Navigating the Sacred and Mundane

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dream at the Helm

Her eyes close. And so, my eyes may close. While she drifts out to sea, I float, still close to shore. May this rock her to sleep...

We walk earlier in the day. She carries her baby doll six blocks in a stubborn, devoted clutch. Sweat dots, crystal flashes, above her lip. My girl, almost two.

Tibetan nuns whisper in my ear, their melodic syllables weave through this tight mesh of muscle; mid-back down to the sacrum, pain, taut and inflamed. When the massage therapist runs her elbow down the highway on each side of the spine, she gasps, “Ok, feel this? These are supposed to be three separate muscles, moving in relationship to the others.” I hold my breath, remember – Let go, Prema – and try to give up my post, the one where I hold a thousand boxes on my back, in my mind. But in the final letting down, bone to table, a fan of nerve-lightning spreads until I hold again. “On you it’s a bed of rocks,” she moans, and continues to grunt, making sound affects for the tight spots. “Thanks, I get it.”

Face down on the table, I am in the air, over the Atlantic, looking down upon a bug in the landscape. In this direction and that, the expanse of green pasture, vividly burning color of forest, but flat, unpeeled, rolled out for miles and miles. Ireland. Suddenly I am wet. I drop down through rain, through thick milky clouds, out into open blue. Down below, closer now, I see a woman. She is alone, small on a wide stretch of road. Head down, heavy-footed. She carries a backpack in the rain, soaked through. She cries. She prays. I hear her. But the words are not new to me. They are my words, spoken twenty years ago, utterly bare.

I hover above her. My eyes blur with the recognition that I am looking at myself; young woman who walks the world. Shipwrecked.

What can I tell her? As far back as I can see, ruin. Gazing ahead through time, great falling. What can I tell her?

So I call out, first to my friend the wind. Next to the old winged-ones. Finally, to the elixir in the blood of plants that I know. Together they arrive; birds deliver medicine, carried by the wind. And they have a message.

The girl looks up – she hears, no she feels, no, she is embraced by a sensation of many arms around her torso. Dear One, all is well. Keep your faith. Let these tears show you a river. All your people traveled down it, and they hold you now as you walk down this lonely road. Feel the path. Find the way. Know how it feels to fall, and in falling, pay attention to the way it feels to rise slowly in appreciation.

She decides to sit down in the wet grass – no rides today – and settles into reading the one book she carries in her bag. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. She reads further into teachings about quality, but hearing throaty, Himalayan horns, she soon falls asleep. The Tibetan nuns sing to her even then.

I awaken with a start. Lavender on the forehead, I peel the eye pillow slowly away, and swim, swim, swim back to this place, this room, this table. It takes a full sixty seconds to figure – how to move?

I drive three blocks home, sun down. Brilliant red, the best kind of blood-like red, shimmers on trees. Autumn fire, I say out loud to myself. When I walk in the door, I say, “River, look, the trees, the sun, the indigo sky!” She laughs, takes my hand, and leads me to her cavalcade – musical caterpillar, elephant, pumpkin-head basket, all in line. We walk in circles around the house, again and again, until it’s time for music. We dance and dance and dance, me on my knees, ballroom style. She shakes her head side to side, tilts and rattles so that hair is ablaze.

But now she must be off the radar, and me, I’m off the radar, too. Soon to retire, in many ways and forms, I shall meet her – in a place I cannot say, cannot speak of, do not know until I drift out beyond myself.

For all the obstinance of the day, all the failed moments of tact and chances for gracefulness; for all the anger and hours of habit, have mercy. Mercy for the lineage of women in the boat. Mercy for that young, strong-willed woman. Mercy for the men on the other end of all the wrath. And mercy,mercy for the barely budding one who has not the width of one of my hands to hold a piece of this story and make any sense of it.

She is my river as I am in the great river. Together, may we be indelibly held, in this, my bedtime story.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Glenda Goes Tribal

Today I awaken with optimism: Today is a new day. Today I will begin anew.

Opening River’s bedroom door, I am Glenda. This is OZ. I spread my arms wide and declare, “Good Morning, baby!” She throws her frog pillow on the floor, scowls and looks at me: Who are you?!

I don’t give up so easily. In the shower I hear her Dora kitchen taking a beating; blocks fly into the happy landscape poster above the stove. Out and dripping, I say, “That’s ok, Riv, look at what I found!” Winding her favorite music box I lean to hand it to her. But she is already stomping feet and flapping wings. She grabs the music box and throws it down on the tile. I am still Glenda. “River, please, we don’t throw toys.” With a sure gust of bravado, she takes the music box, hurls it over her shoulder; lilty tunes tumble and echo into the hall, landing on top of my father’s antique desk.

As fast as Dorothy can click her shoes, I fly with dangling limbs behind me, and plop her into her crib. “Fine!”

I talk to myself, pacing. Why can’t it just be a nice day. I need it to be a nice day! Following my husband around from bedroom to bathroom, I rant some more. What am I supposed to do?

