Pulled under

“Gravity weighs a shit ton today”…I said to my friend this morning in my typical, I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-this-feeling-any-other-way, less than refined language.
“I’m so sorry!”, came the kind response.
“Don’t be!”, I said.  ”I’m just going to let it pull me under”.

Cycles need to do their work.  The movement of going under and dying is in the same arc of directional force as the upward sprouting, and the living.   We women know this intrinsically…and for those of you more delicate readers, I need not delve more deeply into this but to say I am feeling particularly pulled down into the earth right now.

Summer has rolled in and out.  There have been pony rides, and train rides…water fun, and a blessed AC window unit to help cool us down…a now-crawling-and-teething Rowan,  and a fruitful garden….it’s been a fast, full, and fun summer. But here on the verge of fall, I feel myself beginning the seasonal descent a little early this year.

I have been reading most of the recommended books on our reading list for the Living School and find I have no words to adequately make sense of what has been unearthed within.   Some were already familiar books, like Cynthia Bourgeault’s “Wisdom way of knowing”, “The Wisdom Jesus”,  Richard Rohr’s “A Lever and a place to stand”, and other contemplative classics like “The Cloud of Unknowing”.  Some were new to me, like Finley’s “Merton’s palace of nowhere”, “Mystical theology: the science of Love” by Johnston, and the great works of John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and Jacob Boheme…which I had heard and read plenty about, but for the first time I have actually dipped my pinky toe into some of their work.

There are more books to the list…but some i simply don’t know how to write about, so I think it best if I don’t even name them.   But…it seemed as though with some, my body read them more than my mind…I felt a deep resonance, or perhaps it was a recognition.  Reading them was the feeling of a key fitting into a lock somewhere deep within.   Or, as if a game of Tetris was taking place inside me, with pieces shifting and fitting into themselves, somehow in the building a lightening simultaneously occurring.

It’s been rich…and undoing.  The kind of slow, and steady work that happens in the dark…when you’re not really looking.  The kind of work that helps you see yourself more clearly: the funny little patterns and panicky projections, the delightful creativity and joy, along WITH the darkness and duplicity.   Learning to accept the beauty of this one whole living, imperfectly perfect, breathing and boundless soul with awe…and a little humor.

I had these very good (and quite comical) intentions to spend the last two weeks before my journey out west in a more quiet, contemplative posture…perhaps doing some sort of fast or detox.   I imagined monks chanting, and blue birds descending onto my shoulder…maybe myself slightly levitating in the lotus position.

Let’s get real, people. That is most assuredly NOT happening.

Instead, I am finding myself facing another 10 day international trip that my husband is taking with usual resentfulness and dread.   My toddler has displayed all the recognizable flags of “I need my mom to be present to me for the next couple weeks” in the extreme signs of neediness of a kid who has been out of his routine for the last two weeks and my 9 month old has another cold.  There are parent teacher conferences to schedule, and a supply list to go over (yes! even for a toddler!).  I have milk yet to pump, meals to plan, and schedules to create for my time away…

I think instead of being zen, i will probably dissolve into a puddle of tears when I sit down on that first leg flight out to New Mexico.  But you know what? Although the passenger next to me may not be,  I’m really ok with that.  I feel the fullness of what is happening around and within me…and am at peace with the pressures that are pulling me under.  I may not be in a lotus position, but I am certainly still being invited to die to my “self” and come back to the present moment with each tick of life’s hectic clock.  To say, “Welcome, welcome, welcome”…and allow myself to be swallowed whole, moving out of my mind, and into the belly below.

The Loving limit

The Living School begins this fall, and we’ve already received our orientation kit.  A part of it was a set of guiding principles as we begin to make space for the work of the next couple years.  As i read through it there was one line that snagged me like a nail on a knit sweater.

“Know that your usual coping devices are being taken from you by contemplative practice. You will, in time, become much more “undefended,” and this is scary and unfamiliar to the ego. Now you must become a holding tank instead of an exhaust valve. “

Wait a second…who are you calling an exhaust valve?!
Pfft.  I mean, look, I’m not just blowing air around here.  I’m doing lots of really creative things…good things…important things…things that matter.  Surely, this isn’t what they’re talking about.  Right? He, he…he….he…ugh.

Seeing something true reflected back always requires a hard swallow, and the presence to stay and welcome what is being discovered within, rather than our typical propensity to deny and run from it.

The invitation before me is to evaluate my rhythm, and discern where I might limit my doing.  To pay attention to where my ego is defending itself…and hopefully, to begin to let go.

I’ve never done well with limits.  The best way to challenge me is to tell me I can’t do something.  That line in the sand might as well be sticking its tongue out at me, because all I feel is this taunting desire to jump over it.  Especially since I’ve become a mother.  Whatever do you mean, “I can’t do it all”??

