State of Emergency

Today is Day Three of my vacation. On Day One I picked up a rental car in Chicago and drove to Kentucky. The plan was to spend two nights and one day hanging out with my best friend, who lives there. Maybe we would go to Berea. I was hoping to buy a few inexpensive wooden spoons and suchlike to give as gifts along the way. We would definitely eat delicious food, probably drink some bourbon, talk, laugh. It was going to be great. Then, from there, I planned to drive to Tallahassee for one night before heading to the beach on Sunday morning for a week before finishing the trip with a visit to friends and family in Atlanta.

Well. The best laid plans, as they say. Whatever it is they say, whoever they are. I know I could look it up but I don’t want to. I do not want to be precise. Because really I don’t care what the saying is. I know the point: your plans are going to get fucked up. Life is change. Human lives are tiny and we cannot truly control anything. Except how we are in the world. And even that takes a tremendous amount of work.

I suspect I’m going to be learning this lesson over and over for however long I live. Today, though, felt like a big one, like maybe I moved up a level . Which of course means the challenges will get bigger now. But still. I’ll take it. With gratitude. Because right now, writing this post, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

When I left Chicago on Thursday the weather was perfect. I knew a storm was coming but wasn’t too worried. Cut to today. This is what the road looked like around 7:15 this morning when I left Richmond, Kentucky, Jan 23 2016my friend’s house. I was behind a giant tractor, which was pushing snow out of the way. I felt good about the trip. So good that I did not check the weather before I left.

Snow bunniesI know it seems crazy. But we’d checked yesterday, thoroughly, in between shoveling their rather long driveway. Speaking of which, that itself held a few lessons: (1) Communicate frustration directly, not sideways, and if you love the person you’re talking to, remember that; (2) shoveling snow is even harder than it looks; and (3) surrender. Ask for help. It will come.

Mine came in the form of a man of few words who was driving a small, green, John Deere tractor. I was standing at the end of the drive, nearfrozen braid the place by the street where I’d gotten stuck earlier that day (we had to go out because my friend had a physical therapy appointment that wound up being cancelled via a note on the door), and I guess I looked pathetic. I know there was snot pouring out of my nose because that’s why I’d stopped, to get a tissue from my pocket. Anyway, there I was when this angel of a man drove up, stopped, and said, in a slow Southern accent, “need a hand?” Yes, I did. So he took over. Cleared the drive. Then stopped again, said, “good enough?” and drove away. It was magical.

Before that incident I was close to tears, frustrated and anxious. Holding on and managing to notice then consciously soften clenching, both physical and emotional. But not in a great place. Afterward, though, I felt all this internal space. I came inside where my friend (she’s the one with the frozen braid) was marveling at our good fortune with the tractor angel, and I practiced yoga for an hour. There was a minor catastrophe during my practice (we’d inadvertently broke the heat by shoveling snow into the furnace vent), but I was blissfully unaware and by the time I emerged it had been resolved. So we ate cheese, hung out for a while, then had an early night after noticing that the driveway still seemed clear. Outlook for travel seemed good.

Ha! I’m nohighway madness near Bereat sure when I’ve been more wrong or felt less competent. At first everything was fine. Sure, there was a little snow on the highway, but it was no worse than the aftermath of a storm in Chicago. I just had to go slower than usual and maybe wouldn’t make it to Tallahassee that night. It was going to be great. Until it wasn’t. This happened somewhere around Berea, just a few miles away from my friend’s house. As I learned when I checked my phone, there was a huge traffic jam on I-75. Some people had been stranded for 12 hours. And me? I drove right into it. In the world’s least suitable car. With less than a half tank of gas. So foolish. The only upside was that I didn’t have time to drop off my dry cleaning before taking off on Thursday, so had a bunch of sweaters in the car. I wrapped them around my legs, Finding humoradded a couple of layers, and waited. I made a few calls, I took pictures, texted friends and family. I tried not to freak out.  At some point, in a text, my dad noted how handy all my mindfulness training must be about now. In another text a very wise friend  suggested that maybe the universe was giving me alone time. Not that this was happening in order to give me alone time, of course, but that I could choose to be miserable or to look at as an opportunity. And that’s when I found my sense of humor. It all became so funny. Scary, yes, and uncertain and far from ideal. But also hilarious. Especially when I decided to get out my crystals and put them in various places throughout the car. I put them in the little compartments in each door, in the console at the front, and on the back seat. I surrounded, bathed myself with this energy of something that I don’t understand or quite believe in.

