Getting into trouble: grumpy, life-enhancing work

A life of practice can be grumpy and life-enhancing work. It does not keep us from getting into trouble. Or end our troubles.

It does help us to notice when we are in trouble. Sometimes that noticing slows us down enough to turn directly into the trouble and work with it.

 

Here’s an example of what my friend Carol calls the “grumpy work” of waking up.

My husband Gideon and I had been preparing for a major interior painting and floor-refinishing after 30+ years in our home. This involved months of sorting and packing and discarding and giving away STUFF. This definitely left us each grumpy, and weary, from time to time.

Finally our movers arrived one morning to do a walk-through. We needed to make a more or less final plan for how they would pack up and move our belongings around the house without putting anything into storage. I’ll leave the details of our respective reactions to this whole undertaking to  your imagination. Suffice it to say that Gideon and I each had our own version of overwhelm on display that morning, and didn’t fully appreciate one another’s concerns.

Shortly afterwards I left for a dentist appointment, grumpy and breathing heavily.

I thought to myself: this state of mind is not going to mix well with dental work.

 

On the 40-minute drive I turned directly into what was going on inside of me – a well-worn old program of assuming the whole burden of whatever needed to be done.

I repeated to myself: Take it back in. Take it back in.

Then:  Take responsibility. Take responsibility.

Then: Be responsible. Be responsible.

Then: Sara, rely on your own goodness, which is not personally-owned.

Rely on Gideon’s goodness, which is not personally owned.

Don’t rely on his neuroses.

Or on your own.

Do/be what you can. Trust that Goodness, Godness, Reality has my back, not in any small ego sense.

I am not alone in this.

As I went through this process, I was able to invite in the  thoughts and feelings that were present within me. I was also able to choose which thoughts and feelings I wanted to dominate – not something I can often do.

During each step in this process I was inviting in my limitations. My desire to let myself off the hook. My tendency to see the negative in myself, in Gideon, in the whole situation. My deep belief that whatever is going on in life, I carry the sole burden for figuring it out. For getting it done. Nested with each limitation is some wisdom, some intelligence: responsibility, goodness, the actual availability of help and support.

 

I call this kind of inquiry getting into life-giving, nourishing trouble.

This is not a linguistic or psychological sleight-of hand, not a formula for processing difficulties. No such formula exists. The language came to me fresh and alive in the moment, and it came from turning directly into my discomfort and my limitations.

By the time I arrived at the dentist, I was breathing normally, no longer grumpy.

This was a relief. But I warn you, this practice does not reliably bring relief from suffering. Sometimes it brings us through a kind of false suffering, like self-righteousness, into a place of true or primary suffering: fear for our safety, or a deep unsatisfied yearning to be met by the world.

 

Relief from suffering or no, it brings us to the truth of who we are in the moment. 

That is the true grace and fruit of practice.  It does bring us into relationship with what is going on inside ourselves and in the world.  

You’ll have to decide if it is safe for you to do this while you are behind the wheel.

Aloneness and connection: the theme of our universe

From the viewpoint of Kabbalah, relationship is the entire theme of creation. 

The One has become Two and then Many, yet each and every part remains connected to every other and to the whole. The transcendent and the immanent, the personal and the impersonal, the material and the highest realms of spirit are present everywhere.

Our essential dilemma as humans likewise is rooted in the underlying conditions of separation and connection.

We feel both our essential aloneness, and the vast possibilities of what it can mean to give and to receive in relationship. 

This is true whether we consider the nature of our relationship with a friend, a significant other, or The Significant Other who devotional poets have long called The Beloved.

The single word “cleave” carries the essential paradoxical dynamic of relationship. This Janus word looks in opposite directions at the same time, signifying both to separate or hew apart, as well as to adhere closely, with strength of attachment. Without the hewing, there is only enmeshment: no real connection, no space into which giving and receiving can be offered.

 

Cleaving

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I have long forgotten what I was made for:

to cleave, to cling and to hew all

at once.

