Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Open for Business

Forget safety
live where you fear to live
destroy your reputation
Be notorious

I have tried prudent planning
long enough.
From now
on, I'll be mad.

Last year, I discovered a list I made when I was very little--say 7 or 8 years old--detailing what I should do the next day.  It listed the hour to wake up, the time to get dressed, the window of time to eat breakfast in, and the time to go catch the bus.  I discovered this list in tandem with advice for the Pisces astrology group, of which I am a part, that Pisces should not overplan their days, as this stifles the innate creativity that is their primary guidance system. 

I go back and forth with this idea, because I am devoted to seeing the creative in all people.  As long as you are loving life, and intimately involved with whatever is unfolding around you, I don't see a need to discriminate between creative types and non. However, Pisces are described as highly intuitive types, and I think here is the necessary word difference.  I can say from experience that this sign sees best almost with their eyes closed.  Emotions are the guideposts as we edge our way along, often shyly, in the world. 

Upon discovering the list, I realized how long I have been trying to control my world. I have attempted this through scheduling, planning, rooting around in self-improvement schemes--generally all with limited, or tense, success. 

Along with my friend, with whom I shared an East Village apartment a few years out of college, I enjoy laughing at myself for the morning that I opened my bedroom door and stumbled upon a To-Do list that I had started the night before.  I had gotten as far as Get Dressed and stopped.  That pretty much summed up the state of my mind, then.  I was working as a temp, typing invoices at an office that had no ties to my literary ambitions, and I was sort of losing it. 

I mentioned in a previous post a desire to hide the details of my life because of anxiety about where my life was going.  But I had this brilliant little moment today, inspired by Byron Katie, who says things like, "How do I know I need to see my husband at the moment?  Because he just walked into the room."  This woman's message is of perpetual, radical acceptance. 

As my friend Dhara says, Why do we think reality is wrong just because we don't like it?  I have been thinking a lot about this, and trying it out.  When my dog scratches my leg incessantly and then walks to the door, guess what?  It's time to go outside.  When I see someone I don't particularly care for, heading straight for me on the sidewalk, guess what?  It's time to make peace.  It's time to speak to this person, openly, because they are showing me the reality of my life--that there are no enemies but those I create in my mind, and that there is some fear that I have buried inside, which is triggered in their presence.

So.  The big one: How do I know that I don't need a job right now?  Because I don't have one.  And how do I know that it's time to ask myself big questions about where I want to head in my life?  Because that's what I wake up thinking about. 

But panic doesn't have to be part of the equation.  I'm taking that out now, with a little help from teachers like Katie, and anxiety itself, which shows me when I have taken myself out of the present moment.  Worried about failure, do I feel the table that holds my arms and my computer, do I see the dog that makes me laugh out loud, do I remember the birds hopping around my lawn, who are digging up their own wonderful treasures in the world?  Am I meeting Reality, what is happening all around me, all the time--this beautiful gift that I don't have to do a thing to keep going?   

Isn't it great?  Even my spine stands up without me.  What am I so worried about?  I hereby declare life a worry-free zone.  Because whatever is happening needs to be.  Heart break, anxiety, death, illness...everything that I am afraid of still leads home.  And what is home? This is the question that I ask myself a lot these days, as my family and friends live their lives thousands of miles away.  But it's also the question I've been asking for most of my life.  Here is one answer, for today: Home is the seat of peace in the heart, the place where the mind opens and life sets up its real business.   

I will probably always make lists.  They help me organize my thoughts.  They help me see the unrealistic expectations I place on myself.  They help me, when I toss unfinished ones into the trash can, to let go the jailer in my mind.  But, as I make these lists now, I will ask myself, what am I planning for?  Do I trust myself to get dressed in the mornings, or do I still need to write that one down?

The best writing advice I ever heard was, Don't have a back-up plan.  Why would you plan for failure?  Just write.  And that's what I have the opportunity to do now, in my life.  Get Dressed.  Walk the Dog.  Write.  Why would I scheme up ways to worry about this most perfect present? 

