Navigating the Sacred and Mundane

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Wotta Meditation

Today's conversation between Jess, River, and Josie....via Jess. It's pure gold.

Josie and I pick up River at school. Its raining hard. “Jess, I don’t have my waincoat on,” says River. She looks at Josie. “Josie, put yer ‘ood up. Jess, Josie needsa put ‘er ‘ood up.”

Josie lets River put her hood up, and lets me snap the bottom, which she never allows.

We get in the car, two happy girls grinning at each other. “Jess,” says River, “My momma not pick me up at ‘cool today. My momma paying meditation and yoga today.”

“Yes, your momma is playing meditation and yoga today. Its very good for her.”

“And Jess, my momma have a teacher.”

“Yeah, your momma’s teacher is named Sally.”

“No Jess! My momma teacher is Gu-mayi!”

“You’re right! Your momma has two teachers, Sally and Gurumayi. She’s very lucky.”

“Yes, my momma doing wotta meditation.”

“Yep, she’s a lucky momma.”

Silent Retreat

In silence for three days now....

Dear body,
You say you've been through enough. Thank you for allowing me to meditate.

Dear Mind,
You say you've heard enough. Thank you for allowing me to meditate.

Dear Breath,
You say you've labored through. Thank you for allowing me to meditate.

I dedicate the merit of my practices to my sister Lisa, who at this moment is having dye injected into the arteries in her brain. May that ink be blue light. May it be wrapped in prayer. May she find peace in the love of silence.

May we always return to our deep heart, whatever that means for each of us.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Meditation Retreat

Tomorrow I leave for a retreat with Sally Kempton in the Santa Barbara mountains.

I decided to do this during my New Year's all-nighter. In a moment around 4am it was extremely clear to me that I needed to reset my internal compass. I've known about this retreat for many months and just assumed I couldn't do it....for so many obvious reasons. First among them, leaving River for five days has my stomach in knots. Quacking like a baby duck behind me now, it's SO HARD for me to leave my girl. Her daily schedule fine-tuned due to food allergies, I'm afraid to leave it in the hands of my husband - he doesn't track the details.Hours into organizing shelves of food, drawers of clothes, all the accoutrements of a three year old's life....I just want everything to be ok for her.

"Mama is going to school, honey, to be quiet and listen for awhile."

"I mad at you, Mama....because I missing you when you at cool."

(from sallykempton.com)

Romancing the Spirit: Entering the Heart of your Sacred Self:
A 5-Day Practice Retreat

"If you knew your own beauty, you'd be the idol of yourself." --Rumi

* What does it really mean to know your own beauty?

* To truly inhabit your own skin?

* To be able to live with emotional freedom without denying your human self?

"According to the tantric masters, one secret is to realize the divine nature of your own energy. This retreat, based on the wisdom and practices of the masters of the Spanda lineage, transmits a series of practices and insights for working with sacred energies that can help you reset the frame of your life.

In four full days of meditation, yoga--taught by the gifted Anusara Yoga teacher, Elizabeth Rossa--contemplation, self-inquiry, art, and exploratory voice-dialogue, you'll learn how to uncover the sacred energy within your thinking, your feeling, and your stillness. We'll explore the energy within silence, and learn how to receive wisdom by tuning into the inner body. You'll examine your own spiritual journey to discover how you've been guided, and what your personal path looks like. The retreat will unfold a powerful enlightened text of the tantric tradition, the Spanda Karikas, or Teachings on Divine Pulsation, which will be further explored in Sally's teleconferences throughout the year."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Embracing Death

Please join me in welcoming my friend Marion at Grave Natters. Her new blog is a wonderful conversation about death, dying, and natural burial practices.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

One Eye Open

Morning, she opens awake like every morning, but today the left eyelid does not follow. "You know how your eyes open from sleep, always both? It was the strangest thing, only one. Half the world."

Holding the phone, I close eyes to meet her there - open one, and force the other to stay down. Can't do it, they're wedded to mutual motion. Therein is our distance, some current pulling her in the other direction.

This is all we know, one eye open, one wants to close. Somewhere near the thalamus, a spot, a mass, difficult to get to, yet unknown.

