Springing Forth…

The Main Hall at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health becomes a vessel with Tara Brach at its helm, as she navigates the passengers through the waves of the present moment in a sea of breath, rising and falling with 300 sighs of recognition, tossled by sprays of laughter, rippling, lapping, splashing, then stilling on silent tears like soft rains, until one by one we step off the ship and walk on water, riding the next wave of consciousness to the shore of our own belonging.

~

In recent years many of my beloved practitioners have moved away, retired, even died.

This is how I found myself driving an hour south for bodywork which I squeezed in on my way to assist a weekend meditation program at Kripalu, thinking it was worth the squeeze to feel more at ease in my body which had been tightening in all sorts of new and improved ways.

As is often the case, I left the table with a deeper sense of wellbeing but as I drove west out of the Pioneer Valley and into the Berkshires, I noticed that the softening in my body had opened me to a deluge of grief that I couldn’t quite place and didn’t want to feel.

Perhaps my body had been so tight as a form of protection, I said to myself, and the bodywork served to remove the armor which is why I’m feeling so tender.

Soon the tenderness was replaced with a mounting anxiety which led to double arrowing myself, ie. Why am I anxious after getting bodywork! How am I going to assist a meditation program! What is wrong with me!

There used to be a temporary tattoo for sale on the counter of the shop at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. It was one I thought would be best on my forehead or across my heart, inked there permanently.

What if nothing is wrong with me?

Maybe that wasn’t it. It seems too long. But that’s the idea which led me to my breath and eventually to a softer place with my anxiety until I was increasingly at ease again, driving over the last mountains, recognizing how much fear I felt around experiencing grief, and understanding that anxiety was another form of protection.

R-recognize
A-allow
I-investigate
N-nurture

~

Seated across from Tara, beside the sound system, I often take a seat on the floor, so as to be less visible, and in one instance, while attending to my breath, I sensed something behind my lower back as I sat cross-legged, more insistent than a pillow, and so I put one hand behind me, feeling around to discern–something hard? something separate or something built into the wall?–I wanted to turn around and look but felt that I should at least “appear” as if my attention was on my heart given that I was on stage right, and still my hand left its assigned place on my lap, insisting on further probing, like a tongue around a rough tooth… something plastic? something round?… until I was certain that whatever it was had a sound, as insistent as Poe’s ticking, only to discover when the meditation came to a close, that what had been pressing into my lower back, (and into my mind and into my life) was my own sense of time or in this absurd reminder of limited thinking: a small round wall clock, left behind on the floor.

~

I’m not sure how I ended up in the backseat of my car this afternoon like I was as a girl. I must have been looking for something.

My parents were so broke when I was baby that in order to drive from the trailer park outside the city (where my father was in school) to my grandparent’s home at the shore, they would have to scrounge under the seats of the car in order to pay the parkway tolls.

There’s my missing purple water bottle under the driver seat! And here are a couple quarters and a dime and a nickel and a few pennies. (I wish I knew they were there last weekend when I stood empty handed at a meter.)

The bigger question is: Why am I sitting in my car in a parking lot on this first spring-like day during a brief interlude before I head back inside the building?

And the answer is, I suppose: Meditation.

All that presencing this morning in meditation led me in search of something more familiar.

Like composing a thought and tidying my car.

~

Some understandings come slow, and then all at once. Meditation for instance. So boring (and aimless), like Savasana.

This perspective persisted despite the absolute bliss I once oozed after a gentle afternoon class in my early years at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, which was followed by an optional 30-minute meditation where no doubt I rode the current of the master teacher who was seated in front of the tiny group who chose to delay dinner.

And what of the silent retreat at Garrison Institute a few summers ago which I scheduled just ahead of my soul retrieval mission across the Hudson? That silence came effortlessly and had been such a necessary part of preparing for my return to West Point.

Or what about my very first introduction to meditation through the chakras–back in 1989, where my mother, in the gown she’d donned for my sister’s Christmas nuptials, spun in the color red at the base of my spine?

