girl in the bubble

ub6jhhtThe bubble – an ephemeral object of childhood wonder – has become something to fear or avoid. It’s even something to be ashamed of. We fear the burst of the economic bubble and dread a collapsing housing bubble. We fret that we live in socio-political bubbles, apart from people of other skin colors, political beliefs, or income levels. This kind of bubble – the very reason the suburbs were invented – is now something to worry about at 3 AM.

…as though putting one foot in front of the other is never going to land me ahead but will more likely get me 5-feet backwards, because nothing I can do – not one single little decent thing – matters.

Awake at 3 am — not clever enough, behind on payments, dying, the polar bears, my 95 year old grandma in Florida, the air, my kids, dying.. The pain can be intense, right? There are days when I feel it pressing firmly on my sternum (that’s exactly where it is – not higher or lower). It can feel terrifying at times, but more so I experience it as a thick syrupy goop that makes me feel so tired, as though putting one foot in front of the other is never going to land me ahead but will more likely get me 5-feet backwards, because nothing I can do – not one single little decent thing – matters.

Ooh, just saying that is setting off that pain in my sternum!

So with regard to bubbles, I am holding two contradictory thoughts. The first is not only to stay in the bubble – without shame or regret – but to actualy make your bubble as beautiful as you can. Fill it with your friends and family and the art you most love; play gorgeous music and cook delicious food. Most especially, allow the bubble to be the place in which you can experience total stillness, where you can let your heart relax. Because this walking around in the “IT” is heavy and the heart feels that. So let yourself float and open yourself to beauty.

Does that sound like some hazy lazy dazy piece of crap?  It wasn’t so long ago that I’d agree with you. But just by way of experimentation, go take a long hot bath, play your favorite mellow music, read your favorite words, stare into the eyes of someone  you love, and then tell me you don’t feel a whole lot better! Like there’s actual hope!

Here’s the other side of my bubble equation:  You’ve got to leave the bubble.  It’s okay – you can come back to it. It’s right there – hasn’t popped. But you need to live with this gentler heart and your eyes full of beauty and then go out into the world and stare into the eyes of someone who is feeling cloudy or even, dare I say, defeated – maybe even someone who is full of anger.

How many of us have had some small transformational moment by being in the presence of someone whose heart is gentle, beautiful, and full? You can feel it – that kind of presence and contentment, that kind of love – it spills over. It splashes on to you a little if you’re standing nearby. It actually makes you a better person just by being close to such grace.

In February, when I was at a yoga training (those two words actually belittle the experience, but they’ll have to do for now), we spent time one evening staring into the eyes of people we’d only met in the past 48 hours and asking them, “Who are you?” We each had five minutes to speak, which seems way too short to explain your entire Self and yet embarrassingly long when you really don’t know where to begin … and with a stranger. We did it once — with the partner asking the phrase again and again any time we paused or stumbled. When we were done there was a sigh of relief around the room – Whew! that was interesting and hard! We did it! Until we realized that we were in a line and we were going to move down a person and start again. And again.

The responses, which you’d think would be repetitive, grew and morphed, turned corners and became increasingly vulnerable.

We did this exercise for close to an hour, though I don’t know for sure as time started to pull apart in unexpected ways. The responses, which you’d think would be repetitive, grew and morphed, turned corners and became increasingly vulnerable. By the end, I couldn’t remember much of what I shared, but I remembered a lot of what I heard. Heartbreaking things. Tenderness beyond imagination. Gentle hope. And the eyes! Staring into each person’s eyes while listening to them speak was a privilege that I hadn’t realized I was yearning for.

I shared this experience recently in a conversation group that I started. A group of six of us – most of whom had never met before – have been listening to a spiritual podcast once a month and meeting for lunch and conversation. The topics are tough – race, politics, religion. And we are a mixed bunch. All on the liberal side of the fence, I’d say, but gay and straight, white and black, Mennonite and Muslim. When I told them about the “Who are you?” exercise, they were touched by it, but the conversation quickly moved on. Toward the end of our hour together, however, a pause entered the room and grew, taking up more space. Without anyone announcing it, each of us took a few moments to look into the others’ eyes. One by one, we acknowledged each other.

This is was an exercise both in leaving the safety of my bubble – taking in the intimate gaze of these other people who I knew before only in the most perfunctory ways. But it was also a way of making my bubble larger and more beautiful. Allowing in the presence of others – their hearts, their fragility and strength. A gift primordial and precious.

It’s a turn-around jump shot
It’s everybody jump start
It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
Medicine is magical and magical is art
The Boy in the Bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart

And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder …

~ Paul Simon

old souls

It was an amazing day. A day of sunshine and verdant spring fields that rolled up toward the azure sky and then swooped down into the slate blue waters of the Pacific. Cows wearing their black and white spotted coats, grazed lazily on the grass that was insanely green from the rain from earlier in the week. A few fields over, a dozen Tule elk stood with their backs to the ocean. They were all lady elk – no antlers in the group – and as we passed, Bella sang “All the Single Ladies” to them.