 

With two fingers I tap

on the clear frigid air

of this first morning of the new year,

it shatters but holds together.

 

That same air must pass through

warming shades of blue

wool across nose and mouth to deliver

its essential lode to lungs that

have a new freedom I cannot account for.

 

I cross the room, walk smack into swags of

unseasonable gossamer, that sticky stuff

that has ambushed me in the late-summer garden,

and now presses itself into my crevices as if sealing a vow between

two solids.

 

No longer am I spread out over vast distances, destined

to spin, order and turn worlds,

harbor and protect legions, heedless of sleep: labors suitable to

whole colonies of social insects.

 

To be in my very own skin

where there is space between us

where breath may pass, and words, and love,

that cleaving we were made for.


Banner photo: Duke Gardens by Pat Merriman, Hillsborough Art Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

 

Back to basics: inclusion from the nondual perspective

Back to basics: I appear to need a good talking-to at the head of this year. Even as I seek to bring kindness, respect, and truthfulness alive in my relationships and work, I see with fresh eyes in how many ways I have twisted myself around and inside out to stay safe.

So I need to remind myself what I’m about at my most sane, and it starts with including the gnarly parts of myself.

So, a few words about inclusion from a nondual perspective: about its origins and power in what I call the Radical Oneness of existence, or the universe, or reality.

Many spiritual traditions view the world in this way. My roots are in Kabbalah, the Jewish wisdom tradition. You could call this Oneness God, the One who Holds (as in He’s got the whole world in His hands), Reality, The Buddha-Nature, Isness, The Great Kindness, The Garment of Destiny, the Quantum Field. One of the Hebrew names used is The Place, Makom.

This is a Oneness so great that it holds every distinction, separation, split, pair  of opposites, conflict, suffering, goodness, and every known and unknown. This is a world that is One not because it is has not shattered, but because it includes every shattering and every shard and sliver.

 

We humans, on the other hand, split the world. It is our nature. Hard-wired. For our survival.

We make distinctions: this/that, urban/rural, fashionable/out of style, essential/frivolous, normal, i.e.the norm/deviant. Then we go on to label them as “good” or “bad” and attempt to be/do/associate with the good-only. Or we inappropriately ride over, transcend, or erase differences, as in the view that we are a “post-racial” nation.

 

We do this splitting as we look out at the world. And we do this splitting as we look inward at ourselves.

We tend to include the parts of ourselves that we like – that are up to our standards of behavior or performance or skill or kindness or morality. And to exclude other parts we don’t like. For some of us, it’s the “good” parts we have trouble including, so we deny or minimize – that thing that I do, it’s not such a big deal.  Or diminish ourselves in comparison to someone “better.” Or fall into the mantra, “not good enough, not good enough,not good enough.”

The inner critic manages to keep close track of these. So does the task-master. So does the one intent on personal or spiritual growth, who often teams up with the critic/taskmaster on one of the following strategies:

– trying to wheedle, charm, or ring self-acceptance out of us

– turning us into an un-ending self-improvement project by means of “letting go of” or “purifying” or “transcending” or “seeing as illusion”or otherwise getting rid/killing off the parts of ourselves we don’t like.

– shame: that is a category all its own.

Living in this gap between our idealized and our real self is a high-maintenance and exhausting job, all the more-so when we aren’t awake to it.

 

Nondual practice – rooted in Radical Oneness, turns our attention towards forging a path of deep self-acceptance and dedication to staying at our working edge. We do our best to listen to the intelligence of our strengths and limitations, the parts of ourselves that we like, the parts we hate or despair of, the parts we deny or minimize.

The more we can do this, include each of these parts, come into relationship with them, give them a place, the more wisdom we have access to, and the less our limitations are obstacles in our path.

The more we can do this, the more we live in the world as the size we actually are, neither inflating ourselves nor shrinking away from life. The more we can do this, the more we can be intelligent companions to all kinds of people, even those who who appear most different from us.