And what, of course, about the weekends spent assisting Tara Brach’s program not to the mention the weeklong assist of Dani Shapiro at Omega Institute, and the countless weekends assisting her writing & meditation program at Kripalu over the course of the past 5 years.

Some things come slow or not at all.

I have places to get to, things to do, and sitting gets in the way.

I’ve noticed of late that I’ve relinquished my embodied teaching practices–in the reverse order of their arrival. First I stopped teaching yoga. Then yogadance.

All that remains is writing and I’ve even given up leading that.

Writing as a personal practice is something I began in pain at the age of 18, some 37 years ago, and I have continued the practice ever since. Don’t mistake this for discipline, howeover, because writing feels as necessary as water and breath.

As I round the corner with a work of memoir, a labor of 7 years and counting, which is discipline and persistence and devotion and terror and flailing and despair, it’s the craft of writing that I want to plumb in consciousness.

This book grew out of the year that I studied yoga, a year in which the subject of the memoir led me to claim a spot as an NGO representative at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) (because my grandmother’s dream had been to work there), a year during which I also traveled to Asia (like her mother, my great-grandmother) to facilitate an international conference in Japan, in the exact city I found circled in my great-grandmother’s atlas which since her passing sits on my desk.

It seemed then as if everything was moving at a clip, which is my favorite way to move, of which I had been deprived with little ones at home, and yet 7 years after the clip, I find myself–at the age of 55–rocking back and forth in a rut, questioning everything… every one of my choices and goals.

This I shared over this past weekend, knee to knee, with my assigned partner, Amit, in a room filled with 300 others doing the same with their heart’s pain. I was back at Kripalu, assisting Tara again, appreciating how meditation rinsed my mind and tenderized my heart, finally understanding that it cut through the accumulated layers of defense that stood between me and ease with whatever comes.

“I am so angry.” I told Amit, as he remained in sacred silence. “I’ve arrived at this stage of life absent of the agency I once so fully possessed before becoming a partner and a mother.”

I went on to tell him how during my meditation, instead of comfort, I saw action on my heart’s behalf. “I sat at a table of Generals,” I explained, feeling somewhat sheepish with this admission. (Should Generals arrive in meditation?) “They sat in a tent like you might see near a battlefield,” I continueeed, and then I told Amit that it was my grandmothers and my mother who sat around the table, strategizing my next moves as I navigate the Patriarchy which had squashed their potential too.

If not for my writing practice today, I would have forgotten this “meeting with the Generals” and if not for my writing practice over the weekend (my notepad), I would have forgotten about the form of the Goddess who joined us at the table, her high forehead, so reminiscent of my own, particularly as I age and the mane of my youth recedes.

Lila. Mildred. Loretta. Durga.
These women have my back.

I’m coming to understand that what is required to remain on the path forward–in my life and in my work of memoir–is a light heart and a spacious mind. Otherwise, I will contract into the safety of what I already know no matter that I’ve outgrown it.

~

SpRiNg doesn’t come at all and then comes all at once, and the world is, for a moment, like a painting, into which you’d like to jump, Mary Poppin’s style, but if you blink, it is all gone, just like Bert’s sidewalk art in the London rain, and this is why, as the earth awakens, I practice awakening too, a challenge in my sluggish state, heavy with snow & rain & mud, and thus I begin in the shower, as if it’s my very first one, marveling at how the water streams out of the faucet at any temperature I’d like, enveloping my body like a womb, birthing me into another day anew.

May I be grateful.

May I notice.

May I get out of my own #%^@! way.

“Dislodge that one crucial boulder,” writes Hiro Boga, and sometimes, actually often, that boulder is me.

This morning I woke thinking about Jesus entombed after the crucifixion, sensing into myself as a guard at the mouth of the cave. As the boulder itself. Refusing to move. Protecting what is inside, when what is inside is ready to come out.

I have been an overzealous guard of my writing, that work of memoir that I’ve kept private, protected, for several years.

It was at one time necessary, wise, compassionate, and so I appreciate the tenacity of my inner soldier, however extreme.

