Today feels like my first day in a long time without any commitments out in the world. I bask in the luxury of it. I go out early, trim the big yellow tecoma. I sit writing in the courtyard, sip fenugreek tea, my left arm getting wet, the hairs on my forearm dusted with mist. (It reminds me of the way the squirrel’s tail was misted in the early morning when I found him dead on the side of Tilton Road in Sebastopol, all those long fine hairs surprising and beautiful. His little form was lying in the crook of “Scary Corner” where the vultures liked to gather. The next day I found a pellet of his tiny bones. I put the collection in a matchbox. I still have them.) My right arm faces away from the misters. It’s wet, too, but just from sweat. It’s muggy and hot. I eat cold watermelon. I do my sitting practice. I have to fight to stay awake. A mourning dove coos from his perch above the tray feeders, and a goldfinch comes to nibble a big leaf on the new batch of sunflowers, that sweet fleeting time, all fresh blooms or buds just about to open, the new bursting energy of them. In between there is work and errands, in and out of the heat in the middle of the day. Later when the sun sinks behind the mountains I sit on the front step to cut my toenails. A bird I don’t know lands on the wooden fence and sings a little song. I’m pretty sure he’s talking to the house finch who are enjoying their evening meal, but I don’t know what he’s saying. He has a graceful curving arc in his throat and beak. When he leaves he flies in a loop above me, as if he wants me to know he knew I was there all along. I write my blog post for this week. I have a story to tell about a gem I uncovered during sitting practice last Saturday, but I am not ready to write it yet. Maybe I am not ready to reveal it. I take warm clothes from the dryer in the dark. I stop to look at the stars. This was a pretty good day.
It’s early, just after six in the morning. I am sweeping the cement in the courtyard. I’m a little tired, the aftermath of a long academic year, I think. I am looking forward to the end of the online teacher training I’m co-leading, three more days. The student login help for all the summer terms is beginning to ease off, too, and that part of my job will go away soon. (It will be a relief.) I’ve been going to yoga a lot, still haven’t figured out how to make my mornings work with needing to leave for class each day, feel a little off kilter, almost grumpy about it even though I’m choosing this. I seem to be busy, doing, most of the day. But I’m not getting to things. I’m not writing the way I want to be, not washing the louvered windows, not trimming the yellow tecoma. I remind myself doing yoga is enough. It makes me smile. I hear an odd metallic thump and look over at my neighbor’s roof. I see the pale breast and belly of a very big bird through the branches between us, then they disappear into the tree. An American kestrel is calling nonstop from the electrical pole on the other side of my trailer. I put these two events together, make up a story (or maybe intuit what is true). I believe this bird is hiding from the kestrel. I think it may be a heron, as unlikely as that seems, something about the shape of that torso I glimpsed. I wonder if he tried to steal eggs or got too near a nest. I go back to my sweeping. I decide I feel pretty good, even with being tired from teaching and just this side of disgruntled about my new need to leave home early in the day. I feel content, like something is easy in me. I finish sweeping, fill the bird feeders. I carry water out to the honeysuckle. The waning moon is my companion while I work, big and bold in the western sky. I finish my chores, settle in my tall metal chair outside. The moon is suspended now above the mountains right in front of me. I watch it setting while I sip my lemon garlic drink. Sofia surfaces inside me, and I cry for a moment. I miss her. I am so sorry the end was hard. Sable’s ending, too. I remember the taxi ride, holding Sofia in my lap wrapped in a blanket. I wonder why there are no pet paramedics. I sip my drink, clear of grief again, and listen to the water in the garden, feel at peace. I study my neighbor’s tree and wonder if the big bird is still up there, sheltered in its leaves.
I’ve been chafing for a while now. I resent my old old habits of timidity, of insecurity, of reticence. (Though it comes to me today that I must find a way to love them. Truly.) I understand how they began, why they came, how they served me. I don’t want to dishonor them, diminish the value of their protection. But I want to be done with them now. I annoy people because of them. Or I watch their eyes glaze over, and they dismiss me because I am stuck inside these ways of being that need to be outgrown. I want to escape them. I want to find out how to just be who I am today, not living inside something that doesn’t serve me anymore, has held me back for years now. I have deep peace at the core of me, touch the earth, even trust a kind of wisdom. “I know things,” I say at the retreat. I know things. It is my beginning of becoming unchained. Five days later in a reading I find out the chakra at our solar plexus provides our self-assurance. The card says I may be able to take a “quantum leap.” Yesterday I physically felt the chakra for the first time, eager and excited like a little kid. I am willing, I think, to leap. I am not sure how to do it, though. So I’ll keep taking baby steps. “I know things,” I remember saying. That was one of them, one of the steps. Writing this blog post is another. On Monday I’ll try my hand at reading runes at a store downtown, see where that might lead. One step, then another. And if there is a cliff edge that presents itself, I’ll pray for the courage to leap. And for wings.
