New Age. What?

Okay, that’s it.

Yesterday I picked my partner up from one of her personal growth experiences.  She was upset because the person supposedly helping her said, “Well, why can’t you just be mindful when that happens?”

My partner has lovely rants.  This one was something like, If I could do that, I wouldn’t need you.  I would be fixed.  Cured.  I would be the friggin’ Buddha.  But I’m not and I can’t and f*(& you and the train you rode in on.


Then, today, instead of taking my nap, which I swear I WILL do, I listened to the Oprah/Chopra meditation on how we create our own reality.  OH MY GOD!  It made me HOMICIDAL!  There were even exercises to find out where you were stuck in the past so you can just inhabit the present moment as if the past didn’t ever exist.  OH MY GOD!  TRIPLE HOMICIDAL!  (And seriously, I want to remember the crap I learned in case that helps me not to do it again.)

Mind you, I’m all in favor of the present moment.  But I don’t want meditations that make me feel crappy for not being over everything already.  I mean, seriously.  We develop neural pathways from our experiences.  Developing new ones, creating links between the old and new, calming the nervous system…this is the work of a lifetime.  And that’s if you’re lucky enough to not be worried about where the next meal is coming from or which kid has a play date or how you need to fight against oppression today.

I haven’t learned everything I know from being married to my partner.  Just most of it.  And the main thing I learned is that the more we give each other permission to be crazy, neurotic, imperfect, likely to make mistakes…the more love there is.  The more get-out-of-jail-free cards we hand each other, out of compassion for each other’s fucked up humanness, the more we truly grow into open-hearted closeness.

Yoga, meditation, Buddhism, religion, New Age philosophies, positivity…I can’t live up to it all, and WHO WOULD WANT TO?  Sometimes, it’s nice to lie around, eat pizza, fart, and laugh at each other.

Gratitude and Grace.  Touch me.  But not as much as being stupid with the person I love.  Who doesn’t ask me to do the impossible.  (Except when she’s triggered.  But I won’t go into that.)

The Presence of Strangers

This past weekend I did an acting showcase at TVI, which was so fun, rewarding, challenging…I got to fight with my ego for three solid days, which is part of acting.  Sitting, watching other actors work, being glad they’re good, but also comparing yourself, fantasizing about your future, feeling not good enough…I have to tell you, I felt so grateful for Buddhism and yoga I could have cried.  It’s so different to watch those thoughts and be like, wow, I’m really not liking my feelings right now, obviously, so I’m having these thoughts…only I don’t like them either and wouldn’t it be terrible if I BELIEVED THEM!  This weekend, I didn’t believe my thoughts.  I heard them, I listened, but I knew them as statements about how hard it is for me (or anyone) to put myself out in the world, to show not only whether I possess talent, but also who I am–my take on the world, the way I see and feel, my body and what it can openly express.

I loved this weekend not only because everyone in the showcase was good, and not only because I learned and got to do what I love, and not only because I could hear my own craziness with some real equanimity, but because the weekend started with a human connection that had nothing to do with acting.

I was taking a cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and my driver did this rare thing–he turned off the meter and stopped charging me after he made a wrong turn.  Then I didn’t pay with the credit card right away, so the machine clicked off.  He talked me into letting him drive me back to Manhattan–and without having been paid, went to the bank to do some business to give me time to get ready to go back.  In other words, he trusted me.

My friend Sam, watching me hurry, said, “How did you get a NEW YORK CABBIE to let you not pay while he waited?”

I said, “I just figured that I’m trustworthy and he could see that, so he trusted well.”

Sam was like, “Nice.”

So I get back in the cab, and I started talking to the driver.  This is from traveling all over the world–I’m really curious about people, so I often ask cab drivers their names, and where they’re from, and how they got to this country and what they think of it.  Or else we talk about sports.  I’m kind of happy to talk about whatever.  But in this case, the driver told me that he had been educated in France, then went back to his native Cameroon, where he taught farmers to use technology so they didn’t have to be swallowed up by the corporate farming coming in, and so he was an activist and was threatened with jail and expelled from his country.  Then, here in the US, he was a victim of racial profiling by the NYPD, falsely accused of assault, and spent four years in court trying to prove his innocence (he mostly did).  I asked how he felt about driving the cab when his education qualified him for better work, and he told me he couldn’t work for corporations, and he had learned not to hope, but just to take each day, and enjoy what he could.

I’m not a fan of injustice.  I have also been an activist, and have been a recipient of some pretty heavy rounds of homophobia and sexism, so though he may not have known it–he talked; I listened–we are very alike.  When the cab stopped at the yoga center, I decided to just tell him how I felt.  So I said, “Thank you for telling me your story.  I want you to know that I have fought for justice in the world, and part of the reason I do this is because stories like yours make my heart hurt.”  And then, to my surprise (and certainly his), I started to cry.  I contained it as well as I could, but the look on his face wasn’t only surprise.  His face grew suddenly younger, and that hope he had foresworn made a brief appearance.  This moment happened…when I was as connected to him as I have ever been to anyone in my life.  Then it passed, and he asked me to take a picture of his name and cab number in case there was ever a way to help him, which I did.  And I got out, went into the yoga center, cried again, and then did yoga.

