MLK, Jr Day: Challenge

It’s a season of battles: Political candidates, football teams, actors up for awards; our mlkdayreality shows are all competitions, people battling to be the best designer, weight-loser, bride, chef, hottie, etc.; the markets are battling; — we reward people, honor them with money and attention, who beat everyone else out – threaded throughout is this theme of competition and winners and losers.

So, of course, Trump has supporters. He is the natural consequence of this perpetuated ideology (hierarchy, capitalism, aggression, patriarchy, hegemony, anthropomorphic dominance, Cartesian dualism, materialism). Our laws gird the system: Developers can buy their way into neighborhoods and destroy communities. People can live in poverty, and we are not responsible.

And, then there is someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., who asks us to consider equality, invites us to passive resistance, challenges us to choose the poor and the weak over the strong and mighty, requires us to check the ethics of our hearts for another way of interacting, thriving, surviving.

So, we honor his memory and dream (and those who enacted, propelled, supported it) with this day of – and let’s face it, many of us like the ideas he talked about but have no idea how to live them out in any sustained, concrete manner. We have no structures for cooperation and consensus. Unless we drop off the grid, we are forced to participate in a deeply competitive system.

That is not to say that pockets of another way of being do not take root. I’m glad that people like Wes Bellamy​ and Brian Wimer​ are working to build communities and create solutions that are not top-down but engaging…

All of this rambling philosophizing to say, let’s celebrate MLK Day by, in whatever ways we can, considering ourselves as part of a whole, not as individuals struggling to beat each other out for limited resources. Reconfigure the equation of ourselves in relation to neighbors, coworkers, communities, countries, the earth, prisoners, enemies, crooks, impoverished, elite. Look for ways to shift priorities. Find others who will join you in doing the same. What resources can we share? How can we take responsibility and promote wellbeing for all the kids, not just our own? Who can we invite to dinner? What policies would benefit the whole city, not just our corner, our commute, our goals?

I don’t know the answers. I just know we can’t each change it on our own. We can’t just each sit on a high horse of do-goodedness and check “I’m awesome” off the list. That’s nice that you eat organic. Now make sure that others can afford to, as well. I’m glad you avoid Walmart; now how can you help others afford to avoid that, too? I’m glad you’re not racist; but how often do you hang out with and listen to people of a different color and background? Do you understand your heterosexist privilege?

Charlottesville is awesome. We have so many nonprofits and projects and initiatives aiming to do this hard work! All I know is, it’s not just what we do, or where we donate our money, but how we live and interact with each other that shifts society. And it seems to me, we have an uphill battle – so let’s stop fighting and battling it – let’s use the Force! – because even “fighting” and having hate for those who oppose us engages us in the dialectical relationship.

Listen to MLK, Yoda, Jesus, Lao Tse, the Buddha, Aung San Suu Kyi… learn to love each other as you love yourselves.

40 Things I Learned by Age 40

self-reflectionHere are 40 random things I have learned by 40. And no, this is not exhaustive. And yes, this is totally cheesy.

  1. You can’t make other people happy by being miserable on their behalf. Do not feel guilty for feeling happy.
  2. Trying to make other people happy might seem like a benevolent motivation, but usually masks a fear of the weight of other people’s sorrows. It’s not your job to make other people happy.
  3. Happiness, as Pharrell Williams posits, is indeed the truth.
  4. The truth will set you free, sure, but that doesn’t mean truth turns things easy. Freedom does not equal Easy. Freedom just means you can make choices, and you know you can make choices.
  5. People do the best they can with what they have – with what choices they think they have. When you judge other people’s choices, remember you don’t have the same information, background, and context they do. Don’t judge. Think you’d make a better decision in that person’s situation? You wouldn’t.
  6. You can’t think yourself into becoming enlightened or realized. Yes, you can visualize scoring baskets, but you also have to work your muscles, train your body, spend hours of sweat and pain on perfecting your game. You also can’t think yourself out of an emotion. Your mind is powerful, but it can’t work by itself. The mind-body-heart connection requires attention on all levels for full expression.
  7. Before you worry about how things Should be, make sure you understand fully how things Are. You will usually be surprised to find out you have a lot to learn.
  8. My favorite quote, from Howard Thurman:

