When Life Gets Out of Control

After some informal inquiries with many of my friends and acquaintances it would seem the consensus is… August suuuucked. In a time which is supposed to be of leisure and good weather – and in the past has meant birthdays and anniversaries and vacations for me –  for the first time in my life, I was barely hanging on.

I experienced a mass exodus of people from my life; some were tangential, some close friends, some romantic interests. But each week in August, just like the crashing waves against cliff sides came a fresh, powerful and unstoppable blow of loss. And each week, I sank deeper into the darkest of lonelinesses.

I remember sitting in the sunshine on my back deck – where I have sat in so many moments of pain and joy over the years – and being taken over by a shaking terror. This scared me most of all. I was so utterly confused (a state I do not function in well) and I was so utterly alone (another state I do not function in well) and I was asking, no begging, whomever or whatever listens in times like these… what have I done to deserve this pain?  Where did I go wrong? What is this life for anyway when I have no control over anything?!?

I have a tendency to blame myself when my life isn’t looking the way I think it should. And yes, it’s about control and believing that I am the captain of my ship. While this has its benefits in building the life you want and creating opportunity, it offers no solace when, as they say, shit happens.

Because that’s what August was mostly about… shit. just. happening. And I had little or no control over anything.

We can, however, control how we react – at least that is what I’m told –  and I’m a little ashamed to report that I did not react well a lot of the time. I was petulant, demanding, angry and blaming. I rattled off harsh texts, I wailed in agony and anger, I no longer wanted to care about anything or anyone. I shut myself off. Not my finest moments.

But at the end of the day, or the end of August, I slowly began to find my way back to myself. There were some days when I didn’t leave two rooms of my home. I read, I listened to music, I contemplated and meditated and sank so deep into my core just to get a foothold on one hour of my day. Other days, I went to yoga and made concerted efforts to focus on just one breath at a time. Because I have learned that when life feels like nothing but crashing waves over your head – one deep breath is the only thing to make you believe you’re not drowning. I did a lot of that… breathing and focusing.

If August had me hanging on for dear life, September has been me reconciling the losses and my actions. I realized a few important things about myself, others and this life.

Nothing in this world stays the same; not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. It sounds a bit trite and obvious to say, but we fight against this idea on a daily basis. The comfy, cozy softness of tradition and continuity is like that warm fire waiting for you when it’s dark and cold and wet. We crave to be engulfed by the knowing and dependable glow of sunshine in August, of our lifelong friends, of the bonds of family and the relaxing familiarity and predictability of routines we know all too well. These are lovely and useful tools for setting the foundations of joy in our lives and helping us to understand what’s truly important.

But people can get really bent out of shape when you suggest a change in the status quo. Change is largely seen as an enemy, a forbearance of awful things to come, a harbinger of uncertainty and unknown entities.

And the comfort of well-worn dirt paths helps us forget that the crashing waves aren’t just there to lull us to sleep; they are powerful enough to reshape the solid ground on which we stand. And just under that surface are undertows at work. And just because we bury ourselves in the things which keep us dry and warm doesn’t mean these other parts of life don’t exist and won’t come to wreak havoc on us one day. Because nothing in this world stays the same, not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. Not you, not me, not friendships and family. Time runs roughshod over all things both dark and lovely.

And when the waves overtake you, like they did me in August, so much of life becomes the simple act of hanging on, of coping and finding space to take one breath at a time as your head slips below the surface. And I know now that how we behave in these moments does not define us, but it can teach us if we take time to learn, if we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and we continue to assert ourselves as the captains of our ships.

We are simple humans attempting to reconcile a reality which is largely hidden from our understanding. Our simple minds have us clinging to the safety of land and simple ideas and illusions of permanence because the chaos of change is beyond our comprehension and largely, beyond our control. And that feeling can bring on a shaking terror.

But change doesn’t have to be bad. New ideas do not have to be rejected. Boundaries and relationships can be redrawn and it doesn’t spell doom. And judging ourselves too harshly for our humanity is an exercise in futility. It’s like judging a tree for losing its leaves.

It takes time and patience and stillness, but the reshaping of rock from the constant crashing of waves is a beautiful thing.

Reshaping of Rocks

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Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

My Forgotten Lover – New York City

Her triage of artfully arranged photos – a sepia-toned antique truck, a fox in a suit, a black and white close up of a sheaf of wheat –they mock me from the wall of her adorable Brooklyn apartment. Those pictures, along with her library of literary hardcovers and her collection of vintage vinyls propped up against an old turntable—they bludgeon me with the same silent message – take a good look, this is the road you did not take. On a recent business trip, as I walked with my old, high school friend and her friends down the quaint back streets of her Brooklyn neighborhood, she passionately pointed out interesting details of the houses, the restaurants, the architecture and history. Her and her friends laughed as they told stories about the places they’d been together, the good times they had in this bar or that pub. They knew the best places to eat, the unique cocktail to order, the salad to die for. It was hard to push down my jealousy.

Fifteen years ago, in my early 20s I wanted to move to New York sight unseen. I was drawn to the city like a misfit to the circus. At the end of my senior year of college in 2000, still living in my Midwest hometown, I told my then-boyfriend I was applying for an internship at CBS in New York after graduation. We had the same major and he thought applying was a good idea too. He got it. I didn’t. Asshole. But I went to New York that year anyway for work, and afterward, I was equal parts swooning with desire and shaking in my pumps, painfully, literally because New York has the hardest streets in the known universe and you will walk for miles. I knew nothing about these things.

