An Exaltation of Particulars

My prescription glasses are made for a near-sighted woman, but for most of my life I have taken a long view, “seen” sweeping possibilities, open-ended choices, many right answers to a question.

So when a teacher or colleague told me I was being too general, too vague, the only response I could figure out was to name, elaborate, and catalogue the details.

This may have helped move a project along in the moment, but failed to solve my dilemma, which, I came to understand, was not so much a failure to see the details as a contempt for them.

The contempt was a shell covering fear – as a child it was much safer to avert my eyes from what was going on around me.

It was when I began to celebrate the details, a journey helped along by playing with images, in collage, and in poetry, that a new level of healing unfolded.

An exaltation of particulars

by Sara Eisenberg

You will not find me in a long silky skirt,

covered buttons to the throat,

hair piled gracefully on my head,

held in place with a carved horn

butterfly…the look of my maternal

grandmother Fanny in the one

surviving photograph.

These are not my mother’s dress-up pearls.

These are not Kali’s trophy skulls clad

in space, held in

the womb of time.

I stand on my own particulars,

pants loose at the waist,

jasmine tea fragrant in a small cup adorned

with rabbits dancing by moonlight,

sleepless nights an ally now,

and truths spoken haltingly but

spoken.

I lay up my treasures as working riches,

refuse to become a museum,

though I offer you these observations.

Visit again and again and the curator will offer a different gloss.

If you like, unstring these small transparencies,

fling them up into the sky:

their lights will arrange themselves for you,

constellations,

sky stories,

draw you back into your own.

Birthday Gift

The anxiety of being human runs through our soul, fiber, bone and blood, attending both the existential anxiety of death, and the more personal anxiety that rides on it, schooled even from the womb by our mothers’ mood and stress, and by the ways our infant bodies sense the ever-changing shapes and forms of our immediate surroundings.

But we are also birthed into, of, and held by the larger rhythms of the natural world, which is utterly without anxiety:

human nature, Mother Nature, inseparable.

 

birthday gift

by Sara Eisenberg

Tendrils of intelligent vitality
creep in at every pore,
embed me,
another green being in a sea
of sentient Ones.

I conspire with
plain-speaking pine,
cicadas courting with their forewings,
while the landscape whispers
in myriad tongues,
“There is no longer
in your face
the anxiety of being human.”

The Answer to Your Big Questions

Like you, throughout my life I’ve grappled with the big questions – the same ones philosophers, theologians and awakening humans of all eras have had:

Who am I? 

Why am I here?

What am I supposed to be doing?

Sometimes I asked these questions as a general plaint, in a context devoid of particulars, with a kind of existential shrug.

Other times I posed them as dilemmas arose: Do I take this job?  Do I stay in this marriage? How much do I invest in this friendship?

The way I asked implied there was Someone – Oracle, God, the personal voice of my Destiny, an Inner Guide, who could see further, discern relative consequences, and who surely had the answer.

What I got was silence.

So I muddled through, and repeatedly asked yet another question:

How come I never get answers to my big questions?

An answer to that question came one summer during a brief ashram stay:  

Because you don’t listen to the answers to the small questions!

The full truth was – I didn’t actually ask the small questions. How do I respond to the check-out clerk’s obvious distress? What is the helpful thing to do here? Which words would be most appropriate? How might I begin this day to allow for more ease?

The small questions belong to moments, and they have an immediacy, an intimacy, that suggests the answers have a limited time frame and consequences.

It turns out that we don’t really know what constitutes big and little, the full reach or impact of any single action.

I distinctly remember how I taught my toddlers about “big” and “little.” I conveyed big by pointing to or holding out a large ball or cookie, by holding my arms as wide as I could, and speaking in a forceful, deep, and booming voice.

For small I  peered, squinted closely at my pinched-together fingers and spoke in a high squeaky voice.

If only it were this easy to know the extent of our reach or impact of any of our actions.

Our words, thoughts and feelings are all actions, and all leave traces. Our human perspective and knowledge are limited. And our days are nothing but one action after another. Even refraining, keeping our own counsel, are actions.

I suspect that the answer to “Why am I here” and the other big questions may come tucked into the pocket sewn from our countless small daily thoughtful actions.  

Nourish Your Immune System

In the North we’re adjusting to shorter days, cooler temperatures, dampness, and, for many, allergy-provoking leaf mold.

During this fall transition, herbs that uplift, warm, keep things moving in the body, and support immune function are welcome supports to self and family care.

In herbal language, a tonic herb or combination of herbs are used to optimize healthy function, restore a challenged body, and maintain well-being.

I keep a pot of this soup on the stove through most of the cold months – it reminds me of  Baby Roo’s tonic from Winnie the Pooh.

