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Category Archives: Love Over Limitation

Meaningful Life: Prison of Thorns to Sacred Enclosure (Part 1)

©2010 Mahala Mazerov

After my head injury I watched friends and activities from a distance where once I had been a fully engaged participant.

The simplest interactions fried my circuits. Being myself, loving what I loved, doing the things I did were suddenly invitations for disaster.

I didn’t know the severity of my brain injury was under diagnosed, as it would remain for 3 years. I hadn’t heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I only knew every day (every hour!) presented me with a new minefield, triggering explosions with the most innocent of steps.

I couldn’t understand why everything was so hard. I thought I would will my way through hospital rehabilitation, pick up a few coping and cognitive strategies, and everything would be normal again.

I had an image of Sleeping Beauty. A prison of thorns sprung up overnight when she pricked her finger on that poison spindle. She and her Kingdom fell into a deep sleep for a hundred years until the Prince came to rescue her. I felt I was inside that prison of thorns, fiercely removed from the world outside.

But my head injury was not a fairy tale.

Life in the Kingdom was moving along just fine and didn’t seem to notice I was missing.

No Prince Charming was on his way to free me.

Even my rehab therapists, for all their kindness, were not going to break down my thorny prison. They continually warned me my own efforts to “bulldoze my way through rehab” were destined to fail.

I watched life go on without me. Learned to catch the tell-tale sentences (We really should have you over for dinner. You look fine, are you sure you’re not wallowing?) that signaled my last contact from friends.

My life shrank until it was resigned to a very tiny circle of space. Five days a week, I road a disability van to the hospital. Sat for hours in an overcrowded waiting room filled with desperate, miserable, wounded people and their chirping companions. Then came hours of grueling speech, physical and cognitive rehab, and another wait for the van. Sometimes the van was crowded, too. Even though the hospital was 10 minutes from my house the ride home could take more than an hour as passengers were dropped off.

I wanted to be the perfect patient. I tried to be the perfect patient. The one that everyone says is so courageous, always smiles and never complains. But no one seemed to notice, and I was burning myself out on a lie.

It was a meaningless, exhausting life and I didn’t see a way out.

I thought of suicide, briefly, and not very seriously. I had a feeling I would only manage to make things worse rather than actually kill myself so the thought didn’t get much traction.

Still, as time passed I became increasingly certain I would die. I just did not see how I could possibly stay alive. I thought living with a terminal brain injury would eventually kill me.

I felt I had already died (a sentiment I’ve heard repeated from nearly every person with a brain injury I’ve met.) For some reason my body was still dragging itself around.

Instinctively I knew seeing my life as a prison, waiting to die, waiting for rescue that could never appear were prescriptions for bottomless despair. But pasting a fake smile on my face and relying on sheer willpower were not saving me, either.

Was it possible to create a meaningful life? A life I wanted to live in spite of everything?

Coming in Part 2 : The Sacred Enclosure.


I hope my story reads like just a story and you’re unfamiliar with loss like this.

Since you’re reading, you know I got through it. I not only survived, I learned to love this life of mine. And the way I achieved that was by being unflinchingly honest with what was true for me and becoming a Master Practitioner in the Art of Sacred Self-Care.

If you’re struggling with limitations, bulldozing through too much of your life or just missing a tender connection with yourself, I hope you’ll join us for the Sacred Self-Care program beginning October 7.

Longing for Home

This month, Jennifer Louden,Susan Piver, Hiro Boga and I unleash a wave of emotions as we write on the subject of Home: longing for them, losing them, making them ourselves. Follow the links to read their offerings. Hat tip to these brilliant women: my delight in writing in community with them was one of the inspirations for the Summer of Lovingkindness Invitational. (There’s still plenty of time to join in the #SOLI magic!)

earth - moon - rock (Arizona stone)

earth - moon - rock (arizona stone) © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

I step out every day, overflowing with gratitude for my life in Ithaca. I’m in walking distance to almost everything. There’s a wonderful disability ride service for things farther afield. I like the ease, progressiveness, cultural offerings and the extraordinary geology of the gorges that surround me. Plus there’s the Dalai Lama’s monastery brimming with boundless courses and retreats. (Not to mention the pure, inexplicable happiness I feel running into Tibetan monks in the food co-op.)

