Happy Autumn Equinox! This is a time to balance and recalibrate after the summer. It's a day of equal light and darkness - a time to reflect on balancing opposite energies. What kind of balance are you cultivating in your life right now? Who do you need to be and what do you need to do in order to achieve and maintain this balance or at least continually cycle back to it during this new season? Fall is a time of reflection, change, and transformation -- so the question is: how do you best stay balanced in the midst of change?
I've been working with the image of a redwood tree in one of Kim Hermanson's fabulous classes and I offer this as a tool to you for today or this season. A redwood tree balances a deeply-rooted, strong and stable trunk with a vast height. When we work with imagery metaphorically, it's useful to BECOME the image in our mind's eye. So if we close our eyes and become a redwood tree in our mind's eye, we feel this balance of stability combined with far-reaching sight. We feel our groundedness and endurance in any weather while both seeing the interconnected grove around us and producing our branches and leaves. I invite you to play around with becoming a redwood tree in your mind's eye OR to allow another image to come to mind when you think of balance in the midst of change and to become that image instead. Feel into it and notice all that you possibly can. Write down your experience and use it as a guide for the fall season.
Season Two, Four Seasons Project, 2019.
This summer I relocated to Southern California after 17 years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although this is not a super significant distance geographically, this was a big emotional shift for me in terms of closing out a chapter of my life and beginning a new one. I'd had many friends move away from the Bay Area in the past few years so I knew that in this digital age, although the relationships certainly change, technology allows for continued connection. But it's difficult to connect from afar with the physical spaces that contain our memories. So, I chose to spend time during my final months in the Bay Area making pilgrimages to, and taking photos of, significant places from my 17 years there.
I visited and documented the spaces that held the energy of my most meaningful memories, places that contained a deep energetic imprint of my presence and vice versa -- where I walked in and out of doors, or up and down stairs, or ate, or prayed, or danced, or made love, or dreamt, or worked, or learned, or healed, or laughed, or created over and over again, sometimes for years and years on end. This became an intentional way for me to honor this chapter of my life.
Honoring and marking the passage of time and the endings and beginnings of life chapters has become more important to me as I've gotten older and especially as a woman who has not married and who has consciously chosen not to birth children -- two significant milestones that often mark life stages for us humans. For all of us, and specifically for those of us without these particular milestones and accompanying journeys, I think it is important to intentionally track, record, and celebrate our transitions.
It was an interesting practice to sit down and write a list of the places I wanted to visit - to notice which ones actually made it onto the list and which didn't due to their insignificance or due to memories that felt too negative to revisit. This also became a values clarification exercise for me - making me glaringly aware of what I have consciously or unconsciously valued most and how I spent my time and energy throughout these years of my life. Themes emerged from the list -- it became a list of what nourished me... physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I invite you to view the images and read my stories to get a glimpse into this chapter of my life and as you do, I encourage you to think about what a similar project would look like for you.
17th Street, Oakland
This beautiful 1920s building is in downtown Oakland, one block away from Lake Merritt. I lived in one of the large studio apartments hidden behind the trees on the left-hand side for 11 years of my life. The kitchen and bathroom displayed original art deco tilework and the space had lovely high ceilings and tall windows that framed these seasonally-changing trees, keeping me magically in-tune with the cycles of nature. Every morning when I awoke, I would feel gleefully thankful for the beauty and peacefulness of the space - often with the thought that I was the luckiest person in the world to live in this apartment. While it was simply a studio, it was a special place and its beauty was never lost on me or taken for granted.
Latham Square Building, 16th Street & Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
One of the first things I did when I moved to the Bay Area was train and serve as a volunteer counselor for a nonjudgmental, after-abortion talkline called Exhale. This organization was not politically or religiously affiliated but rather, described its approach as "pro-voice" and client-centered. On the talkline, we learned to put aside our own beliefs and opinions to meet callers exactly where they were at when they called us wanting to talk about their experiences with abortion. This organization was - and still is - doing ground-breaking, cutting-edge work -- carving out a space for real, complex human experiences, stories, and support in the midst of a super-charged, over-simplified, and divided political climate. Although it's no longer in this building, the Exhale office was housed here for the many years (2002 - 2008) during which I was involved as a counselor, community educator, board member, and finally, staff member. I met and worked alongside all kinds of amazing, brilliant, compassionate, and empathic women in this office and am forever grateful for the counseling skills, lifelong friendships, and organizational and professional development experiences I had the honor of cultivating here.
Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, Clarewood Drive, Oakland
For many years, I attended weekly services at the Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, a beautiful sanctuary nestled in the Oakland Hills. During this time, Rev. Joan Steadman was the minister, she was a humble, honest, and uber-inspiring leader who had trained under Rev. Michael Beckwith and helped him open the Agape Center in Los Angeles. Oakland CSL is a metaphysical, non-denominational spiritual center and as a Jewish woman, I felt very welcomed and accepted here. It was guaranteed that if I went to services, I would walk out feeling uplifted and with fascinating, philosophical food for thought to chew on and digest that week. I was introduced to this place via synchronicity - overhearing one of my healers on the phone talking about it before a session... it turned out she was a practitioner here and during my first service, I realized that I already knew several members of this spiritual community from other communities of which I was a part.
Oakland Acupuncture Project, Laurel Avenue, Oakland
I am a big proponent of non-western medicine and "alternative" healing modalities. My main healthcare providers over the past decade were the many talented "acu-punks" (practitioners) at Oakland Acupuncture Project. OAP is comprised of two clinics that offer community acupuncture, a movement aimed at creating access to Chinese Medicine by removing the barrier of cost from healing. Community acupuncture is affordable (usually $15-$50/session) acupuncture offered in a group setting - enabling folks to access this healing modality together in community and with greater frequency than what otherwise might be cost-prohibitive. They helped me heal through ailments from allergies to menstrual cramps and to consistently maintain my well-being. OAP is a member of an international cooperative called People's Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA). I am a supporting member of POCA as well. If you're interested in this movement and your own well-being, you can become a member and/or search for community acupuncture clinics near you on their website.
Mountain View Cemetery, Piedmont Avenue, Oakland
My favorite place to walk, sit, or contemplate in Oakland is Mountain View Cemetery. Mountain View is a stunning 226 acres of green rolling hills and awe-inspiring views at the end of Piedmont Avenue. I've spent truly countless hours indulging in its beauty, listening to podcasts, sitting in sweet silence, writing in journals, talking with friends, contemplating the lives of those buried here, and reaching my 10,000 steps here:)
This is a photo of the mausoleum under the moon. The beautiful and aptly-placed carving above the doors is of the three Fates, the Greek goddesses or weavers of Destiny: Clotho ("the spinner" of the thread of life), Lachesis ("the allotter" who measures the thread and determines Destiny), and Atropos ("the unturnable" who cuts the thread and determines death). In our Western society, which often shies away from looking at or discussing our inevitable fate of death, it can be a useful practice to intentionally engage with it. When we encounter the reality of death on a more regular basis, we can more readily make peace with it and also be reminded of the shortness and significance of life, continually begging Mary Oliver's question, "tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
Anytime Fitness, Bay Farm Island, Alameda
This hole-in-the-wall gym in Alameda was my saving grace throughout the years. Located fairly close to where I lived in Oakland, it's a cute and quiet gym that's open 24/7 and located next to a grocery store that's open until midnight. As a creative, I am a fairly extreme night owl and was fortunate to find jobs that fit my natural sleep and energy rhythms. For several years I worked at a mental healthcare clinic for youth in the Presidio in San Francisco, usually ending my work day around 9 or 9:30pm. Anytime Fitness gave me a safe place to go exercise after my commute back home to the East Bay with time to spare to do my grocery shopping before midnight without any crowds or lines (win-win:). This gym was also a place of deep healing for me during times of stress or challenges - it's truly amazing what endorphins can do for our state-of-mind. Despite exercise often being the last thing we want to do when we're down or stressed, it's always been incredibly well worth the effort for me.
New College of California, Valencia Street, San Francisco
I spent a year in a Clinical Psychology graduate program and later switched to and graduated from a master's program in Women's Spirituality here at New College of California. This was a small liberal arts school founded in 1971 whose mission was, "Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World." This building on Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District (which now houses retail shops) was my educational home for three years. I fell in love with the people who were drawn to teach and learn in an institution that valued a just, sacred, and sustainable world.
