linda and I communicated via Facebook and Twitter, and then, finally, email.  I found out she was coming to New York City for an event, and I thought perhaps we could meet for coffee?  We could.

It seemed that we met as two strangers with a common ground – her book, which she wrote and I loved.  I was soon to learn that it was no accident that Linda and I met each other.

Our afternoon conversation did what many conversations between women do – it drifted into talk of relationships and love.

I wanted to know more about her romance with her husband.  I was intrigued by their relationship – Western drama meets Buddhist acceptance and allowing – it seemed at once exciting and implausible.  What did he make of her worry and frenzy?  What did she make of his silence and peace?

Her stories in person were as ripe with promise and love as they were in the book.  As in the book, she was forthcoming and authentic over coffee about how they had to take time to get used to each other and it wasn’t always easy, but very much worth it.  The story of the romance in the book is one of my favorite parts — and I loved hearing more about it first-hand.

I contributed some of my own story.  I met my husband many years ago and it was not long before I fell madly in love.  I’ve written about Fred before, my son’s father, my partner-in-love-and-travel-and-craziness, followed by some tough years and, finally, not one separation, but two.  The second one lasted 9 years before he finally walked into my apartment shortly after 9/11 and handed me divorce papers.  “Why now?” I asked.  “Why not?” he answered – and I had to agree.  Our divorce was final in February, 2002.

Many years ago, after the initial anger and fights of the separation wore off, we became friends – probably because there never was much to fight about to begin with.  I’m convinced, even today, that if either one of us had had an ounce of transformation skills between us,  we would never have separated.  But, separate we did.  And, friends we’ve been – for all these years.

My friends and teachers and coaches always commented that they wondered why we weren’t together.  Not only have we been close friends, full of mutual admiration and respect, neither of us married again.  He was still my “person”, as they say on the television show,  “Grey’s Anatomy” – if something good happened to me, I called Fred first.  If something awful was going on – well, there you go…. Fred was the one I called for support and comfort.

He had been with the same woman since we separated.  We never spoke of his relationship with her.  We spoke of almost everything else, though.   In fact, our relationship was mostly conversation – phone calls about good movies, a course he or I was taking, what we thought about life and love, and, most of all, about our son, Josh, who was, and still is, the focus of our attention, our care, our love. 

We rarely saw each other.

At Christmas time, while I was in Minneapolis visiting Josh, everything seemed as usual between Fred and me – calls checking in with each other about what I was doing with Josh, where we were going, what restaurants Josh was liking those days, chirpy little conversations about ordinary “friend” stuff.

On the day before I was to leave Minneapolis, Fred ended one of our phone calls with, “Oh, I have to tell you something.  I’m getting married in January.”

I wish I could explain what happened next.  My throat closed up and I couldn’t speak, I had to hang up, I fell to the floor, sobbing, as if someone I loved deeply had just died.  Well, no person died, but something did die.  Whatever that illusion was, it was over, and mourning that death has taken the better part of the last five months.

We’ve had fights we haven’t had in years, with accusations back and forth.  I felt as if I was in a time warp and I’m sure he did, too.  We’re not speaking now and perhaps that is part of the process.

I felt,  and still feel,  silly – mourning a marriage that was over 17 years ago, but I didn’t mourn way back then and it needed to be done.   The grieving needed to be done, the tears needed to flow, a new life needed to be born out of the loss, perhaps a new love out of the acceptance of what is over.

Even now, months later, I’m still surprised at my reaction, stunned that it threw me into a grief so deep that I am only now pulling myself up the well-walls by my finger-tips, looking back down into that deep, dark hole of abandonment and loss as if I could so easily let go and fall back in and drown in the sadness of it once again.

But…   I don’t.

I’m sitting on the ledge of the well now, swinging my feet over to the outside – although, I haven’t tried to stand yet.   I often wonder if I can carry my own weight alone.

I shared all this with Linda Leaming at our coffee date.  She answered with a story about what Namgay said when he heard that friends of theirs were divorcing:  “Perhaps they’ve finished out their karma together.”

Even as she said it, I felt the tears well up and I sensed that it was true – and I was sad that it probably is true.  There’s a finality now that never was there before in any of our fights, our partings, our separation, or our divorce.

It reminded me of a story from Linda’s  book about when a baby died — Namgay told her, “Sometimes they come back and live for a year or two, then they die.  They’re just finishing out the samsara.”    Fred and I were soulmates — perhaps we came back together in this life to finish out our samsara.  

It is complete.  Part of me feels frightened to be alone for really the first time in my life.   Another part of me feels truly free for the first time in my life.

Thank you, Linda, for saying the exact thing I needed to hear at the exact time I needed to hear it – another gift from Bhutan, another example of people coming into our lives just when we need them to — to teach us something, to push us a little further along on our journey.

I hope that someday Fred and I can be friendly, but not yet.  I hope that someday we can both walk our son down the aisle when he marries, knowing that we did a good thing there with him.  I hope that someday we can be in the same room with our grandchildren and remember that once we were in love and it was great and we meant everything to each other and we have that to give to our son and to his children.  The relationship may be complete, the karma may be finished, but love never dies, and that is the gift we can remember and give.

Before I leave you today, I want to add one thing.  I did know for about a year that what Fred and I had was somehow preventing me from being in relationship with someone else – something I finally realized that I wanted.  Last fall, I told my coach that I was going to turn that over to God to handle – and so I did.  Every night, from mid-November until I left for Minneapolis for Christmas, I prayed to God, “Please heal this – whatever this is – between me and Fred.  I want to be in relationship with someone else, and I know that this bond is stopping me from doing that.  I’m willing for it to be undone.  And, dear God, please be gentle with us – he doesn’t have to die for me to be free.  Amen.”

And so it is.

Deliciously yours in the Samsara of it All, Linda

“Samsara literally means “wandering-on.” Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to nibbana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it’s the answer, not to the question, “Where are we?” but to the question, “What are we doing?” Instead of a place, it’s a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.”   Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Here is Linda Leaming and me with Diane Ray on Hay House Radio:

http://www.hayhouseradio.com/listenagain.php?latest=true&archive_link_type=link_mp3&archive_id=8204&show_id=235&episode_id=7208

Or, you can try this one for the mp3 recording:

http://hayhouse.edgeboss.net/download/hayhouse/freecontent/free_june_archive/hayhousebookclub_052711.mp3

You can listen for free for one more week.  Then it goes into the Hay House Radio archives.  Thanks!

 

Bhutan conjures up for me images of a verdant “Shangri-La” where everyone lives a fantasy existence of joy and bliss.  So, when Hay House sent me the book, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss” by Linda Leaming, I thought I would finally find out what the “secret” is – the secret to happiness.  After all, Bhutan is a country that measures its success, not in “Gross National Product”, but  in “Gross National Happiness.”

As I got into the book and realized that Ms. Leaming is an American who grew up in Nashville, Tennessee  — and wound up going to Bhutan, falling in love –  first with the country –  then with a Bhutanese man, getting married, and living there ever since, I felt my resistance rise up.  How could someone leave everything they’ve ever known — their family, their friends, their LIFE! – to travel halfway round the world to a tiny, remote country – one with no luxuries as we know them – nay, few necessities as we require them here — and choose to live, work, and love in Bhutan forevermore?

Even as I write these paragraphs, I realize what a paradox it is to be fascinated by – and yearn for – a place that promises happiness; and, at the same time, be resistant to the idea that the ideal of happiness is something for which we would WANT to give up everything else.  In this country, we want it all — and, we rarely get it all.

It’s a metaphor for life that I believe warrants reflection for each one of us.

We want to be happy.  AND – we don’t seem to be willing to give up our “already-always” life to have that – we are attached to our struggling, our scarcity, our suffering.   We, in the West, think that success and money and things will bring us happiness.  We are, more often than not, surprised when they don’t.

Linda Leaming is not advocating that everyone move to Bhutan, or even that that would be desirable.  What she seems to be saying is, life is beautiful whatever way it is.  Further, it is the acceptance of that which allows for bliss in a way that a life crowded with “things” does not.  What she does say is, “We all need a little Bhutan in our lives.” I read that as joy in simple things, happiness in that life is a gift.  Bliss arises when we allow it the space to enter in.

I loved this paragraph:  “I was responding to that genuineness, that quality of life when you strip it down to the basics.  Happiness can’t be willed.  You have to get in the right situation and then let it come to you.  I learned this by living in Bhutan.”