As we include our own gnarly differences, the ones so hard for us to tolerate, the more capable we are of creating a world hospitable and nourishing to all the varieties of humanity.

 

Inspired to explore further? Be in touch to schedule a 30-minute complementary conversation.

 


Banner photo: photo taken at exhibit of Chihuly Venetians from the George F. Stroemple Collection, Alamance Arts, Alamance, North Carolina

 

Stand by the door: bless a year of taking stuff apart

What does it mean to bless? my friend Howard asked Reb Zalman. By way of response, Zalman posted Howard by the door to the retreat space as we returned from lunch, with no more directive than that.

 

It is in this spirit that I stand by the door of the year and consider the personal and public events of 2017, marked by disruption, interruption, dismantling.

On the personal side, I initiated significant disruption: after 35 years in our house, a project to re-do our sad-looking wood floors and repaint much of the first floor of our home. The domino effect, which I intended but couldn’t exactly plan, meant moving a lot of stuff around, getting into corners of accumulation, runs for empty beer and liquor boxes, hours of sorting and letting go. The physical and psychological labor was intense over a four-month period. A blockbuster approach to nostalgia, values clarification, and the great American dilemma of too-much-stuff. The process had its disruptive effects on my relationship with virtually every part of my identity, my family and my professional life. What does it all come down to? What, indeed. The outer rearrangements and lightening-up are settling in, the inner rearrangements and lightening up, still a work in progress.

 

But if a life of practice is about anything, it is about being a disruptor of habit and denial. And that commonly comes wrapped in discomfort.

There is more work to follow to get our house in order, going beyond nostalgia into territory such as: how long shall we assume we are going to live? how well-prepared are we financially? How well-prepared to assume care-taking roles for one another? what legacies are important to us, may someday help our children and grand-kids?

On the public side, I am horrified and terrified to live under an elected leader who governs by chaos and divisiveness and who cannot distinguish allies from enemies. Nostalgia makes for poor public and foreign policy. Values clarification? Many of us have caught fire with a new sense of urgency, commitment, skill and solidarity. We are paying attention. Our nation too has its ugly accumulation of dirt that now sees the light of day. Thousands of us are engaged daily to disrupt denial: the forces of habit of power-holders are formidable – whether in government, or in the home.

 

What does it even mean to be willing to bless such events?

May we each stand at the door of the year to bless as we can, looking first back, then ahead:

  • to look life straight in the eyes, to see who/what is before you and what is needed
  • to hold a profound intention for goodness
  • to take personal responsibility for guarding the threshold of the year
  • to join our volition with the volition of the universe that has our back

 

May we offer one another honesty suffused with kindness.

May we offer one another refuge from the wild elements within and without.

And please, share your blessings for the

outgoing and incoming years

 in the comments section.

A healing-awakening crisis? Listen for the Source-Song

From time to time, I have to listen up: my sense of being a secure “self” living “my” life unravels and dissolves as ink in water: a healing-awakening crisis.

An encounter with realities of daily life at unexplored levels. An encounter with tangles deep in my psyche. Like the outer world as we near the solstice, a time of maximum darkness.

In this current version, my mind has a mind of its own, spinning scenarios of one disaster after another in which no part of my life survives unscathed. No cues. No script. No landmarks. A profound stimulus to my prayer life, which languishes in “better times.”

 

I listen now for “the small Blue Deer.”*  Her song, as I learned it, ordered the forces and forms of creation.

In her native language, she Is Kauyumari. She first entered my life through the music and art of her Wixaritari (Huichol) people, a small indigenous tribe living in the Sierra Madre mountains of central northwest Mexico. In the story as I heard it, the small Blue Deer sang out her mysterious song to draw all the gods near to their Source: “form and essence, light and dark, fullness and emptiness.”* Drawn together as they followed her song, the gods, who had lived “each to his own”* – spinning from one creative/sustaining/destructive act to another, much as my mind is doing this very day – settled into their places – “conscious, mysterious, and free.”* Order followed, an order where each of the gods took on the role they were meant to play.

