Another Kind of Birth
Have you ever been in a moment and known that it was pivotal while you were living it? This is how I felt last Tuesday at the homeless camp under the 101 in San Rafael. My friend Jen and I had just finished setting up the space with metal folding chairs around the outdoor rug we’d brought.
It’s a harsh location. The sounds of the cars zooming overhead was constantly deafening, you could taste the exhaust raining down at all times. The tents were set up on cold concrete, some very carefully tended, some less so. There was garbage around and where there is garbage there are flies.
I had just finished placing the pieces of the puja set on the small wood table and the portrait of the masters of our tradition behind it, when I sat down to wait. In the midst of the sounds, and the cold, and the aromas, and the flies, and the darkness, the picture appeared to glow. The phrase we sing in Sanskrit at the opening of the puja entered my miind. It translates to “Whether pure or impure, whether in all places permeated, whoever opens himself to the expanded vision of unbounded awareness gains inner and outer purity.” I could feel my eyes welling up.
It has been almost two years since we did our first project for Meditation Without Borders, a cancer center for women who couldn’t afford treatment in Mexico City. It was in February 2020, a month before Covid shut the world down. I wasn’t even there, my partner ran that course in Mexico. We had spent the entire previous year establishing ourselves as a non-profit and had a whole schedule of places around the world to teach stretched out before us. Then…you know how that went.
During the long, locked-down months, I wondered sometimes if my dream would never be realized–my dream to teach meditation to people who don’t normally have access to it, my dream to help ease the suffering of those in the direst of situations, my dream to inspire people to see everyone as an extension of Self, my dream to communicate that without inner change, there can be no change to all the outside problems of the world.
Then I got pregnant, and for five months I had a new dream to fill me up. Sadly, that dream was also not to be realized. They say that tragedy strips you down until you’re left with nothing but yourself. No expectations, no projections, no ego stories. That’s how I felt sitting there on that cold metal chair facing the puja table.
Maybe two years ago I wasn’t ready for the honor and responsibility of this kind of work. Maybe then, I would have still seen myself as separate from the people I was trying to reach, or taken some kind of egotistic pride that comes from helping those “in need” as if somehow they were lesser in some way. All I know is I don’t feel that way now, quite the opposite. I am humbled by those who have gone through the fire as if I am in the presence of saints.
For the past week and a half, I have been returning to that place under the highway, getting to know the residents there a little bit at a time. I have grown to love each student and am in awe of their courage and resilience.
I had thought I would be giving birth this past week as the baby was due the first week of December. Instead, another kind of birth happened as I gazed at that sacred painting. After a much longer gestation than I expected, it was the birth of the first dream, the start of something that feels big. And she was there too, my second dream, giving me the strength to begin.