deep-purple-water-lilies-pictureThe priest was very stern with all of us that Sunday: “Don’t think that you can come to church and be pious; and, then, walk out of here and treat your brothers and sisters like dirt, that you can be mean and greedy and angry and selfish – and, then, waltz right back in here next Sunday – and feel that you are a good Christian. You are not.”

He was angry. I don’t know what set him off, but something did. This was the most vehement homily I had ever heard. He continued: “Your life is out there, outside these doors. That’s where you need to be a model of Christian behavior – that is where you will be seen, with your brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, the poor and needy, the grieving and confused. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ That is the Christ message and you need to do that to be a good Christian.”

He left us with this instruction: “Go out there and live your life as if God was watching every minute – because He is. When you meet someone who needs your help, give it. When you see someone who is in distress, comfort them. When you know that someone needs to know you love them, tell them.”

Finally – “Do not rest until someone says, ‘I see the Face of Christ in you.’”

What do you say to that?

I thought to myself, “No one goes around telling people that they see the Face of Christ in them. How on earth do I do that?”

I left church that day and didn’t give it another thought. I was having a hard time that summer – it was all I could do to stay present to my own faith and hope and turning my life around as everything seemed to go wrong around me. I had rented my apartment and was staying at my brother’s farm in New Jersey until I could create something new for myself. But, it seemed that, everywhere I turned, something was falling apart. The last straw came when my laptop computer, from which I did all of my business, crashed and burned. That’s almost literal – there was a strange, smoky smell coming from it as it wound itself down into blackness.

I felt as if I had nothing more to lose.

That wasn’t true, of course. I had my son’s jeep for the summer and had called old friends to catch up – the ones who lived in New Jersey, anyway. Now that I had a car and could travel, I called everyone I knew and made plans to see them.

One of the people I called was my friend, Diane. I had met her on a trip we took to Cambodia in 2007 with a group of film makers who had created the documentary, “New Year Baby,” about a friend’s family that fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to settle in the United States.

It was a glorious trip, visiting all the temples out of Siam Reap, going on safari in the Cambodian countryside to see things most visitors don’t see – the old monks in the village who didn’t know how old they were, the young children running in the streets, trying to sell bags and jewelry to make enough money to go to school, the boat ride in the Mekong River where Cambodia and Vietnam meet, to see the people who live on the boats and almost never come on land.

One pre-dawn morning in Northern Cambodia, sitting on the stones at the bottom of a temple, up which all our fellow travelers had climbed to see the sun come up, I looked over at a tree – and I could swear I saw the side of the tree branches in the shape of Christ’s face. I called over to Diane and her cousin, Heather. They saw it, too. As the sun grew brighter, the face melted into the branches and was no more. The three of us looked at each other – we knew we had seen something special.  We didn’t speak of it to anyone.

In New Jersey, these years later, I called Diane to have dinner together. After much getting lost and traveling around in circles, we found each other and settled in at a restaurant bar midway between her house and my brother’s house.

We talked all night – we had both gone through a lot since we saw each other last. She had left New York City and was settled into a new job in Princeton and seemed happy. Throughout the evening, she had told me everything on her mind. I listened in a way that didn’t allow for that nutty voice in my head — you know the one —  figuring out what I would say next while she was talking. It was really quiet in my mind except for Diane’s voice. I felt so much love for her that it seemed to spill over onto the table and our barbequed ribs and salad and slid all the way over to her, glazing the way so that her face glowed in the candlelight at the booth table. She was beautiful in that light and I loved her.

When she was done, she grabbed my hands and squeezed them. “You are the Face of Christ to me, Linda.” The words seemed so surreal, I thought I imagined it. “What did you say?” She said that I was so full of love that she could feel it, that I was listening with so much compassion that she could sense it, that she felt safe with me, spiritually safe.

I didn’t connect it until I was driving home – that’s what the priest said on Sunday! So, I thought, “That’s what it takes? To be empty inside of my own self-centeredness, to listen with nothing else there, to love someone for Who they are – and Who they’re not?

Yes.  That’s what it takes.

Do not think this went to my head. I no sooner returned home than my brother got angry at me.  What went through my mind as he yelled at me was, “I guess he  doesn’t think I’m the Face of Christ.”  It got me in touch with my humanity.  I realized: sometimes we are – and sometimes we’re not.

