It started with a lump in the throat,
the dog’s throat, to be exact. Lying
in the cool grass beneath the spent lilac,
I rubbed her neck and found it. Like a grape,
it rolled between my fingers. Cyst, I thought.
At the vet, a week later, it had grown pillow
like and the size of a coin purse. Nothing
to do but love her, which is easy as breathing,
but heavier now. The place in my chest where my heart
hangs beating out its life song
feels like a sack of cement. All the muscles
in my body slack and heavy. Outside,
she lies Sphinx-like between the Mock
Orange and Ponderosa Pine, the best
place to survey her domain. Thunder rumbles,
and somewhere, rain falls on the distant mountains
slaking the onset of drought. Like my tears
gathering in hidden places waiting to fall.
Nothing is last, nothing first.
Everything is a wheel. Here
and here and here with no room
for there. Even infinity is a loop
twisting back on itself. While dark,
also light. Up, also down. Try to mark
what ends from what starts, walk
on this spinning ball east to west
or north to south and the place you began
is also moving, like the horizon
out of reach. Stand still and ride
through the night sky that holds
the morning light. Morning,
the crescent moon hangs
like a comma in the sentence
of your life. Follow it.
In our Trillium Awakening path, we describe one of the early stages of the awakening processes as the rot, coming to the end of fixing strategies that we have followed in the hopes that we would somehow be better than we are.
We tend to dismiss the efficacy of fixing strategies because they distract us from the core wound, our existential, sense, shared by all humans, that there is something missing from or wrong with us. Instead of fixing, we focus on greenlighting, saying yes to all that is within and without, and from there, in the space that is created, we begin to integrate those aspects of ourselves that may feel wrong or bad.
The larger problem with fixing strategies comes from the word’s original and literal meaning: to fasten securely in a particular place or position. So essentially, when you try to fix yourself, you’re just keeping yourself stuck in some place from which you are ultimately trying to escape! What could be more counterproductive?
The more we focus on what we feel is wrong or missing with an aim to changing it, the more difficult we ultimately make it to accept. The more attention we bring to it, the more resistant it becomes to being integrated. Our resistance to acceptance is a kind of calcifying, we shore up the undesirable trait or conditioned response, and it gets stronger and harder to release. Attention to change underscores a deep sense that we are not okay, lovable, complete. When we try to fix ourselves, the very goal we seek gets harder and harder to achieve.
In Greek mythology, the gods are always trying to capture the human experience. Their immortality is a zero sum proposition. Nothing is ever lost, so nothing is ever gained. To be human is to be a constantly evolving mystery. When you deny the perfection of that mystery, you might as well stick your Self onto a pin and put your Self into a box as a perfectly preserved specimen. You kill off what is always emerging. Let go your desire to fix yourself, and fly free into your true and total nature.
Thanksgiving's not always the easiest holiday; there's a lot of history to consider, both personal and universal. Here's a short poem that reflects some of that.
Sometimes, the light in the morning
up over the newly snowed peaks
breaks open my heart, like a window
hit by a hammer, or an overripe
apricot. It’s a heady mixture, that,
glass shards and sweet juice running
all through my veins. You’d think it would
cut. Instead, it flows like a molten
river of lava, shimmering through my skin.
Yesterday, I stood naked in the yard
steaming from the hot tub watching the moon
tip its dark side into the empty branches,
a sliver of glimmer, like a fingernail
left to the voodoo of sky.
Beckon what lingers, unspoken, unformed,
and let its newness unfold in you
cool and comfortable as a hand
on a fevered brow. When it comes,
nothing else will matter.
Home alone this weekend while my beloved is off at the Evolutionary Collective Retreat we were both meant to attend until our dog, Padme, dislocated her hip on the way to the kennel, I’ve been following a deep imperative toward comfort. At the same time, I’ve been heavy-hearted and grieving—the missed trip, my absent beloved, and the much loved dog, eleven years old and without a serious illness in her life, undergoing her second surgery in a month to correct the effects of what appears to be a congenital defect in her hip sockets.
After I took her to the vet, I did some grocery shopping, and a sort of comfort imperative showed up. I bought a chicken to roast. When Sugandhi is here, we keep to a vegetarian diet, and chicken is not my meat of choice normally. But there they were, locally produced, organic, already dead, and emitting a vibe that said: you need me.
Late this afternoon, after some Googling, I settled on roasting the chicken with the baby potatoes I’d bought the other day, some carrots, garlic, and onion. It came back, cooking like this, even after many years. Rub with salt and refrigerate. Rub with olive oil, more salt and pepper and paprika. Put a lemon in the cavity. Toss the vegetables in oil and scatter them in the pan. Bake for 90 minutes in a hot oven.
Then came collard greens and a pumpkin pudding made from a can of sweetened organic pumpkin bought by mistake. As the scent of the chicken wafted into the house, and warm from the wood stove and the oven, the lights golden, the dog sleeping, I realized that I was making a sort of ersatz Thanksgiving feast for one.
