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.

Advertisements

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.

Seaside

Cool, whipping wind. A light spattering of rain. The sound of birds and the sea. Salt and pine.

You bring your hand up underneath your nose, the sap still sticky on your fingers, and inhale the scent as you mimic a pinching gesture and enjoy the feeling of your fingers sticking together and pulling apart.

Breathe deeply, lungs full of salt water. Exhale your Self into the fray to mingle among the waves.

Distant sun peaking through chaotic clouds. Deep grays and bright, wispy whites curling at the edges, churning into vapor, skittering across the sky at speeds that makes it seem like you could reach right up and brush the tips of your fingers along the bottom as they fly overhead. A hint of bright blue showing through here and there.

The sea churns, spraying foam. You hear the sound of a thousand tiny bubbles popping in unison…

CRASHHH! tsssssssssssss...
WhooshCRASHtssssssss...

Whipping wind just cold enough to remind you that you have skin.

Here, at the edge of the world, time stands still. All moments past, present, and future coalesce and condense into one. They are all the same, all happening at once. The person holding your hand changes. The name of the beach changes. You change. You flit back and forth through time, each time a different person but it is always You. Somehow.

What falls from the sky and churns at your feet are the same hydrogen and oxygen that help animate your body, filled with particles formed in the heart of a star infinity years ago, changed form, given and taken energy, electrons rearranged, but all the same. Just like you.

Past and future are just concepts. Words in a book. Sounds that come off of the tip of your tongue. “Now” is irrelevant.

CRASHHH! tsssssssssssss…
WhooshCRASHtssssssss…

The yelping of hungry gulls calling out to one another on waves of wind pulls you from your infinite moment and time begins to unfurl and flatten once again. The secret truths of the universe sink slowly back into the cracks to occupy the space between atoms, infinitely patient, cold, and uncaring.

And when you are done using your body, when the cells and molecules that make up you cease to be “I” and change once again for the nth time into something else, the secret truths shall remain.

Wet sand crunches quietly underfoot — stones become pebbles become grains. A gust of wind wraps around you and you plunge cold hands into coat pockets, shoulders hunched against the assault. The necessities of being assert themselves once again and the moment falls away even farther.

Here, at the end of the world, you are.

Turn yourself bravely towards the Truth. Fall into the cracks between worlds.

Meditation Notes

I once read somewhere that we call meditation a practice because we never actually achieve what we are trying to achieve when we engage in the activity. We cannot perfect it. We cannot do it right or wrong. Just as we cannot perfect ourselves. Just as what is right or wrong for ourselves is not always as clear as we like to pretend it is. I hope to keep practicing for the rest of my life;

1.13.19

Intense emotion and a feeling of opening up around the idea of ‘waking up’ and the opposing ideas of asleep and awakened.

Waking up to the world hurts. Being awake in the world is painful. There is so much around us every day that we don’t let in because seeing it and letting it in at every moment of every day would tear us to shreds. Being awake means being open to everything. It means not choosing what I let in and what I don’t.

I want to open like a tree, or a river — something primal and ancient whose very nature is openness, something that cannot help but to just be open.

1.21.19

Jagged imbalance to alignment. A floaty, soft, diffused feeling of flow, peace, calm.

The journey of meditation. Each experience feels different.

Lines, ropes, cords connecting me to others. As I breathe in and out they vibrate at different frequencies. My breath goes out along the ropes.

It’s like being dropped into a wilderness and searching for something — or trying to stop searching. Trying to find a place or a feeling, and then trying to stay with it and be still. Sometimes I don’t find it at all, no matter how long I sit. Sometimes it’s an endless desert. Sometimes it’s a cold, unforgiving mountain slope leading to a summit that remains always out of sight. But sometimes I do;

I pictured an open, airy cave in the forest. Bright light streaming into the space speckled with jagged gray and white stones, and being cut with clear, flowing water. The sound of life echoed throughout and across the chamber. I could feel the soul of the Earth there. I stopped to listen and to feel. I stopped to let nature’s spirit flow through me and to allow myself to be reminded that all of the ideas and concepts I have created, read, and discussed that separate me from that spirit are purely philosophical. At the end of the day, at the end of every day, the stardust that makes up my body, my mind, my heart, these things that I agonize over endlessly, is the same stardust that makes up the stoic and tall-standing trees, the determined and flowing river, and the colds stones wearing slowly away under the constant drip and flow of water and wind.

