Saturday, October 23, 2010

I’m driving on the freeway

I’m driving on the freeway. I pass the exit to the place I used to live when I first moved here five years ago. I see myself like a ghost driving up the hill as I pass by on the freeway. I smile at myself, feeling the threads of life and time intersecting at this junction. As one of me drives west on the freeway and the other drives north up the hill, there is also one of me petting my cat in my apartment back east and yet another walking a field in the sun in Vermont, with thick green grass like carpet under my feet. I guess you could say that these are parts of me, but they don’t feel like parts, they feel like all of me. They feel like all of me is here and there and driving and walking and going east and going west north and moving up a hill.

I heard Johnny Cash in the meditation:

“I hear the train a comin,
it’s rollin round the bend,
and I ain’t seen the sunshine
since I don’t know when”

I’m on the train and I’m rolling by myself in the prison. Here I am and there I was. It’s not that profound and yet my whole life seems to wrap around it.

I keep having this recurring feeling, this recurring thought, that it doesn’t matter so much what I want, what matters is what I’m here to give. Being in this place or that place isn’t so much about me anymore, isn't about what I can ‘get’ from being in that place, it's more about what I can bring to the people in that place.

I have another song in my head:

“It’s all the same
Only the names have changed.
Everyday it seems we’re wasting away.
I’ve been everywhere and still I’m standing tall
I’ve seen a million faces and I’ve rocked them all.”

I went to yoga class yesterday. In my meditation, I was teaching thousands of students. I was a leader. I was a guide. In Buddhism, they talk about helping others alleviate pain and suffering. They talk about being a boatman, putting people in your boat and taking them across to the shores of enlightenment. I’m in the boat. It’s a small boat right now. The fog blocks the shore and the air is cold and foggy but my body is warm and my heart is strong. I reach down into the water with my long staff, feel the muddy bottom and push forward.

Sometimes it feels like barreling on a train. Sometimes is feels like a foggy bottom boat.

Like pieces of a puzzle, we come together. Isn’t it that simple?

I had another thought in my meditation. It was more like a vision than a thought. I saw myself at the beach, in the ocean, dolphins swimming near me, rising up and down in the water. I thought, “I want to be in perfect harmony with nature. I want my breath to rise and fall with the dolphins. I want my mind to surrender completely to the rhythm of things. I want my body to wake and sleep with the sun. I want to merge with Mother Nature so I know her thoughts as my own and I never have to doubt or question or worry. I want to be in harmony with the world and I’ll return to it soon enough.”

Mary Oliver says, “Doesn’t everything die at last, too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I love you

I love you. I came looking for you and I found you. I found you in the small black girl with the big eyes in Wawa. I found you in my writing teacher and the brave souls who continue to lay their stories at her feet like offerings to the Goddess. I found you in the tap of the drum, the strum of the guitar, the strange language that rolls off his tongue like ancient warriors marching out of a cave. I found you in my own overflowing heart that pushes up into my throat and out my mouth. I found you in the mother and child sharing a snack on a stone bench in Center City surrounded unawares by people, buildings, taxis and other bustling things, glowing in their quiet shared delight. I found you in the cold bubbling creek, tumbling over rocks through a path of multi-colored leaves, red, orange, brown and gold. Is it possible to be in love with everything? Is it crazy? Is it dangerous?

The vows, they say, ‘forsaking all others.’ Why would I want to forsake all others? What a strange concept? I think he’s thinking about loving me. I can feel it. All I can think about are the obstacles, the resistance. I was thinking about how much I dislike visiting him. I was thinking about how I worry that he will steal the happiness I’ve worked so hard to find. I was thinking that my happiness is fragile, like a vase, like an egg, like a flower. But then I remembered that he needs me. I am here to serve him – not in an indentured servant kind of way but in an I-chose-this-for-a-reason-before-I-was-born-kind-of-way. Who I am is shifting and changing him. I realized that if I serve him, then love will flow through me and my happiness will be safe. And if he hurts me, it’s an opportunity to do more healing, to go deeper within myself. I feel protected. I feel safe to be me. The more you give, the more you receive.

