March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments
Here’s how you know I am not an optimist: I hate spring. True, I am blown away by the colors, by the way the flowers wait for the perfect moment to unfurl, by the gentle breezes and (FINALLY!) the warm sun. But there’s another side of spring too, and it never fails to break my heart. I am always cautious when the forsythia bloom. That pretty much guarantees another snowstorm. But when the magnolia trees are heavy with flowers? When the cherry blossoms ridicule the snow with their white? When the sun pushes on your back like a hand? Come on.
And yet, I fall for it each and every time. I count on the winter to be over. I breathe a sigh of relief. Then bam. The temperature drops, the wind blows cold, it snows, the kids get sick.
I think that’s why I love our garden so much. It’s evidence. It’s proof that we’re actually moving along, that we aren’t stuck or sliding backwards. I’m not really doing it for the food. I am sure much of what we grow will get eaten by squirrels and those damn raccoons. I am more in it for the miracle. For that astonishing transformation of tiny seed into a plant with fruit. That too breaks my heart.
I actually didn’t think anything would even grow in our little uncomposted, unfertilized, unprepared square of dirt. And then, one day, there was a tiny spinach leaf, as green as anything, as tiny as an ant, peeking up through all that dirt. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
It reminds me of another day in March, six years ago, when I had my first ultrasound. For most new moms, this is a glorious day, but for me, it was full of dread. Pretty much the last thing I wanted was to be pregnant. I had a job I loved in investor relations for a successful biotech company. I had an amazing boss I ran with twice a week, I regularly sat down with the CEO to write his quarterly conference calls, and I was working (writing!!) for a company that was trying to cure cancer. I had a boyfriend who lived all the way across the country. I had a cute apartment in Palo Alto while Scott lived in a former HUD house in Philadelphia. We had been dating long enough that we knew it was time to either get married or break up, but I really didn’t want to be a Navy Wife. And I really, really, really wasn’t ready to be a mother. We talked about an abortion because it seemed the sensible thing to do.
I like to think that from the first moment, I knew I would have that baby, but I am not sure. I do know that Oliver’s light was bright, that it was as intense as he – as a five-year old – is now. He felt like a flock of fireflies under my heart, like a lighthouse beam. He felt like a yes.
But still, on that first visit, Scott and I were talking to the doctor about our options. It was too impossible to have a baby.”Stay here,” the doctor said after we talked that rainy day in another March, and then she left the room.
A technician came in after a while and asked us to follow her. The hospital was part of the Stanford hospital and it was always under construction. She led us to a drafty trailer and had me get up on a table. “We don’t usually do an ultrasound so early, but well -” She shrugged. I wasn’t sure if we had to get one because we were considering an abortion or because she wanted us to change our minds. Sometimes I wonder if she saw something in Scott and I that we couldn’t see yet in ourselves, but maybe that’s just me, trying to make what happened seem better than it actually was.”It’s really too early for a heartbeat,” the technician said, putting that cold get all over my stomach. “But we’ll see.”
I almost didn’t look. But when I did, there on the screen, in black and white, was something that looked like an amoeba. It looked like the sun. I always thought that first heartbeat would be the whoosha whoosha like on the TV shows, but Oliver’s first heartbeat was like a silent movie, a steady beat whose absence of noise was shocking, like the quiet of the Grand Canyon.”Wow,” said the technician. “We don’t usually see that at five weeks.” How on earth, I wondered, can that become a person? It seemed too impossible. It was science fiction. And it was in my stomach.
Now that five-year old holds out a grubby palm full of seeds for me to inspect. “What are these Mommy?” he asks. “Are these the tomatoes?”
“They’re peas,” I tell him.
“Those sweet kind?” he asks.
“Don’t like peas,” Gus says. “They’re yucky.”