New York was exactly what I’d expected and so much more. I fell widly in love. Each time I visited I’d walk for blocks and imagine which part of the city I’d live in. I’d look in the windows of apartments and thumb through For Rent flyers. I’d eaves drop on conversations on the subway and scan job sites for postings. But I never allowed myself to seriously consider taking that leap; a naive 23-year-old, I was much too scared to fall. Loving New York City was like having a crush on a hot guy who’s out of your league. The longing can be excruciating. Eventually, I picked apart and highlighted the negatives – too expensive, too crowded, too impersonal, too dangerous – convincing myself that NYC wasn’t really what I wanted after all just to spare myself the agony of ultimate rejection. I reasoned that I had a foolish girl’s heartache and I should wise up and be more practical. Moving to New York was a dumb idea.

Like that too hot guy, I forgot about New York. In the decade since I’d last stepped foot in the city, I’ve gotten married, sued a company, lost a career, had two babies, two homes, lived in two other cities, built a second career, became a writer, and now, trying to start over after leaving an abusive marriage. My friend from high school has lived in New York City since the year I decided to give up on living in New York City. In the last 15 years, she built a successful career, a network of interesting friends, has a passport stamped on every page, and is truly happy. She goes to bed every night snuggled up to my old crush. Listening to her stories about her 15 years in the city it was clear that NYC had become her lover too, and they were very intimate, and I was very jealous.

Over the two days with her I’d been transported into some modern-day version of It’s a Wonderful Life where I was being smacked in the face with the alternative version of a life I did not choose; a life I could have lived if only I hadn’t been so fucking afraid of my goddamn shadow. If only I hadn’t been a bundle of insecurity and a needy little thing trying hard not to fall in love with a lover who had the power to shatter me into a million pieces. Maybe I too would be living in an ecclectically decorated Brooklyn apartment, and “leaf peeping” while antiquing in Connecticut on the weekends, and taking bi-annual trips to China on business?  Maybe I wouldn’t be going through a nasty divorce or be a single mom? Maybe I wouldn’t have learned the hard way that a broken heart isn’t the worst thing, but a heart you don’t follow is.

New York is Everyone's LoverAs we walked down the streets of Brooklyn after having a fabulous dinner and drinks with her friends, I told her about all the ways I loved her life. She put her arm in my arm. We were tipsy and wobbly from the cocktails. She admitted that she loved her life too. She also admitted that there was something missing. Then, her and her friend told me how difficult and daunting it was for people to meet one another in a city like New York. How impossible and improbably it can feel to find a single, similar fish, in a deep, deep sea with 13 million aquatic varieties. I hadn’t realized it, but I’d spent the entire night with three, attractive, intelligent, late-30’s women who had all been forever single. As it turns out, New York is everyone’s lover, and the prospect of having another, well, sometimes isn’t as enticing.

As I walked through the city alone the next day I thought about these lives; hers, mine, and the one I didn’t choose. I was on a break from the conference I was attending, and I wanted to walk. When I came to an intersection, I simply chose the direction that gave me the ‘go’ signal. I did this for an hour while thinking about life and the paths we take and why. I can’t say there was closure, or zero regret, or a feeling of acceptance or relief. I only realized that you take the path you’re brave enough to follow at the time. Maybe it’s as simple as the one that’s giving you a ‘go’ signal. And if you can find joy along the way, you’re doing alright. If you can look back and say I did the best I could, and if you can look forward and say I’ll try my best tomorrow, then that’s all that matters regardless of zip code, relationship status, or how many artfully arranged photos you have on your walls. Because I don’t think it’s about the walls, or their location, but about the people you invite inside them and the love that remains when everything else is gone.

Take the path you're brave enough to take

But I still really liked the one of the fox in a suit.  

If You Say You’re NOT Broken, You’re a Liar.

“I have no issues.” The boy says.

“What do you mean? You have no issues? Everyone has issues.” I say.

“Nope. Not me. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. Nothing gets me down. I always stay positive.” He says.

“Yes, but something bad had to happen in your life at some point. Something that broke your heart?” I ask.

“Why would anyone want to think about those things. I prefer not to dwell.” The boy says annoyed.

“I don’t think it’s ‘dwelling,’ I’m just trying to understand you. We all have things that caused us pain. Things that taught us… ”

“Maybe you’re just a negative person? All you seem to want to do is talk about negative things. Maybe you’re the one with a problem?” The boy says a bit too angrily.

I had this conversation once, many years ago. I was young, and at the time, ashamed of my own brokenness. With the desperation of someone on the verge of losing it all I wanted to run from those things that made me human. That which made me me. I wanted to put the past in the past and be nothing but positive, too. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. 

Back then I was too naive, too ignorant, too scared and ashamed to realize that all I’d been through, was really a gift. I didn’t understand that my brokenness was my strength. I didn’t know the simple truth which is: if you say you’re not broken, you’re a liar. Or worse, you’re in denial. And denial always manifests in ugly, ugly ways because no one can run from their brokenness.

We’re all broken. We’re supposed to be. Life is a series of breaks to your soul. Over and over and over again like ocean waves this life, and its heart breaks, break us. Because that’s how it is, and that’s how it will always be; birth, growth, death, rebirth. The more we fight this reality, this cycle of life and living, the more we suffer.

So I ask — why hide our brokenness behind fancy curtains, shiny things, and disingenuous status updates? What’s the point? Just SAY IT. 