I know i’m not alone in this.  My generation of mothers are the grand-daughters of 50′s housewives, and the daughters of women’s rights.  We are the generation of the insanity of impossible expectations on ourselves to work, raise children, make nutritious and delicious meals, look put together (I think this means a daily shower…guess I didn’t pass that test) , be capable of having meaningful dialogue with our husband and friends, have organic gardens, and homes worthy of (may it rest in peace…) Domino magazine.

And its not just young mothers who struggle with the “doing” addiction…its middle aged men, looking for the next promotion, or the better job change.  It’s women with flourishing careers, feeling hamsters on the wheel in order to stay where they are on the ladder of success.  It’s college kids looking for grades from the great big world beyond their school.  It’s empty-nesters, having to face the quiet solitude after so many years of fullness and being needed all the time.  Whenever we attach our significance and identity to what we are doing, we’re misplacing our inherent given value outside of our self.

Really, deep down…the question we are asking is:  ”Am I enough if I don’t have this…success? job title? family role?”  ”Am I good enough…without this?” “Am I…enough?”

This is a question we run from.  This is a question our Ego defends with the endless “doing” so that we are never caught naked.  At some point we fell prey to the idea that who we were needed to be covered up…as if our unique existence in the history of this miraculous universe needed some dressing up in order to be made worthy.

None of the multiple creative things I am involved with are bad.  Neither is the desire to be present to my boys, or have an inviting home, or to have a garden.  But when I allow myself to do these things out of a desire to find my significance in them…then, I am just burning gas…because it will never be enough. There will always be an engine running me around, telling me I should be headed somewhere. There will always be something else to grasp for…some other unattainable expectation on myself, more pressure to add to the feeling that “I should…”

The Divine invitation is one of stillness, presence and peace.  When we enter into a practice of contemplation, the “doing” ceases to be the driving force.  Out of our “being” we can begin “doing” wisely, and well…but we can never find our “being” in what we do.  By grace, that contact with the Ground of our Being becomes the resounding “YES” to our heart’s inquiry of “Am I enough?”  And when that question gets answered, everything changes.

I am indeed observing all these different “good” things that I enjoy doing.  I am chewing on this one challenging sentence and considering, how can i become a holding tank in the next couple years? What can I let go of?  Where am i being invited to free myself from attachment?

After all…boundaries also demarcate space.  Parameters can be protecting.  I am no longer seeing a taunting face as I consider limiting my “output”, but an invitation that would encircle me with love, and make space for growth…and for flourishing life.

 

Turtle time

I’ve been working on music a lot lately.  Well, a lot for someone who also is responsible for a 5 month old and a 3 yr old.  Life has taken the frenetic energy of spring even before we’ve been recipients of its climate climbing benefits here in Michigan.  But more days than not, the sun has been shinning, and i’ve been putting on a juggling act worthy of Ringling Bros…drink coffee, record some, feed the baby, play with the toddler, drink some more coffee, make lunch, put baby down, play with the toddler, put toddler down, record some more, start dinner, drink coffee again, get dinner on table, trade coffee for wine, get baby ready for bed, feed baby, put baby down, and then the two hour process of putting the toddler down begins…

Lately he’s been afraid of the dark.

“MAMA!!!! it’s too dark! i need a light!!!”
“MAMA!!! DADDY!!! I NEED the door open a little bit more…”
“MAAAAAAAAMAAAAAAA!!! THERE’S SOMETHING SCAWY OVER THERE!!”

His little voice calls down to us about five times over the course of a couple hours before he’s finally asleep.  Steve thinks it all started because he started reading him “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” (I know…to a 3 year old, really).  And maybe the White Witch did have something to do with it, but from what i’m reading it’s somewhat developmentally normal to become afraid of the dark around this age.

The dark gets a bad rap.  I don’t know why.  Sleeping is a sort of darkness..and sleeping for us diurnals happens in dark of night.  All mammals, birds, and most amphibians, reptiles and fish go into this anabolic state. It’s in this “sleep-dark” that our immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems rejuvenate and regenerate.  Most seeds germinate in the dark, warm earth.  Sunlight is needed sure, but it begins in darkness.   Our own life cycle begins and ends in darkness…in a womb, and in a grave.  From darkness we emerge, and to darkness we return.