I pictured myself there and I experienced a feeling that I felt once many years ago — a feeling which continues to come occasionally into my mind as I sit in meditation even now. That feeling was cords, lines, or strings attached to my body and running out into the wide world. Those lines of light and thick cords run out to people, places, and things. Some of those things are known to me, others are abstract. I see people’s faces and feel my love for them. Feelings attached to places or times. Concepts like nature, freedom, kindness, and love. As I breathe in and out these connections become more taut and more relaxed. Sometimes they pull tight in a way that feels as if they may snap. Other times the lines are so slack I cannot feel what is on the other side at all. All the while I try to manage the effect these opposing forces are having on my body, to hold them all in balance.

Sometimes I feel as if I am being ripped apart by them. Other times I feel a oneness that is indescribable and incomparable, as if every thought, feeling, or idea I have ever had is shared by every human being living and dead.

22.1.19 

What is the difference between meditation and just sitting? 

You’re just sitting there.

Yes, I am. 

Semantics. Sometimes, when I am being unkind to myself, when I forget what the word “practice” means, I find myself being judgmental that I didn’t meditate the “right” way. Maybe I didn’t get where I wanted to go. Maybe the journey didn’t lead anywhere at all. Maybe I continue to feel imbalance. Maybe I am distracted and unable to focus.

Regardless of these maybes, I do think there is value even in “just sitting,” whatever that means. I think there is value in giving ourselves the time to be present in our own bodies and listen to what our minds and bodies have to tell us, to intentionally forgo distractions, even if just for a moment. To practice waking up, even if we never actually do.


Perhaps practice will allow me to see and accept that all of these things are true at the same time. Sometimes I wonder if my experience in the Peace Corps didn’t shake something loose within me. I find myself struggling with things now in ways I didn’t even think were possible. As I struggle to understand them I try to be kind with myself and to remember that the pain of waking up is very, very real.

Honor it. Accept it. Embrace it.

Center

“Welcome to your bodies.”

I lay there in shavasana like I have a thousand times before and cried — openly and from a place that felt so deep. It felt like forever ago that I cried that way. I felt like I was letting go of something I didn’t even know I was holding onto. I felt like I was returning to something ancient, something that humans have been returning to again and again for tens of thousands of years.

I was letting go of Me — not me, but Me. The Self that I convinced myself was real, the identity I still cling to, the person I was or wanted to be, the person who never existed except in my wishings and pretendings. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to practice letting go of that Self, of any concept of self that is static and unchanging.

Yoga was my community before I knew what community really was. Silent, slow, and patient. We were connected through our shared practice, our exchange of energy — a couple dozen people gathered together, all sharing something unique and universal. The desire, the wish, the intention to be awake, to wake up to our lives. I have neglected this part of myself for far too long.


Upon a recent visit to the planetarium with a group of students I learned that, due to the speed of light and the constant expansion of space, we are all at the center of our own observable universe. There is a sphere around us that we can observe, one that extends 13.8 billion light-years. Beyond that point we can observe nothing. The sphere moves with us, and everyone has a different sphere.

This reminds me that there are no straight lines, no linear progressions. Everything changes, everything is in flux. Our world is not static, and neither are we. No matter how far I go, a step, a mile, a million-billion-trillion miles, to the end of my universe, I am always at the center. I will have moved nowhere at all.


