Saturday, October 31, 2015

I'LL HAVE THE STEAMED YONI, PLEASE.

OK.  Let's explore Yoni Steaming!

First, "yoni".... anyone?  Let me help:  It's the Sanskrit word for "vagina" or "womb". The male counterpart is often referred to as a "lingam" but this isn't a direct Sanskrit translation.  We will go with it for now, though, since it is used in common parlance as such -- if you commonly parlance in these things.

At the World Elder Gathering we attended in Hawaii, there were breakout sessions designed for women only, yoni steaming being one.  I read the description of this deeply spiritual practice of womb honoring and it cracked me up.  I admit right here and now the ONLY reason I signed up was for blog fodder.  I mean, really!  Who wouldn't???  Besides, even after reading the description of the practice, I was unclear how my yoni could get steamed (other than the usual way).  I was on a research mission.

I showed up to the session with nine other women and found a circle of yoga mats, each with a 5- gallon bucket placed upon it, surrounding a beautiful altar laid out on a colorful scarf in the middle of the circle.  The young woman leading the session greeted us with a brilliant smile and warm, welcoming manner.  She was beautiful, 25 or so I'd guess, wearing a midriff baring halter and long skirt.  She had perfect skin.  I notice skin these days since I'm currently undergoing topical chemotherapy on my hands for pre-cancerous lesions, but that's another story.

I chose my mat and bucket and looked around.  The other women (ranging I'd guess from 55-75 years of age) looked as bewildered as I, but certainly game for the experience.  There was also giggling.

Our leader asked us to sit quietly and started us off with a guided meditation on the deep spiritual significance of our womanly bodies, focusing on the womb and its many wonders as a place of procreation, shelter, a place of power, and insight.  I'm a sucker for a good guided meditation.  I was getting into it, but kept being a tiny bit distracted by the technicality of having no womb.  (Hysterectomy: 2001)  I wondered if I was committing fraud by being there.

Next we did a check-in where we went around and talked of our responses to the meditation, so I mentioned this fraudulent feeling and my years of infertility and anger at my body and parts that didn't work right, tears welled in my eyes...what the hell?!?  This wasn't funny anymore!  I actually dropped my cynical, "I'm only here for the material" stance and shared honestly.  As did everyone else.  We were assured that the "womb space" remains regardless of actually having the anatomically correct apparatus.  I found this oddly moving.

But then it was finally time to start the actual steam, so I regained my bemused affectation and waited patiently while our leader poured a hot (steaming!) herbal potion into glass mixing bowls (like a yummily-scented tea).  The herbs were a mixture meant for post-menopausal women.  She knew her audience.  Once poured, each bowl was placed inside the 5-gallon bucket and a beautifully crafted smooth wooden toilet-type seat (think luxurious outhouse) was placed over the bucket.  We shed our undies, picked up our long skirts, and lowered our nether parts onto the seat where the steam was rising to bathe our yonis in a nice warm elixir of nurture.   It felt pretty great.

The idea was to do a 20 minute sit.  (I thanked my Yoga and meditation practices for the core and back strength to remain in an upright and unsupported position for this long).  While sitting, our leader did a simple singing bowl performance (so soothing) as well as a Goddess chant in Sanskrit (beautiful voice).  The yoni tissues, being warmed by steam, relax and swell and she says the vaginal space opens to allow the steam to rise to the womb space...I don't know about that.  But it did feel nice -- not in a sexual way, but more like an "ahhhh...." relaxing massage sort of way.  She encouraged us to vocalize with her.

I've done this before in other settings, including Yoga classes, and always feel a bit self-conscious.  But we all sort of started to hum or hiss or sing as she made the singing bowl ring and it was actually quite lovely.

Until I detected a disturbance on the other side of the room.  I opened my eyes and realized our leader had walked to the entrance to dissuade a MALE conference attendee from walking through our Yoni Steaming space to get to his room.  Uh...NO!  I saw her motion to him silently to go away, as she shook her head no.  He ignored her!  He walked right through (along the wall at least, not in the middle of our circle).  It totally funked my vibe!  I was so pissed at male privilege, discounting women, abuses suffered at men's hands -- maybe I projected a bit of historical patriarchy on the poor guy who just wanted to take a nap, but sheesh!  I do have to think he didn't know what he was walking into and was likely completely appalled to find ten Elder women sitting on buckets, "vocalizing".  I hope the image haunts his dreams for years to come, because he acted like a total lingam!

When steam time came to an end we de-throned and arranged ourselves in a lying down position on our Yoga mats for a few moments of Savasana (basically lying still in a quiet, meditative frame of mind).  Then we sat and did a check out and to a woman, there did seem to be a theme of feeling nurtured, healed, and renewed by the experience.  Go figure.