To myself, and the places in us that worry, I say, the sky is not falling, Chicken Little!  Relax, have some fun.  No one needs you to hold up the sky.  Cut it out.  Take yourself out dancing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

At the Window

by Mary Oliver

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience?  Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close,  I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive.  And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky - as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

from New and Selected Poems, Volume One

So, where to begin?

It was the middle of graduate school, a three year program for an MFA in creative writing, at the beginning of which, I was like, Great!  3 years to write! and, at the end of which I was like, What the F was I thinking?!  One summer, I had the great fortune of having a month off of both work and school.  My boyfriend at the time--my husband now--spent long days driving for FedEx, collecting sheaths of black grime on his hands and legs and arms from the open door of the truck, and returning home so dehydrated that we coined the term, FedEx Eyes, for the puffy lids that he went to bed with at night.   For my part, I spent long days practicing yoga, opening the windows, listening to lush coastal rains, writing a little, swimming in the ocean, meditating with the dog, and consulting the I-Ching about my future, which I desperately wanted to know about. 

I remember one particularly stormy morning, when the dark rain clouds came early, and woke me, and drew me out of the bedroom.  I lit a candle at the kitchen table and scrawled questions in a notebook.  It was late enough past dawn that Tim was already out in the world.  I called the dog to my side and settled on my meditation cushion (which doubled as a movie-watching pillow, back rest, dinner tray, and yoga prop). 

The day was a big one for me, for an answer came, in the middle of my rainy meditation.  The questions I was asking of the greater world were new to me.  For once, they had no agenda, no real attachment to particular outcomes.  I was not, as I did in my youth, holding a little Yoda doll with a black-bottomed robe that flashed variant answers such as, Certainly It Is So, or Not At This Time, when I tipped it upside down.  I was not asking questions such as, Will I get to stay up late and watch movies and eat cookies tonight?, with greed clearly on my heart.  I was asking about the meaning of life, literally--mine.  Should I marry Tim.  Should I keep writing.  Should I keep on the path I am on. 

And an answer came.  The moment that I heard this insight rise up in the center of my being, I felt my skin open at every pore, as if a bear's hide had fallen away from my shoulders.  I knew I was being led to unveil the truths of my heart, which were tender, vulnerable, and terrified of the light.  At the same time, this instruction felt
like the deep weight of suffocation finally leaving me. I was not given specific instructions.  No real answers at all.  But in what I was given, I found both the permission I needed to be myself, and to keep going with trust that all was well. 

I have been listening to Byron Katie's audio presentation, Your Inner Awakening, which at first I hid under a blanket in my car so that passing neighbors could not see the title and have cause to snicker.  I wonder why is it so hard to own my spiritual curiosities.  Like a child hiding under a table, I think that if I do not confess to being there, no one will see me.  When, everyone knows I am under the table.  Everyone else sees it so clearly!   

Katie says that the things we are afraid of revealing about ourselves are laughable when they finally reach the light.  These secrets we carry are simple pieces of fear that have grown inordinantly more powerful because of their place in the dark, and it is our job, our gift to our life, to bring them out where we can see them. 

I am remembering here a giddy scene in Fletch Lives, which is an excellent '80s movie that dates my sensibilities.  In the scene, Chevy Chase play's a newspaper reporter who momentarily hijacks a televangelist's show and tells audience members that God wants them to reveal their deepest secrets.  A man called forward says, Are you sure?  Chevy Chase assures the man, yes, yes.  Confess your afflictions! he says. OK! the man says, pulling down his pants on live television, and confessing to a struggle with hemmoroids. 

This is not the sort of laughable that Byron Katie has in mind, I'm sure, but it is the sort of comical turn that revelation can take.  Uncensored confession is easy to make fun of, as a general pursuit.  But what makes deeply comic laughter possible is when we spot the self-inflicted terror that our secrets have caused us, and root it out, and set it free.   