IMG_2702It was but one of more than a dozen songs she hummed, whistled, and sang throughout our sojourn to San Francisco, a drive up the coast, and then two days at Point Reyes. Walking around in the Mission in the rain (lyrics she doesn’t know, otherwise she’d have been singing them, too) never dulled her enthusiasm. In shop after shop, we stowed our sopping umbrellas in buckets by the front door, and I stood a bit too warm and very soggy, as she tried on clothes. She came out of dressings rooms beaming, laughed at socks with funny artwork, and oohed at beautiful jewelry. While I was impatient with the group of frat bros in front of us at Tartine – a place so popular that even the rain couldn’t keep the line down – who nabbed a table way before it was their turn, Bella said they weren’t so bad; after all, they were singing and might even be part of an acapella group.  She was adventurous – game for the Korean spa, amused to have crushed cucumber on her face and an unexpected dousing of milk. She tried pea shoots and dumplings and laughed at the intense smell of pot wafting through Amoeba records. She encouraged me to get new boots, telling me how good they looked and thanked me every night before we went to bed for the day we’d just shared.

IMG_2774I was thrilled that when we arrived up north at Pt. Reyes, we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine. The park graced us not only with elk but with an elephant seal who reared up from a bed of weeds near the parking lot, starling and thrilling us. A bobcat stood in a field and when we slowed the car, he turned and stared at us. On another road, a coyote walked along the shoulder, turning to peer at us before disappearing into the darkening woods.

On our last night in the park, we took a makeshift dinner down to the beach and sat on a dune so that we had a little perch. Bella made her way down to the water and was doing her funny dances and funny walks – she’d been doing this sort of penguin walk throughout the trip and it always made me laugh. The dancing was just a continuation of what she’s been doing since she could walk. Graceful and strong – I love to watch her move. Music lives in her body, whether there’s an actual melody in earshot or the endless soundtrack that pulses through her.

As she moved, I saw the continuation of who she has been on every beach we’ve visited in these fourteen years together. From that first beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida when I was pregnant with Tobey, to a few years later when she and her brother bolted naked onto the beach outside Kathy’s house in Malibu. From the sweet white sands in Michigan where she and her friend Zoe pranced, to Mexico where she bobbed in the warm water before plunging back into the pool with Tobey. Each time more elegant than the last, and yet with a sweet openness to the world and an unabashed silliness that life’s various losses and mean spots have not squelched.

Tears rose suddenly and I gulped for air, the salt water on my cheeks an echo of the sea in front of me. I’ve known this girl, this woman for lifetimes. I’ve felt this way before – that Bella and I are travelers who are meeting not for the first time. In that moment on Limantour Beach, a little before we spied the seals, their black bodies darting through the surf, and before a pod of whales graced the horizon, I was again reminded of this deep knowledge of our ongoing voyage. What a privilege. What a beautiful privilege to share my life with such a grace-filled woman.

People keep telling me with a sense of doom in their voices – Appreciate every moment. She’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. True in a sense, yes, but really, she’ll never leave me and I’ll never leave her. There is an intricate weaving of our two lives that goes on and on, singing into the ultimate future.

french air

IMG_2520 (2)I went out this morning to take the kids to school and the air hit me. French air. A  heavy grayFrench sky. The cusp between winter and spring – daffodils an imminent possibility, but snow still just as readily available.

I was sixteen with skinny gray jeans that zipped at the ankle and a hot pink canvas shirt from Esprit de Corps – god, how I lived for their catalogs. My hair was bobbed – bangs. No boyfriend. Just me and my best girlfriends and our entire French class, led by Madame. After we landed at Charles De Gaulle, the first place we stopped was a restaurant on the Interstate – a buffet with hard rolls and unexpected cold plates. It was underwhelming and confusing. On the chartered bus that would take us to our hotel – a narrow walk-up near the Gare du Nord – I succumbed to the exhaustion of having stayed up all night on the flight. It was my first time over the ocean. My first time away from home for an entire week. My first time in Europe.

I don’t remember if a friend jabbed me awake or if it was simply the oohs and ahhs of my friends that drug me to the surface, but I woke up underneath the Arc de Triomph. The bus was circling what seemed to my teenage self like an ancient relic. It wasn’t even 200 years old and it would be more than a decade later on a trip to Israel that I’d truly grasp ancient. But in that sleepy moment, I was waking to another time.

The next week was lost on me in so many ways. History was still a riddle – something to be studied and not lived. We visited the beaches at Normandy  and I had but the faintest sense of where we were. Visited the Bayeux Tapestry – yawn. Standing in musty little museums in Tours with my host family, I mainly felt chilly.

