Friday, April 30, 2010

More Than I Can Say

Ever since attending a creativity - success and pitfall - talk with singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega a week ago, my mind has coursed over how I play/work and interact with the whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. This wasn't a direct theme of her talk, but she spoke numerous times to intuition - paying attention to what Chogyam Trungpa would call "first thought, best thought" - not the first chronological thought to come (which often seems to be neurotic) but the primal first thought, the core thought, the root basic wisdom. It often doesn't fit quite logically, seems un-linear and incongruent. Vega gave many examples of this under the auspices of intuition, which a few weeks ago a student asked about. It is, ironically, so hard to define, so ineffable, by nature. All we can do is point to it, a bit like relating to the moon, only the moon is actually inside of us.

Last night I taught the second of two (too short, but fitting to the form, the students and I joked) Haiku class through Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Haiku, the Nature of Haiku, as the course was titled, is just this: the empty space, the what-isn't-being-said but somehow can still be felt by the listener. Basho is famous for saying that less than half an experience should actually be "documented" in the haiku - "less is more" as a student said in her introduction, is something worth (ironically) aspiring to. Why is it that less is more? Because, it seems, the more space there is, the richer the situation is. When we are filled with neurotic thought (and believe me I know that state well) there is little room for potential, for realization, for connection. One analogy from the readings placed the two main images of the haiku in relation to each other like sparkplugs - there needs to be enough space for the electricity to jump, but not so much that it cannot reach across the divide. This is the middle path - an opening that is "just right" - not too big, not too small, and utterly empty of expectation.

This is a lot to say, and still, it is not it. There is no way to say it. I smile as I write this - I am not frustrated by that, not today at least. The breeze flowing into my office window reminds me that space is mobile and full, that room is worthwhile making room for. Aviva's paws pushing at my back from behind me on my chair (her favorite place to curl up while I am working) remind me of the same, pointing to the same heart, the same space inside.

"so many words about it
the only language is you don't open your lips"

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Joy in Heartache

"three sisters" from albuquerque botanical gardens, february 2010

I rush through the last of the first chapter of John Thorndike's The Last of His Mind, his memoir about his father's experience with Alzheimer's and John's time caring for him, and hurry out the door of the coffee shop to come home to my laptop and write. The feeling is intense - joyful and piercing - that I want to write so much about how mixed pure pain is - not anxiety, not suffering - but the pure stuff, like heartache.

Where did this come from? Partway through reading the chapter, a coffeehouse buddy asked me what I was reading when I took a break to take a deep breath, looking up for the first time in a dozen pages. She asked about if my family had Alzheimer's in it, mentioning that her family doesn't, her mom is still doing fine in her mid-80's. "Nope. My family just dies young," which is only partially true, but enough partial to be pretty alarming. "50/60's of heart disease or related, then 80's of what's called natural causes but is more like heartache." She nods. "Your family has unraveling DNA." Yes, I nod. That sounds right.

I take the break to go check on various online things - email, Facebook, texts, messages, and there find a response from my one, currently official (though there's one other unofficial and one about to become official this October) sister-in-law. She agrees with me that sleeping in, which was what my post was about, is great, then says that she and I should go and get a late breakfast sometime next week, when others are at work and she and I are free because of our odd schedules. Somehow going from the isolation of caring for one's father who is isolated from himself with Alzheimer's to such easy conviviality made my heartache. I made the date, then set back to reading.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, though, my previous experience of a sister-in-law haunted me. Nora is my sister-in-law through me marrying her brother, Dylan; this other sister-in-law (now divorced) was the wife of my brother David. Nothing about my relationship with my first sister-in-law was ever easy, and that is not an overexaggeration. We struggled with ourselves at the time, trying to find autonomy in situations of great suffering and pain, both, and also with each other. There was great healing to be found in all of it, on both sides, but also a lot of pain, and a lot of damage. As soon as I had reason to distance myself, I did, and stayed away from relating to her, but not after a few years of very difficult, heart-breaking strained intimacy. I read about how Thorndike feels closer to his father now that his father has lost so much of his order, formality, and has become vulnerable, and I wonder what it takes for some situations to work - because relating to Nora is so easy, so straight-forward (as is to my two other "sister-outlaws" as I call them, Melissa and Patty). It doesn't feel like work at all, even when there is work to do. And that first relationship with a sister-in-law I don't think ever didn't feel like work.

My heart aches for that kind of difference, for how family simply refuses to be constructed, or can be constructed but also encapsulate suffering alongside joy. The gratitude bursts out of me in waves, and when it ebbs, sadness flows freely. The joy and heartache intermingle and the words beg to burst out onto the page. So here they are, and here I am, and here all of these sisters tossed together are. Let us find the joy in the heartache, not eliminate the heartache - the piercing is a reward far greater than constant smiles.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fog Gone

It's a clear morning. The snow seems to have passed, and it's not raining anymore. The sun poured into our bedroom for the first time in a week or so, waking us on the earth's current clock.

It's funny - there's actually very little to say. I am well-rested but tired. My overloaded quarter is caught up for now - the 70+ people I have interacted with this week, in person or online, as students are fading into weekend memory for now. I am primed to coordinate a meditation weekend, with 13 or so more lovely folks. An embarrassment of riches. As I type, Aviva overlooks the keyboard as if to make sure I am choosing the right words. Gently, she reminds me to watch the crankiness - let open appreciation fill the space you feel now.

Last night I felt worn down, exhausted, overwhelmed still. Full of my own and others' pain and insights. Now comes time to digest, and space helps that.

This is what Carolyn Gimian sent out today as a quote from Chogyam Trungpa, and taking a break from writing this, I went to read it. Yes, that's exactly it:


Once a person is involved with meditation practice and with working on the spiritual path, then the problems encountered in engaging with society are not hang-ups anymore. They are creative opportunities. Those everyday-life situations become part of meditation practice. The situation slows you down, or the situation pushes you. It depends on how much you engage. If you are too engaged, then something will slow you down. If you are not involved enough, there will be some reminder that pushes you to get more involved.

From "The Sacred Society," Chapter One in Work, Sex, and Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness, forthcoming in 2011 from Shambhala Publications. Edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian and Sherab Chodzin Kohn.