The poet Rumi wrote, “Suffering is a gift, a hidden mercy.” I believe that. You, nor I, nor our next door neighbor cannot NOT suffer. But where’s the mercy? How are we to find the mercy in all this suffering? Because when you’re truly suffering, all you can think about is sweet, merciful relief.

So where is it? Where’s the mercy hiding, Rumi!? My answer… I don’t think you can find it. I think mercy finds you.

But first, you must submit to the randomness, the chaos, the complete insanity of it all. You accept that you have no control; that your will is not the will that will be done. When you do, mercy finds your sweet, beautiful, broken soul. And when it does, it lifts you up, out of the dirt, brushes you off, shines a light on your path, and keeps you walking.

Back then, back when I was a girl running from my own brokenness I tried like mad to cultivate a talent for controlling my environment; always attempting to decipher the randomness, minimize the chaos, and make sane the insane parts of me. Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work. 

Rumi also writes, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” So without the brokenness, there is no light. And what would we be without light?

So to feel the light, to let sweet mercy wash over you, you have to let go. Let go of the way you thought life would be. Let go of the plans you so carefully made for yourself, your children, your future. Because when you loosen the white-knuckle grip on life… you might just find the sweet relief you’ve been praying for all along.

So all I want now, all I have ever wanted, but never knew I needed, is beautifully broken people in my life. I don’t care what you’ve accomplished. I don’t care that you make a million dollars a day, or drive an Audi or own two Breitlings and can bench press an elephant.

Show me your flaws, your scars. Show me your wounds, your perfect imperfections. Show me where the light shines through and I’ll stand there with you; sunglassed admiring the view. No judgement.

Over the last three years I have received a lot of messages from you about how much my writing has affected your lives in positive ways. How much it has helped you heal and feel less alone. If you haven’t sent me a message before, and you feel inclined to now, please do so. Show me your scars. Leave a comment here or send me a message through Facebook or email if you’d prefer to remain private. Speak your truth. Own it. I will not judge you. I will think you’re brave and beautiful and I will be a mirror to reflect your amazing glow.show me the places where the light shines through

Muster Up A Little Faith

Image credit- aswirly.com

Image credit- aswirly.com

We sit on our couches in the dripping wet moss of the Pacific Northwest, or high desert, land-locked mountains, or sunny beach communities, and we watch a swirling dark cloud whip up people’s lives in a place we don’t know. We feel horrible, we feel slightly comforted that we are not them, we feel sad and helpless.

We are all flabbergasted by the seemingly random, potentially disastrous and sometimes instantaneous way life can knock us sideways. In times like this, we tread along similar thought patterns of self-soothing–prayer, anguish, altruism–because even if we were not near that town, buried under that rubble, we  know, even fixate on the idea that bad things can happen at any moment. To us too. Sudden, devastating tornadoes are symbols of the impermanence and unpredictability of everyone’s life. It is this constant, most basic and low-frequency fear that drives us to seek out vices and means of control.

My mode of control is thought. I will think a thing to death. I will flip it over and over between my fingers–one by one and back and forth like a drummer with his drumstick–until there is a glimmer of sense to be made. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it forces me to be honest, to stay curious, seek information, use my brain. A curse because there is never a definitive answer and I am often wrong.

My primary focus has been people. If I can figure out why people feel, and do, and behave, then I can feel safer, more able to predict the future, more in control of my world. I have learned a lot about people this way, but it is not with other people that I am most concerned. The person I’m preoccupied with figuring out is, of course, myself. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that this is an impossible task.

People are as different and intricate in their thoughts and reasoning as the composition of the universe. There is simply no outer edge to human potential which is, in itself, a scary/comforting thought. There is no quantifiable algorithm that will make people suddenly make sense to me. It is impossible to discover the secret to suffering and pain and love and hate and love, because those things hold no definitive quality or concrete definition. They are forever moving, always out of reach like the funny shapes that move under your eyelids. As am I in any given day.

People are as crazy, hopeless, fantastic, capable, blinded and varied as the stars, and yet, at he same time, we are the same. It’s a circular thought. Our name might be Jane, or Randy, or Natalia or Xerxes; we may speak different languages, want different things, but we all still want… and feel, and try, and love in various combinations of each.

Science thinks it knows these things better than all else. I know, because I love science. Why do I love science? Because science is the pinnacle modality of control. Inarguably its goal is to quantify the world, deduce it down to elemental parts. It uses formulas and statistics and empirical data! to prove we are all knowable and known. Don’t you love the word empirical? But science has an outer edge.

And when you reach the outer edge of anything you can do two things: turn back, retrace your steps and tread a deeper path along the only thing you’ve ever known; or… you can close your eyes, muster up a little faith, and jump.

How the Life of Pi Changed My Life

*Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet seen the movie, The Life of Pi.

Last Saturday was a tough day. It rained. Hard. I fought. Harder. I cried. Hardest.

I replied to a text sent by one of my best friend’s asking me how I was doing. I told her the truth. I wrote that I’d just spent three hours lying on the floor like an infant begging for God’s grace and that now I was going to a movie by myself for sweet mercy.