What I remember most on that trip was shopping near the Pompidou Centre and finding the vintage one-strap petal-pink evening gown that I would wear to prom. It was from the late 50s and I reveled in its history, which would now be intertwined with my own. I remember the smells of urine in the street – pungent and startling. I remember the butter so intensely creamy and alive – as though I’d never really tasted butter before – and the furry black and white cows that we rolled past in Normandy. The blue windows in Chartres were just as startling as the town itself, completely closed down at two in the afternoon on a weekday or a mid-afternoon nap. There was the night that the most brazen member of our class went missing from the hotel. We never knew where she went, though she was back by morning. I was frightened by her ramble, but now part of me applauds her adventure.

France was a waking up. Waking up to the old. Waking up to the different – it seemed incredibly exotic at the time. My senses came online,  France itself a tuning fork that called them to a higher pitch.

I walk out on this nearly March morning and there it was. Crusty bread. Cemeteries. Churches. Cheese. paris-arc-de-triomphe-hdrThe dark-haired girl with clear blue eyes who would write me letters in her pointy, exacting script on aerogrammes for years to come. The entree into the fact of life’s enormity and how it rolls back beyond what the high school yearbook and geometry class ever suggest is possible.

between deaths we dreamed together

Stephen Levine left his body two days ago. I’ve known of him for a few years because Chris has told me about him and his wife Ondrea, who have spent their lives thinking about and writing about how to die consciously. Chris tells me about a lot of things – the man is endlessly curious about everything from hunter gatherers to better accounting systems – and so not everything he tells me “sticks.” Admittedly, the Levines did not entirely stick. Still, I vaguely knew there was this couple who were both older and in poor health residing in the desert of New Mexico and waiting to die, while still very vividly living. (Ah, Paradox!)

So when I learned that Stephen had died, I finally found myself on their web site where I sat rapt with this video of the two of them. I’m not sure when it was made – I suspect in the past year. They are bright of spirit here, even though there is a sense of an end being close at hand.  Besides from the generous, wise words they share, there is so much to love about the video. I love, for instance, how at the :50 mark he pretends to eat her toe with gusto – making her laugh. I love their vibrant red shirts and their tattoos, which appear to be pretty fresh. I love the cat that comes and goes. Her snappy manicure and long tresses. His insouciance. The clutter of blankets and pillows on the back of the sofa.

Most of all, I love that they hold hands through almost the entire hour. And though they are not looking at one another, they are in total sync, complete harmony. They have clearly lived in deep respect, learning one another and coming to a place where love lives well beyond the realm of the physical container. I imagine that Ondrea is now both sad, missing this lovely and cunning companion’s physical presence, but also at peace, feeling him everywhere.

Here is a poem that Stephen wrote. I have no idea if it is intended as an homage to God, but I certainly hope that it is, at some level, a love poem for Ondrea.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

There is a silence between breaths
when the heart becomes a sacred flame
and the belly uncoils which reminds me
how remarkable it is to wake
beside you another day.

Between deaths we dreamed together
between breaths, in that stillness,
which has joined us ever since.

In that first breath
we step onto the dance floor,
and waltz unnoticed through the void.
The sacred everywhere we turn
and turn again, as form so generously dissolves
and only the Beloved remains.

In this moment which lasts a lifetime
there is nowhere to stand
where you are not beside me
where you do not accompany me within.

-Stephen Levine

 

Pacific calling

9b12768612690bf728cdb84d7417ae40I am sitting more these days. Listening in. My anxiety – an ancient friend – has been hanging around quite a bit. That pulsing feeling in my chest is how I know it’s there. Tap, tap, tap. I come downstairs this morning after a long night of staying up with my daughter who is working on a speech. Chris tells me that North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb and that the temperature in the Arctic Circle was warmer than that in Southern California yesterday. I moan. Tap, tap, tap.

He laughs and I turn on him:  “How can you laugh???”

He is quick and kind and generous in his words:  “Is the world a better place by your unhappiness? Will global warming change because you’re worrying about it?”

We’ve started allowing ourselves to dream toward the coast. A slow, unfolding dream. Two nights ago, both of us had dreams about California – of the hills and the ocean and the sweet feel of the sea’s breath. It’s a creeping hopefulness that embraces the possibility of a full, long life.

My friend called yesterday and mentioned his 20-something’s son return to Brooklyn after two weeks at home. “The house is quieter now,” he says, and I can hear the missing in his voice, the gap left by his son. I know I will feel this gap so strongly one of these days – too soon. But I try to lean into the adventure and learning, the beauty and newness that awaits my kids. Falling in love. First apartments. New foods. Sharing stories – about me, no less – with new friends. So much is out there. And while they are on their adventures, I am starting to see a possibility of mine. Of ocean. Of future creative collaborations. Of a larger vision of yoga and myself as a teacher. It’s hazy still, this vision, but it’s out there.

