don’t die wondering

On Saturday morning I was talking with my parents and I shared an anecdote about one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Wayne Dyer: last week, he posted on Facebook that he keeps a suit in his closet with the pocket cut out. It’s a reminder that when he’s gone, he won’t be taking anything with him.

On Sunday, I learned that Dr. Wayne Dyer had died in his sleep overnight. I cried when I learned the news (not for him, of course, because he’s on to greater adventures), but for all of us who have benefited from his teaching. I’m sad because I can no longer learn what he is thinking about Today.

One of the most lasting messages of Wayne Dyer will be “don’t die with your music still inside you.” Don’t wait until you’re gone to do that thing that you’ve always wanted to do.

I fell asleep on Sunday night listening to one of Wayne Dyer’s audio recordings, comforting myself that I can honor him by making his teachings new for me again. Then I woke up on Monday and got to work on my book.

In honor of Dr. Wayne Dyer, answer these questions for yourself:

At the end of your life, what are the things that you don’t want to die wondering?

What do you not want to leave undone, unlearned, unloved, or unsaid?

Start today.

Lift Every Voice: The Universal Balancing Act

Today, the world heard the announcement that in the United States, Love is Love. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states is a victory for all of us. Any time the planet tilts in favor of love, everyone wins.

Even with so much to celebrate, there is a rawness to timing of this event in the wake of the murder of nine congregants in Charleston, South Carolina. How it can be that in the same week where such unimaginable hate could exist, Love can come back with such force that it can literally change the world? How can these events happen so close together?

In Michael Singer’s newest book, “The Surrender Experiment,” he wrote “The universe has been around for 13.8 billion years, and the processes that determine the flow of life around us did not begin when we were born, nor will they end when we die.”

You have likely experienced the great balancing act in your own life – one week it’s all happiness and flow, and the next, uncertainty and heartbreak. That’s when we need to remind ourselves that it’s not all up to us. There are forces that determine everything from how much rain falls to when there is drought; how wars are waged to when peace is won. And whether we understand how victory and tragedy can coexist, the fact is that they do.

Ultimately, the case presented to the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage was based on more than just equality – it was about compassion. History has shown us that sometimes, it’s not until we understand something on a personal and visceral level that dramatic and lasting change can occur.

If Love is to prevail in your life, in mine, in your neighbor’s home, and in a quiet place of worship that once burned to the ground and rose again from the ashes – and will again – each and every one of us must consider that we are part of this Universal Balancing Act. There is always, and there is still yet, more important work to be done.

You are a part of The Big Plan, and no single aspect of your own path is ever separate from the path of the person next you. Every act of compassion, every thoughtful word, and every kindness matters, no matter how small. twitter-bird

Do it for Love.

About the Author

leigh-hopkins-director-viva-instituteLeigh Hopkins created Viva Institute in 2008 with the goal of creating an organizational catalyst for personal transformation. She received her Bachelors in Elementary Education and Music and a Masters in Education. She has a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University and is a certified Usui Reiki Master. Ela fala português, ella habla español, sta lavorando al suo italiano and on good days, she even remembers English.

legendary

Raise your shield
seal the gates
gather your sisters
around you
to wait.

Let the winds howl
watch the waters rise
when the storms rage
we’ll pay them
no mind.

Joan has put away the armor
Iemanja fastened the sluice
Caitlyn will hold up her mirror
and honor you
with your Truth.

Go on, girl: let your hair down.

Mother Maya of the Angels:
shake our stories loose!
Throw our words
like confetti
and we’ll take them to the skies.

We’ll gather the pieces
reassemble their meaning
weave them into the fabric
of We —
you and I.

Together,
we speak

Together,
we cry

Together,
we dance

Together,
we rise.

— for The Sedona Tribe (with special honors for Caitlyn Jenner).

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supernova

don’t speak to me
of mass
or matter

when for me,
you have always been
gravity
and light.

whether it takes
30 years or
30 lifetimes

time has no bearing.

you travel
at the speed of Love:

a force,
when multiplied,

infinitely more generous
exponentially more expansive

than time or space.

in our equation
time has no bearing.

you are this and more

I can’t stop thinking about Apollo and Daphne.