But sometimes I feel resentful about being a giver. Sometimes I want to take. Sometimes I want to be gluttonous and selfish and lazy. And there she is, the shadow of me. The empty heart. The scared little girl. The insatiable, needy, desperate little girl. The one I thought was me. I see her in others. I hear others speaking from that place. Fear mingling with fear. Need mingling with need. Blame, shame and all the other yummy things that fuel the engine of dysfunction. I used to think that I had to run away, that I had to avoid sick people, that I couldn’t handle it. I used to absorb their sickness, become the sickness itself.

I’ve been thinking about sickness. I’ve been thinking that I can choose not to be sick, even if my mind tries to ‘think’ me into sick. Such a funny thing, the mind – not a friend, really. A foe. A prism of images. A mindstream. Imprints and implications. Could everything that ever happened to me in countless lifetimes be culminating in this moment? What if it were true? What if enlightenment were a breath away?

He said he thinks that I have ‘ripening karma’ in this lifetime. How fun to be ripe and juicy and shedding tears of joy! Driving in circles. Riding in grooves. The jeep starts to lift off the ground. Still circling but swirling dust instead of treading dirt. Floating like an eagle. There is freedom up here. There really is. I can’t explain it. Not sure how I got here. They say, “How did you do it?” I said, “I don’t know. I just put one foot in front of the other.” I never really believed I could be happy. I could see it in others but I never thought it would be mine. Still I aimed in that direction, following little bread crumbs of joy, hoping to infiltrate their world, the world of the shiny happy people.

Of course, it’s a mess of a trip, right? There are those who look happy but they’re really not. And those that look quiet and suspicious, but they are deeply peaceful. It took some time to decipher and figure it all out and I still make mistakes, still get confused, still think something is something that it isn’t but I’ve always been accused of being gullible and na├»ve. So be it. At least I give people the benefit of the doubt. Who doesn’t need a benefit of the doubt once in a while?

I went looking for love again and again, in books and bedrooms and bars and ballrooms. And all I can say is, “Keep Looking.” If you keep looking, you will find it. Aim yourself in the direction of what you love, pull the trigger and shoot. Launch yourself towards love and love will grab hold of you like a hungry ghost. Love wants you as much as you want it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When I was a Little Girl

When I was a little girl, I thought that the world was made of fixed things. Solid objects. And I thought that the grownups were going to teach me the names and the history of those objects and how to arrange them in such a way like turning the dial on a combination lock so that something would click and the whole world would open up and everything would be available to me.

And I reached with my mind and my heart to try to grasp the solid fixed objects that I thought existed. Objects like: identity, marriage, friendship, achievement, passion, love, money, health, travel, fame. But I couldn’t grasp them. They were unavailable to me. Just out of my reach and I would try to hold them but I couldn’t. They were too watery for me.

I remember a time during ballet class, a class that I attended nearly every day from the time that I was 8 until 18, where I was making my way across the dance floor doing pirouettes. I couldn’t do them right. I couldn’t make them pretty. I couldn’t make them look the way there were supposed to. I stopped half way across the floor in frustration. Exasperated. I proceeded to walk the rest of the way, head down, mumbling to myself.

My teacher said, in very harsh tone, “It’s your attitude, that’s why you can’t do it.” I remember feeling so called-out, so judged, so reprimanded. “It’s your attitude, that’s why you can’t do it.” There was a negativity in my attitude. There was a fear and a self-criticism and a suffering in my attitude about the pirouettes. I wanted to be able to move effortlessly across the floor. I had certainly been practicing pirouettes for a very long time -- as long as the other girls in the room. But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. It wasn’t my calling to be a ballerina. Maybe not my gift, not my talent.

Whatever the reason, ballet and I were at odds with one another. I didn’t feel like ballet was within me. It felt like something forced. A forced beauty. A forced poise. A forced elegance. A forced gracefulness. It felt unnatural. It hurt my body. My feet were strapped to satin bricks that caused my feet to bleed and ache. And yes, my attitude about the whole thing sucked.

