Navigating the Sacred and Mundane

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Daily Pilgrimage

Ducking out from the rain, side by side with another mother, we’re smiling because her son made it through the morning transition at preschool without wailing. I don’t know why we call it preschool, our kids are not even kids, they’re two and three. She asks how I’m doing. I say: My car is breaking down. I feel like I have about five minutes of childcare, so if my car doesn’t start in the parking lot, it’s really, really not fun at all.

On that note, ignoring the mechanic’s advice to tow, I putter up the hill. Three hours to write, two now if I’m lucky. One small deadline and I’m hell bent. Onto the highway, steady on slick pavement, merging with car consciousness, I know I’ll make it over the bridge without incident. I used to know that about jumping across creeks as a kid. Feels like commanding the elements, when finally, I’m simply in the best relationship possible with them. The laws of attraction are working for me now.

Working on allowing that kind of command for abundance rather than averting crisis.
And on that note, I pull into the mechanic’s driveway, note his shocked expression meeting my Obi-wan composure, and ask immediately, “Where’s your loaner.”

Proud of myself, at the coffee house, handled that well. Order half-caf Americano, boot up, unpack, settle in……no internet connection. F*&#@.

Little brown shoes falling out of my purse, sippy sideways on the bench beside me, one psychedelic pink unicorn propped on my laptop case, and I drop my head. Back and forth, slow sway, slow dance, staring at the mountain over yonder. Over there, out there, too far to reach by sundown.

Isn’t that how it is?

Pilgrimage. You hear the call. You set out. The destination seems so close, so attainable. From here to there, you can see the trail clearly and think, easy, I’ll just go this way.
But when you begin to walk, time stretches out, thins out, opens up, and in that space, all the living elements touch your body. And you realize then that you are not a static entity, not linear or logical. You are alive and in your aliveness you are fluid and in real motion, no edges to your breathing really, no boundary in your intention.

It’s all by and through relationship with EVERYTHING else that we make it anywhere. By grace and grace alone we go.

Time to head back across the river, transported by something I didn’t start out in earlier. But I know how to find the wheel, how to sit in that seat and look ahead, and I will navigate with the excitement of unknowns. That doesn’t piss me off nearly as much as my own small attitude…that quicksand of mud that almost had my feet. Merging into traffic, I'm learning a thing or two.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, River

Dear River,

You are three.

I wanted to post that newborn photo of you in the purple fairy dress but I can’t find it. I had hoped to record your entry into the day, they way you would laugh when I sang you awake. Catching the wave of wonder together, the wonder of being alive, we’d feel warm and safe. Your birthday! Yea. But the camcorder is dead, can’t find the power cord.

You fought the waking and my expectations with screams and kicks, and I totally understand. Only one second ahead of you, more desperate for normalcy than anything, I hold up a perky dress, the pink floral summer one, and pray that it’ll pass the test.

It doesn’t.

We have thirty minutes to dress, eat breakfast, bake gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free cookies, make a picture board full of your photos for all the kids to see.

No time to shower for me, just whip on jeans, brush my teeth too hard, glance, passable, glance, pain, apply mascara, rose the cheeks, glimmer on the lips, and I don’t want any of it this morning.

And then, just as the flashbacks drive down the main street of memory, your intensifying screams turn it all into a movie in fast-forward. That quality of screaming and choking, breath catching in staccato moans, and I pull the cookies out of the oven. My childhood is not your childhood, a mantra in three parts.

Not hopeful, now I want it all to stop. And it doesn’t stop. Trying to help, your dad attempts to put on your shoes. Writhing screams on the floor and I paste photos onto poster board. Thirty minutes late.

We drive in silence, walk down the corridor in silence, hand over the goods to the teacher and leave. Turning back to look in the window, you are smiling. Your teacher gives you a hug, says Happy Birthday, and holds up your photos.

Something lifts and all is well in your world. Just like that, pain to pleasure, to hell and back. Fog all around the house this morning, all the way to school, and now, clouds part for the sun.

Easy to let it all bring me down, as far as I want to go. That's tempting. Harder and better to let life work on me, water over stone for a thousand years, to form a new portrait of what celebration can include.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Blessings to all who visit my blog, you've touched in more ways than you know.

