When I think about my summer, my time without students is bookmarked by my meditation retreat and my writing workshop camping trip. They were both intensive, designed for breaking through, and I did. But each time I do I slump back again, go dormant. I eat too much, read too much, do too little. And summer itself feels like too much, sapping me. Then I get caught up in the semester start, all that needing to step up, all the patience and kindness it takes to welcome all those people, help them all get settled. Amid the flurry of it I return to my daily yoga practice, moving my mat to follow the shade of the umbrella, misters wetting the cement. One day I lie on my back and see the deep impossible blue of the sky against the edge of the orange umbrella. It takes me by surprise. I can’t remember the last time we had that color in the sky here. The days shorten, and the nights drop into the sixties. I return to writing again first thing because I can afford to sweep the courtyard and feed the birds a little bit later in the morning now. I write propped up in bed, a jar of cold herb tea beside me, my house finch loud and cheerful in the corner of the courtyard. I can see them through the kitchen window. I do my sitting practice next, listen to my finch, to the pwitter of dove wings, to the sound of cars along the road, the hum of the fridge. I hear a big frenzy of flapping, likely a hawk circling. And in the sudden quiet after all the birds take flight, I hear the soft sound of the second hand moving on the small green clock beside my bed. I can feel the promise of fall, of winter here when we can all burst out into the world again, take a walk in the middle of the day. This easing now of life in the desert becomes certain. I wonder, too, if my slumps weren’t also part of the natural cycle of things, the moving forward and moving back. I wonder if I might even find a way to honor that dormancy, to trust in the need to lie fallow. Might I stop resisting it, allow it to be, not make it wrong? Because now I am somewhere in the middle, I think, like the season. I am not quite one place or another, trusting in the transition.
Little by little I ease back on how much I demand of myself. It isn’t new, this reaching for a place that’s different from always having to do more. Sometimes I worry about going too far in the other direction, the pendulum swing to not doing enough, this effort toward kindness turning into sloth. But this week it’s felt right, like maybe I’m finding a balance, cultivating that kindness and having it bear fruit. I entertain the possibility of actually running out of nyger seed for a day or two. (The mourning doves would still have the mixed seed, and there is still some nyger in the tube feeders for the goldfinch.) I let my bed go unmade and the floor unswept this week because I am focusing on my classes, on my writing, on the Canvas training, on fitting in daily yoga and sitting practice again, on eating well. Last weekend I let myself not follow through on changing the bed, mopping the floor, tasks I prepped for, clearing things away at the beginning of the long weekend and then running out of steam. Tuesday morning I have this lovely dream come to me where I am writing a poem in my head about something that happened in the dream, and then I’m at a writing workshop with a handful of women sitting on beach towels spread on the side of a hill. I wake up and grab my notebook to write down the poem I began in the dream. I marvel that this, this magic feeling of being connected to both worlds, arose from abandoning my dirty floors and watching too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It came, I think, because little by little I am letting go of things I don’t need to carry anymore. I haven’t looked at the dream poem since I scribbled it down with one foot still in that other world. Maybe I’m a tiny bit afraid of what I might see, afraid some harsher part of me might find it lacking. Or maybe I am only savoring the wait before I read it, because in the meantime when I think of it sitting there—just pages before the one I write on now in my notebook, dove wings beating beside me in the courtyard—the thought of the poem is a small magic stone pulsing with life. It’s secret and glowing beneath a mound of feathers, cradled on warm, moist earth, just waiting to be uncovered.
“May I become truly self-assured,” I say. It is a kind of metta I try for my changing. Wishes, Beth calls them. I like that. Part prayers, too, this metta. Part affirmations, maybe. They are all good, all effective, I believe. We only need to bring ourselves to them fully, heart and soul. Not grasping, of course. Believing, hoping, grateful. Funny thing, though, each time I bring myself to this one, I stumble in my mind. I say “reassured” instead of “self-assured.” A mistake, I think. I make it again and again. Then I am at a one-day retreat. I eat Brussels sprouts and radishes leaning against a low wall beside the small fountain on a June afternoon. I eat cool cubes of watermelon for dessert, lick the sweet from my fingers, luxuriate in the summer heat. After, I make a discovery during sitting practice. I say my metta. I make the same mistake. “May I be truly reassured,” I say. And then I know this is not a mistake. To be reassured is exactly what I need. I understand being reassured can be my path to self-assurance. Later, I realize with a kind of awe this is something I trust the universe to give me, no hint of doubt. I make lists in my head, different ways I am reassured. My cats reassured me when they were here in their small furry forms. I get excited about adding to my list, and eager to see how this unfolds, what gets sent to me. On Monday I try to rescue five stems of trimmed orange lantana blooms from the sidewalk, but after my bus ride they are wilted. I kiss them and place them on the bench outside the yoga studio. After in chavasanah I feel bad about not saving them. “But they were loved,” a voice inside me whispers. It is my first clear reassurance since I understood what I am asking for. I am dancing, lying in stillness on the yoga mat. I give thanks. I wriggle, a child about to unwrap a birthday present. What comes next?