There was so much of Rome to taste and explore, but when I look back, I know that my future memories of my time in that ancient city may come down to this one breathtaking sculpture.

Apollo and Daphne live(s) at the Villa di Borghese in Rome. When sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini created this masterpiece between 1622-24, it was during the height of the paragone  — a Renaissance debate that put into question whether painting, sculpture, or literature was the most descriptive medium for depicting nature or conveying human emotion.

In Apollo and Daphne, Bernini carved out all of the raw emotion and inner conflict that so many artists and writers have spent lifetimes trying to convey. I walked around the sculpture for thirty minutes or more, taking in the upswept arms, the feet, flung behind, the feet turning to roots, fingers to branches…

The work captures the chaos and uncertainty of the human condition; the aching and the longing; the desire for intimate, ecstatic love; the quest to be wholly ourselves while honoring the Divinity in another. It brings to life the fear that chases love into the shadows and the transformation that sends it into eternity.

What I can’t get away from, what has literally kept me up at night, is the reminder of my own yearning to convey the multi-dimensional truth of who we are. We are more than 3-D. None of us can judge our own worthiness until we have walked around so deeply inside ourselves that we finally understand that there is no aspect of who we are that is separate from others.

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To experience this just as I’m about to teach a workshop in Sedona on women’s storytelling and personal mythology, followed by a summer of deep writing — it was everything.

To see more photos from Italy or to learn about the myth of Apollo and Daphne, join me on Facebook. I’m now on Instagram, so stop by and show me how it’s done.

backstage at calendimaggio

Here’s the thing: some of life is crazy-amazing; some of it’s hard, sad, and confusing; and some of it is just straight-up crazy. That’s why when you see magic happening, you need to call it what it is.

When we planned the trip to Italy, we had no idea that our last night in Assisi coincided with Calendimaggio, the biggest festival of the year. The residents spend all year preparing for this four-day Medieval May Day festival, which is an elaborate, citywide reenactment of 13th Century life in Assisi — produced, directed and acted by residents, for residents.

We knew something important was about to happen when wax-filled tin cans with enormous burlap wicks were placed outside our door earlier that morning. The city’s narrow water pipes were wrapped and tied with dried olive branches, and all street-level lighting was covered in dark cloth. Very mysterious — why the big effort?

abbeyWe went about our day of sightseeing and painting, but when we tried to return to the apartment in late afternoon, we were informed by the police that we couldn’t get back into our apartment for (4 fingers held up) hours, no matter how much we had to pee.

In just four days, we had come to know our neighborhood well enough to backtrack through the piazza and head up through another stone passageway. We carried our market bags up two hundred steps or so, through more cobblestone streets, past the Cathedral of San Ruffino, and down another few sets of stairs to reach our apartment.

As we began packing up our bags for Rome, men appeared in the street outside our door to light the tin can luminaries. When we poked our heads outside, we were amazed to see that all of the city lights had been turned off, and every effort had been made to remove all signs of modern life. It was like we were living in a 13th Century town — the effect was incredible!

Our narrow street was a flurry of activity: people rushed up and down the stairs dressed in Medieval costumes — from ragged-looking serfs to exquisitely dressed royals, barmaids, knights, and monks — all of them, very serious about their roles. Our street had been magically transformed into the backstage for the main attraction in the piazza below.

We hadn’t bought tickets for the performance, so recognizing the opportunity for what it was, I made a big arugula and tomato salad, poured a glass of cold, dry white wine, and pulled a chair outside the apartment door to watch. For more than an hour, we watched the performers running up and down the torchlit stairs from the public stage below to a private stage in the walled garden above us. At one point, they must have been reenacting a brothel scene, and the glowing streets echoed with the sounds of the actors’ cries.

When the plays had ended and the streets were finally empty, all was quiet. The city lights were dark and the torches were still lit, so we looked both ways and whispered, “Let’s go!”

In flickering light, we tiptoed up the steep cobblestone steps and through the narrow passageways, creeping quietly down dark alleys and peering into ancient, walled rose gardens. I felt five and five hundred; new and ancient, at once.

