Saturday, June 8, 2019

Manifestations

Barrel chested hollow
only aged bourbon can fill
Blackberry scratches
wincing when washed
Lead marrow limbs 
that rest like bricks
Sorrow, the glue that sticks
heartache memories together 


Shaped by
warmth
landscape
wind
and change
We are but clouds
manifestations 
of condensed water vapor 
floating in the atmosphere 
As far as the eye
As high as the mind
As full as the heart


This 
body
is my body 
My body 
is God’s body
God’s body 
is my body
Delicate and strong
This
 is God’s body
As long as I treat it that way

Friday, June 7, 2019

Right handed



I have been right handed pretty much my whole life, I think.  I remember realizing it very intensely in the second grade when I broke my arm.  I was staying with my Uncle Mark and Aunt Carol for the weekend.  Having a great time with my cousins, I attempted to jump off a swing.  My shorts caught on the seat, my intended trajectory changed and I fell to the ground.  I lifted my noodly arm, Uncle Mark scooped me up, we all jumped in the car and went to the hospital.  I remember looking at my Aunt Carol and asking "Am I going to die?" She said "No Honey, but I think I might."  Anyway, the next thing I knew, I had a huge cast on my right arm and I couldn’t use it anymore.  I was a waif of a girl with almost no muscle, so I remember barely being able to lift it, walking around with a sling all day. I couldn’t eat with it, I couldn’t run with it, I couldn’t wipe my butt or pick my nose with it and, most memorably, I couldn’t write or draw with it.  I had always drawn, but I was beginning the second grade and I had just learned how to write my full name in cursive.  I had just learned how.  Just. And suddenly I couldn’t do it.  It’s not like when you are an adult and have been writing for years and you may not be able to write very well with your non-dominant hand, but you can still write with it.  I actually couldn’t.  I couldn’t even print it.  I had to totally relearn with my left hand.  It was an illegible scribble at first.  I remember looking at it in disbelief.  I became so aware that what I was willing to happen with my brain was not coming down the circuit system of my left arm and hand.  I felt a constant disconnect and coordination struggle as I sat at my desk, now the slowest writer in the class.  Already my identity as an achiever had set in and I could feel the blow to my tiny ego.  I didn’t know that is what it was at the time, but remembering back, I am sure that my hot face full of shame and sweaty brow was what my ego looked like.  My teacher was a large, tough, scowling woman with a hair-lip who scared the crap out of me.  She was loud and looked disapproving and skeptical all the time. I only remember her smiling once and that was when, at the end of that very long fall semester, and yes it took a whole semester, I finally presented her my handwriting sheet with my name legibly printed at the top.  Her dark, bushy eyebrows softened, she smiled a big chipped toothy grin and pulled me in for a side hug.  Ok so she wasn’t that bad.  She was proud of me and I was proud of me too.  

However, interestingly, after I got my cast removed, I automatically went back to my right hand.  I remember looking at my left hand and contemplated continuing with it, but my right hand did things so much more smoothly and efficiently.  My awareness that I could use both hands more from then on increased, but my dominant took over in general.  

Hand writing was a very controversial thing again in the third grade.  It was at the end of the teaching trend which insisted everyone be right handed and hold the pencil exactly the same way.  It was deemed necessary to achieve “perfect penmanship”.  Well, the right-handed thing went out the window pretty quickly as there were several lefties in class, but the structure of the grip was not let go.  I distinctly remember being horrified as one day our tough, veteran bird of a teacher went around with a roll of ducktape and forced little fingers into the correct position, snuggly wrapped, remaining there all day.  Somehow, I don’t remember any parental outrage at the time, but there probably should have been.  I made sure to shape my fingers exactly as instructed, and I don’t remember ever sitting up straighter than I did in that class.  I am positive my posture did not help my hand position, but I wasn’t about to test it.  