For three hours in the afternoon, I try to put her down to nap. We drive all the blocks in our neighborhood, up and down, back and forth. Wind tunnels hold leaves hostage at four-way stops, and they swirl like water down a drain. I realize, suddenly, that I have not revised my manuscript at all. It’s been six months since I finished the book, and I haven’t edited. Shock settles into my lower back. Thinking about it every day gave me the false sense that I had actually accomplished something real.

I carry around three hundred pages with me wherever I go, but I can’t seem to sit down and start over.

She wakes as I transfer her from car to stroller, so we walk the same streets, up and down, back and forth. On three surrounding blocks, tractors catapult into driveways. Construction. Down the only open block, a lawn mower starts right as we pass. She sings. She babbles. My back slips block by block. But I breathe, and by breathing, I see the light, and I see the way it falls on the plants: gigantic grey cactus, spears jutting out, succulent great white. Carry us, help me, I pray as we pass under its wake.

I can’t walk so well by late afternoon and she hasn’t slept yet. I lay on the couch waiting for Steve to come home and take her for an hour. River watches Bob the Builder and I dream of the other cactus we passed – desert lotus flower, petals of lime-green heal the pulsating throb above my brow.

And I wonder: how do women in Africa and India, Chile and Moscow, get their babies to sleep? In the fields, across the arid plains, around the murky swamps of village life – what do they know, how did they learn it?

Do babies in an Indonesian fishing village throw themselves on the ground when they don’t get their favorite toy? How many times do they awaken in the night when a family of ten sleeps in the same yurt in Nepal?

Moving away from the fatigue, spinal nerves relax, and I call to them, all of these women in my vision, and ask for their blessing. Show me what is natural, teach me what is simple, help me to remember what all the women before me knew.

Once alone, since my chiropractor doesn’t have an opening today, I waddle back to Peet’s. You know how I feel about Peet’s.

Back for dinner, I look to my shiny set of Al-Clad pans, hoping they will inspire. I don’t cook (per se). “Do you want to go out or stay here and have spaghetti?” Good-hearted soul that he is, Steve consoles, “It’s ok, let’s stay here.”

Deep dinner conversation keeps us at the table - by the end of the meal, River knows how to say, No way, dude! She becomes a perfect rendition of Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. All this before her second birthday - Imagine!

If anyone has words of wisdom about how to approach editing, please enlighten.

I'm off tomorrow to San Francisco for a workshop with a performance artist, about how to take your writing to the podium (for us introverted souls). It's become a recent past time to find what I am afraid of and go in that direction. I'll let you know how it shakes out. Ready with my bag full of anti-panic remedies, I shall go forth.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Old Monks

Alone in the living room tonight. Everyone’s gone to sleep already. I’m tired, too, but won’t let myself go yet. Not sure why. All it takes is a few notes from this Tracy Chapman song and like unexpected rain, tears fall. Am I sad?

It’s easy to turn away from violence. What with a lifetime full of one massive threat or another, we learn to compartmentalize just about everything. Every morning when I go to Peet’s for coffee, I pass by the guy with the cup who asks me for money. Some mornings I give freely, though always carry the tension of feeling horrible about it and not knowing what to do. Other mornings I just walk right past him. I don’t even acknowledge his presence. Just now on TV, an enraged man beats another man. I sit and watch until I catch myself, then turn it off.

I’ve had my share of stalkers, too. Attackers in various forms throughout the years seemed to find me. Or did I find them?

There’s nothing like having a screaming toddler to throw you back to the wolves of memory. It was much easier being a single, thirty-something therapist attending all those meditation retreats. It’s not that I haven’t been pushed to the edge before. I have. But you can leave a lover. Even a husband.

I can’t leave my child. And I can’t leave myself. So here we are, stuck. Or are we wedded? Have we entered into a union of vows that transcend every ounce of fear and anger?

The worst part is when I see that look in River’s eyes. When she is melting down and my tolerance has worn thin, when I am out in a place I should not be inside myself - her eyes say everything. And then she becomes me when I was two. Just when I am brave enough to look, the scene flips and I am my mother. In a holographic sort of healing, I live through both sides in a split second. If, after that, I have any presence about me whatsoever, I remember to breathe. I pause. I look around the room.

I forgive myself.

And I go to her. My girl. My teacher. Sometimes we sit in silence and let the roles drop away altogether. Often she hands me a toy. She does not stand down. She does not collapse. Resilient spirit shows me the way out.

This morning I stood before her fury without exchanging a harmful thought in return. Driving to daycare, I turned down a block to find a row of large, brilliant trees bowing before our passage. I was so grateful. “Weeend, Mama!” Old monks, they bowed again and again. “Yes, sweetie, the wind.”

Tracy sings, “Be and be not afraid...to reach for heaven.” Tonight, for my mother, may she rest in peace. Let this song and this prayer and these words bless the silence of my home, “I believe in mistakes and accidents. That the nature of life is chaos and confusion. Be and be not afraid to reach for heaven.”