I made a cd last night, recording some poems I wrote.  I made it for a friend who has always supported my shy processes, always been curious about my creative life, and jubilant for my weird crushes, the surprises of our hearts.  I spent time with a very wise woman today, and rejuvenated my inner witness to the divine, mysterious currents that draw us along our holy paths. 

I have lately noticed that I am emotionally hiding, because I have been looking for answers to more questions about the future.  And I can see now I've been more than a little attached to their outcomes.  But today I feel it - grace around me, telling me to settle my mind and open my heart to the answers within.  The wind brings the silent wings of blackbirds overhead.  The birds swoop and flit and land on the signpost at the end of my street.  They say: We are here.  All is well.  We are here together.   

So rise, little wings of the heart!  Flap and fly on your merry way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


by Robert Creeley

Take off your clothes, love,
And come to me.

Soon will the sun be breaking
Over yon sea.

And all of our hairs be white, love,
For aught we do

And all our nights be one, love,
For all we knew.

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."  --Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Tonight, I am hungry for bed, hungry for diversion, hungry for something new.  I am feeling a low-grade boredom with my own mind, which means it is time for me to switch something up: either how I am treating my body or my mind or both.  I overslept this morning, which means the secretary (my dog) is getting canned.  All of this is to say, Tomorrow is another day!

I am reading a book called Swimming to Antarctica, which is written by the long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox, who broke the world record crossing the English Chanel when she was fifteen.  She has these big teams of people who help her before and during the swim, and this woman's focus and motivation is just astounding.  I keep coming back to her utter humility in the face of her strength and speed, two things that she develops in training, certainly, but also seem to be particular to her natural-born body.  The other thing that strikes me is her reliance on her family members, friends, and the swimming professionals in her community and around the world, who all contribute to the development of her goals and plans.  The amount of aid that goes into one swim is incredible. I am moved, imagining the grace and humility it takes to accept that help in order to accomplish her truly wild dreams. 

I've been thinking a lot about the balance between receptivity and action lately. I don't have a whole lot more to say about that, except that I suppose finding that balance is a lifetime's pursuit.  Maybe I should say, a lifetime's art.

I watched an interview with a yoga teacher who says that she starts out asking herself when she wakes in the morning, What do you need to bring this day into balance?  She really talks to herself (and also calls herself, Baby girl.  Last part is optional, I would think).

For a long time, I have been wanting to quote from a beautiful Louise Erdrich novel called (are you ready?) The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.  My father, who is famous in our family for the time he asked if anyone wanted to go see Roberthood at the movie theater, has passed along to me a few traits: his muscular legs, a troubling certainty about always being right, and a tendency to innocently butcher the names of things.  Oh, alright, he also passed along some dashing wit and fanciful genes, but stop it.  You are too kind!  

When I first started reading Erdrich's novel, last fall, it took several weeks for me to get the name correct.  But it is worth it.  Remember it.  Read it.  I dare you.

What I love about the book (no spoilers here) is its reverence for the experience of human life on the earth.  The book combines intimate portraits of life on the spiritual path with an exuberant love song to life in the flesh.  I just realized that this phrase gives me particular delight.  As do the sex scenes in TLROTMALNH. 

So, a little bit, from a section called The Sermon to the Snakes.  (See?  There is a church built into the side of a mountain.  And the floor slithers with snakes.  It's gorgeous in the novel, trust me.  Not at all Indiana Jonesey (though my brother will lament this).) 

"I am like you," said Father Damien to the snakes, "curious and small." He dropped his arms.  "Like you, I poise alertly and open my senses to try to read the air, the clouds, the sun's slant, the little movements of the animals, all in the hope I will learn the secret of whether I am loved."

The passage is much longer but I cannot find the exact chapter I wanted to laud. Too many months have passed.  So, I will go now, leave the snakes of the past and dive back into Cox's book, to swim with more dolphins in the water alongside her.  Adieu, blessed beings!  May the new moon guide our way home.