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
Clanking
Metal wood brakes screeching
People screaming
Rattle rumble rattle rumble
Smearing lights like brush strokes
Blackness
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
Clown
Painted on face
Make-up
Red lips bigger than mouth
Big eyes
Red nose
Masked
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
Rushing
Running
Fussing
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
Fear
Fearful
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
Sirens
Clapping
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

Anger

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

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.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Healer

I am in my mother’s body. Her big pink belly. I look down at myself through my mother’s eyes. I feel the warm pink belly between her hands like a taut balloon. I hold the belly, the belly I am in and not in. I feel my mother’s joy. I am her and she is me. I am inside her. The warm tight pink belly is full with a magical crystalline fluid and although I know I grow in there, I prefer much more to float up into my mother’s eyes, her arms, her heart. I can move freely inside of her for the time being, unrestricted, unconfined. I move with her as she moves but I don’t feel the moving. I only feel the bright warm weightless space inside. I know she knows I’m in here. I know she feels me. I know we know each other. I know we know each other in the most intimate connected way that two people can know each other. I know we exist in a space timeless limitless boundless. I know we share a space that is beyond the physical space, a space I have not yet entered through her. I know she feels the space inside her that we share, where we meet. Where I am her and she is me. I know we are inside of each other.

There are miles of paper dolls connected hand to hand, feet to feet, stretched out like an infinity mirror, forward in time, back in time. They are all the expressions of me, of who I am, of who I was, of who I am becoming. I slide along the paper doll continuum, moving in and out of the various versions of myself, slipping easily into the 5 year old, 15 years old, 20 year old versions of myself. Energy like the tail of a comet moves back and forth along the continuum of me. I slide forward into the future me, feeling the full rush of energy between all the versions of me, connecting them, linking them, as one continuous part of me. It’s as if I am nothing but a streak of light across the sky, a sun beam, a shooting star.

My future self infuses my current self and makes sense of my past self. All of it condensed into a single story line, a single streak of light. I look forward and back at reflections of me, of who I was, of who I am becoming and there is growth and there is change, but mostly there is just still movement, a movement that is not moving. Mostly it’s just like the space I inhabit inside my mother when she is pregnant with me.

So then she pushes me out into the world. Outside of her. Into the world. I can no longer move freely, no longer inhabit her eyes, her hands, her heart. I have my own eyes and hands and heart now. I’m not sure how they work. Don’t really like to move them. It’s all so heavy and cumbersome and stiff. It hurts to move in this way. It pains me to breathe, to turn my head, to open and clench my fist. She pushed me out of her. She pushed me out of her into the world.

I draw down a heavy blanket of numbness to cover up the feeling. I wrap around me a cloak of dull feeling. There is burning inside but the outside is covered like the colorful plastic covers surrounding electric wires. I am covered. I am separate.

And then I am lying on my back on an air mattress in the tower of my house, somewhere between 16 and 17 years later. I am warm and tingling from the rum swimming inside of me. I am lying on my back and he pushes himself inside of me and we are no longer two people. We are one person. I am inside of him and he is inside of me. I can move freely again. I can leave myself and go inside of him. I can feel his heart as if it is my own. I can see with his eyes, feel with his hands. I am connected. I am part of someone again. I am connected to someone in the most intimate connected way again.

And then I am aware. I am aware that I can go inside of you. I can go inside any of you and see what you are seeing, feel what you are feeling, think what you are thinking. I can feel your blood and flesh as my own. But mostly I can connect to you in the most intimate and connected way that two people can connect.

And then she dies. Like a balloon popping, mom dies and all that’s left is the air. All that’s left is the limitless space, the still movement, the vast emptiness where we are both existing in the tail of the comet, the heat of the sunbeam, the sparkle of the shooting star. I am no longer inside of her but somehow we are in the same space again. And she’s not inside of me but somehow we are in the same space. Am I am physical and she is not physical but somehow we are in the same space.

