— Jiko, the 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun, in a text to her sixteen-year-old great-granddaughter, Nao, from Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being
If you’re on the ground reading this, I am up, probably around 30,000 feet. Maybe I’m flying right over your house right now. I’m about fifty pages into this book, and already don’t want it to end. The last entire book I read was “The Hunger Games,” at Aviva’s urging last summer. Suffice it to say that turning the pages of what is clearly a brilliant novel, hearing the character’s voices in my head, is soothing my nervous system. Just wow.
This morning, I went to work at Amherst Coffee for the few hours before my bus left for Logan. The very moment I sat down, I heard my name. I looked up, and my dear friend Susa was sitting there, one bar stool away. We sat together for a good while and caught up, a date we never could have planned. We talked about life happenings, staying, moving, being. And we talked about nervous systems.
Last night, I got to sit in a wonderful rabbi’s sukkah for an hour. Sukkot is over, but as he explained, the space brings him so much joy that he decided enjoying it a bit longer was more important than the actual rules about when to take it down. (My kind of rabbi.) So, his is still up, even as the nights get chilly and soon daylight savings will steal our early evenings, and he sits in there barefoot and plays his guitar or eats a meal or visits with people or teaches his students.
It is amazing what a little structure can do–create a sense of being held in, contained, not just plain-old-outside. I was thinking about this as we talked, how without the sukkah, it would be a little funny to just be sitting at a folding table in the front yard, and yet with this temporary dwelling, there was nothing strange about it at all. We were somplace.
It had been a long day. From work to school pick-up to the Halloween-Store-God-Help-Me to being a house manager, and then to this wonderful rabbi’s sukkah.
Was I up looking up or down looking down? Neither, when the girls and I first got there. Not-one, not-two, but scattered energetically throughout the day. The day that was over now, but that my nervous system didn’t know was over.
We talk about “catching up with ourselves” and I have an image of such a thing, like we literally have to give all that energy a chance to find us where we sit down, where it first tries to cram itself inside the busy overdrive of the mind and needs a chance to filter down throughout the body. It’s a visualization I’ve been finding myself doing kind of spontaneously lately. Or not quite a visualization; more like a physical exercise, imagining and feeling the top-heaviness sift through my throat and the back of my neck, fill my lungs and back body, spread across my shoulders and down my arms, flow with viscosity through my belly, settle at the bottom of the pelvic floor, pour down my legs into my feet, finally grounded.
And so it was, when we sat down in the sukkah. Not same, not different. Arriving, regulating the breath, tuning into a story about Canyon de Chelly and the Navajo and the lulav as a rainstick, that rattlesnake sound, how we pray for rain when it rains, which sounded like a koan to me, and the matriarchs’ names painted in Hebrew on a cloth hanging on the wall, each with an image of her own–well, timbrel, tent. The sound of my daughter’s voice, singing.
Up, down. Hurtling through the days, through space and time, until we find a place to sit down, a dwelling place, no matter how impermanent. I don’t know what the rules are, but I do know that when I get there, I’m going to stay a while simply to enjoy the beauty.
I titled this post after I’d written it, which is usual for me, since when I sit down to write, I never know what’s going to happen. It seems fitting that this one ended up sounding like the beginning of a joke–lest I take all of these traditions and teachers, or my own ups and downs, too seriously.
Shabbat Shalom, friends.