Towards the end of yesterday’s retreat, the whole lot of us – nearly sixty women and one brave, kindred man – walked down the hill to Karen’s house to visit her backyard, the oldest Japanese garden in Southern California.
I was walking with Holly, my “spider sister” as she so aptly put it. Holly from Massachusetts who has lived in the San Fernando Valley for fifteen years. Holly who blogs and teaches and acts and mothers and runs and laughs and cries less than she did in her 20s and makes killer music mixes – she gifted me four CD’s, awesome combinations of rockin‘ 80s music and soothing lullabies. Holly, who I’ve gotten to “know” through writing and Facebook but hadn’t met until yesterday. The minute our eyes met in the morning, we knew each other, knew we already knew, knew we didn’t have to know. All the stories and images suddenly embodied.
I like three-dimensional. I have come to totally appreciate and honor and believe in the connections of this online community, and I have also experienced the magic of encountering people beyond the screen. So many of you, of us. Living our lives.
The screen makes it possible to objectify, to tell stories, to imagine what’s better about other people’s lives.
So Holly and I were walking together, and my tears were just starting to loosen and trickle (later they would come in a torrent). And that’s when Holly said, so full of honesty and sincerity and respect, “I’m envious of you, Jena, that you have a spiritual practice.” I heard her words as if in slow motion. And then my reply came tumbling out of me. “What is it?!” I asked. And then I laughed. It felt great to laugh a laugh so heartfelt and true. “What is it, tell me!”
“I feel like every time you sit down to write a poem, you’re practicing,” she said.
She is right. Writing – poetry particularly, but all writing really – is one of the ways I practice. It’s at the very heart of how this blog came into being. And at the same time, I forget. I forget that it counts. I see what I don’t do, where I fall short. My brain is dense with self-judgment, criticism, and doubt. I want to say I don’t believe a word of it.
I can forget that what I do do counts. What you do counts, too. Come to think of it, what we do is all that counts.
Yesterday, what we heard over and over again, in so many ways that in the end are all the same, was this: Your life is your practice. Follow your life. Do your life.
I wiped away my tears, half from laughing and half crying, held my hands up around Holly’s face, like the frame of a mirror. “And you? My poems are practice but your blog isn’t?” I asked.
This is why we need each other. This is why we need to keep holding up the mirrors, keep meeting in person when we can, keep walking into the many dimensions of our real lives, our living, breathing, ever-changing lives that encircle, encompass, surround us, show us everything we know and everything we don’t, contain all of the practice we need.
It is so easy to discount ourselves and to hold others up as somewhere we’re not, or at least not yet. Where did we develop the prickly notion that practice – especially “spiritual” practice – is this special thing, somewhere else, over there, that we have to go and find. Something separate from our lives.
No objectifying. If we are going to hold each other up, let it not be as beyond or better but as sisters and supporters. We are all going through this life alone, and it sure helps to do that together. No envy, no one-dimensions. We are mirrors. We are the same.
Karen made a clear point of telling me how important it is to find a place to practice sitting with other people. Who or where doesn’t matter – it could be a friend in a living room, cushions side by side, or the Zen Center or Shambhala Center (these are the options I’m aware of for myself for the time being, the things I plan to explore when I get home).
So please. Keep reaching through the screen, into it, through and beyond it, breaking open into three dimensions. Come sit by my side. We need each other.