And then I begin touching people. I touch them and try to heal them. And they say they feel warmth in my hands. They call me a healer. They say ‘thank you for healing me.’ They bring me flowers. They send me notes. They say, ‘how do you do that?’ And what can I say? How could I possibly explain? Well you see…

First I was inside her and I could feel her and she could feel me and we were in this space like a private space, that space that connects all of us, and then she pushed me out into the world and I was cast out of the space and I couldn’t get back to the space, and then he was inside of me and I felt the space again and then she died and the space expanded and she became everything, and then I knew if I put my hands on people that I could go back to the space. And you see, this is how I ended up here with you, in your eyes, in your hands, in your heart, knowing what you need, how you feel, who you are. This is how I know you. Can you understand that?

I drop down into my hands. I dissolve into light. I travel out of my hands into you, like the breath, slipping in undetected. I close my eyes, I find the space that is you inside of you. The breath inside the breath. I move easily and freely. I know who you are. You cover your face, embarrassed. How can she see so much? How can she know so much? How does she do it? You say, “You know how to touch me.”

I know that I know how to touch you. It’s what I know. It’s who I am. I would not be me if I didn’t know how to touch you. I feel you, ya know.

People say that: “I feel ya.” What they mean to say is, “I’ve felt what you’ve felt at one time. I know how you feel.”

But I mean it differently. I feel you. I feel you as real as I felt myself through my mother’s hands as she touched her big warm pink belly. I feel what you feel.

We’ve been inside each other all along.

Pink Diary

I have a pink diary with a gold lock. The lock isn’t very sturdy and it’s easy to open the lock without using the key. The key is very small like a key that Alice in Wonderland would use to open a very small door. The cover of my diary is kind of like a door. It takes me away from this house, this room, this life and into a different one. In my diary, I am writing my life instead of my life writing me. In my diary, I tell the story instead of listening to the story being told. In my diary, I am the author, the writer, the creator. In my diary, I can write whatever I want. I can write good words, bad words, soft words, hard words, they are my words. I don’t need permission to write them. No one is checking my grammar or spelling. No one checks for mistakes. There are no mistakes. I can say whatever I want and its mine. It belongs to no one else. Sometimes when I feel like hurting myself or someone else I write in my diary instead. Sometimes when I am sad, I write that too. Once during a scary storm, I wrote a poem but I don’t write poems much.

The cover of my diary is pink and squooshy like a plastic pillow. I like the texture. It’s shiny. I keep my diary on my nightstand next to my little prayer books. I like to write with my favorite pen – a black skinny stem with a fluffy fuchsia hair ball at the end with eyes and a nose. It kind of looks like a bird. A bird from a far away place maybe. Not a bird from around here. The fluffy ball is so soft – soft like my cat. While I think about what to write I like to rub the fluffy ball on my face. I like the way it feels. The fluffy ball seems so alive to me that I start to write stories about it in my diary. I draw a whole family of fluffies. Fluffy balls with faces and hands and feet. The fluffies live in the clouds. They hold hands and play baseball. They have big smiles and no worries. Sometimes I roll out the left-over wallpaper in the basement closet and use the back of it as a canvas. I draw endless scenes of fluffies in the clouds. Sometimes I draw a rainbow or a unicorn, too. I love unicorns almost as much as I love my fluffy pen. I believe in unicorns. I believe they are real. I think someday I will have my very own unicorn. I think I might meet a magic lady that lives in the forest and she will ask me what I want and I will tell her I want a unicorn and she will give one to me. My unicorn can fly. My unicorn is friendly and gentle and my unicorn is white with a golden horn in his forehead. His horn is 24 carat gold like mom’s jewelry. If I had a unicorn, I wouldn’t want anything else. I wouldn’t even need a place to live. We could just ride from place to place and stop and sleep on the clouds when we were tired.

After I fill up my entire pink diary, I ask mom for another one. The next one is blue. It doesn’t have a lock. I don’t like it as much but I fill it up anyway. Then I ask for another and another. I start writing a whole story about a faraway place like dungeons and dragons. There is a wizard in my story and lots of adventures. At night, sometimes Lee comes to my room and sits on my floor and I read him some of my story. He likes it. Sometimes he draws with me on the wallpaper rolls, too.

Sometimes I think our stories and pictures are more real than our real life. I don’t feel anything in the real world when I am writing or drawing. I would like it very much if I could step right into the diary or the drawings and live there. I would like to be a drawing, a 2-dimenison person on paper. I would like that very much.
My favorite thing to do with Lee is to make forts in my room. We take sheets and blankets and pillows and build rooms within my room. The forts are small and we have to crawl on hands and knees to get inside. We can’t stand up or the whole thing will topple down. The space is so small and so safe like a cave where baby animals sleep in the woods. Mom always makes us take them down but we just build them again.

