4:30 in the morning

Since I completed my book this past March, I found that I haven’t felt motivated to write. Maybe it is the wrist arthritis that kicked in right about that time. Maybe it’s postpartum book depression.  Whatever it is, my writing has taken a vacay for five months. And that is long time to go without posting a blog, without sitting at my computer, or writing in my journal.  

Here I am, today, ready to see the words dancing out of my fingertips. And what was the inspiration? A prompt, a movie, a good book?

No. My dog.

Some of you have met our wonder dog, Paolo. He is a noble poodle guy, about 15 years old and a beautiful reminder of impermanence. Last year, Paolo developed eye ulcers. He cannot see worth a damn. He finds his way around through his nose, his intrepid courage, and familiarity with his surroundings. If something changes in his environment he may run into it. I saw him trip over a hose in the wrong place, do a full somersault, and keep on going. Despite his lack of sight, there is still a spring in his step and a waggy tail. He may not be able to see us, but the love that connects us is still present.

To add to this complexity, Paolo recently lost his hearing. (Well, he is 105 in human years.)  If I clap my hands very loud, or shrilly whistle, he hears. But regular speaking is lost on him.  

 

It is challenging watching him age. I cringe when he doesn’t know that the wall is looming and  he is heading straight for it.

There is nothing I can do to mitigate the persistent march of time and his inevitable demise.

Eventually, he will pass on, and reincarnate as the Tibetan lama he is… but for right now, he is our precious, aging dog-ness.

Last night, before bed, I wished aloud that I could wake up at 4:30 in the morning. My fantasy was to be wakeful, inspired, and ready to write. To have that magical quiet time– when the sun is beginning to rise in the Northwest. I imagine myself  developing the ability to write for hours, instead of minutes. I will write novels, articles, blogs, simply by getting up at 4:30 in the morning.

In reality, I have slept in.  My wake-up is around eight-thirty. I take my time, languidly rolling around, before I greet the day. I get in the hot tub, make an espresso, take vitamins. And an hour later I might be ready to deal with the computer. But I answer emails, track down correspondence, and shop.

But, I conceptually yearn for the hours of the breaking day, the introspective time, the quiet magic, mysterious dark.

Last night, my dog stood next to my side of the bed sneezed, shook his head, jangling his dog tags. Like a mother listening to the sounds of a child in the night, I heard Paolo through my haze of my sleep and bolted awake.  The call of nature for senior dogs might be pressing. Pups and I went to the front door and he trotted out.

Paolo stepped on the grass lawn and sniffed the air with his elegant snout, then continued to establish the perimeters of his watch: all four corners of the yard were safe and contained. He peed in the requisite places. He went into the rhododendron den. I watched Paolo jauntily prance across the yard, stopping from time to time to sniff the air and listen to what only he could hear. His investigation lasted more than fifteen minutes. I was fascinated by his carefulness, listening to the wind, inhaling the scent in the air, and his stillness. The mindfulness of dog.

Then, he turned and came back inside, walked to the bedroom and laid down to sleep on his dog bed. I was tired, too. As I got back in bed to go sleep I looked over at the clock.  4:45am.

My dog was listening to me.

 

And here I am writing.

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Competition

Recently, at a gathering with other drummers, I realized that competition is an unconscious habit in my life; a knee-jerk reaction to be “the best” separates me from myself and others.  I feel superior or I might feel inferior, but neither is satisfying. Why would I continue to compete if it brings me discomfort?

I decided to use Byron Katie’s process of enquiry, called “The Work”, to shine a light on my process.   Katie, an amazing spiritual teacher, devised a method of enquiry- asking four simple questions to deconstruct the stories we unconsciously identify with.  Here is how it works.

Start with the subject that bothers you. Then you ask yourself:

  • Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?

This is my subject: I need to compete and/or be competitive in order to receive recognition and have value.

Is it true?

Yes. Being the best will protect me so I never have to prove myself again.  I won’t be afraid of receiving criticism. I can wear my perfection as a cape. I can be known as Infallible Woman!  I will be favorably recognized. I will be safe. And good enough.

Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

No, I can’t.  It does really depend on how I see validation and recognition. Is success really success or is it something else?

I grew up with two intelligent, handsome, funny, clever, older brothers. I tagged along looking for their attention, as a little sister does.