May we all find compassion in the moments when we barely remember our own names.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Light in 23 Dimensions

I just ran out of the house – jail break – down the side entry walk, River screaming in the background, Maaaaaammmaaaa!! I keep going. Determined to write, I make the dreaded deal and head to Starbuck’s a few blocks away. But I deliberate. If you knew how much I hate Starbuck’s you would surely understand my desperation. Can’t drive across town to find good coffee and wireless internet. Today I choose time over good coffee (painful) because I only have an hour. I order chai – can’t be that bad – and sit down. Dread! I forgot my headset and two babbling toddlers toss and roll on the bench next to me. I sip the chai – ppaaffck! I stand up, throw the chai in the garbage, and cross the street for my beloved Peet’s, half block up on the left.

Ahhhhh, Peet’s coffee. How can I count the ways? This is a long, long love story that begins in Boulder, CO almost twenty years ago. Not with Peet’s, mind you, but rather the legendary Trident Café at the corner of 9th and Pearl. This is a story for another day. Suffice to say, after cleaning up rat urine with a wailing toddler yanking on your pant leg, the particulars of a cup of coffee become sublimely important.

Yep, rat urine. The exterminator explains that he will not move my stove or clean or provide odor management. Liability – he might chip a tile. So while the tall, dark big-guy stands behind me, I yank the stove from the wall and hoist it mid-room. Not unlike getting River into a stroller, frankly. “You got it?” he asks. I give him that, Thanks, eat shit smile as my neck goes out. “Easy,” I say, and wipe my hands together. Leaning over the dungeonous (my new pet name for the space behind the stove) space, “Yep, that’s rat urine all right,” he confirms.

Unfortunately, I’ve read way too many channeled books in my twenties, so I start thinking about how I might have attracted rat urine into my life. Is something going on that I didn’t see? I only track twenty-three dimensions as I walk through the grocery store aisle. Did I miss something?

I thought the same thing, the karmic thing, as I leaned against the car seat this morning. I sighed, turned back to River and confessed, “I’m sorry, baby. I’m sorry I got angry. It’s not your fault. It’s my stupid mother’s fault.” She stared at me for a minute, studying, then held up her large musical frog and exclaimed, “Fog!” I wanted to say, “Are you sure?” but I didn’t. She just has this way of moving on. I don’t, so I keep stewing. Now I feel guilty for blaming my mother. Guilt. Guilt Guilt. University of Colorado’s Intro to Feminism class haunts me. Not good to bash another woman. Must be women-centered. Must find compassion for my dead mother.

Across the street a toddler flops to the ground, and the mother stands over him pleadingly. She wants to cross, probably to get her life-saving coffee, but, alas, he gets up and runs in the opposite direction.

The rodent guy explains that he can’t come just once, or even a few times. No, he will have to come for a year. It’s a process getting rid of varmints. “Are you kidding?” but he doesn’t laugh. I start to laugh. I laugh too hard and it disturbs him, “Look, ma’am, I’ll spray every ant, spider, bee, and bug for you. In a year, it’ll all be over.” When I ask fanatically into the toxicity of the outdoor peripheral spray, he assures me, “It’s very very very low toxicity. The exhaust from your car is a hundred times more toxic.” I’m sad. Sad. Sad. Sad. I could discuss my shamanic relationship with the bug realm but decide not to go there.

River wakes up from her nap in the garden….ok, from her stroller in the garden, asking for pizza. “Mama. I e peepa.” To make up for the first half of the day, I take her to award-winning Zach’s Pizza for a slice. I’m so happy to be there, all civilized, that I sway back and forth, back and forth, and we laugh and giggle. But then, in slow motion, I watch as her pizza falls apart. The perfectly browned layer of cheese pulls free from the think-crusted end, and like a rug thread caught in a vacuum cleaner, she keeps sucking up the cheese until she can’t close her mouth. I swoop in for maintenance, attempt to pull the cheese out, and she screams until she chokes. Here we are, our reserved seats at pandemonium, where I get to watch chaos unfold from the ceiling. I am no longer in my body. I am floating above – any other detail becomes rest. Except people – they just stare.

I laugh again. And again I laugh too hard. River stops crying, presses tomato sauce on my shoulders and begins to pat my arms. I have to say, “River, it’s ok. Mama’s ok. You’re ok. We’re doin good, baby.” Somewhere in there, in the midst of pizza happenings, I see the woods in the backyard of my childhood home. On an alternate track in my mind’s eye, I feel the quality of light, dappled light, and the way I loved gazing at the opaque neon green of the leaves. Why now? What do you want from me now?

In the grocery store, that light turns to sensation. Warmth against my skin. And I wander into thoughts of indigenous huts and the forts I built in countless bush and dirt hovels every childhood summer. Lugging bags up the front steps, I understand, it’s courting me. It’s waiting for when I have a moment to turn, to see, to remember, to love it the way it loved me when I was eight. If I face it too quickly, poof, gone. And so I keep moving, cleaning in useless circles for the next hour, while tree limbs sidle up beside me like an old flame.