It is a disconnect for me as she describes accepting things the way they are.   For example, I don’t like to be wet – going out on a rainy day is anathema to me.  I’d rather reschedule my appointments and remain cozy and dry in my apartment.  In contrast, here is her vivid description of the monsoon season:  “During this time, you can forget about being dry.  Everything – trees, dirt, clothing, food, books, beds – swells with wetness.  Throw a moist shirt in the corner and in a few hours it sprouts little black spots of mildew that never wash out.  Showering is redundant.”    Yet, her last line in that description is one of lush beauty:  “Everything is green, puffed-up, animated, and ripe.”  In spite of the rain, she and her husband, Namgay, sit outside in the early morning and drink coffee, watching the earth swell with wetness and the river flowing by – she calls it “River TV.”  

This is not “Desperate Housewives.”

She describes the beauty – and she describes the harshness – with equal fervor.  Death is a constant in Bhutan. Yet, the Buddhist belief in reincarnation allows for the acceptance even of death – “It’s OK, we’ll work it out in our next life.”  She is forthcoming about her Western angst in contrast to her husband’s Buddhist transcendence.  A story about a dead baby caught in the river elicits Namgay’s spiritual response to her fretting:  “Sometimes they come back and live for a year or two, then they die.  They’re just finishing out the samsara.”  What a peaceful contrast to what would be the Western response that any early death is a tragedy.  I found comfort in that.

The theme that runs all through this book is the importance of presence in life.  Ms. Leaming points out that “sometimes in the silence there are answers.”  Her choice to become a mother after much anxiety hit home for me, as I am one who worries about getting it right: “There is no power in not seeing and in not being aware.  Try to get out of yourself and overcome your ego.  You might be a good mother.  You might not.  What good does it do to ask that question?”  She vowed to become the “best half-assed mother I could possibly be.”  Yep – me, too!  Context is everything!  I am so relieved that I don’t have to be perfect.

“Married to Bhutan” is a study in contrasts.  Contrasts in ways of life, ways of thinking, ways of being.  It’s clear that Ms. Leaming is not assigning right or wrong, just pointing out differences.  And pointing out the impact of those differences on our lives and in our thoughts – isn’t that where happiness lives?   In our thoughts?

Yes, differences worthy of reflection…

If what you want is bliss.

Deliciously yours in the Enlightenment of it All,  Linda

“Acceptance is so much a part of being in love, and love can make a person exceptional.”  Linda Leaming, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss.”

This is Linda Leaming, author of “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss.  Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Mandala Magazine, The Guardian U.K. and many other publications.  She received an M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Arizona.  She lives in Bhutan with her husband, Phurba Namgay, a Bhutanese thangka painter.

And, here is the link to the book at Hay House Publishing:

http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000086&type=4

And, here is Linda Leaming and me with Diane Ray on Hay House Radio:

<a href=""Hay“><a href=”"Hay“><a href=”http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000046&type=4&subid=0″><IMG alt=”Hay House, Inc. 125×125″ border=”0″ src=”http://affiliate.hayhouse.com/Event/ICDITampa125x125.jpg”></a><IMG border=”0″ width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”http://ad.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/show?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&bids=206928.10000046&type=4&subid=0″&gt;

Disclosure:  I received Linda Leaming’s book, “Married to Bhutan:  How One Woman got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss” for free from Hay House Publishing.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

A dear friend emailed me this morning that Sathya Sai Baba died yesterday morning in India.  I was sad at the news and then, almost immediately,  I felt peace.  He was Love on earth and is still Love now.

Sai Baba connects my friend and me in that we both have been in his presence; we both have felt the love that everyone feels when they are with him; and we both have experienced a healing, either of ourselves or someone close to us as a result of our contact with him.  This is a story of the healing that I didn’t even know I was receiving for myself – and, because of a letter my friend asked me to bring to Baba – a healing for her daughter.

It was 2003.  That was the year that I heard of Sai Baba from Landon Carter, one of the original EST leaders and someone who had lived at Baba’s ashram in India for six or seven months when he was younger.  I remember being intrigued when Landon said, “I have never felt such love around anyone the way I felt it around Sai Baba.”   Curious, I went to a Google map and looked up where Sai Baba’s ashrams were.   I said to myself, “When I go to India, I will go see him.”

At the time, I had no plans to go to India, I had no resources to go to India, and, if I did have the financial resources to go anywhere, India would not be the place I would have chosen.

Shortly after that, I got a job at a mens’ designer firm that I knew was partly owned by an Indian company, but didn’t think much about that.  After working there for about four months, the owners told me that I would go to India in November to work on the private label program for the company.

I was going to Bangalore.  I knew that Baba’s main ashram was in Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Peace), about 3 hours Northeast of Bangalore.  I wondered how I would get there.  India is not an easy country to get around in.  I thought, “Something will happen.  I will get there.”

My travel to India was long and arduous.  I became sick in the Amsterdam airport as a result of the Maleria medication I was taking, and  spent the next two hours in the airport mini-hospital.  I missed my plane to Mumbai.

I was so sick, I could not travel until the next day.  I wished I could have done something in Amsterdam (my first time there) but was so ill,  all I could do was sleep until the next morning, with the doctor calling me at the hotel every 2-3 hours to see how I was doing.  I’ve since learned that I had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the Malaria medication.

I was able to get a flight to Delhi the next day.  I arrived in the middle of the night, only to find out that, in order to fly to Bangalore, I had to take a taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal.  Not so difficult, you say?

It was a bumpy ride on a back road in a tiny cab with a smelly, turbaned Indian who spoke no English.  It was 3:00 in the morning.  As we drove in the pitch-dark night through what seemed like a long, dry country road with no other cars on it, I arrived at an empty terminal building with two gate doors.  I paid my taxi driver and got out.  I was too tired to be scared — not from the ride in the dark and not of the empty terminal — so I curled up on a filthy seat in the waiting room and slept until the 6AM flight to Bangalore was called.

This was my week in India: one culturally-taxing event after another – during the dry season when everything is dusty and dirty and tin huts line the sides of the roads with dirty, barefoot swamis praying before home-made alters as the noisy traffic rolls by, horns blaring, dust swirling, beggars screaming for your attention and your hand-out.  I kept the windows closed on those rides, locked inside the equally dirty cab with three or four of my other co-workers, traveling from hotel to factory, to and fro every day.

We only felt safe eating in the hotel.  Even so, I had physical reactions to the food.  I never actually got sick to my stomach, but something in the spices made my blood pressure spike to a dangerous level and I had to have the doctor come to the hotel no less than 5 times.  He prescribed medication and, if I wasn’t well enough to go into work, he would come back in the afternoon to check on me and take my blood pressure again.  Blood pressure medication escalated to anti-anxiety medication and he ordered me to bed.  Fortunately, those were the days the samples were being made so I didn’t need to be at the factory every moment.  Still, it added to my fear and tentativeness about India.  I wished I could go home and sleep in my own bed.

By the end of the week, I was ready to leave India, but had another week to go.  I told one of the people in the factory that I wanted to go visit Sai Baba, but had no idea how to do that.  I noticed a change in the people with whom I worked the moment I mentioned his name.

On Saturday before the only day I had off, this one woman with whom I  had shared my desire to visit Baba  told me that she was a devotee of his and she would see what she could do.  She came back a few hours later to tell me that the owner of the factory had offered his car and driver to take me to Puttaparthi, where Prasanthi Nilayam is, if she could come with me.  Of course!

We woke up at 3AM to start the journey.  It is not very far in kilometers, but the journey is on dirt roads through a barren part of India, so the trip took over 3 hours.  We arrived about a half hour before “darshan” was supposed to start.

Darshan.  How do I explain this?  “Darshan” is to be in the presence of a holy person.  It is supposed to be the most incredible experience one can have.   I had heard of the “darshan junkies” who travel from city to city, around the world, to be in the presence of a holy person in order to experience the “rush” of that experience.  I was ambivalent.  I mean, really?

I arrived at the ashram at the first light of dawn.  As I walked through the gates, I could see hundreds of pairs of shoes.  Oh, No!  I was going to have to take my shoes off and walk around this dirty place barefoot?    Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to have to do.

As we headed to the temple to line up for Darshan, I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom.  I had been in the car for 3 ½ hours already, and once we went into the open-air temple, we would not be allowed out – or, if we were, how would I know how to find my companion?  There were thousands of devotees there!

The bathroom was primitive.  Open holes in the ground with plastic pitchers by each one to wash down the urine and – well, whatever…. And, I’m barefoot and the entire floor is wet from all the water being sloshed about.  I was disgusted and upset and wanted to run out of the place and head back to Bangalore!