    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

  9. My other favorite quote: “Laughing hysterically amid deepest woe.” Being a Gemini doesn’t mean I’m two-faced; it means I enjoy the surfaces and the depths, the sorrows and the joys, the extremes of experience.
  10. I am a really sensitive person, hypersensitive, even. My mother is like this, too – able to pick up on the emotional currents coursing around but needing to remember that I can’t  tell what other people are thinking, no matter how smart or sensitive I am.
  11. Acting without thinking or thinking without acting – neither is a helpful route, neither better than the other. I realized this when I was 12.
  12. Wu-wei, man; wu-wei. Not doing means you are moving with the currents of life, not forcing them, controlling them, resisting them. Going with the flow. “Hold on loosely, don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re going to lose control.”
  13. Labels are powerful for your identity. But like anything else, they should be self-created, and they should always be treated as what they are – labels. You can peel them off and toss them when they lose their accuracy.
  14. Accepting who you are doesn’t mean you give up at trying to be the best you can be; it means you start with reality, with compassion and awareness, and grow from there. That way you really change, as opposed to banging on yourself with a crowbar of madness.
  15. Everyone is crazy. Really.

  16. You never arrive. We get in the habit of thinking we will get to a place of accomplishment where we can finally relax, when it’s the opposite; you have to create your place of arrival, peace, here and now, or it’s not gonna happen.
  17. I am not better than anyone else. This is a freeing thing to know. We are all of us deserving of a stoning and of grace.
  18. Compassion is truer than judgment.
  19. Prayer works. I don’t understand why. I don’t even like saying prayer “works,” as if it’s a gum ball machine that takes quarters and delivers on its promise to dump out a lollipop per coin. I don’t think god is sitting around playing on his gameboy until you pray and get his attention and if you beg hard enough he’ll put down his soda and give you a dollop of luck. No way, Jose. So I don’t understand it, but I know that there is something that happens in prayer, whether it’s about changing the person praying or connecting energy or intersecting one’s heart with someone else’s, but there is power there. And I trust it. Same goes for chakras.
  20. God comes in many forms – most of them, human-made. In fact, god comes in every form of every living and nonliving thing. Also, I don’t think you can define “god.” I think what we call “god” is often a stand-in for other operations and motivations, or moments of awe. That’s ok. I read something recently about how mystics aren’t afraid of pantheism. I like that. Animism, too. I feel like I can be a total atheist and a mystic at the same time.
  21. Being alive is a freaking mind-blowing miracle.
  22. There’s no such thing as a long life or a too-short life; it’s quality, not quantity that tells us about what is wasted, what is worthwhile. Sure, it’s neat to celebrate longevity and anniversaries, and I admire century-old turtles and ancient trees; but I also delight in the month-long frenzy of fireflies — they are not any less important or vital for their brevity. (Love you, Charlotte.)
  23. da truthWe are all connected. There is no such thing as the singular, island-isolated self. So be happy for others who are happy! Feel empathy for those who are sad! Their joy is your joy, their sadness and suffering is your sadness and suffering.
  24. On the other hand, we are born and die utterly alone. We are responsible for our own happiness, our own actions, our own choices. Learning to live with that loneliness, while knowing, too, that we are permeable, and never alone – that is tricky, but worth it.
  25. Transience. Yes, it’s true, you can always depend upon the fact that however sad or happy you are feeling, the feeling won’t last forever. However, also –  it probably will return. Cycles.
  26. The true challenge of having children is not about sleep. All this stuff about getting your own sleep or getting them to sleep is just a ruse to hide the truth so that it really gets you good: Children become mirrors that force you to face your own inner children, your own childhood, your own past. Children make every mistake, frailty, weakness, gap, problem within you bare and exposed and ready to take you down if you don’t deal with it. If only it were just about sleep!
  27. The best cure for loneliness is communing with trees and grass and hydrangeas.
  28. Focus on what you want, how you feel, and your own gratitude; stop worrying what others want from you, what they feel, what they have that you don’t.
  29. Everyone was once a tiny, vulnerable baby. Even Hitler.
  30. Everyone suffers. (Even the snotty privileged.)
  31. Angry, mean people are acting out someone else’s anger and meanness. The most appropriate reaction when someone treats you badly is compassion for whatever they have been through that you can’t see.
  32. IMG_2388Everyone is beloved. Everyone is potentially the mouthpiece of god (or truth, or the dharma – everyone teaches us something, whether they want to or not). So listen.
  33. All of this is utterly ordinary. All of this is totally sacred and holy. It’s not either/or but both/and.
  34. There aren’t any black and white rules. There’s no single mantra that covers every situation. There’s not a dictate you can trust to get you through every hard path. I mean, there’s the Golden Rule, the 10 commandments, the 8 fold path, yadda yadda. But life trumps all the rules. All you can rely on is following your heart. Love is the ultimate rule. I think. You have to take things as they come, in context, look at the rules, see if they apply, use them while they work, ditch them when they go against what you know is just and true and loving. But you have to determine that yourself. It’s a pain in the butt.
  35. Best Woody Allen quote ever is the definition of comedy. “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Yes, yes it is.
  36. “Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.” Dad’s big yellow button that he had over his desk and I now have over mine.
  37. There’s no such thing as: a) bad things happening for a reason, b) god giving you as much as you can handle, c) good things coming to those who wait, d) god helping those who help themselves, e) a silver lining existing in every cloud. You can’t use a pat little phrase to bandaid over the pain and suffering in this world. Don’t try it on other people, either.
  38. Sometimes, you just have to pay attention to the superficial stuff. Believe me, clothes and material wealth and what you look like and how you carry yourself in public – these things do not reflect your inner character or have any correspondence to your value as a human being. However, we do live with each other in society, and these things do matter. Now, some people take them WAY too seriously (some people take everything way too seriously), and truly, facing death you know that nothing deserves the kind of serious attention we pay fashion and outward appearance etc. BUT how we treat ourselves and show self-respect – it’s like using a code, and we do have to know that whether we follow cultural norms or not, we can’t escape the code, we are always in the conversation. What you wear, what you choose to say, is your choice. You ARE communicating. It is not other people’s fault for not knowing the depths of your soul but judging how you feel about things based on the cut of your skirt and if you brushed your hair today.
  39. boyThere is a difference between loving someone – accepting them as who they are – and allowing them to behave in a way that harms you or someone else. Also, unconditional love is really hard to practice, but it is the ultimate and best goal any of us can strive for. And that “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing? It’s utter, un-Jesus-like crap.
  40. Don’t ever forget that you will die someday. And then play, work, love with all your heart, knowing it’s not yours to keep, but it’s yours! P.S. I am terrified of death. I don’t want to die. Getting older has not erased these feelings. I merely live with them. Death sharpens the knife edge of my life; it hurts, but it keeps me sharp and usable.