Hiding out allows one to cultivate and hone observations skills. Being a terminal student has its advantages. I will wait. At that door. The door I cannot name but faithfully return to day after day. And some time in the night, or some time next year, what wants to be known will allow me to see – to see by color, without my eyes, into the way of nature. Such is the writing life.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Going Big with Grace and Vision

I write primarily to honor life and to share the grace and the vision. This is what I wrote in response to Jennifer Lauck’s question: Why do you write?

Just back from Portland, sitting in my favorite Indian restaurant. The sitar screams and wails to the tabla’s infiltrating thud. Right through my chest. Straight to the heart.

I cannot avoid what I love and this has made for an interesting journey. The fall-on-your-knees-too-many-times kind of journey. That kind of love is searing – I hate and long for it simultaneously. Walking down the street in India I swing from the rafters of angst and exuberance. Ten years later in my mind, the same.

I ate at this restaurant when I was pregnant, dreaming into the life of my baby, same table, same music. The woman who always works here, long beautiful braid, nods to me every time I come. She peeks out from the kitchen now and calls over, “How’s your baby?” I smile and wave, “She’s almost two!”

Coming from the great circle of women writers, this was the only place I could think to go. Cardamom, ginger, garlic. And chai. One by one, the grandmother, father, and sisters emerge from the kitchen, and stopping halfway across the room, they recognize me and smile. This strange kinship restores whatever alienated feeling I carried through the airport.

Reading my writing this weekend was a big step. It’s not about the writing. It’s about being seen and hiding nothing. Jennifer wonders if she is becoming a wrathful teacher, which reminds me of Rumi’s poem about the knife that is so sharp it cuts things together instead of apart. She has the audacity and compassion required to speak truly. And funny to boot. What a blessing.

One message I walked away with is to write more about the grit. If I were doing that today I would write about the ballistic fit River threw this morning. We went from warm good morning hugs to full-throttle screams as I strong-armed her into a bath. Or how I fought with my husband the moments before and after entering and emerging from the amazing workshop. If I really wanted to dwell, I could write about the foul smell saturating the house from the rat living behind the stove. “Go big with that!” Jennifer would urge. “How is that in your body? We want to know.”

Lovin the objects. Going for the demons!

But truly, thank god for a circle of women. Knowing that ultimately we are alone, we are not meant to do this work alone.

Time to pick up my girl, but I sit for another moment. Eyes closed. The flutes are winding - perfect slithering snakes of sound.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rhythm in Chaos

Chaos theory asserts that life does not follow a rational map. Rather, life follows a rational path until it makes a seemingly random turn, an irrational move, a chaotic gesture. Disorder ensues, and if you follow the trajectory, if it were charted in color, an amazing design takes form. Spirals iterate and dismember. Turbulence disturbs lovely shapes. But something holds together all the disparate pieces until one piece finds another in a compatible, attractive dance. They co-mingle. They embrace. They find a mutual rhythm.

This thought springs forth from sleep-deprivation, the wonderful by-product of mothering an infant/toddler. The delerium reminds me of all the road trips decades ago, driving all night, stopping only for gas. Colorado to Illinois in one straight shot. Only last night it was just, “Mama….mama….mama.” At midnight and one and two and three, she wanted the blanket on - no, she wanted the blanket off - no, she wanted the blanket on. Then she wanted this pillow and that pillow. She wanted to talk about her blume (balloon).

Hour by hour the flu settled into my bones. Abdominal cramping. I fell asleep for a minute and slipped seamlessly into a dream image of River backing up and plummeting over a cliff backwards. Eyes open, heart beating, adrenalin rushing. My husband decides to have a nice talk at midnight, unaware that behind the innocent dialogue rested real family issues. I go down to sleep on the couch until the rat in the kitchen knocks something off the counter – or was it the raccoon eating the cat food? Chaos Theory.

The sock and shoe thing is becoming a morning ritual. This morning it included the coat. She refuses socks, shoes, coat. I deliberate over the cost of battle and time outs, until, after two time outs and shoes in my face, I settle on deep breathing techniques.

At Peet’s I wait for my latte, River in the big girl chair, and a mother than I know walks in and says hello. I cut to the chase, “OK, do you ever have those mornings where….?” She jumps in, “You want to throttle your kid? Yep.” I continue, “And you find yourself thinking and in acting in ways that you swore you would never even consider before you had a child?” “Uh huh….and you remember, oh right, I’m the adult, I’m not supposed to be like this,” she laughs. We both look over to River, who has her plastic horses lined up on the counter. I am, in one second, changed. I know this experience by now – sudden change, abrupt opening, immediate humility. I love her so thoroughly, so intensely, that the story dissolves. The story disintegrates. Love is like a tornado across the field of habit and belief. Chaos theory.

Yesterday on the radio I heard an old writer talk about his near-death experience. Death appeared to him, as he lay on the road after a head-on collision, in a suit and tie, like a banker behind a desk. He was repulsed. In an instant he realized that he fiercely wanted to live. He concluded by saying that sometimes we need that kind of scare to recognize that we actually love life.