Do you know that bumper sticker that reads, “What if they held a war and no one showed up?” That’s kind of how it was for me. The night before the abortion was scheduled, I rented a few Sex & the City DVDs and bought a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for dinner. If I kept that baby, I would have to give up my great apartment. I would have to quit my job and move 3000 miles away from my friends. I would have to live in that goddamned HUD house. But if I didn’t keep the baby, I would lose the light that was pulsing silently within my ribcage.
That night, I left a message on my doctor’s voicemail, canceling the appointment. The next day, instead of going back to Stanford Hospital, I went to work, alternatively elated and flooded with panic. What have I done? What have I done? became a mantra for a while, another kind of heartbeat.
Now I know what we did. It was nothing extraordinary. We just started a garden.
March 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
It rained this week and the temperature dropped from 70 to 40. March: the time of shadows and great shifts. Wind. The boys and I stayed inside during the rainstorms, although as soon as the skies cleared, I bundled them in coats and made them do wind sprints around the traffic circle at the end of our block. It was that kind of week, that kind of preschool boy energy.
What has been on my mind lately is change. How difficult it is for me to drop old habits, old ways of thinking. I wish I could stay in that sacred space for longer than an hour or two. I wish I could stay hooked up to that divine spirit, the place that always feels like home to me. I wish my own personal transformations were as easy as winter turning to spring. But then, I think, even winter doesn’t always turn to spring so gracefully. It’s going to snow tonight and our little garden is covered with tarps and cardboard. Perhaps change – like the seasons – takes two steps forward and a step back.
Today, I decided to let myself off the hook. I decided to let the entire world off the hook for a change. I think of what Claire Dederer wrote in “Poser” about how motherhood became a “Goodness Project” for her. I think of how hard we all try to be good and that maybe, I would have an easier time with change if I learned how to surrender more and try a little less. A few weeks ago, the fields near our house were filled with Canadian Geese on their way north. Those good animals, who without trying at all, fly in perfect formation.
And now, I am going to hand it over to Mary Oliver.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
March 22, 2011 § 6 Comments
This evening, while taking a walk through this gorgeous spring night, I re-listened to Seane Corne’s podcast: Yoga – Meditation in Action. It’s incredibly beautiful and perhaps the best explanation of yoga I have heard. I was especially struck this time around by this:
“To really understand love, to understand what they call the Light, you have to understand the opposite. You have to understand and embrace the Shadow, or what love is not. The Shadow is also considered the Dark. The darkness within us. And that’s the beautiful part, because if it’s in me, it’s also in you. And if I can understand it in me, then I can also understand and recognize it within you without judging it. I will only judge your Shadow if I am judging my own.”
There are so many aspects of myself – of my own Dark Shadow – I want to understand and transform. Many times I feel selfish spending so much energy towards this when it’s so petty and small, but Rolf Gates says, “What you heal in yourself, you heal in the world. And what you heal in the world, you heal in yourself.” So I hold fast to the belief that if I can transform my own darkness into light, then I can help to transform those dark qualities in the world as well.
Words I am drawn to lately include: healing, clean, light, love, surrender, gentle. For a while now, I have been actively intending these qualities and seeking them, but they haven’t really been showing up in my life except for love, which I have in spades from my family and friends. I have been frustrated by the fact that I keep doing the same things I always do, saying the same things I always say, thinking the same thoughts I always think. I have been making baby steps at changing my diet, but not really. I have been toying with joining a running group but I haven’t yet. I have only now, in the last month – after a decade of trying – been making meditation a daily practice. I want my life to mirror my yoga practice but I don’t stay plugged in to that divine hook-up past noon. I forget. I stay solidly human instead of remembering that we are all made of light, that we are really spiritual beings having a human experience instead of the other way around.
Last week, I told Alana at Life After Benjamin that I was doing a 21-Day Challenge and was going to give up wine, chocolate, and dairy products and see what happened (I picked these because these are things I am “attached” to). It’s 6 days in, and it would be an understatement to say that it has been perfect. But I don’t think that is the point. The point I think is to notice what a change in habits brings up in me: Anxiety. Fear. Craving. Aversion. What I learned by doing, is that true freedom requires letting go and letting go is scary. Intense feelings come up but intense feelings are only sensations. And sensations pass. Change is uncomfortable, but by holding our discomfort and breathing through it, the burning pain becomes a cleansing fire. I learned that I will inevitably fall but that I can always begin again.