My parents loved all of us, but the boys, being 3.5 and 5.5 years older, had things to talk about at the dinner table that I didn’t always follow.  My father would ask them questions–science and math, school stuff that was beyond me. I wanted to have something to talk about! I spoke up and asked “What about me? Ask me something!” My mother said, “Okay, let’s talk about dolls.”  Everyone laughed.

I felt humiliated and ashamed.  I knew that I was being laughed at.   

That’s when I remember first feeling a tension and need to compete  I had to find a way to receive the attention I needed. Obviously, (to my seven year-old mind) I had to be cleverer, smarter, and more quick-witted than my brothers.

When a child is raised by narcissists, there is not always a clear way to get a recommended daily allowance of self-approval.

I didn’t have another adult around who would say, “Don’t worry, kid. They just don’t get you. It’s not your fault. One day they’ll see.”  Instead, I sat by the edge of my mouse-hole waiting for to see if there will be any cheese for me.

The cheese I wanted was  the unconditional regard and love that is EVERY person’s birthright. When we are young and don’t get the positive attention and mirroring we need, we feel that it is somehow our fault. We are wounded. Each of us works with our wounds differently. Some of us drink, drug, isolate, manipulate or become numb to our humanity. Some become highly successful, while never feeling full or satisfied.

I compete.

So no, I don’t absolutely know that it’s true. But I still believe it.

How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

When I’ve felt this need to compete for my place, I feel threatened, envious, and vulnerable.  I shut down around those people who appear more successful or are more recognized– except for my teachers, who I idolize and idealize.

Sometimes the competitive urge wouldn’t show up. But that’s the exception. And, in the world of drumming, the demon of “no cheese” was loud and clear. Maybe I was once again comparing myself to men like my brothers.

What a shame. I was forty when I began my path with the drum. As I learned to play, I had a level of skill, but no high speed or pyrotechnical solos. However, when measuring myself against others, I put myself down for not being better. I was pouring salt in an open wound by setting impossible standards.     

If I didn’t think that I had to compete to be recognized and valued, who would I be?

This is where the rubber meets the road. The path of competition triggers inner harshness rather than softening. Of course I should let go of judging and critiquing– and instead be who I am, not who I think I  should be.   

However, when I imagine being my own cheerleader, I feel both hope and sadness.

Hope is pretty easy to understand. I allow myself to be released from judgements; I have no hoops to jump through; I let go of defensiveness.  It might be possible to develop sympathetic joy, to allow others to be great, without diminishing or thinking ill of myself. I imagine real comfort in not having to prove myself or jockey for position.

Then why should there be any sadness?

Honestly, it’s hard for me give up the fantasy that there is an infallible external source that will permanently validate me; to accept that the responsibility of developing self-care and self-praise is up to me. It brings up a sense of existential loneliness. And truth.

It is time.  Imagine freedom of need for any recognition. Imagine feel worthy without cause.

Let’s put my house in order! There are no Oscars (or Grammys) to be won, nor external prizes that are worth suffering.

My mirror can be hung straight on a wall, easy to find and ready to be polished.

 

I have valuable work to do. And I recognize that.  

Panic on the way to Tuscany

I made reservations in early February for my husband Terrance and myself to fly in spring to a family wedding in Tuscany. When reasonably priced tickets became available with an online booking agency, I snagged them.

A minor mistake occurred during the booking. The wrinkle was a small one. I mistakenly entered my name twice when booking the flight. B. Zorina Zorina Wolf. I called the agency the next day. I was given the choice to cancel my flight, but there was nothing they could do on their end to change the mistake.

My husband told me to forget about it, that anyone could see it was typo. I let it go.

Finally, it was May and time for our adventure. Our first time to Italy!  We arrived at the airport early to check in. Something unexpected happened. My passport due to expire in July, but I was not allowed to travel three months prior to its expiration. Who knew? WHO KNEW? Some one knew, but I didn’t.

Although the travel agency requested my passport information when I booked our fares, and the dates on my documents didn’t trip any switches in their system.

From the moment that we were told that we couldn’t travel, things began to get weirder. The travel agency told us that to get a credit for our non-refundable tickets that we would have to pay a $300 cancellation fee.  Either that or we would lose our money that we paid for our tickets. And unfortunately, their policy would not allow us to reschedule our trip for 48 hours. We explained to them that this trip was time specific. We had to get to a family wedding. Sorry, this is our policy.

