March 24, 2011
I don't know whether I'm hiding or God is hiding. Even my dreams are no longer vivid.
I sit on the mat, swollen. The gray outside, the white crystals that have appeared during the night, have embedded themselves in my water-filled cells. I'm letting them. I tell myself to feel something, to not just sit there, but I'm depleted. The ego wants some striking images, some blooming, Plath-like similes. What? I'm pushing now and I don't even know if the baby exists. Here in the middle of these artificial chemical proceedings, I can't call God's name and mean it. So I picked up Pema Chodrin's book because I didn't know what else to do:
Being able to lighten up is the key to feeling at home with your body, mind, and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet. For example, you can hear the slogan “Always maintain only a joyful mind” and start beating yourself over the head for never being joyful. That kind of witness is a bit heavy. This earnestness, this seriousness about everything in our lives- including practice- this goal-oriented, we're going-to-do-it-or-else attitude, is the world's greatest killjoy. There's no sense of appreciation because we're so solemn about everything. In contrast, a joyful mind is very ordinary and relaxed. So lighten up. Don't make such a big deal.
I've recently started reading The Bell Jar again for inspiration and what I've realized about the writing is how fresh it is, how honest. Plath was a pusher like me, she had a lot of self loathing. But in this book, she lets all that go; she's just her human self. You get a sense that the book is being written as you read it, it's so fresh.
So what do I do, I go back and read my own writing. I look for the stiff, jilted sentences, the contrivances. And I just let them be. Maybe I will have insight later on and change them. Maybe I won't.
Pema Chodrin says this about that locked up feeling of push:
When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Your serious state of mind keeps getting popped (when you do). In addition to a sense of humor, a basic support for a joyful mind is curiosity, paying attention, taking an interest in the world around you... We are so locked into this sense of burden-Big Deal Joy and Big Deal Unhappiness- that it's sometimes helpful just to change the pattern. Anything out of the ordinary will help. You can go to the window and look at the sky, you can splash cold water on your face, you can sing in the shower, you can go jogging- anything that's against your usual pattern. That's how things start to lighten up.
It doesn't take much; just a small change. Yesterday I changed my yoga routine, input alternate asanas. My mind said, “What's this?” and there was an opening, a lightness. I was curious about that opening, what could exist there.
March 25, 2011
Yesterday I went to my acupuncture appointment and lay on the table with needles in my scalp and belly and feet. I felt so relaxed, I fell asleep. This has never happened to me before, this falling asleep in a public place. Ok, it happened once in Boston, down by the docks, listening to the lapping water against the rocks; I was comfortable in my own skin. Anyway, it happened again and I felt like time tricked me. Sometimes it's a good thing when you feel like time has tricked you. Then I went home and tried to recreate that...trance, I fell asleep and dreamt about shopping for turtlenecks with holes in them and being back at high school and not able to find my classes. The bells ring and I'm late; I don't know where I'm going, when I have math class, if I have an art class. Old classmates from different schools haunt me, open lockers, put away their gym clothes. I wear sunglasses; I think, maybe, I am a boy. I feel sick to my stomach. I try to be cool. When I wake up, I'm sweating. I felt like I just had a workout. This is supposed to be rest? So how long is this going to last, this restless, searching, wondering...Probably until the pregnancy test.
March 26, 2011
They show us a portrait
of four mystic cells.
In a sterile room,
I am the showcase,
the Diva in blue.
But we're all blue
with blue pants and
blue shirts and blue
antiseptic, joyless creatures.
You sit there harboring regrets
as a man's hands shake
between my thighs.
I squirm and bite, taste
sharp, metallic edges.
I count pressures
in hidden places.
A boy-faced man mutters
I grab your hand,
the only skin on skin
in the room.
I am lukewarm water and wood,
a taut wire of entrails
I am a reservoir
a deluge on a forgotten town.
Then, we see them.
Pixels on the screen.
A flash of ethereal white.
Perfect, someone says.
