Saturday, December 27, 2014

No place (feels like) home

"...I looked inward and the beauty of my own emptiness filled me till dawn. It enveloped me like a mine of rubies..." ~Rumi

I've been facing my own worst enemy in these last few hours. And she's me. She follows me around and guesses every thought before it crosses from one side of my brain to the other. I've tried to tie her hands behind her back, but as of yet I have only two hands and when I tie hers, I tie mine as well.

And that's no way to live.

In this Purgatorial island with inmates whose sentences vary from brief vacation-like brushes with spirituality to those who have committed larger crimes, I've met those I needed to meet without realizing it. That's how it happens in the movies, too. The main character meets only and exactly who she needs to at every step on the yellow brick road. Dorothy's road was rather dull (even with munchkins) because she was from Kansas and Oz was dreamed up earlier in this age of spiritual desperation and darkness.

My conspirators are adulterers and addicts, both orthodox and reformed. And they have the tools and skills I need to unlock the intricate stitches that keep me sewn to my demons. All I have to do is ask for help and my shadow can be released to jump back to the real world of Wendy Moira Angela Darling and her brothers while I learn to fly again here in Neverland.

But asking for help is the last thing I want to do.

What I have realized, again, what I have known always and yet forget on a daily basis, is that I cannot outrun my own demons. 

Neither, I'm afraid, can you.

Despite my deepest wish that I could run away from her on my own, or slowly digest her wickedness, I keep hitting the unfortunate snag that no addict has ever, ever, ever liberated herself. Have you ever heard of one? I know those who live in mountain caves in total isolation, but I'm not a cave-dweller. Which leaves me with very few options.

(I'm pretty sure I can't rely on a single-family home caught up in a twister or a crocodile to wander in, either).

My instinct is to run into the sea. To head for the beach and wait for some revelation to wash in on the tide, but beach privileges are restricted to daylight hours, so no sandy midnight ruminations for me. Nothing but excessive, exorbitantly priced chocolate and your sympathetic eyes to fuel my self-discovery. 

According to the sacred doctrine of the Warden, if I think only pure thoughts, deny myself chocolate and coffee, eggs and garlic, and anything with spice or fermentation, and certainly drugs and alcohol and sex and talking and the internet, that then I will find this inner peace and quiet. Then I will realize that my demons and I are in fact just projections on the movie screen of my silly mind.

(It reeks of cave dwelling to me.)

So instead I turn to the wisdom of those whose crimes most resemble mine. Those recidivists who have been in my ruby slippers, both as the witch and the drug-addled virgin from Kansas.  

(you get that it was the witch's shoes that Dorothy wore home, right?) 

This is what I'm like sans caffeine, with fewer than six hours of sleep a night and gigantic white pants. Trying to make sense of the hodge podge of lessons and stories. 

Trying to make shoes out of emptiness.

Clicking my heels to no avail.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spirituality in the Starbucks

Normally at the end of the year I write a witty, pithy letter summarizing my year. I include updates about my career and home life, and end with a list of Things I Have Learned.

I considered writing this letter before I left for my Caribbean Time Out. I considered skipping it all together. And now I'm writing to you from the darkness of my luxury tent, with nothing but the sounds of my fellow inmates snoring and a dozen cruise ships blaring Miley Cyrus and boozing it up.

This is the sound of spiritual transformation, which is also lit by the screen of an iPad. I'm not terribly confident that this is how the saints of yore experienced dark nights like this, but... welcome to the iVerse.

I nearly said that this year started like all of the others, but reflecting back I realize it did not. Rather than the annual walkabout The Ben and I used to take around the lake, sharing our hopes and dreams and plans, this year started with me feeling desperately alone. Too old for the same old party games, too tired to resist, and profoundly lonely (for people trying to get pregnant, that's code for Not Pregnant). It was dreary and The Ben slept in, recovering from a night that was very fun for him and not so much for me. I didn't drink as I held this tremendous hope tightly with two fists. I didn't dare have fun, because I was one day late, which meant This Could Be It.

I am pretty good at spending time with myself, but this was the umpteenth up and down, and it hit hard. Like crying on grandma's bathroom floor hard.

Like Eat Pray Love hard.

(and yes, I still hate the book)

Without the annual check in, I felt lost facing a year with tides of new flavors of loneliness while Ben planned his retreats and travels and I tried yet again to fold my interests around them. His plans included a three week long retreat in Seattle that I wasn't invited to, and I looked long and hard for an international yoga retreat or training on anything during that same three week time frame. There were none. As in: none on Earth (or at least the internet). So I booked something for myself instead. I turned my back on my marriage and focused in on goals I knew I could accomplish, like traveling abroad.

I did. And then my marriage ended. And then my life burned down. My marriage started on the equinox and will end on the solstice, the darkest day of the year. The day when, in years past, we invited friends over to celebrate the coming of the light.
This year I'm spending it in Paradise with Peter.

