When Grey Comes to Visit

Here I am again.

I haven’t written for sometime, partly because October was a slumpy month for me.  My mood was slumpy.  Not drastically dark, but veering towards grey.

I tried various things to shake it.  Chocolate, red wine, a hamburger (and considering I’ve been mostly vegan for nearly 2 years, this was a dramatic lunge at a solution for me).  Hot baths, a jog, coffee, no coffee, a trip to sunny California.  All wonderful, enjoyable things.  All able to make moments twinkle.  But the grey feeling, it slumped back in, sometimes through the back door, sometimes through the front.  But there it was again, either way, sitting and waiting for me on my own damn couch.  “Hello,” it said, “I am here again today.”

I am trying to make friends with grey.  I am fully functioning with it around but I am slightly uneasy.  I feel a bit put out, with grey sitting there on my own inner couch.  “I didn’t invite you in!” I growl.  But grey doesn’t care.  Grey sits there anyway.  It even puts its feet up.

Grey is urging me to figure myself out.  Grey.  I try to look at her as a sister, a friend.  Stop resisting her. “Okay,” I say, “what do you want?”  But she doesn’t tell me outright.  That’s the nuisance of Grey, she has her own private language.  So I start experimenting, trying to break the code: bring her a glass of wine, take her out for a walk, put her to bed early.  What does it take to help this grey sister out?  What does she need, what is she asking me to give myself?

I start to see her as chunk of my soul, my longing, and what does my longing want?  Maybe she is here to poke and pester me in a positive direction.  Maybe when I get it right, when I figure out the mystery of what she is longing for and I give it to her, she will turn to me with a big smile.  She will shimmer and change shape, change shade.  Her Grey-ness will quiver and dissolve, walk out the door, the front or the back, doesn’t matter. Maybe she’ll fly out the window and say, “Thank you for finding what it is I needed.”  And I’ll say “Thank you for showing me what I needed to step into a fuller version of myself.”  Without Grey nagging me,  I never would shift into a more complete me.

So thank you, Grey.  For coming to visit.  Stay on my couch as long as you like.  Until you leave, I will be here, curling in, listening, trying to bring my own sense of longing what it needs, expanding my life to include the territory of her secret language.

I know she’ll be back.  She comes here and there.  Though next time, she’ll have a whole new language I’ll have to twist myself to translate.  So be it.  I can welcome her in again and again, expanding whatever it was I thought I was.

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Gratitude

I’ve been wanting to write here more often than I have been so I am sitting down again to see what comes out.

I’ve been helping Rose blog over on her site (she got the idea somewhere to start a blog).  If you want to check out a couple of snapshots from our days, there are some here:  http://www.girlpowerlagoona.wordpress.com.

We’ve stumbled into fall here and I feel my energy changing a bit, lagging somewhat, but in a relaxed, cozy way.  I don’t fight the slowing down but try to ride it and munch a few more squares of dark chocolate after lunch.

I went to an acting class a few weeks ago, just a one-time, 3-hour workshop and it was fantastic and fun and strange to take that time away from my family on a Saturday morning and go play pretend with several people I hardly know.  But it is more than playing pretend because acting is an art, a craft, and one I can throw myself into relatively comfortably—I mean, comfortably dive into that very uncomfortable place when you are attempting to dig up every scrap of your humanity and let it loose in the most raw, honest, and un-selfconscious way you can muster up in that moment.  I really love it.

And then, last weekend, the Roshi was on the island, Shodo Harada, a Zen teacher who is Japanese, 73 years old and maybe 5’3″.  I lived and trained with him in Japan for roughly 5 years in between college and children.  Usually when he comes, he offers a weeklong retreat which I am too steeped in motherhood to attend.  He did that this time, too, but he also did something he doesn’t usually do: he stuck around for several days afterwards and any Joe Shmoe or Jane Shmane (like me) who has some history with him as a student could drop into the zendo (meditation hall), listen to him speak, sit zazen (meditation) and go to sanzen (one-on-one interview) with him.

So there I was.  I hadn’t gone to sit with him and do sanzen since I was pregnant with Rose, seven years ago.  I pull up for the evening sit, childless and husbandless, in Corey’s red ’94 Toyota pick-up truck.  It rumbles loudly up the gravel drive-way into the monastery.  I get out and quickly smooth and straighten my zazen clothes–samugi top, hakuma, rakasu–a foreign costume I feel remarkably at home in.  I walk down the long gravel path that runs from the parking area down to the zendo.