It is not natural for me to be always loving, always listening from nothing, always compassionate, always forgiving. When I’m judgmental, when I’m impatient, when I’m justifying behavior – believe me, nobody does it better.

What I learned that night with Diane is that, if I’m vigilant for Who I want to be, Who I know I am as a divine child of God, how I can love more, listen more, serve more – that is the Face of Christ in all of us – whether you’re Christian or not.

We’re human – we rock ‘n roll back and forth between being that wonderful Face and being a jerk.

If I could just lessen the time that I’m a jerk – and increase my loving time… that would be something, wouldn’t it?

I could be the Face of Christ all the time.

Deliciously yours in the Wonder of it All, Linda

“To love another person is to see the face of God”  ~ Jan Valjean in “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo

The picture in the header is titled, “Cosmic Christ Arising” by artist Leigh J McCloskey at http://www.leighmccloskey.com/index.htm.  Here is the full version:

CosmicChristArisingArtistLeighJMcCloskey

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2013. 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 was excited to read Dayna Macy’s new book, “Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom”,  because it is a memoir and not a “diet book.”   After reading a few self-help books on weight loss, like Marianne Williamson’s, “A Course in Weight Loss” and Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food, and God,” (both of which I loved!),  it intrigued me that someone would write a personal story of what she eats and why and what she did about it.

Dayna Macy titled her three sections with compelling names:  Part 1 is “Seduction”, in which she writes about the foods that arouse her desires: “Sausage,” “Cheese,” “Chocolate,” “Olives,” and “Squash.”  Squash?  Yes, squash – this chapter seems to be more about the pleasure of food than the food itself.  Or, perhaps, more about the man who is cooking the food than the food itself – charged with longing and eroticism, this chapter makes it is easy to see why we women confuse food with intimacy.  Hunger is often not distinguished for us in terms of what we are hungry for.  And so, we eat when we can’t or don’t love.

Part II is titled, “Communion,” with chapters called, “Farm,” “Forage,” “Feast,” “Patience,” “Slaughter,” and “Home” – the connections with food that create the insatiable – or almost insatiable — bond with those foods we love.   The hardest chapter for me to read in this section (in fact, in the entire book) was the one on meat, entitled  “Slaughter.”  While I am not a vegetarian and I don’t have any desire to be one, Dayna’s telling of her visit to a humane “abattoir” – a slaughterhouse – took me up close and personal to what it is behind the scenes of being a meat-eater: an animal has to die for me to have my steak and eat it, too.

Indeed, this chapter is about the humane slaughter of cows, which, we all know (or, should know by now) is not the way most of the cattle that supplies our meat are killed.  Although she does not take us on a visit to the farms that do not practice the humane slaughter of cattle, the background conversation is that method as a contrast to this visit to the more humane facility.  She describes the process in detail:  calves one at a time, hidden from the view of the animals behind it, stunned to brain-deadness and then killed.  Behind her visceral description is what she doesn’t discuss — the even more disturbing vision of cows crowded together in a killing chute, fear racing through their bodies as they see the animal in front of them die.  She doesn’t describe that directly, but the way she describes this killing is as a contrast to that killing.  While the unspoken contrast is not on the page, it is left in your mind.

After that chapter, I had to take a break.  Her descriptions are so detailed, I had to put the book down for awhile.  It was time to think about my responsibility in how I choose my food.  Can I live with even the humane description?  I don’t know.

Part III is called, “Transformation.”  The chapter titles are, “No Food,” “The Yoga of Food,” “The Practice of Food,” “The Offering of Food,” – all very spiritual chapters in the sense that eating and food require being honest with oneself and present to the actual act of eating —  and the last chapter of the book is on “Oranges.”  This is my favorite chapter, partly because of her luscious descriptions: “Oranges are among my favorite fruits.  I love how the juice squirts out when you bite into a section and how they can be both sweet and sour and taste like the sun,” and partly because it is clear, in the end, that she has no answers for herself or for me – or for anyone, in fact.

There are no answers.

This is a book about the courage to be honest about one’s appetites – all of them – and the way we use those appetites to protect ourselves, to hide our pain – mostly from ourselves – and, finally, to find a way to use the very wounds that we seek to hide to take us on a journey that will lead to loving ourselves.