I haven’t been eating lately. After those emotionally draining hours, I was suddenly starved. I felt like a wet rag; limp, red-eyed, tear-soaked and heavy with pain. All I wanted was something light and soothing to fill my empty stomach. Something soft; and kind and easy in my senses. There’s a popular Chinese restaurant next to the movie theater that serves these amazing dumplings and steamed buns. There’s a window right in front where you can watch a staff of Asian men dressed in white prepare these delicate morsels.The wait is always over an hour, but I thought if I hung out in the bar, I’d snag a lone seat and be out in time for my movie which started in an hour. I waited awhile. I was going to miss my movie if I waited any longer, so I left and found the first place that could serve me warm food, quickly and allow me to be done in time to see my movie.

I was not supposed to see The Life of Pi on this night. I was supposed to see The Life of Pi last weekend, but as I approached the ticket counter two weeks ago I changed my mind at the very last second (for I don’t know what reason) and saw Silver Linings Playbook instead. SLP was a great movie, and just what I needed that night. But last Saturday, I was definitely going to see The Life of Pi.

I read the bestselling book by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered the premise. I remembered being impressed by the ending, but I wasn’t ecstatic overall. I wasn’t ready for all the layers of meaning and messages about God when I was 25. But now, I was more than ready.

I ended up at an Indian restaurant eating a creamy, soothing  Tikki Masala with a slight hint of curry and a side of warm garlic naan. I sat at the bar staring in a daze. My eye happened upon a lotus flower. I’d been thinking of lotus flowers lately and this reminded me, once again, that I must call my friend, the wise yoga teacher who wears a lotus flower around her neck, so that she could explain to me the meaning.

I ate in a hurry and literally ran to the theater. The only seats left were the seats way up front, or the single seats in between couples. I didn’t want to crane my neck at a 3-D movie so I sat in between strangers. How fitting, I thought. I’d spent the day feeling so lonely I might as well sit in this theater surrounded by couples with nowhere to lean.

Soon after the movie started there was a scene of the writer and the adult version of the protagonist, Pi, beginning to tell the story over a lunch of curry and naan bread. I was still tasting the warmth of my Indian dish on my lips and this made me smile. Not only was the movie adapted to be about a writer trying to capture a story, but they were eating what I still tasted. I settled into the thought; that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. I’m sure this was a result of my emotions being raw as white bone because I was ready to receive whatever was coming to me.

The year, God has been trying to teach me to surrender. I know this. Just look over the body of work here and it is clear how I keep coming back to one simple theme… letting go. My trip to Nicaragua was a pinnacle of this message, and while I was there a month ago, I picked up this postcard that now sits wedged on the edge of my bathroom mirror. It’s my daily reminder of what I know I must do.

shakti cards

Even though I am fully aware that this is the message Life/ God/ The Universe is trying to relay to me, I have not fully understood, until last Saturday night. I am finding that even when you understand a thing about life, it’s not the same things as knowing it.

The protagonist in The Life of Pi, is about an Indian boy and his journey in faith. As a child, and in present day as he’s relaying this story, he claims himself to be a Hindu, Muslim and Catholic. His parents each believed differently, his father, the eternal pragmatist, put his faith in science; his mother is a devout Hindu. Pi’s family owns a zoo in India that has fallen on hard times. They are now transporting all the zoo animals to North America on a Japanese shipping boat and Pi and his family are along for the ride toward a new life in Canada.

The writer whom the adult Pi is relaying the story to, does not believe in God. When the writer asks him how it is possible that he believes in so many different religions, Pi says, “Faith is a house with many rooms.”

The writer says, “Then there’s plenty of room for doubt.”

And the adult Pi says, “Yes, on every floor.”

This metaphor reminds me of a Halloween house party I went to in college. It was in one of the large, old, craftsman style houses. The kind that are more tall than wide. When you enter, it feels like a maze of small rooms and corridors. There were so many rooms that it was hard to figure out where you wanted to be. To add to the confusion, everyone was in costume. In the basement there was a loud DJ playing techno music. In the kitchen, a bunch of fraternity boys holding cups around a keg. In another room, dread-locks sticking out of knit caps surrounding a hookah. I found some rooms that seemed empty, but in the darkness I heard moans. There where rooms where the only girls congregated and still others that were merely functional and of course there’s always that one guy in the corner playing acoustic guitar. Even the front porch had its own feel packed with the claustrophobic and smokers. This is how I view faith, as one big party.

In my life, Jesus invited me to this house party for the purpose of introducing me to God. Of course, God and I, we hit it off smashingly. To this day, I can sit for hours talking to God, just him and me. But sometimes, I must admit, when the music is too loud I can’t quite hear what he’s saying. There are often miscommunications.  It’s just like when you’re at a loud party and someone is smiling at you while talking, but you have no clue what they are saying so you just nod your head and smile back.

Sometimes God is saying, “We need to leave, the house is on fire!” And I’d sit there with a big smile on my face nodding like I know exactly what’s happening. Then I smell smoke and all the sudden I’m really interested in knowing what God is saying to me. That’s usually when Jesus steps in to translate over the noise. When I finally understand what God was trying to tell me via Jesus, I look to God for confirmation. He always gives me this knowing nod. I do as he asked and then ask for forgiveness for not listening the first time. Of course, God always forgives. He’s a gracious host.

I often stay in the room where Jesus is the DJ because he plays some sweet beats that I really love. But sometimes, I’m not in the mood for those tunes. Sometimes I want to chill out with some Bob Marley or I need to talk to my best girlfriends and I have found peace and happiness and wisdom in those rooms as well, because God, he loves Rastafarians, too… and frat boys, and claustrophobics and even the dark, empty rooms where no one seems to be. So I call myself a Christian. I certainly believe in God and I believe in Jesus. I do not, however, believe that Jesus is the only way to meet God.