It must be our primal brain that clings to the fear of darkness…to the time when we couldn’t see the predators nearby, ready to pounce.  We forget how much we still operate out of our reptilian “fight or flight” brain in this modern world of ours.  We are so inundated with noise and stimulation, that you’d think we would have long forgotten our primal past.  But with all that noise and stimulation we NEED the stillness and quiet more than ever.  From a simple biological standpoint, if you’ve ever been around brain injury you know how important it is to minimize stimulation in order for the brain to heal and regenerate…and our brains need breaks from the constant stimulation we’re around too.  But even from a spiritual standpoint, we need quiet.  There’s far too much theological chatter.  Too many doctrinal discussions and loud arguments about apologetics.   It sometimes feel like a pissing contest between men…or like the patriarchs peacock-ing at a tense family dinner.  The sad thing is that while they’re busy wasting their mouths on words and talking over each other at the table, they tragically miss the joy of just enjoying the meal that’s right in front of them.  Maybe they’re angry because they’re so hungry.  I wish they’d shut up and fill up already so they could start living out the love they keep preaching about.

I for one am craving the quiet, stillness…I’m wishing i could pull down the shades and just crawl into my hole, curl up and sleep.  Of course, i’m sleep deprived…but i also think all this creating is catching up with me.  I also am anticipating the commencement of my participation in The Living School this fall (Richard Rohr’s two year “underground” seminary program at The Center for Action and Contemplation), and i feel the need to start slowing down and begin preparing my inner landscape.   I’m withdrawing from friends and activity for a bit.  I’m pulling into my shell.  My best friend used to notice it happening when we lived together in LA, in fact she used the metaphor so often for this process i go through that all i would have to say is “turtle time” and she’d understand.

Life has this give and pull…and we’re so obsessed with productivity in our culture that i think we often miss the signs of nature that are telling us its time to constrict for a time, pull in, and tune out.  You almost have to turn inward, and become insular before you can even have an output, let alone a meaningful one.  Energy sucks in right before it explodes out.

There’s been a lot of life exploding around me…beautiful, energizing, pushing up through the dirt…life.  But before spring takes on its full bloom, I think I’ll pull in for a bit.  I want to make myself small and tiny, tiny enough to fit in a warm weathered hand.  Tiny enough to be placed like a seed in the fragrant, wet grave of the earth for a bit.  Quiet…in the rejuvenating, healing darkness.

Give me a minute. I’ll sprout up again when it’s time to.

Tissue tesseract

My house is full of half-used, crumpled up tissues.  Yup.  The end of winter always brings with it one last “hurrah” of round-robin colds…and man, have we taken a hit the last 10 days.   I can’t really remember who started it; all I can tell you is that one or more in this family has been sick for the last two weeks…and we are currently ALL under the weather.  Steve came home from a conference all weekend with the sniffles, right as I started to feel a scratchy throat, just as Søren made it past a fever, and Ro (our 4 month old) came down with a heartbreaking wheezing, sneezing, coughing situation that had me up at night…just to hold him upright by the humidifier so he could sleep.

Sickness sucks.

There is just no way around it…you have to let your body fight the infection.  You can’t rush it.  You can try to support it…but in the end, you just have to wait it out.  Suffer the waiting.  Or perhaps it would be better to say, suffer the living.

Waiting implies anticipating the arrival of something else.  A break, health, spring, a vacation, a raise, a date…tomorrow, it will be better.  So we pass the now, thinking of what is to come.  It somewhat diminishes the present as “less than” (which is not hard to do when you’re miserable), effectively rendering the moment as only useful for the task at hand which is anticipating the future…which then makes your “now” more miserable.

Steve recently read (indulging his insatiable curiosity) in the book “What the most successful people do”, that the “happiest” people are those that plan things to look forward to in the future.  Really?  I mean, I get that it is good to plan things…trips, events, etc…but the premise she was making was that you are happier when you have something exciting around the corner.  For some reason, this brought up the image in my mind of a rabbit on a hamster wheel with a carrot dangling in front of it.

Is that really how we are meant to live? A constant looking forward?  How very linear of us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dimensions, and time.  It’s such nutty business, but I seriously get a kick out of quantum physics and mechanics.  If I had another life (which, according to parallel universe theories, maybe I do!) I would devote it to taking physics seriously and delving deep into this stuff.  One of the things that gives me the biggest nerd freak out is string theory…and the complex implications for additional dimensions which pretty much blasts the idea of a linear, tick-tock goes the clock, A-Z time.

It seems there is more weight to each moment than we knew, and that this weight of the present has an eternally reverberating potential, or as Eckart Tolle likes to say, “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time, but the one point that is out of time: the Now.  That is precious indeed.  The more you are focused on time–past and future–the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”

If I start thinking of my life span as having more dimension to it than a left to right line…than i can add an up and down line, and a depth line.  Perhaps right now as I am writing this, I am in union with all the rest of my life as well.  If everything is truly connected dimensionally, than NOTHING is wasted:  I am working on being a mother when I record a new song, I am becoming a better musician as I chop carrots for dinner, I am a better lover when I mop the kitchen floor, and I am working on my spiritual potential when I change another diaper…or when I wipe another nose.  If this is all true, then right now is the best moment of my life…because it IS my life.  My whole life contained in this moment…right…

now.