I am grateful for Kauyumari’s calming, warming and alchemical fire as the somewhat arbitrary end of the year approaches.

 

I go quiet, go within, listen for her song within, the one that carries “all that is, and all that was, and all that will ever be.”*

It’s about really getting that I have a within. That I am not spread out all over the universe, yet have a place in it that is mine alone. Whatever it is I am here for, no one else can do/be it.

I find myself resisting a path I have taken in recent years of engaging in some well-crafted, structured self-assessment, and planning ahead. My email box is filled with hashtags for creative alignment and inspiration. I cheer their creators and subscribers along – there are so many wonderful doors to walk through. But for myself, I cringe at each new arrival, shiny with promise.

Instead I gather information about parts of my life – and my being – that I have ignored – how I have made certain choices, and how did they work out? What have been my patterns of choices? Did they bring me some of what I hoped? What about unexpected consequences?

I crave quiet.

I listen to my own voices. Some wise. Some foolish, aka human.

I am intent on discovering and claiming what wisdom I have integrated. Taken in. Digested. I am intent on discovering and claiming – even as I cringe from them – my limitations and even shame.

And I listen for the echoes of the Source-song within my voices,

even within the deep loneliness that I cannot solve. 


 

*Language in quotes are lyrics from “The Blue Deer Is,” on the CD My God is a Tree, produced by Joby Baker and Scott Sheerin  (2007).

The banner photo of the Blue Deer is a yarn painting I purchased through the Huichol Art Project, under the auspices of the Blue Deer Center, founded by Huichol elder and Plant Spirit Medicine healer Eliot Cowan.

Collision averted and other miracles of the season

Collision averted today, one miracle in a season of miracles. 

Just in time I saw the dull gray sedan coming up on my right as I was about to make a left turn. On a dull gray day, when my mind was preoccupied with irritating matters. One of those near-misses I have experienced countless times behind the wheel, and that I imagine happens hundreds of times a day in crowded parking lots and on heavily-trafficked highways. I send my thanks heaven-ward, as it were, and move on uninjured and unimpeded to my next errand.

 

I am not much given to contemplating the miraculous, but this is the first day of Chanukah.

And the “Chanukah Story” that I grew up with was the miracle of the oil. The Israelites reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Greeks some 1800 years ago. In preparing to rededicate the space for worship, a single day’s worth of pure oil was found to burn in the re-kindled menorah. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days.

According to certain mystical teachings of the sages, miracles emanate from a level of creative power that precedes time and space, where delight infuses the divine urge to create. In some prayers we call upon this level, using the name “slow to anger.”

 

Since we are made in the image of God, this got me thinking about how we humans manifest miracles

I was standing in a long check-out line a couple of days ago. The woman behind me smiled and shook her head. Because she had just reunited with a dear high-school classmate, the woman in front of me. Their reunion may have been a miracle of divine origin. The way the two of them shared their delight with me, a stranger between them, and lifted my down-in-the-dumps spirits was of their very human origin.

 

But the miracle that has become foundational in my life story is about my mom towards the end of hers.

Mom was genteel. She had her views about what it meant to live “like a lady.” She was intensely private when it came to her emotions, her troubles, and her business. She always had a social circle of friends. In fact, she twice made the effort to cultivate a new circle of younger friends as her own peers died one by one. Still, she was not one to reach out to strangers or to others who appeared much different.

But on my last visit with her in the nursing home where she spent the last three months of her life, I was wheeling her through the diningroom on our way back to her room, when she asked me to stop next to a small table. A woman sat alone and downcast over her meal. My mother reached over, patted her hand and said sweetly, “How are you tonight, dear?” They exchanged a few words, and we went on our way, the woman clearly nourished and uplifted: a small miracle of human origin.

I was stunned at mom’s uncharacteristic behavior, and since then have drawn from it deep inspiration. Just a few weeks before dying at age 97 she was growing and changing.

At the end of life, another season of miracles.