Deliciously yours in the Sweetness of it All,  Linda

“Weight can be gained or lost.  Our judgments about our bodies are much harder to lose.  I see that my body is strong.  It lets me do things both beautiful and practical.  I am grateful to have found a practice that is helping me find balance and lose weight.  But the scale is a witness to my journey, not the measure of my worth.  It is with gratitude and humility that I am learning to take care of my body, because it is the embodiment of my spirit and the vehicle with which I make my way through this complicated, magnificent world.”         Dayna Macy, “Ravenous: a food lover’s journey from obsession to freedom.”

Here is the link to Hay House Book Club Radio, a discussion of “Ravenous” which will air this Friday, August 19th:

http://www.hayhouseradio.com/show_details.php?show_id=235&episode_type=0

Here is the link to “Ravenous” at Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ravenous-dayna-macy/1100319096?ean=9781401926915&itm=1&usri=ravenous%2bby%2bdayna%2bmacy

And, the link to Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Ravenous-Lovers-Journey-Obsession-Freedom/dp/1401926916/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297878475&sr=1-1

Disclosure:  I received Dayna Macy’s book, “Ravenous:  a food lover’s journey from obsession to freedom”  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.

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

It is the two year anniversary of this blog.  I started it for Valentine’s Day in 2009 – and it has been a source of love and fulfillment for me every day since then.

I created this blog out of a course at Landmark Education called Power and Contribution.  It is my way to get my love out there into the world.   I am always grateful that you read it, that you email me to tell me how a story reminds you of something or someone in your life, that you comment on the difference it makes for you.  I am grateful to all of you!

Instead of a story, I’ve created a Valentine’s Day tribute – to you, to the full self-expression that is available to all of us, and, as an expression of my love:

1.               My son, Josh, has given me a special Valentine – one I cannot tell anyone about yet.  For me, that is VERY hard, but my friend, Jennifer Watt, helped me to think of this in a new way.  It is my “Secret Valentine,” the “yum, yum, yum, yummy” of my heart – like good chocolate, I can savor it, letting it melt slowly on my tongue, closing my eyes and enjoying the moment of it, the taste of it, the way it makes my heart glow in warmth and love.  There’s no one like Josh to me, so this Valentine is just the ultimate, the mountain-top, the Oscar of Valentines.  I am savoring every moment!

2.               Yesterday, I went to a chocolate tasting event given by my friend, Shana Dressler, to benefit her organization, The Global Cocoa Project.   I always held it before that I was a chocoholic, the word having an addictive connotation, like I have no control over it.  At the event, I met Clay Gordon and bought his book, “Discover Chocolate.”  While in conversation with him, he distinguished for me that I am not a chocoholic, I am a “chocophile”, a lover of good chocolate, a seeker for that which is sweet and beautiful and yummy in this life.  Thank you, Clay, for that distinction about myself – it is so empowering!  And, so very Who I Am, not just about chocolate, but about Life, about Love.  I’m a Love-o-phile!

3.               I am blessed to have the people around me that I do.  The special men in my life — all of them, my heroes:  My aforementioned totally lovable and loving son, Josh Feuer, who has been the source of Joy in my world; my incredibly supportive and amazing former husband, Fred Feuer, who has been my anchor and my rock through many a storm; my wonderful brother, Ralph Ruocco, who has distinguished “family” for me in a way that I’ve not seen before – and who is an example for me of everything that is giving and kind in this world; my coach, Tony Woodroffe, who opens the world up for me every time I have a session with him; my too-many-to-name dear friends and family – you are all a part of me; and, my dear readers, you have allowed me to become the writer that I’ve always dreamed I’d be — the one I’ve kept hidden inside all these years.  I am grateful for,  and to,  all of you!

I am declaring this year to be a turning point for me, for my writing, for my life, and a deepening of my love for you!  I will continue to write stories, and will add commentary, more reviews – of books, places,  and experiences.  I will also keep you posted on the memoir I am writing, currently titled, “The Beggar Laughed,” which begins when I volunteered at the armory with the victims’ families after 9/11 and ends with a revelatory experience at the Taj Mahal two years later.   The message is..  Well, that’s for you to read in the book…

Yum, Yum, Yum, Yummy…!   That is my mantra for the delicious life that I intend for me and for you this year!

Every day is Valentine’s Day…!