In the movie, little boy Pi comes upon a priest and the priest explains that Christ is God’s only son and God loved the world that he allowed his only son to suffer so that we might understand God’s love for us. Little boy Pi questions this fact. It doesn’t make sense to him. Frankly, for a long time it didn’t make sense to me either. Like little boy Pi, that logic didn’t sound very good to my little girl self.

The Japanese ship wrecks and Pi is the only survivor stranded on a life boat with a zebra, a orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal Tiger. From here, everything is a profound metaphor for life and our relationship to ourselves, adversity, and God.

Soon, it is just Pi and the Tiger on the life boat. All the others suffered and were killed and eaten by one another in fear and hunger. Pi is a vegetarian so he did not eat these animals. The tiger, whose name is Richard Parker, did.

It is clear to me that Richard Parker is a representation of Pi’s ego and/or adversity. He must now face down this force in order to survive. The entire journey is a test of his faith in God.

His situation seems insurmountable at first. The tiger is fierce, relentless, wild, veracious and a strong carnivore that can easily over-power a skinny, vegetarian, Indian boy. Pi works hard and builds a raft outside the life boat to put distance between himself and Richard Parker. He obtains some supplies and a booklet on survival from the life boat’s hull. The booklet is a metaphor for any sacred text, such as the Bible. He uses the information in this booklet not only to survive, but to devise a plan to outsmart the tiger by making him sea sick. When the tiger stumbles and gets weary, Pi tries to over power the tiger with aggressive behavior. The result of this has only angered the tiger more. Pi realizes that this strategy does not work; that adding anger to anger does not produce the desired result. He realizes that the booklet, although it has much practical information that ultimately contributes to his survival, does not contain precise instructions for exactly what to do when you’re trapped on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific with a hungry Bengal Tiger.

Pi then decides to win Richard Parker over by giving him what he craves most, food. Pi reasons that if he gives Richard Parker food, the tiger will see no need to eat him. Pi is unable to keep up with the demands of a tiger’s appetite and soon, the tiger gets greedy. Not only does he want Pi’s portion of the food, but he wants Pi. The tiger jumps into the water to catch his own fish and comes after Pi on his raft. It doesn’t matter that Pi has fed him, he doesn’t discern Pi’s generosity from his need to survive. Pi then climbs onto the boat and the tiger is left clinging to the side unable to get himself over the edge and back into the boat. Pi learns that you cannot stand up to adversity by being 100% passive and submissive.

Now, Pi could be rid of the tiger if he just lets Richard Parker get tired enough and drown. Pi would no longer have to battle this demon. But then Pi must watch this beautiful creature suffer, and in turn, Pi will suffer with the pain of watching him die. Richard Parker does not deserve to die, he is merely doing what tigers do. Pi realizes that if he allows the tiger to die, a part of him will die, too. Pi understands that sitting by and watching another living thing die just so you can survive, is not the answer, either. Pi works hard all day and prepares his raft with more supplies for survival and then helps Richard Parker back into the boat.

Pi finally comes to the conclusion that he must learn to tame Richard Parker. Not with aggression and hostility, but with love and respect. Respect for the tiger, and respect for himself. He uses fish and a stick. He pokes Richard Parker and yells at him when he over-steps his bounds, but still feeds him and allows him space on the boat. He creates boundaries using love and respect. This works.

When you think his problems are solved, at least in terms of the tiger, a whale breeches next to the boat and all his vital supplies are lost. Pi reaches a point of hopelessness. He has no food, no water, no supplies and is still living with a hungry Bengal Tiger on a life boat in the Pacific Ocean. He says, “Okay God, I surrender. I just want to know what’s next.”

Of course, the surrender part is correct, but we can never know God’s plan. We will never know, “what’s next.” It is not a matter of Pi just accepting God as a powerful force and the determiner of his fate. Now he must know the meaning of letting go of fear and expectations.

Just as Pi and Richard Parker are both at a pinnacle of suffering, they wake up on the shores of a magical floating island. It is inhabited by edible roots, Mere Cats and pools of fresh water. Both Pi and Richard Parker have all they need to live. One night, Pi finds a human tooth inside a flower that resembles a lotus flower. As he becomes fully aware of his surroundings, he realizes that the island is carnivorous. Sure, the island would give him and Richard Parker everything they would need to survive, but it would also eat them. This island is a metaphor for the many ways in which we ignore and numb our lives; the panaceas such as drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, you name it. They will let us live comfortable, we can manage our hunger and pain, but they will kill us.

Pi realizes he must leave the island, or die. He works hard and prepares his boat, yet again, and then sets off onto the ocean to face down his greatest fears again. This is Life.

Next, they are hit by another storm and all is truly lost. There is no hope. Pi says in the midst of the storm, “God, I surrendered, I have done everything, what do you want from me?” Then, Pi finally accepts his fate. He knows he is going to die, he is seemingly no longer afraid of the tiger because he sits and takes Richard Parker’s large head onto his lap stroking it in an act of compassion, camaraderie and pure love. He has given up the need to know what’s next.

Lastly, they wash up on the Mexican shore, barely alive. Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without looking back and Pi is taken to the hospital. When they ask him what happened to the ship and everyone in it, he tells them the story of him and Richard Parker the hungry Bengal Tiger.