And yet. I always feel better with crystals around. It’s an admission. Right here. I don’t like a lot of what I consider to be hippy paraphernalia (although I love hippies. Seriously. Just not the look.), and crystals used to be a prop in my store of mockery. Until something changed. In Zion National Park. Which is a story for another day.

Back to today. I’m going on and on and am not quite sure what I’m saying. I suppose just that this happened. I was pretty miserable and scared. Then I decided to trust that everything was going to work out. I gave myself Reiki. I breathed as deeply as I could. I waited. I talked to my best friend on the phone, asking about the weather (because my stupid old phone wouldn’t give me the full report) and I got irritated when she wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear. But I managed to work within the irritation instead of getting lost in judgment, and state what I needed directly. We had a conversation, clear and direct, in which each of us moved through our individual fear and frustration and came through the other side without a misunderstanding. In the 30 years I’ve known her, this might have been the first time. At least for me. It was cool. And then? At the first opportunity, I got off the highway, even though it wasn’t what I wanted, because I had allowed myself to soften, which allowed me to hear the concern from friends and family and see that it would be foolhardy to go forward. I found a gas station. A man, maybe the man in one of my photographs, backed into me. There was no damage, everything was okay. Except him. He was driving a U-Haul and had been stuck on the road, right there, for 12 hours, then just got off and found gas and was stuck in snow at the gas station and hit me trying to get out. I wound up hugging him. I hope he’s okay. I’m going to send that hope to him, wherever he is.

After my little crash, the men inside the gas station advised me not to enter the lot at the Day’s Inn, that maybe the Hampton would be better. Less of an incline. So I went for the Hampton Inn. Where I did not get stuck in the parking lot and where they had one room.hotel room bed This room.  With a king size bed and a comfy chair and a kitchenette and room for yoga. I’m pretty sure I am the luckiest person ihotel yogan the world. Which has always been true. What’s new is that I’m finally realizing it and not taking it for granted. I feel gratitude. Huge, warm, flowing gratitude. For being safe and warm and deeply, deeply loved. If you’re one of those people who loves me, thank you for that. If you don’t, I thank you, too. Because more and more what I know is that we’re all love. It is the only thing that matters. Yeah, maybe that reality got lost in all the hippy fluff. But John Lennon had it right. So many other artists get it right. And I’m finally getting it.

I decided to write this post because I wound up cooking myself this crazy gruel in the kitchenette, gruelfrom hotel kitchenettefood that I had in the car. I thought it was so funny, yet also practical and kind’ve cool. I wanted to share. The idea came from a good friend who I’ve been teaching Forrest yoga for the past two months–she’d mentioned the other day that you can take just a small amount of oats and make a beverage. So, today, starving and stranded, I remembered her talking about that and decided to give it a shot. I didn’t have a bowl or a spoon, but I had a wide-mouth mason jar I’d used for chocolate milk (raw w/ cacao and honey) that I made for my trip to Kentucky. And I had oats and prunes that I’d brought from home for the beach. So, I decided to boil some water in the microwave, toss in a handful of oats and couple of prunes, shake it up, and let it sit for a while. Voila — gruel! Pretty tasty, actually, and definitely nourishing. Maybe not worthy of a full-on recipe, but good inspiration for a post.

And wow. I had no idea I was going to say all of these things. From gruel (which name reminds me of my youth in Tallahassee, Florida) to crystals and love. Perhaps I will regret this. But I think I’m going to post it anyway, as is. With love. And gratitude. From Kentucky.

 

 

Tonglen for Thanksgiving. Also, a ham and links to many recipes.

Early this morning, after starting water for coffee, I put a ham in the oven. For Thanksgiving. Which I’m celebrating this year at home, in Chicago, with a small group of dear, long-time friends.

I have so very much to be grateful for. The group of friends who are coming for Thanksgiving, the core of my urban family. My biological family in Florida. Satisfying, interesting work. Exceptional yoga teachers. Robust health. So much that to list it all would take my entire day, which I need to spend in other ways.

So maybe for now I’ll just focus my gratitude on Slagel Farms hamthis ham. It’s from Slagel Farms. I’m hoping it had a pretty good life. And I’m certain it will be delicious both on its own and then later, when I use the bone for some form of bean soup. This sort’ve ethical (I eat meat with qualms) ham was also affordable, because a friend from yoga invited me to join her and another friend in ordering directly from the farm–we all agreed that 15 dozen eggs divided among the three of us was not crazy. At least not right before Thanksgiving, a holiday that for me is almost entirely centered on cooking a traditional feast that calls for large quantities of eggs.