More tests next week. I know, next week?! She's already waited over a month with an MRI that showed this 'spot' and no one called to tell her about it, until her symptoms increased and she called to tell them. Weeks continue to pass, and now they want to send dye through the arteries in her brain to articulate the location and extension of the mass. Oh, right, but not until next week. That's if the new neurosurgeon wants to order that test. Maybe she'll have to wait a week to have that, and then, of course, the results could take up to a week.

Lisa says, "Trust me on this. Timing is divine, healing is divine. I feel ok about waiting."

The practice is watching her drift, still close, but drift. No matter how you work it, every day of waiting is a small mini-death. Sobering change.

Beautiful, too, though. If you could hear the melody in my headset just now, you'd see how all the limitations in my thinking, all the fear in my heart, dissolves into a place of clear being.

Thank you so much for your well wishes and prayers. Time to work on the levels we can while we wait for a broken system to catch up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Waiting Light

Lisa calls at 8:25am. "Are you trying to get out the door?" She knows I am, "Yes, I'll call you from the road."

Pink cheeks and whines, River hides in a dark corner, full pout. "Come on, sweetie, it's so cold out and you're sick. Please put your coat on." Really, she just wants me to do it for her, just wants a tender glance. This is how we get out the door, gently.

I ask myself, flying in the frigid air, what mile marker makes it the right time to call? No time to think, it all passes, so I dial. After the tedious daily news, I ask what's going on. She says, "You know, when I call in the morning like this you can just let it go to voice mail."

I want to hang my head on the wheel, so sad. She can't let me care. Can't let herself be that important. Can't let this be the most important things in our lives.

"They want to see me tomorrow morning at 8:30am, but won't say why. The opthamologist sent my scans to another neurosurgeon......I guess all this is good news. Or not."

It's a bright day in Wisconsin, sun on fresh snow, so she'll close the curtains today. Fully open, she can't filter the light. No protection anymore, fully dilated.

I'm shivering inside a cafe, tracing branches in the Oregon sun-filled sky. There's nowhere to go and nothing to do. One hundred percent full moon, ten thousand things stand waiting inside me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Band of Angels

Driving home from the DMV, tears. The first, really, and I notice how clean. Spilling like rain, I pull up in front of my house, and there's a car in front of me just parking, too. I decide they must be visiting the neighbor but wipe my tears, compose myself, as I walk up to the door. Turning the lock I turn back to look again, curious, and I can't believe it. Nellie steps out of her car.

Completely shocked, vulnerable, I yell, "Did I call you?" Squarely, seriously, "No, I was just driving and drove here." My mouth is open. Dropped open. I'm laughing in disbelief and muster sarcasm as I glance up the street behind her, "Where are your band of angels?! Where are they!"

Eye to eye, "Why are you crying, Prema? What happened?" I'm still laughing, uncomfortable, "Where did you come from?!"

I tell her, only a sentence, and she takes my hand and leads me inside, "Come on, come with me." I'm thinkin', here we go again, back to the bathroom! This time I want to follow, I need to follow, I am fully aware and open to the likelihood of grace.

We lean over the kitchen counter, hands entwined, and she articulates a prayer so beautiful and clarifying that I stand down, the stubborn forces down and silent. Listening. She names my position, my confusion, my longing, my duty, calling out to everyone connected to me so that I might assume my rightful place.

She opens her eyes and we speak softly, intimately, dearly. I begin to understand this highway of energy between us and moving out from us.

"Ok, anything else? I need to go, but let's look at the calendar. When can I come to clean?" She sees my expression as she turns to mid-February. "Ok, dear, I will see you this Monday."

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Dear Lisa,

Thank you for standing by me from the beginning. I'm reviewing everything, opening boxes of memory tucked away, and in every one, beauty, friendship, loyalty.

You've never hurt anyone, except perhaps yourself. A sense of unworthiness your only sin.

May your suffering only serve to open your heart. And may those of us near you be opened by the beauty of your being.

I love you,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hands of Light

I got the news in the afternoon, checking out at Trader Joe's. River waves a silky corrugated thread and giggles into her pink balloon. Freshly cut bangs, golden sweetness across her perfect brow. I lift her into the car seat. Twenty feet ahead of our parked car, threatening highway madness. Softness against speed, and I'm in the middle protecting one from the other.

