A November day, like today, with its deep frost–prisms of light illuminating the cold–is a lot like me as I age, or who I aspire to be, say by 60 or 80–all the fruit, the desire, the harmony fallen away–so that what remains–the stone, the empty branch, the fading blade of grass–is immersed in this stark and exquisite offering–of clarity.
10 years ago, after my youngest entered school full-time, I took a major detour in my exploration of new career possibilities.
Rather than enroll in a Masters Program in Organization and Development in New Hampshire, or in a vigorous life-coaching mentorship out of Colorado, and in lieu of resentfully renewing my lapsed teaching license in Vermont, I showed up at a place called Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts–to dance.
130 accredited hours later, I was a newly minted Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, something I could barely admit to friends when they asked about my unusual time away from home and family.
During this decade of detours, I earned my 200 hour yoga teaching certification, crafted an online writing journey through the chakras, and frequently returned to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I assist leading presenters.
Now’s a good time to admit that all these detours were an attempt to avoid (and covertly bolster) what was truly calling me–a desire to write–which led to a companion desire–to create as much space around the writing as possible–apart from mothering/partnering/homemaking and earning some semblance of an income. Quite a dance!
But as feared, the more I immersed in writing, the less I desired anything else, until this moment when all my desires have whittled down to one: to finish the book that I began in 2012 while assisting a non-profit that took me to Chile and Japan and brings me annually to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations—opportunities which I’ve let wither on the vine of an increasingly singular focus.
What has also whittled down, in parallel form, is my income.
While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to increasingly earn in creative and life-giving ways; this is often accompanied by angst around rising household expenses and the fear of not earning/being/doing “enough.”
And yet, after much inner struggle, I came into a place of surrender this summer, softening into my deepening commitment to the book as if it were a daughter, and into the limited income that caring for her affords me.
Out of this clarity came the decision to simplify my income–to two parallel offerings a season–one in writing and one in dance–two wings to support my own journey and that of others.
Ironically, my hard-earned clarity was met by my husband’s who shared that he was ready for me to make more money, three times as much in fact.
We laughed at the synchronicity.
After the laughter, was the nitty-gritty. I zeroed in on the necessity of retiring one role (Motherhood) before landing the next; and so we sat down with the budget and made it work with a commitment to adhering to it more diligently; because after all hadn’t we managed to make ends meet in much leaner times when the kids were little and he was a new teacher.
With this commitment and clarity was met with Autumn’s back-to-school energy, I renewed by daily work on the book, and as a result, I experienced a growing sense of self-trust and possibility, both of which had waned as a result of inner conflict.
Meanwhile, I set to filling my fall sessions, which fortunately are the easiest to fill at this time of year.
After some initial sluggishness, my online writing journey was fully enrolled; while enrollment in the dancing journey stalled; and remained stalled, even as the starting date grew closer and closer; and my anxiety grew larger and larger.
Over the past decade, the dance has become an integral part of my own health, and my commitment and connection to community, not to mention a creative outlet for that part of me who is teacher, crafting music, movement and chakras in a conscious flow.
But faced with an unsustainable enrollment at a time when sustainability was key, I had to make a choice.
Suddenly, the point of the audio book that I ordered over the summer came into sharper focus. In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer introduces a form of guidance that reveals itself: When way closes.
Was way closing on dance for me? After ten years? Could I let it? Couldn’t I try harder? Certainly I could bring the dance to one of the surrounding towns who had long asked for me to do the same…
I fretted. I gave one last effort. I meditated.
This morning I refunded the enrollments of a small handful of students who were ready to begin the dance this week.
In doing so, I felt a surprising sense of relief and also a predictable measure of unfolding grief, tinged with old essences of embarrassment and shame.
In the meantime, I’ve crunched the numbers, only to discover that even the simplest of jobs will meet what I’ve earned nourishing consciousness with music and movement and writing.
The absurdity of my past efforts on this account is hard to bear in the black and white of a spreadsheet. But not in the light of the matching absurdity of devoting so much time to a book that no one is waiting to read–at least no one with a check to match the years of effort; not to mention the absurdity of laying down so much promise–professional and financial–to surrender my body and life–as home–to two splendid human beings–twenty-three years ago and counting.
What I realize only now, as I write, is that this letting go brings me back to the yogic principle that guided me as I first set out to lead the dance a decade ago: Ishvara Pranidhana.