Mom can’t get us to listen to her much. We’re kind of like those trick birthday candles – you keep blowing them out but they keep lighting up again. In the fort, I can touch all four walls from where I sit. I could never do that in my real house. In the fort, the walls, floor and ceiling are all soft. Not like my real house. In my fort, we can use a flashlight for light and there is no big glass chandelier overhead. I love the fort and I could stay in there forever. When you live in a fort, you don’t need many supplies. There’s no kitchen for cooking and no dirty dishes. There are no long hallways to vacuum or beds to be made. There is just a sitting space for talking and laughing and sleeping. That’s it.

Lee and I, we’re like best friends. We do everything at home together. I listen when he plays music on the piano. He plays Barbies with me when I have no one to play with. We’re happier together than we are apart. We fight a lot, too. I’m not sure why but it seems like brothers and sisters are supposed to fight. Maybe we get sick of each other. Maybe we get sick of the house. Maybe we fight because that’s what mom and dad do. I don’t know. But we always make up. Either because mom makes us or because we want to.

Sometimes we gang up and do things to drive mom crazy. It’s really fun. One time, we were hiding in a department store when mom was looking for us. We would’ve never got caught except that Lee knocked over a bookcase and it smashed on the floor. Mom was real mad when they called her name on the loud speaker and she pulled us out of the store by our ears. She said she could never take us anywhere. When we are bad at home, mom makes us sit on the stairs. Lee sits on the back steps and I sit on the front steps. The top of the steps are connected by a long hallway. If we both sit at the top of the steps, we can see each other and continue to make our naughty plans. Lee’s favorite thing to do when he gets in trouble is to ask to go to the bathroom and then go inside the bathroom cupboards and turn everything upside down. This really drives mom crazy. She yells a lot when he does that. She doesn’t ever hit him though. Sometimes she tries to hit me and I swing right back. One time, mom’s fingernail cut me real bad when she grabbed my arm. She was freaked out by the blood so now she doesn’t grab me anymore.

Besides my diary, my next favorite thing in my room is my closet. In my closet, there are beautiful sparkly costumes from all of my dance recitals and beauty pageants. I love sitting on the floor of my closet and looking up at the satin, sequence and bright colors. I think my favorite costume is the one with the purple pants, black and white top, purple hat and silver sequence wrist bands. I think sequence is prettier than diamonds because it sparkles a lot more and you can wear it all over your clothes. I have one leotard that is bright pink with silver and white beads. It’s so pretty. I wore that in a roller skating competition. The one good thing about mom is that she lets me take all the classes I want – dance, skating, painting, singing. I love to take classes. After I go to school all day, I go to classes all night. It makes me happy.

My friend Christine is in my painting class. Sometimes we act silly in the bathroom when we are cleaning our brushes and the teacher Gloria yells at us. We like to laugh but Gloria likes for us to be real serious. One time, Gloria took us on an art trip to a museum in New York City and I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants. Christine was fooling around in one of the museum rooms and she accidently kicked off her shoe and it went flying through the air nearly knocking a painting off the wall. Lucky for us, Gloria didn’t see or we would have been in soooo much trouble.

I write about Christine in my diary. I want to remember the stuff we do together. I wonder if I’ll have the diaries forever or if someday they just won’t matter anymore. Grown-ups don’t seem to write diaries. They always seem to busy. I wonder if I’ll be too busy to write when I grow up too. I hope not.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Sidewalk

It’s a short walk to school. I take the walk everyday for eight years. My eyes memorize the pavement because that’s mostly where I look. Most of the sidewalks are uneven. They are chunks of grey slate bumping up against each other. From the looks of the sidewalk and the pothole-filled roads you would think we have earthquakes here in Scranton. But we don’t. Mom says the roads freeze and break because of the snow and the cold. It’s cold for most of the year here. And grey. Most of the houses are grey, too. People don’t really take care of their houses. The girl Amy who lives down the street from me, her roof is held up by 2X4’s. She’s the same age as me. We have more money than she does so we celebrate birthdays at my house. Mom gets a magician and balloons and a cake. Amy seems happy. Amy’s mom works at McDonalds. We always see her when we go through the drive-thru.