Despite my intense criticism of my mythical friend Elizabeth of Eat Pray Love fame, I think that perhaps she was right not to try the mega dose of eating, praying, and loving at the same time. Self transformation or purification or spiritual metamorphosis is not sexy, at all. It involves a lot of ugly crying that comes literally out of nowhere. As in tonight, our speaker at satsang was quite honestly the most boring person I've heard speak in public. I felt like I was trapped in a cocktail party in the corner, and this inspired weeping for the lost solstice party. 

There's nowhere to hide in a 9x9 tent with a makeshift bed, either

I've never spent Christmas or my birthday away from my family. Maybe that's pathetic, but it is true that on my 33rd trip around the sun, I'm starting to break away. The fact that I've chosen this particular adventure in a minimum security ashram built on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean is especially comical. This island is home to both the fanatical purists of the ashram and the dark temptations of the nearby mega hotels, casinos, and cruise ships. 


I'm grateful in many ways for the spotty internet coverage that separates me from the rest of what's happening in the world. For instance, Facebook has just started offering to compile my year in pictures and status updates, and while it's fun to see what your lives have looked like this year, I'm afraid to see how the omniscient biographer that is Facebook would recount my Year of the Wood Horse. Certainly it would pick up on the travel and the changing cast of characters, the gentle transition to those months where I was most clearly observing my feet, and the pervasive, lingering melancholy.

But it would miss the brightest and darkest of moments.... those that should be reserved for journals and those that happen out of view of the camera. It would miss the dramatic irony that my ex-husband's new girlfriend shares my birthday, or the inner turmoil of where to file my boyfriend's mothers' emails.



It would miss moments of realization that should come to me in meditation or deep contemplation, but inevitably hit me at Starbucks. Yes, it's true. There's a Sbx in Purgatory. And that's where I am right now.

Anne Lamott says that God is in the bathroom, and this has been like a mantra for me. I'm doing the work, like daily meditation and karma yoga and asana and philosophy. Every time my mind wanders, I bring it back to my mantra, which is only slightly less sacrilegious than God is in the bathroom, but I bring it back. But it isn't until I set foot in a place that is familiar that I distill the lessons of this spiritual path.

For me, Spirituality is at the Starbucks.

So for this year that cannot fully be described by Facebook or indeed by me, I'll offer you what I can. Lessons that maybe you can take and do something with.

Things I have learned from this: 

1. Relationships between two people can only be understood by those two people, if by anyone at all. Anything you see on the outside is an illusion broadcast by the Man Behind the (social media) Curtain.

2. The best moments cannot be captured by anything other than the soul. Like flying kites on the beach under the full moon, or the sweet boy who came to sit with me during Satsang. 

3. The worst moments are equally impossible to capture, and even more indelibly burned into the etherial material of the soul. Like the decision to part ways, or the infinite number of times I've called that decision to question

4. There is a Starbucks everywhere.

5. I have a quiver full of yardsticks that I've picked up from other people, and these tell me how quickly I should respond to an email, or how I should wear my hair, or how much money I should make or keep or spend. They also tell me about what motherhood and spirituality look like. This is heavy shit that I keep trying to leave behind, but someone from Lost Luggage keeps paging me to come and get it.

That's it for 2014. Next is Christmas and New Years, my birthday and The Year of the Goat, and maybe I'll find the next step to enlightenment scattered among the stars and celebrations. If so, I'll be sure to share.
Om Shanti, kittens. 

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yellow & White is the New Orange (is the new black)

Yellow & White is the New Orange (Is the New Black)

Two weeks on Paradise Island, and I feel just a smidgen like I'm writing to you from Alcatraz.

Don't worry, the food, the weather, the company, and the beds are better.

Before I left, one of my prenatal yoga students joked that it sounded like I was going to prison: two meals a day, clothing provided, nothing to think about but the task at hand. The running theme for the following weeks was which contraband items I should bring.... like a suitcase full of tampons and chocolate (I should have... chocolate is $8). Then when we arrived, our instructor actually referred to the program as "having many similar qualities to a stay at a minimum-security prison." 


So now I will recount for you the ways in which it is prison-like and the ways in which it is not, based exclusively on my experience watching season one of Orange is the New Black.

- Wake up bell and role call at every session (both in and out).
- Unflattering uniforms you're not allowed to alter in any way, other than rolling up the pant legs for the mandatory beach walk meditation (<- this is both categories). Mine is appropriately sized for an extra small elephant.
- Metal table service. Although this may just mean it's like camping.
- Discipline as asserted from the outside, consequences, and reprimands for things like being 30 seconds late or texting in temple (<- not me, mind you, and totally reasonable unless you are texting Ganesha).
- Quirky nicknames. In this case, all staff and YTT faculty have spiritual names (so you could actually be texting Ganesha and that would not be appropriate).
- The food is good, although some foods are completely off limits and we currently don't know why. Even if we go into town, no eggs, onions or garlic.

