Navigating the Sacred and Mundane

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Web of Writers

I used to love to read the diaries of Aniis Nin. Her life so juicy and unearthed. And I loved to read letters between women writers. Or about tales of friendships between the women behind famous men, how their deep connections were an art form in themselves.

We've all but lost the art of letters, though the blog may be a rising from those ashes, where the practice of reflection is shared across distances. I love to be a part of it. Like a streaming poem between satellites.

The other morning the phone rang and to my great surprise, Tanya, from Go Mama was on the other line. It took me a moment to orient since I had never heard her voice before, to bring together the spirit of someone with whom I feel very connected from the blogosphere and her every day presence. She called just to check-in and see how I was doing. How wonderful is that?

This morning I found this email from Jerri, in response to my most recent blog post. I asked her permission to reprint it here because it's so thoughtfully written, and such a gift.

To all the amazing women and men (are there any men?) who read this blog, thank you. The intention and depth that you bring to this circle greatly enhances my life. Blessings.

Jerri's letter:

Woke up thinking of you, P.

Your most recent post stayed with me all night long,
both dreaming and waking.

My struggles with my sister mirror yours with wiffing
and mothering, in many ways. And both are like the
idea that Christianity and the Teachings are

We humans see either/or, black or white, even where
all colors exist, overlap, and entwine. Your life is
not either the Teachings or relationship and mothering
any more than mine is the Teachings or relationship
with my sister. Those relationships *are* the
practice, they are the stony path on which we're asked
to walk. Like Christianity and Buddhism, they
peacefully co-exist in our hearts if we allow and
accept the simple truth: Many paths. One God.

Why do we watch tv and eat Oreos when we could be
practicing? Because in the daily flow, we forget who
we are. We forget what truly feeds us and reach
instead for what's easy and close at hand, no matter
how hungry it leaves us.

One of the ideas that most affected me in your post:
"the one in whose glance and grace I found (or
returned to) my place."

Another: "Every sunrise. . . a new beginning. . .a
gesture of remembering again.

You and he express so beautifully the knowledge that
before we had faces, before we took on these bodies
and these stories, we knew our place. Our learning is
not acquiring new information, it is shedding that
which is not Truth. Every sunrise brings opportunities
to remember again.

In these lives, the ones we've chosen this time, our
paths are not lives lived only in meditation caves,
where teachings are clear and understandings are not
challenged or polluted. No, we've chosen paths that
include toddlers and husbands and sisters and others
who demand that we bring forth our understandings and
live them in the light of day, out where the winds
tear apart our calm and disperse it to the corners of
the earth like dandelion fluff on spring mornings.

But if we stop, if we remember our place, we find that
those same winds that blow the Teachings away from us
also return essential truths to us. *This* is the
cycle of destruction and creation, Shiva and Vishnu,
the vibrational syllable that founds one world as it
takes another apart.

Entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics: the moment a
thing comes into existence, it begins to be destroyed.

We gain an understanding, recognize the spark in
someone's eye, meet ourselves in a cave and at that
very moment, the understanding begins to slip away.
Our path is learning not to clutch at that which is
always changing. Neither attachment nor aversion.

We have attracted to us the teachers we need for this
learning. That is why they stir us up so vehemently.
Our strong reactions to them are not deviations from
the path, they *are* the path.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sanskrit Syllables

There are few love songs that stay with me. Driving through back roads between Illinois and Wisconsin in my early twenties, passing local bars that we could finally, legally enter, my gaze held steady to the road, in love with seed syllables, Sanskrit vowels, resonating from my car stereo:

Sanskrit vowels and vowel diacritics

Just back from India, what could I say to anyone back home? So I drove and once outside of town, I returned to a place with a cave, where the day started any time after midnight, that by sunrise you'd have already missed some major teaching or practice. Sometimes alone in the night or the cave or in the shrine, or alone in the hills where so many ancient teachers walked, I was frighteningly, wonderfully alive. Sometimes, by 11am, ten thousand pilgrims had gathered to chant and worship, and by 2pm all were fed and blessed.

I had the great good fortune to live in the house of an awakened teacher, one who was recognized when she was four years old as an avadhut, the one in whose glance and grace I found (or returned to) my place. The teachings were everything I asked for....but how could I possibly hold onto them then?