And a few bonus Trite Things that Stick With Me, Too:

  • Show up for your life.
  • Know what matters to you and honor it.
  • Forgive yourself often, and laugh at yourself freely.
  • Regrets are boring.
  • Being bored is boring; get over it.
  • Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time. Be happy other people find happiness or fulfillment; it is good for others to succeed, do well, find joy. It doesn’t take away from your joy, nor does it mean you have to become that person to find it.
  • It’s often not about you. Don’t make it so.

Now to the next 40 things to learn!!!

 

at the meeting. for chris.

I shoved my face with crappy chocolate during the meeting tonight.

Crappy, stale hersheys and rolos hard as pebbles and I’m pretty sure

I consumed the paper cupping the reeces, in my haste, in my eagerness to

erase what I found out today, that you, they wrote, “passed away.” Usually, I text

you, whether you’re just listening in or sitting next to me; you make me laugh

and I have to pretend I’m coughing.

I didn’t pay attention to your coughs.

I am angry. I did not know you had any chance of waning. Your oxygen tanks

got heavy, it seemed, grew empty too soon, arrived too late, but still, you

never said you were close to running out. I want to ask you about this, right

now.

They want to pass another resolution; this time, about you. I want to hear

your reaction to that one.

I sit and listen, sort of, and there’s no one to chortle with, no one who gets

the ridiculousness, who can share my angst. Motions, seconds,

minutes, memos, sorrow, rage. And we never got drinks. Never

met each other’s wives. It was always going to happen, soon, right?

They still don’t really get why we’re here, Chris. I still don’t understand

what the point is, if any of this is worth it. We sit and argue and debate

and struggle to communicate, shuffle papers, take notes, slug coffee, pretend

we know what we’re talking about. Try to take change seriously. Try not to

take ourselves too seriously. Give up, hold strong, give in, stay put? Hard

to say what really matters, in the end. What is right, and true, and good.

