19 April 2010

Setting the Clock

A couple of good friends have regular meditation practices. Every day--sometimes more than once a day--they sit quietly in stillness with their eyes closed and breathe. And while a considerable amount of reading about sitting meditation and a meager amount of experience have convinced me of the deep spiritual nourishment possible with the practice, I haven't adopted it.

Why? For the same reason any of us don't floss our teeth or get on a diet or start exercising more.

After several days of bright sunlight and steadily climbing temperatures, this day dawns with a solid white cloud cover. I sat in the courtyard with my morning coffee and scowled. Yesterday at this time I'd stood before a Unitarian Universalist fellowship with my guitar and sang

Let us sing this song about the turning of the world
That we may turn as one

With every voice, with every song

We will move this world along

And our lives will echo with our turning

And our lives will echo with our turning...

After some repetitions, "turning" became "sharing".

The minister joined me in the song. I looked into her eyes--a dear friend I have known since seminary. Back then, she was a reserved, prematurely frumpy intellectual. Today she has blossomed into an inspired leader. My heart swelled with pride and celebration as we sang.

By the third or fourth round others began to sing with us. My eyes scanned their faces--strangers to me really, people I'd never seen before a week ago. They met and held my gaze. Such extravagant encounters! Truly holy communion. Looking into the eyes of strangers and singing together. In fact, it was decades of experiencing this kind of communion through music that led me to enter seminary.

I looked over their heads, to the scene beyond the glass wall at the back of the room. Brilliant sunlight. Lush, rolling hills of green. Horses grazing in a corral made of dark wood posts. Half a dozen helmeted, spandex-clad bicyclists, streaks of color whooshing past.

I felt how big the world is: somewhere, at that very moment, everything imaginable in the realm of human experience was happening. I was singing with tears on my cheeks and somewhere a child was being born and another child was dying in the bombed wreckage of his home...somewhere a man and woman were making love for the first time and another couple were making love for the last time...someone was preparing a meal and someone else was painting a self portrait in oil.

And unarticulated knowing saturated my awareness: The world is huge. And intimate. There is room for all of us and we are in this together.

This kind of awareness -- when every part of me is awake and tuned in and everything is known (and forgotten) with an immediacy that makes the usual chattering commentary of my mind unnecessary -- this is as close as I get to meditation. It is certainly a "practice": I return to it again and again, have done so for years. But it is irregular, unscheduled.

When I became aware of my scowl this morning (that tension in the forehead, along the jawline, around the lips...the tight, whining voice in the mind), I burst out laughing. What my face must look like, I thought. I felt distracted from the turning of the world. A self-centered, rather than sharing moment.

I allowed my attention to drift away from my face and thoughts. Directly in front of me in a neighboring yard, beyond a tall redwood fence, I saw the unequivocal green of a fir tree against the creamy white sky. I felt the steadfastness of the trunk simultaneous with the delicate trembling of the slender leaves in the barely-there breeze.

I felt the deep quiet of the landscape: no planes or sirens or voices, no birdsong or thunder. Just a faint tinkling of wind chimes. I felt the white blanket of clouds holding the world.

A world where everything imaginable is happening, has happened. A universe so vast that it holds yesterday and today and tomorrow.

The world in God's pocket.

This is as close to meditation as I seem to get. I also sometimes think of it as prayer.

What would happen if I did this at the same time every day?

16 April 2010

The Spa

The relief from external (I mis-typed it "eternal" before inserting the correcting 'x') stress in combination with abundant positive regard that surrounds me now is producing a relaxation deeper than any I've ever experienced. What I notice most is a respite from the stultifying, inherent reprimand that I anticipate subconsciously most of the time.

This reprimand was originally issued by my mother when I was a child. In the house where I grew up, there was a correct way (and countless incorrect ways) to do everything. Setting a table, ironing a blouse...washing my face or entering a room. Every gesture, every choice, every situation was another test of intelligence. And if I failed, judgment was swift, harsh and unforgiving.

I internalized this relentless censure and have carried it with me since childhood. In my psychology, it can be activated either independently in the private recesses of my mind or I can project it onto the words and actions of other people, perceiving judgment and restriction all around me.

And I am dancing dancing dancing dancing
through the minefield
smiling and sweating
terrified of a possible fatal misstep


The coffee grinder stopped working this morning. I didn't break it--it just stopped grinding. For a brief moment I was gripped by some strange, strangling mixture of fear and guilt and panic; like I was a child again caught in the bright searchlight of parental discovery with my hand in the cookie jar. (This is purely metaphor because I don't remember ever being caught with my hand in the cookie jar...)

In the next moment, reality washed over me: I'm not a child. In this house, no one will slap me or yell at me. In this house, the coffee grinder has stopped working--that's all. It's not a measure of intelligence or proof of a character flaw. I will still be loved.

It is life-affirming to breath this air. To have this time. The pores of my psyche are opening for deep cleaning.

All this is possible because a very special friend has said, "Come live with me. Rest. Be. Do what you want. I trust you. I love you. I want you to be happy." An act of breath-taking generosity.

Have I ever been offered this before? Was it offered before but my childhood lens that perceived imminent punishment everywhere prevented me from realizing it? How many times has it been offered to me and I couldn't see it? I suspect many times.

I'm grateful I can recognize the gift this time. I am grateful for the gift. Unconditional love and positive regard are very strong medicine.

I am curious how this experience will change me. It's the psychic equivalent of a day spa visit. Afterwards, my skin and scent are changed. I am soft and shiny and clean and I smell good. I am strong and agile - in mind and body. I dance and sing, the choreography and tune improvised from the dark, moist ground of my soul. It's the dance of my divine essential nature.

Clean and strong and refreshed, I move through the ruins and fertile fields of the world and my own imaginings.

I walk. And dance. And weep. And and sing.

And weed.

And plant.

There is so much I don't know about gardening. But sunshine and rain are reliable. They will grace whatever effort I make. I will learn as I go along.

*Sculpture, Down by the Lake with Liz and Phil, by Greg Taylor
Fourth image: Closed Eyes Wide Open, by Ben Arieh

14 April 2010


A purpose for this CA sojourn emerges as I stand in the cold night air, looking up at the big night sky. I am leaning on the gate, taking deep breaths and releasing the tension in my neck and shoulders.

Healing and Restoration pop into my mind.

I have recently joked "I want to be cuter when I return to New Orleans." Some kernel of Truth hides in the silliness. I used to say, "If I was a place, I'd be New Orleans." Even the most loyal of New Orleanians will admit the city is broke down in numerous ways. Subconsciously, I know I am broke down, too and I don't want to return to New Orleans in the same condition.

I am living in a house with two other women. Mother and daughter. Mother is a dear friend I know from graduate school. They are very easy to live with. It is the closest thing to "living with family" I have experienced since....well, since I lived with my family. I feel blessed and I am grateful.

And I miss New Orleans.

There has been a discordant tension between these two feelings until tonight. Tonight the perfection and abundance of my life are apparent to me. Perfect timing--over and over again--and an abundance of grace, privilege, love, opportunity, nurture and something I can only call "juice." There is much to be done right now, where I am. There is much possible right now, where I am. I have everything I need right now, where I am.

Only two people know the story of my recently sprained shoulder -- and only because they were there when it happened. Full disclosure is too embarrassing to relate because it was a drunken accident. [I feel better having written those words, as though I have confessed...at last.] And it wasn't the first drunken injury sustained since I arrived in New Orleans nearly five years ago.

Wow. Talk about "coming out"... I have not spoken these words or shared these thoughts with a single person.


has produced

an undeniable sensation of

healing and restoration.