Of course they do not believe him. Who would believe this fantastical story of carnivorous islands and surviving on a boat for so 247 days with a hungry, Bengal Tiger? They say he is lying and crazy so he tells them a different story. He tells them a story of tyranny, cannibalism and murder. This is the story they believe as truth.

So the question to us the audience becomes, do we believe in the God we cannot see that is filled with magic and light and signs and wonder?  A God that is around us always, speaking to us, warning us, loving us, wanting us to trust him without question? The same God that brought me to see this movie about an Indian boy in existential crisis, after spending three hours myself begging for grace and mercy, with serendipitous curry on my breath? Or do you believe in the God of tyranny, cannibalism and murder? I left that theater knowing exactly what I believe and what God had been trying to tell me. I also had an idea of what I was supposed to do next.

The very next day, while sitting in a room where I have placed much of my hopes for my future, my eyes filled with tears again. I stared off into the corner. My gaze landed on the back of a wooden chair. The design was lotus flower. I still didn’t know what that meant. I looked it up, because at this point, I am sure it is vitally important sign from God. This is what I found: Lotus flowers represent rebirth. They represent hope. The represent magic and possibility. They take three days to bloom up through muddy, murky waters and when they do, they are pristine, untouched and beautiful, still.

By the time I left that room something had changed.

Since the moment I was lying on the floor on Saturday in the fetal position while the heavens opened up around me, while I begged for grace and mercy, then was given signs that I must not only surrender to His will, but I must give up the very thing I was hoping to find on Friday afternoon… hope, something profoundly shifted inside me. Come Saturday night, I gave up that wish for hope. I realized that hope comes tethered to the idea that you know what you want. That you are holding out for some kind of solution to your situation that makes you happy and fulfilled. I realized that hope is a panacea.

God sat me in that theater with naan bread in my stomach with no direction to lean because he wanted me to lean on him, without hope, without questions, without expectations. But he clearly told me I must still work. I must still prepare. I must not give up doing the hard things, but I must give up the expectation that they will bring me closer to what I want because there is only one person who knows what I truly want… and it’s not me.

If I can surrender, truly surrender and live without fear or hope for what I want, he will lead to the shores of salvation and they will never be what I imagine them to be… they will be better.

On this night God brought me inside the room of two artists, Yann Martel and Ang Lee, so that they could show me what I could not hear through Jesus’s sweet melodies or the words inside my booklet on survival. This is why I want to be a writer; because I know that stories change the world.

I know that many will be tempted to tell me I’m wrong. Anytime I talk about God I get those emails. People will point to Bible verses that speak of this truth, and I will tell them that I have read those same verses. But MY truth is, those words did not speak to me the way this movie did. I am not naive to think that everyone will enjoy this film and get out of it the same things I did. I was meant to walk into that theater last Saturday night and I was meant to sit alone and see the world this way. It was perfect for me but others may not have the same experience and that is okay because art is a subjective thing… but so is religion.

Faith, however, is a house with many rooms and God is the only host.

Amen.

Now scroll back up and look at what the woman in the postcard is holding… and the miracles continue to abound.

The name of the Indian restaurant I went to was MokSHA. I went to their website to see if I could get a picture of the lotus flower that I saw while there. This is what the name means: MokSHA-A Sanskrit term used to describe the attaining of eternal bliss or “highest happiness” by the soul… it’s a magical world, people. 

I Do Not Want To Be A Lie

As much as I would like to be the kind of person who hears lines of poetry narrating their day-to-day life… I am not. I like poetry, I do.  I even write a rhyming poem for my Christmas card every year (although I hardly think that counts as “serious” poetry). As much as the self-proclaimed “serious” writer in me crumples in shame, I must admit that there is a lot of poetry that I simply do not understand.

I heard a saying once that goes something like this: a failed poet is a short story writer, and a failed short story writer is a novelist. In other words, the sentiments and potentiality for beauty and Truth in the art form of the written word is most distilled, potent, and most difficult to achieve in its most succinct form… a poem. Poetry is difficult to do well because it requires a mastery of language, imagery, and a penetrating sense of the world. It is why the great poets are pure genius. Perhaps this is also the reason I do not understand most of it?

But there are some poems, that when I run across them, feel like I’m looking at someone else’s heart on a page. And although it’s someone else’s heart, they have shown me mine as well. It’s the same with a song. Whenever I am moved to tears by music, inevitably, I will think of an off-handed line spoken by Vince Vaughn’s character in Ron Howard’s comedy The Dilemma. I’ve seen that movie only once. I can’t even tell you the plot, but I have never forgotten the simple truth in this line. Vaughn, in a spurt of nervous banter says,

“People say music is the highest art form. It can go the furthest, the fastest, emotionally.”

What is great music but poetry with an accompaniment? Now I’m just musing on art form. Let’s reign this in. Everyone has recognized good art in their life. A moment of pure emotion brought on my the words, sights, sounds of another human being’s creative powers. Poetry, it all its precision and depth, is thought by many, to be at the top of these creative endeavors.

In middle school I memorized Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Raven, on my own and not as an assignment.  I was enamored by Poe and his dark, brooding rhythms. I loved the way that new word “Nevermore, Nevermore” came after me line after line in increasing terror just like the caw of that raven. After hearing Maya Angelou recite On The Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, I sought out a copy and kept it folded in a blue treasure box under lock and key. I don’t know why really, much of it flew right over my head, but I knew it was something beautiful that deserved to be kept somewhere safe. There are certain poems that speak to me in that way. I will not say that I understand them all, but they are beautiful and feel like tiny miracles. I ran across one such poem by Ranier Marie Rilke just this week:

RilkeI can’t make every minute holy.
I don’t want to stand before you
like a thing, shrewd, secretive.
I want my own will, and I want
simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action.
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to be folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.