I remember this when I am almost run down today outside the house by a guy on a mountain bike. I had just decided to carry some bags to the door instead of carrying River up first. One change of thought, two minutes here or there, and we would have been face to face with death and danger. Still shaky, I fed her lunch and put her in the stroller for her nap. Walking down the block I began to relax into the medicine in nature, when suddenly a man with a red-hooded jacket ran at me from behind a house. I kid you not. I couldn’t see his face but quickly realized that his pants were soiled. He circled us with a tiptoe dance, freaky-limbed gyrations, and then ran behind another house. It’s a beautiful day in a quiet neighborhood in Berkeley. Chaos Theory.

Just about home, her eyes finally closed. I was still thinking about how I would kill that man if he had touched her, still contending with the impact of my own altered state. And I remembered: sometimes we must come undone in ungraceful ways to find a higher level of order.

It’s late and I’m resting into the aching, feverish body. I wonder about the hooded man and hope he finds his current.

I’m off to Portland tomorrow for Jennifer Lauck’s memoir workshop. Reading her blog inspired me to start blogging. I highly recommend her books and teachings. I’ve written in isolation for almost two years now, and I so look forward to sitting in a circle of women this weekend.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Compassion and Paradox

On this day. Every day. In these times. It is so important to be able to hold paradox – that we are all horrible and we are also beautiful. I don’t know where we all learned that we have to be primarily this way or that way. We are everything. If we could but acknowledge it, perhaps we wouldn’t walk around feeling so fragmented. And we wouldn’t exile ourselves whenever we ‘fail’. The irony is that the more we become aware, the more we are able to perceive the complexity of our own fear, we thus reject ourselves for falling short of the wonderful spiritual ideals we adore. Just when we need compassion most, the knife of honed and skillful analysis walks all over the one who simply needs to be seen or heard or held.

I say ‘we’ a lot, but I am really just talking to myself. No assumptions about others. No judgment.

Only a select few in my life know just how I think and feel. Until now. Now I talk to friends on the phone and they say, “I read your blog. So you really think like that?”
Yes. I’m not on crack. I’m not high. Yes, I think like this.

I cannot escape a day without pausing at the middle of a leaf. And then the leaf becomes the earth, an aerial shot from the moon. And that leads me to thoughts of creation and the Divine, which leads me to thoughts of patterns in nature. I end up feeling into my own patterns of thought and behavior. In the middle of all of it is a longing. Constant. Is it really longing, or is it longing mixed with the presence and response of nature that embraces my walk? When I move beyond where I can think, I just keep walking, looking at the leaves, passing windows and wondering about who lives behind them.

I’m tired and something wants to come through, something right here, signals coming through in sensation, barely ready for my understanding.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nursing Lattes and Leaves

Opening to the first light of day, I struggle. She calls out, “Mama…..Mama!” Up from sleep, I roll over and land on my feet. Not all back yet, not all together yet, still though, I manage to pull from the best file, “Good morning, baby! Hi, sweet girl.” I change her diaper in the dark. It’s cold but she protests socks. I put her back in her crib and say, “Ok, you tell me when you’re ready. I’ll be over here.” Not proud of myself, I lay on the bed while she jumps in the crib. She wants to cry, but jumps her way through the hurt. Moments later I stand before her with my arms open. “Ready now?”

We hug. We put on socks. Into the day we go….but I’m….carrying something. Dream hangover? Plane crash into building? Nuclear test? Or just me. I feel the sensation of someone poking me in the chest to make a point, only it’s happening from the inside.

My best friend is visiting. You know you’re nearing forty when, at 7:30pm, the highlight (and you’re truly looking forward to it!) is what TV shows you’ll watch each night. We pull out the couch, nestle in pillows, dip oreos, howl and roar at our favorite scenes.


Who ever thought to put a latte in a bowl? I weave my way through narrow spaces in this small downtown Oakland café, carrying my bowl in the way I might if I were collecting alms, or offering prayers. Not today. Today it’s all about the latte, and joining my best friend who waits at the table outside. Just now she is nursing her baby, and the Italian man asks, “Did you get everything you need?” Looking around, “Actually, we didn’t get utensils.” He shouts over the crowd, “Hey, the woman with the baby needs silverware, get her what she needs!” I smile, “Thanks.”

Is there anything better than sitting with someone you love and sharing what’s really in your heart? She tells me that when she was pregnant her mother started to cry when asking if my friend might experience post-partum depression after delivering. “It’s so isolating, you know? Of course, yeah, of course there was some depression, but you can’t say that to anybody. You can’t talk about that – everyone will think you’re psycho.”

We talk, we laugh, we dish. Sometimes tears arise, then recede, and then the wind, the guy’s hot pink shirt at the next table. We share a poached egg on a bowl of polenta, with hints of blue cheese sprinkled on top. The good thing about aging is that at any point in the conversation I can turn around and look behind me to see a long stretch of time, the long road that we have walked together. Returning to the table, I salt, stir, sip, and delight in what is right before me – these precious details. And the details are never about small things, rather they are an extension of love, to see how many creative iterations love can inspire.

