Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Monday, September 15, 2014


I am house and dog-sitting a divine place with a huge garden which I am eating out of constantly. I taught a yoga class today about the garden - remember that adage about how you teach best what you most need to learn -- well, it was all about harvesting what is in your garden now, rather than trying to make things out of pineapples, which are from Hawaii, for God's sake. Okay, that's paraphrased. I am really trying to see what is in front of my eyes, on my plate, in the ball field--in short, what is here. It is easier to complain about what isn't.

Today, I took the dogs down behind the house. Once you open the gate, the landscape becomes a forested hill diving down toward a talking stream. We (I, really) tripped over tree roots and slid down sandy patches until we reached the stream, which invited the dogs in for a drink. Gabriel became wilder and wilder until he found himself crashing with abandon through a stand of bamboo. I thought he was chasing a deer but was reassured by another dog walker that there were no deer, only small rodents. Bamboo is easy to crack without effort. So, Gabriel was chasing small rodents through the stand of bamboo and I can only imagine he was doing it because he liked the symphony of breaking branches.  Imagine. I wonder if he felt powerful flinging his body weight around, tearing through the tall tiny trees, a golden body knocking about a screen of green latticework. I called him out because I was scared. Just as he was having his fantasy of his life being the greatest hunter incarnate, I was fantasizing that he was being chased by a rutting buck, antlers poised to skewer his soft, ridiculously flailing body. And I had to back off and stop being overbearing (and judgmental.) Because nature has its way with us. We are not neatly packaged into any one reality. Gabriel's hunting spree was just as real as my fear he was being chased. And ultimately, nature has the last word.

The mid-September garden is dolloped paint upon a fading green palate. Orange and yellow Scotch Bonnets, grass green jalapenos, evergreen poblanos, rust-colored Romas, the thick, orange of cherry tomatoes, and the mulberry eggplant. Each of these vegetables is a remnant of a season past. I eat them to remember the long daylight hours of summer. I eat them to remember the warmth of those days on my face. I eat them not to forget where I've been. I hope they will nourish me as the nights grow cool with exhaustion from the summer's bountiful production.

It is the cusp of fall. I look at what I have in my garden right now: a succotash of my own heart's longing for adventure, the fear that I and those I love will not be safe in the world, the discovery that I create the story in which I live, and the power of imagination. I wonder what will be on the table for winter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stilling to a stop. Now my yoga begins. Who knew?

I have been wallowing in a sticky place for too long. I received my Yoga Journal in the mail today-- my own, self-addressed recipe for depression. Look how I’ve become such a raw nerve stretching out into the world. Events in my life have caused me to deepen my yoga practice without movement. That almost sounds appealing. But still. Still… the glowing skin, the thick long hair, the short, cute cuts, the organic riding boots, the avocado mango salsa, the smiles, the couples who have found love through yoga. These all are parts of me that haven’t happened yet or maybe never will. But everyday, I can honestly say, I am in love. The object of my love, the origin of my love, is not human. I have been practicing yoga for 17 years, so what, and I have been practicing yoga all of my life. Haven't we all? Six years ago, I packed my things into the Volvo and drove to Santa Fe to deepen my practice. Now, if that doesn’t sound like Yoga Journal material…

In the desert, I did deepen my practice. I can’t go into it now because, like any hole dug deeply and with intention, the strata hold too many stories to tell. I do know this: I didn’t slow down enough to feel my practice. And my life, unfolding upon my insistence, glanced off my hot skin and did not penetrate. I wonder now if I thought that was Liberty. Eventually, I burned through layers of what held me back, only to find my body slow itself, then break, then still itself; no movement. The place I now inhabit does not bend, stretch, or fold. The place that has no pain has no postures. This place is where the yoga now begins.

I sit with my breath and my mantra each morning. My dog patiently waits for his walk. I can hear him sighing. He hates the flame as it catches and burns the camphor. He hates the camphor’s smoke as it burns in his nostrils. He can’t wait to be outdoors chasing squirrels. I sit. Shiva is the last thing I see before I close my eyes; then, anything is possible. I course through conversations, lists, and dreams. A line for my novel arrives. It will wait if it means business. I coax my mind back to the mantra. I think of paint colors. The mantra. I feel it burn a path inside my body that distinguishes it from the fantasy I am having about true love. I follow its crooking finger and its gentle whisper until I am around the bend, and for a second, I am nothing.

I wake up. My shoulders hurt. I tell myself that this is where the path begins. I tell myself all I’ve been preparing  for is now. I tell myself if I am to be of service to others, I must understand the movement I long for in my stillness is the doorway I have been looking for all along. And still…

I admire those who know that pain is free fuel. By writing this, I have skimmed the surface of what I really want to say. I wonder if I will be brave enough to try again. I wonder, breathe in, if I will in-spire: take spirit inside; breathe out: let spirit leave, and make room for a different kind of flight.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


The rogue wintering chickadee
            comes in for a crash landing and takes off again
And who are you to not wonder
            how feet so small can carry a collection of feathers
headstrong into a north wind?