"Do you want to hear this now? Maybe we should just talk tomorrow," she weeps. One thousand miles between our careening and I plead, "Don't treat me like that! Of course I want to know." Before the next moment, before a formal delivery, I already understand because I am seeing a moving reel in my mind, images of us from the beginning. Sisters.

"They found a mass behind my left eye. It's pressing on the third optic nerve, that's why my pupil has been fully dilated, why my eyelid is drooping now." She swallows a breath, stifles a sob, "It's big, I saw it on the film."

I'm like a winter Wisconsin lake. Frozen. Nothing will break through the surface. And I'm the fisherman that walks out first with my pick axe to check for sure. Half second later and I know that she can safely cross my back. "Whatever this is, Lisa, you know, I am your copilot."

We drive and hang on the line. What else can we do but what we've always done together, sail through weather. Us on that reflective surface, the world tumbling above. Only.....we are the survivors. We always rise up out of the storm together.

Sailing through the skies, childhood dives into mid-life swan glides, from our position the world below. I see smoke out my side mirror coming from her plane. Somethings happening. I see her fiddling with the controls, a look in the eye I've never seen from her. I don't know what's happening but I know what it means.

This has never happened to me before.

When my mom died it took ten years to fully feel it, so much good riddance mixed in. My other sister died slowly over decades through alcohol, and though she's still here, I've already let go. Escaping relationship with men, picking up pieces of myself as I run down the street; years later there's really no meaning left in that kind of grief.

I have no defenses or strategies, a complete lack of pretentious design as I stand before my sister Lisa. She has never done anything to hurt me.

The pain and worry of loss is a straight, beautiful arrow to the heart.

On the phone all night, poor River eats her noodles in front of Barney, alone. I keep peeking around the corner to make sure she's ok. "Mommy's right here, sweetie," every ten minutes.

Pulling on my pant leg before bed, she asks, "Where's your mom?"

I lean down and pause, "My mom died a long time ago, honey," but she doesn't get it. I pause, "She's gone. She's been gone a long time." She doesn't get it. I pause, "I don't have a momma, River. I don't have a momma anymore." Sadness washes over her face, lips downturn, eyebrows in tender furrow, "Oh......"

She traces my arm with one tiny hand, caresses my cheek with the other. "I help you, momma, I find dockter for your mom." We walk down the hall to her room hand in hand, a night tunnel to heaven, and I switch off each light as we pass.

Hours I sit in the dark and then pull myself up for another walk. Steve's been out of town for two days and I am afraid of the night.

Under covers, up against my chin, I pull my hair down to warm my ears and hide unfamiliar noises in the house. I close eyes and take my seat in a conservatory of stars, where the sound of a galaxy hums inside. The only way to go tonight, behind my left eye, and so I swim through a night stream into that cove.

Please, dear God, please make my hands hands of light. Please, Gurumayi, please show me entry into spaces that I have hesitated to embrace. My own body of light.

Lisa loves Mary. An hour into this quiet, Please, Mary, please, I ask for your grace tonight, please put your arms around my sister as she sleeps. Please take me to her.

To all the visionary plant medicine I have known, I call out to the teeming green kingdom, Please, please....great medicine teachers, please grant me your affection, your wisdom, your wondrous ways of healing and love.

To all my ancestors, I wait in a wide meadow for instructions. Looking up, I wonder, Where are we going? Where will this journey take us? Hands on my heart, a great seizing grabs the center and I startle upright. Feels like a heart attack, the restriction to my breath. I turn slowly, fetal position, and begin again. It's ok, you're ok, it's ok, breathe, Prema, a voice comforts.

2:00am and I'm still gathering my gear, deep meditation. I hear the pitter-patter of small feet down the hall and I'm back. "Here, River, come here..." and I swoop her into arms, surround her warm body with mine, and ask, "Did you have a dream?"

"In my room, momma, butterflies. I see butterflies in my room." With that we sink down and swim, spread wings and fly. Into the light, into the light.