Despite booking new fares, the passport situation had to be dealt with.

Terrance and I headed out of the airport, luggage in hand, to get a passport renewal in Seattle.

We jumped into an elevator with four flight crew. The elevator stopped and the doors wouldn’t open!.

Moments like these are surreal. The flight personnel were shouting through the speaker in the elevator telephone.  The maintenance man took time.The crew, were at ease, bantering. I was aware of only one thing: the clock is ticking. I have to get to Florence!  I have to get a passport and I am stuck in an elevator!  The ambient anxiety in my body went up another notch.

Finally, the doors opened. Terrance and I hopped in a cab, off to Seattle.

On our way,Terrance called US Passport office to get an emergency appointment. He had my passport on his lap. But, as we were about to enter the building, my passport was not in his hand. I knew he had it in the cab.  Where was it?

I must have looked stressed, because my dear husband said was, “Calm down. Don’t lose it!”

There was no better trigger than those five words.

I began tearing through my bags. The more frantically I looked, the more panic-stricken I became.

Right there, on the steps of the Federal Building in Seattle, I lost it. I began crying and hyperventilating. Terrance calmly said, “We are not doing anything or looking further until you can calm yourself.”

I was ready to rip his head off. He was the one who had my passport! Where did he put it? I was looking for the cab receipt, in case we left the passport in the cab. I was out of control. There was no ground under my feet. What had started with a tense moment at SeaTac, was a full throttle dynamic. Now I was imagining the worst. No trip to Europe, no family gathering, no wedding. I was dislocated, discombobulated, disconnected to myself.

Eventually, my breathing slowed. And the passport was found, in a side pocket.

The rest of the story is anti-climactic.  The passport office was a pleasant surprise. Everyone was kind and helpful. They pushed all the paperwork through and an hour later, I had a new passport in my hand.

We went online and got new tickets. Big money. Flying the next day.

That’s my tale. Not a fun beginning, but a good outcome. We joined our family. We experienced the beauty of the wedding, important time with family and friends. After the wedding party, Terrance and I spent ten wonderful days in Florence, learning about the culture, art and food of Tuscany.

However, when I returned home there was something creeping around my psyche about that stress-filled travel event.

Although I have experienced difficult situations before, it is still surprising for me to become so blind-sided by stress. I have a library card, a voting card, for god’s sake. I exercise, eat right. Yet the impact of stress can turn me into a person I don’t know. 

In my earlier years, when faced with loss or trauma, I remember holding on so tightly in my body that my ribs would hurt. I was waiting for the shoe to drop. Whatever shoe, wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be good. Expectation of loss damages the present as well as colors the future. Color me anxious.

A logical voice asks, “Why would you do that to yourself?” I wouldn’t. But my unconscious fears inform my choices during stressful times.  

You have A) a situation B) a reaction, and then C) a reaction to the reaction.

When I become overwhelmed, or flooded with anxiety, I don’t have access to my analytic mind. As adrenaline and fear hits, I am temporarily uncentered in my body.  I am not sure I know where I am located. The instinct to flee, inability to reason–my limbic system is in overdrive. And worse, it is messy and embarrassing. Shame lingers and distorts the actual event, and making it global. The conclusion is, “You, Zorina, are not to be trusted. You could lose it any time.”

I noticed that shame and self-blame were still lingering in my thoughts and mood, even after I returned home.  I had to address those inner voices.   So, I stood in my kitchen, and said out loud, “ Back off! I did the best I could!”  I said it to any demons that happened to be listening. And me.

In those stressful moments at the airport and at the Federal Building, I lost my center, temporarily.I didn’t hurt anyone, besides myself.

And I recovered.

I forgave myself. I am sure I will have to again.

Life is unpredictable. So are emotions, including mine.

Will I have the means to deal with the next situation that arises? Maybe. I hope that I can ride the waves of chaos more easily next time. And, maybe not.

But it’s not losing my center that is the problem. It is how fast I can return to standing on my feet again.

Without blame without shame. Just the journey.
And don’t get stuck in the wrong elevator.

Bitch, moan and shutup

I am beginning to experience a deeper acceptance of my body as I am getting older. I am seeing a new improved model… for aging.

What changed?