I left still thinking the whole idea was a bit bizarre.  And I do see the humor in suggesting this as a "girls night out" activity.  But let me say this:  When women come together, stories are told.   This exercise ended up being surprisingly moving.  Once past the curiosity and giggles, we shared our stories -- of shame, abuse, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, of being sexually active or of sex being a distant memory -- the stories of women's bodies, women's lives.  By focusing our attention with loving intention on a body part that is both worshipped and vilified, both caressed and violated, we took back what belongs to us.  We loved ourselves back to wholeness.  And that is no laughing matter.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

STARRY, STARRY NIGHT...OR NOT

"Are the stars out tonight?...I don't know if it's cloudy or bright..."  Do you remember that line from a song to which I don't recall the title? (Name that tune!)   Well, we went stargazing in Hawaii.

We booked a pricey tour (a rarity for us). We justified it by recognizing the opportunity to get to the top of Mauna Kea with a guide doing all the driving and narrating, have a dinner on the way, see the sunset from up top, and get a close-up of the night sky through their telescopes (a 7-1/2 hour tour).  The cost suddenly seemed worth it.

With great anticipation we met our driver/guide at the tour headquarters in Kona-Kailua.  A few others from our tour were also there.  We got on our brand new and really comfy14 passenger mini-bus and headed out, with high spirits.  We drove about 15 miles -- to pick up more passengers.  We drove another few miles -- to pick up our pre-made picnic suppers (BBQ chicken or Tofu wrap).  We drove another 30 miles to pick up more passengers.  All along the way our guide entertained and educated us with Hawaiian history and lore, geology and culture.  Still -- it's a lot of driving and the first hour basically felt like we were getting nowhere as we went out of the way to make stops.  No matter I was still so excited!

Our fellow tourists were a fine group.  I had already pegged the young couple across the aisle from us as newlyweds, which turned out to be the case as I learned as we all took turns introducing ourselves.  The give-away for me was the way the new husband kept fingering and twirling his wedding band.  My son did the same when he was first married with a similarly startled, contented, quizzical look while contemplating the ring finger.  There was another newlywed couple from Seattle (vintage Mariners T-shirt made us recognize their home town), a middle-aged couple who met on E-Harmony -- he the talkative one from Houston who seemed annoyed that the task of teaching his grandson to hunt deer fell to him since his son refused to do it.  Generational clash, I guess.  There was a lovely couple from England who asked insightful questions listening carefully and with interest to the answers.  I don't recall details about the others,  but all seemed very happy to be on the tour and eager for the star experience.

We stopped at the base of the road to the summit of Mauna Kea.  An old sheep shearing station, abandoned, provided a picturesque backdrop for our picnic supper set out at tables under a big awning tent.  The food was surprising tasty and we enjoyed the time to wander around, shooting photos and starting to acclimate to altitude.  We were at 7000 ft. elevation.  We were encouraged to drink as much water as possible (they provided souvenir water bottles) to ward off any elevation-related dehydration headaches.  I hate headaches.  I drank.

Back on the bus we continued up, up, up.  At about 8,000 ft. elevation we stopped again to see a huge radio wave receiver just like the ones in that old movie, Contact.   Still looking for life in the great beyond.  I filled my water bottle and kept drinking.

Up we continued, passing the visitor center at 9000 ft. elevation and venturing onto the 4 mile section of dirt road that is recommended for 4-wheel traffic only.  It was a washboard, but not terrible.  Plenty of "regular" cars were braving it, but car rental companies probably frowned on the practice.

Finally, we reached the summit.  The elevation was just under 14,000 feet.  The wind was blowing like crazy.  The tour company provided parkas for which I was most grateful.  We knew enough to wear long pants and real shoes.  I couldn't believe there were people up there in flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts!  At top are a variety of observatories housing research telescopes of varying sizes.  While they are guarded by park rangers, they are not necessarily staffed by the scientists who study the Universe.  Each is hooked to a computer somewhere else and the computer tells the telescope what to look at and remotely aims it in that direction.  Arm-chair astronomy!  The landscape was stark but hauntingly beautiful.

I would really have enjoyed it a lot more if.....I hadn't followed the hydrating directions to extreme.  I got out of the bus and felt the predicted lightheadedness of high altitude, but no headache (yay!).   But, the predominant bodily sensation was "I gotta pee so bad!" -- distractingly bad.  The two Port-A-Potties were down the hill about a hundred yards.  I knew my lightheadedness would make the trek back up the hill more than a little uncomfortable.  I noticed the sun beginning to set behind a bank of clouds, but all I could focus on was my brimming bladder.  Hub, what a trooper, found a big transformer box at the back of the parking lot and guided me behind it where he stood guard while I dropped trou and squatted.  When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

We rushed back to the western edge of the parking lot and just caught the sun descending into a cloud.  It was stunning.  And quick.  Within a few minutes we were back on the bus heading to the Visitor Center where we'd get to see the majesty of the Galaxy, the Main Event!