As I walk, my footsteps crunch over stones, my awareness pushes through my breath, settling onto this body hanging over my bones, feeling the sensation as each footfall meets the ground.  As I sink into being there, I have a sense of myself in bits and pieces, all that has happened to get me to this place, all that has happened since I was last here, coming to sit before a sanzen (seeing the Roshi and showing him your state of mind).  How quickly life happens, how unpredictably.

There is me: 20 years old, unexpectedly stumbling upon this monastery on the island.  Spending one day there, drinking tea, helping in the garden, eating the vegetarian lunch, sitting 15 minutes of zazen for the first time in this same zendo.

There is me: 21 years old, coming back to the monastery the next spring.  Staying for several days.  Doing the morning and evening sits.  Feeling a quaking urge to keep going with this practice, to watch body, breath, and energy, to return to my inner place of home more diligently, more fully, over and over again.  Wanting help from a teacher.

So there is me: 21, flying to Japan after college graduation to sit with the Roshi, experience sanzen for the first time, meeting Corey there, who I somewhat detest at first glance (it wasn’t until years later that I realized this was projection–the long telling of how he and I actually grew into a healthy and loving couple is another story altogether).

There is me there, in Japan, expecting to stay for three months, which then stretched into a year, which stretched into another and another and another.  To have that space to look within, to see all the layers of self-consciousness and habit muffling my own sense of inner light.  Seeing self-doubt and self-hatred where I didn’t think I had any.  The sitting practice showing me my rough edges, the ones I had been able to hide from myself until they bubbled to the surface on the zazen cushion.  To touch that core, inner light, again and again, learning how to stoke it and feel it blaze, burning the outer layers we add on to ourselves for protection.  It is a long, creative process.  And 5 years there gave me only a base, a beginning.

And now, there is me, today, 34.  Since leaving Japan I have gotten married, given birth to two children, miscarried one, moved across the country twice, and have seen friends and family change, grow older, some get sick, some die.  Me: with two children, a husband, a wonderfully blessed life.  Walking down this gravel path to the zendo.  Heart overflowing with gratitude, heart buckling under the wonder of it all, the passage of time, all that has changed, all that is unchanged.  Feeling the light burning in me, feeling the immense gratitude for being able to feel that light at all.  Grateful to the Roshi, acting as a guide.  Grateful for the unexpected opportunity to train in Japan and clarify my own self.  Grateful for my children and my husband who challenge me to keep that light burning brightly so that our life together can flow.

Here I am, going into the zendo, sitting one long period of zazen, they call it “golden hour”.  A few tears fall down my cheeks.  The heart-buckling gratitude for all that is nameable and unnameable, too.

The bells ring and I stand to go to sanzen.  There:  candlelight, the Roshi’s face flickering, my heart beating, my tears of gratitude still falling onto my rakasu, hakuma, samugi.  His words fall on me like many bright leaves, reading my mind as usual, as he does to everyone, urging me to see all the gifts the universe gives to make our lives possible.

He rings his bell and I bow out.  I crunch down the gravel path, to the red pick-up truck.  It growls loudly as the engine turns over.  Ducking out early isn’t the usual protocol, I should be returning to the zendo for another period of zazen and the ritual cup of tea and sutra chanting to finish off the night. But I must get home to my other Roshis, the two young ones, who are under 4 and 3 feet tall.   And to the taller one, my husband, my partner, who keeps me digging into the truest parts of myself and supports me to express myself from there all the time.

And when I get home to these three Roshis, there will be no bells or bowsThere will be hugs and kisses.  I’ll eat a bowl of cereal as a late dinner and snuggle under the covers with all of them.  We’ll be up later than I expect, talking, giggling, reading out loud.

The light that I went hunting for in a zendo at 20 years old, my two little ones playfully engage with it without trying.  The ability to be present, to speak and react from a spontaneous and true place, they have this mastered without effort.  And when I waver into a realm of frustration, anger, discontent, or a preoccupied, busy mind, they are quick to call me on it, to rattle me back to BEING WITH THEM.  Here.  Now.  This.  This.  This.  Every moment fresh and alive.  Every moment needing me to be real, to see and accept them exactly as they are.  Every feeling they express is uninhibited and complete.  My job is to be big enough to meet them and respond accordingly, lovingly, without the burden of my own emotional blocks and expectations, which is a lot easier said than done.  It is my practice now.  It is my life, the life I have been given.