We so often think of listening as the gift, but truly, to tell someone what has hurt us, what we have struggled against, how we feel in the world–that is also a trust.  I love when people trust me.  I love when I can live up to it.  And here’s the thing–he gave me that gift.  I went into my struggles with acting with the knowledge of my own humanity, and my connection to the suffering of other people, and how important it is that we find a way to reach each other.  It gave the usual struggles, the ego, the insecurity, the desire for affirmation, a context.  I felt, ironically, worthy of my place on this earth.

The gift was trust; and I was the recipient.

The gift was witnessing; and I was the giver.

Thus do we heal the world.  In such small moments, that mean everything.

Voices from the Beyond

Today my friend M. called.  He lives in Oregon, and we spent a week together doing a workshop in like, 2009?  2010?.  He reminded me of my friend Steve, who I loved like a brother, and who disappeared from my life and community.  I told M. about this, and he said he felt an instant kinship with me.  He offered, I think, to be my new brother.

Anyhow, one week together at a workshop in Arizona, not even in the same group, and we still talk every couple months.  No awkwardness, just a jump right back into what’s really going on at the center of our lives.

I am so grateful for this.

So this morning, getting ready to go assist at Tristan Binns’ Iyengar Ropes class, then to the gym, then to meditation practice group, I just rest in one moment of utter gratitude.

I’ve adopted and been adopted by so many surrogate brothers.  I love the men in my life, their tenderness and the ways they secretly or not so secretly long for a safe place to land.  I hope, always, to be that place.  For me, being a feminist is somehow linked to this sister/brother thing that I had to break to learn how to really do.  I fight for my voice as a woman in a world that doesn’t always want to hear me.  And I listen to the men in my life, who are often terrified to speak.

And today, a day of yoga and Buddhism, I am grateful for all of it.  For my friend M., and my partner, the boy-girl one that she is, blurring all gender lines, teaching me that we can only define ourselves, and hope for a witness.

When I am open enough and wise enough to give this, I am grateful for everything.

The Fault in Our Stars

That’s a stolen title.  From a book I just read, in which the main character is a teenager with cancer.  Read it.  If you want to be ripped open and sobbing at 2am, that is.  (Yes, like me.)

I’m just back from NYC, which always seems to be revelatory for me.  This trip, I got to see how acting, meditation and yoga come together in my life, as well as to take this little dive into early morning mortality and despair.  What a strange, strange trip we’re on (which is a misquote from the Grateful Dead, and I know it because I gave my younger sister a Dead album and then she and the next youngest brother became Dead Heads and followed the band around the country.  Oh, how our simplest actions come back to haunt us).

Anyhow, I rode Megabus back to the city, nauseated the whole way (why do I use that line?  $3 ticket is why…), and in the middle, because I couldn’t find my Ipod or my headset, and I was too nauseated to even try to read, I called my friend A., who reads Noam Chomsky and just about everyone else (though he may not have finished college, he is the smartest person I know), and talked about doing my new monologue, about a woman who’s ex neglected to watch their youngest, knowing the girl was uninhibited and impulsive, and so the girl drowned.  After 15 years of refusing to take responsibility the husband shows up to torture her again by absolving himself and threatening to take away her house (which he owns), so she kills him.

My kind of monologue.  And A., who misses nothing, said, “Why is it your kind of monologue?”  And I said, out loud on Megabus, “Because I can just really relate to a life of unbearable and endless injustice.”  And then we started cracking up.  Which is, of course, why we’re friends.  I mean, not everyone would see that as funny.

I don’t know what the people on the 6:10pm from New York to Boston thought.  Probably not my business, anyhow.

Here’s the thing–in America, we are taught to be happy.  Pretend-happy, as it turns out.  At least, I find true joy to require open heartedness and a willingness to be dashed against the rocks.  Pretend happy just requires that you pretend all the bad shit happening around you isn’t happening.  My family specialized in that kind of pretend happiness, and I couldn’t stand it.  It has left me with a lifelong passion for unpleasant truths.

So today I sat in an acting workshop in New York, having a bad day at best, watching the perfectly made up (everyone was super made up and super chosen in their outfits as only actors can be) and very talented actors try to hit.  I saw some great craft, and some very skilled acting, and heard some very great instruction.  I thought about how acting requires an ability to not be thrown while truly opening up to the unknown moment in which we live while everyone is judging you.  I thought about how acting requires a comfort in your own skin, with your own body, a comfort in revealing your personality, at least, and hopefully your soul.  I thought how I don’t want to forget that acting is about that kind of meaning and courage for me…and I do.  My ambition has always made me unhappy, because acting then becomes about staying thin, and getting my teeth fixed and other ridiculous shit.  Like every other actor, I keep asking, how do I get them to let me in the game?  And if I get too scared that they won’t, I’ll go start my own theatre company and make myself miserable.