I know that we are getting close to school when the sidewalks change. The sidewalks around the school and church sparkle with little silver flecks of light. I think that these are the sidewalks that they have in heaven and that’s why we have them in front of the church – to remind us of heaven. I feel like the world changes when I walk on those sidewalks. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I feel like I am stepping into a world that is clean and good and safe. It’s nice to be off the grey, uneven sidewalk. The uneven sidewalk makes me nervous. The kids say things like ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back.’ That makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to break anything.

Sometimes when I get really angry I can’t control myself and I break something. This heat wave comes over my body. It starts at my feet and rushes up my legs. It’s like a force, like a fire hose. It comes up my legs, fills my body and rushes down my arms. Then my arms and chest become tight. I just have to kick or punch something or I’ll explode. One time I punched the window in my bedroom and it smashed. I just stood there looking at the window. I couldn’t believe I broke it. I wasn’t even scared of what mom and dad would say. I was kind of shocked by the whole thing. After I punched the window in a cool feeling came over my body, like a cool breeze or a summer swimming pool, and the heat gathered in my stomach like a simmering fire – reminding me it was there but I didn’t need to do anything about it. It was just hot in my belly while the rest of me was cool.

The nuns say that hell is hot. They say it’s hot like fire and people are burning there. I know how these people feel. I think of hell as a cavern under my basement, a red and orange cave with a river of lava. I imagine people like slaves in the cave. They are hungry, tired and dirty. They are covered in black ash like my grandfather who worked in the coal mines. The nuns say that we will go to hell if we are bad, that I will go to hell if I do bad things. There are so many bad things that I’m not supposed to do. I ‘m not supposed to talk back, to curse, to get bad grades, to kiss boys, to wear anything other than my blue and white uniform. I’m not supposed to chew gum, cheat on tests, think bad thoughts or tell lies. I do my best to follow all the rules, reminding myself about the dark place I will end up if I make a mistake. When I step off of the sparkling sidewalks, I step onto a large black parking lot and into my school. The school building is a big brick building and the church is even bigger. In between the church and school is a rectory for the priests and a convent for the nuns. The rectory and the convent seem like magical, mystical places to me. I’ve never seen inside of them. I imagine that the priests and nuns learn all their secret magical things in there – how to turn wine into blood and bread into body, how to communicate with God and tell God which ones of us are being bad and which ones are being good, how to read the chants from the bible and tell us what they mean. Sometimes I wonder if God and Mary and other saints appear in the convent or rectory to talk to the nuns and priests.

The nuns are much scarier than the priests at my school. The priests are kind of laid back and funny. The nuns are very strict and scold me all the time. Sister Mary is the principal. She is tall and skinny and wears glasses. It terrifies me to be called to her office. I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. I mostly get sent to the office for dress code violations. I just can’t stand to wear the same thing every day and try to sneak in with other clothes sometimes. I always get caught. I feel the same fire in my legs and arms and belly when I get scolded by Mister Mary that I do at home sometimes when I fight with mom. I wouldn’t dare smash a window at school though. I’m certain that a trap door would open up in the floor and I would slide right down into hell if I did that.

Sitting all day in the little seats makes my butt numb and gives me a headache. There are metal radiators that hiss and rattle in the winter. The room is very hot in the winter. Spring is better because we can open the windows. Breathing the outside air makes me feel like I am alive. I feel like I could die when I’m stuck in the hot stuffy room with the windows closed. I don’t know how the other kids stand it.

At the end of the day, we step back out onto the black pavement, then the sparkly sidewalk, then the uneven sidewalk again. I don’t even have to look up as we approach my house, the Victorian beast on the corner of Oak and Wayne. I can feel her. I can feel her sitting there waiting for me to come back. Stepping into her is like stepping into the belly of an animal. I enter reluctantly, looking forward to the following day when I can take the short walk again to school, looking forward to the few minutes between the brick building and the beast when I get to be outside on the sidewalk in the fresh air, with my feet on the ground.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Heart of the House

The air is tight and thick around my throat. I’m dropped down into a hot tight place. There is less room for my body, less space for my breath. I try to take up as little space as possible. Such a big house. Such a little space for me. Maybe if I breathe less, move less, the rumble of the house will stop, slow down at least. Maybe I can be the perfect balance point, the eye of the storm in this chaos. Maybe if I stop breathing, stop moving, I will disappear and every fiber of my being will merge into the fiber of everything around me. Maybe I will just become part of the wallpaper, the carpet, the dark brown wood.

