Today amongst lots of your typical daily activities most everyone does, I also made time to practice meditation. I held a guided session this morning in my home* while my youngest child slept (my oldest child stayed at her grandmother’s last night). The second meditation practice occurred in a group setting and was mostly silent – my first time in a group, sitting still and without sound for a half hour.
I am amazed at how much more quiet and calm my mind can be these days than it used to be. Meditating, I soon find myself in a semi-trance, not sleepy and not unaware. As long as I make myself physically comfortable, I do not resent the time sitting. So far I am relatively successful at dismissing the part of the mind that attempts to call this practice a waste of time. I can collect myself from whatever I was doing and relax into, and enjoy, the practice. This is relatively new. It’s pretty wonderful. In moments during a guided meditation the experience feels like work; while I illuminate the “inner enemies” I can feel weary and tired and sad. But finishing the process (which includes the fire of meditation and eliminates these burdens), I have a great deal of energy afterwards. Energy to take care of others, to serve, to be kind. To be patient. Joyous, loving, and free.
Or more specifically, to clean the bathroom, finish the laundry, practice asana, make snacks for children, bake bread for my family and for friends, drive my son out to a playdate, return phone calls, sew, pick up my children and then play with them, fix food and clean up after, mail a letter, drive and sing happily to music, pick up coffee, give a ride to someone who needed one, buy groceries (and help my daughter in learning how to shop), ask my husband about his day and really listen, assist with dinner and cleanup, and listen to and talk wtih a friend regarding a recent personal setback.
In between my meditations and while doing these other things, the mind occasionally attempted to make this a bad day. The mind also tried to tell me I Wasn’t Good Enough (oh… that old chestnut! I’m almost starting to feel fond of it!). The lowest point: In the midday I tried to do some work and found I was very tired and had little energy for the task. I felt angry and ashamed of myself – and anxious, as the work I wanted to do is something I need for the weekend. But I accepted my situation and sat down and watched a bit of an entertaining-enough film (hint, Hugh Jackman taking a shower outside) and, as I couldn’t quite accept a total resting moment, I knit. But I promise, I knit in as relaxed a fashion as possible. When it was time to rise up again, I was ready.
And now? It’s just about time to lay down. After a slice of that pan de los muertos. Which turned out perfectly – and was a joy to make.
Life is pretty good.
* I have been using Harshada Wagner’s classes; his teachings and meditations have been incredible gifts.
Today my daughter hands two bills through the car window, to the man we often see impassively holding a cardboard sign. He’s youngish and handsome and has a sun-worn face. Today he has a nod going, maybe heroin or methadone, maybe just sleepy. It takes him just a beat to notice us. We give him the money and when he thanks us I say, “You’re welcome” and I feel not the slightest bit of angst or anxiety or grandiosity or depression about any of the business and I drive on and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.
I have a book important to me I read everyday, and on the first blank page is a handwritten note, “What’s my motivation today?” Every day that I ask myself that question, I remember I’m put upon this planet to help others. The plans in store for me, well I have no idea (this is actually often quite calmly terrifying, more in a minute). I have come to know my purpose is to help and I’ve come to know I don’t know ahead of time where and when and maybe I’ll never know if I did or how much. The guy with the cardboard sign is just one example of someone I’ve helped (maybe), and not the only person I’ve helped (maybe) today. As for who I’ve harmed, I don’t know that either, although I hope if this is revealed I can make restitution.
This man with the cardboard sign, maybe that money went straight to benzos or a bottle of Boone’s Strawberry Hill. Maybe it went to food or socks. Most certainly his life isn’t any less worthy than mine, which means maybe it’s as simple as someone asking for something and I get to say Yes or No, and when I give I get to know I haven’t earned those two bills any more than he has, as far as I know. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to give the money, then seen the opportunity and taken it, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know I don’t deserve the money, it’s just something in my pocket. What a relief it is to know this last.
What a relief it is to no longer teach my children greed, athough they have every opportunity to invest in that quality in their lives, should they wish.
I have a rule about help for others, a suggestion given to me by someone who’s helped me quite a bit, maybe my first spiritual teacher in the flesh who I’ve recognized as such. She told me I could give and help as long as I did not rob my own family, and she told me to pray I do the Next Right Thing. That’s easy enough at least for starters. In the moment it isn’t always clear if I’m robbing my family or not, and I’ve come to rely upon a fledgling bit of intuition and I’ve had many such incidents I won’t bore you with now, although I assure you they were not at all boring for me.
It would be easier to live the way I used to because then I had Plans and I knew how things would turn out. Then I could obsess about things I wanted to do or acquire or feel smug about eventualities I was sure I was avoiding through my virtue (I’ve since discovered, I have no virtue). I could pretend I’d earned or deserved or worked hard for the comforts I have and the wonderful people I get to see every day. Then I had it all tidied up: I’d raise my kids like this, I’d do such-and-such on this day, I wouldn’t throw away my time on people unless I knew the return I’d get (although I never would have put it in such direct terms, most especially not to myself). I’d give gifts for friends to keep me in their good graces. I’d avoid enemies. I genuinely thought if I didn’t do things for others or say the polite thing or the thing I thought they wanted to hear, they wouldn’t like me.
