It’s been more than three weeks and I’ve still been dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Sonoma County fires and the loss of my beloved Mountain Home Ranch retreat center where I’ve held so many of my Wild Heart Painting workshops over the past seventeen years.
I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster of shock and grief and fear that has been exhausting and overwhelming. Some days I’m terribly sad and deeply in touch with a wrenching sense of loss. Other days the grief manifests as anger and crankiness where nothing makes sense and I don’t give a crap about much of anything at all.
And underneath it all is what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron calls the experience of the groundlessness of being.
According to the Buddhists, groundlessness is that feeling of being catapulted into outer space where there is no possible way to orient yourself. Where there is no solid sense of here. No up or down. No left or right. No certainty, no stability, no predictability, no guarantees of any sort.
Groundlessness is actually the true nature of life on this planet. Impermanence and constant change is the ocean we swim in. And even though some part of us knows that this is how it is, we still maintain a stubborn hope in the fiction of forever. And try so incredibly hard to hold onto those things that give our life meaning and purpose and joy.
But everything is always dying. And everything we love will be gone some day.
However, we resist that truth with every fiber of our being. Everything inside of us cries out NO! NO! NO! in the face of that constant reminder of how things never stay the same. We can maintain that illusion of permanence for blessed periods of time.
Until the fire or the divorce or the terminal diagnosis or the betrayal or the death shakes us out of our complacency and challenges the all too human desire for that sweet feeling of safety and security.
Everything you love you will lose. And some people mistakenly believe those Buddhist teachings mean we should be wary of attachment of any kind. That it is our desire to open our hearts to life that leads to much unnecessary suffering.
But it’s not our attachment to those beloved people, places and things that is the problem. It’s our attachment to the belief that those things will never go away. And the belief that something is wrong with life or with us when things DO leave us.
We are made to love it all. But we are also made to lose it all.
The big question is always this. How do we maintain our faith in life in the face of often monumental losses? How do we keep breathing? How do we keep moving forward? How do we keep our hearts from closing down permanently when we’ve lost more than we think we can bear to lose?
I certainly don’t have all the answers as I find myself traversing this unwanted path of grief-stricken letting go.
I do know that simply having all of my feelings seems to help. Even when the feelings are incredibly painful and shitty.
It helps to do absolutely nothing and to not expect myself to be highly productive or even more than barely functional some days.
It also helps to be in community. To talk about what I’m going through… sometimes over and over again… with people who love me and who can listen without trying to make things better.
Popcorn and pizza are highly recommended. As well as a reminder to be as nice and kind and as compassionate to myself as possible.
And finally, I allow myself joy wherever I can find it.
While the fires were raging we were having the outside of our house painted. Something we hadn’t done since we bought it 14 years ago.
This was an opportunity to choose the colors WE wanted and we decided on a rustic red hue with reddish brown trim and turquoise doors. Very richly earthy and definitely Southwestern in feel.
This combo makes me WILDLY happy and I smile every time I leave or enter the house. And I am truly grateful that we went ahead with this project during the unexpected chaos.
Plus the new paint job is also symbolic of the tendrils of positive change that are poking through the rubble of this season of destruction.
Of course in the midst of all the turmoil both inner and outer, I am scrambling to find new homes for my upcoming workshops and retreats.
Struggling to locate my feet again and to figure out how to recreate my world under these suddenly radically changed circumstances. It’s been emotionally challenging because even looking for the new retreat centers brings me up against the reality that Mountain Home is really and truly gone. Which tears my heart open again and again. And some days I wish I could stay hidden under the covers for a very, very long time.
But in one way I am lucky in that I have no choice.
This sacred healing work is also my livelihood and the mortgage needs to be paid no matter what. I also have many wonderful creative people who have signed up months in advance to go on a deep soul retreat journey with me via intuitive painting and the expressive arts. And I am committed to them and to my own spirit to keep this work vital and alive.
So I am compelled by many forces to find a new home for my workshops.
The good news is that I am finding places to teach that are quite stunningly wonderful and totally amazing. They aren’t Mountain Home. Nothing can ever replace that land and those people and the memories created over all those many years.
But these new retreat centers are filled with their own wondrous magic. And I’m looking forward to the possibility of falling in love all over again.