Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chop Wood, Carry Water

            The Buddhist saying goes: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Today I am coming strongly to feel this sentiment, not by any means have I reached enlightenment, however I have been disciplined of late in my approach to my health, my yoga sutras, my belly dance, my meditation, my writing. I have had moments of great clarity and empowering energy, I have felt the highs of knowing that I was on the correct path.

     Today is a chop wood, carry water day, I am taking two days off to go to the beach, for two weeks I have been on antibiotics for a sinus infection, two days ago I finished the drugs and today I feel my nose, my throat, my head as if I never took the antibiotics, but I know that I took them as I can feel the yeast infection mutating in my nether regions even as I try to sit still to type this.

     Still though I got up, I did 20 minutes of yoga, I meditated for 20 minutes, I wrote my journal entry of positive thoughts and drew a quick sketch of my radiant being, and then I did my 45 minutes of belly dance. 

     I still feel the dregs of the disease, but the rest of me is calm and the healing energy has been unleashed. I will load my car and head to the beach, stopping for over the counter medication along the way, but I will go and I will enjoy each moment as it comes up, life is not meant to be without challenges, it is not a series of why me’s, but an opportunity to be a part of each and every step along the way, the good and the bad, the fantastic and the not so much. I am confident that I am on the right track, I just need to allow my glorious body, mind and spirit to do its work.  Peace.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


          In the chaotic world we all live in, it is often difficult to know when and how to respond to the many disasters that befall us and those around us.  Today there is widespread flooding and devastation across the south and mid-west.  I think of all those people whose lives must be salvaged among the ruins that water can cause.  It is the elements, the fires, the rising waters, the fierce winds, the shifting of the earth, these disasters that show up mostly unannounced, but certainly remind us of the vulnerability of our lives, that seem to hit the hardest.

            So often when I hear or see of these disasters I try to imagine how I would feel, what it would be like to go off to work one day and come home to nothing, or maybe be unable to get home, to be cut off from the familiar and the safe.

            Each day offers its own set of challenges, but in the grand picture, it seems less important on a day when a hang nail nags or the bosses yet again decide to change a way of doing things that does not fit with our immediate plans, maybe that isn’t so serious, maybe we don’t have to assign it the weight that we do.

            And there is the most important thing, we are the ones assigning the importance of events, we are in our lives right now deciding if the guy in front of us who insists on going 5 mile under the speed limit is worth the anger, the elevated heart rate, the anxiety of tickets and the possibility of accidents.  We are not in control of the weather, the elements, the drivers around us, the people we work with, the world in all its chaotic, discordant, jazzy rhythms, but we do have the ability to control our responses.  

            I am not always good at remembering this in the throes of the event, just now I drove dangerously close to a woman who was on the freeway going 50 in a 60 mile an hour zone.  I was getting off at the next exit so I chose not to pass, I also choose to close the gap between us to an unacceptable and highly dangerous level. Why? Was I late for work? No. Do I care about being on time? No.  I could be a half hour late and nobody would really bat an eyelash, but I had made up my mind to get behind her, I would show her how to drive, I would teach her a lesson.  As soon as the event was over and I was safely on the off ramp I realized what I had done, it could have ended in a tragedy for both of us, why did I need to do this?  There is no reasons for why only another opportunity to try again.  So in this moment I will choose to be present and recognize my reactions as they are occurring and see if I can make better choices. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Forgetting Self

    Today I contemplate the world, and not my place in it but the oneness of myself to the world. Our connection to the planet is so precarious, we see ourselves as disconnected, as disassociated with all that lives around us.  Today as I do each morning I begin with thankfulness for this moment that I awake to the world and breathe the air.  But I also begin today to let myself go, to remember that what I am is a minor blip and that all around me is the truth.

     It is hard to always be aware, to let the drama go, we live our lives surrounded by the sucking mud of selfishness and greed pulling us down and gluing us to the mean and base world around, but if I can even for a moment feel my connection to the greater world, the larger natural world, the larger humanity or even the grace of the wind I am a step closer to the truth.

     Last week on my drive home from work sitting in traffic waiting for my turn to push through the choke point, I felt the weak sun breaking through the clouds, I saw the shadows lengthen as the day began to wane, I watched the shadow of the wheels on the cars in front of me as we inched along, they swirled against the rumble strip and together the wind and shadow, the movement of the cars and the texture of the road made the shadow come alive and shimmer in a vortex wheel, then I looked ahead to the cars as they stretched out before me on a  curving length of pavement and all the shadow wheels shimmered and whirled, tiny tornados and I felt a joy at this moment, this beauty in such a unlikely place.