One early morning in particular, in the middle of a week-long meditation intensive, I sat in the dark cave. Four hours of silent meditation, an hour of chanting the mantra, returning to silence for an hour. On and on like this. Far into reaches of consciousness that I never knew existed - or I did, but never had the context or the map, a guide, or a vision of the meaning of that landscape, until I was made to sit and go there by one who had gone way before me. And then there was a speaker, one of the foremost American scholars of Indian philosophy, who took the mic in the dark glow of that space and spoke in a tone that soothed all the restless molecules in my body. He had studied the complexities of ancient scripture and texts for so long, but never had a teacher until he met my teacher that winter. And he was being transformed - it was in his voice, in his eyes. You would change simply from the bare impact of his words. I did.

I went on to study Sanskrit for five years. I drove from Boulder, CO to Denver every Thursday to meet with an old professor. What could I really do with that? In my way of trying to find normal happiness, all that stuff just drifted and fell away.

Almost twenty years out now, River sleeps in back yard, and I'm trying to figure how to write.

Last week I went Peet's in between packing and ran into a new acquaintance who mentioned that a great scholar, Paul Muller Ortega, was coming to speak at his yoga center that weekend. I went home and registered. Calling out to Steve from the other room, "Hey, would you please come to a lecture with me on Saturday?" And so we went.

To say that I was ecstatic is not exactly true. Longingly disoriented is more accurate. In the room full of young, aspiring yogis, I felt so middle-aged, so suburban, so fat. As soon as I saw him I felt all those things, but also present and ancient and completely at home. Before he spoke he sat with a quality of silence that makes people uncomfortable. No striving, nowhere to be, nothing to prove. I could finally breathe, so content in that kind of calm.

Skillfully and beautifully and so normally, he led us into a realm of the highest mysteries, translating in the most accurate, understandable, attainable way. Down the rabbit hole with an exquisite guide, passionate in his way of seeing and naming all the subtle layers and hidden doors and stunning plateaus on the path of yoga.

My husband chanted a Sanskrit mantra next to me (with gusto). It's the first time since knowing him that we have sat with the teachings that shaped me. I go to church with him, I listen to all his thoughts about Christian doctrine. I nod my head yes as my toddler talks about baby Jesus. And yet.....in my mind I am looking to the horizon, nodding to those dedicated ones so dear and true to me - the monks and sadhus and nuns who mapped out the journey in the Rig Veda or the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

I looked over at Steve a few times and in his eyes, a fire. I smiled. Go deep enough in the well and the ancient teachings begin to sound the same. Ideas and experiences that he had read from his theological books were being unfolded almost identically from the Indian perspective.

Finally, from two sides of a river, we came upon a bridge.

On Sunday I went alone. Paul started the day by talking about one particular morning in India, 1989, when he sat for four hours in meditation, chanted for one hour, returned to silence, over and over. While in that silence he was shown a pattern of light, a matrix, the true nature of a sutra he had been studying for years. It was revealed to him, hour after hour. He looked over at his teacher and in her eyes he saw that she knew exactly what was being given, in her reflection he experienced a glimpse of her state, and he fell back into silence with closed eyes, deeply grateful, forever changed. And then he got up and took the microphone in the dark glow of that space and began to speak about this most amazing territory.

I wept and leaned over the woman next to me whom I didn't know, and said, "I was in that room with him. I was in that room." I had to tell someone.

At the end of the day I walked up to Paul and shared that I was there in 1989 on that morning. He said, "Oh my god, you were there. I thought I saw recognition a few times in your eyes as I spoke today. You were there..."

During question and answers, following a string of questions about meditation and philosophy, I shared that I felt my greatest 'forgetting' happens in my role in marriage and motherhood. He laughed, everyone laughed, except the young, single, childless, aspiring yogis.

Driving home, I put on a chant, in love with the Sanskrit vowels, and wondered why I have wandered so far from home. Home being teachings that I know are truly my path. Why did I want a relationship and child over my own happiness? Why did I think the two had to be separate? Why do I watch night time TV and eat too many oreos when I really want to be doing yoga?

The heroine's journey never really ends. We hear a calling and we leave a first home, we journey out, get caught up, find some teachings, slay the dragon, return home. But the wheel keeps turning. And sometimes we are on more than one track at a time - the wheel has dimensions, depth, the whole space/time thing not so relevant. Coming and going, and then standing still, we're also coming and going. And then in motion, we're going nowhere. It's all just now.