It’s perfectly functional for me. Except it’s not Home.

Before Ithaca, I lived in a small village in Vermont. For 10 years I lived with a river. No back yard, but the “west branch” of the Ompompanusac River, with meadow turning to woods on the other side. I would sit on my Little River Porch (bundled in blankets in winter) and watch deer, river otter, beaver, all manner of birds and the occasional kayaker pass by. I felt my roots go down deep there. I thought I’d never leave.

But I was dependent on others to get out and around. It was tiring to always have to ask and so I mostly stopped asking. Over time the isolation I needed (to get away from 7 years of hospitals and 3 years of at-home brain injury rehabilitation to heal and integrate in peace) became too much.

I’m on a quest for a Heart Home where I have the best of all possible worlds. But I’m questioning my perception of Home. Can I find it? Or, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, has it been with me all along?

The Story

If I ask “Where are you from?” do you answer with the place you live now? Or the place you were born?

Ask an indigenous person that very same question and they may point to a great ocean, a mountain, or the center of the earth as their home.

Ask the Q’ero, direct descendants of the Incas, and they point to the stars.

I was only just discovering my shamanic ancestors when I met Q’ero shaman sometime in the 1990s. In a strange prescience we met in a Zen temple in Rhode Island. Peruvian shaman in ceremonial ponchos looking as if they’d just stepped out of National Geographic magazine sharing space with a giant golden Buddha.

Little did I imagine how these two worlds would combine to be my future.

I can see the face, the energy, the pure love beaming from Don Manuel Quispe, the Dalai Lama of the Andes as if he were standing before me now.

Don Manuel Quispe

Don Manuel Quispe 1905 - 2004 (photographer unknown)

He and the other shaman shared extensive teachings and initiations his people had hidden for 500 years. Their prophecies indicated it was now time to share this knowledge. Time for the Condor of the South and the Eagle of the North to fly together.

One night they gave us an initiation, a Karpay, a transmission. They gave us the Star Rites of “Mosoq Karpay” (The Rites of the Time to Come) to the Star Beings.

To this day I could not tell you what happened to me under that sky. But something cracked open.

I returned home to Vermont, sat on my Little River Porch, looked up at the night sky and sobbed my heart out for eight solid weeks.

Just writing about this makes me start to quiver.

What does this mean that, longing for Home, I point to the stars?

It’s the same longing I have for the all-encompassing love I experienced the night of my brain injury. The night when, after 8 hours in the ER, my awareness of dying transformed into a near death vision.

It’s the same unobstructed state I experience in some of my Buddhist practices. I overflow with love until everything becomes spacious and empty.

These are my Home. And yet there’s no physicality. There’s no place to stay. I need a body and this physical world around me to accomplish anything at all that is good.

Wherever I live becomes my practice ground. The place where I turn events easy and hard into a cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion. The place where I fail and try again. The place where I sometimes succeed and bask in pure astonishment that it is possible to feel such love here, too.

Home becomes everywhere my heart has a chance to love.

Comment Kindness: This is one of those posts that might seem perfectly ordinary to you, but which feels very vulnerable for me to publish. Even though I ask What does it mean that I point to the stars…? it’s a question of inner exploration. I’m not really asking for an answer. What I would love is your thoughts about home: Have you found your heart place? And your thoughts about lovingkindness: how does your home evoke that in you?