But, I made it.  I took a breath, did what there was to do, and walked out to join my fellow “devotee” to head to the line where they wouldn’t allow us to take anything into the temple, not even a water bottle!

I followed a brightly sarong-ed old woman who could not have been more than 4 ft tall.  She kept throwing me dirty looks every time they pushed us closer together in the line.  I don’t know how, but I always smiled back – while continuing to think, “What on earth am I doing here?”

They lined us up inside the temple VERY close together and then gestured that we were to sit down.  Right there.  On the hard tiled and cement floor.  No cushions, no pads, no nothing.  I knew that my delicate Western behind, hips, and knees were not going to like this – and I was right.

I sat down and curled my legs and feet to one side.  In the process of doing so, I accidentally touched the older woman with my foot.  The feet are the lowest of the low in India, perhaps only surpassed by the left hand (the bathroom hand).  She growled and yelled and pulled her sari tightly around her and brought her legs closer into her body.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is a spiritual devotee of a famous guru?”  I was surprised at how “un-spiritual” she seemed to be, but what did I know?   I wasn’t sure of anything at that moment except that I had probably made a grave error by coming here.

We sat and waited for a long time.  Baba is notorious for being late for Darshan.  The crowd grumbled and fidgeted.  People glared and tried to pull away, except that there was nowhere to pull away to!  Monkeys swung from the rafters, gibbering their monkey talk at the crowd below.  Birds flew in and out of the temple, chirping and screaming their hysterical screeching at all the people.

In the distance, I heard the sound of a car starting up.  Baba had suffered a fall and had to be driven to and from Darshan every morning and afternoon.  The shift in the crowd was palpable. What happened next would be forever burned into my memory — and into my Being.

The chanting started and then the movement – back and forth, hands raised up in  front of each devotee, singing out at the top of their lungs, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om” over and over again, until the entire crowd was raising up on their knees, undulating as one body, like a snake curling through the crowd, chanting, chanting, louder and louder…

His car drove into the temple and I saw Baba’s face – he was looking my way – and that was it.  I was washed over by a love so pure that everything else faded away.  It was the first time in my life that I went from worry and fear to utter Joy in  a moment!  The tears ran down my cheeks and I had no tissues, so I was wiping them away, making mud of my blusher and foundation and I didn’t care.  I curled up onto my knees and joined the sensuous snake, arms raised in devotion and supplication, “Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba Om!”

I looked around and everyone looked beautiful.  Everything was Joy and I felt such love for all of them.  I caught the eye of the old woman and she was transformed – her face was radiant – and she smiled at me with tears in her eyes.  I returned the Joy, the tears, the cries of devotion.

Baba went inside the building to meet with the people who had appointments.  The rest of us sat outside and watched for glimpses of him – Swami would come to the door every now and then and wave to us – to more chanting and devotion!  I remember that he was always smiling.

I looked around – how beautiful it all was!  Why didn’t I notice that before?

I sat there for hours, speaking to a woman who had come from South Africa just to be in Baba’s  presence – she slept in the sparse accommodations, on a cement floor with no pillow, for $2 a night.  She had been there a week.

The joy I felt was astounding.  I didn’t want to leave.  My hips stopped hurting even as I sat longer and longer on the hard floor, under the monkeys swinging from rafter to rafter.  I looked up at them in pure bliss – I would not have it any other way.

After two hours, Baba got back into his car and was driven out of the Temple.  I was too joyful to feel sad that he left.   I was in the after-glow of Baba’s darshan for hours .

I didn’t want to leave so I talked my companion into getting some food and having a picnic on the grounds.

I bought some Vibhuti, the sacred ash that Baba manifests out of thin air.  I bought 5 bags.  One for my friend and her daughter and the rest for anyone else who needed healing.  I saw very sick people walk into Baba’s temple that morning, only to see them later on, sitting on the grass  — with color in their cheeks and laughing and walking and singing.  Say what you will, those were miracles of healing.

I was healed, too – healed of my complaints about dirt, dust, bathrooms with plastic pitchers, barefoot gurus, and people touching feet.   Everyone is beautiful.  Life is Bliss.

That was the day I fell in love with India.

After my life-threatening experience in Amsterdam and my high blood-pressure the week before, I suddenly had no physical complaints at all!

I have not been seriously ill since then.

We found our driver who had been frantically trying to find us, although not frantic enough to miss Darshan.  As we walked the grounds, I remembered the letter that my friend had asked me to give to Baba.  That was not possible in the temple, but each of the postal boxes was only for mail to Swami.  I slipped the letter inside the box.

I drove back to Bangalore in a dreamy state of perfect peace.

I came back to the states and gave my friend her bag of Vibhuti and told her I had mailed the letter to Baba at Prasanthi Nilayam.  She was happy.

I forgot about that.  Many months later, my friend told me that her daughter had been miraculously healed and was disabled no more.

I was raised a Christian and am one to this day.  I DO have unorthodox ideas about what that means, but I know one thing.  People followed Christ because he was pure Love – it must have been a blessing to be in his presence — the ultimate darshan!  People like Christ, like Baba, like Krishna, like Buddha are Avatars —  and they offset much of the evil in the world.  I would have loved to have been in Christ’s presence the way I was in Baba’s presence.

Then again, I am – every day of my life.  People who are only Love live on forever whenever we choose Love in the moment.

“Om Sri Sai Ram! Sai, Baba Sai, Sai Baba, Om”

Deliciously yours in the Love that is All, Linda

I was looking forward to receiving Marianne Williamson’s new book, “A Course in Weight Loss:  21 Spiritual Lessons For Surrendering Your Weight Forever” to review for Hay House Publishing.  As a student of “A Course in Miracles”, the spiritual self-study program that Marianne herself turned me on to many years ago, I had a feeling that this was not going to be your typical weight-loss book – and I was right.

To begin, I’ve been on a diet since last May and lost 16 pounds doing that.  I was so proud of myself for making it through most of the Christmas holidays without gaining anything back – I thought I had this “monkey” off my back for good.

Alas, that was not so.  At the end of the Christmas holidays, my ex-husband and wonderful friend called to tell me he was getting married in the new year.  I never expected my grieving reaction until I realized that I never mourned my marriage the way I needed to.  January started that time – and, in the two months since, I’ve gained back 8 of the 16 pounds I lost.

I received Marianne’s book right in the midst of all the pain of my long over-due grief.

My original plan — before I found myself plunged into my unexpected despair — was to read it and review it here on this blog.    If I could take something on for myself – Well, then, I would, but I really didn’t think I needed it as much as someone else might need it.

How wrong could I have been?  I needed this book to come the very moment it did!   As spiritual as I think I am, the fact is that circumstances can and do throw me for a loop – and send me right back into thinking the old disempowering thoughts about myself that get me to start eating without thinking:  “I’m not good enough,” “I was a terrible wife,” “Who would want me? I’m so selfish”.  Before I knew it, I re-gained the 8 pounds I’d lost!

“A Course in Weight Loss” addresses these very issues of how we disempower ourselves, how we hate how we look, how we feel about ourselves when we don’t feel good about ourselves.  Bottom line?  Marianne’s book was exactly what I needed to appear in my life!

This is a book that is definitely a “course” – a step-by-step approach to – a diet?  NO!  The approach is to assist us in being willing to take on that which, as “A Course in Miracles” says, is our only problem – we think we are separate from God.  It is a step-by-step approach to have us remember Who we are: a beautiful, perfect child of God — and, as such, everything we need is right here already.  We need only remember Who we are.

Marianne’s instructions are graceful and loving:  to build an altar to ourselves and that which we know to be the Divine within us.  Then, Marianne  guides us:  to enhance our altars as a symbol of being in touch with our own spirit,   buying ONE piece of carefully and lovingly chosen piece of fruit to put on the altar,  to write  letters to the self we are leaving behind so as to transform to the Self we are becoming, and to become aware of those triggers that send us right back into our pain.  It is nothing less than a spiritual journey into our own hearts and minds to find the Real Self, the thin and whole spiritual Self that has been there all along.

Marianne doesn’t hold back, that’s for sure.  There is one chapter called, “Exit the Alone Zone” that I am positive she wrote just for ME! I spend a lot of time alone – I work alone in my home office every day – and I always feel a bit lonely about that.  This book made me realize that I – or the ego part of me – orchestrated that”alone-ness”  in order to keep me separate from others – as separate as I sometimes feel when I forget my spiritual path, when I forget that “alone” is an illusion that I have created.

Well, now it’s time to create something new!

There are beautiful prayers at the end of each chapter that  moved me to tears, each one inviting God in to heal us, to heal our un-healed wounds – as only He can do.