There is nothing to look forward to because it is already arrived.  The Kingdom is at hand.  Spring is here.  Vacation is being enjoyed.  Health is happening…even with tissues crumpled up on the floor.

 

 

Winter wonderland

I looked out into the grey morning and saw a branch, bowed, heavy-laden with the snow on top of it…and I thought, “I know that feeling.”  It is February in Michigan.  This is when we go days without seeing the sun.  When we trudge out to our cars and clear them out from under snow.  The sounds these days are of scraping ice and spinning wheels.  And on a day like today, my heart is heavy for many reasons and this weather doesn’t contest it.

Winter is hard.

My brother and his business partner were here last week and didn’t fail to complain (as all west-coasters do..even if said west-coasters aren’t natively so) abundantly about the weather.  It’s kind of odd.  You would think that if you didn’t live here, you would be more prone to appreciating it’s unique beauty when you came.  Instead, I was about ready to drop kick them out of here (even though i love them both) like the opening kick of a Superbowl.  Why?  Because I am actually learning to embrace these seasons, and especially winter.

We are creatures of comfort.  Discomfort is something to avoid at all costs, especially in our affluent culture.  There are pills for everything.  If our leftovers are cold, we “zap” them in the microwave.  If we have to wait a few seconds for a page to load on our smart phones we get angry.  We even have remote car starters to avoid the 10 minutes it would take our car to warm up.

We are a people that are constantly clamoring for solution, or dissolution…anything to avoid the difficulty of waiting, struggling, or suffering.

It’s no wonder that winter gets no love.

Think about it.  What if the trees resisted…and said, “You know what?  Screw this.  We don’t want to let go of our leaves.”  It’s impossible, but think about it.   What would happen?  The trees would die.   Winter would come anyway. Resisting it would  completely derail the trees’ renewing life…in fact, deciduous trees don’t wait for winter to set in to let go of their leaves; they release their leaves because in the release they break down, and reabsorb, some key nutrients that allow them to go dormant for a season, and eventually sprout new leaves in the spring.  It’s interesting that letting go actually allows them to live.

There is something so eternally moving and comforting about this cycle, ever spiraling onward.  It tells us in a physically visceral way that death is not permanent.  Hope is not lost.  This isn’t the end.

Even the snow we curse as we shovel another back breaking amount out of driveway, has a mystical property to it. Think about it. Each of these snowflakes, uniquely expressed, never duplicated, came from somewhere!  The very steam off a dinasour’s back, recycled through time, through people’s breath as they spoke, through the bodies of animals, to the roots of plants…running over rocks, rivers, and in seas…steaming up, raining down…all over this world, through countless beings, this water is now falling in one flake that hits your nose unnoticed.

This white stuff all around us, is a VERY large cloud of witnesses.

Cold.
Quietly still.
Winter waits for us to acknowledge its imparted wisdom.
A bride of white waiting for us to see through the veil to the beauty within.

Is it easy? No.  Winter is an in-between land, a hard waiting.  It is a deceptive time in which the stillness of the cold threatens to make us forget that any other reality could come to be…..but all along life is humming.  Beneath the surface, unseen and often unfelt, always… it is humming.

Winter is our 3 day grave with a promise of resurrection.  It is the preamble to new life.  And new life can’t come without a dying.  New life requires death: the grave and womb are the same entrance.

If I can see death as the beginning of new life, then maybe I won’t resist it so much.  Maybe I won’t run from the pain of it, or hide from its cold.  Maybe…just maybe, I will someday see it as beautiful.  As beautiful as the trees, huddled, “sitting” Shiva outside my house…reminding me, and all who care to remember, that letting go allows us to live.

I choose all

“You are doing what now?”  The confusion must have been self evident in my tone of voice, as my friend patiently explained a baby “method” approach to naps and feedings.  I didn’t veil the fact that I felt like she was speaking mandarin, so foreign were these ideas to me.  It was all so contrary to the way that I did things.

It started building in me…that feeling, that ugly little preference and sense of superior opinion, that form of…oh, what’s that called again? Oh yeah… Judgement.

Lucky for me, I have a very kind and gracious friend who has seen this horse’s ass so many times she’s not at all shocked by it and somehow loves me anyway.  But it got me thinking.