And to what end? Yours? I spend the night waiting for you to arrive

somehow. I scribble on the agenda items and crumple the silvery wrappers

and then it’s over and we had a moment of silence and it was a big

empty hole and you weren’t in it, and then we are adjourned, to meet

again, to meet again without you, on paper, and with our

well-intentioned resolution to remember your laugh, your cough,

the precious rasp of every last breath that we catch

for just enough to love it, and that is, must be, enough. But

you know, it really isn’t.

Yoga Jealousy

In yoga class, the lady in front of me can stretch her leg up in the air and close to her ear, performing Bird of Paradise like she’s got feathers or something. She folds over her outstretched legs and touches the ground. She manages a bind I struggle to find. Her balance is impeccable, and I am quivering, falling, and – yes, shooting her mean looks.

But, it’s yoga class, and it’s a class focused on community, and how we’re supposed to be energetically HELPING each other through the practice, and I’m supposed to enjoy this process without judgment, of myself or others.

I am full of judgment. Of myself and others. Totally.

Taking Notice of My Ego

BUT – I notice it. I take note.

I notice an older woman on the other side of the room. Her twist barely exists, and I puff up a bit because I am more limber and can shove myself further than she can. I feel sorry for her. I forgive her for her saggy inflexibility. I feel good about myself for my own magnanimity.

I notice how ego-centric these feelings are. I notice how I automatically resent people who seem “better” than me – prettier, more confident, better yogis, better at life. Even the yoga teacher’s warm honey insights as she leads the class, which I love, which I benefit from, remind me that I am not her, and the thought is: I could be her, I could be someone who mattered, but I am not.

All this competition – why? What am I wanting? To be all these other people? To be the best? To only be around people who are worse at things than me? REALLY???

The worst part about this line of thinking is that I think of myself as hating the “bad” people – the privileged, annoying, shallow, blonde, stupid, spoiled girls – and loving the good people – the homeless, impoverished, old, disabled folks with bald spots and bad skin.And that has made me CONGRATULATE myself. As if I am somehow HOLY because of that.

But I am not holy. I am an egotistical chump. I just feel lesser than the ‘bad people,’ insecure and judged by and rejected by and lacking in their presence. Around the “good people,” I come out looking, smelling, seeming pretty good.

Good vs. Bad Guys, Liberal-Christian Style

This is a pitfall I’ve seen in well-meaning, liberal churches I’ve belonged to – who believe they are champions of the  poor and disenfranchised, but really have fallen into the Noble Savage-esque trap of as idealizing ourselves as their benefactors – as demonstrated in the desire to give them money but not really have them next to us in the pews. That, and a tendency to demonize the rich and privileged – the problem being that it’s the same pattern of “us vs. the other” and “good vs. bad” and judging others and doing so based on externalities that us good guys detest in the people we think of as bad. So – I caution those who are proud of their Good Works, or who think they are the Good Guys. We are, all of us, bad and good, and, ultimately on the same side, and glorifying a person because they are underprivileged and demonizing someone because they are privileged is just as bad as the reverse, especially when doing so is all about stroking your own ego and not about loving others at all!

Turning Over Rocks, then Leaves

Wow. I hate it when I realize stuff like this about myself. Turning over the rock – finding the ugly mold growing there.

We were bending forward, standing up, balancing on one foot, sweat in my eyes. And I allowed myself to believe that the girl in front of me with rubberband limbs could actually be a wonderful, worthy, lovely person, loved by God as much as I am, and I let her, in my mind, be as awesome at yoga as she was, while allowing that I am me, however I am, and we need everyone in this world, in every spot level they are, and it’s ok, and I wish her no harm.

My heart expanded from its tight, knuckled fist.

It was gripping so tight to hating her, to hating myself.

Loving her, I felt love for myself. (It’s amazing how intimately connected to the two directions of love are!)

Forgiveness for me for not being perfect.

We all want and deserve love. Even the blonde skinny girls who can do handstands effortlessly.

Live the Life You Love? Is that Right?

I’m sure somewhere someone has written a thesis paper on the conversation that takes on our cars – you know, the way we talk to each other through bumper stickers.