To you and yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

Love, Prema

Monday, November 19, 2007

Saving Grace

I threw out my back after running out of River's room and kicking the wall. Do I tell the chiropractor that?

In the shower, massaging the bruise on my ankle, I see the title for the second book. Down the River: Motherhood as Pilgrimage.

In the juxtaposition between shame and hope, I have a thought. Spirituality in regards to motherhood, or possibly anything, is not about how we maintain our practices in a steady way. It's about how we return after we've fallen.

Every journey takes us where we don't want to go, in a second or an hour or for years at a time. And that's ok. Just on the other side of lost is return.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mothering the Writer

Hours awake in the night, so many of us aren't sleeping lately, and we can't really know why. Easy to think it's due to this or that, but there's nothing like the dark of the middle of the night to open wider realms of wonder. If we are all connected, if only by so many strands of technology, streaming waves of information, then we course in the blood veins of a larger body. Who knows what's keeping us awake these days.

In line for coffee this morning, the guy next to me says to the barista, "Man, I took Benadryl to sleep last night and I'm zoning this morning, just didn't sleep well." One double, half decaf latte in the tray, the decaf soy waiting for a shot, I say, "Lots of us aren't sleeping so well." Espresso swirls through clear, boiled water in the third cup, and he laughs, "Yeah, like a thousand years of solitude, what's that book?" Easy does it, I lift the tray, "One hundred years, but you're right, in the night it can feel like a thousand."

He watches me in the parking lot, pretending not to, and that's ok, I'm watching him, too. We both know, unadmittedly and surely, that we love each other in this moment. And we both know we will continue onward, smoke trails crossing, mingling for a mile of thought. This is how we get through the morning of the night, where we find and pick up our humanity when we are still uncertain in the waking what we belong to in the world.

We belong to each other. We all belong to each other.

My manuscript sits to my left on the table. Writing beside it is just about as close as I can get. I drove across town to share work space with my friends, one of whom is behind me in her studio, grappling with a canvas and walls full of shelves, full of paints. On her way out she laughs, "All I can think about is the dirty windows in the studio, geez, anything to distract!" Her husband is in the office off the living room. Over lunch yesterday he said, "I have twelve or thirteen hours left, tops, to finish my book." But how long would that take?

I told of the story of working with a trauma therapist who, kneeling beside my standing, asked me to look down at my feet. In a hint of a glance to meet his eyes, he understood something unspeakable, unnameable, and whispered, "I know, it's a long way down, but you can do it."
That gesture can take a life time.

Time and space and what it takes to do our work in the world. How much courage to simply show up.

I read a blog post yesterday from a woman, a mother, who describes how she gave the finger to Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions on the shelf at a bookstore, having not yet read it. She resented anyone else trying to tell her something about motherhood. How could anyone else possibly know her experience? She finally brought herself to read it and, thirty-six hours later, felt so met and so connected. And she understood that she was just afraid. Afraid because a woman, another mother, was writing - someone else was actually living her dream. When she could open her heart to the truth she could finally read and participate and belong. Then she could take the steps to put her writing out there in the world.

I read in the silence and safety of my living room, still asking, Who am I to speak of spiritual life? Who am I to have the audacity to speak to the spiritual meaning in motherhood? Who am I to perceive into and behind the patterns of daily minutia and connect that to mythic memory? Who gives that kind of permission?

Through my headset, Lori McKenna (Paper wings and halo) serenades the question. I climb into her voice and feel so grateful that she took that chance to get up from her kitchen table, mother of five, to sing to the world.

With a car seat full of bills, piles of laundry strewn in extra rooms at home, I'm just sitting with the question of the possibility of a viable life as a writer.

I close my eyes and Lori and I go back, way way back. We walk down a hallway with olive green walls and old family photos crookedly hanging. At the end, the last door, we walk through and find her sitting on her bed, eight years old, with her first journal spread open over her lap. She's writing. She's writing and crying, even then, so much into the depth of the world, so much karma to hold and look into, and she does, alone, bless that girl.

"Come on, sweet one, come with us." We take her by the hand and lead her down that long, long hallway of her life. "We've got something to show you......"

In a second we arrive at a door, a bright red door, 76th and Powell, 2007. Lori strums and sings and I turn the handle. The young girl looks inside, there's a woman sitting at a table, laptop open, headset in, and she asks, "Is that my mother?"

