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.


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.


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.


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.