When Stories Hurt

1 topic : 4 voices. This post was inspired by something Susan Piver wrote on twitter. “There is a way to write that solidifies your story and a way to write that liberates you from it.” The ensuing conversation was too wonderfully juicy to leave to 140 characters. Tweeting then and writing now are Susan Piver, Hiro Boga, Jennifer Louden and myself. I’m honored to be in their company. Please follow the links, read their blogs, and enjoy their expanding wisdom on the subject.

update: 5 voices. Dave Navarro wrote an incredible post you really should see called How to Stop Telling Your Sad, Sad Story.

shimmering sunflower

sunflower shimmer © 2010 Mahala Mazerov

I’m a believer in the power of stories. They teach, inspire, and heal. Stories can express the depth of sorrow for what we’ve lost. They remind us of challenges faced and overcome. We reclaim our wholeness through stories.

But sometimes stories hurt. They’re like shards of glass wedged in our psyche. They may be nearly invisible, half-forgotten. Then we brush up against them and are stunned by their fresh pain.

We all have stories like this. They drag us to the past even us as we move forward in time. A new event unfolds and triggers the old hurt, making it a little more true in our minds.

We believe we are our stories. They describe our fears, reasons for anger, feelings of being unloved, and our perceived limitations.

Our mind cycles through them, trying to make sense, trying to resolve the pain into a neat package that doesn’t hurt any more. But every time we revisit them instead of finding resolution we seem to drive the shards a little deeper into our hearts.

Here are two truths: We are not our stories. Some things are not resolvable.

Freedom then depends on something besides resolution. Something different than making peace with the past so as to be untouched by it.

One way to work with painful stories is to move beyond the story all together. Move beyond the narrative that only serves to hook us further. We’re talking about this right now in the shenpa course I’m teaching. We’re learning to stay, which means learning to stay present with the pure vibration, sensation and emotion without going into words. (You’ll find some guidelines in this compassionate abiding post.)

Another way to work with stories that hurt is to hold awareness of the story, but make a radical turn outward. Instead of holding the hurt close as your own private provenance, extend your gaze. When you do you’ll discover your personal story is mirrored in the lives of others as far as you can see. Shimmering in Indra’s net.

Staying present to the pain of your experience and looking outward, compassion arises spontaneously.

Now the words of maitri meditation (metta, loving-kindness) swell with meaning.

May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

Knowing how my personal pain shackles me, knowing what it feels like to cry, to rage, to doubt myself…

Knowing you want happiness and freedom just as I do, I say with all my heart…

May you live in safety. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Your story becomes spacious with humanity. Not resolved. Transformed.

Your thoughts invited: What wounding, personal story can you see as a story of humanity?

Do you ever do the opposite of what makes you happy?

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Appearing on Fridays.

flame © 2009 - 2010 Mahala Mazerov

Do you ever find yourself doing the opposite of what makes you happy?

I don’t mean working when you wish you were on vacation or saving money by not going shopping. I mean continually making choices even when you know they’re the opposite of what would give you real happiness.

Ever since I came home from (glorious) time with my Teacher, I’ve been especially aware of how I direct my life. I’m not very pleased by what I see.

I know in my heart of hearts what would bring me absolute joy would be to give myself enough time for long practice sessions — where I could do all the visualizations and prayers and mantras without feeling like the clock was ticking.

… or spend time creating content for my wonderful shenpa program people.

… or focus on establishing solid work and life rhythms that are sustainable for me.

These are all within my power to choose and to do. So why do I fritter away so much time and energy on meaningless things?

None of my distractions feed me. I’m dissatisfied with myself and with them even as I engage in them. They are the opposite of what makes me happy. Yet I continue to drop into my computer chair instead of my meditation chair. I create little errands instead of a bigger container that will prioritize them.

Why is it so hard to choose what I know I will love? What I know will nourish and revitalize me? What I know will support my ability to help others?


I’m not writing this seeking comfort or advice. Maybe it’s my way of saying I grasp and crash and fail just like everyone else. But it’s also my way of staying present with what is and giving it a name.