"No, honey.......she's you." The woman looks up, she hears us, music to music, the same, face to face, the same, years disappear with the notes, words heal the miles and the trials and all the doubt that was born through that journey. I say to the small one, "Go ahead, go to her, sit with her, you've got something to do together....."

I scoot my chair back and open my arms. She's me and my daughter and I'm me and my mother, and sitting on one lap now, we're one.

The manuscript sits to our left on the table. Small hands open the cover page, she looks up at me and says, "I wrote this," and I embrace her through tears, "Yes, you did, and I'm so proud of you for that." Smiles and I see that she's unafraid now, unashamed, happy and true. "Will you help me with it?" we ask each other.

"As long as it takes, I will, yes," two voices glide, two octaves, at once in harmony.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Vaccine Awareness

This is to celebrate Amber at Believing Soul
for presenting some of the issues so clearly. She rocks!

Motherhood & Resurrection

Yesterday I started the morning off by spilling a toddler potty full of pee down the front of me. Followed that up with phone calls to insurance underwriters, mortgage companies, credit card people, and the tax assessor’s office. Then I dumped hot coffee in my lap.

In between, the girl held tight to my belt loops, whined and screamed, and finally melted down completely because her favorite horse broke his leg (well, she snapped it like a twig, but you understand, tragic).

“Can you reinstate our policy?” with “Excuse me, yes, River, I’ll get a band-aid for the horsey,” with “So we have no car insurance?” with “Alright, alright, be quiet, mommy is trying to talk!” with “Hey, I have ten bills here I need to send out, we have three days to figure it out.” with “Honey, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, mommy hasn’t been paying attention to you. I’m sorry.”

“You my friend?” she asks, tilted head to the sky, to me, pink around the eyes. I wipe tears and kiss her cheek. “You my family?” she continues.

Yes. I am your friend. I am your family. I get down on the ground with her. “You a woman, momma?” Yes, River. I’m a woman.

This is how I stray so far out and this is how I come back. My teacher, she's two.

“I want the hokey pokey!” she demands from the back seat, pink fleece hat surrounds blue pools of light, and straps down under the chin. I turn five to ten times in traffic, all the way to school, just to see that face. As sleep deprived as I am, on my own waterwheel all night, she pulls the light up past all the weariness and, light to light, we go into the day.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Motherhood & Spirituality

When you google 'motherhood and spirituality' very little happens. The trail is not a main thoroughfare, not even a clear pathway. You'll find a few Christian strands that taper into the woods, a random blog that lists these two words in a post, and short references to a mother deity here and there.

All those nights during River’s first year, I googled in the dark, and came up with nothing. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to rest in maternal wisdom. No map to help me find my way.

So I went to bookstores and browsed the shelves. Surely there would be an entire section on Motherhood and Spirituality. Not one book. I searched Amazon and found a few, and had to order on-line. I did more extensive searches under similar keywords, every creative combination I could think of. Every now and then I would find a needle in the haystack.

What sleep-deprived new mother has the time to investigate in this way? And why are spiritual resources so scarce?

At first I was surprised. Then confused. Angry after awhile. And then from its absence, what was not there became a powerful force, blinding in the way that, as a mother, I could feel so disconnected from the primal meaning in the process.

Women birth more than four million babies every year in the United States. Why is there not an abundance of spiritual havens for us?

Why, when in the middle of our lives we perform the closest act of death and resurrection, is there not a center on every corner like Starbucks to welcome our wisdom and hold our heads?

I could ask what that is about. What’s that about? would feel good to say, but I already know what that’s all about – it’s one of the oldest and longest stories on the planet about forgetting.

I'm not interested in the forgetting part anymore. I simply want to provide a welcoming place for women to arrive. So I'm editing my book River's Grace: Navigating the Sacred and Mundane in Motherhood. It's a book of letters to my daughter, River, written during the first year of her life. It's part spiritual memoir with topics, teachings, and blessings. It's a deep-hearted conversation about all the things no one ever told me about mothering - I mean the insane depths and heights of it that we all walk around with.....can you imagine if your mother sat you down and told you the truth of it? The way you tip over edges and come undone and are lifted into spaces of redemption that you had no idea were available in the middle of simple moments. It's about all that, and how to traverse the spiritual aspects in the midst of daily minutia.