It’s not just actors, of course.  We’re all dreaming of things we may or may not get–who knows.  And, going back to the cancer book, there are both possibilities and impossibilities.  That’s the problem, really, in this United States, where supposedly anyone can pull her or himself up by the proverbial bootstraps.  We look to the possibilities, and we are pretend-happy.  Or, we are happy where the possibilities open, and try not to deal with where they don’t.  (Jane Goodall, miracle woman, but so much trouble in her marriages.)

I love that Buddhism is the bummer religion.  I love that meditation is about coming to terms with “what is.”  I love that yoga challenges me to find the truth of my body in so many ways.  My love for unpleasant truths tells me that acting asks me these things:  1) to get over my insecurities, 2) to be relentlessly present, 3) to reveal what I most want to hide, 4) to have openhearted joy and be willing to be thrown against the rocks.  I did manage to spend years learning the craft, but if I’m not relentlessly present, the craft can be pretty useless, and if my insecurities get me, I can’t be relentlessly present.

I find, that because I relate to lives of unendurable injustice, I have a story to tell.  I find that this story is mine, and it is as much about impossibility as possibility, as much about surrender as accomplishment.  It is, in other words, a human story.  And because I relate, I have depth, but because I relate, I have insecurities.  This means I don’t find it a walk in the park to be relentlessly present.

You have to take that paradox somewhere.  I take it to the mat, to the cushion, to the page, to the phone, and then I find myself laughing with A. about the absurdity of everything.

We don’t get to be happy all the time.  As it turns out, happiness isn’t about resting, or stopping.  The real joy that comes seems to require the pursuit of something terribly difficult, a dharma you don’t necessarily get to choose.  As Stephen Cope quotes in his book, The Great Work of Your Life, “You can be anyone you want, as long as that person is you.”

This is me, at 2 in the morning, after a bad/good day, nauseated on Megabus, not relentlessly present in NYC, not having a day in which I can show who I am, and loving my friend A. because he laughed, and my partner because she understood my shame enough to give me a lift out of the hole.

This is me, understanding teenagers dying of cancer, and the impossibility and possibility of dealing with unendurable injustice.  My own, and therefore yours, and maybe, if I meditate enough, everyone’s.

This me.  May we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be safe and protected, may we all be at peace with what is.

The Whole of It

A couple months ago I was eating an early dinner with a theatre friend of mine, and he started talking about life lessons, and why he was here.  He said that he was on this earth to learn how to deal with his anger.  He’s not a particularly psychotherapeutic guy, so I was surprised.  But then we had this really honest conversation about our lives and the center of our own personal struggles.  His is anger.  Mine, I told him, was to learn to hold all of it, evil and rage, violence and darkness, joy and simple beauty.

What happens when two young men set off bombs at the Marathon is simple.  They upset our world view.  They force us to wonder what life is, what is the nature of the world, what does it mean to be human when people commit acts of mass murder and atrocity.

What does it mean?

The courage and heroism and coming together that immediately followed  helps restore us to balance, to the idea that a normal life is possible. Or at least that goodness reigns, that terror cannot break us.

I am struck today, with the city in lock-down, of how connected I feel.  Connected to the city of New York, and to whoever decided to play Sweet Caroline at a Yankees game.  Connected to the people who have died so suddenly, and so young.  Connected to their families, who must grieve the way I would grieve if I lost my partner, who I love, love, love and have no other words for the depth of my love.  And connected to the bombers, because my fear connects me to them, and because I have lived through violence before, and so cannot see it as random or unusual.

I am a person who practices Buddhism, and generally a person who finds it difficult to latch onto religious stories (though I deeply appreciate their beauty and meaning).  I believe that there is a mystery at the heart of the world, and that human beings are capable of experiencing that mystery, but perhaps not capable of understanding it, or at least not understanding it with our minds.  I take comfort in not knowing, at times, not having to have answers.  I take comfort even in knowing that the story I am telling now may not be fully accurate, even though it is the truth as I have lived it.

My friend struggles to heal his anger.  I struggle simply to hold my own experience, and the amplification of my understanding of the world that is derived from that experience.  And my experience comes from being raised in the kind of alcoholic family in which violence was the norm, not the exception.  Yelling, raging, swearing, physical violence–I grew up with these things.  My parents, locked in a death grip that was as much composed of hatred as anything else, hurt everyone around them.  And I know, I know, supposedly this is a personal revelation, but why?  I understand that many people don’t have this level of experience, but we’re all screwed up, and alcoholism is pandemic in this culture, so while I honor my own experience, I also want to say this as not a huge deal–I want to make a point about violence.  And the point I want to make is that it is a part of us.  It’s a part of being human; it always has been.  It doesn’t go away.  I very much wish it would, but if my job is to learn to hold all of it–the ugliness and the beauty–then it’s reality at all costs for me, and the reality I know is that violence is a part of being human.  It’s a part of all human stories, a part of all times in history.

This brings me an odd sort of peace.  Wishing something wasn’t true doesn’t make it go away–it just makes me less capable of coming to peace with the world as it is.

And the world as it is–with symphonies and theatre, with ocean and poetry, with the look of love on my partner’s face, with the way she’s always touching me in her sleep, with the people who run forward to help, to heal, with the ones who touch us with their grief, with their music, with their faith, with their moments of grace.