So, of course for the rest of my growing years, my right side became more and more dominant.  Kickball was kicked with my right foot.  My backpack was carried on my right shoulder. I ate with my right hand.  I played basketball, guard position, dribbling the shit out of my right hand. Played softball and pitched, with, you guessed it.  Anything and everything: tennis, darts, archery, shoveling, firewood chopping, dishes, reading, cartwheels, cooking, drawing, painting, you name it.  Seriously, I'm convinced my right boob is smaller because of all the jiggling from brushing my teeth with my right hand.  It’s not like it was a conscious choice. It was a natural efficiency.  Even the way I slouched, as my mother would often point out, weight on one leg, hips off tilt, shoulders hunched forward, pushed everything to the right.  Parted my hair to the right.  My first root canal was on my bottom right molar, because that is the side I chewed on. I became an art major in college. I worked in sign shops and bakeries and eventually became a house painter.  All handy work.  While learning the trade of house painting, I began to understand the value of my latent ambidexterity.  Painting 10 hours with a six inch wide deck brush full of stain is damn near impossible with one hand. You learn to switch back and forth, just to balance out the back spasms under your shoulder blades the next day. It was a precursor of sorts, it stuck in my brain for some reason and was an important, increased conscious use of both hand tools I was born with.

This consciousness was leveled up again, several years later, when I suffered a major back injury. I was living in a northern, remote area and my partner and I were chopping firewood for extra heat from the fireplace.  Once again, my ego got the best of me.  Something tells me this ego thing is going to be a lifelong conversation.  Sigh.  Anyway.  I arrogantly decided I needed to demonstrate the proper way to chop wood and ended up pulling all the muscles in my lower back.  I was quickly bedridden and could hardly stand up halfway, let alone fully erect. I had jerked my right side so hard that my pelvic wings and sacrum were completely out of alignment.  Of course, bones can be moved back into place, but the chiropractor told me I could spend the rest of my life healing and maintaining the muscle strength in my lower back.  A prediction that has so far been true, over five years later.  I now love yoga.

Talk about your five year plan.  At the time I was not just physically imbalanced, but emotionally and psychologically even more so.  All of my life I learned to observe what was the “Right” way to do things.  Right, according to everyone around me.  I was the master of external assessment and behaving accordingly.  I was a drawing and painting professor.  We teach observation and replication.  It ironically permeated all areas of my life.  So now, I was in the middle of what most people refer to as a midlife crisis and I was about to discover how much of my life was not right, for me, anymore.  The ax that I swung began to split the twisted and knotted grains of my posturing, bringing changes that showed me in so many ways how off balance I had become.  I had completely lost my center.  I became so aware that what I was willing to happen with my brain was not coming down the circuit system of my heart and my life.  I felt a constant disconnect and coordination struggle as I sat at my desk, now the slowest student in the classes I was teaching.  This physiological overuse that had grown over the years, this right side dominance, and the pain that accompanied it, became an insistent metaphor.  My body was the alarm sounding for the emotional weight of overachieving, people pleasing, a perfectionist complex, and lack of self worth.  The pain of awakening pulled at my heart muscle, even harder than my back muscles…and so I broke.  Again.  It was about damn time.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Enlightenment



I moved to Bloomington Indiana in the fall of 2017 to have a go at living with my girlfriend Joann.  Bloomington was a completely unknown and undiscovered place to me.  I got a job as an adjunct at the local community college teaching drawing and printmaking, but I was also interested in a large beautiful Tibetan Buddhist center a couple miles from where Joann lived.  It would be a fantastic opportunity to dive deeper into a path I had been reading on and trying to practice on my own for several years.  So, we visited one day and signed up for their mailing list.  Soon after I received a notification for a Sunday morning Darma talk.  What is Darma, exactly, anyway, I thought?  Sunday morning came, and we drove down the winding wooded drive through the beautiful nature preserve surrounding the buildings, as one would expect of a Buddhist center, to the main temple on the property.  We entered and removed our shoes, as one would expect.  We walked into a room with a huge multicolor alter consisting of a plethora of pictures, flowers and figurines, as one would expect.  We sat down cross-legged and uncomfortable, on the floor pads provided, as one would expect.  There was a small, diverse group of attentive people in attendance, as one would expect.  A short, elderly, bald, Tibetan man with glasses wearing colorful, monkly robes quietly walked down the center isle and took his place in front of the alter and seated crowd, as one would expect.  His young protégé, who looked strikingly similar, followed humbly, at his service, as one would expect.  Prayers and instructions were given, and everyone stood for some traditional chanting, as one would expect, and then we all settled into place.  This is where the expected ended, at least for me. 

