I breathe in what I need. I breathe out compassion. I am sitting on the floor. My eyes are closed, but I can feel the other women in the room with me. We breathe in and out together. They are buoys in my ocean. We ride the swells of our breath. The teacher’s voice guides us, goes quiet, guides us again. I concentrate. I drift. I feel overwhelmed. I remember the teacher telling us we can close when we need to. I lay my folded arms across my raised knees, touch my forehead to my forearm. My neck is stiff, tight. I curve but do not let go. Then I do, letting my arms cradle the weight of my head. I feel the release all along the length of my spine. I open my eyes. My face is in a cavern. I see the cluster of crystals against my chest, the white linen of my shirt. Light seeps in from the bright desert afternoon outside the windows, and the blue of my cotton pants tints the air. Now that I am here inside this soft-light cave, I no longer need to close. The teacher’s voice soothes me. I make no effort to understand the words, but I sense them sinking in. I rest in a way I may have never rested before in a group like this. I am inside my cavern, but I am part of all the women in the room. I am a buoy now, too. We ride the quiet sea together. I think, maybe I can take the memory of this place with me. Maybe I can resurrect it when I’m in the midst of disturbance, let it give me access to compassion for myself. Later, I remember the comfort of my cavern, the hushed softness, the quiet light like stained glass windows, like a cathedral.
I begin to feel a shift in me. It seems new, like something I may have never known before. Or if I did, it was too long ago to remember. I am sure it’s connected to the healing work Elana has been doing with me. For a long time now, I’ve been waiting for my joy to come back, the way most mornings my heart would lift again and again over small pleasures. I don’t have that, those leaps of joy over a glimpse of the mountains or a visit from a hummingbird. But when I wake up I feel this subtle sense of well-being. Each morning I stay in bed to see if it’s still there and to savor it. I lie on my back and stretch out my arms to accept it even more, grateful to be healing, eager to flourish and prosper in all ways. I believe receiving in this way is tied, too, to my wish, my prayer, for reassurance. Ever since I understood being reassured is my path toward becoming self-assured, the universe keeps meeting me in this. I walk home from the bus through the trailer park, olive oil and popcorn kernels from Trader Joe’s weighing on my shoulders. I am content, unhurried. I look up and the big waxing moon hangs low in the southern sky before me, both beacon and greeting. The Cooper’s hawk comes when I sit in the courtyard and dream my writing dreams, her arrival, the great beating of her wings, both validation and promise. I cross the big empty parking lot during walking meditation. I am companioned by the growing moon rising in the east, the presence of the palo verdes. I stop walking and stare at a shape beside a tree in the distance. It looks like a giant rabbit. It must be a cactus, I think. And then the cactus turns and lopes across the desert. I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. He is so huge. He stops and stands upright again. We watch each other in the silence. When the bell rings, I bow to him before I turn to go, certain he is magic, both unexpected gift and delicious awe.
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.
Yesterday’s blog post seems sour to me. I feel like I want to apologize for it. I want to be able to be frank, to tell my own truths even when they’re dark. But I don’t want to practice that ugliness itself in my posts. Even as I write I realize there is no real way to avoid this (not being a saint). I’m not always going to know when ugliness decides to sneak in without my consent. I don’t blame myself for bristling at what the teachers say or for feeling left out. That’s just human, and I want to be able to be human even when it makes me look petty or ungracious. But I should have said I know the teachers don’t mean any harm. They’re not trying to put themselves above the rest of us, even though that’s how it strikes me when it happens. I know this is true because of how they feel to me as people. Because they wouldn’t do that. This was just their lead-in to talk about their truths, to tell us what they have come to know over time through their regular meditation practice. One of our teachers reminds us often not to take her word for things. The Buddha tells us to experiment for ourselves, to not take anything he claims on faith. But for me, neglecting to acknowledge the teachers’ intentions are not to set themselves above us, are not to exclude anyone—this is not to me the worst part of my last blog post. The worst part is the way I put myself above them at the end. How hopefully I would do better. I would be more inclusive. What crazy hubris was this, and right in the wake of accusing them of the very same thing? I knew I wasn’t comfortable with the post at the time, but I was tired, and I was determined to make my Friday deadline. I didn’t look close, didn’t recognize why it made me squirm. Now I am embarrassed, but I think, too, I’ll just be glad for the humbling in all this. I don’t want to put ugly things out in the world if I can help it, to have them sour the overall flavor of my posts. Even if I end up having to return the next day, belated recognition of what I did without knowing. Please accept my apologies.
The other day I pulled a tarot card that said I may think I know more than I do right now. I flashed on how I bristle whenever one of the teachers at the meditation center begins a sentence with, “Those of us who have been sitting for a long time know . . .” I feel dismissed, as though all my years of paying attention mean nothing. And I feel excluded. I am not part of the secret club of seasoned meditators. But I know I am only beginning to wrestle with what may be possible through regular sitting practice. And even though I balk at things I am not ready to give up, even though doubt whispers in my ear, even though it seems almost impossible to imagine getting from where I am to where it seems people have gone, there is this underground current, this subtle sense that maybe sitting practice really does lead where people are saying it goes. Maybe I really do think I know more than I do right now. Maybe I need to stop thinking that, find a way to accept I am a beginner here. Maybe that’s the only way to move forward on this long, mysterious path. And maybe one day years from now I will be saying the same thing that so irks me today, like fingernails against the chalk board. “Those of us who have been sitting for a long time know . . .” But still, if I last all those years practicing, I hope I’ll find a kinder way to word it. Or maybe I won’t say it at all. Maybe I’ll remember we’re still the same regardless of where we are on the path, each part of this odd collection of human beings with all our messy imperfections who are willing, again and again, to just show up.
[Editor’s note: the post that follows this one is my apology for the tone of this one. ;-) ]