My gratitude for this life, this gift, this very one, is huge and humbling.  I bow and kiss and hug.  I sit and laugh and I try my hardest to let it all flow through me, this light, burning up, blazing out, glowing brightly.

Photo on 2013-08-21 at 10.11

A path to Domestic Bliss

I have something to tell you: I am not a domestic perfectionist.

If you know me, if you’ve dropped my house unexpectedly, you know.  There are books and toys and DVDs strewn about, as well as dress-up clothes and yoga mats, the remnants of the fort we built yesterday and some paint splattered on the floor from an impromptu finger-painting session last night.  There are definitely dirty dishes in the sink.

Some might call it lived in.  Others might call it lazy.  I like to think of it as creative swirl.  And its a good thing.  It means that we are busy living our lives, busy making them feel right, instead of making them look right.

Don’t get me wrong, I think neat and tidy has its place.  I enjoy relaxing in a clean, crisp environment as much as the next person.  But as a mother, that is not my top priority.

If you have young kids you know what I mean: the process of cleaning up can seem never-ending.  It can become a battle ground, especially if you have a domestic perfectionist living inside of you.

But around here, we find perfection within the imperfection.

Around here, it is messy.  It is a creative swirl.

It is also fun and active.  We have important things to do.  Like wrestling and dance parties.  Bubble baths and homemade spa days.  Things like watching movies in a cuddle pile on the couch.  Or drinking tea, discussing the day’s unravelings— not letting “dealing with the mess” get top priority.

It was not always like this.  I’ve had to work, really work, at letting the house be messy and still being able to relax in it.

I’ve had to work at not letting my happiness depend on whether or not the laundry is folded and put away.

Before that, I was letting the state of the house determine my mood: if it was messy, I was unhappy.  I’d carry a dark grey cloud above my head, huffing around the house putting things away, blaming someone else for the mess, feeling resentful that I HAD to deal with it in order for my day to feel good again.  Sometimes I got really ugly and looked something like this:

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Then I realized something:  I didn’t HAVE to.  The mess didn’t have to come before my happiness.  My happiness could come first.  I could choose it.  I could look at that bad mood brewing in me because the house was untidy and I could not let it take over.  I could sit down in the middle of the house and not do anything at all to change it.  I could accept things as they were, crumbs and all.

Maybe I’d even shrug at the mess and laugh a little, wiggle my shoulders and jostle my head.  I’d decide to hug my kids and read to them in a cluttered house.  I’d decide to joyfully make pancakes for breakfast even if last night’s dishes were still in the sink.  I’d let the mess be, especially if letting it be meant I was a happier and more present person, a more loving mom, a more relaxed wife.

Now when I clean, I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it.  I don’t clean in order to maintain cleanliness, I clean because I want to create a fresh page, an empty canvas–so the creative swirl can be begin again in whatever way it needs to.

I won’t sacrifice a happy environment for a clean one anymore.  It’s just not worth it.  It took a lot of practice, but I no longer have a domestic perfectionist in me trying to control things and resist mess.  Instead, I have something else.  I like to think of it as a domestic goddess.  Yes, that’s right.

A domestic goddess has a home that feels full and fun and loving.  She has kids that know they can be messy without being scolded.  Kids that play without feeling stifled by a mom who needs everything to be cleaned up on the spot.  Kids who don’t stop being creative because they fear how tense mom gets when things get out-of-order.  She tidies up without anger or blame.  She spends time with her partner at the end of the day, making catching up more important than cleaning up.

A domestic goddess has a wide and long view, one that extends beyond this mess, this day, this week.    She sees down the road—way, way down when the kids are grown and everything is different—and seeing that place way down there, she turns and looks back.

With that perspective, she sees this moment, this splatter or spill or stain.  She laughs at it and wipes it up.  Or she steps right over it, that bit of creative swirl, and kisses or tickles or hugs whoever it was that made it.  And in that moment, she finds a snippet of domestic bliss.  It’s a wonderful place to be.