Walking through the neighborhood in the afternoon, we marvel aloud as we pass under a Redwood tree, and then turn a corner at the end of the lane to behold a bright purple bougainvillea. River says, “Mama, fowr.” “Yes, baby, that’s a beautiful flower.”

I’m trying to get closer to naming the truest part of my experience. While walking earlier with River, I looked up into the leaves of a Japanese Maple, red brilliant swarm – like a school of minnows, I thought. And then so many thoughts and feelings followed. Thoughts that reside close to heart, quietly in mind, rarely exchanged except in the privacy of my small, sensual dance with my small, momentary world. Like any intimate relationship, it will just take a bit of time to relax into the opening. It’s been a very long walk-about. Sometimes it becomes a habit to keep walking, to refuse to share generously because there is always so much more to learn.

Upstairs, brushing my teeth before bed, I remembered the sensation in my breasts as I glanced at my friend nursing her baby earlier in the day. It’s been eight months since I nursed River. I lifted my shirt and with the slightest touch, milk appeared. Amazing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Prayer Beads on the Red Body

An image has been stalking me lately. And I have been stalking her. Does this happen to you? I went looking for her, hoping to find a visual to represent the book that I have written, to preside over the website that I am developing, to go forth into the world on business cards and flyers. As soon as she appeared, I thought, Oh no.

I felt the same way when my daughter’s name came to me. Driving on an open road near Yosemite, having just unintentionally climbed Yosemite Falls (six months pregnant!), I looked out over the vast expanse of land. “I think her name is River, “ I said to Steve. “Yeah, I think so, too,” he agreed. I wanted to continue looking. Wasn’t there a nice, practical name that would be palatable to the Midwest relatives? But that’s not how it works. You ask, you pray, you kneel down, you open your windows wide to the wind. When the answer comes, you cannot, then, ask to trade it in for something else.

This image – it’s just her torso. Rounded bronze breasts, ruby red cum cum powder rubbed around the circumference of each. Prayer beads hang over her chest, in a beautifully disturbing line over her nipples. What does it mean? You know it’s something important. In the forefront her right hand reaches forward, bangles on the wrist, thumb and index finger in assume a mudra.

Confronted with perfect juxtaposition – beauty and fear, nakedness and unabashed devotion, raw feminine power and ancient maternal wisdom – I felt an immediate and simultaneous impulse to turn away and hide, as well as an equally intense urge to openly embrace her. For a minute I was caught in the act of both. This is how it is to face art that represents the divine.

As a mother, what I find refreshing about her (can you see her yet?) is that she represents darkness and illumination, life like the middle of a flower, and death like the blood in birth. It’s all at once intriguing and terrifying, but you don’t know why….and so you want to look and look again. You look into. You look around.

Why do we tend to pathologize that which is painful and worship that which is pleasurable?

Motherhood, like life, is wrapped in an intricate mix of suffering and joy. Ok, mostly it’s not so intricate. Worse, it’s plain as day. Suffering. Pain. Guilt. Confusion. Doubt. And then, who knew, a fraction of a second later, Whimsy, Silliness, Laughter, Gratitude, Tenderness, Joy. It’s all mixed up. And it should be.

It is nakedness at this late hour, nakedness in all respects, that I reflect upon as I head to sleep.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Consciousness, Mist and Motherhood

Entering the blogoshere is like entering the Amazon. I've never been to that forested place, but I go there all the time inside. Entirely on wings of breath, wings of prayer, wings of the love of journeying, I travel. And I travel far. I once found a passage in a book, an explanation by an Amazonian shaman of shamanic language. He called it a 'twisted twisted' language, describing how with vision granted by the plant spirits, he sees clearly into the weave of the way of things. With normal (rational) language he would bump into what is not rational by nature. Life itself, for instance (and may I remember this). Can you envision him (in the dark) looking into spirals and strands (DNA?), moving around consciousness the way one might circle a monument, a beautiful statue in the museum?

I have spent many, many hours, after the baby goes down, into the wee hours exploring the world of blogs. And why is it that I still do not know how exactly to enter. I'm all about process, the way we get to where we are going, not simply the route that gets us there. I've learned not to put holy books on the floor, not to point my feet at deities, respected teachers, elders, and so I walk gently into the blogoshphere.

Looking for a map. Looking for tribe. Not sure which direction to head. What's new?

I feel the same way about motherhood. Hundreds of nights I have entered my baby's room, adjusting to the dark, but I still can't see. So my ears become eyes, my feet become eyes. Eyes open that do not require the light of day. In this way I approach the crib and look into that forest. I never know where she is really in the night, or how to find her, really. The great birds from above, the ones that circle dark canyons because they can see what most of the world cannot - these friends help me to see. Do you see her down there? Sometimes I wait for minutes, and those minutes feel like eons when I know she needs me. Often I just go in and search. Like a small plane trying to land in the rain forest, I look for any opening that will agree, and slowly find a clearing.