But yesterday, she was especially courageous, not in guarding, but in stepping aside, releasing the gift to a group of women who will read it and respond around a table in a week’s time.

Any mother knows my vulnerability in this. That first time that you put your newborn, infant, toddler, preschooler, kindergartener in someone else’s care.

There is a lot of talk about trust, but the truth is that even though I carefully, consciously, intuitively chose this time, this teacher, this place, my act of courage is as much about desperation; this is what finally dislodged the boulder which blocked the path forward.

May it be so.

From 63 to 36 degrees, may SpRinG rock toward awakening on the land and in our lives, and in hearts across this nation.

“What would it be like to live without anxiety about non-perfection?” asks Tara Brach. This is my personal & global meditation.

May we allow for imperfection but insist on forward motion.

May we lean into the voices of women, the three Mary’s who stood at the Cross, and at the cave, and to whom the Divine appeared Resurrected, and within whom he was conceived, delivered and nurtured.

May we recognize women as the life-givers, intimately interwoven with Creation, bleeding each month with the moon, or as is true for silver-haired women like me and those who no longer or never did bleed, storing the wise blood inside to make medicine for the tribe, as the hawk cries and the peepers sing and the grasses green, and the Earth turns toward its fertile peak, May Day, Beltane, the cross-quarter day of SpRiNg.

~

There was no mention of politics at the weekend meditation retreat which is not to say that there was an absence of reality. The dharma talks were interwoven with societal and environmental concerns which necessitated conscious attention and action. There was, however, an invitation to bring someone to mind. “It could be someone at home or at work,” the teacher said, “Or it could be someone in a more public arena, someone who you judge and blame.” There was a moment of silent receptivity before the entire room–300 meditators–opened into laughter, a wave that crested and crashed at the teacher’s feet, leading her to pause and reply before continuing:

“I thought I said that with such dignity.”

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Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

The Little House & the New Hymn

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I used to joke that I had as many blogs as my mother had children, and I’ve since surpassed her, and yet a Google search comes up empty. Perhaps it’s always been too fragile a thing to share. Perhaps what I felt then is what I feel now–that and telling would be unworthy.

The incident, if that’s what it’s called, or the miracle, took place before I’d begun writing publically, and maybe that explains it, and yet I’ve scanned my journals from that time and there’s nothing there either. It’s as if it was all a dream. It would make more sense as a dream.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan…

Even the verse out of which the miracle sprung was more like a dream than a song.

We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light…

I guess I’ll have to start from scratch.

A clear new day…

We lived in The Little House at the time, of that I’m sure, and the incident or miracle would have taken place sometime during the publication of James Redfield’s Celestine series but sometime after the release of James Taylor’s two-disc live cd.

My mother and I read The Celestine Prophecy together, albeit 300 miles apart. We’d begun reading the same books during the summers when I was in highschool and college–everything from the classics to historical fiction to works centered around consciousness, particularly after she entered recovery, which was just after she needed two escorts to walk down the aisle at my wedding.

I left my home at the sea permanently after the first miscarriage, settling in at the foot of the Green Mountain National Forest beside a brook in an 1800’s Cape that the landlord called, “The Little House.”

By the time the snow began to fly, I miscarried a second time.

But when we thirst in this dry night…

The winter of ‘93-94 was one of the longest, coldest, whitest winters of the twenty-five years since. There were still patches of snow on the school playground where I taught well into May.

“Why bother doing what nature will do herself?” the old-timer would say to my husband, in his thick Vermont accent, as Casey shoveled off the back porch again and again. Howard often lumbered past our backyard in his rickety jeep, living as he did behind our place, a good mile or so up in the woods, off of what I suppose was an old logging road which passed by his hunting cabin.

In the softer seasons, and sometimes in the winter (on snowshoes that we’d purchased our first Christmas in Vermont), Casey and I’d hike the road up, stopping at a little bridge under which the same brook that sat beside our house passed, a good half a mile away, deep into the woods.