I am breathing now. I am open and alive. My body is free and spacious. I stretch like a lazy cat taking up more space unimpeded by hot tight air. I take in more breath, deeper breath, pure powerful energy. Everything is coming aware, awake and alive.

I drop in again. My tummy tightens. My chest collapses. Someone took the air out of the room like someone scooping water out of a boat with a bucket. The air is so tight. Its hard to look side to side, my eyes heavy in my head.

The room seems frozen in time. The scene frozen. The people frozen. I walk around them like mannequins in a department store. There she is at the kitchen table. Her cigarette smoke frozen in air like a snake dancing out of a woven basket. There he is frozen in joyful play, the cat equally frozen like an animal stuffed and posed on display. The scene unfolds one frame at a time, slower than slow motion. One gesture. One breath of smoke. One swoosh of tail. One smile stretched as eyes blink closed.

I don’t think any water flows through here. I don’t recall any rain. I can hear the thunder, dark and deep. I can feel the branches scrape the window trying to push their way in like prying fingers. I run away in my mind over and over again. The stairs in the house lead only to a hallway which leads down another hallway which leads down another set of stairs which connects to another hallway which leads back to the first set of stairs. A labyrinth. A maze. A Salvador Dali painting.

If I cracked the window maybe I could feel some air on my skin but the windows won’t budge. They are painted shut with 100 years of paint. Maybe I could part the curtains and find the source of light. The curtains won’t open much though, the fabric thick like burlap covered with ugly pictures.

What is brand new? Is there anything I haven’t seen before? A drawer? A keyhole? A piece of jewelry?

Does a house have a heart? If it has a heart, the heart of this house is in the dark bottomless closet under the front stairs. A portal. An energy vortex. The hole where Alice falls flailingly.

I find a picture in the closet. A framed picture about the length of my arm from wrist to elbow. It is a picture of a person – maybe Mary, maybe Jesus – and on the front of the body is a glowing pulsing heart covered in a crown of bloody thorns. The figure -- half woman, half man – is smiling a peaceful smile and the arms are floating up about waist high, palms facing up. It’s not an invitation for a hug or some other embrace. It’s not a limp gesture like someone shrugging their shoulders. It’s just a posture of surrender and serenity – if a posture can communicate that. It’s just a person, standing before me with an aching bleeding heart and a smile. It’s just a person with a glowing light around their pain. I think the figure is wearing a blue robe. I can’t say for sure. And the hair is long, shoulder length. And the features are neither masculine nor feminine. The hands are soft. If I could touch them, I think they would feel like my mother’s hands. The nails are clear and clean, like the eyes. The eyes are light blue or green, I can’t say for sure and although the details are so hard to describe the total effect is that I feel like there is a person hovering before me, not a picture at all. It’s not as if the picture is alive or some 3D optical illusion. It’s as if it is a person in a 2-dimensional frame, with a big fat exposed heart.

I want to cover up the heart with the robe and say, “Put that thing away!” It’s just hovering there. Not quite in the chest, but not quite detached either. I want to throw some water on the heart, put out the pain, but there is no water in this house. Maybe the heart will catch fire and burn the whole house down. Maybe that’s why the painting is here. Maybe God knows the evil that lives in this house and he has sent this saint to burn it all down. Could it burn me down too? Would the house burn around me or would I burn with it? I have the funny feeling that the house would burn down around me and I would be left standing on a pile of black ash like the piles of black coal stacked up around this city.

I like the thought of standing on a pile of black ash on the place where the house used to be. I like the idea of everything I know and everything I love burning to a soft quiet black ash. No more stormy nights. No more crazy chaos. No more screaming suffering in my ear. Just soft quiet black ash. I would dip my thumb into the soft black ash and make a cross on my forehead like they do on ash Wednesday in remembrance of everything that burnt down. I would make a cross on my forehead and stand in the ash in my dirty dress and breathe the air that couldn’t come through the windows because they were painted shut with 100 years of paint. I would make a cross on my forehead and stand in my dirty dress and look directly into the source of light that couldn’t get through the heavy ugly curtains that are now settled like soft fallen snow around my feet.