March 27, 2011
This morning, lounging in bed, I picked up a Globe magazine on my night table from a few weeks ago and casually flipped through it. I found this article in Perspectives: “Why Lent Must Rise Again.” I was intrigued so I read it. Then I became inflamed. Here is my response:
Dear Mr. MacDonald,
I want to first thank you for your eloquent, intuitive, thought-provoking article “Why Lent Must Rise Again.” After I read it I went through various emotions, guilt, first, frustration, sympathy, but then a deeper part of me kicked into gear. Let me note here firstly, how I too admire the Muslims for their respect of Ramadan; I wholly agree with your definition of self denial and sacrifice used to cultivate humility and compassion. And yes, I applaud you for putting into print how “corporate merchandisers...spend more and more year-round to quench unquenchable desires.” You ask “How did Christianity's most serious season become a joke in this supposedly religious country?” and answer “We let desire become our master, and desire has no use for sacrifice.” This, however, is the short answer.
After I read your article, I took my dog for a long walk, as I do every Sunday morning, and contemplated why we, as Americans have let desire become our master; why we do not take lent seriously. The long answer is that we American Christians do not take Christianity seriously and there's a strong argument why.
It begins with our founding fathers, specifically Franklin and Jefferson who sided with the thinkers of the enlightenment and opted for reason, meritocracy, and the separation of church and state. They knew, as we have all come to know, that Nature has laws that govern the universe. By reason, we understand these laws. We Americans have our roots in reason, invention and science. We value education, as you intimated in your last paragraph. We have come through slavery and the subjugation of woman. We, as educated people cannot deny (well, some of us cannot deny) the evidence of natural selection and evolution. We have witnessed the hypocrisy by way of sex scandals in both the Catholic and Protestant churches.
I am no different than other Americans who have had my share of church shopping. I have been raised a Catholic, have left the church, went back, left again. I have attended Nazarene and born again Christian services, as well as Episcopalian masses. I have been to monasteries, Jewish temples, and meditation centers. I have had every intention of reading the Bible from cover to cover in hopes of communing with its words but could not make it through Genesis and who was what son of whom. I know the stand up, sit down, kneel routine of the Catholic church like the back of my hand and the liturgical stories have become as worn as an old shoe. Indeed there are impassioned and gifted ministers who give new life to these old, old stories but these are few and far between. What I am saying to you, what I am saying to anyone who will listen, is where is Christianity for the thinking man and woman? Many Americans are befuddled. Without a strong sense of spiritual self, the corporate merchandisers step in and exploit the vulnerable. We take on new gods.
What we need is a Christian spiritual enlightenment directed toward the thinking Christians. The first step to organizing a spiritual enlightenment is defining where the central text, the Bible stands. It is still considered blasphemous in many Christian religions to say the Bible is anything but the word of God. And yet there are many of us who have trouble believing God fashioned woman from a rib, warming to its overtly patriarchal tone and its condonations of slavery, its preoccupation with sin and torture, among other outdated aberrations. Why are we continuously avoiding these issues? Why has there not been a thoughtful revision of this text?
I think we can agree there are no Christian prophets walking this earth. There are preachers, but no prophets. They are in the past, as well, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this letter. We have no one to guide us but ourselves. This is why we must look inward. This is why the tenets of Buddhism and meditation are entirely applicable. Fasting and lenten practice fall in line with these tenets. However in order “to grow in character and compassion by walking in their ancestor's footprints,” Christians must see Christianity in a new light. We must start incorporating who we are and what we know into our Christianity, now. Buddhism tenets alone will not do for the thinking Christian; Christ is what makes us Christian: his birth, his life, his resurrection. Let us notice how nature mimics his life, how the stars shine brightest during the darkest night of the year, how spring gloriously calls his name with every apple blossom. Why must creationism and evolution be two different isms? Why must we relate to God in a mythical story and not the miracle of cells and DNA code? Where else in the Universe have we known these things to be true? We can speculate all we want, but as of now the answer is nowhere. Why can we not begin with these ideas? If we include Buddhism practices in our new spiritual enlightenment, let us also include transcendentalism.
I am not alone when I choose the ambiguous “Spiritual” category for my religion, when prompted. I get more out of reading John Polkinghorne, Rilke's The Book of Hours, and the Christian mystics than I do listening to the liturgy in a church. As of now, I sit alone on my mat in meditation and can only speak God's name. That's as far as I've gotten with my own spiritual enlightenment. I am starting at the very beginning. The problem now is community.
I wonder if there are others out there doing the same thing.