     It didn’t last long soon I was back in the angry world of drivers disconnected, humans angling to be the first, the world of my past, the worries and anxieties of the future. But for that brief moment, for that small window in the midst of such banality I was struck with awe and wonder at the world I live in. Today is another opportunity to be connected to the greater within and around each of us. We may not be able to hold on to it for longer than a second, oh but what a wonderful second.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Transient Beings

I was listening to the radio a couple days ago, a call in talk show on the best and worst graduation advice we ever got. One caller had a story of a comedian, I don’t remember who, who told his class that the secret to life was furniture. As long as we do not have furniture we are free, but the minute we give into the need to own our own stuff, well, it’s all over.

It’s meant as a joke of course, but look around at all the things you own, all the things that tie you to place. There is some truth to the impermanence to our lives that we flat choose to ignore.

We gather as much as we can, we accumulate and want and desire, we fight for, sometimes we die for things, possessions, oil, land. We watch as wildfires, tornadoes, floods, strangers and sometimes even family take our things away.

Either one at a time or in one fell swoop, things come and they go in our lives. People come and go, beauty fades, youth escapes, innocence is lost. Life isn’t meant to be forever, no one leaves this world alive.

I am blessed with the love of a few very select beautiful beings, they color my world with a meaning things could never take the place of, I do not appreciate them enough, as I contemplate the word transience I realize how connected to this earth I am, how caught up in the ownership of things I have become, how locked I am into my furniture.

The simplicity movement would have us give away all our things, and perhaps that is a good plan, for me I think I will start with giving thanks for everything I own, releasing things that could serve others, and truly appreciating the rest and begin the work of recognizing that what I have is so much less important than the person I am and the way I conduct my life.

If everything I own should disappear tomorrow but there was a sunrise the next day that filled the sky and opened the heart could that be enough? To ask the question is to know that I still have work to do.

Friday, May 13, 2011


The world seems calloused by violence, we have protective shields all around us that are not there to keep us from experiencing violence but like calloused skin are now numb to the situation that caused the buildup of excess skin in the first place.

Our minds and bodies have become a build-up of layers of understanding against what we know to be the right way. Right way is a thought process, a moral code, an ethical call to un-arm ourselves mind, body and soul. We can live in a world where violence is not the way, but is in fact a deep wound to all beings when it occurs.

Osama bin Laden’s death two weeks ago is a reminder of what can happen when we harden our hearts to the world around us. This man perpetuated an ideology of hatred throughout the world, his was a continuation on the hatred that has plagued us for centuries, and I know he was a symbol of our hatred of each other and of the violence we have endured. Still though I am not convinced that death is the only way to solve violence, I do see that our President, our government, had no choice in this situation, but it makes me sad to think of what our lives have become.

Does the killing end there? No it goes on; it always goes on, for every death that occurs another side feels justified in offering up its own murder. It is always couched in terms of justice and avenging. But who, I want to know is the last one?

The Dalai Lama was asked how to teach compassion to children in a world of violence and his response was to teach our kids to love insects. If we can learn to respect the strange and weird world of insects we can begin to encompass an understanding of all living creatures.

My husband and others have talked about how we make the enemy less than human so that we can justify the killing, but what if we honored all of life right down to the pesky fly with its strange praying hands and eyes that feel alien and creepy sitting atop his head? Would it be harder to kill another if we honored all life as sacred?

The Buddhists think so, yet the killing goes on. I think that for me it was easy to understand a President who felt justified in killing the terrorist who masterminded the 911 attacks, but it makes me sad that I would not have felt better if he had let him live, taken him to a trial and found justice through humane means. I am no better than anyone else; I am a human who sees justice in the death of another. Today’s word is compassion – I start with forgiving myself for my weakness.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Speaking Truth

Blue nights into white stars…. A line from a Carl Sandberg poem called Prayers of Steel. It reminds of a prayer I read recently it goes like this… ‘Dear creator make me a radical, make me a revolutionary, fill me with the truth and give me the voice to speak it into the world.’ When I think of this prayer it makes me smile, to think of asking to be a radical, asking to be the one who stands up in the world, looking out over the blue night filled with white stars and speaking the truth for all to hear. What a brave soul this is asking for the creator to trust them with the knowledge that all others shun and run away from, standing up and saying pick me, pick me.