Many of them say, plainly, “this is my identity,” “this is something I like,” or “I support x.”

Others shout at you. Some offer unsolicited advice in the form of platitudes. Some make bad jokes. Some get snarky. Many declare a position or political stance – as if you asked.

Some bumpers host a veritable sticker wallpaper. These people always look like they have so much to say and are sorry the canvas for their expression is as small as it is. Other cars have one bumper sticker, and I always think, Wow, you are boring.

Some bumper stickers arouse anger, others a chortle, rolled eyes, disgust.

I mean, there’s a lot to analyze here, right?

Anyway, Friday the bumper sticker that stuck on the dashboard of my brain admonished me to LIVE THE LIFE YOU LOVE.

Why not “love the life you live,” I silently asked the person in the car. And I thought about how those two phrases represent a constant battle I have inside my head between the two approaches to life: Either find peace, acceptance, be open to, aware of, and go with the flow of how things are, OR Follow your bliss, your heart, your passion, your sense of justice and work to change the world, your life, your relationships, your community for the better.

Image: Fat Buddha dueling with a stick-figure Jesus. Buddha’s weapon – a flower. Jesus – a sword. Both of them full of love and compassion for the world. Both of them significantly changing the world. And people on the sidelines arguing about who changed it for the better (the Crusades don’t help out Jesus’ side, for instance).

Of course, no one really wins this battle, and neither phrases or approaches wins me totally, either. Are they two sides of the same coin? Are they spokes on a wheel, revolving? What I imagine, actually, is a seesaw – once I put all my weight in one camp, I sink – and have to move to the other side. And I keep going back and forth and never settling on either. But then it turns out it was a fun ride. (I really miss seesaws, FYI.)

I get worried that I don’t have a single mantra to follow. I pick one path and it is just not enough so I pick another. And then I’m just walking in circles.

But on the other hand, I don’t think one mantra can cut it. You can’t slice the baby in half.

Both are true. Both/and.

Live the life you love, and love the life you live. And repeat.

A Prayer for When I Speak Without Thinking (poem)

oh mother, mother goddess,

why does my blood run cruel

my itch get bitchy and my crank get yanked

and the words that snake

from my mouth are thankless

and poorly wrought, combustible

idiocy, dropped without thought

of how explosive they can be –

and the trigger is pulled –

fast forward to the fragments

of trust littering the bed linens, glittering

with glass dust, the way the universe does

with dead stars – our galaxy

a gated community, constantly

busted up by the undesirable

characters from the neighborhoods

of the past – at least, these ghosts

feast on the order we’ve stashed, graze

on the joy we’ve hoarded here, hoping

to have enough to last –

am i so lazy, so lousy

at boundaries, so clumsy

with my good intentions, that i yank

the sweetness out from under

her feet, and say sorry, and repeat,

bruising the blessed

with my sarcastic remarks and my dour

self-pity, as effective as perforated

safety glasses – my heart is defended

but my love is upended, and the black

holes extend their unwelcome invitations

to get utterly distended, right there on

the front lawn, easy as a lemonade stand –

disaster is so inexpensive,

so easily dispensed,

and disorder is what makes the world

unfurl and get busy with creating

new life – entropy and heat

and chaos increase – and the fractious

lashes of my tongue and the light –

i don’t know how i will not crash

this – but i beg of you, mother, to

put this right –

to still at least my inner resistance –

may i speak with sweetness, even

when i am angry and afraid

of abandonment, when my ego

feels too grand for her britches

and i fight with the bitchiness

of someone whose grief

has turned a puddle of bitterness –

can you give me this one

relief? a palate of peace

so that i can not hurt

anymore the one whom i adore

and for whom i would sell several

planets for, subdivisions of asteroids –

oh mother, turn my rash

rages into soft pages

where poems populate

graciousness, and i will no longer

crack the habitat

of our inner spaces –

bring us peace, give your grace,

may your light shine upon this face –

and live deep in my brain, purifying

everything that my lips release –

so that love will ascend, increase, spin

with the unceasing diligence

of the sun –

Heading for the Hills

 

I remember watching myself cry

in the mirror, the blue tears crowd

my lashes, dive. Devastated, fascinated by

this thing called sorrow

erupting with the cold rough scrape

of an earthquake birthing a mountain, the tough

break of the landscape as you know it, paths

stirred and fir trees, green

as faith, shaken. I am not

my thoughts, intones the monk. Watch them float

away. From the mirror, thin

on my slim trailer door, I  followed

my own gaze; without flinching

or fighting, I watched

every miserable thing grab a bag and run from me,

dragging the dense, damaged roots

that were meant to hold and keep and last

toward the new and hostile hills

of another person’s country.