As the two sat at their places, the protégé opened a laptop and connected via video chat with another Asian man, from somewhere across the world, who was to provide the translation for the monk who sat in real time in front of us, as he did not speak English.  Okay, I thought.  This is a little unorthodox, but here we go.  The eager, middle-aged blonde woman sitting next to me pulled out a legal pad and a pen, poised to take down every word.  So, Realtime monk (that is what I will call him for this story), started to speak in Tibetan, I assumed, and talked for about 10 minutes.  Then he would stop and Virtual monk (that is what I will call him), would translate in a fairly broken, but understandable with sincere effort, accent.  Realtime monk would then bow his head, close his eyes, fold his hands in his cross-legged lap and wait.  My studious neighbor scribbled maniacally.  About the third round of translation, just when one of my legs had fallen asleep and everyone else started to shift in their physical and psychological discomfort, as one does at any Buddhist event, Virtual monk started to emit a slight Buddhist fervor.  He began to elevate his volume, ever so gently, and lengthen his pauses in between phrases to create emphasis.  Everyone’s ears perked just a little and made effort to hold still, as we could sense that something important was about to be revealed.  The anticipation was birthed with the next statement.  “There are 3 things that you should remember about the concept of Darma.” Virtual monk said.  “Crackle, crackle, er, um, eh, blurp, boop, beep” and the internet connection was lost. Small patient sighs and smiles were given as the protégé worked quickly to regain a signal.  As the image and sound returned, Virtual monk continued to talk as if unaware of the interference.  “and those are the things you should remember about Darma”, he said.  Realtime monk silently giggled, shrugged his shoulders and lowered his gaze as his young protégé nervously carried on, and a large, technological weight now sat upon his shoulders

“Oh my god!”, I thought.  We missed the whole answer!  Joann gave me a ‘be polite’ poke in the ribs, as I had started to laugh, silently to myself of course, at the irony of the situation as well as the confused, hovering pen and desperate blank space on the woman’s legal pad next to me.  Not to worry.  Realtime monk began speaking again and after another couple rounds of translation, the waning attention span and physical discomfort returned.  There was a row of black chairs lined up at the back of the room behind the kneeling pads and one by one, my girl Joann included, faithful Buddhist novices began to drop like flies…or rather, awkwardly rise out of their pins and needles pretzel knot on the floor, desperately reaching for the nearest chair behind them to regain circulation.  

Then, in the nick of time, once again the Buddhist fervor returned.  Virtual monk raised a finger in emphasis on the tiny laptop screen in front of us.  “The most important thing you must remember about Darma is…Crackle, crackle, crackle, er, um, eh, blurp, boop, beep!” and the internet connection was lost.  We all almost faceplanted in our strained forward listening leans.  Holy crap. Are you kidding me, I thought?  Is this a joke?  Realtime monk’s eyes popped open, and he gave the protégé an inquiring side eye.  Poor protégé maintained his mild temperament, but a restrained panic was definitely detectable at this point as he hopped up and quickly glided to the back of the room, to check the modem.  Monks softly glide peacefully through space apparently, even when stressed or panicked. Maybe it’s the robes.  Anyway, by the time he sat back down, the connection had returned and there was our trusty virtual monk, this time informed of the interruption, but still unphased by the pause in his stream of translation.  “in any event” he continued “those are very important things to remember about Darma”.  Realtime monk squeezed his eyes shut, lowered his gaze and giggled even more.

Oh my god!  I thought, once again.  Seriously? Is this really happening?  This has to be a joke!  My mind was very confused.  Frustrated, physically uncomfortable and extremely amused simultaneously.  I joined Realtime monk and laughed harder too.  Silently, with my hand over my mouth and Joann’s disapproving toe in my back, as she was sitting behind me in one of the chairs.  I could see cartoon heat waves begin to emanate from my neighbor the scribe.  She stopped writing and straitened her spine.  Nervous laughter sprinkled around the room but did not last very long.