Deliciously yours in the Juicy-ness of it All, Linda

Follow me on Twitter @Linda_Ruocco

Visit The Global Cocoa Project at www.globalcocoaproject.org and see how you can make a difference for the cocoa farmers in the world.

Picture by Seneca Klassen on http://www.chocophile.com.

Visit Clay Gordon at www.chocophile.com (also accessed at www.thechocolatelife.com) and learn everything there is to know about fine chocolate!

Visit www.c-spot.com, the search spot for all things chocolate.

Visit www.lawofchocolate.com to find my friend, Sandra Champlain’s, CD of the same name.

Visit my amazing life coach, Tony Woodroffe, at www.twlifecoach.com!

And, last, – but not least, here is the link for www.landmarkeducation.com, a company that has an already-always listening for mine and everyone else’s Greatness that causes me to be that Greatness – and, I mean, no kidding!

© 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.

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.

  
 
 
Dear Readers,
 
Valentine’s Day is the first year anniversary of this blog. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, my loyal readers,  and so I celebrate you with a shift from my usual story.
 
 
 
 
 
 
A sonnet for you on Valentine’s Day: 
 
  
To have arrived here – takes me back to time alone
in youth;  Those lovely hours dark and late at night,
Huddle’d in bed, reading book or fantastical poem,
My mother’s vain urging to turn out the secretive light
fell on deaf ears as longing and fantasy reigned free.
Intrigue and romance drew  me far from  my childhood room,
“A moment!” I called, though sleep I would not soon seek,
Still gone, away from the dark of reality’s seeming gloom.
 
Those journeys of heart were solace and peace to my mind
without which my shy and aching spirit could not engage
those days perceiv’d as fearful; in words I sought to find
adventure and freedom, expression on beauteous page.
 
My friends, your loyal attention here doth prove
again, that mind creates world; with thanks, my love.
 
 
Happy Valentine’s Day! 
 
Deliciously yours in the Gratitude  of it All,  Linda
 
 
“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day”
  ….”My Funny Valentine,” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart
 

© 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.

 

DianeBWhiteGarden5I’m a real estate broker, and I just sold my penthouse listing that I’ve had for over a year. 

When we first put it on the market last year, we had an offer in three days – great price, cash sale.  My owner almost couldn’t believe it – two guys walked in, took one look, and the next day, we had a great offer…. 

That was in August.  AND… in New York City, in a coop, it’s a good two to three months from “accepted offer” to closing…. 

A lot happened in the months between August and October, 2008, as we all know…. but, they were doctors with not much stock market exposure… and so, it seemed that we would be OK…. 

I did their “board package” and applied to the board of directors — they passed easily…   The day I called to tell them that they were approved to move into the building, the stock market dropped over 700 points.   The next day I got the call….  they were backing out of the deal, leaving their deposit on the table….  

They were scared…. 

Everyone was…   Soon, New York City was a barren real estate market  in an even bigger real estate desert….  

I went from having one of the hottest apartments on the market…. to being in the same boat with everyone else… no customers, no mortgages, no sales…. 

Oh, did I mention that this particular penthouse apartment has a huge set-back terrace….?   There is room for a table and chairs, lounges, and a hammock… in the middle of Manhattan!   Once the sun crossed over the water tower on the building, there was bright sun all day long on this beautiful terrace that faced South, West, and North… 

After a few more false starts with customer interest and then wariness, we made a decision to take the apartment off the market for the winter.  My owners had relocated to Boston in the Fall, moving out in the middle of October as they had planned  – when they originally thought they would be closing.… 

I threw out the dead plants and we closed up the apartment.     It looked as forlorn and desolate as the entire market seemed…. 

As the Spring approached, we started planning to put the apartment back on the market…  and we discussed how we would set up the apartment to get the most mileage out of  marketing the property… 

We could have “staged” the empty apartment, but a terrace in Manhattan is a really big deal…    New Yorkers are funny about outdoor space….  you would think that they were never going to see a tree again….!    So, in the toss up between moving furniture in and buying plants and landscaping the terrace…. 

My vote was for the terrace….. 

