Meditations and inspirations

Sacred spirals

These little cacti had such personality, so I took some portraits of them. Notice the sacred spiral?

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Resting is an activity

Practice copyIt was easy to “do nothing” when I was on retreat just one week ago. I was off the grid at a yoga retreat center on the beach near Todos Santos in Baja. Recovering from my fall, I didn’t even want to do anything except luxuriate in the quiet of poolside, or lose myself in the wild wind at the beach. From each breathtaking sunrise over the desert to each glorious sunset over the ocean, all I had to do was stare into space, read or nap. I let my mind and outside body rest.

But inside, I was doing the hard work of healing. At the physical level, my immune system was fighting inflammation and infection, reconnecting the displaced roots of my front teeth and repairing the broken blood vessels of my bruised body. That work isn’t over yet. And then, of course, there’s the emotional body work that still needs to happen.

It’s harder to “do nothing” now that I’m home and the responsibilities of my everyday life are right in front of me: dogs, cats, bills to pay, a sink full of dirty dishes. So, part of my practice now is going to be reminding myself that resting is an activity, that even if my most outer layer is seemingly at rest, a lot of productive work can still be going on at the subtler levels of my being.

Yoga philosophy describes five layers, or koshas, that comprise our physical, energetic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves. They all need attention. Yoga nidra is a yoga meditation practice that addresses all of these layers by guiding you into deeper and deeper states of relaxation. In a full yoga nidra practice, a facilitator guides you through breath work and body scans, and your brain transitions from a waking state, to a dreamless sleeping state even though you remain awake. The effects are systemically  restorative. Yoga nidra is a lot to cover in one blog post, but follow the links above to get an introduction to the concepts, and try yoga nidra here:

Unplug at the ocean

Meditate copyShakti: Most simply, shakti is the primordial cosmic energy that “represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe” (Wikipedia). The feminine principle in Hindu cosmology, shakti is the underlying energy of potential itself. It is intangible, but without it there is no form, no movement, no creation, no destruction. Shakti is pure nascence; the spark at the heart of empowerment.

There is no better place to feel shakti than the ocean. It’s in the WILD ROAR of the waves and the pull of the tide, evidence of our connection with other celestial bodies. Here are 3 minutes to take you away from whatever your mind is racing over today. Enjoy.

 

I didn’t die yesterday

I saw the most beautiful sun rise as they carried me to the car to take me to the hospital.

It was the first morning of my retreat. I had gotten up early to write morning pages and drink coffee before morning yoga practice. My alarm went off at 6. It was still dark and my roommate was asleep, so I tiptoed through our room to go to the bathroom without turning on any lights. Feeling my way along the walls for the bathroom doorway, apparently I missed it, walked right past it and stepped into a void that was the stairwell to the first floor.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?!?!?!

It was pitch black.

There was no floor, there were no walls that I could find.

Completely disoriented, I lurched in the dark, reaching out for something to hold onto, but wasn’t finding anything. By the time I realized I was falling, I had dived to the right, past the landing halfway down and tumbled over the steep edge to the lower stairs below. I banged my head on the stone stairs, and then just kept going. I have never hit my head so hard. I felt my teeth break.

HOW FAR DOWN DOES THIS GO?

Finally, sometime before I stopped I told myself to make a sound, to yell while I still could so someone could help me. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to yell when I hit the bottom. I yelled once and then finally hit the bottom and called for my roommate and next door neighbor.

They both came quickly, probably as terrified as I was. They got me to a bed and ran to the kitchen for ice and help.

I burst into tears when my teacher came and held me. All these beautiful women in their nightgowns, ferocious in calling for help and calm in taking care of me, reassuring me. FULL ON mama bear mode… for me. And I cried harder for their tenderness.

My dear retreat-mate accompanied me to the hospital, interpreting from Spanish to English and back again, filled out all my paperwork for me, asked all the questions and stayed with me for hours while a parade of on-call doctors SLOWLY made their way to the hospital to check me out. The hospital’s dentist-on-call refused to come in on a Sunday. I saw an orthopedist, an neurologist and a maxillofascial specialist. I got x-rays and a CT scan. And once they assured my by brain was ok, I let them give me some anti-inflammatory drugs and started to feel better. They checked me out of the hospital and the myofascial doctor came back to get me and take me to her clinic so her dentist and orthodontist could fix my teeth.

Just nine hours later I was back in my bed at the hotel.

I’m ok.

I’m observing the yoga classes rather than taking them. I’m surrounded by heart strong women doing their own deep work while taking care of me. I’ve only ever felt this kind of collective nurturing when my mama died. As as they came out of shivasana yesterday, I thought to myself, “I didn’t die yesterday.” I might have. But I didn’t.

 

 

Sometimes you cry in April

Sometimes it snows in April

~Prince
Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy ’cause he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy ’cause I wanted to see him again
But sometimes, sometimes life ain’t always the way
Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending
And all good things, they say, never last
Springtime was always my favorite time of year
A time for lovers holding hands in the rain
Now springtime only reminds me of Tracy’s tears
Always cry for love, never cry for pain
He used to say so strong, oh unafraid to die
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized
No, staring at his picture I realized
No one could cry the way my Tracy cried
Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending
And all good things, they say, never last
I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there
I know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again
Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending
But all good things, they say, never last
All good things they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past

 

My mother’s body

This poem has been a favorite of mine for many years… but this is the first time I’ve returned to it since losing my own mother. This is not the story of my relationship to my mother, but I can feel it.

