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Loving is risky. It holds us down underwater until we break free into it, gasping for air, coughing. We disappear into it and reappear like little stars. We shame ourselves, as so many in the past have taught us to do. That to love so nakedly, so far into the bone, is dangerous and unrealistic. That it’ll change into gas and vanish as soon as we come up for air. We make up new words for sorrow when we lose someone. We approach death with a stick, pointing it before us as scry and sword. We inhibit and dowse ourselves in protection, following a path in the snow left by deer.

It has been a long winter.

We have spent the past two weeks hurting from things not said. We have spent the past two weeks gasping for air.

Falling again and again into openness and feeling around in the river for the driftwood I thought was a tree. Are you a tree? My mom said, about a guy I was hopelessly in love with in college: he’s like a piece of driftwood. So began my initiation into love, a piece of driftwood.

There is a pair of practices and journeys we do in shamanism called dismemberment and remembering. We go through the dismemberment, letting go of unhealthy attachments, illness, heavy emotional patterns, anything that we have taken on that we want to let go of. Then we ask to be remembered as whole, healthy, and illuminated. For a long time, I named it disintegration because the word “dismemberment” threw me and felt too violent. I was able to disintegrate my body into the night sky and become a star. It was lightening and releasing. Seeing myself and others in divine light, filled with the power and essence and light of the universe, of what we name as divine, is a deep and profound experience. It takes discipline and focus. It requires letting go of all judgments, thoughts, preconceptions, prejudices, conformity to which we hold ourselves and by which we define ourselves. It requires letting go of the body. We let go into the void and are born again out of nothingness.

The moth homes we build in yard torches and porch lights. The rough buzz of getting too close to the light. This is our whole lives. We live in half-darkness, leaning into the light and leaning away from it. We move into light. We lean into love and we lean away from it. And we keep coming home every night to the one we love, if we’re lucky.

Our homes, safe. We need to make safe homes.

We want to be safe. So much is consumed by this desire. We burn safe in a fire. We want homes that are safe, loves that are safe. Our parents will never die. Our families will never die. We know they are immortal. Our own death is something we think about so that we don’t have to think about what the death of someone close to us would do, rip our lives apart, rip us apart into the fragments we were before they made us. The starlight shining through little tiny holes in our abdomen. We are fireflies, dozens of them, finally released from the jar but we love the jar, we miss the jar. It’s transparent and clear and we can see out of it.

We look up at the sky at our grandmothers and grandfathers. We are their tiny hands, bony and strong, grasping into flesh and bone. We hold hands with them, remembering the light in their eyes and their smiles. They were the only ones who smiled just to see us, it seems. My grandmother’s face the purest joy I have ever seen when we first saw her at the airport after a 17-hour flight, then awake for more than a whole day and night. Halfway around the world from where we lived, we were home. I long for home so desperately now. Where I am has hollowed out. I exist in a narrow beam of warmth. I feel warm and expansive, the space here is not. When we no longer belong where we have been. When it is time to move.

Loving is risky.

We define ourselves by someone and then startle awake to see the impressions left on us. Sometimes, we sleep so deeply, we are still dreaming when we wake up.

We accumulate burden unconsciously. Consciously releasing the burdens, energy, and influence of others frees us. We are all one, and we are also here to explore the outer limits of our own being as we are given this life and this being for the time we have. Releasing frees us to love.

There is something we talk about in shamanism called stealing souls. It is a habit we have. When we get so close, are breaching someone else’s space, we inadvertently steal a part of someone else’s soul. In Sandra Ingerman’s Soul Retrieval workshop, we did a journey and ritual after our soul retrievals to release the souls we had stolen. It was one of the most freeing and beautiful experiences I have ever had. I journeyed to ask whose souls I had stolen and asked for a ritual to release them back to the universe until they are ready to be called back and returned to the person to whom they belong. While my partner drummed behind me, I looked out to the mountains beyond the creosote and yucca and Joshua trees hugging the parched earth with their roots and I blew bubbles for each person whose soul I was releasing. I do a practice called H’oponopono, a Hawaiian forgiveness practice, in which I list people’s names and forgive each one in turn and ask for their forgiveness. It is powerful. It is life-changing every single time we forgive and release.

The drought in California and all of the Southwest goes on. The lessons of the desert I brought home with me. What is survival and what is beyond survival? Nature strives to live, to protect life cycles and natural balance. It produces flowers and bees and stardust and blood.

We are given so many things. We are given the natural elements of the external world, air, earth, fire and water, and the corporeal elements of heart and bone, all made up of the same matter. We are all made of the same elements. We strive for survival and what is beyond survival.

We must be compassionate witnesses. This includes being kind to ourselves. Compassion begins in our own hearts. True wealth and true freedom come from this spring: compassion, faith, reverence, gentleness, kindness. True love comes from this spring. We are ready to love. We love because it is the only thing to do. We love because breathing underwater is exhausting. It is not in our nature. We return again and again to the place of breathing, to letting things be, to our natural place in the wild.

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