I don’t know, but I feel more relaxed about how aging is changing my physical appearance.

 

Just so you know: It was a lot different before this shift. I was despairing about my body and the last third of this life. I felt this thickening in my middle that didn’t seem to have to do with how much I exercised or what I ate. My breasts had gotten larger, my belly seemed fuller. I didn’t like how I looked. I felt poochy and saggy.  The hair on my head was thinning, growing in odd places on my face.  My eyesight was getting worse. (There is an advantage in that. You don’t see all these wrinkles and the growing crone hairs.) But, that’s just some of the fun stuff. My handwriting has suffered. I have a benign tremor in my hands, and I am beginning to get arthritis in my thumbs. I have a mild case of tinnitus, and warts and growths in places that  seem unlikely, but there they are.

 

I couldn’t see how to shift my perspective of being over the hill. I felt under the hill. I started to be overly conscious of everything (food-wise) that I put in my body. I skipped meals (not a good idea.)  All of this for vanity, or to imagine myself the way I thought I should look, instead of how I was in the moment.

I reminded myself of the good health and longevity genes I got from my family of origin. But I was grieving no longer being an attractive woman to the outside world. I was buying into the American model of youthful, hot looks. I wasn’t in the running or even the walking. I have cute older woman, lukewarm looks. Maybe I could be a poster adult for AARP magazine. Maybe.

 

Vanity plus aging equals suffering. My husband, a Buddhist practitioner, reminds me that all of our life is change. I can accept some changes better than others. But my “looks” cut close to the core.

 

Let me be honest. I have a history of being critical of how I look.

So, it is not a brand new thing to not be satisfied with my looks/image. But the aging thing adds another twist.

Here is me, inside, feeling about 20 and me on the outside, sagging and coming closer to seventy.

 

It is funny to be called ma’am. In the beginning, you think it’s cute. But when you realize that the person calling you that is serious, it’s different.

I am too young to be called ma’am.

 

We went down to Mexico in October. A lot of American retirees live in San Miguel de Allende. I saw old people– vital, alive, older people.

Then I realized, I am one of them. I am older. Not ancient. Not old old. Maybe cronish-ness has eras like Early Jurassic, Late Jurassic, Late Cretaceous etc.

Maybe they could be called:

  • 3.00+ Eyeglassic
  • Early Canuthreadtheneedlesic period
  • Late Nocoffeeorpeeallnightic
  • Don’tbendoverorunevergetupic

 

 

Six months ago I called up my best friend on Skype. I wanted to talk on Skype because I had complained about my looks. She wanted to see what I was referring to.  We got on-line. I took off my clothes. I pointed to all the areas of unloved flesh, the sagging, handful of flabbiness in my tummy and breasts. She kept saying, “You look great, you’re beautiful. You are fine.”  I showed everything to her that felt undesirable, unacceptable, unloved. Everything I didn’t want to expose to anyone.

Then she took off her top. Ten years ago she had had a double mastectomy. She opted to not to do reconstruction. Her body is slender to begin with. She doesn’t have a spare inch of flab. And she has no breasts. You can see the delicacy of her body, the gracefulness, the vulnerability. She pointed to all the unloveable parts in her eyes. I saw her. It was my friend’s body, the body that I love and adore. I saw the wounds of her operation, and I saw the beauty that she is.

God forbid that Homeland Security should be spying in at that moment. How could they understand that we need to be seen, for our scars, imperfections, limitations real and imagined? We need to be witnessed. In that cyber connection we were exposing our bodies, souls, and fear about our lack of beauty, attractiveness, imagined lovability.

 

I realized very recently that there is a history of Fat Phobia in our family. My sister in-law pointed out the critical bias that my brother and I have about overweight people.

It’s true. I fear gaining weight.

I work at staying in shape.

I am in the same clothes size for the last fifteen or so years… with a few pounds up and a few under.

However, I deeply believe that I could be thinner. And then, I would be happy and beautiful and loved and accept myself totally even with my aging. What a myth.

 

And, I do notice little changes now and then, that show that something in my habit of mind has begun to shift.  I began to go sleeveless to the yoga class, unafraid of the wrinkles and dimples. I purged my closet and got rid of anything that didn’t fit well, or that I didn’t feel right in. I bought a skirt to show my legs.