“people leave
because
unlike matter
that has firm, solid, strong
molecules
people are made up of
air, fire, earth and water
that change shapes
that keep moving
that cannot stop
and let them be
the things they want
the shapes they like
because
in the end
you too will grow
into something
entirely new
so let them go”


― Noor Unnahar, Yesterday I Was the Moon


What we take in changes us. Breath, experience, love, hate, cruelty, grief, joy, elation, relief, everything. That is why Me is always in flux. The only way to prevent this kind of change is to be closed, to the deny the very nature of our existence. What kind of life would that be? A torturous one, no doubt, though I find I am pretty good at torturing myself sometimes.

Just like the breath, the things I take in every day and in each given instant can only be held for a time and must be let go. I can only hold for a moment, but that moment is all that matters. Because we are always, in any given moment and any given place, the center of our own universe.

So let go of self and just be, always at the center. Let change and impermanence overtake you and inhabit the very nature of everything you do.

Waking Up

“All activities should be done with one intention…that intention is that we want to wake up…everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.”

-Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

I put myself to sleep when…

I choose to check out instead of staying present…I let frustration take hold of me and weave a story line…I try to avoid mundane tasks by doing many things at once instead of practicing mindfulness, because even brushing my teeth has the potential to awaken me…I rush from one task to the other, from one place to the next…I don’t consider where my food comes from, or where it’s going…I let my desire for convenience lead me to ignore or accept waste…I mindlessly indulge my addictions…I soothe myself without intention.

I wake up when…

I extend kindness and compassion to others, even strangers…I take care of myself, listen to myself, teach myself, love myself…I allow the present moment to be exactly what it is without trying to change it…I am mindful of my surroundings and how they are impacting me and I them…My internal and external worlds flow and communicate openly…I practice honesty and open communication…I accept sensitivity and vulnerability and let it be so.


How do I wake up even while engaging in those activities that put me to sleep? Maybe it’s not to much about avoiding those activities, but about finding a way to wake up while doing them. Maybe it’s not about changing the activity itself but the way I relate to it. To slow down. To listen. To accept the world as it is.

We are so good at hurting each other and ourselves. Practicing kindness in everything I do while accepting that hurt is inevitable seems like my most difficult task in life, but also the most important.

Past Present Future

There is light in my life again. The rays penetrate through the gloom more and more often to illuminate the things that are present with me here in my life every day. My students. The people I work with. The friends I see every day. What once felt shriveled, small, and dry I can now feel expanding, filling, growing plump once again. 

Missing feels less desperate and more appreciative. It’s been almost 8 months since I left Thailand. I cannot wrap my head around that truth. It feels huge. It feels impossible. How could it be that long ago? It still feels too close to my heart for 8 months to have passed. Temporal distance doesn’t match the physical or the emotional. It hardly ever does, does it?

What an incredible shift. I remember sitting in a coffee shop one evening talking to a dear friend about what I was going through during our transition back to life in the US and saying to him through tears that I would look back on this time in my life and think about how hopelessly miserable I was. So often while I am in the midst of suffering it feels like the only feeling that has ever existed, like it will last forever. And yet, here I am. What a testament to impermanence. 

I feel almost ready to pass through into whatever is next. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be back there again, but today I feel an immense amount of relief and a surprising amount of hope. I feel ready to be here and now in a way that will carry me towards a future that feels nourishing, connective, challenging, interesting, and meaningful. 


Despite my efforts to remain present, the memories still linger. I still think about that incredibly unique feeling of newness and excitement that I felt during those first days on my new journey in Thailand. I still miss the incredibly affirming environment we made for ourselves. I can still feel the heat of those summer days as I rode my bike through the farms and by the schools of my village. I can still feel the love that grew so slowly but so surely in that place — a slow, purposeful opening of selves that grew into a connection that felt almost impossibly deep. I can still feel the pacing of that life, so much less rushed, so much more forgiving, in a way. It is hard not to draw comparisons and contrasts between that life and this one, between this self and that one. 

My heart still holds onto these things, and I cannot ask it to let go.

ฉันยังคิดถึงเธอทุกวัน