January 27, 2013

caesura, schmaesura

Oh, and I got married. Got deeper into what we really mean when we say to another, “I love you.” Got several big life things done and faced several big heart things that needed facing. And, therefore, got really behind in 2012.

Behind on the stuff, I am now realizing, we all should get behind on more often. Not getting that new carpet for the front hall for a good while shows us we don’t really need a new carpet for the front hall. Not getting something important done for a long while teaches us to ask for help. And, not doing our work for a little while really opens our work’s windows, allowing new who knows what to fly in.

Caesura. With a soft “c” and a “shhh” on the “s” and an emphasis on the second syllable. Sounds like something a Latin lover would say in seduction. Funny, as I look over at my Venezuelan husband and immediately he smiles, blows a kiss and makes that “I’m handsome” face we make fun of him for. Another good reason to get way behind.

Primarily a literary term, a caesura is a “pause in the flow of sound in a line of poetry, especially to allow its sense to be made clear or to follow the rhythms of natural speech, often near the middle of a line.” At forty, I intended to get t-shirts made declaring, “Maturity is for wimps.” And, of course, I never got those done. Now, nearly fifty, maturity just feels like not getting things done really well. Like letting go more often, and letting the times of letting go better inform the times of action.

“Music is the space between the notes.” Attributed to Claude Debussy, I caught this quote outside of any context, and it still completely changed my comprehension of aesthetics. It’s beginning to completely change my comprehension of life’s beauty as well. I took so much time off, and this time I didn’t question that process, much less undercut it with Ye Old Anxiety genuflecting guiltily at The Altar of Perpetual Productivity. Instead, I’ve just been getting properly used to the idea that we each are going to contribute whatever we were put on this earth to contribute, with or without the anxiety. It’s just a lot funner without it.

And more playful. When you just let things be for a bit, some really awesome things just come wandering on stage left, if not from left field. Like, the way images of a famous moss garden in Japan kept pestering me this month while I kept trying to get back to writing in this new year.

Saihô-ji Temple, in Kyoto, Japan, is possibly the most quietly beautiful little space on earth. Declared an UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a garden that basically took a big break and then got all overgrown with moss. It had to. Take the break, I mean. In the late 19th century, the monastery lacked the funds for upkeep and just had to let things be for a good while. And very good and gorgeous and unexpected things bloomed in so doing.

A warm magical snow of green everywhere. Wall-to-stone-wall carpets of gentle and verdant life. All a little mushed up, almost wrinkled, as if one monk slept in late under it all. It’s as generous a pause button as has ever been created by the hand of man – and then the hands of the universe.


John Updike once remarked, “What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” And a fertile stillness. That old proverb, “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” just started pestering me as well. I’m smiling, realizing that all my life I’ve assumed it meant that moss is yucky and messy and lazy and therefore ‘tis a good thing to keep in constant motion. I was so obviously born in the American Century.

Turns out that’s not what a Syrian slave in Rome who won his freedom by his wits meant. Publius Syrus, a famed writer of maxims, meant that those who never stop, who never put down roots and invest themselves and just let things grow, never truly bloom. I guess Romans noticed how gorgeous moss is as well.

Then, in its 16th century English translation the maxim was credited to a certain Erasmus. Wikipedia notes, “The contemporary interpretation of equating moss to undesirable stagnation has turned the traditional understanding on its head: Erasmus’s proverb gave the name ‘rolling stone’ to people who are agile (mobile) and never get rusty due to constant motion.” Erasmus was a prominent late 15th century European theologian. ‘Nuff said.

And, ‘nuff for now. And, welcome back.

Categories: Blog


April 28, 2012

the baptismal cycle

Doing three loads of darks instead of paying my bills. Paying my bills instead of steaming those vegetables going limp in the fridge. Eating another energy bar instead of doing my back exercises because I don’t have the energy to exercise. Telling myself that doing laundry is exercise. Doing the dishes from yesterday after spending the rest of the day cooking instead of doing the writing I’ve been meaning to do for five weeks. Sitting down to write but remembering that I forgot to meditate again. Sitting down to meditate instead of sitting down to write and feeling more stress and sniff and snot coming on than anything approaching enlightenment. Then getting off my meditation bench and getting a load of whites started. Just another day at the office of life.