Every time I make a choice, i am pronouncing a preference over the other options.  This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when our choices, our preferences, feed that egoic need for constant differentiation…”I am THIS, I am NOT that!” then judgement becomes the name of our game, whether we do it consciously or not. The end game of judgement is to seat myself as superior, or apart, from someone/something else.  Choices have consequences, of course…but we often appropriate other’s choices and corresponding consequences in order to feel better about ourselves.  It is a dividing…a splitting down and away, a separation.

It’s no wonder that so many of us feel isolated and lonely.  We’ve not only gotten good at splitting away from everyone, but we’re split within, and split from God-in-us and God-in-the-other as well.

Richard Rohr touches on this in his new book “Immortal Diamond.”  He points out that, “Religion only has one job description: how to make one out of two.”  Later explaining that although it predomenantly fails at its purpose, the name “Religion” (re-ligio) is the latin for “re-binding”, or “re-ligamenting”….which makes the fact that the word “Diabolical”( dia-balein), greek for “throwing apart”, even more interesting.

Splitting off, parting, separating…these are the impulses of the unconscious mind;  necessary for the beginning of life in order to form a healthy identity, but (hopefully) at some point outgrown.  We start out needing the “I am this, I am not that”,  because self-knowlege and self-acceptance is part of discovering and appreciating our unique expression of God (our selves!) in this life.   It is this starting place of seeing God “within” that teaches us to see God “throughout”.

Unfortunately many never get the chance to have someone bless them in their formative time saying, “It is good”…”YOU, are good”, and so must continue to cling to that identity until they are able to hopefully, with much courage and time, reach that conclusion for themselves…and finally let go of it.  So much of our society is comprised of people who are still needing to receive the blessing of identity so that they can continue their journey…which is why we must, wherever possible, stand by the ostracized, and remind each other of our inherent goodness.  This story started with union, and a pronouncement of goodness!   We have much to learn from those who have been marginalized and oppressed; having been victims of exclusion, they are often much more aware of the senseless pain of splitting and constant differentiation, than we are.

My friend used this quote (that i could easily chew on for the rest of my life) in his teaching on Sunday:
“If you made a list of everything you own, everything you think as you, everything you prefer, that list would be the distance between you and the living truth.”–Stephen Levine.

I want to let go of what I think as “me”…my preferences, the choices that keep me “separate” from the living truth, the One-ness that is.  Perhaps the only choice one can make in keeping with this desire are the words of St.Thérese of Lisieux’s prayer, “I choose all!

I choose all.  I welcome all.  Everyone is welcome, everything belongs.  There is no need to separate what actually wants to be one anymore…within me, and around me.  I choose all.

Now i don’t think the barista would appreciate me telling him “I choose all!” when ordering my coffee…
but perhaps at least i can release the idea that my choice, my preference, is ever the only one, the right one, or the better one.

 

Allowing

Last week I seriously thought I was losing my mind.  And, indeed, i was.  Rowan started what i can only describe as colicky…jags of crying that clearly seemed to be brought on by some painful digestive issue.  This alone would be challenging to withstand, but then throw in the toddler, the afternoon of recording where i had to record in spurts so i could drive back and forth from my mom’s house to care for the baby, my inability to manage cooking meals without it derailing my day or my kitchen, and of course struggling to find time to meditate or exercise or breathe.  By friday morning I was at my wits end…literally dissolving into a puddle of tears on the floor.  Gratefully, Steve had scheduled us to go to the monastery for the weekend…so I narrowly avoided having to check myself in to the insane asylum, and instead was brought back to center by the quiet rhythm of the monks, the glory of being in nature, and as much silence and solitude as having Rowan with us permitted.

There is something quite perfect about that expression, “losing my mind”.  It perfectly describes what happens when the challenging situations of our life offer us the opportunity of stripping us from what is false.

My mind is the hard-drive of my issues.  It is the center and source of thinking…of the never ending litany of my ego’s unmet expectations, and projections into the future.  It lives constantly in past and in future, NEVER in the present.  And so, it lives for what is not real…and resists the “now”, because the “now” will debunk the mind’s rattling, rendering my ego useless.

Imagine a world in which you are being told that there is always something wrong with you, which you believe, and that you have to take a medication which will address that wrong, which you do, which proceeds to make you dependent on the medication because of what it does to your body, which causes new problem, so you then take another medication to rectify the problem, and on, and on….yeah, the ego is sort of like that.  (Of course that was entirely a hypothetical scenario…a world like that is hard to imagine, i know )  The ego feeds off of our thinking and gives us another drug of a thought to hook us and keep us out of the present reality.

