July 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Funny how a nondescript pile of bricks can hold so much. I walked by a house I lived in for five years of and I barely recognized it – it wasn’t until I reached the corner and realized where I was that I turned around to gaze at the building I had once called home. Wrought iron fences that I don’t remember surround the place, but when I think about it for a moment, they reappear in my memory. Unfamiliar patio chairs, a window box of flowers, and a child’s bike grace the front porch. I now only live five blocks away but I have not laid eyes on the place in quite a long time. Funny how memory changes and blurs. The tree that used to be in front – a tree I once walked into when I literally could not put down the fifth installment of Harry Potter and attempted to walk and read at the same time – is no more, and the sidewalk it once tore up had been replaced and smoothed over by some hand. That was the house I lived in for many turbulent years of my life, from thirteen to eighteen, the craziest time in a woman’s life. I lost my virginity in the tiniest bedroom, I first baked a chocolate cake from scratch so good that no cake will ever compare, I raised five cats from kittenhood, I visited my stepfather’s “man cave” and talked for hours about all matter of things totally important to a teenage girl, I fought with my brother and my mother, I dyed my hair (and the sinks) a myriad of colors, I used the basement as my rehearsal space, I smoked cigarettes out the bathroom window and hoped my mother wouldn’t notice, a boyfriend once stuffed that refrigerator full of Godiva chocolates, my brother and I sang duets in the living room while he played on the piano that once sat in my grandparents house, I slept with my lights on in fear of not waking up again on the night after the Twin Towers fell down, I had my hair done for my prom at the kitchen sink, I sat with my family for so many raucous and fun meals, I stayed up all night on the phone with someone for the first time, I cried many tears, none so memorable as the night my stepfather passed away on the floor of his and my mother’s bedroom…I sat shiva in that house, and I bade goodbye to all I thought I had ever known when we moved out.
Amazing how a nondescript pile of bricks can be shockingly unrecognizable yet utterly familiar at the same time. My flesh and bone body may never enter those walls again, and yet I have been there. Is that significant at all? Do the bricks remember me? Do the bricks care? My guinea pig was buried in the backyard, and a well-beloved cat. I wonder if the holly bushes still cradle the back patio. All the tiny details of that house come back if I let myself remember – the delicate shade of pink my mother painted the walls, the black wallpaper in the bathroom I’d forgotten, the way we were convinced ghosts liked the basement, all the hidden panel doors that led to storage rooms and washing rooms… All the tiny details of my life, if I let myself remember them.
What good is remembering though? Will I get stuck here, dwelling on how I hid myself in my room while the EMS proclaimed “…Adult male, 43, cardiac arrest, no pulse, no response…” in the hallway? And if I don’t remember, am I doomed to repeat some pattern of my own history, as the Jewish faith always proclaims?
All of those moments, all of those details, all of those things I like to claim as “mine” – they’re all just part of the eternal cosmic dance. The trick I’m still working on learning is to allow those moments float through my life like musical notes – beautiful and harmonious or jagged and dissonant, matters not – to be experienced while they last but to know that there are things that cannot be held. I cannot own sound any more than I can truly own anything in this life. So a pile of bricks, seeming so stolid, eternal, stable and present, is truly no more real than the song playing in the background on my computer. I have the memories, the illusions and stories of my smaller mind, which paint and shape the physical reality I experience. What makes my memories more or less important than anyone else’s, other than the fact that they’re mine? There are thousands of houses identical to the one I lived in, each bearing its own cosmology of memories and bodies and love and death, and truly every dwelling across the world bears that same distinction. My pile of bricks isn’t special or unique, and it’s not even really mine.
It’s all just music. Floating in one ear, out the other, moving, shifting the soul, but never to be caught, never to be held.
April 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
I haven’t considered myself to be an angry person. A person who has experienced anger, even walked in it, yes, but if I identify with an emotion, sadness or sensitivity are far more readily available to my experience than anger. I always thought that in order to be angry, you had to consciously feed the flames which heat the rage. I’ve struggled with staying angry at people who I feel have wronged me, because I have always struggled with seeing things in shades of black and white, and it always felt like too much work to be angry at somebody, and then also remember to stay angry. I’ve always associated anger with fire- cutting, white-hot, undeniably present. I didn’t know anger could be a shadow, creeping insidiously, the same way sadness and fear can present themselves quietly but swampishly oppressive.
