Real Talk Isn’t Easy

There is so much we don’t share, or write or even talk about. None of it is simple.

Navigating the territory between personal and political is a mighty task. In fact, it’s not a task at all but a life — with aspects that are and deserve to remain private, while also bearing responsibility for standing up and speaking out. The word “discernment” comes to mind.

Synagogue, Friday night services, welcoming Shabbat in community. Someone dear to me whispers in my ear something about Hondurans trying to cross the border, being treated like criminals. It’s safe to say most of the congregants in this sanctuary believe Trump is a nightmare. Many are actively working in the local sanctuary and anti-racism movements. There are a handful of Jews of color, as well.

“I feel like they’ve stolen our country,” she says.

Outwardly, I nod. Internally, my mind immediately races, in a way I’ve become accustomed to. Statements like this send me in so many directions at once, and I’ve been working to recognize the shortcoming of my heightened reactivity. Among the thoughts that fire like so many overheated neurons:

1. Agreement. Yes. This is not the America we (want to) believe in.

2. Disagreement. No, that America has never been.

3. Agreement. The way this administration is treating refugees and immigrants is unconscionable.

4. Pushback: This country’s relationship to refugees and immigrants has always been ambivalent — at best. Relevant, since we’re sitting in prayer: We turned Jews away from Europe during WWII.

5. More than one thing can be true at the same time. This one gets me every time. I’m working with and on it.

6. They stole the country from us? No, Europeans stole the country in the first place. It has never belonged to “us.”

7. Who is “us” and what is “our”? As Jennifer Harvey writes: “there is no non-racialized woman.” It’s imperative to keep this front and center — no matter your gender.

8. My own privilege — an upbringing in an upwardly mobile, financially secure, white, Jewish family, with strong emphasis on the arts, on education, and on inclusion. I was not raised to be “colorblind” but I also faced very few obstacles and none related to my skin color, religion, or class.

9. My father’s historical memory of anti-semitism. My mother’s historical memory of integration.

10. The limits and dangers of choosing to see mostly or only what we want to see: i.e. progress.

11. The way “progress” is a myth that makes liberal white Americans feel less helpless about racism, and how this keeps the focus on white comfort and not on reality.

Oof. See what I mean? And this is just a tiny sampler of the way my mind gallops. Not particularly productive.

* * *

Another moment: My son got tearful one day, when he was working on a school assignment and eliciting my help. Some of the suggestions I made pointed back to how race might factor into one’s choice of where to live.

“You always do this,” he said. “Everything is always about race or politics.”

The kid had a point. There is a thing called balance… maybe. And yet how do I prioritize balance when the world is so imbalanced? This feels to me like one of the biggest practical and spiritual challenges of our lifetimes.

I won’t apologize for my voice — nor do I want to be reactive. No one, of any age, can drink from a firehouse.

And yet my own words come back to me, words Omkari Williams echoed back to me during our conversation on her podcast recently: Don’t look away.

How do I live, write, parent, and love without looking away, while also not becoming a person who cannot take a breath, who cannot slow her racing mind, who cannot see anything without the glaring filters of injustice?

If we are closed to connection with the very person sitting next to us in the pew, how can we truly care about the stranger?

It would be so nice to say, “Love is the answer.” But what does that even mean? Platitudes will not suffice.

Our rabbi and congregation have been focusing on the mandate not to oppress the stranger. And so to not become strangers to those in our immediate circles and spheres of influence becomes intensely important and sometimes, for me, the most difficult thing of all.

One thing I know is that this is not about me being “good” at something. It’s about keeping the focus where it belongs, which is not a single point. The focus belongs on so many places at once: The big picture, the systemic oppression that has never not been present in our country, the feelings and needs and thoughts of those under my own roof, and the ability to take care of my mind rather than allowing the ugliness of what we know to be true to splinter me into a thousand broken pieces.

Healing cannot happen without justice. Justice will not happen without real talk, and real talk is, frankly, not easy. We all have relationships to navigate, those who may not see as we see.