I started to feel my body, admire my strength and flexibility, joy of free movement, feeling  deep gratitude for my health. To catch myself out of the corner of my eye, liking how I look. I balance on one foot while brushing my teeth. I talk to myself, coach myself.

Maybe it was that Skype call. Maybe it was the act of exposing the thinking that limits my view. Maybe it is also realizing that although there may be a lot more life left in this go round, that the inevitable end is closer. Like they say, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Let’s include “until the beautiful, aging woman sings.”

The Bad Guy

A friend of mine told me once he realized his internal suffering was ‘helped’ by letting his  super-ego, a destructive inner critic, dominate his inner landscape. This critical voice loved to point out every error, lapse in judgement or faux pas that my friend ever made.  My friend calls it “The Bad Guy” or B.G.

My friend said that when he beats up on himself, it’s really the Bad Guy voice that is running the show.  His B.G. voice says, “You made a mistake. You are at fault. You should feel crummy. You always mess up. Feel bad about yourself. Blah blah blah blah.”

Until he creates a distance from the negative thinking, my friend found that he couldn’t question the truthfulness of Bad Guy’s voice.  But once he was not triggered by this stream of negativity, he became aware that B.G. doesn’t give objective or constructive information. The critical persona is only capable of judgements. B.G. has no investment in whether we feel bad or want to improve ourselves.

 

I was thinking yesterday about my friend telling me this story, and thinking “My god, that is so right!” How many times have I gone down the path of feeling bad for past mistakes, without looking at my own Bad Guy sending these messages. Feeling bad happens and I step kick towards doom and gloom overwhelmed with feeling and unaware of choices.

Someone might be disappointed, or displeased with me… or worse yet– I imagine they won’t love me. As an adult I can logically figure out a solution, but a younger me didn’t have that skill set. This dread-filled feeling filled my psyche. I would be in a panic– feeling like I was going to die– before any facts or objective information regarding the situation could be investigated. I believe it is called being “limbic”– separated from the reasoning of  higher functioning cerebral cortex. It may have been in my best interests when I was young to imagine the worst case scenario to prepare for the unexpected. However, there isn’t an ‘off’ button. Bad Guy can rule, if I am not vigilant.

Terrance, my husband, has been a meditator for about thirty years. He reminds me that there is nowhere to go “fix” these feelings when they arise. I hate that. No, Terrance says, try to sit still. Breathe. Just get close to the negativity, without joining B.G.’s rap. Nothing bad will happen, he says.

But, there are icky feelings, the hard and lumpy feelings, the panicky stuff, and general awkwardness. I don’t want to get close to any of this. I feel sick to my stomach. I feel heavy and dense and my breathing feels constricted. The truth is I am flooded with resistance. I don’t see how this will help. I’d like to take a toke and haze out on Netflix instead.

Since Terrance and I have been together, we have had many conversations about meditation. I am not against it, but I feel like I got the meditation mug, ashtray, and bumper sticker in the sixties and seventies. I work at being mindful through other modalities: drumming, Sufi dance, TaKeTiNa, yoga, and free-form dance and sometimes, meditation.

 

When we talk about meditation, I find that I am defending my right to work with mindfulness/awareness practices the way I do. Sometimes, I am just resisting the lure of the cushion –just as I avoid feeling my feeling the energy that is Bad Guy. I feel like a cat in a paper bag, fighting to get out. Or is it in? Doesn’t seem to matter because I am not going anywhere.

So just for today I will try it.  I will sit down and be quiet. Here goes. Sitting. Breathing.

 

Uh-oh.  My mind is buzzing. My stomach feels upset.

What is it? It’s an icky feeling.

 

What color is it? What shape? Puce green and the size of a football located bright around my heart center.

 

This is ridiculous. Inner critic.

 

Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Let it go.

 

I just remembered: there is a phone call that I have to make.  Restless. I want to get up from my seat. I will stay for now and call later.

 

Stay. Sit. Breathe again.

 

What am I feeling? Where am I? I just nodded off for a minute.  I noticed I am thinking about the conversation I had with my girlfriend yesterday.  Come back.

 

Breathe. In and out. In and out.

 

And then I notice that the football is slightly smaller. There is more relaxation in my gut. The edges of yuckiness don’t feel as pervasive.

 

Off again–day dreaming about seeing a movie.