61u7hek8jkl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Bella has been working for days on a speech about a book. She’s nervous – speeches aren’t her thing (though it’s a really good speech, so she needs to stop telling herself this story!). Listening to her as she reads me snippets of what she’s written has been kind of wonderful because the book is my biography of Dan Eldon! I’ve gotten to hear her falling in love with Dan’s  life and spirit. And last night when she read me the ending of her talk, I knew that she’d gotten it. She ends by wondering about her own future safaris and asks, what will you do on your safari? Not unlike the Mary Oliver poem, What will you do with this one precious life?

Indeed, so much precious time awaits me. It’s so easy to feel that this is it – I’ve done my work –  I’m settling in for the long haul. But how hurtful to my spirit. Instead, I turn toward the Pacific and listen to the waves.

 

 

dark woods

campfirewhat is it i feel today, this last day of the year?

melancholy – expectations – fear – a calling

all are mixed in together

part of me so eager to go – the mind churning, churning with lists and ideas of what is next, what to start, what to try! ….

and then a rope drops down to some very deep place and I hear a prayer-like voice:  be still

this pull between the two is where the discomfort arises

the ongoing ‘problem’ that i now see is unsolvable of how to be a mom-yogi-writer-incomer earner-wife-housekeeper-daughter.

the friction is so intense in that mix, it’s combustible.

another year of trying to be all of this ends

and another chance to try to conceive a different relationship to it all begins.

the unraveling of a knot i tied myself into

a new formation – a new approach – I’m not sure – but my eyes and heart are open.

Today I read: “Walk without a stick into the darkest of woods.”  Here I come.

morning prayer

Bella paintingI awake next to my daughter. We were up until midnight making art – me a little collage box, slightly clunky but full of heart, a late present for my husband; her a series of tiny paintings based on sky photos she’s taken during the year. Exquisite. Awe-filled.

At last, we’ve awakened to snow. It wasn’t a pretty one yesterday – more rain than snow, heavy and full of drudge. But for those of us used to Winter in bold and capitol letters this morning’s white blanket is a relief – the world is not totally askew, not totally lost.

Lying in bed, I switched on my phone and read a beautiful poem about the presence found in the forest – the idea that we are always Here – just listen, just look, settle in and feel yourself at Home. But then I scrolled down to the section of the daily email about what happened on this day in history. Wounded Knee. A history I’ve ready before but not internalized. Peacemakers murdered. Women and children murdered. Bodies strewn on a -40 degree frozen creek bed. The hubris and fear-induced villainry of our younger nation laid bare. See this – this fear, this greed, this hatred.

jean_louis_thc389odore_gc389ricault_-_la_balsa_de_la_medusa_museo_del_louvre_1818-19Yesterday, looking through The New York Times best photos of the year section, Tobey asked, “Didn’t anything good happen this year?” He paused over a two-page spread of photos of Syrian refugees – majestic images, their composition and lighting worthy of an enormous frame in the Louvre. I’m reminded of The Raft of the Medusa, a giant of a painting of suffering and longing. I’d studied it in art history books, but encountering it in massive form, its imposing heft demanding LOOK HERE was a whole other experience. Like reading Gertrude Stein versus hearing Gertrude Stein. Like listening to Nirvana on CD versus seeing them at the Crocodile Cafe, circa 1992.  … Tobey studied the page for awhile and then continued, still searching for a happy image. The backsides of Obama and Pope Francis standing on the Washington mall was the best he could do.

tumblr_nkjqocxcuo1unigu6o1_1280He has spent his break between video games – shooter videos that drive me crazy and that we spend a lot of time in conversation around – and repeatedly listening to, singing, and choreographing the music from Hamilton. It is an odd odd juxtaposition – playing “madcap” versions of US military missions – I’ll hear him in his room laughing hysterically with his friend Gage, “Don’t shoot the chicken!” – and a hiphop, African American/Latino re-imagining of early American history. The same boy who just shot up a biotech lab in Antarctica that is run by Kevin Spacey (yes, really Kevin Spacey) is minutes later pirouetting to “I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot” and gushing about Lin-Manuel Miranda, an idol any mother would love.

Mixed up times. Crazy. Bizarre. And yet here. Here. One day at a time.

I close out this year with a sense of vulnerability. The final year of my 40s – heading into 50. Just a few more years with Bella under this roof. Aging friends and parents. Nights of waking in fear and sadness. But also with longer and longer moments of clarity. And when joy comes, it is so exquisitely pure.

Now – right now – heading into the heavy snow to shovel some more. Pulling on thick wool socks. As I work, I will think of those at Wounded Knee. Pay some thin homage through the years. My heart sputtering with its soft, human being.

 

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~David Wagoner