It reminds me of the night not long after my mother’s death and I prayed and prayed for her to come and visit me, I needed to know she forgave me for allowing them to take her off the respirator. I waited and waited, then one late night while in the bathroom, the light off as I sat on the toilet, the door open, I could see the moonlight streaming down the hall. As I was finishing up a large light shadow appeared at the door. It was strange almost the reverse of what a shadow should be. Wherever there should be depth there was a thick light. It all happened so fast, it was suddenly there and I gasped in fright and then it was gone just as quickly leaving me a trembling mess. It never came back and I could never be sure it was my mother, though I believed that it was, yet I doubted too. Almost immediately I wanted it to come back, but I also remember a great deal of relief when the light faded and left. And that is what makes me wonder at the bravery of this prayer. Is it wise to pray and hope for something that if it comes we may not be able to handle?

I prayed for a sign and when one was presented I went screeching back to my bed and lay trembling under the covers. Maybe I wasn’t ready, maybe I would be now but it is too late, or maybe we think we want something or that we are brave or smart or strong, and then when it happens we are a screeching trembling mess.

What I pray for is courage, it is a longing that I have for the world to accept me as I am and for me to always be braver than I was yesterday, to gain knowledge from the past and use it as a means to grow stronger. Yet in my heart I too want to be a radical, a revolutionary, a person who will stand in the center of the blue night sky and speak truth to the white stars.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The Buddhists teach that all of life is imperfection, that to be perfect is strive for something beyond attaining. We are all imperfect beings and it is only when we accept our imperfections that life begins to feel whole, less struggle, less worry and strife.

This is a tough lesson when we have grown up believing that who we are, our imperfect selves are not good enough, nobody has ever specified who we are being measured too and why the yardstick is important.

I am beginning to understand this lesson, but as a true act of self mirroring lessons, I am never quite there, always finding myself lacking in some vital ways and striving ever striving for a place of perfection that I cannot be. It’s both harder to obtain, now that I’m older and easier to accept, this lack of perfection, this willingness to be in like, if not in love with myself, and all my many character defects that make me both charming and real.

There is a simple contrast to life, a need to compare, to a natural order of one against another, the backdrop shaped and nuanced to enhance both or to give subtle sway to one side over another. The problem comes in the choosing, in this need to be right, this desire to possess.

One has an apple but sees an orange and all flavor for the apple is lost, one only longs for and wants the orange. Once the orange is obtained, and depending on how great our need we will most likely obtain the orange, but once we have it, it is now the banana we want, or the plum, the cherry, a perfect pear. Each presenting its virtues, an easy glossy package, its softness, smoothness, the gentle give of the plum, the firm crispness of the apple. Each are both perfectly what we want, displaying exactly the qualities of the fruit we seek, and each is wildly unique both from other types, but as individuals as well.

Accepting imperfection, is not about being less than, it is not about striving for less, or accepting something that is not whole and perfect, it’s about looking around, at ourselves, our homes, our careers, our lives, bodies, ideas and seeing them for the beauty that is possessed in this moment here and now, this is the moment. When we truly accept imperfections we are ready to move forward. If not today then there is another 24 hours waiting for us in the morning and we can try again.

Monday, May 09, 2011


What is my journey? We spend so much of our time and our lives searching for just even the spot to get on the trail, so much time can pass between our fingers like sand, smooth and rough at the same time, as we search for just the place to join the stream of grains falling down.

I am an old woman now, or at least I am well on my way, the crone is not the distant image in the mirror anymore, she is now coming forward morphing into a center stage position as my youngest self and my intermediate self begin to recede. I am not afraid of her, this wiser self. I am not leaning into her either, I am no longer afraid of the self, but I still do not know if I am ready for the journey. Do I want to pick up this basket of woes, heartache, sin, redemption and try to make sense of it, unravel it, learn or grow? Though I have traveled this trail for years, forging a trail as tidy as the forest service, through years of waiting and wondering, doing and trying, and I still do not know if this is my trail. It makes no sense to be so unsure today, so unsure tomorrow, so unsure still, so unwilling to risk being wrong. At this stage being wrong, I should realize, above all else is not, should not, will not, be a deterrent to moving forward. In fact, being wrong is practically my divining rod, it is the way with which I move forward in the world, the way I learn.

It isn’t merely that we take our path, it isn’t just as Joseph Campbell said, that we follow our bliss, for that lends validity to the notion that we know what our bliss is, or that a single bliss is all we get, or all we might need. Perhaps, bliss isn’t meant to be the journey, it is just one of many tastes along the way down our particular path. It isn’t enough to find what it is that we should be doing, it’s that we find enough of it to be willing to take the next step.