 

May you be blessed to see the miracles around you, and to enact your own.

Morning has broken, I swim up to waking

Morning. Light hits my eyelids. As I swim up to waking, I mistakenly believe I am alone in the Universe.

I grew up believing that if there was something I wanted to see happen in the world, it was on me to bring it about: me alone. Years of adulthood roll on by before I even grok that this is a burden and a messianic imagining.  More years before I understand this to be an actual impossibility. Going it alone is just not possible.

We are irrevocably linked to one another and held together in God or Reality. Nor can God go it alone. She needs our arms and legs, our hands and voices.

 

Morning has broken

by Sara Eisenberg

 

I wake to find myself

wearing a tattered garment.

During sleep it has become

my skin, no seams,

the barest of hemmed edges

 

gilded with holes,

some gaping

where the garment hangs

on me,

by turns sad, reluctant, fearful as

light strikes

the fabric.

 

Such is the effort of waking as

if burdened by breath and pulse.

 

Once showered, properly

dressed for weather and agenda,

no one but You knows the undergarment.

Even I forget as the day goes on.

It doesn’t exactly chafe like a hair-shirt

but hums low, occasionally growls

and gives off a whiff of – Bear,

 

persists because You are in the holes and tatters

and persists because it makes a difference that I breathe and pulse

and slog and soar and walk tenderly and blindly

in this reluctant body,

and because it makes a difference that I know You are in the tatters and holes.

 

Still, I long to

lie still,

because there is One who longs

to wake into a world frayed yet made

whole.


 

Banner photo: Crooked Sky, Cold wax and oil, by Jude Lobe. Hillsborough Gallery of Art, Hillsborough, North Carolina

I welcome the lengthening dark

This season I find myself welcoming, even craving, the blue hour deepening to black. My moods shift frequently and want more space, and quiet, than daylight and activity allow. It’s a bit odd, since I almost entirely missed the summer sun and garden, pre-occupied with endless sorting and winnowing and boxing and giving-away and shredding and discarding STUFF. That is done. So is the painting and the refinishing of floors.

Only in the past few days have I been able to get outside for a few hours to cut down the dead blackberry canes, the brown, dried stalks of Joe Pye, echinacea, and mullein. According to my garden log, in other years I have finished shutting down the garden as late as December 27.  Still, that work seems unseasonal this week.

The lengthening dark somehow offers a balm to my disrupted seasonal rhythms that involves curviness and word-play, a different flavor of sitting in the dark.

 

this lengthening dark

by Sara Eisenberg

 

this lengthening dark

this early dark

draws

me

in

 

twenty-one more nights

geminated

resolve

me

on-

 

ward

mood-

blue slopes

clarify space

 

trewe as any bonde

true as innocence

true as magnet

to iron true

and

pauseless

as the pulses

as true as Tristram

and Isolde were true

as stars true as I live

 

wildly irreverent

 


 

For my poet-loving readers: can you match the “true-ism” to the author?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning                       “true as magnet to iron”

Geoffrey Chaucer                                          “true as innocence”

John Dryden                                                  “true as stars”

John Keats                                                     “true as I live”

Walter Savage Landor                                 “trewe as any bonde”

Thomas Moore                                              “true and pauseless as the pulses”

William Shakespeare                                    “as true as Tristram and Isolde were”

 

 

 

 

Four hymns to Thanksgiving practice

Hymn to a room of my own

The room where I sit to write is a room of my own, the first I have had since I was a child. It is filled with images of strong women on whose shoulders I stand: family, healers, spiritual masters, goddesses. Filled with books overflowing with both knowledge and questions. Decades of journals. Artwork of family, friends, my own. Lilah is stretched out on the healing table for her extended morning nap.

Here I exhale. Here I feel myself. Here I meet with other women who are in pain. Here I plug into Zoom and meet with colleagues across the country and across the ocean. Here I watch a strong wind speed clouds towards the southeast. Solitude and connection.

