Shapes Without Names

December 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago as we were driving to preschool, Oliver commented that a car that passed us (a Volvo wagon) was the same shape as his friend’s car (also a Volvo wagon.) This in itself was no big deal. Oliver notices  everything and knows more about trucks, cars, and construction vehicles than just about anyone I have ever met. Then he said, “Mommy, do you know that some shapes have no names?”

“Like cars?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “And like leaves.” At the time he said this, there were red and gold leaves everywhere, some twice as big as my palm. This fall, I spent all day looking up at trees and leaves and sky, because after 15 years in California, you don’t take an east coast autumn for granted anymore. And yet, I have never thought about their shape. I loved that Oliver said that, that he is beginning to have his own observations of the world. He also reminded me also of the prologue of the English Patient – one of my favorite books – when Hana walks in the darkness among shapes which have lost their names.

But there was the darker side of all that too. There is the shape without a name that is always a little too close to me, like a cold shadow on a spring day. I am not even sure what the shape is or what it means. I only know that it feels like being too close to the edge of a dark canyon, like wanting more when you know you have already had enough. It is fear and loneliness and sadness. It is missing the things that are already long gone and it is being afraid of what will be taken away. And it is tiresome too, a chattering on about responsibility and the boring boring boring things that one has to do as a grownup.

Even though it’s Christmas, and even though we have had a wonderful holiday with the boys, that shape has been close on my tail. This weekend my parents visited and we played Christmas music and decorated the tree, and the boys – ages 5 and 2 – were mesmerized by the lights and the beauty. Oliver remembered Christmas this year of course and it was so great to see him go through boxes and pick out special ornaments. For Gus, it was all new and he followed his brother around, delighting us with his joyful amazement that all of this could actually be happening to him. Yesterday the boys and I made cookies and then went to the library. It was dark when we left, so we drove through the neighborhood looking at all of the Christmas lights and decorations. We picked up Scott after he got off the bus and drove to a neighborhood pizzeria where I snuggled in a booth with my 3 boys,a glass of red wine, and a Richard Scarry book to read while we waited for our pizza.

And yet. In yoga class the other night, Brittanie – a petite masochist of a teacher – put us through every pose that I find difficult and then made us focus on the breath. Don’t be lazy, she called as we spent another minute in lizard pose. Use this to learn about yourself, to learn about your mind. I didn’t really want to learn about my mind. I already had an idea that I am a bit of an ungrateful jerk. I didn’t want to stay present. I wanted a glass of wine and a box of chocolate. I wanted to start a diet. I wanted to go for a long run. I wanted to climb into bed and watch an episode of Parenthood. I really hated yoga. What was the point of all this anyway? Oh jeez, I thought, here I am again, in this shape of suffering, in a pose that I can’t seem to get out of. And I have to breathe on top of it? I have to stay present? My shape has no name but if it did it would be wanting to leave where I am. And isn’t that the very definition of hell?

The worst part of it is that I have everything I want. I am writing more than ever. I have a great yoga studio. I have two healthy boys and a husband who is proof that I am an over-achiever. We have an income and heat in our home, food on the table, presents for under the tree. And thanks to trying to stop using food for comfort (and a bout with the stomach flu), I can wear jeans that I wore before I was married. In the past, there is always something more that I wanted, there was always some goal that allowed me to say: “I’ll be happy ____(when)”. Now, I can’t say that. I have everything I asked for.

I think my problem is that I have no faith. “Oh ye of little faith,” my mother often says to me when yet again, something works out better than I thought it would. But she is right. I am all about faith and higher powers when the children are happy and the sun is shining. But as soon as the darkness comes or the wind is too cold, as soon as my son starts yelling or hitting, as soon as the hot water heater breaks or someone speaks to me crossly, I become a Nihilist. I am convinced that nothing good will come of anything, that I am flailing here alone in a universe that has gone dark.

Today was one of those days. I woke up with my shape that has no name. I was tired. And I seemed to have misplaced my parenting mojo. My son yelled at me and instead of keeping calm and  unemotional, I yelled back. In one of my favorite parenting books, “Mitten Strings for God,” Katrina Kenison writes that in order to discipline, we need to be disciplined ourselves. Usually I am pretty good about this. In fact, the reason I go to  yoga so often is so that I don’t yell at my children, so that I have a reserve of good will and patience. Unfortunately, today was not such a day. Today was a day that I wondered on what planet I was allowed to become a mother.

Then I picked up my copy of December’s Yoga Journal. Inside, there was a beautiful photo of a tree in a snow covered field at sunrise. The article was about Ishvara pranidhana, or total surrender to a higher power. Blah, blah, blah I thought, I knew all about that. This article though made me see Ishvara in an entirely different light. Instead of talking about God, Kate Halcombe made Ishvara seem more like a state of being unruffled. She wrote:

In the simplest most neutral terms, Ishvara can be thought of as a timeless symbol of the highest understanding, of the clarity represented by the light that illuminates the darkness – just as the sun continues to rise each day, dispelling the darkness of night and bringing new life and new growth … when things don’t go as you had hoped, you trust that there is an order beyond your knowing or understanding. You can move forward with the peace that comes from accepting that the outcome is out of your hands.

I love the way she writes about Ishvara being both internal and external, as a state of the sun always shining, even if there are clouds. I like the idea that I could be a superhero in my own life, slashing at my shape with no name with some saber of light, melting it like the Wicked Witch of the East. But even more I finally latched onto the idea of surrender, of letting go. One of my biggest complaints about being a grown-up is that I don’t have a boss. Seriously, I think sometimes? I’m in charge here?

It would be nice to not be be the boss of everything for a change, to not have to worry about the cold or the darkness or whether gravity will still work tomorrow. It would be nice to not have to work so hard to keep our planet in orbit. It would be nice to know that some things are out of my hands. What’s that you say? They already are? What a relief.


§ One Response to Shapes Without Names

  • Lindsey says:

    I don’t think I can add anything to your eloquent and elegant discussion here, but I relate to every word – having everything I ever wanted, and yet finding something missing, being haunted by a nameless shape that rears its head from time to time, and everything else.
    At least we are not alone.

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