I found myself recently battling with a very insistent shadow on my heart and I became very confused. Used to sadness and loneliness, I realized that I was neither sad nor lonely, but still there was weight sinking my spirit. The waters were rushing around me and I wanted to leap off into the flow but something was holding me back and taking me down fast, even though I felt all the momentum and buoyancy rising within me, I couldn’t get off the ground. Then I started having strange little incidents- people who got in my way on the sidewalk frustrated me to no end, having to wait for the bus for an excessive period of time would throw me into a fit of crazies, I got into a fight with my roommate, and it all epitomized when a girl purposely pushed me on the bus and I snapped- I felt the true heat of anger rise in me, and I followed her, getting in her face and demanding an apology for the entirety of the bus ride. Not graceful at all, and I’m really glad no one I know witnessed it, although I’ll gladly recount the tale, because it is kind of hilarious. But the fact was, I’d hit some kind of stubborn brick wall inside of me and, damn, that dam was strong,
That night, after I got home, I realized that conscious rush of anger had been a relief in a way. Somehow I felt less wound up than I had in weeks. I began to recognize that the sensation was very familiar, and very much not a surprise- that underlying hum, that discomfiting sensation in my spirit I’d been struggling with? I was angry.
I was angry and I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to carry around that burden of being hurt and scared and armored up for attack at any chance. I was frustrated, even at myself for being angry, because it was against all the things I felt I’d been working for and contrary to the way I wished to walk in the world.
Anger, like ennui, isn’t something I get to just wish away. The emotions and states exist to inform, and so the practice is learning to stay present and probe the underlying energy of the emotion, and eventually to come to recognize the raw energy for what it is. I wasted so much emotional resource continuously being frustrated, allowing myself to get worked up over things beyond my control, and I wanted to reclaim the energy. But first I had to stop being angry at myself for being angry.
Like most things lately, it happened for me on my yoga mat, sweating my tears out on the glittered temple floor of Laughing Lotus. I was struggling with an intense balance sequence (and of course, the way you react to balancing is for sure an indicator of the way you’re facing challenges off the mat), and I was SO frustrated I couldn’t sink into a posture I’ve had no trouble with in the past. I couldn’t find my base of support, I couldn’t access my core, my mind was flying in ten thousand directions, and I just failed entirely at drawing it all back into center and just calming myself down enough to either try the pose or have the humility to fail at it. And then I fell flat on my face right as the teacher came over to assist me. Not graceful at all, and this time plenty of people witnessed it, but as I surfaced from my faceplant, I found I was laughing, and hard. Falling has a way of resetting my ego, reminding me that my dignity is completely something I made up for myself anyway.
So fine, I’d been trying and trying and trying to force my way through the anger, but just like the balance, the truth was that I wasn’t giving myself the space and the honest compassion to accept what was happening, and so I was trying to get over the wall without climbing it. Anger is just another shade on the emotional palate, but I was too afraid to let myself accept it, so it persisted. Only once it tripped me up so much that I fell flat on my face was I able to let go enough to embrace it as just another part of the wave, and then I was able to ride the flow onward.
April 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve scrubbed the surfaces in my kitchen, dining room, living room, bathrooms, and bedroom multiple times. I’ve swept, vacuumed, washed, washed, and washed again. I’ve taped down plastic coverings over all exposed surfaces after they’ve been scrubbed, scrubbed, and scrubbed again.
It’s Passover. It’s spring. Tonight and tomorrow night, under the light of the full moon, we celebrate breaking free from bondage and recreating one’s self anew. I love the metaphor of the Passover story – an epic,wandering journey through vast deserts for decades, utterly necessary to receive the lessons of transformation. If we didn’t wander in the desert,we would never reach the Promised Land.
The other thing I love so specifically about the tradition of Passover is the celebration of communal liberation. It isn’t about the freedom of any one soul, but of the breaking free of an entire community, and being able to regard one’s self as also worthy of that liberation.
