Cracked Wide Open

Truth, vulnerability, love, loss, envy, fear.  We play the highlight reel, even with those closest to us, rarely talking about what is really going on in our lives, our hearts and minds.  We grin and bare it, keep our tragedies and sad stories to ourselves, quietly suffering, quietly overcoming.  Living in deceptive collusion.  And we are alone roiling in our pain.  We share our successes, and our love, and our happy moments forgetting that without suffering there is no happiness – we are all human, none of us immune.  And one day you whisper, you leak, you share, and find you are not alone.  Here’s to love and pain and heartbreak and vulnerability – we are not alone, you are not alone.  You are just like me, and I just like you.  Maybe not in this, but in some suffering.

All hospital rooms are not created equal. This room left us feeling dirtier just for being there. Left wanting for assurance that everything was going to be ok. The white board across from the bed below the clock was mostly erased remnants of the previous patient’s doctor and nurses names. Scratched and cracked, mostly blank, it gave me the eery feeling that no one was taking care of us. We moved across the hall, the cleanliness was luxurious. No longer under observance in the Maternity ward we were back in labor and delivery. Liz, Betsy and Jodie had just left, a small smile still on your face from the laughter. J arrived from Chicago and the mediocre indian food delivery was a feast. All was quiet – the nurse loved us and moved us to the biggest room. We all had room to rest, your chromatic bed with extra blankets just out of the warmer, me in the chair next to you, J across the room, curled into a tight ball, snoring lightly. I yearned for the filth and neglect of the maternity ward. There was no going back, we were in it for the long haul, 90 more days or 1 more hour.

As I drifted I heard the soft closing of the bathroom door – your constant urge to pee, the easier part of this pregnancy.

Too much time had passed, even at 3:30 in the morning, it felt too long, you couldn’t still be peeing. Peering through the door, your were quivering, white faced. I knew it was time. I woke J, told her to get the doctor.

They arrived in a flurry, prepping the room and you for birth. I sat by your side, holding your hand, prepared to be the best partner I could through the births. Trying to match your strength and support when Henry was born. I am good under pressure, this is my strength, and yet I couldn’t shake the fear that I would let you down.

And then all of a sudden you were pushing. You were so brave and so strong. the words “push push push… push, breathe” came out as the tears rolled down my cheeks. Your strangle grip on my hand gave me strength, this was for you, for Jack, this was our family and our path. There was no going back. After about 10 minutes of pushing, there he was, head crowning, he came out peacefully. There was no screaming, no Apgar, his eyes were closed. The rush of the NICU team hurrying him to the warmer, cleaning him off, checking his vitals. and there it was, his first, ever so slight, breath. his beating heart visible through his delicate skin. 4:48am – Jackson Vincent was alive. I carefully cradled him, taking him from the doctor. we held him, and in an instant loved him so deeply – weeping. taking in each tiny detail of his perfect face and body.  So tiny, yet so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Our perfect moment abruptly interrupted by the attending physician. The contractions had stopped, your cervix stopped dilating, there was hope for Finn. A fleeting moment of hope. But Jack’s placenta hadn’t delivered and was torn. If it didn’t deliver in the next hour you would be induced. The Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor confirmed that their was no decision to be made, if the placenta didn’t come out you would die.

We drank up every second we had with Jack, snuggling, kissing and loving every little bit of him. His short life so peaceful and so full of love, until his last breath in our arms. Your mom held him so gentle and firm, so protective, no longer breathing forever alive. and we waited. no placenta. Finn was still kicking and moving when they started the epideral and pitocin. Tears streaming, no turning back. Your life on the line, your body refusing to budge – refusing to let go of the beautiful life moving about. Your eyes empty, your body strong – your soul exposed. 4 hours later – the contractions finally started, our worst nightmare coming true. How do you push when all you want to do is hold – knowing that each painful contraction and push means coming closer to losing our sweet Finnie boy.

But you did it, you did what you were told, i held your hand and coached you again… to push, push push…almost there, push…and there he was -10:06am Finnean Mathew, bigger than Jackson, rounder, more muscular. Sweet love, mouth open, tiny little breaths. Deep love and adoration, It was over and yet it had just begun.

“Sometimes I feel like I never been nothing but tired.. Sometimes I lay down, no more can I do, then I go on again, because you asked me to. Some days i look down, afraid i will fall. and though the sun shines, I see nothing at all. and I hear your sweet voice, oh, oh, come and then go, come and then go. telling me softly, you love me so. The peaceful valley just over the mountain. I may never get there in this lifetime, but sooner or later, it’s there I will go. Sooner or later, it’s there I will go.” Patty Griffin – Just over the mountain, MLK’s song

Jewel in the Poop

I love buddhism, I really do – discovering it and learning to meditate saved my life, more than once. The problem is it gets a bad name- some people, who aren’t very familiar or show some interest, assume that it’s not for them because they can’t do it, they can’t sit still for hours or clear their minds. They perceive the practice to be for a special few who are able to experience flowers and sunshine – they think that when buddhists meditate their minds spontaneously clear of all thoughts, TA DA! Rainbows appear!! The term “the jewel in the lotus” gives the impression that meditators are somehow surrounded by fields of lotus flowers and hit the jewel lottery jackpot, all blissed out. It is an image problem, a PR problem, a communication problem in general. The other perception seems to be that it is all doom and gloom, suffering, and lots of long talks about dying and emptiness. It sets the wrong expectation on both ends of the spectrum.