Along the way there could be hundreds, if not thousands of missteps, so many places where we can lose our hold on reality and simply slip into the underbrush. So many places where life is slipping between the cracks of our selves, but maybe that is where the good dirt is, maybe that is the clay that fires in our particular kiln, we have to find all the juicy bits, all the wormiest pieces of ourselves before we can begin to know what is discard-able. We spend a lot of time looking outside of ourselves, picking up random this’s and that’s, random ideas and people, we let plans, ideas, people go without another thought, sometimes with a lot of thought, but still we let them go, and all for what reason? We couldn’t say, only that it wasn’t right or he wasn’t the one. How can we know who is the one if we have never looked under the concrete surface of the very journey we are on to see what oozes underneath? Just as shoots of grass find their way to the sun through the slimmest of margins, through the tiniest of fissures in the cement, so too must we dive deep and then after taking a good swim in the toxic soup of inner-selves look up, search for that tiny lightning bolt of light then shoot straight up, go for it, reach with all our might, push out from the inside, bursting forth from our total inner bliss to that slim ray of light, it is there just for us, just when its needed. I believe this and someday soon I’m going to look up and start searching for the light.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Space; the illusion of our life is that it is filled with an expanse of time and space and that each is meant to be filled. But what is space? What makes the idea of space, of quiet mind, of the artfulness of space, the whiteness around a page of letters, the arc of sky that holds the flower aloft, what makes it seem a void that needs filling?

We see it as empty, a blank mind is empty of thought, originality, a blank canvas is a space waiting for paint, a blank page waiting for the words to fill it up, a blank room devoid of possessions.

Space and time are often spoke of together as if one is not complete without the other, but time is conventional, a construct, we see seasons pass and we state that time is marching on, but time is linear, a straight arrow forward, the seasons come of their own, when they are ready, at their own call of nature. Space is neither a construct nor an object, neither a linear progression forward nor a place. Space is a reckoning of our true self, a white space of truth. When we can be alone with space, the de-cluttered mind, the blank wall, the beauty of a single blossom against the blue, blue sky, we can then begin to understand. And what we understand is that space is the shape of everything.

Writing is not about the words, the black squiggly lines whose shapes, agreed upon by generations before us of meaning, sitting on the page waiting for our logical mind to assembly them into the story, this is not writing. Writing is about being alone with the self, sitting in silence in the room, looking at a blank wall, seeing a blank empty future and allowing it to fill us, to assemble itself around the story that was already there. Space is like the block of marble, we only remove of it what is not the statue, the rest remains, retains the shape of things, holds the volumes of words where once there was space, not empty but filled, not devoid of meaning, but too full to grasp.

Space is not an outward place longing to be filled, but an inner dwelling waiting to be known.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Last night I had the strangest sensation that I kept forgetting to breathe, I have a bad cold so I don’t know for sure what was happening, but I’d start to fall asleep just get to the point of drifting deep into slumber when I would jerk awake, it almost felt like I was falling from the sky on to the bed, I’d come up reaching for the air and once I had it I would cough and cough. I was sure that now I was awake, I’d never get back to sleep. I wasn’t sure I’d stopped breathing so I would lay there wondering what had happened, was this true, had I stopped breathing? I was frightened and did not want to go back to sleep, but then I would, I would fall down and sleep again, 20 minutes would pass and the whole thing would begin again.

I finally did fall into a fitful sleep, one so shallow you could hear the cogs in the brain working, still puzzling out what had happened. After awhile I began to realize that I was not afraid, that I was not at all worried about anything, that I was safe, as safe as I could be living in the world I lived in, in the place I called home. If I did stop breathing here in this warm bed, on these soft sheets, alone in the pitch black darkness I was suddenly not afraid anymore of anything. I felt safe and clean and loved.

After that, I slept well for 4 hours straight, this is a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep for me, I woke up exactly on time and got ready for work in record speed. I feel strangely calm, though my chest feels heavy and constricted, like it has been bearing a great burden for a long time and it is weary.