A hop

            A leap

                         A simple run.

He clears the bushes in his bumpy flight
and you with your wire-rimmed glasses and red-rimmed eyes
secretly wishing you could do
the same.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Observing the Comings and Goings of Emotions can Lead us to Joy

Today, I stand in wonderment at the ephemera that are my emotions. I just learned of this word, having suspected its existence all along. It means "a person accommodated, a house guest." I add to this definition my own meaning: one who visits for a moment, just passing through, unable to be fully caught, like silk slipping through hands. I think of Rumi's poem, "The Guest House" (see below this post) and watch again and again my emotions knocking on my door, begging to be invited in, sitting for a while (and sometimes up-ending the furniture), and then leaving just as quickly as they came.

Today in my healing, I followed the contemplations of The Pilgrimage of Peace near Harper's Ferry, WV, led by Br.Stefan Andre Waligur. This is a beautiful three week rolling retreat  (come when you may, bring what you can, offer what's inside.) http://friendsofsilence.net/event/2013/08/09/fifth-annual-pilgrimage-peace

I am following the lessons on-line until I can be there in person next week. I am particularly drawn to a contemplation of the Beatudes. Here's a clip that captured me:

"Again, there is the movement through the beatitudes, which are each a gate of initiation. And this deep knowing and learning to know, is part of that journey through the gates. First: the gate of poverty, of inadequacy, of loss, of possessing nothing. Second: the gate of grief, of letting go. Third: the gate of releasing the anger and grief and being transformed to gentleness (notice, this is not a gate of meekness and wimpiness — it is a fierce gate, but a transformed one—the lion that chooses gentleness) 

I am moved by the third gate.I know how very hard it can be to release anger and grief and alchemize it into gentleness. For me, it is a choice to remain still when my instinct might be to lash out.The feeling in my body is one of melting. A sudden warmth that permeates breath, muscle, memory. A decision to sit with what is being offered. What am I learning in my stillness and willingness to sit in discomfort and watch the ephemera come and go and come again?

My last entry for me had a twinge of anger in it. Perhaps at the time I felt it was righteous anger. And I belive there is such a thing, but when I sat with my feelings and became still, I discovered grief instead. There was no right being wronged. My friends who had reached out despite their family obligations, were only trying to be helpful. That I feel an outsider here is true. That I try too hard to listen to others here and watch their lives unfold in the service of being supportive, yes. And there is an imbalance, because I don't talk about what scintillates my mind and my heart. I wonder what holds me back. But today, I found a way to tilt the balance so I wasn't falling off. Today, and this is a day with more physical pain than most, I turned my focus to my dreams. The question was, "How do you know when you are ready to help?" and my answer to myself was, "You feel alone because you are looking outside yourself for someone to talk about the topics you enjoy. Now, is the time to reengage those conversations inside. Now is the time to step beyond the idea of helping yourself through juicing and physical therapy and meditation, though all are necessary and good. Now is the time to write with one hand, to build a business, create a website, point your heart directly into the center of this luscious glowing pulsing energetic earth, pull the trigger, and shoot.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Following Joy

Last night, I decided to take this joy project to the juicer and chemically shift my internal hormone bath (which worked! Yay, endorphins!) Perhaps in no small part because I had chemically altered what I thought possible, I got an unexpected call from a dear friend of mine who was up on business. In the past, he has given me body work in exchange for writing mentorship. Out of our exchange has come a lovely relationship that continues to expand in new directions.

Today, we met for lunch and a walk. Note to self:  joy
                                                                                       from hope.

Why did I have hope, sitting with this man at our small table in a suburban shopping center? It was because we spoke of the things nearest to our hearts: relationships, the nature of intimacy, our individual writing, and our attempts to clarify the work we do in the world.

It was also because there was no judgement, one of the other. And the topics we discussed were ones that keep me so silent in the suburbs for fear of judgement, for fear I will not find an acknowledging nod.

My voice grew deeper and more assured . My skin softened because I stopped seeking to feel understood. A dolphin out of water is how I've felt here and that feeling has kept me in sadness and kept me from expressing the all of me and thereby healing. It isn't that I don't have people who care, I do. But this is the suburbs, and people live far from each other and exist in their family units, which fit better into other family units, puzzles with no pieces missing.

To feel ''normal," to feel accepted, to talk of the grandiosity of love and its complications and not feel that my less than conventional desires and visions are odd in any way, brings me joy.

My friend helped me brainstorm website ideas for my writing business. I helped him figure out a title for an article he is writing about sexual surrogacy. In weaving together strands of our experiences, we created new pathways. Doing so took heart and curiosity and a willingness to skirt the edges of the unknown and dive in when the temperature felt right.There was no map.

