Category Archives: Journal

Goddesses and Southwest Airlines

I made it through the fall semester! My final papers had to be postmarked by December 27, a barbaric deadline about which I still harbor resentment. Because did I finish early so I could relax and enjoy the holidays? No. I was at the post office on the 27th with my three manila envelopes, and now the homework for winter semester has already begun. Before I get too busy, though, I want to tell you about an encounter I had with the goddess Kali.

First, some backstory. Last fall I studied several Hindu goddesses, including Kali, who is fearsome. Her skin is black, sometimes blue-black, and blood drips from her bared fangs. She has four arms. In one hand she brandishes a bloodied sword, and in the hand below that she holds a severed head. Another hand is raised in the “fear not” gesture, and another is extended, offering boons. They say she uses the sword to slay demons and to cut away whatever we don’t need, what holds us back, especially the ego nonsense symbolized by the severed head–all that thinky self-talk that paralyzes us. Kali is powerful and complex, and despite her alarming appearance, she is very much on our side.

Ok, so when I was in California for class last December, I thanked my Hindu Traditions professor for recommending one particular book about goddesses. He said, “I’m glad you like it. Which goddesses have you met so far?” I said, “Durga and Lakshmi, and I’m about to get acquainted with Kali.” A few days later, after the session was over, I boarded the plane from Los Angeles to Chicago. It was a Southwest flight, which meant open seating, and by some December miracle the flight wasn’t full. I took an aisle seat in a row with an empty middle seat, and an African-American woman sitting by the window. The woman wore a red and black tunic with a tribal-looking design. We said hello-hello, and isn’t it nice to have all this space? I offered her some of the cashews I was just opening. She said No thanks, she’d been eating almonds and was sick of them. I said, Well if you get hungry for cashews you know where they are. Then we left each other alone. I had some papers to read, and when I looked up, a few hours had gone by.

The woman and I started chatting again. She told me she was on her way home from Maui. She’d been on a pilgrimage to a healing site on top of a mountain, a place where a rainforest waterfall spilled down through seven successive pools, and the energy was electric. She’d also been to a small temple where a Hindu monk and his wife lived, and she’d participated in a ritual called Ho’oponopono. She taught me a little of it. She said, “Say, ‘I forgive myself, I accept myself, I love myself, I bless myself.'” So I said all that with her. She kept going, telling me about how she’d been swimming in the ocean with whales and how angry she was about the dolphins dying in Florida, until finally, when the flight was nearly over, I said, “What do you do? What’s your work?” She said she was a natural healer. I thought, Huh, how bout that. Then on an impulse I said, “My name’s Joanna. What’s your name?” She said, “Kali.”

I gasped, and I’m sure my face showed my shock. Evidently in reply, she said, “Yeah, like the goddess.” Then I managed to speak, and out it all babbled, about how I was studying Hindu goddesses and was just about to read about Kali. The woman nodded, entirely unsurprised, and said, “I wondered if there wasn’t something going on when you sat down and were so friendly.” I spluttered something else, still staring in open astonishment at her Kali-esque skin and the Kali colors of her tunic, and she said, “Yeah, and it’s extra weird, because I was named after my great-grandmother Kali, who was a slave, and delivered me, and there wasn’t even a k-sound in her tribal language.” I spluttered further, and she said, “You know what, I’m going to put your name in the ocean.” At that I finally put a sentence together and said, “I’m going to hold your name in my heart!”

Then the flight was over. When I got home I opened the book about goddesses, and sure enough, I had stopped reading on the first page of the Kali chapter, the page with those four letters blazoned across the top, K-A-L-I. Kali, the goddess who was a woman who was a goddess. She sat next to me for four hours. She’s a healer. She put my name in the ocean. I’ll bet anything she’d do the same for you. All you have to do is ask.

Ah, California

Today I called my school in Santa Barbara to pay tuition, and I had a lovely chat with David in the Student Accounts office:

David: I see you’re in Rochester.
JoJo: That’s right.
David: How’s the weather there?
JoJo: Oh, it’s gorgeous. This whole month has been beautiful.
David: Really? I thought you had that stuff, what do you call it… snow?

Wow. I think I’m about to cross some kind of inter-dimensional threshold. I think I’m about to like it.

Dream Interpretation, Please

I dreamed I flew to the City of Angels, then drove to a college in a coastal woodland. The school had been designed around my particular interests and desires, and its grounds smelled like eucalyptus and orange blossoms. It was my birthday. Then I flew to an island of Aloha with my friend Amy, where we stayed on an estate on a slope 1000 feet above the water. The nights were cool and quiet. We drank strong coffee. We ate fresh papaya, and spicy fish tacos. We rode a boat out away from shore in the afternoon sun, and swam with dolphins who kept leaping out of the water and spinning and spinning in mid-air. After dark, when the moon was just shy of half, we snorkeled with three giant manta rays, each of whom was ten feet across at least. They did a winged ballet below us, in and out of bright flashlight beams that crisscrossed the dark blue water. Then the mantas came to the surface, rolled onto their backs, and swam right with us, their bellies to ours, inches away, over and over and over again. The next day, after passionfruit cheesecake for lunch, I showered, packed, and flew home.

I didn’t really dream that. I lived it in the waking world, just last week. It feels like a dream though–unreal, fleeting, full of wonder–so let the interpretations begin!

Ok, what have we got? We have many changes in elevation (air, land, ocean), i.e. a suggestion of moving up and down through different realms of consciousness. There’s also Aloha, which means much more than hello/goodbye. It’s a way of being, having to do with love, affection, respect, and harmony. Then we have the dolphins–playful, joyful, sociable, strong. And of course the manta rays, creatures of grace, peace, patience, fluidity.

Ahhh, great stuff. But I have no idea what the larger meaning might be. I’m still too close to it. All I know is that the whole thing was a tremendous gift, and I am tremendously grateful. Any actual interpretations are welcome, especially answers to the key question: how do you make waking dreams like that happen more often?

Did Anyone Get Any Sleep Last Night?

Yesterday a twenty-year-old in Connecticut shot and killed his mother — his mother — then drove to an elementary school — an elementary school — and killed twenty-six women and children. Then he killed himself. If NASA had satellites that could scan the planet for emotional and spiritual well-being, they would register massive wounds radiating from the crime scenes. Everyone is saying, Enough with the guns!, and I agree. But we also need something more. These wounds need a deeper treatment as well.

I say this because of something that happened once when I was studying the biochemistry of how muscles work, an intricate choreography of ions swinging back and forth across cell membranes. I’d never encountered anything remotely so complex and elegant. I remember looking up from the textbook in a state of wonder. Without conscious volition, my hand lifted up in front of my face, and my index finger bent and straightened. In that moment, I felt like I apprehended the entire chemical dance happening in my own muscles. Then that perception broke open, and I apprehended everything. I mean the entire Universe, its operations and majesty and beauty, and I was engulfed in an overwhelming, everywhere presence of love, like a fundamental force of physics.

I’m here to tell you it exists, it is infinite, it is available, and it eclipses all our ridiculous evaluations of worthiness. It loves you, it loves the victims, the families, the town, the nation, and it loves the shooter. It is where healing comes from. But we block it, each in our own ways and for our own reasons. We block it by not loving. Which brings us back to today. The holidays have been gruesomely destroyed for too many people. It’s time for whomever can to be the season, to embody its spirit. It’s time to wage peace-craft like grown-ups, to live our love like we mean it, and bring light to the world out of darkness.