This small act (which let me be very clear here is not being executed perfectly or even very well) gave me a bit of courage to look into more intense feelings, such as my own Dark Shadow. Bruce, at Privilege of Parenting gave me some guidance lately to look into my own Shadow. He suggested that my fear of raccoons on my morning runs might actually be able to tell me something about my deepest self if I approached it with a sense of curiosity. He told me this a few weeks ago, but I have been too afraid to look very closely until now. The Shadow concept is so obtuse for my linear, analytical mind.
Last night while meditating, I imagined the raccoons and their terrible arched backs, their dirty fur, their sharp, yellow teeth, those beady eyes. Bam. There were those feelings of terror and aversion and extreme distaste. I tried to breathe and not think, to imagine “raccoon” without thinking “raccoon.”
What came into my head was the word Protection. Instantly, I thought of Lindsey’s reference to one of my favorite U2 song’s “Kite” in her post. “You need some protection, the thinner the skin.” Then I thought: Protection? What needs protection? The raccoon? My dark side? Myself? And I reminded myself that I was meditating for crissakes, and I wasn’t supposed to think.
Today, the word Protection has been in my thoughts. I have often been told I am too sensitive. I feel many times as if my skin is on inside out. I am very anxious, I always want to do what I am supposed to do, I am deathly afraid of Doing It Wrong. Many times, I am a doormat, throwing my own needs aside for someone else only because I believe that if I don’t, they won’t like me, that I will be filled with regret and guilt and sadness. And then of course, I suffer, my family suffers, and most people that come into my path suffer when I am in this space. I have no boundaries. Actually, I have no Protection.
Yesterday, on Facebook, my yoga teacher, Jessica - the one who said that if you are going to walk through this world with an open heart, you better have a strong core – posted this:
“I am ready to really “Spring” forth along my path and without apologies or hesitation open up the the full realm of womanhood. There’s a certain fierceness with me right now that has been unfamiliar but I’ve prayed for it to come and balance out the softness of the mother and to support the young one within. Here we go….”
Fierceness. Ah. That word lit a fire within me. Yes. Tonight, listening to Seane Corn’s podcast she said that yoga was “anything but fluff. It’s a fierce journey.”
I keep trying to analyze my shadowy raccoon teacher. I try to understand it, but shadows defy logic. If you turn to look at them, they move, they shift shape and mock our attempts. But somehow, out of my own darkness, I have retrieved two words: Protection and Fierce. All along I have been trying to cultivate Gentle and Good and Light, but these qualities cannot survive without protection or ferocity.
Tonight as I was walking, I stopped to touch the buds on the trees. For a month now, I have been watching them through a snowstorm, sleet, rain, grey skies, and cold temperatures. They stayed closed, refusing to yield, safe under their tough shell. Only now, when it is safe, have they come out, gentle and soft. I think of the raccoon who stood on her hind legs in front of me a month ago in the snow, who refused to let me pass, while I stood, my heart pounding and breath steaming in the cold air. “Maybe she was protecting her babies,” my husband said at the time.
I am grateful to Bruce for his gentle guidance and wisdom and to all those who have stopped by here. Each comment is full of grace and wisdom. I am so grateful to this glorious spring. After a decade in California I forget what a reprieve it is, what a gorgeous rebirth it is, what a celebration of color and light. And I think now I may also be grateful to the Dark Shadow, what I try constantly to cover up. Perhaps it was only trying to give me its own dark wisdom. Maybe it was only trying to give me what I needed all along.