Now: I have no enemy I avoid, not on this earth. Now: I don’t do things to be liked. Now: I like myself more than I have previously (I’m not claiming cause & effect, there, with those two separates). I don’t much worry who likes me. I know I’m loved. And I love so many, and I feel it so often.
One of the things I’ve realized in a most striking fashion is I could never, ever pay back the gifts I’ve been given. It is not possible. I have to live with knowing this.
It was easier to live the way I lived before. Back then I didn’t tremble like an ant before God, prone to devastation or heartbreaking good fortune alike.
Tomorrow marks a particular anniversary of my sobriety date. It’s been a wonderful journey, unlike any period in my life I can recall. It’s hard to explain. It has been like being born again, or being a child. I am less sure of myself but more secure and serene. Rigorous honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.
I had the Willingness from day one, and for this I am so grateful.
And like someone new and picking through garbage, making missteps and being brave regarding things I’ve been frightened of – yes, there has been pain involved. My worst moment sober, however, has been hands-down better than life while I was employing other methods to cope. Depression, anxiety, fear, resentments, anger, over-excitement, a head spinning like a top, resentments (I put “resentments” twice because they are a Big Fucking Deal)… these things have been dashed to the rocks or at least incredibly reduced – in such a short time. All because I was ready to do a few simple things which I won’t detail here – but go into any of the rooms of Recovery, stick around, and you’ll hear all about them.
Life is beautiful. My children are the most incredible gift and to be frank, I don’t deserve them. So I just give Thanks. Daily they venture forth, these days with very little interference from me, and with a confidence and a joy of living and a love and care for other people. They remember names of strangers, they hug friends, they share their ice cream or their clothes. They are loving, caring people and it is a genuine pleasure to spend time with them.
At night my husband makes dinner and does the dishes and I have a few minutes to sew or knit or write. He takes better care of me now and (I truly believe) he takes better care of himself. Our family has changed. We are kinder to one another. We are more honest. There hasn’t been a yelling match or a nasty fight for quite some time.
But today one of the things that sticks with me is how precious and incredibly fragile life is. How all the days we can go about on the treadmill and be spiritually dead, or at least suffering so much our turmoil is loud in our ears and people say, “How are you?” and we say Fine, fine, and maybe we even think we’re fine, but we suffer so much. More scary still is the result of our confusion and isolation and quietude: others do not know know how much we suffer, how lost we are. In the last few days how many emails, how many people have expressed astonishment I had any kind of problem at all?
I am not going to diminish the mother of my children by negating all I did and accomplished, who I was, or how I incurred and attempted to patch up my bumps and scrapes (many of which I’ve written about here, publicly). The woman I was did the best she could. The woman I am today does the same. This woman, when the chips are down, I see her character and I like her just fine, about as much as God does I suppose.
May I always see her in this light.
By the way, I couldn’t wait until my Friday links to share this with you. Definitely NSFW, by the way. It made me laugh so damned hard. It also reminded me of my grandma, may she rest in peace.
Bob is standing behind me, he sits and stands during the fireworks display here along the river, long hair and beard and biker leather jacket and riding chaps. Behind him Dana and Steve and then next to me Robin like a flower, a large blooming iris, sedate but wry good humor, here on my blanket. She’s beautiful, but shy about me taking a picture. What’s funny is our little group has accidentally situated ourselves under a speaker playing music – loudly – and there is such a crush of people in attendance there’s no point much in moving ourselves. This speaker plays a relentless series of increasingly patriotic tripe, including a country song about a three-day beard and cooking rice in the microwave and how awesome that is (what?), and then I think it’s Beyonce showboating “God Bless the USA”. Chris joins us on the blankets a bit later and hums or sings along the music, to much consternation from some members of the group, but upon the Armed Services Medley I know all the words to “Wild Blue Yonder” and “Anchors Aweigh” and such back from Veterens’ Day performances in choir. Then there’s Neil Diamond belting out “Coming to America” which inspires a vague wave of simultaneous nostalgia and nausea. “Jesus CHRIST,” groans Robin under her breath. And I laugh each comment she makes.
When the fireworks slam up ahead I feel increasingly astounded and it has nothing to do with the crowds or pyrotechnics or the friends or the hot coffee in my hand or the cold grass beneath my seat. I feel the presence of God, or Divine Chance, or whatever or whomever you might name unless you’d maintain none of that is real, but for me God is pressing down on me like squashing an ant, for the first time ever, in a way that surpasses experiences of pleasure or pain and carries not even a strong emotional response. How is it I am alive? is all that occurs to me. BOOM BOOM BOOM thunders in the sky and in my body. How is it I’m here to be this way, sober now some time and of a clean (enough) mind and on a blanket with friends and I’m given breath to draw. Normally I’d be heckling and hassling or running up to be with Ralph and the kids (who are scattered off at the playground with other kids and teens) but instead I stay on the blanket like I was assigned there and this particular duty was of utmost importance.
The fireworks finale is even more beautiful than the year before, or perhaps it’s just my state of mind and body and spirit, then people clap and I fold blankets and I hug my friends and wait for my family to join me. “Blood Moon,” the kids tell me when they arrive and I look and perceive the deep-red sliver they’re pointing to. Walking to the car and the air is cold but ripe with possibility and promise, and people run off to fight or drink or fuck (or all three) or maybe just slip into a hot bath and then to bed (as I long to do).