Once I said that, I cringed inside….  My owners didn’t live there anymore… and I live two blocks away….   And, my stand as a real estate broker has always been to do the extra things that make the difference to my owners and buyers….  I research the schools, I find out about moving companies, I supply lists of grocery stores and restaurants, dry cleaners and hardware stores in the neighborhood… 

And…  I’ve never been able to grow a plant in my life….  I have grand ideas about trees in my living room or plants in ceramic pots in the windows…   and they all die…  No sooner do I buy an orchid plant in full bloom than, one by one, the blooms fall off and the stem turns brown…. 

I did have a neighbor once who taught me how to water her plants when she was away….   with that successful memory in mind, I offered my owner,  “Please  don’t worry…  I’ll come over and water every day…. “  I knew I could do that much…. 

Secretly, I worried that something would go wrong and those beautiful plants would wither and die under my care…. 

I even remember, years ago,  when I took up Astrology and found out that I have no earth in my chart….   I thought, “No wonder all my plants die!  No wonder I don’t cook!  No wonder I’m not  ‘earthy’….” 

It didn’t make sense to me, actually….   My mother was an avid gardener…    She had flower gardens and a vegetable garden and hedges of lilacs around our property, and roses growing up the entire side of our garage….  When the lilacs bloomed, my mother would cut bunches and bunches of them  and fill every room in our house with bowls and vases of lilacs…  To this day, when I pass a corner store selling lilacs here in the city, and I smell their fragrance on the air,  I always think of her…. and I am reminded of how much I miss her…  and all the beauty that she gave me…

She was known for making things grow… One time, I asked her how she could spend hours on her knees, planting and weeding, and picking and arranging….  She told me that the flowers and vegetables kept her in touch with who she was… they kept her “grounded”… 

I often heard her talk to her plants….  she was as affectionate with them as she was with us….  I asked her why she did that and she told me that plants don’t grow unless they feel loved…  She said that talking to them reassured them that she loved them…. 

Well, maybe….  it was clear to me that she spent time with them, she took care of them, and there was something magical in what she did…  everything she touched, grew…  And…  I had no idea what that was!  If she wanted to call it love… that was fine by me….

The landscaper came in and set up the plants.  They were pretty, but hardly lush.  She told me that it would take awhile for them to “warm” to their environment….  as she spoke, I thought, “Oh, no… this is just like my mother….  it’s not just about the watering….  there’s something more here to do…. “  

I just didn’t think I had that magical quality  that could do it… whatever “it” was….

Nevertheless,  I gave my Word and now I was responsible for them.   I came over every day and I watered.  I noticed that when it rained, the wind whipped around the edge of the terrace and knocked some of the plants over, so I made a point of going over when it was windy to move the plants up close to the apartment walls….  I moved them around as they grew so that they could get the most sun… or, in some cases, when they got too much sun, I moved them into the shade for a day or so…. 

In the meantime, people were still scared…. mortgages were still scarce…. and this beautiful terrace sat, in the center of Manhattan, with no one living there….  

I started going over in the afternoons and, after I watered, I would sit and read or meditate for a while……  Soon, I found myself stroking their leaves and buds until, one day, I opened the door to the terrace, and called out, “Hi, My Babies, I’m here…!”  I caught myself…..  Now, I’m talking to plants? 

And, they grew and they grew…. 

I had to stand pots up on top of other pots because the vines and the leaves were flourishing so much  that they had to be lifted up off the hot terrace tiles…    Verdant and luxuriant, a garden to be proud of!  —  I sent pictures to the landscaper and she wrote to me, “Boy, you really have a green thumb!  They look great!…..” 

I do?  I have a green thumb? 

One day, I noticed that one of the evergreens had these little pine cone-looking things…. I thought that was odd…  None of the other evergreens had little pine cones.   After a week or so, I noticed that the leaves on that particular evergreen seemed to be thinning….. 

As I watered, I got up close to the tree, curious about those funny appendages hanging down… and then…. one of them wiggled….  I pulled my face back quickly…  what was THAT? 

I finished watering and put the hose away.  I came back to that tree and just stared at those “pine cones”…. and, suddenly, out of the top of one of them, I saw this big, black worm start to raise his head and pull himself up from the opening! 

I recoiled from what I saw!  What could this be?  And, as I looked at all these “pine cones” hanging down, I realized that these weren’t supposed to be there…. could there be black worms in every one of those cones? 