March 21, 2011 § 4 Comments
I love this whole blog space. There is so much love and wisdom here. There are also free things, which I didn’t see coming. On Alana’s beautiful blog, “Life After Benjamin,” I won a cool parenting book (yay!) without even knowing I was in a contest. And Bruce, from Privilege of Parenting has been giving me free therapy for a while now in the form of insightful comments on my posts. I was born in the early 70’s, and for my generation, therapy in our twenties was pretty much de rigueur. We grew up in some interesting times (Tailhook! The Challenger! Geraldine Ferraro!). But that is another post entirely.
Bruce’s brand of therapy totally eclipses the “how do you feel” therapy of the 90’s and instead, focuses on the Soul, capital S. On a recent post I wrote about my almost debilitating fear of raccoons. Bruce replied that the raccoon might represent my Shadow Self, that if I listen quietly, that masked animal might be able to tell me the wishes of my deepest self, that the Shadow Self (my raccoon) is a creature “of the transitional time between darkness and light. Jung talks about the importance of “living our animal” and that seems to be on your plate…”
Suddenly, Bruce’s words helped me to understand the concept of Jung’s shadow self more than anything else I had studied. I tried reading books on the shadow by Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra, even Carl Jung himself, but they all left me confused. Why should I embrace my shadow? Why should I love it? Shouldn’t I just try to change all of the things I don’t like about myself?
However, when I thought of my shadow self as a raccoon – scrappy, clever, tenacious, aggressive – I felt a bit differently about all of these qualities that I usually try to hide and cover up. Live our animal. Perhaps, like Bruce said, the qualities I try to keep in the dark aren’t meant to be hidden. Maybe, if I expose them to light, they might even serve as guideposts. Maybe it was time to step out of the darkness and into the shadows.
After all, what is early spring if not a time of shadows? You breathe huge sighs of relief during a warm day and then you get sucker-punched with a snow storm. The buds are visible on trees but stay closed, tight-fisted and adamant in their refusal to unfurl and awaken. The flowers try to break through the soil, but it seems to take forever. It’s all just a waiting game, demanding huge heaps of patience.
Last weekend, on my way to yet another insane trail race, I sipped my Earl Grey and turned on NPR. Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was on and she was interviewing Seane Corn, the famous yoga teacher. At first I was dubious. After Rodney Yee had an affair and left his wife and kids for another yoga teacher, I have not been big on yoga celebrities. So I know nothing about Seane Corn except she started a pretty cool program called “Off the Mat and Into the World.”
I kept listening, and what did Seane Corn talk about? You guessed it: the Shadow Self. I can’t do it justice in a blog, so I highly advise you to download the podcast (free!) and give it a whirl. Seane spoke about the fact that she is an unlikely yoga teacher. She came from a blue-collar family. She is not well-educated. She was molested as a young child. But for her, yoga was a way out of the pain. It was a way into the light and a way to guide others into that light as well. What struck me the most was when she said that we don’t have a good life in spite of our Shadow Self, but because of it. Seane said that she is grateful now for the abuse and shame and suffering she went through because the darkness was transformative.
I found that level of gratitude amazing. I have always thought that rough times are to be endured, not exalted. I have always thought that we are who we are in spite of our Shadow, not because of it. George Sheehan, who wrote beautiful books on running maintained that he was his best self when he was a good animal. Live our animal. Anima: the archetype of the unconscious mind.
Is there an animal the represents your Shadow Self? If so, is it trying to tell you something? What discoveries await in your own Shadow? I would love to continue the discussion!
March 14, 2011 § 7 Comments
We started a garden. It’s weird that I am so happy about it because I am not really a gardening type. I have never been particularly interested in plants or horticulture. But I had a few freelance assignments last year about local food and farmers in San Diego. I was so inspired by those men and women, by their fierce tenacity and determination. Their desire to feed people real food and their refusal to submit to fast, easy solutions. Farmers, I am convinced, are a grounding force in our chaotic world.
