Expand/Contract

Jack Comstock: “The American Dream II”

“with every contraction there is an expansion” – Peter Levine

Yes there is the breath
Yes there is belly rising falling
Yes here is chaos and fear of chaos
Yes we clamp down – – effort – – control
Yes we say can we say can’t these are just
Yes these are just words until we feel in the body
where can lives where can’t lives how the stomach
clenches or the temples pound and the temple doors
open like a mouth saying come come in or close like a
renunciation of what you thought was safe blessed even
by a god whose name you were told was sanctioned by state
leaders but no that was not here that was not yes that was not
ours that was another time another place another person’s history
not ours surely we would be we were destined to be different
and by different we knew we really meant better better than
our predecessors our ancestors our mothers and fathers
after all wasn’t that the myth the fairy tale the storyline
we followed through privileged childhoods believing
we were special believing each generation goes
beyond the one before except oh not for those
people it’s different these rules don’t apply
to the ones who are poor or who were
not born into opportunity and ease
no for them this was never true
and they knew it even tried to
keep telling us through acts
of poetry and resistance
but we did not listen
and now it’s time
when the only
choice is to
say you
were
right

The Birds of Fear

blue

~ the sky today ~

Sitting across the room from my love, both of us working. Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” comes on, and we keep catching each other’s eye. Then “Time After Time” — and the lyrics melt on my tongue like salted caramel, impossible to keep and best to consume.

I’m eating quiche hot of out the oven with my hands, a load of laundry spinning behind me in the pantry. The green kitchen chair where I’m sitting faces a wall, but beyond the wall is the west. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between having dreams that reflect reality and dreams that are not so vaguely prophetic. The sink’s full of dishes. In a while, I will wash them. Then I’ll peel and fry potatoes for Mani.

My days are all pretty similar in most ways. I wonder whose days aren’t. (ER docs? Midwives?) Then I worry for a second — is this a failure of the imagination on my part? Shouldn’t every day be new and contain wonder and discovery? That’s a lot of pressure. Sheesh. I tell myself not to overthink it. “Self, don’t overthink it.”

Yesterday, I got a massage. It was like a revelation (I have a body!). Annie and I talked for some parts of it and she worked on me in silence during other stretches. At one point, she offered this beautiful visual:

The birds of fear may fly overhead, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair.

If you’d seen my hair at the end of those 90 minutes, you might have laughed, as my hair was legitimately nest-worthy! But also, I love the image of those birds. Given how often birds get my attention, usually with curiosity and fondness and even great affection and (to my kids’ dismay) giddiness on my part, to imagine my fears as birds changes something fundamental about how I relate to fear.

Stopped at a red light, I look out the window. The rain has stopped, and I estimate at least two dozen sparrows hopping and pecking around an October-colored bush. Little birds. Little fears. Busy, industrious, filling themselves up in preparation for the cold months coming.

The cold months are coming. I know this because of empirical evidence. Because of 43 winters. Because of the way red, orange, and yellow overtake green in a final gasp before falling, returning to earth.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

“A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.”

Why does God hide the unity? Aren’t we all mystics? Can you read those words and pause and really take them all the way in? Consume and digest them, like lyrics, like caramel? They defy the intellect and, some would say, require tremendous faith.

I don’t know if I have tremendous faith; what comes to me is more of a sensation that I am faith. It’s not something I really know how to do, but when I don’t try, there’s a permeability, something like a still point that lies inside of this very moment and outside the rings of rational thought.

Now that I write that, I realize how much it resembles breath. I recall a commentary I read in the machzor, or prayer book, on Rosh Hashanah, and find myself wishing I had a copy here in front of me. It had to do with breath.

Ever-enthralled by Hebrew etymology, I turn to Wikipedia:

“…the word Nishmat (the combining form of Nishmah נִשְׁמָה breath) … is related to the word neshama (נְשָׁמָה soul), suggesting that the soul is part of the breath of all life.”

The breath, the soul. This is the place — if it’s a place at all — that sustains me when all I see is brokenness and discord. If there is no hidden unity, no inherent wholeness, then what is our purpose here? Would we just throw up our hands or throw in the towel, walk away from suffering, and say it’s someone else’s to deal with?