I learned an innumerable amount here including the clinical practice of community mental health, how to set and facilitate sacred space, the joy of sitting in circle, the power of heuristic research and Organic Inquiry (a methodology of research as a sacred endeavor), the wisdom and often-suppressed history of the Divine Feminine, the sacredness of the menstrual cycle and its connection with the moon, the creation of art as a spiritual practice, the importance of telling our stories, and so much more.
I had the opportunity to travel with this program to India to study South Indian Arts and Culture. My thesis was on healing the self and accessing the divine through creative expression and I had the chance to create an art exhibit to go along with my written thesis. I chose to create four large altars of my artwork and found/recycled materials for a show I titled, Altared: A Journey to Wholeness - that was exhibited here in the community exhibition space. I was particularly excited when I had the opportunity to hear the phenomenal author, Sandra Cisneros, read from her work in this space with my altars as the backdrop :) I left this school with lifelong mentors and friends and a newfound connection to my own spirituality, creativity, and divine essence.
Taqueria Cancun, Mission Street, San Francisco
There were many restaurants to choose from for this list, but this hole-in-the-wall taqueria was one of my trusty, go-to staples for the entirety of my time in the Bay Area. It was *the* late-night spot for veggie burritos when I lived in SF and in Oakland. I first started coming here in my early twenties after nights out dancing with my first roommates in San Francisco. Later, I would get burritos here with my fellow outreach worker after doing street outreach through the Women's Community Clinic (passing out hygiene and safer sex and drug supplies to unhoused and marginally-housed women in the Mission District). I would then come here after weekend-long graduate school classes in the Mission and years later, with my partner who lived a block away from here for five years of our relationship. It was reliably welcoming with its colorful papel picados, yummy green hot sauce, and long, community tables.
Prospect Avenue, San Francisco
Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley & Catalina Avenue, Albany
Valencia Street, San Francisco
These are the offices of the amazing therapists I had the chance to work with in the Bay Area. My first therapy experience in San Francisco was being in a Radical Therapy problem-solving group run out of a home office space in Bernal Heights. This was an amazing group of women and an incredible approach - you can read more about it here.
The second and third shots are the former office spaces (first one was above the North Berkeley Post Office and the second was a space rented in a church off of Solano Avenue) of the therapist I worked with for over a decade who expertly held space for me and guided me through intense growing pains and evolution. She introduced me to: the brilliant practice of Nonviolent Communication and EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) among many other healing modalities and she continually and gracefully pointed me back to my own inner wisdom and intuition.
The fourth image is the office of a wonderful Gestalt and Jungian-based couple's therapist who I saw with one of my partners. This office is on Valencia Street in San Francisco, above the Scarlet Sage, a lovely spiritual/herb shop that was hard not to wander into after therapy sessions. Among many other things, she taught us Dan Siegel's concept of the Window of Tolerance, and Stan Tatkin's concept of the couple bubble. She lovingly pulled tarot cards for our final session together as a couple.
Lake Merritt, Oakland
Having lived a block away from this beautiful gem of Oakland for 11 years (and near it for several more,) I don't think I could calculate how many times I have walked the 3.4 miles around its perimeter or simply sat outside on its shore. An evening walk under its strands of glowing white lights always felt a bit magical. When I first moved to Oakland, I would dorkily wear a fanny pack to walk around the lake, knowing that I would hardly run into any people there and certainly no one I knew... in recent years, it has become a true community hub (and thankfully, fanny packs came back into style so it all worked out ;) The path around - and the feeling of being near - this small body of water is etched on my insides... it's a little piece of home to me and I suspect this will remain the case for the rest of my days.
I took at least a dozen more photos than what I've included here - photos of other homes I lived in or shared with partners in San Francisco and Oakland, vegan restaurants I frequented such as Herbivore in SF and Berkeley, workplaces throughout the Bay Area, and other walking and hiking spots such as the Alameda shoreline, but the places featured here rose to the top as a priority for me to share. And in this process, I noticed what nourished me most throughout these years: beauty and nature; healing and growth; connection with loved ones; creative expression; being in service to others; continuous education and learning, and spiritual engagement. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have lived some of my most formative and meaningful years in these beautiful spaces and to close out this chapter of my life by reflecting, honoring, and appreciating them. I invite you to contemplate and create your own catalogue of memories - in whatever creative format works best for you - when you experience your next major life transition.