I've been walking around for a few days in a sort of high. My vision is different, slightly askew. I'm changed again. Just a few hours of what I totally love and I'm different. And I don't know how exactly to walk, what to say, what to write.

In respone to my question, Paul reminds me, "Every sunrise in the Indian tradition marks a new beginning, a return to the same practices, a gesture of remembering again. It's ok to forget. It's ok to forget. The long-time practitioners return and return again. You are always invited to take your place beside them."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


So much to say....and I can't gather the energy to write it.

Two nights in a row, two hours of sleep. River has night terrors and won't let go, won't put her head down to rest. Up and down, up and down, through the dark hours, I'm awake. Sun up, running through the house, running through daylight hours, packing, cleaning, preparing. Every room echoes now.

The writing and the desire to write is in a box somewhere, did I pack it by mistake?

Yesterday I took myself to lunch and scribbled on an ATM receipt, covered all the empty space with notes about Sanskrit and meditation and existential loneliness and marriage and mothering and beauty and silence and renewal. It's in my wallet.

I drove around this morning. Just drove around. I'm sitting here now, just sitting. So tired or still or empty or numb from all the activity that breathing is effortless. After a long climb, free space.

At this point......I just want to shop. But my closet is empty so there's nowhere to put anything new. Isn't that cool?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Six Feet Under

If you want to take a wild, wild ride; if you want film as your vehicle through the far reaches of the human psyche, the complexity of relationship, the depths of heartbreak and the pure face of redemption - rent all five seasons of Six Feet Under and watch it in the course of two months. That's right, five years of drama condensed into eight weeks.

A few of us have mentioned the quality of being torn open, in the best sense. Having just finished the finale episode, I am torn open. That thing where you laugh and cry at the same time while saying fuck under your breath because the meaning is still in motion, infurling, synapses all afire, heart rate in rhythmic alchemy with core truths of life.

It's a brilliant, beautiful, disturbing, humble, funny rendition. Anything can be a teaching and I find that sometimes movies can deliver the best kind. But this is a favorite movie exended out, times ten, across weeks.

If you can steal an hour here and there at odd hours, go for it. Totally totally worth it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


When I was pregnant with River I walked every day around the neighborhood. One day I went a bit farther and ended up right in front of this house. Something about it made me stop and stare - it had soul. I was captured by a beautiful dakini fountain tucked beside the front garden.
Keeping her company, two sphynx flanking the front steps.
I've never done this before - I knocked on the front door just to tell the owners how much I loved their house, and I knew they must be people I would want to know. Three different times I tried but no one ever answered. This house became my daily destination. I brought family, friends, and out of town visitors to see it. Then I had a baby.

Months went by and I no longer took my walks. I eventually decided to join a mother's group and drove to the first meeting. Heading up the hill I began to feel strange. I already knew. It was at the that house. I couldn't believe it!

I entered the side gate and walked up the sidewalk.

Inside, I carried River up the staircase and was stunned to find a large photo of a Mexican shaman on the wall, a (rather obscure) medicine woman whose teachings I knew intimately. At the top of the stairs, a table/altar filled with icons and symbols that were close to my heart. Two women shared this house, medicine women in their own right, and I laughed to myself: Uh huh, of course I would be called to walk to this house day after day.

We were looking for a house to buy and had already been turned down on three or four offers. The market was crazy in Berkeley and people were paying 50% over asking price. A few weeks into our search, the facilitator of my mom's group asked how the house hunting was going. We were sitting in circle. I was quiet for a moment, "What I want is this house." She looked at me, jaw dropped, and said, "How strange that you say that....we just decided today that we are moving, out of the blue. We feel called to take our work to another place, and we'll find out for sure in a few days."

In that moment I knew the house had always been mine, and like all relationships, had waited for me to see and affirm it. The owner asked me to call my husband over and when he arrived I finally got to see the back yard.
And so we bought the house before it went to market, in a good faith arrangement that had less to do with buying a house and more to do with the exchange of positions to caretake a sacred place. They left the dakini out front, and I found gifted feathers here and there over the next few years.