Boston is in lock-down and I am holding this, now, one present moment, one truth.  The desire to protect all of us that has caused this lock-down.  The madness somewhere, desperate and angry and young.  I don’t have to forgive, but I do have to know it all, because I have taken that as my own healing task–to simply know and hold.  Reality, truth and mystery.

I truly experience, at times, and right now, that every single person on this planet is connected to me, and me to them, as if we were all sparks from one great light, one great mystery, living out all aspects of human potentiality together.

I would love to create peace for all of us.  I would love to be only peace myself, but I am anger, hurt, beauty, fun, brokenness, wisdom…I am not only peace.  I supposed I try to hold onto knowing all sides of life because that is as close as I can get.  My  peace has grief as well as love at its center.  But then grief is love, isn’t it?  It is the way we honor the loss of what we love, the way we say someone or something mattered in this very temporary life.

Metta for all of us.  And I do mean all.  With my most fervent wish that the violence will end today, and for always, I still say metta for every human soul.  I am holding, and I find that I am angry and horrified, but I am, in this moment, free of hate.  I might not be tomorrow.  But if we are all one, then in this moment, I hold horror and heroism and love, the knowledge that I am not alone, and I wish lovingkindness, because that is all I know to do.

May we all be well.  May we all be happy.  May we all be safe and protected.  May we all be at peace with what is.

Part 2: Ayn Rand and the Person Practicing Buddhism

I live in gratitude for meditation and Buddhism.  Because of Buddhism, I noticed this:

  • I wrote a blog about a writer I loved when I was 17-22.
  • This was very controversial.  People wrote comments.
  • I had to go meditate, because some of the comments were personally insulting.  Or at least I constructed them that way.
  • I watched my mind.  How when someone disagrees, or argues, my mind starts arguing back, trying to prove I’m right, trying to win.  My body floods with adrenalin and I get all racy.  It’s not pleasant.
  • Then I decide to write a blog about watching my mind go nuts and my body flood with adrenalin.  Of course, while I’m deciding this my mind is still plotting how I’m going to slip in insults and witty comments and prove I’m right.  Because that is what a mind does.
  • I start to think about why bipartisanship seems impossible, and how a controversial blog shows that once the mind decides a disagreement is an attack the body floods with adrenalin and no one learns anything because they are too busy defending ideas they had in the first place.
  • Of course this is also my mind saying how much more enlightened I am because I am noticing my mind being crazy even while I’m still being crazy.  Ayn Rand’s not the only one with elitist tendencies (as in, I still think I’m smarter than everyone, and I notice this because I practice Buddhism and besides it’s pretty obvious.)

As it turns out, I am a person practicing Buddhism whose life was saved over and over by books, among other things.  Little Women, when I was about nine.  To Kill a Mockingbird, when I was twelve.  The Fountainhead, when I was seventeen.  Another Country, when I was 20.  I am still, in many ways, nine, twelve and seventeen.  I still remember vividly the moment those books gave me, and the permission to be myself.  I am grateful to the writers, and I love the feminism in Little Women, and the character of Jo, the compassion in To Kill a Mockingbird and its rage against racism. I love the passion for individual freedom and expression in The Fountainhead and James Baldwin’s profoundly complicated understanding of how all our prejudices intersect even as we try to reach each other, exemplified in Another Country.  Right now, in this moment, I am focusing on my personal experience of these books, and the need I had for their ideas, for their images and rising song.  I am doing this on purpose, because I do have an idea I want to explore here, and the idea is that all our ideas come from personal experience, and nothing is objective (sorry Ayn Rand).  Perhaps that is why we defend our ideas instead of questioning them–it is so, so personal.

One of the commenters on my last blog wrote about Ayn Rand’s ideas of personal freedom and integrity as adolescent; he said that freedom and integrity must be connected to community, and the complexity of community must be reflected in the morality of the individual.

I don’t really know what he means.  It’s a philosophy I’ve been reading and hearing about–this idea of caring about your community and your place in it, about making your decisions with this larger picture in mind.  About developing your self with this larger picture in mind.  I’ve been interested in this philosophy because I can tell it comes from a life experience I haven’t had, and that always makes me curious.

And so, it comes to the personal.  Ayn Rand was obsessed with communism and its dangers, enough to testify for HUAC, not against individuals, but against a movie that had, in her opinion, communist propaganda.  Oh, how we become what we hate.  That HUAC would do more to violate rights of free speech and to destroy that lives of innovators, that its legacy would be the Hollywood of today (with its plastic values and oversimplified stories), makes her testimony a complete act of self-betrayal–and she was a champion of individualism and individual integrity.  I can only imagine how blind she must have been on the subject of communism, how angry she must have been at American communists, who had never had her experiences of deprivation and oppression.  She believed in the individual because of what she lived, saw, breathed.  Because of what it did to her psyche and soul.  Betrayed by a country that destroyed lives, how would an Ayn Rand develop a philosophy based on group anything?  (And when she developed a community, she had to dominate everything about it to feel safe…so totalitarian.)

It’s personal.  I have listened to the Obamas, to their life stories, to their ethics; I admire them and envy how deeply loved they were by such decent people.  But much of what they speak about is foreign to me (minus A More Perfect Union, I get that).