- Everyone wants to be here (or want-ed to be here before they got here).
- We can leave any time. Or at least any time the boat leaves the dock, which is four times a day, and we don't require a pass or a shiv or an escape plan to do so.
- There is a lot of chanting. A lot. A LOT. When we're not actually chanting, I'm still chanting in my head, despite my complete inability to memorize the one chant we're actually required to memorize.
- We're here to attain some sort of personal mission for self improvement or spiritual growth or enlightenment.*

*Is this true of prison, too?

The hardest thing for me so far has been the sleep deprivation, followed closely by the discipline. I'm not accustomed to external discipline. And I think it has to do with the lineage-based approach. I'm a liberal artist in a school that adheres strictly and stringently to lineage, and that's tough for me. I've heard many times the analogy of the well. You know how if you want to dig a well and get water, it makes more sense to dig one hole and keep going until you hit water? (I'm sure you've dug a well before, right?)

Well, I haven't. I don't know what it's like, but I imagine that sometimes you hit bedrock and it makes more sense to shift six feet to the left and start again. But again, liberal arts.

So far I'm feeling very much like I did as a child in Catholic mass. I used to feel like it was so unusual that hundreds of people would show up and sit in the same room and pretend to believe the same thing, which we all surely knew wasn't true.

Now I feel like it is strange that hundreds of us gather twice a day to pretend to meditate. Digging the same well.

At least I get to walk on the beach.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Good Girl and The Good Student

The Good Girl and The Good Student

Like most women of my age and time and station, I've spent some time dealing with my predisposition to be The Good Girl, and by that I mean someone who follows all of the rules simply because they are the rules. Usually the rules are not written by good girls, but by groups of elders or men or elves (or ogres).

When they sent the invitations for the Rule Makers Meeting, it's possible they ran out of stamps when they got to the girls.

It doesn't really matter, though, because we are the best at following rules. If there were rule-following prizes awarded by the sun, we would be starlight beings. Even when the rules make no sense, or when we had no part in writing them. We still get a big, bright, gold star in the sky. And better yet, we avoid the stinging shame of punishment.

I'll speak for myself when I say that I'm slightly perturbed by this. 

Well, half of me is. The other half is too busy following the rules.

The other half, the anthropologist, loves observing the absurd behavior of the first half of me. I've introduced these two halves before, but I'll reintroduce in case you're not my mother and haven't actually read the entire cannon of my blogishness.

The rule follower is the Alpaca-Kari. Alpacas are small and skittish and quick to frighten. They are certain that they will end up on the street dragging a shopping cart filled with various and sundry items cast off by the less-anxious animals who seem to believe somehow that they can survive without that pair of broken sunglasses. 

Alpaca Kari follows the rules because she believes that if she just does EVERYTHING RIGHT that it will keep The Bad Things at bay. Like sickness and sadness and death. Anthropologically speaking, this behavior smacks of a superstition, doesn't it? If I told you that all I have to do to stay healthy is to avoid looking at tarantulas, you would call that superstitious. But if Wash My Hands and Eat My Vegetables, you might call that rational, because these rational rules are backed by Science and will therefore prevent me from getting sick.

Tell THAT to ebola.

Yogini-Kari is the other side. The observer who remembers this training in anthropology and yoga and meditation and says... hmmm... there is definitely logic and even evidence that these behaviors will keep me from getting some sicknesses, but nothing, nothing, nothing will actually prevent sadness and sickness and death.

Damn it.

The biggest irony for me, today, is that I'm re-learning this lesson (again, yes, thank you for keeping score) in an ashram. I find myself trying to be The Good Student (which is the best friend of The Good Girl) and forgetting to apply context or my own moral code or set of priorities. Remember when I decided that my own personal health and safety was more important than, say, being on time for things? 

Apparently, I do not.

This means that on my third day here I got in trouble. As in I broke a rule, someone noticed, and then they told me that I Was Bad.

The good news is that I didn't die immediately. I mean, I'm writing this now from what may very well be my death-hammock, as it is possible I've been living on shock for the past 24 hours, but I'm pretty sure this won't be the thing that does me in. 

It did feel like it at the time, because if there's one thing that makes me squeal inside the most, it is Shame. With a capital S. This comes back to The Good Girl/Student who still prioritizes the health and safety of others (or the Collective) more than the health and safety of my self. Not that the health and safety of everyone isn't important, or that empirically it might even be more important than my tired little stress-addled body, however, this is not how I would want to raise my child. To blindly and blithely follow rules written by a committee that I was not a part of.

And this, dear kittens, is my lesson I'm learning again. That I ought to treat myself as well as I would treat my child. Would I tell my daughter to be A Good Girl? Nope. If I ever have a daughter, I want her to be Pippi Longstocking. Full of sass and spunk and unafraid to say, "Dear God, Man! I've spent years delaying going to the bathroom to prioritize the needs of others over my personal comfort and health, and DAMN IT, when  you gotta go, you gotta go. And now I will go scrub the kitchen. I'll even do it better, more sincerely, and for the greater good of all the world... and without doing the pee pee dance."

These are the things I would want for a daughter.

Which surely means, that's really what I want for myself. Isn't it?