You may think that word is reserved for grief as deep as 9/11, destruction the magnitude of Haiti or despair for places like Darfur.

In Buddhist terms, suffering is also this listlessness. It’s walking around numb, but not entirely. Distracted. Dissatisfied. Continuing to wander in ignorance. Turning away from actions that lead to real happiness in favor of fleeting pleasures. Wasting our rare and precious lives.

This is how we create samsara, how we create karma. And, while it’s not as heavy as the karma created by severely negative deeds, there’s a great danger because we continue thinking it does little harm as we pile it up every day.

Effective immediately, I’m stopping the self-flagellation and thinking kindly of myself. I’m accepting I’m a very human being with very human tendencies. But I’m also shining a light on my choices and reminding myself that the stakes of not changing them are high.

It seems that doing what makes you happy requires awareness, like everything else.

Love Note For Hard Times

best of 2009 Challenge. Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you? [Mahala's note: Not all challenges have the rush of excitement and the thrill of the pushing the limits. Sometimes the edge looks over an abyss. This growth can be beautiful, transformational, but also painful and lonely. Here is a love note for those at their edge.]

healing cell © 1990 Mahala Mazerov

healing cell © 1990 Mahala Mazerov

For the first few years after my accident, I thought everything that was wrong or hard in my life was because of my brain injury.

Needing something more than numbing rehabilitation therapy I took a freeform watercolor painting class, with normal people.

We would touch paint filled brushes to paper soaked in water and watch the colors feather out in magical patterns. There was no attempt to paint recognizable objects. We could guide the images but not control them.

Along with the play of water and color there was companionship as each of us spilled our stories onto D’Arches paper. One woman spent the first four weeks of the class painting sheet after sheet with brushstrokes of nothing but black. Another’s work mirrored her own painful sense of self as she labored over each with mounting frustration and tossed the finish painting on the floor when she was finished.

In the paintings and in evolving conversations we told our stories we offered small details of our lives.

I discovered clearly and quite stunningly that my brain injury, which seemed to sever my connection to the world at large, had in fact connected me in the smallest most intimate and true way to nothing less than humanity.

In the face of life-crushing despair I also discovered the seeds of unflinching compassion. You do not have to pretty up your life for me. No matter what you are facing, I can stand beside you. I may well cry with you, but I don’t have to run away.

healing flower deva © 1990 Mahala Mazerov

healing flower deva © 1990 Mahala Mazerov

I send this out as a tiny love note to all of you going through hard times. You may feel isolated, but I promise you are not alone.

Your tears and your courage do not go unrecorded.

I went into that class filled with grief and despair. The accident had shattered my life and the losses where still continuing. I could barely navigate through my days. My nights were filled with nightmares. I understood the woman who was painting only black, exorcising deeply buried secrets. I thought it was a genius idea and I was tempted to emulate her.

Yet when it came to putting color paper what I needed was to create beauty. I needed a palette of light. Not in denial of my fear or loss.

In recognition of the inexplicable luminosity that needed an outlet even more than the pain.

Pages from the Book of Life

Best of 2009 Book. What book – fiction or non – touched you? Where were you when you read it? Have you bought and given away multiple copies?

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

© 2009 Mahala Mazerov

I start this post with a confession. I haven’t read a book from cover to cover in over 20 years.

It’s not that I can’t read. It’s that I can’t read.

Some of my first rehabilitation after my brain injury (sustained in the preschool classroom where I was teaching) was reading the front page of a newspaper with my therapist and trying to remember even a small piece of news 10 minutes later. I failed miserably. For years.

My short-term memory has improved mightily since then. But still not enough to read a chapter, put it down for a day, and pick up where I left off.

I buy books so I can have them forever, and especially so I can underline in them. Underlining doesn’t help me remember. When I pick up a book every word is new. I’m touched by the brilliance and the language and the poetry. I swoon over the magnificence of the written word. Why haven’t I read this book before? Then I come across a thin trail made with my mechanical pencil. Oh. I have been here before.

