This healing and awakening is “tacky,” i.e. real, human

Being more human, not more perfect can be so tacky: I have to mind the gap between the uncomfortably real and the idealized. Just now that means grief and anguish.

MIND THE GAP: I have always loved this sign that populates the London Underground, warning against a misstep between platform and train. The GAP I most need to MIND these days is the one between my Idealized, cleaned-up version of healing and awakening, and the Real Thing. I misstep daily, often without realizing it, as this rare dream illuminated for me a few nights ago:

I was in a cavernous, empty building, industriously erecting a sweet human-sized structure, well-proportioned, using high quality materials – there were four sturdy corner posts of well-turned and polished wood, a roof of shimmery colorful fabric overhead, some ethereal walls that left it open to a welcoming entry on all sides, until….

It abruptly collapsed…

And I found myself in the same cavernous, empty building, erecting – all higgledy-piggledy – a tacky little structure, a jumble of unidentifiable discarded materials, where everything was askew but managed to stand serviceably enough.

As I woke with these two images in mind, I could only shake my head at myself, recognizing the small structures were, respectively, my idealized image of a healed and awakened Sara, and the actual harum-scarum, raggle-taggle, hobson-jobson (to borrow again from the British), healing-awakening hot mess that I am.

As I woke, I was saying to myself: this is so tacky. Being more human and not perfect can be so tacky.

My dream was reminding me to be real, to reconcile myself one more time to my imperfect humanity.

Being real right now means I am awash in grief and anguish.  It means…

my cells are weeping

my nose is snotty

my sleep and defenses are shot

my invisibility cloak is inoperative

my frozen interior is melting

my fasciae are gaining in tensile strength and fluidity

my own hand resting on my thigh is penetrating comfort itself

anybody could find me and kill me off with a bit of kindness

I am finally, deeply, feeling a healing version of vaporous unseen and unnamed forces that have shaped every relationship, my very view of the world. Have propelled my movements through life, at times inflicting on others the very same neglect from which I suffered.

It is almost four years since I wrote the first drafts of these poems out of the shape of the relationship with my mother that I could sense kinesthetically with my whole body: a difficult yet mentally idealized picture. Now these poems are more vivid and alive:  salty, wet, and full of feeling.

So this healing and awakening is truly tacky, built of all manner of imperfections, mine and my mother’s. Uncomfortably real. But sturdy and not prone to abrupt collapse.

language is on my face

by Sara Eisenberg

language is on my face, Mother is un-lettered, i, an apple fallen close to her trunk, just beneath her tree, flat, looking up at her, a moon circling in a distant galaxy

 

Mother

by Sara Eisenberg

i am a world suspended upon

nothingness

 

launch myself on the wind

of my own arid breath,

mingle materially with

emptiness,

tract upon barren tract

until i

come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against darkness:

the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.


For more poetry:

https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/an-exaltation-of-particulars/

https://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/women-friends-come-bearing-gifts/

 

Wait, what? An old insight beckons me to practice

Wait, what? I actually had that experience? That insight?

Paging through  my old journals turns out to be an archeological dig that yields an occasional gem of insight, but one that has remained uncut, untumbled, unpolished: unintegrated.

Recently I unearthed this entry, penned more than seven years ago.

There are times I want to just weep and it’s not “about” anything. My mind goes looking for a “reason” for grief or sorrow, and sometimes finds one, but that is a kind of after-the-fact approach, and not particularly fruitful.

What turns out to be fruitful is letting my impulse to weep become vivid. Then I notice that my my feeling has a gravity to it, a sinking quality that takes me deep into a well. There I encounter what I am starting to call – and not with a lot of confidence, but starting to call: joy. An awareness comes of something light, a taking flight, and the weeping-feeling and “joy” are intimate, they are married. Their joining has something to do with the beauty, preciousness of life, and that beauty and preciousness has something to do with its fleeting nature, with mortality.

This is quite a revelation to me. Joy has been a mystery, an unattainable goal, a hunh?, a head scratcher.

During the cycle of the Jewish High Holy Days, that runs for a 62 day cycle in the late summer to early fall I can intelligently if not comfortably make my way through introspection, remorse, taking actions that repair relationships, awe, holiness, the language of error and judgment: but the holidays that close the season, that are presumably shot through with “joy”? I’ve approached this part of the cycle with a sense of isolation, disappointment, mystification.

So it is no small thing for me to arrive at a growing edge where grief and joy of this subtlety are companions and teachers. The effects are like having felt oxygen-deprived for years…and then breathing in ocean and mountain air together, over and over again.

That’s what I call a rock of a moment: untumbled, unpolished, unintegrated –  an opportunity not yet lost, because it beckons me back to practice.

Recently I’ve had a lot of must-weep moments, along with a heightened sense of my mortality, and have reached for my  wonderful herbal friend Pulsatilla (common name, Windflower.)

