I looked in the mirror today and I saw an old woman. It was the first time it has happened, or maybe the first time that I allowed myself to see it. But I saw it in my eyes. These eyes are tired, with lines and bags. These eyes have seen too much. These eyes that have seen so much.I wonder when it happened, this getting old. Was it when I was taking out the garbage or running out for milk? Was it when I was sobbing because it feels like the whole freakin’ world has cancer? Was it when I was mourning my marriage?Did it happen when I was chasing my child across the park, laughing at how fast he has become? Did it happen as he dragged me across the ice, pulling me along, “Faster mama, lets skate faster?” Did it happen as I fed my beloved neighbors, as I kissed my friend goodnight, as I whispered grateful thank yous to the moon? Did it happen as I sang and danced, danced years away. Did it happen when I got the heart stopping phone call? Or when I collapsed in exhaustion? Did it happen the day that I fell in love? Or the day I fell out of love? Or the day I realized that love never really dies and falling is neither here nor there?I feel so young and unpracticed. I feel like a tiny baby girl, still so new in the world. Sometimes I feel so damn vulnerable and naive. I can’t believe these eyes are mine…these old woman eyes.
Every now and again I feel it. That feeling of being completely stuck. Locked in the same old place. Not moving forward, not even moving backward. In the same old place as yesterday and the day before and I wonder when it will ever change and if I will ever figure it out? The magical, mysterious key to it all, the one that will set me forward on my path to somewhere else.
So much energy goes into the basics, the eating and the sleeping and the getting ourselves from here to there. So much energy goes into the breathing and the bathing and the simple stuff. Overwhelmed I ask myself, “Is this all there is?”
And the answer comes back a resounding YES. Yes, this all there is. Whatever is happening in my rather unromantic and mundane life right now–thats all there is. Everything else…just a memory or a dream. A whispery unreal ghost of a something…a phantom that can be grasped but not real.
Stuck, moving its really all an illusion. Afterall I simply am where I am. I could sit for hours and contemplate my stuckness…ponder why I am here still and when will I get the energy to move there. Truth is I do it a lot. But I have been finding that to be a maddening place and a place that just makes me want to tear my hair out.
So I just get up and do something.
I play my guitar.
I do the laundry.
I empty the dishwasher and fill it up again.
I kiss my child, pack his lunch, ask him about his day.
I pay the bills, though it pains me.
I fill up a garbage bag with things to give away.
I make a list of chores to do and do one of them, then cross it off with a fat marker. Maybe I do another.
And interestingly enough, I find that I am miraculously someplace else entirely. If only an inch away.
Sometimes it seems the world is falling apart. The economy is tumbling, fires are raging, people we love are fighting for their lives. In the thick of it all, fighting our way through the smoke, it seems that we should be content to take pleasure in the simple things.
Today at Quaker meeting, a man stood up and remarked that sometimes even the “so-called simple pleasures in life”, spending time with family, loving your children, sitting in silence can be the most complicated and messy. His words rang true for me, as tried to steady myself from a a week, a month, a heck a season that has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
Simple is apparently not always easy. I am finding that true in a thousand different ways. Its real work to simply stay present. Its real work to simply be. Its real work to stay rooted to the earth, to keep my feet on the ground, to not get caught up in either worries or dreams.
Simplicity, authenticity takes courage. It means daring to speak the truth. It means pushing past fear. It means giving up wishes and visions and hope. It means allowing ourselves to be boiled down to the core of our hearts, distilled down to our very essence. In order to truly be present to that which simply is, it means letting go of all illusions of what might be in a few years, months, or even minutes.
Love, friendship, family and beauty: they are messy, difficult, and even tedious. Opening up to them, really opening up, means being attentive to the voices in our heads and the stories that we tell–the ones that say we are not good enough, or that they are not good enough or that really it is all about to fall apart anyway.
Being simple, embracing the simple, takes practice.