The less insistent I am about being right and the more intent on moral courage and righteousness — individually and collectively — the clearer the task becomes: To keep doing the work that none of us alone can or will complete. To keep widening the circles while tending to the ones closest to us. To keep asking hard questions and not looking away, not backing away from the moments that make us most confused or agitated or fired up.

To step into that fire and learn.

What needs to burn? What good are these ashes? How are we each other’s keepers? What is it to really listen?

So many questions.

* * *

Desiree Lynn Adaway frequently quotes these lines from Assata Shakur’s autobiography:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

In “The Hate U Give,” which I saw with Aviva last night, Starr, the main character, also quotes these words, over a loudspeaker in a profound moment of claiming her voice. We both sat there in the dark theater, crying.

I will not let those tears be in vain.

I will not let those tears be white tears, crocodile tears, or fragile tears. I will not abdicate my responsibility to fight for freedom — yours, mine, my children’s, your children’s — even if it makes you uncomfortable.

And I will also continue to practice quieting my mind and seeing myself in as honest a light as I can — which is to say, learning when to be quiet, when to be curious, and especially to remember to listen to people of color, to those whose lived experience of oppression is daily, cellular, and immediate. To put to use my ancestral and generational memory, while also knowing my place as someone with so much privilege.

That’s what I’ve got this morning. Thank you for reading, for wrestling with me, for staying in this for as long as it takes.

As long as it takes.

Thoughts on Arriving

We are all in the messy middle of something. The whole idea that at some point, we “arrive” is bunk. Every single time the GPS says, “You have arrived,” this occurs to me.

But in a deeper sense, it’s psychically difficult to live inside of a culture that prizes striving, acquisition, and material gain.

A culture with some of the highest rates of addiction in the world. A culture of mass shootings, massive disconnect, and off-the-hook isolation and anxiety. No wonder.

Yesterday in the car, I was telling Mani that I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis. But it isn’t actually a crisis at all. It’s a cycle.

I named something, which was helpful: My introvertedness, for whatever reason, has resurfaced.

The last two times I’ve done an MBTI assessment, the E/I, or extrovert/introvert, has come out 50/50. Not 49/51 even, people. I play both sides of the fence. I know the rules.

But. It’s not a game.

It’s real life. And because we live in a culture that also favors qualities associated more with being extroverted — outgoing, enthusiastic, conversational — when my strong introverted nature comes out in full force — internal, quieter, more feeling, harder to articulate — I get scared at first.

In the distant past of my life — though as we know, the past is often right here, riding shotgun — having a sense that something big was going on in me was something to fear. Intuitively, I knew that whatever this thing was, it would burn my life down.

And I was right about that.

I am learning that to trust — I was going to say “again,” but maybe in some ways it’s new, a kind of spiraling first — is a process.

Moments, periods, of a quieter way of being, of feeling into myself rather than creating and connecting as much outwardly, are not signs of dysfunction, denial, or depression but rather deeply crucial periods of being and becoming.

I was driving to synagogue with Aviva Friday. Stopped at a red light on the corner of Main and Triangle streets, with Emily Dickinson’s house on the right, I jokingly said to her, “V, I’m having a moment.” She looked at me quizzically, so I explained, “I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life.”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You’re doing this.”

You know what? I felt instantly better.

“Oh! This is a good thing to be doing,” I laughed.

I’m doing this. I’m being this. I’m sitting here. I’m listening to my doggie snore. I’m drinking coffee while the household stills sleeps on a Sunday morning. I’m listening to the quiet.

You do not have to have a grand plan.

Being quiet does not mean you’re not an exciting person. Besides, excitement can be highly overrated.

I have had times when I really did feel like I had “arrived.” That’s all fine and good. The problem is, it’s not a one-time thing. So if you live expecting it to be, you are going to be freaked the fuck out next time you’re once again somewhere between that arrival and the next one.

No wonder I was at one time so drawn to Zen.