I ride my bike along the creek path, sitting tall in the seat. I lean to the left, stretching my right side. I’ve just come from yoga, and I can feel the tight muscle in my back. It’s loosened but begging to become longer. It’s the one that makes me injure my hip when it’s too tight. I suspect it has shortened over the decades since I fell in the Russian River and landed hard, a rock beneath my right sitz bone. But I have faith my yoga will grow the muscle again, let it lengthen and become supple. I’ve been easing back into yoga this month. I could feel the difference when I began going twice a week. I decided to spend part of my tax return to try out the “unlimited” yoga for June, July and August. I want to go four times a week, am trying it this week for the first time. Already I’m aware of my body more often. I straighten my spine again as I pedal my bike. I lean to the right, then to the left. There is more room inside me. I’m riding along in that lovely rush of air, looking at the mountains, feeling the sun on my arms. That little kid pleasure rushes in. I am riding my bike on a summer day. A voice comes, too. “Maybe doing yoga is enough right now,” it says. I’ve been a bit rudderless, eating too much, not taking good care of myself. I hear this voice, and I touch that vulnerable me, sense the rightness in this. Maybe I can just do yoga and let the healing come, let the stronger me emerge when she is ready. Even as I write this, other voices whisper. “What about all the prep you need to do for the fall semester?” And, “What about your novel?” But I nudge them away, trust instead that sweeter voice. The work and the writing will be there, too, but doing yoga will live at the heart of things for now. Maybe doing yoga is enough right now. Maybe yoga’s all I need to do to be okay.
I lay out my green yoga mat on the far side of my mother’s pool. It seems like the best spot. The concrete is level, the valley stretched out before me to the west. The sun is low in the sky, and I angle my mat so when I’m standing I’ll be facing the orange ball while it sinks behind the mountains. (True sun salutes, I think.) I begin lying down, stretching my spine, my hips. Yesterday was the first day I did my yoga in a long, long time. I was surprised my arms were able to hold my weight when I lowered myself to the mat from plank position. I was wobbly when I came back up to standing, but it didn’t matter. I was just so glad to be doing it again. Today when I get to the sun salutations, my arms are sore from yesterday and won’t hold my weight in that slow lowering to the mat. I have to touch my knees down, and still my arms hurt with the weight of me. When I am back on the mat, dropping my knees from side to side, I see a little bird on the wall near me. I don’t have my glasses on, can’t be sure what kind he is. He looks like he might be a flycatcher, but he stays put on the wall. I decide he may be a young mockingbird, even though he is silent. I slow my movements, not wanting to startle him. He tilts his head, seems to be studying me, strange being on the ground. He stays on the wall for the rest of my yoga, and I am touched and honored by his company. The moon is out, too, bright with daylight. I am fragile today, so the wonder of these two companions swells my heart. When I sit up after chavasana, the bird is gone. But I can still touch his soft, quiet peace. Thank you, little one.
I hear dove wings through the window, afternoon feeding. Earlier today they scattered, and the Cooper’s Hawk sat on the top of the front gate. I watched him through the branches of the guayaba tree from my cozy perch inside. Today is my last day off, the last in a long, luxurious chain of days. I treated most of them the way I used to treat my Sundays, only doing what I felt like doing, letting the day unfold. I wrote twice, did yoga four times, once yesterday before the sun sank behind our mountains, rare sun salutes, my eyes closed, rich deep orange behind my lids. I baked cookies, ate cheddar cheese, made soup on New Year’s Day. One day I even did the crossword puzzle. Mostly I have read, tucked up in the down blankets, first my worn copy of Tigana and then two books from the library. In between, I let the book close and gaze at the mountains. I relish the quiet and the gift of being able to let my mind wander, to drift in happy, lazy spirals wherever it will. I idly wonder how many students have enrolled in my classes, how many login help requests we’ll have tomorrow. I dream seven ways I might have money come to make up for the upcoming loss of one of my jobs. I remember Sable purring and rubbing his face against the corner of the open carrier in the vet’s office on the day he died. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I am just present, sitting in this glorious sun-filled room, the mountains spread before me. I listen to the cheaps of the house finch at their sunflower seed feeders, and I am so glad for their company and for the sleek dove sitting on the wooden fence right now, and I give thanks for this beauty and this peace and the rich fullness of my heart.
For the way our palo verde flung herself at a diagonal when she blew over in the last fierce wind so she didn’t hurt my neighbor’s carport or our wooden fence, and she didn’t block my front door. The mango and palm trees in pots beneath her felled form came through unscathed. The vet didn’t find an ear infection. Two people have responded to the writer’s guild post about doing spontaneous writing. I’m spending Thanksgiving tomorrow with Mami and Auntie Gardi and her family for the first time ever. I get to choose a new tree to plant, maybe that one I’ve had my eye on with the big pink flowers in the fall. For the bare branches it will have in the winter so I can see the mountains. For the mountains themselves. For my new yoga teacher and the new meditation center I can ride my bike to, sidewalk all the way. For the good headlight on my bike so I feel comfortable riding in the dark. For my zafu. That I finished grading all the summaries and essays late last night, so the next four days sit clear. That cleaning up the shambles of our courtyard after they cut our tree in pieces and took her away had me paring everything back to pure clean beginnings. For time this weekend to put the Christmas solar lights up, lay down a few small pavers, put the sweet finishing touches back in new places, life breathed into it all. For this afternoon when I hauled Boo back to bed with me, and he stayed on my belly and let me pet him for a long time, tears rolling down my face. For the promise of belonging to the sangha, the promise of Sable becoming well again, the promise of a wet winter. For the house finch and the goldfinch at their feeders today in our naked courtyard, flitting, chattering bits of sweetness in the warm, clear day. For the big full moon rising out my shower window in the cold night, water hot against my skin. For you, for me, for words and meaning, for long lives lived well.