This article reminds me of my own complex relationship with “god” and “calling”.
For those who somehow don’t know, my business, called Temple of Poi, is in fact something I view as a deep calling. It has, over the 17.5 years I’ve run it, required an ongoing commitment to and faith that nothing in my life has ever demanded of me. I live a shockingly monastic life when it comes down to it and although I still have visions of it being an 8 digit business, it has never been anything close. Yet.
My first year I went from a 6 digit salary to 4 digit gross income, which wasn’t enough to actually support myself, even back in 2002 when prices in SF weren’t nearly so expensive. My business today earns less than half of what is considered “poverty level” in San Francisco — and that is gross income, not net profit which honestly deosn’t exist. More months than not, I’m uncertain where my rent will come from and it is an act of faith to be in that process without letting the stress grind you down. In many instances where I was unclear and uncertain, out of nowhere, like a mini-miracle, somehow I found the money to pay the bills I needed to keep going. One month, I literally found the money in an envelope in a box in a cabinet that I had stuffed away at some point but forgotten. After about a dozen years of this, I relaxed into the unknown a bit more but it’s still like riding a wave where you just don’t know what’s coming next.
I changed my name shortly after the school began and dropped the “L” from “Lisa” — just like my bra when I left my corporate job — and took on the name “Isa” because the ring of it seemed so beautiful to my ears when a friend of a friend called me that accidentally, thinking it was my name. I immediately thought I’d change my name though I slept on it overnight and then, like a dream, when I rolled over in our warehouse the next morning, I saw my roommate’s girlfriend with it tattooed on her back. Bleary eyed and just waking up, I thought I was hallucinating. I asked her what it said because the tattoo was ornate lettering and I thought surely I must be reading it wrong, like a mirage. She told me it did in fact say “Isa” (emphasis on the “ah” sound) and meant “the one” in Tagalog.
Coming shortly after the release of “The Matrix” and seeing Neo as something of a universal hero, breaking the chains that bind us to a life that we don’t truly want, I saw it as a deep sign from god. And not a god. Not a god of a religion…. but this concept of god I believed in that I’d garnered from Star Wars which I see as The Force: this energy that runs through all things, living and dead, that binds us all to the kosmic soup.
I took on the new name — this was before I had actually named the school which would happen 4 months later — with some trepidation. But as if the universal energy of the cosmos was speaking to me directly, 2 weeks later my friend Jon told me a tale of how he met a cab driver who revealed that his name, “Issa”, pronounced as I was pronouncing my name, meant “Jesus” in Farsi. I was raised catholic and left the faith in my late teens, exploring other religious structures and beliefs. Ultimately, I didn’t actually believe, if there was an actual god, s/he would watch the misery here on earth and let it persist. I thought that, although the idea of having his son sacrifice himself for all of us was something of a beautiful notion, at it’s core, it was truly unkind to his own progeny and devoid of familial love.
I have, over my life, often though about Jesus and the story of turning the other cheek. While scholars would most likely find my bastardized beliefs about it to be inconsistent with their faith, how I have seen the story is this idea of a bodhisattva so full of compassion and love that, when struck on the cheek, had the deep capacity to offer the other cheek as a means by which the person striking him could find their own healing. “Have my body that you might use it for your healing,” is what that action of “turning the other cheek” truly meant to me. There’s a selfless beauty in that — if not a destructive disregard for self — but something about that way of viewing the story and other tales of Jesus has always had me feel like the spirit of compassion is the essence of who he was.
And so, when Jon told me what my new name meant in another language, it sealed the deal.
It is not an accident that I run a temple. I think of it — a temple — less as a place of worship of an external deity and more of a place wherein one finds themselves which is what I have often seen as the function of religion. Find your own inner god/dess. For me, this is most definitely true. When I spun poi at a temple in Japan I felt it just as surely as I feel it today.
I am called to do this work. Deeply. Sure, I teach people how to play with balls, but that is ‘just the tip’ of the journey. (Really, the jokes write themselves…) The deeper work is who one becomes in the face of the grind of the practice which is confronting, especially when you thwack yourself in the face or nuts or nipple during your period. In an era where so much gratification comes from the social media highlight reels we present where it’s so easy to lose your center and compare yourself to something external, the real work of the practice is to, again and again, return to the practice. To return to your center. To return to the never ending exploration of self in that dive into your ever unfolding you… layer upon layer of self discovery to be (re)discovered and how we can take the mundane and simple and transform it into extraordinary. It is after all two balls and some string… Like life, it is what we make it. Which is the essence of the practice of living when you really think about it.
It is such a blessing to have a calling that moves my soul, knowing that I can help create a “safe space” where people can discover and recreate themselves. I have been attacked from the beginning for choosing to start the school. And it has been an ongoing thing over the years, again and again, each time calling upon my inner fortitude and faith to question: should I keep going or are they right? But the calling is deep and it has deepened over the year in response to each inquiry. It was hard when people literally laughed in my face before I started. Harder still when people were telling me I had no business selling poi lessons and, just like the cyber bullying in January, as early as 2003, getting all kinds of criticism on line from the international poi community. It seems the criticisms have become less refined over the years and these days are simply ad hominem attacks as compared to back then being labeled “the McDonald’s of poi.” I know those socialists actually thought that to be an insult but let me tell you, I wish I could be that successful. Billions of people nourished by the hand of my work? That would be miraculous. . .