I grew up bullied at school, oppressed by my religion as a girl and a queer person, oppressed by my country as a woman (the ERA failed when I was still in high school).  At home the oppression was more personal, with as few personal choices as they could give me–and the oppression of the religion showed up as a philosophy of self-sacrifice…meaning that I was to sacrifice myself for everyone in my family, as well as anyone who asked, with no hope of return (because that would be selfish).  Then I escaped, and found that I was queer, and that the world wasn’t really having it, and I might get fired, and I couldn’t get married.  I turned to the queer community, but bisexuals weren’t exactly popular there, either.

Intellectually, I have come to understand that community is important, but my experience, right up through my twenties, taught me that groups of people were not to be trusted.  Like Ayn Rand, my experience didn’t lead me to a philosophy based on making decisions based on altruism (which I understood, as she did, as a tool for manipulation because that is what it had been in my life).  I didn’t base my way of seeing the world on a larger vision of community, either.  Frankly, I was like, “F785 these people.  Get me out of here!”

At the developmental time of life when we decide what we believe about other human beings and life (adolescence, as it so happens), I decided that morality was about being true to self, not true to family (they treated me poorly) or community (just as poorly) or even country (female and queer, a 2nd class citizen).  I defined true to self against what I saw around me, not in emulation of it.  Honesty was and is the center of my value system, because growing up in the bourgeoisie, I saw only false values and people who lied to impress others.  I didn’t think about being loving or kind then, even though I often was, mostly because I loved my siblings and friends so deeply.  I did start to think about those things, eventually, and when I did I realized that I could never consider lies to be loving or kind.  I’m not talking about walking around confronting people (though I did this as a teenager and then some).  I’m talking about telling the truth about my inner reality as best I understand it as a form of caring, instead of telling white lies to make people feel better.  It can be said that I hate any pressure to take care of people’s feelings.  I’d rather know them, tell them the truth, and trust them to be honest with me.

So I’m intrigued by this intersection of morality and community, because I hope it’s not the same old song and dance about how I should sacrifice my life to make other people feel better or more comfortable.  I don’t quite know what to make of it.  I know my own well-being has to factor in; and I’m certainly not interested in oppressing anyone else because I see that as about as contrary to my own well-being as pretty much anything on earth.  So what are people talking about?

If I want to defend myself, I can say that some of the hardships and oppression in my life made me capable of seeing life differently, and some of them deeply hurt my ability to participate as someone with less oppressive experiences might be.

But here’s the thing–the person with Michelle or Barack’s experiences of community and love–that’s not the only world.  That’s not the “real” world.  The real world holds their experiences and mine and Ayn Rand’s and the survivors of the Holocaust and Kosovo, and people of privilege.  Whose view is idealistic?  Or negative? Or correct?  All our experiences come from the same world; we just live in different parts of it.

In Buddhism, no view is any of those adjectives.  Judgment is removed, and one looks at what is.  How can we put the many views into conversation?  I mean, we’re human, it will be construction of reality rather than the real thing, but if we can step back from aversion, craving and “I’m right,” we might construct a more accurate mosaic, or at least one that offers the possibility of peace.

Ayn Rand’s deepest mistake, for a person believing in freedom above all things, was forgetting that all voices should be heard.  Buddhist or not, I believe that.  I believe I may figure out why someone might trust a community, when my own experience tells me that’s insane.  If I listen.  If I let the adrenalin drain out of my body, and just consider.

Because, hell, Buddhism or no Buddhism, thinking is really FUN.

Grace…at Mike’s Fitness

So, the calming practice from this week’s Letting Go of Fear is using the body’s contact points –to earth, floor, seat, etc.–to ground every time you get aware you’re afraid.

I’m like, HOLLA!  Finally an assignment I can do!  Who cares how many times or what caused the fear or what thoughts and behaviors happen.  I feel afraid, I acknowledge, and I calm.

Today is the official first day of the homework, but I started practicing it last night in the car on the way home.  You’re supposed to do it at least 5 times per day.  It’s 5:36 pm and I’ve done it about 200 times.  (This is a slight exaggeration.  I’ve only done it 25-50 times, but who’s counting?)

Anyhow, I’m at the gym after couples therapy–might I digress and mention since my partner and I now both like the Stork, we’re actually working on our relationship?  It was much more fun when we hated him and had an alliance.  Now it’s not so clear he’s going to get voted off the island, though after 25 years, it might be unlikely that either of us will go either.  Anyhow, couples therapy is a good place to practice our calming touch points, especially because the Stork has been a meditator for like 30 years, and when my partner and I get scared and suddenly yell out, “Touch points!” he kind of gets it.  Even better, after I confessed that I inventory my partner’s inner life (like I know what it is) when I’m triggered, and I mimed ringing a bell, the Stork knew it was the temple bell heralding my sainthood.  That gained him about 200 points, especially since my partner didn’t get it AT ALL.

