river

the running river does not care
it does not care about your pain
your suffering
your joy, your ecstasy

it only flows

it is there to remind us that nothing is meant to last
for even the river will run dry one day
and when it is gone it will not care

the stones will not mourn its passing
the wind will not weep to see it gone
the sun will not cease its shining in protest

it only flowed
and now it does not

but the river has no opinion on such matters

one day you will run dry
you may care
and others may care
and one day that will cease as well

flow like the river
pour like the rain

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Samadhi

Some lessons are easy to learn. Others need to be taught over and over and over again. Others still can never truly be learned, only practiced.

Being present is a practice that defies completion. I so often catch myself engaging in distraction and displacement, especially living here. I think about the past…

perfect moments preserved in time as untouchable, intangible things
moments i remember feeling free and unburdened
moments of exquisite beauty, ecstasy, or joy
moments unblemished by annoyance, frustration, or anger, a dull stone polished to a shine, cleansed of its impurities
i think about these moments and i long to return to them or to find them again somewhere else…

I think about the future…

if only…
if only i could change something about myself, about my life
if only i could have that thing
if only i could be in that place instead of this one
if only i could be with that person
if only i could do that instead of this
…then i would be happy
and yet when that eventually becomes this the hollowness remains, the desire for that is so quickly replenished…


It’s so easy to forget that all of those “perfect” moments only ever occurred in the present. While they were happening they didn’t occur in some idealized past or some yearned-for future. They occurred only in the now, until this became that and impermanence reminded us once again of its inevitable truth.

One day, among the buzzing chaos of the city, amidst the swirling eddies of distractions and temptations, I found myself practicing being present in my body through the meeting of breath and movement, the combination of effort and ease, the bringing together of opposites. As I moved through the last asanas and into the final resting pose of every yoga practice I lost myself in samadhi, the abiding mind. It was only then as I lay there basking in the stillness that comes after careful exertion that I realized;

this moment is perfect. all of those moments from the past that i cling to and escape into and all of those potential moments in the future i fantasize and dream about reaching are right here with me in this moment…

The end of suffering doesn’t exist. There is no time that will come when effusive joy, happiness, and contentment are all that is left for me. If some temporary end of suffering does exist, it is not in the future or the past, it is now.

All I can really do is try to be open to learning this lesson each time it comes. All I can really do is continue to practice that which can never be achieved, and to allow those perfect moments to come and to let them go when they are gone.

Something Old

27 July 2018


I see I see I see

    a river

       water flowing

           sunlight splashing on the folds and ripples of the great moving mass of water

    tears falling

        stopped, held, stuck

    curly black hair falling in boiling, broiling rings, shining

A smile, straight white teeth set against parted lips, eyes squinting in a laugh, joy

I feel I feel I feel

Warmth, heat, burning, singeing, fire

 A great blaze roaring

   The flames lick my toes

 I am bound

Ropes, thick cords wrapped tightly around ankles and wrists

Death, cold and calculating, biding time

Alone, in my pain and my struggle

Alienated, even from myself

I don’t know who I am, or what

I cannot see myself clearly anymore

I hear I hear I hear

    the sound of laughter

        turned into pain

  crying, sobbing, grief

  A tearful goodbye in a cold, blue light

         orange

             a window

voices calling my name in a foreign language

    and I, unable to answer

        afraid

A calling. A low thrumming sound

  beckoning me forward

     a beating heart, thumping

An old woman’s voice, thrown into an endless void, seeking purchase and finding none, slipping

I want…

  love

    acceptance

       flowing

          freedom

               free

               free

               free

               free

               free

Freedom from pain that feels so undeserved and so unfair — but who deserves their pain?

To know…what is right and what is wrong

Guidance, a firm hand on my shoulder, someone to rely on

To stop hurting this way

or to somehow accept the way it is

    EMPTINESS, to not feel full to bursting at every moment of every day

The people I love to know and feel it

To be in all the places I have been and will be

To open the door and embrace something impossible

Balance is exhausting. Being alive is exhausting.

The beating heart. The sound and shape of aliveness. The flat line. I feel too alive. Too raw. Like an exposed nerve.

Blood pumping through veins, bone and sinew.

Something broken, something wrong.

     And always the fear

Fear that it is, fear that it isn’t

Fear of never knowing one way or the other

Maybe this is everyone’s struggle. Maybe everyone feels this bad all the time. What a sad possibility

  and yet it makes me feel less alone

Free

“Every situation is a passing memory.” 

Pema Chodron

Oh, to be free…

To be free from need. To be free from expectation. To be able to flow freely. To be free from desire.