I’ve never finished a book. I dive in and come away with one precious thought that I try to hold onto until it slips away or is replaced by the memory of the moment. It’s just the way it is.

There is a book I have read and recommended across the years. I’ve dipped in repeatedly enough that some words and stories are finally familiar. They’ve made the precipitous leap from short-term to long-term memory. So here is a recommendation of sorts: Writing For Your Life: A guide and companion to the inner worlds by Deena Metzger.

One of my favorite stories is the one that closes the book. It tells of a young man required to interview someone as part of a university course. The assignment required him to choose someone very different from himself with whom he would not normally speak. Apparently he lived such an insulated life he was having difficulty finding a subject and almost dropped the course. However the day the paper was due, he arrived in class ecstatic.

“I was at my wits end,” he said “when it occurred to me to interview our Guatemalan housekeeper. Naturally, I was very nervous because I had never really spoken to her, and it was rather late at night. But as I had to do the paper, I went to her room and knocked at her door. When I entered, I explained my need, asking if it would be a terrible nuisance for her to tell me something about her life. She looked at me quite strangely and my heart sank. After what seemed a very, very long time, she said quietly, ‘Every night before I go to sleep, I rehearse the story of my life, just in case someone should ever ask me. Gracias a Dios.‘”

Twitter, blogs, and blog comments are my books. They’re the places I rehearse the story of my life, and manageable enough for me to learn the story of yours.

It’s night and there’s a knock on the door. Will you kindly tell me something about your life. Here? Now?

The Friday Flower: Inner and Outer Light

Photography as Meditation: The Friday Flower. A new series. Sometimes just photos. Sometimes with writing. Sometimes on Fridays.

inner and outer light. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

inner and outer light. © 2009 Mahala Mazerov

I had another post almost ready to go this morning, just a few tweaks needed before hitting the publish button. But after a meltdown that’s been building for days, I looked at what I’d written and it seemed too distant and controlled compared to the raw state I’m in. I offer this to you instead and promise, some day, to learn brevity.

I know without question we all possess an inner light. Our true nature is perpetually pure and unstained. But we also have thoughts, desires, emotions, egos that mask our pristine nature. Sometimes we go searching for our light, but it’s hidden behind heavy clouds and storms.

I’ve been slogging my way through weeks with my inner light almost completely obscured. I’m depleted. I’m scattered and distracted. I can’t focus my attention for any period of time. I can’t meditate. I can’t hold my center.

My acupuncturist understands and can explain all of this to me. She takes my pulse, looks at my tongue and tells me precisely why I’m experiencing this state.

That used to make me feel better. Ah, I’m not the least disciplined person on the face of the earth. Oh, this exhaustion is real and it’s not about pushing harder. Thank you, I’m not going crazy.

But it’s been too long and explanations are not helping me at all.

I believe in the absolute preciousness of this life. And every night I go to bed heartbroken and dissatisfied with myself. Another day has gone by, has been used but not used well. I am wasting my rare and precious life in meaningless distractions. All the explanations in the world can’t help me feel better about that.

I reach for the outer light that pulls me forward, the Bodhisattva path. Love and compassion so strong that one vows to free all beings from suffering. Something in my heart catches, then falls. I’ve been guiltily avoiding my meditation table. I’m not even managing the reading that fills my heart. I am failing at this, too.

All of this pours out in an unexpected call with a dear friend, Marybeth. May everyone have a Marybeth. I have never known anyone who could hold space with such love. She can find (and speak of!) the magnificence in every being. I am in awe of her.

Marybeth listens. She waits. And then she says “You’re still my role model.”

“Role model for what?” I challenge her. I expect her to come up with something that is really Marybeth in disguise. But she says…

“Grace. You carry a grace through everything you do and it is stunning.”