Back to the subject at hand.  Well, back to leading up to the subject at hand.  Anyhow, after couples therapy I went to the gym.  I love the workout high, but I kept doing touch points every so often, because my own thoughts scare me and it’s a sad day because 1) it’s my sister’s birthday and I haven’t seen her in a really long time and 2) Don was slipping out of the world this time last year and I was holding his hand.

I worked out; I did some yoga.  I decided, then, to take a sauna, even though I had no towel or change of clothes with me.  So I stripped down and got in the sauna.  The calming practice came in handy because being naked in public places makes me a little nervous (and the locker room at the gym is kind of public).  So I’m lying in the heat, sensing into the points of contact, and feeling the heat, and listening to my Ipod.  I could feel my pores expanding, and the muscles letting go; I could feel the heat lie itself over my skin, the wooden slats under my ribs…and the very slight smell of cedar entering my nostrils.

Writing is always about trying to put words on the unexplainable.  Suddenly everything clicked in…the song on my Ipod, was, providentially, “No Day But Today.”  I heard the harmonies.  What I mean is that I heard each individual voice and the blending at the same time…and I could distinguish which sounds came through which ear, and the beauty of it slayed me.  The heat, the sweat beginning to bead on my forehead and abdomen, the points of contact holding me, grounding me.  The next song was “Halleluia,” by Sonny Boy Mack.  I could hear him breathe between the notes as the music filled all the space I own, as the slats pressed up against my sacrum, my feet, as the heat continued so steady, and tears poured down my face because it seemed I’d never heard music before, or felt my body against bare wood, or known heat…everything new, everything so terribly real, the senses fully awakened, and who knows why I cried, sitting naked in Mike’s Fitness in Jamaica Plain, thankfully alone in the locker room.  I wanted the moment to never end…I wanted it to stop immediately.

All this seeking…I joke, I know, but I do wonder what life is about, really.  I mean, it’s not ambition.  I emailed my bio in and it has awards on it, and when I won them it was a high moment, each time, but then there was a next moment and a next.  What was notable in the winning were the relationships, the claiming of a voice, the suddenly becoming visible–a moment, a presence, something that passes.

I know that life is about love…but maybe only the love like last night, doing the touch point exercises and then taking my partner’s hand, and, for a moment, feeling the warmth move from her skin to mine, feeling the small bones, the steady pressure–the touch of our hands everything we have ever loved and found precious in each other over these 25 years.

Today, in the sauna, I understood presence.  Again.  I’ll probably forget it, but I knew, without question, that the experience of Halleluia–that level of hearing, feeling, completeness, that grace, that giving over–is the thing.  The one thing.  Life rolls out, one experience after another, and then experience lands, and it’s like oh, I was here to just be with this.  All of it, I might add, the grief, the drama, the sweetness, my partner’s small hand, the beauty of the music, the loss of loved ones.  I am here to be with it.  And then I’ll go, some day, and that will be it…so temporal, so impermanent, so worth it.

If it had taken the last two years of practicing Buddhism to get only that one moment, it would have been worth it.  But the truth is that when I meditate using the body as my anchor, these moments land more often.  I see colors differently.  I smell, hear, taste, feel, everything more.  It’s more joyous and more painful and I need every calming practice I can get to be with it, without running too soon, before I learn, before I deepen, before I am utterly changed.

Awakening to a moment of grace and presence.  At Mike’s Fitness.  The ironies of my life grow exponentially stranger.  Really.  I mean, REALLY.

Letting Go of Fear, Class 3…or, Coping with Boston’s Sports Teams

So, after 2 weeks of finding out that I’m scared of, well, everything, I now get to do a calming practice.  This is good news.  Because sensing into my body during Pat’s games to stop my racing heart from Tom Brady’s f#$%ing interceptions, thereby preventing a heart attack ala football, will be a good thing.  I mean, what is it with the Pats this year?  Are they competing with the Red Sox for biggest roller coaster ride in history?  Not that I think the Pats will embarrass the city of Boston as badly as the Red Sox did.  I recognize that as a near impossibility.

I wish I liked watching hockey or basketball.  Well, actually, I don’t.  When my partner suggests we take an interest in the Celtics or the Bruins, I start talking about my early demise ala sports teams or her early demise ala not paying enough attention to me.

I definitely need a calming practice.

I should say that I did sense into my body to figure out how fear was expressing itself during a near interception in last Sunday’s game, and my heart beat super fast and my breathing went all shallow.  I must be having clinging to winning with sports games.  Why else would I watch?  But I must admit that my tendency toward extremes leads to…well, extreme and unpleasant bodily sensations during losing football games.

And, sports teams aside, I found that the lion statue on Huntington Avenue scared the shit out of me yesterday, partly because my partner and I had been talking about lions and I’d had a dream about lions, so, being Catholic, the statue seemed like a sign (anything that appears 3 times is a sign, not that I’m superstitious) of my early demise and when I sensed into my body my entire shoulder girdle, upper arms and upper back were tingling and tense.  That is how fear expresses itself in the jungle.  On Huntington Ave.

