I’m doing sitting practice on a Thursday morning in March. All the windows are open. I can hear the low hum of the swamp cooler in the back room, feel puffs of air against my skin. When I open my eyes the bougainvillea in the courtyard catches my heart. I close them again, take a long breath in, a long breath out. I feel a familiar tightness in my belly, like it might be messing with my breath. I stay with the feeling, sink deeper. All at once I know this part of me has been afraid for 59 years. The knowing floors me. I’m heartbroken for her. Her dedication humbles me, decades of being afraid on my behalf, wanting to keep me safe. I talk to her. I tell her how sorry I am she’s been afraid all these years and I didn’t know. I invite her to let go. I’ll be afraid again, I say, but you no longer need to hold it all the time. I am bowled over by her sheer strength, to have held this fear all my life. I cry, cradle my belly with my palms, my forearms, both sad and grateful for her sacrifice. I’ve known my fat was a way to protect myself, but this deepens my sense of this. Was my body trying to cocoon this ball of ancient fear, buffer her, maybe, so her efforts might be just a little easier? It’s okay now, I tell her. We’re safe here, I say. We’re safe here doing sitting practice beside the open sliding glass door, the house finch chattering in the courtyard. (Well, safe barring maybe an earthquake, I think.) I tell her she can come on duty now only as needed. You don’t need to do this all the time, I say. I don’t know if she can unfurl just like that, but I vow to remind her again and again. I am still made dumb by what she’s done, this gallantry, the immensity of this feat. It’s okay, I tell her again. It’s okay to rest now in between, I say. Rest, the way the deer’s body relaxes when the danger’s passed, the way she returns to ease, nibbles more grass. Rest, the way the white-crowned sparrows drop down one by one from the bougainvillea after I walk by, going back to eating seeds from the ground, talking music. Rest, I tell her. Sleep, even, if you can. I’ll be right here.
My body is tired but tense—poised to spring into action, tight from endless, focused work, staying tuned at pitch even though I have walked away now for an hour. I made watermelon juice, ate walnuts, read one of the last chapters of Thunder and Lightning. Earlier today I stopped long enough to peek at the newspaper, do my qi gong. After my next stretch of work I’ll do my yoga, roast eggplant and fennel for dinner. I am in the middle of the busiest week of my year. Monday I did 180 login help requests. My life outside, away from this frenzied beast, is broken into small chunks. What should I do with my hour? I make good effort to stay present, but the work itself blurs the brain, makes me fuzzy. Still, the miracle is I remember to breathe. I always knew it would make a difference, though I never pulled it off before. But this week I sit up straight in my bar stool in the courtyard. My feet are propped on a footstool, my laptop across my thighs. And while I enter data, do searches, reset passwords, troubleshoot, I keep taking these long, slow, deep, full breaths, as if I was always someone who did that, without even trying, as though my breath is breathing me.