 

Hymn to writing 

I have been blogging weekly now for fifteen months. As with any practice, sometimes I am inspired, and other times it’s a slog. Always, the practice demands honesty, the most impeccable discernment I can muster. And it hews me to conventions of language and grammar and a willingness to break with them for good reason. Drop the subject from a sentence. Run on like a Proustian paragraph. Give up on narrative altogether and turn to poetry.

Poetry – here too I exhale. I trust sound and line length and white space. A period: ●  Or its absence. When a Hebrew word לְדַבֵּר speaks or detracts. This is my brief hymn of Thanksgiving to punctuation.

 

Hymn to gifts received

A life that is more stable than most. A body with some growing limitations that still allows me to move around the world in the ways I treasure. A mind that is wedded to one passionate inquiry after another. Currently: bringing the wisdom of nondual practice to working with social identities; and the Hebrew letter Gimel, which is said to personify Giving and also has a numerical value of 3. A husband who silently recites his wedding vows to me every Friday evening at the Shabbos table as he slips the wedding band on my finger. Daughters who continue to teach and inspire me through shring books, moveies, and their own  life lessons. Friends who loaned us their condo for a month while we had work done on our house. A colleague who takes so much responsibility for her opinions and actions that I am actually learning as we work together how to be in conflict, even disconnection, and stay in relationship. A richness of communities and colleagues – of healing, of inquiry, of writing, of practice, of vision and action, of readers.

 

Hymn to the Thanksgiving Table

This year I come to the table as a guest, in a tradition-breaking and welcome change, the table….

….. as a gathering of aromas and flavors and recipes to be exchanged

….. as a an invitation to listening and sharing and rewriting stories

….. as a privileged place of safety in a world where legions of humanity are without roof, walls, table and food

….. as an altar and a focal point of ceremony and ritual

….. as a place of healing, where each guest may take in nourishment she needs to come  home  to  herself

May we each be inspired to work in our own way

to bring about food, table, walls, roof, a place to exhale,

for every human being.

We cannot “#metoo” and leave our weeping behind

Which comes first, the weeping or the story?

#metoo has me asking: where do we bring our stories of misogyny into the daylight?  On social media? by filing legal charges? testifying in a court of law or a legislative hearing? sitting with a therapist, a friend over coffee, strangers (but not) in a support group? via text message, Facebook post, letter to the editor?

And how do we bring our stories out, pull the words up from our guts and out of our mouths? dry-eyed and reportorially? in a whisper? with weeping and railing? with what combination of anger and anguish?

I have thought a lot about modesty over the years – what gets exposed where, whether it’s a woman’s skin, a woman’s heart, a woman’s pain. Truths are being exposed. Must they also be an exposé?

Women are blowing the lid off generations of stories of suffering at the hands of a certain class of abusers of power. Frat boys. Good ‘ol boys. Locker-room buddies. Rich guys. Formerly adulated “stars” of screen and turf. A friend and I concluded ruefully that the US economy would tank if every guy who had sexually harassed, stalked, cornered, or violated women were fired from their jobs.

The public naming/shaming of these men is a lurid shadow of the shame that reinforced women’s silence. Condemnation by other men – the public distancing from the contaminated, is a lurid shadow of the isolation of every woman who bears her story, told or untold.

There are many possible outcomes of the above strategies. A woman might garner some mix of relief, validation, the protection of other women, closure, shaming, revenge.

 

But how do we heal?

How do we consecrate these stories, these bodies and psyches, these women, our sisters, holy each and every one?

For me it starts with weeping, weeping together as we women encircle one another with kindness and every bruise-healing balm we can muster.

 

And here lies a brutal challenge to my full humanity.

Can I –  who was raised to consider men irrelevant at best and fools at worst – loosen the bonds of my own identity just a bit?

Can I lay down my sword and shield for a sacrosanct second or two?

Can I weep for the offending men too, my brothers, who are so lost to themselves?

I think I could get there if the men in my life were ready to ready to weep with me.

And that is my human imperfection, not theirs.