Sometimes I see people stop out front and gaze at the house. Now, in admiration for the love and care of how each rock was placed out back; or following the tiled angels and protectors around the periphery of the outside walls...

I silently put the word out to the wind, calling out to the next caretakers. May they hear that call and start walking.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Chapters of Departure

The window washers are outside power washing the house, everything moved and rearranged. But I'm in my bedroom spending a quiet moment inside, appreciating all the ways this house has held me...in marriage, in motherhood, and as I crossed into my fourth decade. Dependable boat, strong in all the chaos.

And now to take down the deities from their perches, the hangings, and photographs that prove we are still here.

Departure is not a moment but a movement, a wave. And arrival begins before we set foot across the state line. Now we enter the liminal space, not here, not there, but in between. This is its own geography - spaciousness, possibility, and the unknown.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Heart and Home

Packing and more packing....and it doesn't look like it. I've been thinking about consciousness studies the past few days while I take apart one sort of creation: home. Did you know that one can get an MA and a PhD in Consciousness Studies? I tried....then I got pregnant, and was secretly relieved to give it up. I would learn about the nature of the universe through mothering rather than through research.

As much as I love traveling and journeying, I also love traversing history - models of thought, scientific paradigms, psychological schools. What I have learned more than anything is that what we know about reality is mostly built upon assumptions. Assumptions that become belief and beliefs that become tenets of theories. Some thoughts become so core to a theory that, even though it's just an idea, it becomes like rock in order to support all the following research on top of it.

I like to wade down through it all and discover the seed idea. When I was in school I spent a lot of time researching and studying about notions of self - what we believe self to mean. This is very significant because science and psychology form a myriad of definitions about self and reality based on a few originating ideas. You'd be surprised.

One reason for my inquiry is that, as a therapist, I was tired of a 'paradigm of pathology'. The way we make the smallest behavioral veering pathological. According to who...and why....what is the standard of 'normal' that they are basing all this upon?

So....more on that. For now.....want to come over and hang out while I pack? Would you like some tea?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

River's Easter

My Sweetie... (video is sideways, so adjust your gaze...)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Birth Message

I don't know how to start this story other than to say it goes way back. I can almost see her face and the way she turns her skirt in the kitchen, belly extended, radiant and warm with fresh baked bread beside her. She doesn't know that labor will be so difficult, and that she dies shortly after of complications. Barely time to hold her newborn daughter, she is gone. My great-grandmother.

My great-grandfather could not manage alone, now with a newborn and a small daughter. He sent them to live with his parents. He drifted further into alcohol and never returned, except once a decade or so, to ask for money.

My grandmother grew with her sister, Beulah, an artistic soul, who was made to marry a farmer early on. He sent her away to a mental institution for her eccentric traits where she later died.

My grandmother married a handsome young man, who worked in a boiler room of a stove company. She had two daughters. Her husband made his way up to become president of the company. One night he was to be honored at a meeting in Chicago. She never attended such functions, but this time she would surprise him. She bought a new dress and hat, rode the train alone (in the 30s) to Chicago. As she waited in back, she watched him take the stage. He introduced another woman as his wife. My grandmother slipped behind the back curtain, stole away to the train station, and returned home. She never said a thing.

When my mother, after three children and three miscarriages, was pregnant with me at 39, my grandmother slugged my father upon hearing the news. She hated him for putting her daughter in danger - she was too old, had had too many surgeries, and could die in child birth!

My mother tried to calm her mother. Even when she began to feel abdominal pain at six months, she assured her mother that everything was fine. When she had to miss Christmas Eve dinner to be taken to the emergency room, everyone worried. For five days she waited and agonized. They had to go in and operate and risk my death. Her death or my death, the odds were getting closer with each day they waited. With very little anesthesia, they removed abdominal adhesions that wrapped around her colon. I went into distress and they had to take me. She was far away and I was not yet close enough, and we passed each other, in the beginning, like that. I was four pounds.

That's the front story.

The other day in therapy, I am asked if the issue I need to look at has to do with my childhood? No. With my birth? Yes. Does it begin before my birth? Yes. How far back? With closed eyes, deep in trance, I nod my head yes as she counts back three generations. It's so far back I can't see clearly. I piece together bits of information, but more than that, I let myself swim down in consciousness, through my own body, to find the answers.

