Why write at all?

It’s terrific Tuesday, the nickname I give this one day of the week where I have nowhere to race to anytime soon. I have hours stretched out before me until I have to get dressed and I guard these hours with vigilance. I do not volunteer to sub classes or leave the radius of my neighborhood on Terrific Tuesdays. It is reserved for something I have come to value as priceless — doing nothing. Or in the case of today —writing —which to my frustration lately feels interchangeable with doing nothing.

I attempt to write about a conversation I had with my son back in July when we were outside on my balcony wearing tank tops and sandals.

The piece isn’t going well. I am no longer clear why this exchange impressed upon me some kind of necessity to write about it, but as I sit with my laptop staring into endless space I consider this idea questionable.

He tells me he has regret over a major time in our lives. What comes to me is hearing him say, “It wasn’t worth it. I delete a description of his shoulders and his hand gestures. It feels off to write about body language. There’s something else I am scratching at. There is some other reason my consciousness solicits me to write about this point in time. But I am off key. I don’t know for sure how I know that or even if I could trust my judgment — it’s just a feeling that overcomes me. The creative process feels both haphazard and yet, necessary.

I stay with the piece despite my confusion, my ambivalence, my utter hopelessness — feelings that derive less from this little scene I am writing and more from thinking about my other work, my manuscript which is saved in butchered sections somewhere on my icloud. This used to be work that I took as far as seeking representation. Work that I am on the verge of letting go of. Retiring. Forgetting about.

Does my writing need to lead anywhere? If my writing never gets seen, published, celebrated does my writing exist at all?

I am not that far away from slamming my laptop down and giving up. Especially when my thoughts deliver existential doom: What is the point of this? Where is this going?
Is this worth it? I could be doing other things with my time.

I am pulled back to the balcony and my son. I stay. I wonder what is underneath this? I remember his face. I write, his past still haunts him. I write about how I want to knock the heaviness off of his back “I have learned to be tough,” he says to me in a kind of it’s me against the world way. I want to challenge him. To change his mind about what tough really is.

I wait for another arrival of words to come out of the air and press on the feelings that stayed with me long after our conversation. I go back to that deck. It isn’t enough to say that I was sitting beneath him, crouched on the deck. He was in the chair. It isn’t enough to say that I almost interrupted him mid-sentence. It isn’t enough to describe how worlds were moving inside my body to accommodate for the space a mother needs to provide for her grown-up son to voice his truth.

That feeling. (There has to be a better word than feeling). I trudge through to find specificity. The detail lies not on the outside- not on the deck chair nor the way he held his hand over his glass. The scene is inside. The being of this world and myself. A presence that whispers (and sometimes shouts) how this moment matters, it reveals, it is the world beckoning for me to take notice of how much of life there is to take in. . . and write toward.

I am sorry. Thank you. I love you.

This morning my husband asks me if I used his razor.

“No,” I lie.

“Are you sure?” He asks again. He treads carefully. He wants me to come clean but he also knows if he pushes too hard I might turn against him—a behavior I have been known to resort to in some cases like when the moon is full or I when I am being irrational. He knows this about me. He also knows that I am trying no longer to make this be the case. I want to be better than that.

He approaches me more as friend than foe. Despite my mounting guilt, it does not go unnoticed that he is doing an exemplary job communicating. This is one of the many things that I love about my husband. He is always self-improving.

I, on the other hand, feel as if I have just slipped back in time. No longer the vulnerable open-hearted wife that I have nurtured into existence over these past months — I was now sixteen years old with only two choices in front of her: Keep up with my lie or get in trouble.

I grab a sponge from the sink. “Well, I did use it but it was a while ago.”

He wants details. “What would you say a while ago is? Three days? Yesterday?” He stands in the hallway and I am a few feet away at the counter. I search my memory and retrieve the moment I used the razor and tried to match the scene with the day of the week. Was that Wednesday? Would that be far enough back to claim it was a while ago? I change the subject. He walks the dog. I look down the hallway and decide to vacuum.

I drag the vacuum out of the closet. Was it so hard to tell him the truth? Was it too uncomfortable for me to face an innocent lecture on hygiene? Or was it an unwillingness to surrender to one of life’s greatest prayers:  I am sorry. I think about the enumerable playdates I hosted at my house over the years. Stubborn children with crossed arms. A broken toy. Me standing there pleading. You can say it, I would cajole. Just say I am sorry and you will get the toy, the cookie, the remote control back. . .

I think about the time I used to rip tags off of purchases after my husband asked me not to spend money. “Is that new?” he would ask when I walked into the kitchen wearing the new sweater or a pair of boots he did not recognize from our life before. “What, this?” I deflected. “I bought this a while ago.”