I didn’t really put all that much effort into this garden. It was just an intention, a hope. There is a patch of mostly bare soil outside a basement window in the back of our house. It doesn’t get much sun in the summer and we didn’t do anything to prep the soil. But two weeks ago, I showed Scott the spot I wanted to dig up. The next day, he was out there with the boys shoveling. Gus was busy pouring dirt into a bucket and Oliver loved using his new wheelbarrow and rake to dump weeds over the steep edge of our yard. “Mommy,” he said, “I think I am going to have my own gardening company someday because I am so good with these tools.” At one point, we were all out there digging. This was new for me, this family time. Isn’t that awful? But for the last year, Scott and I have been tag-team parents on the weekends. He goes mountain biking and when he comes home, I go for a run. I go to yoga and when I come home, I’ll get Gus down for a nap. Occasionally we’ll go out to dinner or go for a walk, but not often enough.
Scott surprised me again last weekend. Last Friday after the rain, I went out with the boys for a few hours to dig up the soft ground. I thought we did a great job and even Scott was impressed. “But look at all those old tree roots,” I told Scott. He shrugged off the roots. “It should be OK,” he said. The next day, when I came home from yoga, my small efforts were totally blown away by Scott and the boys. He dug way deeper than I could have and he and Oliver and Gus got rid of every single root. “I thought that they might take too much water away from your plants,” Scott told me. I looked out into the now gorgeous patch of earth.
The next day, Scott lined the garden with bricks. He made furrows in the ground and we all made tiny holes in the surface. We brought out those awesome packs of seeds as if it were Christmas. We ripped them open after showing each other the cheesy photos on the front: lettuce and spinach, peas and nasturtium. “Can I put the seeds in?” Oliver asked while Gus threw things over the edge of our backyard. “What does that seed look like?” he asked and I handed him tiny grains of lettuce, big round peas that will hopefully become sweet, flowering plants. I read Margaret Roach’s incredible gardening blog everyday now. My mom just bought me a subscription to an organic gardening magazine.
On Saturday, after hearing the full magnitude of the earthquake in Japan, I silently dedicated our little piece of land to that beautiful country. I feel now much as I did after September 11th. I was in San Diego then and felt so horribly helpless. My brother had moved to New York, to his girlfriend’s apartment on John Street on September 10th. For most of the next day, I couldn’t get in touch with him. He was supposed to start his new job at Bank of America and I had no idea whether his office was in midtown or downtown. I didn’t know he was on a ferry to Hoboken, that he was watching the horror as it happened.
A few weeks ago, we met Scott for lunch at the Pentagon. What impressed me most were not the three intense security checks before we even got to the building, but the huge quilt hung by the entrance, each square representing a person killed there on September 11th. Tears welled up as soon as I saw it. My god, that terrible day. We ate lunch with Scott at one of the Pentagon’s many food courts and then walked through the building, over the big green lawn at the center of the Pentagon, passed the restaurant smack dab in the center of that lawn like a bull’s eye. You never know. You just never know when disaster will strike.
That fall, in 2001, I was depressed. I felt hopeless and heartsick. The innocence of our country had been shredded. I cut Billy Collins’ poem “The Names” from the New York Times and almost memorized it. Let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound ….
I feel that way now. Helpless. Powerless. Groundless. Incredulous. The only disaster I remember from my youth is Mount St. Helens. There weren’t events like this, were there? Tsunamis and earthquakes and floods. Haiti and Japan and New Orleans and Thailand. Tonight during savasana in yoga, I felt the weight of all that in my chest. It flattened me until I felt as thin as a sticker. Someone would have to peel me off the floor, from under the weight of this destruction. There is absolutely nothing to do except to click on the red cross on my computer, the one that says “Donate.”
And yet it does no good to be powerless, to be depressed. I think about the parts of my day that are hard. The hours between 3 and 6 pm. The clean-up after dinner. The bickering. The laundry. I think about a natural disaster destroying all the parts of the day I don’t like and my heart hurts thinking about how much I would mourn the loss of them. I would miss the fighting, the boredom that sets in at 4:13 pm. I would crave a kitchen to clean, clean shirts to fold. I have no emotional response to photos of the devastation in Japan because it doesn’t seem real to me. But the faces – those faces! The loss. 10,000. It almost doesn’t register.