 

 

What to Do With My Life

My internal struggle has ALWAYS been: What To Do With My Life.

Since I can remember practicing plays at 3 years old, I remember feeling that I was Called by God and that my duty was to measure up to this by using my talents for good, making the most of my life, not wasting anything given to me, and becoming the Amazing Person I’d been set up to be.

But then there was also the twin sense that started small and dense but spread and threaded through the rest of it – school, plays, conversions, adventures, college, grad schools, publishing poems, singing in a band, getting jobs, scrounging around career websites, seeking career counseling over and over – the sense that I was utterly FAILING.

At 10, 15, 22, 25, 30, 35 – I couldn’t decide what to do, what I wanted to do, what I was meant to do, what I should do, what I could do, and the years piled on top of me like a mountain of fat, sweaty hogs in the mud.

At times, I felt lured by Inspirational Speakers to Find Myself and set fire to expectations and limits and just jump off a cliff and take risks and Go For It! But I didn’t really know what to go for. What the right thing was.

Other moments, I attempted to lower my sights, abandon ambition, slice off my ego’s desire for achievement, and just practice mindfulness and being ordinary and simple and washing spoons with awareness and leaving my fate to the Fates to figure out. But then this felt lazy, and like giving up.

I seriously pursued or dreamt about becoming:

  • an ordained minister (started application process, etc.)
  • a middle school english teacher (got into a program, took classes, etc.)
  • a poet/professor (graduated w/an mfa)
  • a writer – getting poems and stories published
  • a lawyer (studied for LSAT)
  • a web designer (took some classes)
  • a travel writer (took a class)
  • a counselor (seriously researched how to)

I’ve thought vaguely about teaching yoga to kids, becoming a meditation teacher, teaching creative writing at prisons and to at-risk kids, starting a school, starting my own magazine, running for office, being a massage therapist, starting my own church, earning money as a motivational speaker. I’ve earned money doing plays about sexual assault prevention. I was the lead singer in a rock band. Or could I sell real estate? Open a bookstore coffee shop? Do stand up?

And then there was Survival – Having a Job. I’ve ended up doing web writing and editing, marketing copywriting, some teaching, website optimization and organization and online analytics.

And I’ve hated it. Not the work itself, always; just the job-iness of the job. A friend once told me I should be like her pal who just roams the world teaching Nia. A relative said I should be a theater teacher at a high school. My coworkers watch me doing yoga in my cubicle or drawing swirls on my analytics reports and day dreaming during meetings with skepticism.

I’ve felt indecisive and on the wrong path, and like nowhere have I really gone all in and succeeded or excelled, and I am turning 40 next Tuesday, and I am struggling with the sense that I have nothing to show for all this Time, not only for all I was given at birth, but for all the struggling I’ve done since then.

I did not make it to Amazing. I am not even solidly, sufficiently ordinary. I’m just wonky. I’m too eccentric to do well at the Normal Job, but I’m too responsible for my family and too under-talented to jettison the job for anything else. I’m just a mess. I haven’t followed in the steps of Hemmingway or Mary Oliver and woken up everyday to write poetry at the crack of dawn – and I haven’t really honed my skills at anything. I’m a professional amateur at everything I’ve done. I’ve skimmed surfaces. I haven’t taken deep dives and gone all in. And the sense of regret strangles me into even more stasis.

And angst. Gritty, toothy, angst.

And exhaustion. I’m tired of being dissatisfied and self-centered and grandiose and ridiculous. So I have tried to hold precious and be grateful for the moments when someone reads a poem they enjoy, or when I organize something well, produce a nice report, help someone at work, hear that the organizations I work with have lightened someone’s burden a little. Then I feel like I’ve made use of myself, at least a little, and I hope that that is enough. And I have so much to be grateful for – not achievements, exactly, but my lovely, dear family, my home, my habitat – for a child without roots, this is amazing. This is the year 40 and I am lucky and blessed to inhabit it.

