Friday, October 23, 2009


I couldn't find my balance in yoga class yesterday. The same half-moons and prayer twist lunges that I had moved into so beautifully a few days before were like dreams in the mist, just out of my reach. I stumbled and tripped and fell over, unable to hold onto the lightness and ease that call these poses into being. I kept struggling toward them, and the struggle itself just drove them farther away.

There is little in yoga that shows me my mental state more clearly than balance poses. I can move through the warrior variations mindlessly and be totally oblivious in downward dog, but attempt just one half-moon with anything other than a perfectly calm mind and I'm doomed to wiggle and wobble - and unlike a Weeble, I do fall down. So my mind affects my body's abilities, and my emotions affect my mind's abilities, and from trying to balance on one hand and one foot I find myself ensnared in raw, unfiltered emotion. When there is something I am fighting, something I haven't accepted, something I can't let go of, I tumble and fall. When I am in harmony with all that is, when I put aside liking and disliking and focus on being, I settle peacefully into the pose.

Not hard to see this as a metaphor for all of life, is it?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Current

I've been fighting the current. That's never a good idea, but sometimes I just can't figure out how not to do it. And the truth is, I didn't figure out how not to do it, I just got to a point where I stopped. After whatever ponderings and mental gymnastics and self-pity and just plain fighting I did, from one breath to the next I stopped.

This time around it had to do with solitude. I spent five years basically wanting to go hide under a rock somewhere; if I had to be on this planet, then at least I could be as alone and quiet as possible. In the last few months, though, I've begun to feel differently - I've had the desire to get up and go, to be out in the world. I want to go hiking and kayaking and riding, I want to try a dance class and see movies and go to concerts, I want to go to Italy and Spain and Peru not so that I can run away from here but just to enjoy being there. I want to explore and enjoy and try new things - all of which involves leaving my house.

But a confluence of events is working against that, at least against it happening very often. From a number of different directions in my life I am getting the message that I need to be staying home, moving into silence, embracing solitude. I've been fighting against it, but last night I suddenly breathed that breath of acceptance, understanding again that somewhere in this solitude is a gift even though it may take me a while to recognize it.

The Buddhists say that the real cause of suffering and unhappiness is wanting things to be different than they are, and I think they've got it exactly right. Last night I stopped wanting things to be different and today I feel renewed. I've let the current carry me; I don't know where it will take me, but I am sure that it's wherever I am supposed to go.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eating and Reading and Mystics, Oh My

I don't want to hear about no PB&J or socks and shoes or Burns and Allen - eating and reading, now that's the combo that approximates perfection. A book in one hand, a fork in the other, and there's not a thing more in the world that I need.

So there I was at a restaurant today, luxuriating in the moment of combining my two favorite activities. A middle aged man wearing a shirt marking him as a retail worker walks up to a table next to me, sees my book and exclaims, "Evelyn Underhill? Cool!" referring to the book on mysticism that I was reading. Turns out that he is steadily making his way through works on mysticism - Underhill, The Cloud of Unknowing, etc. He thinks it's amazing that I'm reading the book right out there in public; I think it's amazing that anyone would think anything other than "Gee, what a geek" upon seeing me with said book in public.

"I used to attend this evangelical church, and I started reading this stuff," he told me. "And I got mad - it was like they were hiding all the good stuff, all this richness, all what it's supposed to be. But you know what? They weren't hiding it - they didn't know it, either." His friends were leaving, so he waved and headed out the door after that.

Do people know it? Is anyone hiding it? Does anyone need it? Does it matter? Questions to explore...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chasing Serenity

"I've got to find my serenity," I thought for the 15th time today, emotions crowding out thoughts which were chaotic anyway, as I bent over to pick up a bit of paper on the floor. But as I stood back up the thought came to me unbidden: "No, I need to breathe and accept what is right here right now. Chasing serenity isn't going to help."

That put the brakes on a whole lot of random thoughts floating through my head, and I started in amazement as that simple truth unfolded within me. My job isn't to be serene, it is to be present, and running after peace isn't any more peaceful than running after fame or fortune or the next high; it's all still just running.

So I am trying to be here now. And right here right now is a hard place to be. It's the 43rd birthday of my beloved David, and the 6th I will mark without him here. It's one of those hard days, the kind that's always going to be a hard day. I am grateful for the amazing beauty he brought to my life and bereft at his absence and aware that something of him is always with me, all at the same time. This is right here right now, not some cool serenity that moves gently and peacefully through my heart. Right here right now I am heartsick and sad, and so I will be heartsick and sad without trying to run away from it. I will breathe and I will be and the serenity will return or it won't. It's not my job to figure it out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I have long seen life as a series of lessons - long being something around the 40-year mark - but that vision of life has been giving way lately to a new vision: of life as a series of gifts. Hold up there, buckaroo, don't get too excited. You know that dry-as-a-bone, you-can't-believe-people-would-let-this-stuff-invade-their-mouths fruitcake you got from Aunt Mildred last Christmas? That's a gift. So is the ugliest sweater you ever got and hoped never to be forced to wear in public. Don't be getting all giddy with excitement about the idea of an infinite series of gifts coming your way; just because it's a gift doesn't mean you're going to like it. And I'm here to tell you, friends, sometimes I don't like it.

