Well, the snow is beginning to melt in Wettenbostel, although this morning the green grass is coated with a layer of frost. Is this the beginning of the end of winter hibernation? While there has been joy and satisfaction in my snowy, isolated winter escape, I must admit this extended period of time alone is starting to rattle me a bit. I am exploring new places to be. My inner voice reminds me to be patient even though I feel a sense of urgency within me. Ah. I breath in and out. I try to ground myself in my body, feeling my feet in my slippers as I walk across the cold house floors.
I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night. It is a film based on the book and true story of Dan Millman. I was drawn to it as I am taking an on-line class of his through dailyom.com called the 4 minute workout. What I like about the workout so far is its careful attention to stretching and moving all parts of the body – even parts I had forgotten about! The movie is based on the story of Dan, a talented college gymnast, who meets an unexpected spiritual teacher at a local gas station who can do things Dan can’t understand or even imagine. After shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident, Dan relies on this teacher to help him reshape his thinking and his world. The film is a good reminder of the art of being present. A concept I will employ as I continue here in the quiet halls of the seminar haus. As my Reiki teacher Elizabeth and Mr. Miyagi say, “wax on, wax off.”
The other day on Facebook I noticed a quote from spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant that caught my attention. She said “There are times when we do not recognize it is the time to move forward. When life is ready for us to move and we resist, life will move us by any means necessary. What may feel like a disaster is actually a graduation. Remain open to being guided, supported and protected by the universe.” I really appreciated that in the face of the “disasters” in my life. Reframing those situations, feeling them in my body and mind as a graduation feels like a useful shift in perception.
One of my life’s graduations happened about 6 years ago now… known by many of you as Hurricane Katrina. When I was writing my last blog entry I described getting off of the drug Paxil as one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through… As I wrote that, there standing in the background begging for attention was yet another challenging time..the experience of Hurricane Katrina.
I was living in a ground floor apartment in New Orleans at the time. On Carrollton Ave. I had been off of Paxil for about 2 years and was still a little daunted from the journey. I clung to the safety of my apartment and had just a small handful of people I allowed into my life. I had recently taken my first degree Reiki class. With it came development in my healing and a new community of support. I was living a very “bohemian” lifestyle. I had no car and rode my bicycle everywhere, I read tarot cards in Jackson Square and had a part-time job selling kites at a local store in the French Quarter. While there was much about this colorful and simple lifestyle that were dear to me, I screamed out for something that felt more secure. Money was scarce. I sometimes found myself digging for ten or twenty cents so I could buy myself a banana or two. I yearned for something that felt more stable. “I want to live more civilized!” I cried out to the universe. And I guess she heard….
It was August 2005 and I was preparing to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend seminar designed to help you transform your life. I was inspired to attend by my friend Christian. He invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum, and after attending I felt a little spark in my eyes that had long been in the shadows. The only things that seemed to be in the way was… the money. In the Landmark Forum, when registering you are encouraged to look at what is “stopping” you… as likely that same issue stops you in other areas of your life. And they say that is when your Landmark Forum begins… during registration and the issues and challenges you face. So there it was. $400. It looked like a mountain to me, someone who had been collecting change to buy bananas. My friend Christian had contributed the initial $100 for me to register. Now I needed the remaining $300.
It was mid-August and my Landmark weekend was just around the corner. The new owner of the home where I rented my apartment was an old friend of my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth. And, as fate would have it, she used to be a seminar leader for Landmark Education. Elizabeth suggested that I call her for advice. Nervous and shy to reach out to others, I mustered a little courage and gave her a call. And here is what she said. She told me to make a list of all of the people I could borrow money from and then pick the last person I would ever ask and start with them. I told her that I did not yet have my money for the next months rent and I was concerned about doing the Forum and coming up with rent. That she advised me was my risk, my decision to make and she wished me good luck. While we were still talking, my sister called in on the other line. There she was, the last person I would ask for money. I answered the line and took a leap and asked her for the money. She and her husband responded in a most generous way and agreed to give me the total amount I needed to attend the seminar. We made an agreement for me to do a little design work for her husband’s business in exchange. Still not knowing how I would pay for my rent, I threw some caution to the wind, completed my registration and I was on my way!
The night before I was to leave for the Forum, Elizabeth, her husband Bob, Christian and my friend Mark gathered in the living room of my little apartment to see me off. I was surprised at how nervous and emotional I was. “I am just going away for the weekend” I thought.