I’m sweeping black sunflower seeds across the cement and into the shell-strewn dirt when I hear a funny noise. (I’ve just filled the feeders in my house finch corner of the courtyard, and a handful or two of the dark seeds always spill out.) For a long time I thought this sound I am hearing now was made by one of those extended leashes when you reel them in fast. (We have a lot of dog walkers here. Funny, isn’t it, how we make up things in our heads, trying to make sense of the world?) But now I recognize the sound. It is not a leash. I look for the source and spot the road runner perched at the edge of the swamp cooler on my neighbor’s roof. He is facing north, away from me, surveying his domain. When I talk to him, he swivels his head around, listening. “You’re so beautiful,” I tell him. And then I am crying, all this love welling up in me and spilling over like the sunflower seeds. I think of my cats now, that ache never far away. I marvel at how quick love comes, like that first day I brought Sofia home from the shelter all those years ago. I remember how she walked from room to room in our home over the garage in Sebastopol. She was hunting for signs of other beasts, and she was so relieved and so glad when there were none to be found. (Old scents maybe, of Trair who’d died four months before, but nothing that would threaten her.) Already I loved her so much, as much as I’ve loved anyone. I remember my surprise. I didn’t know then it could happen like that, thought love needed time to grow. That’s how quick it is this morning with the roadrunner. I am filled with the blessing of it. Then I think about how it’s not the same for me with people most of the time. It makes me sad. I guess there are too many things in the way. It’s complicated with humans. For one moment I worry. If I don’t let myself get another animal for the time being, will I not get to feel that kind of love? And then I remember the roadrunner, how it came to me today. I can love wild animals in the meantime. And maybe even other human beings, along with roadrunners, ravens, coyotes, lizards. And me, too.
I fall in love with chanting at the retreat. Our first sitting practice each day begins at 6am. The windows are all still open before the heat comes. I have a big screen door at my back. The desert is quiet in the early morning, the soft, steady cheep cheep cheep of a verdin, the rarer song of a house finch. Sometimes I hear the wind moving outside the zendo, or the louvered curtains knocking against each other. The teacher rings the bell three times at 6:45, and we begin to chant. There are teaching chants, monotones with dips and rises. Following them uses all of me, keeps me present. Sister Dhamma Dera has written songs, too, and plays for us on a beautiful wooden stringed instrument laid across her lap. I like the singing best, and watching her concentrate, her sweet heart leaping and shining. Singing with all these open-hearted people reminds me of Girl Scout camp. I come home with one chant in my head though I don’t know if I have the melody right. I Google it and discover it’s one of the most common. What I remember from our chant book is the “jewel of compassion.” I want that—for myself, for others.
I sing it when we leave at the end of the retreat, and the woman driving isn’t sure we are going the right way on the dirt road. She’s afraid of getting stuck in the sand, of dying in the desert, and I think heading out without knowing the directions is only asking for trouble. So I sing “Om Mani Padme Hum” because I don’t know her very well, and it’s all I can think of doing to get out of the way, to be of any help. Now, the chant comes to me in odd moments, its steady rhythm silent inside me. I sing it out loud after yoga when I’m riding my bike to go vote. I pass a man standing at a bus stop underneath a big tree. When he turns toward me I draw in my breath. His face is blackened by the shade, his eyes big, desperate. My heart goes out to him, but I am shocked, too. I hadn’t expected what I see in his face. I don’t stop. The next day I see him outside the grocery store peering in the open doors. “Can I get you something to eat?” I ask. He nods. I have to get him to tell me what he’d like. “A sandwich and a soda?” he asks. When I return, he thanks me. “I’ll pray for you,” he says. Twice. I thank him. I am glad to see him again, to have this chance to respond to what I saw in him the day before. His eyes seem less bruised today, less haunted. I hope it’s true. I sing the chant out loud again on my way home, my voice quiet and sure, the air warm against my skin as I ride. “Om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum om mani padme hum.”
I got home from my retreat yesterday afternoon, exhausted from a week of too little sleep. The inner work we did took great effort, too, and gave us great rewards. I can’t count the number of times I looked around the zendo, awed and grateful—all these brave people who had come to do this hard work together. On the last day we sat in our circle and focused on each person one at a time. We offered words or phrases that emerged for us, images of what we remembered or who we saw them to be. The one who was the center of attention just sat soaking it in, all these wonderful and sometimes funny things people believed or remembered about them. I was afraid when it was my turn no one would have anything to say. Or, maybe even worse, people would say a few things, and then there’d be silence until the rest of my time ran out, and the quiet bell rang. Instead when it came around to me, the words were steady, plentiful. I only wish I could remember more of them so I could hold them to me now and then for comfort, reassurance, hope. I remember things said about my big heart and sitting there receiving each one as it came. At the end someone said, “Devoted.” The last word spoken was Susan’s. “Impeccable,” she said, and met my eyes. I think I raised an eyebrow at that. Me? I was grinning through my tears while they showered me with shining things they saw in me. They drifted into me as they fell, warm, delicate, like sacraments, like blessings.