Guilt is the soul’s vacuum cleaner as it frantically runs over itself and begins sucking our own insides out for all eternity. And never finishes cleaning anything in the process. I had been feeling very guilty about not writing each week. I also hadn’t finished writing anything for weeks on end. Hmmm.

At the very moment that Hmmm hit my head, a little bell went off in my head as well. Well, on the washing machine. But, as I started shoving the hot wet whites into the dryer, a big insight flooded my little brain with big white a-ha light.

For months I have been trying and trying, again and again, to start working again but each start kept turning into fits and starts, again and again. I was Not Doing What I Am Supposed To Be Doing  (i.e. something that is hopefully a “contribution” and somehow “big” and “important” and “meaningful”). As that Hmmm ooched my clenched mental fingers ever so slightly off of their tight grip on guilt, I suddenly and profoundly and white light-ly realized that there is No Way We Can Do Whatever We Are Supposed To Do on this earth without also going through and even deeply into the many times — down times, quiet times, hard times, lots of times — that we must do All Of The Other Things That Need Doing, Too.

I also realized, in this truly immense little moment in front of my washing machine, that it’s not just the laundry that needs doing. Confusion needs doing. Fear and doubt and distraction and even procrastination need actual doing, too. That’s the way they teach us whatever it is they need to teach us… which is another way of saying whatever it is we are needing to learn.

We just really need to do these things we’d honestly rather not do with as much consideration and awakeness as we hope to bring to the big and important and meaningful things. If we don’t, those precious few big and important and meaningful moments won’t be — actually can’t be — as big or important or meaningful as they otherwise would or can be.

Joy and fire and light sure are fun in the moment. But, the fact is that the majority of the moments of our lives are at best merely non-inspiring. Some are absolutely painful, even devastating.  Nevertheless, all of these non-firejoylight moments are not what we must get over, around or past to finally behold and be bathed in some distant cosmic light. They are the quiet fire and forge for that very light. For all light. Whether we like it or not.

Fight these many times, and we stand in front of the washing machine for the rest of our lives. Live really into them, and we become more enlightened each time we stand in front of our washing machines. And finish all four loads. And, in good time, get to and accomplish every other accomplishment that still seems worth accomplishing after seeing such light. Baptism after baptism, by the umpteenth rinse cycle.

Just then, arms overflowing with warm whites like mounds of abounding blessings, I recalled a book whose title has always influenced me even as I have never actually gotten around to reading it. And have always felt a little guilty for that. The writer is a biggie in American Buddhism.

After The Ecstasy, The Laundry, by Jack Kornfield. I folded the whites and left for the bookstore. Standing in front of the stacks, I scanned the introduction and on the last page I read:

Pir Vilayat Khan, the 75-year-old head of the Sufi Order in the West, confid[ed,] “Of so many great teachers I’ve met in India and Asia, if you were to bring them to America, get them a house, two cars, a spouse, three kids, a job, insurance, and taxes … they would all have a hard time.”

That’s one cool Sufi. I kept flipping through the book. It’s basically stuffed with anecdotes of people from many faith traditions who have been to their various mountaintops and then had to deal with the sticky prosaic work of bringing their fistfuls of light back into regular life.

I caught a few more great thoughts, but I didn’t keep the book. I didn’t feel guilty about it, either. I had to get back home and start dinner. I have so many other books to get back to, and so many more to discover. I have eternal aspirations and eternal laundry. In a never-ending cycle.

I am blessed to have both.

Categories: After the Ecstasy, Jack Kornfield, Philosophy, the Laundry


March 5, 2012

a bird in the hamsa

My hand pressed deeply into cool marble. Millions of other and more earnest hands had worn deep fingerprints into the central column of the Portico de la Gloria just inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northernmost Galicia, and touching so many centuries of aspiration and supplication gave me a quick jolt. But, just as quickly I let go and headed back out into the plaza to grab a quick beer. As Tim at the gorge in Monty Python and The Holy Grail would have said, “Now, WHAT is your quest?”

I hadn’t walked thousands of miles, as a proper pilgrim should. In the summer of 1989, I was just another American twentysomething with a two-week Eurail pass who had impulsively opened her tattered Lonely Planet guide on the floor of Madrid’s major train station and realized that the next two days were the last two days of something called the Festival of St. James.  After twelve overnight hours sleeping upright in a third-class cabin, I was at the foot of a saint and at a big party. With yet another hand in my pocket.