I finished reading the book through once, and now I have started it again, beginning with my altar in my window: a beautiful Buddha and a flower and a picture of a laughing Christ.  As “A Course in Miracles” resonated for me as my spiritual path, Marianne’s “Course in Weight Loss” is resonating for me as the path to healing all my wounds, not only weight, but money, relationship, and career.  That is a plan that I am joyfully taking on!

I want to end with one of Marianne’s beautiful prayers – the prayer that is at the end of Lesson 15, “Exit the Alone Zone.”  To me, this is the essence of so much of this wonderful book:

“Dear God, Please melt the walls that separate me from others, imprisoning me within myself.

Please heal my wounded places and free my heart to love.

Help me connect to others that I might isolate no more.

I know, dear God, that when I am alone, I fear;

and when I fear, I self-destruct.

What I suffer now and have suffered before,

dear God, may I suffer no more.

Amen”

And, to that, my own  “Hallelujah!”

Deliciously yours in the Sacred Self that we all are,  Linda

This is Marianne Williamson, a New York Times best-selling author several times over.  Her book, “A Return to Love” is a spiritual classic and widely considered by many to be the cliff notes to ‘A Course in Miracles'”.  Marianne is an internationally known speaker and teacher.  You can visit her site:  www.marianne.com to see where she is speaking in your area.

Here is the link to Hay House publishing where you can purchase Marianne’s book:

<a title="Hay House Link to Marianne's Book" href="“><a href=”http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000509&type=2&subid=0″><IMG border=0 src=”http://affiliate.hayhouse.com/IndivProd/978-1-4019-2152-1.gif&#8221; ></a><IMG border=0 width=1 height=1 src=”http://ad.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/show?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&bids=206928.10000509&type=2&subid=0&#8243; >

Disclosure:  I received Marianne Williamson’s book, “A Course in Weight Loss:  21 Spiritual Lessons For Surrendering Your Weight Forever” for free from Hay House Publishing.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I have read every book Dr. Wayne Dyer has ever written.  Each time, I get something new about my life and I am always grateful for that.

When I received his new book, a re-released gift edition of “The Power of Intention:  Learning to Co-create Your World Your Way”,  I felt both excited and resistant.  Excited, because it truly is a beautiful book:  not only a gloriously colorful cover, but also, each page has different graphics in a unique-for-each-page color motif.   This is the book that I will be giving as a gift to my friends – a pretty ribbon is all it needs, the book itself is so gorgeous!

The resistance was because I felt like I had read this all before and why did I need to read it again?

Once one reads and becomes familiar with Dr. Dyer’s teachings, one gets that the resistance itself is a sign that the “ego” is running wild in you —  and not the loving intention about which he speaks in all of his work.  So, I read the book all the way through and then put it down.   I did some of the exercises, randomly selected throughout the book, over the next few days.  I saw my own life open up in love and compassion for myself and my fellow human beings, walking around here on this planet, doing whatever it is we all do to make a life.

This is what I always get from his books.

Then, I read it through once again – this time with the willingness to see something new  from what I initially perceived to be similar information to what he’s taught and written about before.

This time, standing in my willingness and vulnerability, I got the world.  His message is so simple, yet so profound:  We are all part of the Source we came from – we always were, we are now, and we always will be.  And, that Source is loving and kind and creative and beautiful and expansive and abundant and receptive.  And – so are we, when we allow ourselves to remember who we are.

Aye, there’s the rub…

We don’t allow ourselves to remember who we are most of the time – we are too busy, achieving and accumulating, being successful, or trying to – and never quite feeling fulfilled in the process.  When it’s about the material world, it can never give us what we really need, which IS that connection to Source.

This last time I read the book, I gave myself the time to relax with it, with no where to go and nothing to do – and I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be:  there is nothing to get and no where to go – it’s ALL right here, right now.

“The Power of Intention” is a perfect compendium of all of Dr. Dyer’s teachings.  Part 1, “The Essentials of Intention”, explains what the “power of intention” is, while Part 2, “Putting Intention to Work” distinguishes how that power of intention plays out in the different areas of our lives.  He covers self-respect, living your life “on purpose” (a concept he has been teaching for as many years as I’ve been reading him), being authentic and peaceful with your relatives, success and attracting abundance, living a tranquil life, attracting divine relationships, healing and being healed, and how to open up the genius that is in all of us.

The more I read the book the second time, the more peaceful I became.  By the time I reached Part 3, “The Portrait of a Person Connected to the Field of Intention,” what was clear to me was THAT PERSON is the person I want to be – and sitting there reading and being reminded that I am already there – Well, that is the gift of this book.

For all you Wayne Dyer fans out there, this is the book to have by your bed to remind you every day that you are connected to Source.  For those of you for whom this will be your first toe-dip into the “Dyer stream”, read it through on a Saturday night, wrapped up in a comforter, and be reminded that Source is like that, forever wrapping you in the love that is always there.

Your life will never be the same.

Deliciously yours in the Loving Intention of it All, Linda

Here is the link to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book, “The Power of Intention:  Learning to Co-create Your World Your Way”:

http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=JZjyJRjtyzs&offerid=206928.10000086&type=4

Disclosure:  I received Dr. Dyer’s book, “The Power of Intention” for free from Hay House Publishing.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I used to be in the fashion business.    My job was to find the things that people would buy before they knew they wanted to buy them.    That’s what being a merchant is.

People often ask me, “How do you know that you’re a merchant?” and I am always stumped by the question.    I don’t know how to answer them except to say,  “I just am.”    It comes to me – at odd times during the day when I’m doing something else, when I’m meditating, often when I’m least looking for it, sometimes in the dark of night and I awaken to scribble something on a pad by my bed.

It always seems like an accident and it never is.   It’s just who I am.   I am eternally inspired – some people call it their “genius”.   Some think it comes and it goes — I believe  it’s what’s there when you take all my “stuff” away.   It’s wrapped up with the love, the truth, the beauty, the goodness, the Divine — that is in all of us.

My best merchant moments are when I don’t intend it.   I just let that inner spark tell me what to do and I go with it – and then – I’m always so surprised when people love it.   In fact, sometimes, I seem a little weird to people.    That’s when I REALLY know it’s right.    Maybe not right now – but, it will be in a year or so.

I have a story that illustrates this phenomenon – for me.  Perhaps you’ll recognize it in yourself.

I used to travel to Italy three or four times a year to buy the sweaters for my division at Bloomingdale’s.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Italy and all things Italian.  My plane lands in that country and my ancestral fires start to burn and my heart flames up in love and beauty and passion – and, well, there’s just no stopping me!

After working for a week, seeing lines and creating styles for my sweater programs, I walked into a showroom one day.  As I lay my coat on a chair, I looked down to see someone’s open bag.

It was love at first sight.  This bag was a tawny and black leopard print PLASTIC bag, like the kind of stuff that cheap cosmetic bags are made of – except it was Italian – and, nothing that Italians make looks cheap.  It was about 14 inches long and 10 inches deep, with two little carry handles at the top – not my usual favorite, since I prefer shoulder bags for the kind of carrying around everyday of lots of useless stuff, which  is what I do and what I have always done.  Even better, it had four deep outside pockets, two on each side.    Oh, goody!  More places to stick things!

I turned to my sales rep and just gushed, “Ooooh, I love this!  Where did you get it?”

(Side note:  People in the fashion business have no qualms about asking you where you bought something, what designer made it, and we even go as far as to touch your clothing all the time to “feel the fabric”.  Fortunately, I have harnessed this habit… a bit.  However, if I reach out to rub your sleeve, do not think I am hitting on you – it’s simply my primal need to figure out what the yarn is and where it came from…).

She laughed and said, “You like it?”   Oh, yes, I did.  She leaned over to whisper, “I bought it at the cosmetics store on the corner.  It’s just a make-up bag.”  I laughed with her and shook my head in amazement!  So much for Gucci and Louis Vuitton!

After the appointment, I dragged my assistant and my translator to the corner, and, sure enough, there it was in the window, full of lotions and potions and blush and brushes, with a paisley scarf tied through one of the short handles.

Truly, only in Italy can they pull off paisley with leopard print… Don’t try this at home.

I walked in the tiny, crowded shop, pointed to the bag, and the saleslady climbed on a ladder and took down a fresh one in a clear plastic bag from a high shelf.  “Quanto e?”, I said in my almost native, but limited Italian.  She told me.  $25 worth of Italian lire.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune!  A bag that I loved without a designer price – big enough to hold everything and everything again.