Once, when I was twelve and huddled in my bed late at night with abdominal pains, my father took me to the emergency room, where they did an x-ray.  They found I was very constipated, did an enema, and sent me home.  My father went around for two weeks afterward saying, “I had to pay X dollars to find out she was full of shit, which I knew anyhow.”  I still resent this, by the way.  He was way more full of shit than me, and it wasn’t a good joke and thankfully some of the people he told didn’t laugh.  I am remembering or constructing the women looking at me with sympathy.  I don’t know if they looked at me like that or not, but it’s a nice thought.

Anyhow, the point is, Buddhism is kind of like a spiritual enema.  (Am I actually saying this?)  You get the 1st x-ray.  You find out you’re afraid of way more things than you could possibly imagine.  You get the 2nd x-ray, and find out the ridiculous behaviors you have in trying to avoid said fears (including, disturbingly, a tendency to exaggerate and backtrack so you seem less powerful than you actually are…and that would be me).  Then you walk around disturbed with yourself.  Then you calm yourself down.  Finally, at some point, you investigate the fears, which has the potential purging (ha-ha) effect (I’ve done some of this, which is why I know what’s coming).

Anyhow, in Catholicism, you confess your sins, assuming you know what they are through self-analysis, and then the priest makes you say a bunch of boring prayers.  In yoga, you try to figure out what satya is, and what lies you’re missing…not the egregious lies, but the ones you tell yourself, the way you misrepresent your feelings and desires, and then you seek self-correction.  In Buddhism, you notice, sense into your body, track your behaviors and crazy thoughts, and then try to accept it all.  You do self-correct (the Noble Eightfold Path).

Here is my long-term self-correction: I do not watch Browns/Steelers games because I am from Cleveland and my partner is from Pittsburgh.  This helps us not kill each other.

I would like to only watch Pats games in which Tom Brady throws no interceptions and wins early in the first half.

I avoided most Red Sox games this year for obvious reasons.  Though we won the only one I attended, and I did enjoy, as usual, singing Sweet Caroline.  (Total tangent:  Does Neil Diamond wear a toupee?  Or is his hair just like that?)

I will now walk through my day noticing fears and using my calming practice.  There will be no analysis, especially since Buddhism has taught me that my analysis is usually fiction.

Life is full of surprises.  I have been forced by the sheer power of Buddhist self-awareness to admit I am not the most self-aware woman on the planet.  In fact, I know nearly nothing.  This, for some reason, makes me kind of happy.

I am now, at this moment, doing my calming practice, because I had a thought float in that my stupid father with his inappropriate jokes may have had a point.  I reject that thought as a fear, and I calm, calm, calm.


PS–Yes, of course I know that Buddhism isn’t about purging and the ridiculous enema simile is ridiculous.  I am ridiculous and I am doing my calming practice and accepting my ridiculousness and the fact that most of the time this blog is my playground on paper…without paper.

Buddhism Is All About Realizing You Are More Insane than You Could Have Imagined

So, my partner and I had a fight.  An argument.  A discussion of whose fault it was (this makes it a fight).  I blamed her.  She blamed me.  We both tried not to do this, but we failed.  I hung up on her.  She threw a comment at me.

Then, I went away to hang out with my enlightened friends from NYC, so my partner and I couldn’t really talk about it.  Giving me plenty of material for the Letting Go of Fear meditation practice group homework.

I tracked my fears.  I wrote them down, and then tried to sense where they happened in my body and how they changed my behavior.  My behavior was mostly not calling my partner, though I did send a text message, “metta,” spelled, “Meta,” because Siri inappropriately corrected me.  (Incidentally, I asked Siri if she loved me, and she said, “You’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”  This made my NYC friends howl.)

Among my fears appeared a kind of panic that my partner’s friends would tell her to leave me.  Also, that I would cave first and therefore not win the game of chicken I’d created in my insane mind.  (It goes like this–my partner tries to have the make up talk a couple times, but I don’t like her sallies into the game, so I say no.  Then she gets really mad because I won’t play, and when I try to have the make up talk, she says no.  So I decided I wouldn’t try to have the make up talk and see if she’d crack first.  (She didn’t, but I started the make up talk with a question so she had to be vulnerable first, which came a close second.))

In case you were wondering, this falls under the category of “More Insane than I Could Have Imagined.”  It falls under this category because Buddhism has made me capable of realizing that I’m doing these things, whereas before I just thought I was right and justified…or needy if I wanted to make up really badly.  Now I know I’m crazy.  My partner seems to prefer this…though I think she could have skipped the 3 days of playing chicken.

Anyhow, the good news is that when we had the make up talk, about, one might add, the same issue we’ve been arguing about for 25 years (is she being passive-aggressive, am I invasively describing what’s happening inside her head and is either one of us being really, really, really bad…or, even further, are we reminding each other of our mothers (answer to all questions, yes, yes, yes, and yes))…we actually made some F%$#ing headway!  After 25 years!  We are aiming for satya…you know, some relentless honesty about what we do, what we’re up to, and how much we’re defending ourselves when we want to just love and be close but are, guess what?  scared of being hurt.