I can’t imagine this for too long, can’t dream it too deep or I might burn the place down myself. Who is this figure in the painting? Why is it here? Why was it hiding in the back of the dark closet under the front stairs? I see my reflection in the picture frame glass. Something about this painting, this person speaks to me. Something says, “I see you.” I squeeze my eyes closed. The image hurts my eyes now. Makes them burn like they burn when mom is smoking in the kitchen. The heart seems like it growing bigger and heavier. Is it moving? Is it beating?

I can’t look at it anymore. I put it back in the closet. Does a house have a heart? If it has a heart, the heart of this house is in the dark bottomless closet under the front stairs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bodhi Tree

I went to the Bodhi tree. I sat at the base of the tree in amazement, in wonder. I sketched a drawing of the tree in my journal. I picked up one of the sacred leaves off the ground and pressed it into the white pages. The tree itself is a descendent of the original Bodhi tree where the Buddha sat when he became enlightened. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the exact same place where the Buddha sat some 2500 years ago. The garden that surrounds the Bodhi tree is surprisingly unassuming. It’s not like the big Lotus Temple in Delhi or the Taj Mahal in Agra. It’s just a garden and a tree and a few visitors – a colorful mix of Asian, Indian and White people. It’s quiet there. Not deliberately quiet like church or a library. Just quiet like a garden. I don’t think anyone stared at the tree quite as much as I did. I was mesmerized. I was much more intrigued by the tree where the Buddha sat than with the Buddha himself. There was something about the aliveness. The tree was alive. The Buddha was dead. The tree was breathing. The Buddha is a memory. I felt the same way sitting and staring at the tree as I did the day my mother died and again when I was standing in the forest in South Africa. I thought, “I know you! I know this feeling. I know the experience that the Buddha had when he was sitting underneath you. I felt that too.”

It’s a connectedness. It’s a familiarity with nature, like nature is your friend and nature loves you. It’s a feeling that we come from nature and return to the essence of nature when we die. That’s what happened when mom died. She went back into the nature, back into the essence of everything. I felt her in the air, in the leaves of the tree, in the caterpillar. And I felt that essence standing in the forest in South Africa and again staring at the Bodhi tree in India.

The Bodhi tree is difficult to get to. It’s out of the way, off the beaten path. You really have to go out of your way to get there -- take a train for 20 hours, then ride in a taxi for 8 hours, then take a rickshaw for 20 min to the garden. You have to really want to go there, to make the trip. It really was the only thing that I wanted to see in India. It was the most important site to me. The big temples and statues and grand structures are pretty, but I’m much more impressed with the essence of a place. And for me, the essence of India all stemmed from the spirituality of the land and that spiritual essence was grounded for me in a tree in the middle of the desert.

India is hot. It was hot and dry and dusty. Brown everywhere. The tree was green. The leaves were shaped like hearts, little beating hearts falling from thick dark branches creating a blanket of hearts around the trunk of the tree. I smiled when I saw the leaves. Of course they look like hearts! Why wouldn’t they!

I recognized the tree when I saw it. Not recognized the site of it but the feeling of it. I felt at home. I was so far away from “home” so many thousands of miles from home all alone in the desert of India and yet I was in a “known” place. A guide took me up to the cave where Buddha sat for twelve years before he walked down the mountain across the river and sat under the Bodhi tree. The cave was black inside. Empty. Cold. No one was even there. There were a few tattered Tibetan flags marking the mountain but even less people ventured to the cave in the hot sun than they did to the tree. I imagined sitting in the cave for 12 years, listening to the bustling valley below. Wondered what it would be like to sit for 12 years and listen. That’s not what led to enlightenment though. There was no enlightenment until Buddha left the cave, crossed the water and sat under the tree to find the “middle way.”