To be free from the past, and from the future. To be free from the pull of escapes and soothings, the phones, the -ines, the made-up worlds where goals are clearly defined and always within reach, where things make sense because they were built for a single purpose.

To be free from concrete sidewalks and towers of glass and stone. To be free from gutters soaked by fetid pools of congealing water and trash. To be free from the chains of capitalism, from the grinding gears.

Freedom lies within. Freedom starts in the heart. I already have everything I need to be free, such is my incredible privilege.

So why don’t I feel free?

I have all of these moments stored in my mind — idealized and romanticized moments of incredible and total freedom. Running around the cul-de-sac on a summer night decades ago. Sitting and smoking on a balcony with a future full of possibilities. Cutting through quiet backstreets on my bike as the fallen leaves of autumn fill the air with their scent.

They are perfect. They are unblemished. They are not real. They are a fiction, a wish superimposed on a memory turned into an ideal. So why do they keep coming back?

Why do I so often find myself wishing I were somewhere else? In a place more ideal, somehow different, somehow free. How do I practice letting go of all of those idealized futures and pasts and let myself be free here and now. There is always some kind of excuse. I tell myself I need more time, or I need to do something else first.

Then I try to remember that there’s no better place to start than right where you are. There is no better time to start than right now. And that no matter how far I get from that space, I can always come back to it. It is always here waiting for me. Patiently, without judgement, without need. Free.

WE ALREADY HAVE everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” 

Pema Chodron

Dirt

The other day I sat at the airport and watched a man in a big tractor scoop up heaping piles of dirt and move them from one place to another. Scoop, swivel, dump. Scoop, swivel, dump. Over and over. When he was done he smoothed out the dirt to make a little ramp for himself to get down off of the pile of dirt he had made.

Afterwards, I thought about how incredibly tedious that job seemed to me. I imagined that man in his little hard hat climbing down from his big-little scooping machine and standing with arms akimbo as he admires his handiwork, perhaps feeling something akin to pride, fulfillment, or meaningfulness in his work. I imagined that man taking off his hard hat and reflector vest and going home after a long day, and his son or daughter asking him, “Daddy, what did you do at work today?” And he replies, “Well, child, I moved dirt from one pile into another pile.”

Then I thought, “Isn’t this just the entire human condition? Moving dirt from one pile into another pile?” What pride it gives us to complete such a task. What lengths we go to to convince ourselves that it needed to happen at all, and to convince everyone who sees it how necessary it is. And if the very next day, or the very next hour, someone else comes and moves the dirt back to where it started and stands looking at the new-old mound of incredibly necessary dirt with a heart full of pride, what difference should it make to us?


My practice had many lessons for me today…

Laying in shavasana, a corpse among corpses, I saw all of our breath, our essence, co-mingling like a fog above us as we “slept.” I saw the connections between us and the oneness of all our vast and varied experiences. The dream we were currently having in our corpse-like state as real, or more real, than our lives. I saw us and our energy collecting and dispersing, the fog taking shape only for a brief moment before dissipating again. Collecting, creating oneness, then dispersing, collecting again, and so on. I imagined lines of light travelling throughout the vast city blocks, meeting here. We all share something, even if we don’t know it.


Is my whole life just this same pattern of collecting and dispersing? People come, people go. I search for meaning within the chaos, nothing permanent, not knowing what I want or what I need to be happy. Moving dirt from one mound to another, and back again.

If it is, so what? Build your mound of dirt. Make it yours. Name it. Love it. Plant a flag on top of it. Decorate it. Sleep on it. Stand looking at it, heart full of pride. Show it to your friends and loved ones. Then knock it down and build a new one, and start it all over again.

Something

One day while quietly searching I met a boy made of stone. He was holding something — something he didn’t want me to see. He told me he didn’t want me to see, he didn’t want me to know.

I asked him to let it go, to open his closed fist, knuckles white from the strain, and let it fall to the floor. He told me he didn’t know how. He told me he was afraid — he was afraid that if he let go he wouldn’t know who he was anymore and then I would know that he was nothing. He was afraid that if he let it go he would vanish, that he would go away forever, and that that was what I wanted.

I told him that he makes me who I am as tears rolled down my face. I felt all the people in my life that I love and I knew in that moment that without him I would be nothing. Nothing to anyone.

I showed him how to flow like water. “How do you do that,” he asked me with eyes wide. I smiled and extended my hand to him. “Come with me,” I said. I asked him to come with me and see what the world has to offer to one who extends an open palm in place of a closed fist.

I led him away from that cold, dark place and showed him all of the beautiful things I have seen.