Please join me. Hands of light around my sister Lisa.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Passing up an invitation for free flowing wine, famous writers reading - the opening of a writer's dojo, I sit at the desk for hours, downloading kirtans.

The way the violin dances, slithering snake, riding the back of his voice, then her voice, and it's the closest to making love than I've been in a long, long time. Dave Stringer's Diva's and Deva's. Surprise, I close my eyes and travel into the beat of the tablas, the hiding bells, and the friendly acoustic guitar. Ancient patterns, modern translative gestures, strands from all directions into one rhythmic wave. I'm in love.

And I'm free again.

He walks into the kitchen, chomps on chips, "Yeah, that's great," he says. I play him a raga, talk about how wonderful it is to see what the musicians have done with it, so many incredible combinations. He walks out mid-song and turns on basketball in the other room.

The ensuing aloneness is not empty. Thing is, it's an easy shot, and I don't stoop to take it. Not into easy at the moment. I want truth. I want to find my way back to the high road. It's not about him. It's all me.

It's about this stinging drive for union. Close my eyes again because I hear it in the voice coming across, in the vibration and tender trail of this other man's voice. I read his bio and understand that it's all the transformation in his life that turns to love in the music. God, his voice. That striving and longing for union. It burns through me.

But I'm careful. It's not about him either. I pull the desire back, make sure it stays in the middle of my own trail, straight down to the heart.

Late and I close down iTunes, get up and look down the hallway. I enter the room, sit in the dark in front of the prayer table, and the image of my teacher, orange shawls down the body, to the ground, beads in hand. I love her and that's a lifetime. That love is on track, where the track is a path that opens inward, inward like those Tibetan tankas, layers so thick with layers that we can only stare at the color, dumb to memory of moving through it all for thousands of circular cycles.

All I know is that love points toward me. Everything I want to avoid. And it keeps pointing, beyond all the particulars. It keeps pointing.

What is it that I really want in making love or writing or talking or being seen or being heard anyway? Why not just go straight to the source. Watch how fast I can run. I'm the stalker in every story, the seeker, the traveler.....and then I turn around faster than you can blink.

Sometimes that turn takes a second and sometimes I turn it slowly for a decade. And then there comes a moment when I wake up. WAKE UP!

Everything stops. Silence. Like a newborn, curiosity and looking. Like new, I want to see the truth again. Rumi in my head, ecstatic shouts:

The Root of the Root of Your Self

Don't go away, come near.
Don't be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of yourself.

You are born from the children of God's creation,
but you have fixed your sight too low.
How can you be happy?
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

You were born from a ray of God's majesty
and have the blessings of a good star.
Why suffer at the hands of things that don't exist?
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it's not true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.

You came here from the presence of that fine Friend,
a little drunk, but gentle, stealing our hearts
with that look so full of fire; so,
come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ritual Bath

Half-way up the stairwell he can't hear my words. I repeat but it's no good. "What? What are you complaining about now?"

Leftovers for River, nothing for us. Two books instead of four and she's asleep. I clock out.

I want to write, want a nice glass of wine, maybe live music and smiling people. An hour and a half later I'm still sitting at the desk.

Thirty six minutes and I walk into the living room, say things I can't take back, and head down the long hall to the bath. I scrub, rinse, and swivel the handle. Hot only.

Two lukewarm baths behind me, I measure in my mind and shut off hot. Cold only. Bath salts, oils, test the temp and undress.

A second wet and I know it's too cold. I get in anyway, hoping that it's warmer than I think. Slide down as far as I can, knees exposed. Any way I figure, not warm enough to warm.

I begin to shiver. Too cold now to get out. I gather waves, water over breasts, shriveled nipples, down my arms. Tepid almost feels good because I'm cold from the inside now. Cold from the middle out. So I stay.

Marriage. My hardest challenge.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Returning Home

Storms hit the morning we fly out of Oakland. Before dawn we swim through traffic, the highway on-ramp almost flooded over. Steady pace, there's enough room so I place my hand on his back while he stares into a pelting blur. From the back seat, small soprano whispers, "Three wittle ducks went out one day, only two wittle ducks came back."