Loving you is a prayer, my own form of worship, a blessing whispered silently over a candle in the dark. Loving you is an Amen sung out by old ladies with Sunday hats and soul soaked voices. Loving you is a dance that rises up from someplace ancient, a drumbeat, a psalm. I don’t know where it comes from, or where it will carry me, or why I was chosen to be the one. I am so imperfect, and gnarled and tired and worn out. I know this love, so simple and clean, can not come from me but bursts forth from life itself. It is Love loving. It is Life living. It is the breath of God.
Something came over me last night. It was blown in by the howling winds, the ones that roared and growled and shook the trees. I didn’t see it coming, still don’t know where it came from. This must have been me at 13, sulky and petulant with a little bit of sass, pushing back and out for no good reason. Completely uncomfortable in her own skin. Ambivalent and wavering and not sure of what she wants. Not sure of where she is going. Not even sure why she is here.
I normally have a pretty good sense of the why and how of my moods shift, and what is going on in my heart. I normally know why I lose patience or feel frustrated or want to be alone. I normally can explain and hold it all in tenderness, but this time I can only shrug my shoulders. Somethings just are beyond explanation.
I sat on the couch in silence in this space when I was interrupted by Max, sleepwalking. He was panicked and calling my name. “Mama,” he cried looking right at me, “Where are you?” “Right here mijito…right here” I replied.
Three times I had to call him, to wake him up. Three times it took to wake me back up again too. The me that feels like me. He climbed into my lap and I held him close up against my chest, happy to have found us both. Happy to be home.
It never fails to surprise me. It creeps up on me and shocks the hell out of me. Just when I think that I have become fearless, just when I think I have overcome my deepest darkest fears, just when I think that I have done my soul work and gotten an A+ on the lesson, then I realize how terribly scared I still am.
Does it ever end as we peel away, layer by layer the protective walls we put around our hearts? It seems that no matter, how much work I do, its still there, more and more subtle but there. This fearfulness.
Shortly after my marriage failed, I found feng shui. After suffering such a devestating loss, after feeling so adrift, after realizing there was no security in this thing called marriage, I found a sense of control and order. If I could just eliminate the clutter, if I could place the bamboo just so, if I could figure out the flow of energy in this house I could be safe. I spent long hours, arranging, planning, sorting…and desperately holding on to a vision that my life would be OK.
At other times, it would be my job, my money, my community, my life as a mother, my writing and creativity, my spiritual journey, even this blog… a long line of things that made me feel anchored and safe. One by one I transform each into a security blanket the thing that would keep that fear at bay. The fear of being here. All. Alone.
And over and over again I would learn, the more that I grasp at these things, the more they slip through my fingers like water, proving to me again and again that while each one of these things delights, my security comes from none of them.
They are false idols, lined up in the temple of my heart–I deify them and doom them to failure. They will not save me. Over and over again I learn that really, its just me. And my faith.
Yup… in the ends its just me. As rich as my life is, there is nothing to grasp onto but what is here in my heart and my faith. No matter how hard I try, I cannot be anchored for life is a river and it is sweeping me along and carrying me, pulling me moving me. And that scares the hell out of me.
But make no mistake. This is not a sad or desperate post.
Because I am breathing sweet free air of liberation. I can stop looking for the thing that is going to save me. I can stop waiting for it to delivered and come along. I can stop fearing that it will all disappear if I say or do the wrong thing. I have it, have always had it, will always have it, right here in my heart.
I am the thing that saves me.
I am so unpracticed at this way of being.
So I will stumble along and when I trip, I will reach for something to steady myself but when it disappears into thin air I will not feel the bruising crash of my body slamming down, but the steadiness of my hand against the ground. Catching myself.
When I drop Max off at school lately he has taken to asking me, “When will I see you again?”. He asks with an urgency that is heartbreaking.
Not that long ago, he would beg me to drop him off at the curbside, let him walk into the school and find his way to his classroom. Now he wants me to walk him all the way to his teacher, hug him twice, kiss him and answer his question with specifics. He needs to know.
I have wondered why this sudden change…worried about it really. After all isn’t he supposed to be moving in a straight, linear path toward independence? Isn’t he? Or is it more like a spiral, a rising and falling, a cycle, a coming and going…
This fall, we have had some disruption in our life, in our routine. Max has had to face cancer, see it on the worried faces of our loved ones, feel it in the absence of his Nana. Every day there is a different schedule, a patchwork of makeshift solutions. There is a lot of spinning, no wonder he wants to hold on tight.