In contrast, I would also go and take painting classes and spend hours alone drawing and writing in my room. And when I put pen or paintbrush to paper, I felt as if large golden gates between this world and another would open up, and life would flood in and flow through me and everything I wrote or drew would be alive in some magical way, like I was creating worlds, but not creating them like making a clay sculpture, creating them like discovering them, uncovering them, revealing them. Like a pen stroke or brush stroke was wiping away some mist on the glass between this world and another, like wiping your hand on the mirror after a shower so that you can see the reflection of your face.

There was an openness. I would call it love. The way it made me feel was ‘more’ instead of ‘less.’ There were no bloody feet or short angry women pointing at me when I opened up those other worlds. And so drawing and painting became something private and dance became something public. I did well at both. Both had there benefit, both shaped me, carried me through until I was a young adult but in different ways.

One said, “You are an object of beauty for the world. You have to be beautiful for the world.” The other said, “There is beauty within you. You are beautiful because you are.” One said, “Try harder. Be better. Drop your shoulders. Lift your chest. Tuck your pelvis.” The other said, “Where would you like to go today? How can I help you get there?”

And so the pull to go in and out, to go deeper and yet stay visible and graceful pulled on me. “You can do both,” I thought, “You can be pretty. You can be tall. You can do a perfect pirouette and you can hide, and you can dive deep and you can swim with imaginary dolphins, you can even breathe under water. Who says you can’t do both? Why would you choose one over the other?”

Many years later, I find myself facing a new canvas with the desire to create something moving and meaningful. And like a good girl, I walked with bloody feet through a dissertation, fitting tightly into grammatical, structural, logical forms so I could perform for a committee watching me make my way across the hardwood floor. With each revision, I stood up taller and straighter, and arranged the words in a way that was pleasing to them so that they would approve and sign on the dotted line.

And in the in-between moments, the stolen moments, I would shamefully put a word or two on paper without consideration of format or spelling or even punctuation in an attempt to maintain the slight crack in the door, between this world and the other, the world I moved to and from so freely when the when the big golden gates were open.
The bright light forcing its way through the crack in the door beckoned me not to dance too much but to also come out and play, to feel the light on my face and my skin, to feel the light in my heart, to see the other worlds that not many seem to visit so much anymore. And in my determination to be pretty and graceful, I spent much more time working on my dissertation then exploring the light behind the door.

Now my rigid self and non-rigid self stand staring at one another like a mirrored reflection, trying to find something that they have in common. One is tall and lean and calculating and the other is smaller and softer and seems to be carelessly absorbed by a purple flower between her fingertips. One judges and one dreams. One dances and one sings off-key. And if they knew each other, they might be able to create something together. They might be able to speak to the world, to say something meaningful, unlike something that has been said before. If they could find that thing that they had in common, that thing that united them, then maybe the whole thing could move forward.

Then maybe I could write.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Rollercoaster