Judaism, too, understands this. Sukkot, the harvest festival that immediately follows the High Holidays, is also called “the season (or time) of our joy.” We are supposed to be happy.

Our rabbi offered such a wonderful explanation of this on Friday night. He described how the rabbis — the old ones, the ones we read and wrestle with today — understood that happiness is a complex state or emotion.

On the one hand, it may be that we have arrived and are celebrating the accompanying sense of relief and fulfillment. On the other hand, and perhaps at the same time, happiness may be the more temporary kind, i.e. we are nomads, wandering the desert, but for tonight, we have this shelter under the stars. We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. How good it is to sit here together, for now.

More than one thing can be true at a time. Capitalism isn’t big on this.

I dreamed last night somehow I’d gotten roped into selling expensive cars. I was tasked with writing a song-and-dance to offer potential customers. I put a lot into it and was proud of the few paragraphs I’d written when I went to show them to the men — yes, men — in charge.

A few minutes later, they handed me back a piece of paper that had been cut into the shape of a circle. It had a sentence or two on it, and none of the original language I’d given them.

They didn’t care about being honest or real. They just cared about selling cars.

I care more about being honest and real than I do about selling cars. Or spots in my groups. Or coaching sessions.

Probably one of the fears I’m working through is that being honest and real is incongruous with the kind of success we’re so conditioned to think is the good kind.

What if success is not a thing we achieve? What if being honest and real is not a handicap, but a pillar in what David Whyte calls the “house of belonging”?

I write because it’s how I find myself. Not to make money, not to get clients, not to fill groups, not to look good. I write because it’s one of the surest ways I have of trying to locate myself.

And you know what? I am always right here. Even when I fear my soul has detached from my body and floated off into the ether, here it is. Here I am. Hineni.

It’s ok to be quiet. You do not have to measure the distance between islands. You get to leave some pages blank between chapters. It’s your trip. Your book. Your life.

So live. You have arrived.

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.

Forgiveness

book

“How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In my tradition — Judaism — tonight marks the beginning of the Days of Awe. For ten days between the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), it is believed that the Book of Life lies open. During this time, we do what is called t’shuvah. Literally, this word has to do with “turning.” We turn inward and reflect on the past year, paying particular attention to the places where perhaps we stumbled, faltered, missed the mark, or just really f*&!ed up. We take stock of our lives. We reach out to those we may have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly, and ask forgiveness. And we come together communally, to recognize all of the ways we must return, as an in people.

I find equal parts gratitude for and resistance to this practice. Gratitude, because inherent in its imperative is this: We are human. We are human and thus, we are going to make mistakes. We cannot avoid being human, but as humans, we can grow. We can learn. We can say, “I’m sorry.” We can look into our own hearts and face the places where armor replaced permeability, where anger overtook compassion, where pride eclipsed humility. These are not small things. These are the biggest things of all. And while we can cultivate the habit of being self-aware year-round, there is something about having a concentrated period of time each year to focus on our missteps — communally and individually — that brings those chickens home to roost. Thus, the resistance: These aren’t always easy to sit with.

What this isn’t: An excuse to beat ourselves up. What this is: An opportunity to really sit and consider where we’ve veered off-track, away from our values and priorities. Life gets busy and busier, full and overflowing, and not always in a good, abundant kind of way. I know I get swept into the current of everyday responsibilities, sometimes to the detriment of being fully present to the people right in front of me — including myself. This time of year, for me as a Jew and for the Jewish people, is a chance to turn back to what is holy and important and sacred in this life of ours.

Some people go to temple, to sing ancient songs and read the same prayers as Jews around the world. Some people go to the woods or the water to listen for God’s still small voice or mighty roar. Some ignore such rituals altogether. There are so many ways up the mountain.

Some acts are easy to forgive. “I’m sorry I was mad at you that one time,” a child might say to a parent, and it is not difficult (one hopes) for the parent to soften, to take the child into her arms and say, “Oh, my sweet love. I forgive you!”