Today I am grateful for the hard parts of my day. I am so grateful to the garden, which might be one of the most romantic gifts my husband has ever given me. I didn’t ask for it and he made it beautiful. He dug much further down than I could. He lined it with brick. He told me we can build a fence to keep out the squirrels and chipmunks and the fox that lives in our neighborhood. His face lit up as he dug a 2 inch hole with a stick and dropped in spinach seeds.
We are waiting now to see what is going to come up. We are watering and trying to be patient. We know that it might be a bust this year, that bugs and blight and that fox might steal our small harvest away. But no matter what we pull up, we will have enough. We already have abundance.
The Names – Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
March 13, 2011 § 4 Comments
With the coming of spring, I expected something of a transformation. We had a few days of really warm weather: soft breezes, sunlight you could feel, flowers beginning to break through the soil. This is it, I thought. Spring. The end of winter. (Now ask me how that went. Four days later, we had snow.)
In a way, I have always believed transformation was like this: a sudden and dramatic shift happening from the outside in. Before a new job, I buy new clothes, as if confidence comes in a shopping bag. I believe that if enough people like me, I will be able to like myself. I have been trying to ramp up my freelance writing, so I thought I would buy a new theme for my blog and get a real website. (That was something of a disaster as apparently you need to know code, which I don’t.) At 38, you would think that I know that transformation is not something that can be purchased at Barney’s. It isn’t full of warm and gentle breezes. It doesn’t have a homepage.
Last Sunday I woke up to cold driving rain. Hard rain, coming down in sheets. “You don’t have to go Sweetie,” Scott told me as I pushed back the covers and looked out the window. “It’s paid for whether or not you actually run.” I had signed up for a trail race series months ago, thinking that by the time the first race started I would have lost 15 pounds and gotten in shape for it. The first 10-mile race was that morning at Hemlock State Park in Clifton Virginia. Needless to say, I was not in racing shape. I still weighed 120 pounds. (OK, 125.) At 5’2″, it’s not like that weight makes me a candidate for a heart attack or anything. But it’s still too much. It’s an extra 15 pounds of chocolate eaten when what I really wanted was love. It’s the bread and butter I ate when what I really needed was comfort. It’s the extra glass of wine and piece of cheese eaten when no one was looking. It’s not as though I mow through a bag of double stuffs or anything like that. But what I do is probably more damaging, more insiduous. I eat standing up: a handful of animal crackers after Oliver has had a meltdown that ended in him trying to kick me. I eat chocolate when I wash up the dishes at night or a teeny sliver of cake because what I really want (more time to write, greater ease with my first born, a friend who lives in my area code, compassion for myself) isn’t available at that moment.
Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food, and God as well as a number of other beautiful books on women and food would say I am eating behind my own back. Perhaps it isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Except that it is. Because Roth would also say that how I do anything is how I do everything. Behind my own back. As if I had to hide from myself.
Last week I had to go to the dentist. The office was in Roslyn, a veritable mecca of office building and Department of Defense Headquarters. Outside my dentist’s building, a well-dressed woman was huddled into her long coat smoking a cigarette, reading a romance novel, and drinking a Dr. Pepper. Her work badge was still hanging around her neck, but she was most definitely not at work. I felt her defiance as I walked by, as sort of If I’m gonna be stuck in a cubicle at 1500 Wilson Boulevard, you can be damn sure I’m getting my smoke break. She may as well have been holding up her middle finger. She reminded me of myself except that I don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk when I eat chocolate. I hide, just as I hide from my own messy and marvelous life.
That’s why I got out of bed last Sunday and put on my running shorts. Socks that I knew would be soggy in about 5 minutes. Sometimes I feel so powerless over my own situation. I have fallen into doing what is easy rather than choosing my heart’s desire. The race was a promise I could keep. If integrity means doing what you say you are going to do, then I needed to begin again. I needed to run the race I said I would run.