That did it!  Nothing was going to mess with my “babies”….  I ran inside the house and grabbed some paper towels and came out and pulled every one of those “pine cones” off that tree…  Harder than it looked, mind you….  There was something that looked like silk thread that tied those cones to the tree….  Finally, I thought I had gotten them all…  I took them inside and tied them into a plastic garbage bag and threw them out. 

When I got home, I googled “worms in evergreens” and….  THERE THEY WERE!!!  They are called “bag worms” and I learned all about how they make their bags from the silk thread that they produce and they take some of the little evergreen needles and “decorate” their bags with them so that they look just like little pine cones.  

I read for hours.  One woman commented that the gardener must stay vigilant because “those worms will drag those bags all over that tree….”  

I learned that they use the wind and their silk to fly from tree to tree to infest other evergreens in the area…. 

No way was that happening… !

The next day, I went over, armed for a fight….  and, sure enough, there were more bags in the very same area that I thought I had cleaned out…  I removed those and into the plastic bag they went…. 

I searched the entire terrace… I found one attached to the underside of the table…. I found one on the evergreen nearest the infested one and removed that….  I even found one attached to the apartment’s brick wall….  It was trying to get itself over to the other side of the terrace! 

I removed them all and have not found another one since….  There are other things to do to prevent them from coming back next year and I will work with the landscaper to be sure that happens….  

After I removed them all, I walked around from plant to plant, reassuring them that I was there and I was taking care of them and no “bag worms” were going to get them, not if I had anything to do with it…. 

I called the landscaper and told her what I had found.  She applauded me for spotting them and taking care of the problem….  “Just think of it this way,” she said, “You just saved a tree….”   

Wow!

That’s when I got myself in a whole new way…  I always held it before that nothing could grow around me….  even when I saw myself as successful in other areas, it always bothered me that I couldn’t make flowers grow and I didn’t know anything about vegetables… and so I thought I wasn’t “earthy” or grounded…   I always thought I didn’t have what it takes, but that wasn’t it at all… 

It struck me that I had been like those little “bag worms”, carting my “bag” of history and pre-conceived notions about myself around with me wherever I went…. and now I see how deathly that can be….. The only reason I wasn’t “earthy” was because I believed I wasn’t….  I couldn’t make flowers grow before because I was convinced that  I couldn’t do that… 

And that’s not the truth about me….

What there is to do is to create, to nurture…. to water and feed…  whether it be plants or flowers or people….. or dreams…. to be responsible for them, to speak to them… so that they always know how much I love them…..  

Anything could  grow in that space, don’t you think?  

The apartment has been sold now and will close at the beginning of November.  I promised the new owner that I would work with her on getting the landscaper in to take care of the trees for the winter and to be sure that the evergreens are sprayed for the “bag worms” so that there is no repeat of them next Spring…. 

You might think that I would be sad that I won’t be taking care of them anymore, but here’s what I’ve taken on….    Those beautiful plants on the terrace taught me something important about myself…. and I am incredibly grateful….   Now it’s time for someone else to enjoy them and take care of them….  and perhaps…  to  learn something, too…. 

There will be other gardens for me to grow…. 

Deliciously yours in the Beauty of it All,   Linda 

“Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed…  that with the sun’s love
in the spring… becomes the rose…”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             …”The Rose”, Bette Midler

“The only way to change your story is to change what you believe about yourself….Every time you change the main character of your story, the whole story changes to adapt to the new main character.”
~Don Miguel Ruiz

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This is the terrace I’ve been caring for all summer….  These pictures were taken mid-Summer.  All these plants are twice as big now!

 

 

 

 

 

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And, these are the evergreens that I saved from the “Bag worms”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. 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 “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

peaceful-viewinCentralParkAfter 9/11, it got personal….

In the aftermath of those days of serving at the armory, and those nights of writing about it to all my friends, I was left alone with my own fears… 

Before September 11th, I had been interviewing for a job.  It had looked good for a few weeks.  On the Friday after the towers went down, I received a call that they were putting the job on hold.  

During the busy days, I would forget that I had no job, no means of support, and the only thing I had been working on was now gone.  In the middle of the night, after the shower, after the writing — sometime around 4:00 every morning, alone in my room, I would remember…  

That’s when I got scared for myself… 

I was forced to look at my situation and, when I did, I became paralyzed with fear.  There were times when I sat in my seat, unable to think of what I would do or where I would go.  My options looked grim.  I was virtually estranged from my family.  Years of going down separate roads, with no time or effort invested, either on my part or theirs, to enclose us back in the loop of “family”  had created a distance and an indifference that caught me off guard.  I never realized before that not being committed in love and community with them would finally leave me without family to turn to. 