I have always loved leopard print – everyone makes fun of me for it.  My Blackberry cover today is hard plastic leopard print, half my closet is leopard print; I have leopard print sweaters, a leopard print raincoat, leopard print shoes – you get the picture.

However, being a merchant doesn’t mean buying what I would wear, it means buying what other people would wear.  For me, those are usually two different things.  This time, though, there was a powerful trend emerging – and this is how I knew….

I dolled that bag up with my own little black and gold scarf – wisely knowing the limits of my Italian heritage and not attempting the paisley – and took it out and about into the world.

And, that’s when I got it.

Everywhere I went, people asked me where I had found my bag?  Where could they get it?   Whose was it?   What designer had designed it?  I always laughed inside at this – if only they knew.

It didn’t end there.  My next stop was Paris for the fashion shows and EVERYONE who is ANYONE in the fashion business was in Paris for the shows.  And, EVERYONE asked me where I got my bag!  I was stopped in the street and photographed – the photographer, on two occasions, asked me to hold the bag up for a closer shot.

Even better, every other buyer, merchandise manager, and fashion office person asked me about my bag.    Now, I started to play coy – I would smile sweetly, half-close my eyes, flutter my false eyelashes, and say, “Isn’t it DIVINE?”

When I got back to the states, it escalated to fever pitch, culminating with my being photographed on Fifth Avenue by New York Times Styles photographer, Bill Cunningham.  Then, I was in the Federated Department Stores offices one day and my friend, MaryJane, who was VP of Accessories for all Federated stores, came out to say “Hi”.   She saw my bag and asked if she could photograph it.  “Sure,” I said.  I was very blase about it by this time.  I knew what I had.

Finally, a peer of mine at Bloomingdale’s,  Doris, who was in charge of the accessories division, came to me one day, wanting to photograph the bag.  I could no longer hold it in – I worked for this store, for Goodness sake!  I said, “Doris, don’t knock it off – it will be too expensive.  It’s just a make-up bag I bought in a cosmetics store in Florence.  Call the manufacturer and buy it from them directly!”  With that, I opened the bag and we found the little, obscure label on the inside pocket.  She copied it down and that was the beginning.

Months later, I came through the front doors of Bloomingdale’s from Lexington Avenue, into what is known as “The Arcade” – and there they were!   All over the better handbag department!  There was my version in leopard, and then white and black zebra stripes, and a cocoa and black tiger stripe version.  They were $125 for each one.

They sold out in only a few days.

Meanwhile, in my own division, I had created leopard prints and tiger prints, and cheetah prints, and zebra stripes in everything that you could put those prints on:  skirts, blouses, dresses, stamped on tee-shirts, on printed angora sweaters – all a hit, all “hot”…

All sold out.

A few months later, someone I worked with told me that they overheard the CEO of Bloomingdale’s say, as I walked by, “I just don’t understand why she can’t carry a Chanel bag like everyone else.”  The person responded by saying, “Do you know that she found those bags and we’re now selling them down in the Arcade for $125?  And, they’re selling out?”

In all of this, I can only tell you that it never occurred for me as something I reached for, something I looked for, something that was odd or different.   It felt like the right thing at the right time.   I always find it to be the most powerful when I’m more than slightly surprised that everyone else thinks it’s great  — and I am just doing what I do, effortlessly.   I feel like an innocent who has stumbled onto a treasure — full of joy and delight!

Everyone has this, you know.  It’s your gift.  Find out what that is and do it.  And it will be joyful and beautiful forever.

Deliciously yours in the “Fabulous-ness” of it All,   Linda

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you just like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”  e. e. cummings

Here is the famous leopard bag, which traveled with me all over the world — Here seen in The Forbidden City in Beijing, China in 1987.  That’s me, on the left, holding on to it, proud and tight, with two of the buyers in my division, Paul Price (now at Burberry in London) and Roberta Troilo.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I have become quite the social media butterfly.  One three-hour breakout session on social media marketing at the Conference for Global Transformation at the end of May, and I’ve become a tweeting fool!

I love Twitter.   I didn’t used to.   I thought it was silly.   Why would I want to read the blow-by-blow of someone’s day?   “I’m going to the bathroom now,” “I’m in the bathroom,” “I just came out of the bathroom.”   You’re laughing at this, I know, but there are people like that on Twitter.

I thought that was everyone who used Twitter.   That, or the people who are always selling something – that’s what I was last year.   I only “tweeted” when I wrote a new blog post to let my huge following of 23 people know that I actually had a new blog post that they should go to and read.

Facebook seemed much friendlier – because I only let my actual friends “friend” me.   I was playing to a kinder, gentler audience, or so I thought.   These people are my friends.   They comment if they like my post, they ignore me if they don’t or if they don’t care – and that’s fine with me.   They’ll buy my book when it’s published because they know me and they love me.   I think.

Twitter, I learned, is not supposed to be just your friends – not if you’re looking to brand yourself in the social media arena.

The first thing I learned is that anyone who is just selling their stuff is going to max out at the level of followers who know them and  like their stuff.    You may say, “That’s logical.  Why would I want anyone else anyway?”

Because there are thousands, nay, millions of people out there who don’t even know they like your stuff yet  (and, by association, YOU) – and, unless you can figure out a way to get to them, you are going to be limited to the however many people know you and follow you – or seem like they’re following you – no matter what you do or what you say.  In other words, your friends.  And, they’ll  buy your book anyway — you think.

So, first things first:   Think of Twitter as a cocktail party, not a sales call.  You wouldn’t walk into a cocktail party and say,  “Hi, I’m Linda.   Go read my blog (my novel, listen to my radio show, etc)”, would you?  And, if you did, you’d be thought of as boorish, right?

A cocktail party is:  introduce yourself, listen to other people, tell people about an interesting book or poignant article you read, talk about a fascinating person who said something wonderful the other day – and then, perhaps, you drop into the conversation that you are a blog writer and you just wrote this piece that moved you to tears.  Now this group that is related to you by virtue of just having spent the last 10 or 15 minutes in conversation with you may say, “Oh, where do I go to read that?” and then you say, “Really?  How sweet of you!   Just go to SpiritualChocolate.com, one word.   After you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think.   Would you let me know?”

This is a Twitter cocktail party.  Figure out what you stand for, what you want to align yourself with (branding), do some searches and find other people who are interested in what you’re interested in and follow them.  Now, here’s the important part – retweet to your followers what they (the people you’re following) tweet — 80% of the time.  That’s right.  Only tweet about yourself 20% of the time. Retweet interesting articles, who’s written a book that you like, a quote that you love and — and never, never, ever tweet anything nasty or mean, unless you want to brand yourself as someone who is nasty and mean.  I also suggest not tweeting or re-tweeting something highly controversial, unless that is your brand.

Me?  I’m a blog writer, aspiring memoir writer, real estate broker, Shakespeare aficionado, lover of all things spiritual and all things Italian, fascinated by transformation of any kind – personal or business, a futurist and a visionary, moved by the transcendent, often inspired and even, sometimes, inspiring.

I follow people like @writerbythesea @writingnodrama @thebardbot @TEDtalks @SimonSinek @culturesync @publictheaterny @fouryearsgo, @AboutTuscany, @NYC_SohoTriBeCa, and @peaceloveunity. My current searches are #writing, #write, #theater, #leadership, #spirituality,  and #Italy.  For a while, one of my searches was #oilspill – until BP capped it.  I never follow anyone who is only selling their stuff and are tweeting the same thing over and over:  “If you want to earn money online, go here….”

As people follow me, I follow them.  You cannot acquire a lot of followers without following a lot of people – unless you’re Oprah or Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

That’s the branding piece.

Now, here’s the hidden jewel:  I have made friends on Twitter.  I don’t know why I’m surprised – if you’re following people who believe what you believe (Simon Sinek TED talk), it’s inevitable.  I’ve had direct messages with people I don’t know but with whom I share an affinity; I’ve even had a conversation “in Shakespeare” with @thebardbot, a wonderful Tweeter who only talks in Shakespeare quotes – that really tested my knowledge of my favorite playwright.  It was SO much fun!

Last week, one of the people I follow, @writingnodrama, who gives advice to writers – and from whom I have gleaned a few lovely tidbits for my own writing, tweeted that she had a book on Smashwords.com, where one could read the first 30% of the book for free.  I went, I read, and I became so enthralled with her book that I bought the rest of it.