Everyone loved visiting us at The Little House, all those friends and relatives we’d left behind at the shore, and we all still reminisce about it despite its family of mice traipsing across the hearth and the squirrels in the ceiling and its dirt foundation and the astounding hatching of black flies from the brook each June.

We arrived at The Little House in our twenties and by the time we’d outgrew it–7 years later–I’d lived there longer than I’d lived anywhere, and we’d become a family–with two boys–a five-year-old who called the landlords (as we still do) Uncle Lenny and Aunt Diane, and a newborn who of course doesn’t recall being born in the tiny bathroom upstairs.

I can still feel the embrace of the mountains around The Little House in Autumn , and the sound of the brook when the door to the small balcony off our bedroom was open on summer nights.

Once at dusk, I approached a deer in the field until afraid, I turned away. Once I fell to my knees in the garden during a rainstorm, overcome with a sense of release I hadn’t known possible. Once I ran up the woods road behind the house, blinded by grief, and when I arrived at the small bridge, too out of breath to cry, I found an inexplicable communion with the water and the light as if everything would always be alright.

Just before we left The Little House, we returned to the sea. My mother and I were in the middle of the most recent Celestine book which I would finish without her. I took a seat beside her bay window on that visit, my youngest, barely a month old, at my breast, as she took her last breaths.

I returned to Vermont motherless with a lease that was about to expire and a new rental not quite ready in the next town over where the first weeks of kindergarten had passed without my older son. The friends we’d made as new parents helped us pack up the home I’d lived in the longest while the world and my very self and even the new baby felt like a stranger.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

It was that line, from track 15, on the first cd of the 2-disc, live collection that once reverberated through The Little House, for months or years, like a haunting.

“Are you sure you don’t have the receipt?” I asked, again and again. My husband had splurged on the collection as a birthday gift for me at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

He had tried wiping down the cd, cleaning the player, skipping past the song and returning to it, but track 15 continued to pause and repeat in the same chilling place.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

“It doesn’t even sound like a James Taylor song!” I said. “I wish it wasn’t even on the cd.”

Eventually, we remembered that after Shower the People (a song which was sung at our wedding as we brought a rose to each of our mothers) came How Sweet It Is (a song which played on our recessional track) and after these two songs came the jackal and the rattler and the poison.

Once to rid the house of squirrels, Casey placed poison in the crawl space above our bedroom only to later find the blue pellets in the drawer in the tiny bathroom and under the small pillow in our son’s crib.

“Quick, stop the cd!” we’d holler to whoever was closest to the cabinet that stood at the top of the stairs on the landing.

Sometimes we’d make it just in time.

I loved that landing. I did so many firsts there. I practiced yoga and fashioned an “altar.” I read books about things that made no sense but which beckoned me still—women’s circles and journeys and talking pieces. I labored on that landing at the top of the stairs with both boys. I stood outside the guest room where we placed our son’s big-boy bed. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m right here.”

At night, Casey and I would sit at the top of those stairs and look across at the built-in shelving that we filled with framed photographs of our extended family—his siblings and mine, grandparents and aunts and uncles, a couple nephews, our first niece. We’d lean on each other’s shoulder and talk about whatever needed talking about. Finances. New jobs. Is the house getting too small? Should we move to the town where we want Lloyd to go to kindergarten? Will he ever get to be a big brother? What if my mother has cancer?

Once I cried there by myself after I’d put the baby to bed, and when Casey arrived home to his wife weeping at the top of the stairs, I said, “I can’t remember what it was like to earn a real paycheck, a real job, a real life.”

There was a small window at the top of those stairs, small because The Little House didn’t have a full second story, so the window and its deep sill were right at floor level and seated at the top of the stairs, I could pivot and look out the window to the stonewall and our first flower garden, the big evergreen and the swing, and beyond that the brook as it arrived from the mountain in our backyard. One early morning while practicing meditation at my window sill altar, I saw a black bear lumber past.