Under the light of the full moon, as spring fully erupts into blooming life, I examine what in my own world is flourishing and what needs to be pruned, and whether I am productively using my energy to nourish that which is abundant and lively, or if I am depleting my resources by trying to give my best to something that won’t make it through the growing season, and which is truly worth my effort and love.
March 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
TS Eliot says, “April is the cruellest month,” the rebirth and renewal of the sunlight throws all of our shadows into sharper relief, whereas we could snuggle under the blanket of snow in winter and burrow deep into the comforting lull of darkness. Well, spring time decided to wander upon us quite a bit earlier this year, so now March is stealing that cruel title from April as we shed layers and begin to uncover all of the crap we were so safely cocooned in all winter.
What are you holding onto? What garbage are you allowing to sink you to the bottom? The thaw is coming, the mud is inevitable. Roll around in it and then rinse yourself off – burn out all your shit.
Here’s a playlist to get your fire burning just in time for the Equinox tomorrow.
Kanye and Jay Z- No Church In The Wild
Patti Smith- Set Me free
Bahramji and Mashti- Being ith You
Massive Attack- Karmacoma
Adele- Set Fire To The Rain
Dave Stringer- Ganapati Om
Amy Winehouse- Like Smoke (f. Nas)
Queen- Killer Queen
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Captain Casanova
John Legend – Save Room
Get outside. Get out of your dark. Get into the sun. Let the light in. And LET IT BURN.
February 14, 2012 § 5 Comments
Up until about twenty minutes ago, my perception of “letting go” fell somwhere between the time that my cell phone jumped out of my hand and fell into the subway track, never to be recovered and the penultimate scene in Titanic when Kate Winslet kisses the cold hands of Leonardo DiCaprio and watches him him slide away into the darkened ocean: tragic, desperate, unwilling, and only when there’s no other option. “Letting go,” in my mind, has always been tinged with a sense of losing, and somehow from there a sense of heartbreak, and so I struggle.
My focus has always been on the word go. Always somebody leaving, always me losing something, always someplace else to escape to or something to run from, regardless an endless stream of castoffs and breakaways. Yet in spite of this, I always have remained slightly (or more) attached to all of my experiences, gathering them dear and close to me like the folds of an exquisite gown that cloaks and affirms my presence on this earth. Little pieces of my heart dropped on the trail behind me like breadcrumbs, should I need to go back, or silken strands left behind by a spider. As though the past were something that could be re-experienced, revisited. As though I could actually shift my present reality and return to a beautiful moment of breathless awe at the vista of a mountain, a moment of womb-like intimacy and adoration entwined in the limbs of a lover, and linger there all my days, if only I try hard enough. Holding these memories to me has always made the losing and the leaving somehow alright; as long as I could quantify and qualify where I’ve been with defining scars and marks on maps, it’s the same as having something to hold on to.
If I try, I can recall the wind on my face and the smell of smoke, or the warmth of his breath and the weight of his heartbeat, and very viscerally experience these sensations, the wonder and the passion resonating through my body. The vibration is just as real now, as I sit here breathing into my beautiful memories, feeling the breath expand through the center of my chest outward, as it was then. The soaring sensation of wonder and submission in the face of natural beauty and the warmth and depth of complete openness and connection of being held are both accessible to me, here and now, in the most mundane of moments.
Of course, I am not immune to the beautifully unpredictable path the mind carves as thoughts flow. One moment I’m glowing as a snapshot of an ecstatic night presents itself, but then the stream trickles onward and brings with it the memory of what happened next- and suddenly and just as tangibly I’m doused in heartsickness and loneliness, and I sink my hook into that sensation and claim it as ‘mine’ as well – my pain, my love, my story. I didn’t welcome it, no, but now that it’s here, I remember that I am scarred and scared and hurting and those are bits of the web I am weaving. Now I’ve identified myself as an adventurer and a lover and someone who has experienced heartbreak and I begin to solidify myself into that mold, wrapping the silk of the web more tightly about myself, binding myself into the space of the past. Sitting here experiencing heartbreak and love and awe through recollection unequivocally removes me from where I am in space and time and I lose my grip on reality by holding too tightly to the past – the web spins out of control and I am utterly trapped, cocooned in the silken prison of my own need to hold on to things which no longer serve me.