Translation continued, and I caved into the beckoning chair next to Joann. We were about an hour and a half in when it happened a third time.  I can’t ever remember the question anymore, but I am positive we did not get the answer, as I watched the same dance of the protégé take place.  The dutiful note taker had stopped writing completely, putting her pen and paper back in her bag in resignation.  I wish I had had the courage to laugh out loud because I began to think that Woody Allen was going to pop out of a closet at any moment.  It really could have been a movie.  We sat patiently through the questions at the end and the invitation to tea and cookies afterwards.  As we escaped to the bathroom, Joann asked if I wanted to stay for tea and cookies.  “Nope,” I said.  “Great!”  She responded. Not only had our patience been spent but we were dying to get back to privacy, so we could ask, what the heck just happened?!

The mailing list notifies me on a regular basis and although I have not been back to another Darma talk, I continue to study Buddhism and meditate on a regular basis.  I have told this story to several friends and I have thought a lot about that question. What had happened, what was that? I didn’t learn anything new about Darma, still can’t tell you much specific about it.  However, the more I think about it, maybe I gained some understanding about overarching questions of enlightenment posed by the comedic turn of events that day.  

Most everyone there, I would imagine, may define themselves as a searcher, a seeker, or an explorer of sorts. The general conception, or should I say misconception, of enlightenment, as most people think of it, holds the mystic idea of something to be found or understood or attained.  However, this definition is wrapped in the false disguise of pursuit.   Everything I have read so far, as well as my personal experience, tells me that enlightenment is not something that can be “achieved”.  It isn’t a static state, it isn’t even a “something”, and furthermore it may not even exist.  Pema Chodron says “Enlightenment is not something we're going to achieve after we follow the instructions, and then get it right. In fact, when it comes to awakening the heart and mind, you can't get it right.”  I am not referring to concepts of bliss, the sublime, transcendence or joy, which are all elusive emotional states that I have personally experienced.  Maybe what has surfaced for me while reflecting upon that day is a message that I consistently hear, day after day, which is that all enlightenment is, is a simple acceptance of what is, or what is not.  Acceptance without anticipation, or guilt or resistance of any kind.  Maybe the video chat pauses were the very answers that everyone in attendance yearned to hear.  If enlightenment is truly just acceptance and presence, then surely it is held within the excruciating absence of answers.  Within the musical translation between languages.  Within the humming of pins and needles inside fingers and toes. Within the surrender of one’s pen sword. Within the silence of private internal laughter.  Within those quiet spaces in between connections.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hard hearted

Ain’t it funny 
how we don’t notice 
pieces of our heart are frozen 
until they begin to melt 
I didn’t know 
the snow storm started
until I was buried
I didn’t see 
that I was so guarded
until I found a lock on the gate
I didn’t feel 
the tightness strung 
through the holes in my chest 
until someone else
loosened the laces


Aren’t we supposed to hear 
whispers of the universe?
The soft rhythm 
of a zipper in the dryer
The hard hearted 
are often blind and mute 
but not deaf
Everyone knows the right song 
when it’s played 
I am not a fan of heavy metal music
Why does it take that kind of sound
in order for the order of things
to get my attention?


I am dizzy 
from all these rotations 
around the sun
How much energy 
am I exerting 
just trying to hold still?
I often feel the need 
to push against something 
or someone 
so I don’t fall down
I hope I can learn 
how to become a puddle
from all this melting

Friday, February 8, 2019

Very Good

I’m not very good 
at staying in the good 
I coast for two days
and then the thirds not so charming 
I’m not very good at taking a compliment 
Sitting in the space of praise 
makes the count down start
I slow motion implode
sabotaging each good moment 
until 
RUIN 
THEM
ALL

I’m very good at holding onto guilt
Shame could be my middle name
I’ll tell me how I’m wrong
in every tiny detail 
Then I can make sure
I get it right when I tell you
so we can both feel bad
Ring around the rosies 
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We
all 
fall 
down