Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Surprise - and Not Surprise - of Death


This last Sunday, one of our long-term Madison Shambhala sangha members died. Fred Mather had ongoing health issues, heart ones amongst them, and so his death wasn't a surprise in a sense. Yet, of course, when we think someone might die soon and they don't, as happened a couple of times with Fred in the last few years, actual death comes as a surprise.

A friend asked today if I know how to handle death - then answered her self by saying I must, considering how many deaths I have been through. But I told her I don't really. I am not sure we ever know - she and I wondered over what "death skills" would be and how one acquires them - because each death is unique. And in addition, all the deaths I have experienced have either be traumatizing or re-traumatizing, so what I associate with death is trauma, not just grief and loss.

Friday, June 01, 2018

What is Contemplative Writing, Again?


Recently I had an experience in an online class where I found myself going off in a way different direction, while writing, than I expected. Actually, I didn't know what to expect, and I ran into a trigger - a memory which carries trauma associated with it. I made the decision to *not* write about that, and came up with this piece. The prompt was "What are birds saying?"

It helped *me* clarify some things about how contemplative writing relates to formal contemplative practices. So here, for your exploration, is the piece as I wrote it, with very little alteration.



What are the birds saying when? Immediately my mind scatters in many directions. I could write part of this memoir or that project. I could use this time to write about writing. But can I just be here, in my weekly air conditioned second floor home office, with a huge fan blowing semi-cool air around the room?             
There are no birds in here.            

Oh. Fuck.             

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Learning As Love


From the viewpoint of Earth, outer space seems so vast but full - especially in New Mexico or Colorado - the stars touching each other, crowded in the cool night air. My mind knows when we do go out into space, closer to said stars, there's actually a lot of space, further space, outer space, between the stars.

Is my mind like this? Seemingly crammed to the brim with content, commitments, inspiration. Endlessly full - a contradiction. But when I slow down enough, I see there's space between thoughts, enough room for entire breaths to come and go, and be freely witnessed without interruption. Same mind - different scope - from tele to micro and back out again. And the thoughts are not so separate from the spaces between them, though when my mind is agitated, my thoughts seem completely unconnected to a quiet background of existing and peace.

***

This week has been filled to overflow with IBS. This chronic condition - which I've had for over 28 years, and only really known how to work with in the the last ten years or so - is all-consuming when it sets in. I lose a lot of perspective - my focus shifts to the so-called "large" intestine, which suddenly seems too narrow for what needs to pass through it. In the last couple of years, I've found if I can recognize the IBS ASAP and begin the protocols I know work - hypnosis, restricted diet, supplements, massage, heat - it usually passes in 24 hours or so. Usually. But this last week has been tight - time and energy crammed with classes, returns from travels, etc - and I didn't really give it enough space. It all backed up to a critical point last Saturday, when it became apparent I had to cancel everything and begin again.

But by last Sunday, after a day and night of careful eating, no work, napping, and overall resting my nervous system, it wasn't gone. I had to keep adjusting - keep flattening open field of expectations, irritation, space, and time - so things could move along in their own time. I found some new massage points and they helped. I took a new supplement - which helped too much at first, and eventually, after 48 hours of intense stuckness (this after a few days of discomfort), my intestines were re-calibrated again, more or less. Until yesterday, when it started all over again.

***

I have been making my own semi-abstract drawings lately to color, as I haven't found coloring books that fill my needs, and I am getting more patient with my own drawing (lack of skill) level. Yesterday, I got the idea to draw my small and large intestines from a medical rendering. It felt good, healing, to look closely at this mystery zone that has caused me so much pain in the last few decades. In some ways, I have numbed myself to my digestive system - dissociation out of irritation, struggle, fear of pain - and it feels as foreign to me as outer space. Drawing my intestines helped me better map - literally - where my pain tends to arise and see it with my mind's eye. It created the paradoxical experience of both getting more distance from my illness - seeing the whole system as if watching the Milky Way from an unclouded clear camp site - and also an intimate proximity - a contour map of convoluted pathways I have actually felt quite closely.

A perfect balance - a place to rest my mind that seems connected but spacious.

***

Over time, as I age and certain conditions don't go away, or get worse, or new ones appear, I increase my curiosity about this wildly singular and somewhat unknowable body. I find it a combination of uncategorizable felt sense experiences - simply feeling sensations as sensations, whether painful or pleasurable - and cracking open anatomy books, watching videos, learning about how all the systems in the body work,  or change their working. This curiosity has been mainly satisfied by non-western, non-allopathic approaches – Traditional Chinese Medicine, somatic experiencing, and the like. But good old-fashioned anatomy satisfies the intellectual, detail-oriented mind, like mannequins with their stomachs cut open, revealing color-coded livers and kidneys. I stay connected to my own expanse by exploring the vast unknowableness of my body– the electrical currents it creates and runs on, the automatic and autonomic systems–as well as the intellectual desire to learn the names of parts I can literally put my fingers on.

***

I have always held such curiosity about the psyche – which is even more invisible – but it feels like the psyche is not separate from the body. Just as how these words aren't separate from the page, and stars are not separate from space. What if the intimacy of learning could help more of us to feel deeply connected, to express and experience care towards our ailing bodies, which are bound to be in pain at one time or another?