Last night she dreamt - she sang stilted Twinkle Twinkles in rounds. Every hour or so she called out a muffled Mama! For the past two years whenever I heard that call I ran. But not last night. I waited at the edge of that place, and I do not know exactly what place that is, but it is her place. Where the night takes her. She is almost two, and though I go back and forth between heartbreak at the thought of how small she is, so then do I also place my hands in salutation to her rising spirit, so old before me that all I can do is bow to her. And that's my work. Downstairs on the couch, surfing, riding, exploring the blog land, I listen to her journey through the monitor. I had to sit on my legs and hands so that I wouldn't run upstairs.

This morning, racing around the kitchen like an idiot - what's the rush, Prema! Rushing River (no pun intended) to get her shoes on, I then rushed to find her coat. Come on, River, let's go I repeated four times as I circled each room, looking for my own shoes.

Slow down. Slow down. I reach back to her carseat at a stoplight, touch her leg, "I love you, baby. Mama loves you."

I don't know where I read it, or how I heard it, but I remind myself that it's not important how many times we fall, but how we recover that determines how we will survive. Those of us who seem to navigate many roads at once, like layers of hills, one behind the other, all shrouded in mist...and yet the image is also our medicine. We look to it again and again. Because this is how life is - twisted, multi-layered, partially hidden.

May we remember to weave all these layers together. It doesn't matter if we use string from the street, found after we forgot to look at all. Just don't let all the layers fall away. Call it chaos, call if confusion, fine. But it's also a symphony and I love the sensation of the minor (or major) shift required to open to the beauty of it all.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Her Buddha Body

I was just walking down the sidewalk with my eyes closed. Opening moment, blink, squint up and into the sun drenched, bleeding red leaves. Lost my footing - ok, find my feet. A voluptuous woman approaches, looks down, lights up, lifts her gaze to me, but she is not looking at me yet. I catch her in that cave, the interior one that had me sailing inside moments ago, on the breeze of the cool morning wind. Just enough warmth, just enough light, just enough freedom in the mix, and we pass by each other. Dark-skinned beauty, and I want to say something to her, you know, something small in passing. But I don't. I already said something to her in passing a few days ago: Wow, you look....you look...radiant. She looked up, quick chortle, disbelief, surprise. Gone.

India Arie sings: I want to go to a place where I am nothing and everything, that exits between everywhere and nowhere. I want to go to a place where time has no consequence at all yeah. The sky opens to my prayers...

Now I am sitting in the cafe, back up against a cold concrete wall, but I cannot resist the temptation to rest my head back and close my eyes...again. She's still singing: If he were a building, he'd be a beautiful cathedral, cuz he's so traditionally spiritual. Now I am taken back to the moment of waking this morning. Just up from the dream, fresh sensation of breaking through the surface of the water, and I roll over to find dry land. The sun on my cheek - but it's really my husband's chest- actually, that curved nook between shoulder, canyon to the arm. If I think about it too much, I am flying over canyons, the Colorado River, but it's time to get up. Suddenly, the waters and the rivers, I feel them release and say to the day, "There it is." Before I can get to the other side of the bed, flowing red waters wander. Gushing. Three ovulation tests and three pregnancy tests later, I'm six days late. Kind of excruciating, that waiting. I thought perhaps it was time to push the boat onto the sand and find my place in the grove. But just as I veer toward land, I am called back to the river.

Last night I crawled into bed and wanted to ask Steve if he ever longed to make love for healing. Instead, I found my way into his embrace. It's been many months - I can't even remember the last time I sought comfort from him in this way. And I savor the insight - without having to sit myself down for a talk, without having to fuel the intention to connect, a beautifully clear impulse moves my body in his direction. And who is it in him that lifts his arm to welcome? We found eachother outside of our roles and the weight of marriage. I think of Mary Oliver's words:

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

I was still thinking about longing and lovemaking this morning, but asked instead, "Will you change River's diaper when she gets up? I have to jump in the shower or we'll be late."

Under the streaming waves, I lean against the wall to pause, something tender waiting. I can feel it. I circle it, wondering how it is that we ever distinguish between the subtleties of pain and gratitude and longing and worry? Around all this, I walk slowly, spacious desire to hold something new. But I continue soaping as the little babbling one enters. Through the shower door, blurry rabbit gathers her toys, already mid-stream in her morning journey. Mama...mama...mama she says to her blocks.

I open the door with delight, "Hiiiii, my river-girl! Good morning, sweetie." Dripping wet, I open my arms and she runs into me, with a squeel of pleasure, dangling toys caught in our embrace. "Mamaaaa!"

Sweet, sweet, wonder - I leave my post around the other waiting revelation for this one, close at hand, ever-present.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Finding Sleep and Stupas

If Time could talk it might sound like a high-speed transit train barreling by in the distance on a foggy day. Sideways missile. I look up abruptly but all I see is grey. I pass these trees during every sleep walk down the block. Today the leaves are a deeper shade of red; ruby bleeds into green into eggplant. The chill in the air reminds me that autumn has arrived, and moreover, that the heat of summer and the way River looked at me from behind the bright fern out back, is gone. Every now and then I peek into the stroller, her cave, careful to maintain perfect cadence so she does not sense my pause. Eyes, small almonds, gaze - half inside and half outside. Another train passes. From a mile away its horn rings through the fog, and I turn around to head home.