I cannot tell you how many moments in my life I wished for a do-over. The moments I wished I had reigned in an impulse, put the credit card back, the phone down, did not hit send, asked before taking. It is only now, being older, and calmer, and less likely to be thrown around by life’s crazy pushes when I see the spaces in my day where I can be better to the people I love.

It isn’t always perfect.
Sometimes I take without asking. I fib. I lose patience with my mother. I remember her telling me she used to do the same with her mother. I can hear her in the kitchen getting short with her on the phone. “Ma! Enough already!” Her mother died when she was 40. This week I turn 47. I tell my friends who are a decade younger they are approaching the best decade of their lives. I mean it.

Maybe all the years of breathing on a yoga mat. Of being practiced. Of noticing myself in relationship to everything and everyone around me. At 47 it is easier to admit I am wrong. That I don’t know. That I made a mistake. To stop explaining myself. It is easier to accept the consequences of my actions because I am less likely to act without realizing the weight of a consequence. I am more able to see the ripple effect of my words, how they can trail into generations ahead. I more apt to pause, constructively. To keep my pulse in the future I am bumping up against. This might feel better right now, but what about in an hour, a month, a year from now?

And as for the moments that I regress, those times I welcome a visit from that me of the past who still likes to take charge and stomp around the house with her fists in the air. I tell her I am sorry I wasn’t more present for her when she needed me. I tell her we no longer have to worry about seeking approval the way we used to no matter the cost. I thank her for showing up until she softens in my arms, quiets down and lets me love her.

On those moments

I am writing this from my bedroom in Chicago. I am sitting in a leather club chair that now fills the space where a 108 pound Saraswati statue used to sit for the past two years. I kept this statue close by for nearly twenty years. She is now on her way to a new home. I did not have a chance to document the moment my husband hoisted the thing down to his car and drove with her to the post office. I walked into my bedroom and she wasn’t there anymore and I thought I would feel something bigger about that but I didn’t. What came to mind was the time I watched Buddhist monks spend days making an intricate mandala out of colored sand. They knelt beside this enormous installation for hours and blew colored grains into the design. It took hundreds of hours to complete. It took minutes, if not seconds to dissipate into the air.

Last week when my older sons were here I didn’t get one shot of us being together, something I have made a practice of doing (then posting on Instagram with hashtags #mamasofsons). It must be slightly off putting from their perspective to scroll their feeds and see their middle aged mama posting selfies on a regular basis. It’s just weird, my son says.

When I dropped one of my sons at the airport last week he grabbed his bag out of my trunk and I said, “We didn’t get one picture!”

“That’s ok, mom,” he said. “We don’t need it.”

I watched him walk through the glass doors with his headphones on and proceeded to take a photo of the airline departure sign. I will never get used to saying goodbye to my kids, was my caption.

I have made many attempts in the past few weeks to write something, anything. In my last attempt entitled “rambling blog” I wrote about the week of my sons’ visit. “It was family dinners at home and TV watching and dog walks and intermittent arguments about getting off the phone. It was me calibrating to the new feeling that comes with accepting that my older sons are now visiting me and no longer living with me.”

These days, the question how did I get here so fast is often on my mind. The coming and going of moments seem so much faster now. Moments I look forward to become memories in an instant.I think about writing them down. To capture the ways in which I am seeing these moments flash by my eyes. The thought that gets sparked by the certain way I look up at the sky. That feeling when my son is no longer in the passenger seat and I am driving back to what still feels like a new life even though it is nearly two years since I moved.

By the time I sit to write, the words that once danced around in my head are gone. I am empty. But not in the good Buddhist way. In their place resides an onslaught of criticism. Coupled with a lot of frustration. If I were really a writer, I would be writing every day. If I were really a meditation teacher, I would be sitting every day. I look at the stack of books I have yet to finish reading.

Recently, I registered for two online courses. I wanted to be part of something. I wanted another booklist. More content to accumulate. My life has winded down to the quietest place it ever has been. This is a good thing, I think. Two minutes later I feel guilty about all the time I have on my hands. I am antsy and impatient. I am trusting and centered.
I am a changing family.
I am eating differently.
I use oil on my face now when not too long ago I would have balked at the idea of using anything other than astringent.
“The truth is always changing,” my husband has told me before.“It’s dynamic.” I think about the dishes I picked out on my wedding registry over twenty years ago and how today I would not pick those same dishes.