I may not be amazing, but the world I live in is.

And then today I found something I wrote in 2010… and I am reminded that there is grace… and I think, Ok, Amy Sarah Marshall, stop this hangdog mess and remember what you told yourself five years ago:

all my life i was waiting

for god to call me and all along

the still, small

voice inside me

was waiting for

me to listen —

not to do

anything miraculous

and grand other than

the simple task

of being here,

part of the world –

what will i do

with my life, i kept

asking in agony —

and meanwhile

i was alive

and doing things

Meditating

Meditating. Staring at the scraggly dandelion spiking up from the grass, one the kids missed in their efforts to fulfill the chore given to them of scissoring away all the dandelions and weeds in the front yard.

My mind chatters.

I think about accepting what is, letting go of what is not, a line from the Tao te Ching that I’ve often included in my daily prayers/meditations and used to calm my various anxieties and griefs.

I like how Taoist meditation is moving. You learn how to move with what happens in life. Not just sit out, like vipassana, or lovingkindness meditation, or just plain meditation, like I’m trying to do now. Go with the flow. The only thing is, tai chi makes me think of old people with bad joints and those canvas shoes and Chinese music. I’m not a fan of Chinese music. But it is good to sit here. To hear the birds, feel the wood of the porch, listen to the annoying screech of metal coming from the neighbor’s house. To know that I am one with all these things, not separate, accepting all these things because there is no refusing anything, I am not a separate being in the cafeteria line, deciding what to put on my tray or not. It is all on my tray.

It’s weird to think I’m one with the wood. It is inanimate. What is the meaning of the word “animation”? I wonder if someone somewhere thinks wood is animate. I think about how my neighbor making the annoying metal screeching sound (what the hell is she doing) had her husband tell my kids, playing on the tree swing, to stop laughing so loud one evening, because she wanted to read her book in silence. She is not the most loveable person you’ll ever meet. She has big teeth. One day I asked her what she was reading and it was a New Age book and she owns a shop with a lot of colored glass objects in it, lots of breakable things. It is not a store for children. I wonder if she will notice I am meditating and think better of me for it and not be so quick to want my kids to shut up.

I sit like the Buddha,

I walk like Lao-tzu,

I love like Jesus…

no, no… not quite it… I think like the Buddha? Move like Lao-tzu?

I sit like a Buddhist,

Worship as a Christian,

Aspire to be live as a Taoist…

I run over these stupid variations. Then I think, there’s no goddess in this litany. What do I do like a goddess? Kali’s death-driven face pops up and I think, not that goddess. Ama, the Hindu lady who says she’s the goddess incarnated? She’s loving,t oo. Can’t say I love like Jesus and her.

I think, this is not going anywhere, and I am not meditating, I am thinking. Monkey mind. Get that monkey off my back. Coming down like a monkey. Monkey in the middle. Monkey see monkey do.

I love gorillas.

I can’t ever come up with a single mantra or prayer or statement of faith that sums up neatly how I feel about all these spiritual paths, how I practice them, what I like about each, or dismiss. I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. I want one single line, if possible, to live by. I love when you watch a profile of a famous, successful person, and they have one credo they follow. One liners for the tomb, for the title of their memoir.

I cannot narrow anything down to one line.

This feels agonizing to me.

And I’m still thinking myself into a heart-wound knot.

I can’t control things. I Can’t Control Things! I realize I am always trying to control things. I’ve realized a lot of Truths about myself, but I’ve never thought this before, it seems. What a relief to give up trying to Be Better, Live Better, Improve Myself. Maybe all that effort is actually getting in my own way. I think how this has been the best weekend I’ve had in a long, long time, and not because I tried to force it to be that way. It just happened. It was peaceful and relaxing. Not because it wasn’t active and busy, but because of the lack of striving and attempt to control.

I try to control people, too, as a way to “help” them.

Can’t make my partner different. Or my kids. Or myself. Or the time and place and circumstance I am in now. I mean, I can change things and make choices and such, but I can only do that in the moment and going forward, not backwards, and not by just breaking out a hammer and knocking the foot in the glass slipper.

I remember the perfect present for my partner. I start thinking about where to get it.

I think about birthday parties. I think about how I want to go on a bike trip and picnic for mother’s day.