I'm also developing a corresponding website RiversGrace that will be a haven for women and mothers (and men, too).
1.a harbor or port.
2.any place of shelter and safety; refuge; asylum.
–verb (used with object)
3.to shelter, as in a haven.

Also, I'm developing a workshop series for pregnancy, birthing, and mothering.

Through all these channels I want to reframe motherhood as pilgrimage. Motherhood as initiation. Sadly, our culture has lost that memory, but it's ok because the deeper journey is alive and well, just behind this moment, just inside every other feeling we know.

Join me as I find the form and the space and the clarity to manifest the vision....


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

River Spirit

If there is a river and if I’ve been dreaming real….I’m on it, in it, hearing the slap of soft water on the sides of my boat.

Undulations. Up through the flats of my feet, cradling my coccyx with hands of water. Cradle the bed at the base of my spine until, from that place, I am a gently waving fan.

That’s a great feeling: waving to the landscape as an intimate beloved. Not any other today. Not different from, far from, away from. Right now, I’m real in real time.

I’ve been tending to my vision lately - digging and shaping, watering and sleeping beside the steaming earth of it. Mineral spirits rise up. A million little suction cups of light on my cells, faster than sound, so silent, just fresh air on my body. Tender because I’ve been working my stuff so hard for so long.

Our visions, the deepest ones, are imbued with compassion. They wait for us to come closer, with full realization of the distance it takes to make our way back.

Vision is not developed. I believe we all carry one central vision inside us, the blueprint like the acorn to the blazing oak. Isn’t it true that we mistake vision to be so difficult to cultivate? Really, it’s about developing the skill of shifting awareness, sometimes just a tad, and then, poof, the veil drops and we are united with it again (or finally). It’s about seeing through what isn’t there so that we can see what is truly there.

I know my vision. One theorist says some of us will fail miserably at everything except that which expresses our vision. We can be aware of our vision as an image, a defining word, a sound – like the rest of nature, like the divine – it has a myriad of faces – the thousand faces of god. One of those is our own true face.

Do you know yours? Would you recognize it if it was revealed to you?

I imagine that when we cross over and leave the body, we might be shown our essential image, both entirely universal and also extremely particular, and asked, “Is this you?” As a password we would resound clearly, “Yes.”

Or would we? Would we look behind us for someone else -are they really speaking to us? What if we don’t know the texture of our own being?

I can’t think of anything worse. But that’s me. I want to know. I want to know so much that I have forsaken every other form of success. And so my resume reflects emptiness, large gaps, years amiss. Of course, I could have done it another way but I didn’t know that and that’s just how it is – we have to live it just the way we do.

Remember the bathroom floor scene in Eat, Pray, Love? Wouldn’t it be so redeeming to list those experiences on a resume – all of our down and out conversations with god? This hotel tub at 17, that mountain house floor at 20, the dirt road in India at 23, the cold house of divorce at 29, the purging in the dark of that hut at 35.

This is where I put in the hours, paid my dues. The promotions being more complex environments, depths of material to traverse, and realms of existential loneliness that just aren't fair.

And during those years I learned to hide. I went underground with my experience. It doesn’t really fly for potluck conversation and family dinners. The horrible question I came to outrun: What do you do?

“I seek out the seed of truth at the bottom of my personal barrel and tackle practices to help me weave it into universal wisdom and meaning. What do you do?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not graceful. I’m not especially wise. It’s just that I have experience being on that journey. Love writing and sharing about it. I love how I know deeply that metaphor is not metaphor at all. I love transcribing that.

Now it’s all changing. I’m coming out of the closet. Maybe it’s entering my forth decade and it’s not suitable to hide anymore – like watching an old women take off her shoes at airport security. I hate having to watch. Please, respect her dignity, don’t make her do that!

I’m beginning to honor myself. Walk on through, Prema. Don’t take off your damn shoes anymore. Just speak your truth. Speak in your language. Give it up for the soul of it.

(and if they do ridicule and stone me, I have women around me who would kick their ass!)

So, my dear friends, I’m preparing the ground, getting ready to launch, hanging my sign, and opening doors. Big wide doors. Big sign. Huge welcoming hands waving at the landscape. A million suction cups of light floating my wings.