I recognize that old tide of doubt that rises within me when I am about to start something new. It used to stop me in my tracks. Now, I proceed, often with my hand on my heart. The teacher from one of my online courses posted an urgent forum speaking to the hundreds if not thousands of us who shared our nagging fears about our futures. When will we get to the other side? We were all so paralyzed by the same questions. We all doubted ourselves in one way or another. We were halted and yet our lives were brilliantly drifting along. Dense. Fleeting. Invisble.

Toss your doubt aside, the teacher said. She looks like someone who was practiced at doing that. At not letting her doubts ruin a perfectly good vision for life.

Last week I gave a lecture to new teachers entitled Soul of the Teacher. “Practice trusting your own soul,” my husband suggested. I showed up with my favorite poems. I came to listen. The women echoed back to me their own fears. The wanting to know. The wanting to grasp. The wanting to have certainty. I loved them so much for admitting out loud what I wondered about too.

If I trusted myself more, I would no longer question if I was enough.

This from Mary Oliver:
…though I play at the edges of knowing/truly I know/our part is not knowing/but looking, and touching, and loving/which is the way I walked on/softly,/through the pale, pink morning light.

And this from Parker Palmer:
…there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged.

I believe in muses, the way a stroke of genius ushers itself into a body at the exact perfect moment and if not pulled in close, if not recognized or received, it would drift away as suddenly as it arrived. Moments are filled with muses. And my awareness I have come to think of as a great sieve— catching the glistening particles in these tiny openings and draining away the rest.

 

On knowing when

I am writing this from my living room in Chicago. I am surrounded by shelves of yoga books and small bronze Hindu statues perched on the window sills. When I moved here with my husband and son two years ago, we not only moved out of a four-bedroom suburban house, but we also moved out of our yoga studio filled with numerous altars and art and crystals and books and all the various artifacts that made that space feel sacred.

For two years now, my bedroom has looked like a makeshift Hindu temple. I wake up to a three-foot bronze statue of the goddess Saraswati. She once stood like a maternal guardian at the helm of the yoga studio and for years she watched over students practicing yoga. We lit candles and incense around her and chanted her name. At the time, I wasn’t sure what the rules were around caring for statues of this size. It felt like it was important to nurture this prominent thing who seemed to raise the vibration of the space she inhabited. Now, she sits a few inches from the foot of my bed where my husband and I drink coffee, watch tv, read, and sleep.

I found Saraswati when I was in India over thirteen years ago. It was a transitional time in my life. I was newly divorced, a young mother of two, and amidst (or thinking I was amidst) a kind of spiritual awakening—case in point, I was in India shopping for Hindu statues that I knew so little about. Saraswati stood hidden under a white sheet next to a crowd of large Shiva and Ganesha statues. I walked around the store eyeing each statue as if I were trying to get to know them on a personal level.
“I want to find a deity,” I said to the shop clerk.
“You don’t find deities,” he said, “deities find you.”

That was exactly the kind of response I loved back then. I was besotted with all things I didn’t yet understand but was pulled by this inexplicable force to keep searching, keep questing, keep trusting what was underneath this undeniable pull. What was guiding me? What was I looking for? I was fueled by a feeling. I peeked under the sheet and there was that feeling.
“That’s Saraswati,” the store clerk told me. “She is Goddess of speech, the Goddess of art.” Bingo.

Saraswati took a month to arrive at a shipping port in Queens, Long Island. She spent another week locked away at some mafia owned dock until I paid a large fee to release her to a delivery company who would drive her fifty miles to the front door of my first yoga studio. I placed her inside the practice space spotlighting the side of her crown. She was a curvy bronzed mesmerizing thing, and she added antiquity and an air of mystique to the shiny new floors and Halogen lighting. When students asked about her I always said, “She made quite the journey to get here,” thinking about her boat ride from India and the shipping port and the container she was packed in for weeks; but I was also referring to my own journey from stable wife, mother cared for and secure to a kind of irrational, free-spirited, fanciful (and emotional) dreamer. I had no idea where I was going, but I was going.

Saraswati became the subliminal inspiration for everything I taught. When I heard her origin story—that she was once a river who dried up and became your breath—I understood what the shop clerk meant when he said deities choose you. Here she was, perfectly placed, and inspiring the many breathing, flowing bodies that came to practice yoga and find themselves. Here she was, a muse, a beacon, a sure-footed form who seemed to move elegantly with the pace of her art. She reminded me of all that lit me up in life — personally and artistically. Her story teaches me that the art of our lives is to be discovered amidst the making of them.

Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, I walked into my bedroom and said to my husband that I thought it was time to sell her. Here she was now, crowded between an orange love seat and a dresser of drawers. I had that feeling that something was misplaced. I investigated that feeling. I recognized it. That pull to move.
“She doesn’t belong in here,” I said to my husband looking around my bedroom. I knew she should be among artists and music makers and poets, somewhere she can nurture the many and not sit here like a stagnant relic of my past. I wasn’t so concerned with keeping her form with me anymore and I have no idea why I knew that for sure. It was just time. Just that feeling.
       

Trust me. Go this way. Hold steady. It’s okay. These are the words I hear right now when I close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and take a breath. Perhaps I heard these words all along. The words that have been guiding me to do, to go, to move, to stay despite not knowing why or where I would end up. The words that helped me recognize that Saraswati was the deity I would take home, the same words that I heard when I recognized she now needs to go. Saraswati has always been to me about finding the words. I kept her close by as if she was responsible for dispensing some kind of verbal transmission.

It’s time. I wince at the thought of this statue collecting dust. It’s as if she is looking at me and saying remember my story— one I know that does not end up in a private bedroom watching over my husband and I as we check our email and get ready for the day. Hers is a story that lives on in the hearts of the artists of the world and in the voices of those willing to see their lives as the offering.

Equanimity and loss

I am writing this from my couch in my living room. I am looking out the window at a dark day. The temperature dropped twenty degrees. Yesterday, when the sun was shining my dog of ten years was still alive. I spent most of the day home lying on the floor with my him and saying thank you. My husband and I took turns crying and thinking about what this big black beautiful creature with the droopy eyes and perfect face had given to each member of our family just by doing what he was doing right at that moment – being there through everything. This morning I woke up with that thud of awareness that he is no longer here anymore. His dog bed is stripped and vacant. The shift in weather is so right I want to hug mother nature for giving me the exact sky that matched my gloom.

In the last few months of Walter’s life, when his body was declining, his back legs dragging and paws bloody, his hips sloping. his city walks cut short by his refusal to take another painful step, I asked my husband, “He will let us know, right? When he’s ready?” And I looked at Walter curled on his dog bed in the kitchen which was one of the only places he could get comfortable anymore.

This past week, for an assignment of a course I recently enrolled in, I was to reflect on the word equanimity. Joan Halifax describes equanimity as “The stability of mind that allows us to be present with an open heart no matter how wonderful or difficult conditions are.”
Most of the students posted photos of their beautiful drawings and poems and gorgeous notes reflecting on what they felt equanimity was. I kept thinking of Walter.

“I think he is ready”, my husband said two days ago. “We are the ones holding on.”

Ram Das’ guru the great yogi Neem Karoli Baba was a famously large man. It was said that his love was so strong that he had the power to absorb people’s pain and diseases so they would no longer suffer.  Dogs are like that — great absorbers, keepers of all our stories, big-hearted gurus who could care less how we show up. Only that we do.

Walter’s passing was quick. We brought him from the car to the vet. We were ushered into a quiet room. There was a jar of square turkey treats on a table and a green blanket on the floor. I was expecting candles or some prayer on the wall but there were only posters of dog anatomy and warnings about getting your animal tested for this disease or that. Walter was panting and nervous and we were already sobbing before the catheter and the medicine and the sudden way his bloated chest went from shallow heaves to no movement. “His heart stopped beating, the vet said and Walter’s head lopped onto my husband’s lap.

We walked outside and the bright cheer of sky was too much. So were the happy people sitting at a cafe next to the vet’s office. Being home without Walter was inconceivable yet it was a reality we would I presume come to accept. I tossed arugula into a wood salad bowl for dinner — a task that felt absurd but it was no less of a reminder of life and the way its current keeps pushing our open hearts along.

On stories, Intsagram and prayer hands

I am scrolling Instagram. The images move on my screen like numbers spinning around a slot machine. I stop and like a few pictures. I comment on one of my friend’s photos. “Love!” I write and search for the emoji with the two hearts as eyes. I see my friends’ children at the park, in their backyard, in the kitchen; inspirational quotes; yoga teachers on retreat, at an altar, sitting before a packed class of students in savasana; shots of frothy beer mugs aside a delicious looking salad; dogs, cats; more yoga poses, a video of man doing a press up handstand, a sunset, an afternoon jog, a hyacinth. I take a screen shot of a quote and save it in my library so I have content should I need it. Why and when I made this a habit is something I am still wondering about. But I have come to accept it and even make friends with technology and heed the advice of those whose feeds look like art projects, to treat this time as if it were art.

A few days ago I posted a photo of myself from my wedding. I am looking away from the camera, smiling. I write that I am 37 and pregnant with my third child and situated in my life. Certain. Comfortable. Madly in love. I never know why some posts get more attention than others. This one had an unusual amount of engagement — more comments, likes, emojis. Lots of triple pink hearts and prayer hands.