For me, the cultivation of self awareness and awareness in general is much more akin to trudging through a sewer and tripping over a boot only to have my face smash into the poop, as I put my hands down into the gook to push myself up I happen upon a diamond ring that fell through the sewer grates. And lucky for me, now that I have taken my head out of the proverbial crap I can see that the ladder to get out isn’t far.

Ok, maybe that is a little dramatic, and even misses the point a little…after all, the point of practicing is to uncover your own jewelry in all that poop, not someone else’s. It isn’t all fun and games, and it isn’t all doom and gloom.

The beauty of Buddhism is the idea that your perfect buddha like self already exists, it is not outside of you, someone else can’t find it for you – you have to work through your stuff, cultivate awareness and hopefully get a glimpse of reality, just as it is. Not all rosy and pretendland, but imperfect and real, and the “jewel” is learning to see what is really going on – in your head and outside of it. To let things/people/time/money etc…come and go, just as they are – for we all know we can’t change other people, and we can’t make bad things that happen unhappen. We also can’t make the good things that happen last forever. Ebbing and flowing, the way life does – watching the waves wash over you and there you are, still standing – or at least getting back up.

Obviously, there is much more to the study and practice of buddhism and to the cultivation of uncovering the person you want to be (and already are) – for just this moment, in my mind, it is about uncovering the jewel in the poop, and maybe being lucky enough to take a shower after.

“No one can save us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

~Buddha

Moths to a flame

We are all like moths to a flame, looking for happiness. Tempted by the feeling of fleeting relief only to further embed our bad habits. My tongue is all too pleased with the sting of a hot, salty french fry, satisfying in a primal way. The trouble is the next bite isn’t as good as the last, but I believe in the promise of the possibility, so i burn my tongue and add to my girth with another. And on I go, chasing the familiar relief of the first bite that can’t be matched. Only to further embed the habit loop, the well worn path in the deep recess of my brain that tells me this is going to provide relief.

Less obvious are relationships. A relationship begins, the intensity of the courting, the lust, all the firsts, they enrapture us and we are in the pleasure vortex. The phone rings and our heart races, we can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Researchers say that falling in love is akin to being addicted to a drug, in the way our brains respond. Dopamine is released and that state of pleasure feels endless. And this goes on, in some cases for as long as 2 years. That is the point at which scientists say we have psychologically adapted to that state of being. We are an adaptive species after all, and are hard wired for variety. The first kiss, the discovery of all we don’t know thrills and drives us, and when the passionate love transitions to compassionate love we mistake it for loss of connection. The spark is gone, we feel like the relationship is “work,” sex changes, is more predictable. Somewhere along the way we were told that true love is easy – or at least I was. The key here is to stick in, to create variety and surprise, in order to stimulate our brains and keep the relationship fresh. It would be impossible to maintain the state of being of the first six months of a relationship, we would never get anything done much less be able to raise families. After all, it will be the same adventure with the next person, it is biologically determined that the lust will wear down, if not off. So revel in each moment accepting that feelings ebb and flow – where there is compassionate love there is a future. You just have to work at it a bit more.

For most of us this state of being is relatively harmless as long as we catch ourselves. At least it is relative to drug addicts and alcoholics, however it still gets in the way of our general sense of happiness.

So what? Is life then hopeless and happiness not a realistic goal? I don’t think so, for me it has been about accepting what comes at me, knowing that the pain and suffering, the crappy tasting meal or the bad cup of coffee all allow for the next moment to be appreciated. Without contrast we cannot feel happy or content.

The key for me has been awareness, cultivated through meditation. Catching myself in the moment, of chasing the pleasure and recognizing its futility – fully being able to appreciate an extraordinary moment for what it is and letting things come and go.

The next time you have a bad meal or are bored with your partner, let it be the foundation of contrast in order to enjoy the next moment.

“When any situation is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution.”
~ Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Standard Edition

CRAVE – Series 1 October 27th!

Join us and learn to uncover the habits that are getting in the way of the life you want. You will learn how and why we do the things we do, how are brains hold us back and how we can change them. You will learn simple techniques to cultivate greater self awareness and make the shifts in your life that will last.

October 27th
Subculture – 45 Bleeker Street
2pm – 5pm
Tickets below or at the door

http://sparkshift-efbevent.eventbrite.com

Bigger than this

I often live my life in a bubble, bumping around into other people’s bubble’s. My world is saturday morning pancakes and the smell of coffee breath tainted with last nights one too many beers and cigarettes from the commuter next to me, little dump trucks and dirt boxes, big city offices and the hum of white collar workers with low morale, toddlers crying because underwear must be worn and there hasn’t been time to practice liking the sound of the vacuum yet, hands in flour water and yeast yielding warm bread and hot garbage stuck to my shoe.