From the off-site car return to the curbside check-in, we're wet, head to toe. Hanging strands of hair drip onto her shoulders as she peels off her coat, reaches to throw it into the tub, sits to unstrap shoes. She uses all her weight to push baskets along the security belt. Big girl.

Over snow covered mountain ranges, rivers crawl across green, clouds descend to mist, and we finally land in Portland. Finally. On the other side of a new year, just, we know we're tender, too, as we drive to the new house. Steve leaves as soon as we pull in for a school retreat.

Opening the door, a wave of toxic air. One foot in and I see a blanket of white dust across the floor. Without stepping further, I lift my gaze, white dust across every furniture surface I can see. River's shoes already white, hands white, and I notice that across the house, our long dining room table is a blanket of white. It's a page and I want to begin writing but I head for River's room instead. Placing my hand on her bookcase, dresser, bedside table, I wipe and don't want to look. Thick white dust. Sheet rock dust. Everywhere.

Work downstairs to finish the basement room. They say later that there was only one piece of plastic so they covered the computer. I tell River not to move and go down the steps. Desks, computers, couch, bookshelf, rugs - a white mess.

It takes two hours for me to stop shaking, to stop the disbelief and confusion, to get moving again. The suitcases still outside on the front stoop, I open them just to pull out enough to get us through another night. I google hotels, change River's clothes twice, white mess. And then I call Jess. We're coming over.

River falls asleep in the car. Of course she does. I'm still feeling trails of flu. Another round of lugging bags and the sleeping girl is tucked into another bed that's not hers. I'm ready to sit but don't take off my coat. Jess says, "Hmm, I wonder why it's not getting warm, I turned the heater on awhile ago." It doesn't work. The heater doesn't work. Three hours later, having blown the breaker twice with space heaters, I'm between laughing and longing for a hotel. Laughing because my life doesn't want me to stop yet and I JUST WANT TO STOP.

The next morning I leave River on the couch at 8am, wrapped in a blanket, watching cartoons, and head home to close the windows, turn on the heat, and meet a new house cleaner. Three women arrive and one gives me a hug. "No worries, dear, we will clean up this mess."

She tells me (in a beautiful South African accent) that she is breaking Sabbath, that she doesn't normally work on Saturdays, but when she heard about our situation she couldn't let a three year old sleep in construction dust. So she woke up early and prayed, asked god for permission to work on her Sabbath day for our family. She said, "Where is your daughter's room, we will begin there." With buckets of soapy water, they washed down her walls, wiped every book in her bookshelf, shook out every little shirt on her shelf.

Room by room they cleaned like this, closing the door when each was finished. She found me in the kitchen washing dishes and said, "Oh, yes, we are cleaning every bit of anger and frustration, every bit of darkness in this house." Looking into my eyes she continues, "You think you have lost something, I see that when I look at you, but you must know, God is trying to show you something. God wants you to glorify him from this place, not just when you feel abundant."

I turn on beautiful chants, start the diffuser with lemon oil, and we work together. Different cultures, different traditions, different devotions, and she is my personal angel. I met her just that morning and she stands in my kitchen as if we are sisters.

Before I leave to pick up River I tell her about staying up all night in Berkeley, about Steve asking me where I put God in my life. She takes my arm, leads me into the bathroom, and closes the door. There is really no way in hell that I would listen to anyone tell me the following, but when she begins to pray over me I just burst into tears. "Dear God, please be with us here this morning, please bless this work, and please, dear god, please bless this family. Please show this woman that you have not forgotten her. She feels forgotten by you, holy father. She feels abandoned in this world by you. Please show her that you are with her in every moment, in every situation, especially during this year of loss."

Nose to nose, "Prema, dear, you are the mother of this household. You are the pillar. I want you to come to this room, close the door and pray to god. I want you to spill your soul and say whatever you need to, and when you return to your kitchen, you are the woman and pillar of your home."

I could have said something witty or dismissive. Pretty much every alternative response stood in waiting, ready. I said nothing, except, "Ok, I will. Thank you."