The picture was taken eight years ago. A #TBT. It was taken at a time I might refer to as my past life. Certainly, it was a life before Instagram. It was before my third child was born. It was before a lot of shit hit the fan in my work, my family, my finances, my community. I am sitting on a wood bench with the floral wreath in my hair about to marry the man of my dreams. I write in the comments that I want to tell that girl to “brace herself for the education she is about to receive.”

I can’t stop thinking about the book I just finished reading. A beautiful memoir about time and marriage written in a mosaic style. Sound-bytes are framed in delicate passages and it is a book whose words have stayed with me long after I finished it. It’s one of those books where you read a line, nod and think, yes, I get it, I think that too, I have been there. The truth is always recognizable.

I heard this same author once say that when you read good writing, you forget that you are even reading. You are transported. You are sharing a consciousness. This is insight I try to parlay into my yoga classes. When the teaching is good, you don’t even remember that you are doing yoga poses — something bigger is at play. I have repeated this line to teachers in training.

Early in the book, the author lists what doesn’t go on Instagram: “Our bank statements; past due notices; quick glances exchanged when our son isn’t looking. Hangovers; sleepless nights; tuition bills. Emails bearing disappointing news… “ and so on.

I was teaching in Maine last weekend to a group of local yoga teachers and I said it would be refreshing if we posted pictures of the classes where only one or two students showed up. We all laughed.  I smiled and thought how glad I was to be there when only a few days before I had dreaded the trip.

Nobody will come.
I don’t have enough content to fill a weekend.
I no longer practice yoga poses like I used to.
What I know is not enough.

My inner critic was relentless.

Before I left for the weekend, I had dinner with a friend and I lamented that I had no idea what I was going to teach. “All I can do is be transparent,” I told her. Something I say a lot to myself.

There is a story I refer to often enough when I am teaching. It is about a writing class where the teacher told the students they had five minutes to write down the most embarrassing moment of their lives. Something they keep hidden. When the timer went off, I was told, every writer in that room of well over fifty started scribbling away. “Somewhere in there,” the teacher said after the timer went off, “is your next big story.”

When I sit to write I don’t often know what will announce itself. Lately, I have been thinking about the role of shame in my life. A random Instagram quote I posted months ago:  “Thou shall not judge because thou hath fucked up too.” Comments were, hahaha! Awesome. and And how.

Hidden but not gone swirl memories inside my body that have taught me the most about humility and forgiveness.  I know that only now. When I teach or write or meditate I hope to live inside these moments.  Moments where I get to pause now (when I should have paused then) and pull out from under deep folds within myself a time that still lives and breathes. Silently, these memories have matured me and have introduced me to my softest me.

Brace yourself.

This past year I taught a three-hour workshop in New Orleans for three people. I posted on Instagram, “Heading to NOLA to be with my favorite community!”  My stack of books and notes of preparation took up most of my suitcase. When I showed up at the space I looked around as if invisible students might suddenly appear. “It’s just us,” I say almost apologizing to the three women who staggered in.

Months before that I forced myself on a  group job interview for a famous yoga lifestyle brand where “I was a shoe-in” to get the job a yogi friend told me about. I sat around a picnic table drinking iced tea being asked to share a fun fact about my life to a group of peppy twenty-somethings. “What is your rose and what is your thorn,” the twenty-something manager asked me grinning. I pretended I was a journalist doing research and not actually applying for a per-diem job at a retail store at this point in my 46-year-old life.  I wished I could tell you I was able to decline the job offer but I never got offered the job. Instead, I received a form letter that they went with somebody else.

The cat hair is everywhere. The pilly fabric on the sofa. The ignored responses to the queries I have sent out on behalf of my new manuscript. The polite “thanks, but it’s not for us.”

I am thinking of a poem I share in my classes.  What if all the people who could not sleep/at two or three or four in the morning/left their houses and went to the parks/What if hundreds, thousands, millions/went in solitude/like a stream/and each told their story/woman fearful if they slept they would die/and young woman unable to conceive/and husbands, wives having affairs and children fearful of falling/ and fathers, mothers worried about paying bills/and men, women having business troubles/and both unlucky in love/those in physical pain/ those who were guilty/ what if they all left their homes together? … Would they be the more radiant ones?

If this poem were captured as an image on Instagram, people everywhere holding each other’s hands and walking in the moonlight, exposed, safe, lit up–  I imagine many likes and emojis with hands clapping and thumbs up and smiles and hearts and winks and prayer hands.