~Ranier Marie Rilke

This is what I felt inside as I took up a pen and started to write:

I can’t live every moment fully aware. I can’t take the high road in every conversation. I can’t be holy, benevolent, pious, contented and non-reactive in each minute of every day no matter how hard I try. I want to. I want patience to rival Gandhi and compassion to make Mother Theresa proud, but I just can’t. I can not. At least not now. But I don’t want to be ashamed of myself either for not possessing those things. I don’t want hang my head low and beat myself up because I am not perfect and happy and well-behaved in every minute of everyday. I do not. I want to know what I want from this life, and I want to seek out those experiences and the highest Truths with all I have and all that I am. At times when those Truths draws near, when I am pious and benevolent and can quiet my mind long enough to feel the pulse of my life and the holiness in my breath, I want to be  surrounded by wisdom, by goodness and Love. If I cannot have that, I want to be alone. I want to be open. I never want to shut a piece of myself off because it is in the dark places where fear lives. I know that much. And I know that when I am afraid, I am a lie.

I’ve certainly heard of Rilke. When I hear a poem that strikes me as certain and wise, often times, it is Rumi or Rilke who wrote it. I looked around for more on Rilke and found this gem from one of his most famous works, Letters to a Young Poet written in 1908:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ~Ranier Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And that right there is what this blog seems to be about. Letting go and living in Love and Truth because anything else would be a lie.

The Beauty of Surrender

Today, I went to a second yoga session on my trip to Nicaragua. It will likely be my last here as we leave for home in a couple of days. It has been an illuminating, exciting and utterly exhausting trip. Caring for two toddlers is a lot of work in perfect conditions with all the tools in place like diaper pales, level sidewalks and regulatory high chairs with seat belts. All things for which I have a new appreciation. Doing all of the same day-to-day tasks here in the remote Third World without these luxuries has been a challenge for sure. A challenge that has stretched my coping abilities to their max.

I’ve yelled at my children more than I would like. I’ve been short with my husband for no reason. I have been too tired to enjoy some of the fun things because there’s just so much damn work to be done everyday. I’m not proud of it, but even on vacation surrounded by immense beauty I can be pissed off.

I needed yoga today to bring me back to myself. To remind me of the important things.

The wind was whipping my hair in the open-air studio. My dingy, borrowed mat flipped up on the edges from time to time. The pigeons congregated and cooed somewhere above me while the sounds of small-town Nicaragua swirled around me in cries, hollers, motors and horns. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was part of the soundtrack to the practice and somewhere around “…with every breath we drew a hallelujah” I let it all go and I sank into the beautiful space of surrender.

Surrender is beautiful, isn’t it? When we fall on our knees and crumple from the strain of life? When we’re brave enough to admit that we don’t have it all together, that we struggle, that we need help, that even on vacation in paradise we can get pissed off? When we stretch out our arms or join our hands in prayer asking, often begging for love, for peace, for a moment of grace in a hectic world–it is nothing short of a beauty-filled miracle. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a controlling, anxiety-ridden, yeller… like me.

But it came. It came with the strength of a thousand wind storms.

I was in the zone, or in yoga speak, “on my edge” in every pose. My leg went up in wheel. I held crow. I got closer to a head stand than ever before and I stretched farther and deeper than usual… I chatuaronga’d the shit out of that mat. The hour and a half felt like mere moments in time. I was in my breath. I was humbled yet confident; filled with a strong weakness that transformed me from one inhalation to the next. I have been in many yoga classes in the last 10 years but this one will stay with me forever. It shifted me–left an indelible impression on my soul.

The teacher said, “Every breath brings an opportunity for change.” Like a gong this struck a chord deep inside. She is right. With every breath, I can change. With every minute, I can be better– I can come back to myself and all I have to do is surrender… “with every breath a hallelujah.”

Hot Lava

I swipe a burp-clothe-gloved hand under each breast to wipe away the slick, soupy mess that has accumulated there. I have always had large breasts, but since my milk came in, they overwhelm me.  It’s the hottest summer on record in the Pacific Northwest and in the 25 1/2 days since my daughter was born we haven’t had a single drop of rain. Like most people here, we don’t have air conditioning because this type of weather isn’t typical.

Our thermostat has read 98 degrees in the upstairs of our home for several days. The kitchen and her nursery are up there. As much as possible, she and I have been holed up in the basement during the day with the lights out, shades drawn, fans blowing… alone. The sound of the fans help us sleep, what little we’re getting.

There is not one inch of me that is not swollen and prickly from heat, shifting fat and spiking hormones. I would go naked but I don’t like to see my stomach like this so I wear a cotton maternity nightgown and a milk-stained nursing bra. I would go bra-less but I need absorbent pads because I leak when she cries, which is a lot.

It started two weeks after we got home—the no sleeping and crying. It was just long enough for family to leave town and just short enough not to catch my breath. It’s been a struggle finding air ever since.

She is my first and she reduces me to my elements.