Click click clank clank clunk
Up the down drop of the wooden roller coaster
Hands in the air
Screams lunging from open mouths
Loud loud louder
Spinning cart on a track
Bodies bumping against each other
Dizzy yelping blurry
Something falling from the sky
Dropping laughing pointing
Bodies on a rope, a cord, a harness
Tinny music
Metal gears
Blinking lights in thick darkness
Fever hot, humid air
Children laughing
A scream
A spin
A turn
Loud loud louder
I drop into myself
It's a bumpy ride
We climb the steep cliff
Of the wooden wall
Will I fall off? I ask myself
It's high up here
The air cooler
The noise further
The danger closer
I drop into the ride
Down the steep slope
Wind stronger
Eyes blurry
Tears blowing past my temples
I hear screaming
I think its me
Sound is round
I am inside of it
I drop into my belly
The bottom falls out
I am empty from the waist down
I am legless
Faster louder faster louder
Metal wood brakes screeching
People screaming
Rattle rumble rattle rumble
Smearing lights like brush strokes
A black hole
A tunnel
A ride
I am in it
I am in the bathtub
I am small
Mom tells me to stop crying
But I can’t
A wall goes up between me and her
If you loved me you’d let me cry
But you didn’t
You were fighting with him
Fists above my head
Me, too small to stop the blows
If I could, I would lift you up, both of you, like King Kong
And let you struggle without hurting each other
There is screaming outside my window
It is late, 3am
He is loving her, not hurting her
She is screaming all the same
I am spinning
In the sound
In the carnival
In the darkness
In the lights
Like brush strokes
I am dropping down
I am dropping in
I close the door between me and her
Between me and you
I will pretend to love you but on the inside
I am lying
I cannot leave here
But I can take my love away
In my corset of smiling and pretense
I will pretend to like you
But I am dishonest
I am deceiving you
Painted on face
Red lips bigger than mouth
Big eyes
Red nose
White and red and smiling
Big smile
I hold the clowns hand
Satin glove
Rainbow jumper
I dance around you
Look at me dance
Look at us smile
Can you see us smiling?
Elephant on bike
Screaming with trunk raised
Dancing girls
Roaring tiger
Clapping cheering
Train black coal smoke rumble loud louder whistle
Sound is round
I am inside of it
Dancing on a stage
Pointed shoes
Dancing on bricks
I am smiling
I am sparkling
Lights clapping bowing
Feet swollen
Toes blisters red
I tighten the corset
People cheering
Faster faster keep moving
I am graduating
People clapping
Clink clink clank clank clunk
I fall down
I tumble head over foot
Down the slope
Down the track
I am in my dorm room
You are sitting on the floor
We are listening to music
She sings
The sound pierces
Like a needle through my heart, then yours
Then back through mine again
Sewing us together
She wails
Hallowed halls
Ghosts in the streets
Haunted house
He pushed me into the closet
He forces his tongue into my mouth
He says
You wanted it
You asked for it
Rooms with zombies and body parts
And children screaming
With horror
With delight
Knots in my belly
The coaster climbs
Up the next incline
Clink clink clank clank clunk
Her back flat on the pinball machine
They force her
She fights them
They win
She loses
Ding ding ding ding
The sound of winning
Vegas slot machines
Happy people
Loud loud louder
Standing in the tree grove
In the forest
In the nothing
Silent at waters edge
Waves tumbling over toes
Breath rising and falling
In quiet
In rhythm
Constant and consistent
The breath inside the sound
Inside the mouth
Inside the voice
I drop in
It’s a bumpy ride
I am in it
I am dropping in

Thursday, August 5, 2010


She tells me that he used to do the meanest things when he was angry. She tells me that when her brother bill was young, he touched something he wasn’t supposed to touch so he held bill’s hand over the flame on the stove until it burned. She told me how he used to kick her up the stairs and call her a slut when he was drunk. She told me how his mother used to scream and pull out her hair and threaten to kill herself when her son wouldn’t do what she wanted him to do. Each story drops into me like a warning, like a red flare flaming saying, there is danger here, tread lightly, there is danger close by. She tells me about someone she knows who doesn’t love her son, who burns her sons with matches ,who tried to kill herself, who has a gun, who may have killed her son if no one stopped her. I am in the fire, the shaking, the quivers in my gut, the place that is forbidden, that you don’t want to know, you don’t want to see. Vampires. Bonfires. Dark alleys. Fertile ground for devils and demons. Am I one of them? I tried to drown myself in the ocean. I laid down at the water’s edge and offered myself to him, asked God to take me out on the waves in the tide so I could reside with the moon and the starfish. God said no, the waves pushed me further back from the shore, deeper into the grass and the trees, snakes on me and through me, black coal inside of me.

I wrap a frightened girl around my body, her legs around my waist, her arms around my neck, like primates, like monkeys, we are no different. Without a mother, without comfort, we are dead. I carry her. She is mine and she is me. Inside and around me, I walk the water’s edge with her. She is light, she is not a burden. I thought I was burden. I thought you said and she said and he said that I was a burden. I thought I was heavy. I thought I was hard to handle. I thought I was too heavy to carry.

I breathe deep. The salty imagined air. The seagull. The sunset. The orange and crimson sky. I wanted to trust you. I wanted to know that I could take 2 steps away and you would be there upon my return. I wanted to know that I could take 4 steps away and you would still be there like a granite stone in the sun. I wanted to know that I could take 6 steps away and I could wave to you and you would wave back smiling and encouraging. I wanted to know that if there were long distances between us that love would travel the miles between us, that we would still be connected. I wanted to know that I mattered, that I was seen and heard. I wanted to know that I was loved.