My partner said, “I’m trying so hard to hear you and be honest,” and I really believed her, and I was trying, too, and we both do know the score, after 25 years.  I always say that the script is really well memorized for these arguments, and I could say her lines, in order, just as she could say mine.  There are, apparently, couples who don’t argue, and instead don’t talk at all and just resent each other endlessly.  We talk, resent each other, talk some more, resent each other some more, confess we’re scared, especially now, as we’re taking this Letting Go of Fear workshop together.

Tonight, at dinner, my partner was like, “I really hated the middle of this fight.”

I was like, “You know, I just started watching the procession of my own reactions, and I got really interested in them, and then curious, because I hadn’t seen it this way before, so it wasn’t that bad for me.”

She started laughing really hard.

I was like, “I’m just like that.  I get curious, and then it’s like, ‘Hey, someone just cut off my leg.  I’ve never had my leg cut off before.  It’s really painful.  But I didn’t know it felt like this.'”

She’s like, “I know.  I know what you’re like.”

Which is, in the end, the sum up of being married for 25 years.

I can say, for example, that I know since I didn’t print her out a check sheet for the fear homework (because we were fighting) she probably didn’t do it.

Here’s the surprise–I didn’t do it perfectly.
I only did 1-2 most days, not 3, because I was too busy being with my friends from NYC.

Miracles happen.  All the time.  We just have to stop moving and see them.

Metta for my partner.  Who I love, who I love, who I love.

The Stork Returns. I mean, REALLY!!!!

My partner is in love with the Stork.

As we interviewed couples’ therapists and fired one after another (nicely, since I now practice Buddhism), she finally started crying and saying how sad she was we couldn’t see the Stork any more.

I told her if he meant that much to her she could always see him alone, so we went back in to do closure as a couple so she could see him as an individual, and he turned out to be kind of great (meaning honest, sorry for his mistakes).  In his Stork way.  He even kind of got me, for the first time.  (I seem to be heavily inscrutable to these people–it took him a year.)  So closure turned out to be let’s-check-it-out again, and I started tagging along while my partner did the sessions.  Once I fell asleep while she talked to him.  The Stork was like, “Lyralen must finally feel safe if she falls asleep.”

My partner was like, “Am I that boring?”

I was like, “Hey, it’s all you, all the time, don’t complain.”

Of course, I’m still traumatized from the therapist who fell asleep on me when I was 21, but who’s counting.

Meanwhile, the Stork yawned through the only session I talked in, so I can only say that payback is a bitch.

And there is this–comedy reigns in sessions with the Stork.  He’s more or less promised not to cook rice or make telephone calls during our sessions, so things are looking up in the sanity department.  I expect it to last a month or two, tops, before he goes super annoying again and provides me with much blog material.  Stay posted.

Of course, get this–even though I knew, in that super intuitive way I have, that my partner and I belong with the Stork, I insisted we try out another couples therapist who is smart and boundaried.  I knew it wouldn’t work with her–no, not because she’s smart and boundaried.  She has this funky dark edge to her energy that seems pretty judgmental (not my favorite).  But really, I had to actually apologize to her, because me fighting reality (that I am destined to a farcical couples therapy with a very honest Stork) isn’t a good reason to start some therapeutic relationship that has no chance of succeeding.  I mean, I didn’t mind firing the other 7 therapists after mostly 1 session interviews.  We were spending money we didn’t have; and the therapists were either out there controlling (that’s partly the couples’ model, but hey, supposedly they have a brain…they could figure out it’s controlling and get innovative)  (What am I saying?  Most therapists would not come anywhere near Mensa status.  Or any award in independent thought, either.) or completely insane (the one with the gorilla puppet stands out in my mind particularly).  Like, who cares about firing them?  They totally deserved it.

But, my fight with reality causing us to go to someone I know we’ll not ending up seeing who I kind of liked when I met at Kripalu…that felt lousy.  So I apologized last night in an email.  That’s my second apology in a month to a therapist, so the practice of Buddhism is seriously changing my personality.  It’s quite frightening.  Almost as frightening as the occasional lack of chatter in my mind.  I’m like, “Whoa, that is way too quiet.  I’ve gone stupid.  I’ve gone boring.  What am I supposed to do without all these neuroses?”

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from attending the Letting Go of Fear meditation practice group on Tuesday nights.  People in the group laughed when, after announcing I had no fear, I had to ask the meditation leader to repeat his descriptions of unskillful reactions to fear because I kept forgetting everything he said as soon as he said it.  Clearly I am about to join my partner in the land of Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in which a whole village loses its memory and everything has to be labelled with its name and function.

Hmmm.  Fear.  Why am I taking this workshop?  Well, we’re supposed to acknowledge 3 moments of fear each day.  I had my 3 by 5am yesterday, though I ended up acknowledging only one of them.  So I guess I have fear.  Hello to worry, panic (that was in a traffic jam…I’m claustrophic…oh, right, that’s a fear, I must have fear), anxiety, terror, etc.

It should be said that after acknowledging the panic, calling my partner, and pulling over to sit with it, I was able to do a terribly long drive in relative peace.

I practice Buddhism because it works.  Unlike therapy.  In which the therapist gets to act like they’re way more enlightened and sane…a complete lie.  At least in Buddhism we’re all insanely constructing realities that don’t exist.

I am nothing if not egalitarian.