Sara’s Tonic Miso Soup

  • Chop 3 large onions. 
  • Lightly saute with a handful of Shiitake mushrooms in just enough virgin olive oil so they don’t stick to the pot.
  • Add 4 cups water.
  • Add miso paste to your taste – red miso for a hardier and white miso for a lighter flavor.
  • Add 4 strips of Astragalus root.
  • Simmer 45 minutes.
  • Add handfuls of baby spinach just before serving, stir until thoroughly wilted.
  • Remove Astragalus root before serving.

Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus), a member of the pea family, is a mildly sweet and warming herb that can often be found in Asian groceries. The slices  look like tongue depressors.

Astragalus is used traditionally in Chinese medicine to nourish the body and protect it from invasion. In Western Herbalism Astragalus is used as a general tonic, to enhance immune function, especially resistance to recurring respiratory  infections.

You can also prepare Astragalus in a traditional way by baking or stir-frying it with honey and a little water to enhance its nourishing qualities.

For a more robust and heating preventive if you are fighting off cold or flu:

French Garlic Syrup

  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsps fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 Tb honey
  • Cover the garlic with honey, and let sit for 2-3 hours.
  • Crush to extract all the juice, and strain.
  • Drink 1 tsp 3x/day or more.

(From Anne McIntyre’s Drink to Your Health, Simon and Schuster 2000.)

Fall Rhythm Tip:

It is normal to gravitate towards more carbohydrates and more rest as we shift seasons. Give some thought to adjusting your routine to be more in harmony with the season in the best ways for you and your household.

Thank You: A habit-breaking practice

It was one day too many that I woke up to a lovely, sunny day in a “Monday morning” state of being – ready to turn over and pull the covers up over my head, anything but gather myself to sit up, put my feet on the floor, enter the day.

I’m not talking about any particular dread of what I anticipated the day might hold – just an unruly streak of crankiness and a night of unrestful sleep.

That was the day I took a green Sharpie, printed THANK YOU on a small yellow post-it, and laid it next to the small alarm clock on my night table.

I intended THANK YOU to be a cue to help me enter my day with more awareness, and it worked.

Some days I was aware of softening as I alighted one after another on breath, spouse, health, roof, running water, the whole order of my physical world that had not been upended while I slept. On such days I was reminded that in spite of the fact that all does not depend on my personal acts of will and exertion, I do still have a place in the world.

And some days I was unpleasantly but equally usefully aware of a gap between my wanting to and my inability to feel thankful. Either way I was more whole, more awake, and able to bring that into my day.

THANK YOU is not just good manners, or WD40 for a civil society. It can be a habit-breaker.

When we habitually fail to notice what is around us, and that we are a part of it, we unconsciously say No thank you! to life, and cut ourselves off from aliveness and connection. Because everything in life has the vividness of its distinct existence, and the power of its connectedness.

Try a THANK YOU post-it on your night table, bathroom mirror, fridge, or screen saver.

Or maybe your habit-breaker is PLEASE or YOU’RE WELCOME.

Let me know how it works.

Summer Morning Arrythmia

The texture, color and mood of our lives is often set below the level of daily awareness.

A succession of grey days, cold and damp. Or sunny, hot and humid.  Weather that invites us outside or draws us indoors for a warming drink and fuzzy slippers, invites longer hours of activity or of rest.

And we each respond to these shifts of temperature, light, moisture, the movement of air, in our unique ways.

Gusty winds of late winter and early fall challenge me. An hour of weeding on a sunny mild day can nourish me for a week.

Still, in the midst of summer, activity can also increase my restlessness, upset my rhythm, and lead me to seek out a winter moment. All the more so if I have not had my fill of quiet and rest during the cold months.

Summer morning arrhythmia

by Sara Eisenberg

a persistent garden fly nips at my bare legs.

i have more sympathy for him than usual,

i cannot seem to land, swat myself from one

temporary landing to the next,

come and go amidst summer clamor,

a fruit out of season,

pining for the winter spruce

of lower-case

calm.

A Virtuous Woman Weary

“I’m sick and tired of ____ !” 

This phrase sounds to me now like dialogue from a bad sitcom.

But there were years, decades, when I spoke them regularly as a reaction to the demands life made on me.

I thought I expected a lot of myself.

In truth, I expected more of life – of family, friends, colleagues than of myself.

With large applications of honesty and kindness, and with ample healing support, I began to perceive, acknowledge, and take responsibility for behaviors and consequences.

That is when a true and life-giving weariness set in.

a virtuous woman weary of her trade

by Sara Eisenberg

weary of:

lying down

in the bed I’ve made

lying still

unable to exhale

lying by

appearance

omission

commission

lying to

shore up

look good

avoid trouble

lying in

the interest of

equivocation

prudence

a finely rendered manual of evasive tactics

whose spine shows signs of wear,

whose pages are smudged with thumbing.

ships free.