The book is called “Plain Jane” and I could not put it down – or whatever our new phrase is going to be for reading a book online.  I sat at my computer into the wee hours, aching tush notwithstanding  — or notwithsitting? (Sorry…),  unable to leave this tale of a serial killer who only kills plain women, brunettes, who have had an abortion.  I was intrigued by many things, not the least of which was, how did this killer know which women had had an abortion? Which brunette women had had an abortion?  There was a gory component to this serial killer, which made him all the more ghastly and, for me, all the more interesting.  I have a thing for serial killers. “Criminal Minds” is one of my favorite shows.  I should have been a profiler.  This book is about a serial killer and a crazy profiler.  Perfect.

The ending was a bit more than I bargained for, even for me, but I loved it, gory details and all. I sent a direct message to my online author friend.    Dwritingnodrama: “Boy, that was SOME ending!” and off we went into a dialogue about her book.

Say what you will about Twitter – I haven’t had such fun meeting people in years – and I meet fabulous people all the time!  Whether direct tweeting about the oil spill, or talking about a book, or rummaging through my Shakespeare plays next to my computer to answer @thebardbot, the time I spend tweeting has been a new found pleasure AND a way to put myself out there in the world in preparation for the day that my spiritual memoir is published.    “Eat, Pray, Love”, I’m on your tail!

And, I now have 334 followers, up from 23, in 2-1/2 months.  I guess a lot of people are interested in what I’m interested in, like what I like, believe what I believe…

I’m @Linda_Ruocco.    Follow me and I’ll follow you….?

Deliciously yours in the Fun and Play of it All!   Linda

The title of this blog piece is from the song, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” by Gene Austin, Irving Mills, and Jimmy Mc Hugh.

I want to recommend my friend, Cristyn West’s book, “Plain Jane.”  You can go to Smashwords.com and read the first 30% before you choose to buy.  If you, like me, are into serial killer mysteries – with a touch of the ghoulish – you will want to buy the rest to read.  Here’s the link:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/16176.  Then, follow her on Twitter @writingnodrama and tell her what you think.

And, here’s my favorite TED Talk of the moment, Simon Sinek on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” is really the basis of my philosophy about the culture of Social Media — about the “Why” and his Golden Circle — go here for the best 18 minutes you may spend today:  

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @Linda_Ruocco.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

This is how it goes, living in New York City:

I opened my Facebook page one night about 8PM and saw that my friend, Peri Lyons, chanteuse extraordinaire, was doing her cabaret show down in Greenwich Village that night.  I wanted to go.

I called another friend, Janey, and asked her if she was up for some sultry singing and could she be ready in – Oh, say? —  5 minutes?   She could.

We met outside Caffe Vivaldi at Bleecker and Jones Streets and got ourselves a table inside.  The café is a tiny place with an eclectic crowd — fitting because Peri, herself, is many styles and many tastes and many charms  (she sings songs such as her own “Mrs. DeSade Explains”, written from the point of view of the wife of the Marquis)  with an altogether mellifluous voice — dulcet tones mixed with sensuous self-embrace that led Janey to remark, “Wow!  She is the distinction, ‘temptress’.”    And, so she is…

Peri is also a psychic with mystical powers.  On her break, she came to sit with us. She touched my hand and declared that I would be in a relationship by November of this year.  I don’t ordinarily look forward to the onset of winter, but I must admit to a certain anticipation of this year’s late fall and what that will bring.  Peri is known for her accurate predictions.

Janey and I left at around midnight after a totally delightful evening.  She walked me to the subway and then headed on home to Soho.

Years ago, I never rode the subway late at night.  I was afraid.   Now, I find it the most interesting time.  One never knows what will happen on the subway.  You can choose to be fearful or you can choose to be open to the magic of the below-ground in Manhattan.

First, you have to figure out where you’re going.  NYC subways are notorious for announcing – once you are on them – that they are not going where you think they are going.  That night was no different.

Announcer:  “This ‘E’ train will be running on the  ‘F’ track to Queens.  If you want to continue on the ‘E’ train route in Manhattan, get off at the next stop and take the ‘V’ train to 53rd and Lexington and…”.    God help the subway novice!

I got off at the next stop to find the “V” train which would take me three blocks from my apartment rather than ride the “F” train to 63rd and Lexington – a good 11 blocks from my home.  I followed the underground labyrinth up stairs and down stairs to get myself onto the “V” train platform.

As I waited for the train, I heard music drift from further down the platform… Lyrical acoustic guitar strains from long ago,  Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” that I have alternately loved and hated, depending on where I’ve been in my life:

“When she gets there, she knows if the stores are all closed,  with a word she can get what she came for…”

I was mesmerized.  I started walking towards the music, past the people on the platform, young people with hats and bottles, coming home – or going to – a party, the melody luring me on…

“And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune. Then the piper will lead us to reason…”

I felt as if I was in some strange movie, floating past little snippets of life in the city; a mother with a sleeping baby in a stroller and another curled in under her neck,  moving towards the music as Odysseus to the sirens’ song…

“And a new day will dawn for those who stand long and the forests will echo with laughter…”

I pushed through a crowd standing around the singer, close enough to pay him homage (he was very good), yet far enough away because he was dirty and strange looking, with a curly, matted beard, wearing a torn, brown tweed coat on a warm day, and an open, red velvet-lined guitar case at his feet.

“Yes, there are two paths you can go by but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on…”

Out of all the people around him – quite a few for almost 1 in the morning – he turned and looked right at me.  I couldn’t help but look back.

“Your head is humming and it won’t go in case you don’t know,  the piper’s calling you to join him…”

I moved out of the ring of people surrounding the musician – the dirty, bedraggled, red- ringlets-beard of a man who was staring at me as he was singing.  I took out a wad of dollar bills.

“Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know:  Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.”

I leaned over, still looking at him, and put the crumpled bills in the guitar case.

A train was barreling into the station, almost — but not quite — drowning out the shift to the louder electronic guitar that is the latter part of “Stairway..”.    I glanced over to see that it was the “V” train I was waiting for.

I looked back at the strange musician.

“And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.  When all are one and one is all, yeah, to be a rock and not to roll.”

I turned and stepped through the subway train doors.  I crossed the car and sat down facing out to the man singing.  He was still looking at me.

“And she’s buying a stairway….to heaven.”

The train started out of the station.  I was shaking.  Not from fear – I’m not afraid in New York City.

I felt touched by something.

When I arrived at my stop, I got out of the train and climbed the stairs up out of the station to the dark night above-ground.  I took a deep breath of what passes for fresh air here.

I couldn’t get the song out of my head.

Down the street from the subway stop is the police precinct for my neighborhood.  Outside the door, a young girl with long dark hair, all dressed up, was having her picture taken by a man and another girl standing next to him.  I stopped to allow them to get the shot.  I heard the camera click,  and then he smiled at me to pass.  As I walked by, he said:

“We just bailed her out of jail!”  They looked happy.  I smiled back and turned to give her a thumbs-up.  She threw her head back in laughter and waved at me.

There’s a 24-hour Korean deli on the corner of my block.  The night’s adventure made me hungry, and I stopped in to get a cup of my favorite Ben and Jerry’s pistachio ice cream.  A taste of heaven if ever there was one.

As I walked the last steps to my apartment, I thought about the evening and how everything in my life is a blessing — because I choose to see it that way.  Heaven is anywhere — and everywhere — you want it to be.

“Oooo, it makes me wonder…”

Deliciously yours in the Possibility of it All, Linda

“Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.” …Helen Keller

The song in the story above is “Stairway to Heaven,” by Led Zeppelin from the 1971 album, “LED ZEPPELIN IV”, written by guitarist, Jimmy Page,  and  vocalist, Robert Plant.  It was never released as a single.  It is considered by many as the best rock song of all time, and Jimmy Page’s guitar solo, the best guitar solo of all time.  Here it is:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9TGj2jrJk8.

To the left is the most extraordinary and talented singer/songwriter, Peri Lyons.    She also writes a blog on her observations, called “The Ampelopsis Diaries” at www.MissPeriLyons.blogspot.com,  which —  I warn you  — do not read unless you are in the mood to laugh so hard that bladder-control may actually become a serious issue.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

I went to Central Park last night with my friend, Alan, to see “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino, live in the open theatre that is the Delacorte, with Belvedere Castle lit behind the stage, the trees towering over wooden walls, helicopters flying overhead, the mosquitoes from Turtle Pond seeking their own “pound of flesh”  from the audience as we sat enraptured by the controversial Shakespeare play.

Ah!   The beauty and the night and the magic…  And, Al Pacino.  What more could you ask?