But I also wonder how much of it is simply the rhythm of growing up, the venturing out to come running home again. I wonder how much of it is that he has grown so big so fast that he needs to retreat and find his footing. He needs to anchor himself in the everlovin’ arms of mama.
I find myself drawn to this rhythm, this cycle, this venturing out in the world only to return to that which we know is true and safe. That it is the coming home again that makes it possible to set out again. We are always in movement, sometimes forward and sometimes back again. I guess the biggest mistake I ever made was thinking that it was all forward motion. Its circular around and about, a walk into the center of ourselves, to the heart of the matter, to our centers and out again. Round and round.
This week I discovered a small labyrinth only two blocks from my office. In the bitter cold I have gone and walked around and around, following the winding path, before ending at the center and then turning to walk back out again. I have been all by myself in the quiet, the rose garden bare, the wind brutal. But I go nevertheless. Its an exercise in coming home I suppose, in riding the cycles–the giving and receiving, the coming and the going and the coming back again. It is grounding and it quiets the voice inside me, the one that wants to plaintively cry out, “When you will come back again?”
I know before long, my little one will be off on his own again. Filled up with love, strengthened and secure he will set out again to explore, to be his own person. He will roll his eyes when he sees me coming. He will stop asking when I will return. I may feel worried in a new way then I suppose until I remember its all just one big spiral, one cycle, and the expansion will one day contract again anew.
that magic is all around and miracles are unfolding right under our noses and we just need to open our eyes to see them
that chocolate is a health food and chai tea can warm the heart and together they can heal deep soul wounds
that I could lose everything but my child and I would be rich, panicked maybe, but rich…
that dancing is better than sleeping
that connection, family and friendship should always come first
that we all can see right past the walls into each others hearts but most of us are too afraid most of the time
that seeing people–really seeing them without expectations or judgment–is the most radical and revolutionary and scary thing you can do
that tears and laughter both need to flow freely
that cooking for each other and sharing food is an intimate act
that writing and art is soul-saving
that learning to live without fear is a lifetime adventure
that many people mistake security for love and sadly never get the opportunity to learn the difference
that most answers come from silence
that the great art comes from being awake–to pain, to joy, to fear, to beauty, to love. Most of us have an easier time being awake to the harder stuff and thats why people think the great artists were all tortured souls
that nothing is all one thing.
When my little family was breaking up, I realized I could feel adrift and alone or I could adopt the whole world as my family. I could recognize how tangled our roots are, even as we look like separate trees, even separate gardens above the surface.
Every now and again, when the whole world is contracting in, closing tight around around the nuclear and I start to drift again I need to remind myself what lies below the surface. I need to remind myself of the connections between us–the ways that you and I all share the same earth, draw from the same water. If you dig beneath our roots are entwined.
Choosing to live this way can be hard, especially when I feel like I just might be the only one who believes in life beneath the surface, the place where all this connection is at hand. Sometimes I feel like the neighborhood wacko who is caught up in a dream that is not quite real. Efforts to draw distinctions cut deep. This is mine. That is yours. We are separate.
Whenever I feel this me/you/us/them/in/out/ dynamic at work it rocks my world. So much so that I wake up at night with a headache. It breaks open my heart. It makes me gasp for breath. And its not because of some big cosmic world view of community and peace in the world.
But it’s simply because it was the knowledge that we are all connected, that my family is big and wide that saved me when the illusion of my little family dissolved.
Lately, I have been finding shining little bits of myself, from Boston to North Carolina, alive and well in the love of friendships long dormant. Just at a time when I was wondering if I was a crazy old lady dreaming of life in the earth, if the connectedness I had been counting on was yet another illusion, I am finding that the connections go longer and farther and deeper than I dreamed.
I choose to believe in these connections, even when others try and tell me otherwise. When someone wants to contain us as a unit I will simply smile. I know what lies beneath the surface. I believe in it. I do.