We hike voraciously through the woods, my arm in  a sling coming merrily for the ride without complaint. All the while, brainstorming, brainstorming.

This is where we are, my heart/body/mind/spirit. When we get angry, it is because something is not right for us. It's our way of getting my attention. I've been angry, I admit, perhaps for having listened to other people's stories and for not having shared my own truth. I take responsibility for not expressing myself, but each attempt felt like lifting a boulder and I see now that I've torn both my shoulders -- my lifting structure -- for having tried too hard. There are places I can be the self I enjoy being ~ Brooklyn, Cuba, Ocracoke Island.

There was a time after the first surgery and then after the second, that I worked to be okay with what was, in which I made the best of my circumstances and displayed a courageous and helpful face.

Sometimes, a repeat performance is not necessary, especially realizing gradually, like poison on a slow-drip, that having three surgeries was not necessary.

Sometimes, it's our anger that gets us out and back into love again.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Healing Diaries (AKA: The Joy Cure)

In the muted skin of morning, I knew I would cry that day. Cry for the surgeries that hadn't worked. Cry for the dreams I thought I'd lost. Cry for the lies that had been told to my body, the ones I had believed. Cry for those who told them and, bless their hearts, believed they were true. Cry for the beginning of my healing.

It is evening now and night holds the sounds of cicadas close to its heart. I am all cried out. I have drunk my green juice and decided that it is up to me to heal my body. I am on a threshold, before which I listened to experts in the medical field and some in alternative health modalities. I still want them on my team, just the right ones who aren't afraid of death and so bow in awe at the feet of life. I need them on my side. But more than anything, I need me on my side.

And so my directive from headquarters (me) is very clear: I must follow each day my joy, even if it's only found momentarily in the forgetting of pain. I will track the process by which I invite my mind to discover and dwell in things that make me happy and I will watch how that practice affects the healing of my right shoulder from its third rotator cuff surgery, as well as my left shoulder and my left hip, which have tears in the labrum. I will also watch what my beginner's mind initially does in this process and where it goes naturally and if those places bring light or sorrow or anger or relief or desperation or helplessness or hopelessness or joy. And I will continue practices and add new ones to see if I can influence my mood and therefore my healing.

Mind Over Medicine, by Dr. Lissa Rankin, has been an inspiration and I have already seen results in my first effort: having the third surgery in Brooklyn with a doctor highly recommended by a dear friend. Stay tuned for a brief explanation of The Brooklyn Experiment. I write slowly just with my left hand. I think that means my right brain is running the show.

If I don't document this, I'm afraid I'll forget the intuitive healing power of the mind.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Excerpt from my Cuba Memoir

            “It cost me a lot of work to open my heart to you,” he wrote in his third letter to me. I felt the pause in his writing. The intake of warm air. The sigh protracted over as long as he could hold it. “Really, I did not want to suffer, but I don’t regret it,” he continued. “Because in my life there was a before Sarah and an after Sarah.”
            I put the letter down gently. I had been a landmark. Not a signpost directing his next step, but rather a fault line separating his life before and after my arrival.  How his presence had shifted subterranean plates in me, too, changing my surface landscape evermore. I did not know what to do with the movement, so I picked up the letter and cradled it softly like a baby in my arms. What we had created together had a life of its own and was undeniably extant and breathing. What we would do with it now confused me.
            Turning back to the page, I read, “Sarah, share with me this life, because it is not life without you. I want to enter in yours. I want your nights to be mine eternally, and we will age together.”
            I was aging now. Each turn of the moon shone empty space in my womb. My eyes closed against the backdrop of the early winter sun in Maryland. My mind settled on a memory

            He sits on the edge of the bed, naked. “I’m sorry. I forgot to be careful.”
            “I know.”
            His spine cuts an uneven river of bumps up his back and moves heavily up and down with his smoker's breath.
            I lay across the bed gripped in the immediacy of the moment and tied into an uncertain future.
            “Will you send me Cuban pesos when I have the baby?”
            He chuckles deeply and turns around resting his cheek on my belly. “Sarah, stay. You can live here. We can make it work. Everything that is mine is yours, Gatita. Everything.”
            “I could never go home if I stayed here.”
            He shook his head. “This will end. You'll be able to go see your family. They could come visit. I know this will end.” Cuban optimism always tastes like hope and chocolate, sweet endorphins covering up the reality of injustice. 
            I imagined the people and places I would never see again. It was the first time I thought of my freedom. Up to that point, when I thought of home, I thought of loneliness and a culture devoid of cafecito in the late afternoon sun. It was easy to think this way because I was returning home. Cuba had become everything the United States was not, and I savored the differences because I still had both. Now, thinking what it would be like to make the choice to stay which was also a choice not to return, my view of Cuba closed into a small pinhole, like the pupil of an eye that had suddenly seen too much light. But even in my contracting state, a small part of me hoped for a ball of dividing cells that would fill my belly and my life with something unexpected and lovely.