Maybe you are like me in that you float around in your life, mostly seeing things from your bubble, feeling the grind of your job more than the person next to you, your back pain hurts a little more than your neighbors, the rain even makes you a bit more wet than everyone else? And we all bump into one another, holding our breath and hoping the bubbles don’t break. Comforted by illusion of safety and warmth of the blanket of our self deception.

And then, if you are lucky, there are moments when your bubble bumps into someone else’s and you are breathing the same air, having to look at things from the space of their bubble, and a glimpse of real life tip toes in.

Life is bigger than this, we are bigger than this. My bubble had the opportunity to collide with so many at once that my reality exploded in an instant. Nothing makes this reality more clear than moments of birth and the process of death.

The danger is, that the moment trails away, the grief lessens it grip, the joy of birth turns into sleepless nights and spit up and the bubble slowly starts to reform. I am a better person, better off than I have been before for this moment that has lasted longer than the others. Suffering is universal, and it is experienced in degrees, if we can see suffering as a collective ailment, share in the pain, we can share in the glory, in the breath of life, it gets a little easier. There is so much more space and air in a bigger bubble, more room for freedom and happiness and for sharing in the unavoidable pain of life.

It takes practice, you may not be ready to burst your bubble completely, maybe start with joining one or two other bubbles, share in their pain, see life from their hearts, and slowly expand. The key is to be aware as often as possible as to where you are in relation to the rest of us – and make a choice, don’t float in your bubble obliviously.

Stolen with love from Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and words changed for the purposes of my intentions:

When I walk beside them
I am a better person
When I look to leave them
I always stagger
Once I built an ivory tower
so i could worship from above
when I climb back down to be set free
they took me in again

there’s a big
a big hard sun
beating on the the big people
in a big hard world

There’s a big hard love
that is bigger than us
in this big love world

Go on, go do it.

Intersection

my mind turns inside out and my heart unravels, an invitation to let go and just be – she is there and then gone, so willing to see – the truth that is exposed, warning and free – leaning in i hold her, whispering all i know – follow your breath, in your nose and out, follow it all the way, don’t look back, you will be ok. The pain will stay behind and the love will follow, lightness and ease – she relents and resists, banging her fists, tears streaming – why are you doing this to me, you promised.

Its ok baby, you can go now, don’t let the burdens of the past hold you here

the pain can flow like wind through the trees

the cancer overtook her – no hope for a cure, no treatment, just left to live the last moments void of pain. This beautiful woman, strong, gentle, vibrant mother of two – The intersection of suffering and pleasure is life, you can’t escape the reality. We sit with her, breathing and hold space for weeks…

5 bright sunny days pass and the rains began…

Just this

How often do we do just this, just this very thing we are doing right now, just this moment, for the sake of that thing only. For me, not often enough. I have the habit of doing whatever it is I am doing for the sake of something else, or anticipating the next thing. I ate breakfast this morning barely taking a moment to put my spoon down, eating so fast you might have guessed someone was about to take it away. I ate breakfast purely to get to the next moment, which happened to be leaving for work, as quickly as I could. There was no moment for me, I was already in the next place.

I, maybe like you, love to go on vacation. I especially love the anticipation of it. We spend time planning and crafting the perfect getaway, detailing where the best places to eat and sleep are, finding the quintessential experiences. And then I slug through the next month or two until said vacation arrives, spending much of my time talking about the upcoming vacation, pushing through the moments of life that are getting in the way of me and this vacation. And the day comes, and we wake up and it is vacation! and i am so worried about relaxing quickly enough to really enjoy the vacation, and what if it goes by too fast? I agonize over what to order for breakfast, because if I order the wrong meal I have wasted this special vacation meal that I won’t get again. You get the picture, maybe you are in the picture.

This is the ultimate cause of suffering. Nothing is ever just what it is, we are constantly anticipating what is next. This last vacation was somewhat of a staycation, we didn’t venture far. And for the first time, maybe ever, I was just in each moment, most of the time. I let myself be at the museum with my son staring at dinosaur bones, trying to feel what he was feeling, see what he was seeing, being no where else. I enjoyed our walks and meals just for what they were. And it was a beautiful thing. Time stood still at moments and I was totally relaxed. I realized it is because I wasn’t throwing moments away, I was in each one, a full participant.

If you have read this blog before you know that I am a practicing buddhist, and even being mindful of breathing and being in the moment my habit of anticipation takes over. I am working on being more present, more mindful in what i do. This morning I took a shower and didn’t plan for my day. I just felt the water streaming down my back and enjoyed the sensation of scrubbing shampoo into my head. I just showered. What in your life are you rushing through? When was the last time you ate a meal and only ate? Didn’t read, talk, think about what was next, but just chewed and swallowed and enjoyed? What is your habit that takes you out of the moment?

We practice so that each moment of our life becomes real life. When we eat, we just eat, when we walk, just walk, when we love, really love, breathing into each moment. That is really all there is, a collection of moments, and if we let them pass us by life will end one day and we forgot to live.

with love.

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