To quote Lynn Jennings, the course at Hemlock State park was pretty much a boondoggle. A donnybrook. It was hilly and it was wet. It rained the entire time. We ran along a creek and had to jump from boulder to boulder. It was so muddy by the end that I slid down an entire hill on my feet. I went down another on my butt. The course was so washed out for the last two miles that I held onto trees at points to avoid sliding down a ravine. It took more than an hour and a half to run ten miles. After about an hour, it began to feel like childbirth: fatigue with a sense of panic thrown in. How long was this going to last? Was I going to finish? There was just the work in front of me and the great unknown of when it would end paired with the knowledge that even if I knew when it would be over, it wouldn’t matter. I thought of the book my son Oliver loved so much: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re gonna catch a big one. It’s a beautiful day. We’re not scared.
And yet. And yet I felt more myself than I have in ages. Running in the woods has always grounded me to the planet, tethered me to my own soul. When I was 16 and a senior in high school, I lay in bed one September morning and told myself that I would break the school record on every cross-country course I ran that year. Two months later I accomplished it. Three years later, I was the top US finisher at the Junior World Cross Country Championships in Boston. For a while, I had an insane sort of integrity about running. I did exactly what I said I was going to do.
Last Sunday, in the rain, I remembered that old self. She inhabited me again as my toes scrambled for purchase on tree roots. Only now instead of trying to win, I was trying not to finish last. I was running in the back with the former football players. I was trying to beat a girl with pink socks. Oh how the mighty have fallen, I thought as a photographer nabbed a shot of me as I slipped and fell. What happened to me, I wondered even as I already knew. It’s so easy for tapas, or zeal, to become obsession. My own integrity and commitment to running spiraled into a mania that ended with a broken pelvis and a stress fracture in my hip. My integrity had led me to pain and loss and grief. Somehow, I had let myself believe that dreams were too risky, too elusive.
Then, I heard a small voice in my head tell me that it’s never too late to be who you might have been. I have no desire to run competitively again. For one, I don’t have the pain tolerance. For another, there are other things I want to do. I want to be a better wife and friend. I want to write more. I want to meditate daily and have more faith. I want to believe in myself again. I want to surrender more and resist less. I want to help. I want to leave behind more light than darkness. I want to transform myself from someone who hides in her kitchen eating chocolate into someone who lives gracefully, who keenly feels the pain and joy and boredom and love of the present moment and then releases it so that the next can come. Transformation. Why was it taking so long?
I just finished a really good book called Ravenous, by Dayna Macy, in which she chronicles her own relationship with food from an olive grove to a slaughter house to her own hometown. When she is trying to change her own habits of overeating, she talks to her yoga teacher who tells her: “When you develop new samskaras and replace fantasies with clear vision, you’re leaving an old order behind. That order may not have been healthy but it was familiar and comfortable. When you leave it behind you enter a kind of transition state, a bardo in Tibetan terms. Being present in this state requires faith, because you’re not sure where you’ll land and fearlessness, because it’s so unformed.”
I was living a bardo as I ran in the rain and through the mud. I had no idea where my feet would land. I only knew where to go because I was following the runner ahead of me. Towards the end of the race, I could only focus on what was in front of my feet. Mud, leaves, roots, rocks. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We have to go through it. The course was in the middle of the woods along a stream. The sky was grey and the ground was brown. At one point, when I was disoriented and cold, I thought it was cross country season again. October. Halloween. My favorite time of year. No. I shook my head quickly. It was March, not October. It struck me then, that in the woods, spring and fall look exactly alike. That sometimes, dying and being born are kind of the same thing.
March 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
I had a post today but it seems way too silly compared to the daily disasters I am often oblivious to. Today I couldn’t form words to express my grief and heartbreak over the earthquake in Japan and the waves that have covered homes and fields and roads. I’ll let someone more capable take over for me:
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
— David Whyte
from Where Many Rivers Meet
©2007 Many Rivers Press