Lessons are supposed to teach us something; gifts don't have that kind of baggage attached to them. They are simply given, and we can do whatever we want with them. Ever been given a gift that you stuck in a drawer and then months later found just when you needed whatever it was? Serendipity! So that's what I'm seeing: even the stuff that seems boring or stupid or just plain painful will eventually unfold into something really cool and wonderful, and I know that on the front end.

For a while I've been receiving the gift of serenity; lately I'm getting the gift of seeing my serenity crumbling. I don't know what amazing and cool thing that's going to help bring about, but these days I can't help but believe that the cool thing is in there somewhere, that what I'm experiencing is not just a fact or a failing or a lesson but an actual bonafide gift that is bringing something good to my life somehow.

Still don't like it. A pretty good groove is a pretty good place to be, and being shaken out of it is not making the top ten on my wish list. I don't wake up in the mornings perkily asking God for the gifts of grief and pain and self-doubt with a side of discouragement that I haven't gotten all spiritual enough to be beyond grief and pain and self-doubt. (Gotta love the ego; at least it keeps things entertaining.) I'm just going to stick this in a drawer for awhile; someday I'll happen across it and it will be just what I need.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dark Night

I'm not feelin' the love today. It happens. Those moments of union and perfection that have come with amazing regularity these past few months feel about as far away as Timbuktu, like they come from a book I read rather than my own life. This is all part of being human, I know: feeling lost or alone or (and here's where I end up most often) like you just don't want to do this whole life thing anymore - it's all just part of the game. We can bury it in work, or simply ignore it, or give in to it and sink into the depression that always beckons like a siren. The feeling may be experienced in the background or take over all our thought, be more or less destructive, sap our energy for living for a day or a week or a year (or 5), but eventually it will change and pass.

So it's part of being human, and it's part of the spiritual path, too. Ever heard of the dark night of the soul? It's that time when outer things are stripped away, when what previously gave you pleasure seems hollow and empty. Read the mystics and you'll see that it happens a lot on the spiritual path, and (like everything) it seems to be there for a purpose: what gets stripped away is whatever your latest misconception is. God loves me because I do good things; I'm special because I experience these moments of union; there is something solid and unchanging that my logical mind or incoherent heart can hold onto. Yeah, all that gets unceremoniously trashed. It's got to, to make room for the better stuff, the truer stuff. But it feels like hell getting from here to there.

The dark night and me, we're old friends. But now that we've gotten so chummy, I can see that it comes around for a purpose; it's a gift even when it feels like a dagger. I played this song over and over last night that has this line:

You wonder what you gain
Living through so much pain
But you find again
That you know who you are

So it helps, this dark night, this stripping away. It helps me find the deeper truth, figure out more about who I really am. But it still feels like hell.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ordinary Time

For much of my life I have felt special – exceptional and wonderful at times, isolated and cursed at others, but always unique and extraordinary in some way. This comes partly from my deep desire to feel always and everywhere unique. I am an Enneagram type 4, called variously the Artist, the Romantic, or – you guessed it – the Individualist. In fact, I was somewhat distraught when I read a multi-page description of type 4’s and found myself described so thoroughly – after all, it’s hard to feel unique when someone with whom you’ve never had any contact whatsoever has nailed you AND ALL THE OTHERS LIKE YOU to a tee. Sigh.

But sometimes that sense of uniqueness has come from experiencing the vision of a few others who have felt me to be exceptional. I have generally felt that they obviously knew only a surface version of me, or a mental creation of their own making, because they clearly didn’t see the vast character flaws and desperate insecurities that I know in myself. And yet I was pleased by this vision, and accepted it to a certain degree.

Lately, though, I have begun to see myself as very ordinary. This is a gift from a few men of my acquaintance: having gotten to know me to a greater or lesser degree, they have clearly not come across anything that seemed to them unusually lovely or wondrous. The mirror they have held up to me is of a smart, fairly attractive, sometimes funny, often too self-absorbed middle-aged woman – in other words, not some bright lustrous shining star, but a typical 40-something female solid citizen. Dime a dozen. Ordinary. To tell the truth, this has been a bit difficult: shouldn’t everyone acknowledge the wonder that is me? Sounds like a fine idea to my ego, which apparently doesn’t get sarcasm very well (luckily my conscious mind more than makes up for this lack).

So, that doesn’t sound like a gift, right? And it has taken me a while to see it as one, but I’m starting to catch on. To be extraordinary, I have to define myself in terms of how I compare to others - others become the standard by which I judge what it means to be me. But there is a much different standard lurking at the edges of my consciousness these days, of a perfection in the totality and unity of all that is – no comparison, no standard, because no distinction. I am ordinary and you are ordinary and Gandhi and the street vendor and the Wall Street exec are ordinary parts of the extraordinary unity of everything that is.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, those times which do not fall within a particular season or holiday are called Ordinary Time. This isn’t “ordinary” as in “common” or “unimportant” – it actually comes from “ordinal”, in the sense of being counted – but the deeper concept is that the mystery and wonder that might get celebrated most spectacularly in the holidays and seasons is nonetheless present in the midst of every day.

So as I come to accept myself as an ordinary woman living in Ordinary Time, I will thank these men. They will give other women the gift of finding them fascinating, but I am grateful for the blessing they have brought me, even though they are probably unaware of it. But that’s ordinary in itself: blessings abound in all directions, if we only have our eyes open to see.