Except we were no sooner underway when those clouds thickened, darkened, and let fall a dowsing rain that didn't let up and which also provided us a thunder and distant lightning display.  We still stopped at the Visitor Center, hopeful the storm would pass.  It didn't.  No stars.  We loaded up again and drove the 40 miles back to where we'd started six hours earlier.  The driver was markedly quiet and drove much faster -- like a horse to the barn.  I felt it was a long day and a long drive for a picnic and a hurried sunset.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement.  So much so that we went back on our own a few days later --not to the top, but to the Visitor Center where the skies were clear but the moon had waxed to half-full and its brightness created a glow that made many of the stars disappear in the moonlight.  We did look through the telescopes there and saw craters on the moon, rings around Saturn, and a star cluster.  So all was not lost.  The tour company gave us a 30% refund and the brownie muffin we had on the way off the mountain was outstanding, so there's that.

What I know now is that the starry night sky in Kalani was the most magnificent sky we would see on the whole trip, planned tour notwithstanding.  A good reminder to appreciate what's right in front of me instead of thinking the grass is greener, or the sky is starrier, somewhere else.

At least, that's the view from here... ©

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ELDERS IN THE JUNGLE

I am so happy to be home.  I am not a good traveler, actually.  I used to long to run away, crave a change of scenery and an escape from my "real life".  Now I am sort of amazingly content to stay home.  I still enjoy the occasional change of scenery, but I rarely feel a craving or need for it.  When I do, a few days away and I'm renewed and ready to come home.  Everything I love is right here.  Plus, traveling is full of "hassle-factor" frustrations and physical discomforts -- two things I've worked hard to NOT have in my life!  (Like NOT having WiFi on the trip and unable to blog it in real time!)

But anyway, we just got back from the "Big Island", Hawaii.  We had not visited there for 27 years -- I recall Son-One was 3 yrs old and held my hand the entire time.  Literally.  And thanks be to the gods, I remember even at the time telling myself that in spite of how clung to I felt, to cherish that time since it wouldn't be long before he would shun my outstretched hand.  I was right.  Son-Two was 18 months old and hated every minute of the trip, fussy and out of sorts most of the time.  Now he loves to jet off to new places.  I wonder now why parents even want to travel that far with little tiny children -- but we saw plenty of them doing it, as we did so long ago.

This time it was just the two of us and the impetus was to attend the World Elder Gathering of the Mankind Project, in which Hub has been actively involved for nearly 20 years.  Yep, from parents of wee ones to "elders".  We've come a long way.  The gathering of about 150  elder men and women (over 50 years old) was held at Kalani Resort, in the Puna District south of Hilo -- the jungly wet side of the island.  We lucked out and had perfectly sunny skies nearly the whole time (one night of rain, while we slept).  Kalani is beautiful.  Here, cruise through the website:  https://kalani.com  Our accommodation was the largest of the Treehouse rooms and it was heavenly to sleep in a room largely enclosed by only screens, letting in the welcome breezes (when there were some...it was very hot and humid!  We were grateful for the fans!) as well as the sounds of nature, including the invasive Coqui  tree frogs that set to "singing" at dusk and well into the night.

The schedule was jam-packed with programming for men and women separately and men and women together.  One co-ed presentation that most motivated me was by a physician who spoke about nutrition and advocated a mostly vegan diet both for health and the planet.  His claim was that most modern ailments are diet-related and I saw his points.  Hub thought he was a bit on the extreme side, but we both noted places where we could be more conscientious consumers of food and resources.   Kalani itself it devoted to sustainability and healthy cuisine, so we got a good start at the retreat.  Today I'm getting a new crock-pot.

At one of the women's sessions we created a croning ritual that was joyful and moving.  I know the word "crone" has taken on a seriously negative connotation, but it is actually a term of respect and recognition of a woman in her wisdom years and I can embrace that.  The ritual was for each woman to enter the circle, wearing a length of fabric as a belt,  and state an answer to the questions:  1.  What have you learned?  2.  What are you now learning?  3.  What will you teach?  It was profound to hear the answers. Then, as she stood alone, five women at a time approached her with a 3 foot length of ribbon upon which was written a characteristic that had served them in their lives and with which each wanted to bless the new crone, i.e., love, compassion, strength, humor, courage, etc.  Each woman tied her ribbon to the belt and said "I bless you with...courage (or whatever her word).  At the end of the ritual the crone stood alone in the circle wearing her new crone skirt flowing with 20 colorful ribbons writ with words of affirmation and received the blessing of the group.   It was quite beautiful and for some extremely emotional.

One afternoon there were breakout sessions for women on various topics.  I chose Yoni Steaming.  Of course.  Because how could one pass up an opportunity to experience that???

At least, that's the view from here...