Season One, Four Seasons Project, 2019
My spring was punctuated by rather intense rat sightings in broad daylight. In late winter, I came across a rat who was actively dying in the middle of the sidewalk in the rain. It was large and adorable and struggling and I spent a long time trying to figure out how I might save it or comfort it, eventually realizing that there was nothing I could do but let it be. I feel deeply connected to animals and was absolutely heartbroken by this encounter and the feelings of powerlessness and sadness it evoked in me. Come spring, I encountered a completely dead rat on my path and weeks later, a second dead rat in front of me -- this one with its face missing, gnarled and bloody. My fourth and final rat sighting came in late May, this rat was also large and adorable and very much alive. It scurried right across my path and then took a seat in the brush looking at me without fear, as if saying a sweet hello.
Although sometimes a rat is just a rat, I'm a Jungian who doesn't believe in coincidences but in synchronicities and the magic of symbolism. Having never been closer than about ten yards to a rat on a city street at night (save a friend's pet rat years ago), all of these rat encounters in a matter of months were no accident to me. I decided to do a visioning journey to more intentionally meet these rats and understand why they so dramatically made their presence known to me.
In the journey, hundreds of rats showed up and came to die in front of me, one-by-one, until the floor was covered in their blood. It was gruesome and I asked them why they were doing this. They replied that they were dying in front of me so that I would become more comfortable with death in all forms - death of the body, death of all of life's circumstances, death of parts of the self, etc. They said they knew I would respectfully bear witness to this and would both honor their lives and properly grieve their deaths. So it became this exchange, they were to show me how to more gracefully sit with the impermanence of all things (something I am admittedly terrible at) and I, in turn, would witness, honor, and grieve them. Then, a paintbrush showed up in my hand and I dipped it into the rats' blood on the floor - with clarity that I was to create art from this blood.
After this visioning process, I set out to cover a canvas with blood red paint. All I felt inspired to do next was to make circles on the canvas and so I began to make hundreds of tiny circles realizing that this was now a meditation on the birth-life-death(-rebirth) cycle. I recreated this cycle over and over again on the canvas while reflecting on this truth - eventually adding the rats to the canvas. I want to lift up the qualities of the rats themselves because this wasn't just any animal who showed up. While rats are often seen as unclean pests, they also model for us: vulnerability, courage, perseverance, resilience, adaptability, creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence, honesty, ambition, shrewdness, and abundance. These are all qualities that are necessary to successfully navigate the continual waves of impermanence - the birth-life-death cycles - that we experience in our lives. I gave the rats golden crowns to honor the regality of these qualities. Their sweet little crowns are my favorite part of this piece and certainly helped make it look like a page out of a children's book... (perhaps one that would teach children some of these lessons before they reach adulthood and require several dead rats on their path to open their eyes :).
So please take a moment to sit with these Royal Rats of Impermanence and reflect on the cycles happening in your life right now. Claim which of their regal qualities you already possess and are actively using to move through your days - and, if needed, set the intention to bring more of these qualities into your daily experience so that you may more easily ride these waves. With love & reverence for the impermanence of all things, Talia 🖤
I initially started my Four Seasons project in the winter. During this time, I was going through an intense grieving process due to the recent ending of a long-term relationship. The finished project (a video) ultimately became too vulnerable-feeling for me to share publicly but here are some frames to give you a sense of it.
In late fall and winter, I was in the height of my grief. My days and nights were filled with tears and a dizzying cycle through the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In addition to the assistance of my healers and loved ones, I knew I needed to create art in order to constructively work through all of these emotions and so I began by writing a poem to capture what this process and season was like for me. I had had this strong metaphoric imagery coming to me that I had closed the door to the past and was now just sitting at this door processing all of these big feelings. I titled the poem, Winter at the Door.
The imagery was so strong, I wanted to expand beyond the poem. I scouted out a good door to use and enlisted a friend and creative collaborator (huge thanks to Candace Roberts) to shoot photos of me ritually acting out the poem in front of the door. With hundreds of photos to sort through, I set out to learn the intricacies of iMovie and then spent hours upon hours editing these photos into a stop-motion video set to an audio track of me reading the poem. This was a labor of love and grief. When waves of grief arose within me, I welcomed them and used them as fuel to keep going on this project.