I drop down into an empty heart. I knew your disarray before I knew my own. I knew the imbalance between us like a tightrope tied to two wobbling poles. You were unstable. I knew your instability as my own. I was bright, too smart for my own good, they say, a small wise one, one wondrous little person dropped into an insane circus. Look at the lions, daddy! All the better to eat you with my dear. He held my little brother over Niagara Falls. He threatened to drop him in. He thought it was funny. Mom cried. I watched. Smaller and smaller, I shrank inside myself until I almost extinguished my own flame. Can you put yourself out? Can you extinguish yourself? The one unique expression of you. Why would you even want to commit such a crime? Would you extinguish a star? Would you pull the plug on the ocean and let it run down the drain? Would you filter the sky in black and white? Pull the flowers from the roots so the smells could no longer burden your nose? The absurdity of it all. The waste. The shame. The malice. The grief. The pain.

I said I’d rather feel shame than anger. I’d rather freeze than burn. I’d rather be small enough to stand on the tip of a needle then be so big that my foot tramples your garden with one step. I grow like a giant with the anger. My long wet pink tongue falls from my mouth like Kali, the goddess of destruction. I can dance her dance. I can ride her tiger. Hissing and spitting. I can shoot fire with my eyes. I must be evil. I must be catholic because I think my fire is evil. I must be conflicted. I must be twisted up in knots, in misunderstanding, in contrast, in contempt. I must be walking on hot coals. I must be older than myself, older than this feeling. I must be God – the generator, organizer and destroyer of my experience. I must be dead. Less alive than the fish and the moss and the cockroaches. I must be all of it and none of it. sweaty palms and cramping hand. I must be getting old and staying young and figuring things out and getting lost. I must be out of my mind.

Take me where you are going. Please hold my hand, hold my heart. Tell me that it’s all ok, that it will all be fine. Lie to me. I don’t care. Let your words caress me like aloe soothing burned skin. Help me gather up all the burnt children – the boy with his hand on the stove, the girl kicked up the stairs, the child scarred with matches – help me gather them all up and put them in a bowl of cake batter so we can swim and lick our fingers and taste sweetness with every swallow. Make it better. Make it safe. Make it the way it should be.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Silent Retreat

One by one the travelers gather in a big old stone house on top of hill. At first it is only me an Edit. We are greeted at the door by a tall older man, Bill, and a shorter quiet man, Steve. They have warm eyes and big smiles. Bill gives us a tour of the house and takes us upstairs to the place we will sleep. Edit and I share a triangular room above the room where we will be meditating. The room is filled with books about heath, psychology, literature and other topics. I’ve been drawn to pyramids lately. Seems appropriate that I am in the pyramid room of the house. After

I set up my bed, I lay a blanket on the grass and instantly fall asleep. I twitch a few times as bugs land on my legs, arms, and upper back. When I wake up, the bright blue sky has been turned down to a lavender color with sweeping pink streaks.

Several more people have arrived and are bringing in bags and backpacks. Some people are setting up tents in the yard. I feel as though I may be one of the youngest here.

I watch as each person with curious eyes wondering who they are, where they’ve come from, what they are here. There are two guys, Tom and Joji, about my age, from Michigan. They seem kind of out of place like they would more likely be found at a Phillies game than a silent Buddhist retreat. There is a woman in a floor length floral dress who just sort of floats from one room to the next. There are a few people I recognize from meditation classes on Sunday at the art loft in center city. Susan, a peppy older woman with white hair, who owns the loft where we meet always calls me by my name even though I’ve only told her my name once.

Everywhere I look there is a new face. I don’t even know how many people are here. The house has been divided into many rooms with post-it notes marking the doors like the plaques on hotel rooms. A walk-in closet is a bedroom. Bathrooms are number #1, #2, #3, #4. We are assigned a time of day about 45minutes when we can shower in one of the bathrooms. The area that would b ea dining room or sitting room is the “meditation hall.” Another similar type room on the other side of the house is the “yoga studio.” The house used to be an old Quaker school house. It feels very “lived in” in an eccentric kind of way. The glass cabinets in the hallway have a pair of old white roller-skates and alice in wonderland figurines among the wine glasses. The art on the walls is a seemingly random collection of black & white photography, impressionistic paintings in big gold frames and other unique pieces. There is a thangka hanging over the window in the meditation hall, hung just for this special event.