“Shakespeare in the Park” is one of New York City’s most beloved summer traditions.  Tickets are free, but one must wait on a line that wraps around Turtle Pond.  If you are there early enough, you will be rewarded — at 1PM, when the box office opens – with a coveted pair of tickets to that night’s performance.

There is always a line.  And, when there is a famous actor or a particularly acclaimed production, the line may start early in the morning.   I don’t mean 8AM.  I mean midnight, the night before.

When my son, Josh, was 14, he was enamored of all things “Star Trek”, and Patrick Stewart was leading the cast of “The Tempest” that year.    The result?   A “perfect storm” of intention:  a son who loves Captain Jean-Luc Picard and a mother who loves all things Shakespeare.

Josh sent me to the park early on the morning before the last night of the run.  I went at 9AM and trekked to the back of what seemed to be the never-ending line as it curled around Turtle Pond.  It was a hot, sunny day.  I brought a cushion and a book and sat down in my place to read for four hours until the box office opened.   With my bottle of water and some fruit, I was fine.

As it approached 1PM, everyone on the line gathered themselves,  turned to the front of the line, and counted the seconds to the appointed hour.

I looked across the stagnant, murky pond to the front of the line and saw that it was moving.  Not five minutes – and 50 feet later, the line stopped moving as a wave of disappointment floated back to where I was standing.  “That’s it.  They’re done.”

I was stunned.  How could all these people – myself included – be so naive as to think that there were enough tickets to warrant such a long wait, such a long line?  Shouldn’t someone from the theatre have counted us and, long before, told those of us at the end to abandon all hope?

Though the crowd dispersed, I knew I was in for even greater disappointment in the eyes of my child if I did not come back with the tickets.  I marched  to where the front of the line had been mere moments before and spoke to a tall, thin, young man with black, round, studious glasses, wearing a black “Staff” tee shirt.  “Excuse me, please.  I wonder if you could tell me how early I would have to be here to ensure that I get tickets to tomorrow’s performance?”  The next night was the last night of the play’s run and I wanted to be CERTAIN.

“Let’s put it like this,” he said, “there were people here at 5AM who didn’t get tickets.”   Wow.

I walked to the pay phone on the theatre’s outside wall.  I called Josh.  When he heard my voice, his only words were, “Did you get the tickets?”

I told him I didn’t.  The silence on the phone was painful to my sensitive mother’s ear.  “I have an idea, though,” I said. “I think we should stay overnight in Central Park tonight and then we’ll be sure to get tickets.”

My son, a cautious boy ever since he was small, protested.  “Mom, we can’t sleep in Central Park!  We’ll get mugged!”  I assured him that we would not be the only ones sleeping there  in hopes of getting tickets for the last night of this desirable production.  “Besides, Josh, I’m your mother.  Do you think that I would let anything happen to you?”  He didn’t sound reassured.

I was surprised that a 14 year-old-boy, even one as careful as Josh, would hesitate for  long at the thought of such a wild, new experience.  I was excited, “Josh, let’s think of it as an adventure!  How many people can ever say that they slept overnight in Central Park?”    Very few, except for the bums and the criminals and the crazies…

I finally won him over.  “I’ll pack everything up and we’ll go to the park at midnight.”

That night, loaded down with pillows, a blanket, a waterproof plastic, some sheets, food, water, and umbrellas for the sun the next morning, Josh and I set off for the dark shadows of the park.  As we entered at 79th Street on the east side of the park, Josh voiced his nervousness.  “Mom, I’m not so sure about this.”

I must admit that I was not without some trepidation of my own.  As beautiful as Central Park is and always has been, the park closes at sunset every night, and with good reason.  It’s better now, but, at that time, one did not risk one’s life walking through Central Park in the middle of the night.

We walked on the lonely, silent path.  There were lights, but no people.  To reassure Josh, and maybe even myself, I said, “Don’t worry, Honey, I have these two big water bottles here in this bag.  If anyone comes, I’ll knock them out with this.”

“Good,” he said, “because I’m going to be running out of here!”

As we came over the rise that gave way to Turtle Pond beneath us – right about where I had been on line, in fact –we saw lights in the distance, closer to the theatre. We followed the path around and came closer to the Delacorte. It was soon clear that we would not be spending the night in the park alone.

We were 52nd in line.  At midnight.

I lay the plastic down and then the blanket over it.  We looked around to see tents and small barbeques.  I saw someone playing a guitar close to the theatre, but it was drowned out by another’s “boom-box” closer to us.  Even as I finished setting up our “camp-site”, there were already another 5 or 6 groups after us.   Whew!

It took a long time for us to settle down.  There was so much noise and activity!  Smells of food wafted over to us, along with the loud whooping merriment of drinking and laughter.  And, even more “wafting” – the smell of marijuana was thick in the air.

We were next to a group of guys drinking beer.  Another guy, clearly one of their group, stomped over to their blanket, shirtless and speaking loudly of the “ignorant idiots” who had no appreciation of “The Tempest” or Shakespeare or anything culturally significant.  This “riff-raff” only here, he said, “as if this were some ‘Trekkie Convention’ or something.”   With that, he hooked his thumbs into his jeans and pulled them down over his slim hips and stood there, naked and fuming.  I looked at Josh.  He shrugged his shoulders.  He might have been scared of Central Park, and maybe a bit stunned by the naked man not 10 feet from him, but he stood firm in his conviction that the world was enhanced by all things “Star Trek.”

We did finally go to sleep, only to awaken at the crack of dawn — as movement and the sun fought with our sleep for attention.

We packed everything up and prepared to wait for the last leg of our adventure.  We stood and waited, and waited and stood.  As long as we could sleep, I didn’t mind.  Standing for 6 hours was a whole  other story.  While I had my book the day before, that wasn’t Josh’s thing, so we stood together and talked or he leaned on me, or one or the other of us would run to the food stand and buy more water.

1PM.  The formerly bedraggled and disorganized crowd shifted suddenly into a single line.  Fights broke out about who had been there first as people vied for their place on the line.

The line moved quickly and we were at the front, claiming our tickets, two for each of us.  It hadn’t occurred to me before that – I thought that Josh and I would go together. Now we had four tickets – What a treasure!

We asked Fred, Josh’s dad, to join us – but what to do with that precious fourth ticket?  As we left the park that morning, we saw the unsuccessful hoard of people leaving in disappointment – looking much as I had looked the day before.   Nothing much could mar our joy, but it was a kind of guilty pleasure to have an extra ticket and no one to give it to.

We called a few friends before we hit our beds for a nap, but no one could join us.

That night, we brought the extra ticket to the theatre with us.  I was surprised to see another long line around Turtle Pond – hopeful stand-bys for this last performance by Patrick Stewart in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Central Park.

We scanned the line.  How could we just choose someone to give the ticket to?  That wouldn’t be fair, would it?  We decided to take it to the box office — wasn’t that the right thing to do?  Josh  asked the woman behind the desk, “One of those people who is waiting will get this one, right?”  She assured us that someone would.

We went into the theatre and found our seats.  After all our waiting, we wound up in the very top row.  While the theatre is not huge, Josh and I both thought that sleeping overnight in the park was certainly worth seats up closer to the stage. We shrugged, realizing that we were lucky to have the ones we had and it was simply the luck of the draw.

I was waiting for a single to climb the steps and claim the empty seat next to me.  No one came.  As the play started, Josh and I looked at each other in amazement – somehow, that ticket had not been given out!  We remembered that long, stand-by line curling around the pond. We were sorry, after all, that we didn’t just walk up to someone and say, “Here’s a ticket.”  Oh, well.

Josh loved the play – or perhaps he just loved the idea of seeing Patrick Stewart in person.  It doesn’t matter.  It was an adventure with a glorious ending – a summer’s tale to tell someday.

These days, it’s a bit more organized.  The system is still the same, only now you can stand “online” on the Internet with the Public Theatre’s virtual ticketing.  Sign in anytime after midnight and check back after 1PM the next day to see if you are one of the winners.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always Craig’s List – which is what I did yesterday.  One person advertised 2 tickets for $125.  I called him and claimed them.

I met the ticket seller by the park at 79th and Fifth Avenue.   A bedraggled guy in a navy cap, I wondered suddenly if the tickets were real.  Not as cautious as Josh, but careful, nonetheless, I wanted to see the tickets before I took out my money.  I asked how he got them – he told me he spent the night in the park.

The veil of separation fell away.  “I’ve done that,” I whispered in comraderie — with a nod to a  fellow adventurer in the glorious journey that is being a New Yorker…

Deliciously yours in the Magic of it All, Linda

“What pleasure, sir, find we in life, to lock it From action and adventure?” (Cymbeline: ACT IV, SCENE IV)  William Shakespeare

For information about Shakespeare in the Park at The Public Theatre, please go to http://www.publictheater.org.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

Alzheimer’s disease is what made the difference in my relationship with my father.  It saved us and it transformed our relationship.