So overcome was I with self-doubt and recrimination about my capacity to lead, not to mention the insanity of my detour from serious career pursuits, that each night, before the students arrived, I was forced to bow my head on my mat–in full surrender–Ishvara Pranidhana–offering up my failures and successes.
This same surrender is required now.
I could have danced all night, yes, but instead, I’ll return to the classifieds, seeking a fit for an increasingly un-fittable woman who is ready to accept the ease of income, in devotion to the calling that she cannot refuse.
Am I always surprised by the 50+ on the label?
My first thought this morning: I mistakenly purchased the wrong bottle of supplements.
And then I remember: Oh, right, that’s me.
Though apparently I reserve some measure of doubt.
A refusal to be aged out of society?
I suspect something more elemental–a wonder to have been oneself for so many years.
And now, alas, I can’t remember:
Have I taken the supplement or just marveled over my relationship to the label again?
To borrow an expression from my religious friends–
This tune “ministered to me” this morning.
Without needing to know why.
And it was a sweet surprise.
I’d never heard this song before.
It was the first one to play when I unplugged from the news and asked Alexa to stream me some Krishna Das.
I asked her to play it again and again.
It opens with a freaky kind of sound, throat singers, I suppose.
An intuitive once told me that I had been one. Famous.
I suppose I was a guy then too.
I was attached to Krishna Das once.
For a few moments when I was assisting Robert Thurman at Kripalu.
Neither of them noticed that this petite silver-haired woman with a head set in her hands was wired to their long embrace and conversation.
Finally, I tucked the receiver under Bob’s elbow and slipped away to the floor while these two socked feet giants communed.
44 dayz to Menopause: I climbed a tall, tall ladder, and stood on the very top where the warning says not to stand, and looked out over the land–toward the grassy marsh near South Pond (but it wasn’t really South Pond) where I saw 3 brothers from town proceed in order of age, but all younger than they are now, and I thought, isn’t this a little risky of them, and also, isn’t that cool; and just then a fox approached from the other end of the marsh, and scampered up the ladder toward me, and I was disappointed that I had to focus on my balance instead of the gift of its proximity, and didn’t he join me at the very top, where both my anxiety about falling and my delight in his company were heightened just as he left my perch almost as quickly as he arrived, and scampered back down and disappeared into the marsh from whence he came.
47 dayz: My dreams continue to be filled with babies & animals–skunk, racoon, bobcat, fox, puppy. This morning I wake at dawn, rested & energized–an anomaly at this hormonal juncture–as is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction & fulfillment. I’ve just birthed a baby, breech, thin legs dangling from my yoni, my youngest son beside me, as midwife/doula, while simultaneously I film the delivery, my husband looking on just behind me. The baby is a girl, and I snap some still shots to send off to my older son, who in reality is not away at college, but sleeping in his bed this weekend, and who himself was breech, but born not at home as planned, but by emergency caesarean. The baby transforms as I photograph her, sprouting a shock of bright blonde hair, that flips up and then side to side, as if animated, suddenly looking just like a younger sister of mine.
48 dayz: We all put such pressure on each other. To be something/do something/feel something other than what is. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. What if we lived a single day or an hour or an entire moment without it? Without wishing or wanting or demanding something else. I could go first. I could begin with Trump. Or myself
Afraid to rest. To release. To be caught unready?
The prison guard.
Our fellow inmates.
The Trickster who slips behind our happy distraction.
50 dayz: “Mom, why do you keep running away from us,” my son asks, about the way I take off to Maine every week or so.
“I’m not running away,” I say, “I’m returning–to the Mother. I need a mother as I surrender the Motherhood archetype. And I was born at the sea so that’s where I find her.”
“That makes sense,” he says, shifting from fear to science: “We all began in the sea.”
I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.
At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?
My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.
And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:
I’m struck by this assault.
“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”
But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)
It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.
“Why?” they said.
“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”
Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.
I consider changing my top.
Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.
My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.
I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.
That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.
I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Were they dressed the same?
My mind re-imagines the bench scene:
“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”
“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”
I’m struck by how often I say or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.
“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”
I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)
“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.
“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.
I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.
“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.
I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:
Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!
(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)
I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)
It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.
Because a heart broken,
(Related post: I’m Leaving.)