I spotted the “teacher” arriving at the house in his vibrant red robe and went outside to greet him. His piercing blue eyes are set back deep in his face and he smiles kindly as he shakes my hand and asks my name. I am so happy to meet him. He is the doctor to the Dalai Lama. Bill told me the story of what led him to the dharma. He had many experiences of death which put him on the path – a near-fatal illness when he was younger, the death of his young wife, etc. These seemingly tragic experiences created a very fortunate life of living and working with one of the most incredible spiritual leaders of our time.

The woman who owns the house, Mariann, is running around like crazy moving furniture, setting up tea and hot water, opening windows, etc. She has a “punky Brewster” kind of energy. She looks about 50 years old but you can tell her spirit is much younger. She’s wearing tye-dye green pants and a tank top. Her hair is pulled back with an oversized clip and she has an orange scarf around her neck.

We gather at 9pm for our first meeting in the meditation hall. I have de ja vu as Mariann talks about the house. There are 15 of us listening attentively to her. We’re told that 10 more people are coming.

I feel so at home. Being here reminds me of all the retreats I’ve been on over the years and all the traveling I’ve done. Gathering with these people reminds me of all the times I’ve gathered with people on the spiritual path.

Why are we here? How did we come to be together in this place at this time?

It feels like family. Some people are assigned to cooking, other cleaning, some people are assigned to make tea and coffee, other to ring bells so we know when it’s time for breakfast or dinner. My assignment is lunch. And we’re all a little strange. And we all love the spiritual side of life. We all care what we do with our mind and we have a reverence for life.

I have my phone turned off and I feel a slight craving to check text, email, facebook – I get so addicted to that shit. I love the detox from technology when I travel. It’s one of my favorite things about being far away from home.

There is hustle and bustle in the kitchen as Mariann shows everyone how to prep for breakfast. Bill is still giving tours of the house. He’s been giving tours for almost 4 hours. He seems like a really patient and calm guy. I sit on a piano bench in the hallway watching them do their preparations. There’s just a piano bench. No piano. There are grey stone columns on either side of the hallway and at the far end of the kitchen. There are hardwood floors, a yellow-bamboo colored kind. A woman spills water on the floor. She says, “Ah, my first mess” and laughs. There are big silver containers with hot water. One of the silver water heater things makes a howling sound like the whales talking underwater. Everyone who walks by says, “what’s that sound?”

There are paper plates, napkins, cups with upside-down silverware. The monk passes by barefoot like he’s one of us. I guess he is. I get butterflies in my stomach when I see him. I think all monks, nuns, priests and holy people are special. I get tingly around them, like God chose them for a special purpose to represent him to be his ambassadors.

I stand up and look out the window. It’s a gorgeous full moon. I run outside to get a closer look. I feel so connected to the moon. I always have. I catch my breath when I see a full moon – it’s just magical to me. There is a golden haze around the big white glowing light. The crickets are singing loudly. A long-haired white and orange cat creeps by. I sit on the porch swing and rock slowly forward and back. I am reminded of the groundlessness teaching that I listened to yesterday by Pema. She says we can’t cling to things that ground us or we’ll be stuck to them and they’ll cause us suffering. I am weightless on the porch swing under the full moon listening to the crickets sing.

From the swing, I can see through the window into the meditation hall. I can see the alter in the front of the room with flowers and brass bowls and a picture of the Buddha. To my left there is another window with the top-half of people being busy doing preparations. I can see their mouths move, but can’t hear what they say. The light around them is a warm yellow. It feels like family.

There are colorful Tibetan prayer flags draped between two glass porch lights on the patio. There are wind chimes, an assortment of chairs, a glass table, and potted plants. There are four acres of land surrounding the house. Rolling green hills, trees, fresh cut grass.

