Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Little Cloudy

by Rumi
When I see you and how you are,
I close my eyes to the other.
For your Solomon's seal I become wax
throughout my body.  I wait to be light.
I give up opinions on all matters.
I become the reed flute for your breath.

You were inside my hand.
I kept reaching around for something.

I was inside your hand, but I kept asking questions
of those who know very little.
I must have been incredibly simple or drunk or insane
to sneak into my own house and steal money,
to climb over the fence and take my own vegetables.
But no more.  I've gotten free of that ignorant fist
that was pinching and twisting my secret self.

The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
I am the crescent moon put up
over the gate to the festival.

So, I promise I am not trying to make this space into a small anthology of Rumi poems.  What can I say?  It is crazy windy outside and I have been trying to make sense of my head, or heart, or schedule, or something, while all that seems to make sense is the kitchen: heating oil in a pan, salting the onions, wrapping potatoes in foil....The Mary Oliver poem I chose yesterday, full of spearing clarity and cries for action, seems inappropriate this morning, hypocritical even, for I really feel like sitting in blankets all day, baking myself in questions.

In Anusara yoga, there is a lot of talk about the mid-line, both a physical center line in the body and a metaphysical space.  There's also a lot of talk of hugging in.  So much talk of these two things, in fact, that for a while in my old Anusara classes, whenever someone said one of those phrases, I wanted to throw up.

I recently finished a beginner's meditation course in town with the fabulous Gwyn Tash, who was the first yoga teacher I met and took a class from when I moved to Colorado with my husband, Tim, after graduate school.  I remember feeling that there was something deep, almost smoky about Gwyn, and yet playful and lusciously real.  So when, more than a year later, Gwyn invited me to this meditation course, I said yes yes yes, even though I had already been practicing meditation for a number of years.  I basically wanted to spend time with Gwyn, and meet some new people. 

Part of the first class assignment was to set a Sankalpa, basically an intention, a promise you make to yourself that you intend to hold, explore, and honor.  My Sankalpa was to work two, twenty-minute meditation sessions into every day for the length of the course, which was six weeks.   Before that point, I meditated sporadically.  Like a guilty pleasure, my sittings tended to draw on and on.  It felt good to be sitting, something I didn't do regularly.  But because of this unbounded quality, I tended to fear sitting: What if I don't want to get up?  Am late to work, skip dinner, let the dog pee his bed? Etc.

A friend (the famed yoga conference roommate of the previous post) once learned that if she tells herself she is going to sit for ten minutes, then she should sit for ten minutes, no less, no more.  If she decides she wants to sit for longer, then she should get up, do something else (like what?  clean the toilet?), then come back and set herself a new intention.  That sounds lovely.  And highly improbable.  Maybe one day I will grow into such solid commitment to myself.  Actually, that sounds divine.

This is a long way of saying that I wanted to work two short sessions into my day for, I suppose, the same reasons my friend was taught to stick to her time limits: to set and respect the sitting boundary.  The idea was to calm the voice in my head that says, Are we there yet?

Sometimes, it worked. I sat and poured myself into the moment, comforted by the knowledge that soon, sometime, my alarm would sound.  Some days, impatience was loud and unruly anyway.  And some days, I wanted to break something if I had to sit there for the full twenty minutes.  On those days, I would chant a favorite mantra, say a prayer, and end very early.  Oh, well.  On other days, I was so in touch with the tenderness and power of life that I wanted to go to my cushion and stay there in devoted attention forever.

I had a very simple realization when I was at Tim's parents' house for a wedding in the middle of this six-week period.  (I would hereafter refer to my in-laws as the outlaws, as that is a favorite joke in our linguistic heritage, but these people are far too sweet for that.)   Tim and I arrived a few days before the wedding, and everyone but I had chores or obligations to take care of.  While Tim entertained his brother, and his parents were off at work, I had a lazy long yoga practice with a deep meditation, then made myself a giant lunch and ate it on the back porch.  I sat on a weathered swing listening to the open melodies of a set of windchimes as I polished off lunch and took in the dozens of skinny barn cats splayed around me like little sun worshippers.

The next day was overcast.  There were more people around, lots of  errands to run.  I woke foggy-headed, thick-tongued, puffy-eyed: a grump.  I went to check on the air outside and felt the weather's absolute inhospitable nature.  It wasn't cold, or windy, just thick.  Stubborn.  I'm told this is like most weather in Ohio, excepting summer.  Since I hold that state in unlikely romantic position in my head, I tend to forget this. 

Taking in the gray shrug of the day, I remembered the lusciousness of the day before, the cats sunning themselves like proper divas, the wind in the hypnotic chimes as I ate my lunch.  This is like consciousness, I thought.  Or it is consciousness.  A physical manifestation of its constant shifting, its number of moods, its shades of light, its sensations.  I congratulated myself on seeing this (I was meditating a lot, see?), on accepting the day just as it was.  I went back inside, hoping to keep that equanimity of spirit, that openness in my heart, instead of crying out for the unparalleled luxury of the day before.

This is, I suppose, what practice is about - learning to see and embrace each moment for whatever variation on oneness it is.  And now, as I peer into the light of my thirties, I am seeing how the present builds on the moments that came before. 

In her audio-book, Don't Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions, Pema Chodron says that if you have a fight with your lover, you are essentially destroying all of the goodwill and peace you have built up together. 

I used to feel incredibly guilty about this when Tim and I fought. Now I see the other side of this lesson, too - that I can build on the sweetnesses, the trust, the quiet joy in my days.  And as I make a new space in my newlywed house with my husband, I am beginning to understand that which I always thought of as the crazy devotion between my mother and father. I now see it as endurance - devotion still, beautiful and wondrous, and maybe crazy, too.  For to choose happiness everyday is still a radical act. 

Though this happiness, this source energy comes from a relationship to the inside, to the heart, as opposed to rote repression, which I think people sometimes mistake for inner stability (myself included), I now see that one can build up the connection to joy through the days, through the years, like building up muscle in a body.  This is the mid-line.  This is why we hug in.  Why I meditate.  To see where I am.  To check the weather.  And when I am gravely inhospitable, when my mind is stormy and the world looks thick with clouds, I practice to get clear.  To come back in the house, to come home.

P.S. There is a beautiful memoir out about this subject of choosing peace over suffering.  It is by Laura Munsen, called This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness.  Read it! I say.  


  1. great poem & such a great post! Reading Nora Ephron's Heartburn, but Munsen's book could be a good follow up?

  2. Great post. Wishing that you will take the second meditation course. Enjoyed your insight.