I’ve been resisting again.  By not allowing this time of motherhood mayhem to do its work in me I am resisting the opportunity to let go of what IS-not.  Motherhood, like all forms of service, brings with it the opportunity to break out of egoic thinking patterns…but in order to receive that gift, I must first ALLOW it to break me open. To free me from expectations, the gateway ego-drug.  To strip me of my preoccupation with past.  To stay me from future projecting.  To teach me how to just BE in each moment…which is the only moment i can be…the only moment that IS.

Allowing.  It is not enabling, reacting, ignoring.  It is mindfully and consciously saying “Yes” to what each moment brings.  It is open reception, a non-clinging appreciation, and utter awareness that everything carries God’s presence hidden within.

 

Allowing

I paced the floor
rocking,
then
patting.
Oh God, was I tired.
I sang a song,
then two,
then three…
the words all jumbled
in one incoherent string.
It is a soul beating,
a physical marathon,
and an emotional swing,
to give so much of yourself
to this tiny,
vulnerable being…
To give so much of yourself,
but to resist giving all.
I resisted that morning:
Hell
yes, I resisted.
But when i finally surrendered,
he fell asleep in my arms.
Allowing discloses this most important gift,
for had i been sleeping,
I might have missed the dawn.

The Power(in)lessness

I was never quite able to relate to the story of Mary.  She always seemed like such a sweet, meek, “nice” person.  She said “yes, may it be done to me as you say”.  The paintings of her by the masters depict a woman with head bowed, Mona Lisa demure smile, and hands gently folded or outstretched, ready to receive.   She rode for miles on a donkey 9 months pregnant without complaint (in as much as we know), and gave birth in a filthy place.  She was just…so…good.

I didn’t get her.  I am not a “nice” person…and my husband wishes I had an ounce of that kind of sweetness.  I complain frequently.  I laugh loudly.  I give my opinions freely.  I cry regularly.  My mother used to say that i was all peaks and valleys…life experienced to the fullness for better or worse.  And if you were to ask me to chose a heroine for myself,  I wouldn’t hesitate to chose a sword swinging, adventure loving, elf-power possessing, Tolkien character over “meek” Mary.

But then…I became a mother.

We’ve heard recently the familiar expression that to become a parent is to watch your heart leave your body, and walk around with legs on it, in the form of your child.  It is an experience of sheer terror…to feel the greatest love you’ve ever had for someone collide with the truth that we cannot ultimately protect them.  Becoming a parent is to confront our own powerlessness.

We LOVE heroes/characters/deities that depict power.  We love the superheroes, the billionaires, the God who shoots down lightning and parts the seas.  We love to live in that place in our hearts that is under the illusion that we can decide our destiny…make anything happen…be in control. It is a much harder thing to face that it IS an illusion.  To realize we are not in control.

What happened last weekend was a tragedy that cannot be understood.  What the parents of the 20 children and 6 adults face is something that no parent wants to face in their lifetime.  There is no mother or father in this country whose heart isn’t united in brokenness with the hearts of the families affected by this horrific event.

In this advent season I have a new perspective on the Divine.  I am seeing with new eyes the images of God as a baby…weak, vulnerable, and exposed to the dangers and evil of this world.  That same God later as a naked man…dying on a cross.  And for the first time…God as The Mother…watching her son on that cross, powerless to stop it.

All I can say is that I have to believe.  I have to believe in this path outlined by our Spiritual Teachers…the embodiments of the Divine here on earth.  I have to believe that there is doorway in the great wall that barricades our consciousness that only opens in our suffering…when we stop thinking we’ve got it all together…when we stop thinking at all.   I have to believe that somehow, as is evident in the cycles of nature, new life will come.  I have to believe that there is some essense of being that is accessed only in the surrender, in the letting go.  That power isn’t found in the hoarding, but in the courageous act of freely giving it all away.

Mary wasn’t weak.  She wasn’t meek.  She was a fierce, courageous woman….the kind of courage i can only hope to aspire to.  The kind of courage that releases when everything in you fights to cling.  The courage that rose in her to say “yes” even though it meant being ostracised by her family.  The courage to give birth alone, in the darkness, without the familiarity and comfort of her mother or other women present to assist. The courage that drove her to travel by foot or donkey to Egypt to save her son’s life…and eventually to experience what no parent wants to experience, the loss of her son’s life.  And her ultimate courage? Her belief.  Her unwavering hope that something must live on after the dying…and it did.

I think we’re all longing for something to be born in us this Christmas…a new hope.  When we sing “Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel”…we’re naming a longing deep within that what is Divine would break through this Darkness.  That we could conceive and bear our own Christ in the night…our own, unique expression of God in this life.  Even if it breaks us open.  Even if it costs us everything.  Would I be that courageous?