Sometime after the towers went down, Fred called me that he wanted to speak to me.  He came over that afternoon and handed me divorce papers.  I was too tired and too stunned about my life to be further shocked that he chose this time — after 8 years of separation —  to bring up a divorce.  I looked at them – three simple pages that dissolved a marriage that had long been over.  I looked up, “Why now?” I asked.  “Why not?” he answered —  and I had to agree.  I signed the papers. 

That night, the impact of his visit hit me.  I was alone.  

The despair and loneliness hit.  I had been praying at the armory with the victims’ families, but my own prayers seemed empty and meaningless.  That night, they moved into desperation.  There was no direction, no comfort, no hope. 

I didn’t know how to reach out.  I never did that before.  I always had it that I was supposed to do it by myself.  I didn’t know any other way.  And, in not reaching out, I had withdrawn into myself, closing myself off to everyone who had ever been in my life. 

I walked to my computer and sat down.  I composed an email to Marianne Williamson.  Marianne was the pastor of Church of Today in Detroit, Michigan.  I had read her book, “A Return to Love” many years before and had loved it.  It was a book based on her reflections on “A Course in Miracles”, a spiritual self-study program.  Since then, I had searched out her lectures and workshops.  She had just been in New York City after 9/11, speaking at St. Bartholemew’s Church on Park Avenue about the tragedy.  She had said something that was so hopeful:  “God didn’t make this happen, but, now that it has, God has a plan.” 

I wondered if He had a plan for me, too. 

I wrote to her about the victims’ families and what I was doing with them and that I felt called to do that work – to help people deal with the tragedy, to make a difference in people’s lives, and that the calling had to do with God, but I didn’t know what that was.  I knew I wanted to continue helping people, but what did that look like?  I questioned how one went about figuring that out AND making a living at that same time.  I told her that I was at a point of fear and “not knowing” and that didn’t feel good, but what WAS the way?  I didn’t know and I hoped that she did.  I clicked “Send”.  

The next day, I received an answer.  The email said: 

After reading your email, my sense is that you need to be more patient as you are being ‘pruned’ for this work.  I don’t believe we can hurry the process, we can only be willing to be used, to be changed, to evolve.  A year from now you will look back and see how much you have grown in faith and trust.  You will see how your fear has been kept in check, not removed, but kept in check by your faith and a power greater than yourself.  Do what is in front of you to do right now and the next thing will be shown to you in due time.  I know it is not easy, and yet I do believe this is the way the preparation for service works.

God’s blessings are with you” 

At the bottom of the email, there was a note:  “It might be helpful to put yourself in a spiritual support group.  Here is a list of “A Course In Miracles” study groups in Manhattan.  It is not for everyone.  See if it is for you.”       

I called every group on the list.  Some people were inviting, some were distant and aloof, some were in people’s homes, some met in coffee shops once a week.       

The last name on the list was Jeffrey Mironov.  He lived on the Upper West Side, and he held a group in his home every Wednesday night.  He had been doing it for 10 years.  He was open and welcoming and comforting on the phone.  I don’t remember what  he said to me, but I do remember that I knew that this was the group for me. 

I told him I would come the following Wednesday. 

Years before, after reading Marianne’s book, I had bought a copy of “A Course in Miracles”.  I tried to read it by myself and found it very dense and confusing.  I was baffled – she got what she got from this book?  How?  I could barely keep my attention on it for more than a paragraph without my mind wandering away…  

I thought, “Maybe if I find the chapter on ‘forgiveness’, that would be enough…”.   I laugh at myself now when I think of that since the entire work is based on forgiveness.  At the time, though, I was looking for the quick and easy way.  Perhaps I just wasn’t ready.  I found the one chapter heading with “forgiveness” in the title and tried to read that.  No luck.  I folded back the book to the page, stuck it in the closet and there it remained. 

As I prepared to go to Jeffrey’s house on December 5th, 2001, I searched all over for my copy of the Course.  I found it tucked away in the back of one of my closets, still with the page turned back to the chapter on “forgiveness”.  I didn’t know how studying this book that I didn’t understand would give me any peace.   But, I was willing to look at it differently….