Others are stickier and take longer, a lifetime even, to work on. I imagine we all have many examples of these. Forgiving someone for hurting us takes a tremendous amount of courage. It is not always possible for all parties involved to come together. And so whether or not we know for sure someone we’ve hurt has accepted our contrition, the courageous thing also becomes to forgive ourselves. For me, this always boils down to being human: looking honestly into my own heart to understand why I did or said something that hurt someone else; listening honestly for whether I’m being truthful with myself; and hopefully learning and growing in ways that will positively inform and affect my future actions.

We don’t always know when we’ve hurt someone else, and it is a great gift when someone trusts you enough that they come forth to tell you: This hurt. Because it is only then that true reflection and healing can happen.

Jewish or not, forgiveness is among the most universal of things we face as humans. This week, what if you sit down to write a story of forgiveness? Whether it is an old story, one you can return to easily, or a new one that still hurts to touch, explore its different nuances. How did things like pride, ego, humility, and self-reflection play into the way things played out? Were you able to resolve things and find peace, or does the experience feel like it’s still an open book and you don’t know how it will end? What shift in perspective or even words — to yourself or another person — would change things?

“Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” – Marianne Williamson

L’shana tova u’metukah. May 5777 bring you a sweet new year, filled with ease, connection, humility, forgiveness, joy, solace, justice, and renewed presence and peace.

The Art of Taking Rest

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Photo: Ismael Nieto

1. Shabbat (It Can Wait)

It starts Friday. By about 3:00pm, I feel it coming. The kids have headed to their dad’s. The internet grows relatively quiet. Writing in my groups slows down as people wrap up the work week. I come into the bedroom and tell Mani I’m debating between a nap and errands. She takes one look at me and tells me the answer without saying a word.

Two hours later, I get up and post on Facebook:

Unless it’s burning or bleeding, it can wait. It can wait a minute. An hour. A full 24 hours. The work will be better for having rested, the connections deeper, the mind sharper, the ideas brighter, and the heart clearer.

It sounds nice. But this does not come easily to me, this letting things wait. There’s some fear underlying it, a shadow side to my intention. As a provider for my family, I could easily work seven days a week, taking breaks of course, but really, sitting down at my computer first thing in the morning and working until late each night is not uncommon ’round these parts.

Thus: Shabbat. A day of rest. Truly a whole day. Not just a 20-minute run or afternoon nap with my love. Not just squeezing in a swim or watching Kids Cupcake Wars at bedtime, but taking an entire night and day off from being actively engaged with the world beyond the walls of my home and whatever outside I might choose to step into.

Truth is, this happens maybe once, twice a month. And it doesn’t happen to me. I have to make it a priority like my house was on fire and rest is the only thing that will put out the flames and salvage the treasures inside.

If I inherited my father’s love of language, I also have a maternal gene for movement. My mother is the hummingbird: Quick, light, always in motion. It’s funny; as I write I’m thinking how much more I identify with a sloth than a fast-moving little bird! But that very sluggishness is the counterpart to my capacity to fit a lot in to the waking hours — sometimes too much.

Returning, again and again, to balance — this is my practice. And without going “dark,” sometimes I fear my light will go out for good.

Balancing out the fear is faith, which includes letting go of ego. Ego says: It is all up to you! Faith reminds me: Not only won’t things fall apart without my constant presence, but really, the world depends much, much less on me than I sometimes fall for believing. If my work were so fragile that it depended on me being swiftly responsive to every single ping and poke and tag and comment and inquiry, we’d be in big trouble.

And so. I step back. Shabbat Shalom. 

2. From Sundown to Sundown (A Whole Lot of Nothing)

Saturday morning, the sun still rises. Hallelujah.

We spend the day hanging out together doing a whole lot of nothing. Wake up around 10:00am. Drink coffee in bed. Read some New York Times articles out loud to Mani. Resist the urge to share several things on Facebook.

At some point after lunch, we get our sexy on, then nap without my setting an alarm as I do during the work week.