"What is the message that was given to your grandmother at birth?" she asks. Tears pour down my cheeks as the image of my grandmother as an infant appears before me. What could she possibly know about existence, except that her very being killed her mother? And shame. Shame about being a woman, and about all things associated with giving birth. And then I imagine my mother in the first moments after being born, tiny baby, left with feelings that she could never understand - why the sadness? Why doesn't her mother embrace her with affection? Like an unfurling ball of yarn, I feel in my body how the seeds of my mother's anger were planted then and consistently watered.

Continuing, "If your grandmother had gotten what she needed from her mother, what message might she have imparted to your mother at her birth?" And then, "If your mother had gotten what she needed from her mother, what message might she have given to you at your birth?" I just sat, tears from all of them, tears for all of us.

This is where the back story begins, the inside story. The story that becomes a belief, handed down from mother to daughter in my line.

My sisters and I all had labors over 35 hours each, all difficult, a few traumatic. One baby died in utero at nine months and my sister carried it for almost a week before she labored. My labor with River was 38 hours, I dialated to almost 10 centimeters, then had a c-section at the final hour - not because River was in distress....but for a reason that was as clear as day and as subconscious as the rest of this family inheritance.

This is an incredible country to visit - and one of those places that, upon arrival, I ask myself - have I been here before? It's all so familiar, beautiful, why didn't I think to come here sooner?

Since I started asking these questions and connecting with my ancestors around the beliefs these women offered at birth, my relationship with my daughter has completely shifted. Not one power struggle. We lay in bed and sing songs and laugh and I feel how we are held in wider arms....and that we, too, hold the women who never had the opportunity to heal their beliefs about their lives and their bodies and their notions of womanhood.

And now the weight on my back is not so ominous. It's for all of us. So as I search through boxes for their photos, old black and whites, peeling at the edges, I suddenly see how they are looking at me, waiting for me to resurrect their freedom. Lighting a candle on the altar, I place all of us in a circle and feel comforted that together we forge the frontier.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Grace (Eventually)

I've been reading Anne Lamott's new book, Grace (Eventually) every night before bed. I read the first essay at a cafe next to the bookstore and gasped out loud, hit my knees laughing, wiped away tears, and belted out a hoot. This is why I love this woman. She says it all.

Saturday I stood amidst a pile of boxes, my house looking like a tornado hit, with a toddler who wouldn't nap, and a husband who decided to go hiking the day before the moving truck was due to arrive (whatever dude!). I shouted to myself: Go!
River finally dozed as we hit the bridge, and I started thinking about not going back home mid-way across the bay. An hour north, seriously deliberating altering the course of our lives for a week (or more), I hit the treshhold - an indiscriminate point where I knew I had to turn around or not look back. I turned around.

Late afternoon I met Steve at the park, handed off my child, and kept walking, the movement in me not nearly done. I had twenty minutes to myself. I paid $5 to log on and read Jerri's blog about seeing Anne Lammot. I found the publisher's website and scrolled to her appearance dates. She was reading that night at 7pm across the bay, forty minutes away. It was already 5:20pm.

I raced home, changed my shirt, ran out. No tending to details. No dinner prepared for the little one, no jammies laid out. I sped across the bridge again, called a good friend and coerced her to abandon her family, too, and meet me.

Full house, Anne comes out in jeans and a head cold. And - in a minute, in less than a minute, I am laughing. My back against the chair, finally support, and I feel all the fluid return to my eyes. Sisterns refill for right seeing.

God, how I love the way this woman opens herself for full revelation. Full-out vulnerable humanity. Funny. So funny and so endearing. She reads about jealousy and humiliation paired with hilarious attempts at hiding it, and finally the weave back where grace happens, self-compassion returns.

One thing the therapist said to me the other day. After an hour of telling my story, which was, really, so strange because I am not attached to it anymore, yet I am old enough now to see with some perspective. She furiously took notes, saying, Oh my god! Oh my god! every few minutes. At the end she said, "You know what this is, don't you?" I knew. She said, "You have to write it." I know, I have to write it.

So today, too tired to write at the cafe, I come home and take out a few sheets of paper. Pen in hand, I start with my childhood home and mind map it. Page after page, the anatomy of a neighborhood, where veins of storylines appear on the pavement.