There is no better first-aid than a few drops when ready to dissolve into tears, looking into the dark side of life.

And I can testify that these recent must-weep moments have no companion,  nothing I would even consider venturing to call “joy.”

So now, along with taking the help of my herbal friend, I also have to make time to sit.  

To follow the wisdom of this old insight: let weepiness become vivid, cut, tumble, polish me.

Allow insight to teach me, heal me, awaken me anew.

And I must be willing to sit without hope of recreating that delicious marriage of weeping and nascent joy, to sit without hope even of integration. That’s the nature of practice.

The healing I needed, not the one I wanted!

I regret and am embarrassed to report that the socio-drama in which I participated did not give me the healing I wanted. It only took me deeper into my grief, and left me untouched by the empathy that opened up for more than one of my friends, who could simultaneously see the terrorist in themselves and summon compassion.

Our group had selected a headline about ISIS from among five story banners in the morning’s New York Times. Our highly skilled facilitator then had us establish a time and place: we settled on Grand Central Station, 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. Roles were assigned: a shopkeeper, a cop, a businessman, a little girl on her way to see her first Broadway show with her mom, a terrorist. I watched as the players got into role, the shifts in body language, facial expression, as they moved through the space. Every once in a while, the facilitator invited our questions for the characters.

The story played out: the cop confronted the terrorist, shot him, detonating his explosive vest, raining havoc and death, and drawing forth strength and compassion among the walking wounded.

Here is the cop’s story: I’d only been on the job a week, I didn’t want to move in on him too fast. I didn’t want to fall into profiling him and overreacting. And the terrorist’s: my people, they are getting killed, I have to do something.

Here’s (some of) my story:

I can’t solve suicide bombings.

I can’t solve evil. Even we can’t solve evil.

I hope I never get to the end of my grief.

I know my own rage can rise up with a killing strength and desire in the face of the most mundane challenge.

I struggle with helplessness, despite the true and simple guidance I was gifted with by mentor Michael Broom nearly 30 years ago: You’re not helpless, you know.

I struggle to answer the question periodically posed to me: what is worth dying for?

I can delve into the dark history of racism and engage in education, in protest, in community action and turn away from inquiring into my own tribe’s history of pogroms – one of which drove my grandfather from his Polish village and then to America at a young age. From inquiring into the Holocaust, though my husband fled Germany for England in his mother’s arms just before his first birthday. From inquiring into the rise of anti-Semitism.

Amazingly, wonderfully, I can still be true to a life of practice, true to my imperfect humanity:

I have permission to be a fool and a wise woman.

I have built up some muscle for turning directly toward what terrifies me, and a passel of teachers, friends, and fellow-travelers to encourage me.

I can keep engaging, keep listening, keep wrestling with myself about when and how to speak up in my life, in the life of my city, my country, my world.

I can even love the healing I got – the one I needed – which points me right at the inner work at hand.

Not all grown up? Embrace your orphans

EMBRACE, definition: hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection, especially as in: one’s orphaned parts

Early in life, our egos masterfully and poignantly craft survival strategies in response to the caregiving we receive from our imperfect parents: in that process we abandon some parts of ourselves and come to depend on the rest to handle what life brings. To maintain these strategies – we commonly call our them our “defenses” – we push these young ones away, out of sight, out of mind. They don’t get a chance to grow up along with the rest of our personality, to unfold with our soul.

Ultimately, these abandoned parts can become somewhat unruly in the ways of young children who demand our attention – whiny, hanging onto our knees, “inappropriate,” prone to tantrum or meltdown.

Eventually we may recognize these as behaviors of the younger parts of our adult personality that need growing up.  That, in fact, our wholeness lies in embracing what we have been pushing away. And then we may need to do deep and forgiving work to nourish and integrate these orphaned parts of our humanity.

Well into my mature adult years, chronic disappointment and sorrow at the emptiness of not being met, not being understood, extended their shadowy, unacknowledged, and undermining influence into every single relationship.

I found 1001 ways to disengage, clam up or cut out early: anything to avoid that emptiness, to reject or abandon before I could be rejected or abandoned.

I am well-spoken, apparently at ease in the world, and not without professional accomplishments or spiritual “progress.”  But my mother had worn black mourning velvet to school for months after her mother died. And I was profoundly shaped by her grief-stricken childhood.

Before I could take in the melancholic and disappointed child in me, embrace her and give her a place, grow her up, I had to sort out my own griefs from my mother’s. And before I could do that, I had to feel the depths of my own.

 

the face of the deep

by Sara Eisenberg

 

B’li mah,

without what?

i am a boneless world suspended

upon nothingness,

a spiderling

ballooning out on breath,

a wisp of silk.

 

over and over

i launch myself into,

mingle materially with

emptiness, barren and

wearying until

I come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against

darkness, the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

herself a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.