So here I am, and there is nowhere to go. At first, I feel safe and comfortable in the darkness- after all, I’ve clung so desperately to this narrative I’ve crafted about the steps I’ve walked that I’ve blindly wandered into my own trap, and i can’t even tell. Eventually I begin to want to move, and the bonds restrict, cutting into body and heart. Again, at first, this is tolerable – restriction, pain, and pressure are a natural part of this human experience that I’m so thoroughly wrapped up in, but eventually, the memory of liberation seeps into my being and I recognize there are two options- the first, to stay, to allow myself to linger on the precipice of the present by dancing with one leg in the relative safety and pain of the past until it suffocates me; the second, to somehow break out. The latter is far more difficult – it requires willpower, momentum, and overwhelming desire. But as the pressure builds, as my need to be free begins to pulse through every fiber, and comes the inevitable expansive escape into the present. Discarded, forgotten, soon to disintegrate and return to the source, the silken threads of the past cannot come with me because I will not be able to comfortably cloak myself in the whispers of the lies anymore, even if I wanted to, and trying to go back would only be a waste of all that I learned in my dance to make it out in the first place.
And so, I let the threads fall. The photographs in my head, beautiful as they are, are merely that- beautiful photographs. The past, all that has come before, served specifically to bring me into the present, this very moment so I am actually disserving my past by trying to keep it to me. Trying to hold onto my past is as fruitless as trying to gather the great river in my tiny hand and claim it all as my own. So rather than trying to keep that to myself which I cannot hold, and continually live in this cycle of fear of loss and longing, I am working and learning, slowly, day by day, that the most important part of “letting go” is not the “go” but the “letting.”
In this spirit, here is my most recent meditation, inspired by my beautiful teacher Johanna, who offered the lesson of aparigraha right when I was feeling most stuck in my grasping ways.
Sit in a comfortable seated position, supporting yourself with a blanket or a pillow below your sitting bones so your spine is liberated, if desired. Place your left hand face up in your lap, and lay the right hand on top, face up as well, forming a bowl with your cupped hands. Incline your head and gaze into the bowl. Allow your breath to flow organically and unhindered through your nose, down the central channel of your spine, spilling through the heart center and flooding into your pelvic basin. From the pelvic basin, the exhale calls the breath up back up through the spine into the swirling cavern of the heart and releases through the nostrils. Every inhale and exhale is part of a continuous and natural exchange of the life energy between the source deep within you and the source surrounding you. As you breathe, thoughts will begin to ripple, uninvited or unexpected, into the river of your mind. Instead of balking, retreating, or trying to grasp the receding stillness of your mind, simply observe the stream of the mind and the breath. When a thought starts to swim by, inhale it into you, allow it to be seen, identify it, call it by name, and as you exhale, release it downstream. With your next inhale, your next thought – recognize it, call it by name, and exhale its release. The breath continues, the flow continues, If desired, begin to incorporate the physical act of spilling your bowl. On your inhale, imagine your cupped hands filling with the thought. You’ll bring your cupped hands up the central channel, flowing to heart. At the peak of the heart, exhale, tip the bowl over, spilling out all of its contents as it floats back down. Inhale to gather up another thought, another attachment, and exhale to spill it out as the hands drip back down. Continue flowing in this way, allowing your thoughts to move, seen but not judged. Contemplate: Is there anything you are holding onto? Relationships that drain, addictive thought patterns that harm, activities that deplete your inner source rather than stoke it? Can you, breath by breath, moment by moment, allow yourself a little more space? Can you allow yourself the room to let go? When you have moved through as many cycles as you need to feel the clarity of release, allow your hands to flutter to your knees, palms up, in a gesture of reciprocity, openness, and emptiness as you allow the mind to rest in stillness at the crux of the heart. When the thoughts begin to trickle back in, try to remain present, allowing the thought to be recognized with one inhale before sending it on its way down the flow of your breath.
February 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Lately, when I find myself broken or when I encounter another who is broken, I’ve been turning to the Tibetan “loving kindness/unconditional friendliness” (maitri) meditation by way of healing mantra. This has been shared with me by many teachers and now I’ll share my favorite way to practice with you.
The traditional meditation practice has several layers, but I find it easily in any encounter. It tends to pop up in my brain when I see someone who is suffering but it also frequently makes an appearance when I see someone in a state of grace and joy.