 

The Bad Guy is definitely in the room. I am not breathing fully, I am aware of his critical vibe. Familiar triggering thoughts begin trickling in. The memory of a negative conversation and guilty feeling arise simultaneously. I said, they said.

 

Back to the breath again.

 

Hmmm. What is this bad feeling? Is it really true? Will it matter if I sit here? Breathe.

 

I notice the tension around my ribcage beginning to relax.

 

This time perhaps I can let a provocative thought go by, instead of following it.

 

Oops.

Thinking, thinking.

 

I feel my butt on the cushion. I straighten up again.

 

The story is wafting around but I am not denying or embellishing it, just sitting. Breathing.

My panic is starting to ease. My breathing becomes fuller. My attention is on the inhalation and exhalation. I relax a little more. I can feel the animal-ness of myself breathing.

 

Then another thought: remembering breathing in yoga class. Return to the room, the breath, my body. Slumping. Straighten again. Cramp in my calf.

 

Breathing.

 

Distractions continue. Nanosecond shifts–this and that. I drift away from following my breath. Moments of being embodied for a half-second or more.

I notice that I am feeling neutral. Not triggered and not vacant.

 

All of a sudden, the bell rings. Time is up.

 

Nothing bad has happened. I do feel more expansive, especially in my gut and my ribs. I open my eyes and stretch.  I notice that I still feel like I have to “do’ something, but the urgency is gone. There really is nothing to do, except to notice. I can breathe. Hmm.

 
And I notice this: the Bad Guy is still here, but he is drinking a mai-tai and chillaxing at the pool. He has nothing to say, and he raises an eyebrow and lifts his glass in a salute.

In Search of my True Name

I was born in June of 1948, a baby-boomer.

I was the first girl born in my family and extended family for more than eighteen years. Because I was expected to be a boy, I was named after my cousin Bobby Friedlander, who was killed in World War II. But I was a girl. As a result, they added an “e” on to the end of my name. B-O-B-B-Y-E.

I lucked out with my middle name. There is a law among the Ashkenazi Jews: “Do not name your children after someone who is still living.” My mother took the first initial of my Uncle Jack’s mother, Zelda, may she rest in peace. Mom used the ” Z” and came up with the name Zorina. (Vera Zorina was a famous ballet dancer.)

I was called Bobbye, but I knew that wasn’t my true name.

When my brothers each went through their Bar Mitzvah ritual at the age of thirteen, I became aware that they had Hebrew names.

What was mine? My parents said they didn’t remember. I was adamant that someone in the family would know. After reminding them to call Aunt Florie, or Aunt Ida, or Uncle Pick, they told me that my name was Kleine Shtunkheit. Okay, I thought, not too catchy, but it is my Hebrew name. I announced to the world… this is my name! Ta Daa!

I proudly carried my name until I found out that Kleine Shtunkheit was Yiddish, not Hebrew, and it meant “little stinker.”  Ha ha.  Everyone thought was very funny. Not. I was serious about wanting a name.  A special name. A name that would fit me.

I moved to California during my favorite decade, the sixties. I introduced myself to the world as Zorina. Since I had already been calling myself that secretly for years it was great to know it could be my name for others. I learned things related to my exotic name: belly dancing, tarot card reading at the Renaissance Faire, busking on street corners, and being a special person. I loved my name Zorina. Yet I felt that there was another name waiting for me. My true name. Maybe a secret name.

This special name would resonate within every cell in my body and open a path the true purpose of my incarnation. This name would be a superpower, cape, and magic feather all in one. Everyone who heard it spoken would recognize me. Doors would be opened. I would be understood. It may have been magical thinking , but that is what I hoped for.

I began to learn to drum in the late eighties with Nigerian musician, Baba Olatunji. I was smitten with all things African and connected to Baba.

And, I thought it important to understand my own Jewish roots before adopting another culture. I began studying Hebrew and prepared for my Bat Mitzvah initiation. A year passed. I read from the Torah. I received my real Hebrew name, Tzipporah, Moses’ wife. I was delighted. I had roots. I began to study Hebrew and Judaism more intensely. I even considered studying for the rabbinate.

Two years later I found myself yearning again. This practice was not satisfying the craving that I felt for spirituality, ritual, and community. I found myself arguing with the form of liturgical prayer and wanted to rewrite the entire Sabbath service. I noticed that I didn’t like the limitations of the Old Testament in the modern era.  I was against some of the politics of Israel. I didn’t want to be one of the Chosen People.  Not a good idea for me to continue toward rabbinical study.