Nine hours later they pack up and leave. "Thank you for bringing us to your home," she says, unbelievably. "Thank you for taking such good care of my family," I say, unbelievably. Big hugs and the compass is reset. It moves from the center and stops.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Essential Home

It's after 2am in a living room that is not ours and he says I am a bitter, miserable person. Angry. If I could stop crying in his presence during the previous days, I would muster the energy to argue. I lean against a doorway, not in, not out, held in place right there.

"The only way I get through any of this is to put God at the center of my life. That's the only way. Look at you, you're so angry. I think you're angry at God. All you wanted was a home and a family, and it's not working out for you.....again. The suffering isn't over and you're pissed off."

Insults mix with salt saliva and I swallow them. Loneliness like those birds on a wire in the rain - staring, silent. I think how my ex-boyfriend, after reading my blog, emailed to say that I've never been satisfied in any relationship with a man. Never replied to that one.

It's frightening to look. Sometimes I think that the fight is the only thing that keeps me here. Looking back, I cannot find a time when that was not true.

"Where is God in your life, Prema? Huh? I don't care what you call it, how you define it, where you go to honor it....where is God in your life?"

I don't remember ending the conversation, don't remember laying down next to River, just the opening of eyes inside and the sensation of total wakefulness. Awake.

Hours pass and I lean against another bedroom wall, strange room, and that doesn't matter, I'm arriving. Opening. Attentive eye, inside, fire from the center warming me, rousing all the sadness. To the loneliness, get up now, time to wake up.

He's right.

Sadness shifts to compassion, sad only for the leaving of myself, the way I have always been completely seduced by the promise of companionship and home. And that's the wound of a child. Now I'm an old, old woman with a shawl wrapped around her. Helping her open her eyes and find her balance.

Hours pass. It's so mystifying - how we are at once so ancient, at once so young, altogether wise, and often so ignorant. And that's how we become the art, how the lines move through our skin, maps of how we traverse the two.

If there is one thing in this life I have learned it's this: There is a pivotal choice.

We can align with the one in us who is awake, whose very consciousness is awareness of the Self, the one who knows her connection to spirit and to the thousand iterations of how spirit becomes form, the one who is available to listen to signs and teachings. Or we can choose to align with the wounded one, whose very nature is to forget her essential nature, the one who designs her life to mimic the core dilemma, whatever it is, so that she can resolve it. But she forgets that it's a practice for growth, forgets that it's resolvable. She confirms her karma in repetitive fashion through all the external reflections in her life.

I crawl into bed with River at dawn, the flu dissipated into a moving cold through my lungs. In the warmth of her back, soft wisps of gold around pink cheeks, I whisper, "Om Namah Shivaya," into her ear. I hum the melody and let it wash over our embrace.

A few hours later I sit in a beautiful meditation hall and wonder how I managed to find myself here on New Year's morning. On one side of me, a dear friend, long-time devotee, so full of light. She brought me here, she made it possible. On the other side, my oldest friend, twin sister, beside me again and again and again....so many years of journeying.

The lights dim and a few hundred people chant, so sweet to my exhaustion, so familiar, so far from me for too long. And then, in meditation, deep stillness, I hear the sound of her voice and burst into tears. My teacher.

I found my teacher when I was 21. She has found me again and again, in this corner of the world and that, and brought me back home. Home. To the center of my own breath. To center of the pulsation of my own heart. Home to the central seat behind eyes, which reside just behind my eyes. That seat, home. Everything seen from that place, home. Every cell, home. Nothing other (not even my husband), everything, home.

She hasn't spoken publicly for several years and so this was most auspicious and my great, good fortune. How do we make it from the depths of hell to the depths of awareness?

Grace. Grace in many forms.

Thank you, Jess, Holly, Carrie, and Rebecca, for holding me in the distance.

Dear Gry, thank you for your incredible spirit of friendship!

Thank you, dear Seth, for your homemade chai, for singing the dream to me, for cooking, and for singing beauty to River.

Carolyn, you are an angel in my life. In your light I remember mine.

Pam, thank you for an amazing dinner, laughter, and for all the live Bruce.

Christine, for enduring devotion. Linda, for your willingness.

Steve, thank you for your honesty.

Happy Birthday to me. I'm 41 today. Packing my bags, making my way back home.

Happy New Year and many blessings.....