It isn’t easy sometimes to see oneself as a writer, an artist, and hold down a full time job with something as dull as a medical billing clerk, add a cold on top of this and it can seem sometimes as if you’re deluding yourself, giving yourself false ideas of grandeur, trying to be something that you are clearly not, at least not in the eyes of the rest of the world, but something changed last night, something small, but seismic none the less. I am small and insignificant in the world, but I understand things. I understand all manner of things without words, or actions, or sounds. We all do to be sure, but I can give this to you like a gift, I can set this at your feet and you will know that darkness in the room, where I have strangled all light with thick heavy curtains and blankets under doors, with mirror’s blacked out, and alarm clocks with their digital dials removed. I can let you know what the feeling of walking up your lungs empty of air, gasping and grasping for the essential, basic element of life, that very air that suspends and sustains. I can let you know that in that moment you are for a brief and utterly beautiful split hair’s breadth of time, that exquisite now, you are beautiful and whole and want for nothing more in this world or the next. Writing matters as do you, as do I.

Monday, May 02, 2011

While my cat sleeps

The soft cat emerges from the folds of the chair skirt, gray and black stripes oozing from under the long coffee-brown cotton that just dusts the floor. He is having a quiet day, Max the cat, he is not sure why I am home. I am not sure either, but my rain soaked deck and the clicks and moans of my quiet house call me to settle in, pull the shawl tighter, hold onto the silence that this house offers, waiting and waiting for the Spring that teases and cajoles but never stays.

I am weary of the weather, weary of the cold and wet that seeps into every pour, saturates us with bleak gray blanket of wet and mold. The cough I developed last week, has lapsed into a dull thud of its former self, no more the racking, rattling cough of bird wings against wire cages clamoring to get out, but a hoarse congested choking noise that makes me think of gutters thick with leaf mold and the ever present pine needles.

I sip my tea, watch the rain and remember when I was not cold, when my body and house and world did not drip and shiver. When hope was not a season lost but a possibility.

My work, my writing has been locked inside me these past few days, I’ve been unable or unwilling to coax the words on the page. My characters have left me too, no longer competing for conversation time as I showered or chopped vegetables. I’ve been worrying about this absence, but not in a concrete way, more abstract, more of a deflection of thought then a full frontal facing of the betrayal of word ratio to paper, of internal conversation to external.

I allow myself to be easily distracted, indulge myself in the safety of a benign upper respiratory illness, I am weak. And yet, and yet for all my weakness, all my blind ignorance, still I show up here each day, fingers poised above keys, shawl wrapped loosely, mind stretching, bending, reaching for the elusive word. The words always return, one by one they appear, like the spring thaw, revealing themselves one damp, cold, sheathed leaf at a time, pushing up to an ever strengthening sun, and when the words arrive finally, pushed above ground by the roots of language, pulled by the sun of knowledge into the full light, I will be ready to capture them. Max purr’s, stretches and goes back to sleep.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

English Novels

I have a thing for English novels, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskil, George Eliot, the Bronte Sisters, Thomas Hardy. What draws me to them? I am not English, I am not born to wealth, I do not have a rags to riches story. But again and again I am compelled to read these stories, get inside the head of the characters, and it is the characters that I return to, that draw me into the web of story.

The wit of Elizabeth Bennett, the goodness if not fool-hardiness of David Copperfield, the misguided Tess, the saintly Jane, but are these the stories I want to write? No not at all, firstly I only know about the 19th century through the novels I have read, secondly who, from this century, would choose to write such contrived plots and flowery prose? Still there is something there, something of the time and place, something of the virtue and of the unreality of it all, all men are kind, all woman virtuous, all time organized, the regality of taking a turn about the garden, the vulgarity of the streets of London pressing and oppressive, the smell, the sweltering heat, the dismal rain and fog.

Perhaps it is the unreality that I like the best, the fact that it may never have been, and certainly is not now the world I or anyone else lives in, but there is a magic there, a sense of anything can happen, its much the same kind of magic that I felt the first time I read The Wizard of Oz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the sense that anything can happen and whatever does happen, it is happening in just the right way and in just the right time.

And that’s what I want to accomplish with my stories. I want to capture the wonder of a time, a place, a new reality, I want the magic to fill the spaces in between where the words float on the page, painting a vividness that lingers with you for days and weeks. I want a love to be so true and real that you can imagine no two people more right for each other and it’s worth all the work it takes to get them to realize it too.

Maybe this is why I am always so disappointed in my own work. It seems so dull and lifeless on the page, filled not with magic between the words, but a dull white space like puffs of air suspending each word before it poufs away never to be heard or seen or read with interest again.

It’s a mighty struggle, most sane people I imagine would have long since moved on to something else, alas I do not, I keep trying, keep writing, keep reading the classics, keep imagining the world of magic just beyond the looking glass, a shimmering ghostly London fog that slips through my fingers with each stroke of the keyboard.