My  continuing passion for drumming inspired my curiosity in African rituals and ceremony. I wanted to show respect to the drum culture I was absorbing.  I wanted learn and understand  the meaning of the rhythmic patterns, chants and dances of the orishas— the deities (or energies) belonging to the Yoruba religion called Ifa. (Ifa was part of Baba’s lineage, as well as other teachers I had studied with.)

I went to a babalawo, an Ifa priest, for divination and for advice about learning Yoruba chants and rituals.  He threw the opele or sacred palm nuts to read my life lesson. He told me that I should  become initiated into Ifa.

I thought about it.  White girl, Jewish, already weird in my neighborhood.

But there were two things that attracted me.

One was the idea of having protection.

In the male dominated world of drumming, I was a target. It would be great to feel as though something spiritual would have my back. The second reason was this: as an Ifa initiate I would receive a spiritual name. Maybe this is the one.

Before I turned fifty, I was initiated into Ifa.  I received my elekes–spiritual beads. I wore only white clothing for a year. And I was given my spiritual name–Ifatola, follower of Ifa. I was interested in learning the chants and dances of the orishas, but for some reason the information wasn’t transmitted. I didn’t know if it was because I was white. I continued to attend ceremonies and rituals, and asked to learn, but nothing happened. Over time, the path of Ifa dried up for me.

 

The last story regarding my seeking a name occurred in my relationship with my drum teacher Baba. Baba Olatunji was an important mentor and spiritual inspiration. I knew that he had given names to some of his troupe members. I saw him name children. And so I asked him for a name.

In the Yoruba tradition that Baba comes from, a child is given many names. Some are pre-ordained names. Some of the names are from the family lineage.  Others speak about events that coincide with a child’s birth. A person can have up to ten or more names.

And there I was again, hoping that somehow a name from Baba would free me from the karma and suffering of my life.

He was concerned. Would I use this name publicly? No, I said. It would be private.

I think I was just wanting something from him that would empower me on this path.

I waited for more than six years for Baba to give me a name.  Once a year I would bring up the subject and then let go of it. It was a dance.

I spoke to Baba’s cousin Akiwowo and asked him, ”Had Baba forgotten that asked for a name?”  “No,” he said. “He is thinking about it, Give him time.”

One evening, I knocked on Akiwowo’s door. He answered something back in Yoruba. I thought he asked if I was at the door. I answered yes. But oddly enough, I said yes to my name.

Without my knowing it, Akiwowo and Baba had thinking about choosing one of two different names for me. That night, when I came to the door, Akiwowo spoke one of the names. When I answered “yes,” he believed that this was the right one for me.

My name suits me. It is an accurate representation of the power of my personality in both light and shadow. My name means “the spirit of the forest that lets things breathe.” Pretty damn cool.  And no, I am not telling you what it is. It is my secret name, whispered in the night. It is north star, a tuning fork. Because the Yoruba language is tonal, I had to learn how to sing my name. It took time. I had to find the notes on the scale and put the syllables of the name to the tones.

I know now that I will from time to time crave something ineffable– a name, a mala or sacred beads, or an event that connects me to me– and a sense of my purpose. It may take time to find this special information that quiets my craving, inspires me, reignites my passion. And when this moment happens I will remember again, as I hope you do for yourself, the magic of being.

And remember your true name.

 

The Power of Enthusiasm

Twenty six years ago I reconnected with my African drum teacher, mentor, and spiritual guide, Baba Olatunji. The first time I met him was when I was nine. His exciting music had shaped my early years. By the time the stars lined up so I could learn from him I was in my early forties.

My first class was 90 percent ego annihilation: I was horrible at drumming and dancing. (It is not easy to be a rhythmic retard.) The remaining 10 percent fueled my intent to learn to drum and dance~despite my shallow learning curve.

My excitement pushed me out of my safety zone.  Enthralled by my new-found love, I began to organize drumming events. I wanted others to experience this joy. Arthur Hull, drum circle master, calls it “rhythmic evangelism”.

At first, I sent out invitations to small events..drum circles and solstice gatherings. I advertised by mail or posting flyers, phone or word of mouth…(Reminder:this was before internet or cell phones!)