Walking through the side gate, Guadalupe blesses my girl's sleep. Do not think that because I speak of beautiful things that my experience is beautiful. Half way down that block, a few moments ago, an old pick up truck with a broken muffler idles past us. Seeing him coming, anger. I looked both ways for a place to escape, but there was no escaping. River screamed as rumbling exhaust wafted over her dreamy descent. That meant another two or three blocks. Then the postman headed toward us with his loud transistor radio. Quick swerve and across the street, I averted another round of screaming. A small commuter plane overhead, like a screetching harmonica through the sky -- I could have grunted or screamed in frustration myself, but I just swore under my breathe instead. Such is the dilemma of carefully, mindfully paving the way for your child, while dancing with the intruding world - who inevitably step on your feet.

This is not a crisis, but it can feel like a crisis when you are trying to find the doorway to sleep for your little one. Minutes, like precious sentences, fall off the cliff of Time. Small moments, when lost, become a landslide. Suddenly, your harmonious posture is totally shot. In the back yard, finally asleep, I tip toe three steps away from the stroller, and a neighbor begins to hammer from behind the fence. Now she kicks and screams.

Cursing down the street, I push the stroller too fast. Sleep, dammit! And then I catch myself. It's so absurd I just about choke. And this is how it goes. I stop. I even laugh out loud (quietly) to myself, at myself. Watching my own mind, the way the emotions spew so spontaneously - indeed, reaching more creative heights than I had previously dared to go as an adult. It's not comfortable to admit. In fact it's embarrassing and quite often humiliating - though I can admit to a twisted sort of fascination in witnessing my own behavior.

I return home again, today having circumambulated my house the way a seeker makes circles around a stupa. Once around, hopeful expectation. Twice around, happy prayer. Third time around, grinding the jaw, pleading. Fourth time around, kicking holy ground. Fifth time around, humble return to prayer.

"Mama," she says plainly. "Yes, River, your're right, it's time to stop all this." I lift her over my shoulder, and invitingly, lovingly say, "Put your heady down," and she nestles into my neck. Up stairs, we enter her room. "Mama," pointing to the bed beside her crib, "Nigh nigh, Mama." And so I place her on her back, green light from the walls reflect like pearls over her body. I kiss her on the forehead and lay down across from her.

Like this we swim together, now mid-stream, almost out far enough where the wind carries us to sleep.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mothering River...

This is the opening. May these words be medicine.

The rain is coming down steadily in San Francisco. As I watch how water falls from the sky, Tibetan horns, bells, and drums move over this tea bar in a cacophony of waves. You would think the blaring throttle would disturb, yet what happens instead – a calm from the core. How is it that drumbeats that you feel in your feet, in your spine, which arouse a flurry inside, also call forth steadiness? Unlike the rain, this sensation is more like a quiet lake, or a river that carries you faithfully to the ocean - even as you go through rapids, eddies, frightening turns. This is how it is to be with the water, and the sound of the water. This is how it is to be with movement like water. Your own heartbeat, that water.

The kind of water that I speak of has everything to do with motherhood, but it may take me awhile to get there. Down stream, I will gather that thought. Suffice it to say that I am riding a wave today, hints of black tea and milk, alone. Every other moment I am thinking of my soon approaching two-year old daughter. Her name is River. She is across the bay today and greatly missed, though, it is exquisite to simply watch the rain, almost biblical. Exquisite to taste a small bowl of food, rounded mounds of brown rice, perfectly poached eggs, wild salmon, with a tiny teacup of tamari. Like meditation. Who knew that in between all the waking hours, those sleepless ones, I might get to feel into the world without my little girl-flower babbling, pulling on me, steaming like a geyser as she attempts to master elaborate, small tasks in my space. I love her more than I love this place, this resting place. But I have come to cherish such graces of time. Time away. Time with myself.

And this is why motherhood is so innately spiritual. I have spent many weekends sitting in retreat, cajoling the mind to quiet, cultivating the awareness to notice the details. Present moment awareness. It’s not that I am any better at doing that on my own these days. No one told me that motherhood gifts you with spontaneous openings of lovely, clear, graceful noticing. Perhaps the result of serious sleep-deprivation, but still, I find an accompanying wonder that shadows my looking. The way the teacup rounds just so at the top – why should this be amazing? Yet I can tell you that in this gaze there is great affection for the ordinary, easily unremarkable things. My own body, for instance – instead of weighty discomfort in the limbs, just now, to breathe is wonderful, sensual. The steam rising from a glazed terra cotta mug (set on a plate that is actually the heart of a tree, rings and all) moves with the wonderful breathing. Circles, spires, dakini clouds of steam dance in front of my face.

I was going to begin by talking about fear, but I am not afraid anymore. The drums, the woman who smiles as she delivers my chai, the guy next to me who looks my way and also orders chai, rows of tea, and lights like temples – I am not afraid. The rain has turned to mist and the clouds open down the street and around the block.