Wide, rocky beaches awash in the orange and red light of a setting sun obscured by soft, billowy clouds where magic lurks among the rocks and the trees, the air electric. The impossible, infinite skyline of a city of ghosts shrouded in mist. Crystal clear water ensconced in ancient trees, hiding secret stones in its depths. An ankle-deep lagoon ringed by cliffs where the soul of the earth flows like water. A mountainside beyond time and space where bright blue sky swells between sprays of pine needles and the only sound that can be heard is the crunching of dirt underfoot and wind rustling leaves.

He saw these places and he saw all of the people that led me there just as I had led him. I showed him love and I showed him heartbreak. He asked me, “But, didn’t that hurt?”
I responded simply, “Yes.”

In an open field under a cool, bright sun we stood. His stone became water and my water became stone. I pictured all of our pain, our trauma, our suffering moving its way through every inch of my body. It moved from deep within my belly down through my heart and lungs, up through my throat and my eyes, into the tips of my fingers, into the strands of my hair. The pain filled us, and because we were there together and because we opened our closed fists to drop the things we were holding onto it felt bearable. It didn’t feel like it was tearing a hole in me anymore.

Maybe I can do this. Maybe we can. Maybe we can be something to someone. Maybe we can be something to ourselves.

Sustenance & Contemplation

I feel so far away from the Peace Corps and from Thailand. A year ago feels like a decade. Those first days in Thailand feel like memories from someone else’s life — and they are. The person that I was then doesn’t exist anymore.

Each moment we are born anew. Sometimes I can feel the truth in that — like really feel it. I can feel the “big T” Truth in it. It sounds so right to me. Then it ebbs away as quickly as it came, like the ringing of a bell falling slowly to silence.
I wish I had the opportunity to just sit in that feeling. For a week, a month, a year. To sit inside a temple on top of a forgotten mountain in the middle of nowhere and do nothing but sustain and contemplate. To sustain myself with breath, sleep, food, and water. To contemplate Truth, such as it is. To contemplate the things that are true, and also Truth, and all the things that are true because we believe in them, because we cling so dearly to them…

…that we are all special & unique. That our lives mean something. That they don’t. That all of this was made just for us, just for me. That you were. That thought is an abstraction. That consciousness is real. That there is a self. That we have an identity. That we are better or worse than anyone else. That the world is full of cruelty and suffering. That love conquers all. That a sky blazing orange, red, and pink is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, indeed, that it is beautiful at all.
That it is what it is. That it can change. That it should. That it shouldn’t. That only the small things matter. That only the big things do. That every moment is brand fucking new. That every choice is available to us always. That we are slaves. That we are free. That life isn’t fair and it never will be. That any of these words matter…

…and the line thins out and becomes nothingness — the final, faint sounds of the knell cross that invisible line between existing and not…only the heartbeat exists. Only the breath.

and then we are born anew again

complete

I am weak
I am vulnerable
I am broken

I need care
I need love
I need to be seen

I’m tired…
of not being enough, of never doing enough or doing it right, of never being “done” with anything, of swinging between, “i feel more like myself than I have in a long time,” and, “oh no, here it comes again,” weekly, daily, hourly, minute by excruciating minute
I’m tired of always being tired

Little boosts here and there. Little moments that make it feel like the struggle will be worth it.
Can they carry me?
Where do I even want to go?

I want to vanish. Still, even now, even after the good days and the great ones, I yearn to escape…into what?
Into a meaningless life of self-discovery, into a selfish life.
How can I? How could I? How dare I?

Whatever empty space is there will still not be filled. Anywhere. Any time. The missing pieces will remain missing. I will carry that empty feeling around with me wherever I go.

I may as well befriend it
Accept it
embrace it
be it

I am missing a piece of myself — we all are.

I am empty. I am lonely.

I am already complete. This is as complete as I will ever be, as any of us will ever be. I already have everything that I need.
-What a tragic & uplifting thought-

I am complete in my incompleteness.

Miraculous

My body moved.

My lungs drew breath in through my nostrils and along the back of my throat to make a sound like a blacksmith’s bellows stoking the furnace to keep the heat even. The movement of my body was slow and deliberate, sweeping through the air with fluid motions, knees and elbows flexing and bending and straightening and bending again.

My heart pumped rhythmically within my chest. Energy, oxygen, and blood flowed where it was needed, filled the space with what it needed to contract, expand, flex, or relax.

My body moved. My mind flowed with it. My spirit pulsed brightly within my chest and guided the body and mind to move together as one, binding them.