My hands feel more like claws, tight and harsh next to new skin and I fear breaking her little body because I think I already broke her spirit. I don’t know why she cries. I’m sure it’s something I am doing, or not doing, or worse, can’t do. I think she can sense through her raw nerves and involuntary reflexes that I’m no good at this. Maybe that’s why she cries? A desperate plea for rescue and comfort?

I think that’s why I cry.

I think I cry because I sense that I’m on the edge of something hot and deep like that time we flew over the mouth of a volcano on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Up until that moment I had never seen anything as awe-inspiring and soul-shifting as those guts of Mother Earth. Looking into her atomic glow made my cheeks burn and my eyes water. Just like now. Knowing I was relatively safe in the helicopter I was intrepid. I wanted to fly closer, as close as possible without risking anything. Unlike now.

Now I’m not intrepid; I’m terrified. I’m scared that instead of amazing and beautiful the guts of this mother are deadly. I don’t want to fly any closer. I want to go home.

Before I can even feel that feeling I snap back into the reality that I already am.

My sweaty, bloated body with its milk and its weight is lying in this darkened basement and although I might wish for it, I am not alone, nor will I ever be again. The heat of this life is inside me now, in my breasts and my bones that are shifting back into place and also, especially in this baby. She’s a piece of me broken off, tossed up and flung outward upon the world in a burst of molten lava.

She flows and rips back to the center of me with every breath, expanding my world one inhalation at a time and now I will never breathe the same again…nor do I want to.

Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

I have never written a book review, but because I loved this book by so much, I am inspired to write this.

Dani Shapiro grew up as an only child in an orthodox Jewish home in New Jersey. Her reserved, devout father died in a tragic car accident when she was 23 leaving behind more questions than there would ever be answers. Her relationship with her mother was complicated and tragic right up until her death of brain cancer when Shapiro was in her early 40’s. Early on, Dani splintered off from her Jewish upbringing, finding refuge, sanctuary and community in various places including her yoga mat and church basements attending AA meetings (although not an alcoholic).

She became a New York Times best-selling author, a wife, and like so many of us, got busy numbing herself stacking up accomplishments and material accoutrement.

Then she had a son, and also like so many of us, was changed forever. When her son, Jacob, was only months old, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare and likely debilitating condition called Infantile Spasms. Strangely, it is a rare condition of which I am partially familiar.

When Brooke was eight months old she developed a strange tick on her right side. It looked like she was bringing her right shoulder and her right ear together in a sudden, involuntary movement. Within hours of showing her pediatrician a video, I was at the hospital distracting my daughter with a dusty, leftover stash of rickety toys while they pasted a rainbow of electrodes to her baby-fine hair. Between the two appointments, I frantically Googled “Infant Seizures.” That is when I became familiar Infantile Spasms, which was the most tragic of all possible outcomes.

There is no definitive cure for IS although experimental treatments do exist. If IS is not treated immediately and effectively, it can erase your child from their own mind leaving irreversible brain-damaged. The probability of surviving Infantile Spasms without severe neurological impairment is 15%.

Our Pediatric Neurologist said he would call us as soon as he got the results, “no matter what time.” In our case, it was 7pm on a Friday night. To say I was afraid, feels wholly inadequate. I don’t think I took in, or let out a full breath that day. I busied myself. I chewed my lips and watched her and the clock like only a mother sensing trouble can.

We got the call and it was good, not IS.

But Shapiro and her husband received the opposite diagnosis. Through more than a year of intense monitoring and precise administration of an experimental medication, Jacob survived IS with a few developmental delays that he would eventually overcome.

Of all the tragedy and uncertainty Shapiro endured up until that point, it was this experience that felt like the locus of the book– the principal reason for the deliberate search for what she believes. Against such infinitesimal odds, why had this happened? Furthermore, why did Jacob survive? What would she tell her son when he was older? How could she tell him anything if she didn’t know herself?

Not one of us is immune these switchback moments of life. The moment when the horizon comes into view, but suddenly you are forced to take the path leading in the opposite direction. This disorientation leaves us looking behind us, yet forced to keep moving forward.

Ultimately, it is a reality we all face, the recognition that life is fragile, potentially tragic, and definitely out of our control. If we’re lucky, it is faith that shores us up against the storms. Belief becomes our safety net; religion our life-line, and for many, finding a community of like-minded people to help weather the worst of it. When you are a renounced orthodox Jew, a itinerate yogi and a non-alcoholic member of AA, where do go? What do you do? How do you define your beliefs?

Shapiro finds the closest thing to answers in the small spaces between all these things–in the moments of awareness brought on by daily rituals, mindfulness and setting intentions.

She is Jewish, but reads Buddha’s teachings to her son. She finds refuge in the practice of daily meditation, but also at synagogue on Friday evenings. She finds solace on her yoga mat and also in the mezuzah hanging to the right of her front door. She finds community in reading the Torah with a Rabbi, or in watching the leaves turn colors outside her window.

In the end, it is always a practice, a never-ending journey in finding peace in a world full of split second sorrows– creating meaning in a fraction of a second of breath and the seemingly inconsequential gestures of ritual and repetition, because they are reminders of the only thing that is… our intricate connection to each other in this solitary moment in time.

Life will always be switching back on us, each corner producing a new set of questions and rarely will there one answer for them all, more often than not, there are no answers. It is on this precipice of uncertainty and fear that we all must learn to find solace, refuge and community without closing our eyes to the view.

Because even when you’re afraid, especially when you’re afraid, if you keep your eyes open, it is still beautiful sight to behold.