After I get up, it’s time for a late-afternoon swim at Puffer’s, gliding through the spring-fed water, feeling strong and grateful. Then I eat a burrito in town before coming home to make dinner for Mani. (We still don’t eat together, due to her mast cell disease, though we are determined that this will change.)

The beauty of a day of real rest is that you don’t necessarily remember how you spent it. You just remember that it was… wait for it… restful.

Such a relief. Such a necessity. Such a reset. “I’m going to have to write about this,” I tell Mani. She laughs. “I knew you were going to say that.” It’s nice to be known.

3. Havdalah (A Sweet Week)

For those of you who aren’t Jewish, or who (like I was for the first half of my life, Jewish without knowing anything about Judaism), at the end of Shabbat there is a beautiful ceremony called havdalah, which means “separation.”

Separation is a big thing for Jews. It’s how we know what’s what. What’s holy and what’s mundane; what’s darkness and what’s light; what’s right and what’s unjust. Shabbat, the day of rest, sits apart from the other six days. The busy ones. The ones that blur by, with everyday demands, schedules, things to make and do.

Shabbat is when we sit back and see and feel and, in the language of yoga and savasana, “receive the benefits of our practice.” I’ve never heard a rabbi compare Shabbat to savasana, actually, but it’s often what comes to mind for me as an obvious parallel. We practice, stretch, sweat it out (literally or figuratively), show up, struggle, learn, listen, work, respond, and take care of all the kinds of business, all week long.

In the documentary we watched Friday night, I Am Not Your Guru, Tony Robbins talks about how many people think of life as happening TO us and not FOR us. That shift is a game-changer, and no matter your station or situation in life, I believe we all have the ability and right to make that decision.

But without some rest, without time to integrate so much activity and reaction and keeping up, I’m a goner. I forget what it’s even like to FEEL. I lose touch with priorities; all of life, work, and love become one flat landscape with no distinguishing features.

Last night — as the last of the yellow, post-thunderstorm light faded, I sang to Mani. “A good week, a week of peace. May gladness reign, and joy increase. A good week, a week of peace. May gladness reign, and joy increase.” Then I wished her shavua tov, a sweet week, as is customary.

4. Sunday (I Am the Storm)

Sunday afternoon. I’ve spent the day so far writing, reading, interacting online, and doing our August budget. And that’s when it starts. I see the storm rolling in — and the storm is me.

Now, wait just a minute now; wasn’t that day of rest supposed to keep this kind of thing from happening? Uhhhh, let me think. Nope. As it turns out, resting does not make you superhuman. Moods still happen. This falls–as Mani reminds me–under the heading of “being human.”

It’s not easy to keep loving myself when I am the storm. I like myself a lot more when I’m the rest — double entendre intended.

I see it coming — the storm that is me. The storm that is a mood, nothing more, nothing less, and yet so easy to mistake as a failure, obliterating all the “good” stuff and making me a fraud for sharing beautiful moments on social media.

It comes on with a wispy but noticeable gust; I’m frustrated that the GPS on my phone took me on a wild-goose chase to meet up with my niece and sister for a nice dip at the little town beach they like.

I see it coming and cannot not stop it, just the way dark clouds roll in late in these hot summer afternoons, suddenly it’s dark at 5:00pm in July and the thunder rumbles in warning and then boom! Here comes the deluge.

It’s all-encompassing. I find myself hating the people in front of me in line at the grocery store, and the guy in the big truck who guns his engines. I imagine getting into a shouting match with him about politics. I hate myself a little for being hateful.

I make a point of thanking my angels the whole time I’m walk up to our second-floor apartment with the bags of groceries. It takes two trips, though I leave the 24-pack of water bottles in the backseat. I put everything away. I go pee in Aviva’s bathroom, so as not to wake Mani from a nap, only to see that her shampoo, which was upside down, has leaked all over the edges of the tub.