But I was seated at the bottom of that narrow staircase when it happened. It was the only place in The Little House that was carpeted, with a sturdy woolen-white fabric. It’s only now in this telling that I realize that the carpet was reminiscent of the one on my grandmother’s stairs, just as rugged, but in light shades of green, a favorite stilling place since I was a girl.

My memory is that I was alone in The Little House that day, which would have been rarity, and my guess is that it was summertime and the front door was open so that the breeze caressed my bare shins as I sat on the bottom stair with my feet on the floor.

It was in this moment, in this place, that the Celestine book that I had been reading with my mother met track 15 of the 2-disc James Taylor collection given to me on my birthday.

Like the book instructed, I meditated on my experiences of “transcendent love” even though I barely knew what meditation or transcendence meant, and then needing someplace to direct the love gathered in a visualization at the crown of my head, I sent it up the stairs behind me, to the cabinet with the stereo, and in particular to the cd player, and specifically to disc one of the two-disc live collection, targeting track 15.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan
We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light

A clear new day…

Inside this meditation of love may have been the time I knelt in the garden in the rain finally knowing in my bones that I had loved my young son well enough that even if I died now he would be okay.

But when we thirst in this dry night
We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

What I’m certain was gathered in the folds of that meditation of love as it unfurled to the top of the stairs was my experience in the woods behind The Little House on the day that I ran sobbing up the mountain until I was out of breath, grieving for a loved one who had been betrayed, and bending over the small bridge that crossed the brook, my hands on my sides, I suddenly found myself in a transcendent communion with the water and the light

And when we strain to hear a steady homing bee
Our ears are balked by stifled moans
And howls of desolation from the throats of sisters, brothers, wild men
Clawing at the gates for bread…

I gave everything I had to that meditation, and I sent it swirling up the stairs.

Even our own feeble hands
Aim to seize the crown you wear
And work our private havoc through
The known and unknown lands of space…

When I finished the visualization, I stood up and felt certain that everything changed.

Absolute in flame beyond us
Seed and source of Dark and Day
Maker whom we beg to be
Our mother father comrade mate…

And still, when I climbed the stairs and pushed play, I expected to hear what I had always heard, the haunting stutter of pain.

Til our few atoms blow to dust
Or form again in wiser lives
Or find your face and hear our name
In your calm voice the end of night…

Even after I’d heard the New Hymn play all the way through more times than I’d heard it skip and sputter, each time was a surprise. Even now, when I think of it, I feel the echo of the haunting in my bones.

If dark may end…

On the early September morning at the sea, my husband turned 35, and my mother took her last breaths, as my youngest nursed at my breast. That summer had been the hardest, rainiest, darkest ever  of our years in The Little House, and I didn’t mind because that was how I felt inside.

Wellspring gold of Dark and day…

In the intertwining of their two lives, my mother’s and my son’s, I understood that there was no way to avoid loss or heartache or brokenness, there was only the avoidance of bliss.

Be here, be Now.

~

(quoted lyrics from James Taylor, New Hymn)

Epiphany

 

Without a single resolution or plan, I find some surprising changes afoot for 2019:

1. After 7 years, I’ve changed daybooks.

2. After storing the same old wrinkled & ragged sheets in a large bin, I splurged on a handful of new packs of tissue paper for next year’s holiday wrapping.

3. After putting so many things on the diagonal when our nest emptied this past August–bookshelves, cabinets and even the kitchen island–I’ve reoriented the house back to perpendicular lines while simultaneously opening up the entryway.

4. After asking my husband to sleep elsewhere for the first time in 30+ years, perhaps to better fill the empty nest throughout the fall, I haven’t asked in weeks. (Of course, the house has been full for the holidays.)

5. After an absence of several years that boded badly for our finances, I’ve re-engaged in household budgeting.

6. After serving as the chief travel-lover/cheerleader/insistent-persistor in our partnership, my husband has signed on to chaperone a highschool trip to ITALY entirely of his own accord.

7. After suffering through the fall with Giardia (and the ensuing recovery), dropping an entire clothes size, I feel weary, but also born again.

Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Christmas Anger

Because anger never came easy to me, or because I’d never seen it expressed by my mother and so I too learned to hold it in, I suddenly find myself attuned to it, in all its subtleties, and as such, it’s blossomed, especially after Menopause, which deftly set it (and other such vicissitudes of nice, sweet & pretty) free.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard,” I’ve heard said, or: “Fear is the root of all anger,” but doesn’t that imply that anger has no value in and of itself?

I recall the beauty of a pure encounter. I was 37, with a new infant, a dead mother, a physically present but otherwise absent spouse, and a dilapidated farmhouse atop a mountain filled with in-laws.

The anger arose spontaneously (following a grievous transgression) was almost blissful, uncontaminated as it was by thought which is not to say that it was expressed mindlessly, like outrage, but instead, it burned clean, and was received, and something else, just as potent—it was released—without the festering of anger swallowed or anger dealt cuttingly on the sly.

“Choose discomfort over resentment.”

This is from Brené Brown best said with her Texas twang.
It was my motto last year, and it is also the intention I hold in relationship to my grown children.

“Parenting without resentment may be too ambitious a goal,” my therapist cautions.

In recent years, as the onslaught of hormones rocked me further and further from the shore of self-containment, I began to notice the very moment anger appeared.

Turns out it comes a lot at Christmastime, that time of year when I’m supposed to be all cookies and aprons and good cheer.

Tired is a huge trigger for me, and is a very close friend to overextended. Sick is another trigger, especially once I’m on the mend.

“If you don’t meet your expectations, lower them.”

A teacher of mine, Megha Nancy Buttenheim, spoke these words, and I suppose I’ve been at this lowering for the better half of my life while spending the first half (and apparently previous lifetimes) unconsciously driven.

Like any recovery, it’s one day at a time.

I am so ANGRY.
I am glad no one is home.

At 55 (wow, that’s such a huge number all of the sudden), anger is compounded by the awareness and understanding that arises with age and awakening (and with the election of a misogynist and the electrification of the #metoo movement, so very necessary and centuries too late.)

Nowhere is the gender differential experienced more acutely than during the holidays as our invisible work–caring for homes and families and communities and corporations–is exponentially magnified by the season of giving.

I love giving. I truly do. I enjoy the exchange of energy that gifts bring. That baking provides. That volunteering offers.

“Whenever we reach within and ask how we can delight each other physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, we are on Holy ground,” wrote my friend Michele Morgan Doucette.

But I am so angry. I am so tired. Not just angry and tired in this moment (recovering from the effects of a particularly protracted recovery), but angry for all the ways my mother was tired—she, who would bake cookies for every floor of the hospital (cut-out cookies and fudge and almond bark) while continuing to do the books for my dad’s practice, and caring for our home, and their six children, while Christmas shopping for all of us, including her 7 younger siblings and their families, and my father’s four younger siblings and their families, not to mention neighbors and friends and my father’s colleagues, along with hand-written (and addressed) Christmas cards sent far and wide to all the places we’d lived before.

My dark-haired, dark-eyed mother would arrive on Christmas Day, totally spent, a shell of herself, an absence glaringly magnified by the fact that it was her birthday.

WHERE ARE YOU? I wanted to scream.

Instead, I learned how to make a turkey dinner with all the fixings, her favorite. I bought her flowers, not just on her birthday, but year round. And breakfast in bed too. Eggs Benedict was her favorite. I wrote her cards–from every place I traveled, brought her presents. On Christmas Eve, I would stop by after Midnight Mass to be the first to wish her a Happy Birthday, catching her at that sacred hour when all the kids (and my father) were asleep, and she was most alive, on her knes in the livingroom wrappin.

Sometimes, I stayed on to help. Once, I let her continue alone after my boyfriend and I finished putting together the multi-storied Barbie Dream House at 2 am.

The Magic of Christmas.