As I’ve said here before, there is little that makes me happier than cooking for people I love. Therefore yesterday, as I made cornbread for dressing, gluten free pie crusts for pecan pie, and cranberry orange relish, and while I rubbed salt and organic coconut sugar and black pepper into the very expensive organic turkey that another friend and I bought through the food co-op that I hope one day will form here in Chicago, I danced in the kitchen. I felt joy.

Side by side with the joy and gratitude, however, upwelling into unexpected spaces, I also felt, still feel, grief and anxiety.

I feel grief because the man I’m in love with is no longer in my life, because one of my sisters died far too young, and because I’m in the process of releasing so many delusions about who I am, what my life is, how I fit into this world. I feel grief about the state of our world, for all of those who are suffering untold horrors. For the contemptuous ways in which we humans too often treat each other and ourselves. And I feel anxiety over who knows what. The state of the world, yes, but also for some nameless unknown. In my life, anxiety comes in tiny waves that roll relentlessly through my small self, constant stories about this and that, him and her, me, them. It is the background music of my life.

Looking back, I think I’ve always been anxious. Indeed, at my sister’s memorial service earlier this month someone who knew Valerie long ago told me that her (this woman’s) babysitting career ended because of me. Apparently I would not stop crying no matter how she tried to comfort me. I was too young to remember that particular episode, but I have countless childhood memories of curling up with various pets, finding solace from the storm of feelings that I did not know how to handle and that no one around me was equipped to understand or resolve. It was the 70s.

As a young adult I found relief from anxiety in marijuana, which I smoked for years and years. It worked in a way. I was able to function in social settings, I was able to relax and feel normal. Have fun. But I believe that smothering my anxiety with drugs also choked off my ability to grow into the person I wanted to become. Because contrary to everything I learned as a child and young adult, anxiety is not something that needs to be pushed away. It is an invitation.

For the past month or so I’ve been doing an online meditation class through Dharma Ocean. Like Forrest Yoga, the form of meditation taught at Dharma Ocean is an embodiment practice. But meditating is for me much more challenging than yoga. There are no poses. There’s just you, on the cushion.

When I practice yoga I know I’m supposed to be feeling my body. And sometimes I do. But usually, despite continual attempts to stay in my body, I live primarily in my head and mostly in the future. Worrying, planning, thinking. I know that the solution is to practice yoga each morning at home, to meditate. And every day I have the best intentions. Then, most days, I make coffee. I write in my journal. Time passes. I have to go.

This is my life.

It’s happening again now. If it were a regular Thursday I wouldn’t mind too much because I would go to Gwen’s 4 pm class at Yoga Now. But today is a holiday. There is no class. I’m on my own. I want to meditate, I want to practice yoga, to have ceremony for and with myself on this day, to show up and do the things I know I should be doing to be fully alive and able to be my best self. Instead I’m here, in my head, trying to work this out in writing, to share my experience with all of you. Which is important to me. I’m not sure why. Lately I think maybe writing is yet another way in which I distance myself from my feelings, another distraction, another defense mechanism. But, at least right now, I think that’s okay.

Last night, lying in bed, I picked up one of the books on my crowded nightstand.bedside books Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It is one of the books I have to read and write about in order to reach Level Two certification for yoga teacher training. Like so many of those books, I’ve read it before. And I can’t seem to get it together to do the rather daunting homework. So instead, as with the other books, I pick this one up on occasion, open it at random, and read a few words here and there, usually before bed.

Last night I opened to chapter nineteen: Three Methods for Working with Chaos. The second method is Tonglen, which Pema Chodron describes as follows:

“When anything difficult arises–any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful–instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in…. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in–not just the anger, resentment, or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame–it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe it in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.”

In reading this I realized that while I might not have made time to meditate or practice yoga, I could easily practice Tonglen throughout the day whenever I felt grief or anxiety. I started right then, in bed. Breathing in the sharp pain of missing people I love who I will not see again in this lifetime. Allowing the feeling to permeate my body. Softening around the feelings, enfolding them with compassion for myself and all the others in the world feeling those same feelings. Exhaling a hope that we might all be free from suffering. That seems a good wish for today, for always.

Today I certainly won’t practice yoga. I doubt I’ll make time for formal meditation. Instead I am going to cook and clean a little in preparation for my guests. Then I’m going to spend time with them. Between now and then, though, I am going to practice Tonglen. I shall be sending out hope that all beings be free from suffering. Including you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for reading this. May you be well. May you be at peace. May you be kind to yourself. May you accept yourself as you are. And may you have a Thanksgiving that is happy, whatever happiness means for you. For me, sometimes happiness comes in feeling sadness. It is the happiness that comes from knowing I am alive. I am grateful.