I’d like to share this reflection I wrote about my new heroine that was recently published in the Advent issue of the small, quarterly publication, “Desert Call”, by the Spiritual Life Institute of America.  There is a powerlessness to being a parent…I hope I can follow the example of The Mother and have the courage to learn the power in lessness.

Have a blessed holiday season…
and if you celebrate the child in the manger, don’t forget to bow your heart to The Mother too.

 

The Eucharist of The Mother

There were three who spoke the words,
This is my body,
broken for you.”

Last night I couldn’t sleep
for the throbbing of my hips.
They expand to make room
for the infant within.
Belly taught and stretching,
aching back, and sore feet.
Did you know a woman’s heart
moves over to accommodate
the organs displaced
by the growing baby?
Did you know her body pumps
twice the amount of blood
of a regular woman
for the duration of her pregnancy?

The Mother is the first vessel
of the Eucharist.

The creative heat
of sweat and seed,
the consumed consumer,
the fruit of two lovers gives way
to 10 months of carrying,
waiting and finally breaking.

The first lesson is:
it takes a lot of waiting
to grow what God plants inside you,
and in order to birth it
you must suffer a breaking open.
The labor will be long,
painful…
And it will be messy,
(theology can try, but it can’t dismiss blood and water, and the mess
of being divinely human)
It must,and shall,
rip you apart.

But what mother would not endure
this wrenching open
for the joy of finally holding
the sacred creation?
And, what mother would not choose
a greater suffering than this
if she could but spare her son
from pain?

I saw my boy run toward me
carefree,
his golden hair flying behind his
smiling face
and in one instant ,
tripping over himself,
he fell…
his mouth hitting
the cruel corner of a metal chair.
Time played tricks as he fell:
I knew his danger,
and an impending injury,
but was powerless to stop it.

Later that night, returned from the ER,
my son asleep in his bed,
I rubbed my knuckles raw
scrubbing his blood out of our clothes.
The anguish was just as poignant
when I watched the dirty brown water
disappear down the drain,
even though I knew he was alright;
For it was his blood and water that was
draining,
And his blood is my blood,
our blood…
shed for you“.

How many more times did The Mother
watch The Creation’s life slip away?
It was not just his death.
She must have sensed the impending danger,
must have guessed where he was
headed,
and yet,
She was asked to stand at the kitchen
sink, and watch the brown water slip away.

And in His death,
do not doubt for a second,
that she received each blow,
each laceration,
each cut,
each piercing,
and choked for air
as she watched herself die.

His, Her final death.
Her ultimate sacrifice,
and surrender.

This is the example of The Mother:
To accept this body is not my own
and in such willingness
as to carry the seed to term,
even knowing that it will break me apart.
Trusting the breaking in order to withhold
the joy of the creation
while never seeking to posses it,
ever choosing to release it,
and surrendering
again, and again,
even in death.
Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Avila music update

Well…i sneezed, and two weeks went by.  And although i had every intention to have a quiet, peaceful window in which to write this morning…my life has other plans.  Rowan has his first cold….which means my usual sleep deprivation has reached a point of near delirium.  So as much as i’d like to will my brain to work this morning, there’s this flashing “system failure” going off in my temporal lobes.  Oh…and my trusty swing, also known as my other arms,  isn’t working for some reason, so Rowan is currently tucked into my husbands sweatshirt (yes, i’m still wearing it) with his little rhythmic, rattling breath as my background noise.

But somehow, I have inched into musical productivity and released the covers EP of my side project “Avila” in collaboration with my dear producer friend, Daniel.  We’ve been working on our takes of popular songs for the last year, and it has organically developed into what we feel is the formation of our own sound and style.  We’re currently working on original tunes to release next, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to release the three covers that we think started us out.  You can link to our “Curtains” EP through our new website:  www.avila-music.com.  My personal music website went up last week too, with “Curtains” and my other EP’s : www.briestonermusic.com.

And in a completely unexpected, unanticipated, and serendipitous occurrence…Victoria Secret has picked up our take of “My favorite things”, from “Curtains”, for their holiday commercial campaign.  The commercial will supposedly premiere tonight (I still am still somewhat incredulous) during the VS Angels Fashion Show on CBS.  Although I can’t think of anything that will make me feel better about my post-partum figure than to tune into super models walking down the runway in their nickers, it is kind of thrill that our song will be played in people’s living rooms across the nation for the next month.  So next time you tell your husband/boyfriend to avert his eyes during a VS commercial, maybe you can at least turn up the volume ;-) .