I remind myself of my intention. I am here for self-love. I am here to increase my capacity to love myself and others. I was listening to Pema when I was driving here and she was talking about the practice of developing a friendship with our self. She said that this unconditional friendship with self is very important. I agree.

It’s getting late. Time to get ready for sleep. I make my way back to the pyramid room. I scan the books on the bookshelves. There is a Ram Dass book on top. I love him. I am glad he is here on this retreat with me.

Idiot’s Guide to Feng Shui, Reading Lolita in Theran, The Sedona Method, How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci, How to Cook your Life

I love books. I love books and the moon and cats and meditation and tea and monks.
I am tucked into my bed, totally present and aware and peaceful. Maybe it’s the moments when I ignore my thoughts and come fully into the present moment that I am happy. I keep still. I fall asleep.

Yoga at 6am. About 8 women. A long narrow room, windows on each end, a stone fireplace on one side. Windows cracked. Birds chirping. Smell of grass and trees. Sound of deep synchronized breath, bending and stretching, straightening and lengthening. Working so hard to be ourselves. He says, “If you want to make the pose more dynamic…” I sink in. I feel the strength of my feet and legs. Feel the energy running down my arms and up through my head. How I wish I could bring all of this to Philly. How I wish everyone would stop working, stop moving and just do yoga in the park. How I want everyone to love their lives and just be happy.

I am aware. I move too much. I run around too much. Too much talking. Too much doing. I know I need stillness. Even in stillness I am moving. Rapid thinking. Pulsing heart beat. Rising falling breath. Even in stillness I am moving.

I rest in child’s pose. I feel love. Forehead to the floor. Body soft. I am sleepy.
I relocate to the backyard to reflect in my journal. I write,

“I think that I need to give even more honesty than I’ve been giving. More more more honesty. I think I need to give the most embarrassing shameful awful thoughts. I think I need to stop thinking my thoughts are so important. Need to stop thinking they are “my” thoughts. They’re just thoughts passing through. Thoughts everyone has. Who am I to be so righteous and protective of my thoughts?

I’ve been keeping thoughts inside like dirty rats in a cage. Why? My thoughts are not me. I am not my thoughts. What if I let the rats run free in the world? What would happen? Why would probably find happy homes somewhere. They’re certainly not happy inside of me.

I never pay attention this much in real life. That’s the problem. I’m so busy doing that I never pay attention. Such a shame. Such a sadness to miss so much.

When my heart is open everything is poetry and magic and love. Then it closes and I am in darkness.

The Buddha held up a flower as a teaching. Students became enlightened. That’s all you need. One moment. One flower. One breath.”

There is a girl walking back and forth on a stone path in bare feet holding a colorful ceramic bowl. A little bug crawls on my journal. Really little. Iridescent black body. Two little antennae. Legs too small to see. Wonder what he’s thinking?
Flowers surround my blanket. They are sitting in meditation, sitting in silence, just sitting there. You can tell they never get bored, never complain. Flowers are more enlightened than me. There are more flowers on the vine behind me. Incredible fuchsia flowers wide-open and unashamed, begging for sun like little sluts, like whores for the heat.

They ring the bell and it’s time for breakfast. I entire the silent hallway adjacent to the kitchen. I fill a bowl with greek yogurt and fresh blueberries. It tastes so good that I shiver a little, like the way you do when you have the first ice cream cone of summer. I like it so much that I eat it too fast. I can’t help it. I eat half-a-piece of bread embedded with seeds and dried fruit, a bright yellow banana, ginger tea.

Six people are sitting on the patio eating their breakfast in silence. The monk is one of them. It’s so lovely to sit quietly with people, so reverent.

It’s nearly time to start our first session. The monk enters the meditation hall and fills the brass bowls on the altar with water. It’s an offering. A devotion. An act of love. It makes me cry.

A white butterfly hovers and flutters over the green bushes outside the window.
The monk disappears.