Because we are all suffering, every single one of us. Of course there are degrees; I cannot compare a melancholy mood or what’s weighing on my heart to a baby buried in the rubble from another bombing. On the other hand, touching my own suffering gently and attentively opens to compassion.

Suffering, then, must go hand in hand with compassion, and compassion must be the source of action — action that affects change and hopefully healing. I’ll quote Rabbi Kushner again: “Hold up your hands before your eyes. You are looking at the hands of God.” Hand in hand. Mine in yours. God’s in mine.

On the kitchen table, a yellow bowl with two mangoes. A card for an acquaintance whose son died last week. Two submissions to The Roar Sessions, printed out and waiting for my eyes. I realize the washer cycle has ended and hear the s’s of Mani’s British crime show coming in from the bedroom. Quiche crumbs.

One window is open; the cold days are not all the way here yet. It’s dark. The fridge hums. The world pulses with irreconcilable beauty alongside more devastation that my heart can take.

And so I watch the birds of fear flutter up against the backdrop of a sky as pure and blue as today’s. I listen for the breath and hold my own hand up in front of my face, remembering: No two days are the same. No two moments are the same. No two lives are the same.

And I come home, just as the train whistles a mile or so away, to knowing that we’re here to love each other and do our part to heal what’s broken.

The Skin I’m In

savasana
Sometimes I think I’m too thin-skinned for this world. 

That was the thought I had, as I washed the last of the dinner dishes. It wasn’t particularly tied into anything. No single incident or interaction had derailed my footing or rattled my resilience.

That’s just like me, to think something so dramatic. 

That was my next thought, after the first one, followed by the inevitable question of meaning, and then, after that, a response — we are now talking an official ping-pong match — dismissing meaning as overrated and nonexistent.

Seriously, people. It’s like that in there sometimes.

Lo and behold, I found myself — after quite the hiatus — on my old green yoga mat on the living room floor. And I don’t mean practicing yoga in any kind of asana sense. I mean child’s pose, the immediacy of breath that surrender invites, a few very gentle stretches (isn’t it silly that you’re doing this in jeans?), and something I can only call savasana-ish.

The latter lasted until Aviva called me into her room to help her pick out new bras, but amazingly, just that few minutes of of checking out — can you believe I called this checking out and not checking in? — and I felt restored enough to face life again.

Not that there was any reason per se, not to face it earlier. If I experienced anything today, it was this: Sun on face. Body on mat. My business, your business, God’s business. All of these simple but easy-to-forget things that bring me home.

Oh, and this. Yes, this brings me home. Sitting to write for a few minutes before bed.

“Create before you consume,” suggests Marie Forleo. Otherwise, as she points out, you will spend half the morning comparing yourself , the afternoon in meetings, and before you know it, a whole day will have gone by. Very true.

I think something similar is worth remembering before bed, not to create but to touch down with some kind of quiet. The fridge humming. A bowl of cereal to my left, with just enough milk in the bowl to slurp before rinsing it out, turning off the overhead light, brushing my teeth, and climbing into bed with my honey.

This afternoon, I asked Mani if I’d ever be clear of the internal sludge that life stirs up.

It feels like I’m removing it by the spoonful sometimes. I was whining.

It is possible, she responded.

It is possible, I repeated to myself, after we hung up.

And in the meantime, which is all I’ve got, I’m going to start coming home more often, to this place, this quiet night moment, and those creative morning ones, without the noise of anything but the volleys I can ignore rather than referee.

Then all that’s left is room to really feel and acknowledge whatever’s actually going on, space to listen for my own wisdom rather than flailing about as if I haven’t got any, and, if I’m lucky, a bounce in my step enough to propel me to whatever’s waiting in the wings.

It’s not about being too thin-skinned or needing to toughen up. It’s about not abandoning myself, and yes — loving the skin I’m already in.

Image ::  SAVASANA: The Art of Conscious Dying by Jeannie E. Javelosa