As we made our way down the steps one last time, I gazed up at the starlit sky, marveling at this crazy-amazing life that offered us the gift to wander, unseen, through the streets of a medieval city on the first night of Calendimaggio.

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miracoli di assisi

There is something about Assisi that invokes the miraculous. It’s no wonder that it’s been a place of spiritual pilgrimage for more than two thousand years. The Roman Temple of Minerva (just a minute from our flat) would have perched overlooking the Spoleto valley before the town grew up around it. In German feudal times, walls were constructed over crumbling Roman ruins to create a walled city, complete with two looming medieval castles and graceful cathedrals.

You can see it on the visitors’ faces as they make their way through Assisi’s winding cobblestone streets. The arched doorways and narrow passages give way to steep stairways that beckon to climb higher, higher. And so you go, in search of the view that must have inspired others to walk this same pathway for thousands of years, countless of times before you, just to take in this particular scene…yet somehow, when you round that corner, there is the sense that you are the first to have truly seen it.

The very streets and hillsides of Assisi ring with a collective spirit of wonder.

It is this spirit that led me to search for the perfect hiding place for the last clue in a scavenger hunt — knowing that 30 days from now a dear friend and her daughter will walk the same path to find it. Perhaps it’s also what granted me the Grace to stand inexplicably alone for fifteen minutes in a lower chamber of the Cathedral of St. Francis on a day that was swarming with tourists. In that quiet space, I stood listening to the very fibers of St. Francis’ tunic, quietly communing with the needlework of the followers who lovingly stitched patches over the tears in the rough fabric.

It must be this same spirit that urged another friend to pass along a message which drew me to discover new doorways and answered questions in the walls of Chiesa Nuova. I sat for a full hour gazing at frescos before I felt an urgency to go – now – rushing down the street in the direction of the Basilica of Saint Claire.

photo 1There was another urgent internal voice – stop, here – which led me to a small shop, where I bought a warm shawl on an 84 degree day. I hurried down the sunny street, skirted inside the basilica, and sat in the second row of the Chapel of the Crucifix of San Damiano, just as a nun entered the room and lit a tall candle. As I settled before the ancient, painted cross of San Damiano, the chapel suddenly filled behind me. Within another minute, a voice raised in an angelic soprano, and as the others joined in chorus, I became aware that I had unknowingly walked into a mass offered entirely in song.

I wrapped my new shawl around my shoulders, grateful for the warmth, totally filled up…knowing for certain that if this small miracle could happen for me in this one brief moment, greater ones than this are possible for all of us.

ninety-nine steps

Anyone who’s been to Europe will tell you: “pack light.” It’s advice I agree with on principle, and even as I was packing I was aware that no matter how vehemently I might agree that yes, packing light is the right thing to do, it would never happen.

To be fair, when you’ve been invited to Italy with a painter, it’s expected that you’ll carry your weight in canvas. By the time our flat owner met us at the Assisi train station twenty-three hours, 4 trains (2 US, 2 Italy) one 9-hour flight, a 15-minute run alongside a track to the train going to Perugia (which we made with 2 minutes to spare), and a three-hour train ride later, we were ready to collapse.

As the flat owner and her husband crammed our bags into the tiny car boot, he muttered “molto pesante” (very heavy), and I responded in my messy bras-italliano, “ela è uma pittore.” (Roughly, “She’s a painter.”) They smiled and laughed, and we made our way up the steep hillside to the walled village of Assisi. The car zipped through the narrow cobblestone streets with mere inches on either side of the car, past crumbling Roman walls, olive groves, and medieval cathedrals, higher and higher, until finally, the car stopped in a piazza.

99 steps
The staircase to the flat, Assisi, Italy.

“We stop here,” our host told us.

That was the moment when the error of our ways became back-breakingly clear: this is why you pack light when you travel to Europe. The flat owner pointed up a tiny alley-way, inaccessible by car, and said, “We go here.”

It’s not lost on me that we’re staying a two-minute walk from the very place where legend says that St. Francis threw off all of his clothes and gave up his worldly possessions. I’m feeling similarly inspired – both to travel lighter, and to fully devote myself to this magical place.

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