I judged my mother for everything. For her vacancy. For not speaking up to my father. For not demanding help. For not claiming some time for indulgence on her own fucking birthday. For not taking time to at least buy something nice for herself. For being so disorganized that she’d save wrapping for Christmas Eve. For disappearing. For being tired. For drinking so much coffee and eating so much sugar. For never reaching her dreams. For never wanting anything.

I judged her and I carried her, and even though I did it all differently, her burdens became mine.

(Here come the tears.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard.”)

On our very last Christmas together before our family imploded (and reconfigured), and just afater I finished exams, I took my father’s credit card and squeezed in a shopping spree so that my mother might have new things on Christmas Day, too. That silk blouse. Those velours pants. The hair clip. The gold chain. Right down to the stockings and boots.

It wasn’t enough. Or it was too late. Or it was too much and my claiming awakened her own.

Relatives blamed me, blamed her for listening to me.

“Tell Dad you need time for yourself,” I demanded as I watched her disappear.

She left my father in the New Year, but not directly. She went out the side door. With another man. Barely a man. 20. The best friend of my boyfriend. (I expect she wanted the youth she never had. The youth I had.)

Later she left all of us with the bottle.

Finally, after ten years sober, her departure was final. Cancer. Just 2 years older than I am now. Her body riddled with guilt and regret.

My mother was a kind, gentle soul caught in the crossfire of what it is to be female, to grow up poor, to want more but not know how to claim it, to never know that you are deserving/worthy, just as you are.

I appreciated my mother and always told her so. But now I’d like to tell her something else. I’d like to gather her in my arms and say:

None of this was your fault.

~

(Note: For the longest time, I loved this photo, holding onto it and “the way we were,” and then one Christmas, I dropped it, and the glass shattered, and I realized then that I’d hated it, hated it for the way it made me feel sad.

Just now, I’m beginning to see it differently, something new creeping around the edges, two women, one 18, the other 39, saying, however imperfectly:

We’re here too.)

Christmas at the sea


You know how a certain cup of caffeine can provide just the right buzz?

It’s the same with yoga, though the feeling is different.

Sometimes, however, the right cup of tea or espresso can leave me edgy or angsty, wondering, “Maybe I need another?”

This is how it was yesterday after my Saturday morning time on the mat.

The discrepancy was further pronounced at breakfast, seated as I was, between my husband and our son, both of who received the effects that I had intended.

“It’s as if we’re all high,” Lloyd said, as we waited for our eggs after the morning class.

“Not me,” I countered. “I’m even crankier.”

I’ve practiced long enough to know that this is how it goes.

After the blush of my first few classes way back in 1994, something else began to emerge.

When I explained the tightness and irritability (and anger), my yoga teacher suggested someone who provided something called “bodywork.”

My healing journey began then or picked up speed. But alas, it wasn’t as I expected, ie. a journey with a beginning and an end.

“Healing” simply meant that I “met” myself in my body, as is, without abandoning it. Sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Sometimes blissed, sometimes pissed.

“Damn yoga,” my younger sister says, and I feel that now, even if she was referring to the way yoga continues to maintain that eighth of an inch height in my favor, leaving her forever the shortest among our 8 siblings, while she continues to wait on the age differential of almost a decade to shrink me.

I keep thinking of the ocean. Of how nice it would be to spend Christmas beside it.

Alone.

Maybe I could take the drive today to fulfill that urge.

But what explains it?

My boys just arrived home on Friday night, and today is the first day that everyone is free from work.

Plus leaving today would pile up the to-do list on Christmas Eve.

Still…

I woke often through the night, wondering if the boys had arrived back home from their late shifts and their stop at the tail end of my shorter sister’s Solstice Party, her 14th in a row.

Or maybe it was the Moon, already waning, but ever-bright above the snow.

Or it could be my Mother, celebrating her 76th Christmas birthday, these 19 years from the grave.

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn…

Do you know that spiritual?

I meditated on that unfathomably bright star this morning, shimmering through the trees, thinking it a plane or a satellite.

And then I got up and fixed myself some tea. Without caffeine. And sipped it in the ocean of dark.