I put pen to paper again:

“It’s not that there is not enough. It’s that there is too much sometimes. Too much perfect beautiful amazing breathtaking world. I think maybe I try to hold onto it. I think maybe I try to hold the whole world inside my body and I can’t do it and it makes me shake from the pressure. I think that I worry that if I don’t hold onto it, it will disappear and be lost. In my heart of hearts, I know that’s not true. I just can’t give up the holding. I want to hold the whole world.”

We filter into the meditation hall. Blue, black, burgundy pillows. Cross-legged people sit with straight spines. The man to my right is breathing loudly. The teacher enters, takes off his red robe and wraps an orange patch-work cloak around his body. He sits. Takes off his watch. Rests his palms in his lap and says, “OM is a lovely word.”

We all chant together in low hums until the room vibrates like the inside of a drum. Amazing the way that voices can merge into one sound, one instrument, one song of devotion. We become the chant. I feel the vibration in my chest, in my head. The teacher says, “Feel the presence of the Buddha.” We invoke the Buddha but the energy I feel is more Native American – maybe it’s the land where we are chanting now. Maybe the Native Americans chanted here hundreds of years ago.

We chant faster and faster. One mantra per breath. Some people believe that we are given a limited number of breaths in a lifetime and when we run out of breaths, our life ends.

Now the energy shifts. I feel like we are in the desert of Australia with the bushmen playing their didgeridoos. Then we fade into silence, the mantra still on our lips and in our hearts. I feel like I am getting closer and closer to myself. I feel fragile and new. I want to be unafraid of who I am. I want to be me. I believe I am an expression of God that is not fully expressed yet. I want to come out of my shell.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Nana’s name is Mary, like Hail Mary, full of grace. Nana’s name is Mary, like Holy Mary, mother of God. Nana is in a nursing home. An ugly scary nursing home. They serve roast beef with lettuce and slimy orange stuff on the side. Nana has been old and unhappy for as long as I can remember.

Nana is old like yellow newspapers, like stained clothes. Nana is always in pain. She complains about her eyes, her ears, her hips. Nana finally got a hearing aid and now she doesn’t yell “HUH?” as much as she used to. Nana knows me. She never forgets me. She remembers what I told her on the last visit and the visit before that. She’s been telling me on every visit for the last 20 years that she will be dead by the next time I visit. But she never dies. She just gets older and older. Like old churches. Like cheese.

Nana says “Don’t get old, Gabe. Don’t get old.” Nana says, “Don’t get old, Gabe. Don’t get old.” She’s outlived nearly everyone she knows – her parents, her husband, three sisters, a daughter, a granddaughter.

Nana is old like the rocks jetting out into the ocean, life crashing against them for years, wearing away a little bit of rock at a time, but never taking the whole thing.

Nana used to go to novenas with her sisters. She used to go to novena all the time and pray for 9 days or more. I don’t know what she was praying for. She never told me.

Nana is old like the period at the end of the sentence of my life. Is that what I will become? Is nana me in the future?

Nana has a great laugh. Her laugh makes me laugh. Nana keeps her room very clean and she likes pink towels.

Nana has pictures on the bookcase, the TV, the refrigerator. Pictures of me, Lee, mom, Carli and others.

Nana doesn’t tell stories about the past like other grandmothers. She just says, “I miss your mom. I miss your mom” with tears in her eyes.

Nana watches lots of TV, mostly game shows. She sits with her friends in the lobby of the nursing home gossiping a little, complaining a little, laughing a little.
All the ladies eat the meatloaf and the lettuce and the slimy orange stuff.

Nana has pictures of Jesus, the crucifix and rosary beads in her room. I know Nana prays but I don’t know what she prays for.

I think Nana is 88. I don’t remember. I lost track. All the years above me seem to blend together. I can’t much tell 50 from 60 from 70 from 80. It’s all a mirage of the future. My future self. My future life.

My past is much more distinct, like crispy crackers, like brail. I can read every line of each year. Remember each feeling and touch the texture. The past is like sandpaper, the future like steam.

Some say you can create your future. Is that true? Did Nana create nursing home, novenas, no siblings, no significant other? If she knew, if she chose it, why does she say: “Don’t get old, Gabe. Don’t get old.”

Nana’s name is Mary like Hail Mary, full of grace. Nana’s name is Mary like Holy Mary, Mother of God.