So many times before and after my visit to the Bodhi tree I have sat at the trunk of a tree looking for comfort. So many times I have rested my hand on a tree to say, ‘hi friend. Can you give me a little support right now?’ So many times the tree has graciously and unconditionally offered its love and support to me. One time, I was walking in the woods, feeling lonely and I sat down on a rock in despair. I felt a branch touch the back of my shoulder like a friend putting her arm around me. I sighed in gratitude and thanked nature for reaching out. Another time, I was arguing with my boyfriend in Los Angeles and I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. I was raging inside with anger and frustration. I walked a few miles over dirty cement streets surrounded by street lights, head lights and cars wooshing by. It wasn’t until I got to the top of a hill where the road opened out to a golf course that I caught sight of a big beautiful grove of trees and I sighed again, saying a quiet thank you inside. I immediately felt the shift in my body. Felt all the anger release. Felt myself come into balance and found my breath once again.

Mom

The funeral home was empty except for the staff who were awaiting our arrival. I walked in alone. It was so quiet that I could hear each step I took towards the viewing room. The chairs and flowers were all arranged in their proper place. I knew it was going to be an open casket. I would have to “approve” my mother’s appearance and make sure it “looked like her.” I could see the coffin in the front of the room. I was so silent I could hear my own heart beat. I stepped forward. As I walked up to the coffin, all of time and space seemed to disappear. The air around me was thick with the presence of my mother. I looked at the body lying there in a soft pink dress. Hands crossed over the waist. Hair and make-up copied almost exactly from a photo we had given to the funeral home. I felt a presence in the room. The air around me was like a ball of unconditional love – embracing me. Making me smile. It was as if I could feel her breathing the life force around me. I could hold no other thought in my mind other than “my mother is free and happy.”

I am sitting on a fold-up chair at the cemetery. The priest is mumbling prayer after prayer. My mother’s best friend and brother are reading poems and song lyrics to the small crowd. My mother’s coffin is waiting to be set into the ground. I look to the tree on my left and there is a small green caterpillar on the nearest leaf. Through the eyes of the caterpillar I see my mother. My mother is in the caterpillar. She’s not just in the caterpillar, she’s in the the bush, the grass, the sky, the air I am breathing. My mother is everywhere.

Lee

They’re holding his little 1-yr-old body down on the hospital bed. Like a wild animal he is screaming and squirming with blood all over his face. I am squeezing Mom’s hand and crying so hard that my throat is raw and my tear ducts dry. Blinding sunlight pours in through the window behind the bed onto the scene. A tall man in a white coat is bent over my little brother. A dozen other hospital people crowd around him. I am only thigh-high and I can’t see what he’s doing but he’s got a needle and thread and it sounds like he is stabbing my brother in the eye. Mom is shaking. Her black mascara running down her face and messy blond hair stuck to her head with sweat and tears. I want to save my brother so bad. I want to stop his pain. I want to kill that man hovering over him and make it stop. I can’t believe this is happening.

What an amazing thing it is to have a baby brother. I swear I thought he was mine from the minute Mom laid him down in front of me. I was only two and half years old but I knew exactly what to do to make him laugh, smile, giggle, and squirm. He was so fat and round – ten pounds when he was born- and too heavy for me to pick up. Mom let me feed him and play with him as much as I wanted. I would hug him all the time and kiss his face. His checks were puffy and soft and cool. Mom used to say his chubby legs were so cute that she wanted to eat them. I would’ve eaten them too if she offered me one. He was a delicious little baby and so totally different from me. He was quiet and always looking around. Taking everything in. Observing with big surprised eyes. I was always bouncing around, singing and dancing, trying to entertain him. Sometimes it was a puppet show with Burt, Ernie, and Cookie Monster with an upside-down cardboard box as our stage. Other times it was my impersonations of the Mouseketeers with my Mickey Mouse hat– and he would clap while I danced, and I would dance while he clapped. I just adored him from the minute I laid eyes on him.

The accident happened so fast. I was at the top of the stairs looking back. I was carrying some groceries for Mom. Lee slipped and fell, smashing his head on the bright orange ceramic pot. Lee started bleeding. Mom started screaming. Next thing I know we are in the emergency room, this torture scene where the doctors are trying to put my brother back together like Humpty Dumpty.

“Oh my God!” Mom is crying.

“Make it stop. Make it stop.” I yell.

“My baby!” Mom screams.

More wailing and squirming from Lee.

“They’re hurting him!” I say.

No one is listening to me.

“His little face. His precious little face.” Mom cries.