Now I return back to my glamorous life of trying to pick up the disaster zone known as my house before the tasmanian toddler returns from preschool.  My brain is now sounding a five alarm bell that it has reached its word count capacity for the day.  Must…conserve…vocabulary…

 

 

 

The Grind

“And when you have dismissed the serpents of greed,
conquered the lizards of self-importance
and
 lulled the monkey mind to sleep, your steps will be lighter.
When you have given up everything make a friend a cup of tea and tend her broken heart,
stood up against the violation of the innocent children and their fathers and mothers,
made conscious choices to live simply and honor the earth, your steps will be lighter.
When you have grown still on purpose while everything around you is asking for your chaos,
you will find the doors between every room of this interior castle thrown open,
the path home to your true love unobstructed after all.”

Teresa of Avila (translation by Mirabai Starr) 

 

Yesterday was my first full day at home alone with the boys.

I had been somewhat dreading this moment when Steve was back at work full time and i would have to face the juggling of newborn and toddler on my own…but then, something miraculous happened.

I woke up with energy.  My hubs made me a breakfast of champions: sauteed kale and veggies with eggs.  Kale, people.  For breakfast.  I felt like Popeye sucking down his spinach…i swear my muscles instantaneously grew.  Søren got up in one of those adorable moods where “please” and “thank you” were actually a part of his vocabulary.  Steve went off to work…and i did not die.  In fact…I laundered the diapers (yes…cloth diapers…day two.  So far so good, but ask me again how i feel about our commitment to the earth in a month).  I got Søren fed and dressed.  I brought the boys upstairs and was able to put laundry AWAY (a task that is usually procrastinated in our household for a good solid week).  I managed to take a quick a shower.  A SHOWER.  Oh…and…get this….i even hand washed some delicates.  All the while juggling feedings, burpings, changings, and toddler entertaining.

Sure there were a few intense moments…at one point my toddler had to get his “stinky snake” out (his terminology for going “number two”), at the exact same moment my newborn woke up hungry.  Later on my newborn sprouted a geiser while changing him that literally created a design on the wall and mirror behind the changing table….right when Søren decided that yelling and screaming “MAMAMAMAMAMAMMAMAMAMA” would be a fun game.  But peace prevailed…i was calm…almost zen-like, while i put out one fire and then the next.

Helen Reddy was ACTUALLY singing “I am woman” in my head.

But lets just fast forward to the wee hours of this morning shall we?

1 am.  Rowan wakes up for a feeding….for some reason he struggled to go back down until 2.
4 am, Rowan wakes again, feeds, and does his squawking, grunting thing that keeps me awake till 5.
I roll over…an expletive runs through my head.
I pick him up and just then, in that moment when his face is nearest to mine he projectile vomits spit up…like a solid 1/4 cup right in my face, into my half opened mouth, and all over my hair.
“EXPLETIVE,” I actually say this aloud now.
Once i get us pretty cleaned up, he proceeds to fuss, burp, and spit up for another hour.  Clearly my dinner last night was not working for him.  Finally, he and i doze off for a minute…and next thing I know, Steve is telling me that it’s  7 am.

“Expletive,”  I groan.

I blink and its suddenly 7.30, and i finally stumble out of bed, spit up encrusted hair and all. I manage to get Ro fed and then wake up Søren for preschool, get him dressed ( no easy feat these days with an opinionated toddler who has lately developed a phobia for putting shirts on over his head), fed, hair semi-brushed, and off he goes with Steve.  My kale breakfast this am? Sitting cold on the dinning room table.  I ate it anyway.  Now, i am sitting…or i should more accurately say, reclining, at the desk with Rowan tucked into Steve’s sweatshirt that i’m wearing…an outfit that will grace Søren’s preschool when I go pick him up in a couple of hours.  And, yes, my hair still has spit up in it.

The moral of the story?

Grace is not developed easily.  Patience is not something we’re born with.  Love is not a feeling, but a commitment…a slow breaking open of our selfish, ego-centric former selves that makes way for the greater I Am to be found.  The “I Am” that is unconditional, boundless, spacious, abundant, and true.  That is the treasure that allows us to find stillness and not let our ups and downs dictate how we see the world, or each other.

It is easy to spiritualize or think yourself spiritual when you’re not required to continually serve.  And yet, somehow we are surprised when the school of life offers us the opportunity to learn what it means to truly love, and so discover our true selves, through hardship of sleepless nights…or in letting go of our supposed control over the present circumstances of our lives and surrender to the “now” in the needs of those around us.

The more of “me” I give away…the more “like me” I feel.  So I raise my stone cold coffee not to yesterday’s smooth, successful day, but to last night’s sleep deprivation and spit-up extravaganza.  And cheers to all you sleepless mamas and dads out there, all you taking care of elderly parents…and all you lovers learning that love and marriage is forged through time, not a lightning bolt, hollywood cute-meet.

Keep it up.  True Love is worth the grind.

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