As my body moved a part of my mind broke free to roam the infinite wilderness. Almost without thought, without intention, without control, my mind ran through verdant fields of green, dense forests thick with pine needles and gray stone boulders, and rocky beaches where little crabs scuttled between tide pools and the surf rolled in and out over the sand.

I started to let go. And as I started to let go my mind flashed with thoughts and memories from previous lives…

Rubber-soled, canvas-clad feet pounding worn asphalt streets, heart pounding with the frivolous joy and boundless energy of youth. Slamming a wooden stick into the ground under a peach tree until it exploded into splinters, face red with misdirected and unspent rage, spittle flying through clenched, white teeth with each furious swing. A feeling of dread and unease in a room with a faded, old couch and a television screen endlessly flickering across the face of a man whose eyes are empty and unseeing, collecting cans in rows beneath his feet.

Fists clenching against the cold and the rain as a drunken scream escapes my lips, “What can I do to fix this,” while she responds, “Nothing.” Head pounding, stomach churning on another Sunday morning, practicing saying, “I don’t drink anymore,” to myself over and over again as something ancient within me begins to crack and break away. A womb of wood extending outward as a fire crackles in the hearth, delicately-picked flowers hanging on twisted twine to dry, windows framing rolling green hills, dark forests, and a twilight sky,

I thought of the people I know and the stories from previous lives that they have so graciously shared with me. Pain, torture, betrayal, cruelty, death, suffering beyond comprehension. Love, joy, discovery, wonder, beauty, and awe.

As my body and mind and spirit flowed they coalesced into a single, discreet thought; that we are all miraculous. In spite of everything we have done, that has been done to us, that has happened to us, here we are. We are here. In spite of all that pain and that trauma, here I was flowing like it was the only thing that I had ever done, like I was born to do it. In spite of all the horrible things that have happened in this cruel world of ours, we are still here to love each other, to see one another, and to thrive. To move. To flow.

What could be more miraculous than that?

Monsters

I sat on the red and white mosaic floor, elbows propped up on knees, arms dangling idly, and took a long draw of my cigarette. The tip blazed and burned and I could hear the soft crackling sound of smoldering paper. I blew the acrid smoke out over the wrought iron railing and into the courtyard where the sounds of families chattering in Hungarian mingled with the dinnertime sounds of pots and pans rattling and water running. The sky darkened slowly with the coming of night and a soft breeze rustled my hair and the same dirty clothes I had been wearing for the last three days. I was alone. Aimless. Without purpose. But free…at least in some ways.

What an incredibly specific and unique feeling. It reminded me of late summer evenings in the cul-de-sac growing up. The warm Santa Ana winds that tasted like the setting sun. The sky ablaze with the fire of twilight. Small, tiny moments of peace and letting go. Isolated pockets of time where nothing else matters but that lived experience.

Idealized, romanticized, nostalgic. So beautiful, in part because it could never last. Part of me wishes I had been better at tolerating being in such an uncertain environment, that I could have stayed “free” longer. It’s hard to let go…

What would it be like to just live each and every moment as it occurs? To drop the story lines and accept the feelings that arise without trying to draw them out, avoid them, anticipate them, or make them last forever — that sounds like real freedom to me. Freedom from the fallacious lessons I have learned and taught to myself. Lessons from another life that are so hard to unlearn. Lessons like “you don’t matter,” or “hide yourself, hide the way you feel, or you will be forever disappointed.”

I am finally starting to unpack some of the things that I put away to prepare myself for the Peace Corps, to batten down the hatches in preparation for the tumultuous sea change I knew was coming. Old, painful truths. Things that feel deep and ancient. I feel these truths knocking on the door, pressing in, demanding to be heard, felt, and understood. Keeping them at bay is only causing me more pain, but some truths feel too hard to hold.

We like to think that only monsters or bad people can hurt us. But you don’t have to be a monster to cause pain to the ones you love — this is a truth I know all too well. Good people cause pain all the time, every day. We say “it wasn’t that bad.” We say “it could have been worse.” We conceal the impact even from ourselves — especially from ourselves. Because how could we accept that things that were so normal to us are actually the source of our pain?

There are so many tiny, beautiful things to enjoy in this world. So many small little moments, the very simplicity of which makes our lives so precious. But to see those things, to be awake, is to see everything. There is no picking and choosing. Joy and excitement and amusement and love let out everything else, too. Sometimes joy and happiness are the absence or relief of their opposite. Sometimes it feels easier to stay asleep.

I want to wake up. I want to be free. I want to accept the painful truths of my life and let them fill me, to become part of the whole instead of keeping them hidden away. I want my light to shine brightly. I want my heart, full of love, to be seen.