My mother’s body

1.
The dark socket of the year
the pit, the cave where the sun lies down
and threatens never to rise,
when despair descends softly as the snow
covering all paths and choking roads:
then hawkfaced pain seized you
threw you so you fell with a sharp
cry, a knife tearing a bolt of silk.
My father heard the crash but paid
no mind, napping after lunch
yet fifteen hundred miles north
I heard and dropped a dish.
Your pain sunk talons in my skull
and crouched there cawing, heavy
as a great vessel filled with water,
oil or blood, till suddenly next day
the weight lifted and I knew your mind
had guttered out like the Chanukah
candles that burn so fast, weeping
veils of wax down the chanukiya.
Those candles were laid out,
friends invited, ingredients bought
for latkes and apple pancakes,
that holiday for liberation
and the winter solstice
when tops turn like little planets.
Shall you have all or nothing
take half or pass by untouched?
Nothing you got, Nun said the dreydl
as the room stopped spinning.
The angel folded you up like laundry
your body thin as an empty dress.
Your clothes were curtains
hanging on the window of what had
been your flesh and now was glass.
Outside in Florida shopping plazas
loudspeakers blared Christmas carols
and palm trees were decked with blinking
lights. Except by the tourist
hotels, the beaches were empty.
Pelicans with pregnant pouches
flapped overhead like pterodactyls.
In my mind I felt you die.
First the pain lifted and then
you flickered and went out.
2.
I walk through the rooms of memory.
Sometimes everything is shrouded in dropcloths,
every chair ghostly and muted.
Other times memory lights up from within
bustling scenes acted just the other side
of a scrim through which surely I could reach
my fingers tearing at the flimsy curtain
of time which is and isn’t and will be
the stuff of which we’re made and unmade.
In sleep the other night I met you, seventeen
your first nasty marriage just annulled,
thin from your abortion, clutching a book
against your cheek and trying to look
older, trying to look middle class,
trying for a job at Wanamaker’s,
dressing for parties in cast off
stage costumes of your sisters. Your eyes
were hazy with dreams. You did not
notice me waving as you wandered
past and I saw your slip was showing.
You stood still while I fixed your clothes,
as if I were your mother. Remember me
combing your springy black hair, ringlets
that seemed metallic, glittering;
remember me dressing you, my seventy year
old mother who was my last dollbaby,
giving you too late what your youth had wanted.
3.
What is this mask of skin we wear,
what is this dress of flesh,
this coat of few colors and little hair?
This voluptuous seething heap of desires
and fears, squeaking mice turned up
in a steaming haystack with their babies?
This coat has been handed down, an heirloom
this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.
This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks
they provided cushioning for my grandmother
Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me
and we all sat on them in turn, those major
muscles on which we walk and walk and walk
over the earth in search of peace and plenty.
My mother is my mirror and I am hers.
What do we see? Our face grown young again,
our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant.
Our arms quivering with fat, eyes
set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy,
our belly seamed with childbearing,
Give me your dress that I might try it on.
Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat.
I will not fit you mother.
I will not be the bride you can dress,
the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew,
a dog’s leather bone to sharpen your teeth.
You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound.
Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks
barbed and drawing blood with their caress.
My twin, my sister, my lost love,
I carry you in me like an embryo
as once you carried me.
4.
What is it we turn from, what is it we fear?
Did I truly think you could put me back inside?
Did I think I would fall into you as into a molten
furnace and be recast, that I would become you?
What did you fear in me, the child who wore
your hair, the woman who let that black hair
grow long as a banner of darkness, when you
a proper flapper wore yours cropped?
You pushed and you pulled on my rubbery
flesh, you kneaded me like a ball of dough.
Rise, rise, and then you pounded me flat.
Secretly the bones formed in the bread.
I became willful, private as a cat.
You never knew what alleys I had wandered.
You called me bad and I posed like a gutter
queen in a dress sewn of knives.
All I feared was being stuck in a box
with a lid. A good woman appeared to me
indistinguishable from a dead one
except that she worked all the time.
Your payday never came. Your dreams ran
with bright colors like Mexican cottons
that bled onto the drab sheets of the day
and would not bleach with scrubbing.
My dear, what you said was one thing
but what you sang was another, sweetly
subversive and dark as blackberries
and I became the daughter of your dream.
This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs. You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,
you sing in my mind like wine. What you
did not dare in your life you dare in mine.

Poet to himself, a yogic lesson

How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)
i
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
ii
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
iii
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Poet to poet

Bread

for Wendell Berry

Each face in the street is a slice of bread
wandering on
searching
somewhere in the light the true hunger
appears to be passing them by
they clutch
have they forgotten the pale caves
they dreamed of hiding in
their own caves
full of the waiting of their footprints
hung with the hollow marks of their groping
full of their sleep and their hiding
have they forgotten the ragged tunnels
they dreamed of following in out of the light
to hear step after step
the heart of bread
to be sustained by its dark breath
and emerge
to find themselves alone
before a wheat field
raising its radiance to the moon

Berryman’s ode to ennui

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Listen to the trees, truth and dread

What Kind of Times Are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.