I did the legwork myself, hanging flyers, calling friends… I explored ways to get people to attend things that I loved.  I imagined we all wanted to connect– a village of like-minded people.

Later, I began to organize workshops and concerts for Baba. I knew that everyone I knew should meet this man, be in his presence.

I didn’t have a “look”, a graphic design, or a brand. I didn’t know how to create a good flyer, let alone distribute it.  I invited people to these events the only way I knew how…pure excitement and joy.  This was going to be the greatest party ever … why would you want to miss that? And guess what?   People showed up.

If you build it they will come. I did and they did.

In my desire to share what I love, I discovered a true gift: unbridled enthusiasm!

When possessed with enthusiasm there is no ego/persona, just excitement and joy. I am not the “Zorina” who needs strokes or to be admired and loved. I am the one who has a bead on something that can change your life… if you let it… and now I would add, if it is the right fit for you.

This power and force which comes to me, through me, is fearless and irrepressible. I become a bigger entity than the sensitive, self-conscious person that I am at other times.

Enthusiasm has shaped my life. When I love something, there are no obstacles or resistance, no difficulty in achieving my goals. What I don’t know how to do something, I fake it until I make it happen. I have arranged for radio interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, cable television shows for my teachers (and for myself), and all because I believe and feel deeply that the things I am excited about will touch others.

 

When I am not in my enthusiasm I am a lot more cautious.

In 1996 I met an Austrian musician, Reinhard Flatischler. Reinhard had founded a body of rhythm work called TaKeTiNa. I took my first workshop and loved it. I did not have to” know “‘ anything, but felt rhythm directly in my body–stepping, clapping and singing.  I could relax and cruise in the groove. I was hooked. My enthusiasm spoke to me and in a short time Reinhard and I agreed to work together to bring the TaKeTiNa Rhythm Teacher Training to the US .

I  ended up organizing three 3-year intensive teacher trainings over twelve years.  Huge commitments of time and energy and money went into creating each training. Because these were long-term projects, there were times  I was doubting there would be a successful outcome.

Somehow, things worked out. The participants came for the training, and despite some trainees leaving, everything managed to work.

My enthusiasm to have this teaching style infect the US was bigger than all the doubts and fears that visited me during the twelve years.

 

In my own professional life, the door opened for me to teach drumming long before I was highly skilled. I was happy to be the one to have a torch to pass on — Baba’s lessons, other teachers’ lessons. I stayed within simple boundaries… I taught what I knew solidly.

Last winter, I celebrated my twentieth year of teaching drum and rhythm. Each class inspires me, urges me to include everyone, opens up different ways of breaking down the information — no matter what an individual’s skill level. Enthusiasm bypasses obstacles of age, gender, and nationality– which might appear as limitations to learning to drum later in life.

Once year we–my students and I–celebrate our love of drumming with a performance. This gathering is part ritual, part celebration, and part advertisement for the power and art of drumming. Lots of students take part–including some of my “graduated” students.

The rehearsal, the day before the event, is messy and chaotic. It doesn’t look or sound like much of a performance. Some folks forget their drum parts. Half the group look like deer in headlights. People ask the same questions because they never hear the answers. No one can tell how it will turn out, but most are doubtful that it will come together.

The next day, when we arrive, everyone is excited.  The drummers dress up in flashy shirts and pants. They look colorful and festive. Our audience starts to arrive. The performers are nervously warming up–banging away, excited to get going.

We begin. Smiles and joy are visible on the musicians’ faces, and the energy is contagious. The audience gets up to dance. The performance flies by. We are no longer in linear time.We are enthusiastic. We are joy. The music is the vehicle for all of us to celebrate dancing, singing, clapping or just being there.

We are part of a transformative moment that changes the landscape of everyone who participates. And all because we show up. And play together. Create together.

 

When we finish, there is an alive vibrancy.   The resonance of movement and sound are still in the room. Slowly, we pack up our instruments, dissolving the recital gathering. Something else lingers. What is this feeling in the air?

We started out as individuals. Through our process together, we became a group. We added  a participating audience, sound and movement, song and dance. We then transformed into a village, celebrating our human life together. This good feeling remaining reminds us that we created something creative, immediate and wonderful. We did it together through joy, excitement, intention, and the superpower–enthusiasm.

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