mothers pray

The other morning, I opened the refrigerator to grab the cream for my coffee and with the carton still in my hand, I was seized by worry. Thoughts entered my mind like a vapor and I had an urge to pray. Holding onto the handle, with the fridge door still open, I leaned back a little, squeezed my eyes shut and I prayed.

Please, let things work out.

I was worried about things: My children. Their happiness. Their safety. Our precious little life. I notice this happens from time to time. How prayer visits me when I am doing the dishes or putting the leash on the dog or taking the potatoes out of the oven. Anytime I realize I am here and my children are no longer at arm’s length, I close my eyes.

Please, let things be ok.

Last week, there was unexpected news. It wasn’t tragic but it was enough to stop me in my tracks and ask a higher power for help. There was old worry that came seeping into my life like an unwanted solicitor. The older my children get, the more that I pray. I pray that I never get phone calls or blood tests back or knocks on my door that tells me there is danger, there is pain, there is something wrong and I am so far away.

I pray for protection as they make their way in this world — this world that will inevitably and not so gracefully at times burn them, hurt them, roil them, test them — they way it has burned, hurt, roiled and tested and reared me in different ways, and at unexpected times. I pray to help my children stay clear of the burn. To have them learn their lessons, but not the hard way.

I pray because that is what mothers do when they can’t fix what they wish they could. I pray because I can no longer lift my kid up on the counter to kiss and make it all better and send him on his way the way I used to when a scraped knee sent him running, open arms toward me. It is so hard not to have that power anymore. To not have proximity.

I pray because I have learned as I have gotten older that prayer feels way better than worrying about things I can’t control.

That prayer gives me something to do when there is nothing I can do.

That prayer is my best attempt at helping myself not go there.

It is the thing that says this may help somewhere between the joy of becoming a mom and the hazy confounding mystery of what it takes to be a mom. It is the antidote to the self-punishment I inflict for not saying the right things in the right way. It is the pause that picks me up by the collar and tells me I can try again when I have failed at tuning the dial just right that would deliver the right tone, that would dispense the wise advice that would have the pre-cognition to know not to say anything but to just stand in the doorway with the bigger nervous system when my young son breaks down over what he can’t have, or my middle son side steps over what he might afraid to handle, or my eldest sleeps through what is too difficult to face.
Prayer holds me up in the doorway.

I think of my own mom. I am only seven years older than she was when she lost her mother. I can’t fathom seven years ago without my mom. Without her closeness or her guidance as I went through divorce, or biopsies, or moving again.
I can fathom, maybe a glimpse a taste of what it must feel like for her to watch her now adult children make their way in the world that can burn and sometimes break our hearts.  And I wonder if sometimes she prays for us before she pours the cream in her morning coffee.

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 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.

Feedback

When I first moved to Chicago a friend asked me to give him feedback on his yoga class. I considered him asking a compliment. I was new to the community and was still realizing that runners stretch in Connecticut was a low lunge in Chicago. I took my friend’s class and was happy to oblige his request. Though, from the get go I realized his teaching was different from anything I had practiced before. In fact, that was true of many of the classes I sampled when I moved here. I was learning a new dialect.

For years I was schooled in a particular way of doing yoga. I was convinced that my practice was the only way, the best way, the absolute holy grail. Had my friend asked me a few years ago to give him feedback on his class I might have leaned his approach up against my model to point out ways it was not measuring up to what I believed was the best technique for teaching the best yoga class.

As I am writing this I am squirming. I was passionate and confident about my content and that was all true for me at that time. It is only in these past years where I find have no idea or strong opinion about what makes a great yoga class truly great other than the willingness a teacher has to know herself and stand in that to the utmost. Something that must steer clear of public opinion.

I took my friend out for coffee. He looked at me for guidance and I thought about his class. He wanted me to tell him something concrete about his instructions or his sequence or what he could possibly do better. But I couldn’t. I no longer considered myself an authority. I kept saying the same thing. “Are you teaching what lights you up? Are you able to share that from that place?”

I thought about how much my opinions had changed over the years. I thought about the recent workshops I taught. How vulnerable I felt showing up with my stack of poetry books leading a whole weekend without having the security to rely on any system. “We just want you!” they said and how much I questioned if that would be enough. My experience now has taught me that teaching has nothing to do with making students invest in what I think but more to do with finding the language and holding the space for students to invest more in what they think.
How hard it was for me to deem that worthy enough for a weekend workshop but then again. . .

A week ago I received feedback from students who were subscribers to a certain new phenomenon called ClassPass. Despite the perfunctory advice to take the feedback “with a grain of salt,” something no human can ever really do, I took a breath and read the twenty public opinions about my class. (I will preempt this to say that many were lovely but of course my fixation rest solely on the few reviews that stung).
Tracy overcomplicates things. Fair, enough.
Teacher talks through the entire class, I mean the ENTIRE class. This one had a sad face next to it. One star.

By the time I finished reading the reviews I worked out some ego stuff, and picked myself up by the collar. Sharon Salzburg has famously said. “We are not meditating to become better meditators. We are meditating to become better people.” Parker Palmer reminds me that what we teach is not as important as who we are when we teach. Presently, as I drift further away from any brand or prescribed system of yoga or movement preference I am left to do what perhaps any practice has intended all this time – to trust myself more than anything else and go with that.