When I stop, even for a moment, my bone-deep exhaustion starts to sink me. I begin to fall asleep in guided meditations. I have become one of those people I used to watch sometimes in sangha whose head drifts lower and lower until they wake with a jerk and place themselves upright, only to begin the nodding off process again. I drink more yerba maté at sunset. Swimming makes me feel alive while I’m in the water. I have become too tired again for real joy, only a deep gratitude—bone-deep like the exhaustion, cell-deep—for that huge, orange crescent moon last night when I turned off the living room lights, for the appearance of the red-tailed hawk in unexpected moments, for the early morning birdsong and the mornings I wake with a quiet heart to listen, for the two ravens speaking in the neighbor’s tree, those round sounds I love so much, like rolling percussive taps of hollow wood. For moments without anger. For each time I am tender and kind.
Years ago my friend Richard talked about how we can shine a light on any aspect of ourselves, bringing our attention to it, and that’s all we need to do for it to transform. (I’m sorry. I don’t know if this should be attributed to a particular teacher.) I remember telling him you would have to have a lot of kindness for yourself in order for that to work. I knew it wasn’t working like that for me. The other day I was sitting in my corner of the back yard beneath the lime green umbrella, thinking about my anger, my reactivity, my yelling. I was deep in my thoughts, the pool, the pots of succulents, the bees, even the lizards all receding. I am always paying attention to some degree when I’m acting out, I thought. But my observer isn’t curious or kind. My behavior isn’t okay with her. I think if I want to be able to rein myself in more quickly and more often, I need to develop a better relationship with my observer, fund more kindness, foster more genuine interest in my goings on. I can almost hear her. Oh, look, she whispers, fascinated, look what you’re doing now. Isn’t that interesting. Oh, see how it isn’t working for you? Let’s see what we can do, she says. I can dream up a version of me laughing at myself, brimming with self-acceptance. I can almost touch her. But I am too far away. Still, the sense of possibility is heartening. I look up at the ridge, my little bit of mountain here, scan the edges for a sitting hawk. I don’t see one today. But hope sits inside me. Maybe if my observer can be kinder, she can talk me around.
I’ve just had three days with hectic-ness, ongoing exhaustion, plenty of anger. I’ve been so tired I’ve let dirty dishes sit in the sink, dragged my mother to El Pollo Loco, read a new fantasy novel by Naomi Novik (she of the dragon stories). There has been genuine laughter and odd, goofy, hunched up prancing through the house, a weird grin on my face. Decades ago as an undergraduate at Cal I was daydreaming on the grass when a young man stopped. “You look like you have all the answers,” he said. I laughed. “No,” I said, “but I have a lot of questions.” I remember the unexpected, happy intimacy of the exchange, and how underneath the memory I can point to that day as the day I first understood letting go was the secret to everything in life. For months now I have refused to surrender, have resisted every damn inch of what is. These past two weeks on top of everything that’s been going on, both the next door neighbors and the people across the street have been breaking up cement with a jackhammer, hour after hour after day. If I am not being asked to surrender, I don’t know anything. Maybe my default lethargy is a good sign? We’re not in Kansas anymore. Be easier with it, my dear one, if you can.
The first time I was blasted open by wilderness was when I drove through the northern state of Baja California. The winding two-lane highway with no shoulder, no evidence of humankind anywhere except the road, only open undulating desert and scrub brush in every direction. No dwellings, no telephone poles, no water until the cats and I rounded a bend and saw the Sea of Cortez.
My eyes close now while I type
I begin to nod off these days
fingertips stilled on the keyboard
The other night I fell asleep eating dates
scattered pits in all directions
I find one with bite marks
on the floor the next day
It used to be sunflower seed shells
I’d wake up with in the covers
It comes on me in quiet moments, between one moment and the next, looking out the window in between tasks or standing and waiting for my tea kettle to boil, that deep longing for my little trailer home. I remember what it was like there when I could just let things fall away, in my courtyard under our big desert sky, or sitting in my living room listening to the house finch chatter on the open louvers on a hot summer afternoon. Sleep is different there, too, deeper, simpler, and waking seemed quieter, gentle and easy, lingering longer in the space between sleeping and waking, the delicious heaviness of the covers in winter, the cold air on my face, turning over, maybe, to court more dreams, or to lie awake in a kind of quiet joy, letting my mind roam.