Jeffrey lived – and still does — at 86th Street and Riverside Drive, a beautiful pre-war building called The Normandy.  The doorman directed me to take the elevator up to the 15th floor  — I opened the door – already slightly ajar — into Jeffrey’s apartment .  Nice.  Cozy.  I stepped into the foyer and noticed lots of shoes by the door.  I took mine off and lay them near the others.  I walked into the room where I saw people sitting.  

What was immediately there for me was the breath-taking view of the Hudson River and New Jersey from the living room window.  I was instantly  relieved that I wasn’t in some basement somewhere with no windows and a stark, single bulb hanging from the ceiling, which is how I always imagined “self-help” group meetings. 

I met Jeffrey, the leader, a tall, easy guy who reminded me of what I always thought  Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” looked like.  Only  there was nothing scared and meek about Jeffrey.  He seemed peaceful and friendly and invited me in as if his home was my home.  There was a power and grace to him.     

There were other people there, but the one who most stands out for me was Steve Conenna.  Steve is a big guy, tall with a shaved head and a wide, ever-present smile.  I was nervous about meeting everyone, but Jeffrey and Steve made me feel comfortable and, somehow, as if I belonged there…  as if I’d always belonged there… 

We read from “A Course in Miracles” and Jeffrey spoke.  I don’t remember everything he said, but he was so sure, so certain that God is “right here, right now.”  He used that expression a lot.  I wanted to ask, “How do you know that?”, but even as my questioning mind was going crazy, something inside me was settling down.  Every once in a while, the skeptical part would rise up and say something, and Jeffrey would simply answer, confident and certain, and I would sink back down into comfort.  Even so, the tears threatened to pour out at any moment.       

After a while, everyone started to leave.  Soon, I was alone in the living room with Jeffrey and Steve.  I told them about me – that I was broke, I didn’t know what to do, I felt alone and helpless AND I had just done this service at the armory that made me realize that I wanted to do something for other people.  I didn’t know what it was…  and I was afraid of what was next…

Even as I spoke, I was thinking,  “Am I kidding myself?  How can I do anything for anyone else if I can’t even take care of myself?  Am I just making excuses for a life now in crisis?  How will I know what I am supposed to do?” 

My mind was going crazy… 

Anger growled into my voice as I spoke about why I was there, “I know what I DON’T want – I don’t want to sit around and talk about God!  I don’t think that helps anything or anyone.  I want an experience of God in my life.  I want whatever this is that is angry and scared to go away and I want some peace.  I want to just BE.  I don’t want to keep trying to survive.  I’m tired and I’m scared.  If we’re just going to talk about God, this is not for me and I’m not coming back.” 

That night, and in all the years since I’ve  known  Jeffrey – I have never seen him flinch at anything I’ve said.  I’ve never seen him angry or defensive or lose it or be anything other than loving and great.  He responded to my rant by looking right in my eyes.  He said:

Linda, God loves you now, He has always loved you, and He will  always  love you. That’s all there ever is,  always.” 

That was it.  I stared at him as he and Steve looked at me.  And.. I felt… love.  It washed over me.  Right then.  Not before.   Just… right…. then.   Suddenly, Jeffrey looked beautiful to me.  Steve looked beautiful to me.  The tears rolled  down my cheeks.  I couldn’t believe it could be that simple – all of a sudden, I felt a joy and a comfort and a love for everything and everybody… 

And… the fear was gone…       

Steve said, “You look pretty good to me.”  I nodded my head.  I looked into his eyes and then I looked into Jeffrey’s eyes and I knew…. 

This is what I came for…. 

I’ve been here ever since….  in the love, in the peace, in the knowing… 

Deliciously yours in the Majesty of it All…  Linda

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”  Psalm 138:8

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”    Mohandas Mahatma Ghandi

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This is Marianne Williamson, whose book, “A Return to Love” is the book I read that got me to “A Course in Miracles.”  She’s written many books since then and I’ve read them all.  If you want to know more about her or to order this book or any of her other books, all of which I recommend,  please go to her website, www.marianne.com.  I particularly like “Illuminata” which is a book of prayers that I keep by my bed.

 

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. 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 “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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