Following that was the realization of how much I have to be thankful for. I have all these resources. Money in the bank, a warm, safe home, love, companionship, health, all undergirded by a sense of well being that allows me to feel everything that arises when and as it does. The dog is aging and our time together is growing short. I’m missing out on the retreat, and the Bay Area, and our beloveds there. It’s cold, and gray, and winter is surely coming bringing snow and ice, and the challenge of “walking” a two legged dog who is used to spending hours outdoors on her own. I’m alive. I’m awake to all that aliveness means. I’m grateful. I’m blessed. I’m here in this moment allowing it all to mingle together like scent and spice into a deep comfort. What more could I want?
with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop
How water draws it, magnet and salve.
Still water. Moving. Held. How the tide
sweeps it away, leaves the ground wet
and vulnerable to life. How the well
reflects the tunnel-sight of loss. The heart
of the river that beats over rocks that hush
and break. How a woman I did not know,
even her name, went there one winter day
with coffee and pastry and the rifle
that took away the cloying sweetness
and killing pain. I know that river.
I have sat with its shades and reedy stones
to drown my bitterness in its sounds.
It calls forth words for all that I know
I do not know. How it flows, fresh and free
to the ocean it meets, like knowing,
flowing, and flown.
Saturday, the dog dislocated her hip.
Today, the vet met two emergencies
waiting at the door. A Chihuahua hit
by a car whimpers in the distance,
then, silent in its crate going home.
My dog shivers beneath the waiting room
bench. I kiss her head, pat her chest.
It’s a simple surgery, carpentry really,
sawing and stitching. Still, she’s eleven,
old in dog years, and her aging hurts.
On the road home, sirens. First one car,
then another, then the ambulance flashing
down the roadway. Each requires me to slow
and pull over. Each delivers a soft blow
to my gut. Someone somewhere is injured.
Friends report their overwhelm with the weight
of the world. The way the body feels
living life, like a sob in the fine lines
of nerve and blood, a crying in the heart.
Everything that lives, dies. (Feel that).
Up the bumpy drive to home, the sun
strikes glass like the hammer of God,
shatters me into a thousand tender pieces.
Sometimes you come upon a book, an author, by happenstance. My partner saw a book in a giveaway pile at the library, and the title caught her attention: Our Souls at Night,by Kent Haruf. She brought it home with a pile of other books from the library, but the title caught my attention, so I picked it up and looked at it.
It’s a very slender volume and has a pleasant, somewhat benign cover. I started to read. How had I never heard of Kent Haruf before? Where had he been? Where had I? It turns out to be his last book, Ken Haruf, at 71 dying of cancer, writing about two elderly people who find each other in a small town in Colorado and in each other find solace and companionship.
There’s something about aging that tenderizes us, our hearts, and this novel about elderly people coming together in this way moved me deeply. A widowed woman approaches a neighbor, a man also widowed, and asks him if he would like to sleep with her. Just sleep. To lie together in bed at night, side by side, maybe holding hands, and talk until they sleep. It takes him aback, not surprisingly, as it took me aback, but he agrees to give it a try. Slipping secretly through the back alley to her door, he is informed that he should come to the front door. The woman is not afraid of who sees or what they might think. The novel unfolds in ways that are surprising and at the same time, given the characters and their situations, predictable. But not predictable like the outcome of a poorly conceived thriller. Predictable in the way of life’s unfolding.
Discovering Ken Haruf has been a gift of deep proportions. On the basis of Our Souls at Night, I tracked him down online and discovered that he’d written a trilogy of novels all set in the same small, fictional town in Colorado, Holt. The series contains Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, three books that follow a cast of characters across time in this small Colorado town. I started at the end, with Benediction, because it’s what the library had available. I will read my way back to the beginning, to Plainsong. It feels right, somehow, to start at the end, at the (impending) death of “Dad” Lewis, the return to town of his grown daughter , Lorraine; the Johnson women, mother and daughter; Bertha May and her orphaned granddaughter Alice. To all the heartache of being human. Of loving and losing and continuing to love. Families, stray children, the night sky, life itself.
I’m only about one third of the way into Benediction, and yet its benediction envelopes me. The plain truth about our human lives, our broken hearts, our mistakes, and our glories. Ken Haruf lived and died in Colorado under its expansive skies and soaring peaks. He wrote about the place he loved and lived. I’m so grateful for the way fate brought him to me at this time in my slowly aging life. I recommend him to you. Let him lead you into the territory of the heart with his golden prayer in your ears.
Wind is erasing the hills this morning,
blurring their lines with a white mist
of lifted snow, the northern sky
an imperturbable blue. The turmoil
of air is not its business. I kneel
before Quan Yin, her four arms
hold a lotus, the braided loop of infinity,
and two hands touch in the sign of prayer.
I contemplate the suffering in this world
and ask for relief. It blows like the wind
lifting snow. It sweeps around the earth
like a silk veil, this exhale. In and out,
breath and wind, darkness and light,
living and dying. It goes on with us
and without. These bones settle on the cushion,
in the body, compressing like the rings of trees,
rooted in the neutral, ever changing earth.