I know that sounds strange and perhaps even cruel, given that Alzheimer’s is a horrible, degenerative disease.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  But, for me and my father….  Well, there was a blessing in there…

For most of my life, my father was a scary man – an Italian “machismo” alpha male, socially and physically dominating, imposing his will on his wife and children with an angry voice and demeanor – a “Stanley Kowalski”-type, loud and boisterous with a love of dancing, parties, and beautiful women.

I do remember loving him when I was very  little, running to meet him at the door every day when he came home from work, jabbering away at the dinner table, trying to drown out my brothers and sister to be the one to get his attention with all my stories, some real and some made up.  I remember he laughed and I thought that was great.

When I was four or five, I started a practice of giving him a fake “manicure” every night after dinner while he watched his favorite shows on television.  I would bring my little stool to sit beside his chair and pretend to file each nail and then buff them with a handkerchief that I had rolled up to look  like a real nail buffer.  I don’t know how I knew about manicures, but I did – and that was how I showered him with my love and affection.

Something changed when I was 11.  That’s when my mother had her first heart attack and went into the hospital for two weeks — and I had to cook the food, which I burned, and do the laundry, which I ruined —  mixing the red towels with the white sheets — for which I got in trouble every night when he came home.  I was really scared:  scared of messing up, scared my mother would die, and scared that my father would yell at me.

It never occurred to me that he might be scared, too.

So, scary is how I thought of him then – even after I had taken a stand for myself on the fourth or fifth day of her hospital stay – the same fourth or fifth day in a row that I burned the dinner – and I turned to his angry ranting and said, “You can’t yell at me like that anymore.  I don’t know how to do these things and yelling at me won’t make a difference.”

Things were never the same between me and my father after that.  There was an awkward distance between us.  We would try to have a conversation every once in a while, but it always deteriorated into rolling eyes, anger, and a phone slammed down, or stomping out of the room by one or both of us.

By the time I went away to college, I was relieved not to have to see him every day anymore.

I went to an all-girls school.  Every year, they had a “Father-Daughter Day” and, for the first two years, I invited him to come, which he did.

It rained on “Father-Daughter Day”.  As we walked under his umbrella, I watched the other girls with their fathers, arms around each other’s waists, snuggling together under their umbrellas, as I tried desperately to hold the handle of ours without having to touch his hand.  That’s when I understood that I had a strange relationship with my father – a relationship that other girls didn’t have.

In my junior year, I didn’t invite my father to come.  I thought it would pass un-noticed, but it didn’t.  One day, he asked me when “Father-Daughter Day” was.  I lied and said, “That’s just for freshman and sophomores.  No one in the upper classes does that.”

I didn’t look at him when I said it, but I think he knew I was lying.

It went on like that for most of my life.  I had as little to do with him as possible.  I had a life and he wasn’t in it – and I didn’t think he cared any more than I did.

When he was in his early 80’s, his behavior became erratic and we realized that he couldn’t live alone anymore.  My sister found a terrific assisted-living Marriott for him. Even then, he was grumpy and cantankerous – he didn’t want to go, he didn’t want to stay, he used to escape whenever he could get out, and the director would have to call us to say they had caught my father trying to get off the grounds.

Soon, they called to say that he couldn’t take care of himself anymore – and the dreaded diagnosis was delivered:  my father had Alzheimer’s disease.  That particular Marriott had an Alzheimer’s wing and we made a decision that he would stay there.  He was accepted into that program and I breathed a sigh of relief – that someone else would be taking care of him and it wouldn’t have to be me.

God works in mysterious ways and this time was no different.

My own life had been falling apart for years – I was separated from my husband, my son had chosen to live with his Dad, and I was virtually a recluse, not working, going out only to the gym and to the store, dating men I had no business dating, spiraling down into who knows what?  I sold my beautifully renovated three-bedroom apartment and prepared to move into a rental – which fell through at the last moment, leaving me with no place to live.

My brother’s daughter was getting married, so I put all my stuff in storage, packed a few bags, and headed to my brother’s house where the weekend visit for her wedding turned into a two-month stay.

My sister picked my father up and brought him to the wedding.  That’s the night I noticed that he was no longer his boisterous, party-loving self – he was quiet and distant and sat in his chair, saying almost nothing the whole evening.  I remembered how much he loved to dance.  Years before, my father had been an Arthur Murray dance instructor.   I asked him if he wanted to dance.

He followed me to the dance floor.  Suddenly, a remnant of his former self appeared.   On the dance floor that night, my father transformed into the fabulous dancer that he had once been, leading me strongly across the floor as if he were still a young man.  We glided and turned effortlessly — the way it always is with a good dancer.

When the music was over, so was he.  His shoulders slumped and he walked back to his seat – where he sat for the rest of the night.

Something shifted inside me.  I caught a glimpse of what he must have been when he was much younger — and I remembered what it was like before he was scary all the time.  For so many years, everything that he was or did was colored for me by his anger and impatience.   There was no anger or impatience that night.

The next week, we got a call that he was in the hospital.  He started to bleed in the bathroom and he continued to bleed so much that they couldn’t do anything to find out what was causing it until they could get the bleeding to stop.

I had planned to use my brother’s house as my base to travel into the city to find another apartment.   My father’s car had been there ever since we took it away from him because it wasn’t safe for him to drive anymore.  Since my father was in the hospital over an hour away, I started driving his car to the hospital every day to see him.  I don’t remember consciously saying, “I’ll go visit him every day.”  It just seemed like the natural thing to do — and there was the car.

Once there, I talked to him, I straightened his bedclothes; I bathed his face and his hands.  Most of the time, what he talked about made no sense to me – sometimes he even lapsed into Italian, his first language.  I smiled and answered and reassured him, although I never got the sense that he really understood what I was saying.  Often, I had to champion for him with the nurses who were over-worked and forgot to shave him or didn’t respond quickly enough when he needed a bedpan or to have it removed from under him.

I started cutting his nails and cleaning them every day before I left.  It took a while before I flashed back on how I gave him his manicures when I was little.  The moment I thought of that, I looked up and caught him staring at me with a slight smile curling up at the corners of his mouth.  I smiled back at him and finished cleaning his nails.

Every day, before I left him, I shook his top sheet and folded it back down across his lap.  I smoothed it out and tucked it in loosely at the sides.  One day, as I was performing this ritual, he looked at me and said — as lucid and as clear as could be –“You know, Linda, you turned out to be a nice girl after all.”  Laughing,  I said, “Daddy, I always was a nice girl.  You just never noticed before.”  He laughed with me.  A moment later, he stopped and looked away.  He was gone again.

I stood there, watching him for a while.  He looked so helpless and so innocent.  All those angry years – his AND mine — melted away and I saw who he really was – a man who tried to do his best to raise his family and probably didn’t know how to do that.

I cried the whole way home to my brother’s house that night.  I thought about my father when my mother was in the hospital and how it must have been for him, with 4 children under the age of 12.  I thought about how scared he must have been because we were so young and couldn’t take care of ourselves, what with me burning the food and ruining the laundry.  He must have worried about what he would do if she didn’t come home.  I thought about how I had blamed him and took myself away from him – never giving him a break as someone who was just doing the best he could.  I realized how angry and impatient I had been with him all those years.

I thought of how I wouldn’t forgive him for just being human.

The next day, I went back to the hospital and I was a different person with him.  I was lively and excited and listened more intently, and I looked at him – all the time.  Every once in a while, he smiled back. Every once in a while, he looked happy to see me.

Alzheimer’s is an awful disease – but, for me and my father, it gave me the opportunity to see his humanity.  We were both redeemed.

He did finally go back to the Marriott for another year before he died.  He even got himself a girlfriend there – a sweet lady who also had Alzheimer’s.  The director had to call us again – this time to let us know that he was “having a relationship” with this lady and was it OK with us?  I was happy this time – not relieved that I didn’t have to take care of him, but happy that he found someone to be with in loving relationship before he died.  He deserved that.

We all do.

Happy Father’s Day.

Deliciously yours in the Innocence of it All, Linda

The blog post title is from Harry Chapin’s hit song, “Cat’s in the Cradle”:

“I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.””          …by Sandy and Harry Chapin   Here’s Harry Chapin singing the song:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH46SmVv8SU

This is my father, Ralph L. Ruocco, when he was in the army and dating my mother.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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