My body is filled with sensations and emotions that I did not yet have words for. My insides are hot and something is shaking me from the inside out. I tighten every muscle in my little body to keep from falling down.

They poke his face thirty times with the needle. I hear him screeching each time the needle pierces and tugs and pulls at his flesh. He has to get thirty stitches in his forehead over his right eye. Doctors said he was lucky he hit where he did or it could’ve been worse. I don’t think it was he was lucky at all. I saw what they did. I can’t believe somebody so little could stay awake through all that pain. I can’t believe I stood there and watched it happen. If suffering some pain is hard, watching someone suffer and not being able to do anything about it is a nightmare.

Holes

Filling holes with sex, with love. Empty spaces. Mushy spaces. Pink fleshy wet places. Take me down in tears. Float up through the bubble of the sky into black space and down again into your heart, into your eyes and I am home. Up through me, down into you, a current looping between us, spinning me dizzy, spinning me open.

The Story of Possibility

The story of possibility. Something that wasn’t quite available to you. I see the white crinkled bed sheets. The big bed. The sliding door with beach view. The transparent curtains gyrating in the gentle breeze. I feel you touch me. I open. I am in my body. This is mine. I own it. I didn’t expect it. Didn’t think I deserved it but I do. I have to claim it. Drop down into the story of possibility. I am dropping into it. Something is already at play here. Something is already going on. I am entering into a world that existed before me. Discovering a world that has already happened. As I move through, my very presence is making a difference. I am not an observer. I matter. I am part of what is happening.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I believe in salvation

I believe in salvation. I believe in forgiveness. Falling down the rabbit hole. Dark tunnel closing in like a funnel above. Still a bright white circle at the top. Rocky walls, textured walls, wet walls around me. Tunnels to wiji boards and magic and sacred pools in Hana Hawaii. Love. Bliss. Foamy water. Ocean . Sea. A crevice in the rock. Falling back into the rabbit hole. Black tunnel closing above like a funnel. Never landing just floating.

I smell the magnolia tree. I see it from the porch. It is summer and we are wearing bathing suits. It is my birthday. I am 8. I am in love with Kevin Chernetsky and he came to my birthday party. He is wearing an orange t-shirt and glasses. The glasses make him look smart. He is my first love. We are in school. Second grade. The desks are small. Even for little people. I give him a valentine. I am nervous and sweaty. I know that I want him but I don't think he wants me. His sister is scary. She knows karate. She threatens to hurt me. Kevin is soft. His sister is hard. I'd have to go through her to get to him. I never make it.

His finger runs over her shoulder, down her arm, over her wrist, stops at her hand. Reaches back up, her waist, her ribs, her breast. It's not my shoulder, not my arm, not my wrist, not my hand. But he touches it and he loves it and it burns my belly. Like rock salt, like hot wings, like margaritas, it burns in my belly. Like someone is kicking me. Like I'm giving birth. Like I'm cramping inside. It hurts my belly.

I put my head on his chest and let myself cry. He is my friend and it is nice. His soft spongy vest like a vertical pillow. He puts his arm around me, in friendship, in love and I am grateful. We sit in the park and we talk. I ramble. My words falling like marbles on the ground. Blue. Red. Yellow. White. I ramble. He listens in the big space between two people who know the same story. We leave the story on the bench and walk to the deli. The deli is the first place I went with Eric. We sat and talked. He told me about his trip. I knew he was leaving. I knew he was leaving before I slept with him. I knew after I slept with him. I slept with him anyway. When I got the email that he was seeing other girls, touching other girls, kissing other girls, my body went up in a flame like a magic trick, poof. I was gone.

I slide into the water. Feet. Ankles. Calves. Thighs. Hips. Waist. Oh, it's so good. Chest. Throat. Face. Head. I am under and above. I am heavy. I am light. I am in the sacred pools. There are seven of them with waterfalls in between. The last pool, the bottom pool is closest to the ocean and it empties like a cliff. Like a deep throat into the sea. And I sit at the edge, suspended between God and the water, between pink clouds and jagged rocks. I sit at the mouth of the pools like a seed floating on the tongue. I don't deserve to be happy. I want it. I want to be saved but I don't deserve it. I believe in salvation. I believe in forgiveness but for you, not for me.