When the inspiration strikes, I behold the subject of my thoughts in their entirety, all of their shape, their entire story, no judgements or fear. I imagine myself looking the person in the eye, maybe making physical contact, and then I tell them:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you be at ease.
Sometimes it’s simple and natural. Sometimes it is difficult and painful. Unconditional friendliness is much harder than it seems, but it’s a practice, and is helping me to be much kinder to myself as well.
January 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
My past is riddled with bullets I’ve fired at myself. I, like most people I know, am my own worst enemy, my own harshest critic, my own biggest destroyer. I’ll leave the sordid details in my old diaries but that urge to punish myself for doing something wrong, for not doing as well as I should, has been a part of my personality for longer than I can remember. Again, like most people I know.
It’s like I have this little evil monkey taskmaster sitting on my shoulder with a whip, just waiting for me to fuck up to lash, and I always let it, except that evil monkey is actually just me waiting to beat myself up.
In my darkest points I believed that this suffering is just the way it’s supposed to be, everyone suffers and hates themselves so I may as well just keep going with it. Over the past two years or so, somehow, I’ve found a crack to allow some light to slip through, and light is a little bit trickier than you think, because once you let a little through, it actually begins to act like water and the water begins to flow and open the crack until the whole dam just breaks down and there’s a flood of light. It’s that whole if you give a mouse a muffin situation, except in this case the mouse is positiveness and the muffin is…more positiveness. Like increases like and all that. Yeah, weak metaphors all around. It’s alright. The point is, I don’t have to be that way.
When things are going well, it’s easy to make self-caring choices: going to bed on time, eating meals, working out, getting where I need to be on time, you know, all the things that evoke “being on top of things” and “being alright.” When things start to fall apart, I start to let things slip…laundry piles up, I stay up later and later, I replace bunches of kale with bars of chocolate. When things just explode, that’s when I generally tend to give up, pull the covers over the head, and cry myself to sleep. I forget to eat regular meals. And, yes, sometimes I make choices I’m not proud of, like deliberately hurting myself in some way. I don’t need to go into graphic detail, each of us has our own way of self-destruction, I have had my poisons and they still haunt me in some way, some more than others.
But I’ve finally found my antidote.
Things blew up in my face, a la Liz Lemon’s explosive breakup with the Matt Damon pilot where things end in a terse standoff between two lovers, one aiming a gun, while the other shields herself with an unwitting passenger. No, I’m not being hyperbolic (ha). The urge to hurt myself in some way was so powerful that I had to find my roommate and tell her (that’s a change) because I genuinely didn’t want to do something to myself (that’s also a change) but I was scared I couldn’t maintain it for long, I was certain I was going to lose my mind and lose control.
I didn’t, though, because as I sat there with tantalizing and damaging thoughts dancing through my head, a louder voice made itself heard. I’ve come way too far on my path to let myself slip in such a stupid way, but I was so sorely tempted. Progress can’t be tested when everything is going well, it’s what happens when the pressure is turned up that will show if something has truly changed. What I found that night truly surprised me. Over the past year, I’ve found my veganism transform from a place of wanting to help my body to a place of knowing that the choices I make affect the world around me. Making choices for the sake of animals and mankind, for the sake of NOT HURTING OTHERS finally made it clear to me that I am not ALLOWED to hurt myself either, because otherwise I would be the biggest hypocrite on earth and I may as well go eat a steak. Uh, so as hyperbolic as that sounds, finally, finally I had that full circle realization that being vegan is about the world, is about me, is about always making the choice of compassion and non-harming, and will continue to save my life again and again.
I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, recovery is not about the number on a scale or what kinds of clinical checkmarks you can meet, but about the process that goes on inside your head on a daily basis when you encounter the pressures of daily life and extraordinary life. It is not about never having those thoughts again, but instead about having the wisdom, the foresight, and the SELF-COMPASSION to remember that thoughts are fleeting and misleading.
“We create the world we live in. If we want to change what we don’t like in the world, we must start with what we don’t like about ourselves. This is a task that we can handle and one that will actually succeed in changing the world.” -Sharon Gannon, Yoga and Vegetarianism.