Because I’m just this close to self-hatred there’s no room for humility. I will own this because it’s the only thing that will save me from drowning right now.

I tell her the one thing I’ve been doing well is recognizing how completely painful this is, knowing how much others struggle, and asking to take it away from them and carry it all on myself. It’s the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, Taking and Sending. That is the grace she is seeing.

“It’s enough,” I say. “It’s everything,” she says.

It’s become so internalized through years of meditation that I don’t think about it. It’s my nearly automatic response to suffering. What continues to deepen over time is the conviction in my heart as I practice.

“I forgot. I forgot I was doing it,” I say through tears.

In that moment, outer and inner light appear in my heart. They merge. They are one and the same in essence. It’s only worldly confusion that keeps them separate. That same confusion is the cause of suffering.

May all beings be free from suffering!

The Bowl of Stars – A Guided Meditation

I am a shaman. I was recognized by indigenous shaman from Peru and Brazil. By the time they told me I already knew. Their confirmation was meaningful, but it came with a weight of responsibility for healing the world.

To me, being a shaman means having access to places beyond what most people call reality. And not just having access, but being able to choose to enter those worlds to create change. This change is never for the sake of power. A shaman enters alternate reality to benefit others — from individuals to communities to Mother Earth — and recognizes the interdependence of all life.

I want to share a place with you that comes from the shamanic worlds I travel. It is called The Bowl of Stars, an alternate reality that first opened itself to me in the summer 2001. I continued to journey there every day for a year following the 9/11 attacks, to hold the fabric of reality with love.

If we’re to manifest big visions of what is possible, work through our personal losses and confusions, and transform the inconceivable attacks on humanity and this planet that continue to this day, we need a better view.

One such vantage point is The Bowl of Stars. It is still a place I go to infuse the world with healing and loving-kindness. I hope that you will take a little time to enter this world through the practice of shamanic journeying or guided meditation. (If you are familiar with Tibetan Buddhist practices, you will recognize some resonances here, too.)

<><><><><> Shamanic Journey, Guided Meditation<><><><><>

To enter The Bowl of Stars is to enter sacred time and sacred space. To BE in that place where you are one with divine consciousness.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. You may begin with one expectation, only to be taken on an entirely different course. Trust that your experience is perfect for you in this moment.

To make this journey, travel beyond the far reaches of time and space. Expand your consciousness. Expand the energy field of your body. Keep moving and expanding outward until you encompass all the universes, galaxies, planets and stars.

You are like a bowl holding All That Is. You contain all beings, all time, all space and all knowledge. You hold divine light and you are divine light. There is nothing separate from you. There is no You separate from others. Everything is Oneness.

Stay in this state for as long as you can.

Try and experience it with all of your senses.

Imagine you can effect this body-cosmos with your very thoughts. You can ease pain. You can heal all the hurts. You can end suffering. You can flood The Bowl of Stars with unimaginable love.

What gifts will you offer to All That Is? Take some time to give these now.

Keeping your mind firmly established in this profound state of wholeness and love, zoom in think about your daily life. Think about your opinions and attitudes. Your pain. Your desires.

How do these change?

How would you change if you came from this place of unity, all the time?

Know this is your true Home.

To bring this knowing back into your everyday life, reconnect to the sense of your own physical body. Re-member everything you have just seen and experienced. Then, imagine everything dissolves into pure light. 

Let that light stream into you through the crown of your head.

Let the light keep filling your entire being until it overflows. Feel it flowing through you. Radiating gently, naturally and effortlessly beyond your body and energy field.

This is who you are.

You are a walking hologram, containing All That Is, filled with Light.

Take a moment to dedicate the benefit of this meditation to all beings. You may dedicate it to peace or to whatever higher purpose feels right to you.

[This guided meditation has been published before and circulated as a peace meditation. If you have any resonance with this journey, please feel free to share it with or without attribution. From my heart to yours ~ Mahala]

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