Acting out the poem at the door and having this witnessed was a powerful, embodied experience and then watching it come to life on the screen gave me an important bird's eye perspective on all I had been working through emotionally. A part of the poem addressed my propensity for rumination and I chose to show this via a flashback montage of sweet and loving photos from this several-year-long relationship. This part was both difficult and beautiful to work on -- although it was painful to sift through these photos, it felt like a way to deeply honor this love while at the same time, call myself out on my patterns and the ways in which I still needed to grow and heal.
Every piece of this project was a salve for me: it kept me focused and moving forward through challenging days, it gave me a chance to express and be witnessed in all aspects of this grief, and it allowed me to honor this painful story of love, learning, and loss. I wanted to share the process of this project even though I'm not sharing the video itself because it is a perfect example of the power of creative expression as a tool for growth and healing. I am beyond grateful to have had this tool available to me during this time.
The creative process is a reflection of our internal world - our struggles, our fears, our passions, our joys. There is an endless amount of information we can gather from the thoughts and feelings that arise in us when we face a blank page or canvas. This morning, I sat down to do a creative meditation - to sketch whatever comes to mind and see what unfolds.
And today, everything flowed - the image in my mind easily translated to the page, I liked the colors on the paper, and I simply kept sketching and coloring until the image felt complete. I found myself having fun throughout the whole process and this totally threw me off! Wasn't I supposed to screw something up? Wrestle with something I didn't like? Judge a choice I made in this process? It can't be *this* enjoyable, I thought... maybe I'm doing this wrong? Hmmm.
Buddhists tell us that life is suffering - and often it is, from little daily annoyances to intense grief. Sometimes we can get so used to living in the midst of some struggle or another — some pain, drama, ever-repeating lesson — that when there is no struggle, we aren't quite sure what to do with ourselves. We actually feel uncomfortable. Gay Hendricks calls this an Upper Limit Problem — when we only allow ourselves to be so happy or successful or for things to be so easy before we start doubting, sabotage ourselves, and seek out the old familiar struggle or pain. Oh yes, I've danced this dance before. Can you relate?
I realized I needed to give myself permission to simply experience the ease and joy I was feeling while I sketched today so, I did - and it was really fucking nice. The hope here, friends, is that having now experienced this with my sketch, when the stakes are higher and I hit my upper limit out in the world, I can remember this experience and more easily give myself permission to feel joy, success, or ease. This is what this creative practice work is all about. If it piques your interest, I’ll be offering opportunities to practice this with me later this year so stay tuned.
I’m honestly pretty bad at plain old meditation. I prefer some form of active, creative meditation which, for the past few years, has taken the form of coloring in coloring books. I was recently coloring and was reminded of what a powerful form of meditation it is. I felt so inspired by it, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and share it with everyone I knew. So, I decided I would color a flower mandala and post it here — no matter how it turned out — as a way to inspire others. Once I committed to posting it “no matter how it turned out,” I obviously wanted it to look pretty fabulous — and then of course, all of the things went wrong…
As I was coloring, a few of the colors bled into one another; the paper started pilling; one marker ran out of ink halfway through and I had to improvise with a similar color; I didn’t end up liking some of the colors I chose once I saw them on the paper; and I kept accidentally coloring outside of the lines! As I experienced each of these mishaps, I noticed a part of me that was very frustrated, worried if this flower would be inspiring and lovely enough to share, and wanted to throw in the towel and start a new one altogether. But every time, a smaller, softer voice chimed in and reminded me that regardless of the end result, I was meditating - a practice of simply staying in the present moment and continuing to color. I chose to listen to this softer voice over and over again until I finished the mandala.
Once it was complete, and having persevered through my various mistakes and doubts, I decided to do a bit of active imagination (Jungian dialogue) with the flower and ask it if it had anything to tell me. It said: “Despite my imperfections, I am boldly blossoming.” I loved this so much; it was exactly what I needed to hear - and don’t we all need this reminder? This year, I’m committed to sharing with you more about my imperfect creations, attempts at meditation practice, and messy creative process so I can boldly blossom as a creative human being. What about you? Is there anything you’re committed to persevering through - despite any imperfections - and boldly blossoming in 2019?