Part of me wants to call her at her dad’s and holler: YOU HAVE TO BE MORE CAREFUL. Thunder and lightning by now, rain lashing the windows of my mind, wind howling. I scrub and wipe and rinse. Next, I move to the dishes that I ignored all day in the kitchen sink. I’m noticing anger rising at a friend I’m feeling blown off by. I’m recognizing the drama of this even as I feel helpless to stop it. I’m breathing. I’m washing dishes. I’m breathing.

I burst into the bedroom and rant to Mani about the friend. Suddenly, I wonder if I have any friends who are feeling hurt by me. Shit. It feels good, though, to just say words out loud. To just say it, without actually blowing up a friendship I care about.

I make some food for Mani. Then I realize I ought to eat, too. I get out the smoked turkey, Monterey Jack, and lettuce, smear some mayo on a flour tortilla, and call it dinner. I realize the storm has let up a bit. But something in me knows that if I am going to write about taking rest, I have to write about this, too. About losing my shit and being ok. About how yucky and awful it feels to be inside that kind of storm — to be the storm itself.

I take a look around myself. My love for my people has not been annihilated. My beating heart is still intact, no worse for the wear. I haven’t done anything irreversible or harmful to others.

And the words I shared earlier in the day are not fraudulent. They are, like everything we share on social media, a glimpse. A moment. Nothing any of us shares is ever everything, but that doesn’t make any of it less genuine.

This is the summer of ripe avocados and blue corn tortilla chips.
Of coaching and talking about writing and life, seeing your faces and hearing your voices in Japan, England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, and all around the U.S.
Of not waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Of exhaling and believing the next breath will come, until it doesn’t, and no point worrying about that.
Of summer bodies, swimming to the dam, and walking around the house topless when the kids aren’t home.
Of an all-the-way open heart that’s learning how to have a swinging gate.
Of welcome, come in. Of closed for a nap, be back in an hour.

Of not knowing what’s next. Of knowing that we never know what’s next.
Of not letting that stop us from making all kinds of fabulous plans. Because if we don’t know, why not go big?
Of saying I’m here and then letting go. Of not pushing.
Of listening to the nervous system. Of rewiring old patterns of fight, of flight, of saying goodbye to the old, familiar you’re-in-trouble-shouldnta-said-written-shared-that voice.
Of loving the shit out of my wife. Of flowers I don’t pick and engines I don’t start and games I don’t play. Of wild blackberries.
This is the summer of entering year two — year two of not smoking, year two of self-employment.
Of standing on some kind of imaginary plateau and what a view and now what, but first a snack.
Of strong thighs and soft belly and loving the way my 40s are reshaping not only my body but my relationship to its sexy curves and grown-up realness.
Of trust. Has it ever not been the summer of trust? Nevermind, don’t answer that.
Of banging up against perfectionism and seeing it for what it is. Flimsy. Fake.
This is the summer of seeing what happens, when I remember it’s just practice.

5. After the Storm (Resilience)

Is it obvious, what I’m going to say now? Taking rest is a practice. Like any practice — from teeth-brushing to meditation to writing — this is not a one-time thing.

If you believe in God, this is the part where you sing God’s praises and say, Damn, that was smart, the whole Shabbat thing. It’s like God not only saw the writing on the wall — oh, these beautiful humans are going to be a mess sometimes — but like God, too, needed time to integrate all of that making and doing, all of that responding and surveying and deciding what to create next.

Shabbat doesn’t save me from moods, but it gives me a little more resilience when they come. Being good to myself — spending time just being — this is what reinforces the inner architecture that can withstand the gale force winds of emotions, passing moods, hormones, and other potentially damaging forces.

I write about practice. My work, be it prompting people in their writing or their lives (or both, as if often the case), is completely oriented around practice. And like all practitioners — of anything, really — I’m no exception. When I don’t take rest, my resilience goes out the window. It becomes a victim of the storm. And since the storm is me, I literally become my own victim. That’s really not how I want this to go.

And so I take rest. I hold on to the rafters when I have to. And I watch when the skies clear. I lean over and kiss my wife on the cheek. It’s dark, time for bed almost. And I’m ready, for a brand new week.