Most were from the US, some from U.K., a lot from Australia.
The Gathering in the main building.
Sitting area in our "treehouse" (Second story walk-up on a hill really felt like a treehouse!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME...

I was born Donna Jones (no, not my real last name).  Then I married and became Donna Smith (also not a real name).  Then Hub and I separated for a year early in our marriage and I informally started to use Jones again.  Then we reconciled and I decided to hyphenate Jones-Smith, so I was Donna Jones-Smith.  At this point, thinking I'd finally accommodated the patriarchy in a way I could almost live with, I filled out a "change of name" form and sent it in to the Social Security Administration asking for a new card with my new and improved name.  No questions asked, they sent me one.

About ten years after that I decided I no longer wanted the unwieldy and confusing hyphenated name (my real unmarried name is unusual -- eight letters long and no one can spell nor pronounce it).  So I just took back and starting using my LEGAL, married name, Smith.  Done and dusted.  I thought.

With my 65th birthday looming, I am being inundated with offers for Medicare Supplemental insurance.  I've mostly just tossed it all in the recycling bin, but Hub alerted me to the fact that maybe I'd better take a look at it and get myself signed up sooner rather than later since, you never know, there could be a glitch in the smooth-running bureaucracy that is the U.S. Government.  So I got online and started to fill out the electronic Medicare enrollment form.  I got as far as my name.  Glitch.

Immediately I got the error message that my name and my social security number did not match.  Try again.  I went to the safe and pulled out my old SS card and there it was Donna Jones-Smith.   Hmmm....that's right.  I did that about 35 years ago, didn't I?   Well, no prob.  I'll just run down to the SS office and have them put in a change order for a new card.

I gathered up all my "proof of identity" documents to prove I was LEGALLY Donna _______.  That little name discrepancy on my SS card, was just a brief flirtation with trying to claim some sense of identity not tied to my husband.

Allow me to digress here to rail agains "the man".  Could there be a more soul-deadening, impersonal place (except Walmart) than any government benefits office?   I mean really:  I was greeted by an unsmiling "guard" at the door who instructed me to wait  in line to check in at a touch screen computer kiosk to be assigned a number.  With number print out in hand, I took a seat among the 30 or so people in rows racing a window too high to see out.  A TV screen displayed the numbers currently being served, but they were typically one or two numbers behind, which I knew because periodically some unseen, disembodied voice announced "Now serving number A202 at Window 3 or some such.  If you were in the restroom and missed this, well, get to the end of the line.  Also, some lucky folks (or likely not so lucky in life) had an actual scheduled appointment.  If this was the case, a young woman emerged from behind a locked steel door at the back of the room, talking to the backs of heads of rows of folks who may or may not speak English or have a hearing challenge,  and in a voice barely audible said, "Anderson; is Anderson here?"   Then, having given "Anderson" a full 3 seconds to respond, she turned and walked back behind the door, as it banged close behind her.   How hard would it be to be actually HELPFUL to people?  To be friendly?  To be reassuring?  No one is sitting in the Social Security office for any good reason.  So frustrating and sad.

But back to me.  I rather quickly (50 minutes wait) found my number being called.  I went to the woman in Window 4 and explained my dilemma and how easy it would be to fix it..."Here are all my documents...."  "Nope, don't need them,"  she said.  "I can't do anything without a court order."  "A court order for what?" I asked.  "A name change", she answered.  "But wait, I'd be changing my name from my sort of made up version of both my names to what is already my LEGAL name."  "I know, I understand," she said with a tinge of sympathy. "But I can't do anything about this until you get your name changed in court."  "But last time all I did was fill out a form..."  "I know, it used to be like that.  It's not anymore.  I can't do anything without a court order."

So, off I went on Monday morning to District Court.  I filled out a Petition to the Court for a Name Change and paid my $131.00 fee.  Yes.  $131.00 to change my name to my legal name, which already appears on every legal document I have in my possession, expect my SS card.   My court date was set for two days later, today.

This morning I showed up early, waited in line to proofread my Petition, then in line to enter the court, then in line to have my case heard, which took about 3 minutes for my new/old name to be approved by the judge, then waited in line to get my notarized duly signed and stamped Court Order showing my name change.  I drove back to the SS office, and was delighted to find I DID NOT have to sign in and wait for my number to be called again.  For some reason there was special dispensation for this matter of business and I got to stand in a designated area of the lobby and see the next available worker because I had a "pass".  It turned out to the be very woman I'd spoken with two days ago.  She was friendly and also appalled that I'd had to pay so much to not really change my legal name, but just to correct my name in their system.

Lesson learned.  The patriarchy wins.  You will either have your father's name or your husband's name or a combination of them both unless you just choose your own name (which you will need to do in court, believe me.)   So I say pick a name and stick to it.  Just live with it, whatever your decision.  And for God's sake don't mess with the Social Security Administration.

At least, that's the view from here...©