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Categories: Christianity, Islam


February 18, 2012

is there a buddhist in the house?!?

“Would you like to have spiritual care?”

The question scared me. The nurse had been casually going through various pre-op necessities, taking my blood pressure and checking my pulse and asking if I were allergic to latex. My impending translaminar foraminectomy was classified as elective surgery. “Spiritual care” sounded like “last rites” to me. Had I missed something in the surgeon’s office?

I discovered that the Methodist Hospital of Houston simply and charitably provides any spiritual presence for any patient who wants it. After quickly confessing that I was a Buddhist and then blithely announcing that, nah, I didn’t need any help, a tangle of unthought thoughts hit my head like sticky spiritual cobwebs.

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Categories: Buddhism, Emily Dickinson, Life


February 3, 2012

play it again, Rainer

I was burning. A slow, surreptitious fire. A diffuse thread of lightning tracing down my body. Not the shock of one hard blow but, like dark ink, a slow and spreading stain of pain.

And, I kept telling myself it’s just a little pain. It’s just a physical discomfort. (Do you, like me, think first of the heart when you hear the word “pain”?) And, then, after months of handling it and a then few more of needing help to handle it and then a good attitude and then a bad one and then drugs I didn’t want to take and then a surgery I actually did want, I have to admit that what I really felt, more than anything, was fear.

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Categories: Poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke


October 22, 2011

fuzzy wuzzy logic

“Fuzzy stars!” And with that, my then two-year-old Larkin perspicaciously summed up my recent “serious” art purchase and walked off, perfectly happy.

Art has always been an inexplicable love for me. Not inexplicable in the sense that art shouldn’t be loved. Just, with all of the need for justification and productivity and “But, what is the value of it?” that I was pickled in by my upbringing, I had long had a nagging sense that I didn’t quite have—and should have—a really deep, almost theological reason for Art. And for loving it.

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Categories: Air Guitar, Art, Kurt Vonnegut


October 2, 2011

the golden wow

I begged my most Christian collegiate compadre to buy me condoms. Oh, the things a fledgling proselytizer doesn’t imagine they’ll be called to do. But, after two shocked eyebrows and one sigh of resignation as I bolted out of her post-collegiate apartment door for a date — and an impending affair — that I hadn’t thought I’d be having, I did find a dainty box of Trojans under her guest bathroom sink late that night, exactly where I’d asked her to leave them. Ecumenical, indeed.

In 1989, my one goal in life was to be somewhere else than I presently was and, by obvious implication, someone else than I presently was. But, blessedly, my running was just beginning to be less about running away and more about running, jumping and playing. My seminal trip to the Himalaya two years before had shown me just how big the world really is and had converted me in ways that at that point I had no name for. I see now that I had been converted to Curious.

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Categories: Buddhism, Christianity, The Golden Bough


September 23, 2011

an annunciation, with the meter running

“Kids. Are. So strong. Resilient. You give them. Your love. And they are fine. They can handle anything. Believe…”

Many more words came from this man I never saw, but his words turned into clouds around me. Eight years ago, they enveloped me and evaporated me. They imploded my well-constructed mental merry-go-round for living life as a high-functioning lie. And, they made plainly obvious everything from the uncomfortable fact that I was collapsing to the experiential fact that angels do walk among us. Or, sometimes, drive taxis.

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Categories: Life


May 23, 2011

we interrupt our program to blurt something out

Something is starting to hit me. Hard. Not bad, sad or difficult kind of hard. Just weak-kneed, brain-fried, and overwhelming kind of hard. Integrating my past with the present and with hope and grief and growth and—if I am really lucky—grace kind of hard.

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Categories: Life


May 15, 2011

certainly uncertain

“I believe in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to theology.”

Three years after college, in response to my happiest, and most Christian, friend from college, I blurted that out as I was wiping away tears about something. I was wiping away tears about a lot of things at the time.

She sighed, bemused and frustrated. It was a sort of “what the H-E-doubletoothpicks does that mean” kind of sigh. She had just asked me what did I believe, if I didn’t believe in Jesus. Jesus made perfect sense to her, and she wasn’t wiping away tears about a lot of things a lot of the time. Ergo.

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Categories: Myths to Live By, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, The Principles of Uncertainty


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