And what if being curious in this way could help us learn to love learning about race, about gender, about all the other socially-constructed-but-really-experienced aspects of our individual lives? This, too, I remain curious about - how to cultivate curiosity where before I have mainly contracted in fear - whether its exploring my own chronic illness, or witnessing someone else describe being the receiver of a bias I know nothing about. The patience and kindness of staying present as much as possible, then the dedication to study and explore on our own, when we can, so we can express our love of our bodies and each other through forms of curiosity and learning that don't exasperate the suffering more.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

How to Survive Mother's Day


A)  
Having a mother

1.    Be grateful you were born. No matter how much she angered, angers, or will anger you, find a granule of gratitude under there. Maybe it’s buried, under rage, or worry, or loss. But some part of your brilliant being knows you came out of someone’s womb. For now, there’s no other way to be born.  The transmen who have given birth are important but rare exceptions: fathers with wombs. In any case you were born from a body, not a test tube. Thank that body in some way, even if only in your heart, and not to the person who occupied/occupies the body from which you were born.
2.    If your mother is absent – mentally/emotionally/physically, or dead – mark that. If you never met your birth mother – you were adopted, or fostered, or she died in childbirth, even if you love your adopted mother, there still can be a lot of loss on this day. Acknowledge its effect on you. Maybe recognizing Mother’s Day often feels more like jealousy of other people’s seemingly normal or even healthy relationships with their moms. Share with someone, or ones, you trust, how hard it is for you. Make a new normal: if you share your struggles, others will, too, and we can break to delusion that mothering is somehow easy, and being mothered is somehow simple.
3.    Maybe you have two or more mothers – raised by a cackle of witches, or lesbian couple. Or an aunt, or stepmother, or godmother, or family friend feels more like a mother to you. Try to thank as many mothers as you have had, at least in your heart.
4.    Gratitude can contain multitudes. Gratitude doesn’t mean forgiveness, or ignoring all prior harm. It just means in this moment, you recognize the value of others giving and sustaining your life. That simple. That hard.

B)  Being a mother

5.     Being a mother is the entirely most under-appreciated job/role in this world, to this day and beyond. Thank yourself for taking on. Don’t expect anyone else to pamper you, or thank you. Nurture yourself best you can today.
6.     If you were a mother but… you lost a child, or they are grown up and a longer around, or they are teenagers and seem to hate you - know you still have mother in you. You have mothered, even if only in your womb. So feel these mother part or parts, and respect and appreciate her/them, even if only by you, even if only for moment.
7.    If you were not recognized as a mother, but you’re still mother see number six.

8.    If you are mother with a living mother, you’re in a very peculiar and precious position. You see all the ends of motherhood intertwined, an ouroboros of birth and death, of offering, honoring, and rejecting. Trying to get bigger than the whole, to hold it for yourself, for your mother, for your child/children. If you can’t, don’t judge yourself; hold the knot of where you are like a paradox or puzzle.

9.     If you are a grandmother, thank yourself at least twice, sincerely. Really. You’re in the bonus round, but that doesn’t make things easier. You’re still mother, only now a mother of a mother. Mothering a mother is a hell of a job.

 

C)  Not Being a Mother


 10. You don’t have children, you didn’t have children. You don’t identify with motherhood.

        Celebrate the women who do identify with motherhood and you are doing it. Especially the

        women you see doing it well – friends, coworkers, cousins, celebrities, even. If only in your  

        heart, let the extra space of non-mothering you can offer hold the impossible whole of  

       motherhood for others.

11. If you are a man, a father or not, give the mothers you know lots of leeway today. As much as you can. Recognize your mother. Mourn that you will never mother, if you feel that grief, if you plan to stay man.

 

D)  All the Rest

If you’ve read this far in the piece and are thinking: How dare she tell me what to do!, or you don’t see yourself reflected in it – please, I beg of you, make your own instructions. There are as many ways to survive mothering, mothers, and Mother’s Day, as there are children. And we were all children, once. We were all born from someone, directly from the womb: by C-section or live birth; breech, or head first; just-in-time, too early, too late. Someone held us in a womb for a long time, even if they didn’t know how to mother us after we were born, or seemed not to care, or fucked up. So make up your own playbook. If you do, share it and encourage others to do the same, too. Because no matter what the patriarchy says, we don’t see or hear from mothers or about mothers enough. And this is the day for that. 


 

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Rage Running


Last night was a tough one. I was at the tail end of my period - the day when, after nothing happens for 24 hours, suddenly I am bleeding harder than any other previous day. The aches are deep, twisting my uterus in a spiral that grabs at all local muscles - intestines especially.

It’s been a week of bumping up against men, patriarchy, sexism, misogyny. In all kinds of ways, some subtle, but mostly explicit. I keep finding it in my interactions with men, and embodied deeply in the women I know and interact with. I have the great fortune to listen to 28+ stories a week - 28+ people sharing whatever is in and on their minds at any given moment. In addition to classes, it just so happens this last week, I heard and read a lot of difficulty, abuse, rape; or obliviousness about those incidents. It’s fatiguing, exhausting, actually, and I’ve needed a lot of naps to restore my sanity and energy; that it should all parallel my period seems perfect in some ways.

Last night it all hit a peak. A few messages cumulated into one hour, and I hit the wall. I went to TRE, I went to writing, to meditation, to walking in between thunderstorms and seeing a gorgeous and dramatic sunset. But it was clear none of these things were going to dissipate the energy I needed to expel safely.