I don’t recognize the bird call.

My dog is wandering off into the neighbor’s yard, where he likes to poop and eat cat poop and nose around in the chicken poop they have in a red recycling bin to use for fertilizer. I call him back.

I breathe. I try to come back to myself, to this moment, to feeling my breath. I am aware that I am not paying attention, but I’m also feeling whole and good and peaceful. I think about people suffering in Syria. And Baltimore. I think about Evil in the World and how it is not separate either, and how having peace now, I am accessing peace we all can access, instead of evil, and I think that maybe I can wish peace for everyone suffering, but it feels futile, but what else can I do? If we are all connected, then me choosing to feel and practice peace is all I can do. It is something.

I am typing this out, and there is a chicken somewhere, I think that’s what it is, laughing like a crazy baby, who is half-weeping, who is maybe like that baby getting dug out from the packed dust of a building that fell on him during an earthquake. The baby is half out, relieved to be rescued, but still just fed up from being stuck and immobile and alone, he rubs his dusty eyes and weeps into the back of his hand, like an old man.

I hope that’s a chicken.

I am so lucky to be alive. I didn’t make it happen, this being alive thing. It just did, and I am here, completely not of my own doing. I am so blessed.

I ask Jesus to help my heart to stay open, to feel love in the tug of sorrow.

I ask Tara to embolden me.

I open myself up, turn myself inside out, to the world here, and wonder what it will do with me next.

easter beats (poem)

1. Cracks open like an egg and makes faces at you –

a sinister rabbit and the dangling limbs of the lamb

the lamb whose blood expunges the sin

the sin that chocolate gives you in

the in, the out, the constant spin

spinning the gold that bends until it’s cold.

2.

It’s cold, Easter morning, usually.

I hate the pastels sheathing the goosebumps,

the pouts shining with sugar. That dead

feeling, when you’ve ripped off the head of

the chocolate bunny and you stare down

into the hollow. That remains.

That always remains.

3. I did not get what I wanted. Sure, the angel of death kept

her teeth retracted. We lived. But all the blood left

our house. We sleep in clean, undisturbed sheets.

There is no agony. The eggs on the mantle stand still

and sturdy as concrete, whole

and white, uncrackable.

4. Have you forgotten

I am fragile? You don’t believe it. The wind

sprays gravel in our eyes, spits salt into our hair

and the moon pours her skin into the sky

and the shredded light is red and unbelievably bright.

I am tearing myself apart for you, because

I don’t want you to see me as judge or threat. Dig

your hands into my flesh and see, I’m real, I bleed,

and I need for you to feel it. Feel your own fleeting

breath, receding.

5. The forsythia scream.

Louder, louder than the daffodils, who

crowd in clumps, a huddle of new trumpets.

The thickening scent of the hyacinth. A bottle

of bubbles, a pinwheel, a kite: Not subtle, signs

of lightness and whirling life.

6. A tisket, a tasket, I lost my little basket, I gathered

the hidden hopes and then misplaced them. They were

all in there, every humpty dumpty idiocy, left to spoil

in the sun. Don’t cry over spilt yolk. Life ain’t fun.

That you could ever keep it together for long? A joke.

7. Dear Jesus, I like to think that if you were invited to

an easter egg hunt you would laugh your ass off. But you

wouldn’t turn down a free creme egg, either. You’d hang

out on the soccer field, glittering with discarded foil, your

bare feet tickled by a plastic-wrapped

Peep. People would think you were a little creepy, but

the kids would lead you to their favorite tree and put a

candy necklace around your neck and get you to help them

climb and swing. You’d be into it.

8. Dear Mom, underwear and socks, really?

9. The moon breaks, the sun cracks, the morning

is born. The children are safe, the christ is risen,

the wind kicks up the winter’s trash, we’re

shaking off the season’s disaffection. Climbing out

of our tombs, our caves, our rooms, staleness.

But will we be reborn? Stab

deep into the meat of the mud and don’t be afraid

of the stains that it makes on your jeans – we are not

evergreen. Not everything gets resurrected, saved. The

rapacious sweetness, the robins downing worms,

the children gutting the rubber-pink eggs  – let it all

fall apart so it can sing again, bury our love

as deep as you can and grab me, hold onto me,

don’t let me dissolve into the air, neat and clean

and gone.