The next day I rode in the carpool of folks driving from New Orleans to Houston, about a 6 hour drive. I stayed in Houston with a Landmark Forum graduate, a friend of Christian’s. Her name was Kess. A sweet tender-hearted woman, her little apartment was the perfect place to stay. It felt friendly and welcoming.
Attending the Landmark Forum was kind of an “outing” for me back into a more mainstream American society. Tucked in the bohemian world of New Orleans, I had not been in high-rise buildings, intense central air-conditioning, flourescent lights, and square rooms with beige walls in at least two or three years. I had not been in rooms filled with professionally dressed people and women wearing make-up and neatly done hair-dos. It was a little startling at first, but little by little, I made my way.
It was Saturday of the Landmark Forum when they made the announcement that there was a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans. In the context of the Landmark Forum they teach that we are “meaning making machines” and the stories of our lives have only the meaning that we assign to them. So within the context of the course, I did my best to view the news in a positive light. And the weekend course continued.
By the end of the Landmark Forum, I saw someone new and yet familiar when I looked in the mirror. It was me. Only somehow, it was me that I had not seen in a very, very long time. My eyes looked focused and clear and there was even a glimmer, dare I say a spark of light in them.
My friend Mark had called. He at first thought he might stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, but then late on Saturday night he had a strong gut feeling to get the hell out of there. So he packed up a few things, and grabbed his cat and his neighbor. Next he went by my apartment and grabbed three things – my laptop, my cat Sophie and my guitar. They made their way together through the grueling traffic-ridden evacuation on his way to meet me in Houston.
Mark and I had been friends in New Orleans for quite some time. In the wake of getting off of antidepressants he was the first person who I felt I could relax with… exhale. And one of the few people I felt could actually understand what I was going through. To say that Mark was “my boyfriend” were never words that felt quite right coming out of my mouth. But he was someone I was connected to and could count on.
Mark and company arrived in Houston after being on the road for some 22 hours or so. Kess was generous enough to welcome everyone into her home. Me, Mark, his neighbor and the two cats – we all camped out in the living room of Kess’s one-bedroom apartment. The hurricane came and went and it seemed perhaps the worst was over. But then the flood waters started to flow. Levees had broken and the water from Lake Pontchartrain began to fill the city.
Living in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina, you hear and you read that the city is a bowl. New Orleans is below sea level, and shaped bowl-like surrounded by water. We were always told, when “the big one” came the city would fill up and be flooded. It was just a matter of time. Secretly I thought we were exempt from that. That it would never happen. And there it was. It was happening. I have to admit, as the waters began to roll into New Orleans, I silently hoped it would give me a way out of my life and life circumstances. There were so many things that I just wanted to wash away with the storm.
When it became clear that New Orleans was in the midst of something of disastrous proportions, we all began to plan and explore our next step from the bunkers of Kess’s living room. Cell phone reception for New Orleanians was down which made it difficult to be in touch with people. Mark and I had decided to see our way through this together and his neighbor was seeking a new place to find refuge. In the wake of the Landmark Forum, I suggested that we look at this as an opportunity to create something that we really wanted. It was apparent that for at least the short term going back to New Orleans would not be an option. We did not want to stay in Houston. I called my parents and heard that a college friend from Austin, TX had been in touch. Her message was, “I just have this feeling… I know that Nancie needs to come to Austin.” Mark and I agreed, Austin seemed like a good place to be for a little bit.
Mark and I did our best to be responsible and handle as many details as we could up front. We made the smart decision of calling FEMA right away and filing an early claim.
Elizabeth and Bob had evacuated to Houston and we met at a Starbucks. We sat with one another in a state of shock and disbelief. It was good to be connected even in the foreign territory of Houston with its big, busy modern ways and landscape.
I called my friend in Austin. Her name is Rita, a powerful little Indian woman and a force to be reckoned with. She armed us with phone numbers from craigslist of Apartment complexes offering deals to Katrina “evacuees”. She and her husband generously offered to put us up for a week in a hotel in Austin while we found a more stable place to be. By the end of the week we departed Houston and made our way to Austin.
We arrived in Austin, wounded and weary, and met up with Rita and her husband at a local taco place. Welcomed into the bosom of Austin, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a complimentary meal that evening and gave us free t-shirts from his place. We spent that week in a hotel considering what was next. Amazed, we found ourselves looked for apartments as we needed a place to stay. Neither Mark or I had any money. But within the week, with the blessing of a “Hurricane Katrina” special and a free first months rent, we found ourselves signing a 6 month lease.
I called Elizabeth from the new place. In a state of shock I said to her, “…I think I live in Austin…”